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Ashland 2015: Much Ado About Nothing

On the one hand, Much Ado About Nothing is arguably* in the second tier of the Shakespeare canon, even if one is looking mostly at the comedies (Merchant of Venice, Taming of the Shrew, Midsummer Night's Dream, and Comedy of Errors being the best-known and most respected of those).   On the other, Much Ado has gotten a lot of attention in recent years, dating from the Kenneth Branagh film in 1993 to the much more recent (and very good) Joss Whedon version released in 2013.

This year's OSF staging falls somewhere between the two movies in atmosphere -- it has a Mediterranean visual style not unlike the Branagh film, but the execution is distinctly modern.  It's funny where it needs to be -- one of the best running gags has Rex Young's Dogberry zipping around on a Segway, and Christiana Clark makes an especially energetic Beatrice.  It's also provocative where it needs to be -- actress Regan Linton plays a wheelchair-bound Don John with credible bitterness, lending an intriguing dimension to the darker side of the play's storyline. 

The trouble is simply that while there's nothing really wrong with the production, it just doesn't sparkle as brightly as OSF's home-run shows of the current season -- it lacks the zip of Head Over Heels or Guys & Dolls, and can't match a play like Sweat on the social-relevance scale.  It's simply a very good staging caught among a handful of flat-out spectacular shows, and it can't help but feel a little bit overwhelmed by comparison.  For what it's worth, I'd count Much Ado as the slightly better show of the two Shakespeare plays we saw -- Antony & Cleopatra is a bit more unevenly executed. 

In terms of the weekend as a whole, though, this feels like one of OSF's strongest recent seasons, and I'd happily go back to catch several of the shows we missed on this visit (notably Pericles and The Count of Monte Cristo, though tickets for the former are reportedly very hard to come by at this point).

*Our nominal tour leader (an English professor from my alma mater) would argue with me about this.  She expressed the opinion several times during the tour that Much Ado is possibly Shakespeare's *best* comedy in terms of craft and characterization, which is one of the reasons she chose to have the group see it rather than the Festival's production of The Count of Monte Cristo on the outdoor Elizabethan stage.  Me, I'd have picked Monte Cristo....

Crossposted from my mirror-journal on Dreamwidth (at http://djonn.dreamwidth.org/42831.html); feel free to comment here or there.


( 3 comments — Agree, disagree, kibitz )
Aug. 10th, 2015 11:28 pm (UTC)
Interesting review. It leaves me with two questions:* Where's the footnote? and, What's OSF?
Aug. 11th, 2015 08:41 am (UTC)
Sim sim salabim! The footnote has magically appeared!

OSF is the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, possibly the largest and most ambitious regional repertory company in the country. When I was introduced to the Festival back in (eep!) 1974, they were putting on maybe half a dozen plays in two theaters over a five or six month season, and were not yet fully enfranchised as an Equity company. Today they're a full Equity company, there are three theaters, and the eleven-play season starts in February and ends in November.

The 1974 trip, and the next five after that, were under the auspices of two of my junior high English teachers, who put together a six-bus caravan of carefully vetted students (after you moved up to high school, you could still come along as a "junior chaperone").

Nowadays, my parents and I normally attend with a college tour put together by our alumni association; I think I've only missed three or four seasons over the intervening decades. This year I joined the tour on my own, as my parents had to cancel at the last minute in connection with a (fortunately minor) health issue.
Aug. 11th, 2015 08:44 pm (UTC)
"(fortunately minor)"
Hurray for that!
( 3 comments — Agree, disagree, kibitz )

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