Ashland is definitely a touristy town, with overpriced fusion restaurants, an uncanny ubiquity of capri pants, and a citywide sales tax—not necessarily a choice destination for the hip, young trendsetters that presumably make up the Mercury's readership. However, if you're slightly into "The Theater," it is worth a visit to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival at least once in your life.

The OSF is also a good place to spy lesser-known character actors from television and film, though sometimes it becomes distracting. Once you recognize that one actor from that one scene in that one Dennis Quaid movie, it's already Act II. However, I did get to watch Charles Robinson from Night Court perform a dramatic role. (He's the clerk who always wore Cosby sweaters—and a long-term member of the Actors Studio.)

Most of the shows are ongoing through early November, so there's still time to plan a trip. However, the performances on the outdoor Elizabethan Stage—The Pirates of Penzance, Love's Labour's Lost, and Henry IV, Part Two—only last until early October, and honestly, these are the ones you want to see.

In two days, I attended four plays—two of them by Shakespeare. Here's what to see and what to avoid. WILL GARDNER

Julius Caesar, New Theatre, through Nov 6

This production of Julius Caesar may be difficult for Shakespeare traditionalists to swallow. It's a "modern" Caesar, staged in an intimate-if-not-confrontational black box theater, with contemporary dress (think dark denim and messenger bags), and—yikes!—a woman playing Caesar. Vilma Silva is a commanding Julius but, once she's gone, the show lacks heart; several of the actors perform like last-minute fill-ins. Lacking a stage, the aggressive performers demand audience interaction; playgoers here are requested to hoot, holler, and chant whenever Caesar enters the stage. Those with a distaste for interactive theater should steer clear.

August: Osage County, Angus Bowmer Theatre, through Nov 5

The Angus Bowmer Theatre staged August: Osage County, Tracy Letts' 2008 Pulitzer Prize winner about an extended dysfunctional Oklahoma family dealing with a vanished patriarch. Surprisingly, I found the performances underwhelming, as if the cast were die-hard dramatic actors attempting comedy for the first time. With the exception of Catherine Coulson in the role of Mattie Fae (the matriarch's sister) the acting was forced and flat—despite material that expertly weaves comedy and drama.

The African Company Presents Richard III, Angus Bowmer Theatre, through Nov 5

An evening later, in the same theater, I found this production refreshingly uncomplicated. Based on actual events in the 1820s, the play recounts the efforts of an all-black amateur company staging Richard III next door to an all-white troupe performing the same. Here the bare, setless stage provided a synergy between actors and audience, one that the in-your-face Julius Caesar failed to achieve.

Henry IV, Part 2, Elizabethan Stage, through Oct 7

Undoubtedly the best show I saw. As Henry, Richard Howard is fittingly regal. But this play belongs to Falstaff (Michael Winters, who is poured into the role). Falstaff's monologues are comedic but not farcical, philosophical but not discursive. This is what makes the OSF such a draw—traditional Shakespeare on the Elizabethan Stage, a theater experience unlike any other outside of the 16th century.