Theatre Views

by Hugh Garrett

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Josia “JP” Phillips

“There is only one “J.P” He is an infamous Oregon Shakespeare Festival actor and local character much loved in the community both on and off stage. “JP” is also one of the long time performers who has made OSF the great theatre it is today. A formidable actor, he is also a mesmerizing reader, and comic.

His voice bespeaks pure truth from a deep source, and all fortunate enough to know him would agree he is a rascal of the best fortune. “JP” (Josiah Phillips) has a rare humanity that is unassuming, compassionate, generous,and big on simple truths. He is one of the essential elements needed in keeping Ashland a real town.

Hopefully there will be more of his performances and readings here. He brings the “hallowed” back to verse, poetry, and prose. “JP” performed many of the best plays of August Wilson, and Fugard around the black experience in America and South Africa.

“JP’s” experience qualifies him to breath life into a character as few others. This is something young black actors miss, this knowledge of a time so different for blacks and still the same, just a generation ago. History is accomplished by Phillips better than book, film or documentary.

School children, having no idea of historic, but still present black life, finally experience it as it is. With “JP” in a history or period piece there is nothing stylized about it. The performance is always about then and now at the same time. August Wilson’s plays require a Josiah Phillips if one can be found. “JP” knows the pace, feel, and dimension of America life as few others do.

Though “JP” has towered in the traditional classic roles of Shakespeare, his Hollaway in Two Trains Running set another standard of being there. In his smaller roles with fewer lines his “JP” sets the tone and feel of the action. His Nesbitt in The Liquid Plain finally bespoke the meandering theme.

“JP” is a man of mischief, quick laughs, large barbeque, and a silent depth that finds release in words of any kind. Quiet and unassuming, always ready for a joke, experience has melded a voice of gold for all to take what they please. This makes “JP” a necessity in any theatre company.

His roles and awards are too numerous to list here, whether Prospero, or the Porter in Macbeth, Sancho Panza in Don Quixote or Snout in Midsummer Night’s Dream. In large roles or small, “JP” is the actor totally in the action of the scene, and as he believes what is happening onstage is real, so do we.

Teaching, educating, enchanting the audience is his gift and we hope to see and hear a one-man show and many readings from “JP” to come. Phillips is a profit for the indefinable belief in Spirit by voice. Come back for readings and more theatre “JP.” Your fans and friends demand it.

Netflix Theatre Tip: There are no movies like movies about the making of theatre in all of its crazy, egotistic, petty, fabulous glory. A great movie about theatre is Cradle Will Rock. This is the “mostly true” story of Orson Well’s first Broadway production for the WPA in the early thirties. The film is a re-enactment of one of the foremost theatre stories of Broadway. It is a masterwork of the cultural and political Depression years, and full of portraits of a few of the giant personalities of the time, including Diego Rivera.

Hugh Garrett is a theatre journalist and can be reached through this paper.