Reviewed by Judy Richter
Altogether, the company stages 11 plays in a season that runs from mid-February through Nov. 2.
Currently playing in the outdoor Elizabethan Theatre are the Bard's "Richard III" and "The Two Gentlemen of Verona" (with an all-female cast) plus a musical, Stephen Sondheim's "Into the Woods."
The indoor Bowmer Theatre features Shakespeare's "The Tempest" and Irving Berlin and George S. Kaufman's "The Cocoanuts" along with two world premieres: Tracy Young's "A Wrinkle in Time," based on the book by Madeleine L'Engle, and Robert Schenkkan's "The Great Society."
Finally, the more intimate Thomas Theatre is the venue for Shakespeare's "The Comedy of Errors" and the world premiere of Stew's "Family Album." After going on hiatus in June, Quiara Alegrķa Hudes' "Water by the Spoonful" will return to the Thomas on Sept. 4.
Lorraine Hansberry's "The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window" has completed its run in the Bowmer.
My recent visit included "Richard III," "Into the Woods," "The Comedy of Errors," "The Cocoanuts" and "The Great Society." Here are brief rundowns on each.
Of those five, Robert Schenkkan's "The Great Society" was by far the most powerful and intriguing. It's the successor to Schenkkan's "All the Way," which premiered at OSF two years ago and went on to Broadway to win this year's Tony Award for best play.
"All the Way" focused on President Lyndon Johnson's first year in the White House, following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963. It looked at Johnson's successful effort to secure passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act followed by his campaign against Republican Sen. Barry Goldwater to win the 1964 election.
Featuring many of the same actors from "All the Way" and the same director, artistic director Bill Rauch, "The Great Society" looks at Johnson's push to enact a package of bills focusing on education, anti-poverty programs and medical care, including Medicare for seniors. With black people increasingly demanding an end to segregation and easier access to the ballot box in the South, he also wanted Congress to enact a voting rights bill.
All of this takes place against a backdrop of increasing social unrest, starting mainly with civil rights campaigns that encountered strong resistance in the South by the likes of Alabama Gov. George Wallace, other officials and the Ku Klux Klan. The resultant violence spread throughout the country to such places as Watts in Los Angeles and the slums of Chicago.
In the meantime, the nation became more deeply mired in Vietnam, a war that exacted huge costs in American lives and money. The war was so polarizing that Johnson announced in 1968 that he wouldn't run for a second term. Instead he was succeeded by Republican Richard Nixon.
Once again Jack Willis plays LBJ, a Texan who might have come across as homespun, but he was wily and politcally astute. Willis brings all of LBJ's contrary traits to the fore and convincingly conveys his increasing anguish over the war and social unrest.
The large cast also features Danforth Comins as Sen. Bobby Kennedy of New York, LBJ's nemesis; Peter Frechette as Vice President Hubert Humphrey; Jonathan Haugen as Wallace, Nixon and others; Kenajuan Bentley as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; Mark Murphey as Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and others; and Richard Elmore as FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover.
Those individuals and more populate this ambitious re-enactment of one of the most turbulent periods in recent history.
Immediately after closing, this play and many of its actors will move to Seattle Repertory Theatre, which commissioned it and co-produced it with OSF. It will run in rotating repertory with "All the Way." Presumably it will undergo some needed tightening and other improvements.
In the meantime, it evokes vivid memories for those who lived through those painful times and teaches some important lessons to those who were born later. It's a brilliant accomplishment.
Shakespeare's "Richard III" makes strong demands on the title character, a man who left a trail of bodies in his quest for the English throne. Dan Donohue ably meets those demands, making the deformed Richard charming when doing so suited his aims and revealing all of his callous evil at other times.
Director James Bundy moves the action smoothly, thanks to a strong supporting cast, including Robin Goodrin Nordli as Queen Elizabeth, Judith-Marie Bergan as the Duchess of York, Franchelle Stewart Dorn as Queen Margaret and Jeffrey King as George, Duke of Clarence.
William, Lord Hastings, is played by Howie Seago, a deaf actor who delivers his lines in American Sign Language, voiced by Omoze Idehenre as Mistress Jane Shore. She also uses ASL to convey other characters' lines to him.
Bucking a trend to place the play in another time or place, costumes by Ilona Somogyi and the set by Richard L. Hay are contemporary to Shakespeare's time.
This is an excellent production of one of Shakespeare's masterpieces.
An example of moving a Shakespeare play into another time and place is the OSF production of "The Comedy of Errors." This time the play of mistaken identities takes place the late 1920s, the dawn of the Harlem Renaissance.
