One of the greatest delights of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival is the repertory company, wherein actors play multiple roles in multiple plays across the season. As far as I know, dramaturgically engineering these roles for cross-show resonance is not really a priority. But sometimes it happens anyway. Here are some of my favorite pairs from the 2017 season:
Ned Alleyn (Shakespeare in Love)/Gaston (Beauty and the Beast) – James Ryen
James Ryen made his festival debut last year as Quang in Vietgone and Polixenes in A Winter’s Tale. His roles this year are more similar, but also amazing: the scenery-chomping Ned Alleyn (played in the film version by Ben Affleck and a valiant attempt at an English accent) and the scenery-scaling Gaston. There would not be a single line out of place if Ned Alleyn sang “Gaston” about himself (swapping out the names, of course) and that makes this the perfect double.
Mark Antony (Julius Caesar)/The Beast (Beauty and the Beast) – Jordan Barbour
As I said to my viewing companion at intermission of Beauty in the Beast, there’s just a slight, subtle difference between the temperamental Beast and Shakespeare’s scheming orator. It’s always exciting to see an actor traverse such a wide section of their range in a single season, something that doesn’t often happen quite so dramatically even at OSF. In this case, the contrast between Mark Antony’s consummate emotional control and the Beast’s inability to manage his temper (or any other feelings) is fantastic, and Barbour’s ability to shift from such opacity to such vulnerability (while wearing Beast prosthetics, no less) is really impressive.
I also got to see Barbour go on as an understudy for the preening Richard Burbage in Shakespeare in Love, which added another fun layer of rivalry with James Ryen/Alleyn/the Beast.
Will and Viola (Shakespeare in Love)/Fenton and Anne Page (The Merry Wives of Windsor)- William DeMeritt and Jamie Ann Romano
I didn’t realize this neat echoing of lovers until near the very end of The Merry Wives of Windsor. If you don’t like how Shakespeare in Love ends, you can just pop across the courtyard to see these two get together after all. Their situations are reversed in the two plays, to a certain extent: one of the Pages’ concerns about Fenton is that he’s too high-status to actually be interested in their daughter, in contrast to the wealthy Viola’s inability to match beneath her station.
Portia (Julius Caesar)/Penelope (The Odyssey) – Kate Hurster
There were quite a few actors who appeared in both of these shows, but these were the most resonant examples. Kate Hurster’s two waiting wives– the patient Penelope and the ultimately despairing Portia– paint contrasting images of idealized femininity, both in the eras of their source material and, perhaps, our own: a core of strength that is still defined by and ultimately subject to her relationship with her husband.
Octavius (Julius Caesar)/Telemachus (The Odyssey)- Benjamin Bonenfant
Benjamin Bonenfant’s two heirs likewise feel like echoes, two young men grappling with their father’s (or uncle’s) legacies, with the choices that will bring them from boy to man. Telemachus is sweet and loyal, Octavius bubbling with latent danger; both the emblem of an uncertain future.