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OSF's Angus Bowmer Theatre

The comic love story that is William Shakespeare's "The Taming of the Shrew," along with Alan Jay Lerner's and Frederick Loewe's ever-popular musical "My Fair Lady" and August Wilson's tumultuous "Two Trains Running," will begin previews this weekend in the Bowmer Theatre at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

David Ivers, a graduate of Southern Oregon University and artistic director of the Utah Shakespeare Festival, makes his OSF directorial debut with "The Taming of the Shrew."

Ivers has reimagined the Bard's setting in Padua, Italy, as a backdrop of boardwalks, roller coasters, arcades and rockabilly music. It's a vacation place where one can enjoy being anonymous, Ivers says, and he has made Petruchio the leader of a rock group whose three-piece band is an integral part of the action onstage.

"Petruchio as a rock star implies certain iconic traits," Ivers says. "That he may or may not live up to these expectations makes for an interesting character journey.

"It's important to remember that 'The Taming of the Shrew' is a comedy, not a political statement," Ivers says. "This is, above all, a love story. Both Petruchio and Kate change. I want the audience to leave the theater believing that this is a couple that will make it."

Ivers earned a bachelor's degree in stage performance at SOU, and during that time, he played in roles at OSF. He earned his master's at the University of Minnesota, a school that merges academics with the auspices of Minneapolis' Guthrie Theater. Ivers has worked as an actor and director for about 20 years at USF and served as its artistic director for the past three years.

Ivers says he has made this production of "The Taming of the Shrew" lean, spare and quick-paced.

"It's funny and physical with lots of whimsy and romance," he says. "I especially want students seeing Shakespeare for the first time to enjoy it, to really understand it."

Nell Geisslinger plays Kate, and Ted Deasy is Petruchio in the OSF production. Robert Vincent Frank plays Baptista Minola; Royer Bockus is Bianca; David Kelly is Gremio; Tasso Feldman is Grumio; Christiana Clark is Biondello; Jeremy Peter Johnson is Hortensio; Wayne T. Carr is Lucentio; John Tufts is Tranio; and Tyrone Wilson is Vincentio. Set design is by Jo Winiarski, costumes by Meg Neville, lighting by Jaymi Lee Smith; and music and sound are by Paul James Prendergast.

"Two Trains Running" is the seventh in a series of 10 plays by Wilson called "The Pittsburgh Cycle," which chronicles the African-American experience throughout the 20th century. As with the other plays in the series, "Two Trains Running" is set in 1969 in the Hill District, an African-American neighborhood in Pittsburgh.

The Hill District is no longer a thriving place. Its sense of community is dying as residents move elsewhere to escape the buy-out-move-out push of misguided urban renewal. There also is a new uncertainty in relations with the surrounding white community. The civil rights movement is split into two factions: Older African-Americans see the struggle won by steady increments with political means and nonviolence; a younger generation sees it as a revolution, personified by Stokely Carmichael and the Black Panthers.

Here we find Memphis, the owner of a small diner, caught in a rapidly changing time.

"August Wilson's work provides an almost voyeuristic look into African-American culture," says director Lou Bellamy. "There is an authenticity to the way people move and speak. It is Wilson's gift to take that and make it universal, the way that classical European theater does."

Bellamy is the founder and artistic director of the Penumbra Theatre in St. Paul, Minn. — a theater known for premiering many of Wilson's plays and producing contemporary plays that examine African-American experiences.

"I've directed all of August Wilson's work at one time or another," Bellamy says. "Because he was with Penumbra for so long and because I knew him so well, I recognize the people and situations in his life that turn up in his plays. I can almost hear his voice, telling stories.

"Every time I direct one of his plays, I have a deeper understanding of it," Bellamy adds. "The acting company provides the form, but the benchmarks are always there."

Terry Bellamy plays Memphis; Kevin Kenerly is Sterling; Josiah Phillips is Holloway; Kenajuan Bentley is Wolf; Tyrone Wilson is Hambone; and Jerome Preston Bates is West.

Set design is by Vicki Smith, costumes by Mathew LeFebvre, lighting by Jaymi Lee Smith; and music and sound are by Martin Gwinup.

OSF's innovative interpretation of Lerner's and Loewe's "My Fair Lady" will run through the season in the Bowmer Theatre.

The Tony Award-winning musical comes to life when the insufferably smug Professor Henry Higgins makes an outrageous effort to change the appealing and stubborn Eliza Doolittle — a dirty, cockney flower girl — into a high-society lady.

Director Amanda Dehnert directs this enduring and delicious story of class, language, love and independence.

Dehnert says she wants people to "see the play again for the first time" by emphasizing the theatricality of the piece. Scene and the ensemble's character transitions will take place in front of the audience.

Also the production's music director, Dehnert has chosen two onstage pianos and a touring-production version of the score approved by Loewe rather than a full orchestra.

"With the pianos, the voices become distinct instruments," Dehnert says. "The songs show themselves in a new way. It will be a beautiful way to hear the music again for the first time.

"I see this as a story about transformation. It's not a love story. It's a story about friendship and needing other people in our lives."

Rachael Warren plays Eliza Doolittle, and Jonathan Haugen is Henry Higgins. Anthony Heald is Alfred P. Doolittle; David Kelly is Colonel Pickering; Ken Robinson is Freddy Eynsford; Eduardo Placer is Zoltan Karpathy; Jeremy Peter Johnson is Harry; and Chavez Ravine is Mrs. Higgins.

The show will feature Matt Goodrich and Ron Ochs on the pianos. Set design is by David Jenkins, costume design by Devon Painter, lighting by M.L. Geiger, associate musical direction by Darcy Danielson, sound design by Kai Harada and Associates and choreography by Jaclyn Miller.

Look for Shakespeare's "King Lear," an epic tragedy of a kingdom and two families in chaos directed by OSF Artistic Director Bill Rauch, to preview Thursday, Feb. 21, in the Thomas Theatre.

See www.osfashland.org or call 541-482-4331 for tickets and information.

Nell Geisslinger as Kate and Ted Deasy as Petruchio in OSF's production of 'The Taming of the Shrew.' - Photo courtesy of Jenny Graham