Tag Archives: Ashland

Word Vomit: A Rant About Why I Loved “The Unfortunates”

22 Jun

unfortunates4A little over a week ago my family arrived in Ashland, Oregon, to attend my long-awaited graduation from Southern Oregon University. Along with suffering through two and a half hours of dreadful heat and watching hundreds of students trudge across the stage to receive their faux-diplomas, we also had the opportunity of attending two Oregon Shakespeare Festival plays during our weekend together. My father and I have been attending OSF for going on eleven years now. Hell, OSF was one of the leading factors in my choice to attend Southern Oregon, where I graduated with a BA in both Theatre Arts and Creative Writing (and a minor in photography).

That Saturday, after the graduation commencement had ended, we saw A Streetcar Named Desire, which was quite enjoyable. Kate Mulligan brought a new energy to Blanche I’d never seen before, Jeffrey King was a lovably perfect Mitch, and both Danforth Comins and Nell Geisslinger made a great duo as Stanley and Stella. While Streetcar is not my favorite Williams play, I had a great time seeing this rendition. However, while a great production, Streetcar is not the play I want to focus on right now.

The night before graduation my family went and saw a play entitled The Unfortunates. I knew nothing about this show walking in, except that all my friends raved about it and demanded I buy the soundtrack. Since we were running late, I didn’t have a chance to flip open my program and read the plot synopsis before the play began. So, trusting in the magic of OSF to do no wrong, I sat back and let the players take me down a path I had not quite expected.

Ninety minutes later, my family exited the Thomas Theatre. There seemed to be a general consensus: they didn’t like it. The Unfortunates wasn’t what they had thought it would be and were all sorely disappointed by this fact. My godmother quietly remarked that at least the music was catchy and the performers talented, while my brother and godfather barked about how the plot was unfollowable and how nothing had made sense.

This took me by surprise. Had we been watching the same show? The second the lights had come back up after the play had ended, I immediately turned to my father and told him, “That was one of the best things I have ever seen. Ever.” How was my family going on in this way about such an amazing piece of theatre?

After hearing more squabbles from them, I came to the defense of The Unfortunates. “No, there was definitely a coherent plot,” I insisted, as my brother made a face of disagreement. “There was! You just didn’t get it.”

“Okay, well, what was it then?”

I opened my mouth to speak.

I faltered.

What was the plot?

unfortunates5I had gotten that there was something about being in a prison cell and people being shot, and then there was a bar… but was that bar a flashback? An imaginary realm? And everything else, what about all of that?A gambling game? Something about a plague? A strange love story? Some very hungry rooks? A dead king? An armless prostitute? What was the plot? I threw my brother a quick response about the play focusing on the last moments of a prisoner of war’s life, but even then I wasn’t sure I was in the know.

So why was I so taken with this show; this show that I couldn’t summarize for my family, or even myself? Why had I found myself with a large grin on my face, hands clamped on my cheeks, as I witnessed it unfold in front of my eyes inside the Thomas Theatre’s black box? As I thought more and more about it, I came to realize that this wasn’t a show you could explain in a text or a tweet. It was one you’d muse about with friends over coffee, that you could write endlessly about on your blog or in school essays, or that you could simply think about as you sat alone in your room at night before bed. It was a story that would fester in every inch of you and wouldn’t let you go – at least, not right away.

(Warning: it gets spoilery from here on out, so tread cautiously.)

