Friday, January 2, 2015

Plays to See: Oregon Shakespeare Festival 2015 Season


The Oregon Shakespeare Festival, located in scenic Ashland, Oregon, is a repertory theatre that produces roughly ten shows during its February to October season. There are always several Shakespeare plays (though not as many this year), in addition to classic, modern, and premiere shows that support OSF’s dedication to the language of theatre.

The city of Ashland boasts quality restaurants with farm-fresh ingredients; the restaurants are so good that, aside from Starbucks, chain restaurants simply can’t survive there. Nature enthusiasts will be interested in beautiful Lithia Park, which boasts scenic forests along the banks of Ashland Creek.

The following is some of the 2015 season’s plays that look especially strong:

Guys and Dolls (by Frank Loesser, Jo Swerling, and Abe Burrows, dir. Mary Zimmerman)

Runs February 22 through November 1

As I mentioned in my My Fair Lady review, OSF has a consistent record of staging tired Broadway go-tos in innovative and fascinating ways, most notably Bill Rauch’s Pleasantville-style Music Man from the 2009 season. Guys and Dolls has some of the catchiest music of its time, and the combination with OSF’s musical interpretations is very exciting.

What builds even more confidence is the revival under the direction of Mary Zimmerman, typically known more for directing her own mythological works, like 2013’s outstanding White Snake. Guys and Dolls seems like a departure for someone who hardly ever works with material on this side of 1900, but it has its own share of larger-than-life characters and mythological feats (Sky winning a high-stakes gambling game in “Luck Be A Lady”, for instance).

Jeremy Peter Johnson plays Sky Masterson in this production; I most remember him as Cinderella’s Prince in 2014’s Into the Woods. The ability to do goofy material seriously will fit him well as he takes on the role, and I’m excited to see what he does with it. I also eagerly await the hilarious Richard Elmore as imposing gangster Big Jule.

Secret Love in Peach Blossom Land (by Stan Lai, dir. Stan Lai)

Runs April 15 through October 31

Metatheatre (think Noises Off!) is a divisive genre, but one that OSF is unafraid to stage as part of their commitment to the language of theatre. Secret Love in Peach Blossom Land is a delightfully meta piece of theatre that also happens to be one of Taiwan’s most influential and powerful modern plays. The fact that the original writer and director, who semi-improvised the original piece in the 80s, is steering the helm turns the play from a curiosity into a true privilege to see.

Many historical pieces, including some at Ashland, possess a kind of dourness, but Secret Love in Peach Blossom Land combines wit and poignancy in an interesting interpretation of both Chinese ancient and modern history. Authentic non-Western theatre is difficult to find in the States, making Secret Love an amazing opportunity.

Long Day’s Journey into Night (by Eugene O’Neill, dir. Christopher Liam Moore)

Runs March 25 through October 31

It’s one of the greatest plays of the 20th century, starring Michael Winters (King Lear), directed by the person responsible for 2013’s stellar Streetcar Named Desire. I’m not sure what more needs to be said.

The Count of Monte Cristo (by Alexandre Dumas, adapted by Charles Fechter, dir. Marcela Lorca)

Runs June 4 through October 11

The Count of Monte Cristo remains one of the world’s premiere swashbuckling adventure stories, and though many adaptations exist, OSF decided to go with an old, wildly popular version that starred Eugene O’Neill’s father in its original run. This play is a more sophisticated attempt at adventure theatre after 2013’s Heart of Robin Hood, which also indicates the theatre company’s attempt to diversify their theatre styles.

The part of Edmond Dant├ęs, the story’s central character, was given to Al Espinosa, who played assorted roles in mostly Shakespearean or early 20th-century plays in the past four seasons. The Yale-educated actor combines dashing charisma with a true grasp of difficult texts, which gives him an advantage in Count of Monte Cristo.


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