Summer may conjure up visions of beaches and bikinis for some, but for me it’s Shakespeare. Every year, as we did last week, my husband and I make our annual trek south to Ashland for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Because our visit coincided with the opening weekend for OSF’s summer season, we packed three of the four plays into our two-day stay at the festival’s open-air Elizabethan Stage, whose design was inspired by Shakespeare’s Globe Theater in London. For anyone who’s ever dozed off during a play in a crowded, stuffy theater, an open-air performance is refreshingly different. The air feels and smells good; and the canopy of stars and clouds is far prettier than any ornamental ceiling. And Mother Nature’s little cameos – the birds that swooped occasionally through the sets and Friday night’s distant thunderstorm – kept us alert.
Our Friday-night play was Henry VIII. I confess I allowed my mind to drift off the storyline and become completely consumed with the gorgeous costumes. The gowns worn by the female cast members were probably as beautiful and intricate as anything ever seen at Henry’s court — and I’m quite sure they smelled better. Saturday afternoon’s play – Equivocation – was my favorite. Featuring a Shakespeare-like playwright commissioned to create a play about the Gunpowder Plot for King James I, the play was poignant, funny, witty, and thought-provoking. We also saw Don Quixote on Saturday night, and, on Sunday, wrapped up our weekend with a hilarious version of Much Ado About Nothing that had the audience doubled over in laughter.
If you make it to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival this year, let me know your pick for best play. I’m awarding my “best of show” nod to Equivocation … with honors for best costumes to Henry VIII.