Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF) was established in 1935 and has been in continuous operation, with the exception of the WW II years 1941-1946. It now presents an eight-month season of 11 plays – four by Shakespeare and seven by classic and contemporary playwrights – in rotating repertory in three theatres: the outdoor Elizabethan Stage (seats 1,190), the Angus Bowmer Theatre (seats 601), and the intimate New Theatre (seats 270-360). OSF employs approximately 450 theatre professionals and has received many prestigious awards, and has reputation for excellence in their acting and production staff.
The Elizabethan Stage includes two Shakespearean plays, Henry VIII and Much Ado About Nothing and the world premiere of a new adaptation of Don Quixote by Octavio Solis author of Lydiarecently seen on the Marin Theatre Stage. The rarely produced Henry VIII is a brilliant production with classical pomp and top-notch cast in gorgeous costumes making it a must see production that you may not have the chance to see anywhere again. Thankfully, they did not attempt a concept version. Much Ado About Nothing, one of Shakespeare’s most often produced plays, lends itself to concept versions, and as conceived and directed by Kate Buckley is a joy to watch. Since Octavio Solis’s adaptation of Don Quixote is a world premiere one cannot classify it as a concept version but it certainly has the feel as such and one wonders about the author’s intent. The staging using puppets, paraphernalia, projections and music is extremely inventive emphasizing the farcical evoking mostly laughter and neglecting the irony of the Knight Errant’s quests.Like Cervantes book, it is picaresque, sprawling and over long reflecting that it is still a work in progress.
The Angus Bowmer Theatre, with a few caveats, has three winners. The spectacular Macbeth directed by Gale Edwards on a Daliesque set (Scott Bradley) is the bloodiest staging you may ever see. Do not be dissuaded about attending since Peter Macon (Macbeth) and Robin Goodrin Nordli (Lady Macbeth) are dynamos and are supported by a talented cast with special mention for the three Witches whose prophecies propel the inevitable conclusion.World premier Equivocation by Bill Cain and directed Bill Rauch is a tour de force by five actors (Anthony Heald, Richard Elmore, Jonathan Haugen, John Tufts and Gregory Linington) playing multiple roles supported by Christine Albright in the single female role adding sanity to the proceedings. The caveat is brief non-frontal nudity. Meredith Willson’s The Music Man directed by Bill Rauch has memorable staging on an inventive set (Rachel Hauck)mood generating lighting (Geoff Korf), fleet-footed choreography (Darren Lee) and effervescent Michael Elich as Professor Harold Hill charming the populous. OSF is to be congratulated for its dedication to non-traditional casting that often adds depth to their performances requiring those chosen to be superior actors or singers. Gwendolyn Mulamba, who received great praise for her role in Welcome Home, Jenny Sutter, is miscast as Marian the Librarian since her vocal range does not radiate nuance or charisma required by the role. However, the total package is astounding and mood lifting.
We were only able to see one production, Dead Man’s Cell Phone, in the intimate New Theatre. For this show, the theatre is in the three-sided configuration with the moveable back wall adeptly used for scene changes and projections. After having seen the fascinating local staging at the 99 seat SF Playhouse, Ashland’s mounting is glaringly over-produced, unnecessarily relying on staging and light gimmickry. However, Sarah Ruhl did attend the closing performance, and at a reception following the play said that she was pleased with the production.