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Ashland 7 October 2016

1516 : 783

We started our day with a new (to us) breakfast a goodly walk north at The Breadboard, with a Cinnamon wheel (about the size of the wheels on our car) and an Ashland Scramble. Homey service. Rochelle says, most of the way through the scramble, "This'll do for lunch too ...right?" Yup.

But a short detour before our first play for a Chai at Dobrá across the street: a chain with tearooms in Prague, Burlington, Asheville ...and Ashland, of course.

1517 : 772

Omigod! What fun!

First, understand that this is our second "Promenade style" play, the first being a G&S Pirates of Penzance at the Berkeley Rep. Nobody in my family loves Gilbert & Sullivan as much as I do, but most of them tolerate it well enough ... but it's usually nicely staged "up there" ... but that's not how a promenade production works. Here, a third of the audience (the picture opposite doesn't do today's show justice; there were at least 75 paying theater goers sitting on the stage, being shooed around by the actors when they needed the space. Constant reshuffling of audience by actors; lots of interaction between the two. Total chaos!

But it works. The audience on the stage receives instruction (and demonstrations) before the play begins, and then Katie Bar the Door. The players are also the orchestra, carrying instruments and playing them remarkably well. The audience takes turns with the players riding the rocking horses and sitting on the pool table. 

G&S withstood the transposition to the Wild West magnificently -- it amazes and amuses me how durable G&S's musicals are. Some of the patter songs get lost in the shuffle, but the ballads are crisp and as poignant now as they were when first heard in 1888.

Again, the festivities in the lovely little Thomas theater. 

1518 : 760

Immersive theater like this, where the audience is drawn into the play because the division between stage and seating is dissolved, is an obvious counterpoint to the disconnection we experience with television. We attended our first such exercise in 2015, when the Festival staged Head Over Heels and we were delighted when the bumptious lead infiltrated the audience and gave me a high five. 

Next to us at Yeomen, a young lady aged about six, was mesmerized, and (most likely) spoiled for life for the passivity of the TV/movie experience. There at the behest of her grandmothers, she never wriggled, and received, as the youngest audience member, attention and love from many of the actors. 

At the end, the usual Festival Standing-O, the audience clapping in rhythm with the music ...and reluctant to leave the theater. This was much more than your typical live theater experience ...and so different from the spectacle of last night's Wiz, or the previous afternoon's Vietgone.

I'm looking forward to watching a video of a "proper" production of Yeomen when we get home. But I must say, I loved this production: everything that live theater is supposed to be, ever has been ...and if actors and playwrights and directors keep innovating up to this standard, ever will be. 


Unusually short (90 minutes with a 1 minute (!) intermission), we were out of the theater early (and I used my time writing the above). After dinner at Taroko Pan-Pacific Bistro -- perfect pot stickers and delicious maki rolls -- we went on to a completely forgettable Green Show, and then...

1519 : 742

What a train wreck! Two trains, equally ignoble in concept and, except for over-magnificent costuming, indifferent in execution. Set in "Sicilia," the first half features a king who urges his faultless gravid queen to love his "beloved brother" king of Bohemia, and then, barely three minutes in, awakes to the certainty that the pregnancy is not his doing, but his brothers ... which offense he tasks her with unmercifully. This cracked but unringable bell, after tolling for endless poetically barren minutes, causes, we are informed, her premature delivery and death. The ignoble king banishes the newborn and his brother to rustic Bohemia, leading to what Wikipedia calls "one of the most famous Shakespearean stage directions: Exit, pursued by a bear" -- likely the play's only memorable phrase and certainly its best moment in this production. The bear was awesome. The bairn (baby) is picked up by a shepherd-fool and his foolish son, and thus endeth the first half.

The 500 unsold tickets to this show tells us something, and initially I had it right too: I bought tickets only after my first purchase of five plays, in response to a please from the Festival to help fill up the season, and we sat in one of the Elizabethan's boxes, given us an interesting bird's eye view of the action. Unlike the Thomas's three-quarter-thrust productions, however, this play was blocked inexorably to the center, and some of the lines were mumbled. Even I lose a certain amount of Shakespearean language, but that doesn't excuse this play, or this production. You may note the absence of critical enthusiasm at right; the press hated the play.

Perhaps sensing his audience's loss of interest in this dark tale, Willy resorts to a chorus as a sort of deus ex machina to resolve all the tattered threads within the last few minutes; the two trains, in this production inexplicably Japanese Sicily and meaninglessly colorful Bohemia, reconcile, queen forgives the unforgivable, and all live happily ever after.

Yuck. My heart goes out to these actors who strove mightily against the odds and lost.

1520 : 732

Every Festival season needs a regrettable production or two. Sadly, I fear our last two plays are they.

For me a test of a play is the chatter afterwards. After Yeomen, I noted that the audience didn't want to leave, but stood clapping along with the taped sound-track of country-and-western music, smiling and babbling to each other. The Winter's Tale audience entirely skipped the conventional Standing-O, clapping half-heartedly, hollowly, and left the theater silent and disturbed. This wasn't anywhere near Shakespeare's best ... or Ashland's.

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