Academic journal article The Upstart Crow

The 2011 Oregon Shakespeare Festival

Academic journal article The Upstart Crow

The 2011 Oregon Shakespeare Festival

Article excerpt

For its seventy-sixth season, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival staged a rollicking Loves Labors Lost and an energetic 2 Henry IV on the Elizabethan Stage; a stunning Julius Caesar in the New Theatre; and an intense, controversial Measure for Measure in a tent, aka "Bowmer in the Park," after one of the major support beams of the Angus Bowmer Theatre cracked during a rehearsal of Measure in late June. The loss of the Bowmer for six weeks while engineers repaired the beam necessitated the company's rapid shift of all the Bowmer plays to a huge white tent in Lithia Park, a large garden and nature preserve below the theater complex adjacent to downtown Ashland, where the plays had to be completely reimagined. While the seats were raked so that even spectators in the very back of the tent had decent views of the stage, nonetheless the intimacy between actors and spectators that characterizes productions in the Bowmer was inevitably lost. That said, Artistic Director Bill Rauch and the entire professional staff deserve enormous credit for persevering through what could have been an artistic and financial disaster for the OSF. (1)

This season OSF directors Amanda Dehnert and Bill Rauch made distinctive casting choices that resonate with the theme for this volume of The Upstart Crow: "Shakespeare's Female Icons." Dehnert cast the superb Vilma Silva, one of OSF's most distinguished actors, as Caesar in a riveting production of Julius Caesar; and Rauch cast the Latina actress Stephanie Beatriz as Isabela in Measure for Measure. Silva's Caesar was serene and self-confident, spoke beautifully, and moved gracefully among the men of the play. Unlike other reviewers perhaps, I did not find watching a female Julius Caesar at all distracting. Silva's Caesar was first a political leader of immense stature and only secondarily an actress forging new roles for women in Shakespeare's plays; Silva's performance simply transcended gender. As Isabela, Beatriz convincingly transferred one of Shakespeare's most iconic female figures from Vienna to the turbulent, multi-racial barrio of an American city.

Director Shana Cooper, scenic designer Christopher Acebo, and costume designer Christal Weatherly turned the verbal feast of Love's Labor's Lost into a visual spectacle designed primarily to attract youthful spectators. The Elizabethan Stage was covered with the green AstroTurf left over from the 2010 production of Twelfth Night. The stage opening was covered by tall, knotty pine planks that created a crude fort-like structure; within this fort the youthful King of Navarre and his courtiers were to make their three-year war against affections. Tacked to the planks on a white board was a silhouette of a woman in black, surrounded by a red circle with a slash through the center. Dressed in prep school shorts and striped rugby shirts, the would-be scholars stood in front of a large trash bin into which they emptied their worldly possessions: a box of donuts, cigars, teddy bears, a rugby ball, copies of Playboy that they scanned quickly before discarding, and a large plastic female doll that they dropped head first into the can. They were oh-so-serious and oh-so-silly; in Cooper's words, "impulsive, uncontrollable youth in pursuit of impossible ideals" that were quickly undermined. (2) Jonathan Haugen as Costard, in white t-shirt and rolled-up blue jeans, swaggered onstage and immediately punctuated his betters' youthful absurdity by bragging about having been "taken with a damsel" (1.1.280) whose virginity he then denies; (3) and Jack Willis as Don Armado, a dashing Don Quixote wannabe in his billowing cape, feathered hat, leather boots, sword, and leather vest, pontificated pedantically upon love with such sweet volubility that surely the simplicity of man to hearken after the flesh would doom the four preppies hidden inside their makeshift stockade.

And it did. The Princess and her ladies were silly, giddy, eager twentysomethings in the brightly colored party dresses, matching hats, white gloves, and high heels of the 1950s. …

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