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This one might not have come across your radar, but the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare is sparking worldwide celebrations this year, including within the State of Jefferson, home not only to Redding but also the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF).
OSF kicked off its 81st year this spring, honoring both the Bard and a beloved actor and theater company member who died in September. The 2016 season is dedicated to Catherine E. Coulson, whom regular OSF-goers will remember from 21 years of noteworthy performances, such as Catherine in “By the Waters of Babylon.”
The festival celebrated the quadricentennial anniversary of Shakespeare’s death on April 23 with a party, gubernatorial proclamation, and partnership with the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C. Learn more here.
(Side note: Shakespeare and country music singer Merle Haggard of Palo Cedro appear to share the distinction of passing away on their birthdays. Haggard, born April 6, 1937, died on April 6 this year.)
OSF has committed to producing the entire Shakespearean canon in 10 years and offers a “Canon in a Decade Passport” at its gift shop for audience members who want to track titles for themselves. Five plays are on this season’s docket: “Twelfth Night,” “The Winter’s Tale” (opens June 9), “Hamlet” (June 7), “Richard II” (July 5) and “Timon of Athens” (July 28)
Other non-Shakespeare offerings this season include an adaptation of Charles Dickens’ “Great Expectations,” “The River Bride,” “The Yeomen of the Guard,” “Vietgone,” “Roe,” and “The Wiz” (opens June 8).
“Great Expectations” hits it out of the park as a compelling live performance of the 500-page classic written in 1861. As one might imagine, the adaptation challenge—undertaken by Penny Metropulos (also the director) and Linda Alper—was immense. Just as one example, instead of sticking with the novel’s first-person narration, they opted to divide the narrative among other characters so as not to lose the suspense of the main character’s journey.
The play is long—three hours with one intermission—but moves along well, drawing viewers ever deeper into the motivations and actions of memorable characters such as the orphan Pip; the eccentric Miss Havisham; Magwitch the escaped convict; and the beautifully cold Estella.
OSF visitors in the mood for a unique musical theater experience should consider attending “The Yeomen of the Guard.” Sean Graney, artistic director of The Hypocrites theater company in Chicago, makes his OSF debut with this world premiere.
More party than play, this highly interactive country Western adaptation of a Gilbert and Sullivan favorite combines fast-stepping actors who sing and play instruments with ever-shifting audience members seated on stage (you can choose to be part of the action or just an observer). The experience is made even more memorable by its location: the intimate Thomas Theatre, not the larger Angus Bowmer Theatre.
A simple yet beautiful production, “The River Bride” is another OSF world premiere, directed by Laurie Woolery and stemming from the fertile imagination of playwright Marisela Trevino Orta. According to an article in OSF’s Prologue magazine, Orta got the idea for the play from screen trivia during a TV nature show. “There’s folklore about Amazon dolphins turning into men,” she is quoted as saying. “I thought, ‘Oh, let’s look that up right now.’”
Orta’s imagination took hold, and the result is an award-winning script described as “a fairy tale for grown-ups about being bold in love.”
A bit of actor trivia about two notable OSF newcomers, Jamie Ann Romero (Belmira in “The River Bride”) and Benjamin Bonenfant (Pip in “Great Expectations”): they starred together as Romeo and Juliet in a 2011 production of the Colorado Shakespeare Festival.
Get details on all the plays, as well as ticket and visitor information, at osfashland.org.