Measure for Measure, Julius Caesar, Henry IV Part Two, Love’s Labor’s Lost, The African Company Presents Richard III, and Ghostlight, presented by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, February-November 2011.

Geoff Ridden
Southern Oregon University

Geoff Ridden, "Review of Measure for Measure, Julius Caesar, Henry IV Part Two, Love’s Labor’s Lost, The African Company Presents Richard III, and Ghostlight, performed by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, February-November 2011." EMLS 16.1 (2012): 16.


Measure for Measure. Director: Bill Rauch. With Anthony Heald (Duke of Vienna), René Millán (Angelo), Stephanie Beatriz (Isabela), and Isabell Monk O’Connor (Escalus).

Julius Caesar. Director: Amanda Dehnert. With Vilma Silva (Julius Caesar), Jonathan Haugen (Brutus), Gregory Linington (Cassius), and Danforth Comins (Mark Antony).

Henry IV, Part Two. Director: Lisa Peterson. With John Tufts (Prince Hal), Michael Winters (Falstaff), and Richard Howard (King Henry).

Love’s Labor’s Lost. Director: Shana Cooper. With Mark Bedard (King of Navarre), Kate Hurster (Princess of France), Gregory Linington (Berowne), and Stephanie Beatriz (Rosaline).

Ghostlight. Director: Jonathan Moscone. With Christopher Liam Moore (Jon), Robynn Rodriguez (Louise), Bill Geisslinger (Prison Guard), and Derrick Lee Weeden (Mister).

The African Company Presents Richard III. Director: Seret Scott. With Charles Robinson (Papa Shakespeare), Kevin Kenerly (James Hewitt), and Peter Macon (William Henry Brown).


  1. This was a longer than usual season for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, extending into the first week of November, and one that included an unusual piece of drama: a crack was discovered in the roof of the larger of the two indoor theatres (the Angus Bowmer), resulting in its closure from June 16th to August 2nd. During that period, plays scheduled for that theatre were re-staged in other venues in and around Ashland, including a tent in the park. The logistics of keeping the schedule of performances going were daunting and would have defeated some other companies.  The season included four productions of Shakespeare plays, two in indoor theatres and two on the stage of the outdoor Allen Pavilion, together with productions of two other plays (Ghostlight and The African Company Presents Richard III) which had clear connections with Shakespeare.

