The Oregon Shakespeare Festival welcomed the arrival of summer last weekend with its traditional Solstice ritual of opening the outdoor Elizabethan Theatre. Theatergoers were treated to Ashland's temperate clime — sunny, warm days that turned into cool nights, with stars and waning moon interplaying with light cloud cover and some surprising gusts of chill wind to cast the perfect mood for the opening of Richard II.
The first of Shakespeare's eight-play cycle that chronicles the rise and fall of the Plantagenet line of English kings, Richard II is a character study of the sensitive, poetic, divinely right heir to the British throne. The effects of power on human nature, for good or ill, are broadly outlined.
The right of succession plays a key theme in this history. R2 had undisputed lineage to William the Conqueror; he was the grandson of King Edward III, who reigned from 1327 to 1377. Edward III and Queen Philippa had 12 children, seven of whom were sons. The eldest son, Edward, known as the Black Prince, was one of the many children who died, leaving his eldest, Richard II, to be named king upon Edward III's death when R2 was only 10 years old.
Richard's uncles held power while he was a minor, and save for Gloucester, were loyal to him, in a nod to the Godly sanctimony of proper succession. That plays a key theme, for the play opens in 1398, 11 years into R2's reign (He assumed power at age 20.).
In the opening scene, R2's cousin, Henry Hereford, or Bolingbroke, accuses Thomas Mowbray, the Duke of Norfolk, of plotting to kill Gloucester, Henry's and Richard's uncle. Mowbray and Bolingbroke decide to duel to the death to prove who's right, but R2, a pacifist like his mother, Joan the Fair Maid of Kent, calls off the match and instead banishes them both: Henry for 10 years, a sentence later reduced to six years, and Mowbray for life.
Then comes Richard II's tragic move. Despite the loyalty he's been shown all his life as divine successor to the throne, he shows no such loyalty to cousin Henry. When Henry's father, John of Gaunt dies, R2 takes all his land and holdings, even though they're rightfully Henry's.
War ensues. Factions battle against each other. Henry, with the help of Northumberland, ends up taking the throne away from R2. (Later, Northumberland will turn against Henry, setting the stage for Henry IV, parts 1 and 2.)
His rise and fall from power give R2 much to emote about, and finally, alone and imprisoned, he finds solace in the realm of the spirit. Never having the nature to be king, and having made poor choices and decisions, he, as a sensitive, artistic, peaceloving man, can now see the folly in his own pride and ambition.
This production, directed by OSF Artistic Director Libby Appel, shows promise, but by opening night had simply not yet come together. Many casts know the feeling of "if only we had one more week" and this seemed to fit that bill. Problems with the set, some awkward staging, and actors who couldn't remember their blocking and lines were distractions. Perhaps because of these problems, the play becomes tiresome after awhile and it seems the text could be somewhat edited.
Great attention to costuming by Elizabeth Novak is what really stands out in this production. By the late 14th century, women had doffed their veils and let their hair flow freely, and wore long, elegant dresses. The men wore highly stylized tunics and rich, flowing robes. These touches, especially the royal blue velvet cloaks of the king's council, along with the pomp and ceremony befitting the artistic R2, are well done here.
The most notable aspect of OSF's production of Isben's Hedda Gabler is the compelling script, translated by Jerry Turner. Gone is the formal, stilted speech of many Ibsen translations. Here is the modern, American dialect in a book easily accessible to audiences and more readily available to actors. After that, everything just falls into place in this phenomenal production that shows off the range of Robin Goodrin Nordli (Hedda), from manic to suicidal. Impeccable performances by Jeffrey King (George Tesman), Terri McMahon (Thea), Richard Farrell (Judge Brack) and Jonathan Haugen (Eilert) in addition to tight direction by Bill Rauch put the shine on this diamond, along with a lighting scheme that showcases the heavy emotions experienced by Hedda.
The play continues to fascinate audiences because of the questions it produces. Just what makes Hedda tick? No one really knows, or claims to know, why she makes the choices she does. Rauch offers this production as an exploration of her psyche, with no tidy answers.
Like other Ibsen women, Hedda is a prisoner of her time. She makes choices even she can't explain, but director Rauch suggests — through appearances of her father's ghost — that her actions may be borne out of a serious depression she's suffered since her father died.
After the death of her father, she accepts the only offer of marriage she receives, although she has numerous suitors. Jeffrey King's George is a loving, innocent, childlike man who has been doted upon his entire life by two aunts and has just received a doctorate in cultural history. A man of books, he is moral and dignified, but unprepared for anything other than academia. To the end, he is astonished he has won the love of the exciting Hedda.
