OSF’s Equivocation

The Cast of Equivocation at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival
The cast of Equivocation at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival

So I’m home from the short journey to Ashland, Oregon.  Anjie and I took off Sunday night after the A Cappella time at the Northwest Church, stopped in Portland for the night, and drove another four hours Monday morning, arriving in Ashland just after noon.  After a relaxing afternoon and evening just wandering the shops, Tuesday and Wednesday were to be full-on theatre going days.   Tuesday it was Macbeth and Much Ado About Nothing, both strong productions, thought there was little in Macbeth even remotely frightening, save the towering sound effects.    Peter Macon’s portrayal of the the Scottish King was interesting, and fiery, but for my money,  the fire never really came from a real furnace.  Robin Goodrin Nordli was tremendous as Lady Macbeth, though, and when I got to the Much Ado performance that night, I noticed that Nordli was understudying Beatrice.   I secretly hoped whoever was slated for the role would have the flu so I could watch Nordli again.  But no, Robynn Rodriguez went on as schedule (first witch in Macbeth), and while she was fine, after it was over, I was still wishing for Nordli.   David Kelly’s Benedick kept me laughing the whole evening, though, so overall, at the end of the first day, I gave the best play of the day nod to Much Ado.

Then came Equivocation.

“The use of equivocal or ambiguous expressions, esp. in order to mislead or hedge; prevarication.”  So says dictionary.com.   And in short, that’s what the play’s about: the ability to tell the truth (or not) in difficult circumstances.    How does a playwright like Will Shagspeare (variant spellings, I guess?) tell the truth about current events relating to a terrorist plot against King James without ending up bankrupt, or worse, shut down?

From the get-go, I was hooked.

I suppose part of it was just the ease of language.   After 5 plus hours the day before of listening to the heightened language of the Bard, it was just easy to listen to Bill Cain’s crisp dialogue.  But beyond that, these characters were dense and richly drawn, and as we watched “Shag” (Anthony Heald) pursue the truth of the so-called “powder plot”, we agonized with him over how to give the Prime Minister what he wanted.  Jonathan Haugen’s portrayal of Robert Cecil, limping Prime Minister who wishes he was king, was absolutely brilliant.  By turns loathsome and affecting, Haugen’s force was palpable.   The other characters were equally fine, and to listen to the amazing voice of Gregory Linington was particularly satisfying.

Two things and I’ll wrap this up: 1)  I loved the theatricality of the piece.  The actors slipped between characters effectively and unexpectedly.  The stage was sparse, but beautifully designed, it’s open platform and moving props plenty to create the 17th C. world we needed.   It challenged me to think again of how to create scenic flow and structure with theatricality and surprise.  2)  The questions surrounding truth-telling in politics, in religion, and in art challenged me, compel me to think pretty carefully again about what it means to let your “yes, be yes,” and your “no, be no.”   What question is really being asked when the hard questions come?  Are you answering the question being asked at face value, or are you searching for the question underneath?  It’s worth thinking about.

At the end of the play, the audience stood virtually as one to thank them for the show.   One of the few standing O’s in recent memory that made any sense.

And of course, those costumes…oh, those costumes…

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