Sunday, March 3, 2013

Season opening at Oregon Shakespeare Festival

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.

The role of women, Black Power and a Shakespearean tragedy herald the opening 2013 season at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

Music plays an integral role in the fast paced, high energy, entertaining production of Shakespeare’s “Taming of the Shrew.” Director David Ivers combines rock and roll with country music to provide a 1950s-inspired look and sound. He re-imagines Padua as a seaside amusement park with ferris wheels, roller coaster and a boardwalk.

There’s a great deal of verbal sparring between the two protagonists since Kate is renowned for her acerbic tongue and Petruchio is determined to “wive and thrive in Padua as best I can.” Petruchio is “kated” after he claims her as his bride: “I will thee wed.”

Meanwhile, younger sister, Bianca, has three suitors vying for her hand in marriage. In the course of impressing her father. their offerings are very effectively projected on a large screen.

August Wilson’s “Two Trains Running” depicts multiple facets of everyday life converging in a 1969 Pittsburgh diner composed of the owner, cook/waitress, bookie, undertaker, recently released convict and others who dwell on past injustices. Most of them have consulted 349-year-old Aunt Esther, whose spirit permeates each of Wilson’s 10-play Century Cycle. One bit of her advice: “If you drop the ball, you have to go back and pick it up.”

Lou Bellamy, artistic director of the Penumbra Theatre in St. Paul, Minn., has directed all of Wilson’s plays. Bellamy said that “Two Trains Running” “portrays ordinary people dealing with racism as capable of having intelligent conversations.”

Two grand pianos and a cast of twenty provide the well-known Lerner and Loewe tunes for a spectacular tour-de-force performance of “My Fair Lady” based on George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion.”

Amanda Dehnert, director and musical director, wanted to show that life and theater are not clean and tidy; therefore, she exposed the audience to what usually happens off stage by “seeing how people transform into workers, servants and gentry through the power of imagination and the adding of a glove or apron.” It was amazing to see proper hats being lowered from above stage.

Even though Shaw stated that “Pygmalion” was a political and feminist play, not a love story, the original actors changed the ending so that Higgins and Eliza ended up together.

Artistic Director Bill Rauch chose a contemporary approach in the intimate round seating of the Thomas Theatre for Shakespeare’s tragedy, “King Lear.” He cast two actors to alternate performances, divided the play into three segments and also left some often-cut political machinations intact. Program notes say that he is fascinated how Shakespeare's work operates on so many planes at once: metaphysical, psychological, social, spiritual and political.

“Lear” deals with truly dysfunctional families. After King Lear leaves his lands to his two eldest daughters, he discovers how pernicious they are. In the second section Lear struggles against the elements and a group of treacherous villains when he says, “I am a man more sinned against than sinning.” In the final part, everyone comes together in Dover where there is reconciliation before death.

“Shrew” and “Fair Lady” play in the indoor Angus Bowmer Theatre through Nov. 3. “Two Trains Running” will be in the Bowmer until July 7 and “Lear" is in the Thomas Theatre through Nov. 3. For further information and tickets, visit or call 800-219-8161.

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