Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Observations about Ashland + Shows

I'm going to admit it.

The first time I ever visited Ashland, I was not in love with it. Of course, I was also visiting it with a woman I did not love and I had such a terrible bout of insomnia that I found it more fun to read all of Aeschylus on the library steps than hang around in the room with my "not-right-for-me" companion.

Also, I was a playwright. A living playwright. And feeling the lack of productions for living playwrights work, I was also fond of saying stupid things like: Playwrights who are dead shouldn't be produced. They don't need the money. They're dead. (For the record, I still throw this molotov cocktail out at parties occasionally just to provoke the actors and directors who make a living off Bill's body of work. When I'm lucky, no-one takes the bait.)

It helped a little that, during that trip, in addition to the requisite Shakespeare, I also saw the OSF production of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" (which I loved).

Still. There was a lot of the dead guy's work. A lot.

But I am a very lucky man because this first unhappy visit to Ashland, was not my last.

In fact, I returned to Ashland two years later with someone I did love. (And still love. And will always love.) And even better, it turned out she was not only an actress working at the festival, but someone who had grown up in the town of Ashland. So I got a view of what Ashland was not just from a visitor's perspective, but from a native's perspective.

And, for all my aesthetic problems and pickiness (I like Shepard and Kane and Churchill and Ravenhill and McDonagh and Fornes - writers you don't/won't usually find on the bill here), I even became envious. (To the OSF's credit, they currently do produce some work by living writers (and good ones, too) - and more to their credit, they often produce work they have commissioned. This "putting your money where your mouth is" thing should be practiced by more theatre companies if you ask me.)

You see, this woman I love took to me to a breakfast to meet the people she'd grown up with and over waffles and sausage I listened to them talk about productions of Macbeth and Hamlet and R&J and on and on that they'd witnessed over a 30 year period.

It was impressive. It was amazing. And all the more so because it was regular talk for these folks. Ie, while an evening at the theatre still has something special, for them it was also just part of life.

I sat in awe as I realized that there is probably no other community like it anywhere on the planet. Enclaves to be sure in places like NY, but a whole town? A whole valley?

I'll be lucky if I ever have a theatre company, or work for one, or join one, that can even have one 100th of the potential to do what Angus Bowmer was able to do in a small town in south central Oregon.


As I said, I was able to run up to Ashland for the weekend and I saw two shows worth noting.

Here are my shameless plugs for them.

This play isn't done very often. And it's not read very much either. In fact, I wrote a sketch once that made fun of its obscure status. Plus, it's full of language like "controlment" and "endamagement" - words I'm prettry sure Microsoft's spell check will tell you don't exist. But the way it's directed here by John Sipes will have you wondering (if/when you see it) why the play isn't done all the time. The performances are great and the blocking of the play is so well-thought out that I had no trouble following the complicated geneology at the root of the play's plot, let alone all the political maneuvering going on. Plus, the scene where Hubert must put out the eyes of a child with a hot poker was/is draw-droppingly modern.

Man, let's get more of this on stage.

The boys are Amish. They go to a country club. They get banished to a forest full of Goths from the Mad Max movies. The playbill's notes suggest that some dismiss this as an "early" play. If only I could write such an early play. Full of love and wit, I was re-awakened to the Bard's abiltiy to say so much so well about the emotional lives we have. And the production locales lend the show a playfulness that keeps some of Shakespeare's less than truthful turnabouts working in ways they really shouldn't. In a word: charming.


D said...

what a wonderful blog entry!

that's all for now.


Joshua James said...

Great stuff - and I totally agree. I wrote about dead plays on my blog NO MORE COVERS (dead plays are like cover tunes, endless versions of HANG ON SLOOPY) and we just don't need anymore of them.

Malachy Walsh said...

Ashland is a very unusual place, no question about it. In fact, I find it kinda hard to believe it exists in the US of A, but it does.

It's been partly through it that I've understood how absurd my "only living playwrights should be produced" mantra was/is.

Though there's still a mischievous part of myself that says, hey, I'm alive! I'm alive! HEY! HELP! PLEASE!

Or something like that.