Ashland, Oregon (May 16-18)- the least expected place to contain so much literary love amidst a startling landscape and humble community. The proof lies in the shops that dotted the main street with souvenirs honoring the great playwright, Shakespeare, and used books starting from the 1900s at bargains of “3 for $1.00” or “$3.00 a book.” It was simply heartwarming to my literary soul to see so much appreciation for fine arts. The town itself is a pleasant mixture of the old and the new with a wide variety of restaurants from Greek to Thai. Undoubtedly, it is a place set to be explored and to be welcomed.
As for the plays, it is difficult to recall the emotions I have felt while watching them as such emotions are usually evoked at the performance itself. It is with these recollections that I piece together this review and synopsis of these beautiful stage plays.
The Clay Cart by Śūdraka
In brief, The Clay Cart is the romantic comedy of two lovers, Charudatta and Vasantasena, destined together. Yet, their reunion is far-off and ill-met with the king Palaka’s brother out after Vasantasena, a courtesan whose love is only for Charudatta. In pledge of her love to him, she endows him with the safekeeping of her jewels. Then, on a fateful night, the jewels are stolen leading to the revelation of the romance between Vasantasena’s servant and the thief. Onwards and their fates are intertwined with the political hostage, Aryaka, the rightful king, in which once again their plans of reunion are foiled by the evil king’s brother. Framed for the death of Vasantasena, Charudatta faces execution until a miracle saves his life and the lives of the other characters intertwined. And, everyone lived happily ever after. A new king, marriages, pardon to the king’s brother, and joy for living and reunion.
The costumes and the lighting were fantastic, but the characters were unrealistic. Specifically, Charudatta appeared overly righteous, not able to express some of the darker sentiments such as vengefulness. Vasantasena’s general behavior felt overdone, exaggerated to the point that we see her merely as a lovesick young woman. There really is no character development throughout the play; it can be merely summarized as the ancient form of television dramas that popularize our culture today.
The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler by Jeff Whitty
The most philosophical play out of the four, The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler, touches on the questions: why do we reread the works of fiction time and time again? What do the lives of fictional characters have that real life does not have? Hedda Gabler finally has it with her tragic ending, in which she shoots herself with a gun. Her desire to escape is echoed by Mammy from Gone with the Wind and the two set off on a journey to the Furnace, the symbol of the writer’s mind. Their journey is of great significance. The dark forest represents confusion. The water is enlightenment. The Furnace is rebirth. All of this, Whitty portrays through the use of characters from different plays. These characters represent the things that humanity struggles to achieve. Hedda is the search for happiness, because she is a tragic heroine. Mammy is the search for change, because she is stuck in her station as a slave.
But, to change means that the meaning of the story is to change. Is that what the writers intend? What is it that tragic endings have that affect humanity? Tragic characters are the predecessors for other characters in different works. Without the basis, there is no substance to future characters. The experiences of these characters essentially is the reflection of what happens to us in our own lives. But, our regular lives are not portrayed for the very reason that we are uncertain about our ending; the ending of fictional characters are certain and provide a means for us to evaluate our own lives. These meanings Whitty reveal through his humor. As a double-edged sword, he not only keeps us entertained but also the theatrical characters desire to change their stories.
Simply, this play blew me away with its brilliantness. One has to see in order to “feel” the interaction with these characters.
A Midsummer’s Night Dream by William Shakespeare
To say it simply, imagine Shakespeare in the disco 70’s. Male fairies dressed in tutus and spandex, wearing platform boots, singing, and spinning across the stage. Colorful costumes, each distinguishable by each character. A play within a play. Athens as the symbol of order and the forest as the symbol of warped delusions. Fitting and comical, this is another take on the traditional Shakespeare.
At first, I found the play disturbing especially when Puck made his entrance- mischievous and startling in his attire and attitude. The glamour lay in how they were able to combine the modern with the old, but also maintaining the Shakespearean atmosphere. In part, this modern take is commercialized to appeal to the public, because not everyone appreciates the complicated Shakespearean humor. This play was enjoyable due to the engagement of the actors with the audience and the music. During the final scene of the play within the play, the Athenian party sits on the platform closest to the audience- this effect creates a special bonding between audience and actors: we see the play in their perspective. It is these minor details that made the play altogether fascinating even though my slight misgivings that the play was not performed in the Shakespearean manner that I am used to.
Fences by August Wilson
Finally, the most emotional and powerful, in my opinion. After reading Fences, I could not visualize properly the themes behind the play; mostly, since I cannot “see” or “feel” the power behind Wilson’s ideals of life. Seeing the play provided a new avenue for comprehension. Fences is the story of Troy Maxon and the life that appears to revolve around him. The play begins in 1957, the year of national change for African Americans: the beginning of desegregation and hope for their people to move up in society. Troy’s life is one filled with complications: his duty to his family, failed attempt to join the Major Leagues for baseball, and desire to follow his dreams. But, his presence, larger-than-life, expounds upon the lives of his relations. Rose, his wife, keeps the house neat for the sake of her husband, not questioning whether she is happy with her life. Cory struggles to please his father and to follow his own dreams of becoming a football player in college. Troy’s stubbornness to change and inability to communicate how he truly feels to his relations becomes a pressing issue, especially when he has an affair with another woman.
The beauty of the play is simply the characters and overall message. Gabriel, Troy’s brother, is a poetic element throughout the play, foreshadowing Troy’s death and beginning of a new hope for the future generation. The play brings to heart many questions. Why do we pursue dreams? Why is it difficult to change? How do we see one another? All of these make the play, Fences, into more than fiction; it becomes real. It becomes the universal play that echoes the human desires to be free, individual, and successful. Simply, it is a play meant to be seen not just read.