More summer theater festivals
North America has four other major summer theater festivals, each a multi-theater complex with multiple productions in repertory running into the fall:
Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Ashland, Ore.: The festival is 81 years old, but this southern Oregon site traces roots to the late-1800s Chautauqua movement, which brought culture and entertainment to rural America. Shakespeare here shares the stage with musical revivals and commissioned works such as “All the Way,” the President Lyndon B. Johnson political drama that debuted here and won the Tony for best new play in 2014.
Current season highlights: “Roe,” festival director Bill Rausch directs the premiere of a play about the principals in the landmark 1973 court case that legalized abortion, and “The Yeoman of the Guard,” an 80-minute production of the rarely produced Gilbert & Sullivan operetta that involves audience members in the staging.
Details: Season runs to end of October, no shows Mondays. Four stages, 11 productions. Tickets are $30-$121; Osfashland.org
American Players Theatre, Spring Green, Wis.: Wall Street Journal theater critic Terry Teachout calls this ensemble “the finest classical repertory group in the country.” This season the company is probing the canons of Shakespeare, Miller and Beckett, among others.
Current season highlights: “The African Company Presents Richard III,” a backstage story of what happens when an African theater company presents Shakespeare’s tragedy in 1821 while a white company next door is doing the same work, and Oscar Wilde probes past brittle surfaces in a well-reviewed production of “The Ideal Husband,” one of the wit’s infrequently staged works.
Details: Season runs to mid-October, no shows Mondays. Two stages, nine productions. Tickets are $47-$85; Americanplayers.org
Stratford Festival, Stratford, Canada: Sumptuous productions and acting titans, including Maggie Smith, Brian Dennehy, Julie Harris and Christopher Plummer, have filled the four stages spread throughout this small town, which, other than being Justin Bieber’s hometown, is known as the site of what is essentially Canada’s national theater. Everything done here — refreshed revivals and commissioned premieres — has a high-gloss gleam, all of it displayed effortlessly.
Current season highlights: The first North American production of the stage adaption of the Oscar-winning “Shakespeare in Love,” timed to celebrate Shakespeare’s 400th birthday, and a critically praised production of Stephen Sondheim’s romantic gem “A Little Night Music.”
Details: Season runs to early November. Four stages, 13 productions. Tickets are $40-$145 (Canadian); Stratfordfestival.ca
Shaw Festival, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Canada: The Shaw eschews Shakespeare, instead revolving around Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw, works by his contemporaries, or productions set during Shaw’s long lifespan, from 1856-1950. The festival’s four theaters are set on gleaming George Street, the main drag through this bucolic Georgian architectural gem of a village bordered by a lake, a river and a wine-growing region.
Current season highlights: Shaw’s “Mrs. Warren’s Profession” is being staged in the Royal George Theatre, a former vaudevillian music hall that is the most attractive small theater at any of the summer festivals, and “Sweeney Todd” is the Shaw’s annual production of a major musical with interesting edges.
Details: Season runs to end of October. No shows Mondays. Four stages, 10 productions. Tickets are $35-$117 (Canadian); Shawfest.ca