Theater Review | THE TENTH MUSE by Tanya Saracho at Oregon Shakespeare Festival

In a post Mel Brooks, post Monty Python world, is it still possible to write a serious play about the Spanish Inquisition?

3-stars

First, the backstory.

Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz (b. 1651), known as “The Tenth Muse”, was an actual poet, playwright, and nun in 16th century Mexico (New Spain). The illegitimate daughter of a Spanish Captain, Sor Juana was born near Mexico City and learned to read and write by the age of three. Reading was forbidden for girls, so Sor Juana early on showed a propensity for the kind of intelligence and anti authoritarian balls that would later land her in hot water with cheerless officials down at the Catholic church’s HQ.

A brilliant student, Sor Juana swam heavily upstream against the male dominated world of her era, at one point attempting to pass as a man (unsuccessfully) to be able to advance her own studies in Mexico City. At the age of 17, she joined a monastery of Hieronymite nuns. Clearly not one to cave in easily, Sor Juana started to advocate for the rights of women to an education, an apparent blasphemy that brought censure from the Archbishop of Mexico. In 1693, to avoid further problems (or going on the rack), Sor Juana stopped writing. She died in a plague on April 17, 1695.

Jesusa (Vivia Font), Manuela (Alejandra Escalante) and Tomasita (Sabina Zuniga Varela) discuss a radical course of action. Photo by Jenny Graham.
“Did anyone bring clothes for this play?” Jesusa (Vivia Font), Manuela (Alejandra Escalante) and Tomasita (Sabina Zuniga Varela) discuss a radical course of action. Photo by Jenny Graham.

If this broad story line sounds like it could be played as a fast-paced, over the top farce by cross-dressed men a la Monty Python, it definitely could. And how well Tanya Saracho’s earnest world premiere play about colonial Mexico in 1715 works for you will depend in no small part on your ability to completely block out, for at least two acts, the repertoire of Messrs Cleese, Gilliam, Idle, Chapman, Jones, Palin – and Mel Brooks.

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Theater Review | THE HEART OF ROBIN HOOD by David Farr at Oregon Shakespeare Festival

Hoods in the woods – with the goods.

Fast-moving adaptation of olde English tale delights all ages on OSF’s outdoor stage.

4-stars

Ah, linear narrative. Oh, gripping plot. Lo, strong character.

And yea, hear this: Love.

Throw in over the top theatricality, visual slights of hand, aerial aerobics, light shows, uproarious brawls, an enchanted forest, seeping mist, camp fires, ropes to swing on, a moon, a clown, a swarthy villain, a pair of copiously proportioned peasants rolling around in their knickers, state of the art digital projection, a case of mistaken identity, baddies in tights, a piano, swords, horses, severed heads, some good old (but not too smart) boys, highway brigands, an insanely unhinged sister, a faire maiden with a problem (but in disguise as a man), a hero with buns and jaws of steel, AND a dog (one hell of a dog), and behold: you’ve got yourself a play.

And in the case of David Farr’s roguish adaptation of the Robin Hood epic, now making upwards of 1,100 souls a night (women, children, and men) at Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s outdoor stage go all starry-eyed and weak in the knees, what we the audience have got is a breathtaking and laugh-giving summer blockbuster.

Don't worry: This IS going to end well.  Robin Hood (John Tufts) crashes the wedding of Marion (Kate Hurster) and Prince John (Michael Elich). Ensemble. Photo: Jenny Graham.
Don’t worry: This IS going to end well. Robin Hood (John Tufts) crashes the wedding of Marion (Kate Hurster) and Prince John (Michael Elich). Ensemble. Photo: Jenny Graham.

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Theater Review | A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE at Oregon Shakespeare Festival

Running low on desire, OSF’s STREETCAR rattles ’round the quarter but never gets fully up to speed

3-stars

Certain canonical plays are so well known and have already been done so many times so memorably, that the decision to do one of them again, especially at a high level on a prominent national stage, must come armed with an answer for the question that is sure to follow: Why?

Stanley (Danforth Comins) insists to Stella (Nell Geisslinger) that what he's heard about Blanche (Kate Mulligan) is true. Photo: Jenny Graham.
Stanley (Danforth Comins) insists to Stella (Nell Geisslinger) that what he’s heard about Blanche (Kate Mulligan) is true. Photo: Jenny Graham.

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Theater Review | THE TAMING OF THE SHREW launches OSF season on a joyfully high note

It was a dark and stormy night.

No really – it was.

If you were speeding southbound from Portland, trying to make the Friday night show at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s gala opening weekend, the drama began long before the familiar tower of the Ashland Springs Hotel came into view or the lights went down in a sold out Bowmer Theatre.

First there was some old-fashioned sturm und drang on I-5.

There was buffeting wind and lashing rain (a good warmup for LEAR’s heath on Sunday) and more slow trucks per mile than any mere mortal should have to endure. Somewhere around the quaint and windowless Seven Feathers casino (Stoppeth not here, O weary traveler!), the skies cleared. After journeying through the back of beyond in Douglas County with the weather gods in high dudgeon, the final descent into southern Oregon’s Rogue Valley was relatively calm.

And as it turns out, the smooth sailing was to continue all weekend with a strong and rewarding opening to the OSF season.

Not that “smooth” means there wasn’t wind, death, mishap, murder, heartbreak, and sorrow. There was plenty of that – on stage. That’s what we were there for. And the bit about a pair of eyes gone missing against their owner’s wishes? Check. Of course, over on the plus side of the human experience ledger, there was also technicolor love, music, warmth, connection, spectacle and laughing (oh yes) into the stratosphere. The whole gamut was on display with four shows across the spectrum of theatre genres.

Sometimes for a grand night at the theatre all you need is a good play. Other times outstanding actors are enough to pull you through. On Friday night OSF’s opener had both in abundance, and the results were raucously fun.

Enter: THE TAMING OF THE SHREW directed by David Ivers.

Lucentio (Wayne T. Carr, left) and Tranio (John Tufts) arrive in Padua. Photo by Jenny Graham.
Lucentio (Wayne T. Carr, left) and Tranio (John Tufts) arrive in Padua. Photo by Jenny Graham.

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Oregon Shakespeare Festival prepares for 2013 season

Kevin Kenerly plays Sterling in August Wilson's TWO TRAINS RUNNING.
Kevin Kenerly plays Sterling in August Wilson’s TWO TRAINS RUNNING.

If you’re an OSF fan, the beginning of the 2013 season is just around the corner.

Previews start February 15-17, followed by opening weekend on February 22-24.

The first four plays that will be up and running are:

TWO TRAINS RUNNING by August Wilson
THE TAMING OF THE SHREW by Bill Shakes
MY FAIR LADY Book & Lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner, Music by Frederick Loewe
KING LEAR by Bill Shakes

OSF seems to have been struggling a bit to find its footing the last two years. After the record-breaking season (in terms of both attendance and revenues) of 2010, with lifetime highs like RUINED and PIRATES OF PENZANCE featured, 2011 took a significant hit when the Bowmer Theatre closed for weeks to repair a large supporting beam.

But 2012, when the festival was back at full capacity, was still about the same as 2011. For the first time I can remember, all through the peak summer season this year there were thousands of unsold seats each week, with big outdoor shows like THE VERY MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR, IOWA and HENRY V having hundreds of empty seats many performances.

Something was definitely different in the summer of 2012 – people were not coming in the usual numbers.

An average week during the summer of 2012.
An average week during the summer of 2012. Source: OSF ticket availability page.

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