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Oregon Shakespeare Festival

A Timely Falstaff; Macbeth as the Middle Ring

In staging the world premiere of The Very Merry Wives of Windsor, Iowa on its Elizabethan Stage in the summer of 2012, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Ore., is not only risking the ostracism of Bard purists but also what will likely be, by then, a weary American electorate.

Written by Alison Carey and based on Shakespeare’s play, this Very Merry Wives of Windsor, Iowa turns John Falstaff into a U.S. Senator and presidential candidate who has lost the Iowa caucuses. Facing a mound of debt he targets two wives, one married to a man, one married to a woman. The Iowa State Fair serves as the setting. Carey has adapted several Shakespeare plays before, OSF Director Bill Rauch said in a video announcing the 2012 season lineup. “Her style of Shakespeare adaptation is a really unique blend of Shakespeare’s language and contemporary jargon. It’s unlike anything you’ve probably ever experienced,” he said.

This will be one of two completely new takes on Shakespeare plays the OSF is offering for 2012, though the other is not so much an adaptation as a mash-up. Medea/Macbeth/Cinderella is described by Rauch as something like a three-ring circus in which the Euripides and Shakespeare plays and Rodgers and Hammerstein musical are performed simultaneously. Intercut and played together, the plays reveal surprising synchronicity, said Rauch, who first created the show as a college student and mounted it professionally with Tracy Young in 1998 with the Cornerstone Theater Company and the Actors’ Gang and in 2002 at Yale Repertory Theatre. “I cannot imagine a better audience for this piece of theater than the OSF audience,” Rauch said. After it’s run in Ashland it will head to the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York, he said.

OSF has a history of pushing beyond the edge of the envelope with Shakespeare plays, including re-creating The Comedy of Errors as an Old West musical in 2008. The Festival also has a history of productions fully embracing Shakespeare’s original texts, and the upcoming season promises more of that, too, with As You Like It, a mid-19th century–set Romeo and Juliet, a contemporary Middle East–set Troilus and Cressida, and Henry V, which completes the company’s three-year Prince Hal cycle.

“I’m extremely excited that in addition to our ongoing commitment to looking at Shakespeare’s plays with the original language, as we do in the vast majority of our productions, that we can on occasion look at a Shakespeare story adapted and translated to a different setting,” Rauch said. “And I’m just really excited to have our audience embrace the risk—because it is a risk.”

OSF also has its eye on 2012 as an election year with more than Very Merry Wives drawing on the politics of our times, including the world premier of Robert Schenkhan’s All the Way portraying Lyndon B. Johnson’s year between President Kennedy’s assassination in November 1963 and his own re-election in November 1964.

October 21, 2011

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