Marty Hughley

 

Half a bright life: an unfinished tale

The time-fracturing final show in Profile's Tanya Barfield season gets to something powerful and true, and feels like half the story

You could almost consider it a cliche of the contemporary craft of narrative: Every story has a beginning, middle and end, but not necessarily in that order.

In Kim Rosenstock’s musical Fly by Night, which was given a sparkling production last month at Broadway Rose, time is a plaything, tossed about deftly by a narrator guiding us along the dramatic switchbacks of a year in the lives of three young lovers. But that’s kids’ stuff compared to the chronological legerdemain that Portland native Tanya Barfield gets up to in Bright Half Life, the closing play in Profile Theater’s Barfield-focused 2016 season. Events in the decades-long relationship between Vicky and Erica come at us not in standard forward-motion sequence, not in the reverse-engineered epiphanies of flashbacks, not even in discrete stand-alone scenes. Instead we get a splattering of small moments, an almost free-associative memory tour, as the action ricochets around the years, striking a different point of connection or conflict seemingly every other minute.

DeGroat and Porter: tale as old as (fractured) time. Photo courtesy Profile Theatre

DeGroat and Porter: tale as old as (fractured) time. Photo: David Kinder

The view of coupledom and its inner workings that results is somewhere between prismatic and scattershot, its success dependent in part on how much you relate to the characters and their particular emotional travails, in part on how well you can connect the thematic dots so widely and loosely dispersed.

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BloodyVox: Family friendly laughs and scares for Halloween

BodyVox's annual Halloween bash is back for another set of humorous takes on the rituals and characters of the holiday

Don’t let the title fool you: “BloodyVox,” the semi-annual Halloween-themed show by Portland dance favorite BodyVox, really isn’t bloody at all. Unless your idea of macabre entertainment features orthopedic surgery, dance and slippery fluids aren’t a great match.

But if we had to determine the production’s blood type, we’d have to assume it’s O positive: O, for the deep Oregon roots of this company. And positive, because—for all the nods toward the darkness and danger that typify Halloween fare—the artistic disposition on display here remains unmistakably sunny.

Bodyvox has opened a new version of its Halloween special, "BloodyVox"/Blaine Covert

Bodyvox has opened a new version of its Halloween special, “BloodyVox”/Blaine Covert

“BloodyVox” first stalked the autumn night in 2010 and has been re-animated every couple of years since, each time re-stitched with a somewhat different collection of spare parts. The latest 75-minute lark-in-the-dark is subtitled “Blood Red Is the New Black,” but don’t come expecting anything remotely grim. These folks just aren’t the guts-and gore type. (Once asked by Willamette Week’s Heather Wisner what scares dancers specifically, company co-founder Ashley Roland replied, “Maybe poundcake.”) BodyVox has never been strongly associated with children’s audiences, as, for instance, Imago Theatre is. But this show feels like a lure for that market.

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Sub-standard hero at the food court

Artists Rep's fast-food comedy "American Hero" is deftly produced and performed, but the script sandwich holds more than the mayo

Everybody’s gotta eat. And (with the possible exception of advanced Buddhist practitioners) everyone hungers for something. Those may or may not be related.

Sometimes that first truth leads you to settle for what’s at hand, the convenient and familiar — for instance, a fast-food sandwich. You probably can count on the thing to conform to some basic standards, to have a calculatedly appealing combination of salt and fat and such, to fill your tummy for awhile. But is it really satisfying?

Val Landrum, Emily Eisele and Gavin Hoffman, taking it to the man. Photo: Owen Carey

Val Landrum, Emily Eisele and Gavin Hoffman, taking it to the man. Photo: Owen Carey

For those who consume theater as sustenance, that sub sandwich has a surprising counterpart in American Hero, the latest production on the boards at the venerable Artists Repertory Theatre. Bess Wohl’s one-act comedy serves up enough basic entertainment value to get you through a brief evening — a handful of skillful performances and a lot of easy laughs tucked into a readily recognizable and digestible form.  But if you’re feeling the need of some nourishing human insight, emotional resonance, trenchant social thinking or refined aesthetic pleasure, you might find yourself uttering some theatergoers version of that old TV-ad lament, “Wow. I could’ve had a V-8!”

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‘The Nether’: Virtual damnation

Third Rail's futuristic thriller opens up a Pandora's Box of human ugliness and puts a chill in the air

There’s a chill in the auditorium these days over at Imago Theatre. Some nights that’s due in part to some seasonally overzealous air conditioning, but mostly it’s the subtly creepy atmosphere of the current on-stage production by Third Rail Rep.

The Nether, by Los Angeles playwright Jennifer Haley, is escapist entertainment — at least in a manner of speaking. That is, it’s a play about escapism and the thorny ethical implications of a not-so-implausible future in which technology allows anyone with a valid log-in to become immersed in elaborate, multi-sensory virtual environments, like souped-up Second Life for the souls of the bored, deprived or otherwise damned.

