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OSF's Elizabethan Theatre opens

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival promises its new production of Shakespeare's "Henry VIII," which previews Friday, June 5, will be staged with all the spectacle of the Field of the Cloth of Gold.

The event was ostensibly held to cement the kings' and nation's friendships, but each used it to try to dazzle the other with elaborate feasting, music, jousting and games. The tents and the costumes flaunted at the event included so much cloth of gold, a fabric made with silk and gold thread, that they gave their name to the site.

Theatergoers can save 20 percent on preview performances running June 2 through 11 on the Elizabethan Stage. The outdoor season will open Friday, June 12, with "Henry VIII." See osfashland.org or call 482-4331 for tickets and information.

Director John Sipes notes that "Henry VIII" touches on many of the issues of Henry's long reign: his obsession with a male heir, his divorce of Katherine, his marriage to Anne, the Reformation, Cardinal Wolsey's influence on governance. Sipes also observes that Shakespeare seems to have had little concern for the truth in these matters. Harsh facts are skipped over, and the scheming Wolsey is shown in a more positive light than most historians would allow.

"For all of the complexities and wrongdoings of Henry and his reign," Sipes said in a statement, "what seems to matter most to Shakespeare in this last play of his life, is simpler, quieter and more broadly human."

Elijah Alexander, in his first season at OSF, plays Henry VIII, Anthony Heald, who in Bill Cain's "Equivocation" plays a character persecuted by Wolsey, this time out plays Wolsey. Vilma Silva is Queen Katherine, and Christine Albright is Anne Bullen. Michael Ganio designed the set, and Susan E. Mickey the costumes.

Those seeing "Henry VIII" may want to attend this year's production of "Macbeth" and the world premiere production of "Equivocation," both playing in the OSF's Angus Bowmer Theatre. While Shakespeare gives us a cleaned-up version of Henry's reign, Cain shows the dark side, and the three plays on some levels resonate with each other.

A new adaptation by San Francisco playwright Octavio Solis ("El Paso Blue") of Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra's "Don Quixote" will take the stage Saturday night. Directed by Laird Williamson, the production reimagines the adventures of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza in La Mancha.

The production features 34 puppets designed by Lynn Jeffries and built by the OSF's properties department, including a 7-foot Enchanter, a horse, a donkey, geese, owls, vultures and sheep. Many are made from found items, including work gloves, pieces of tires, old socks and a mop. Actors serve as puppeteers in addition to playing their own roles.

Solis adapted only the first book of "Don Quixote," so the play ends before the start of the second book, which was published 10 years after the first. Still, the play is condensed.

"It was very challenging," says Williams, who came to the project after Solis had done much of the work. "You've got to do a lot of editing. So you are focusing on the primary themes and incidents."

Playing Don Quixote is Armando Durán. Josiah Phillips is Sancho Panza. Scenic design is by Richard L. Hay, costumes by Deborah M. Dryden, lighting design by Robert Peterson.

Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing" will open at 8:30 p.m. Sunday, directed by Kate Buckley, who directed the 2007 production of "The Taming of the Shrew" on the Elizabethan Stage. Veteran actors David Kelly and Robynn Rodriguez play Benedick and Beatrice, and Sarah Rutan and Juan Rivera LeBron play Hero and Claudio.

The set is circa 1940s Italy, with scenic design by Todd Rosenthal, costumes by Nan Cibula-Jenkins, lighting by Robert Peterson and music by Sarah Pickett.

The outdoor productions will join six productions already in repertory at OSF. That leaves just two plays yet to open in the 2009 season, Shakespeare's "All's Well That Ends Well" will open July 4 in the New Theatre, and Clifford Odets' "Paradise Lost" will open July 25 in the Angus Bowmer Theatre.

The OSF's Green Show, produced by the OSF's Claudia Alick, will provides a diverse lineup of artists performing free on the courtyard stage at the OSF campus from June 2 through October 4. The mix ranges from Adam Matta's beat box to Calo Flamenco, one of the largest Flamenco ensembles in the United States. More than 50 different acts will perform.

Local favorites include Rutendo! Marimba, Siskiyou Violins, the Karen Lovely Band, Rogue Opera and the return of past OSF favorites Sue Carney, the Terra Nova Consort and Dance Kaleidoscope. Green Show performances take place in the OSF courtyard at 7:15 p.m. every night but Monday (6:45 p.m. Aug. 11 through Oct. 4).

The Feast of Will will be held at 6 p.m. June 12 in Ashland's Lithia Park to celebrate the openings and the start of summer. Dinner is chicken or vegetarian lasagna, with entertainment by the Siskiyou Singers and bagpipers. Tickets are $14 at the OSF Box Office.

Reach reporter Bill Varble at bvarble@mailtribune.com or at 776-4478.

Queen Katherine (Vilma Silva) must bear the news of her divorce before the court of Cardinal Wolsey (Anthony Heald) and Campeius (John Pribyl) in the OSF’s 2009 production of “Henry VIII.” - Photo by Jenny Graham