Friday, May 23, 2014

OSF REVIEW: "Cocoanuts" (2) Absolutely NUTS!

Photos from the OSF production of "Cocoanuts" adapted by Mark Bedard.

It is my great privilege to review four of the eleven 2014 shows staged by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Of the seven currently running, I am reviewing:

This is our second year reviewing OSF productions. Last year we covered "A Streetcar Named Desire," "The Unfortunates" and "Two Trains Running." I do regret that I didn't start sooner. Since I was in high school drama I have had an interest in attending an OSF production. I just didn't have a real drive to see Shakespeare, I guess. My bad. I regret not coming sooner and more often. I highly recommend the wonderful experience and that YOU not put it off like I did.

This is our second review. To read the first review (and read more of this intro) click here or scroll down. Here's a couple of new facts: OSF was established in Ashland in 1935 and has the oldest full-scale Elizabethan stage (a replica of the Globe) in the Western Hemisphere. More than 125,000 patrons attended shows each year seeing and average of three shows per visit (that's more than 400,000 seats). They've won a regional Tony Award and they employ approximately 600 theater professionals.

Also you'll find more supplemental information to help you plan your own OSF visit with each post. Each play review will also offer an OSF Trip Tips section to help you better enjoy your visit as well as brief restaurant reviews.

Making Their Marx

I have NEVER seen a show I enjoyed so much. EVER.

Harpo (Brent Hinkley), Chico (John Tufts) and Groucho (Mark Bedard)
make an entrance. Photo: Jenny Graham.
"Cocoanuts:" always amusing, often funny, and at times uproariously hilarious, this adaptation of the Marx Brothers comedy, with music by Irving Berlin, is an absolute hoot. This play alone is worth a trip to Ashland. This should be on Broadway with these actors. If it were it would run for years.

The adaptation, by Mark Bedard (who also plays Groucho), is brilliantly modernized with contemporary relevance while holding true to the original. He is a comic genius who effectively channels the Marx Bros. leader. And while he,  Eduardo Placer (Zeppo),  and Brent Hinkley (Harpo) were extraordinarily exceptional, all the other players were top notch as well. However, I felt that Chico, played by John Tufts, could have been better matched, but overall the roles were ideally cast. I enjoyed the entire ensemble.

It should be noted that the cast, especially Bedard, were exceptional at ad lib and improvisation. There were several times that Bedard took the show off track to do an improv shtick usually involving an audience member and ad libbed puns off the top of his head. In many regards this was a very live performance and reminiscent of how Tim Conway would surprise the cast of The Carol Burnett Show and how even though you could tell he had thrown them, they were able to pick up and carry on with their own ad lib. In this particular showing Superman (a toddler in costume) even made an impromptu appearance, and they "flew" with it!

Detective Hennessey (David Kelly, center) has much to sing about at the
wedding rehearsal dinner. That's Mrs. Potter (K.T. Vogt, far right).
 Photo: Jenny Graham.
As mentioned, Bedard was simply amazing, as was the silent Hinkley, but two amazing actors exceeded their performance. K.T. Vogt as Mrs. Potter and David Kelly as Detective Hennessey were so stellar they were out of this universe. Not only were they extremely good sports, they threw themselves into their roles. Each had great comic timing and embodied their characters bodily, vocally, and facially. I absolutely loved Vogt's performance and she sang excellently, as well.

However, it was Kelly who truly stole the show for me. What appears, at first, to be a bit role, turns into a show stopping performance. Not only does he display perfect comic timing with a rubber face to boot, he has striking vocal chops. His was a most surprising and delightful performance.

Again, the entire ensemble was great, but I did want to mention the best voice of all was Jennie Greenberry. Whoa! And her duet "Always" with Eduardo Placer in the Zeppo role of Robert Jamison was the vocal highlight of the production. Placer, I could tell, is a musical theater triple threat master.

