Here's a fact I'm not proud of: I have watched so much reality TV. Back when my cable was paid for by institutional capital, Bravo would broadcast marathons of America's Next Top Model, and I would promise myself I would just watch one episode. Spoiler alert: that never happened, and I knew it wasn't going to. Reality TV is alluringly awful. The drama is not real, but it sucks you in anyway, and soon enough you're on Team Ne Ne and don't shower anymore.
Action/Adventure Theatre's new serialized comedy, Mars One, created and directed by Nick Fenster, is not like that. (Although, if we're picking teams, TEAM TABITHA ALL THE WAY).
I can't even really tell you what Mars One is like, because a) it's partially improvised each evening, which means it will be different by the time you go see it!, and b) new episodes are coming this weekend! Trust me, those exclamation points are not gratuitous. Because the cast is remarkably charming and funny, and it's kind of like watching the most unhinged, surreal episode of The Real World: Seattle possible, and because live theater is a whole lot better for your brain than watching starving young women screech "TYRA MAIL!" while you suddenly look up and realize it's 3 in the morning*.
Last we checked in, things weren't looking great for the first colonists on Mars. Their Team Leader is missing, delightfully flustered Mission Control (Jake Michels) is sending cryptic warnings about a sleeper cell, and the mysterious objects coming through the 3-D printer to Tabitha Thompson (Noelle Eaton), "a runner-up on Mars and a runner-up in life" just got really real: there's now a gun in play. The adventure continues tomorrow night!
*NOT THAT THAT'S EVER HAPPENED TO ME.
The '60s lovefest came down fast after the Manson Family killed Sharon Tate and her friends in the summer of '69. But the psychedelic freakout is still going strong in Matt Stanger's rock musical Groovy Vernacular Hippie Spectacular [I refuse to spell it "hippy"—Eds.], with its oodles of flower children, degenerate didgeridoo playing, and go-go dance-offs... oh, and a pink ape! This is the follow-up to Stanger's extremely fun Bikini Creature Beach Feature, which was a eye-candy romp through early '60s monster movies, beach blanket flicks, and '80s hardbody movies. And much like the jump from the laced-up early '60s to the amped-up end of the decade, the Hippie Spectacular doesn't have Bikini Creature's same wispy popcorn flair—it feels rawer and more frenetic.
The heart of the production is the loveable biker gang from Bikini Creature, the Li'l Stinkers and their amiable ape Randy Bananas. They're a hysterical crew of tough-talking, soft-thinking schemers. The Li'l Stinkers are out to make a quick buck by selling drugs to the hippies at a love-in at Stinkberry Park. Cue the mad didge playing. But throw a DEA narc, an outsized Beach Boys spoof, and the evil Manson Family into the mix, and it's groovy mayhem. Hippie Spectacular—while containing "no social or moral redeeming value whatsoever," according to the program—is full of plenty of pokes at ridiculous hippies and Uncle Charlie, it never bothers with too many historical facts or accuracies. (I loved Manson's Spring Breakers speech. Also, fun fact: Charles Manson was 5' 2"!) They make for pretty easy targets, but entertaining nonetheless. The sheer amount of sweaty rock 'n' roll fun the expansive cast is having as they rip through musical numbers ("You Look Like a Girl" is a real highlight) and Laugh-In asides is as infectious as a real '60s love-in (wear a condom, kids). Got any friends that might be interested in watching an R-rated '60s-era Betty and Veronica digest come to life? Bring 'em—this show would be way more fun in a packed house (the audience was a little thin when I went). And smoke a joint before you go, because day-glo pink Candy Bananas and her rousing gorilla knockdown with Randy will be all the better with a strong retro buzz.
Groovy Vernacular Hippie Spectacular
Analog Cafe, 720 SE Hawthorne, Thurs Sept 25 (hey, that's tonight!)-Sat Sept 27, 8 pm, followed by band performances at 10 pm, $16, tickets, 21+
This is rad. In June, members of a new experimental theater group calling themselves "overunder" stood out front of the Drammys, Portland's annual theater awards, and asked attendees pointed questions about the racial makeup of Portland's theater scene relative to the city as a whole. They're not the first people to raise these questions—hey, I wonder if the upcoming issue of Agenda will tackle the question of diversity in theater? It might!—but I like the way they've framed it in this video. Trigger warning for Reedies, but worth watching.
