Aug 4, 2010

Ashland Blogging II: Love for Lydia

First impressions aren't always correct: The first show I saw at Oregon Shakes was, if memory serves, The School for Scandal, and I almost immediately dozed off amid the powdered wigs and shiny pants. This, I feared, was exactly the sort of thing I was going to be seeing all week from this classical troupe: accents and bustles and flipping fans. But in quick succession I saw a rip-roaring contemporary Henry IV, Part One, a moving Good Woman of Setzuan, the satisfyingly ramshackle fable Vilna's Got a Golem, a brilliant Midsummer, etc...You get the idea.

This year my playgoing schedule at OSF happened to kick off last night with Pride and Prejudice, in a nimble, unobtrusive, not to say undistinctive adaptation by Joseph Hanreddy and J.R. Sullivan, directed with admirable clarity by former OSF artistic director Libby Appel. This is middle-of-the-road fare that meets expectations and little more--to use Jane Austen's language, it is tolerable, agreeable, and handsome enough--and it illustrates a point I made in my last post: that in a repertory company, the romantic leads are often the weaker links. I did eventually warm to the blooming chemistry between Kate Hurster's Eliza and Elijah Alexander's Darcy, but though both are deft enough comic-romantic actors, this is hardly a sizzling pairing.

Also as usual with a rep company, it's the supporting players who inevitably steal focus: Demetra Pittman's magisterial Lady Catherine, for instance, or Mark Murphey's dry-as-dust Mr. Bennet (who plays glintingly off Judith-Marie Bergan's slightly too broad Mrs. Bennet), or Christian Barillas' solidly ditzy Charles Bingley. Speaking of ditzes, the real find here is Susannah Flood as Lydia, the youngest and boy-craziest of the Bennet girls; the role is comic catnip, but I can think of a dozen ways a young actress could botch it. Instead, the aptly named Flood bubbles over with manias and whims that seem to be occurring to her on the spot; her 11th-hour sit-down with her elder sisters is a gem of offhand comic characterization. Wondering at the absence of fellow officers at her hasty wedding to one, Lydia cries, "After all, England isn't under attack!" There's a wobbling pause, then a tiny spill of absolutely sincere doubt, tinged with terror: "Is it?"

Today there's meatier fare on the menu: This afternoon is Ping Chong's staging of Kurosawa's Throne of Blood (itself a version of Macbeth), and tonight there's a contemporary Hamlet which I'm especially looking forward to, not only because I've heard only good things about it but because I just checked the program: Susannah Flood, of all people, is playing Ophelia. Ah, the happy exigencies of repertory casting.

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