ArtsWatch Weekly: Random favors

Steven Dietz's "This Random World," Ronald K. Brown dance, Portland Photo Month, Brett Campbell's music picks of the week, Blitzen Trapper & more

Steven Dietz is one of the most famous American playwrights Broadway’s never heard of. Last year’s This Random World is his 34th produced play, and that’s not even counting his 11 adaptations – an astonishing number, approaching the total of that fellow from Stratford. Many of them have been hits on the regional theater circuit, from the Humana Festival of New Plays at Actors Theatre of Louisville (where This Random World got its start) to major companies coast to coast. Except New York, where his Fiction, to make a long story short, made it to Off-Broadway’s Roundabout in 2004.

“This Random World” opens this week at Portland Actors Conservatory.

There’s little explaining a situation like this. Dietz’s plays are smart, well-shaped, actor-friendly, and on interesting topics, although they tend not to include things like falling chandeliers or singing cats. No matter. Regional audiences like them. A lot. Many of his plays have helped shape the contemporary American theater, and they move from city to city with ease: More Fun Than Bowling, Foolin’ Around with Infinity, Ten November, God’s Country, Lonely Planet, Becky’s New Car, Rancho Mirage, and more.

This weekend, This Random Life gets its West Coast premiere at Portland Actors Conservatory, and there’s reason to believe it’ll be worth a visit. This year’s class at the professional acting school has some very good talent, and it’s coming off a knockout production of Suzan-Lori Parks’ In the Blood. PAC’s talented Beth Harper is directing, and the fine veteran actor Kathleen Worley is a guest artist. Plus, it’s a secret you can keep from the Great White Way while it’s busy reliving Groundhog Day.



Portland Story Theater’s Urban Tellers. PST’s popular monthly series of tales told by ordinary people (who often reveal themselves to be extraordinary) has sold out its Friday night show at its regular home in The Fremont Theater. So it’s added a Saturday night show at The Old Church, and if you hurry, you might be able to get a ticket. Why is this one so popular? Because, in these trying times, all of the stories are by, and told by, immigrants, joining voice in the great and evolving American story. The tellers come from Mexico, Denmark, Indonesia, Argentina, Iran, and Somalia.

Tiffany Jackson, Arcell Cabug and Ronald K. Brown of Ronald K Brown/Evidence at White Bird. Photo: Basil Childers

Ronald K. Brown/Evidence. The popular and highly talented dance company returns in the White Bird dance series for shows Thursday through Saturday in the Newmark Theatre.

Moving History: Portland Contemporary Dance Past and Present. Dance in Portland has a fascinating roller-coaster history, and documentary filmmaker Eric Nordstrom has gone to the sources to bring it out. He’ll be in the Portland Art Museum’s Whitsell Auditorium along with cast members when this contemporary history of the city’s dance scene screens at 7 p.m. Thursday.

The Snow Queen. Eugene Ballet’s world premiere of Toni Pimble’s lavish new story ballet plays Saturday and Sunday at the Hult Center in Eugene. The score is by Portland composer Kenji Bunch, performed by Orchestra Next.



Philippe Halsman, “Marilyn at the Drive-in,” 1952, gelatin silver print, 10 x 13 inches, Edition of 250. In Augen Gallery exhibit of 20th century photography.

IT’S FIRST THURSDAY in the city’s art galleries this week, and there are photo shows all over town, which isn’t surprising: after all, April is Portland Photo Month. In the galleries: photos & more is our guide to the April shows, photo and otherwise. Read ’em and see ’em.




The Tallis Scholars

Cappella Romana’s value transcends its excellent performances, as the organization has become an important presenter of choral music by touring groups. Along with the Byrd Ensemble and Northwest Boychoir, this spring’s lineup features one of the finest of all choral ensembles, Britain’s Tallis Scholars. The name belies the group’s emotional commitment to its music, which originally focused mainly on Tudor and other Renaissance works. While this performance features some of that (including Palestrina, Sheppard, Orlando Gibbons, and Praetorius), it also brings radiant choral music from across the 20th century, from Stravinsky and Holst to Arvo Pärt and John Tavener. Tuesday, St. Mary’s Cathedral.


Pavel Haas Quartet

In this Friends of Chamber Music concert, the award winning quartet plays quartets by Schubert, Shostakovich and Webern. Tuesday, Lincoln Performance Hall, Portland State University.


Barra Brown Trio

Inspired by Debussy’s ravishing “The Girl with the Flaxen Hair,” the young Portland jazz drummer/composer/flutist created an instrumental song, which was then covered by Portland guitarist Adam Brock in a completely different way from the original, which inspired Brown to ask various musician friends around the country to create their own versions of the piece, including adding their original lyrics and melodies. Brown’s band will play some of those versions and other music at a house concert. Wednesday, in a secret spot: you’ll find out where when you buy a ticket. Check here for info.


Pianist Susan DeWitt Smith at The Old Church. Photo: Jacob Wade

Susan Dewitt Smith

This fundraising concert for Portland’s Old Church Concert Hall benefits one of Oregon’s most valuable music venues and features the busy Third Angle pianist and Lewis & Clark College music prof. Thursday, The Old Church.


“Solo Hikes: shared solitude”

The veteran contemporary Third Angle New Music ensemble celebrates the 100th Anniversary of the National Park Service and its own local musical environment with performances of three new works for solo instruments by Oregonians Christina Rusnak (cello), Matt Marble (sax), and Brian McWhorter (percussion). Read Brett Campbell’s ArtsWatch preview. Thursday-Friday, Studio 2 @ N.E.W., 810 SE Belmont St. 


