Thursday, July 24, 2014

Ashland

For the first time in about ten years, we visited Ashland, Oregon and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. We enjoyed two Shakespeare plays, a musical by Steven Sondheim, and a dramatization of Lyndon Johnson's struggles between civil rights, The Great Society, and the Vietnam War. Ashland is a wonderful setting for attending plays, shopping, eating, and relaxing.

We "discovered" Ashland in 1973 when Lorraine had a business trip here in connection with her insurance career. I tagged along and we took in a play or two. In those days, there were just two or three plays in the cycle and the cycle ran only a few months during the year. We made trips to Ashland – a full day's drive from Seattle, less than that from San Francisco – an almost annual event. Over the years the festival expanded and we could spend two nights here, catch two evening plays and a matinee, and be home the evening of day three.

For some reason we didn't make the trip for ten years, but picked up the tradition again. Over the last 40 years Ashland's businesses have expanded to accommodate the heavier traffic. There are more restaurants, more shops, particularly art galleries, and more bed and breakfast homes. The B&B experience is our favorite since we get to meet nice people from around the country and it's just not a hotel.

This year's plays are excellent. We saw Richard III in the Allen Elizabethan Theatre*, once just an open air Chautauqua venue. It expanded over the years and today has an elaborate Elizabethan stage and all the bells and whistles of any first-class theater. The Angus Bowmer Theatre is all indoors and like any upscale modern performance venue. The smaller Black Swan is theatre-in-the-round. Once Ashland was a farming community, railroad division point, and home to a state teachers college. It was from the college that Professor Angus Bowmer started the festival in the early 1940s.

The Great Society is about Lyndon Johnson and with a theater full of gray hair, was fraught was flashback. This is the second play to deal with LBJ and the first one earned a Tony. I see these plays having long runs all over the nation.

Into The Woods is a musical; Cinderella meets Jack And The Bean Stock, meets Rapunzel, meets The Baker and His Wife. With a 25 piece orchestra what's there not to like. I can admit that I left the Elizabethan theater humming the music.

*Theatre refers to the art form and is often used in the name of a performance hall. Theater refers to the building where plays are performed.