It’s Not Too Late To Visit Oregon Shakespeare Festival

By Chris Narloch

You have just three weekends remaining before Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF) brings its current season to a close on Oct. 27, 2019.

It’s not too late to make the short, five-hour drive up Highway 5 to Ashland to see some terrific theater.

 

 

 

Hairspray

The magnificent current production of “Hairspray” at OSF confirmed what I have known all along – that this wonderful show is one of the finest Broadway musicals of the modern era.

From its themes of body positivity and racial harmony to its marvelous score and funny dialogue, “Hairspray” is an airtight work of art. OSF honors the musical with a superb production that is the best version of the show I have seen since the original Broadway production with Harvey Fierstein.

A perfectly cast Daniel T. Parker takes over for Fierstein as Edna in OSF’s joyous new production, and Katy Geraghty is Tracy, Edna’s similarly plus-sized daughter. (I caught Geraghty’s hilarious understudy, Kate Joos, the evening I saw the show.)

John Waters’ classic story of a gutsy white girl who endeavors to integrate a TV dance show in Baltimore circa 1962 is hard to sink as long as you have a talented cast and a game director, and this “Hairspray” has both.

Director Christopher Liam Moore keeps the musical moving like a well-oiled machine from first toilet flush (John Waters would be proud!) to “You Can’t Stop The Beat,” the rousing number that closes the show.

Moore’s entire ensemble is flawless, but I would be remiss if I did not single out the amazing Greta Oglesby, who is so moving as Motormouth Maybelle that she gave me chills.

“Hairspray” runs through this Oct. 27 at OSF, and it is worth the drive up to Ashland all by itself.

Indecent

This extremely moving play, which deals with homophobia, censorship, and anti-Semitism, is a must-see for fans of meaty drama. Written by the great playwright Paula Vogel (“How I Learned to Drive”), “Indecent” won two 2017 Tony Awards and is based on a true story.

The play recounts the controversy surrounding a 1906 play, “God of Vengeance” by Sholem Asch, which was produced on Broadway in 1923. (“God of Vengeance” concerns a romantic relationship between a female prostitute and a daughter of the brothel’s owner.)

The 1923 production of “God of Vengeance” was shut down, and the production’s cast was arrested on the grounds of obscenity. “Indecent” details that incident as well as the creation of “God of Vengeance” and its subsequent legacy.

It’s not difficult to see why “Indecent” was nominated for a Tony Award as Best Play. Everything about the work is first-rate, from its finely written characters to its shrewd structure, which employs short scenes and music to keep the play’s action moving.

OSF’s beautiful production brings out the plays strengths, using highly effective lighting by Marcus Doshi and superb scenic design by Sibyl Wickersheimer to cast a spell over the audience.

Director Shana Cooper also elicits powerful performances from her gifted cast, and I especially admired the work of Benjamin Pelteson (as the Stage Manager), and Shayna Blass and Rebecca S’Manga Frank (as the lesbian lovers).

Despite its heavy subject matter, “Indecent” is richly rewarding theater thanks to Vogel’s masterful script and the best efforts of OSF’s wonderfully talented cast and crew.

The OSF production of “Indecent” performs through this Oct. 27.

Alice in Wonderland

Oddly enough, I didn’t make it to any Shakespeare plays at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival this year, although several of the Bard’s titles are still playing there.

I did, however, catch a stage version of works written by another famous author, Lewis Carroll (born Charles Dodgson), whose stories “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass” inspired this adaptation by theater legend Eva Le Gallienne.

Most people are familiar with the “Alice” stories, and so I am not going to recount the play’s action, which is random and surreal anyway. The cast at OSF gives it their all, but the show still left me cold.

To be honest, I have never been a huge fan of “Alice in Wonderland,” but I think it was a mistake on the director’s part to have lead actress Emily Ota play the heroine as bratty, which makes her as unlikable as the other (mostly) irritating characters on stage.

The production’s saving grace – and reason enough to see it at OSF – is its spectacular costume design (by Helen Q. Huang) which features an endless display of colorful characters and creatures that reminded me of the work of Julie Taymor, the visionary director behind the classic stage version of “The Lion King.”

The OSF production of “Alice in Wonderland” plays through this Oct. 12.

For more information about all of the plays performing at OSF this year and next, please visit www.osfashland.org.

 

Photo credits (top to bottom):

1) Indecent: Shayna Blass, Rebecca S’Manga Frank, and Kimberly Fitch.

2) Hairspray - The Broadway Musical: Daniel T. Parker (Edna Turnblad), Katy Garaghty (Tracy Turnblad), and Ensemble.

3) Indecent: Shayna Blass and Rebecca S’Manga Frank.

4) Alice in Wonderland: Miriam A. Laube (Red Queen), Emily Ota (Alice), and Robin Goodrin Nordli (White Queen).

All photos by Jenny Graham.

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