As promised, this year's Drammy winners are below the jump. I have a few stray observations that boil down to "no one ever agrees with me":
Glad Bryce Earhart from The Aliens won a young performer award, but I still think The Aliens was one of the better shows of the year. Better than Body Awareness, which won a "best production" nod. (I'm glad the CoHo got recognized, though; they've been doing great work lately.)
This is an unlikely sentence: James Sharinghousen was good as Toad in Oregon Children's Theatre's charming A Year with Frog and Toad, but ! Joshua Stenseth was the highlight of that show.
I'm going to start Mercury theater awards just so I can give one to Vana O'Brien in The Gin Game. It's frankly ridiculous that she didn't win this year; that performance was brilliant. And I'm also indignant that Gretchen Corbett was overlooked for her turn in Mother Teresa Is Dead, another top-notch performance.
The full list is after the jump!
Badass Theatre Company is a brand-new operation. I am going to say this once, and I am never going to say it again: I hate the name "Badass Theatre Company," it makes me think of a little kid trying to give himself his own nickname ("My friends call me Ninja Joey!"), and I hope it's shortened to BAT sooner rather than later. I'm also not including press photos from the show in this blog post, because they are legitimately awful.
And that's all the criticism I can muster, because Badass' production of Swedish playwright Johan Hassen Khemiri's Invasion! is excellent. Really exciting stuff, especially for an inaugural outing. The show's voice is fresh and funny (translator Rachel Willson-Broyles did amazing work here; it's an exceptionally natural translation), the subject matter relevant and challenging, and Badass' four-person ensemble deft and very funny in juggling multiple roles and multiple characters through a series of interlocking vignettes focused on a Zelig-like figure called "Abulkasem."
The show opens with two characters in harem-wear, moving in unison while performing a fraught, self-serious excerpt from the play Signora Luna. I'll confess to deflating a bit in opening moments—Post Five's production of Arabian Nights burned me out on chicks in harem pants for at least a season. But Invasion!'s script is smarter than I initially gave it credit for—and as an admittedly jaded audience member, there's nothing I like more than having my own expectations served back to me on a platter.
The show's interconnected scenes skip from goofy high schoolers to an awkward bar flirtation to the inadvertent terrorization of an apple picker seeking political asylum. Through it all, the name "Abulkasem" keeps popping up, as sort of scrim on which cultural perceptions and expectations of Middle Eastern men are projected.
This show couldn't work if the ensemble wasn't up to balancing humor and pathos, but they very much are. Gilberto Martin del Campo pulls triple duty as a flamboyant Lebanese man, a TV talk show moderator, and the aforementioned apple picker, switching gears remarkably quickly between three distinct, fully realized characters; Nicole Accuardi is great as a hard-working college girl exasperated by the self-important intellectuals in her study group. But it's John San Nicholas who's in the unenviable position of making or breaking this show: Much of the humor is in his hands, and so are some of key emotional beats. Nicholas more than makes it, injecting the show with relaxed, natural humor that never feels forced, and sealing the deal with a riveting closing monologue.
I'm legitimately excited to see what this company does next. Ticket prices are capped at $20, and they've implemented a system where theatergoers can throw in money to subsidize cheap tickets for low-income audience members. I frequently complain that Portland theater has both an accessibility problem (it rarely speaks to people of my generation or younger, and it's too expensive) and a diversity problem (actors of color are rarely cast in shows that aren't explicitly about race). With Invasion!, Badass Theatre addresses both of those problems and I hardly noticed, because my pet issues were dispatched in the service of a damn good show.
Invasion! runs at the Miracle Theater, 525 SE Stark, Thurs-Sat 8 pm, Sun 2 pm, through June 29, $20, badasstheatre.org.
Okay, okay, it's not exactly the Tonys, but tonight the Portland theater community celebrates itself at the 34th annual Drammy Awards at the Crystal Ballroom, a high-spirited, back-patting affair that's this year hosted by the most popular stage manager in town, Nicole Gladwin.
I missed some big shows this year (cough), and a lot of little ones, too (did I really not see a single show at defunkt?), but here are some of my own highlights from the past season:
My favorite shows were probably Bright New Boise at Third Rail; The Aliens, which Third Rail produced at the CoHo Theatre; Portland Experimental Theatre Ensemble's R3; and Portland Playhouse's King Hedly II.
If Gretchen Corbett doesn't win a Drammy for her performance in Portland Playhouse's Mother Teresa Is Dead then the WHOLE OPERATION IS A SHAM. Allen Nause and Vana O'Brien also deserve recognition for their performances in Artists Rep's The Gin Game, and I have no doubt they'll get it. There were some startlingly good performances from younger actors, too, this season: Kayla Lian in Crooked and Bryce Earhart in The Aliens really stood out.
