The script for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's production of "Medea/Macbeth/Cinderella" is so complex that its words are written on Excel spreadsheets — a format more common in the accounting world than in theater.
Actors carry binders filled with the spreadsheets, which are divided into three columns. The words for "Medea" are in the left column, "Macbeth" in the center and "Cinderella" in the right.
OSF is staging all three plays at once in a production that some have likened to watching a three-ring circus or three television shows at once.
The dialogue jumps among the plays, with the actors generally taking turns speaking. Occasionally, more than one actor will speak the same lines at the same time — emphasizing the common themes of love, ambition and magic that run through the plays.
"When you learn a regular script, you look at the dialogue as part of one conversation. This is really four conversations," actor Vilma Silva told audience members who had just watched the production in OSF's Angus Bowmer Theatre. "You have the three scenes that are happening simultaneously, and then you have the whole that is happening together."
Silva plays the Queen from "Cinderella." She is mother to the charming prince who sweeps Cinderella off her feet.
A veteran of 17 seasons at OSF with experience at a host of other theater companies, Silva said the production is one of the most challenging she's ever been in.
"The first time we read it, we were tearing our hair out," she said of the cast's initial reaction to the script. "A cue can come from a character that I'm not even talking to. Eventually, it started to make sense in a crazy, wonderful way."
While a less imaginative rendering of the production would put the three plays side-by-side on stage, OSF's "Medea/Macbeth/Cinderella" is staged on a multi-level, three-story set designed by Rachel Hauck.
Silva said the actors have to listen to what is being said on all three levels. As the Queen in the "Cinderella" segment of the production, she is usually on the third tier.
"We have some of our cues coming from two stories down," she said.
The complicated production, which continues through Nov. 3, is the brainchild of OSF Artistic Director Bill Rauch, who first conceived of staging Euripides' ancient Greek play, Shakespeare's tragedy and Rodgers and Hammerstein's musical simultaneously when he was still in college.
"We put it on in the basement of my dorm," Rauch recalled in a video interview for interested playgoers that OSF has online at www.osfashland.org/.
Rauch is joined in the interview by playwright Tracy Young, who co-adapted and co-directed the OSF production.
From a dorm basement, the production graduated to a college dining hall, then a campus experimental theater and eventually to two bona fide theater productions, before finally making its way to OSF's stage this year.
Rauch said each of the plays is a representative of three high points in populist theater — Greek tragedy, Elizabethan drama and American musical comedy.
From the beginning, he said he was also amazed by all the moments of synchronicity in the plays.
Macbeth and Medea both have their first soliloquy at the same time — right as Cinderella is singing her first solo. The grand ball where Cinderella meets the prince occurs during the famous banquet scene in which Macbeth is tortured by visions of a dead comrade.
As the OSF production progresses, the actors from the three plays shed their distinctive costumes and take on dark, simple attire. The interconnections among the plays become even more pronounced.
"We start breaking down barriers," Silva said. "We start to become one group of people."
Vickie Aldous is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. She can be reached at 541-479-8199 or firstname.lastname@example.org.