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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