    Measure for Measure 

  2. Most of us go to Measure for Measure wondering how the final moments will be played: will Isabella take the Duke willingly or not? This production provided an intriguing answer to that riddle by adding a cultural division between the two characters.
  3. Ashland is a small town, and I had heard talk of this production having a Spanish setting. As a result, I had some concerns about how the nominal setting of Vienna would be employed. The place name occurs nine times in the text, and Vienna is no Illyria to be fashioned as you will, but a real location. I wondered whether it would become, for example, Valencia. And I wondered why Spanish was being used at all. The playbill note told us that the setting was “Vienna, an American city”, and there were US flags on the stage on a number of occasions. Although the playbill did not specify a time, the clothing, music and hair-styles suggested the 1970s. This Vienna was, moreover, a multi-cultural American city, with substantial Hispanic and black communities, even if, for the most part, it was the white population that was in charge.
  4. The playbill also told us that “This production of Measure for Measure is part of Shakespeare for a New Generation, a national theatre initiative sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts in cooperation with Arts Midwest”, and this was certainly a version of Measure for Measure which was designed for a US audience: the evocation of a Catholic, Hispanic community was not one which could have been employed as effectively in a UK production. The sense of a rift in this community was brought home in the use of English and Spanish, and especially in the pronunciation of the names Claudio, Julietta and Lucio: these were pronounced quite differently by the white characters (and even the spelling of the principal female character was altered in the playbill to ‘Isabela’). In an even more pointed directorial decision, Julietta could speak no English, and so her words in II.iii had to be translated for Duke Vincentio, a man so far from being in control that he did not even speak the language of his people.
  5. The set, in the Angus Bowmer Theatre, was a simple but substantial cuboid, from which stairs were sent out from time to time, allowing actors access to the stage from the audience level. I counted nine separate modes of access to the stage, including the use of the vomitaria, and of the doors through which the audience came into the auditorium.
  6. There were actors on stage before the play had officially started and while the house lights were still up, and this practice was repeated after the intermission. It was during this pre-show that the audience realized that the rear of the cuboid contained windows with views onto a narrow corridor behind it. As the play proceeded, there were back-projections on the wall of this corridor, or the windows themselves became screens, or were lit in such a fashion as to become mirrors that reflected the audience.
  7. The cuboid itself was a permanent fixture, but the use of the rear corridor, and the swift transformation of the cuboid from boardroom to nightclub, to homeless shelter, to prison, to convent, to community centre and so on aided the swift pace and fluid action, a quality complemented by a judicious editing of the text. One consequence of the cuboid was that audience members sitting to the sides of the theatre had a somewhat restricted view of the action, impeded by the walls of the cuboid itself.
  8. It was left to the house lights to signal that the performance had begun, and, like many recent Oregon Shakespeare productions, the play did not open with what are usually considered the opening lines. When the lights went down there were three Latina cleaners on stage, who quickly transformed themselves into a mariachi band, Las Colibri; they provided the musical accompaniment throughout the play, sometimes as a trio, sometimes as soloists. There was often a risk that the music would become more significant than the words which were being spoken as the music was being played, but, ultimately it did not prove to be a problem.
  9. One problematic choice became apparent when action was taking place in the corridor at the same as downstage in the cuboid itself; it proved a distraction at times, for example in the eavesdropping by the Duke in III.i. However, in general this was not a production stocked with theatrical trickery: a telephone stood in for the messenger in the opening scene, but there were very few other noticeable pieces of twenty-first-century updating. The Duke put on a wig (complete with tonsure) when he disguised himself, and wore contact lenses when he returned as himself at the end of the play, and at one point he sported a baseball cap with ‘V’ on it, but there was little else which caught the eye. I did wonder, however, why Friar Peter did not have a tonsure.
  10. Unusually we had a handsome Angelo and a Duke who was not especially physically attractive. There is little in the text to account for the Duke's expression in the final scene of his desire to marry Isabella, other than his declaration in the first Act that he is not retiring from the world because of love (I.iii.2), and in this production, his dawning sense of the attractiveness of Isabella was flagged by the tenderness of their sharing a cigarette in III.i, just before the intermission, and by the pattern of hearts and flowers which came up in lights around the proscenium arch just as the intermission began.
  11. The production included a transvestite Mistress Overdone (in a play about 'seeming', even s/he is not what s/he seems). The low-life scenes were the part of the play most subject to cutting. For example, Pompey's speech at IV iii.1-19 was cut completely, and the pacing was all the better for this.
  12. There were some innovations in entrance and exits which worked very well. In I.iv, the Nun remained on stage which added to the potential for comic business. In II.ii Angelo made to exit at line 143, only to come back at the word 'bribery'. Lucio, who might have stepped from an episode of Starsky and Hutch, had a wonderful southern accent and a fine Afro. His delivery of the simple words “Is she your cousin?” (I.iv) released a comic potential that few of us knew were there in this line.
  13. In terms of individual lines, I would have changed the stress in 'perpetual honour' in III.i to emphasise the first word, and I expected more to be made of the word 'substitute' throughout the play, especially in a production with a male playing Mistress Overdone. However, I really liked the pause before 'What think you of it?' in the same scene. and I very much admired Isabella's delivery of her speech pleading for mercy in the last scene of the play, which was all the more powerful for being understated and hesitant in its delivery.

  14. The intermission came after the revelation of the Marianne plot (III.i.167) at what in some editions is halfway through. The Duke lost his tonsure-wig as the house-lights came up, and the second half began with the mariachi band performing the Joan Baez song El Preso Numero Nueve, with the lights around the proscenium arch bearing the legend “Song for death row”. In a striking departure from convention, the song in IV.i, ”Take, O take those lips away” was replaced by a Spanish translation performed by Angelo, with the title ”Song for lost love” in lights.

  15. Mariana herself was situated in an asylum, driven there, no doubt, by her treatment by Angelo, and we had one or two textual adjustments in the second half: Abhorson affected a comic stammer on “mmmystery” in IV.ii (the influence of The King's Speech perhaps?), while the reference to “the gates” (portales in Spanish) from IV.iii onwards transformed the location of the final scene to the Portales Community Centre.

