Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

2006 Oregon Shakespeare Festival Part 1

Also see Richard's reviews of OSF Part 2 and Small Tragedy

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival, established in 1935, is among the oldest and largest professional regional repertory theatre companies in the United States. It has the oldest existing full-scale Elizabethan stage in the Western Hemisphere. During its eight month season, OSF presents eleven plays - three by Shakespeare and eight by classic and contemporary playwrights - in three theatres.

Last year, the OSF reached a total attendance of 373,310 and 84% capacity in all three theatres. Usually patrons see an average of three shows, making the total number of visitors to the Festival each year approximately 120,000. Eighty-eight percent of the audience travels more than 125 miles to the Festival. This year they will present 776 performances.

The current season is an eclectic group of plays. The Winter's Tale, William Shakespeare's uplifting tale of transgression and forgiveness, plays at the Angus Bowmer Theatre. The powerful drama Diary of Anne Frank is also playing at the 601-seat indoor theatre. A charming multi-racial production of Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest is entertaining audiences in the Bowmer as well, and Lynn Nottage's Off-Broadway hit, Intimate Apparel, recently opened there. The intimate New Theatre is the home of William Inge's minor classic Bus Stop and a new play by Bridget Carpenter simply called Up.

Three plays in the outdoor Elizabethan Theatre start this summer: Shakespeare's Two Gentlemen of Verona, Merry Wives of Windsor and Cyrano de Bergerac, starring Marco Barricelli. The Angus Bowman Theatre will then have Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and the rarely performed Shakespeare play, King John, will be in the intimate New Theatre.

The Importance of Being Earnest

Kevin Kenerly and Jeff Cummings
OSF is presenting an excellent multi-racial production of Oscar Wilde's most famous play. I have seen this comedy more than 10 times both here and in the U.K. The great wit of Oscar Wilde's dialogue is still there, with brava performances by the whole cast. The drawing room comedy has no let down.

The whole stage is framed as a proscenium arch theatre from the days of Queen Victoria. The Irish playwright's wit is present in such gems as "The truth is rarely pure and never simple," and "More than half of modern culture depends on what one shouldn't read," as said by Algernon. As Jack replies, "I am quite aware of the fact, and I don't propose to discuss modern culture. It isn't the sort of thing one should talk of in private."

Kevin Kenerly, who has been an important staple of the festival for over five years, plays Algernon as a sophisticated man of the world. He is overflowing with a world-weary savoir-faire. His speech is impeccable and his manner is so upper crust. Jack Cummings as Jack is the perfect foil for Algernon. This production falls more in line with the recent Cal Shakes version, although this presentation contains every word of the Irish playwright and has two intermissions. The OSF production shows what Oscar Wilde was secretly trying to tell the Victorian public. In those times "Earnest" was a secret word for being gay among homosexuals of the period. The two young men have more chemistry between them than for their female counterparts. There is a complete lack of eroticism in the male and female relationships while Algernon and Jack bicker like two Victorian queens.

Heather Robison is beguiling as Gwendolyn, and Julie Oda as Cecily projects a wonderful cloudiness. Judith-Marie Bergan's Lady Bracknell is mirthful as well as being fearsome. Dee Maaske is first rate as Cecily's governess and she uses a sort of stammer at certain moments to make her delivery very funny. There is a wonderful cameo performance by Richard Elmore as Merriman the butler.

The Importance of Being Earnest continues at the Angus Bowmer Theatre through October 29th.

Photo: Jenny Graham

William Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale

Greta Oglesby
The Winter's Tale is one the Bard's later romances, written sometime between 1610 and 1611. The play has always been a problem to produce since it is actually two plays in one. The first involves Leontes, the King of Sicilia, who is happily married to his pregnant wife. His very good close friend the King of Bohemia is visiting the court. For the flimsiest of reasons, Leontes suddenly becomes jealous, thinking an affair is going on between his wife and his good friend. He directs that the friend be poisoned, sends the wife to prison and apparent death, and orders the baby to be abandoned to die on a distance sandy shore. The whole first act is a portrait of extreme jealousy almost on the order the Bard's earlier work, Othello.

The first act staging is spectacular, with blacks and grays predominant. A waltz melody is enchanting but things become gloomy after the opening number. William Langan as Leontes is powerful in his performance as the jealous king. He ranges from red hot jealousy that would make Othello envious to some great scenery chewing when he realizes his mistake after being informed by the oracle from Apollo that there was no relationship.

Greta Oglesby is outstanding as Paulina and most eloquent in the words of the Bard. She plays the moral center in the first act as she snarls at Leontes in defense of his wife Hermione. Miriam A. Laube gives a heartrending performance as the wife. The second act takes place sixteen years later. The young abandoned daughter Perdita is a beautiful lass of sixteen, in love with Florizel whom she does not realize is a Prince of Bohemia. This loving couple is beautifully played by Nell Geisslinger and Juan Rivera LeBron. The act is brilliantly colored with green groves of trees, and the costumes are straight out of an operatic comedy. There are dances, singing and a lot of pratfalls on the part of Christopher DuVal playing con man Autolycus. This actor has been a regular in comic roles for several years at the OSF and is entertaining in this role. Also excellent is Josiah Phillips playing the Old Shepard, and Mark Peterson as his son. Their "vaudeville" act consists of some of Shakespeare's most witty remarks and their patter is entertaining.

The Winter Tale's does not have sword fights, dramatic love scenes or powerhouse speeches, but the last act is a lot of fun. It's high camp Shakespeare-style. This production plays through October 29th at the Angus Bowmer Theatre.

Photo: Jenny Graham

The Diary of Anne Frank

Tony DeBruno and Laura Morache
The Diary of Anne Frank boasts a fine cast of OSF regulars on a very detailed three-tier set of the upper floor of a house in Amsterdam during the Nazi occupation.

I saw the original at the Cort Theatre during the late fall of 1955 with Susan Strasberg playing Anne Frank. The cast included Joseph Schildkraut, Jack Gilford and Lou Jacobi. That production was tailored for the American gentile audience and was rendered universal rather than being specifically Jewish. The production played seven theatres in Germany in 1956 where audiences were stunned and silent at the end of each performance. Wendy Kesselman re-adapted the drama in 1997 to make it more Jewish. It drew upon portions of the diary excluded from the original 1952 published book. Natalie Portman played Anne Frank, with George Hearn, Austin Pendleton and Linda Lavin in the cast. Fox Films also did a superb film of the play in 1959 with Shelley Winters winning an Academy Award for her portrayal of Mrs. Petronella Van Daan.

The reality of the Holocaust is brought home in this production. Laura Morache is wonderful as the irrepressible Anne Frank. Her natural exuberance deepens in the painful experience of being cooped up with a lot of adults for a long period of time. She gives a spontaneous performance as the happy, romantic and exasperating child of fifteen. Tony DeBruno is excellent as the subdued Otto, and the rest of the top flight actors, including Michael J. Hume, Catherine E. Coulson, Michael Elich, John Tufts, Sarah Rutan and Linda K. Morris, give polished performances. There is a distinct feeling of claustrophobia in the presentation of what the characters went through in the attic section of a house for over a year.

The Diary of Anne Frank will run at the Angus Bowmer Theatre through July 9th. Tickets for these productions can be obtained online at or by phone at 541-482-4331.

Photo: David Cooper

Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema

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