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Longtime Oregon Shakespeare Festival actress dies

ASHLAND — Veteran Oregon Shakespeare Festival actress Judith-Marie Bergan, who played numerous roles for the play company for almost 20 years, died Saturday at her home following a battle with lung cancer.

Bergan, 67, whose resume includes a host of OSF-produced plays that stretch back to 1997, is survived by her husband, cinematographer Joao Fernandes, and her two sisters, Brooke and Joan. Born in November 1948 in Indianapolis, she received a bachelor of fine arts from the Goodman Theatre in Chicago.

In a news release, OSF artistic director Bill Rauch described Bergan as one of the festival's most accomplished and beloved long-term company members.

"She was also one of the kindest and most generous people I've ever had the pleasure of knowing," Rauch said. "We will miss her with the kind of passionate abandon that she brought to our company and audiences for two decades."

Bergan first stepped onstage at OSF in 1997 when she played Elena Guarneri in "The Magic Fire." She returned to OSF in 2000, playing Lorraine Sheldon in "The Man Who Came To Dinner" and the Chorus in "The Trojan Women."

OSF officials said her favorite roles over the next 16 years include Tamora in 2002's "Titus Andronicus," Cleopatra in 2003's "Antony and Cleopatra," Lady Bracknell in 2006's "The Importance of Being Earnest," Mrs. Bennet in 2010's "Pride and Prejudice" and Violet Weston in 2011's "August: Osage County."

OSF actress Kate Hurster, who played Elizabeth Bennet alongside Bergan in "Pride and Prejudice," said in a telephone interview that Bergan had a grand presence on stage.

"(Mrs. Bennet) was so like Judith," Hurster said. "Just so full of light and shimmer."

She added that Bergan's process for getting into a role was typically a private affair, with full commitment to whatever character she inhabited.

"She was a true craftswoman when it came to acting," Hurster said. "She was unstoppable."

Bergan worked at several additional companies across the country, including Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, Los Angeles Shakespeare Festival, Yale Repertory Theatre and The Old Globe Theatre. She also had numerous credits in television shows, including "Matlock," "NYPD Blue," and "Murphy Brown."

"It was so clear from the moment she stepped on the Bowmer stage that she was a high-quality actor, with a sharp wit, a sparkling intelligence and a beautiful elegant demeanor," OSF artistic director emerita Libby Appel said in a prepared statement. "What a rare find!"

Bergan stepped down from her final OSF role, Miss Havishim in "Great Expectations," in June, according to OSF spokesman Eddie Wallace. Actress Caroline Shaffer is now playing that role, OSF officials said.

A post on OSF's Facebook page about Bergan's death had garnered hundreds of comments from playgoers, friends and colleagues by Sunday afternoon.

"They don't get any better," one comment reads. "What a privilege to follow her career at OSF all these years. Judith-Marie's performances were so memorable and always filled with wit and grit."

"Judith was such a light onstage," another commenter says. "We won't forget her memorable performances in Long Day's Journey or August: Osage County, among her recent plays. She was a special star in the firmament."

Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or rpfeil@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/ryanpfeil.

Judith-Marie Bergan stars in the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's 2007 production of 'The Cherry Orchard' by Anton Chekhov. Bergan died at her home this weekend following a battle with cancer. Photo courtesy of OSF.