We have just returned from a few days in southern Oregon and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF). Over the 4 days spent there we saw 6 plays. Three were by Shakespeare, Merchant of Venice, Twelfth Night and Henry IV, Part I. We were also to see Hamlet. More about that later. Along with the Shakespeare we also saw American Night, Pride and Prejudice and She Loves Me.
We were very disappointed with the productions of Shakespeare's plays this year. A new Artistic Director was brought in a couple of years ago and since then the company seems to have taken a new approach to its interpretation of The Bard. The leads in the plays were still as strong as years past, but too many of the supporting actors were very weak and I question certain of the stylistic decisions made. A case in point was the costuming in Merchant of Venice. Now I must confess to preferring my Shakespeare performed in period costumes. However, I have been won over by some past performances that strayed far from the traditional. Two years ago I watched a wonderful performance of Much Ado About Nothing performed in a wild west setting. It was delightful! This year's production of The Merchant of Venice however, went too far. Some actors wore period costumes (the tights and all) while others were in rather modern business suits. During the courtroom scene the clerk wrote up the proceedings with a laptop. It was distracting and confusing. The Play Bill notes indicated the director made this stylistic choice in an effort to show the timelessness of the play's message. Note to director: Let Shakespeare's words convey the message. You can't possibly improve on them by confusing your audience with your schizophrenic choices of when this story takes place. We were so frustrated with the productions that actually left half way through Henry IV, Part I It just plodded on and on and I found myself looking at my watch (something I have never done at an OSF production). and wishing it were over. Again with Twelfth Night. It just didn't fly despite the best efforts of its leads. I finally stood in front of the box office on our last day and sold our two tickets to Hamlet. After three duds, I was not going to chance it on a fourth. We went out to a movie instead. On the bright side, the three non-Shakepearean shows we saw were wonderful! American Night, an American history revisionist play told through the eyes of a young Mexican immigrant about to take his citizenship test was both touching and a hysterical. It is on of 37 plays being commissioned by OSF to showcase American history. Delightful! We also saw a wonderful production of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. Solid acting, a beautifully done adaptation that gave me the feeling that I was peeking in on the lives of these people. When Mr. Darcy's and Elizabeth's seeming dislike for one another was finally transformed with their words of undying love and devotion, the audience sighed and daubed tears. Mrs. Bennett was played to comedic perfection as she did everything in her power to marry off her girls to the best matches she could manage. Finally, we were delighted with the upbeat A Love Letter, a Jerry Boch boy meets girl musical based on Illatszertar by Miklos Laszlo. This play inspired the movie You've Got Mail and The Shop Around the Corner, a 1940 film with Jimmy Stewart. This show was originally produced in 196o's. The musical didn't do well on Broadway and quickly faded from memory and production so it is seldom done, yet the audience loved this show. It was a good old fashioned romantic comedy with lots of cute songs and comedy and the old boy meets girl, boy looses girl, bot get's girl ending. What better way to spend an evening? The cast was solid. Wonderful singers, comic timing where required to pull off this show and they were marvelous. The shining star for me though was young lady who played Amalia. What a voice and what a presence on stage. We had some other wonderful experiences while in Ashland. We had a delightful afternoon wine and cheese party with some Bellingham friends we discovered were also at the Festival. They where staying in a rented home in a part of Ashland we didn't know existed. So were able to explore it on a night that happened to be an art walk evening. This part of Ashland has become a neighborhood all its own with restaurants, art galleries, a bakery, coffee houses and the local Co-Op. It also happens to be where the oldest homes are located so it is delightful to drive or walk through.
It was in that little neighborhood that we had our best meal of the trip at the Peerless Hotel and Restaurant. The turn of the century building houses a lovely hotel and restaurant. We found the beautiful garden setting for al fresco dining absolutely perfect. A fountain next to our table made cooling sounds in the afternoon heat of the day. We decided to try some of the small plates. The chose lamb meatballs and rosemary & cumin encrusted lamb medallions with eggplant tapenade and a mint yogurt sauce; sweet potatoes and yams were roasted and served topped with bacon, an onion and walnut chutney and chojija, a mexican cheese and fried parsley; Duck Confit, roasted crisp with moroccan olives, a date gastrique and couscous. We also had dinner with another pair of friends also from Bellingham who were there to play in the local Britt Festival which takes place in Jacksonville, a small mountain community about a half hour out of Ashland.
Dinner on the deck at Martino's Macaroni's was very nice. We had Ceasar Salads and I had my favorite Spaghetti and Meatballs. Leslie had the winner of the night though with Rigatoni al Pezzetto--Italian sausage, onions, olives, roasted red pepper and feta cheese in a pomodoro sauce. We also had a nice lunch at Si, Casa Flores, Mexican restaurant we love in Medford and had a disappointing breakfast at longtime favorite Black Bear Restaurant.
Finally, our last meal in Ashland was at a new discovery. Sesame is a place open for about two years now so it has opened since our last trip to the Festival. It sits right across the street from beautiful Lithia Park and right next to the creek. Sesame as its name implies, specializes in asian cuisine but it has quite successfully and creatively made some interesting twists on some wonderful dishes. We started with some lettuce wraps of chicken or tofu in slightly spiced coconut sauce and served with bean sprouts, cilantro, carrots, chopped peanuts and mirin soaked cucumber. Next we enjoyed a fresh and delicious Imperial Palace Salad created using napa cabbage, daikon, carrots, asian pears, orange segments, toasted almonds and topped with a tangerine vinaigrette. I chose Vietnamese Fish and Chips with tempura battered Basa, an Asian white fish with solid pinkish flesh perfect for the light batter. It included sweet potato fries, asian slaw and a sweet coriander dipping sauce for the Basa. Leslie chose Phuket Shrimp with wide rice noodles, a peanut sauce, topped with roasted peanuts, cilantro, mung beans sprouts and lime. A terrific meal taken outdoors along the creekside on a beautiful sunny day in Ashland, Oregon.