An actor in a Santa Clarita, Calif. production of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” was fired Saturday after physically removing a heckler in the audience who lobbed anti-gay slurs at the cast for nearly half of the show. John Lacy, who played Big Daddy in Tennessee Williams’ classic play that tackles homophobia among other themes, was fired after jumping off stage and physically confronting an audience member who repeatedly made noise and yelled “fag” during emotionally tense scenes, according to audience members’ accounts of the incident on Facebook. The show apparently continued following the confrontation and concluded to a standing ovation. Lacy was apparently not let go until after the performance.
One of the show's leads resigned in solidarity with Lacy—but other actors in the Repertory East Playhouse production took to Facebook to defend his firing. One actor stated that Lacy put the entire cast and audience at risk: "What if this guy had a weapon?” Welcome to America, where we must defer to bigoted idiots at all times because our bigoted idiots tend to be armed. Another actor outed herself as something of an idiot:
Fellow actress Emily E. Low, who plays the female lead, agreed that violence should not have been the answer, adding that part of acting is accepting criticism from the audience. “As actors we must take the positive audience responses with the negative. It's not always about cheers and standing ovations,” she wrote in the same Facebook thread. Low added that Troy's character, Brick, is gay, suggesting that the heckler's anti-gay slurs may have been appropriate. “And, the truth is, Brick is, after all, a gay man,” she wrote.
So it's cool to scream "faggot!" during a play if there's a gay character on stage. Good to know.
UPDATE: Actress Emily Low wrote in to debate Dan's interpretation of events. Her letter is after the jump.
Courtney Ferguson: “I’m going to bang it up at a couple roller derby practices this weekend, where I will undoubtedly acquire some fresh bruises. I’m also headed to Mississippi Studios tonight to see charming-as-get-out Cameron Esposito’s stand-up show, which will be recorded for her upcoming Kill Rock Stars comedy album. Maybe I can talk her into being my friend. Saturday, I’m headed to a fashion show for Red Fox Vintage’s celebration of their one-year anniversary on SE Woodstock. It’ll have gals on roller skates! Then on Sunday, as a super-fan of the Old Gold’s bar-league softball team, I'm going to cheer them on at the season opener for Sunday Softball (6 pm at Westmoreland—come watch sportsball).”
Marjorie Skinner: "Tonight I’m going to the vintage fashion show organized by AlexSandra’s Vintage Emporium, then I’ll be bright eyed and bushy tailed at 9 am tomorrow for the “Prototyping Fashion’s Futures” symposium at the Museum of Contemporary Craft. There are also a slew of engagement/birthday celebrations on the docket, and it feels like the season of outdoor eating might be finally on? There’s always plenty of extra protein at BYO BBQs, so my move is going to be grill-able fresh produce. I’m feeling leeks, mushrooms, and peaches, especially."
Alison Hallett: "Lotta work-related activity this weekend for me: Some Sam Shepard (Buried Child at Profile Theatre), some Martin McDonagh (The Beauty Queen of Leenane at Third Rail). I am currently having my life ruined by Roxane Gay's novel An Untamed State, about a Haitian American woman who's kidnapped and tortured for 13 days while on a family visit to Port-au-Prince—it's so stressful/suspenseful/good, I can't stop reading it. I'll finish that, then cast around for something a little less real, maybe Lauren Owen's massive Victorian horror novel The Quick, which comes blurbed by both Kate Atkinson and Hilary Mantel. (Sold!) Oh, and the Starlight Parade on Saturday. It's the best parade."
Wm. Steven Humphrey: "Saturday is the season ending performance by Portland The Liberators at the Brody, as they perform an improvised western. (Which will be 50,000 billion times more funny that Seth MacFarlane's most recent piece of shit!) And if you like your RAWK mixed with tears don't forget that Portland's beloved Dolorean will be playing for the final time also on Saturday night. I'll also be wishing the Mercury's own Grand Old Dame Marjorie Skinner a happy 67th birthday on Sunday. (Maybe we can combine it with a forced retirement party?)"
Dirk VanderHart: "Turns out you guys are sleeping on Cameron Esposito enough that I was just able to score a (super cheap) ticket to her second show at Mississippi Studios tonight. That's exciting. I'll be using the rest of my weekend trying to acquire a reasonably priced weed wacker. Anyone got a weed wacker they wanna sell? Electric preferred."
The Drammys are Portland's local theater awards—there's a big ceremony every year at the Crystal Ballroom, and all of Portland's theater community gets dressed up and gets tipsy. This year, for the first time since 1999, nominees have been announced in advance, so we can all place bets ahead of time on whether Allen Nause or Michael Mendelson is gonna snag best actor. (Mendelson, probably, though Nause has been doing terrific work all over town since he stepped down as Artistic Director of Artist's Rep.)
