Thursday, October 6, 2011

Oregon Shakespeare Festival

Most every spring or fall, I either meet a Shakespeare-loving friend in Ashland, or else drag some unsuspecting friend down with me, for a few plays in a few days at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. This time I took Toni, who had been only once before, many years ago. Toni and I are notorious for getting lost together on some back road we didn't intend to follow, but this time, we managed to get all the way to Ashland and back with nary a wrong turn. Well, none that delayed us much, anyway.

Unbelievably to me, a musical theater junkee, Toni had never seen Pirates of Penzance, which Oregon Shakes was putting on in their outdoor Elizabethan theater this year. Well, she has seen it now... the most fantastic performance of that fantastic Gilbert & Sullivan musical that I've ever seen. Khori Dastoor, playing the female lead, Mabel, had a most incredible voice. The entire cast was wonderful, all with great voices. The director, Bill Rauch, had added bits of contemporary music and dancing here and there that flowed seamlessly from the Gilbert & Sullivan music. The cast looked to be having a wonderful time and so did the audience, in spite of the fact we were outdoors in constant light rain.

Well, most of the audience was in the rain. I had bought tickets under an overhang since I do not trust fall weather in Ashland. We had perfect seats. (I will not tell where exactly because I intend to buy those seats every time I see a play in that theater from now on. They're MINE, I tell you.) It's amazing that I was able to get seats at all: Pirates sold out for the entire season, including five added Monday performances, when normally there are no plays.

The Pirates of Penzance was definitely the play highlight of our trip. We saw two other plays and, although The African Company Presents Richard III was certainly well-acted and interesting, it could not compare with Pirates. The third play was a disappointment to me. I like Shakespeare's Henry plays mostly because of Falstaff. I expected to love the rowdy old coot as I always do (and did in last year's production of Henry IV, Part I) but I did not in this Henry IV, Part II. I don't think it was the fault of the actor: I just didn't like the way the play was staged. At the end, when Falstaff is rejected by his old carousing buddy Prince Hal after Prince Hal becomes King Henry V, I did not weep for Falstaff. I was rather glad to have the whole thing over... something I have never ever said about a play at Ashland before. Some members of the audience gave the cast a standing ovation, so obviously, they had a different opinion from mine.

But there was more to this trip than plays. There was the incomparable Lithia Park where we enjoyed incomparably beautiful weather to our amazement. (The rain did not begin until evenings.) Deer are everywhere in Ashland. In Lithia Park, they grazed in front of an outdoor stage where two people were practicing their Tai Chi (or something) very "Ashland".

The deer were not impressed.

Although fall colors were just beginning to change, there was color in Lithia Park...

...And there was the music of Lithia Creek, looking secluded although it has paths on both sides and lovely footbridges here and there. Lithia Park is a magical place any time of year, any time of day.

But above and beyond the plays and Lithia Park, were the friends. We stayed with good friends Judy and Don near Jacksonville and their adorable new Labradoodle, Rusty. I wish I had managed to get a less blurry photo of them walking home from their paper box, with Rusty carrying the paper. What a wonderful dog. Here he is sitting on the steps, waiting for me to come upstairs from my lower floor bedroom.

We also visited David, my surrogate grandson and good friend and fellow book lover. I did not get a photo of handsome David, I guess because I was so busy marveling at his floor to ceiling
bookshelves. Every room in his apartment is lined with book shelves and books.

David works at Case Coffee in Ashland, where I'm told they sell the very finest coffee to be had anywhere between Portland and San Francisco and I'm sure it's true. Neither Toni nor I drink coffee but we stopped in and had hot chocolate decorated by David with a lovely whipped cream tulip that somehow stayed intact to the very bottom of the cup. It was delicious hot chocolate, created, I'm sure, with the same care they take of their coffee.

My usual Ashland play-going friend, Ruth, and her husband Roy, were in town at the same time, going to different plays, so we all converged on our favorite Thai restaurant one evening. This is our traditional meeting place and it was fun to introduce Toni to it and have her meet my friends. I was just sorry our actor friend J.P. was not at Oregon Shakes this year to join us as he has in the past.

The first morning after our arrival had given promise of the warmth and beauty to come. This is sunrise over Mount McLoughlin, photographed from Judy and Don's driveway.

We had an exhausting but delight-filled three days, made delightful by warm friendships and a spectacular play.

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