I seem to be in the minority on this, but I thought the Portland Playhouse/Hand2Mouth co-production of Left Hand of Darkness was very flawed, largely thanks to the adaptation itself—I didn't care for the script, and I didn't think the strengths of the two producing companies were particularly well integrated. But that said, I still think it deserves recognition for something—it was the most ambitious play of the year, I think. That should be a category—how about rewarding companies for taking risks, and not just pandering to the rich old people who keep theater afloat in this townt? I'm not bitter.
If anyone else has any thoughts, weigh in. I haven't yet decided if I'm going to attend/blog the ceremony, or stay home and clean my kitchen, but either way l'll post the winners tomorrow.
Opening tonight over at the CoHo, a show about a mom and kid who move to a conservative small town, called Crooked, co-produced by local theater power couple Philip Cuomo and Maureen Porter. I've found myself prioritizing seeing shows at the CoHo lately: Their co-production model means you're seeing a variety of work; it's typically very well produced; and it's such a great little space, easily the most professional-seeming of the city's small blackbox theaters (and bonus, unlike the Back Door Theater, I'm not super-allergic to it. Does anyone else have that problem? I've sneezed through a lot of defunkt shows).
Speaking of! defunkt has some cool stuff going on right now—so cool that I will forgive them for calling their current program "History/Herstory". They're running two shows in repertory: Lillian Hellman's The Children's Hour, which an early onstage depiction of lesbianism; and The Boys in the Band, which was—you guest it—one of the first onstage depictions of male homosexuality. Both are directed by Artist Rep's Jon Kretzu, which is a big deal for tiny defunkt. The Children's Hour opens tonight at the Back Door Theatre, and The Boys in the Band opened last weekend at a private home on E. Burnside; both run Thurs-Sun at 7:30 pm. More details here.
The Left Hand of Darkness, the collaboration between Hand2Mouth and Portland Playhouse—with a little help from Ursula Le Guin—has been extended through June 9th. Has anyone else seen that show? I was harder on it than any of the other reviewers in town; curious to hear what audiences thought.
Let's jump in the Mercury wayback machine for a sec: Remember former Managing Editor Phil Busse? Ran for mayor? He wrote a one-man show called The Match.Com monologues, based on his own experiences in the online dating world, which is currently running at the NW Dance Project Theatre. Tickets here.
And it's more comedy than theater, but tonight at the Jack London, the inspirational self-help spoof Lance Banks and the LanceLife Comprehensive Total Life System.
The Portland Opera had one of their cartoonist invitationals last week, which also meant that I got to livetweet through my second consecutive opera (you can see my findings on the first one here). The production was great as usual, although due to the nature of the event this can't really count as a critical review. But I will answer a few obvious questions:
Were great grandchildren of the von Trapp family in the audience? Like from The Sound of Music? And are you saying that The Sound of Music was a real thing that happened and not just a movie like Mary Poppins?
Yes. I mean, unless Mary Poppins is real too. At this point I'm not ruling anything out. But anyway, yes, the the von Traps were there. They were very friendly and had significantly better posture than any of the assembled journalists and comics professionals. They even agreed to come by the Mercury offices and do an interview, which should show up on Blogtown sometime after I finish transcribing it.
Did fellow Mercurian Iam Karmel let the fact that he wasn't actually there prevent him from delivering some really solid opera-related Tweeting?
No he did not.
More Q&A after the jump:
One of the tiny awkwardnesses of being a theater critic is seeing a show on opening night—surrounded by industry folk and friends and family of the cast and crew—and trying to figure out what to do during the inevitable standing ovation. I feel like a tool jumping up and clapping for a show I didn't really like, but grouchily staying seated while everyone around me stands doesn't seem like a good option either, so usually I go with a stand-and-collect-my-things maneuver.
I had no problem giving a full-on ovation at Saturday night's The Left Hand of Darkness, co-produced by Hand2Mouth and Portland Playhouse, when H2M's Jonathan Walters handed author Ursula LeGuin a bouquet. That got the crowd—and me—to its feet, and justly so. From my seat during Saturday's premiere, I had a good sightline on LeGuin, and I'll cop to sneaking glances at her during the show—it's not every day you get to watch a legendary sci-fi author watching a play based on her own work.
The show itself... Oh, it's kind of a train wreck. It's the best kind of train wreck—big, ambitious, all-chips-in—but the script is a mess. Adapting Le Guin's high-concept sic-fi novel for the stage couldn't have been easy, and it shows. The first act is almost entirely world-building: Establishing why a black man named Genly (Damian Thompson) has come to a planet full of androgynous white people; explaining how people on the planet are genderless until they go into heat (a period called "kemmer"), at which point a gender identity temporarily asserts itself; and attempting to sketch out the loyalties and conflicts on the planet Gethen, where Gendry has been sent in order to do a little intergalactic allegiance-building.