It's not a terrifically surprising list, though it is a bit of a brain-stretch to think all the way back to shows I saw in May of 2013. Of the best-show nominees, I guess I'm pulling for the CoHo's Crooked—but I never made it to Imago's The Caretaker, and heard good things, so I don't want to discount that one. A bit surprised that Badass Theatre Co's Invasion!* didn't get a best show nod, and I also think Bright New Boise at Third Rail should've made the short list—I loved that show. I managed to not see a single show in the devised work category, so I guess I've got no business being surprised that PETE or Hand2Mouth didn't land on that list.
All four best actress nominations come from the same two plays: Crooked and Gidion's Knot. Both of those scripts were written by women; it is not remotely surprising that shows written by women have meaty roles for women. (And I'm pulling for either of the Crooked actresses; the acting in that show was just about perfect.) I'd also like to see Blake Peebles win a best young performer nod for his all-in performance in Oregon Children's Theatre's ridiculously fun Zombie in Love*
The Drammys are June 9 at the Crystal Ballroom, open to the public, and free to attend.
*I admit I'm a bit disappointed to see that Badass is relaunching Invasion! this summer. Yes, it was fun and everybody loved it, but I wanna see what an exciting, brand-new theater company does next.
**full disclosure: my boyfriend works at OCT, though as far as I know he didn't work directly on Zombie.
No matter what you're thinking, it isn't this. Mister John Lydon, punk godfather... is coming to Portland's biggest venue... as part of a touring arena production of Jesus Christ Superstar. He will be playing King Herod.
This bewildering news alone is enough to turn brain into oatmeal, but look at the rest of the cast:
• Michelle Williams of Destiny's Child as Mary Magdalene
• JC Chasez of N*Sync as Pontius Pilate
• Brandon Boyd from Incubus as Judas Iscariot
• Ben Forster (some guy who won some show) as Jesus Christ
This production of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's rock opera from the early '70s (not gonna front, the original double album that preceded the Broadway show still holds up) has been inflated to arena size, and judging by the looks of this video, they've modernized it with lots of pointed, up-to-the-minute social commentary. This looks like it's gonna be the hottest of messes.
The Jesus Christ Superstar Arena Spectacular Starring the Former Lead Singer of the Sex Pistols, the Dude from Incubus, a Destiny's Child, and One of the Other Guys of N*Sync Who Isn't Justin Timberlake hits the Moda Center on Sunday, July 13. Tickets run $39.50-174.50 (plus fees). Info is at the Rose Quarter's site.
The Miracle Theatre Group is dedicated to celebrating Latino art and culture. Their productions regularly feature Mexican and Central and South American history, myth, and literature—they've done shows about Lorca, Frida Kahlo, life under Castro. But I can say with 98% certainty that until Learn to Be Latina, the word "queef" had never been uttered on that stage.
The Miracle went out on a limb with Learn to Be Latina, and that's always a great thing to see.
Outside of the context of the Miracle's generally conventional programming, though, Learn to Be Latina doesn't seem so bold. Playwright Enrique Urueta's 2010 script promises a challenging, funny investigation of identity, ethnicity, and sexuality, but over the course of a wearying two-and-a-half-hour run time, the show takes on too much and fails to balance its satiric and character-driven elements.
Learn to Be Latina opens with an interview at the offices of FAD Records, where aspiring pop singer Hanan (Nicole Accuardi) is pitching her demo album to a panel of office drones. The interviewers—Bill, Jill, and Will—are a sort of three-headed monster of undifferentiated whiteness: They shuffle papers in hyper-stylized unison, confer behind their hands, and demand to know what ethnicity the non-white Hanan actually is: "Everybody's something... Except for white people. We're not anything."
I was a big fan of the Portland Opera's Comics Night at the Opera program, where they invited local comic book artists to live sketch during a dress rehearsal. It was one of the few social media arts marketing campaigns I've ever felt remotely warmly toward—probably because it was born from a sense of experimentation and fun, rather than being a calculated marketing bid—and I loved that it fostered a sense of community and collaboration between two segments of the local arts world you don't often see in the same room. Plus, some beautiful drawings came out of it.
Portland Opera dropped the program last year, and then Oregon Children's Theatre picked up the idea and ran with it, inviting artists to sketch an afternoon performance. (Full disclosure: My boyfriend works at OCT, and helped organize this.)
