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Oregon Shakespeare Festival picks all-woman roster

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival has picked six women to write the next round of plays exploring aspects of American history.

American Revolutions: The United States History Cycle is OSF’s multi-decade effort to commission and develop 37 new plays about moments of change.

The program has already yielded award-winning plays.

Robert Schenkkan’s “All the Way” — a personal and political look at the presidency of Lyndon Johnson — won the Tony Award for best play in 2014.

Lynn Notage’s “Sweat” won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for drama with its portrayal of factory workers in a Rust Belt city. The play was a co-commission by OSF and Arena Stage.

“American Revolutions tells a story of our history. Who we commission tells the story of who we are now,” said OSF Artistic Director Nataki Garrett. “This is a remarkable group of artists.”

The newly commissioned playwrights are Zakiyyah Alexander, Jaclyn Backhaus, E.M. Lewis, Mary Kathryn Nagle, Sara Novi and Sanaz Toossi.

“I am deeply proud that these extraordinary writers — all women — were willing to join OSF in this vigorous, honest, epic portrayal of our nation,” said Alison Carey, director of the American Revolutions program.

A native New Yorker, Alexander’s plays include “The Good Muslim” and “How to Raise a Freeman,” while her television writing credits include “Grey’s Anatomy,” “24: Legacy” and the upcoming Amazon show “The Hunt.”

Backhaus is a New York playwright, arts facilitator, mother and educator whose plays include “Wives” and “Men on Boats.”

Lewis, who lives on her family’s farm in Oregon, is a playwright, teacher and opera librettist. Her multifaceted play about guns in America, “The Gun Show,” has been produced around the world, including in Ashland.

A lawyer and member of the Cherokee Nation, Nagle works to protect tribal sovereignty and the right of tribes to protect their women and children from domestic violence and sexual assault by outsiders. Her plays include “Manahatta,” which premiered in 2018 at OSF.

Novi is the author of the novel “Girl at War,” which won an American Library Association Alex Award and is available in 13 languages. Coming in October, her nonfiction project “America is Immigrants” features short illustrated biographies of Americans hailing from all the countries of the world.

Toossi, an up-and-coming Iranian-American playwright who lives in California, has already won awards and play commissions.

American Revolutions writers choose the subject of their plays, creating an impressionistic history that reflects both the past and what writers are most moved by in the present, OSF officials said.

Lewis, the Oregonian, has been commissioned to create a play inspired by the state’s history. Her play is a co-commission with Portland’s Artists Repertory Theatre.

Two American Revolutions plays are now on OSF stages and run through October — “Between Two Knees” by the Native American group The 1491s, and the Tony-winning “Indecent” by Paula Vogel.

OSF’s 2020 season will also include two world premiere American Revolutions plays — “The Confederates” by Dominique Morisseau and “The Copper Children” by Karen Zacarías.

Several of the most recent American Revolutions plays staged at OSF have been co-commissions with other theater companies.

The project to commission history-inspired plays launched in 2008.

The American Revolutions’ 37th play will be commissioned later this year, with the writing and development of the works expected to last at least through 2027, OSF officials said.

Zakiyyah Alexander
Sara Novic