ArtsWatch Weekly: full-tilt boogie

Imago tilts the action in a topsy-turvy Greek classic, Brett Campbell's best music bets, "Jersey Boys" croons into town, new theater & dance

The question echoes down the centuries from the Greek myths and Euripides’ play, which was first set on stage in 431 B.C. and just keeps coming back: was Medea balancing the scales of justice when she murdered her husband’s new wife and her own children, or was she falling off her rocker? People have been arguing the point ever since (Medea shocked its original audience, coming in dead last in that year’s City of Dionysia festival), and the question of teetering out of control remains foremost, right down to Ben Powers’ recent adaptation of Medea for the National Theatre in London.

The ups and downs of rehearsal: Imago’s tilting stage for “Medea.” Imago Theatre photo.

Enter Jerry Mouawad of Imago Theatre, whose own theories of balance reach back to his mentor Jacques Lecoq, the French mime and movement master who advocated a “balance of the stage.” In 1998 Mouawad and Imago took the advice literally, creating a large movable stage, suspended three feet above the floor, that tips and leans as the actors shift position on it. They used it for an acclaimed production of Sartre’s No Exit, in which the constantly shifting balances became a metaphor for the play itself. The show was revived several times and traveled to theaters across the country.

Now Mouawad’s repurposed the No Exit stage for a new production of Powers’ Medea, which opens Thursday and runs at Imago through May 20, with Anne Sorce as Medea and Todd Van Voris as Jason. With a cast like that, and a stage like that, something’s gotta give.





Gavin Hoffman and Andreas Vernae in “Building the Wall,” directed by Don Horn. Photo: Tisha Wallace

Building the Wall. Playwright Robert Schenkkan (The Kentucky Cycle, the LBJ plays All the Way and The Great Society) wrote this political piece “in a white heat” in response to the rise of Donald Trump, and it’s getting a “rolling premiere” in theaters across the country. In Portland, it’s being produced by Triangle Productions at The Sanctuary for six performances, Thursday through April 29. Lee Williams wrote an insightful interview with Schenkkan about it for The Oregonian.

Rodney King. Roger Guenveur Smith’s acclaimed one-man play about the man whose videotaped beating by Los Angeles police in 1991 made him “the first reality TV star” plays for just four performances Friday-Sunday in Artists Repertory Theatre’s Frontier Series. Smith talked with ArtsWatch about King and his cultural impact in Can we all get along? Rodney King’s story for our times.

XPOSED. Polaris Dance Theatre’s seventh annual program featuring guest choregraphers includes works by Barabara Lima (Brazil), Gerard Regot (Spain), company artistic director Robert Guitron, former company mainstay M’Liss Quinnly, and Jess Zoller. Six performances, Friday through April 29.

Mary’s Wedding. Portland Center Stage offers a two-hander by Canadian playwright Stephen Massicotte, a love story set against the uncertainties of World War I. In previews; opens Saturday in the intimate Ellyn Bye Studio; through May 28.

Robin Hood. Believe it or not, there was a time when the poor stole from the rich rather than the other way around. Northwest Children’s Theater & School explores this unfamiliar territory in an original version of the fabled tale of Nottingham. Opens Saturday, through May 21.

OBT School Performance. The Oregon Ballet School’s annual public showcase includes pieces by Balanchine, resident choreographer Nicolo Fonte, and a world premiere by Alison Roper and Anthony Jones. Saturday-Sunday, Newmark Theatre.

Spiritrials. BoomArts presents Def Poetry Jam alum Dahlak Braithwaite in his solo hip-hop theater piece as part Soul’d Out Music Festival. Friday through April 30 at Disjecta Contemporary Art Center.

Che Malambo. White Bird hosts the high-energy Argentine dance and music troupe performing in the malambo form that began in the 17th century as competitive dueling in gaucho skills. Two performances, April 25-26, Schnitzer Hall.

Jersey Boys. After an 11-year Broadway run, the national tour of the popular Tony-, Grammy-, and Olivier-winning musical about the rise to fame of the tight-harmony crooners Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons opens Tuesday night for eight performances through Sunday at Keller Auditorium. Big girls definitely don’t cry, and it’s rumored they can’t take their eyes off of you.

“Jersey Boys” drops by Keller Auditorium for a little all-season pop harmonizing.




Emerson Quartet

One of the most venerated chamber music ensembles returns for two concerts. Wednesday’s show features a splendid program of 20th century masterworks by Samuel Barber, Alban Berg, Dmitri Shostakovich, and Bela Bartók, while Thursday’s all-Mozart concert (preceded by an optional dinner, desserts, and talk) benefits Chamber Music Northwest’s education and outreach programs. Wednesday, Reed College’s Kaul Auditorium, and Thursday, Nordia House.


Julian Lage & Chris Eldridge, Aoife O’Donovan

Two of the world’s most admired guitarists spin jazz, bluegrass, pop, classical and other influences into a glistening web of improvisation. The intriguing singer/songwriter O’Donovan, who’s worked with Dave Douglas and other artists beyond her own art-pop ambit, opens. Wednesday, Aladdin Theater.


Black Swan Classic Jazz Band

Tuesday’s Preservation Hall Jazz Band concert at Portland’s Aladdin Theater is sold out, but early jazz fans can get their fix of classic American sounds at Black Swan Classic Jazz Band’s concert featuring singer Marilyn Keller, which celebrates the 100th Anniversary of the first jazz recording. Thursday, McMenamin’s Mission Theater.