OCT's current show, Zombie in Love, is a frankly adorable yet surprisingly gross musical about a zombie trying to get a date for the prom. I saw it last weekend and one of the songs—"The Zombie never gets the girl"—is still stuck in my head. The show is based on a book illustrated by popular cartoonist Scott Campbell, so a live-drawing session was a natural fit—plus, even more than opera patrons, kids *lose their minds* over good drawings. Local artists Lucy Bellwood and Mike Russell, plus Laika's Graham Annabel, joined Campbell himself in sketching the show; the results are currently hanging in the lobby of the Winningstad. OCT's got a blog post up about the experiment, with links to the artists' work.
It's appropriate that they invited Russell; he spearheaded the opera's initial live-drawing experiment, and in fact just released an ebook of his "live comics adaptations" called Opera, Drawn Quickly. I also enjoyed Lucy Bellwood's post about the experience—she was giddy about drawing alongside Scott C., whose work, she writes, she's been reading since middle school.
Zombie in Love runs through March 23; details here.
I *loved* Artists Rep's production of The Motherfucker with the Hat. I thought most of the performances were great—in the lead role, John San Nicolas has never been better—and the script, about a recovering addict trying to pull his life together, is funny and beautifully written. And I also loved, as Erik pointed out in his review, that when we arrived at the theater our usher asked if we were there to see "Mother-Hat." (Artists Rep often has two shows running concurrently on their two stages, so it's important that ushers make sure everyone is in the right place.)
And then this comment on Erik's review:
I love it! I love it all.
I'd never been to the Funhouse Lounge before, because—based on the name and the carnival-esque exterior—I assumed it was a spiritual sibling to the short-lived Weird Bar, that horrible "wacky" bar that briefly took over the E-Room's old space. (Remember? Ew.) It wasn't really like that, though. Yes, there's a room full of pictures of clowns, but otherwise it's a nice little venue, great for live comedy; I've been hearing good things about the monthly Midnight Mass standup show.
It'll probably help traditional theater fans settle into their seats more comfortably if they think of Buffy as "bar entertainment"—there's a Rocky Horror vibe to the show, heavy on camp, audience participation, clever props, and goofy sight gags. The movie's script has been heavily rewritten to include plenty of references to other teen and vampire movies; "This is not a cheerocracy" landed with a thunk, but a Twilight gag went over like gangbusters. I last saw the movie at a slumber party when I was 11, so I have no idea how closely the plot dovetails; the play follows bitchy teenaged cheerleader Buffy as she learns she's a vampire slayer and confronts the vampire menace ravaging her town. Yes, there is a training montage.
Scene transitions take too long, and a good third of the cast needs to figure out how to project—a certain slapdash quality just adds to the appeal of shows like this, but you can't compromise on pacing and basic audibility. And make sure you're in the mood for goofiness, ideally primed with a drink or three. I wasn't in the mood, on Friday, through absolutely no fault of the production—it was Alaska Airlines' fault, actually, and the previous day's nightmarish funeral travel—so I left at intermission to go drink alone in a corner. Based on what I saw, though, Buffy embraces its own constraints; it's a cheerfully low-budget, low-fi production that knows how silly it is. The show runs Thurs-Sat at 7 pm; tickets are $18, which is about $6 too expensive for this show; it's $16ish if you get 'em in advance,or $10 on Thursdays. Details here.
I sat down with Russell Rinker, a trained Shakespearean actor and former lumberjack who's been with the company for over 7 years. My only regret is not asking him about Blue Man Groupies.
ALEX: You started out with the Blue Man Group show in Las Vegas. How was that?
A BLUE MAN: It's surreal, you know? It's a weird place to live. But definitely moving out there with something like the Blue Man show is the best way to do it because you have this instant network of friends, you get to meet people in the show community.
You got into the show network? You mean you were hanging out with showgirls and magicians all the time?
Actually, yes. I was the captain of the Blue Man bowling team and we had a midnight league so we would bowl against Cirque du Soleil performers and people from Mama Mia and Avenue Q. It was crazy.
That may be the coolest thing I've ever heard of, the Vegas Entertainers Midnight Bowling League.
It was pretty awesome. You have all these interesting, talented people who are all like "How did I end up in Vegas?" Nobody knows anybody there so you end up getting close to people like that.
You left the Las Vegas show for the glow of Hollywood, right?
I was there for 5 years and I left on good terms. I just wanted to try something else, so I moved to LA for a couple years. I pretty much chose the worst time because right as I got there the writers' strike started and the economy tanked so it was pretty much the hardest time to break in. The opportunity to join the touring show came up and I love to travel, especially to be paid to travel, and I was ready to leave LA so it was a no brainer.
Wait, you mean you showed up in Los Angeles and your time as an anonymous blue drumming monster didn't make you an instant success?