I found reading the playbill’s pieces on The Unfortunates and, eventually, the script helped me grasp the pieces of the plot I was missing. Little things were brought to my attention that I had missed upon seeing the show, and it was easy to see the entire story after I was done reading. Yes, I had been right in what I had told my family, about the prisoner of war aspect. If we were to assign this show a dramatic statement (dear god, the SOU theatre department is going to haunt me the rest of my life, isn’t it?), The Unfortunates is a play about a man finding solace and courage in the power of music – or, rather, the power of his own song – before he is about to die. It turns out, this show is all about the music. It’s about holding fast to music, even when times are brutal. Joe escapes into his fantasy-bar where he’s king, drawing in parallels to his prisoner of war surroundings (such as his deceased friends taking on new personas and his fists – oh this fists, we’ll get to those fists in a bit), and how he finds comfort in the music. How, even when his fantasies take a harsh turn, the music is there to help him find his way and face his deepest fears (I feel like “Guard the Right” is the number one example of this). Plus the tones of the show were constantly shifting, dragging you along with it at every turn. There was the chilling opening as each man was taken away, the fun vaudeville-feel of the bar numbers, the romantic inclinations between Rae and Joe, the creepy feel of the Doctor’s stage presence, and the overwhelming rush of emotion at the play’s end. If anything, I think The Unfortunates is a show that should be viewed on two separate occasions, so the first time you can find yourself lost in the music, and the second time you can lose yourself in both the story and the music.

This leads into the number one reason I believe I was so instantly taken with this show: the music. Now, I’m a huge fan of musicals. Back when the girls in my class were belting ‘N Sync and Britney Spears on the playground, I was off humming Music Man and Les Miserables songs to myself. Showtunes were all I listened to up until the last couple years of high school, and while my taste in music has definitely expanded in the more recent years, I still listen to showtunes quite often. So, going into The Unfortunates knowing it was an original musical, I expected the usual slew of showtunes that appear in contemporary shows.

unfortunates8I was surprised that a number of the songs in the play were that of rap and hip hop, and, what’s more, that I found I loved them. Really, really, really loved them. Nothing personal, I’ve just never felt a connection with that genre of music before. However, The Unfortunates did such an amazing job taking these musical genres and crafting them to fit the story. Not only that, there’s also a beautiful mix of gospel, folk, r&b, and a capella incorporated into the soundtrack of the show. They all blend together, making for a truly gorgeous musical score.

There is not one song in this show that you cannot hum or snap your fingers along to. Upon leaving the black box, I immediately purchased the soundtrack, knowing full well I’d go crazy without this new music in my life. The recorded songs, though a tad different than the final product you view in the show, are wonderful and great to sing along with. My favorite song changes on a day-to-day basis; however, gun to my head, I’d have to say “Quarantine”, “Good to be the King”, “Down and Out”, “I Want You”, and “Tell Me Where It Hurts” are my five favorites. They’re all unbelievably catchy, and it’s almost impossible not to dance or sing along with certain numbers. It’s also fascinating to read about the history of some of the music; where it came from and how it inspired the playwrights.

Not only is the music beautiful, the dialogue is as well. The style in which many of the characters speak is akin to spoken word, in my personal opinion, which is another reason this show resonated deeply with me, as I have definite ties when it comes to spoken word. There are many magnificent pieces of dialogue throughout the play, but my absolute favorite is a speech Big Joe gives during “Tabs Are Always Open for an Addict”:

“I never wanted nothing more than the breath I was breathin’, the moment I breathed it. I never had nothin’ I wouldn’t mind leavin’, includin’ the breathin’. These fists are a fury, this tongue is a torrent of suffering stuffed like a bittersweet cup. I nearly tore my heart out just to feel touch once, but ain’t nothin’ so bitter as want. I want, I want, I want to rip open these fists, grip a life that’s slipping in between these fingers where nothing else gets, blood flow from my fingertips kissin’ my wrists as it drips, warming a heart that only exists for your lips.”

