FAMILY

Atticus, tried and all too true

Lakewood's sharp and moving "To Kill a Mockingbird" does justice to an American classic that reverberates in a curious time capsule

To Kill a Mockingbird is a cherished time capsule of American literature and culture, a concise and moving statement about childhood, innocence, courage, and race. Its main characters – feisty tomboy Scout Finch, her brother Jem and friend Dill, the mysterious and frightening Boo Radley (much talked about but rarely seen), and above all that towering figure of decency and strength, Atticus Finch – are genuine American icons, up there within shouting distance of Huckleberry Finn and Captain Ahab and poor besmirched Hester Prynne. Scout and Jem and Dill and Boo and Atticus, of course, are all white Southerners, and it’s telling that the novel’s major black characters – Scout’s substitute-mother cook and housekeeper, Calpurnia, and Tom Robinson, the honest laborer who is falsely but fatally accused of rape – are not nearly so well-etched in the public consciousness.

Mockingbird doubles, maybe triples, in time. Harper Lee’s novel was published to acclaim in 1960, in the midst of the civil rights movement, after Brown v. Board of Education and Rosa Parks’ bus rebellion and the Little Rock desegregation crisis, before the Selma marches and the rise of the Black Panther Party and the assassinations of Medgar Evers and Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. It was both a repressive and an exciting time, when liberal hopes and expectations, in spite and perhaps in part because of the naked resistance they faced, ran high.

Kate McLellan as Scout, Monica Fleetwood as Calpurnia, Bram Allahdadi as Jem in “Mockingbird.” Lakewood Theatre photo

The novel is set, however, in an earlier time – the early to middle 1930s, during the depths of the Great Depression, in small-town Alabama, a seat of rigid segregation and no small amount of mob violence. From that viewpoint the actions of Atticus and the lessons Scout learns are truly heroic: resolute stands against the corruption of the place and culture they knew and loved. Tom Robinson loses his life. Scout loses her innocence, but gains something much larger: an understanding of the moral universe, and an emerging ability to cope with its demands.

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Judy & Stink’s big fat treasure hunt

Oregon Children's Theatre's world premiere of a fresh Judy Moody adventure searches for clues on a vacation island

To kick off its 30th season, Oregon Children’s Theatre has premiered a huge event: the first production in a rolling world premiere of Judy Moody & Stink: The Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Treasure Hunt. Based on the popular children’s books by Megan McDonald, Judy Moody & Stink was co-commissioned by seven children’s theater companies around the nation, and Oregon Children’s Theatre is the first of the seven to get it onstage. On opening night, Artistic Director Stan Foote – who also directs the play – announced that playwright Allison Gregory and one of the other commissioning artistic directors were in the house.

Nothing to crab about: a fantasy treasure hunt. Photo: Owen Carey

A first-of-its-kind commission of this magnitude, launching at Portland’s own Newmark Theatre, can tend to give theatergoers lofty expectations. And, while the production is solid – with bright sets that change before your eyes, a clue-riddled plot, and solid performances across the board (with an exceptional one or two) – it doesn’t quite live up to those heights.

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The Washed Ashore Project: Saving the Seas with Art

Bandon-based nonprofit works to change attitudes by transforming ocean-killing garbage into sculptures

By DAVID GOLDSTEIN

Last month, as my wife and I entered Oregon on a cross-country journey, we wandered into what initially looked to be an unassuming art gallery in a little southern Oregon coast town. Huge sculptures filled the space. We looked at them closely — and suddenly realized that each was made from thousands of pieces of trash.

We had stumbled upon the Washed Ashore Project gallery in Old Town Bandon-by-the-Sea.

Flowering from the debris. Photo: The Washed Ashore Project

When Bandon artist Angela Haseltine Pozzi noticed the huge amount of plastic pollution on southern Oregon’s beaches, she wondered where all that garbage was coming from. So she did some research. Pozzi learned that plastic pollution has spread to every ocean and marine habitat in the world, and has entered every level of the ocean food chain, from whales to plankton. Turtles, fish, and other sea life ingest floating plastic bags, mistaking them for jellyfish. More than half the world’s sea turtles have eaten plastic, and partly as a result, almost all of their species are threatened or endangered. Other sea animals become ensnared in discarded fishing line, six-pack can holders, and other debris — more than 300 billion pounds of it, clogging Earth’s oceans and killing its creatures.

