Runs for each play will be extended to five days a week over a three-week period
By Jim Flint for Ashland.news
On the heels of a banner year with nearly every 2022 performance sold out, Rogue Theater Company kicks off the 2023 season Feb. 22 at Grizzly Peak Winery with John Tufts in “An Iliad,” a one-man show based on Homer’s epic poem.
Tufts, a veteran of 14 seasons at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, is known for his versatility.
He has demonstrated his dramatic skills playing Shakespearean roles ranging from Romeo, Puck, the title role in “Henry V” and Prince Hal in “Henry IV; Parts One and Two.” And he showed off his comedy chops in OSF’s Marx Brothers romps and the recently performed “It’s Christmas, Carol!”
Tufts performed “An Iliad” once before, online during the pandemic in 2021
He reprises the role for RTC Wednesdays through Sundays, Feb. 22 through March 12, indoors at the winery.
“I love doing one-person shows,” Tufts said. “They are a beast to memorize. The thrill, however, comes in the conversation I have with the audience, communicating directly with a group of people eager to hear a story.”
Playwright Lisa Peterson decided to adapt (with Denis O’Hare) the ancient Greek epic poem by Homer for the stage when a friend pointed out that it was essentially composed as a one-person show. As a remnant of the oral tradition, it was an out-loud story; never intended to be something merely read.
“An Iliad” has received multiple awards, including the Joseph Jefferson Award (Chicago), five Craig Noel Awards (San Diego), the Gregory Award (Seattle), Drama Desk Nomination (New York), OBIE Award (New York), and the Lucille Lortel Award (New York).
Tufts will be directed by his wife, Christine Albright-Tufts. Cellist Michal Palzewitcz will provide musical accompaniment for the performance.
Tufts and his wife have worked together before in several OSF shows, including “Romeo and Juliet,” “UP,” “Equivocation” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” But this is their first time working together as actor and director.
Tufts has 14 seasons with OSF to his credit. His most recent OSF production was the holiday show, “It’s Christmas, Carol!” for which he served as playwright and composer as well as performing the role of Ghost of Holiday Present.
What brought Tufts to Ashland and OSF in the first place?
As an admirer of great actors who came up through repertory theater — Ian McKellan, Paul Scofield, Helen Mirren, Tony Heald and Dan Donohue — Tufts always dreamed of a life in rep.
“I wanted to be in multiple shows running at the same time,” he said. “I wanted to play every character and stretch my range to its breaking point. And most of all I wanted to do lots and lots of Shakespeare.”
One of his favorite roles was as Mr. Flutter in “The Belle’s Stratagem” in 2005.
“I also think of ‘Henry V’ of course. Playing that journey over three plays and three years was a dream.”
Tufts loves to dive into a character, but friendships he has made in the theater are also a great satisfaction to him.
“I get to be friends with actors who are 20 and actors who are 90,” he said. “We all go out and drink and joke and shout and cry and complain. These friends were there for the birth of my son, and I was there for their parents’ funerals. I would do anything for my theater friends. They are my soul.”
The Iliad job was a result of RTC Artistic Director Jessica Sage reaching out to Tufts.
“She asked if I’d be interested in doing a one-person show. I had done ‘An Iliad’ once before at the start of the pandemic. I’d always wanted to work with my wife as a director because she’s so good. So, we pitched that to Jessica over doughnuts one day and she seemed excited.”
The biggest challenge in doing a one-person show for Tufts is the memorization. “An Iliad” is a 100-minute monologue.
“The greatest reward is surrendering to the poetry,” he said. “It’s so beautiful to give over to the verse and let it sweep me away in rhythm and meter.”
What’s it like to be directed by his wife, Christine?
“We have not agreed on how to disagree yet. I will say this: we are well-versed in disagreeing,” he laughed.
But he has nothing but praise for her directorial chops.
“She’s the smartest person in the room when it comes to text analysis. No one can break down a script like she can. No one can better track arc, theme, journey, beats.”
Homer’s “The Iliad” is a captivating story, recounting the familiar tales of gods and goddesses, wars and battles, and humanity’s unshakeable attraction to violence, destruction and chaos. What can audiences expect from RTC’s production of the stage adaptation, “An Iliad”?
“It’s a beautiful meditation on man’s relationship to art and war,” Tufts said. “Not to be too clichéd, but it’s what makes us human — our ability to create war and then reflect on it through art. ‘An Iliad’ takes us deep into that relationship.”
After he completes the run at Grizzly Peak Winery, Tuft’s next project is with Kansas City Rep to play Captain Hook in a new adaptation by Lauren Gunderson of Peter and Wendy’s story.
Also on tap for 2023 are two additional plays, each featuring OSF veteran actors, and a workshop by Shakespeare scholar Barry Kraft.
The First Folio
Shakespeare lovers near and far can take a deep dive into his work in a two-session workshop conducted by Barry Kraft from 10 to 11:30 a.m. May 20 and 21.
“I’m excited because it’s the 400th anniversary of the printing of the First Folio, a book containing 36 different plays, 18 of which had never been seen before during Shakespeare’s life,” Kraft said. “He died seven and a half years before.”
Participants can attend in person, via Zoom, or receive a video of the sessions to view at their leisure.
Two-time Tony Award nominee Anthony Heald and Amy Lizardo will appear in “Heisenberg” at 2 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays, July 12-30, outdoors at Grizzly Peak Winery. The play was written by Tony Award winner Simon Stephens and will be directed for RTC by Michael J. Hume,
The funny and tender story follows a free-spirited American woman who falls for an inhibited Englishman in London.
Heald has done the play before, but relishes revisiting the role. He describes the play as a totally character-driven story.
“I love looking at who I am at the beginning and who I am at the end,” he said. “That arc is so extraordinary.”
‘Circle Mirror Transformation’
RTC finishes its season with Annie Baker’s “Circle Mirror Transformation” Sept. 13 through Oct. 1, at 2 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays.
Vilma Silva and Jeffrey King lead a cast of five, including Kjerstine Anderson, with Robynn Rodriguez directing.
Set in New England at an adult drama class, this Obie Award-winning play explores how the students reveal themselves through theater games. The New York Times called it “absorbing, unblinking, and sharply funny.”
Silva, with 27 seasons at OSF, and King, with 19, are familiar to Rogue Valley audiences. Silva last performed for RTC in the 2021 one-woman show, “Mala.”
“Jeff King and I have worked together on a number of shows at OSF,” Silva said. “The one that comes to mind is ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ in 2007. I had a wonderful time building that father/daughter relationship with Jeff. Now, we can bring that history to our process in building this new relationship as husband and wife.”
Silva found “Circle Mirror Transformation” a compelling read.
“Theater games and classes usually focus on the development of an ease with honesty and flexibility,” she said. “But under certain circumstances, it can be a little bit like playing with fire.”
King has been following RTC for a long time.
“I have seen so many of my friends working with Jessica (Sage), directing shows and acting in shows,” he said, “and it looked like they were having such a great time.
“I was just hoping the time would come when I would be asked to do it too. And it did. I immediately said yes.”
For more information about the 2023 season and the venue or to purchase tickets, go to roguetheatercompany.com or call 541-205-9190.
Reach writer Jim Flint at firstname.lastname@example.org.