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Monday, February 27, 2012

Setting Shakespeare In Iowa– Butter Cow And Election Politics Included

The Oregon Shakespeare Theatre's production of "The Merry Wives of Windsor, Iowa" transports Shakespeare's classic to Iowa during election season. (Courtesy OSF)

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival's production of "The Merry Wives of Windsor, Iowa" transports Shakespeare's classic to Iowa during election season. (Courtesy OSF)

In “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” William Shakespeare conceived of Sir John Falstaff as a down-and-out man on the make.

In need of funds, he tried to woo wealthy women away from their husbands in Elizabethan England.

So what would the Bard of Avon make of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s 21st century version? It’s dubbed “The Merry Wives of Windsor, Iowa,” and it transports Shakespeare’s characters to Iowa during election season.

From Gay Marriage To A Butter Cow

In this rendition, Falstaff is a failed presidential candidate, who ran out of funds, and is stuck in a small Iowa town.

Bill Rauch, the OSF artistic director, told Here & Now’s Robin Young, “There’s gay marriage and there’s the Iowa State Fair. There’s a giant butter cow. What’s not to love?”

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival kicked off its 77th season this past weekend, which will include Rauch’s production of “Medea/Macbeth/Cinderella” – a mash-up of three classical works, presented simultaneously.

Cornerstone Theater Company

Rauch’s work at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival is part of his continuing mission to expand the boundaries of theater.  It began more than 25 years ago when he co-founded the national Cornerstone Theater Company.

Cornerstone brings theater to communities around the country and recruits local people to perform and help shape its productions.

Getting More Americans Interested

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival's Bill Rauch. ( Jenny Graham)

Rauch was inspired to form the company after reading that only 2 percent of Americans attend plays on a regular basis.

Plays included a mixed-race “Romeo and Juliet” in Mississippi, a “Peer Gynt” in Maine and Moliere’s “Tartuffe,” set in the rural, farming community of Norcatur, Kansas, where Rauch was profiled by then-Today show correspondent, Robin Young.

Now with OSF, Rauch wants to continue to bring the other 98 percent into the theater, not only with fresh looks at the classics but also world premieres, such as “The White Snake,” which is based on a Chinese fable.

Rauch says he’s committed to exploring not only Shakespeare’s works, but also American classics such as “Our Town” and “The Music Man,” which feature multiracial casting.

He’s proud that the Oregon Shakespeare Festival features “an acting company that reflects the true diversity of our nation,” he said. “It’s not a problem, it’s an opportunity to have a dialogue between the world we live in now and the worlds in which these different works of art were created.”

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