Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Oregon Shakespeare Festival 2016 Season

Each year, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, located in scenic Ashland, Oregon, produces 11 plays in repertory. About half of them are the works of Shakespeare, with the rest a mixture of contemporary plays, older musicals, and shows by classic playwrights.

Ashland itself is a wonderful place for a vacation. A variety of quality restaurants with fresh ingredients, lots of nearby trails and parks, and a thriving visual arts scene make the town a favorite destination.

Here are some of the most exciting plays of OSF’s 2016 season:

Twelfth Night (dir. Christopher Liam Moore)

Runs February 19 through October 30

While OSF’s previous version of this play was set in a color-saturated Elizabethan England, this year’s production is based on glamorous 1930’s Hollywood musicals. Because of the play’s strong themes of music and love, as well as the nicely wrapped-up ending where the villain gets his due, it feels like a great fit.

Director Christopher Liam Moore has worked mostly on contemporary plays during his 6-year career at OSF, but he also directed the semi-modern adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 2013.

The River Bride (by Marisela TreviƱo Orta, dir. Laurie Woolery)

Runs February 21 through July 7

The River Bride, which had several productions around the West Coast prior to this performance, is a mystical, dreamlike story-play based partially on the Amazonian myth of dolphins taking human form to seduce women. Historically, OSF’s plays based on mythology, such as 2013’s White Snake, have been extremely successful, and I look forward to seeing how they present this one.

Great Expectations (Adaptation by Penny Metropulos and Linda Alper, dir. Penny Metropulos)

Runs February 20 through October 30

This new adaptation of Great Expectations captures the over-the-top characters and dramatic twists of fate that one would expect from one of Dickens' greatest novels. Stage versions of Dickens stories (excepting A Christmas Carol) are surprisingly rare, so it is a treat to see such a quality theatrical company take on the challenge.

Hamlet (dir. Lisa Peterson)

Runs June 7 through October 14

Hardly anything is more exciting than a production of Hamlet by one of the greatest Shakespeare repertories in the country. This version, directed by guest artist Lisa Peterson, emphasizes the themes of madness and doubt present in the play: Is Hamlet avenging the murder of a noble king, or killing an innocent man in a haze of grief?

While the 2010 production cast Dan Donohue in the titular role, this year’s Hamlet is played by Danforth Comins, most notable for his incredible portrayal of Stanley Kowalski in 2013’s A Streetcar Named Desire. It will be exciting to see what he brings to the part.

The Wiz (Book by William F. Brown, music and lyrics by Charlie Smalls, dir. Robert O’Hara)

Runs June 8 through October 15

This year, OSF’s recent tradition of directing classic 20th-century musicals in fascinating ways arrives at the all-Black adaptation of The Wizard of Oz – the one that took audiences by storm in 1974. Director Robert O’Hara, who also wrote the play Insurrection: Holding History, frequently focuses on the conflicts between identity and the past in his work, and I look forward to what messages he will add to and discover within The Wiz. 

The Winter’s Tale (dir. Desdemona Chiang)

Runs June 9 through October 16

Shakespeare’s rarely performed tragicomedy, featuring magic, miracles, and the most famous bear-related stage direction of all time, arrives at the Elizabethan Theatre this year. For this production, director Desdemona Chiang has adapted the play across multiple times, setting it simultaneously in dynastic China and America’s West in the 19th Century. One of the great benefits of large Shakespeare festivals like OSF is their willingness to take risks with uncommon works, and a production of The Winter’s Tale is a rare treat.

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