Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 2, No. 197. Sunday, 18 Aug 1991.
Date: Sat, 17 Aug 91 16:40:59 PDT
Subject: Shakespeare at Ashland, Oregon
For those SHAKSPER subscribers who are closer to Oregon than to
Stratford, Ontario, there are some good things again this year at the
Ashland Festival. I didn't see the *Julius Caesar*, but enjoyed an
inventive and tight production of *Henry VI Part 1.5* in the
Elizabethan Theatre. They combined *Part One* with the first half of
*Part Two*, the second half of the three to come next year. Since
Ashland is one of the very few companies that go through the whole
canon, I think only the most persnickety of pedants would complain
that there was some Reader's Digesting going on. It is, after all, a
comment on the genre of History that it is possible to reorganize
these plays without feeling crushingly guilty.
In the indoor theatre, the production of *The Merchant of Venice*
was directed by Libby Appel, whose *Winter's Tale* last year was
stunning. It is a characteristic of her direction that stage business
seems always to rise out of the text rather than to be grafted onto
it; she is also clearly interested in the power and the powerlessness
of the women in the plays. Her Portia was less problematic than she
sometimes is, especially in the trial scene, where she was clearly
working from native wit rather than a preconceived plan, rescuing
Antonio twice in the nick of time (good Raymond Burr stuff). I have
always followed the Signet interpretation of Shylock's line "I'll stay
no longer question" (4.1.345) to imply that Shylock is about to leave
-- hence Portia's merciless "Tarry, Jew! / The law hath yet another
hold on you." But here Shylock was simply fed up with the taunting,
and was on the verge of cutting the pound of flesh despite the
consequence. The result is that Portia's further legalism is necessary
rather than brutal. Shylock was by no means stereotypical villain,
however (how could he be?), particularly because Salerio and Salanio
became a small gang of taunting Venetian teenagers.
There was a competent *Shrew* that didn't seem to go anywhere,
and, again indoors, a fine *Major Barbara* (directed by the retiring
Festival Director, Jerry Turner), which, though chosen and performed
before the Gulf War, was almost embarrassingly relevant. Sundry others
I didn't get to.
Ashland is always worth a visit. Next year the Shakespeare plays
will be (in addition to *Henry VI Part 2.5*), *All's Well That Ends Well*,
*As You Like It*, and *Othello*.