Nancy Rodriguez

Oregon Shakespeare Festival: Changing the social order

Daniel Pollack-Pelzner views the first four plays of OSF's season as expressions of social change


“We’re here to change the social order. So deal with it.”

That’s the cheery, cheeky ensemble announcement that begins Karen Zacarías’s wildly entertaining Destiny of Desire—a deliciously theatrical homage to the mistaken identities, thwarted romances, and swooning pageantry that drive Latin American telenovelas—and it could well serve as the motto for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s new season.

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival production of “Destiny of Desire” by Karen Zacarías is pointedly riotous. Or is that riotously pointed?/Photo by Jenny Graham.

“I’m a Latina and I’m a woman; I’m not exactly popular right now,” Zacarías admitted after the opening performance last month, but as audience members danced to a mariachi band in the Angus Bowmer Theatre lobby, her popularity, and the appeal of theater that reflects her imagination, looked poised to soar.

An 80-year-old tourist destination in small-town southern Oregon that has a dead white male as its middle name, as its staff is fond of joking, might not seem the likeliest engine of social change. Under its outgoing artistic director, Bill Rauch, however, its resident company has become 70 percent actors of color, and the 2018 lineup features five new plays by women. Those include Mary Kathryn Nagle’s brilliant Manahatta, which tracks land frauds from the Dutch West India Company to Lehman Brothers, and Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig’s adaptation of a Chinese classic about criminal justice and climate change, Snow in Midsummer—not everyday tourist fare.