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The Play's the Thing

On our way back from California we stopped in Ashland, Oregon to check out the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. While we have lived in the Pacific Northwest for almost 12 years now this is only the second time we have been able to spend some time in Ashland to see the plays at this Tony Award-winning festival.

The Attraction of Shakespeare

Quoting lines from Shakespeare was one of the ways my husband won my attention back in our college days. I took several classes on Shakespeare and once you get into it the language is so deeply rich and sweet and silken, like a fine dark chocolate ganache. I fell in love with the language and have been attracted to all things Shakespeare ever since.

As newlyweds, we never missed
Shakespeare Dallas. For years we would faithfully pack a picnic basket and a blanket and sit in the park under the stars on those warm summer nights wrapping ourselves in the starlight and the language and romance of it all. We were thrilled with the quality of entertainment we were able to enjoy on our meager budget as we were just starting out and I was still in school.

Often we took friends and family along with us. When we had children we brought them along too. I still remember my daughter at age two or three being enchanted by a performance of Romeo and Juliet. She clapped her little hands together, and with wide eyed wonder shook her head gently from side to side in the late evening darkness as she exclaimed, “Oh, Romeo! Oh, Julio!”
All Things Shakespeare

When our children were small we shared our love of Shakespeare with them in other ways too. To supplement my collection of Shakespeare's plays in print, from college days, we bought beautifully illustrated children’s versions of some of Shakespeare’s better known plays. We also bought audio performances of
"Shakespeare for Children" by Jim Weiss.

When we traveled as a family to England we planned far in advance to get tickets to a performance at the
Globe Theater in London and the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon. We also took in a performance of the The Reduced Shakespeare Company's "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare" to make sure we didn’t miss anything.

What's more, we have a full collection of movies that feature the life of Shakespeare and his plays. Some of my favorites are Mel Gibson as "
Hamlet", Kenneth Branagh in "Henry V", and Heath Ledger in "10 Things I Hate About You" (which is based on Shakespeare's "The Taming of the Shrew.") And then of course there is "Shakespeare in Love," one of my very favorite movies of all. Yes, Shakespeare movies rate right up there with good Asian Films like "House of Flying Daggers" and classics like "Harvey" and "Casablanca" on my list of movie favorites.

I even enjoy a tall glass of Rogue's Shakespeare Stout when I can get it, not only for it's dark chocolaty flavor, but also for it's name. I suppose there are times when I might qualify as a full blown Shakespeare Geek.
Oregon Shakespeare Festival
So why haven't we spent more time at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival? Well, Ashland is a long drive from Portland and getting tickets and hotel reservations can be a challenge. We just haven’t managed to get there as much as we would like so when it occurred to me that our road trip would take us right past Ashland we picked up the phone right away to see if we could get tickets and find a place to stay.

Unfortunately we are not the advance planners we used to be. By the time our plans were set the best tickets we could get to see "Othello" on the Elizabethan Stage were on the next to the last row. And our tickets to "The Clay Cart" were only a little better. Still we did score a gorgeous room at the
Peerless Hotel Bed and Breakfast so we looked forward to a wonderful stay.
A Fine Place to Stay

It was nice. We drove into town around 4 pm and checked into our room at the Peerless Hotel. The hotel itself was built in 1900. After
a colorful history and a long period of decline, the building's restoration was completed in 1994, within the guidelines of the National Register of Historic Places. Our room was gorgeous, comfortably elegant and thoughtfully appointed.

After settling in we took an afternoon walk around the town. We found that we were within easy walking distance of the theaters. On our way into town we passed many lovely gardens with flowers spilling onto the sidewalk. On the way to the theater box office we passed
Zoey's Cafe and All Natural Ice Cream and couldn’t resist stopping in to enjoy a vanilla gelato in the perfect summer weather. Eventually we picked up our tickets and returned to the hotel to change for dinner.
A Peerless Dinner

For dinner, we walked next door to the
Peerless Restaurant. After our gelato we weren't that hungry so we decided to try the small plates. We asked the waiter to advise us and settled on a Spinach Salad with pancetta, almonds and goat cheese, Pan Fried Oysters with lemon and dill aioli, a Mushroom Risotto Cake with red pepper coulis and Butternut Squash Gnocchi in sage brown butter.

