ArtsWatch Weekly: the kindness of strangers and the skin of our teeth

A look at the week that was in Oregon arts. A glimpse ahead at the week that's going to be.

Here it is, the middle of May, and suddenly Portland’s theater season is entering its final stretch before summer, which brings its own busy theater mini-season, indoors and out. The city’s two biggest companies open shows this weekend, both high-profile American classics and both due for a fresh look.

Flickering desire: "Streetcar" at Portland Center Stage. Photo: Patrick Weishampel/

Flickering desire: “Streetcar” at Portland Center Stage. Photo: Patrick Weishampel/

On Friday, Portland Center Stage opens its revival of Tennessee Williams’ rough, sensual, groundbreaking A Streetcar Named Desire, which in its 1947 debut featured Jessica Tandy as Blanche, Kim Hunter as Stella, and a smoldering hunk of muscle named Marlon Brando as Stanley. Center Stage has come up with a new Southern strategy, rethinking the play in a thoroughly multiracial milieu, with national players Kristen Adele as Stella, Demetrius Grosse as Stanley, and Diedrie Henry (a onetime regular at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival) as Blanche. Can we depend on the kindness of strangers?

On Saturday, Artists Repertory Theatre opens an all-too-rare production The Skin of Our Teeth, by Thornton Wilder, a significant if now slightly out-of-fashion figure who also wrote the classics Our Town, The Matchmaker, and the novel The Bridge of San Luis Rey. The Skin of Our Teeth debuted in 1942, when the United States had plunged into the frightening maelstrom of World War II, and the play’s shaky times were reflected in its title, which Wilder took from the Book of Job: “My bone cleaveth to my skin and to my flesh, and I am escaped with the skin of my teeth.” That’s the situation in his philosophical and theatrically innovative drama, which follows the Antrobus family of Excelsior, New Jersey, through a series of scrapes from prehistoric to modern times. Somehow, humankind always manages to survive. Hang on, though: it’s always been a bumpy ride.

By the skin of our (reptilian) teeth. Photo: David Straub

By the skin of our (reptilian) teeth. Photo: David Straub



SOME OTHER GOOD BETS are hitting the city’s stages, too:

Francesca, Isabella, Margarita on a Cloud, Carol Triffle’s “loopy music-theatre tragicomedy,” premieres Friday at Imago Theatre. The tale of three sisters, a bunch of beauty pageants, and a possible sexual romp while the cameras were rolling, Cloud features a score by frequent Imago musical collaborator Katie Griever. Truffle is possibly Portland’s most prominent theatrical absurdist; her plays can be bracingly whimsical or all over the map, and the uncertainty is part of the attraction: as the old folks point out in the Chuck Berry tune, it goes to show you never can tell.

Sisters on a cloud: Francesca, Isabella, Margarita. Photo: Imago Theatre

Sisters on a cloud: Francesca, Isabella, Margarita. Photo: Imago Theatre

Pulp Gulp II is the latest evening of creepy short tales whipped up by Pulp Stage maestro Matt Haynes and friends. Thursday night only at O’Connor’s Bar & Grill in Multnomah Village. Four writers, four plays, four performers, an hour’s worth of laughs and scares: eat, drink, and be macabre.

JAG, or Junior Artist Generator, is BodyVox Dance’s training program for top-flight young dancers from across the metro area. They work all year with professional dancers and choreographers, and in four shows this weekend beginning Friday, they’ll show what one future of dance looks like.

Note to Self. Adrienne Flagg’s project with CoHo Productions is a fascinating-sounding exploration of time and personality. A dozen actors, aged 23 to 80, play six characters, pairing up to play the same person at different ages, the older and younger versions passing notes back and forth about how things look from their generational perspectives. The play’s been written in the workshop process, with ample input from the performers. Opens Friday.



