A surfeit of riches in Ashland
With summer season now in full swing, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival has plays for everyone
By the time summer season begins at Ashland’s Oregon Shakespeare Festival, there are so many plays in rotation one would need nearly a week to see them all, even at the rate of two a day.
I saw four in three days, missing some I very much wanted to see, but what to do? It’s a surfeit of riches. Here are the ones I saw:
Henry IV, Part Two: The middle chapter of Shakespeare’s Henriad traces Henry’s victory over rebellious earls and barons, his death and the ascension of Prince Hal to the throne. The scenes that greatly delight are the comedic ones involving the larger-than-life Sir John Falstaff, the prince’s gluttonous drinking companion. Michael Winters makes a dazzling Falstaff under Lisa Peterson’s direction. If you like Shakespeare’s history plays, you’ll love this production. Elizabethan Stage through Oct. 7.
August: Osage County. Tracy Letts won the Pulitzer Prize for this play, and it’s easy to see why. Set in a small town in present-day Oklahoma, it’s a scathing but often hilarious portrait of the Weston family as it begins to implode following the death of one of its members. It’s like watching a tragicomic train wreck, as events peel back the layers of family secrets, and the Westons attack each other with a gleefulness that’s oddly tinged with love. Brilliant acting and taut direction by Christopher Liam Moore. Highly recommended. Bowmer Theatre through Nov. 5.
Measure for Measure: This modernized version of one of Shakespeare’s most complex plays features a largely Latino cast and a trio of women singing and playing traditional Mexican music (quite beautifully) as a form of commentary. If that sounds like a stretch, don’t worry: It works brilliantly. Director Bill Rauch uses a minimal but amazingly flexible set in mounting this remarkable exploration of moral ambiguities and the nature of justice. Bowmer Theatre through Nov. 6.
The Pirates of Penzance: This is the OSF’s first production of a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, and it comes off nicely on the Elizabethan Stage. There are a lot of complex production numbers, and I was mildly surprised by the quality of the singing and dancing throughout. Sullivan’s familiar tunes, Gilbert’s clever lyrics, and a goofy, topsy-turvy tale make this fun, light entertainment. On the night I saw it, the audience gave it a standing ovation. (Through Oct. 8.)
I wish I’d been able to see Molière’s The Imaginary Invalid (Bowmer through Nov. 6). Director Tracy Young has a background in Italian commedia dell’arte, and her program notes suggest she intended to bring that kind of physicality to what is already a very funny play. Shakespeare’s Love’s Labor’s Lost, now up on the Elizabethan Stage through Oct. 9, looks attractive, too, as does his Julius Caesar in the New Theatre through Nov. 6.
Three intriguing upcoming productions:
Ghost Light, by Tony Taccone, which is built around the character of Jon Moscone, the theater-director son of slain San Francisco mayor George Moscone. The play describes his struggles to come to terms with his father’s death both as a boy and as an adult trying to stage the ghost scene in Hamlet. Moscone himself directs this world premiere in the New Theatre (June 28–Nov. 5).
The African Company Presents Richard III, by Carlyle Brown, is based on the first black theater company in America and its effort in the 1820s to perform the Shakespeare tragedy when a neighboring white company in New York City is mounting a production of the same play. (Bowmer, July 20–Nov. 5.)
Willful, by Michael Rohd and Shannon Scrofano, represents something altogether new for OSF—a project in which the audience is broken into small groups and sent to specific sites on the OSF campus, where they will have as-yet-undefined experiences, then return to the full group to discuss them. (Aug. 7–Oct. 9.)
The OSF is now in its 76th year, and it’s getting stronger all the time, as these last three adventurous productions suggest. We in Chico are fortunate that it’s so close and accessible.
Note: Due to a crack discovered June 18 in a support beam in the Bowmer Theatre, alternate sites are hosting future performances scheduled for the theater. Contact OSF for the latest details and for refunds and/or exchanges.