O'Connell and deGroat: a virtual faceoff. Photo: Owen Carey

O’Connell and deGroat: a virtual faceoff. Photo: Owen Carey

It’s the levers of damnation — who controls them, or is even able to see them for what they are — that seem to interest Haley most. Of course the fictive future is the rhetorical present, and Haley’s play ponders current, and in some senses longstanding, questions about the lines between reality and representation, between relationships and transactions, between physical and psychological harms. The rapid advance of technology makes such issues both more present and more confounding. So Haley — a Paula Vogel protege whose horror-flick-styled look at video-game addiction Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom was staged a few years ago by Third Rail’s mentorship program — pushes the tech setting to a point where personal liberty and social responsibility get their feet tangled and push comes to shove.

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The great American (gun) divide

Playwright E.M. Lewis and actor Vin Shambry dart across the shooting range looking for answers to the problem that never ends in "The Gun Show" at CoHo

The lament is one all too many Americans likely can relate to, even if not always in the anguished and urgent way that the playwright E. M. Lewis feels it, and that the actor Vin Shambry delivers it in the latest production at CoHo Theater. The show is always on.

“The movie theater lives in my head and there’s only one show, There’s only ever one show!

That show — brought to you by the U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights, an enduring frontier ethos, a complex accidental alloy of other historical, cultural, demographic and economic factors, and (maybe) executive producer Wayne LaPierre — is the Gun Show.

Vin Shambry, carrying the debate onstage. Photo: Owen Carey

Vin Shambry, carrying the debate onstage. Photo: Owen Carey

The Gun Show is the title of Lewis’s compact yet high-caliber theatrical, a short one-hour blast of personal recollection, rhetoric and genuinely conflicted questioning about the gun show that plays out in varying versions throughout our society, our political forums and our private lives. Some versions center on practicality, some on recreation, others on fear, danger, mayhem. Some are more personal, for good or ill, than others. All, increasingly, share a broad backdrop of lamentable violence, controversy and division.

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Today in politics: Singing a revolution

As America scrambles toward the presidential election goal line, Lakewood Theatre harks back to the origins with the high-spirited musical "1776"

They were, in a manner of speaking, the original Tea Partiers. A bunch of stridently anti-tax, small-government extremists, they were hell-bent on disrupting the political status quo, wresting control from the capital and expanding local authority. The prevailing powers likely saw them as kooks, cranks and malcontents.

Yet, under that sainted sobriquet “the Founding Fathers,” they are remembered and revered as some of history’s greatest men — passionate, courageous, resourceful, visionary — and among the most influential political thinkers, writers and activist the world has known.

And if we’re to believe the way they’re being portrayed currently at Lakewood Theatre Company, they could sing a little, too.

Foundational harmonizers, from left: Jeremy Sloan (Robert Livingston), Adam Eliott Davis (Thomas Jefferson), Dennis Corwin (Roger Sherman). Triumph Photography

Foundational harmonizers, from left: Jeremy Sloan (Robert Livingston), Adam Eliott Davis (Thomas Jefferson), Dennis Corwin (Roger Sherman). Triumph Photography

1776, the high-spirited musical by composer/lyricist Sherman Edwards and librettist Peter Stone, dramatizes their finest hour. Well, actually, their finest two months, that crucial period from early May to early July in which the Second Continental Congress, against internal odds and long division (or maybe the reverse), approved a resolution to declare the 13 colonies independent of Great Britain, and so launched a new nation upon the tide of history.

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Note to Self, across time

Adrienne Flagg and actors collaborate on an adventure into identity and character at different stages in life

Imagine for a moment — as most of us have at one time or another — that you could go back in time and talk to yourself at a younger age, imparting hard-won wisdom and warnings. Then there are those moments when you wish you could see things the way you did early on, when you were full of energy and passionate hope, when life seemed simpler.

Just as useful might be the foresight and perspective – at any age – to recognize life’s lessons as they come along. And make a note to self.

All three of those notions course through a fascinating play premiering Friday night at CoHo Theater. Note to Self, devised by producer/director Adrienne Flagg in collaboration with the show’s performers, revolves around the stories of a half-dozen characters, each a composite played by two actors, one younger, one older. Together, these stories form what the show’s website calls “a personal examination of how individuals change and grow over time.”

The cast members range in age from 23 to 80. Some, such as Jane Fellows and Chris Porter, are highly regarded veterans of the city’s theater scene; others have never been in a play before. Male, female, black, white, straight, gay, transgender, etc. – the perspectives are diverse, but ultimately speak less to divides than to commonalities. All have shared stories of their own lives, and together they’ve created a kind of theatrical mosaic that sparkles with reflections on ideals and identity, family and society, love and loss, dreams and disappointments.

 

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The two character known as George – Rabbit carrying Tim Stapleton – during a workshop on the Sandy River. Photo: Brent Barnett

The two character known as George – Rabbit carrying Tim Stapleton – during a workshop on the Sandy River. Photo: Brent Barnett

“Note to Self… take the chance.”

Artistic inspiration often travels mysterious paths, but even so it might come as a surprise that Note to Self has its origins in Shakespeare. Specifically, bad Shakespeare.

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