I'm halfway through my slate of plays at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and thankfully, done with the outdoor plays! It's really hot this year. 105 yesterday, 110 predicted today. At 8 last night, when The Odyssey began in the outdoor theatre, it was still in the mid-80's. I was sweating during the 3.5 hour performance; I felt for the actors. I know they wear ice packs under their costumes, but we were seated close enough to see the sweat, nonetheless.
The Odyssey was really good; the actor who played Odysseus, Christopher Donahue, was compelling, and some of my favorite actors in the company were in the production.
We've also seen the Merry Wives of Windsor, which is normally only so-so for me as far as Shakespeare goes, but this production added 80s music, and surprisingly, the combination worked for me. The result was to pull Anne Page, the daughter, and her story, more into the foreground.
I'm always surprised at what bothers some people about productions. I've heard no one complaining about the 80s music, but I have heard people complaining about the fact that Falstaff is being played by a woman. The character is still a man, but a woman is playing him. K.T. Vogt is a great comic actor, and as soon as I heard she was playing Falstaff, I knew she'd make a great one, especially in Merry Wives. Men played women's roles in Shakespeare's time, so what's the big deal?
The other complaint heard a bit is about the number of Asian actors the last couple of years. OSF is a repertory theatre, so all the actors play in two shows, and Bill Rauch, the current artistic director, has made the choice to expand the diversity of the offerings the OSF presents. The last several years, he has both put on various Asian plays and put on Shakespeare plays in Asian settings. As a result, he has hired more Asian actors. He also is committed to more diversity in hiring in general, and in casting. Slowly, I'm starting to see a tiny impact in the audience attracted; there are more people of color than there were 7 years ago when we first started coming. Still not many, but a trickle.
One of this year's new plays, a world premiere, is Hannah and the Dread Gazebo, about a Korean-American woman and her search for the mystery of her grandmother's suicide. Despite the suicide at the center, it's a funny play, and so far, is my favorite of the season.
Another world premiere, Off the Rails, is written by a Native American playwright, Randy Reinholz, and is described as "Blazing Saddles meets Measure for Measure". The play uses Measure for Measure to tell the story of an Indian boarding school, with humor to make the grim story easier to take. The first act is a little slow, with lots of exposition setting everything up, but the second act is much stronger, and the ending fixes a number of problems I have with Measure for Measure's ending.
The other play I've seen is Disney's Beauty and the Beast. This is the big family friendly musical that OSF puts on in the big outdoor theatre to pay the bills to support the new plays. I wasn't sure about this choice, but I should have had more faith in OSF. Jennie Greenberry as Belle and Jordan Barbour as the Beast were fantastic, and rather than go for big spectacle, the director chose a rather spare production, which I really liked. Not to everyone's taste, though; I've heard complaints about that, too!
Still to come: Julius Caesar, Shakespeare in Love, Henry IV Part I and Part II. We're really looking forward to the Henry's. They're being staged in the Thomas, the smallest and most intimate of the three theatres, and I love seeing Shakespeare there. I loved the last production of the Henriad by the OSF, so I'm excited for this one.
Next year, we are not coming down in August, though! Too hot!