The Play’s not the Only Thing

Theatrical Magic in Ashland, Oregon

Oregon Shakespeare Festival is magical in and of itself. But add my dear friend Sebastian, an extra special B & B (before the “air), and some theatrical fellow guests and the result is magic to the nth degree.

Let’s start with Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF) in Ashland.

A regional theater company with authentic outdoor staging’s of the cannon as well as indoor state of the art theaters for large and small productions and audiences. The quintessential place to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream in high summer with stars overhead, some of them shooting.

But we didn’t see Midsummer that summer. We saw Hamlet.

So instead of laughing, we cried. Along with thousands, we took the journey with the young Danish prince through anger, depression, fear, revenge, love, grief, until all that was left was silence.

I’ve seen more plays than Sebastian. And this was his first time at OSF. Yet his riveted emotional connection to the events unfolding on stage floated over and grabbed hold of my heart. I sensed this during the performance, his tracking Hamlet’s emotional journey beat by beat.

When it was over we did not move. We couldn’t. It took a while to release the spell and sift back form that world to ours. Sebastian and I looked at each other and nodded. The look said, you, too? The nod said me, too.

As we filed out in silence, we shared knowing looks from our fellow Theater Lovers. Theater Lovers with capital “T’s” and “L’s.”

Theater Lovers are the folks who when it rains at the Elizabethan wait till the newbies not under the balcony flee for cover and then move forward out from under the balcony to take up those wet seats. Our peeps.

For comic relief we saw Taming of the Shrew. Made even merrier by the way the entire cast shouted Padua! in unison every time that town was mentioned. By the end of the play bolder members of the audience joined in. Us included.

We also saw the Pulitzer Prize winner, Wit in the Black Swan. In a smaller, more intimate, and in your face venue, the enemy in this tragedy is metastasized ovarian cancer and pain that outruns morphine.

The wit comes from the main character, Vivian Bearing, Ph.D., being an uptight, strict English professor who taught the poem by John Donne of the same name.

The conceit of the play is that the professional heartlessness of the medical staff mirrors her professional heartlessness with her students — which she gets by the end, when it’s too late to do much about it but meet death with as much dignity as possible.

Spoiler alert

In the middle of all this angst is a scene where Vivian is visited by a professional colleague. Reaching into her bag for the copy of The Runaway Bunny which she’s about to give to her great grandson, Dr. Ashford hoists herself up beside Vivian in the hospital bed and reads the story out loud to her.

As she reads, she gives her best literary commentary along the way — Look at that, a little allegory of the soul. No matter where it hides, God will find it. See Vivian.

Drugged sleep keeps Vivian from appreciating this bit of wit. Or the tenderness of the visit. Never wakes up to say goodbye, her body has to endure the code team fighting with the nurse over her DNR — do not resuscitate — while she rises and moves to the light.

After our plays and the five star meals with the friends in our Bay Area group, we walk back to our B & B hashing over our favorite moments, or just walk along holding our parallel reflections in reverent silence.

Ashland B & B’s amplify the OSF experience. The artistic director of OSF hosts talks for the hospitality industry, cluing them on the repertoire of each season before it starts, insuring the most theatrically savvy hosts, concierges, and desk clerks possible.

In our case, our hostess happened to be best buds OSF’s artistic director. She had the inside scoop. At breakfast, she’d ask all us guests which plays we’d see that day — usually two — a 2 pm matinee and an 8:30 pm show, timed well to support the alluring culinary performances at the local restaurants.

Breakfast treats

All this while we’re eating yogurt parfaits with fresh berries from her garden and French toast that had marinated in rum all night on its way to our plates. Mmmm!

But wait, there’s more.

One of our fellow guests from Santa Rosa, California was a retired musical theater actor. So on our first morning he regaled all us breakfasters with his rendition of King Arthur in Camelot.

On the second morning, he played Cervantes turning himself into Don Quixote of La Mancha! I’ll impersonate a man…and the magic built from there — the bumbling knight errant being a favorite of both Sebastian and I. It doesn’t get any better than that.

Unless you count the free upgrade.

One of the guests took a tumble and couldn’t do stairs with her bum foot. We offered to trade rooms with them, ours being the only one downstairs and quite tiny.

They were delighted and moved by our generosity. We got the big end of the stick. A huge room upstairs. And our host was so moved by our gesture, she gave us a second room upstairs which happened to be vacant as well.

We eased our way home on the six hour drive, with the vista of majestic Mt. Shasta uplifting our souls before hitting the intense heat and drab flatness of California’s Central Valley. We barely noticed. We purred all the way home.

Marilyn Flower writes fast fun reads with a touch of magical realism to strength the imagination of socially conscious folks. Clowning and improvisation strengthen her during these crazy times. She’s a regular columnist for the prison newsletter, Freedom Anywhere, and five of her short plays have been produced in San Francisco.

Writer, sacred fool, improviser, avid reader, writer, novel forthcoming, soul collage facilitator, prayer warrior and did I say writer?

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