  16. Trial scenes are something of a speciality for OSF - we have seen them in recent seasons in Henry VIII and in The Merchant of Venice, and there was another this season in To Kill a Mockingbird - and this one continued that tradition of fine staging. The house lights were partially brought up, so that the audience could be involved, either in applauding the return of the Duke, or being engaged by the excellent Lucio. The setting included a dais and a microphone, which were well-employed in the final moment of the play, although it was slightly awkward to have that microphone so far downstage.
  17. Isabella was very much back to being the novice in these last moments of the play - her head-dress was reinstated, for example, and this is not the case in all productions I have seen. The ending was left open - after the Duke delivered his final line, Isabella stepped up to the microphone, and the stage went dark - but the production as a whole did not encourage the audience to see the match between the Duke and Isabella as an ideal pairing: he does not understand her culture or her language.
  18. Reflecting on my responses to this production, I realised that I had said nothing about the acting, and that is because the acting of the OSF company is of such a high calibre that I took it for granted.

    Julius Caesar
  19. Measure for Measure includes a couple of 'Caesar' references, as well as a character called Pompey, and these gained extra resonance when Julius Caesar was shortly to be playing across the street. Julius Caesar was staged in the smallest of the OSF venues, the New Theatre, which has some 300 seats. In this production, the audience sat on all four sides of the performance space.
  20. The basic premise for this production was that Caesar's assassination is but the start of a process which ends only when the play ends and Caesar comes to rest. The realization of this premise led to some interesting dramatic choices, especially in the second half of the performance. Shakespeare's text may have furnished a Ghost in IV.iii, but this version of the play took that notion much further.

  21. The production was set up very much like that of a touring company performing in an arts centre or a school auditorium. Chairs for use by the actors were scattered around the front rows of the audience, and the cast either sat in them there or moved them to centre stage. Loudspeakers were brought out in Act One to relay the off-stage offering of the crown to Caesar, and floodlights were wheeled on for some of the scenes, especially for the battles (these proved to be distracting for some members of the audience, who were holding up their hands as the lights shone in their eyes).

  22. The stage was bare for the most part, with very basic furniture (chairs, boxes, a table or two) brought on as necessary. The action, therefore, flowed very rapidly, and some potentially difficult transitions (e.g in the heat of battle between V.i and V.ii) proved quite unproblematic, because, as a rule, scene breaks were not marked. Stage groupings were always interesting - circles of characters, or opposing lines - and added to the visual variety, compensating for the stark overall picture. Occasionally, the bare stage caused incongruity; once the assassination had taken place, and the plans to talk to the people were being formulated, the word 'pulpit' was repeated several times, even though there was no such pulpit for the either Brutus or Mark Antony to speak from.

  23. There were four entrances/exits, and, at the start of the play, each had a crude banner hanging over it with Caesar's name on it: by the end of the play, only one of these banners remained in place: there were banners of a similar style in the theatre lobby and in the street outside, all reflecting political deaths. The costumes were modern dress, although some of the men wore kilt-like skirts over their jeans. Cassius (pronounced Cashus in this production) carried a bag emblazoned with the word, 'REPENT' and, when he took off his shirt, revealed 'SPQR' tattoos on his back and his chest.

  24. We had a female Caesar, and so there were pronoun changes. But the name 'Julius' occurs so infrequently in the play (only three times, in fact) that it was not changed, either on stage or in the programme. Pronouns were also altered elsewhere in the performance when women played roles usually taken by men. The reference to a “sick girl” (I.ii.128) acquired an extra resonance with a woman as Caesar, as did the description in the same scene of Caesar’s inability to swim the Tiber: this was a very vulnerable Caesar.

  25. Perhaps the most notable departure from a traditional staging followed from the choice of a female Caesar: there was no Calpurnia. And so, instead of pleas from Caesar's wife for him not to go to the Forum, we had pleas from Mark Antony. This worked extremely well, and seemed all the more justifiable because of this line (transferred into the mouth of Caesar):
    We'll send Mark Antony to the senate-house:
    And he shall say you are not well to-day (II.ii.54-5)
    Despite Calpurnia’s absence, the dream to which she refers in II.ii was present, acted out with a bucket of blood and long roll of white paper: (we also saw the physical burning of Caesar's will by Mark Antony in III.ii).

