Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

Oregon Shakespeare Winding Down Its 2006 Season Part 3

Also see Richard's review of Orson's Shadow, plus the 2006 OSF Part 1, Part 2, & Part 4

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival is winding down its 2006 season with the presentation of Shakespeare's comedies The Merry Wives of Windsor and Two Gentlemen of Verona, and the seldom produced King John. The prestigious company is also presenting David Edgar's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde at the Angus Bowmer Theatre and a lavish production of Edmond Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac on the outdoor Elizabethan stage. The Oregon Cabaret is presenting the gifted comedienne Lisa Koch who discusses Shakespeare.

King John

Emma Harding, Richard Elmore and Danforth Comins (background)
Shakespeare's King John is rarely presented in this country but it has become a great favorite with audiences in the United Kingdom. It was written as early as 1590 or 1591 and is listed in the first folio of the Bard's plays in 1623. The earliest reference to the play was a revival in 1737. The last production at the OSF was 21 years ago.

King John is a first class historical play, and it might help to know about the activities of the kings of England and France during that turbulent period of English history. Director John Sipes has set the play during World War I, using great projections of soldiers going over the trenches to combat for the war scenes. This is a perfect counterpoint to the smooth diplomacy between the two monarchs.

King John is relevant to today's world since there is talk of the large numbers of dead on both sides and the rivers of blood in the many wars depicted. It is interesting to see how King John and King Phillip fight and then become friends and then fight each other again. The young Prince Arthur, who has the actual right to the throne of England, is featured predominately in this production.

Michael Elich is first rate in the role of King John. He plays the the monarch like a mama's boy, with John's mother Eleanor played wonderfully by Jeanne Paulsen with her opaque voice and royal demeanor. Elich gives an ardent soul-searching performance.

Richard Elmore gives a keen performance as King Phillip of France while Robynn Rodriquez is superb as Constance, who must stand up to Eleanor and John to defend her son Arthur. Her range of acting from a tender mother to a fierce confrontation with the two kings is outstanding.

Emma Harding is truly amazing as the young Arthur. Her performance in a terrifying scene where the lad's eyes are about to be burned out is astonishing. Derrick Lee Weeden gives a splendid performance as the emissary of the Pope, Cardinal Pandulph, with his wonderful theatrical voice. The rest of the cast are impressive in their roles.

William Bloodgood has created an impressive Second Empire façade with a second floor ceremonial balcony. The archival footage of World War I is very moving, with scenes of men dying in battle. Sigeru Yaji's costumes are fantasy military uniforms and elegant dress of the period.

This production at the New Theatre runs through October 29th.

The Two Gentlemen of Verona

William Langan and Juan Rivera LeBron
This marks the second time seeing one of the Bard's lesser comedies (the Marin Shakespeare company did a splendid production earlier this season). In the first act, director Bill Rauch places the action in a rural Amish community called Verona. It is a striking beginning, with the Amish in their stern costumes speaking the Bard's words. He uses the Amish tradition of "rumspringa," in which young men and young women are encouraged to explore the outside world for as long as they choose. The practice ensures that if and when the young people return, they will be baptized into the community of their own free will and without reservation (about 90 percent come back to the community.)

Valentine (Juan Rivera LeBron) leaves Verona for a Milan that looks like something out of a Noel Coward play of the 1920s. This is a world of country club manicured lawns and martinis which would compromise any youth coming from the stern Amish town. It is a complex world of capitalist excesses.

Rauch gives this production a sweet razzle-dazzle feel with a lot of physical comedy and sight gags. He gives us a lighthearted pantomimed tennis game, a business conference held over massage tables, and even outlaws decked out in punk rock leather and dyed mohawks. There is a rousing punk rock dance to enliven the proceedings of the last act.

Juan Rivera LeBaron is outstanding as Valentine and he emphasizes the man's youth with his naïve portrayal. LeBaron has a magnificent clear voice that makes listening to him a pleasure. Gregory Lininton is charming as the irredeemable cad who is a friend of Valentine. He gives a human side to this inconstant friend. Eileen DeSandre is humorously ill-humored as Speed, and David Kelly is marvelous as Launce. He gives a hilarious version of the "leaving home" monologue to his very attentive, delightful dog Crab, played by the equally charming Terwilliger.

Sarah Rutan as the Duke's daughter Silva gives a sexy performance, while Miriam A. Laude plays Julia with a puckish flair. William Langan is effective as the Duke. It is a very pleasant performance for a cool fall night at the Elizabethan outdoor theatre.

This runs through October 8th

The Merry Wives Of Windsor

Judith-Marie Bergan and Julie Oda
The Merry Wives of Windsor is also staged on the large Tudor stage of the Elizabethan amphitheatre. This is Warner Brothers cartoon meets Shakespeare, and I'm afraid the Bard of Avon loses this battle. After seeing the disastrous Macy's parade balloon production at Cal Shakes earlier this season, I found this presentation to be equally strange and unexciting.

Wives is not one of the Bard's best comedies, though it can be funny if it is played for the absurdity of the characters and situations. This production tries to be a frantic madcap production but it does not succeed. There is just too much mugging and pratfalling going on. This is Shakespeare on speed.

G. Valmont Thomas as Falstaff seems to be more lecherous than humorist in the role of the rogue. He moves about the stage as a picture of a down and out knight with clothes and leather leggings not fitting him properly. Yes, you get to liking him, even though he is a conniving knave. Armando Duran's fractured English and Gallic posturing as Doctor Caius does not come across. Judith-Marie Bergan's Mistress Quickly is just so ridiculous, so broad and extreme in her Cirque de Soleil outfit of bright colored tutu and spiked right red hair. However, you can't take your eyes off of her. Tyler Layton is comical as Mistress Ford while Jonathan Haugen plays Master Ford almost straight. There is no comical feeling in his scene where Falstaff explains (not knowing that he is talking to her husband) that he will bed Mistress Ford.

Falstaff's cronies played by Marco Barricelli, James Edmondson and Kevin Kenerly have little to do in this production. Director Andrew Tsao turns the show into a zany frolic which seems to tell us that everyone is having a good time up on the outdoor stage. Unfortunately, the audience is not having a good time.

One of the wildest scenes I have ever seen in a Shakespearean play comes at the end when the characters are in the forest of Arden. They are all dressed as London's pearly kings and queens in black suits covered in intricate designs of white buttons, bowler hats and carrying canes for cudgels. They break into a dance that is part Radio City Music Hall and part Fosse. These same cast members sing the stimulating production number of the Beatles song "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da."

The Merry Wives of Windsor plays through October 6th on the outdoor stage Elizabethan Stage. For tickets to all productions please call 541-482-4331 or online at

Photos: Jenny Graham

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

- Richard Connema

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