You read that? That’s fucking poetry right there. Beautiful, mesmerizing poetry.

unfortunates1I’ve also come to love thinking about the symbolism in this show, particularly that found in the characters’ hands and arms. The two forefront characters are polar opposites in that sense: one has no hands and one has giant hands. In the opening, we see Joe’s fists raised in defense, which speaks of him in that reality, trying to defend himself from the inevitable. When we’re taken to the world of the fantasy-bar, suddenly his fists are huge. They allude to Joe being a boxer in the opening song, so perhaps that’s why his fists become five times bigger, fighting being what he knows best, or perhaps it’s his subconscious needing to physically protect himself from the reality that awaits him (ie. his execution). Then we have Rae; beautiful, graceful, armless Rae. Why is she armless? This was the number one question my aunt kept pestering me with the rest of the night, and having no idea at the time what the answer was, I finally just told her, “Character device.” Looking back on this show, I realize there was much more at play than just some arbitrary character device. In Joe’s reality, he clutches a picture. From the whistle the enemy soldier gives we know the photo is of a woman. No doubt it’s the woman in the photo that the illusion of Rae is based off of. To me, her lack of arms symbolizes how she is stuck in a world she cannot escape from; she is being whored by her own father and there’s no way to claw her way out. She is helpless and in need of rescue (again, this is Joe’s fantasy, so her character reflects heavily on him and his wants). What’s more, her state of being contrasts Joe’s completely. He can’t unclench his giant hands to hold her, no more than she can wrap her nonexistent arms around him. It’s not until she dies that she can finally be whole again, just as it isn’t until Joe has finally accepted his inescapable death that his fists disappear; the moment they’re both finally freed (ie. no longer having to be a prostitute and Joe’s acceptance of death) is when they can return to normal. Then there’s the whole sequence where the Doctor’s arms stretch out to enfold Rae – goddamn, that moment gave me chills (and was when I finally started crying) – and just that contrast with everything else going on in the play… It just comes together so magically. I don’t know how else to describe it.

unfortunates7Finally, the performers. Ah, the performers. Each one of them was absolutely brilliant. From those opening moments of the play when you’re not quite sure where the characters are or why, you’re able to pick up immediately from the body language and acting of the performers (and, okay, the offstage gunshots help too) that things are not all right. Each actor, and the musicians too for that matter, are just wonderful. They’ve each got powerhouse voices, and each hone their characters’ personalities and physicalities beautifully. Not to mention all four original creators of The Unfortunates are in this play, which, as someone who considers herself both a writer and a performer, is absolutely fantastic. Everyone in the show used their talents to the best of their abilities, and did a kick ass job doing so. Plus there’s a live band on stage throughout the show, and goddamn if they’re not equally as amazing.


So no, The Unfortunates might not be what you expect when you walk into the Thomas Theatre in the next few months. It’s not your classic My Fair Lady or Music Man musical. It doesn’t abide by the expected showtunes and overdone story structure. But you know what it is? It’s fresh. It’s new. It’s exciting, which I feel has been lacking in a lot of new theatre (especially musicals) as of late. We need more musicals like this one, that’s for sure.

I would like more than anything to see this play for a second time (no big surprise, right?), and I’m not entirely sure if I’ll be able to. I take off for New Zealand in exactly a month, and the time before my departure is going to be quite hectic. I’m planning to go down sometime in a couple weeks with a friend who loves the show just as much as I do, so hopefully that will pan out. If not, hey, at least I got the chance to experience The Unfortunates just once, just as everyone else has or should.

… But seriously, if you’re in Ashland and you haven’t seen this play yet, what the fuck are you doing?

Go buy a ticket to it.

Right now.

Trust me, you won’t regret it.

unfortunates2

unfortunates3

one month to go.

13 May

I’m feeling good today, which has been really nice. I’ve been in a rut for the last week, feeling depressed about life while also feeling excruciatingly lonely, so I’m happy that today has been a good one.

I think there’s a whole combination of reasons for my positive outlook on today. For starters, I got to write some articles for BP this afternoon. It’s been a while since I’ve been asked to write for them, and there is no greater feeling on this planet than getting paid for your words. Then this morning I went for a run and listened to I Am America, which was just an amazing way to kick start the day. I also found out Nick is coming to town this weekend, which just fills my heart with glee. To top it all off, the weather is just beautiful (and not sweltering hot like the last couple days), and good weather always puts me in a good mood.