  26. The proximity of the cast to the audience opened up possibilities for audience involvement, and the play started with the house-lights up, the cast mingling with the audience, and with an encouragement from Vilma Silva that we should all cheer, stamp our feet, whistle and applaud whenever Caesar made the gesture to invite this reaction. We duly rehearsed this cheering, and played our part when invited to do so. However, I was somewhat surprised that this audience participation was not carried into the scenes of the post-assassination orations: we had an on-stage crowd responding to Brutus and then to Mark Antony, but no encouragement for the audience to be involved. I am told that the degree of audience involvement varied from performance to performance. Curiously, one metatheatrical reference to audience involvement was cut: “If the tag-rag people did not clap him and hiss him, according as he pleased and displeased them, as they use to do the players in the theatre, I am no true man” (I.ii). However, a later example of meta-theatre remained (and was played to laughter, at least at the performance I attended):
    How many ages hence
    Shall this our lofty scene be acted over
    In states unborn and accents yet unknown (III.i.111-13)
    Sometimes the pace of the action was accelerated by having two characters speak over each other, as Cassius and Brutus did in II.i: Cassius interjected “Yet I do fear him” after line 165, repeating that line at the end of Brutus’s speech. This was a device used in last year's production of Hamlet, notably with the children of Polonius chiming in with what were clearly, to them, his all-too-familiar lines. In another strategy to maintain momentum, Portia and Brutus actually went behind the audience in II.i, whilst continuing their dialogue.

  27. The four principal roles were taken by highly skilled, highly competent actors, and the ensemble work was also very strong. My only reservation as far as the acting was concerned would be about Ako, who had a very different acting style, from a different tradition. As the soothsayer, her exoticism was credible, but she did not blend in with the ensemble in her other roles.

  28. Caesar left for the Senate clothed in a beautiful white coat over the white tunic she had worn before, and this clothing became a crucial motif in the second half of the play. The assassination was an especially bloody one, and that coat moved rapidly from virgin whiteness to a ruddy mess. The final thrust from Brutus became, in this casting, almost an embrace, although I was not sure about the pronunciation of ‘Et tu Brute’, which seemed almost French to my ears.

  29. Left alone with Caesar's body, Mark Antony goes to stab himself (III.i), and begins the separation of the mantle from the corpse of Caesar which was to prove so significant in the second half of the play. We were also given a hint just before the intermission that this was not to be out last glimpse of Caesar, for it was she who cried 'Havoc' as Mark Antony spoke of letting loose the dogs of war.

  30. The second half began with III.ii (although the programme indicated that the original intention had been to run the show with no intermission at all). Mark Antony's famous oration began with his having to shout the first few words above the noise of the on-stage 'crowd' to get their attention, and it was punctuated by their vocal reactions of agreement and disagreement. The bloody mantle stood for Caesar's corpse, while Vilma Silva herself was a silent and ubiquitous presence throughout the second part of the play, her body as white as her tunic now, and her white hands touching each character as he or she met death, so that each corpse carried that white mark. This was a powerful visual reminder of the euphemism used in II.i in the planning of Caesar’s assassination: “Shall no man else be touch’d but only Caesar?” (II.i.154).  

  31. The actor playing Cassius (Gregory Linington) did not look older than Brutus, as their exchange in IV.iii suggested that he should: maybe he should have removed his hat rather earlier then he did? But I loved this scene: the interplay and tension between these two actors here was one of the highlights of an excellent production.

  32. This was a cruel world: Cinna the poet, complete with a stammer which made him unable to say the word 'conspirator' was audibly executed off-stage in III.iii even if the other, unnamed poet in IV.iii was removed from this version of the play. On the other hand, Lucilius, claiming to be Brutus in V.iv, had a different fate from his usual role in the play: both he and the man taken prisoner with him were shot.

  33. The production had a most effective final tableau: those who had died in the closing scenes lay on the stage, with Caesar's mark of death upon them, as Caesar herself laid down to rest: the results of the assassination had finally worked themselves out.
    Henry IV, Part Two

  34. Henry IV, Part Two continued OSF’s staging of the second tetralogy of Shakespeare’s English history plays: we had Henry IV, Part One last year, and we will have Henry V next year (curiously, the cycle did not begin with a production of Richard II).

