The Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, a city of 21,000 half-way between Portland and San Francisco, is an outgrowth of the Chautauqua Movement. It began in 1935 with a production of Twelfth Night. This year it’s staging 12 productions in 3 theaters for an amazing 400,000 people. We saw two of them.
Unfolding with 87 actors, additional interns, youth performers, and musicians who all appear to be immensely enjoying themselves, the 2011 season began February 18 and ends November 6 in the two roofed venues, the Angus Bowmer and the New Theater. The uncovered Elizabethan Stage, our nation’s oldest venue of this type (it’s like an updated Globe Theatre), wasn’t used until May 31 and closes October 9.
Since the season’s plays and musicals are performed in traditional repertory fashion, theater goers have lots of choices. To Kill a Mockingbird ran off-and-on from February 19 until July 3, and The African Company Presents Richard III plays from July 20 to November 5.
We saw The Pirates of Penzance on our first night and it was sensational, about 90% Gilbert and Sullivan and 10% contemporary. A prim female ensemble might be performing in 19th century style and suddenly they’re doing today’s dance moves and briefly being Katy Perrys. It totally works for this production. Eddie Lopez, Frederic the Apprentice, occasionally and slyly did Justin Bieber moves and vocals. He also plays 4 roles in Henry IV, Part Two.
The second night we saw The Imaginary Invalid as the company turned Moliere’s laugh inducer into Hairspray meets Priscilla Queen of the Desert. The audience is warned (“best enjoyed by playgoers 13 and up who can handle the potty humor, yucky medical remedies…”). Hard working actors with perfect timing threw themselves into this somewhat unsavory stew and earned a standing ovation.
I don’t know for a fact but I suspect that nothing at OSF is done 100% traditionally. Julius Caesar’s Note to the Audience, “A gun with blanks will be fired in this production.” OSF’s mission statement claims, “We reveal our collective humanity through illuminating interpretations of new and classic plays.”
Would I go again? They’re doing Animal Crackers and The Very Merry Wives of Windsor, Iowa next year.
While you’re in Ashland, check out Gathering Glass Studio on the corner of Pioneer and A Streets…exceptional art glass at reasonable prices.