Magazine article Sunset

Ashland - All to Yourself

Magazine article Sunset

Ashland - All to Yourself

Article excerpt

The home of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival offers uncrowded pleasures and lower prices at the beginning of the season

I've been to Ashland in August; I've been to Ashland in March: March is better.

Blasphemy? To willingly forgo - to dare suggest that others forgo - the outdoor Elizabethan Theatre, a choice of four or five plays a day, picnics in Lithia Park, and those languid southern Oregon summer nights? Admittedly there are trade-offs.

But picture this: We leave work in Eugene a couple of hours early on a Friday afternoon, point the car south, and check in at our bed-and-breakfast (at literally half the summer rate) around 6 P.M. The early-spring flurries that teased us on the mountain passes en route have dusted the B & B's brick walkway and clusters of emerging crocuses with something closer to fairy dust than snow.

We quickly call around and find that Chateaulin - right around the corner from the theaters - can seat us right away (try that in August). After a simple, near-perfect meal, we slip into the theater. It's opening night for the most talked-about play of the season. The crowd is rather dressy by Oregon standards - sequins and sweaters side by side. At intermission we eavesdrop: "The best play written in the English language in 50 years," an authoritative voice asserts (local cognoscente or out-of-town critic, we can't tell, but heads nod vigorously all around). Best or second-best, I can't say, but it keeps our attention. And after the play, we head back to find a roaring fire and sherry set out in the living room of our B & B. We'd like to linger, but the hibernation urge overtakes us, and the down comforter finishes us off. Whose idea was that 10 A.M. backstage tour?

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival put Ashland on the map some 60 years ago, and for most of that time, the open-air Elizabethan Theatre was the only stage in town. The indoor, 600-seat Angus Bowmer Theatre, which opened in 1970, and the 140-seat Black Swan, which opened in 1977, extended the season and invited a larger, more experimental repertoire. The festival grew, more theater people moved to town, non-Shakespearean theaters appeared, dining options expanded and were refined. At the same time, Ashland experienced an explosion of B & Bs. In March you get all this, with the tickets you really want and lodging prices that are substantially lower than in the summer - without the crowds.

So what that there are only four OSF plays in repertory in March: there are also the Oregon Cabaret Theatre, play readings, and lectures. Besides, how many shows can a person reasonably see in a two- or three-day visit, anyway? Indeed, something about the off-season pace helps us feel less guilty about taking in only a couple of plays on a weekend visit. It leaves us time to do what we don't - or can't - do at home: enjoy a really great lunch, notice the sycamores and ponderosa pines in a creekside park, browse a bookstore until we're good and ready to leave.

Sometimes even the best play written in the English language in 50 years can't top that.

A THEATERGOER'S GUIDE TO ASHLAND

To plan your trip, get your hands on the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's 1997 schedule (for a free copy or to order festival tickets, call 541/482-4331). The Ashland Chamber of Commerce publishes a comprehensive guide to local accommodations and attractions (482-3486). And with one call, the Southern Oregon Reservation Center can set you up with lodging, theater tickets, and more (800/547-8052). Its Web site is also very helpful: http://www.mind.net/packages. Like to do your own research? Read on.

The festival's season officially opens February 28 with King Lear, Rough Crossing, and Death of a Salesman in repertory at the Angus Bowmer Theatre. …

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