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Center for the Arts season features wide range of plays

Oregon Center for the Arts at Southern Oregon University has announced its 2018-2019 theater season.

When the smoke clears and other prominent Valley theater companies wind down their seasons, OCFTA will offer a varied program, beginning on Nov. 1 with “Small Mouth Sounds” by Bess Wohl.

The piece is a comedy about six diverse characters who show up at a retreat center for what is billed as a five-day “silent retreat” and it turns out to be anything but that. The play is a satire that directly challenges the commercialization of spirituality. “Small Mouth Sounds” has had great success off-Broadway and at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica, and was a New York Times and Time Out New York critic’s pick. It will be directed by Jackie Apodaca and runs at OCFTA’s Black Box Theatre from Nov. 1-11.

Following “Small Mouth Sounds” will be the safest choice of OCFTA’s season, the almost-guaranteed crowd pleaser “Into the Woods” by Steven Sondheim and James Lapine. “Into the Woods” originated as a made-for-Broadway musical epic before being acquired by Disney and made into a multi-million dollar movie. It intertwines the plots of several popular Grimm and Perrault fairy tales to create a scenario wherein each character has a more sophisticated back story. The musical has won numerous Tony Awards as well as a Laurence Olivier Award and has toured globally. It will overlap with “Small Mouth Sounds” and will run at the Main Stage Theatre at SOU from Nov. 8-18. Direction is by Paul Barnes.

Following a lull, the center will offer two winter plays. First will be Sophocles’s “Electra,” the classic Greek tragedy of death and revenge based on the son and daughter of Agamemnon. OCFTA promises a fresh contemporary spin on this hoary classic, set to be staged at the Black Box between Feb. 21-March 3, and directed by Penny Metropulos, a prominent national director with 20 years at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and major theater directing credits at Berkley Rep, Chicago Shakespeare Theatre and others.

In tandem with “Electra” will be the Noel Coward classic comedy of manners “Hay Fever” on the Main Stage from Feb. 28-March 10. Set in an English country house in the 1920s, the play is a farcical look at the deranged behavior of the English upper classes in the form of the Bliss family, a narcissistic clutch of aristocratic prigs who are so wrapped up in their own family drama that they fail to see very far beyond the tips of their own upturned noses. “Hay Fever” will be directed by Scott Kaiser, another scion of the national Shakespearean theater scene.

Isabel Nelson and Anne Bertram’s “Silkworms” will run from May 6-16 at the Black Box. The play, set in Italy in the 1600s, tells the story of a group of nuns who obliterate their convent in an attempt at emancipating themselves; convents were not just places of self-elected religious seclusion in those days, but also virtual prisons where young women were sent to be retained as reliably virginal until their arranged marriages were solidified. Nelson is known for strongly feminist work and for mounting numerous all-female productions. “Silkworms” will be directed by Terri McMahon, a veteran OSF actor.

The final show of the season will be “Millennium Approaches,” the first play in the two-play opus “Angels in America” by Tony Kushner. Kushner’s operatic and powerful study of the AIDS epidemic in America is among the most important and influential American plays of the last 30-odd years and has been widely and internationally produced, with film, operatic and other musical adaptations having been staged. “Angels In America: Millennium Approaches” will run from May 23–June 2 on the Main Stage and is slated to be directed by Jim Edmondson.

For additional information on any offerings from Oregon Center for the Arts at Southern Oregon University, call 541-552-6348 or visit the box office at 491 South Mountain Ave. in Ashland, at the front of the SOU Theatre Building.

Ashland resident Jeffrey Gillespie is a Tidings columnist, arts reviewer and freelance writer. Email him at gillespie.jeffrey@gmail.com.

The final show of the Oregon Center for the Arts upcoming season will be “Millennium Approaches,” the first play in the two-play opus “Angels in America” by Tony Kushner.