“As You Like It” at The Steep and Thorny Way to Heaven Theater. Le Bistro Montage

She Said

Tonight’s Agenda:  Shakespeare”s “As You Like It” at The Steep and Thorny Way to Heaven Theater, followed by dinner at Le Bistro Montage

Highlights:

I have concluded that there must be a secret society for clueless people attending the theater.  You know who I am talking about.  The people who wear too much cologne, crackle candy wrappings, talk, moan, shriek, or laugh excessively during a performance at the annoyance of the rest of us in the audience.  Tonight I encountered yet another annoyance:  people who jiggle ice cubes. I realize people like to keep their cocktails mixed, but the constant stirring of ice is really distracting during a theater performance, especially during a long romantic kiss.  I also realize, however, that these people are an extension of the entertainment I have come to see perform.  There is something fascinating, and maybe theatrical, about their cluelessness.  Other times, though, I think these people are messing with me and just as I am about to lose it at them, someone is going to jump out and say, “Smile! You’re on Candid Camera!”

The stellar performances of “As You Like It” at The Steep and Thorny Way to Heaven Theater, however, could not be upstaged by jiggling ice cubes. Tim Fodge is delightful as the swooning love stricken Orlando.  His rich smooth velvet voice resonates throughout the theater and afflicts the audience with his intense pining of true love.  Orlando’s character contrasts delightfully with the object of his desires, the spirited and vivacious, Rosalind, played by Caitlin Lushington. Their chemistry together feels very authentic, fresh, and fun. Another standout performance is by Sean Bowie as Touchstone. The jesters are often my favorite characters in Shakespeare’s plays.  Bowie asserts his presence with his twinkling eyes and clear delivery of his wit and wisdom.  This Shakespeare production strives to be understandable and entertaining for everyone, rather than just for the egg heads of Elizabethan theater. I could not help but think that Shakespeare would have loved this rendering of his work.

Another jewel of this evening was the whole vibe of the theater itself.  The Steep and Thorny Way to Heaven Theater has a dramatic presence of its own. This place is an eerie and magical delight. It is located in the heart of the industrial district in an old steel shed. One feels a sense of daring adventure ascending the creaky dark steps of its entrance that gives way to a warm, and dimly lit cavernous room with a full bar and bartender. It is so cool and very Portlandia with its quirky homespun atmosphere. If not for the presence of alcohol, one would think this was an old revival hall in the middle of some woods in the South.  With the exception of sitting on uncomfortable folding chairs, I felt quite cozy here. After the show, the troupe invited the audience to hang out with them at the bar and maybe buy them a drink.

We were hungry so we went to Le Bistro Montage.  It had been about a decade since we last ate here.  I had forgotten what a treasure this place is.  Thankfully, little has changed.  It still has a menu loaded with Cajun and comfort food. Nothing exceptional, but always satisfying. The atmosphere is of long tables with white table cloths and napkins, candlelight, and murals on the walls.  All the servers still wear their white jackets.  But this is not a formal place;  every style is welcome here. One of the defining characteristics of Le Bistro Montage are the foil sculptures created after wrapping up leftovers.  My kids used to love the foil dragons, ducks, etc., sculpted from their food scraps.  Tonight I received a lovely foil potted tulip.  How did they know I was a gardener?  Located in an unlikely place, under the Morrison Bridge, Le Bistro Montage remains a darling of the Portland restaurant scene.

He Said

As you Like it.

It is a shame more people do not see the Shakespeare often being performed around town. The audience is usually us geezers, either because we have some disposable income or you youngsters think Shakespeare is too hard.

It’s not.

When I was a kid, and we are talking grade school, we used to go Ashland every summer. My brother and I would spend the day in the motel pool and after dinner dad would give us a 10 minute synopsis of the play. That, and a little concentration,  was all that was needed for a 7th grader to understand the plays. If nothing else, read the plot on Wikipedia and you will find that, archaic as the English is, you will fall into the rhythm of the language and the timelessness of the charactors.

Shakespeare is a lot like going to a cover band, except you do not really know what the original performance was like. There are only the words on the play but an infinite number of ways to stage the performance and  for the actors to interpret them.