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Think Pink (and cupcakes, too)

Oregon Children's Theatre's "Pinkalicious" makes sweet music and a little bit of a moral for its enthusiastically pink-clad audience

Oregon Children’s Theatre invited its audiences for Pinkalicious: The Musical to wear pink, and the suggestion was enthusiastically taken up by a majority of the audience at Saturday’s opening matinee. The pink-clad demographic, ranging from 3 years old to about 10, featured a corps de ballet’s worth of tulle and tiaras sported predominantly by little girls, but by at least two boys as well.

Oregon Children’s Theatre, celebrating its 30th anniversary this season, is a master of its trade, and has engineered every aspect of the afternoon to be maximally exciting for its young audiences, from the scavenger hunt in the lobby before the performance to the carefully marshaled line for actor autographs and (pink, obviously) coupons for free miniature cupcakes afterwards. And, of course, the show in between. A brisk 60 minutes, with peppy musical numbers placed at perfect intervals to minimize fidgeting, and just a dollop of audience participation, it’s easy to see why Pinkalicious) (written by Elizabeth and Victoria Kann, composed by John Gregor, and directed by Stan Foote) has been a sell-out hit for OCT through several revivals.

The great Cupcake Caper, Spray Division. Photo: Owen Carey

This iteration is anchored by the ridiculously winning Kai Tomizawa in the title role as a young girl who eats so many pink cupcakes, she turns completely pink, to the dismay of her family and friends. Last seen as young would-be Confederate soldier Raz in Artists Rep’s A Civil War Christmas, Tomizawa has an assured stage presence that in this instance puts her more closely on par with her adult co-stars than her fellow young performers. She can sing, she can dance, and she has a maturity and confidence—an ease with directing her brief moments of audience call-and-response and with holding the huge Newmark stage—that is seriously impressive. And judging by the multiple young audience members excitedly reading her name and reminiscing about her Drammy-winning performance as Junie B. Jones, she has something of a fan following. I found myself hoping that the casting director for next fall’s Fun Home at Portland Center Stage has an eye on her.

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OCT’s ‘Fangs’ go deep

The company's Young Professionals go into the woods for a fable about werewolves and transformations and growing up in the scary semi-wilds of adolescence

Stephen Spotswood’s In the Forest She Grew Fangs, the latest offering of Oregon Children’s Theatres’ Young Professionals, is immersive (not just because someone nearly drowns in a lake), haunting (beyond its spooky, ever-morphing story), and as captivating as the wooded rural town the story’s teens are trapped in.

In the universe of popular films such as Carrie, Teen Wolf, and Twilight, and in the spirit of prior OCT shows Columbinus (also a Young Professionals production) and Zombie in Love, this tale never declares but strongly suggests that it’s about a teen girl’s werewolf transformation. If it’s not about that, then the lycanthropic theme is a metaphor for alienation and maturation. It almost doesn’t matter either way in a fable that shuffles various burdens between its main characters as they each serve their turn as princess, predator and prey.

In the forest, growing fangs. Photo: Pat Moran

In the forest, growing fangs. Photo: Pat Moran

Ideally, adolescence is the most aggressive phase in life. It’s when you learn, by experimenting, how much physical or mental force you need to exert if you want to defend yourself without damaging others. Because this is a drama, of course these characters overstep and people get hurt. The script is gritty, even shocking in spots, but all in service to the process of testing boundaries. Hopefully, the worst things people will ever say to you in your life are the things you hear in high school, before everyone knows better.

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Something Goosebump this way comes

Oregon Children's Theatre's world premiere "Goosebumps The Musical: Phantom of the Auditorium," based on R.L. Stine's beloved series, scares up a little fun

Spooky phantoms, hauntings, and clouds of purple and green smoke fill the Newmark Theatre this Halloween season. Don’t worry, you won’t get too much stage fright. Goosebumps The Musical: Phantom of the Auditorium is a clever junior who-done-it. The gumshoeing of Scooby-Doo meets a middle-school take on Phantom of the Opera with a surprise ending. The kids will get a kick out of solving the riddles of who is the person behind the mask and laugh along with the clumsy moments of growing up.

