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Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s 2015 Season

Celebrating 80 years

Our intent in posting these reviews (see below) is to provide insight to the OSF productions. Hopefully this will help our guests when making decisions on what plays to see when visiting Ashland.  Keep in mind that these reviews are unavoidably biased even though based in our own theatrical knowledge and lifelong experiences of attending plays. Enjoy and see you at the theater.

Don’t forget to visit the Oregon Shakespeare Company’s website (www.osfashland.org) for more information, cast lists and video clips relating to the OSF 2015 Season’s plays.

Much Ado about Nothing 

Feb 20 - Nov 1, 2015
Angus Bowmer Theatre        
By William Shakespeare
 
Directed by Lileana Blain-Cruz                      

At first glance, OSF’s 2015 Season opener is, albeit sparse, both beautiful and striking. However, once the house lights go down, one quickly finds this production lacking in both the joy and chemistry essential to its success as one of Shakespeare’s most beloved comedies. The acting offers a mixed bag, ranging from the satisfyingly enjoyable Benedick (Danforth Comins) to a nearly unendurable Claudio (Carlo Albán). But more at fault, in this viewer’s eyes, is a production that’s unfocused and relies too heavily on physical comedy, divisiveness and the jarring intrusion of (mostly) unsuitable music. As the run progresses, there’s little doubt the play will tighten, “rough spots” will smooth out, and the actors will find the chemistry only hinted at in preview. Then, too, might this production find some of the play’s joy that’s currently missing.

 

Guys and Dolls A Musical Fable of Broadway

 
February 22 - November 1, 2015
Angus Bowmer Theatre        
Based on a Story and Characters of Damon Runyon | Music and Lyrics by Frank Loesser; Book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows
 
Directed by Mary Zimmerman                         

Although somewhat spartan in its staging, the overriding visual suggestion of this production is one of thumbing through a few well-loved postcards from a forgotten and mythic period of New York City. The cast is solid throughout, but it’s Robin Goodrin Nordli (Miss Adelaide) and Rodney Gardiner (Nathan Detroit) who steal the show. The re-orchestrated score could use a few more strings and the Cuban segment might trade out a few beachballs for more palm trees, but all in all, OSF’s take on this classic of American Musical Theater makes for a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

Fingersmith

February 21 - July 9, 2015
Angus Bowmer Theatre
By Alexa Junge | Based on the novel by Sarah Waters | World Premiere
 
Directed by Bill Rauch                  

Beautifully staged and impeccably acted, this production of Sarah Waters well-known novel evokes both Dickens and Poe – only with lesbians. Sarah Bruner (Sue Trinder) continues to be a revelation on the OSF stage, while Erica Sullivan (Maud Lilly), in turn, inspires pity, compassion, shock, distaste, sadness and, ultimately, admiration from the audience. Likewise, the entire cast – like the entire production – has stepped up its game and will surely make this one of the highlights to be remembered from OSF’s 80th Season.

 

Pericles

February 26 - November 1, 2015
Thomas Theatre
By William Shakespeare
 
Directed by Joseph Haj
 
OSF hits this one out of the park and into the next county with this amazing, magical and mythic production of one of Shakespeare’s lesser known plays. Offering potentially tragic situations, adequately sprinkled with comedic elements, the play poetically creates a tale of the journey to redemption and reunion (a common theme in Shakespeare’s Romance plays), and this season’s offering inspires, amuses and touches the heart in equal measure. From its impressive illusory staging and effectively enhancing lighting/sound, to its beautifully realized score and incomparable cast, every element of theater seamlessly integrates, making this production one that should definitely not be missed. 
 

Long Day's Journey into Night

 
March 25 - October 31, 2015
Thomas Theatre
By Eugene O'Neill
 
Directed by Christopher Liam Moore
 
This play is definitely not recommended for those of you suffering from severe depression. However, if you’re the kind of person who appreciates watching a good train wreck and family disfunction (mixed liberally with alcohol, drugs and just a teensy bit of tactically manipulative slaughter), then this year’s production of Eugene O’Neill’s semi-biographical masterpiece is just what the doctor ordered. Leading a remarkable cast, Judith-Marie Bergan once again proves herself to be an incomparable acting phenomenon – completely transforming herself into the mesmerizing, pitiful and cloyingly repulsive Mary Tyrone. Under Christopher Liam Moore’s deft direction and a design team that clearly understands what it takes to breathe new life into an oft-done American classic, this production might not provide the most enjoyable theatrical experience one can have, but it will certainly be one that’s remembered for a long time to come.

Secret Love in Peach Blossom Land

April 15 - October 31, 2015
Angus Bowmer Theatre
By Stan Lai | U.S. Premiere
Directed by Stan Lai

A production of a play that, itself, provides a view of rehearsing a contemporary play dealing with foreign cultural issues, while simultaneously presenting a rehearsal for an ancient, much-loved Chinese fable which has also been adapted into a play can, to say the least, present an audience with challenges. Without appropriate preparation (e.g., some understanding of the separation of Taiwan from the Chinese state in 1948), one can leave the theater scratching one’s head, pondering what the hidden metaphors might be and, in general, wondering what the whole damn thing was about. Although well-acted by a strong cast of OSF’s finest mixed with some new, exciting talent, this production falls short in that most of the audience may just not be able to fully relate to (or understand) the underlying message this play is offering (...and, although this writer might not be the brightest bulb on the block, could someone please tell me what the Mysterious Woman is all about!).