Surprisingly, no. It's a really tough business.
So what were the other skills you needed to get hired with Blue Man Group? You've got an acting background but you've also got a musical background and a lumberjacking background. Which of those skills landed this job?
It's such a weird thing that we get all types of people. We have hard core drumline drummers or rock drummers who have no acting experience and we have actors with no drum experience, and clowns and dancers. I drummed in high school and after school I was doing some musical theater, some light opera. Sometimes the acting background even gets in the way because the show is so different. You've got this framework that you layer over your own character so you need to be a Blue Man, not play a Blue Man. Obviously there are certain rules to a Blue Man, he doesn't talk, he doesn't swing his arms, other than that it's up to your interpretation.
Whoa, don't skimp on that! What are the other rules of what you can't do in make-up, besides talking and swinging his arms?
The Blue Man has no ego, so he's just very innocent and curious. In the training process we go to the dog park and watch dogs interact with each other. Very curious: What's that, what's new, what's next? And just let that affect your personality.
What else did the training involve? Because so far it sounds pretty easy, just watching a bunch of puppies.
On Twitter this morning, local actor Harold Phillips linked to an article that sharply criticizes the ability of contemporary theater to attract young and diverse audiences. The article critiques‚ rightly, the idea that arts education is somehow the answer to getting young people to care about theater; it isn't. Making theater they care about is the answer.
The writer—playwright Mike Lew—saves some criticism for the pandering efforts that big theaters do make to bring in the kids, calling out Tweetups and free beer nights for the essentially pandering window dressing that they are.
Attempts by major arts organizations to harness the power of social media have been mostly embarrassing; I've unfollowed a lot of people during "tweet nights" at various arts institutions, and I can't imagine I'm alone in that. Here's a social media tip: Just because your hashtag is trending doesn't mean it's working.
(One exception: I always enjoyed seeing sketches from the opera's Comics Night at the Opera, where artists were invited to sketch during a dress rehearsal. Here's another social media tip: Recruit people who can add actual value to what you're producing. Contextless nattering on Twitter doesn't count.)
The key to attracting new audiences isn't tricks, Lew writes. It's more simple than that: If you want to attract a young, diverse audience, "present work that’s reflective of a young, diverse audience."
Which brings us to Artists Rep's new season, and ... damned if it doesn't do a pretty good job with those criteria. Their 2013-2014 season contains four Northwest premieres and an addition two Portland premieres; three of the eight plays are by women; moreover, Lynn Nottage is African American, Carlos Lacamara is Cuban, Ayad Akhtar's family is from Pakistan, and their plays all feature characters beyond the white Americans we usually see onstage. As for the "young" part: Amy Herzog's 4000 Miles, a 2013 Pulitzer finalist, is about a 21-year-old cyclist, which presumably means we'll see some aggressive outreach to the local bike community. I'll post the full lineup after the jump.
And while we're on the subject: Why has no one taken up the fifth item on Brendan Kiley's list of "Ten Things Theaters Need to Do Right Now to Save Themselves"? On-site, theater-themed childcare during performances, Sunday-school style? Is it an insurance thing? Serious question—seems like a no brainer. Has anyone looked into it? Please advise in the comments.
I haven't seen nearly as many Fertile Ground performances as I planned to. I got sick; someone important had an important birthday... I have plenty of excuses, but here's what it boils down to: I don't deserve a smoothie.
On Sunday, though, I finally made it out to one of my most-anticipated shows of the festival: Pep Talk, from experimental company Hand2Mouth.
Pep Talk is about teams and coaches and motivation; it is held, appropriately, in the gym at the Peninsula Park Community Center, which dates to 1913. (There's a great WPA mural in the lobby featuring athletic old-timey guys in onesies tossing a ball around.)
Before the show starts, audience members are asked to fill out a quick survey with answers to questions like "who's your hero?" and "what makes a good coach?" Because this felt like some sort of vetting process, and because I am an asshole, I made sure to note that one of my biggest fears is "audience participation."* Then we slapped on name tags—last-name only—and took our seats on benches in the gym, in front of a sparse set featuring a few video monitors and a foosball table.
This show is led—"performed" seems an insufficient word—by Hand2Mouth ensemble members Julie Hammond, Liz Hayden, Erin Leddy, and Maesie Speer. In customized warmup jackets and sneakers, they introduce themselves as our coaches for the evening; together, they will consider the form and function of motivational speeches by living the form and function of motivational speeches. The audience, seated on backless benches and folding chairs, is part of the show too: We're the raggedy band of misfits just waiting for the right coach to transform us into a team.