Each was delicious in its own way. The salad was every bit as good as it sounded.

The oysters were fried just right, not soft or oily but not tough either, simply breaded and browned.
The Mushroom Risotto Cake was attractive and interesting. It held its shape without being soft and the flavor was fantastic.
The Butternut Squash Gnocchi was also a delight. It's soft smooth texture was dense and flavorful. We enjoyed every last bite.
A Starry Night

After dinner we walked back into town, to the outdoor Elizabethan Stage, to see "Othello." I had high hopes as we found our seats and settled in to see one of Shakespeare's best known plays. After all, it deals with such modern themes as jealousy and prejudice, if not for the rich poetry of its Shakespearean language (and of course the swords) you might think it was a contemporary drama. The setting is exotic, the themes and the dramatic action passionate. This can be a very stirring tragedy and seems well suited for an outdoor stage.

We settled into our seats and waited for the action to begin. To be fair, I must admit that I was feeling rather satisfied after our long drive and fine dinner. I felt at peace with the wonderfully relaxing summer weather and, despite my anticipation, I would have to say I was on the lazy side before the play even began.

Maybe that's why I slept through part of the first act. Or maybe it was that I couldn't hear the actor playing Desdemona's father. The voices just didn't seem to project all the way to the back from the large open air stage.

A little later, once the action moved to Cyprus, I found that I was more alert and engaged. The part of Iago was well done and held my interest. Still, near the end, I began to drift again. There was a considerable amount of auditory interference. I was distracted by the distorted beat of a band playing at a local club that was wafting through the evening air, and as the distractions increased my distance from the stage once again made it hard to follow exactly what was happening on stage.  What's more the passion and subtlety of Shakespeare's gorgeous prose became lost as the performance often seemed to lack modulation, even when the dramatic tension should have been at its highest.

Alas! So it goes with Shakespeare. There are so many variables and any performance, no matter it's merits on paper or the recommendation of location, opportunity and time, is a gamble. Still, I wouldn't have wanted to miss it! The gorgeous summer night, the stars in the sky above the stage and the lovely cadence of Shakespeare's lines are more than enough to make the experience worthwhile. Like Othello, perhaps I "lov'd not wisely but too well."

We had tickets to another play the next day so we headed back to the hotel to get some sleep. We took a glass of port from the decanter in the lobby back to our room and there, on the bed, we found chocolate dipped homemade shortbread cookies and a handwritten quote. The card beside the cookies read, “For my part I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of the stars makes me dream!” – Vincent Van Gogh

Breakfast and "The Clay Cart"

Breakfast was served at 8:30 at the Peerless Restaurant. As we walked out the side door toward the dining room we saw that our tables were set in the garden.

We were served a beautiful fruit salad garnished with a cheerful nasturtium.

Warm raspberry wheat muffins were then brought to our table followed by a plate filled with potatoes and eggs scrambled with spinach and cheese and garnished with lavender. It was an exquisite breakfast, a tapestry of flavors and textures, everything served at it's best.

After breakfast we lingered at the hotel reading, writing and relaxing until check out time. As we took our bags to the car we were invited to use the lobby and gathering room as long as we liked. It was nice to enjoy the quiet and the fine morning sunshine as we caught up on a few things before going to see "The Clay Cart" at the Angus Bowmer Theatre in the early afternoon.
I am so glad we saw "The Clay Cart." It is a 2000 year old tale from ancient India. In some ways it is Shakespearean in its presentation of comedic drama. This production was entertaining in every aspect. The setting, staging and costumes hit a perfect atmospheric tone and drew me into the drama. The acting was well modulated, from bawdy to funny to tender to hammy. The performance was quirky and charming and amazingly accessible. It was the perfect ending to our visit to Ashland.


Nic said...

Thanks for sharing your photos, it looks like you had a wonderful time!

Anonymous said...

