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OSF opens its Allen Elizabethan Theatre

Drama, fantasy and comedy play out this weekend, June 13-15, when Oregon Shakespeare Festival opens its outdoor theater with productions of William Shakespeare's history play "Richard III," his comedy "The Two Gentlemen of Verona," and Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's musical "Into the Woods."

The 2014 summer season marks two milestones, according to a press release from OSF. The Allen Elizabethan Theatre opens with a new name this year, the result of a large grant by the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation. And a state-of-the-art Meyer Sound system has been installed in the theater — made possible by Ashland residents Judy Shih and Joel Axelrod. The system is designed to enhance voices, bringing clarity, articulation and projection into the theater.

"All three of these productions promise to be wildly entertaining in very different ways," said OSF Artistic Director Bill Rauch in the press release. "The Meyer Sound system in the newly renamed Allen Elizabethan Theatre will give audiences the greatest possible access to the gorgeous music of Shakespeare's language as well as the brilliance of Sondheim's lyrics and melodies."

Curtain is at 8 p.m. for all performances in the Allen Elizabethan Theatre. Tickets start at $25 and can be purchased at www.osfashland.org or by calling the box office at 800-219-8161. The shows will close the weekend of Oct. 10-12.

"Richard III" opens Friday, June 13

Director James Bundy notes that he loves this play for "its headlong and sometimes hilarious portrait of both evil deeds and the comeuppance of conscience. At its center stands Richard, a character of astonishing malevolence and wit — but in the end, a mortal as frail as any of us and just as subject to the cruelty of others."

Bundy also points out that there is no character in Shakespeare's canon before Richard and until Hamlet who has such a strong relationship with the audience — "one that provides conspiratorial pleasure to us and thereby implicates the audience in Richard's evil as well as his pain."

Longtime company members Dan Donohue and Anthony Heald play King Richard III and the Duke of Buckingham, respectively.

Set design is by Richard L. Hay, costumes by Ilona Somogyi and lighting by Jane Cox.

"Into the Woods" opens Saturday, June 14

The magical and irreverent Tony Award-winning musical by Sondheim and Lapine takes to the stage with direction and musical direction by Amanda Dehnert. It features familiar fairy-tale characters taking fabulous adventures with unexpected results — all accompanied by a 25-piece orchestra made up of performers from the Rogue Valley.

Dehnert said she wanted to embrace the orchestral nature of the score.

"Sondheim has melded the music and lyrics in this work. It is rooted in the lyrics, but the music creates the world. The story is told in song. There's lots of music — great music — and I wanted to celebrate the score in this production."

This fairy-tale world features costumes by Linda Roethke, set by Rachel Hauck and lighting by Jane Cox.

"The Two Gentlemen of Verona" opens Sunday, June 15, with a preview on Thursday, June 12

Shakespeare's early comedy deals with themes of friendship and infidelity, the conflicts between friendship and love, and the foolish behavior of people in love. Directed by Sarah Rasmussen, OSF's production features an all-female cast, with Christiana Clark playing Proteus and Sofia Jean Gomez as Valentine. (A great Pyrenees named Picasso plays Crab, Proteus' clownish servant's ill-mannered dog.) According to Rasmussen, the inspired performances by women in OSF's company that she'd seen over the years got her to thinking about staging this play with females in all roles. It reflects a parallel to the traditional all-male casting during Shakespeare's day, she said.

The costumes, designed by Moria Clinton, are inspired by late 16th-century fashions and set design is by Andrew Boyce.

Richard III, left, played by Dan Donohue, and Richmond, played by R.J. Foster, battle for the throne in Oregon Shakespeare Festival's 2014 production of 'Richard III.' - Photo courtesy of Jenny Graham