Jan Reaves, "Influence Peddler," 2016, acrylic on canvas, 71.75 x 71.75 inches

Jan Reaves, “Influence Peddler,” 2016, acrylic on canvas, 71.75 x 71.75 inches

REVITALIZING TRADITION. In a pair of stories for ArtsWatch, Paul Sutinen looks at new work from three veteran Oregon painters who find fresh ways of responding to the grand and daunting tradition of painting. In Painting in the long shadows of painting, he looks at works at Laura Russo Gallery by Sherrie Wolf and Jan Reaves – artists, he says, who “work at opposite ends of the old false dichotomy between representational and abstract painting.” And in Stephen Hayes: keeping painting new, he looks at the painter’s new series of landscapes and townscapes at Elizabeth Leach Gallery based on Google images of places where traumatic violent events have occurred, such as Littleton, Colorado; Ferguson, Missouri; Paris. Without the titles, Sutinen notes, you can’t tell those sources from looking at the paintings: “Maybe that’s the point for the artist in beginning the works, a way of sorting out what’s going on in the world. In the end the art process takes over and the social meaning is left in the consciousness of the artist.”

Stephen Hayes, “Charleston (6.17.15)”, oil on canvas, 2016, 23 x 35 inches

Stephen Hayes, “Charleston (6.17.15)”, oil on canvas, 2016, 23 x 35 inches



ArtsWatch links


PLATO, SOCRATES, JAZZ. Music is feeling. Music is mathematics. And music is thought – sometimes, very deep thought. Gary Ferrington previews a “Philosophy of Jazz” concert Saturday night in Eugene by Torrey and his jazz quintet, tied to a weekend forum on philosophy for children.

A CHILD OF OUR TIME – AND THEIRS. Bruce Browne reviews Portland Symphonic Choir’s performance of Michael Tippet’s 1944 oratorio A Child of Our Time, a work built on the pain and sorrow of history. It “is not a zippy, happy ditty, although hope makes a bright appearance in the final chords” Brown writes. He finds that appropriate: “This was a child of both Tippett’s time, and of ours.”

FILM WATCH WEEKLY. Marc Mohan keeps us apprised of what’s coming up and what’s already here, from the star-studded but script-bereft Money Monster (ouch!) to Ewan McGregor’s turn as Jesus in the desert.

REVIEW: TWO EMMAS ONSTAGE. Brett Campbell takes a look at the disruptive qualities of Jane Austen’s Emma at Bag&Baggage, and of an emotional mess-making volunteer named Emma at a soup kitchen in Heidi Schreck’s gripping Grand Concourse at Artists Rep – an,in a neat trick of free association, relates both to the Blazers’ scrappy basketball playoff series against the Warriors.

DANCE CUBA, DANCE AMERICA. Martha Ullman West reviews two season-ending dance performances: the Cuban troupe Malpaso Dance at White Bird, and the annual show of the fine training company The Portland Ballet. Both, as it happens, featured works by onetime Oregon Ballet Theatre resident choreographer Trey McIntyre.

QDOC’S TRUE TALES OF TRAGEDY & TRIUMPH. Lily Hudson gives the lowdown on what’s coming up in Portland’s tenth annual Queer Documentary Film Festival, which runs Thursday through Sunday at the Hollywood Theatre and “scans the corners of Cuba, New York, Puerto Rico, Texas and Tel Aviv.”

"Kiki" at the tenth annual QDoc.

“Kiki” at the tenth annual QDoc.



About ArtsWatch Weekly

We send a letter like this every Tuesday to a select group of email subscribers, and also post it weekly on the ArtsWatch home page. In ArtsWatch Weekly, we take a look at stories we’ve covered in the previous week, give early warning of events coming up, and sometimes head off on little arts rambles we don’t include anywhere else. You can read this report here. Or, you can get it delivered weekly to your email inbox, and get a quick look at all the stories you might have missed (we have links galore) and the events you want to add to your calendar. It’s easy to sign up. Just click here, and leave us your name and e-address.


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