Great Expectations

From shipwreck to fairy tale

Notes on the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s first four plays of 2016



Theater, from the audience side, often feels like a beautiful dream. You go in, the lights go down, and if all goes well, you’re captivated for somewhere between 90 minutes and at a stretch, four hours. That’s one of the usual experiences at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, where – in completely undreamlike ways – teams of experts at sound, light, video, costumes, timing, action and words nudge up against one another to bring the world in the play to life.

When the season opens with one of Shakespeare’s gender-bending romantic comedies, that creation of magic is, quite practically, a demand, and this season, Twelfth Night mostly hits its magic mark. But theatrical magic isn’t confined to the Shakespeare play in the four shows that opened this year’s festival, three of which take British literary heritage and spin it into a distinct product of the United States. The final show is also invested in heritage and magic, a poetic dream, or perhaps nightmare, by way of Latin America.

Of the four plays that opened in late February, only one seemed fully ready to go opening weekend. That one is also the one that has the shortest run: The River Bride, by poet Marisela Treviño Orta and directed by Laurie Woolery, which ends on July 7. The others needed more time in the rehearsal oven for various reasons. It’s probable that by the time you, dear reader, buy tickets, the plays will have taken a more final form.


Twelfth Night


Let’s begin with Twelfth Night (in the Bowmer Theatre through Oct. 30), as opening weekend did. Twelfth Night is a wild, woolly comedy, meant to entertain Queen Elizabeth and her court at Christmas, though there are exactly zero Christmas references in it. You can argue (fairly) that 1999’s Shakespeare in Love* doesn’t merit its Best Picture win at the Oscars, but one thing that movie did well, perhaps more subtly than I thought at the time, was introducing Twelfth Night.


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