This is a lot of information to convey, and the show does it almost entirely through exposition, and disconnected, tough-to-follow vignettes. (I wish they'd scrapped the framing device, in which Genly introduces the show as a story he is telling, because it keeps the stakes low—we know Genly is going to be fine, even when he's packed off to a work camp or trekking across a giant glacier.)
The show finds more solid footing in Act 2, which is largely Gendry and his friend/ally Estraven (Allison Tigard) making their way across the aforementioned glacier. While the first act alternated between movement-heavy sequences and expository talky bits, the second act balanced those elements to good effect, showing us how these two characters bond amid the danger and drudgery of their journey.
It's tempting to watch the show and point to certain moments (character based, dialogue heavy) as "Portland Playhouse scenes" and certain moments (movement based, wordless) as "Hand2Mouth scenes." And maybe that's how it shook down in rehearsals, I don't know. There are strong moments from both camps: Genly (Damian Thompson) and his friend/ally Estraven (Allison Tigard) have an odd, fascinating chemistry as they struggle to understand each other across vast cultural differences, while an acrobatic sex pantomime illustrating the goings-on in a "hemmer house" helps to ground a show that often feels bogged down by exposition. Overall, though, the entire first act of the show is dedicated to giving us the information we need to understand the second act of the show; the payoff isn't worth the slog.
All of that said—I didn't like this show, but I didn't like it in the best way possible: I'd rather see something ambitious fail than something pedestrian succeed. I love that these companies took on this project, and I hope it inspires more such collaborations in the future.
Tickets here, if you wanna see for yourself!
Pack yer bags, Blogtownies! We're roadtripping to GERMANY to see the theatrical stage production of Rocky: Das Musical—IN GERMAN!!!!! (!!!) !!!!!!
Don't have time to "roadtrip to Germany"? Fine, since it will also be opening on Broadway next February—but I don't plan on waiting! Watch this trailer for the Kraut production, and then meet me at the airport!
See ya in Hamburg, bottom-effers! (More here.)
Manos: The Hand of Fate opens this Thursday, April 11, and Blitzen Trapper fans will want to take note: The band's drummer, Brian Adrian Koch, is the production's director and adapted the 1966 film to the stage. He's also one of the stars of the production, which takes the silly camp classic—once spoofed by Mystery Science Theater 3000—and turns it into a stage comedy, not unlike recent translations of Road House, The Lost Boys, and Weekend at Bernie's. (However, this adaptation of Manosn first premiered all the way back in 2006, predating the current wave of bad-movies-reinvented-as-hilarious-Portland-theater.) The show's humor shouldn't come as a surprise to those who've seen Koch perform (like in this tour promo video for the band Poor Moon).
That's not the only Blitzen Trapper connection. The house band is made up of three musicians, one of which is BT frontman Eric Earley. The band is rounded out by two other local heavy-hitters—Kevin Robinson of Viva Voce and Charlie Hester of the Parson Red Heads.
Since Manos sounds hilarious in its own right, the fact that a bunch of great local musicians are part of it is just the tip of the icing... or the cherry on the icing... or chopped nuts? Or something. Anyway, the damn thing's an iceberg sundae. More info and tickets over on Capital I Production's website.
As we'd long suspected he would, Mayor Charlie Hales this morning gathered in Southeast Portland with a host of local dignitaries to announce the city will have the money to fund a sidewalk on SE 136th, after all.
The project had been a hot topic—and among the few sources of political strife in the mayor's early tenure—since Toby Widmer, interim director of the Portland Bureau of Transportation, proposed in February using the $1.2 million slated for the sidewalk on road maintenance. Active transportation types and East Portland advocates took immediate umbrage, and the matter wasn't helped when a five-year-old girl was run down while crossing 136th, blocks away from the planned walkway, in early March.
Letters and petitions quickly found their way to the mayor's desk.
Blogtown didn't attend this morning's avail, but we're told (via a press release) Hales applauded Widmer's controversial proposal.
“I asked Toby to be creative,” Hales said, according to the release. “Long before we discuss any new funding, we want to make sure we were being as creative as possible with every dollar we have now. Toby did exactly what I asked of him.”
The sidewalk—a little more than a half-mile—should be started this fall, according to the mayor's office.
For more on this—and other pressing matters that have occupied Hales' attentions since he took office— be sure to pick up a copy of today's Mercury, sizzling off of the presses any time now. Or check the website later today. Or do both.
