A one-night stand of Shakespearean proportions

And here I thought Bill Shakespeare and I broke up a long time ago.

But all it took was a random night at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival to rekindle — if only for one fleeting evening — my once-passionate love affair with the Bard.

It began on a typical Sunday. I had spent most of the day reading a book at the Beanery in Ashland when it occurred to me to take a walk downtown for a bit of leg stretching and a maybe a stop for some ice cream.

My mind was still pulpy from being sequestered indoors the previous day with watery beer, greasy food and football. Sunday was a much-needed recharge day. And a day of freedom before the work grind began anew.

Suddenly a call came. A friend scored some free "Measure for Measure" tickets at OSF and wanted to know whether I was game.

"Uh, yeah, maybe," I said. "I'll think about it. Meet you in a bit."

My friend gave me the slightly annoyed, "Well, yeah, don't think about it too long, you moron" voice and said the ticket was mine if I so wished.

Right-thinking people across the area would jump at free OSF tickets. Why was I dragging my feet?

Simple: I'm a recovering English major. Which means I have a lot of these conversations when I'm out and about in Ashland.

Me: "I moved here to get a job at the newspaper."

Them: "Oh, did you study journalism in college?"

Me: "No, I was an English major."

Them: "Oh! Well then you must be thrilled to live in a town with a world-class Shakespeare theater!"

Me: " ... grumble ... Shakespeare ... grumble ... Hamlet ... grumble ... overrated ... grumble ... grumble ... Marlowe was better ... grumble ... grumble ... "

Them: "What was that? I couldn't understand you. You were grumbling."

You see, I once loved the hell out of some Shakespeare. I took several classes taught by smart people who not only made Shakespeare accessible to overheated college freshmen, they also complicated the material by tying it to social and political dynamics that continue to this very day.

But that was about 50 plays ago. My enthusiasm began to wane around the 15th rereading of "Hamlet" (I still don't fully understand why he waited so long to kill his scumbag uncle, and neither do you) and my 13th time through "A Midsummer Night's Dream" (a work I hate to this day, and whose characters were revisualized and made more complex in Neil Gaiman's brilliant "Sandman" comics).

I'd seen "The Tempest" at OSF a few years back and walked away disappointed. The actors and direction were fine, but the play itself seemed as forgettable and unfunny (fart jokes don't work now, didn't work in the 1600s) as it did when I reread it for, oh, the sixth time my junior year in college.

Last year's "Merchant of Venice" was a vile surprise because I'd only read that one twice or maybe three times and had forgotten how twisted and evil that play is upon reflection. And Anthony Heald, who played Shylock, is always worth watching.

After a brief internal struggle, I decided to accompany my friend to "Measure for Measure." My mind had reached football heat-death the day before, so I didn't want to catch the Sunday night game.

And besides, Heald was featured in "Measure," as was the talented Stephanie Beatriz — upon whom I've had a crush since catching her in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof."

And waddya know? I enjoyed the hell out of "Measure" from start to finish. Purists would argue that setting the story in an inner-city community center among a largely Hispanic population is over reaching. These purists are "very superficial, ignorant, unweighing fellow(s)."

My favorite genre is the dark comedy, which "Measure" surely is. I mean, Hollywood would never pair laughs with threatened nun sex. And here's "Measure" pulling it off on a stage in Ashland.

"Measure" ends its run Nov. 6. The show I saw had plenty of empty seats, so I assume tickets are there to be had.

This is not to say I'm going to drag out my "Complete Works of Shakespeare" tome for some bedtime reading anytime soon. But I can't think of a better way to spend a Sunday night than a one-night stand with Bill.

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471; or email cconrad@mailtribune.com.

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