Molly Tinsley

Jefferson Monthly Contributor

In an episode of sanity, Molly Tinsley decided twenty years of teaching literature and creative writing at the U. S. Naval Academy was enough.  She resigned from the faculty, moved west, and now writes full-time in Ashland and Portland.  She crafts the monthly column Theatre and the Arts for the Jefferson Monthly magazine.

Tinsley is the recipient of two National Endowment of the Arts fellowships in fiction, and has published a novel, My Life with Darwin, and a story collection, Throwing Knives, which won the Oregon Book Award in 2001.   Her dramatic work has been a finalist for the Eugene O’Neill Theatre Conference and the Heideman award, among other prizes, and she’s a survivor of the Kennedy Center Playwriting Intensive.  Her most recent work in narrative explores its antipodes:  the memoir, Entering the Blue Stone, and the spy thriller, Broken Angels

Stratford Festival

Exchange the Siskiyou Mountains for Midwestern farmland, and the histories of Stratford, Ontario, and Ashland, Oregon, share some remarkable similarities. In the middle of the last century, both were rural towns struggling to thrive after losing their importance as railroad hubs. 

Jenny Graham | Oregon Shakespeare Festival

The final two plays of this OSF season explore gritty corners of contemporary American life.  In The Happiest Song Plays Last (Thomas Theatre) Quiara Alegria Hudes mines her own biography to counterpose the separate journeys of Yaz and her cousin Elliot out of and back to their Puerto Rican neighborhood in north Philadelphia. In Sweat (Bowmer Theatre) Lynn Nottage mirrors the depressed city of Reading, Pennsylvania, where she spent several years interviewing its struggling people.  

Jenny Graham, Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

When exactly does Jeff Whitty’s musical, Head over Heels, start? When the Fool’s song threatens violence to those who neglect to turn off cell phones? When the actors trickle down the aisles, chatting up the audience? When the Fool introduces each character and riffs on genre?  

Jenny Graham | Oregon Shakespeare Festival

As the title suggests, Antony and Cleopatra sets the efficient militarism of Rome against the impulsive hedonism of Egypt.  Making war collides with making love, laws and logic undercut spontaneity and intuition—this ancient world according to Shakespeare comes to rich life between such poles.  In the excellent OSF production of the play onstage in the Elizabethan, director Bill Rauch’s timeless approach to the history and his alertness to ambient comedy highlight a further, more subtle tension: the discrepancy between fact and image, between the ragged truth of human embodiment and the idealizations of heroic myth.

Jenny Graham

The OSF production of Eugene O’Neill’s autobiographical Long Day’s Journey into Night starts with a special moment. In the meticulously realistic living room of a summer house, an older couple form a picture of playful affection. A young man enters, studies them, then retreats. With this hint of a distancing frame around the action to follow, director Christopher Liam Moore moves to transform an inexorably dark drama into a cathartic memory play.

Jenny Graham

Fingersmith breathes subterfuge.  Peopled by pickpockets and con artists, its action descends a rabbit hole of nefarious plotting.  The central characters are all involved in tricking each other, and although they continually break the fourth wall to address us, we can’t rely on them to speak the truth.

Jenny Graham

The history of adapting Damon Runyon’s story collection, Guys and Dolls, for the stage is as full of twists and turns as the musical itself. Example: the producers went through two writers before landing on their third choice, Abe Burrows. His predecessors had each been deemed not funny enough, but Burrows was warned not to be too funny by librettist Frank Loesser, who had already written most of the show’s songs. Though confident of the comic punch of his lyrics, was Loesser feeling protective of the tenderness that infuses so many of them?

Jenny Graham

Shakespeare’s Pericles bears the stamp of its source, a series of medieval romances by the poet John Gower. Like the typical romance, Pericles dismisses realism in favor of the magic of legend as it follows a youthful prince embarking on a journey to maturity.  In the process of discovering his own identity, he will save the world from a destructive force threatening its vitality and be rewarded with a fertile marriage.   

Rituals originally evolved in order to manage the unmanageable fact of somatic change: birth, maturation, procreation, death.  Contemporary culture and technology have loosened the inevitability of these life-cycle milestones: children can be planned or altogether avoided; adulthood—marriage, gainful work—can be postponed seemingly indefinitely; sexual initiation has broken from its containment by traditional ritual altogether and happens wherever, whenever.  Even death, though it remains inescapable, has been disrupted in its timing thanks to medical advances.  This last is good news.  The

Actors strive onstage to “tell the story” laid down by the playwright and envisioned by the director. In an illuminating new book by Mary Z. Maher and Alan Armstrong, Telling the Story, twelve actors from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival have been invited to contribute to a different narrative, one that takes place before and behind the scenes. This composite account begins with the circumstances that propelled them into acting then describes the multi-faceted, idiosyncratic processes, which, leavened with dashes of luck, have supported their onstage success.