Portland Playhouse has been knocking it outta the park this season—I thought their production of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson was a bit rocky (word on the street is it evened out later in the run), but the teen-murder fantasy The Huntsmen was solid and King Hedley II was outstanding. Last weekend, they opened Helen Edmundson's Mother Teresa is Dead, and it's another excellent show from a company that really seems to have found its footing lately.
The show's about a white lady who goes to India to fix all of her problems. But she doesn't find meaning or a renewed sense of self, per the Eat Pray Love model; instead she basically loses her mind, and accidentally becomes tangled in a love triangle with a charismatic Indian man and a much older woman. It's a great script, willfully complex and very attuned to the racial and economic dynamics at play; and the cast boasts some strong performances, most notably an outstanding turn from Gretchen Corbett as an older, world-weary painter. (I don't love the decisions made by Nikki Weaver as the show's main character, but that's my only gripe.) My full review is here, if you need more of my opinions.
I'm also very interested to see the final show in their 2012/2013 season—they're teaming up with one of my favorite local companies, Hand2Mouth, to collaborate on an adaptation of Ursula LeGuin's The Left Hand of Darkness. It's not a collaboration that makes sense on paper—Hand2Mouth is known for non-narrative, ensemble-generated work, while Portland Playhouse tends to sink or swim on the strength of whatever script they've chosen. But, tis the season for unlikely teamups!
In the meantime, go see Mother Teresa Is Dead. You'll like it. Tickets n junk here.
A few weeks ago, the theater community found out that long-time Southeast arts venue Theater! Theatre! would be closing at the end of the season, leaving resident companies Profile Theatre and Theatre Vertigo without a home. Profile quickly announced they'd be moving across the river to take up residence at Artists Repertory Theater; and now we've got word on Vertigo's plans.
Last night at their annual auction at Southeast Belmont bar the Blue Monk*, Vertigo announced they'll be moving to Southeast's tiny Shoebox Theatre (2110 SE 10th) for the short-term, with the long-term goal of establishing a new Southeast arts space in partnership with the Northwest Classical Theatre Company, who currently occupies the Shoebox.
Couple thoughts on that:
• The Shoebox is tiny. TINY. 38 seats tiny, compared to Theater! Theatre!'s 100+ seat Arena Stage. To account for the loss in capacity, Vertigo will be adding Sunday matinees to their runs, and company member Kerry Ryan promises that Vertigo's designers will find interesting ways to use the space: “Audiences can expect a set that is not only in front of them, but completely around them,” she says in the press release.
• NWCTC and Vertigo are an odd pairing. Both do good work, but they couldn't be more different: NWCTC does fine, straight-ahead productions of classic plays, and Vertigo tends toward newer, more experimental and audacious works. It doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me from an audience-building standpoint—other than the people who go to everything, I don't know that there's a natural overlap between someone who wants to see a futuristic comedy about sex (Craig Jessen's The End of Sex, premiering at Vertigo next season) and someone's who's excited to see Shakespeare's Pericles at NWCTC. Maybe it's more sensible to attract two totally different audience groups than to try to build a shared audience, but at least on paper Hand2Mouth or defunkt or Action/Adventure seem like more logical partners—although none of them has a space as well-established as the Shoebox.
Tangentially related: There's a great article this week in the Oakland Bay Express about how a new influx of tech money is shaping the culture of the Bay area. The section that most interested me was about arts funding: How young tech kajillionaires don't share the philanthropic values of the "old money" patrons who support the area's major arts organizations. The piece quotes the director of Berkeley Rep:
"This shift toward a more transactional relationship in philanthropy [read: Kickstater], where you give something and expect to get something concrete back, has continued to escalate. The entrepreneurial infatuation we have now — and I don't mean that in a loaded way — comes with a notion that the things we're investing in should have a potential to [make] returns. It's antithetical to the kind of philanthropy that has built institutions in this country."
(This raises the question, of course, of whether arts organizations deserve to get funded if they've utterly failed to convince a younger generation of their relevance and value. As a relatively young fan of theater, I wonder all the time what Portland's theater landscape will look like once the current crop of subscribers dies off.)
And on the subject of arts patronage, the Willamette Week has a fascinating cover story this week about how the patron model is alive and well at the Falcon Arts community.
*any bets on how long the Blue Monk lasts once Theater! Theatre! closes?
The Portland Opera freshens the 18th c. opera Rinaldo by camping it up. Last night was the debut of the George Frideric Handel piece; set during the First Crusade, the Baroque opera has the anticipated pompadours, lengthy vocal passages, love stories with convoluted plot lines, and strange Baroque instruments (why hello, theorbo).