As You Like It is currently at The steep and thorny way to heaven. Go while you can. One of the best covers ever.

What is As You Like It about? Who cares. I have come to the conclusion that the plots of the Shakespeare comedies are implausible, one long series of McGuffins to drive the narrative forward and can be ignored.  I tell my kids that the plot of all literature is some variation of  boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy get girl back.  It is certainly the case in As You Like It, although a bit more complicated.  And sometimes it’s Boy finds girl, boy loses girl, girl finds boy, boy forgets girl, boy remembers girl, girls dies in a tragic blimp accident over the Orange Bowl on New Year’s Day.

The heroine, Rosalind, dressed as a man, entices her love interest, Orlando, to woo her as if she were really Rosalind.

Right.  And that is the most reasonable McGuffin.  It is really about falling in love, being in love and the gaining that love.  And it is as true today as then.

You do not go to Shakespeare for the plot. It is for the language and the characters. And, if you have been going toShakespeare for 50 years, to see what new can be found in a 500 year old play.

The steep and thorny way to heaven is a cool space in the industrial area of NE Portland. It is in a repurposed loading dock and only seats about 25 people. How they make any money eludes me, and I suppose why they perform the Bard. No licensing fees. The space has a funky second hand vibe, but comes with a bar for mixed drinks, proceeds of which go to the show.

About the language. To do Shakespeare for modern ears is tricky. The actor has to take the iambic pentameter of the play and, with rhythm and intonation, turn it into spoken language akin to what we are used to hearing. It is difficult and some actors end up sounding more like chanting than conversation.

Not this production. They did one of the better jobs of making the words audibly accessible to 21st century ears. It is a talent that many do not have. Expect Jaques who, for these old ears, did not speak quite loud enough.  Look at the audience.  Mostly geezers.  Speak up sonny.

And one odd thing. One little irritation. A character, a male, was in this version a female. Not big. She was referred to as mother and she but also as the Duke. No. It would be Duchess.

The performances, especially Caitlin Lushington as Rosalind and Tim Fodge as Orlando, were superb.  They were spot on as a couple head over heels in love.  Orlando’s performance was almost a gymnastic floor routine in his passion for Rosalind.

Rosalind has to carry the second half of the play and Lushington was more than equal to the task.

The take on Jaques, the depressed character of ‘all the worlds a stage fame’, had an interesting and effective interpretation, if a little soft on the vocalization. I will not give a spoiler as to the particulars.

In the end the play is about being besotted in love and, eventually, despite obstacles, winning the object of your hearts desire  The passions of our youth are eternal, the same today as 500 or 5000 years ago, and this production is a nice reminder of younger days.

Cool theater, a great performance of a classic comedy and cocktails. Who needs more?

Bistro Montage

We have not been to Bistro Montage in probably 15 years, but it was near the theater so why not? It is nice to see this bit of Portlandia has not changed. Montage is an odd combination of influences: the tables formal with white cloths and folded napkins, but on long communal tables. The waitstaff wear white coats like an old school restaurant. The food is Southern comfort, mostly cajun and Mac & Cheese with an extensive drink menu.

When we drove by at 7 pm on the way to the show there were the usual crowds out front, but by 10 the people had cleared out and there was plenty of room.

I had the fried chicken with garlic mashed potatoes,  good, solid comfort food with an Ex Husband (a shot of whiskey and a Rainier). I had thought Rainier was no more, but it looks like they are division of Pabst and it, along with the other Washington staple, Olympia, are brewed in California. It is a fine lager and only 7 bucks for the pair.

The left overs are still wrapped up in aluminum foil shaped into various forms: flowers, crabs, dinosaurs and the like.  I cleaned my plate and could not get them to wrap up the cutlery for me. The only issue I had was raisons in the bread pudding. That is an abomination

Next door they have a bar, la Merde, which looked inviting. The restaurant used to be a late night destination for my children (open to 4 am), for good inexpensive food where they could go and not worry they were under 21. That makes the bar a bit more inviting on a night when the Montage is filled with prom dates.

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