Monday, August 28, 2006

Living in the Past

So I've been gone for the past four days or so - left without a forwarding address, slipped this technological tether that I've created and headed out for parts unknown, with the singular justification of celebrating the successful navigation of forty-nine orbits of this particular rocky sphere (which remains, for a moment, a planet and not an inner-Jovian mars-like body). And to do so, I went to the ends of the earth.

Well, to Ashland, Oregon, to be accurate.

The Lovely Bride took the long drive down to near the California border for Ashland and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. The drive down and back was made more painless by one of Patrick O'Brien's Aubrey novels in the CD player (The Fortune of War, if you're interested, which deals Aubrey and Maturin's adventures during our War of 1812, and which the LB enjoyed, though she wanted to shake Maturin vigorously in regards to his taste in women). And the trip south went well enough, through a dry brownish land of Christian billboards, poor drivers, and faded American flag stickers. The distant mountains were invisible in the haze and dust, and the fire danger was and remains high.

And then, Ashland, an oasis backed by steep pines. Like Madison and Austin, it's a deeply liberal community where you would not expect it. Like Lake Geneva and Port Townsend, it thrives off a tourist trade. In this case the trade is brought in by the Shakespearer Festival, which means it attracts a higher grade-point average than your normal tourist mill. As a result, the local shops sell t-shirts that say "I (heart) Math" and most of the tourists look like retired English teachers. The music store is called "CD or not CD). Even the local paper, the Daily Tidings uses words like "vie" and "shirk" in headlines on page 1, above the fold.

The Lovely Bride and I stayed at Pelton House, a beautiful B&B near the heart of town. which I recommend strongly. We stayed in the Earth room, which was the lower floor of a detached dwelling behind the main house, which afforded some privacy as well as access to a hot tub. I particularly liked the lack of what the Lovely Bride calls "frou-frou" - romantic gingerbreading and lace that collects dust and makes most husbands feel generally uncomfortable. In addition, they served a wonderful breakfast in the morning (bread pudding the first day, a sheared egg the second, and I must regret we could not stay for the morning meal today).

We took in three plays - Merry Wives of Windsor, Cyrano De Bergerac, and King John. For Windsor we were in the nosebleed seats, which gave me an appreciation for the capabilities of the un-microphoned actors, and frustration with the sound systems when they did rely on microphones during the dance numbers. Yes dance numbers - three in all, the third being the best. The play itself is the model of a situation comedy, in that it has an "A" Plot (Falstaff woos two women to get into their husbands' purses) and a "B" Plot (the young lovers separated). Falstaff is the marquee character (lovably portrayed like a favorite rude uncle by G. Valmont Thomas) but the juicy roles are in the hands of Jonathan Haugen as the jealous husband Master Ford and Judith Marie Bergen as a Cindi Lauperesque Mistress Quickly. The costumes were two parts Dickens and two parts Dr. Suess, and lead up to a final number of the cast as buskers in black bowlers and shell-sequinned suits.

Cyrano was the play I dreaded, for I knew the story and I knew it to be a bit long, but I found it the best of a very good group. The scheduled lead was replaced by Richard Howard, who was absolutely fantastic in the role. Howard carried his charge forward as the man brave and capable in all things except love. And while the Lovely Bride would like to shake Roxanne until she rattled (she has a lot to say of late about life-choices of the young and fictitious), I think Cyrano deserves a few lumps as well for his continual justifications for not coming clean. And the performance was wonderful, as the lead takes us through not one death speech for Cyrano, but the five or six ones that pile upon each other - a challenge to an actor to hold them all together before his character is at last allowed to expire.

And then King John, finishing my trifecta of old warriors. The problem with Shakespeare's historicals is that they were not horribly, um, historical, in nature, so I should let theme weigh in where accuracy fails. The place is given a patina of pre-WWI England in costume, set upon a mostly bare stage, and presented in the round (guarenteeing that at least for part of the proceedings you will be looking at the speaker's back). Poor John, rounded by history as evil (in the Robin Hood mythos) and weak (in succumbing to the Magna Carta), and laid out here as denied the approval he desperately desires. Michael Elich carries him off well, without falling piteously to his supposed nature. And the Shakespeare rejects both John and the young candidate Arthur (also dominated by his mother, as John is portrayed overborne by Eleanor) for an imaginary bastard of Richard the Lion-Hearted (Rene Millan) who embodies the true virtues of the British Crown, including loyalty. With enough propaganda of that day and this (and more than a few swipes at Rome), the Lovely Bride found the continual deal-making and oath-breaking to be a delight.

In the down times between plays, the LB and I walked through Ashland, discovering a comic book shop that has a better games section than most of the hobby stores in Seattle. And we walked the residential areas, finding lovely gardens and houses strewn with tibetian prayer flags. And we sat under the grape arbor at Pelton House, reading - I picked up and finished a short book on the Great Ashland Flood of 1997, as well as scrolled off another 200 pages of Neil Stephenson's Baroque Cycle, which is to say, advanced the plot just a little a bit. And we ate very, very well for the town has a host of extremely good resturants.

So in the end it was a wonderful close to the summer, a last bright gleam before plowing into some rather hectic deadlines ahead. But for the weekened, it was all about the past, and it was very nice indeed.

More later,