“Love and Fire”

Before the large choir embarks for Spain this summer, the Oregon Repertory Singers will sing their touring program to the home crowd, including Beaverton native Morten Lauridsen’s “Fire Songs” or Madrigali, more fervid than the lush, soothing sounds that make the venerated contemporary choral master’s scores the best-selling by any American composer. They’ll also sing American spirituals and Spanish choral music from the Renaissance to the present. Saturday & Sunday, First United Methodist Church, 1838 S.W. Jefferson St.


“Suor Angelica” + “Gianni Schicchi”

PSU Opera’s double barreled Puccini pairing, featuring a couple of tragic and comedic (respectively) one act operas, begins its two weekend run. Stay tuned for Angela Allen’s ArtsWatch story. Friday and Sunday, Lincoln Performance Hall, 1620 SW Park Ave. 


Portland Chamber Orchestra

The orchestra’s 70th anniversary concert pairs Beethoven’s mighty Symphony #9, which has come to be associated with human freedom and peace, with longtime University of Washington music professor John Verrall’s 1989 Chief Joseph Legend, setting the famous Nez Perce leader’s surrender speech after United States troops evicted his Wallowa tribe from their native Oregon homeland. Singers include Met Opera bass/baritone Richard Zeller and soprano Angela Niederloh, the Lewis and Clark College Choir, and Hillsboro Community Youth Choir. Some proceeds benefit Native American Rights Fund. A free screening of Oregon Public Broadcasting’s Oregon Experience film CES Wood, about the Portlander who took up Joseph’s cause, precedes both performances. Saturday and Sunday, Lewis And Clark College, Agnes Flanagan Chapel.


Oregon Symphony

Jun Märkl leads the orchestra in two watery works he’s recorded together with his Lyon National Orchestra. Debussy’s 1905 The Sea famously evokes the feeling of the ocean and was partly inspired by a famous Japanese woodblock print depicting an ocean wave. A century later, Japan’s most renowned living composer, Toshio Hosokawa, returned the favor by composing a successor to La Mer called Circulating Ocean, inspired by the continuing cycle of water’s transformation from rain to ocean to evaporation to cloud and over and over again. As with Debussy, Hosokawa’s atmospheric tone poem is more than just program music, but it sure sounds like waves surging and receding, storms unleashed, and so on. The impressive program contains another sea-spawn, Mendelssohn’s 1832  Fingal’s Cave, and Benjamin Britten’s 1939 Violin Concerto, featuring Dutch violinist Simone Lamsma in a searing work inspired by the fascist depredations of the Spanish Civil War. Saturday-Monday, Schnitzer Hall, Portland, and 8 pm Friday, Smith Auditorium, Willamette University, Salem.


Classical Up Close

Oregon Symphony musicians’ admirable annual series of free chamber music concerts returns April 22-May 7 with events throughout the Portland Metro area including Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, Bob’s Red Mill Store and Restaurant, Nordia House, Henry Higgins Boiled Bagels, Powell’s Books, the Hollywood Senior Center, Beaverton City Library, and more. Saturday, Powell’s Books; Monday, Oregon Symphony ticket office.


Camerata PYP

Portland-based Iranian musicians Hossein and Bobak Salehi, who joined the Portland Youth Phil’s chamber orchestra for a memorable concert a few years ago, return to Camerata PYP with  Nat Hulskamp on oud and Matt Hannafin on Middle Eastern percussion to play Bobak’s originals and more. The ensemble also continues its explorations of Oregon composer eminence Tomas Svoboda’s music with his Six Variations for Violin and String Orchestra, and will also play music by the earlier Czech composer Josef Suk. Sunday, Wieden+Kennedy auditorium.



ArtsWatch links


The OBT company in the world premiere of Helen Pickett’s “Terra.” Photo: James McGrew

Terra firma: OBT’s dancers shine. Martha Ullman West praises the sharp skills and theatricality of the Oregon Ballet Theatre dancers in their performances of two works each by Helen Pickett (one a world premiere) and Nacho Duato. The program continues with performances Thursday through Saturday in the Newmark Theatre.

Music Today Festival: incubating and showcasing new music. Gary Ferrington sets the table for the Eugene festival opening Wednesday and continuing through May 13.

Llyr Williams, pace setter. Terry Ross reviews the Welsh pianist’s recent concert at Portland Piano International, the latest in a string of shows by superb international pianists.

Berlin Diary: chasing ghosts. Bob Hicks reviews Andrea Stolowitz’s “engrossing and surprisingly funny theatrical detective story” that explores her own family history and the lasting effects of the Holocaust.

Väsen’s Swedish spirit. “Väsen means spirit or essence in Swedish (akin to Finland’s sisu) and a more appropriate name could not be found for the Swedish powerfolk trio’s vibrant sound,” Daniel Heila writes during the Scandinavian group’s Oregon tour.

The Ensemble: children of their time. Bruce and Daryl Browne review the stellar group’s performances of a 16th century passion by Leonhard Lechner and David Lang’s 2008 The Little Match Girl Passion.

Matt Haynes explains The Pulp Stage. It’s small. simple. It’s conflict. It’s sci-fi, or fantasy, or horror or suspense. And as the Pulp Stage prepares for a Thursday show called Galaxy Blink, the impresario tells ArtsWatch’s A.L. Adams what it’s all about.

Francesca Piantadosi’s “Galaxy Blink” takes The Pulp Stage.




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