Looking for critical reviews of OSF shows? You’re down to one option

And that’s the Mail Tribune’s Bill Varble.

Most outlets near Ashland (like the Ashland Daily Tidings, Ashland Shakespeare Reviews, and Ashland Play Reviews) are little more than tourism boosters or real estate sales opportunities.

The lowest rating the latter two sites above give out is 4 stars – with most shows receiving 5 (or 4 1/2).

Given the large commercial stakes, when the game is bringing thousands of visitors to Ashland each year to see plays at Oregon Shakespeare Festival, it would be asking the impossible to expect small town rags or other blogs with vested interests in sponsorship or advertising to come out with anything negative to say about a play at OSF.

You simply won’t hear anything other than “amens” from that corner.

But if you want a voice you can trust (and given the expense of a trip to Ashland these days, you need to know whether it’s going to be worth it), you have to read Bill Varble.

Especially when it comes to reviews of new plays at OSF, which more often than not are problematic these days.

The Mail Tribune site is hard to navigate, so your easiest way to find stuff is simply to Google “bill varble review [play name]”.

It takes seeing a number of the same plays and reading reviews to calibrate your level of trust or comfort with any critic.

But after years of reading him and seeing the same plays, when it comes to OSF, Varble is my own personal go to source.

Here’s his review of THE LIQUID PLAIN, one of the plays commissioned as part of OSF’s American Revolutions US History Cycle:

‘Liquid’ adrift in a sea of messages – 8 July 2013

What Varble has to say is a world removed from the chipper 5 star raves being doled out by the turbo boosters.

It’s exactly the kind of critical appraisal that you, the audience, deserve when it comes to coverage of a new American play on one of regional theatre’s most important stages.