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Great Expectations

Oregon Shakespeare Festival opens 81st season with beloved classics and world premieres

As the tilted Earth spins and progresses through her orbit, late February brings light and warmth flooding back to us. But spring is not the only fresh thing bubbling up from all points the south. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland soon greets the lengthening days, buzzing with new stories that are beautifully staged.

Under the artistic direction of Bill Rauch, the internationally renowned festival’s 81st season boasts first-run plays, elegant classics and a commitment to bringing a broader world perspective to the stage. 

Shakespeare first: OSF is in the second year of an aggressive cycle to produce each of the Bard’s 37 plays over a period of 10 years. OSF has completed the cannon a few times since 1935, each previous cycle taking about two decades. This explains why we’ll be treated to a lush Timon of Athens later in the season.

In addition, to celebrate the 400th year anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death (has it really been 400 years already?), the company offers five of Shakespeare’s plays hitting all four of his major genres: comedy, tragedy, romance and history.

Beyond the Bard of Avon, Ashland’s festival has a number of other delights. If your bent runs towards new theater, the company is staging four world premiers this time around. The River Bride, written by Marisela Trevino Orta and directed for OSF by Laurie Woolery, is a modern-day tale of love and transformation based on Amazon folklore. It is part of the festival’s ongoing commitment to telling stories that reflect the broader global culture.

Roe, written by Lisa Loomer and directed by Bill Rauch, is the next installment of the festival’s American Revolutions series. American Revolutions attempts to mirror the scope and scale of Shakespeare’s work by commissioning up to 37 new works reflecting major moments of change in the history of the United States. Roe chronicles the divergent paths of lawyer and plaintiff in the years after their landmark case of Roe vs. Wade

Two fresh adaptations will hit the boards as well. Penny Metropulos and Linda Alper have created a new script for Great Expectations, Charles Dickens’ complex, moving story of love, revenge and the nature of generosity. Also up is a much-anticipated country-western take on The Yeoman of the Guard written by Sean Graney, Andra Velis Simon and Matt Kahler. This 80-minute, family friendly, audience-interactive adaptation of Gilbert and Sullivan’s goofy, pun-filled operetta gives a touch of twang to unrequited love and wrongfully condemned men.

Currently, OSF is open with four stories: The River Bride, Great Expectations, The Yeoman of the Guard and Twelfth Night. The last is a beautiful, bittersweet comedy of reinventing one’s self in the wake of tragedy. Director Christopher Liam Moore sets his Twelfth Night in 1930s Hollywood with a crooning soundtrack. 

OSF’s season of 11 plays will continue to roll out over the next six months. Opening in the spring are Roe and Vietgone, a comedy about Vietnamese immigrants on a zany road trip through America in the last days of the Vietnam War. The outdoor Elizabethan theater beckons in June with Hamlet, The Wiz and The Winter’s Tale. Richard II and Timon of Athens finish up the season, opening in July.

For more information, including dates, times, locations and ticket prices, visit osfashland.org.