  35. This production was performed on the outdoor stage, and did not play to large audiences. It was never going to be a crowd-pleaser, and one has to admire the courage of OSF in presenting a play in which so little happens and so many of the speeches are declamatory and expository. The playbill had a helpful note on the English historical background which explained the action of the play, but there can be no guarantee that all members of the audience had read this note before the play started, and there is also a powerful argument that the drama on the stage should be sufficiently comprehensible in its own right. It might have been better if more continuity had been maintained between the plays in this series: the two Henry IV plays featured different actors as Pistol and very different design concepts.

  36. Although the outdoor stage has a wonderful replica of an Elizabethan tiring house, which allows for action on several levels, that feature was masked in this production by scaffolding reminiscent of what is called in the USA an Erector Set, and in the UK Meccano. The effect was to create a setting which was remarkably clean, even in the tavern scenes (in some of which both upper and ground levels were used). In the centre of the stage was a staircase, on which characters occasionally sat, but which was not used as a staircase until the newly-crowned King Henry V came down in regal splendour in V.v.

  37. The production opened with a recapitulation of the events prior to the play: the cast, in battle greys, performed an ensemble dumb-show in which the crown passed from one actor to another, and in which Hotspur was killed. In Henry IV, Part One last year, Hotspur had been played by a black actor, Kevin Kenerly, and, in this dumb show, the role was taken by another black actor, Rodney Gardiner, presumably for the benefit of those who had been in the audience the previous season. I was not convinced of the effectiveness of this opening – it seemed to serve only to demonstrate how much the audience needed to know, and reminding patrons of their ignorance may not be a wise move. It certainly reminded us that Hotspur was dead, and this is one of the first problems which this play sets its directors: Hotspur in Henry IV, Part One is as vivid a creation as Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet, and the killing off of each of these characters poses a real dramatic threat.

  38. Gardiner moved directly from playing Hotspur in this dumb-show to speak the opening lines of the play in the character of Rumour, resplendent in a T-shirt with a large ‘tongue’ logo, reminiscent of the Rolling Stones; he then segued into the role of the Porter, staying on stage to sit on the steps and listen to the action unfold. He was to be a ubiquitous figure throughout the play, as Gower, Harcourt and various messengers, each time with tongues featuring somewhere in his costume, and his own tongue flicking from his mouth. This was an effective piece of doubling, underlining the dubious nature of the ‘truths’ carried by this informants. However, it fell apart badly in the decision to cast Gardiner also as Pistol. We had grown so accustomed to this actor playing with us and enlivening what might have been pedestrian scenes, that it was difficult to accept that Pistol was not Rumour too – and we waited for that tongue to pop out of his mouth. It never did.

  39. Although this is a play about old age and decay, it was hard to see why it was quite so drab in appearance, unless the intention was to make the coronation robes of Henry V all the more splendid by contrast. His predecessor makes only a single entrance in the first half of the play, and never wears anything more royal than his nightshirt. That single entrance came in III.i, in which, in this production, the King seemed to have wandered in error into the tavern milieu of II.iv, perhaps because the director did not wish to slow down the action just before the intermission which came with Henry’s wish to depart for the Holy Land.

  40. The language of the play seemed to pose some problems for the director and the cast. The reference to Smithfields at I.i.50-4 was excised along with the pun on ‘stews’ (in their place we had ‘butchers’ and ‘brothels’). I would have preferred Shroaz-bury to Shrooz-bury in the opening scene, and I would certainly have liked Bayz-ingstoke rather than Bazz-ingstoke in II.i.

  41. There were other oddities too, such as the presence of anachronisms such as binoculars and Union flags, and the fact that, in IV.iii Falstaff waves a bottle as he talks of wine, and yet the bottle is evidently not a wine bottle.

  42. The script had been pruned quite substantially; for example, much of the discussion of Mowbray’s past in IV.i was taken out. One scene was removed entirely: the opening scene of Act V was replaced by V.iii - another scene in Gloucestershire. Nothing was lost from the plot in this decision, except that the audience has earlier notice of the death of the King than it would in productions which retained the scene.

  43. There were some moments of broad comedy in the tavern scenes, not least when Kimberly Scott, as Mistress Quickly, matched the action to the words in II.iv, shaking and swaying each time she uttered ‘swagger’. But these moments remain memorable because there was so little life in these scenes as a whole, and less life still in Gloucestershire.

