By Bob Hicks
Art Scatter interrupts its regular programming to bring you a message from the future: It’s not your Daddy’s Oregon Shakespeare Festival anymore.
Not entirely, anyway. You remember the “Ashland style.” Elizabethan costumes on the Elizabethan Stage, broad low comedy breaking up flights of earnest declamation, lines delivered clearly and concisely so you understand the purpose if not always the interior fever of the plays. For decades the festival has made a virtue of old-fashioned verity, and if that’s the way you like it — a goodly number of people do — this season’s Henry IV, Part I is for you: an unruly time bomb of a Prince Hal (John Tufts), a broken-down and overpadded blowhard of a Falstaff (David Kelly), a hot and hardy Hotspur (Kevin Kenerly). This is Shakespeare in the festival tradition, solid as a burgher, tried and true.
And suddenly, that makes it feel almost anachronistic.
The festival is changing, reinventing itself in front of our eyes. It’s not a revolution, it’s a profound evolution: Ashland has joined the 21st century. This season’s fruit of reinvention includes American Night: The Ballad of Juan Jose, a smart and often uproarious piece of agitprop by Richard Montoya and Culture Clash; and Throne of Blood, a visually ravishing stage adaptation by the masterful Ping Chong of Akira Kurosawa‘s 1957 film masterpiece, which was itself a radical reimagining of Macbeth.
That’s on top of a Hamlet with hip-hop overtones and an utterly charming She Loves Me, the exemplar so far of artistic director Bill Rauch’s devotion to the stage musical as a legitimate and important branch of the theatrical family tree. Watching this year’s Henry IV, Part I is edifying and at times even exciting, but it isn’t all that different from taking in an Ashland Shakespeare in 1975 or 1995. American Night, Throne of Blood, Hamlet and She Loves Me? It’s a whole new festival, baby.