Stan Foote, artistic director of Oregon Children’s Theatre and director of  this musical, again sets a high bar for a smart, funny and well-staged musical for younger audiences. Like any good children’s art, Goosebumps entertains adults, as well. It’s always a thrill to see young actors in professional productions hit their notes, dance steps, and lines as well as their older counterparts. Goosebumps: The Musical, based on the beloved R.L. Stine book series, is a play within a play within a play. The students of drama teacher Ms. Walker are given a haunted script, discover a chilling lair below the school’s basement, and are ghosted by a phantom who tries to stop the show from going on. There’s disaster afoot with ruined backdrops painted blood-red, an Egyptian tomb, and some fainting by the students in the process.

The clue in the auditorium: Goosebumps in the night. Photo: Owen Carey

The clue in the auditorium: Goosebumps in the night. Photo: Owen Carey

Katie McClanan plays Brooke, a consummate drama geek who lives for the velvet curtain and green lights. She gets the lead, not just in Ms. Walker’s play, but also in solving the mystery of the phantom. Her best friend Zeke (Skylar Derthick) is as obsessed with the stage and plays second detective. They’re a tight duo, natural actors with bright singing voices. But once Brian (Brendan Long) the new kid comes along, a dynamic trio hits the stage and Goosebumps: The Musical poses a serious threat to screen time. Many charming moments are devoted to Brian and Brooke’s crush on each other. McClanan’s performance of Babbling Brooke is a love song to the nervous jitters when you try to make small talk with a cute boy. For most of Brooke and Brian’s time together, they’re with Zeke setting out to solve the mystery of the phantom. Like most kids they have a lot of demands: keeping up with homework, memorizing lines, and doing detective work.

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Cat in the Hat for President!

NW Children's Theater opens its season with a sassy Seuss favorite, plus a pop-rock musical about the presidents in all their semi-glory

“Just START, already!” the young lady seated next to me, possibly five years old, sighed impatiently. Unfortunately she still had a ten-minute wait until 1 o’clock showtime, a lag that she and her friend – or possibly sister – filled partly by doing counting games: a hopscotch-rhythm advance by ones up to fifty, with a slight pause as each “zero” landmark was achieved, then starting over at one and climbing up the ladder again. It seemed certain she could have kept going to sixty and seventy and beyond, but games have rules, and that’s not how this game worked.

When a kid’s come all the way to a theater and wedged through a notably hyperactive crowd just to see The Cat in the Hat, any delay can be excruciating. Fortunately, when Dr. Seuss’s famously flamboyant Cat eventually showed up in the lanky form of actor John Ellingson, he did so with an emphatic splat. This production, at Northwest Children’s Theater & School, is bright and giddy and tautly wound like an old-time cartoon, an effect amplified by Rodolfo Ortega’s bouncy silent-movie-like score and Jake Newcomb’s whiz-bang sound design.

John Ellingson as the Cat in the Hat, Jenny Bunce (and hand puppet) as the Fish. Photo: ©2016 Pat Moran

John Ellingson as the Cat in the Hat, Jenny Bunce (and hand puppet) as the Fish. Photo: ©2016 Pat Moran

Katie Mitchell’s adaptation, produced originally by the National Theatre of Great Britain, is pretty much a three-D amplification of the book itself, which is a good thing, because most of the audience knew the words by heart, and there’s no sense in fiddling with either words or hearts. The set (by Ellingson) looks like the house in the book, the costumes (by Nancy Christy) look very much like the costumes in the book, and the characters – Harper Lea as the Boy and Gracie Jacobson as Sally, the befuddled kids home alone while their mom’s out; Jenny Bunce as a very funny and exasperated pet Fish (she does the talking; her hand puppet does the swimming); Snigdha Malladi and Hallie Bartell as Thing 1 and Thing 2, the Cat’s kittenish partners in mayhem – are the very characters from the book, doing the very things the characters in the book do. In short, there’s something pleasingly ritualistic about the whole enterprise: It is what it is, and what it is is what it’s supposed to be.

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