Friday, February 24, 2017

Oregon Shakespeare Festival 2017 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 world premieres, 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 2017 season:

Julius Caesar (Directed by Shana Cooper)

Julius Caesar was OSF’s flagship tragedy during their 2011 season, which used minimalist staging and audience participation to use the play as a metaphor for some of modern history’s most controversial leaders. Shana Cooper, also responsible for directing The Unfortunates, is in charge of the 2017 version, which looks like a more classical adaptation.

UniSon (by UNIVERSES, directed by Robert O’Hara)

UNIVERSES, the theatre troupe that previously created Party People for OSF, returns with an exploration of American master August Wilson’s unpublished poetry. This structure capitalizes on what UNIVERSES did best with Party People – creating profound, energetic explorations of movement, visuals, and language within a loose dramatic framework. UniSon may prove to be the most outlandish, and most interesting, contemporary play of the season.

The Odyssey (Directed by Mary Zimmerman)

Mary Zimmerman is best known for her beautiful stage adaptations of classic myths. This year, Zimmerman directs The Odyssey, one of the most famous Greek legends, which brought such things as the Cyclops, Circe the sorceress, and the island of the Lotus-Eaters into the popular consciousness. The action-packed and exciting story, combined with Zimmerman’s theatrical magic, makes The Odyssey a must-see performance.

Mojada: A Medea in Los Angeles (by Luis Alfaro, directed by Juliette Carrillo)

The classic Greek tragedy Medea is re-imagined through the lens of the Mexican-American immigrant experience in this work from Luis Alfaro, also known for his award-winning Oedipus el Rey.  Even for those familiar with Sophocles’ masterpiece, its new context – set in the modern day – will hit much closer to home emotionally than a classical adaptation.

Henry IV, Part One/Henry IV, Part Two (Directed by Lileana Blain-Cruz/Carl Cofield)

Shakespeare’s historical duology about the youthful Prince Hal learning to become the king expected of him by his father, Henry IV, is always an ambitious undertaking. When OSF previously produced these plays (along with their sequel, Henry V), they split them up over three seasons; now, you have the opportunity to watch the epic tale of Hal’s growth over the course of a few days. Part Two doesn’t open until July, so keep that in mind when planning your schedule.

Thursday, February 23, 2017


Location: Redwood City, CA

Food: Pizza

Close To: Dragon Theatre, Broadway By The Bay

California pizza is known for being wide and flat, with a thin crust, as opposed to the thicker New York slice or the Chicago deep dish. One of the best choices for California-style pizza in the Bay Area is Vesta, a trendy, modern restaurant located in the middle of downtown Redwood City. Featuring a substantial menu of pies and appetizers, Vesta is a great choice if you feel like pizza but want something more upscale than delivery in a box.

There are a number of appetizers you could order to compliment your pizza, including the mushroom toast ($12) with sauteed mushrooms on bread or grilled carrots with lemon yogurt ($9), but one item on the menu must not be overlooked: Grilled bread ($2.50). Thick, crusty bread is toasted to perfection and lightly brushed with olive oil, creating a slight bitterness that compliments the sweet-sour flavor of the bread. There’s enough in a serving for at least two people, and it goes well with any pizza you would care to order.

Pizzas at Vesta are split into two categories: Red pizzas, which have tomato sauce, and white pizzas, which have cheese. Both types are large enough for two or three people to have a satisfying meal, so it’s highly recommended that you bring someone along. One of the more traditional pizzas in the red section is the basil burrata ($19), which plays on the classic Italian pizza margherita (also available on the menu for $16) by adding creamy dollops of soft, sweet burrata cheese. Fresh basil adds the aromatic punch needed to round out the flavor experience. Other choices in the red section are a vegan pesto pizza ($17) and an interesting pie that has sausage, honey and chili for a sweet-hot flavor ($21).

My choice in the white section is the Rosemary Potato & Bacon pizza ($21). Though unthinkable as a topping on a conventional pizza, the potato is one of the stars of the dish. The texture of the German butterball potato provides a palate contrast to the crisp bacon and soft cheese and the flavor combines beautifully with the dash of rosemary sprinkled across it. The pizza combines the casual delight that normally comes with eating pizza and the comfort of a home-cooked meal, providing an eating experience unique to Vesta.

After such great options for pizzas, it almost seems unfair that Vesta’s desserts are considerably above-par. Ordering a generous scoop of gelato ($5 with add-ons) is an excellent choice; my personal favorite flavor is the salted dulce de leche, which has coarse rock salt added to provide new flavors in every bite. Make sure to pay a little extra to add warm Tcho chocolate sauce, especially on a cold winter’s day. If ice cream isn’t your thing, you might want to order the Mexican chocolate bread pudding ($7), which comes with Grand Marnier sauce.

Vesta is a member of the newest generation of restaurants, which uses interesting local ingredients to put a spin on the classic American comfort food dishes from decades past (See also my review of Smithfield’s in Ashland, which offers a similar experience.) It provides a refined meal experience while removing much of the pretension of older fine dining locations. This mix of casual and sophisticated, along with its prime location near some of the Bay Area’s best theatre, makes it an excellent choice for the theatregoer.