If you really want to help the theatah, dahling,
Don’t be an actress. Be an audience.
Tallulah Bankhead

Ashland is a charming place to visit in the spring. The daffodils are blooming; the airs is clear and clean without the turgid heat of summer …and the plays…ah the plays…... There is never bad theater at The Oregon Shakespeare Festival. The acting is superb, the sets amazing and professional, the directing gifted. When one reviews their productions, it is well to keep in mind that the worst of their efforts represent the best in theater everywhere else. The actors that get their training it this festival have graced bay area stages again and again and always when they are in a play, they outshine everyone in the cast. Remi Sandri will be seen shortly in Marin Theater’s God of Carnage. Aldo Billingslea stole the show as Othello on that same stage. Both men polished their craft in Ashland. Marco Barricelli thrilled us all in innumerable ACT productions including a memorable interpretation of David Mamet’s American Buffalo and Richard Elmore’s performance in Moon over Buffalo at TheatreWorks was comic genius at its best.

This season is an interesting one and I was only able to sample a few of the plays being offered. Animal Crackers by George S Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind, with music and lyrics by Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby, directed by Allison Narver is a delightful musical farce that originally featured the wild antics of the Marx brothers. The pace is swift, the music delightful and the production leaves you smiling and whistling favorite tunes like “Three Little Words” as you leave the Bowmer Theater. The White Snake also directed by Allison Narver was my favorite of the productions I saw this spring. It is based on an ancient Chinese tale that tells the story of a snake who transforms herself into a woman and of the man who unwittingly marries her. The beauty of this production is its combination of symbol with reality woven into a beautifully choreographed and captivating drama. We see relationships that are beautiful in unexpected ways and the perversity of human nature determined to get what they expect and ignore what they have. The production is exquisite on every level and a memorable one.

Seagull is Libby Appel’s adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s beautiful play about a dysfunctional mother and her son. “What may seem a little hard to tackle is that most of the real feelings of these characters are largely unspoken;” says director Libby Appel. “They are below the text, which may make the characters seem elusive or inactive.. . but make no mistake; these people are seething with action.” The production is beautifully paced and Allison Horsley’s literal translation loses none of the impact of Chekov’s amazingly modern play about turbulent emotions, intense loves and the timeless conflicts of being human in an unfeeling, demanding world.

I saw two Shakespeare plays on this visit as well, Romeo and Juliet and Troilus and Cressida and my question is, why can’t OSF stick to doing what they do best: Shakespeare plays in the original language, with Elizabethan staging. Their Romeo and Juliet in 2007 was exquisite with Catherine Coulson most memorable as the nurse. In this current production, set in Alta California, directed by Laird Williamson, the nurse is a caricature, neither sympathetic or meaningful, a comic figure that inspires no one. Sadly, the Juliet is too old and the Romeo not very exciting. Elijah Alexander as Juliet’s father steals the show for me. He manages despite the artificial Spanish lilt he adds to his speech to convey the nobility of his character. The other actors go through their paces and do the best they can with the adaptation but at the end, not a tear was shed because the production failed to do what every production Romeo and Juliet has always done…touched the audience’s heart.

Troilus and Cressida was more interesting to me despite the decision to take its inspiration from the looting of the Baghdad Museum during the U. S. invasion of Iraq. “We are seeing the Trojan War as the beginning of a long history of East-West conflicts,” explains director Rob Melrose. This production held together a bit better for me than Romeo and Juliet. The staging in the New Theatre was stark yet beautiful and the characters were both real and convincing.

All in all, despite some reservations, the plays were well done and always worth the drive to southern Oregon. Every time I visit Ashland and see the work of The Oregon Shakespeare Festival I understand why theater is so important to our culture and to our understanding of the world we live in. The festival continues until November 4 and you can check the schedule as well as the other plays on the roster at, 800 219 8161.

The stage is a magic circle
Where only the most real things happen
P. S. Baber