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July 2, 2004

Head to Ashland for theatre

As many as four plays run daily in a town that has many entertainment options.

For a theatre lover, Gan Eden (Paradise) looks a lot like Ashland, Ore. Ashland's a lovely resort town in the foothills of the Siskiyou and Cascade ranges, just off U.S. Interstate 5 (which connects to B.C. Highway 99), 966 kilometres south of Vancouver. The town's biggest draw is the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF), recently named one of America's top five regional theatres. It attracts around 400,000 visitors annually.

This year's season includes five plays by Shakespeare and six others, which range from modern classics like The Royal Family and A Raisin in the Sun to a world première of Oedipus Complex (based on the works of Sophocles, Sartre and Freud). During the height of the season, as many as four plays run daily in three venues – offering patrons the theatrical equivalent of a cruise ship buffet pig-out.

Lithia Creek flows through the town and into Lithia Park (designed by John McClaren, who also created San Francisco's Golden Gate Park). Several restaurants and inns are situated along the creek banks, including the Plaza Inn and Suites, which manages to be both elegant and family friendly, with a grand lobby, designer touches in the rooms and complimentary cookies and peanut butter sandwiches – as well as free Internet service.

Also creekside is Pilaf (541-488-7898 or, Ashland's only all-vegetarian restaurant, with a global assortment of dishes, including an Israeli plate and a Palestinian platter.

Ashland is made for strolling, and it's easy to avoid using the car. Most of the businesses are located along Main Street (mercifully almost free of chain stores) and encompass boutiques and bookstores, cafés and coffeehouses, fine arts and crafts, spas and antiques, a first-run movie theatre and purveyors of bicycle rentals and white-water rafting excursions.

A sample of the fare

Henry VI, Part One was one of Shakespeare's earliest plays. Many critics (including Harold Bloom) have a low opinion of it, and some think that it wasn't even the Bard's original work, but merely his patched-up version of an earlier play.

The director of the OSF production, Scott Kaiser, has streamlined the complicated tale of war, politics, witchcraft and lust, with a cast of 12 playing 22 roles (cut down from the original 40-plus). The Lord of the Rings-inspired staging uses cinematic devices – such as characters appearing in "visions" and "flashbacks" – to add clarity and visual interest.

The revamped script puts the focus on the heroic Sir John Talbot (Jonathan Haugen), the English champion, and on Joan La Pucelle (Joan of Arc, played by Tyler Layton), who inspires (and, in this version, fights for) the French. The French Dauphin compares Joan to the biblical prophetess: "Thou art an Amazon, and fightest with the sword of Deborah." The titular king (played by Cristofer Jean) is a wimp, spending much of the play praying and urging his feuding relatives to hug and make nice.

It's a highly engaging production that ends on a cliffhanger of political and sexual intrigue that compels the audience to return for the combined parts two and three, performed in Ashland's outdoor Elizabethan Theatre. (Part One runs through Oct. 31; Parts Two/Three run through Oct. 9. Both can be seen on the same day.)

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival, which began Feb. 20, runs to Oct. 31, 2004. Tickets are $14.50 US to $65 US. For tickets and more information, call the box office at 541-482-4331 or visit

Lauri Donahue is an award-winning playwright and the rebbetzin of Beth Tikvah Congregation in Richmond.