A Playwright Finds Drama, and Humor, in Roe v. Wade

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by KATIE TAYLOR

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ASHLAND, Ore. — Lisa Loomer has written plays about how women’s bodies are tortured in the name of beauty and about the relationship between white mothers and their Latina nannies in Los Angeles. Taking on the politics of abortion would seem right up her alley. But when her friend Bill Rauch, the artistic director of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, first asked if she would be interested in writing a play about Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court case establishing abortion rights, she wasn’t so sure.

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OSF announces new commissions

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A commitment to the development and production of significant new theatrical work is the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's impetus to commission eight new plays as part of American Revolutions: The United States History Cycle. The newly commissioned artists are sketch comedy group 1491s; writer, actress and director Aditi Brennan Kapil; award-winning playwright Basil Kreimendahl; playwrights Mona Mansour and Carlos Murillo; novelist, playwright and human rights activist Susan Nussbaum; playwright and director Robert O’Hara; and performer and award-winning playwright Jiehae Park.

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Other summer Shakespeare and theater festivals

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by CHRISTOPHER SMITH

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Photo by T. Charles Erickson

More summer theater festivals

North America has four other major summer theater festivals, each a multi-theater complex with multiple productions in repertory running into the fall:

Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Ashland, Ore.: The festival is 81 years old, but this southern Oregon site traces roots to the late-1800s Chautauqua movement, which brought culture and entertainment to rural America.

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American playwrights try to reinvent the history play

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by DANIEL POLLACK-PELZNER

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When Bill Rauch applied to become the artistic director of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, in 2007, he pitched an ambitious ten-year project: the festival would commission thirty-seven new plays about moments of change in American history, on the model of Shakespeare’s thirty-seven-play canon. “Shakespeare wrote the history of his people onto the stage,” Alison Carey, who directs what became American Revolutions: The United States History Cycle, told me. “Why don’t we do that?” Last week, O.S.F. announced eight more commissions, bringing the total to thirty-two, with five to go. So far, the commissioned playwrights—who include David Henry Hwang, Paula Vogel, Lynn Nottage, and Young Jean Lee—have written dramas about immigration, Presidential elections, the slave trade, Roe v. Wade, radical politics, and the decline of American industry. The results have raised a tricky question: Is Shakespeare still a useful guide, or do playwrights need to create a new kind of drama if they want to depict American history?

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At Oregon Shakespeare Fest, generous helpings of classics and new works

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By MISHA BERSON

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Reviews of four of the plays running in repertory in the 2016 OSF season: “The Winter’s Tale,” “Richard II,” “Roe” and “Vietgone.”

Though increasingly focused on presenting contemporary dramas and an array of musicals, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival can’t, won’t and shouldn’t abandon its original mission: the plays of its celebrated namesake. That’s still the main draw of the Ashland, Ore., company, which has the acting and design resources no other Northwest theater can muster for the task.
Under the leadership of current artistic director Bill Rauch, and his predecessor Libby Appel, OSF has kept faith with the Bard of Avon while gradually but firmly steering away from straightforward, Elizabethan-style mountings of the canon. Today OSF (like many classic companies) tends to reconceptualize and reconfigure and pop-musical-ize Shakespeare, with a modern slant — sometimes to a play’s detriment, at best with a bracing vigor that makes the audience rethink and reconnect to this theatrical treasure trove.

The 2016 OSF season, which runs through October, offers a “Twelfth Night” in Hollywood musical mode; a popular, grungy “Hamlet,” with heavy- metal-guitar accompaniment; and an update of the rarely performed riches-to-rags fable, “Timon of Athens.” Two other Shakespeare works, “Richard II” and “The Winter’s Tale,” are also on tap. Seen back to back, they illuminate the power of an incandescent text, as well as the mixed blessings of an awkward retrofit.

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