Sunny days, starry nights and Shakespeare

The weather gods smiled upon the Rogue Valley this past weekend.

The summer sun, which seems here to stay, coaxed grown-ups out into their gardens to plant and weed. Children, liberated from their classrooms, raced out into the fields to play ball and chase each other. Father's Day came and went without a drop of rain or flake of snow to mar the celebration. Shorts and T-shirts started showing up all over town.

And in the warm, cloudless evenings, several thousand theater aficionados gathered at Oregon Shakespeare Festival's Elizabethan Stage to enjoy a few plays under the stars. Not surprisingly, two of the plays made direct reference to the starry firmament arching over the theater, and all three had fathers worrying about their children's futures.

The weekend began with OSF's update on its ambitious play writing effort, "American Revolutions: the United States History Cycle." Shakespeare wrote 10 history plays in his canon of 37 plays; OSF will commission 37 plays over the next 10 years. The undertaking will bring together more than 100 artists, historians and institutions from around the country.

Project director Alison Carey and OSF Artistic Director Bill Rauch announced the project's first theater artists: Culture Clash (Richard Montoya, Ric Salinas and Herbert Siguenza), David Henry Hwang, Lynn Nottage, Suzan-Lori Parks, Robert Schenkkan, Naomi Wallace and the collaborative team of Jonathan Moscone and Tony Taccone.

Carey and Rauch said the plays in the American Revolutions cycle will look at moments of change in America's past, helping to establish a shared understanding of our national identity and illuminate the best paths for our nation's future. Stay tuned for the first full production, which is scheduled for 2010, OSF's 75th anniversary.

In a nod to its own history, the Green Show brought back past members to present "Echo of Dance with Pipe and Tabor." Once again, early music filled the air and authentic period country and Morris dances swirled about the festival stage. And familiar faces graced us with their talents.

A powerful production of Shakespeare's "Othello" got the 2008 outdoor season off to a solid start on Friday night. It has been argued that this play is really about Iago and how he foists his evil machinations on others. The play's director calls it "a fiery descent into madness." The cast was uniformly strong and carried the fire of this 16th century morality tale right into our own times, which also have been scorched by madness.

On Saturday night, Thornton Wilder's "Our Town" made festival history by becoming the first American classic to be mounted on the venerable Elizabethan Stage. "Our Town" made its own history when it opened in 1938. Written to be performed on a bare stage without sets or props beyond a few tables, chairs and ladders, it won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama that year and went on to become the most-produced American play in literature. OSF's production captured the simplicity and power of Wilder's love letter to daily life. And the stars came out right on cue.

On Sunday, audiences were treated to a very funny adaptation of Shakespeare's already silly "The Comedy of Errors." Why not set the play in the Wild West, change the characters' names slightly, throw in some songs, tweak some of the dialogue just a bit and still keep most of it in rhyme and good old Shakespearean English? Cowboys and Shakespeare? Singing gunslingers and dance hall girls? You bet. And does it work? Delightfully.

Meanwhile, inside the Bowmer Theatre, the festival's 11th production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" has been delighting audiences since it opened in the middle of winter. The summer solstice that marks the middle of summer takes place this Saturday. Back when "A Midsummer Night's Dream" opened, the sun was dreaming about June, blue-skied days and star-strewn nights. When all the world becomes a stage and the players play outside.

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