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All’s Well in Ashland

EUGENE WEEKLY  If you haven’t experienced the flag being raised high above the hammerbeam roof of the Allen Elizabethan Theatre just before the show begins at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, then you haven’t truly lived. A man in a silly hat waves his hands wildly, determined to hang out of the window until he is satisfied with the level of enthusiasm from the mob below. Finally, he raises the flag, a hint at what’s to come.

I liken it to the slow ascend up Disney World’s Splash Mountain. 

Repertory theater in general and OSF specifically offer a singular experience of the arts. The challenge to reinvent the wheel is an arbitrary game, one that delights and infuriates its audience. In an impressive hustle, the actors bouncing from one stage to the next. Is that Dodo bird Lady Macbeth from last night?

Ashland, the ever-bizarre host, is an enchanted town, seemingly absent of the middle class. The streets move with the speed of tourism, the righteous defenders of the offended filling up on espresso and trinkets before the matinee. The heroin hippie combs his hair on a curb. Not even the dogs notice him.

But hey, the show must go on.


Despite the whispers of chaos from last year’s wildfires and changes in both the artistic and executive direction of the festival, OSF’s opening summer weekend was none the wiser. Faithful patrons of the arts swarmed the Bricks Plaza for the opening June 7-9 of the outdoor Allen Elizabethan Theatre, with Macbeth, Alice in Wonderland and All’s Well That Ends Well running now through October.

(I also took in a new play, the inflammatory and hilarious Between Two Knees, which is stirring up fresh contention — art at its best.)

Finally, the crowd makes its way through the moss-covered walls. The smart ones carry ponchos and afghans; the outdoor theater does not promise comfort. The famed flag whips its tail against the Oregon sky. Wine-procured chatter gives way to watchful silence, and the stage comes alive.

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