5 Theatre Reviews ⁠of The Oregon Shakespeare Festival

written by Tiana Kai
Oregon Shakespeare Festival

Theatre has been a deep love of mine since I was a kid. The Sound of Music was my first real memory of falling in love with song and acting, plus I adored the play-clothes Fräulein Maria made from the estate’s tapestry. Then came Sister Act and Aladdin. I’d sing all three films endlessly. That’s where a lot of my free time in my pre-teen years went, and I loved it.

OSF tickets in hand, downtown Ashland

Now living in Ashland, Oregon I’m across the street from a renowned theatre house, or in this case, theatre houses. In one year, The Oregon Shakespeare Festival – let’s call it OSF – produces 11 plays in 3 theatres. I’ll help you with the math. That comes to 800 shows over one festival season from March until October, and the average patron sees 3.24 shows in a given year!

One of the things I love about OSF productions is their use of the stage. The set designs are so clever and their costumes are notorious, as they even rent them out to TV shows and big events.

Because of OSF, the city of Ashland feels the positive surge of tourists who fly in or drive through our little town of 21,000 residents. During theatre season the streets echo with the pitter patter of theatre-goers, which is a great plus for hotels, restaurants, wineries, and shops around town. Thanks friendly travelers, keep on visiting!

Reviews of The Oregon Shakespeare Festival 2019

photo by OSF

1. Hairspray, the Broadway Musical

Looking to be cheered up? Moved? Hairspray is packed with heart and talent. I fell in love with Tracy Turnblad, the protagonist who carried the play on her bubbly, musically talented shoulders.

Out of the five plays I watched this year, this is the most traditional in terms of a musical. Hairspray’s music was upbeat, and the message and actors were powerful. This play is a strong reminder of how far or not so far we’ve come as a society; it’s time to be better neighbors to all.

“It’s 1962, and Baltimore teenager Tracy Turnblad lives in a world that tells her plus-sized gals shouldn’t be dancing on television and that racial segregation is here to stay. When she wins a spot on The Corny Collins Show, Tracy becomes a star and teams up with her friends and hunky Link Larkin to use her newfound fame to challenge the status quo. Director Christopher Liam Moore (The Book of WillShakespeare in Love) honors John Waters’ original subversive vision for the story in a wildly joyful production that celebrates radical inclusion at its heart.” – OSF site

Buy your tickets to Hairspray!
photo by OSF

2. Macbeth

This is one of three Shakespeare-written plays on rotation this season. Macbeth took place in the famous open-air Allen Elizabethan Theatre, built in 1955. I went to the 8pm show which is the best time in my opinion because you’re really transported to another time, another life, as the night sky above darkens and there is nothing to focus on but the brilliance on stage.

I highly recommend seeing Macbeth if you’re into classics and drama. Even a friend of mine who’s not into Shakespeare loved this one and she was able to follow along. Be ready for gore and more!

“Spurred by prophesy and consumed by ambition, Macbeth murders the Scottish king and claims the throne. Fueled by guilt and paranoia, the new king and his wife embark on an increasingly bloody campaign to hold onto power. José Luis Valenzuela (Destiny of Desire) directs “the Scottish play,” in which the impulse to destroy rather than change grips the Macbeths, wreaking havoc on their minds and on everyone in their way. Renowned for making the epic feel operatic, Valenzuela’s intriguing and ritualistic take on Shakespeare’s evocative tragedy plumbs the depths of psychology and pitfalls of unchecked ambition and violence.” – OSF site

Buy your tickets to Macbeth! 
photo by OSF

3. Cambodian Rock Band

Incredible! Cambodian Rock Band is my #1 top choice if I HAD to see just one. It was more than I could imagine. It’s hilarious, clever, and moved me to tears as the storyline flipped from present day to 1975 during the 3-year Khmer Rouge genocide in Cambodia.

One fateful night a band member of a young ’70s rock band the Cyclos decided to not flee with his family the night of the Khmer Rouge surprise attack, soon changing his life and his country’s forever. Years later, this band mate’s daughter was on the hunt for the missing survivors. Get ready for plot twists, belly aches, and dancing in your seat… or on your feet. P.S. the music is great!