Oh, look, I don't care about football. I like beer and snacks and halftime shows that involve Beyoncé, but the actual sitting-around-watching-sports part isn't really my thing. Which is why Hand2Mouth Theatre's "Alt Superbowl" on Sunday promises to be lots of fun, for those of us who like everything about Super Bowl parties but the Super Bowl: At both of their Sunday showings of Pep Talk (3 pm & 8 pm), your $15 ticket includes beer, pizza, and chips, as well as halftime entertainment from breakdancers Moon Patrol Crew.
Pep Talk is an experimental theater piece inspired by football—or at least, the version of football most appealing to theater kids, which is that presented by Coach Eric Taylor and the East Dillon Lions. The show examines motivational speeches and coaches, based in part on Friday Night Lights. (Literally everything I know about football comes from that show, and I spent four years in high school marching band listlessly playing "25 or 6 to 4" from the bleachers.) Ticket info lives here.
And now for a moment with Tami Taylor.
I love podcasts, but I don’t think I’d pay for one.
Podcasting, though, is not a zero-cost endeavor. It takes time, of course, as well as equipment, talent, and web hosting. Get enough subscribers, and downloads can slow to a crawl without the support of costly bandwidth. Despite being distributed for free, podcasts, after a certain point, have to make money to stay operational. Most of the time they seem to do that with Audible ads. Dear god. So many Audible ads.
The way that Welcome to Night Vale has monetized its highly successful podcast is far more interesting and fun than constantly being bombarded with ads for Stamps.com or whatever. On top of soliciting donations and selling merchandise, the horror/comedy podcast has embarked on a series of live shows throughout the country. I caught one of their Portland performances this past Saturday night, and while I was expecting to be entertained, I was surprised at how good it was.
More after the jump.
I got a press release yesterday about the brand-new Mormon Playwrights reading series, created by Mormon Redneck Productions to "explore the stories of mainstream Mormonism through published plays by established Mormon storytellers."
Founded in 1830, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was the first truly American church that now has a worldwide congregation of over 15 million. The last decade has seen tremendous growth and members, often referred to as Mormons, have been in the news all over the world. However, their stories are, for the most part, told by those outside of the church. On stage, Mormon characters are few and far between, despite their central importance in settling the American West. Outside observers have created shows satirizing them and holding them up for criticism. But, what about the stories told by those who are of the faith? What are their stories like?
Yesterday was also, of course, the day that the Supreme Court put a halt to gay marriages in Utah, at the state's request —Utah's population, not coincidentally, is 62% Mormon, and the Church officially opposes gay marriage. So it's particularly interesting that the first show in the Mormon Playwrights series deals directly with the relationship between Mormonism and homosexuality:
"Playwright Carol Lynn Pearson writes from personal experience as a devout Mormon whose equally pious husband left after 12 years to pursue his life as a gay man... Over an open grave in a Salt Lake City cemetery, parents Ruth and Alex struggle internally and against one another to absorb the suicide of their 24-year old son, who had finally come to terms with his sexuality and entered into a seemingly happy relationship. Pearson's personal understanding of spiritual crisis keeps Ruth's hard-line attitude from becoming alienating, while Alex's growing doubts about his strict religiosity never become too lofty. Into a mix of guilt and blame comes Marcus, the partner of the dead son, who provides some long sought answers for the grieving parents."
The second show in the series is a less-timely look at the early days of Mormonism: Hancock County is set in Missouri immediately after OG prophet Joseph Smith was shot to death, and describes how the Mormons came to settle in Utah.
I just finished reading The Lonely Polygamist, Brady Udall's great novel about a well-meaning polygamist trying to juggle the needs of four wives, three houses, and an ungodly number of children. David Ebershoff's novel The 19th Wife effectively uses a modern-day polygamist compound (of the sort the Church of Latter Day Saints officially disavows, as it does all "plural marriage") as a starting point to investigate the roots of Mormonism. Last year, I found much to like about the Portland-made film The Fall: Testament of Love, about two gay Mormon missionaries struggling to navigate their feelings for each other. And, of course, the wonderful Book of Mormon (which will be back in Portland this summer, btw) poked gentle fun at LDS without doing too much damage. The Mormon Church is weird, and there is absolutely no denying that there are plenty of fascinating stories to be told by and about people who grew up in the church. It also, of course, has a history of racism and is currently actively opposing gay marriage in Utah. So it's up to you, I suppose, to decide whether attending Mormon-produced, Mormon-written theater feels like an endorsement of a bigoted institution, or a chance to better understand a hugely influential (and crazy-fascinating) American religious and cultural force.
