Here are short reviews of the four plays now in repertory at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. More plays will be added as some close through the festival season.
“Much Ado About Nothing”
Angus Bowmer Theatre (through Nov. 1)
The juxtaposition of hilarity and melancholy and the linking of romance and hatred give this Shakespeare play an often-overlooked complexity.
In the minimal yet beautifully conceived production by director Lileana Blain-Cruz, those elements flow in poetic simplicity. She emphasizes the duality of the story – the giddy, bumpy mature love match between Beatrice and Benedict (Christiana Clark and Donforth Comins), contrasted with the fantastic fire-and-ice romance between Claudio and Hero (Carlo Albán and Leah Anderson). The young lovers’ plot line carries as much tragedy in it as love, and darkness continually hovers over the production despite the ridiculous verbal buffoonery from the constable Dogberry and his minions.
Exceptional performances are turned in by the leads along with the magisterial Jack Willis as Leonato and Rex Young as Dogberry. The graceful direction benefits from terrific music and elegant dance and movement sequences.
Angus Bowmer Theatre (through July 9)
Sometimes there’s a tense story that continually and intentionally upends what we thought we knew. This Bill Rauch-directed production is just that.
Set in a moody, closeted Victorian England, the story of orphan Sue Tinder, raised in a den of petty thieves, cleverly twists and turns with its stunning reversals stealing the show. Alexa Junge’s tighly knit play, based on Sarah Waters’ 2002 novel (there is a 2005 BBC miniseries as well), revels in a knowing theatricality.
The strong ensemble is led by Sara Bruner as Sue, Erica Sullivan as Maud Lilly and Elijah Alexander as Richard “Gentleman” Rivers.
“Guys and Dolls”
Angus Bowmer Theatre (through Nov. 1)
Frank Loesser’s great musical carries the subtitle “A Musical Fable of Broadway,” but this is no backstage story. A fable, certainly, this classic of American musical theater gets its due here.
The piece is an entirely rose-colored look at gangsters and gambling with an unlikely love story tucked in as a co-centerpiece. The “honest” gambler Sky Masterson (Jeremy Peter Johnson) falls for an earnest Salvation Army sergeant, Sarah Brown (Kate Hurster).
Also unlikely is the pairing of relatively traditional mainstream material with director Mary Zimmerman, who is known as a visionary creator of hyper-theatrical spectacles (“Metamorphoses,” “Arabian Nights,” “The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci”). Zimmerman strips down the production trappings and focuses on Damon Runyon’s outsized characters and comedy from both Loesser’s songs and the book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows. Scenic designer Daniel Osting’s ingenious touch involves shifting the angle and placement of the mission facade to reorient the interior where much of the action takes place.
Besides terrific singing from the leads, the OSF veteran Robin Goodrin Nordli again shows there’s nothing she can’t do, as Miss Adelaide opposite Rodney Gardiner’s perpetually harried Nathan Detroit.
The Thomas Theatre (through Nov. 1)
Director Joseph Haj has created a funny, sensual “Pericles,” which revels in modern sensibilities and multi-media enhancements. One of Shakespeare’s most popular plays in Elizabeathan and Jacobean times, the romance blends tragedy, comedy and magic in a crowd-pleasing adventure.
Presented as a story re-told through narrator Gower, the tribulations of Wayne T. Carr’s guileless prince Pericles take on an epic quality. Haj makes stunning use of Jan Chambers’ elegant multitiered set along with the transformative video and projections by Francesca Talenti. The abundant music by Jack Herrick works well, though a couple songs feel trite and obvious.
The cast shines as onstage musicians and multicharacter performers, with standout performances by Brooke Parks, Jennie Greenberry, U. Jonathan Toppo and Barzin Akhavan.