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OSF's 2008 season includes Sanskrit epic

Incoming Oregon Shakespeare Festival Artistic Director Bill Rauch unveiled an inaugural season marked by some new directions at a members-only event late Friday in Ashland.

Rauch, who was chosen in August to succeed Libby Appel, who is retiring at the end of the 2007 season, wasted no time in putting his stamp on the playbill. He plans to present an epic text from India, two new plays, a world premiere production that will head to Washington, D.C.'s Kennedy Center in July and the first 20th century play to be produced on OSF's outdoor Elizabethan Stage.

"I've been excited to see if we could gently stretch the boundaries," Rauch said. "But Shakespeare will always be the anchor."

Other highlights include several new-to-OSF guest directors and some new designers for the season's 11 plays (visit www.osfashland.org/news/ for more).

Rauch said that innovations notwithstanding, the season maintains a commitment to more typical OSF fare, with four Shakespeare plays and three American classics included in the mix.

"A Midsummer Night's Dream" will open the season in the Angus Bowmer Theatre, directed by the sought-after Mark Rucker, an associate artist at South Coast Repertory of Costa Mesa, Calif.

OSF veteran Laird Williamson will direct in the New Theatre for the first time with "Coriolanus." On the Elizabethan Stage, Obie Award-winner Lisa Peterson will direct "Othello," and the OSF's Penny Metropulos will direct a highly musical version of "The Comedy of Errors."

Metropulos is among several high-profile OSF artists let go by Rauch in January in a shake-up described as a restructuring to bring in new work and new faces.

OSF Associate Artistic Director Timothy Bond, another artist who will depart as part of the restructuring, will not direct an OSF offering next year, although August Wilson's "Fences" will be presented, and Bond has directed several acclaimed productions of Wilson plays. Rauch said a scheduling conflict prevents Bond from working with OSF next year.

"I hope he'll be back," Rauch said.

Also on tap for 2008 are three American classics. In the Angus Bowmer Theatre, two of America's best playwrights will be remembered by juxtaposing their visions of 1950's working class America. Guest artist Leah C. Gardiner will direct "Fences," and Appel will return to direct Arthur Miller's "A View From the Bridge."

Thornton Wilder's masterpiece, "Our Town," will be the first 20th century play staged under the stars on the Elizabethan Stage, directed by guest artist Chay Yew.

Rauch will direct the Sanskrit epic "The Clay Cart," attributed to King Shudraka, which he describes as "utterly Shakespearean in scale and spirit." He said he hopes to present an ongoing series of non-Western world classics at OSF.

He will also direct Oregon native Jeff Whitty's comedy "The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler" in the Bowmer. Whitty won a Tony Award for his book for the Broadway musical "Avenue Q," and Rauch directed the world premiere of "Further Adventures" last year at South Coast Rep.

In an arrangement with the Kennedy Center, the world premiere production of Julie Marie Myatt's "Welcome Home, Jenny Sutter" will open in the New Theatre and tour to Washington, D.C., after closing in Ashland. The play, directed by Steppenwolf associate artist Jessica Thebus, is a drama about a female Marine returning from a tour in Iraq.

Luis Alfaro's comedy "Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner," a slightly surreal look at obesity, obsession and love, will play in the New Theatre, directed by guest artist Tracy Young.

Rauch said last year that presenting classics from outside the Western canon — "The Clay Cart" is a 2,100-year-old work from India — was a firm goal of his.

He said he sat down with the Kennedy Center's Max Woodward to work out the details of the Kennedy's support for the new play, which will run in Washington for two weeks.

Rauch said he felt plenty of pressure in taking over from Appel and putting together his first season.

"I sweated over every single choice," he said. "I've gone back and in circles and been surrounded by wise colleagues. Now I feel joy."

The 2008 season will begin previews on Feb. 15 and close on Oct. 27.

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

OSF's 2008 season includes Sanskrit epic