Oregon Shakespeare Festival will close the festival this coming weekend after a full year which has included the staging of four major Shakespeare plays, with other highlights including a superb rendering of the Homer "Odyssey" under the direction of Mary Zimmerman, the remarkable "Mojada: A Medea in Los Angeles" by resident playwright Luis Alfaro, Jiehae Park's "Hannah and the Dread Gazebo" and a spectacular musical homage to the work of August Wilson in "UNISON" by OSF's ensemble-in-residence, Universes.
Still, the festival suffered some significant setbacks in ticket sales and overall financial health for 2017 due to a particularly savage West Coast fire season, which resulted in the company running about a $300,000 loss for the year, mostly as a result of $400,000 in refunds paid by the company to patrons due to the forced cancellation of a number of outdoor performances. The elimination of 12 jobs across a variety of departments followed.
OSF has made it clear that its top priority going forward is to ensure that any financial strain taken by the company will not affect the quality of the performances; steps were taken to make sure that this would not happen in the form of personnel cuts.
In 2018, the Company plans to open the season in the Angus Bowmer Theatre with "Othello," with Jane Austen's "Sense and Sensibility" running alongside the vaunted Shakespearean tragedy. Other highlights of the season will include a gender non-conforming mounting of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Oklahoma!" which will be helmed by OSF's artistic director, Bill Rauch, who describes the work as a longtime "passion project."
NEA award-winning playwright, break beat poet, recording artist and educator Idris Goodwin will premier his play "The Way the Mountain Moved," a new entry into OSF's much-vaunted American Revolutions series, which has brought us such award-winning productions as "Sweat" by Lynn Nottage (which won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Drama) as well as multiple-Tony award winner "All The Way," Robert Schenkkan's stellar work about the political life of Lyndon Baines Johnson.
A new production of "Romeo and Juliet" will be featured in the Allen Elizabethan Theatre, which OSF assures us will be rooted in a "historical context that considers the effects of the religious and social order of the time." Other potentially interesting productions will include "Manahatta" by Mary Kathryn Nagle (a story of a Native American woman who moves from her home with the Delaware Nation in Anadarko, Oklahoma, to New York for a job at a major investment bank just before the financial crisis of 2008), as well as Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig’s “Snow in Midsummer,” a contemporary take on Guan Hanqing’s “Injustice of Dou E.” from 1292.
Overall, the festival will continue to offer a diverse program that is consistent with its vision for a more dynamic, sensitive and inclusive participation in the American theater. The formula has worked well thus far, with more national recognition for both Rauch and OSF, as well as continued, concrete artistic appreciation from such august institutions as Columbia University, the American Theatre Wing and The Broadway League. Smoke or no smoke, Rauch and his artistic collaborators are set to continue their winning streak in 2018.
— Ashland resident Jeffrey Gillespie is a Daily Tidings columnist, arts reviewer and freelance writer. Email him at email@example.com.