at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival
The Very Merry Wives of Windsor, Iowa
Written by Alison Carey
Adapted from the play by William Shakespeare
I cannot recall walking out at intermission at Oregon Shakespeare Festival before, but unless I was going to start hissing from the front row, I had to leave last night.
This sledge-hammer piece of political correctness is so crass and blatant that I felt creepily unclean as a beneficiary of its message of equality. On a grand scale, VMWWI is a modern adaptation of the jealousy and intrigue depicted in Shakespeare's The Merry Wives of Windsor. In this play there is a married female couple and single lesbians added to the traditional mix of confusion. I like the concept, and treated with any sort of artistry, the production would have been modern, insightful, and enjoyable.
But, what flat, anvil-heavy crap was put in front of us instead! The author has the talent of a self-righteous high school student intent on making sure that even the slowest member of the audience understood the important message being dumped on stage. I pity the straight liberals in the house who were the obvious targets of the evening. They had to come back to their seats or else they would have been thought intolerant of the topic.
The mental masturbation script occasionally had some funny one liners and scenes. The best was in the second act where, according to reports from friends who stayed, actor Cathrine Coulson was given a piece of cut wood to hold. She clutched it in her arms, and another character asked her for it by saying, "My log, lady." Coulson played the Log Lady on the cult television show Twin Peaks.
That funny, in-crowd line fairly represents the adaption script. That Log Lady reference was like most of the hip, in-crowd winking and nudging that constituted the play. Except that most of the rest of the gags were nasty, cheap jabs at Mitt Romney and other evil enemies of enlightenment instead of being gentle, benign references to rarefied culture.
I am a sucker for art broadening horizons and challenging cultural assumptions. I am particularly susceptible to gay-themed acceptance stories. Big Eden is one of my favorite small town acceptance stories of all time. That movie was unmistakable, but sweet, engaging, and not completely predictable.
Damn it. You don't get to pass off cringe-inducing stereotypes and one-dimensional characters just because you know you're on the side of the angels. Sure, Shakespeare had broad characters and traded on the stereotypes of his time. But, the artistry of the language makes all the difference. With Shakespeare there are seemingly an infinite number of interpretations possible for every character and every line. In one production the villain is self-aware and in the next, using the same text, he is oblivious to his faults. In VMWWI it's hard to image a saving directorial vision that would justify another production of the flatly-written piece. Ever.
The lesbian marriage concept would have been better served if OSF had skipped employing Carey to adapt Shakespeare. Instead, using the same excellent costumes, sharp set, talented cast, and same-sex couple casting, the evening would have been much more satisfying and point-making with the original story.
I am getting weary of leaving OSF plays saying, "Yes, but the actors gave their all and I stood and applauded for them." Although there was no standing ovation last night, once again the actors deserve rave reviews at a bad evening of theater.
Compliments to David Kelly for a smooth, smarmy Mitt Romney/Falstaff character. He seemed to be having fun.
Coulson was a fine and colorful Miss Quickly. I especially liked Judith-Marie Bergan as the innkeeper. I feel sorry for Robin Goodrin Nordli for her wasted talents as Francie Ford, and my sympathy also to Gina Daniels (Alice Ford), Terri McMahon (Margaret Page), Ted Deasy (George Page), and the pretty cheerleader boys.
Alex Jaeger's costumes were more alive than the script deserved. Chris Acebo's simple, corn-strewn set had us smiling before the play opened and the words brought us down.
Yeah, VMWWI is an archetypal waste of artistic talent that should have been killed or corrected long before it was inflicted on OSF's loyal audience.
... although there should be an icon for Dog Gone to indicate a walk-out mid production.