Oregon Shakespeare Festival in full swing

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland is staging eight plays in its three theaters with three more opening later in the season.

The outdoor Allen Elizabethan Theatre is showcasing Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” and “All’s Well That Ends Well” along with ”Alice in Wonderland,” adapted from the popular children’s story.

If necessary, they will move to the nearby indoor Mountain Avenue Theater July 13-29 because of the possibility of wildfire smoke.

“From July 30 to Sept. 8, … OSF is only selling enough advance tickets to fill the Mountain Avenue venue, which may also be used for some added matinees if needed,” the Seattle Times reported.

Last year unhealthful air quality from smoke caused the cancellation of more than 20 outdoor performances and a loss of nearly $2 million.

The indoor Angus Bowmer Theatre is offering Shakespeare’s “As You Like It,” the musical “Hairspray” and Octavio Solis’s “Mother Road.” Paula Vogel’s “Indecent” begins July 4.

The smaller, indoor Thomas Theatre is featuring Lauren Yee’s “Cambodian Rock Band” and “Between Two Knees” by the 1491s. “La Comedia of Errors,” an adaptation of Shakespeare’s “The Comedy of Errors,” begins June 29, followed by Christina Anderson’s “How to Catch Creation” on July 23.

This is artistic director Bill Rauch’s final season after 12 years. He will take a similar post with Perelman Center in New York City. His successor, Nataki Garrett, will begin her duties in August. Rauch has already planned next season.

Over the years he has made a concerted effort to make OSF more inclusive.

This season reflects that commitment with the plays and the company with its mix of races, ethnicities, gender identities and disabilities.

The season runs through Oct. 27. For complete information and tickets call (800) 219-8161 or visit www.osfashland.org. Note that some casting changes during the season.

Following are capsule reviews of the productions seen during a recent visit.

“Hairspray: The Broadway Musical” – This story of a Baltimore teenager who wants to dance on a popular TV show goes beyond a girl’s dream. The book by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan also tells of her efforts to integrate the show when segregation is still rampant. Blacks were allowed only on “Negro Day.”

The heroine is Tracy Turnblad (Katy Geraghty), a short but plus-size girl who can dance up a storm.

Also in the mix are dancer Link Larkin (Jonathan Luke Stevens), idolized by Tracy; Penny Pingleton (Jenna Bainbridge), Tracy’s best friend; and Seaweed J. Stubbs (Christian Bufford), the black youth who becomes Penny and Tracy’s friend.

Then there are Tracy’s loving, supportive parents: her mother, Edna (Daniel T. Parker in the traditional drag role), and her sweet father, Wilbur (David Kelly).

The music by Marc Shaiman, with lyrics by Shaiman and Scott Wittman, features mostly upbeat songs like “Good Morning Baltimore” and “You Can’t Stop the Beat.”

This winning production is directed by Christopher Liam Moore with music direction by Gregg Coffin and choreography by Jaclyn Miller.

“As You Like It” – Directed by Rosa Joshi, this is another winning production featuring Jessica Ko as Rosalind, who disguises herself as a man and retreats to the Forest of Arden to escape the wrath of her uncle, the usurping Duke Frederick (Kevin Kenerly).

She’s joined by her cousin, Celia (Nancy Rodriguez). Also retreating to the Forest of Arden is Orlando de Boys (Román Zaragoza), who’s despised by his elder brother, Oliver (Shaun Taylor-Corbett).

Rosalind and Orlando had fallen in love at first sight at court. Therefore, in the forest, Rosalind, in her male guise, convinces Orlando to pretend that she’s Rosalind and woo her.

As if the play itself doesn’t do enough gender-bending, the casting does too with transgender Rachel Crowl as Duke Senior, the banished duke in the forest and Rosalind’s mother. Will Wilhelm plays Aubrey (Audrey in the original), a non-binary goatherd.

It’s all quite enchanting from start to finish.

“Mother Road” –This noteworthy world premiere by Octavio Solis can be seen as a sequel to John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath.”

It features Mark Murphey as the dying William Joad, cousin of the late Tom Joad. He’s searching for the family’s only other descendant to inherit his farm in Oklahoma.

He finds that descendant in California, but to his surprise, he’s a Mexican American, Martin Jodes (Tony Sancho).

Returning to Oklahoma, they pick up Martin’s friend Mo (Amy Lizardo), an upbeat lesbian who will be the farm’s forewoman; and James (Cedric Lamar), a black man.

Among their experiences, they encounter a motel clerk (Armando Durán), who at first refuses to accommodate them, citing the deportation of his people in the past.

(According to OSF’s “Illuminations,” between 500,000 and 2 million Mexicans, most of them U.S. citizens, were deported between 1929 and 1936 by President Herbert Hoover, who blamed them for the Great Depression.)

This production is brilliantly directed by Rauch and features an outstanding cast.

“Between Two Knees” – The premise of this world premiere by the five-member 1491s is commendable.

It recalls the slaughter of Lakota Indians by American troops at Wounded Knee, S.D., in 1890 and the American Indian Movement uprising there in 1973.

It features a mostly Native American cast as it follows a family through several generations.

However, its power is diluted because of its silly humor and a too-long opening monologue by Larry (Justin Gauthier). It would be more effective were it more straightforward.

It’s directed by Eric Ting, artistic director of California Shakespeare Theater in Orinda.

“Alice in Wonderland” – Sara Bruner directs this adaptation by Eva Le Gallienne and Florida Friebus from Lewis Carroll’s story and his “Through the Looking-Glass.”

Perhaps the best thing about it is the whimsical costumes by Helen Q. Huang.

Otherwise, it’s a waste of acting talent as it speeds through a mostly confusing, chaotic story.

To its credit, youngsters seemed to enjoy it.

 

 

About the Author

Judy RichterJudy reviews San Francisco Bay Area theater and writes feature articles about activities of the Stanford women's basketball team and Fast Break Club. A longtime Bay Area journalist, she is retired from the San Francisco Chronicle, where she was a writer and copy editor.View all posts by Judy Richter →