From Hedda's perspective, George is respectable and seems to have a solid future in front of him. Ironically, her former beau, Eilert Lovborg, and her would-be suitor, Judge Brack, taunt her for marrying him and pursue her, although neither is marriage-minded.
A spitfire with a love of drama, however, Hedda, after only five months of marriage is already bored and has returned from her lengthy honeymoon desperate to begin her social life. After all, she moans, how boring to be stuck with the same person day in, day out. But she soon finds her life at home is less than ideal. Her husband cannot afford just yet to entertain her aristocratic friends. Hedda immediately feels imprisoned by her social position. She is intellectually starved, but has neither interests nor the slightest clue how to pursue any.
Brack capitalizes on her boredom. Farrell plays him perfectly as the opportunist whose evil gradually grows, creeping up on Hedda only to force her final act.
When Hedda's old school acquaintance, Thea, enters her life, Hedda immediately becomes envious of Thea's role as inspiration to Eilert, also a man of books. Thea has helped Eilert write a groundbreaking manuscript and has left her husband because Eilert gave her something he would not — the opportunity to play the role of intellectual equal.
Hedda doesn't know how to phrase the longing this knowledge creates in her; she wants to "be responsible for another person's life" she says, but what she desperately desires is the role of playing a brilliant man's muse. Her husband, she claims, isn't worth the effort, but neither does he turn to her for such inspiration.
Through a series of lies and manipulations, Hedda manages to find a way to influence Eilert, and to ultimately become responsible for his life.
A victim of her time, Hedda is trapped in a marriage she doesn't desire, in a beautiful house she doesn't care about and with fine furnishings she didn't pick out. What Hedda needs is more than the ability to go out and get a job, however. She needs respect. Her inability to gain that from any of the men in her life, juxtaposed to Thea's ability to get that from both Hedda's former companion and husband, helps drive Hedda crazy.
In the end, like many of Ibsen's women, Hedda
can find only one way out.
BEST ESSAYS NW: PERSPECTIVES FROM OREGON QUARTERLY MAGAZINE. Edited by Guy Maynard and Kathleen Holt. University of Oregon Press, 2003. Hardcover, $24.95.
This new collection of essays provides newcomers and old timers alike a wide range of reflections about the Northwest experience. As editors Guy Maynard and Kathleen Holt note in their introduction, these essays are informed by the "social, cultural, political and economic ideas" that affect the Northwest. And in his foreword to the collection, Barry Lopez recognizes that in our fragmented age, the contemporary essayist argues for or tries "to reason toward, forms of reintegration." These personal essays help shape a greater appreciation of the shared fate of nature and people in this unique bio-region.
"Speaking Oregon" by Brian Doyle draws in the reader with his observations of a hawk he watches through the window of his office at the University of Portland. "Something" about the hawk is Oregon to him, he writes. "Perhaps it is his unerring sense of direction amid the thick trees. Perhaps it is his silence; I have never heard him utter a sound, and I think silence is a powerful word in the language of this landscape."
Beth Hege Piatote also works with language in "A Circle of Words," her thoughtful essay on a ceremony between the Chief Joseph band of the Nez Perce and the descendants of C.E.S. Wood. As a young military officer, Wood had recorded the words of Chief Joseph's surrender in October of 1877. Later Wood asked Chief Joseph if his son Erskine could visit his people. The boy spent two summers with Joseph in the late 1890s, which Erskine described to a reporter in 1956 as "the high spot of my entire life."
C.E.S. had requested that Erskine see if there were a gift he could offer Chief Joseph in return for his hospitality. The boy asked, and Joseph said he would like a fine stallion to improve his herd. But the boy thought Joseph deserved a greater gift than a horse and did not give his father Joseph's message. Erskine, who lived to be 104, regretted his bad decision, as did later generations of the family.
In 1997, amid a quiet gathering, Joseph's people offered gifts of woven blankets to the Woods family, and Erskine's family offered the gift of a stallion to the Nez Perce people — a ceremonial correction to a 100-year misunderstanding.
In her essay, "Air, Earth, Fire, Water," Jane Kyle addresses the elements, one at a time. In "Earth" she explores being a student at the University of Washington, spring of 1965, and taking a first-year geology class from a young professor. He introduced the class to new theories about plate tectonics, volcanism, mountain building and earthquakes.
