Eugene Weekly : Oregon Shakespeare Festival 2010 : 7.15.2010


Oregon Shakespeare Festival

Ready for the Big Stories OSF’s Alison Carey brings the drama of U.S. history to the stage

Beyond the Plays OSF’s value increases with additional events

Three Days, Five Plays Late nights and long afternoons at the OSF


Beyond the Plays
OSF’s value increases with additional events
by Suzi Steffen and Anna Grace

Christopher Liam Moore, director of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Malvolio in Twelfth Night

Though we’ve been attending the OSF for years — Anna Grace since she was a kid in Eugene schools — the weekend we recently spent there reminded both of us that the Shakespeare Festival is far more than the plays on stage. We’ve written many times about the backstage tours, which the R-G’s Bob Keefer also promoted this year in his coverage, and the allure of those tours hasn’t faded. 

In addition, this year we attended three “Festival Noons” — one lecture, one improv demonstration and one free park talk — and paid to see a First Folio. Knowledgable longtime OSF-goers around us asked excellent questions of actor Danforth Comins, whose answers and honesty gave us windows into Merchant and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Director Christopher Liam Moore’s lecture about Cat also let listeners into the world of designing and planning that most brilliant production, and the Impro Theatre Ensemble folks showed exactly how they managed to keep Jane Austen fresh by inhabiting the style of the author while adding contemporary satire.

Festival Noon events don’t happen every day, and they’re a mix of ticketed and free along with a mix of presenters. Some upcoming gems: On Friday, July 23, Throne of Blood director Ping Chong talks about the play; a park talk by actor Kimberly Scott on Tuesday, Aug. 3, and one by actor Howie Seago on Sunday, Aug. 8; Richard Montoya discusses American Night on Friday, Aug. 27, and a workshop/demonstration called “Dancing Feet and Talking Drums” by Okaidja Afroso and Portland’s Shokoto on Saturday, Sept. 4 (full schedule at

All of these events can make festival-going a bit tight. We’d advise not trying to take a Backstage Tour, attend a Festival Noon, go to a matinée, hit a Preview and catch the Green Show before the night performance, but spreading all of that extra information over a few weekend days deepens and enriches the OSF experience.

Christopher Liam Moore

Chris Moore’s as smart and funny at the lectern as one might expect from his expert direction of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and his performance as Malvolio in Twelfth Night. He explains that both he and OSF Artistic Director Bill Rauch doubted some of Christopher Acebo’s design choices — until they saw the design actually built on the Bowmer stage; he says that he’s asked actor Danforth Comins never to tell him whether Comins thinks Brick, his character, is gay or not. He explains that the reason the Pollitt family sees footage about Emmett Till on TV is that playwright Tennessee Williams set the play just at the time, and 40 miles from the place, Till was murdered. That snippet of news is not in the script; and it adds tension and depth to the play. Moore tells us that he has time on the nights when Twelfth Night is playing at the same time as Cat to sneak a few looks at Cat, that one night as he watched Comins in Act III, “I was just sitting [there] sobbing. It was like a master class in acting.”

And when audience members express sadness that the play ended on July 3, he looks down and then says, “That’s theater, you know. It comes and it goes.” — Suzi Steffen

Impro Theatre Ensemble

A handsome young man, as tightly wound as his cravat, stands trembling before a punch bowl, earnestly commenting on the ceiling molding. Before him is a smart, well-bred young lady, engaged in the conversation but saying so much more than the confines of her society will allow. It is a scene straight out of a favorite Jane Austen novel. Only it isn’t.

Having marinated themselves in the works, history and language of Jane Austen, the actors of L.A.’s Impro Theatre Ensemble are able to create fresh and new each night entire plays that echo a great author’s work. While their style runs to satire, the troop remains true to the manners and situations found in Austen novels. 

Good improv actors are like jazz musicians. They must be skilled actors, masters of voice, movement and expression, then perform authentically in a world where nothing is scripted. Company members of Impro are top-notch comedians as well as literary scholars. If you missed them at OSF this year, you can catch them at their home in L.A. anytime. — Anna Grace