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Homecoming for Stacy Keach

It will be a professional homecoming for award-winning actor Stacy Keach when he stars in a staged reading of “Pamplona” in the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s Bowmer Theater Monday, Sept. 14.

Keach began his professional acting career at OSF during the summers of 1962 and 1963 while he was still a drama student at the University of California, Berkeley.

Good reviews of his performance in a Berkeley student production of “The Changeling” prompted friends from San Francisco’s Actors’ Workshop, who were also members of the OSF acting company, to urge him to audition for then-artistic director Angus Bowmer. Bowmer subsequently cast the 21-year-old Keach as Henry V in a production directed by Jerry Turner.

“The space where the Bowmer Theatre is now was an outdoor rehearsal area,” Keach recalls. “We would rehearse all three repertory plays in one day, in the hot sun. I remember sitting in my room over Main Street memorizing roles for three different plays.”

The two OSF seasons sparked a continuing passion for Shakespeare. Keach went on to study at Yale Drama School and then won a Fulbright scholarship to the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art.

“It was great to be with people who were seasoned Shakespearean actors who gave me support,” Keach recalls. “It was one of the most wonderful gifts a young actor can have.”

A good review of his “Henry V” by Henry Hewes in the Saturday Review gave him national coverage. That led to an audition with Joe Papp of New York’s Public Theatre while Keach was at Yale.

“I got a sentence into a speech from ‘Henry V,’ ” says Keach. “And Joe Papp said ‘that’s it.’ He cast me as Marcellus in ‘Hamlet’ in the 1964 summer production.”

In “Pamplona,” directed by OSF Artistic Director Bill Rauch, Keach plays Ernest Hemingway, reprising a role that earned him a Best Actor Golden Globe in 1988 when he portrayed the writer in a four-part television mini-series.

“'Pamplona' is about a writer’s creative process as well as about Hemingway’s life,” says Keach.

The one-man staged reading will have videos of Hemingway and the other characters in his life, as well as original music by composer Michael Roth.

The story begins as Hemingway is struggling to write an article about the rivalry between his close friends, Spanish matadors Antonio Ordoñez and Luis Miguel Dominguín. When Hemingway won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954, he swore that it was not going to be a curse, that his best work was still before him. Now, five years later, he is blocked. The words won’t come.

“He is in despair,” Keach says. “He revisits the demons of his past — his youth, his marriages, his friendships and, especially, his continuous struggle to write.”

Keach fashioned “Pamplona” with writer Jim McGrath. He sent the play to an old friend, theater producer Jeffrey Richards, who had worked to bring OSF’s production of “All the Way” to Broadway. Richards suggested Keach submit “Pamplona” to Bill Rauch.

Keach says he hopes this staged reading, which is already sold out, will lead to a full production in an upcoming OSF season.

“I think the Oregon Shakespeare Festival is the best theater company in America,” says Keach. “The greatest joy for an actor is to be able to play different parts over the course of a few days. It is exhilarating. There are other good companies, but OSF is the only one that presents a season in repertory.”

Keach begins filming 12 episodes of “Crowded,” a new sitcom for NBC, in August. He continues to narrate episodes of “American Greed,” a documentary on CNBC. He has two films to be released this fall, “Cell,” a film based on a Stephen King short story about cellphones creating zombie students, and “Truth,” starring Cate Blanchett and Robert Redford, based on the Dan Rather scandal during the 2000 presidential election.

Roberta Kent is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach her at rbkent@mind.net.

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