They keep it modern, however, in the delivery: all is done with an overriding, cheeky, slapstick delivery, and, maybe slightly surprising, is that the lead male role (knight Rinaldo) is played by a woman, Caitlin Mathes (looking something like Tina Fey in drag).
I always enjoy the humbleness of the smaller stage that is the Newmark Theatre—it allows for a focus on the drama and gestures, as opposed to the immense, sight-and-sound-swallowing Keller Auditorium. André Chiang does an excellent job as the booming baritone Argante (the king of Jerusalem). Lindsay Ohse has just the right saunter and swagger to convince as the conniving temptress Armida. The costuming is overridden with red damask—the curtains, the suits, and so on. The staging is kept simple throughout, with drapery and one large wall that doubles as a dramatic door.
The show runs around two and half hours, with a question and answer session at the end. It's a demanding and exhausting piece, musically and aurally, but the small stage makes it a more intimate, approachable experience. And did I mention the mermaids? There's mermaids!
The show runs through March 23, at Newmark Theatre. For tickets, go here.
I'm super behind on my local theater coverage, but there's a ton of great stuff going on right now:
Portland Playhouse opens a new show tomorrow night, Mother Teresa Is Dead, about a wife and mother who ditches her home life to go do good in India. (Moral complications ensue.)
This is the last weekend to see The Velvet Sky at Theatre Vertigo; I'm kind of kicking myself for missing this one.
Also closing, Blood Knot at Profile Theatre—it's a heavy play about apartheid, well produced.
Triangle's got a much-less heavy offering: In the Next Room, or The Vibrator Play by Sarah Ruhl, another one I regret not having seen—the script has been described as a smarter, funnier version of that crappy Maggie Gyllenhaal vibrator movie Hysteria.
Sowelu's got Hard Times Come Again No More, a play drawn from the work off writer Martha Boesing and set during a 1934 Minneapolis truckers' strike.
Artists Rep is still running Red Herring, which I can't in good conscience recommend to my peers, but if you've got some parents or grandparents to entertain it's a solid bet.
Tonight, two movie-spoofs at venues conveniently located nearly across the street from each other: Troll 2: The Musical at Action/Adventure and Varsity Cheerleader Werewolves Live From Outer Space at the Funhouse Lounge.
As always, we've got a complete calendar of local theater listings right over here.
On Saturday night, Profile Theatre opened Athol Fugard's Blood Knot, a charged metaphor for apartheid framed as a conflict between two brothers—one light skinned, one dark. It's a good show, and it prompted me to write in the paper this week that I wish there were more shows cast with black actors that weren't specifically about race.
"THERE WAS A TIME when, if you were a black actor, you always knew you'd be working in February. Somebody, somewhere, is gonna be doing Raisin in the Sun."
I'm on the phone with local actor Bobby Bermea, and we're talking about BaseRoots—the new African American theater company that opened its first show, Rocket Man, last weekend. One reason for the company's creation, Bermea explains, is so that black actors don't have to wait for Black History Month to get work, or for some other company to stage an "African American version of Streetcar Named Desire."
"There was a time when if you said 'black,' the stories that would come to mind came from a really limited spectrum. Nowadays the African American experience is really different than it used to be. We have a lot of the same issues that have existed in the past, but we're more than just our issues—we're professional athletes, entertainment magnates, and presidents.
And that's how I have been feeling, lately—like the stories are coming from a limited spectrum. Like there's a lot of historical-racism-as-metaphor going around, and not much at all about racism as it exists today. It's also fairly rare to see black actors in a show that isn't explicitly about racial politics, which seems problematic. (I am making the assumption here that, when it comes to casting a show where the race of the character is not explicit, black and white actors are basically interchangeable. I am neither a director nor a person of color, so please correct me if I'm wrong on that.) So instead of diverse casting or shows about the contemporary black experience, we get an all-black version of Oklahoma! and a slew of shows about The Way Racism Was Back Then. In a more perfect theater world, there'd be room for all of the above.
