Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Oregon Town Is Testament to Bard's Staying Power Oscars Prove, Once Again, Shakespeare Can Withstand the Slings Andarrows of High-Tech, Modern-Day Movies

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Oregon Town Is Testament to Bard's Staying Power Oscars Prove, Once Again, Shakespeare Can Withstand the Slings Andarrows of High-Tech, Modern-Day Movies

Article excerpt

When "Shakespeare In Love" beat out "Saving Private Ryan" as Best Picture in Hollywood's Oscar extravaganza March 21, residents of this tiny town nestled in the Oregon mountains could only chuckle that history was repeating itself. It wasn't the first time classical art had triumphed over realistically staged violence.

Back in 1935, Angus Bowmer, a young English professor at Southern Oregon Normal School grandly (and hopefully) announced "The First Annual Shakespearean Festival." Amateur performances of "The Merchant of Venice" and "Twelfth Night" were to be presented as part of the town's Fourth of July festivities at an old Chautauqua site that once featured John Phillip Sousa and William Jennings Bryant.

City fathers approved the plan, but only on condition that boxing matches be held beforehand in order to cover the anticipated financial losses from the ancient, wordy plays. As it turned out, the Bard beat the pugilists at the box office - much the way "Shakespeare in Love" beat the favorite, Steven Spielberg's brawny war epic. Today, Ashland, Ore., - a town of fewer than 20,000 people 300 miles from a major metropolitan area - is home to one of the largest and most successful repertory theater groups in North America, drawing an attendance of more than 350,000 for 11 plays over an eight-month season. Long before Hollywood's recent discovery of Shakespeare, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF) was showing that Elizabethan language and theatrical style - long monologues in rhymed couplets, stylized swordplay, blousy tunics - could pack 'em in. It's not that OSF hasn't kept up with the times. In last year's "Henry IV, Part One," Prince Hal enters on a motorbike duded up like some Carnaby Street punk with his troublemaking mentor Sir John Falstaff looking vaguely reminiscent of the Grateful Dead's Jerry Garcia. Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes as the on-screen "Romeo and Juliet" were tame by comparison. BUT this is serious theater. …

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