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OSF offers a 'Tempest' of comedy and drama

Find tickets online — William Shakespeare's "The Tempest," along with an adaptation of the Marx Brothers' musical "The Cocoanuts" and playwright Lorraine Hansberry's "The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window" preview this weekend in the Angus Bowmer Theatre at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Shakespeare's "The Comedy of Errors" will preview in the festival's Thomas Theatre.

The plays begin opening performances on Friday, Feb. 21.

Tony Taccone, artistic director of Berkeley Repertory Theatre, returns to Ashland to direct "The Tempest." Taccone directed OSF's "Othello" in 1999 and "Coriolanus" in 1996.

Actor Denis Arndt — a member of the OSF company from 1973 to 1988 — will return to play the role of the exiled Duke Prospero, who has waited years for his old enemies to sail too close to his enchanted island. He conjures a mighty storm to shipwreck them and, aided by his alchemical superpowers, wants to settle old scores with a vengeance and reclaim his former title.

"Shakespeare knows a thing or two about drama," Taccone says in a video on OSF's website. "He has a wicked, theatrical imagination, a great sense of humor, and he's unrelenting and fearless about pursuing human mystery and the portrayal of consistently mysterious events that have profound effects on our lives.

"His fast-moving dramas hold multiple plots that can't be understood rationally. You have to bring a measure of irrational, imaginative joy, if you will, to view the events in order to embrace them. The reason that he writes like that is because it's just like life."

Taccone says he doesn't really understand his attraction to "The Tempest," except that he finds it a great, spiritual quest play.

"Its title is indicative not only of the storm that rages at the top of the play, but also of the storm that rages within Prospero. It's the calming of the waters, it's the letting go of the storm that is the story of the play. Prospero has to let go of his conflicts, his need for revenge and bloodletting, in order to come into himself and discover and embrace a sense of gentleness, acceptance and powerlessness, which is probably the greatest power he can have."

"The Tempest" previews at 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 14, and Tuesday, Feb. 18. It opens at 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 21.

Hansberry's nearly forgotten "The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window" — she also wrote the Tony-nominated "A Raisin in the Sun" — previews at 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 15, and Wednesday, Feb. 19, in the Thomas Theatre. The show opens at 1 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 22.

Set in the early '60s in Greenwich Village — a hotbed of artists, activists and social upheaval — the play explores the rocky landscape of choices and consequences. As Brustein and his wife, Iris, struggle to define themselves and their community, their decisions reflect who they are. It's a theme that has moved through the times in America.

The anarchic and hilarious Marx Brothers return after OSF's successful 2012 production of "Animal Crackers."

"The Cocoanuts," adapted by OSF member Mark Bedard, with music and lyrics by Irving Berlin and book by George S. Kaufman, previews at 8 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 16, and Thursday, Feb. 20, in the Bowmer. The show opens at 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 22.

Directed by David Ivers, "Cocoanuts" features Bedard as Groucho, Brent Hinkley as Harpo, John Tufts as Chico and Robert Jamison as Zeppo. In the play, Groucho owns a bum hotel in Florida and peddles dubious real estate to gullible Northerners. He's after a rich society lady, who's after an eligible match for her daughter, who's in love with the hotel's clerk. More unpredictable lunacy sets in when the other Marxes arrive.

Director Ken Gash sets Shakespeare's "The Comedy of Errors" during the Harlem Renaissance, a black cultural movement that spanned the 1920s. This is comedy with heart and a tale about mistaken identities and a family magically reunited.

Antipholus and his slave Dromio leave the rural South (Syracuse in Shakespeare's story) to travel to New York City (Ephesus) and look for their identical twin brothers. Chaos ensues when suddenly there are two sets of Antipholi and Dromios. The cast features Rodney Gardiner as both Dromios, and Tobie Windham as the Antipholi.

"The Comedy of Errors" previews at 8 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 20, and Friday, Feb. 21. It opens at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 23.

Preview ticket prices range from $25 to $73.60. Tickets for opening performances range from $25 to $102. Check ticket availability at www.osfashland.org or by calling 541-482-4331 or 800-219-8161.

Ron Menzel and Sofia Jean Gomez as Sidney Brustein and his wife, Iris Parodus Brustein in the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's production of 'The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window.” - Photo courtesy of Jenny Graham