“This award-winning play—equal parts comedy, history, mystery and rock concert—about the resilient bond of family and the enduring power of music thrusts us into the life of a young woman trying to take down a Khmer Rouge war criminal thirty years after her father fled Cambodia. Six actor/musicians make up the cast and perform a mix of contemporary Dengue Fever hits and classic Cambodian oldies.
Playwright Lauren Yee—who has earned awards and accolades brings to vivid life the Cambodian rock scene of the ’60s and ’70s, a movement cut short by the Khmer Rouge’s brutal attempt to erase the music (and musicians) once and for all.”
– OSF site

Buy your tickets to Cambodian Rock Band!
photo by OSF

4. Between Two Knees

Utter shock and wonder…and my other #1 choice! Ha, it’s so hard to choose one favorite. Between Two Knees is a smart, gut wrenching screenplay that tells the story of what the US has done to Native Americans and how it has shaped generations thereafter. I personally was eaten away by the injustice and felt total powerlessness of how we as a country have handled natives and neighboring countries. There’s so much heartache and brutality in it all.

It’s incredibly played out by a superstar cast, and hops from the 1890 Wounded Knee massacre to the takeover of Wounded Knee 83 years later. This play is not a play, it’s a love letter to the world reminding us what has happened and what can happen. I’d see this again and again.

“In this American Revolutions commission, sketch-comedy troupe the 1491s tell an intergenerational story of familial love, loss, and connection that spans the 1890 massacre at Wounded Knee, forced re-education via Indian boarding schools, World War II, the Civil Rights Movement, Vietnam and the 1973 takeover at Wounded Knee. Directed by California Shakespeare Theater Artistic Director Eric Ting and infused with the 1491s’ boldly uninhibited, fearless and subversive approach to comedic storytelling, this world-premiere production takes a hard look at the impacts of systematic oppression after the point that textbooks typically stop teaching Native history. Also, it’s funny.” – OSF site

Buy your tickets to Between Two Knees!
photo by OSF

5. La Comedia of Errors

¡Oye mis amores! This was the last play I saw and CARAMBA, it was crazy good. I love stepping into a theatre with zero knowledge or hints of what’s to come. La Comedia of Errors delivered. It’s a spin on Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors, and if you understand Spanish you’ll love it even more. This play, too, touched upon injustice and family pain, which moved the audience. Get ready for clever use of stage, sorrowful moments, and lots of laughs.

“This bilingual adaptation of one of Shakespeare’s zaniest comedies about mistaken identities gives audiences the opportunity to see the world from another perspective. Esta es una comedia sobre gemelos separados al nacer. Whether you speak English, Spanish, or both languages, you will love this hilarious production.
La Comedia of Errors uses costumes, props and live music with ambient lighting, and an intimate actor/audience relationship—all elements of “traditional” Shakespeare staging. Directed by Artistic Director Bill Rauch, this is a truly unique and intimate adaptation (with just nine actors) emphasizing the human connections at the heart of Shakespeare’s work. This immersive production will push boundaries, expand horizons and open minds.”
– OSF site

Buy your tickets to La Comedia of Errors!

BONUS – Backstage Tour of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival

Backstage Tour of The Oregon Shakespeare Festival OSF
photo by OSF
Elizabethan Theatre at The Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland
OSF’s Allan Elizabethan Theatre

While you’re in town enjoying the 3.24 shows, I suggest tacking on a backstage tour of the whole property. You’ll learn when and how Angus Bowman started these theatrics over 80 years ago, see all the work that goes into each production, the actor’s green room, underground network between stages, costumes and more. And don’t forget to visit the Tudor Guild gift shop while you’re in town.

A lovely thank you to Susan Aaronson, from OSF. Thanks to her generosity, I was lucky enough to see such amazing, thought-provoking plays just steps from my apartment. I can’t wait for 2020’s line-up!

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