Thursday, June 14, 2018

Oregon Shakespeare Festival playing on three stages

Rich girl (Pilar) Esperanza America, left and poor girl Victoria (Ella Saldana North) meet, unaware of the family secret they share in "Destiny of Desire" at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. (Photo by Jenny Graham)
After opening four plays in February, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival is in full swing with a total of 10 plays slated through late October in three theaters.

Running in the indoor Angus Bowmer Theatre are “Destiny of Desire,” “Othello,” “Sense and Sensibility” and “Oklahoma!” “Snow in Midsummer” by Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig begins Aug. 2.

Also indoors in the Thomas Theatre are “Henry V” and “Manahatta.” “The Way the Mountain Moved” by Idris Goodwin begins July 10.

The outdoor Allen Elizabethan Theatre features two by Shakespeare – “Romeo and Juliet” and “Love’s Labor’s Lost’’ – along with “The Book of Will” by Lauren Gunderson.

No matter which shows patrons choose, they can depend on several givens.

One is outstanding design elements, including sets and costumes. Another is a deep, versatile acting corps of longtime favorites and talented newcomers who can play one type of character in one play and an entirely different type in another.

Also good to know is that the shows start right on time, unlike many other theaters.

The theaters are near restaurants, shops and beautiful Lithia Park. Ample lodging choices are available.

For detailed schedule and ticket information, or call (800) 219-8161.

Here’s a rundown of six plays, starting with the four in the Bowmer:

“DESTINY OF DESIRE” – Playwright Karen Zacarías was inspired by the telenovela form so popular in Latin America with an added dash of Shakespearean elements.

One such element propels the action when two girls are switched at birth. A sickly one, born to rich parents, is exchanged with the healthy one born to poor parents without their knowledge.

Eighteen years later, the girls’ fates are entwined as numerous revelations show they’re more closely related than initially indicated.

Directed by José Luis Valenzuela, the all-Latin American cast is uniformly excellent, but two standouts are Vilma Silva as the unscrupulous rich mother and Catherine Castellanos as a nun who’s a nurse at the hospital.

Romance, villainy and plot twists are enhanced by singing and dancing. This is one of the best shows seen during a recent visit, but it closes July 12.

Laurey (Royer Bockus, left) delights in the imaginary surrey guided by Curly (Tatiana Wechsler, in white shirt) and created by Will Parker (Jordan Barbour, checked shirt, left), Ado Andy (Jonathan Luke Stevens, checked shirt, right) and the company of "Oklahoma!" (Photo by Jenny Graham)
“OKLAHOMA!” – OSF artistic director Bill Rauch directs this classic musical by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, but gives it a new twist: same-sex couples.

Thus Laurey and Curly are played by two women, Royer Bockus and Tatiana Wechsler, respectively, while Ado Annie, here called Ado Andy (Jonathan Luke Stevens) is paired with Jordan Barbour as Will Parker.

Some other casting is gender-fluid, but it all works because of the performers’ energy and talent.

Thus they do ample justice to the show’s memorable songs, such as “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’,” “People Will Say We’re in Love,” the title song and many more.

Despite the unconventional casting, the show has been a hit and is worth seeing.

“SENSE AND SENSIBILITY” – Kate Hamill bases this play on the Jane Austen novel.

Left with limited means after their father’s death, the three Dashwood sisters and their mother move into a cottage owned by a relative.

Efforts to find husbands for the two older daughters, Elinor (Nancy Rodriguez) and Marianne (Emily Ota), run into obstacles, but eventually they’re happily paired.

Although most of the actors are suitably restrained, director Hana S. Sharif allows some to go over the top. The chief offender is the usually reliable K.T. Vogt as mother-in-law to another relative.

Nevertheless, Jane Austen fans will find much to like.

 “OTHELLO” – Although Othello, the Moor, is the title character, this Shakespeare play could more aptly be called “Iago” after the villain who plots Othello’s downfall.

In this production, also directed by Rauch, Danforth Comins is a masterful, manipulative Iago. He leads Othello (Chris Butler) into believing that his wife, 
Desdemona (Alejandra Escalante), is unfaithful and killing her. His machinations lead to other deaths, too.

While Comins’ Iago depends on artifice and subtlety, Butler’s Othello too often lapses into bluster and rage, reaching emotional peaks too soon.

Tribal leader (Steven Flores, second from left) and Mother (Sheila Tousey) think they're signing an agreement for their tribe to trade with the Dutch indefinitely, but Jakob (Danforth Comins, left) and Peter Minuit (Jeffrey King) have other intentions. (Photo by Jenny Graham)
“MANAHATTA” – Perhaps the most fascinating play of the six seen is this world premiere by Mary Kathryn Nagle in the Thomas Theatre.

Director Laurie Woolery and seven actors seamlessly switch the action from Native American land called Manahatta in the 17th century to today’s Manhattan and a small Oklahoma town.

The play shows how Dutch West India Company traders defrauded the Indians of their land. It compares them with investment bankers who foreclosed on homeowners with risky mortgages, causing the economic collapse in 2008.

The mortgage crisis becomes personal for Jane (Tanis Parenteau), an Indian woman working for an investment company in Manhattan. Her mother in Oklahoma has defaulted on her mortgage after the payments became too high. Urged by a church official, she had taken it out without understanding its terms.

“HENRY V’ – Several actors from last year’s “Henry IV” appear here. Chief among them is Daniel José Molina, who played Prince Hal last year and now plays the recently crowned king of England.

Shedding his wayward ways, he has become a strong leader who confronts traitors while leading his troops into battle against the French.

Molina generally does well with the challenging role. He’s ably backed by 11 actors who play multiple roles.

However, director Rosa Joshi overdoes some of the battle scenes and inexplicably has the actors opening the play by rotating the central set piece of stacked boxes.