Perhaps you remember this fascinating tidbit from a recent One Day at a Time:
SUNDAY, JANUARY 20
Walter Kirn—who wrote the book that the movie Up in the Air (starring George Clooney) was based on—just gave an interview to Vulture, which we mention only because Kirn is pals with Val Kilmer... and Kirn dropped this amazing factoid! "[Kilmer's] real ambition, and what he's putting all his time and money into—and this is no joke, because he's good at it—is to be this generation's preeminent Mark Twain impersonator.... He's developed a show that he puts on somewhat spottily and informally around Los Angeles, where he wears $3,000 worth of prosthetic makeup, and he's actually awesome at it. He wants to make the same kind of transformation that he did with Jim Morrison when he did The Doors. And as a friend, I think if he could just get a grip on his flakiness, he could really make a splash with this. It sounds a little eccentric [What? No! —Ann], but he's got a lot of material, because it's not just old Twain, it's the drunken, sad, regretful, pensive character that we're not used to." MEANWHILE, ON TWITTER... Kilmer promptly posted several dramatic pictures of himself in extensive and convincing Mark Twain makeup, adding phrases like "Last make up test for Twain," "Learnin' my lines," and a casual, "I was researching our greatest orators for Mark Twain...." This, dears, is the best celebrity news story of 2013, and—aside from a public Kilmer-as-Twain performance, or perhaps a 3D re-release of Top Gun with Kilmer's Twain green screened over his "Iceman" character—we'd love to see anyone try to top it. Bring it on, Hollyweird. We're your Huckleberry.
YES. AGREED. Short of this summer's Justin Timberlake/Jay-Z tour, seeing Val Kilmer do Mark Twain is pretty much the thing I want to see most in the entire world, and—WAIT. WHAT! Val Kilmer is bringing his Twain production—brilliantly titled Citizen Twain—to stages! The trailer for the thing is out, courtesy of Kilmer himself; watch it immediately. It's amazing.
This is the best thing ever and I want to see Citizen Twain so badly that I am having a hard time thinking about anything else.
[Read the first of Suzi Steffen's reviews from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival here.]
My Fair Lady, Oregon Shakespeare Festival artistic director Bill Rauch told the media at a press conference, is only on the schedule this year because of director Amanda Dehnert's passion for the project. Rauch—who loves the American musical, in general, deeply, and who brought The Music Man to the Bowmer at the beginning of his tenure a few years ago—explained that figuring out the season is a massive undertaking.
With the help of a system called the Boar's Head, he and up to 50 (that's right, five zero) other people figure out which Shakespeare plays to schedule and then start putting new plays, commissioned works in the American Revolutions cycle, musicals, and beloved other plays into the season planning (right now, the 2014 season is set, and they're gently starting the planning for 2015).
But, Rauch said, some productions get on that 11-play list purely because of a director's passion. Last year's marvelously messy Medea/Macbeth/Cinderella was his own passion project, and this year's is Dehnert’s vision of My Fair Lady.
If you’ve seen the first episode of the beloved Canadian series Slings & Arrows, you’ll know how opening nights go: The director and the artistic director make their way down to the dressing rooms, there’s a lot of “Good opening!” and thrilled tourists, and then there’s the play, and a lot of drinking.
Though that series pokes fun at the Stratford, Ontario, Shakespeare Festival, openings at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival have a similar air, with insiders hurrying by and air-kissing, complimenting hair and outfits, and saying “Happy opening!” alongside patrons and assorted media people rushing the Tudor Guild for scripts and souvenirs.
After all of that, the plays kick in. This opening weekend sported four lengthy plays—none of this 90-minute no-intermission business—and began with a colorful, energetic Taming of the Shrew.
Snow showers in the forecast, chains for the tires, puffy jackets over theater clothing—no big deal, it’s just opening weekend for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in little Ashland, whose traffic has begun as tourists and critics return to town.
With a full year and a half between the cracked beam in the Bowmer Theatre and now, the casts and crews seem (from Facebook posts) to have been working their asses off getting the theaters and plays ready for the four plays that open this weekend.
A total of 11 plays open and run during the next eight and a half months, though no more than nine at any one time, which frankly is kind of enough for three theaters. Hit the jump for a list of this weekend’s offerings in the order we’ll see them.
Did you know that the WWE has a Teabagger wrestler now? His name is Zeb Colter, and I think he's supposed to be a joke. Maybe?
When I was a kid, I sort of followed wrestling. I hated the Iron Sheik, because he seemed like an excuse for WWF fans to spread their jingoistic racism all over their favorite "sport." But now Zeb Colter seems to be flipping the script on those same proud 'Mericans by making fun of overzealous, under-educated Teabaggers. Or does he?
See, the "genius" of Teabaggers is that you can't tell if they're parodies or not. They are, more or less, satire-proof. Zeb Colter can be taken either way: A brave patriot, or a mocking bit of self-parody. Maybe this is the WWE hedging their bets. I honestly can't tell.
This is a big deal: Belmont's long-running Theater! Theatre! is shutting its doors at the end of the 2012/2013 theater season. There are two theater spaces in the Theater! Theatre! building (it's across from the Avalon, next to Tao of Tea), and just about every company in town has rotated through the venue at some point. It's currently home to both Theatre Vertigo and Profile Theatre.
