Visit to Ashland

I just got back from a 4-day trip down the coast to northern California. On the way, we stopped overnight in Ashland, Oregon, and I had a very friendly meeting with Bill Rauch, director of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. He's directing their production of Hamlet, opening on February 26th, exactly one month after The Lunatic, the Lover, and the Poet is released. He's very excited about the novel, and so we discussed setting up a reading or event in Ashland to coincide with the season opening of the festival, and related festivities.

It was also fun just to chat with someone else who's been so steeped in the text of the play that we could "geek out" about it--throwing out half-a-line here or there, confident that the other person would know the end to the speech and its context, or talking about the differences between Q1, Q2, and the Folio. Since there is no "definitive" text of Hamlet, every director, in essence, "rewrites" the play by choosing which version to use, what parts to cut, etc. Bill said he and the actor playing Hamlet have spent at least 80 hours going over the various editions of the play to create a unique conflation of the various texts of Hamlet to use in their production. It's going to be a modern-dress version of the play, and I'm very much looking forward to seeing it! I'll write more about our conversation later.

It's the tail-end of the season now, and there were only a few plays running, but we did get a chance to see Macbeth in the Angus Bowmer theatre.

While I thought the actors' performances were excellent, some of the production details struck me as being a bit over-the-top. For example, when Lady Macbeth first appeared, costumed in a sweeping full-length scarlet gown, I thought "hmm, that's a little 'on the nose' for her character, isn't it?" The effect was more "Lady Macbeth Costume" than clothes worn by a Scottish noblewoman, wife to Macbeth, if you get what I mean. Then, in the next scene, she appeared in another long scarlet gown, then a third. By the time she and her husband appeared in matching scarlet-and-black robes, I wondered if they were going for Camp--if this wasn't so much a production of Macbeth as a "production" of "Macbeth" and this quality was intentional. After all, the play itself is pretty over-the-top, as the sets piled high with bodies seemed to underscore. The guy at the box office described it as being "better than the movie!" and it did seem to have a very cinematic sensibility, streamlined and fast-paced (only 2 hours long) with dramatic music underpinning certain scenes, soundtrack-style.

One thing I did notice, however, that I'd forgotten since I last saw/read Macbeth was how thematically important the survival and escape of Banquo's son, Fleance, is to the play. This was on my mind, because I've been in contact lately with New Zealand author Tania Roxborogh, whose novel, Banquo's Son is a sequel to Macbeth that tells the story of how young Fleance goes from witnessing his father's murder and fleeing for his life to fulfilling the witches' prophecy that Banquo "shalt get kings, though thou be none." The novel has hit the New Zealand bestsellers list and she's currently seeking an American publisher, so hopefully, we'll get a chance to read it over here soon!

We stayed at the Arden Forest Inn, a lovely place a short walk from the theatres with a sprawling garden. The hosts, Bill and Corbet, presided over a lovely salon at breakfast (which, because their kitchen was undergoing renovations, was held in the well-appointed library). It's quite a "literary" place--the same weekend I was there, they were hosting playwright E.M. Lewis . We talked about the possibility of hosting an "after hours" reading at the Inn for some of those scenes in The Lunatic, the Lover, and the Poet that might be *ahem* inappropriate for a family-friendly bookstore. I think it sounds like a lot of fun--watch this space for more details.