One of the simple pleasures of living in an extended community that treasures live theater is the expectation that follows the release of season schedules for the various companies that populate our landscape.
Whether they are plays that seem like old friends, nationally known titles that carry with them a buzz of electricity or unfamiliar works by equally unfamiliar writers, the productions headed to Rogue Valley stages fill theater-lovers with hope.
"Usher: Mr. Fellowes, uh, is there anything wrong with your seat?
Lloyd: Yes … it’s facing the stage.”
— Michael Frayn (“Noises Off”)
OK, maybe not always filled with hope.
For the purposes of this thought-exercise, however, let us scan the 2018 seasons of many of our local theater companies … and choose a title that jumps out as one of particular interest.
As always, your results might vary from your own scanning.
Camelot Theatre Company
"The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” (Feb. 7-25) is a Western that began as a short story in 1953, became a film classic in 1962 and was first adapted for the stage in 2014. The story itself is about a sea change in American culture, when a central character of education comes to the lawless West ... with results that blur the line between truth and mythology.
It’s always fascinating to see how a show you’re familiar with in one format translates to a live performance setting — particularly in a story with nuances that can be lost on the big screen.
Collaborative Theatre Project
"Summerland” (Oct. 5-31) delves into the mid-1800s mystery of “spirit photographer” William Mumler, who it was claimed could capture images of the dead from beyond the grave. Set during the period where American Spiritualism was on the rise, “Summerland” uses an investigation into Mumler’s legitimacy to open the audience to the nature of belief, and faith.
What we choose to accept as the truth, and who we accept as messengers of that truth, are topics with particular relevance in these times — whether those truths are self-evident or not.
Oregon Cabaret Theatre
"Picasso at the Lapin Agile” (Sept. 20 – Nov. 11) carries with it the burden and advantage of being written by comic legend Steve Martin. Pablo Picasso meets Albert Einstein in a French café just prior to each transforming the world for a wide-ranging discussion on the respective values of science and art. As one would expect from Martin, things eventually take directions that aren’t expected.
The show also gives local audiences a chance to see what the fuss was about back in 2009, when opposition from parents (over material referencing drinking and sexual activity) led to the banning of a student production of the play at La Grande High School. The show was eventually presented — with its high school cast — at Eastern Oregon University.
Oregon Shakespeare Festival
OK, let’s be honest here for a second: We could have thrown a dart blindfolded at the program for OSF’s 83rd season and hit upon a show that carries a little extra panache — but upon reading descriptions alone, the one that stands out is a 75th anniversary production of “Oklahoma!”
You know the songs of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic that was said to change the course of the American musical (if you don’t, then … boy, are you in the wrong place). What makes this adaptation intriguing is OSF Artistic Director Bill Rauch’s bold decision, with the permission of the Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization, to stage this most traditional of plays with same-sex couples and other LGBTQ2+ casting choices.
OSF has been a lightning rod in the past for rattling the dust off tried and true formulas; so, it waits to be seen whether this “Oklahoma!” with be OK, or leave audiences in a terrible fix.
Randall Theatre Company
"Evil Dead, The Musical” (Oct. 19-31): Sorry, but when I saw this title, choosing it was a no-brainer.
So to speak.
Choosing for a Halloween production a musical based on the series of cult films starring Applegate resident Bruce Campbell and a chainsaw-wielding demon slayer is inspired — particularly when the show includes songs such as the mournful lament “All the Men in My Life Keep Getting Killed by Candarian Demons.”
Expect blood. Expect gore. Expect mayhem. … And those will be just from the audience. What will happen on stage? It’s anyone’s guess.
SOU Theatre Arts
If you haven’t discovered the stellar program at Southern Oregon University, make this the year to do so. And if you’re in the mood for a cross-cultural, cross-media experience, unleash your inner geek and see “She Kills Monsters” (Feb. 15-25).
Written by Qui Nguyen (whose “Vietgone” was a critical and box office smash in 2016 at OSF), “Monsters” plunges a woman’s search for the meaning behind her sister’s death into a live-action version of the role-playing game “Dungeons & Dragons.”
Like “Vietgone,” expect a fast-paced story with humor and heart.
Be sure to keep an eye out for other theater options from these and more companies across the Rogue Valley as 2018 unfolds … and don’t fear if your seat is facing the stage.
— Mail Tribune copy editor Robert Galvin can be reached at email@example.com.