Oregon Shakespeare Fest Opens With Country-Western Tunes and Hollywood Glam

Portland Monthly


Oregon Shakespeare Festival

At age 81, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival hasn’t lost its knack for reinvention. Last year, we reported how OSF “has become a national instigator of bold contemporary drama,” with 29 world premieres over the last decade. Then, in the fall, the festival announced it would be giving the Bard a facelift, commissioning 36 playwrights to translate 39 Shakespeare plays into contemporary modern English. (Freakouts ensued.) As OSF prepares to open its 81st season—instantly transforming Ashland from a sleepy southern Oregon burg to a bustling hive of blue-hairs and teenagers on school trips—let’s zoom in on the first four shows hitting the stage.

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Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s New Groove

Portland Monthly


With a new mash-up of Belinda Carlisle and Elizabethan drama, the festival struts into the spotlight of American theater.

“See the people walking down the street Fall in line just watching all their feet They don’t know where they want to go But they’re walking in time....”

No, it’s not Shakespeare, but the saucy new wave bounce of “We Got the Beat” nonetheless rocks into the Northwest’s fortress of iambic pentameter this summer. In the quaint hamlet of Ashland, where we lay our scene, the playwright Jeff Whitty mixes the Go-Go’s “canon” with a tale of royal prophecies, star-crossed lovers, and mistaken identities lifted from The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia, a sprawling 16th-century prose epic by Sir Philip Sidney. The Coos Bay–born Whitty, who snagged a Tony for the racy puppet musical Avenue Q, calls his genre- and gender-bending imaginative outing Head Over Heels. (Needless to say, high heels abound.)

“This show is so difficult,” says director Ed Sylvanus Iskandar. “People who can act in heightened text, sing in a rock idiom, and dance—that Venn diagram is tiny.”

But vaulting ambition reigns supreme at Ashland’s Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Though the 80-year-old attraction is best known for lavish productions of the Bard and other classics, in recent years the company has become a national instigator of bold contemporary drama. OSF produced 29 world premieres over the past decade; many have gone on to national acclaim, from last year’s Tony-winning production ofAll the Way on Broadway to The White Snake at San Diego’s Old Globe this spring. This season, OSF debuts three diverse works: Head Over Heels; Sweat, Pulitzer winner Lynn Nottage’s tale of 20th-century industrial decline; and an adaptation of Sarah Waters’s Victorian thriller Fingersmith by Friends and This American Life vet Alexa Junge.