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.
ASHLAND, ORE. — A first-time visitor to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival might be struck by any number of things. The festival’s idyllic location in this small city surrounded by vistas of rolling hills. Or the splendid Tudor-style outdoor Elizabethan theater, just one of the three spaces where performances take place six days a week for more than seven months, for an impressive total of roughly 800 shows.
But even before visiting the festival, you might notice something unusual when you scan the website: It’s the rare theater site that you can navigate if your only language is Spanish.
Once settled in your seat, I suspect the first thing you’d notice would be the unusual ethnic and racial diversity onstage. The casting of men and women of color in prominent roles — whether it’s Nathan Detroit in “Guys and Dolls” or the titular prince in “Pericles,” both of which I saw this year portrayed (terrifically) by African-American men — is standard practice at the company and has been for many years.
"The ensemble is exemplary, so uniformly excellent that I cannot point to a single performance as rising above the rest. To laud them individually would require another review. Let it be enough to say that each actor locates the rich humanity in his or her character, and transmits it to the audience with deceptive ease. When the play reaches its climax, we feel so swept up in the fracturing lives of the people onstage that the distance between that world and the real one it reflects with such searing precision has all but collapsed."
This popular destination is celebrating its 80th season, but it’s no stodgy old-timer. In fact, Ashland recently announced three new play commissions, part of its ambitious series “American Revolutions: The United States History Cycle,” devoted to new works focusing on significant periods of change in American history. Shakespeare still has pride of place here, and “Pericles,” “Much Ado About Nothing” and “Antony and Cleopatra” will be presented this season alongside several other productions. If you can’t get your fill in the busy, long season, there’s a Shakespeare-theme cruise to look forward to in December.
By JENNIFER MARGULIS Chris Pietsch for The New York Times On a recent summer afternoon, it was a busy scene outside the Ashland Food Co-op, where the lunch menu is the biggest draw. On a small triangle of grass a barefooted young woman in a grass skirt did a rather frantic and awkward hip dance while her shirtless tattooed partner played the bongos. Two gray-haired men wearing button-downs ate salad at an outdoor table and argued about Richard Blanco, the Inaugural poet in 2013 who gave a reading here last year.
Inside it was so crowded at the certified organic Food Co-op, a grocery store and popular restaurant that reopened its lunch deli in July after a major renovation, that the traffic jam of customers and shopping carts made it hard to enter. “We have a charisma, a magnetic field that pulls people down to the vortex that is the Food Co-op at lunchtime,” Annie Hoy, communications manager, said. She encouraged out-of-town visitors to try the new carnitas tacos ($2.50) and Paleo bowl ($7.99) at the co-op’s deli.
In this last year and a half, at least 10 food spots have opened or undergone renovations in Ashland, a southern Oregon town of just 20,000, boosting its reputation as an emerging culinary destination. Nearly half of these restaurants are focusing on lunch, three catering exclusively to the lunch crowd. The new lunch craze is a hyper-local healthful food trend that allows both budget travelers and well-heeled tourists to enjoy the produce and artisanal products this region has to offer. At least 300,000 visitors come to Ashland each year for the 10-month-longOregon Shakespeare Festival (which ends on Nov. 2), outdoor recreation like white-water rafting, hiking and mountain biking, and the wineries.
While Napa Valley and Sonoma are renowned for their world-class wines, tasting trips there generally come attached to luxurious digs, spa treatments, $25 tasting fees, Hummer limos and standstill traffic — and all the “no picnicking” pretension that goes with that.
It’s gotten to the point where a thirsty, fogged-in San Franciscan in search of summer sun, stellar wine and hotel rates less than $400 a night has to go out of state, especially when toting two children under the age of 5 and a husband who prefers his fishing rod to the French Laundry.
And so, we headed north to Oregon, not to the well-known Willamette Valley, in the state’s northwest, but about four hours to its south, a sprawling region better known for the “wild and scenic” (as the official designation has it) Rogue River and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland than for the rolling vineyards in between.