Per a press release from Theater Vertigo, "The Landlord notified the company recently that he would not be renewing their lease and that both theaters in the building will be closed at the end of the 2012-2013 theater season."
Vertigo's press release is definitely trying to make lemonade ("we look forward to the opportunities that this challenge presents") but this is a blow in a community with too-few decent theater venues.
From Vertigo's release, here's a list of company's that've produced shows in the building:
24 Hour Plays, Action/Adventure, Theatre, Beat BangerZ, Black Tie Comedy Troupe, Classic Greek Theatre, CoToP Theatre, Curious Comedy, Dance Naked Productions, Fantastic Umbrella Factory, Fuse Theatre Ensemble, Hoofers & Co., JANE a theater company, Jewish Theatre Collaborative, La Bodega Productions, Lights Up! Productions, Miss Bee Haven, Inc., Nomadic Theatre Co., Northwest Classical Theatre Co., Playback Theater, Portland Theatre Works, PSU TASO, Public Playhouse, Pyrogen Productions, Renob Control, Sowelu, Staged!, Stumptown Stages, The Phoenix Theatre Co., Theatre Vertigo, Traveling Lantern, Twilight Repertory Theatre, PlayWrite, Inc., The Attic Institute, US Jesco, and over two dozen teachers and individual artists.
I've got a call in to the landlord for more info; I'll update when I hear back.
This is a major loss. Portland doesn't have many mid-sized theater spaces to begin with. I can't even think what comparably sized venues this leaves... IFCC? The Miracle? The Headwaters?
The Fertile Ground Festival of New Works continues through Sunday, and this weekend marks the opening of one of the shows I'm most looking forward to: Hand2Mouth's Something's Got Ahold of my Heart. New work from Hand2Mouth is infrequent; these guys spend months or years on a show and often presenting several versions of a project, giving the audience a chance to see how a work evolves over time. Sometimes this pays off in a big way: My Mind Is Like an Open Meadow, an incredibly moving and personal show based on company member Erin Leddy's interviews with her grandmother, only got stronger after it opened at 2011's Fertile Ground.
I guess this is where I admit that personally, I'm not a particularly adventurous Fertile Ground-er. I appreciate that performers use the festival as something of a deadline to motivate themselves to put new work out. But I've been writing about performance in this town since 2005 (can "fuck, I'm old" be today's Blogtown theme?), and so I'm a little leery, maybe too much so, of the idea that a fully-formed production from people I've never heard of is going to be... competent. When flipping through the Fertile Ground catalog, I look for names I recognize, and actors, writers, and producers I trust. Fortunately for me, there are plenty of those this year.
Portland Experimental Theatre Ensemble's production of R3 is a great example: I'm not sure I would've talked myself into an experimental version of Richard III had I not been familiar with some of PETE's company members from their time in Fever Theater. R3 is a mature, thoughtful work from theater professionals who know what they're doing. Many Fertile Ground shows are. But ironically, given the uncurated nature of the festival—whose admirable goal is to inspire the creation of new local performance—I think I'm actually less likely to take a chance on a totally new-to-me production company during Fertile Ground, given that time and column inches limited. Presumably other audience members are more adventurous, though, given that smaller ventures keep on paying their FG application fee and putting out new work.
I am of two minds about the annual Fertile Ground theater festival. Mind one loves that the uncurated festival generates a tremendous outpouring of new work, during a typically slow time of year. Mind two is overwhelmed by the sheer number of shows taking place across the city, and skeptical as to the quality of a good number of 'em.
In this week's paper, I attempted to navigate the festival's huge number of offerings. AT $50 for a festival pass, this is one of the best deals in town, considering that big theaters like Artists Rep, Portland Playhouse, and Third Rail have shows in the festival. This weekend, I'm seeing International Falls at the Coho, and... something else. Definitely hitting Troll 2: The Musical on Tuesday as well. Click through for more on the festival!
The Fertile Ground Festival doesn't officially begin until January 24, but a handful of companies have either already opened shows, or will get into the game this weekend.
Fertile Ground is a festival of "Portland-generated new works," which means original premieres of locally created theater and dance. Now in its fourth year, the festival has garnered the support of the city's major theaters, all of whom have participated at some point, and it's also come to provide a swift dose of motivation for performers at any level to actually get it together and make that show they've been talking about.
A festival pass will run you $50, which is pretty damn good considering that even if you only stick to the festival's upper canopy (!! the plant puns are just irresistible), your pass'll get you into A Noble Failure at Third Rail and The Lost Boy at Artists Rep (I didn't much care for either of them, but... you might!); The Huntsmen at Portland Playhouse, a musical about a teenaged serial killer; and Something's Got Ahold of My Heart at Hand2Mouth, which recently premiered in New York—I'm really looking forward to seeing that in its final(ish) form.
