Shakespeare outdoors

The First Annual Shakespearean Festival was a slapdash affair held July 2-4, 1935, at the fringe of Ashland's Lithia Park. English teacher Angus Bowmer and company performed "Twelfth Night" twice and sandwiched a performance of "The Merchant of Venice" in the middle.

Seventy-five years later, the same two plays are back (having been done many times in the interim), along with a third play in the middle of the sandwich. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival's summer season opening weekend will kick off Friday, June 11, with "Twelfth Night," continuing Saturday, June 12, with "Henry IV, Part One" and concluding Sunday, June 13, with "Merchant."

Each production will have 38 performances before the outdoor season wraps up Oct. 10. Meanwhile, previews of the three plays are continuing on the Elizabethan Stage through Thursday, June 10.

"All three productions are shaping up to be visually beautiful, vibrantly theatrical and deeply moving, and we can't wait to share them with audiences," OSF Artistic Director Bill Rauch said in a statement.

"Twelfth Night," directed by Darko Tresnjak, will inaugurate the outdoor season next Friday night. Although it's his first time at the helm in Ashland, expect Tresnjak to feel at home. That's because as the former artistic director of the Old Globe Shakespeare Festival in San Diego, Calif., he's familiar with the Elizabethan stage. And that's because Richard L. Hay, OSF's senior scenic designer and the man who designed the OSF's three stages, also designed the Old Globe's Elizabethan stage.

Tresnjak also is a noted opera director and Mozart lover. Perhaps with one eye on Mozart, he has set "Twelfth Night" in the late 18th century, Mozart's time. His design team includes scenic designer David Zinn, costume designer Linda Cho, lighting designer Jane Cox and composer Paul James Prendergast.

Brooke Parks, in her first season at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, plays Viola, who washes up in Illyria minus her twin brother, initiating the action, and goes to Duke Orsino disguised as a young man. Miriam A. Laube plays Olivia, Kenajuan Bentley is Orsino, Christopher Liam Moore is Malvalio, Michael J. Hume is Sir Toby Belch, Rex Young plays Sir Andrew Aguecheek, and Michael Elich is Feste. Complete credits are at

"Henry IV, Part One," directed by returning OSF stalwart Penny Metropulos, will debut next Saturday night. This time out, the wayward Prince Hal and the denizens of Eastcheap, led by the Fat Knight, Sir John Falstaff, will have their setting in the early 15th century, the time of the historical Henry IV.

Richard Howard will play Henry IV, and John Tufts will play Prince Hal, who, it seems, would not be king, until circumstances intervene. David Kelly will play Falstaff, and Kevin Kenerly will be Hotspur.

Scenery is by Michael Ganio, costumes by Deborah M. Dryden, lights by Robert Peterson and music by Michael Keck (visit for more details).

Perhaps the most troublesome play in the canon, "The Merchant of Venice," will open next Sunday night, directed by Rauch. The OSF is billing "Merchant" as a "problematic and compelling tale about the lovers Bassanio and Portia, and Jessica and Lorenzo, and how their relationships with the adversaries Antonio and Shylock lead to dire consequences for Shylock, and a double wedding for the lovers."

Like other theaters that present the play featuring the Jewish moneylender Shylock as the villain, OSF has had complaints over the years. Shylock embodies offensive stereotypes dating to the Middle Ages, and his defeat allows love to triumph.

Some found a 1991 OSF production disturbing. A decade later, OSF did community outreach around the production, and there was less controversy. Now Temple Emek Shalom, a Jewish congregation in Ashland, is hosting Shylock discussions.

The current production's Italian setting is a blend of the late-16th century and our contemporary world. Scenery is by Richard L. Hay, costumes by Shigeru Yaji, lights by Jane Cox, and music by Andre Pluess. Veteran actors Jonathan Haugen and Anthony Heald play Antonio and Shylock, respectively, and Vilma Silva and Danforth Comins play Portia and Bassanio.

The outdoor productions are joining six productions already in repertory at OSF, leaving just two plays in the 2010 season. "American Night, the inaugural production of OSF's "American Revolutions: the United States History Cycle," will open Saturday, July 3, in OSF's New Theatre. The season's final show will be the Saturday, July 24, world premiere of Ping Chong's adaptation of Akira Kurosawa's "Throne of Blood," the classic film adaptation of "Macbeth," in the Angus Bowmer Theatre. After the season, that production will move to the Brooklyn Academy of Music's Next Wave Festival.

The free, outdoor Green Shows opened Tuesday, June 1, and will continue with a diverse lineup of performances through Oct. 10 on the OSF's outdoor courtyard stage. In celebration of the OSF's 75th birthday, the opening weekend will feature 75 singers and 75 strings doing 75 years of song. The Siskiyou Singers will perform American songs Friday, June 12. On Saturday, June 13, Roberta Burke and OSF company members will recreate dance and vocal numbers of the last 75 years. On Sunday, June 13, the Siskiyou Violins, 75 stringed instruments-strong, will play classical selections.

More than 50 acts will perform on the bricks over the season, with music from around the world. Local favorites will include Hamfist, the Terra Nova Consort, Ed Dunsavage and Christine Williams, Sarah Jane Nelson and Greta Oglesby. Performances are at 7:15 p.m. every night but Monday through Sunday, Aug. 8, then move to 6:45 p.m.

The annual Feast of Will is set for 6 p.m. Friday, June 11, with barbecued chicken, vegetarian lasagna, the Jefferson Bag Pipe Band and the Jefferson Baroque Orchestra and Choir. Tickets are $14 at the OSF Box Office.

Previews through Saturday, June 10, are 20 percent off. For availability, visit or call 541-482-4331.

Share This Story