Never Say Never?

Sep 7, 2017 | 2 comments

Henry IV, Part One – OSF 2017

We leave Ashland in a few minutes with a bad taste in our mouths (literally!} and fairly strong resolutions not to come again – not to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, anyway.  It’s not just the smoke from the wildfires to the west.  It’s not just that our timing sucked and that all outdoor activities – Green Shows, performances in the Elizabethan Theater, Park Talks, and Backstage Tours – are closed. We have finally come to the conclusion that the Festival has outgrown and outpaced us; we no longer find the plays or the OSF experience user-friendly.  Not for us old folks.

It breaks my heart in so many ways.  I feel like OSF and I grew up together.  It began its ‘life’ in 1935; I, in 1936.  I first began coming to the plays when I was at Stanford (1953-1957) when most of the actors were also college students and the plays happened only during summer breaks.  We have matured together, OSF and I.  Now the foremost repertory company in the United States with performances almost year-round, OSF is an Equity Company, known for being on the cutting-edge with regard to diversity in casting and a myriad of other things.

Henry IV Part Two – OSF 2017

As for us… as we have aged, we haven’t quite kept apace.  I find myself lamenting traditions:  I miss the old Green Shows with acoustic music and contra dancing on the grass and I find my willing suspension of disbelief is only partially willing and not completely suspended. While the theater continues to experiment, I find myself longing for the comfort of old customs and rituals.

Once again, this year, when circumstances of fire (and now flash flood warnings) have limited the shows we’ve been able to see, we’ve run smack into the gender diversity ‘problem.’  Problem to us, that is.  We only saw two plays – “Henry IV, Part One” and “Henry IV, Part Two.”  Both are history plays – two of Shakespeare’s ten histories.  Though I commend OSF’s ability to pay no attention to gender in their casting, I cannot accept Glendower and Harry Percy being played by women.  Their acting was superb, as one would expect.  But I couldn’t wrap my head around the story, itself, with women portraying real-life characters from a history I’m familiar with.

Vilma Silva (left) as Julia Caesar, OSF 2011

A few years ago, Vilma Silva was cast in the title role of “Julius Caesar.  All other major roles except Julius’s were played as usual, as I recall.  But I could not accept Julius as “Julia.”  I’m sure the fault is mine. I just can’t seem to “move on” with an 82-year-old company that is still experimenting and changing while my own 81-year-old play-going desires lean toward constancy and tradition – at least in some respects.

So… Farewell, dear Ashland and beloved OSF.  You have both given us much joy and much food for thought over all these years.  May you long continue to provide a beacon to the world of theater, even though you leave some of us behind in your rush to innovation.  We are content with our memories…


  1. Cynthia Killingworth

    Sydney, You wrote this so beautifully. Such a painful parting of ways, but you are graceful and accepting of how time changes everything. You remind me of a wonderful woman I met in Oysterville 21 years ago. Her picture riding on Bear’s motorcycle still sits in our living room.

  2. Jane E Smith

    Thank you, Sydney, for expressing my feelings the last time I attended OSF a few years ago. It was my husband’s first visit. I was so excited to visit after many years. However, I could not put my finger on why it left me feeling missing something. Certainly I missed the old pre-show (was it called the Green Show back when?) of the characters on the grass. It took me back to old England….or the Old Globe in San Diego. In the late 60s/early 70s when living in San Francisco we would come up to the Festival, camp in the boonies, and get into the plays with Student Rush tickets. Those were the days! I don’t think we ever missed a show we wanted to see. We saw all ACT plays in SF with Student Rush tickets. I don’t suppose they even exist anymore! Oh well, we will be on the Peninsula next month Cranberry Festival time, where life if slower, easier, makes more sense.


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