Oregon Cabaret Theatre

Valerie Rachelle met Jim Giancarlo eight years ago at the Pacific Conservatory for the Performing Arts.  As Artistic Director of the Oregon Cabaret Theatre, Giancarlo was auditioning students; Rachelle was directing and choreographing for PCPA’s Theatrefest.  He invited her to guest direct for OCT, but Rachelle had to decline—she would turn eight months pregnant during rehearsals for the show in question.  Circumstances for her OCT debut finally clicked late in 2012 with The Winter Wonderettes.

Jenny Graham

Robert Schenkkan’s All the Way brings to the stage Lyndon Johnson’s first year as President. Though the office is thrust upon him by Kennedy’s assassination, LBJ channels his political genius and immense energy into passing Kennedy’s languishing Civil Rights Act, then wins reelection by a landslide. High on these successes, the Johnson we meet at the start of The Great Society is reminiscing about his boyhood fascination with rodeo bull-riding.

In its twenty-third season, Ashland New Plays Festival promises that ANPF 2014 will offer the most entertaining and edifying program yet.  To kick off the nine-day-long celebration, on Friday, October 17, OSF’s Dan Donohue will be interviewed by John Rose for a Theatre Talk.  The event will take place at 310 Oak Street, Ashland, and tickets are moving fast. 

Tom Lavine

The biography of Jim Giancarlo paints a portrait of the artist from a very early age. His boyhood fascination with producing neighborhood shows, his immersion in visual arts at SUNY Buffalo, his ongoing aspiration to be a writer—all were father to the multi-talented man who speculated recently, “Maybe the Creator’s plan is no plan at all.  Maybe ‘He’ just loves creating beauty.”

T. Charles Erickson

Rituals of initiation unfold in three phases: the first separates the individual from the world she’s taken for granted; the third reintegrates her into a new world as a changed person. Between the two is the liminal phase, in which the individual floats in a kind of dreamland of possibility, suspended between selves and social roles. Both terrifying and transformational, this in-between phase encourages a sort of regression to pre-conscious chaos. Into the Woods, the brilliant musical by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine, plants its action in just such a no-man’s land.

T. Charles Erickson

Shakespeare’s first four history plays reconstruct the political chaos of the English court under the incompetent King Henry VI. The power-hungry House of York wages war on its cousins of the ruling House of Lancaster, but once Henry and his prince have been killed, and the Yorkish Edward wears the crown, he must guard it against his own brothers, Clarence and Richard. Richard III concludes the tetralogy, charting Richard’s ruthless rise to the throne and his final downfall.


Jenny Graham

I confess: Thornton Wilder’s Our Town was never my town. The notion of family rooted in the same rural village for generations is light years from my reality as the grandchild of immigrants and a migrant military brat. Similarly, despite Wilder’s innovations in dramatic technique, the human condition as portrayed through Grovers Corners seems abnormally normal.

Jenny Graham

Lorraine Hansberry’s premature death from cancer in 1965 at the age of the thirty-four deprived American theatre of a brilliant light. Her first play, A Raisin in the Sun, had dazzled Broadway in 1959, winning the New York Drama Critics Circle Award.  Only one other play, The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window, saw production in her lifetime, and her deteriorating health severely challenged its development.

Jenny Graham

The two comedies anchoring the 2014 season at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival put the accent on zany shenanigans. The Cocoanuts, by Irving Berlin and George S. Kaufman, was created as a vehicle for the legendary Marx Brothers—vaudeville veterans with a bottomless bag of comic shticks. And the title of Shakespeare’s early The Comedy of Errors says it all: mistaken identities, compounding misunderstandings, escalating farce.

Photo: Jenny Graham / | Oregon Shakespeare Festival

A narcissistic ruler opts to abdicate his position of responsibility in exchange for personal freedom. He assumes that he will retain the privileges and respect afforded his former role. But the family member he has designated to take over betrays him. Instead of enjoying the comfortable life of his choice, he is exiled and undergoes a terrible ordeal. Last year at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, this premise devolved into the darkest of denouements in King Lear.