  44. At the end of this production, the epilogue was retained, albeit in an edited version, and thus we were reminded that this has been ‘a displeasing play’, and we are given ‘the promise’ of ‘a better’. These disarmingly frank words are Shakespeare’s own, but it is a brave company that includes them.

    Love’s Labor’s Lost

  45. In Love’s Labor’s Lost, we move from the wordy to the Worthies, and to another play which refers to Pompey.

  46. This was the second Shakespearean production in the open air theatre, but the set designer clearly felt that it was not open air enough, because the stage was covered with fake grass. Furthermore, a fence was placed across the bottom level of the ‘tiring house’ (on which a ‘No Ladies’ sign was placed early on in the action), and the upper level was scarcely used at all in this play. In consequence we had a realistic park setting (with a large tent erected during the intermission), but which apparently needed to become an interior scene at some points, and to have furniture moved on to it (for example in IV.ii with Sir Nathaniel and Holofernes). I would happily have foregone the fake grass, enjoyed the empty stage, and used my imagination to conjure up the settings.  

  47. The play opened with pieces of business before a word was spoken. There was a large trash can in the middle of the stage, into which the four male students solemnly deposited objects symbolizing what they were renouncing – a football, donuts, cigars and pornography. The business was developed so that the porn magazines had no sooner been discarded by one of the men, than they were retrieved and pored over by the others. The garbage can then received an inflatable doll, and, at the end of the scene, after the proclamation had been brought in by Sir Nathaniel and Holofernes and signed by the young men, the garbage was found to contain Costard.

  48. The production was set in the early twentieth century: the young men wore football clothing from that period (and Shriner fezzes), and the young women were clad in pajamas in the second half. In addition, Berowne added a ‘C’mon’ before taking his oath in the opening scene, while Dull confused ‘Armado’ with ‘Armadillo’ in the same scene – a good joke, but not one we find in Shakespeare.

  49. The text had been radically cut, almost always in ways which were helpful to a twenty-first-century audience. Much of the jokes involving Latin tags in IV.ii and V.i, for example, were taken out, along with interchanges between Boyet and the young women in IV.i, and jokes at the expense of Costard in III.i. What was less easy to understand was the removal of the reference to Rosaline’s ‘darkness’ at IV.iii.243ff. There was also an odd choice in the opening scene, where the reading ‘Vizgerent’ was preferred over ‘vice-regent’; the former has some textual authority, but the latter makes some sense. The final syllable of ‘Berowne’ was consistently and properly pronounced to rhyme with ‘moon’, but I could not but feel that, in the opening scene, the emphasis in ‘complete’ in the line “A maid of grace and complete majesty” (I.i.136) should be on the first syllable.    

  50. This play had a very strong cast, and the young men were just youthful enough to be credible as students: they clearly revelled in all the business added to IV.iii (including rap music, custard pies and interaction which the audience) which led us breathlessly up to the intermission. Jonathan Haugen as Costard was a revelation: not only was this role a total contrast to his Brutus in Julius Caesar, it also demonstrated that Costard need not be played as a country yokel: he might not understand everything that the aristocrats were saying, but he was street-wise, and smarter than them in many respects.

  51. The production had a female Boyet – the wonderful Robin Goodrin Nordli – a change which required very few textual adjustments. It is customary now for Moth to be played by a woman, and that tradition was followed, except that much was made in I.ii of the fact that she was a woman pretending to be a man (Armado carefully fitted on her wig), just as, it transpired, Don Armado was not really a Spaniard but a rogue pretending to be one in order to make a profit from the noblemen.

  52. The third male role to be taken by a woman was that of Marcade, who was played by Ako. Although Marcade has few words, the impact of this character far outweighs what is spoken: the entry of Marcade in the final scene brings the news of the death of the King and the translation of the Princess to become Queen of France. I did not feel that this casting did justice to the gravity and weight of the role, and, indeed, this moment was a disappointing one, in what was in many respects a fine production. Surely, when the Princess becomes ‘your majesty’, everyone else on the stage at that moment should bow or curtsy?

  53. The production did have a sting in its tail, however. The final line, which directs the cast en route off-stage - “You that way: we this way” -  was spoken by Armado, but was a signal that he and Jacquenetta should go in one direction, as the married couple, while the unmarried couples should take the other path.  