I realized today that I’ve begun to slowly come to terms with The End. The end of school; the end of my time in Ashland. It’s a rather bittersweet feeling. I’ve wanted out of this town for a while (since my junior year, really), but now that the end is in sight I’m sad to leave it all behind. I’ve been reflecting on my definition of “home” recently and have come to realize that, in almost two months, I’m not going to have a home for an entire year. That both scares and invigorates me. Ashland’s been my home for so long; so much so that Portland doesn’t quite feel like home to me anymore.

Anyway, I’ve got about a month left before I leave Ashland. In that time I’d like to revisit my favorite restaurants/bars/coffee shops, say goodbye to all my friends, walk all of Lithia Park one last time, hang out at Emigrant Lake, perform in the Rogue Valley Poetry Slam for my third (and final) time, and perhaps see My Fair Lady or King Lear at OSF.

It’s funny. When I close my eyes I can see my dorm room back when I was a wee freshman; Amanda sitting on her bed in the corner sketching while I watch CSI over at my desk across the room. Things were so different back then. I was so different back then. I was still a kid. I didn’t know anything about the world. And now… well, okay, I still don’t know much about the world, but I know so much more now than when I was a frosh. A part of me feels like I’m just a giant kid wrapped up inside an adult’s body, and I think I’m always going to feel that way, but I can also recognize how mature I’ve become. Nowadays I love cleaning, budgeting my paychecks, grocery shopping, cooking/baking, running/exercising, drinking, writing poetry, and having a job. I literally despised all of those things I just listed when I was eighteen.

The gap between an eighteen year old and a twenty-two (going on twenty-three) year old doesn’t seem like much, but holy hell, it really is a lot. You just deal with so much in that time frame. You try new things. You learn new things. You learn who you are and how you perceive the world around you. That’s one reason why I’d argue the importance of going to college; not so much for the degree and all the student loans you’re guaranteed to wrack up, but because of the people you meet and the interactions you partake in and the experiences you garner. Would I have turned out differently if my neighbor back in the dorms hadn’t slowly transformed into a transwoman before my eyes? If I didn’t gain friends who outwardly enjoy sex, weed, and alcohol? If I hadn’t dealt with friends coming out, friends expressing suicidal thoughts, and friends who went through pregnancy scares and abortions? Would I be the same sheltered girl that I was when I was eighteen, so wide eyed and naive to the ways of the world?

Probably.

This wasn’t meant to be a rant. This was supposed to be a quick update on how I’ve been having a good day, but then I got… nostalgic? I guess I’m just grateful. Despite wishing I had chosen a different college many times throughout my education, if I had to go back I wouldn’t have chosen differently. I’m sure I would’ve had a great time at other schools as well – and probably gotten more for my money – but I wouldn’t trade in the friendships, experiences, and memories I made at SOU for anything in the world.

One more month to go.

Let’s try to make the most out of it.

September, 2008

 

May, 2013

hiking.

5 Sep

Today I went for a hike. This might not seem quite as momentous to some, but you’ve gotta understand a little thing about me. I rarely go outside. I mean, I go outside to get from one place to the next and I’ll go outside for my morning runs, but that doesn’t count. Not really. Rarely do I ever go out for a walk or a hike, or just sit in the park and observe nature. I know I wrote up an entry the other night about lying in a field and looking up at the stars, but that really doesn’t count either considering the field is a block away from my apartment and I just so happened to be passing by it at the time.

I suppose this summer has been sort of good for my (lacking) outdoorsy side. Today I went on a three hour hike (which might not seem like much, but is tremendous for me), I biked all the way to Emigrant Lake with Gina and have visited Emigrant several other times, and I went camping last June for the first time in nine years. It doesn’t seem like much, and in retrospect it really isn’t, but for me it’s not half bad.

