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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, June 18, 2010 - Volume 38 Issue 25
Oregon Shakespeare Festival opens with strong plays
Arts & Entertainment
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Oregon Shakespeare Festival opens with strong plays

by Marian Michener - SGN Contributing Writer

Ruined
When we went to Ashland for the summer opening, Lynn Nottage's Ruined had joined the repertory. The playwright won a Pulitzer Prize for this play, and we could see why. It is a powerful story about women who have been raped and maimed as part of the war in the Congo. All parts of the conflict come through Mama Nadi's bar. Liesl Tommy's direction, Clint Ramos' sets, Christal Weatherly's costumes, and music by Broken Chord Collective took us there.

Kimberly Scott plays Mama. Dawn-Lyen Gardener is convincing as a girl who needs to be taken in. Chinasa Ogbuagu breaks our heart as Salima, a young woman whose husband threw her out after she was raped. Now she is a prostitute at Mama's. Peter Macon is strong as the husband who appears at the bar, wanting her back. Victoria Ward's performance as another prostitute is also persuasive. Jimonn Cole and Kenajuan Bentley chill us as the leaders of the opposition.

She Loves Me
Also new on the stage at OSF is the musical She Loves Me. Rebecca Taichman's direction of this flawless production makes the case for this rarely performed musical, by the same team that created Fiddler on the Roof. We found ourselves swept up in the music and lyrics by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick. Lush costuming by Miranda Hoffman and a jewel-like set by Scott Bradley added effect.

Lisa McCormick and Mark Bedard acted and sang their hearts out as the leads. Miriam Laube sparkled as the bad girl. Michael Elich kept up with her as her love interest. Michael J. Hume was strong as the proprietor of the perfume shop they all work in. Dan Donahue contributed memorable moments as a waiter.

We liked the fact that there were two Lesbian couples in a café scene. A friend said that was a clever way to re-use the actresses playing the female customers.

Twelfth Night
The first of the summer offerings was Twelfth Night. This had been chosen for the 75th anniversary season because it had been one of the first plays produced at OSF, all those years ago. It is also a play the festival has produced almost too many times over the years. Director Darko Tresnjak contributed some fresh ideas. One was having a dramatic change of color in the delightful costumes Linda Cho designed for Olivia and her court after she meets Cesario. Having every character possible watch the gulling scene was interesting. Another was having Malvolio's appearance in yellow stockings spread to his whole costume. A nice difference was that Sir Toby's bottles get smaller through the play, and finally disappear. We liked the fact that when Olivia reappears after saying she is going to change into women's clothes, she is still dressed as Cesario. David Zinn's set provided fun spaces for the athletic production.

Miriam Laube had wonderful big presence as Olivia. Brooke Parks in the cross-dressing role of Viola, though presenting a sweet demeanor, had trouble matching it. Kenajuan Bentley was pleasing as Orsino. Michael J. Hume and Robin Goodrin Nordli were well-matched as Sir Toby and Maria. Christoper Liam Moore took Malvolio through his paces well. Michael Elich stole the show as Feste.

Henry IV Part One
By contrast with Twelfth Night, Henry IV was directed by Penny Metropulos in a straightforward manner. A cute piece of stage business was having Nell Geisslinger as the Wench wipe her privates on a shirt, realize it is Prince Hal's, then hand it to John Tufts in that role.

Kelly's nice big voice and presence vibrated as Falstaff. John Tufts has the range required to take Hal from dissolute to hero. Richard Howard was powerful as King Henry. Kevin Kenerly gave Hotspur his heat. Deaf actor Howie Seago played Poins well.

Merchant of Venice
Merchant of Venice was also included in the lineup because it was one of the plays in OSF's first season. There is no way to make this play not anti-Semitic, since it paints Shylock as being evil because he is Jewish, and requires him to convert. We would rather not see it again.

Bill Rauch's direction starts with the question from the trial scene - "Which is the merchant and which the Jew?" - to make the point that the two sides are indistinguishable. He puts Shylock's house in a ghetto, which it would have been. Rauch has Jessica, Shylock's daughter, steal his Kiddush cup, along with his money and jewelry, so we can see his connection to his faith is also robbed. The director has Jessica experience more bigotry from Christians after her conversion. Jessica also lets us see that she realizes the wealth that comes to her at the end of the play is at the cost of her father's destruction. Rauch mixes contemporary and 16th century costumes and sets, to make the point, we suppose, that the issues are current. We found it a bit confusing. We liked Portia sliding the caskets in the water.

Vilma Silva was wonderful as Portia. Danforth Comins romances her nicely as Bassanio. Anthony Heald showed us where his rage as Shylock comes from. Emily Sophia Knap takes Jessica through those changes, nicely. Antonio is played convincingly by Jonathan Haugen. Gregory Linington gives Gratiano wildness. Howie Seago's portrayal of Tubal was right on.

Green Show
We are getting used to the changes in the Green Show. It used to be music and dance thematically tied to the plays. Now it is a rotation of community groups. One night had nice singing of songs from the last 75 years by OSF cast members. Another was 75 strings, including some pretty young children. Those were fun. We miss the old Green Shows, too.

Next Year
Of particular interest to Seattle Gay News readers is that next year's lineup will include the world premiere of Ghost Light, a play about George Moscone, directed by his son Jonathan. This is part of a cycle of commissions focusing on key moments in American history.

Ruined runs through October 31; She Loves Me through October 30, Twelfth Night through October 8, Henry IV, Part One through October 9, Merchant of Venice through October 10. You can get tickets at osfashland.org.

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