Prince Hamlet is a moody death-metal addict. The jealous monarch from The Winter’s Tale is a too-passionate ruler in imperial China. And the ’70s musical The Wiz is, well, The Wiz.
In what turns out to be Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s most daring and inventive summer season in years, the outdoor Allen Elizabethan Theatre has now opened with two supremely bold, thoroughly satisfying takes on William Shakespeare—and a perfectly pleasant production of The Wiz which, in any other year, might have actually felt like the risky choice.
Helmed by director Robert O’Hara, the revolutionary 1975 adaptation of the Wizard of Oz has been given a respectful, often ingenious staging, not with elaborate sets and special effects, but with brilliant costumes and oversized performances. As Dorothy, Ashley Kelley is all kinds of adorable, and she leads an impressive cast of singers and actors, fully capturing the up-from-the-streets inspiration sewn into every beat of the groundbreakingly upbeat show.
Rating (out of 5): ★★★★
In comparison, Lisa Peterson’s freaky, art-house horror show of a Hamlet is like setting fire to an elementary school. Which is to say it’s brilliant. Danforth Comins’ angsty and angry prince, haunted by his dead father, often carries an electric guitar, “shadowed” by the ever-watching form of Scott Kelly, the guitarist from metal band Neurosis. The introduction of metal music is nothing short of ingenious, and the cast’s commitment to the creepy beats results in a Hamlet that is alternately thrilling, disturbing and heartbreaking.
Standing somewhere in between these two shows is Desdemona Chiang’s surprisingly effective staging of Shakespeare’s Winter’s Tale. Almost postmodern in its structure, the story has been transported to China, where the jealous king Leontes (Eric Steinberg, wonderful), becomes convinced that his wife, the devoted queen Hermione (Amy Kim Waschke, fierce and warm), has been unfaithful. The resulting series of misfortunes move the tale to Bohemia, here imagined as a kind of steampunk version of the Old West.
As Leontes’ abandoned daughter Perdita (Cindy Im, breathtakingly good) comes to adulthood in a foreign country, the forces of fate and soft-heartedness conspire to bring two broken families back together again. Rarely has The Winter’s Tale made so much emotional sense, or been so devastatingly, lovingly and magically transformed into what we imagine Shakespeare, late in his life, intended: a thing of sweet, life-affirming beauty.
For information on all currently running shows visit osfashland.org.