Hence most of its actors are black, and Ephesus becomes Harlem, the play's main setting. Syracuse, the visitors' homeland, is Louisiana.
The main characters are two sets of identical twins who were born on the same day. One pair, both known as Dromio, are servants to the other pair, both known as Antipholus.
The Dromio-Antipholus pairs were separated in infancy, with one pair landing in Harlem and the other pair returning to Louisiana with Egeon, father of the Antipholuses.
As the play opens, Egeon (Tyrone Wilson) has traveled to Harlem to find the Antipholus and Dromio who had lived with him until setting out in search of their brothers.
As luck would have it, Antipholus and Dromio of Louisiana have just arrived in Harlem, where they are immediately confused with their counterparts, who have lived there for many years.
Although some productions use four actors for the two sets of twins, this one uses only one actor, Tobie Windham, for both Antipholuses and one actor, Rodney Gardiner, for both Dromios. The only exception comes at the very end, when both sets must be on stage at the same time. In this case, two other actors (not identifed) are used.
The production is full of pratfalls and slapstick, but director Kent Gash never allows the action to get out of hand. Still, he overuses one gimmick: a chime that sounds at every mention of a ring that is pivotal to the plot. In the midst of all the physical comedy, Mark Murphey, who plays a butler and an Irish cop, is one of the funniest performers because he manages to keep a straight face throughout.
Overall, it's a fun production.
In contrast to "The Comedy of Errors," the antics in "The Cocoanuts" tend to go over the top.
With music and lyrics by Irving Berlin and a book by George S. Kaufman, this adaptation by actor Mark Bedard supposedly features the Marx Brothers as the main characters. Bedard is Mr. Hammer, the Groucho character, while Eduardo Placer is Robert Jamison, the Zeppo character; John Tufts is Chico and Brent Hinkley is Harpo.
The setting is the Cocoanut Hotel in Florida in the 1920s. It's owned by Mr. Hammer, who's in financial straits but who hopes to get rich by auctioning off some lots during Florida's land boom. Robert is his beleagued desk clerk who's in love with one of the guests, Polly Potter (Jennie Greenberry). She's the daughter of the very rich Mrs. Potter (K.T. Vogt), who wants her to marry another guest, Harvey Yates (Robert Vincent Frank), who has his own plan in mind with his longtime cohort, Penelope Martin (Kate Mulligan).
Bedard, Tufts and Hinkley are the principal makers of mayhem. Hinkley wears the nonspeaking Harpo's silly grin and runs around squeezing a horn.
Bedard and Tufts deliver most of the deliciously awful puns. However, they let the silliness get out of hand during the first act when they come down from the stage and involve the audience, taking a woman's room key and a man's phone and shoe. They even climb over the seats and venture up several rows to interact with audience members. It's a ploy that goes on too long.
It should be noted that Bedard, Tufts and Hinkley also were featured as the Marx Brothers in "Animal Crackers" in 2012. It was a far more enjoyable yet still hilarious show because the director had them showing some restraint. The current director, David Ivers, seems to have given them free rein.
It should also be noted that the majority of the audience seemed to love the show.
The rest of the cast, which includes David Kelly as a detective, does well. Special mention goes to Greenberry for her singing.
The colorful set is by Richard L. Hay with costumes by Meg Neville.
Also in the musical mode is "Into the Woods," featuring music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and a book by James Lapine.
Sondheim and Lapine bring together several fairy tale characters and show them getting their wishes in the first act, when presumably they all live happily ever after. The second act is the ever after, when things aren't nearly as ideal as the characters had imagined.
Directed by Amanda Dehnert, who does double duty as musical director, the uniformly excellent cast features, among others, Miriam A. Laube as the Witch, Rachel Warren a the Baker's Wife, Miles Fletcher as Jack (of beanstalk fame), Robin Goodrin Nordli as his mother, Jennie Greenberry as Cinderella, Jeremy Peter Johnson as Cinderella's Prince and Kjerstine Rose Anderson as Little Red Riding Hood. The versatile Catherine E. Coulson plays Cinderella's stepmother, Granny, the giant and Milky White, the cow.
With the 25-member orchestra seated upstage, scenic designer Rachel Hauck employs minimal scenery in this outdoor production. Costumes by Linda Roethke are a different story. They're wonderfully colorful. Some nifty stage magic also helps.
Of course the real stars of this show are Sondheim's intricate music and lyrics. He's a genius with both.
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