Facing East runs Feb 12 & 14, Hancock County is Feb 13 & 15, both at 7:30 pm at Ekko Studios at 828 NW 19th.
In this rousing promo video for their upcoming show, Hand2Mouth takes a page out of Coach Taylor's handbook:
Man, I like those guys. They're right: There are younger, "hipper" theater companies, but none with the chops and experience of Hand2Mouth, who've spent more than a decade creating smart, high-energy, fun shows that, at their best, land in the sweet spot between challenging and accessible. Their new show Pep Talk opens on January 22 at the Peninsula Park Community Center West Gym, as part of the citywide new work festival Fertile Ground.
The Lucky Ladies is a dark comedy about female contestants on a reality TV dating show. The cast is excellent—Val Landrum, Christy Bigelow, and Amy Newman—and it's directed by the tremendous Gretchen Corbett, who, holy shit, have you read this woman's Wikipedia page? If these names are meaningless to you, trust me when I tell you that they're all top-notch. (Amy Newman is Noises Off at Third Rail right now, and she's great in it.) So... interesting script, A+ cast and director. Interest successfully ginned!
I asked Murray via email about why he's starting a new company and what he thinks is missing from the local scene. I got back a fairly amazing tirade about the busted state of contemporary theater and the artistic paucity of a business model that relies on keeping rich old people happy. (Coff.) I can't believe he wrote it on his phone. It's definitely starry-eyed—as he notes, he's a few years out from producing his first full production, so the reality of keeping the lights on and the heating bill paid is still hypothetical—but I'm gonna post it in full here because he brings up some great points.
Take it away, Murray:
"Whizz-Bang is my answer to the current, tired, subscriber based theatre model that is choking the life out of this country. Portland theatres are really innovating, compared to the national average, but I still want to change the model.
Theatre seems produced largely through fear. Fear of the subscriber, the donor, the audience, the squeaky wheels. In most performance houses in America, it's an old crowd that patronizes theatre. Portland has a ton of hip seniors who love theatre (thank fucking god), but there can nevertheless be a lack of excitement and funding for live entertainment that doesn't fall into the standard category of theatre.
During a talkback of A Bright New Boise, an audience member asked what the ending of the play meant, and what happened to the characters. Tim True responded, 'We're not sure because the playwright didn't write the show with the talkback in mind.'
We all got a good chuckle out of it, but he was absolutely right. People do not want to be challenged by an ambiguous ending, by magic, by unexplained phenomenons. They want a 'well-made play' with a beginning, middle, and end.
We all SAY we want [to be challenged], but when push comes to shove, sometimes we get cranky. We get cranky because we just want to have a little chat about the play, go home, and die in our sleep.
The Willamette Week loves me... and the Mercury loves me, too! In fact, so many people love me... OKAY, FINE, THE SHOW I'M IN, RUDOLPH: ON STAGE!... that almost every performance in the run is already sold out. Except for the one we just added! If you would love to see a faithful and very funny rendition of the 1964 creepy wooden puppet classic Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer live on stage, get your tickets right now for our just added Friday, Dec 13 late night show at 10 pm!
Wm. Steven Humphrey
(AKA the "finest actor of his or any generation"—critic Thomas Ross)
Forget "tweetups." (SERIOUSLY. FORGET THEM. THEY ARE TERRIBLE.) Triangle Productions is currently running the greatest promotion/fundraiser ever: In conjunction with their show American Fiesta, which is about a gay man trying to convince his family to come to his wedding in Canada in 2004, Triangle Productions is auctioning off 230+ pieces of vintage Fiestaware, donated by the estate of longtime supporter Joan Hayward. Gird your tear ducts:
On February 6, 2013, a beloved patron named Joan Hayward who had been coming to triangle for over 21 years, lost her battle with cancer. triangle’s founder and Joan's personal friend Don Horn sat down with her during her final months. She asked him to produce the play American Fiesta and use her 230+ piece Fiestaware© collection as the set, and then sell all of the pieces as a fundraiser for triangle.
I mean... right?? That's so sweet and great. You can view the entire collection at fiestajoan.com, where pieces are also available for purchase.
