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Local theater companies get ready for 2004 season

While the calendar may still tell us it is winter, there is definitely no discontent this theater season.

Beside Oregon Shakespeare Festival, the six theater companies in the Ashland/Talent area will spring forth with a dynamic array of productions from drama to comedy and the ridiculous to the sublime.

The Southern Oregon University Department of Theatre Arts hit upon a gold mine last year when it entered the realm of children's theater with the production of "Winnie The Pooh." They follow up that success with their presentation of "Toad of Toad Hall," written by A.A. Milne, playing Feb. 19-22, 26-29 and March 4-7.

"Last year we decided to test the water on children's theater," Chris Sackett, chairman of the SOU Department of Theatre Arts, explained. "The response was substantial so we decided to do it again."

Along with the show will come special performances for the vision and hearing-impaired students of the area.

"For the performance, we give the students who are visually impaired headphones and provide them with an audio interpretation," Sackett noted. "It was really an experience for our students last year to see the reaction of the visually impaired students to their performance. It really heightened their experience as an actor."

"Phedre," a French neo-classic drama written by Racine, debuts Feb. 26 at SOU. Sackett said this one is probably not for young people.

"Phedre is the Greek wife of Theseus who goes away and doesn't send word back to his wife for some time," he said. "The presumption is then made that he is dead. Phedre's son is a rather comely lad, Phedre falls for him and the rest is classic Greek tragedy."

The final production of the season is the dinner theater production of "Matchmaker," which will run in conjunction with another production, "Comic Potential."

Irreverence at the Cabaret

Oregon Cabaret Theatre, the theatre known for its irreverence, opens its season Feb. 6 with the one-woman production of, Two's Company?I'm a Crowd, starring Lisa Koch. Koch is an Ashland native who portrays a motley crew of characters such as Sister Mary Agnes, Blind Enid Bailey and Kelly Clairvoyant.

Other productions at OCT are, "They Came From Way Out There," March 19-May 30; "4 Guys Named Jose? and una mujer named Maria," June 11-Sept. 5; "Pete 'n' Keely," Sept. 17-Nov. 7 and the return of "Snow White and Several Dweebs," Nov. 19-Dec. 31.

Camelot in Talent

Camelot Theatre in Talent will undertake several ambitious projects this season under the direction of Livia Genise.

The first production stars Genise as Maria Callas in "The Master Class," Feb. 11-March 14. Genise, who in some ways resembles Callas, takes on the role of the ultimate operatic diva.

"I was hired as a standby for the production in the Bay area," she said. "The story is based on a master class Callas taught at Julliard."

Genise joked that she is channeling Callas in preparation for the production.

"I had the part memorized three years ago so it is starting to come back," she laughed. "One of the things about Callas is how powerful an artist she was. I showed my 14-year-old daughter a tape of one of her last concerts and it made her cry."

Among the other productions to be presented at Camelot are "Born Yesterday," which Genise said is both timely and funny, "Wait Until Dark," "Zorba," "The Sisters Rosensweig," "Inherit The Wind" and "Carnival."

The theater will also do a spotlight series, "A Little Biography and a Lot of Music," highlighting the music of many popular artists. Among the shows in the spotlight series is a James Taylor tribute starring Joel Handley and Friends, which opened Friday night and runs Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Other shows in the series include music from Peggy Lee, Bonnie Raitt and Rosemary Clooney.

The Other Theatre

Artattack Theatre bills itself as Ashland's Other Theatre and is located just two blocks from the home of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. It is also known as the theater company that is not afraid to take chances.

They do just that with their first production of the season, Tom Stoppard's uproarious, "The Real Inspector Hound," the story of a theater critic's worst nightmare.

"Stoppard is one of the world's celebrated playwrights and this play is the perfect fit for Ashland," theater co-founder and artistic director Justin Lockwood, said. "'The Real Inspector Hound' is the story of two critics who go to see a production in the West End of London and somehow during the play find themselves onstage while the actors take their seats and review them."

Lockwood and Jim Garcia play the two theater critics. "The Real Inspector Hound" opens Feb. 13 and runs through March 8. Thursday night, Feb. 12 will be a preview show, which is a Pay What You Can Night.

Other productions upcoming this season are "Wonder of the World," "The Tale of the Allergist's Wife," "Closer" and "The Glass Menagerie." The theater will also offer a Cabaret Series, "Cabaret x 3," featuring three different plays on three consecutive nights, over a three-week period. The shows are "Old Standard," "Diva Down" and "Simply Sondheim."

The theater will also present a special event July 23-26, "The Female Solo Series," featuring female solo performers each night.

A new theater

Oregon Stage Works kicks off its season later in the year and they have a great reason to do so. The opening of their brand new theater is scheduled for May.

Peter Alzado, artistic director for OSW, said the anticipation is building as work comes to an end.

"When you are in the theater it is work," he said. "But once you step outside, it is exciting."

The OSW season kicks off May 14 with the opening of two shows to run simultaneously. "Waiting For Godot," starring Brandy Carson and Shirley Patton opens along with "Panama," directed by Caroline Shaffer.

"The plays will run through June 21 and will run three days each per week," Alzado said. "We may flip the shows in the middle of the run."

Ashland Community Theatre has a new artistic director, Daniel Grossbard, and a great new season of productions.

The first is Neil Simon's "Laughter on the 23 rd Floor," opening Feb. 6 and running through Feb. 29. Other productions are Arthur Miller's "The Price," May 7- 30, "This Day and Age," Sept. 10-Oct. — and "70, Girls, 70," Dec. 3-26.