The thing about nature is, for the most part, I really like it, and when I get an excuse to go and be in it I usually have a great time. Outdoor School was my favorite part of middle school, so much so that I returned as a counselor. I probably would have been a counselor more than once if it hadn’t interfered with theatre so much. My girl scout troupe also used to go out “camping” all the time (we’d pitch a tent, but we’d be on campgrounds with bathrooms and a cafeteria). I remember doing a scavenger hunt challenge with Laura for one Girl Scout camping event, and we wandered through the woods together in order to complete it. Those were some really fun times.

I’m well aware that, in the eyes of my peers, I come off as the least outdoorsy person of all time, what with always staying locked up in my room hunched over my laptop, but when I’m actually out in the heart of nature I do really enjoy myself. I take in the beauty of a fallen tree, the way the light shimmers off the leaves, the crumbling rocks, and the songs of birds. It’s cliche sounding as all hell, I know, but it’s also true. There’s something so absolutely wonderful about it all. I feel like I’d actually go hiking or camping more often if there was someone to give me that excuse. Or maybe I should stop being such a lazy person and go out and do it on my own. I do find that I tend to enjoy my time out in nature more with company… so maybe once college is over and done with I’ll try to do more on a regular basis.

Anyway, today was a blast. Beckah was my hiking partner and we had a fun day of talking, discussing what would happen if one of us died out on the trail (and different methods of cannibalism), observing tiny lizards, me (poorly) attempting to climb a hill, and enjoying ourselves. The best part of the entire day was when we happened upon an entrance to a cave. We had not been expecting it, so we were instantly intrigued by the opportunity. With my tiny flashlight we entered into the cave. Beckah gripped an old piece of wood, in case we needed to ward off any bears, cougars, or crazy mountain men we might encounter. The pathway in the cave went on for what seemed like ages, and every turn we took our breaths hitched for fear we might run into something spooky, but nothing ever popped out at us (thank goodness). We finally reached the cave’s end, which was just a rock wall with some chalk drawings on it. I turned off the flashlight and the two of us stood in absolute silence. Our eyes couldn’t adjust to the dark, and there wasn’t a sound except for a faint drip drip drip from somewhere in the cave. It was one of the most eerie, awesome moments I’ve ever experienced.

In short, the day was lovely. I had my camera with me, but I didn’t take as many pictures as I probably should have. Here are a few more that I snapped along our journey:

Couldn’t We Ride?

31 Jul

Today was a great reminder that whenever I’m feeling down a splendid day waiting is waiting for me right around the corner.

Yesterday I wrote up a (whiny) entry about how lonely I am and how depressed I am and how nobody likes me and blah blah blah, whiny to the extreme. An hour after I wrote the entry I called up my father because, I don’t know, for some reason I knew he would be the only person who could cheer me up. And he was. We talked about my cat, summer, family, work, school, and such. Eventually the topic of spring break came up, and he divulged how he sometimes looks at plane ticket prices and considers running away to Italy on a whim. This shocked me because I too do this frequently. It was an eye opening moment for me as I realized that maybe my dad and I aren’t so different after all. We then discussed how much we love Tuscany and how Rome sucks and how there’s just something so nice about staying in a villa as opposed to a hotel. He then gave me his usual lecture about how, once out of college, I should take the first two years off to travel and see the world and live life, which is exactly what he did when he was my age. It’s silly to think how a couple years back this notion always made me roll my eyes as I’d say, “Whatever dad.” Now I can’t think of anything I’d rather do more than traveling this planet.

So yesterday ended on a great note, which was nice, but today?

Today was lovely.

I woke up bright and early at eight o’clock. I leaped out of bed, poured myself a cup a cup of coffee, and enjoyed last night’s Daily Show and Colbert Report. In the back of my mind, as my programs played, festered the knowledge of what I’d soon be doing. My first ever interview. No, I would not be taking this interview, I’d be conducting it. As ten o’clock drew nigh I made myself look presentable and reviewed my list of questions I had written up. ‘Deep breathes’, I kept telling myself, ‘this is going to be fun.’

