Last summer, when I read The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, I was left wondering what it would be like to have been the first audience to see one of these now famous plays. The plots and characters of Hamlet, Macbeth and Romeo & Juliet are now so well known in our culture, there are few surprises, although tens of thousands of theatre-goers still flock to performances of Shakespeare’s plays each year.
Six months ago, when I bought my tickets to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, I decided to be a bit more adventurous. I bought tickets to a World Premiere performance of Naomi Wallace’s new play The Liquid Plain. Oregon Shakespeare Festival offers a 20 percent discount on “preview performances,” the first 2 or 3 showings of the play to the public, as the theatre company is still perhaps working to get the kinks out. Last night’s performance of The Liquid Plain was the first time ever that this play was presented in front of a live audience. Although it was technically a preview performance, I thought the theatre company did a near-perfect job.
The first act of The Liquid Plain is set in 1791 in Bristol, Rhode Island. Two runaway slaves, Adjua and Dembi, pull a white man from the water. Initially they presume he’s dead, and strip him of his clothing. He soon revives, yet appears to be suffering from amnesia. Adjua and Dembi are eagerly awaiting a ship that is supposed to bring them safe passage to Africa via England, and subsequently their freedom. As the play unfolds, the characters are not at all who they seem to be.
The small, yet charismatic cast put on a phenomenal showing. Utilizing a method of casting that is exactly opposite of Shakespeare’s day, a female is cast in a male role. This is not a play for the feint of heart. There’s frequent profanity, lesbian kissing, public masturbation, partial nudity, and a character whose bloody internal organs are spilling out from him. In my mind, that makes for an excellent play.
My sister accompanied me on this two-day road trip from the Portland metro area to Ashland in southern Oregon (it is about a 4 1/2 hour drive one way). While in Ashland, we spent the night at the historic Peerless Hotel bed and breakfast, about a 15 minute walk from the festival. Built in 1900 as a boarding house for workers on the nearby railroad, the Peerless Rooms was nearly in ruins when it was purchased in 1989. It re-opened as a bed and breakfast in 1994, and while adding many modern-day conveniences such as in-room bathrooms and air conditioning, the hotel’s owners have tried to preserve as much of the hotel’s original character as possible.
Prior to the show, we grabbed a bite to eat at Enoteca Wine Tasting & Bistro in downtown Ashland, about a 5 minute walk from the festival. They serve as the local tasting room of EdenVale Winery of Medford, Oregon. I had a glass of their full-bodied Reserve Chardonnay and split a generous-portioned fruit and cheese plate with my sister. Highly recommended.
We also went to the free pre-play Green Show on the Oregon Shakespeare Festival grounds. Several years ago, OSF made the decision to move away from a traditional, Renaissance-themed Green Show towards a contemporary, American-themed Green Show. Each year, they put out a call for performers, and those selected each perform just a few nights during the season. I am glad they made this change. Last night’s performers were the California-based duo of folk musicians Misner & Smith.
Making the most of our time along the I-5 corridor in Oregon, en route to and from Ashland, my sister and I also managed to visit a number of unique, locally-owned businesses.
At Patty Ann’s Fish and Chips in Myrtle Creek, Oregon, we split a basket of fried shrimp and fries. Super friendly staff, and the tasty cocktail sauce and cole slaw, which accompany all basket meals, appeared to be homemade. The weather was nice enough, that we enjoyed our meal on one of the brightly painted picnic tables on the restaurant’s patio.
On the way home, we took a detour to the town of Eagle Point — about 10 miles west of Medford — to visit the historic Butte Creek Mill. Built in 1872, it is the only flour mill in Oregon that is still water-powered. The mill’s grounds feature a wide assortment of antique milling equipment and their country store sells a host of whole grain products.
Glimpsing a building that appeared to be sprouting large mushroom sculptures from its roof, we had to make a stop at Magic Mushroom Oregon Gifts in Sutherlin. This one-of-a-kind gift shop features art and crafts from Oregon artists, including some pretty awesome mushroom lamps. They also have a large selection of incense and smoking supplies.