Jeffrey Gillespie’s review of OSF’s “Oklahoma” in Saturday’s Tidings showed his thorough delight with the show. As always, Gillespie’s review was more than effusive in his praise of everything from the casting, music, costumes and acting performances to Bill Rauch’s direction and special take on the relationships in the production.
Following the review, Gillespie pointed out that Rauch is about to leave OSF for a theater in New York City. Then, as if he couldn’t resist it, Gillespie wrote “one would hope his (Rauch’s) departure won’t mean a return to endless, dry little productions of Chekhov.”
What a nasty swipe at not only a great playwright but also previous eras of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. In particular, Rauch’s predecessor, Libby Appel, was an expert on the works of Chekhov and gave the festival some truly wonderful productions. In times past, OSF audiences have gloried in “Uncle Vanya,” “Three Sisters” and “The Seagull,” among others.
As I thought about this disappointing conclusion to a successful piece of writing, I realized how much I have been missing plays by classic non-American writers: Brecht, Ibsen, Strindberg, O’Casey, Synge, Friel, Pinter, Fugard, Pirandello, Durrenmatt, Stoppard — OSF did “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead” in 1970, almost 50 years ago, and only two others since then.
So far as the classic American canon is concerned, the festival has performed some O’Neill, Arthur Miller, and Tennessee Williams. They have wonderfully concentrated on the plays of August Wilson but have barely recognized Inge, Lanford Wilson, Terrence McNally, and, shockingly, Sam Shepherd. I believe the only Shepherd OSF has done was “Curse of the Starving Class” in 1987. Instead, almost all of the recent American plays have been part of the American Revolutions project, which has given audiences new voices and diverse experiences to ponder and enjoy. “Ruined,” “All The Way,” “Intimate Apparel,” “Sweat” and “Manahatta” are just a few that have opened both our hearts and minds.
Shakespeare has shown us the magic of the theater for 400 years, that it is both classic and timeless. I wish the Oregon Shakespeare Festival would remember — as it chooses its plays for each season — that it can do it all: tragedy, comedy, history, classic, new, straight down the middle, and skewed to give us the diversity we know is part of life, and (maybe not quite so many musicals!) Finally, I hope Gillespie will now realize that he doesn’t have to demean Chekhov to praise Rogers and Hammerstein.
Kathy Rosengren lives in Ashland.