Speaking of predictions, he asked the class what they would do if he told them there would be an earthquake on Monday — move to Miami Beach? With uncanny timing, an earthquake registering 6.5 on the Richter scale hit the following Monday. Kyle writes of her experience as if it were happening in this moment:
"There begins a roaring, like a steam train bearing down, except you can't locate the coming and going. The ground shimmies, so little at first I think it's just my own dizzy spell, but then this accelerates and deepens until the floor begins to slide and the walls to rock."
Native American ceremonies, hawks and earthquakes may have little in common logically. But each of these stories and many others in the collection share what I call a Northwest sensibility — an intangible interaction between a human observer and the land, water, traditions, weather, seasons, people, plants and animals that live here. The region's history, geography and geology also exert subtle effects.
I have consciously chosen not to review work by people I know well, but I want to call their essays to your attention, because they are among the best — "Blood Relative" by Bobbie Willis, my colleague at Eugene Weekly; "When He Falls Off a Horse" by Debra Gwartney, my memoir writing teacher; "I Love the Rain" by Lauren Kessler, my UO writing teacher; "Train Time" by Susan Rich, who wrote a books column for me; "Finding Frogs" by Cheri Brooks, my invaluable co-coordinator for a 2001 film festival; and "Get Off My Log" by Kellee Weinhold, also a former colleague.
Other writers include Kim Stafford, Kathleen Holt, Steve McQuiddy, Ross West, Ian McCluskey, Robert Leo Heilman, Ellen Waterston, Leslie Leyland Fields, Corrina Wycoff, Cynthia Pappas, Guy Maynard, Robin Cody, Joni James, Paul Keller, Mark Blaine, Charles Goodrich, Ana Maria Spagna, Gayle Forman, and John Daniel.
If you know someone who is thinking of moving to the Northwest, or if you just want to know more about this amazing spot we call home, here's the book for you. I savored it, a couple of stories a night for a month. It's lovely.
BOOK NOTES, June 26 — July 31: Art and the Vineyard Festival's Oregon Authors Table features 30 regional writers on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, July 4, 5 and 6. at Alton Baker Park. Joe Blakely (The Bellfountain Giant Killers) 5:30-7:30 pm 7/4; 11-30 am-1:30 pm 7/5; and 5:30-7:30 pm 7/6. Valerie Brooks (Scent of Cedars: Promising Writers of the Pacific Northwest ) at 11:30 am-3:30 pm 7/4; 1:30-7:30 pm 7/5; 11:30 am-7:30 pm 7/6. Mike Carter (The Jade Gates) 5:30-7:30 pm 7/4; 3:30-5:30 pm 7/6. James Cloutier (Orygone comics) 11:30 am-5:30 pm 7/4; 3:30-7:30 pm 7/5; 11:30 am-5:30 pm 7/6. Bean Comrada's translations of works by Karel Capek, 3:30-7:30 pm 7/5. Korra Deaver (Entertain Angels Unawares) at 5:30 - 7:30 pm 7/4 and 11:30 am-1:30 pm on 7/5. Carola Dunn (The Case of the Murdered Muckraker) 3:30-7:30 pm 7/4 and 7/6. Jan Eliot (Stone Soup, Road Kill in the Closet) 11:30 am-3:30 pm 7/4; 1:30-7:30 pm 7/5, and 11:30 am-7:30 pm 7/6. Lydia Lee Garrett (Job Description: Angel) 5:30-7:30 pm 7/4 and 3:30-5:30 7/6. Eugene Gogol (The Concept of Other in Latin American Liberation) 1:30-5:30 pm 7/4; 11:30 am-1:30 pm 7/5; 1:30-5:30 pm 7/6. Melissa Hart (Long Way Home) 3:30-7:30 pm 7/5. Ann Herrick (An Adorable Couple) 1:30-3:30 pm 7/5. Nancy Hopps (Relax Into Healing) 11:30 am-1:30 pm 7/4. Robert Kono (The Last Fox) 1:30-3:30 pm 7/4, 7/5 and 7/6. Herman Krieger (Churches Ad Hoc: A Divine Comedy) 11:30 am-1:30 pm 7/4 and 1:30-3:30 pm on 7/5. Jessica Maxwell (Sand in My Bra) 5:30-7:30 pm 7/4. Larry McKaughan (Why Are Your Fingers Cold?) 1:30 -5:30 pm 7/4; 11:3o am-1:30 pm and 3:30-5:30 pm 7/5. J.J. Mingione (It's a Sin to Tell a Lie) 5:30-7:30 pm 7/4 and 11:30 am-1:30 pm on 7/5. Pat Murphy (Alternative Treatments for Epilepsy) 11-30 am-1:30 pm 7/4 and 7/6. B.J. Novitski (Rendering Real and Imagined Buildings): 5:30-7:30 pm 7/6. Paula Prober (Ten Tips for Women Who Want to Change the World Without Losing Their Friends, Shirts or Minds) 5:30-7:30 pm 7/5. Robert Rubinstein (Curtains Up! Theatre Games and Storytelling) 3:30-5:30 pm 7/6. Ellen Schlesinger (A Gaga Gardener's Guide to Nearby Nurseries) 11:30 am-1:30 pm 7/6. Colleen Sell (A Cup Of Comfort) 11:30 am-1:30 pm 7/5. Brenda Shaw (Eliza and Mentora) 11:30 am-3:30 pm 7/4; 1:30-3:30 pm 7/5; 11:30 am-3:30 pm 7/6. Alan Siporin (Fire's Edge) 3:30-7:30 pm 7/4; 11:30 am-3:30 pm 7/5. Steven Ungerleider (Faust's Gold: Inside the East German Doping Machine) 5:30-7:30 pm 7/5. Toni Van Deusen (Moonmusic) 3:30-5:30 pm 7/5. Carol Wagner (Soul Survivors: Stories of Women and Children in Cambodia) 5:30-7:30 pm 7/6.