 

Antony and Cleopatra

June 2 - October 9, 2015
Allen Elizabethan Theatre
By William Shakespeare 
 
Directed by Bill Rauch

OSF’s production of Shakespeare’s tragic tale of love and power this season, although skillfully presented is, unfortunately, marred by its two leads. In what might have otherwise been an impressive presentation, Derrick Lee Weeden (creating a Mark Antony of singular oratory dimension) and Miriam A. Laube (offering up a Cleopatra who relies too much on slinky movement and jazz hands), appear more focused on their characters’ lust than the depth or complexity of their love, given their respective, very public positions. In spite of this, the production is not without merit. Jeffrey King, in particular, mesmerizes with his description of seeing Cleopatra’s barge for the first time, and provides one of the most fully realized and tragically believable arcs for his characterization of Domitius Enobarbus, while the set design, though minimal, never confuses in presenting the play’s numerous locations. Ultimately, however, this presentation of Shakespeare’s timeless tragedy is only as strong as its two weakest links and may not satisfy expectations.

 
June 3 - October 10, 2015
Allen Elizabethan Theatre
By Jeff Whitty; Music and Lyrics by the Go-Go's
Directed by Ed Sylvanus Iskandar | World Premiere

 

Who would think a lengthy poem written in the 1580’s would map against a collection of pop tunes written/performed by a girl group some 400 years later would work? But it somehow does – and doesn’t – in this world premier musical offering from OSF. As a guilty pleasure (much in the same way Mama Mia is), the play is a delightfully circuitous romp through pop culture/music, while its characters take a stab at defining, understanding and experiencing the many forms of Love. As an important offering to the American Musical Theater canon, however, the play is, unfortunately, a bit too clunky and a little too wordy at times. But what’s missing in the script is, enjoyably, compensated for by the tunes, the flashy, almost campy staging, and the entire cast’s high energy, exuberance and comic timing (in particular, Bonnie Milligan’s performance as Pamela nearly brings the house down – twice!), overall making for an enjoyable evening of fun and nonsense.

 

THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO

June 4 - October 11, 2015
Allen Elizabethan Theatre
By Alexandre Dumas, Adapted by Charles Fechter and James O'Neill, Additional restoration by William Davies King for Peter Sellars

Directed by Marcela Lorca

OSF’s third offering in the Elizabethan Theater offers up an abundant mix of adventure, intrigue, betrayals, double-crosses, corrupt law enforcement, wrongful imprisonment, escape, crashing waves, wily drunkards, mysterious benefactors, love, and danger – in short, a healthy dose of melodrama, complete with audience asides repeatedly emphasized by a slap-stick (yes, an actual slapping stick!!!). Which is precisely the problem with trying to adapt Alexander Dumas’ complex, well-known and much loved classic into a melodramatic crowd-pleaser. Although decently acted by most members of the large cast, the production finds itself hopelessly set adrift by a cumbersome, dated script that tries to squeeze no less than five major plot lines into a little under three hours. Some plot points are hardly developed, others become overly explained, while a few key points have been dumped altogether. Had the director (Marcela Lorca) guided this late nineteenth century adaptation further away from the depth’s of serious austerity and more toward the shores of high camp, OSF’s offering might feel a bit more sure-footed with the material, the melodrama might feel a bit less strained, the audience asides might illicit a bit more than audible groans, and even the slap-stick might feel a bit less intrusive – in short, this production might feel more like the thrilling adventure its intended to be and less like a Lifetime Movie of the Week.

The Happiest Song Plays Last 

Happiest Song

July 7 - November 1, 2015
Thomas Theatre
By Quiara Alegria Hudes | Directed by Shishir Kurup

As one third of a trilogy, the implication is always that one will find a continuation continuity, and resonant connection between each piece. This play, however, and the excellent production OSF has given us argues against this approach and implores that we view the play, its characters and its narrative on its own, very individualized terms. Where last year’s offering of Water By the Spoonful (the second in Quiara Alegría Hudes’s “Elliott Plays”) was about finding connection in a world that promotes the safety/security of isolation, this play explores forgiveness and how/where it can be found, offered and granted. As stated, the production, performances and play, itself, are all excellent, creating a well-realized, provocative and engaging depiction of two completely disparate worlds and the characters that inhabit them. But it’s difficult to find words that appropriately articulate the impact this play has, until it’s viewed as a standalone piece and without comparison to its predecessor from last year. Although having viewed Water By the Spoonful does, indeed, offer some background and context for this part of Elliott’s journey, all one needs to know is beautifully contained within this play and resonates much stronger when comparisons aren’t made.

 

 
Look for review of this play shortly after the opening performance.