University of Portland students perform songs relating to social justice, including works by Portland composers Jan Mittelstaedt, Stacey Philipps, Lisa Marsh and Cynthia Gerdes.  It’s free and a reception follows.
Thursday, Buckley Center, University of Portland.

Eugene Vocal Arts

EVA and Eugene Concert Orchestra perform late Eugene composer Jon Sutton’s Silent Space, Your Blue Eyes, and the cantata The Family of Man (inspired by Edward Steichen’s world famous photography exhibit of that name), which sets familiar texts by Chief Seathl, Carl Sandburg, Shakespeare and Kahlil Gibran. The splendid program also includes some of the finest 20th century American choral music by Aaron Copland, Randall Thompson, and Samuel Barber, and more. Friday, University of Oregon, Beall Concert Hall, Eugene.


Dave Holland Trio

Newly named an NEA Jazz Master, the onetime Miles Davis bassist has had a wonderful career as a bandleader; a performance by some of these musicians in Eugene a few years back remains one of the grooviest jazz concerts I’ve ever experienced. The all-star ensemble features Kevin Eubanks, pianist Eric Harland, and the terrific guest saxophonist Chris Potter. Read Angela Allen’s ArtsWatch previewFriday, Revolution Hall.


Steven Goodwin and Naomi LaViolette, getting it down.

Saving His Music Project

This CD release concert features music composed by 64-year-old Wilsonville composer/pianist Steven Goodwin, who was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s Disease three years ago. Since he’d never written down many of his his songs, Goodwin’s family joined forces with their friend, veteran Portland pianist, singer and songwriter Naomi LaViolette, to notate the scores before they were lost. After three years, they’ve produced a CD, The Nature of Love. LaViolette performs some of the music here along with the choir she regularly accompanies, Oregon Repertory Singers, and their director, Ethan Sperry and David Goodwin. Friday, The Old Church.


Big Night

Portland Opera’s annual Opera’s Greatest Hits concert returns with the company’s singers also offering bonus Broadway show tunes. Saturday, Keller Auditorium.


the little match girl passion

Bang on a Can co-founder David Lang’s 2008 Pulitzer Prize winner, performed last year by PSU Chamber Choir and in a staged version this summer by Portland Opera, has moved listeners with its spare, poignant evocation of H.C. Andersen’s tragic fable. In this innovative performance from The Ensemble, four of Oregon’s finest singers will accompany themselves on percussion instruments. The program also includes a passion by Renaissance composer Leonhard Lechner, interspersed with chorales from J.S. Bach’s magnificent Saint Matthew Passion. Saturday at Central Lutheran Church, 1857 Potter Street, Eugene; Sunday at The Old Church, Portland. 


Oregon Symphony

Guest conductor Jean-Marie Zeitouni leads a stellar cast of young singers including the fabulous mezzo Sasha Cooke and members of the Portland Symphonic Choir in Mozart’s magnificently moving but unfinished Requiem, one of classical music’s milestones — and in the best available form, the recent completion by contemporary American pianist and music historian Robert Levin, which realizes Mozart’s intentions much more fully than the commonly heard completion prepared by one of his students. Speaking of new arrangements, the program also features one made by the fine contemporary British composer Joby Talbot (though it goes beyond the typical understanding of that term) of English Baroque composer Henry Purcell’s Chacony in G Minor, along with a 20th century landmark, Stravinsky’s powerful Symphony in Three Movements, inspired by World War II’s conflicts. Saturday through Monday, Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.


Oregon Bach Collegium

Renowned Baroque music expert and UO prof Marc Vanscheeuwijck leads Oregon Bach Collegium in one of the great sacred works of the 18th century, Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater, plus other Easter music from Naples. Sunday, Church of the Resurrection, 3925 Hilyard Street, Eugene.


Cantores in Ecclesia

The choir’s Palm Sunday show features some glorious music from across the centuries, including Allegri’s famous Miserere, Gesualdo’s Tenebrae Responsoria for Holy Saturday and the great 20th century french composer Francis Poulenc’s dramatic Four Motets for a Time of Penitence. Sunday, St. Philip Neri Catholic Church, Portland.


Mezzo soprano Susan Graham. Photo: Robert Torres

Susan Graham

The other superb mezzo in town this week occupies the pinnacle of her profession, winning top awards for opera and more. Accompanied by pianist Malcolm Martineau, she’ll sing songs by Schumann, Strauss, Ravel, Fauré, Tchaikovsky, and more. Sunday, Lincoln Performance Hall, Portland State University.



ArtsWatch links


Wild and Reckless drugs and dynamics. A.L. Adams takes a detailed look at the new Blitzen Trapper musical at Portland Center Stage.

Third Angle’s natural sounds. Brett Campbell previews the new music ensemble’s concerts playing later this week.

DanceWatch Weekly: Spring Break dancing. Jamuna Chiarini’s weekly column tips all the dance in town and includes a vital calendar for the weeks to come.

Operatic evolutions: music news & notes. Brett Campbell updates readers on a full scale of music news, including a change of leadership at Opera Theater Oregon.

Lauren Weedman’s shadow selves. A.L. Adams reviews Weedman’s country-lament solo show Lauren Weedman Doesn’t Live Here Anymore at Portland Center Stage.

The Ensemble: a star is born. Terry Ross reviews the troupe’s Orfeo ed Euridice and declares mezzo-soprano Laura Beckel Thoreson a genuine star.

Animal Instinct: Corrib’s Chapatti. Corrib is reviving its hit two-hander starring veterans Allen Nause and Jacklyn Maddux, and we repeat our review of last year’s show.



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