This sounded like a wonderful holiday, in all ways. The note left by the inn was charming, and I enjoyed your story-telling.

Anonymous said...

This sounds like such a wonderful little vacation! I felt like I was there with you during your account. Wonderful!

Tempered Woman said...

oh dear lord, where to begin?? I could eat the screen right now thanks to the butternut gnocchi and mushroom risotto cake. In fact, I may have got a good lick in before stopping myself...
Fun post! Thanks for sharing your time there with us!

Lo said...

Oh, how delicious -- both the Shakespeare festival AND the food. Thanks so much for sharing your adventures. Love hearing the tale!

Anonymous said...

Ashland is truly one of my favorite places and the Shakespeare company there is the finest of any; I say "the worst play in Ashland is still better than many of the best elsewhere!"
And the food is as beautiful and delicious as you portray. Thanks for whetting my appetite again!

Paula said...

Oooh, I love hearing about how your hubby won your attention! *sigh* And, how wonderful that you exposed your children to the arts! Ashland certainly is rich with culture and beauty. The "little plates" you selected made we want to crawl through the screen! The B&B sounds delightful as well. What a great vacation!

grace said...

what an amazing trip! i don't appreciate shakespeare as much as i should...
now--where can i find some butternut squash gnocchi? :)

Richenda said...

I love the Ashland Shakespeare festival! They have some great bookshops, there, too. Such a lovely blog!

eatme_delicious said...

Agh that butternut squash gnocchi looks so good. I must find a recipe and try making it.

Anonymous said...

Since I was just in Ashland I recognized all this stuff...I wish we could have seen the plays.

Michele @ Frugal Granola said...

Oh, it sounds like a wonderful trip! :) My parents used to attend the festival every summer, too.

I love the Van Gogh quote!
Michele :)

Alanna Kellogg said...

I didn't remember that you and G and Shakespeare went "back" so far but sure do remember K entranced with her Romeo and Julio. I think of it every time I go to the Shakespeare Festival here in St. Louis ...

Michelle said...

I'm speechless...what a wonderful weekend! The plays...the food...WOW!!!

I like the cookies the best!

Anonymous said...

It is interesting that you had sucjh an exquisite breakfast. Our experience was very diferent. 2 pieces of very sad french toast-- soggy with no redeeming qualities. Our fresh fruit was a few slices of an orange with a flower on top. We were given eggs at our request because we do not eat bacon--and they came raw. The breakfast was so bad that when we discovered the same cook would be on duty, we skipped it entirely and ate at the Ashland Co-op. Much better. The hotel did return $40 to us because our breakfast experience was so bad.

Lisa said...

nicisme - I had a great time. I hope we can spend more time in Ashland in the future.

kim - Thanks! I did like the unique vision of that note. It was a very nice touch!

kristen - Thank you!

tempered woman -I thought the small plates at the Peerless Restaurant were wonderfully creative and delicious. I'm glad that comes across in the photos. Thanks for your comment!

lo - Thanks!

anon - Thanks for your comment! The Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland is quite unique and worth the effort to experience.

paula -Thank you! I do have great Shakespeare memories and I'm glad you enjoyed the story!

grace - I think that's part of the beauty of the experience. I think Ashland has something for everyone!

richenda - Thank you! You are right, there is some very pleasant shopping in Ashland. I spent a lovely afternoon in a bookshop there once, looking for some instructions on how to construct chain mail, of all things.

Thanks for stopping by!

eatme_delicious -I wouldn't mind having that butternut gnocchi recipe myself...

noble pig - You talked about making one of your discoveries, probably in the same place we ate lunch. That small world thing is kinda cool!

michele - The trip and the quote were both a blessing! Thanks!

alanna - Lots of history there! Lots of great memories!

michelle - I wouldn't mind having the recipe for those cookies either. They were fresh and delicious!

anonymous -Thanks for your comment. I guess everyone has a bad day from time to time. My experience was great from beginning to end. I would recommend giving them another chance!

Anonymous said...

I love it ! Very creative ! That's actually really cool Thanks.