I am not going to do the math on how much it would cost to buy individual tickets for those shows, but it's a whole lot more than $50.
The festival gets going in earnest on Jan 24, but A Noble Failure and The Lost Boy opened last weekend (reviews here), and The Huntsmen kicks off on Saturday, with preview show tonight and tomorrow. Also opening this weekend, R3, a retelling of Richard the Third, at the Portland Experimental Theater Ensemble.
We'll have more on the festival's must-sees in next week's paper! In the meantime, you can find ticketing and festival pass info here.
There were a ton of teachers in the crowd who quite liked it, though, based on audience reaction and much positive bathroom chatter. (Also lots of that pre-applause "unh" noise that audiences make to indicate they've just witness something profound.) I don't mean to suggest that teachers have bad taste: To the contrary, I think it must've been extremely gratifying to see the unglamorous business of being a teacher dramatized. For all its flaws, A Noble Failure focuses on authentic-feeling issues like test-based teacher assessments, layoffs of librarians and janitors, and the difficulties of issuing standardized tests to a distinctly un-standardized student body.
Over the weekend, the Christian Science Monitor reported on what appears to be "the first group of teachers nationally to defy district edicts concerning a standardized test": 19 teachers teachers at Seattle's Garfield High refused to administer the standardized MAP (Measures of Academic Progress), which aims to evaluate progress in reading and math.
“Our teachers have come together and agreed that the MAP test is not good for our students, nor is it an appropriate or useful tool in measuring progress,” said Kris McBride, academic dean and testing coordinator at Garfield High. “Additionally, students don’t take it seriously. It produces specious results and wreaks havoc on limited school resources during the weeks and weeks the test is administered.”
It's a quote that could've come right out of A Noble Failure—and, perhaps, a note of optimism to combat that play's pessimistic conclusion.
A Noble Failure, Third Rail Rep at the Winningstad (1111 SW Broadway), Thurs-Sat 7:30 pm, Sun 2 pm, through Feb 3, $22-43, thirdrailrep.org
After a long, boring holiday season, Portland's theater scene is kicking back into gear with a handful of promising shows opening this weekend, leading up to the Fertile Ground festival of new works at the end of the month.
In a coincidence that's a stroke of luck from a publicity standpoint, this weekend sees the opening of two shows written by local playwright Susan Mach: A Noble Failure, about the US education system, is opening at Third Rail, while Artists Rep is opening The Lost Boy, about the literal circus that ensues when a 4-year-old boy is kidnapped in 1874.
Profile Theatre is opening The Road to Mecca by Athol Fugard (Profile dedicates each season to the work of an individual playwright). This show's notable for being the first play directed by Profile's new artistic director Adriana Baer.
As previewed in this weekend's arts section, comedy duo The Aces perform a sketch show that marks the first in a new collaborative series put on by Bad Reputations Productions (Road House: The Play, The Lost Boys - Live!) and The Theater Who Must Not Be Named. The Aces show is great fun, and I'm excited to see where this collaboration goes in the future.
Moscow New Drama Theatre is still running their excellent production of Nastasya Filoppovna at Artists Rep—that's tonight and tomorrow with supertitles, and an un-translated Russian version on Sunday afternoon.
Over at Curious Comedy, a show that's a really tough sell but I'm going to try to sell it anyway: The improvised musical Pipes has two shows left in its current run, tonight and tomorrow. My boyfriend dragged me to this show a few months ago; I attended with extreme reluctance, because... well, because "improvised musical." But I've seen Pipes twice now, and loved it both times—Curious assembles an incredibly talented cast, who take audience suggestion to create a complex, character-based piece of long-form improv. An accompanying pianist picks the timing and style of the musical numbers, and it's both impressive to watch the performers collaborate and frequently hilarious. (Fair warning, though: The first half of the show is short-form improv from Curious' house troupe, and it's... hit and miss. Curious also subjects their paying audience members to a video pitch asking for further financial support, which is kind of tacky and maddening.)
On Sunday at the Brody, it's the return of Competitive Erotic Fan Fiction, a fun LA-based show headlined by the great Kyle Kinane that sees comedians creating off-the-cuff pieces of erotic fan fic based on audience suggestion. The Brody's a bit too small for the popularity of the show—last time it was a standing room-only, shitty visibility kind of a scene—but if you can get a ticket and a seat, it's a damn good time.
And finally, a bit of news: Rumor has it that bigwigs from the Theater Communications Group will be in town early next week to scope out Portland as a possible site for their 2014 national conference. That level of national attention would be huge for the local theater scene... Fingers crossed!
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