Time Magazine Rates OSF One of the Five Best Regional Theaters in U.S.
TIME MAGAZINE NAMES OREGON SHAKESPEARE FESTIVAL ONE OF THE FIVE BEST REGIONAL THEATERS IN U.S.
Chicago’s Goodman Theater Tops the List; The Top Five Also Include: American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge, Mass., Minneapolis’s Guthrie Theater and Costa Mesa, California’s South Coast Repertory
“Regional Theaters are Booming”
New York – Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Oregon ranks second in TIME magazine’s list of the five best regional theaters in the U.S., following Chicago’s Goodman Theatre. TIME traveled the country to find the five theaters that best focus on new work, have a commitment to the basics, bring new plays and artists to the national stage, and serve their local audiences. Ranking third is the American Repertory Theatre, Cambridge, Mass., fourth place is the Guthrie Theater, Minneapolis, and in fifth place, the South Coast Repertory, Costa Mesa, California.
By most measures, the regional theaters are booming, TIME’s Richard Zoglin reports. There were just 23 in 1961, when the first national organization of nonprofit theaters was formed; today there are 1,800. Many have gleaming new theaters, with two or even three stages, and state-of-the-art production facilities that put to shame the cramped old boxes on Broadway. “Frankly, it’s something of a step down for me when I go to New York,” says Jack O’Brien, artistic director of San Diego’s Globe Theatres—who has lately been going to New York often, to direct hit shows like Hairspray.
TIME’s top five regional theaters and TIME’s review of them are below:
1 – Goodman Theatre, Chicago, Illinois
With the groundbreaking Steppenwolf troupe and such ambitious smaller companies as the Victory Gardens Theater, Chicago’s theater scene is lively. But the Goodman continues to make the biggest national mark. Artistic director Robert Falls has supplied Broadway with acclaimed adaptations of American classics (including this season’s Long Day’s Journey into Night) and has nurtured such important new voices as Rebecca Gilman (Boy Gets Girl) and—along with Chicago’s Lookingglass Theatre— Mary Zimmerman (Metamorphoses). The Goodman is currently introducing Gem of the Ocean (above), the latest in August Wilson’s 20th century chronicle of the African-American experience, in a vibrant production with a strong cast of Wilson regulars. And Stephen Sondheim’s long-awaited new musical, Bounce, will open here in June. “New York is a place to celebrate new work rather than to originate or nurture it,” says Falls. “That’s our responsibility.”
2 -- Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Ashland, Oregon
The name is misleading; although the company began as an all-Shakespeare troupe back in 1935, the Bard’s works now constitute less than half of its increasingly eclectic season. OSF is one of the few U.S. companies left that hew to the classic repertory format. Its 70 to 75 actors take various roles in 11 works that play in rotation from February to November. And since visitors generally travel to this Oregon resort town to see several shows at a time, the Romeo and Juliets and Hedda Gablers can be supplemented with more unconventional fare like the two parts of David Edgar’s Continental Divide (one of them, Mothers Against, below), and, in July, Nilo Cruz’s Lorca in a Green Dress. “We’re willing to take a chance on plays that other theaters aren’t interested in,” says artistic director Libby Appel, “because we have the audience for it.”
3 –American Repertory Theatre, Cambridge, Massachusetts
Robert Brustein, the longtime artistic director of this adventurous company, turned over the reins this season to Robert Woodruff, a veteran avant-garde director from New York City. Woodruff responded by bringing in a Who’s Who of theater innovators, including Peter Sellars and Philip Glass, as well as Andrei Serban, whose free adaptation of Shakespeare’s Pericles (right) is currently onstage. Another of the season’s highlights: Woodruff’s staging of Highway Ulysses, an update of the Ulysses myth, with text and music by Rinde Eckert, about a man on a freaky cross-country trek in search of his son. Even when the journey seemed to lag, the teeming, haunted stage (characters scrawl enigmatic sentences on giant Plexiglas screens during much of the action) kept you enthralled.
4 – Guthrie Theater, Minneapolis, Minnesota
One of the legendary American regional companies has been quietly tending its garden for years, with 32,000 subscribers (among the highest in the nation) who brave the frigid Minnesota winters to see such high-quality productions as Six Degrees of Separation (above). But the Guthrie is also putting more resources into developing new work, and last summer it staged the premiere of Arthur Miller’s Resurrection Blues. Artistic director Joe Dowling once ran Dublin’s Abbey Theater and directed a Broadway revival of Tartuffe this season, but he insists the audience in Minneapolis is “one of the most sophisticated I’ve ever worked with.”
5 – South Coast Repertory, Costa Mesa, California
In Southern California, enterprising regional theaters are nearly as plentiful as orange groves—among them, San Diego’s Globe and the La Jolla Playhouse—but the little engine that could in Orange County gets the nod. Run by two former San Francisco college buddies—Martin Benson and David Emmes, who founded the company as a traveling troupe in 1964—the South Coast Rep has helped nurture such playwrights as Richard Greenberg and David Henry Hwang (Golden Child). This spring, the theater, along with Baltimore’s Center Stage, staged the premiere of Lynn Nottage’s Intimate Apparel (right), about a black seamstress in turn-of-the-century New York City who makes corsets for rich ladies—and a mail-order match for herself with a laborer on the Panama Canal. It’s a lovingly rendered slice of the American story that seems to glow especially bright in the heart of Reagan country.
Story is online at www.time.com.
Contact: Jen Zawadzinski, TIME 212-522-9046