What They Will Do

The play by William Shakespeare that's been produced more than any other — 16 times — by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival is "Twelfth Night."

The 1602 comedy always has been an audience favorite and appears on the OSF playbill about every five years, says Scott Kaiser, the festival's head of voice and text and director of company development.

Other Oregon Shakespeare Festival notables:

First play produced: "Twelfth Night," on July 2, 1935

Only closure: 1941-46, because of World War II

First full-time, paid employee: William Patton, who later became executive director. Patton led the festival from 1953 to 1995. He died Jan. 13 at age 83

First non-Shakespearean play: "The Duchess of Malfi," by John Webster

Opening of Elizabethan Stage: 1959

Opening of Angus Bowmer Theatre: 1970

Opening of Black Swan Theatre: 1977 (closes in 2001)

First time OSF completes Shakespeare canon: 1958

Tony Award: 1983, for outstanding achievement in regional theater

OSF expansion: OSF Portland, which opened in 1988. It breaks ties with OSF in 1994 and becomes Portland Center Stage

Opening of New Theatre: 2002

Record attendance: 414,783, in 2010

"It's one of Shakespeare's bulletproof plays and can be produced any number of ways," says Kaiser. "It takes place in Illyria, a mythical land whose name seems a combination of illusion and delirium."

The play, actually titled "Twelfth Night, or What You Will," honors the end of the Christmas season with riotous feasting, dance and romance swirling around misunderstandings about who's alive or dead and who's male or female.

The play was an audience favorite from the start, and was produced in each of OSF's first four seasons, from 1935-1938.

Almost as frequently produced — 14 times each — are "As You Like It" and "The Merchant of Venice," although the latter, with its controversial parodies of a Jewish usurer, has been getting staged less often, says Kaiser.

"Its frequent production is a mathematical anomaly," says Kaiser, "because Shylock was a favorite role of Angus Bowmer," founder of OSF and an actor. Ten of "Merchant's" 14 productions occurred before Bowmer's death in 1979.

The play is about a successful merchant signing for a loan to a financially ruined nobleman and friend, enabling him to seek the hand of a beautiful heiress — on the condition that, if the loan defaults, Shylock may extract a pound of flesh from the merchant.

"As You Like It" has been produced about every five years, including twice in the festival's first six years, before it went dark during World War II. It's a pastoral comedy based on the favorite ploy of mistaken gender identities and noblemen plotting over an inherited estate.

"Audiences keep coming back to it. It's another Shakespeare play that's practically bulletproof," says Kaiser. "It has perfect plotting. It approaches perfection."

The Bard, believe it or not, was capable of penning a few clinkers — or plays that for one reason or another don't get as much stage time. These include "Timon of Athens," done at OSF in 1955, 1978 and 1997, "The Two Noble Kinsmen," produced in 1994, and "Henry VIII," done in 1957, 1968, 1984 and 2009.

OSF has completed the entire Shakespeare canon three times and issues a "Bard Scorecard" so theatergoers can keep track of which plays they've yet to see. When they complete the cycle, they can download a certificate of completion.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

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