Permit me to play travel agent to the annual, lovely Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland. I know it's corny, but I can't help myself; I love the place...
Unlike most expensive tourist attractions, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival actually lives up to its hype and high prices. The festival pulls in top-notch directors and actors from all over the country, and offers a nice blend of new, cutting-edge plays and old standards. Ashland is a mere four-hour drive south of Portland, and the beautiful landscape that surrounds it offers a wealth of camping, hiking, rafting, and hot-springing opportunities for those who want more out of their trip than just theater.
I caught six OSF plays while I was in Ashland, but there are FIVE more opening at different times this summer. Check the website, www.osfashland.org, for info on the late arrivals, and, in the meantime, use this nauseatingly cute list of awards to help guide you through the shows currently playing:
Most Dysfunctional: Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?. Albee's masterpiece about a marriage founded in academia, torn by alcoholism and dementia. This play is a long, intense ride, but it never grows tiresome thanks in large part to Richard Elmore, whose George (of Martha and George fame) is both hilariously caustic and achingly poignant.
Best Crack at an Inherently Sucky Play: Macbeth. A grim, ugly play without a single character to root for. Director Libby Apell's version has the potential to spice things up with its theater-in-the round approach, and its pool full of shimmering blood, but ultimately shoots itself in the foot with a tiny cast that is not up to the challenge of playing multiple roles.
Biggest Surprise: Idiot's Delight. An obscure play from the 1930s that traps characters in a ski resort on the southern border of Switzerland, and watches them interact, as fighting breaks out nearby that will eventually lead to World War II. Director Peter Amster handles a huge cast with magnificent grace. He also really plays up the humor of the play, which only makes the emotional and explosive (literally!) finale all the more powerful.
Silliest: Noises Off. The characters in Noises Off stage a typical English sex farce called Nothing On. The audience gets to witness both the farce and the backstage antics of the actors putting on the farce. It's a farce within a farce; a farce that farces farces. Director Kenneth Albers handles the tricky stage directions with incredible fluidity, and the result is hilarious if you like farce, and merely funny if you don't.
Coolest Snakes: Handler. A chilling account of religious fanatics who handle poisonous snakes in the name of Jesus, located in the deep south. Features some incredible performances by Robynn Rodriguez and Jonathan Haugen as a troubled couple trying to sort their lives out in the midst of madness. Also features incredibly lifelike, fake snakes.
Most Mediocre: Julius Caesar. This historic play has a dynamite first half, and then Caesar gets killed, and it deflates. OSF's production features one of my favorite company members, Dan Donohue, in one of my favorite dramatic roles, Antony. Donohue delivers, but the play doesn't, and this version, which features post-apocalyptic landscapes and killer clowns for no apparent reason, does little to help it along. JUSTIN SANDERS