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Oregon Shakespeare Festival announces new play commissions

New projects — featuring such acclaimed writers as Paula Vogel and Bill Cain — are in the works for the festival's ongoing U.S. history cycle and its musical-theater program.

american-night-juanjose.jpgJuan José (René Millán) studies into the wee hours for his American citizenship test in “American Night: The Ballad of Juan Jose,” a 2010 Oregon Shakespeare Festival production that kicked off the series “American Revolutions: the United States History Cycle.”

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival has been getting more assertive in commissioning new plays and its latest batch of commissions includes one of the biggest names among contemporary playwrights. Paula Vogel, a Pulitzer Prize winner and chair of the playwriting department at the Yale School of Drama, is among the writers working on projects for the festival, according to an announcement made Sunday.

Vogel will be collaborating with Rebecca Taichman, who directed last year’s magnificent OSF production of the musical “She Loves Me,” on a play about a play — Sholem Asch’s controversial 1907 Yiddish drama “God of Vengeance,” once considered so shocking that the whole cast of its 1923 Broadway debut was arrested on obscenity charges.

That new work, a co-commission with Yale Repertory Theatre, where Vogel is playwright-in-residence, will be part of “American Revolutions: The United States History Cycle,” the ongoing OSF project that bore its first onstage fruit last summer with the highly successful “American Night.”

Two other plays are being put in the pipeline for the history cycle. One is by Bill Cain, whose fascinating take on Shakespeare’s life and work, “Equivocation,” premiered at OSF in 2009. The other is by Portland native Tanya Barfield, a Juilliard graduate who has received the Helen Merrill Award for Emerging Playwrights.

The history cycle is supported by grants from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation and the Harold and Mimi Steinberg Trust. Meanwhile, OSF also is working with a four-year grant it received in 2009 from the Edgerton Foundation of Los Angeles to create new American musicals.

OSF has made two new commissions under that program as well, one to Michael John LaChiusa, who has earned Tony nominations (“The Wild Party,” “Marie Christine”) and Emmy and Obie awards, the other to Brooklyn songwriter/actor Shaina Taub, who the festival’s press release calls “a thrilling new voice in musical theater.”

Next season, OSF has five shows on its schedule that are being developed through its own commissioning. That trend looks to continue.

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