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AHS plays reminds, 'You can't take it with you'

Ashland High School Theatre sets itself high standards — and continues to earn awards and accolades. It isn't content to put on — a show that will appeal to an audience of family and friends. It reaches — out to the legitimate playgoing public by offering fare that is daring — and diverse and moreover tests the young actors to the uttermost.

Behind it all is producer Betsy Bishop, the driving force — and enthusiastic encourager. No wonder she garnered the Art Teacher of — the Year Award from the Southern Oregon Art Council and has been honored — the past three years by inclusion in "Who's Who Among American High School — Teachers."

Consider the offerings for AHS' 2004-2005 season. Opening — in the Mountain Avenue Theatre on October 28 is "You Can't Take It With — You" ("It" being money) by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman. David Thompson — is the director and more than 65 students are involved as cast and crew. — Often described as the quintessential American farce, it achieved a run — of 837 performances, opening in New York in 1936 and winning the Pulitzer — Prize that same year. It had major revivals in 1965 and 1983 and was presented — by OSF in 1994. The movie version came out in 1938 and won the Oscar for — best picture.

Was there ever a wackier household than that of 75-year-old — tax dodger and dart player Martin Vanderhof? His daughter Penelope dabbles — in playwriting and painting, as much the dilettante as the dilly-dallyer. — Her husband Paul is a fireworks fiend spending his time concocting new — crackers in the cellar, with his cohort Mr. DePina, a former delivery — man who somehow came to stay. Then there's Essie, one of Vanderhof's granddaughters, — a candy-maker and aspiring ballerina who is, not surprisingly, always — on her toes, and no less than when Madame Kolenkova comes a-tutoring. — The dance music is provided by Essie's husband, Ed, as adept on the xylophone — as on the printing press.

So, hello, young lovers. How does Alice, Vanderhof's other — and younger granddaughter, fit in this mad house? Actually, she's the — "normal" one who has fallen in love with Tony, the son of a wealthy Wall — Street broker. Their love scene that closes Act — is faithful and funny — and as charming as ever today. They soon learn that the course of true — love never does run smooth. But, of course, there's a happy ending.

A challenging choice is "Rashomon," the play by Fay and — Michael Kanin, based on stories by Japanese author Ryunsoke Akatugawa — ("The Rasho Gate," 1915 and "In a Grove," 1921). It was produced in 1959 — at the Music Box in New York and achieved a run of 159 performances under — the direction of Peter Glenville, with Noel Willman and Claire Bloom playing — the samurai warrior and his wife, and Rod Steiger as Tajomaru, the bandit — of ill repute. Angus L. Bowmer's Vining Repertory Company presented it — at Ashland's Varsity Theatre late in 1961. Ashland High School is set — for four performances (January 12-15) under the direction of Katherine — Gosnell who has had an extensive experience in stage management for OSF — and has many directing credits.

The action occurs in Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan, — about a thousand years ago at the edge of the Rashomon Gate, at a police — court, and in a nearby forest; a single setting of three locales. Aside — from the characters enumerated above, there are the wife's mother, a Buddhist — priest, a woodcutter, a wigmaker, and a medium. The magistrate is an unseen — presence in the position of the audience.

It is an engrossing drama of ambush, rape, and murder; — an event viewed from three different perspectives. And what is the truth? — There is a classic fight scene in the play, and AHS is fortunate to be — able to draw upon the expertise of Christopher DuVal (Dromio of Syracuse — and Ephesus in this year's OSF "The Comedy of Errors").

Of course, it was the 1950 film of "Rashomon" that earned — immense eclat and launched Toshiro Mifune's acting career (he played the — bandit). In 1964, a western remake called "The Outrage" was dismissed — as "pretentious fizzle." As for author Akutagawa, he committed suicide — in 1927 at age 35, but a literary prize for promising new Japanese writers, — awarded semi-annually, was established in his honor in 1935.

After this year's scintillating production of Cole Porter's — "Anything Goes," performed with remarkable professionalism, the expectations — are high for AHS' 2005 musical (May 5-7, 12-15). It will be a great opportunity — for the collaboration of both music and performing arts students. The — choice is likely to be made in November, when preliminary auditions are — held, possibly from "Guys and Dolls," "Godspell," or "Little Shop of Horrors." — What is certain is that Richard Jessup, former artistic director of Rogue — Music Theatre and long associated with musicals at the Britt Festival, — will be the director and choreographer.