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OSF Opens 2009 with Scrumptious Diversity

Denise BattistaDenise Battista  
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Bill Rauch Artistic Director Bill Rauch
There’s more bubbling this season at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival than just The Scottish Play. OSF opens 2009 with Macbeth, as well as Wole Soyinka’s transcendent Nigerian tragedy, Death and the King’s Horseman; Sarah Ruhl connects the living and the dead in her dark satire, Dead Man’s Cell Phone, and perhaps the most experimental crème de la crème is Artistic Director Bill Rauch’s colorful recipe for The Music Man.

Australian-born Gale Edwards directs a contemporary production of The Scottish Play, draping the Macbeths in decadence, yet setting them in the middle of a war-mangled stage. This production leads one to question appearances, to ponder the influence of one generation on another, and to consider the prophetic nature of the witches both within and beyond the scope of the play. Peter Macon stars as Macbeth, and Robin Goodrin Nordli as Lady Macbeth. Click here to read a full review of this production.

Much and duly revered OSF veteran Derrick Lee Weeden takes the reigns in a powerful production of Death and the King’s Horseman, a tragedy written in 1975 by Nigerian playwright Wole Soyinka and set in 1943 Nigeria at the height of WWII. Horseman is a dramatization of actual events that occurred in 1946 Nigeria, during which a British colonial official intercepted the ritualistic suicide of a native, played by Weeden. This production is spectacular in every way, casting light on the force of consequence, and how consequence can and does cross boundaries with ease. It illuminates the sameness within overtly different cultures, and the differences that cause wars. Director Chuck Smith does a brilliant job creating a production that encourages the viewer to think, philosophize, and look in the mirror at oneself rather than choose sides and cast blame. Weeden is superb as Elesin, Horseman of the king, and Perri Gaffney as Iyaloja, “Mother” of the market, is wisdom, strength and beauty personified.

Cell phone
Christopher Liam Moore directs Sarah Ruhl’s dark though sometimes confusing satire, Dead Man’s Cell Phone. This production is playful, sometimes necessarily uncomfortable, and many times takes the opportunity to say what we all think, leading the audience to nod in assent. It answers the call to our love/hate relationship with the cell phone, and in a Joycean way, connects the living and the dead—the real with the virtual—in a world of connected disconnect, memories, loneliness, and loose ends. Sarah Agnew stars as the ever-optimistic, awkward and perky Jean, who bequeaths herself a dead man’s cell phone. She answers his calls and creates his calling, before realizing this dead man had one hell of a life of his own. Catherine E. Coulson is hysterical as the eccentric Mrs. Gottlieb—grieving socialite mother of the deceased, and Jeffrey King comes to life as Gordon, the dead man who just wanted a bowl of lobster bisque.

Cell phone
Although one doesn’t normally associate OSF with the art of the musical, it seems that Oregon Shakespeare has been itching for just that. Last season brought a questionable wild wild western musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors, but Rauch’s Music Man is virtually error-free, aside from some sometimes miscast vocals in some well-cast actors, and a sour trumpet here and there. But the perfection of the rest trumps the trumpet by far. Rauch paints a beautiful stage and focuses on color and costume to illustrate the gorgeous theme of transformation in a small Iowa town. The energetic and adorable Michael Elich as the swindling traveling salesman Harold Hill sings his way into everyone’s hearts, stealing the show throughout. Rauch, who was in a production of Music Man back in high school, has wanted to direct one of his own for many a year, calling it one of his “passion projects,” and a show that he will likely return to again in the future. This present production is scrumptious—a feel good show that just feels right—and it’s sure to leave you smiling and singing (and perhaps even signing) in your seats and out the door.

For more information on these shows, and on the rest of Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s 2009 season, visit

Photos: Jenny Graham


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