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History repeats itself at Oregon Shakespeare Festival*

August 11, 2009 |  9:53 am


“Equivocation,” the much buzzed-about new drama by Bill Cain about William Shakespeare and events surrounding the 1605 Gunpowder Plot, is the hot topic of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival these days. On a recent visit (about which I’ll be filing a full report in an upcoming Sunday Arts & Books), I found everyday Californians and Oregonians conversing with an intricate knowledge of the religious strife and political wrangling that turned Jacobean England into a nation even more paranoid than post-9/11 America.

Who says Americans have no appetite for history? Certainly not OSF artistic director Bill Rauch, who directed this world premiere of "Equivocation" and who is actively making historical drama the centerpiece of his new play development program.  

The project: a 37-play, 10-year History Cycle that explores transitional moments and epochal watersheds in America’s past. Alison Carey, who cofounded Cornerstone Theater Company with Rauch, is the director of OSF’s “American Revolutions: The United States History Cycle,” the biggest commissioning and production project in the festival's nearly three-quarter century history.   

Bill and alison Rauch and Carey recently announced the names of the artists who were chosen for the second round of commissions. Korean-born playwright and director (and downtown New York daredevil) Young Jean Lee, the hip-hop theater company Universes and the award-winning Navajo playwright Rhiana Yazzie will be joining an illustrious crew of theater artists that includes Suzan-Lori Parks, Lynn Nottage, Culture Clash and David Henry Hwang.

During a phone conversation with Rauch, who was in rehearsal in Los Angeles with Culture Clash for the Getty Villa’s upcoming production of Aristophanes’ “Peace,” he spoke with pride about this vast interface between the stage and history. His goal: to better illuminate how we arrived at our current travails.   

In the case of Jonathan Moscone, who’s been commissioned along with his collaborator, Berkeley Repertory Theatre artistic director Tony Taccone, the project is uniquely personal: Moscone will be writing about the impact on his life of the 1978 assassination of his father, San Francisco Mayor George Moscone. 
That tragic event has been documented and dramatized before, but mostly from the vantage of gay-rights activist Harvey Milk, who was killed with Moscone, or Dan White, the assassin whose verdict was mitigated by the so-called “Twinkie defense.” 

Jonathan Moscone, who’s the artistic director of California Shakespeare Theater, will be sure to balance out our understanding of that still-reverberating trauma. And it’s all part of Rauch’s restorative (in every sense) vision.  (*Update: An earlier version of this report incorrectly referred to Jonathan Moscone as artistic director of California Shakespeare Company rather than California Shakespeare Theater.)
--Charles McNulty

Photo: Top: Shag, otherwise known as Shakespeare, played by Anthony Heald, in a scene from OSF's production of Bill Cain's "Equivocation." Credit: Jenny Graham/Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Bottom: Bill Rauch and Alison Carey. Credit: Perry C. Riddle/Los Angeles Times