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ASHLAND, Ore.—The Oregon Shakespeare Festival kicked off its outdoor season in mid-June, taking advantage of summer’s long days and warmer temperatures to heat up the Allen Elizabethan Theatre with three dynamic productions.
Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” and “The Winter’s Tale” are joined by musical “The Wiz,” adding to the 2016 season offerings that currently include “Twelfth Night,” “Great Expectations,” “The River Bride,” “Vietgone,” “Roe,” and “The Yeomen of the Guard.”
OSF will continue its commemoration of the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death with two more works this season: “Richard III” (directed by festival artistic director Bill Rauch; Christopher Liam Moore stars) and “Timon of Athens” (starring Anthony Heald), opening July 9 and 31, respectively.
A News Café caught a recent performance of “The Winter’s Tale,” a compelling romantic drama located in two distinctly different settings—Shakespeare’s Sicily becomes ancient China; and scenes in Bohemia are set in a New World West (cowboy boots and bluegrass music also appear in this season’s staging of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Yeomen of the Guard”).
“The Winter’s Tale” was last performed at OSF a decade ago. It’s worth noting that this season’s production is the festival’s first Shakespearean play staged through an Asian-American lens. The majority of the actors, as well as director Desdemona Chiang, are of Asian or Asian-American heritage.
The play follows the combustion of a happy royal family when the king falsely accuses his wife and a visiting childhood friend of having an affair. Though all those around him see his obsessive blindness to the truth of their innocence, he cannot shake the demons of jealous suspicion. His wife and soon-to-be-born daughter are imprisoned; his friend returns to Bohemia.
The tragedy grows darker, and hope seems lost. Sixteen years pass, and the setting switches to colorful Bohemia, land of sheep, song, buxom maidens and peddling swindlers. The king’s unwavering jealousy in the first half of the play is matched by a young prince’s unwavering love of a shepherd’s daughter in the last two acts. In true Shakespearean fashion, with plenty of comic relief, the complexities finally merge in a beautifully staged scene that embodies what it is to wish desperately for redemption.
Here’s how director Chiang describes the play:
“’The Winter’s Tale’ is ultimately about restoring what was lost and awakening faith in the impossible,” Chiang said. “It is a second chance at life when we think we’ve lost it all. It is profoundly spiritual. To feel healed, to feel restored … in a way that brings us some degree of peace in a world full of suffering. I think these are all things that people seek, and I think that is why we all love the play so much.”
The cast features a number of notable performers, including longtime OSF actors Cristofer Jean (11 seasons) as Camillo, an adviser to the king of Sicilia; and Miriam A. Laube (12 seasons) as Paulina, a lady to the queen of Sicilia.
For tickets and information about all OSF plays and the popular summertime Green Show, which features free outdoor entertainment six nights a week before the evening plays, visit osfashland.org.