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Four new shows open OSF season

Timeless tragedy, luscious Chinese fable, lunatic musical comedy and unrequited love are the themes of four new shows opening at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

"The productions are so different from each other," says Artistic Director Bill Rauch. "Which is what we love to do."

The 2012 season begins Friday, Feb. 17, with previews of Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet," directed by Laird Williamson; the premiere of "The White Snake," adapted and directed by Mary Zimmerman; George S. Kaufman's and Morrie Ryskind's "Animal Crackers," directed by Allison Narver; and Anton Chekhov's "Seagull," directed by Libby Appel. Shows open Friday, Feb. 24.

The new season is dedicated to Executive Director Paul Nicholson, who will retire after 33 years at OSF. Nicholson has worked as executive director since late 1995. He joined the festival as general manager in 1980.

OSF's production of "Romeo and Juliet" will be set in the late 1840s in Alta California, a province and territory that was part of New Spain in North America.

"It's Williamson's smart approach," Rauch says. "The engine that drives the plot is the feud between the Montagues and the Capulets. Add to that a shifting power structure and cultural tensions between landed Mexican families and the American military as California approaches statehood, and the play makes sense.

"The costumes are gorgeous, and it's a beautiful, period production," he says.

There are a number of actors new to OSF in "Romeo and Juliet."

"With three shows on the road this winter: 'Ghost Light' at Berkeley Rep, 'American Night' at La Jolla Playhouse and 'Equivocation' at the Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., the festival had the opportunity to bring in new actors," Rauch says.

Alejandra Escalante plays Juliet and Daniel José Molina plays Romeo. Set design is by Michael Ganio; costumes by Susan Tsu.

Rauch first saw Zimmerman's work in 2002 at the Circle in the Square Theatre on Broadway in New York City, while she was directing an adaptation of Roman poet Ovid's "Metamorphoses." The project earned Zimmerman a Tony Award for best direction.

"I fell in love with her work," Rauch says. "Her adaptation of the fable 'The White Snake' is going to be powerful, funny, visually stunning and moving. People should buy tickets right away. Once the word gets out, it will be difficult to get seats."

In Chinese folklore, the story of a snake spirit disguised as a beautiful woman who falls in love with a young scholar has been passed down for centuries. Its characters and plot have altered as it moved through the ages.

"It's a story of forbidden love," Rauch says. "It's both complex and simple. Mary allows the various versions to be woven through it, making it all the more moving."

Amy Kim Waschke plays White Snake and Tanya McBride plays Green Snake. Set design is by Daniel Ostling; costumes are by Mara Blumenfeld.

Up next is "Animal Crackers," with music and lyrics by Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby and adapted by Henry Wishcamper from the Marx Brothers' final stage production in 1928.

"I love that it's a vaudeville musical comedy," Rauch says. "It's different from plot-driven musicals. It's driven by the characters, and its series of sketches and songs are held together by the anarchic spirit of these brothers. It's not a coincidence that the Marx Brothers survived during the Depression. During economic challenging times we need to laugh."

The cast features Mark Bedard, Eddie Lopez, John Tufts and Daisuke Tsuji.

"We have so many wonderful clowns in our company that the production could have gone many ways," Rauch says.

Set design is by Richard L. Hay; costumes are by Shigeru Yaji; and musical direction is by David O.

Romantic and artistic conflicts drive Russian dramatist Anton Chekhov's "Seagull," and Appel promises a sexy, full-blooded adaptation of a tale of unfulfilled desire. On a 19th-century lakeside estate, emotions rise among an aspiring actress, a theater diva, a playwright and a writer.

Appel, OSF's artistic director emerita, shares her lifelong passion for Chekhov in this funny and heartbreaking story.

"It's a deep work of love for Appel," Rauch says. "And it's the first time we've presented Chekhov in the New Theatre. The playwright's humanity comes through in the intimacy of that space."

The cast features Al Espinosa, Michael J. Hume, Kathryn Meisle and Nell Geisslinger. Set is by Christopher Acebo; costumes are by Deborah M. Dryden.

"I'm equally excited about all of the plays," Rauch says. "They're all special."

Mark Bedard as Captain Spaulding and Jonathan Haugen as Chandler in Oregon Shakespeare Festival's production of 'Animal Crackers.' - Photo courtesy of Jenny Graham / OSF