Saturday, September 8, 2012

Fall season plays on stage at OSF

This guest post is by Patricia Feldhaus, a theater reviewer based in Chico, Calif. I know Feldhaus through my tenure producing an arts and entertainment section for the Lake County Record-Bee.

Politics and a musical mélange are featured in the new fall season plays at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland.

Artistic Director Bill Rauch had a “life-long passion” to stage Euripedes’ “Medea,” Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” and Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical, “Cinderella” simultaneously on the same space. Thus, “M/M/C” was successfully adapted and directed by Rauch and Tracy Young.

It was extremely interesting to see the overlapping of shared themes: magic, transformation, royal ambition, the roles of women in a male-dominated society and parent/child relationships spanning the centuries from 1431 BCE through 1606 and up to 1957.

I was particularly fascinated to watch beautifully costumed characters from all three plots dancing together in “The Prince Is Having a Ball” with music provided by a six-piece ensemble behind a scrim.

The three diverse plots explained the woes of Medea who was wronged by Jason – in an all-female cast; Lady Macbeth who was the driving force behind her husband – in an all-male cast; and Cinderella who had dreams, but remained subservient to her demanding stepmother and two self-centered step sisters until her Fairy Godmother came with her wand.

The world premiere of “Party People,” developed and directed by Liesl Tommy, is one of the plays OSF commissioned as part of its “American Revolutions: The U.S. History Cycle” to UNIVERSES, a group of theater artists who compose, speak word poems, write, sing, harmonize and care about justice.

The word “REVOLUTION” is featured in marquee lights over the stage while the ensemble enacts personal stories of the Black Panthers and the Young Lords (Puerto Rican) using rap, gospel and dance to bring power to the people, organize the disorganized and prove that revolution is necessary to help the walking wounded.

“All the Way(with LBJ)” by Robert Schenkkan is another world premiere that was also commissioned for “American Revolutions: The U.S. History Cycle” for new plays about moments of change in U.S. history.

Beginning on Nov. 22, 1963, when Kennedy was assassinated and Vice President Lyndon Johnson was sworn into office, “All the Way” chronicles the first 11 months of LBJ'S presidency. He believed that the country needed continuity, that justice and morality demanded that the Civil Rights Bill be passed and he used his political savvy and “Texas Twist” to influence his own Democratic party as well as Republican Congressmen and persuade them to support his ideas, which ultimately changed the political course of this country.

This production, directed by Bill Rauch, was enhanced by visuals projected on a large backdrop.

As far as I was concerned, actor Jack Willis was LBJ in his sometimes ruthless quest to win the 1964 election (against Goldwater). He said, “The only way to win a campaign is by not losing."

“M/M/C” and “All the Way” join “Romeo and Juliet” and “Animal Crackers” in the Angus Bowmer Theatre through Nov. 3 and 4.  “Party People” plays in the New Theatre through Nov. 3. For tickets and further information, call 800-219-8161 or go online at www.osfashland.org.

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