Oregon Shakespeare Festival Openers Offer Feisty Women, Intimate Drama, and Thoughtful Dialogue

“Taming of the Shrew”: Petruchio (Ted Deasy) and Kate (Nell Geisslinger) affirm their love for one another as Bianca (Royer Bockus) looks on. Photo by Jenny Graham/OSF

ASHLAND, Ore.—Theatergoers have plenty of thoughtful and entertaining options for live performances this season at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Bill Rauch, the festival’s artistic director, is directing two of the 11 plays, which include three world premieres and one U.S. premiere.

Here’s a quick overview. Visit www.osf.org to purchase tickets and learn more.

Showing now

1.     “The Taming of the Shrew’ (Shakespeare), Angus Bowmer Theatre, through Nov. 3

2.     “My Fair Lady’ (musical), Angus Bowmer, through Nov. 3

3.     “Two Trains Running’ (August Wilson), Angus Bowmer, through July 7

4.     “King Lear’ (Shakespeare), Thomas Theatre, through Nov. 3, directed by Bill Rauch, OSF’s artistic director

5.     “The Unfortunates’ (world premiere musical), Thomas Theatre, through Nov. 2

Later this season

1.     “A Streetcar Named Desire’ (Tennessee Williams), Angus Bowmer, April 17—Nov. 2

2.     “The Tenth Muse’ (world premiere), Angus Bowmer, July 24—Nov. 2

3.     “The Liquid Plain’ (world premiere), Thomas, July 2—Nov. 3

4.     “Cymbeline’ (Shakespeare), Elizabethan outdoor stage, June 4—Oct. 11, directed by Bill Rauch

5.     “The Heart of Robin Hood’ (U.S. premiere), Elizabethan, June 5—Oct. 12

6.     “A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ (Shakespeare), Elizabethan, June 6—Oct. 13

Author’s notes

Take your pick of feisty women dealing with stereotypes in Shakespeare’s controversial comedy, “The Taming of the Shrew,” and the much-loved musical, “My Fair Lady.” Tempestuous Kate (“Shrew”) and the irrepressible Eliza Doolittle (“Lady”) don’t disappoint in these colorful performances.

“My Fair Lady” ensemble. Photo by Jenny Graham/OSF

Regular OSF visitors will expect a non-traditional setting for “Shrew” – this time it’s an Italian beach boardwalk in the rockabilly era (watch for scene-stealer John Tufts, who played Henry V last year). In “My Fair Lady,” veteran actors Jonathan Haugen (as professor Henry Higgins) and Anthony Heald (as Eliza’s father) add icing to this cake of comic theatrical enjoyment.

“Two Trains Running” is the latest August Wilson play to be performed at OSF (“Fences” ran in 2008). Wilson, who died in 2005, wrote 10 plays known as the “Century Cycle” – one for each decade of the 20th century. He described the series as his “attempt to represent (black American) culture in dramatic art.”

The play offers an opportunity to sink deeply and thoughtfully into the lives of a handful of memorable characters, all within the setting of a Pittsburgh diner. At more than three hours, it’s best to be prepared for the slow pace and heavy monologues. But the experience, if embraced, is deeply moving.

Sterling (Kevin Kenerly) jokes with Hambone (Tyrone Wilson) as Holloway (Josiah Phillips) and Risa (Bakesta King) look on. Photo by Jenny Graham/OSF

This production of “King Lear” stands out for two reasons (three, if you count that it’s directed by Rauch, who always brings a freshness to his productions): it’s an epic drama performed in the intimacy of the Thomas Theatre, which seats 270 to 360; and the title role is played on alternate nights by two actors (Michael Winters and Jack Willis).

Rauch talked about those factors with media during opening weekend. “I suspected that…doing (“Lear”) in the intimacy of the Thomas Theatre would be really intense. Something about this story in this space is different from seeing it anywhere else. I’m really proud of what that experience is,” he said.

He chose two actors to play Lear because he didn’t think it was fair to ask one actor to play nothing else but that character for the entire season. “It was very clear to me that if one actor played King Lear for up to 130 performances, that was all they could do,” Rauch said. Having two actors alternate was a “new and fresh thing for us to take on artistically.”

“I knew it would be challenging and interesting, but I was not prepared for the full depth of the experience,” he said, noting that he told the cast to think of it as being in two different performances of “Lear.”

King Lear (Jack Willis) in his madness amid the ruins of his kingdom. Photo by Jenny Graham/OSF

Rauch was right about the impact of this intense drama in a venue where actors are sometimes seated next to patrons, and facial expressions are very visible. For those not familiar with the storyline, the aging Lear makes a plan to turn his kingdom over to his three daughters. Betrayal, murder, devious plots, and madness ensue—but so do goodness, loyalty, friendship, and love.

Candace L. Brown has been a newspaper and magazine reporter and editor for 20 years. She lives in Redding and can be reached at candace.freelance@gmail.com.

Candace L. Brown
Candace L. Brown has been a newspaper and magazine reporter and editor since 1992, including eight years at the Redding Record Searchlight. She lives in Redding and can be reached at candace.freelance@gmail.com.
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