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Much ado about Oregon Shakespeare Festival
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Much ado about Oregon Shakespeare Festival

by Marian Michener - SGN Contributing Writer

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF) opened their summer season last weekend with a richly ornamented Henry VIII in the Elizabethan Theater. Vilma Silva stole the show as Queen Katherine, at first confident that she knows her power with the king, then understanding how quickly she becomes friendless. Her performance broke our hearts. Anthony Heald was chilling as the machiavellian Cardinal Wolsey. In the role of one of Wolsey's targets, Buckingham, Micheal Elich showed bravery in the face of hopelessness. Demetra Pittman's resonant voice made the role of the Old Lady memorable. Elijah Alexander was handsome as Henry, but his performance didn't have much range.

John Sipes' direction and fight choreography made the performance move well. Susan E. Mickey's costumes were delicious. Michael Ganio's sets were transporting.

The second play to open in the Elizabethan Theater was Octavio Solis' adaptation of Cervantes' Don Quixote. Armando Duran's performance in the title role was powerful. Other standouts were Danforth Comins as Cardenio, Vilma Silva as Lucinda, and Howie Seago as a barber.

Laird Williamson's direction pulled together some fun staging, puppetry and props. Richard Hay's sets were apt. The script felt episodic and seemed to have two endings. We felt it would have done well as a one-act play in a smaller venue such as the New Theater.

The third play to open in the Elizabethan Theater was a rousing version of Much Ado About Nothing. Kate Buckley's direction kept the setting as Messina, but put it at the end of the Italian occupation in WWII. This gave more power than many other productions of the play to a number of references to the characters being fresh from a battlefield. It made the big comic action work as relief for them after having risked death.

Nan Cibula-Jenkins' costumes were playfully 1940s-era. Sarah Picket's music and Jim Giancarlo's choreography also had fun with the time period. Todd Rosenthal's sets offered interesting possibilities.

The whole ensemble acted well and were delightfully in-synch. Tony DeBruno's Dogberry and Michael J. Hume's Verges had us laughing out loud. Robynn Rodriguez sparkled every moment as Beatrice. David Kelly's Benedick raised the bar for Benedicks with his attempt to hide in a fountain.

Another play recently added to the repertory in Ashland was a new adaptation of Goldoni's Servant of Two Masters. Oded Gross and director Tracy Young were responsible for the adaptation, which was pleasingly updated to include the current recession and its effect on OSF. The puns, physical humor and action are fast paced and rich. The ensemble is strong with Mark Bedard as Trufaldino, Elisa Bocanegra as Smeraldina, David Kelly as Pantalone and Richard Howard as Dottore standing out.

Christal Weatherly's costumes added to the humor, as did Richard Hay's sets. Tracy Young's direction met the challenges of the full round seating in the New Theater and the possibilities of the script.

We were so excited about another play added to the repertory, Equivocation, one of my companions called it the best new play since Angels in America. Author Bill Cain took off with the idea of a member of James I's court asking Shakespeare to write a play presenting the official version of the gunpowder plot. Members of Shakespeare's acting company argue about how best to handle the request, given that it can be dangerous to question the King's claims about what happened. That situation resonates with contemporary cover-ups. Equivocation also deals with Shakespeare's relationship with his daughter, which is complicated by his grief over her brother's death. The two subplots intertwine nicely.

Anthony Heald is captivating as Shakespeare. Christine Albright brings home the role of his daughter. Richard Elmore, Jonathen Haugen, John Tufts and Gregory Linington play a persuasive range of characters. Christopher Acebo's sets and Deborah Dryden's costumes create the era. Bill Rauch's direction puts it all together.

Good news about this production: it is coming to the Seattle Repertory Theater in November. You can get tickets for OSF at www.osfashland.org or (541) 482-4331.

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