Jerry Turner

The mysterious case of the missing Bard

Ashland's 2015 season will include only one Shakespeare on the outdoor stage. Shall we all panic now?

In one of those inexplicable zombie moments that strike the social-media world with déjà vu-ish regularity, a column from 2008 by Brendan Kiley in Seattle’s alt-weekly The Stranger came back to life a couple of weeks ago with a, well, vengeance. Theater peeps were posting it all over Facebook, sometimes cheering, sometimes jeering. Ten Things Theaters Need To Do Right Now To Save Themselves, the headline blared, and at the top of the list, nailed Martin Luther-style to the virtual church door, was this demand to the papists of the holy stage: Enough with the goddamned Shakespeare already.

Ashland's "Comedy of Errors" this spring: too popular for my own good? Photo: Jenny Graham

Ashland’s “Comedy of Errors” this spring: too popular for my own good? Photo: Jenny Graham

In Portland, where we have dueling Lears onstage right now and an ingrained cultural certainty that bardliness is next to godliness, it’s not bloody likely. Actors like to act Shakespeare. Audiences like to see it. Around here, people know the difference between Richard II and Richard III. They speak knowingly of The Two Noble Kinsmen, and they can unknot a Problem Play like nobody’s Gordian business. They don’t blink an eye at the thought of goofy-but-fun Original Practice Shakespeare in a city park, or The Tempest with a woman Prospero (the excellent Linda Alper, this summer at Portland Shakespeare Project), or in-your-face Shakespeare at the 36-seat Shoebox Theatre or grand-scale Shakespeare in the big main space at Portland Center Stage. Oxfordians and Stratfordians duke it out companionably over copious craft beers. And at places like Post5, which is getting ready to take a stab at that great Dane of a drama, Hamlet, the audiences are far from blue-haired and doddery: some of these kids hooting and hollering over the Elizabethan action are barely out of swaddling clothes. Maybe counterintuitively, all of this is taking place at the same time the city’s awash in new plays, many from the keyboards of a resident covey of playwrights more numerous than the population of some of the state’s towns.

So, no: Oregon’s pretty firmly Shakespeare Territory, from stem to stern, at least partly because of the presence of the venerable Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, where the state’s eager tykes drink deeply from the mothers-milk and grow up to be strapping classicists – if, often, classicists with a free-and-rowdy contemporary twist.

So what’s up with the 2015 season the Shakespeare festival’s just announced?


Oregon ArtsWatch Archives