ENTERTAINING FOR A VEGGIE PLANET, 250 DOWN-TO-EARTH RECIPES, by Didi Emmons. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2003. $18.95, paperback.
This new manual written by Didi Emmons is filled with inspiration for the sometimes shaky process of entertaining at home. More than just a vegetarian cookbook, it stands out as a how-to for throwing a party with confidence, be it an inexpensive wedding for 50 or a gourmet omelet brunch for six. One section, called "Communal casseroles, lasagnas, chilies, stews and savory pies," focuses entirely on handy, portable and filling potluck dishes. Another section, "Nibbles and Drinks," is filled with fascinating dips, like the Ruby Walnut Dip with Artichokes or the Sweet Potato-Black Bean Salsa, and things to accompany them. (The Parmesan-Caraway Crackers are next on my list of things to try.)
Every recipe comes with directions and clues on how far in advance you can prepare it, and how best to store it. Filling in the pages are also hints from Emmons and her friends on things that worked to make a party, or a particular dish, a success: low lighting to make strangers feel more intimate, five rules for making vegetarian chili, an exotic peanut butter and jelly sandwich party with fresh fruits and all kinds of nut butters, at-home poetry readings and more. Emmons is chef at Veggie Planet in Cambridge, Mass., and has written the good, creative veggie cookbook, Vegetarian Planet, as well.
Eugeneans will get a chance to meet the author and sample some of the dishes at 5:30 pm Monday, June 30th at Marché restaurant. Marché will be preparing and serving a five-course tasting menu with recipes from the book, with Emmons available to sign books. The cost of the meal is $32 per person with $5 going to the School Garden Project. Call 342-3612 for more information and reservations.
Melon Sago (Tapioca)
In a large bowl, soak the tapioca in two cups cool water for 15 minutes. Drain through a fine-meshed sieve. Meanwhile in a blender or food processor, puree half of the melon cubes and transfer to a large bowl, along with the remaining melon cubes and the coconut milk.
In a medium saucepan, bring three cups of water to a boil. Add the tapioca and cook until there is only a faint white dot left in the center of each tapioca pearl, about five minutes. (To check, taste one of the pearls; it should be soft, not crunchy.) Remove from heat and add the sugar, stirring until the sugar dissolves.
Add the tapioca mixture to the melon mixture and stir well. Taste the pudding and add enough lime or lemon juice to balance the flavors. Pour into a serving bowl or six individual cups and chill until the sago is cold, about two hours. The consistency should be like that of fruited yogurt. Garnish with the mint leaves, if desired, before serving.
More at Marché:
A couple other events look noteworthy at Marché in the coming weeks. A prix fix meal featuring Languedoc-Roussillon's cuisine and wines is on Wednesday, June 25th, seating beginning at 5:30, price $35 per person. And on Wednesday, July 9 the staff will recreate the meal Stephanie Pearl-Kimmel and Rocky Masselli will prepare at the invitational James Beard House event later in July. The menu is quite extravagant and should be something special. The price is $100 per person, including wine and live entertainment by the staff of Marché. Call 342-3612 for reservations.
The al Fresco market at the Fifth Street Public Market has already begun, featuring fresh produce from local farms like Haybales!, Riverbend and Sweetbriar, local wines, mushrooms and gourmet Oregon-made cheeses, and Pearl-Kimmel's own line of vinegars and gourmet jams. The market will be open from 10 am to 4 pm every Wednesday through October.