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MailTribune.com
  • No Gentlemen on this trip to "Verona"

  • One of Shakespeare's first comedies, "The Two Gentlemen of Verona," features many of the hallmarks of his later work: women disguised as men, bawdy humor, clever wordplay, shocking discoveries, adventure in a forest.
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    • 'The Two Gentlemen of Verona'
      Playwright: William Shakespeare
      Director: Sarah Rasmussen
      Runs: June 5-Oct. 12 in the outdoor Allen Elizabethan Theatre
      Tickets: Visit www.osfashland.org or call 541-482-4331
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      'The Two Gentlemen of Verona'
      Playwright: William Shakespeare

      Director: Sarah Rasmussen

      Runs: June 5-Oct. 12 in the outdoor Allen Elizabethan Theatre

      Tickets: Visit www.osfashland.org or call 541-482-4331
  • One of Shakespeare's first comedies, "The Two Gentlemen of Verona," features many of the hallmarks of his later work: women disguised as men, bawdy humor, clever wordplay, shocking discoveries, adventure in a forest.
    As an early work, written in a very different era, it can be challenging to stage for a modern audience, particularly because of its strongly sexist treatment of the female characters.
    Oregon Shakespeare Festival director Sarah Rasmussen decided to approach this problem from a completely different angle and created an all-female cast.
    In Renaissance times, women were banned from performing, so even the female characters were played by men. Casting only female actors flips the play on its head and adds a playfully ironic twist to its gender-bending storyline.
    "This production is a kind of a reverse image of what Shakespeare's audience would have seen with men playing all the roles," says Rasmussen. "A tricky aspect in directing any classical play is that the roles for women are greatly outnumbered by roles for men. With Shakespeare, I tend to always think about which roles can be played by women."
    "The idea of an all-female cast," Rasmussen says. wasn't just a concept slapped onto the play, but came from looking through the lens of OSF's incredible company members, all the great female performers. With these performers, it wasn't that big of a leap."
    Gina Pisasale, dramaturg for the play, agrees. "The idea of this particular play starting with the OSF company is really inspirational," she says.
    The strength of the actors in these roles has a lot to do with how the audience perceives these flawed characters, says Pisasale. "We have two amazing actors playing our gents, Christiana Clark and Erica Sullivan. What's so exciting is to see the depth they bring to these characters. It's really fantastic how much these women help us see in multiples, and the broader spectrum allows for conversations about the play that I've never heard before."
    Rasmussen says this production lets the audience consider its own gender perceptions. "The actors bring an unexpected depth and humanity to the play. It helps us see certain behaviors as not exclusively male or exclusively female, but human."
    Shifting perceptions and opening up new conversations has been a longtime tradition of the festival. Rasmussen credits Artistic Director Bill Rauch for encouraging unique, thought-provoking productions.
    "Bill beautifully balances employing really innovative and engaging storytelling, and a deep awareness of the fact that we have to hold these stories accountable over time," Rasmussen says.
    In addition to inspiring conversation, Rasmussen says the play's wit and humor will delight audiences.
    "I think doing something a little bold, and a little new, is exciting. This show is full of joy and surprises," she says.
    "There are so many women in this company who are just terrific. I think it will be fun for regular visitors to see some members in roles they've never done before."
    Angela Decker is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach her at decker4@gmail.com
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