Oregon Shakespeare Festival Explores ‘Tapestry of Human Life’ in 2018 Season

This year’s Oregon Shakespeare Festival is in full swing and continues to deliver a smorgasbord of classical, modern, and musical options for stage enthusiasts.

Running throughout the performances is a theme touched on during a panel discussion earlier this year among four of the directors, including OSF’s artistic director, Bill Rauch, who announced in February that his last season with the company will be 2019.

Humanity – the best and worst of it – is something directors and actors must explore in their creative work, doing the hard examination first within themselves and their characters before translating it to audiences, noted the directors.

And Shakespeare, the playwright whose genius has inspired 83 seasons of stagework at OSF, gives plenty of fodder for exploring our common humanity.

“Here we have a playwright who has allowed us to celebrate the most universal of human conditions, the most extremes of joy and despair, so rich and complex the tapestry of human life that is in those plays,” said Rosa Joshi, a faculty member at Seattle University who directs this season’s “Henry V” (through Oct. 27 in the smaller Thomas Theatre).

“Henry V”: Henry V (Daniel José Molina, center) takes council from his advisors (Ensemble) as to whether he should invade France. Photo by Jenny Graham, Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

OSF’s other Shakespeare offerings in 2018 include “Othello” (through Oct. 28 in the Angus Bowmer Theatre), and the newly opened “Romeo and Juliet” (through Oct. 12 in the outdoor Allen Elizabethan Theatre) and “Love’s Labor Lost” (outdoors through Oct. 14).

“Love’s Labor’s Lost”: Sir Adrian O. Dearmaddow (Richard Howard, left) must organize an entertainment for the Princess of France and enlists the help of Holofernes (Robin Goodrin Nordli) and Sir Nathaniel (Chris Butler) to do it. Photo by Jenny Graham, Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

The festival’s diversity of directors and actors means “humanity” is well represented and its challenges discussed and worked through in practices and cast meetings.

“We try to get the best or worst of humanity and expose it to create a dialogue,” said José Luis Valenzuela, founder and director of the Latin Theater Company. Valenzuela is directing “Destiny and Desire” at OSF through July 12, a play described as “an unapologetic telenovela in two acts.” Valenzuela said he watched about 420 hours of telenovelas in preparation.

“Destiny and Desire”: In a coma, Dr. Mendoza (Al Espinosa, left) unwittingly plays into the scheming plans of Fabiola Castillo (Vilma Silva), who also has caught good-natured farmer Ernesto Del Rio (Eddie Lopez) in her web. Photo by Jenny Graham, Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

“All theater has to be an exploration and expression of our humanity,” said Hana S. Sharif, associate artistic director at Baltimore Center Stage and director of “Sense and Sensibility” in the Bowmer Theatre through Oct. 28. “I start conversations with my creative teams. It’s extraordinary how much of our own truth comes up – it becomes a healing process.”

“Sense and Sensibility”: After spraining her ankle while out for a walk, Marianne (Emily Ota) welcomes the attention of her handsome rescuer, Willoughby (Nate Cheeseman). Photo by Jenny Graham, Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

OSF artistic director Rauch, who is directing “Othello,” has weekly meeting with directors and assistant directors on Wednesday mornings. “I’ve shared in those discussions the struggle to find our common humanity in a story that is so ugly and looks at the impact of racism, xenophobia and misogyny,” he said. “How do we do a play about those social evils without completely judging the humanity of the individual human beings who are enacting those problematic behaviors? That’s been our journey during rehearsals.”

“Othello”: Othello and Desdemona (Chris Butler and Alejandra Escalante, center) join their entourage (Ensemble) in celebrating the destruction of the Turkish fleet. Photo by Jenny Graham, Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

Rauch has announced plans to leave OSF in August 2019 to assume artistic leadership of The Ronald O. Perelman Center for Performing Arts at the World Trade Center in New York City.

Significant acclaim has gone to this year’s production of “Henry V,” which completes the triad that included “Henry IV, Part One” and “Henry IV, Part Two,” during the 2017 season. Actor Daniel José Molina (who also plays King Ferdinand in “Love’s Labor’s Lost”) gives a captivating performance in the title role, shaving the locks he sported as Prince Hal last year.

Now the King of England, Henry V must make decisions that will have life-and-death impacts on his subjects (Ensemble). Photo by Jenny Graham, Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

Longtime OSF attendees might remember actor G. Valmont Thomas, who played lively Sir John Falstaff in “Parts One” and “Two.” Thomas, a 14-season member of the OSF acting company, passed away after a battle with cancer in December 2017. In “Henry V,” the Falstaff character dies, and in a poignant scene, the other characters say their goodbyes.

Director Joshi was new this season to the “Henry” triad and talked about how she approached that scene in rehearsal.

“I didn’t know him (Thomas) and didn’t have the same connection those in the room did,” she said. “When it came to that scene, I thought, my job is just not to mess this up. I gave mostly technical notes because I didn’t have to talk to them about what this person meant to them and how he’d impacted their lives. They had lived it for a year – and that was an incredible gift.”

The result was a palpable scene inside the intimate Thomas Theatre. “You could feel it in the room,” Joshi said.

The 2018 OSF season is dedicated to Thomas.

For play tickets and additional information, visit osfashland.org.

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.