And it was fun. The interview, which was done over Skype with Dave LaMattina and Chad Walker, who are working on the documentary I Am Big Bird, was an absolutely wonderful experience. It sadly had to be cut short due to the fact the guys had to run off to another meeting, but I still got twenty minutes of solid material. Of course, seeing as it was my first ever interview, I did get tongue tied at times and I think I said the words “great” “yeah” and “super” close to a billion times. But still, for my first interview? Not bad.

After this I had a calm, relaxing couple hours of television watching and sorting through stacks of papers. Nothing extravagantly entertaining, but it was nice to unwind after the interview.

At 1:30pm I took off on my bike and rode to my friend Gina’s apartment. Gina was my co-director for the Vagina Monologues last January, and we had been meaning to hang out for a while. Once both of us were ready, we made the great trek to Emigrant Lake… on our bikes.

I have never attempted this feat before. I’ve only traveled to Emigrant via car, and I was surprised the bike ride was pretty smooth sailing. It wasn’t until the lake was in sight I became out of breath and had to ask Gina to stop for a moment, as I had begun to gain tunnel vision. On the way back I felt fine the entire time, which leads me to believe that the reason I was so exhausted on the ride there was due to the fact Gina and I attempted conversation almost the entire way. Not a great idea. Talking takes up way too much energy when you’re on a bike.

Speaking of biking, I did the math and between biking to Gina’s, biking to the lake, and biking home, I biked 12.5 miles today. I have a feeling my body’s gonna hate me tomorrow.

We finally reached the lake, locked up our bike, and adventured further down to find a spot away from all the people. We finally found a nice, albeit rocky, area where we set up camp. We then proceeded to have a nice, lengthy conversation. It’s been over a month since we last saw each other, so it was lovely to catch up. We talked about grad schools, movies, boyfriends, nonexistent boyfriends, family, friends, travel, doctor appointments, the VMs, and many other things. I’m pretty sure we spent more time talking than actually in the lake, which we did spend a fair amount of time in as well. All in all, it was just an amazing time.

The beautiful view we had from where we sat.

On the way back Gina braked her bike and I nearly ran right into her. I immediately assumed something was wrong, but it turned out her eye had been caught by a blackberry bush. We then spent a good five or so minutes picking blackberries and letting the flavors explode on our tongues. It’s hard to explain, but more than our conversation, more than my first ever interview, more than the cheesecake I made later today, this was my favorite moment of the entire day. It was such a simple moment of joy.

As we biked back into town, we parted ways. I rode over to Shopping Kart and bought a slew of groceries to last me through the next week and a half.

When I got home I started whipping up the one dessert I actually know how to make well: cheesecake. My cheesecake’s are delicious. I even shook up the recipe a little bit (though sadly had to forfeit the strawberries I normally decorate my cheesecakes with as I’m sort of broke… as usual). My cheesecake is still cooling in the refrigerator (where it will stay for another hour or so). I just made chicken enchiladas, which are cooling on the stove top. These sadly look nothing like the web-site’s examples, but who knows. Maybe they’ll still be tasty…ish?

Now I’m gonna go cut me an enchilada and go watch Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid, and eventually will help myself to a slice of cheesecake. Then I’m gonna delve into that interview and start editing it and such.

Sorry that this was pretty much just a super long rant about today, but I couldn’t resist. Who could possibly resist sharing all about a day like today?

lonely in a land of ash.

6 Jul

My best friend is on the other side of the planet. My ex-roommate and a handful of other friends are now moved away. My current roommate never comes out of her room. My cat’s gone to live in Portland. I’ve fallen out of contact with the majority of friends who still are here. It suddenly feels like everyone in my life has slipped away and left me.

This tiny town has never felt so big.