Making a Scene

Harpo (Brent Hinkley) and Groucho (Mark Bedard) cause havoc in
the hotel rooms. Photo: Jenny Graham.
The production values were, in every aspect, exceptional. Overall, the singing, dancing and acting were extraordinary and credit is due director David Ivers for delivering a constantly moving and visually interesting show. The choreography by Jaclyn Miller  was superb and fun. Music direction by Gregg Coffin, scenic design (colorful and effective) by Richard L. Hay, costumes (very colorful as well) by Meg Neville, lighting (quite lovely and complex) by Marcus Doshi, sound, video, etc.--all stunning. The band, too, led by Darcy Danielson, was superb. Everything about the show was a delight.

It is unfortunate that I cannot find listed the person responsible for the video mapping on the set. That was a jaw-dropping surprise and so well done.

Robert Jamison (Eduardo Placer, center) and his staff (Katie Bradley,
Miles Fletcher, Erin O'Connor) review the situation. Photo: Jenny Graham.
It should be noted that the show, with original music and lyrics by Irving Berlin, does have a story line (book by George S. Kaufman) and basic musical theater themes, but it is relatively unimportant. It is the slapstick, shtick, gags and improv from an extraordinary cast--as well as the beautiful design and direction--that make this show a spell-binding spectacle.

Colorful, interesting, amusing Broadway-hit style theater, and right here in the PNW! I URGE you to get your tickets ASAP. They do sell out and in 2013 OSF had an 87% capacity crowd over their eight month season.

OSF Trip Tip

The Lithia River. Photo: Gregory E. Zschomler.
Another Ashland delight is Lithia Park directly to the northwest of the OSF grounds. It is a beautiful 93 acre green way park running along both sides of the Ashland Creek flowing out of the local hillside. Walking paths, picnic grounds, ponds, wading areas, grassy lawns, tennis courts, gazebos and all kinds of places to get away and relax are just some of the features that make this city park one of the best I have been in.

Buskers are also part of the flair of this artsy community, and they can be found playing cello, sax, didgeridoo, guitar, congas or any other variety of instrument along the parks paths. This is not as annoying as it may imply because there is plenty of space to find a quiet area if you wish--especially if you are willing to walk to the upper parts of the nature area.

There is also a variety of restaurants along the lower part of the creek where it flows out of the park and into the city along a river walk dining area not unlike the ones found in San Antonio and Oklahoma City (though on a smaller scale). Riverside dining is delightful this time of year before it gets to muggy and buggy.

The author at Louie's. Photo: Ruth Zschomler.
However, these establishments can be pricey due to their ambiance and convenience to OSF. One can easily pay $15 to $20 average (or more) for a simple meal, but it need not be so. One great place to eat  along the creek is Louie's, known for a wide variety of fairly price fare. The indoor ambiance is decidedly turn-of-the century western featuring a hardwood long bar and ceiling beams. Jazz and light funk music provides the background and the outside eating area is shaded and inspiring.

In a business where establishments come and go with regularity, Louie's has been open for twelve years. Likely because the wait staff is polite and on the ball and the main entrees [we had] were of good taste and well priced. I had a vegetarian black bean burger and Ruth had grilled salmon with a Caesar salad. Both were delicious, but the fries were nothing special (even though they offer a variety of toppings, these low quality fries cannot be saved). I should have opted for their in-house made kettle chips. Click on their link for the menu.

Though Louie's offers a delightful array of desserts I wanted to enjoyed an iced mocha  and Ruth wanted a white hot chocolate (it was 80 degrees out, but she's like that), so we strolled down a block to Mix a hipster espresso bar and bakery. Mix serves Stumptown coffee concoctions (why they don't use a local micro roast I don't know), teas, Italian sodas, wine, beer and "light" cocktails and in-house made baked goods. Ruth found their lemon bars delectable, but wasn't impressed with their steamer. I loved my mocha, though would have preferred a different bean.

By Gregory E. Zschomler
All production photos, by Jenny Graham, provided.
Other photos and video as noted.

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