Quills & Queues: OSF tantalizes with 2010 plays

Looking forward to the 2010 Oregon Shakespeare Festival season when the 2009 season has just finished is a little like getting excited about Christmas when Halloween is barely over.

But it's hard not to think about the 2010 plays after seeing OSF's new brochure for next season. Like a toy catalogue that arrives well before the holidays, the new brochure showed up in my mailbox last week.

I've already dog-eared the pages for five plays that I want to see out of the 11 that OSF will offer between Feb. 19 and Oct. 31 next year.

For the past two years, the festival's staff members and actors have worked with a Portland-based design firm to create the image-filled brochure, OSF Managing Editor Nan Christensen said. The firm is filled with young people who bring fresh ideas to the table, she said.

"They have young ideas and they're very influenced by popular culture," Christensen said.

That influence is especially evident in the layout on the page for the play "Throne of Blood," which looks like a poster for a horror movie. Dressed as a forest spirit, actor Cristofer Jean bares his pointed teeth, looming in the background like a vampire about to attack the stern warrior Washizu, played by actor Kevin Kenerly.

The movie poster-feel is appropriate for the play, which is an adaptation of a 1957 film by director Akira Kurosawa. The film is a version of Shakespeare's "Macbeth" that is set in feudal Japan.

The layout for Tennessee Williams' classic "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" features a steamy photo of actress Stephanie Beatriz in a white negligée clutching satin sheets. Beatriz will play the sensual Maggie, who is married to an alcoholic.

Another must-see play showcased in the brochure is "American Night," the first play to come out of OSF's American Revolutions program that gives playwrights an opportunity to create work inspired by the nation's history.

The play is bound to be scrutinized closely by critics and audience members as a harbinger of what will come out of the American Revolutions program. Will "American Night" have a forced, contrived feel — like an essay by a bored teenager given a vague task to write about some aspect of U.S. history? Or will it open up the past in new ways, while also offering insights into our lives today?

The layout for the play in the 2010 brochure hints that it will likely be the latter. Actor René Millan has a history book cracked open as he sits on a stool atop a map that prominently features the border between Texas and Mexico. He will portray Juan José, who goes on a fantastical journey through America history as he studies for his citizenship exam. In the background, a fence topped with barbed wire, a watchtower and the seal of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security offer clues that this play will be — either directly or obliquely — about present-day debates as much as the past.

Throughout the brochure, OSF has avoided using campy photographs, which have an unfortunate tendency to pop up in the publications of theater companies. While those types of photos might be amusing, they do little to attract new audiences to OSF, and they are a definite turn-off for younger generations.

The new brochure is just another sign that OSF is not resting on its laurels, but is continuing to move forward in fresh new ways.

To get your own brochure, visit OSF's administrative building, which is across the courtyard from the Angus Bowmer Theatre and the Elizabethan Stage, or call 482-2111, ext. 377. OSF is also planning a mass mailing to locals in coming months.

To receive e-mail notices of special ticket discounts and events, visit www.osfashland.org and click on the "stay connected: join the osf e-list" button.

Tidings staff writer Vickie Aldous and Tidings correspondent Angela Howe-Decker alternate as author of the weekly column Quills & Queues.

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