Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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In the Wings - Summer, Shakespeare, Oregon

March 27, 2012

Romeo (Daniel José Molina) and Tybalt (Fajer Al-Kaisi) with Kevin Fugaro and Jason Rojas in Romeo and Juliet. Photo: Jenny Graham/OSF 2012
It’s not too early to start planning for your 2012 summer. And if your interest is theater, your best bet is Ashland, Oregon where the Oregon Shakespeare Festival kicked off its 76th season in February and will reach its full summer schedule in June with nine concurrently running productions. There are lots of summer Shakespeare Festivals around the country, but OSF, under artistic director Bill Rauch has bigger, bolder, and more surprising offerings than most. This year’s line up promises to continue with Rauch’s focus on inventive modern stagings and new American plays. The company’s current new play commissioning program, American Revolutions, which produced Culture Clash’s wonderful American Night from 2010, will see two new premieres this summer. The first of these, and one of the two projects Rauch himself will direct this year, is Robert Schenkkan’s All the Way, which will revisit LBJ’s first year in the president’s office in 1963 following Kennedy’s assassination. The other new play on this year’s schedule takes off in the same time period and moves forward. Chicago theater collective UNIVERSES will collaborate with OSF’s resident artists for Party People about former Black Panthers and other revolutionaries now facing their legacy several decades on. Both of these shows enter the repertory in July and run through the end of the season in November.

Tanya McBride and Amy Kim Waschke in The White Snake. Photo: Jenny Graham/OSF 2012
Of course, Shakespeare’s name is in the festival’s title, so there is plenty of the drama that made English what it is today to choose from. I personally am most excited about Rob Melrose’s new Troilus and Cressida, which is being produced in association with New York’s Public Theater and which moves the action to the contemporary Middle East. The show will open later this week at the New Theater which next year will be renamed the Thomas Theater in honor of OSF's former longtime Development Director Peter D. Thomas. There are other fresh takes on the English master. In the outdoor Elizabethan Stage in June, Christopher Liam Moore will move Falstaff’s tormentors stateside in The Merry Wives of Windsor, Iowa. And indoors at the Bowmer Theater Laird Williamson is offering a 19th-century California setting for Romeo and Juliet. The rest of the outdoor stage programming for the summer months rounds out the Shakespeare part of the festival with the usual high-quality OSF production values in somewhat more traditional stagings of As You Like It and Henry V.

Jonathan Haugen, center with Brent Hinkley (L) and John Tufts (R) in Animal Crackers. Photo: Jenny Graham/OSF 2012
Much of the rest of the indoor season in Ashland is already underway and includes a number of promising choices. There is comedy, of course, and the company has chosen to revive Kaufman and Ryskind’s Marx Brother’s vehicle Animal Crackers for the Bowmer stage. And on the dramatic side, former festival director Libby Appel returns to direct her own new adaptation of Chekhov’s The Seagull at the New Theater. But perhaps the two most intriguing experiments on the schedule are the Tony award-winning director Mary Zimmerman’s theatrical adaptation of the Chinese fable The White Snake and Bill Rauch and Tracy Young’s wild musical mash up interweaving the stories of Medea/Macbeth/Cinderella. The scope of this latter project doesn’t arrive for a few more weeks but it does keep up the adventure quotient in one of the country’s best theatrical getaways. I’ll be reporting from the festival twice this year including this coming weekend so stay tuned for reports, but in the meantime, check out their site for further details on schedules and tickets. The festival is running now through November 4. And don’t forget to spend at least some of your summertime indoors.


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