For whatever reason, I had not yet made a pilgrimage to visit, even though I had studied acting, theater and film most of my life (yes, I'm embarrassed..). Well, I finally made it on a beautiful early summer day as part of an overall Ashland study that has included historic hotels and resorts, restaurants, breweries, art and of course, the theater. So in part 1 of the of my blogs on Ashland, let me tell you how wonderful the Festival is:
It lives up to the hype. The first show my partner Lynn and I went to was Animal Crackers. As a longtime fan of the Marx Brothers, I was suspicious as to how anyone could duplicate their style and personality. Cast as Groucho Marxs' character Captain Spaulding, Mark Bedard is surprisingly brilliant. I say surprisingly simply because it just seems so impossible to capture the unique person that Groucho was. Brent Hinkley as Harpo's The Professor captures the childlike and physicality of Harpo Marx with a beautifully theatrical perfection, while the fun casting decision of the Asian-American Daisuke Tsuji as the Italian Emanuel Raveli that was played previously by Chico Marx, complete with in-joke references to the unusual casting in relation to the Asian play The White Snake was brilliant and shows the fun playing of the Ashland group of thespians. The remaining cast all did splendidly in playing with the classic characters, well-staged and sometimes elaborately choreagraphed slapstick sequences, and ensuing hilarity, with many actors pulling double and triple duty as various characters. The Angus Bowmer Theatre framed the display well, and allowed some wonderful interaction between stage and attendees incorporated into the play. Runs through November 4th, Directed by Allison Narver, whose history included work in New York and Yale.
Second up was Henry V, Shakspeare's heroic narrative that focuses less on battles than on personal forward thinking by the lead of Henry, played with both powerful drama, intercut with dry humourous notes by John Tufts. Showcased on the outdoor Elizabethan Stage (a sight to behold), the story unfolded with a brilliant intensity, featured a live percussionist, and thoroughly kept my attention for the 3 hour duration, unlike a previous small college production of the same play that I had seen several years previous. In the former, I had been unable to wait until the play was over, but in the beautifully staged and well directed hands of Joseph Haj (who has among his credits, an interesting staging of Henry V in a maximum security prison in LA!), it was over before I realized it, and applauded in a standing room only theater. Henry runs through October 12th.
I look forward to returning to the theater world of Ashland to revel in more of the artistic theater world that I miss, in a place as idyllic as any, and to learn more of the inner workings at a backstage tour that is offered most days at 10am (and is most often sold out), and to enjoy some of the many other interesting and diverse plays that the theater has to offer, as well as dive deeper into the wonderful, scenic and arts-filled world that is Ashland!
Visit http://www.osfashland.org/plays/index.aspx for more information