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OSF's outdoor season starts this week

The world premiere of an Elizabethan romance set to the rocking bass-beat of '80s girl group The Go-Go’s, a high-profile hookup on the Nile and a swashbuckling tale of betrayal and revenge highlight the June 12-14 opening of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s outdoor Allen Elizabethan Theatre.

Shakespeare’s “Antony and Cleopatra” opens Friday, June 12, with previews Friday, June 5, and Tuesday, June 9.

OSF Artistic Director Bill Rauch directs Derrick Lee Weeden and Miriam A. Laube in Shakespeare’s iconic drama of obsessive love and treacherous politics.

“Antony and Cleopatra were the original celebrity couple,” Rauch said when he outlined details of the production to its cast and crew last April. “Their private and public images were blurred — gloriously and disastrously — and their often irrational choices had an impact on world events. This is a play about an obsessive romantic love between two mature adults.”

Rauch emphasized that the production will embrace Shakespeare’s world view and the play’s actual historical era while reflecting the present tensions in the Middle East.

“Bill did not want a ‘sword and sandal’ production,” added scenic designer Richard Hay at the introductory remarks. “The production will have a timeless, contemporary look with classic symbols of Egypt and Rome suggesting the period.”

Jeff Whitty’s musical “Head Over Heels” premieres Saturday, June 13. Previews are scheduled for Saturday, June 6, and Wednesday, June 10.

“Head Over Heels” is adapted from Sir Philip Sidney’s epic Elizabethan poem, “Arcadia.” Whitty, the Tony Award-winning author of “Avenue Q” and the author of “The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler,” uses iambic pentameter and a modern idiom to chronicle the various manifestations of love and then sets it all to the music and lyrics of The Go-Go’s, the first all-female rock band to write their own songs and play their own instruments while hitting the top of the Billboard charts.

The show’s director, Ed Sylvanus Iskandar, is founder and artistic director of the New York-based theater company Exit, Pursued by a Bear, which he describes as “immersive theater.” He was resident assistant director at OSF for “Don Quixote” and “Hamlet” in 2009 and “She Loves Me” and “Henry VIII” in 2010.

“The show is a treat for the eyes, ears — all the senses, really,” says the show’s voice and text director, David Carey. “It’s got an Elizabethan feel and a modern sensibility.”

“The Count of Monte Cristo” by Alexandre Dumas opens Sunday, June 14, with previews Sunday, June 7, and Thursday, June 11. The swashbuckler has all the elements of classic melodrama — treachery, romance and redemption.

Edmond Dantès is falsely accused of aiding the exiled Napoleon at Elba and condemned to an island prison. While there, he learns the location of a buried treasure before managing a daring escape. Eighteen years later, he returns to Paris as the immensely wealthy Count of Monte Cristo, and he proceeds to exact a diabolical revenge upon his enemies.

OSF veteran Al Espinosa plays Dantès, with Michael Sharon as Fernand, Peter Frechette as Villefort, Raffi Barsoumian as Danglars and Vilma Silva as Mercedes. Derrick Lee Weeden plays Abbé Faria. Marcela Lorca directs.

It is no coincidence that “The Count of Monte Cristo” plays in the Allen Elizabethan Theatre while Eugene O’Neill’s “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” mesmerizes audiences in the festival’s Thomas Theatre. James O’Neill, actor, theater impresario and Eugene O’Neill’s father, performed his own version of actor-playwright Charles Fechter’s adaptation of “The Count of Monte Cristo” more than 6,000 times.

“These two plays have a history with one another,” says Lydia Garcia, the dramaturg for “Long Day’s Journey” and “Monte Cristo.” “O’Neill’s father was still performing ‘Monte Cristo’ at the time ‘Journey’ takes place. By doing the two plays in the same season, we are bringing to life a slice of the history of American theater.”

Curtain lifts at 8 p.m. for all shows playing in the Allen Elizabethan Theatre.

Roberta Kent is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach her at rbkent@mind.net.

Left to right: Christiana Clark, Cedric Lamar, Brooke Parks, Miriam A. Laube and Armando McClain appear in the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's production of 'Antony and Cleopatra.' Photo by Jenny Graham.