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Oregon Shakespeare Festival 2009

I've been meaning to post this all week.

Last Friday, my family and I headed up to Ashland, Oregon to attend the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. The Festival runs for nine months a year, producing 11 different plays. During the summer months, there are nine productions going on in repertory at any given time. We saw five plays in three days, and just had a blast.

We started Friday night with Shakespeare's HENRY VIII, and this was the best production of this play I've EVER seen, including the production I saw in London years ago. Vilma Silva as Katherine and Anthony Heald as Wolsey were both fantastic.

On Saturday, we saw EQUIVOCATION, a new play by Bill Cain that was the highlight of the entire trip (which is saying a lot)! Equivocation is set during the reign of King James I of England (a.k.a. James VI of Scotland). William Shagspeare has been commissioned to write a play about the Gunpowder Plot, and his attempts to tell the truth -- and not get hanged in the process -- are played out. The cast of characters includes his daughter Judith (and for those of you who saw my "Doc Shakespeare" radio play at the 2005 Gathering in Las Vegas, you can imagine how fascinated I was by this), the King, SIr Robert Cecil, Guy Fawkes and various members of the Kings Players. It also features bits of King Lear, Macbeth and Henry VIII, giving a sense to the origin of those plays as well as Shakespeare's later "romances" such as Pericles, Winter's Tale, Cymbeline and The Tempest. Anthony Heald, so good the night before as Cardinal Wolsey is fantastic as Shag. An actress, whose name escapes me unfortunately, is wonderful as Judith. (She played Anne Boylen in Henry VIII) and four other actors (all fantastic) cover all the other parts. I liked this play so much, I immediately went to the gift shop and bought the text. And stayed up reading it that night.

Saturday night, we went to see a Nigerian play called "Death and the King's Horseman", based on a true story and set during World War II. This was a fascinating look at African vs. European (Western) values and theater.

Sunday, we saw Shakespeare's MACBETH. I've seen a LOT of productions of Macbeth of course, but there were a lot of cool elements to this version, including a sense that the Weird Sisters weren't done with Fleance at the end, which was something completely fresh to me. It was also great to see it right after seeing Equivocation.

Finally, Sunday night we saw a wonderfully funny production of MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING.

In addition to the shows, we had a number of wonderful meals -- and okay, a couple mediocre ones too -- in Ashland. And my daughter, father and I had a great hike through an absolutely gorgeous park.

All and all, I can't recommend the Festival, Ashland and especially EQUIVOCATION enough.