If you want to see the show, tonight Triangle is offering a deal in conjunction with DoveLewis, because "Joan (Hayward) was a big supporter of DoveLewis and they want to honor her with as many people on Thursdays we can." Tickets can be purchased here; here are the discount codes:
2 tickets for $35.00 (first 7 rows): Dove2for1
Buy one $35.00 ticket for $20.00: Dove20
Hey guys, I talked with John Waters. I can die now. It's fine. There's nothing left for me. We talked about how awesome Portland is, Baltimore roller derby girls, and his new book, where he hitchhiked across the country. He's doing a one-man Christmas show tonight at the Aladdin. It is most hellaciously sold out, but you might try hanging around the door if you're feeling lucky. I wrote a piece about it—read it here. And here's some other stuff he said:
ON BOOKS AND FREEDOM—"[I own] probably about 8,500 books. I live in three places, so they’re full everywhere. I’ve always said that’s what 'rich' is, nothing else except you can buy any book you want without looking at the price. And the other thing I call 'rich' is that you never have to be around assholes, you’ve worked so hard you never have to be around jerks. I’m very thankful that I can do both those two things. I’m not around jerks and I can almost buy any book I want. That’s really why I, still, work 10-hour days."
More after the jump.
In a profoundly secular and mostly food-based way, I love the holidays. But they encourage a manufactured cheer that must be approached with caution, which is why December is the most perilous month of the theater season. When a show hits, it gives you the holiday warm 'n' fuzzies, or riffs on holiday traditions in a way that feels funny and fresh. When it misses, it's embarrassing, sentimental, broad, and makes you feel the opposite of the way you're supposed to feel about your fellow man. We don't know how any of the shows are gonna be this year, because we haven't seen any of 'em yet, but here are some picks:
A Christmas Carol at Portland Playhouse—Playhouse is going for it! Their "family friendly" adaptation of Dickens' classic promises loads of Christmas carols; it is, says artistic director Brian Weaver, "a gift that we could give to our neighborhood." Read: Come here for a faithful, well-produced take that ticks all the familiar, Christmassy boxes.
Rudolph - On Stage!—The producers of Road House: The Play and Lost Boys: The Musical get seasonal with a spoofy rendition of the Rankin/Bass stop-motion animated classic. The cast includes enough professional comedians—and my boss, Wm. Steve Humphrey!—to make it a pretty good bet that this show will be as funny as it wants to be.
Golden Girls Live Christmas Special—Same idea. Performed by an all-male cast, which makes me skeptical, but the concept hits a nice note of being sentimental and nostalgic but still silly.
Action/Adventure's Very Special Holiday... Thing—A/A's holiday variety show is co-hosted by comedian/Merc columnist Bri Pruett, and comedian/pianist/ace Ellen impersonator David Saffert, plus special guests. At last year's show, opera singer Albert J Glueckert—a tenor better known for his role in a Pulitzer-winning opera—made the doors of their little blackbox rattle. Also, Harry Potter slash fic. (Full disclosure: My boyfriend and one of my co-workers are company members at A/A. I like them.)
Xmas Unplugged—With an adults-only program of holiday one-acts billed as "edgy" and "irreverent," I'm pretty sure Artists Rep is doing penance for Mars on Life. Good. (One of our writers gives it a stamp of approval.)
The Nutcracker—Oregon Ballet Theatre does their holiday due diligence.
A Nightmare on Elf Street—Holiday-themed sketch comedy directed by Second City vet Caitlin Kunkel. Merc columnist Alex Falcone is one of the writers!
Guys! You're looking for something fun to do with the visiting family (or on your own) tonight and tomorrow, right? Consider seeing me and the most talented funny people in town in Rudolph—On Stage! It's an adaptation of the classic 1964 stop-motion animated classic, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. OH, SO BELOVED! And it's got all your faves: Rudolph, Hermey the (dentist) elf, the Abominable Snow Monster—and me as the snowman Burl Ives. It's a funny and faithful rendering, AND you can even bring the kids without having their ears burned off by obscenities. IT OPENS TONIGHT, and will play tomorrow as well, so get your tickets here!
RUDOLPH: ON STAGE!
House opens at 7 pm, show at 7:30 pm
Sat and Sundays through Dec 21
2257 NW Raleigh
There are a bazillion Christmas shows happening around Portland this year. There are so many, PCS couldn't decide on just one (see upcoming piece by A Hallet for a full list). But there's one in particular I want to draw your attention to: A Nightmare on Elf Street, the holiday themed sketch show at the Brody Theater. It's really good (I can promise that because I'm one of the writers).
It's kindof like a Christmasy version of Arabian Nights. Santa has been kidnapped and he has to tell stories of holiday cheer to stay alive. The stories get darker as his chances of surviving go down. Will he survive? Of course, it's a fucking Christmas show. But just how he'll survive, that's the real surprise. Also it has this awesome art:
A Nightmare on Elf Street
December 6 - 21
Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30pm
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