  54. Ghostlight is a new play directed by Jonathan Moscone, and written by him in collaboration with Tony Taccone. It explores the impact of the assassination of George Moscone in 1978 upon his son, Jonathan. Mayor Moscone was killed on the same day as Harvey Milk in what was the most recent (and hopefully the last) political assassination in US history.

  55. The play’s conceit is that Jon Moscone is a theatre director, struggling with a production of Hamlet, in particular with the representation of the ghost of Hamlet’s father. There are clear parallels between the ghostly father figures in Hamlet and in Moscone’s play, but there is also an attempt, which is less clear, to establish parallels between the Shakespearean ghost and Moscone’s memories of his grandfather, who was a prison guard and who appears to Moscone on several occasions in the course of this play, sometimes speaking lines from Hamlet. I am not sure that this link was one which was made by all members of the audience, but it did not undermine the power of this play as a piece of theatre, and nothing could take away from the magnificent performance of Christopher Liam Moore as Jon.

    The African Company Present Richard III

  56. The African Company Presents Richard III by Carlyle Brown is not a new play: it was first staged in 1988 in St Paul, Minnesota. It is based on events that took place in 1822 when a black company of actors put on a production of Richard III in New York City just at the time when a white version of the same play was also being staged next door.

  57. The play centres on a significant moment in the history of the staging of Shakespeare in the USA, and uses the stories of real historical figures, including the black actors William Henry Brown and James Hewlett. It adds a developing off-stage romance between Hewlett and Ann Johnson which mirrors their onstage roles of Richard and Lady Anne, and a black father-figure actor called Papa Shakespeare.

  58. My sense was that the play expected a closer acquaintance by the audience with Shakespeare’s Richard III than was actually the case. Moreover, while the importance of the African Company ‘owning’ Shakespeare was made clear in this play, it was not so evident why the company felt so strongly that it must stage Richard III, rather than another Shakespeare play. Richard III, with its depiction of the evils of the English monarchy was hugely popular in the USA at this time, especially in the version ‘improved’ by Colley Cibber, but the political significance of its popularity is not brought out in Brown’s play. One line from Richmond’s final speech in Shakespeare’s play was enough to bring a US audience to its feet in the nineteenth century: “England hath long been mad, and scarr’d herself” (V.v) and, in 1822, the white company playing Richard III next door to the African Company had an English actor in the title role: Junius Brutus Booth.


  59. In conclusion, aspects of this OSF season were familiar to regular patrons: for example, none of the Shakespeare productions began with what are their conventional opening lines. Business was less brisk than usual, as audiences were curtailed in part by the closure of the Angus Bowmer Theatre at the height of the season; although alternative venues were found, not everyone liked them, and audiences were not always interested in or swayed by the efforts that had been made to stage the plays at all.

  60. There was another possible problem: OSF did not seem to have an appropriate Shakespeare play in repertory for spring break to cater to the needs of school groups (Measure for Measure had opened but, oddly, was announced as not suitable for younger audiences, whereas a far more bawdy version of Molière’s Imaginary Invalid did not carry this warning). Julius Caesar opened in late March, and proved popular with school groups. Some were intrigued, others puzzled, by seeing a female Caesar, but the groups I spoke to seemed buy my prediction that, ten years from now, they would see the play again and express surprise that the role was being played by a man.

  61. The playbill for Henry IV, Part Two attempted to make a link between some of the Shakespearean plays on offer this season, by observing that the history plays, like Measure for Measure and Julius Caesar have civil unrest at the centre. However, nobody could have anticipated how resonant one of these productions was to become. While The African Company Presents Richard III emphasised the significance of Shakespeare in nineteenth-century USA, Julius Caesar underlined, through the banners which hung outside the theatre, that politics and assassination are still with us: it would have been a brave company which added banners for Osama bin Laden and Muammar Gaddafi as the summer went on – OSF did not rise to that particular challenge.

  62. On a personal note, I look forward to the time when productions on the outdoor stage use the tiring house and that alone, as the set, and work on the ‘imaginary forces’ of the audience: next season’s Henry V might be just the place to start.

Works Cited

·         The Riverside Shakespeare, ed. G. Blakemore Evans (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1974)



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© 2012-, Annaliese Connolly and Matthew Steggle (Editors, EMLS).