THEATER

DramaWatch Weekly: an ode to home-sewn sequins

On Portland stages, it's a week of home-packaged holiday shows, plus a little dramatic "Chang(e)"

Well, golly. It’s another week of holiday happenings.

For those who want to get out and mingle, PICA will announce its Precipice Fund Award winner at tomorrow’s Winter Social.

A.L. Adams

For those who prefer to stay home and snuggle, The Royal Shakespeare Company is now offering online subscriptions to watch their plays online.

And somewhere in between, in the many venerable halls and hovels of Portland dramatic arts…

CoHo Theatre launches Co Ho Ho!, a double-header of expert performers winkingly pa-rum-pa-pum pandering to the Christmas crowds. Susannah Mars (who’s thoroughly sugar-plumbed holiday songbooks in past years of her Mars on Life revue series) joins the ever-convivial Isaac Lamb (recently seen evangelizing all that is good in PCS’s Every Brilliant Thing) to deliver Holiday Shorts and Songs. They’ll be in character as Vixen the Reindeer and the Abominable Snowman, but even if the bill just said “Mars and Lamb,” we’d know the show was in capable hands.

Susannah Mars, unpacking the season with Isaac Lamb at CoHo.

Co Ho Ho’s other offering, A Liberace and Liza Christmas, features another pair of characters you can guess from the name. David Saffert’s and Jillian Snow-Harris’s lounge act is no midwinter whim; they’ve been honing these impersonations for years. When his idea was a mere seedling at a past Fertile Ground Festival, Saffert memorably went full “method,” showing up to the event’s press junket in character as Liberace. Go kiss one of Mr. Showmanship’s many rings.

Boom Arts hosts a three-day-only run of Chang(e)a docu-drama honoring radical performance activist Kathy Change, who self-immolated in the mid-’90s to protest a lack of democracy in the U.S. government. Soomi Kim, a former Beavertonian now based in New York, plays Kathy in a solo show she co-devised with director Suki Takahashi. The New York Times says the work creates “…[a] visual and aural environment that’s so alluring you want to bathe in it …” and in the context of Boom Arts’ current season theme of resistance, this sounds like it might prove the peak of a larger dramatic arc.

Boom Arts brings Chang(e). Photo: Benjamin Heller

What is with the persistence of vintage performance forms—vaudeville, burlesque, jug band, soft shoe? Why do these things keep getting done, and what is the nature of that particular nostalgia? After ruminating through a couple of episodes of Call the Midwife, I think I know: these arts are what “DIY” did back when that mode was the only option. Before there was even a TV to turn on (let alone Pandora to open), your portable device for entertainment was just your own personal package of jokes and talents and parlor tricks. Some stranger might actually ask you, whilst waiting for some train, if you knew a jig or a tale or a song to pass the time. In Portland Present, nobody has a better grasp on the can-do stand-and-deliver spirit of old-time talent than variety show madam Miz Kitty, whose Winter Wingding happens this Saturday. Any sequins you see, they probably sewed on themselves.

Following this train of thought, did anyone else wonder, “Is that stripper Christmas opera happening this year?” If so, I have sad news: no. Though indie producer Cult of Orpheus would like to make Viva’s Holiday an every-year thing, it didn’t happen this time around. Viva Las Vegas is (don’t let the name fool you) a Portland cult-arts fixture, both muse and creator of various works beyond the very-small stage. Maybe put this opera on your Christmas list for next year?

Speaking of that list, what am I missing? Are there more shows opening that demand ArtsWatch readers’ attention, or shows mid-run that you feel compelled to recommend? Please do. Or at least tell us a joke, Stranger.

 

PSU Opera’s ‘Cinderella’: sweet and silly in the salon

University’s production of Pauline Viardot’s operetta is a fairy tale within a play, set to music

by ANGELA ALLEN

Cinderella is no stranger to the stage. Portland State University’s Cinderella is far from Gioachino Rossini’s 1817 Cenerentola or Jules Massenet’s 1899 version. Neither is it a by-the-book replica of the childhood fairy tale where a pretty downtrodden girl seeks her step-family’s love and that of a prince – and lucks out because the shoe fits!

Instead, Pauline Viardot’s 1904 Cinderella, an operetta not an opera, is a bit of a spoof on that fairy tale, a story within a story. PSU Opera’s production, which runs through Dec. 10 at Lincoln Studio Theater in PSU’s Lincoln Hall, is set in the flamboyant Viardot’s illustrious Parisian cultural salon.

Maeve Stier and Luke Smith sing a heartfelt duet in PSU’s production of Pauline Viardot’s operetta, “Cinderella.”

Viardot, by the way, was a real person, though relatively unknown for her musical work. She entertained such cultural heavyweights as Frederic Chopin, Clara Schumann and Henry James, and was the muse and likely lover of Ivan Turgenev.

Pauline Viardot

Sung in English, with translation by Rachel Harris, Viardot’s chamber operatta is intentionally light, frothy and funny. It has enough roles for this new crop of PSU singers to keep us amused through the 90-minute one-act performance, preceded by a salon-like “greeting” where the cast ushers the audience to their seats in the intimate, 84-seat Lincoln Studio Theater and chats up some of them. Viardot wrote the operetta to be performed by her students at her music salon, and PSU’s crew added a further warm-up of “opera charades,” musical chairs, a dance and songs by Viardot and other women composers of the time like Clara Schumann and Nadia Boulanger, as they might have at the salon.

Then “Madame Viardot” hands out parts to her students to perform her Cinderella. Viardot gives herself the Fairy Godmother role, and Megan Uhrinak, a graduate student, sings the part convincingly. Her solid acting and singing help to hold the show together.

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“Soror Mystica” review: breaking the frame

ParaTheatrical ReSearch's ritualistic production is and isn't a performance

My invite says “please arrive no later than 7:45” for this 8 pm performance, but when I walk into the intimate little performance space at 7:44 they’ve already started. Five dancers—four in all white (The Chaos Sisters, embodied by Memorie Eden, Maple Holmes, Lindsay Reich, and Faye Dylan) and one in fuligin with matching mask (Aether, incarnated by Bryan Smith)—sprawl around the floor, stretching their bodies, doing breathing exercises, probably meditating and visualizing red triangles and whatnot. I remember seeing Grotowski’s indelible name in connection with Antero Alli, perpetrator of tonight’s performance, and my mind goes to Artaud and Brecht. I realize that I’ve been played. When does the show start? Hey man, it never ended. I’ll bet they started warming up on the dance floor before they even opened the doors. We join our story already in progress.

“Soror Mystica” runs through Sunday night in Portland. Photo: A. Alli.

I take a seat, then another. My boots squeak, the floor creaks, I feel terrible for interrupting the performance. Oops, there goes that pesky frame. What performance? They’re just warming up. A static image of some kind of medieval amphitheater enlivens the screen behind the dancers, bracketed by bare branches hanging over candles on columns at the edge of the dance floor. Music that sounds more or less like Hildegard’s plays over the speakers. People trickle in. They keep silent. They prepare themselves physically and spiritually— as I have—for the Work, which is about to commence.

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God speaks. You listen.

The Lord God Almighty, Creator of the Universe, lays it all on the line in the celestial comedy "An Act of God." Listen up, or be left behind.

Let it be known that the Lord God Almighty, Creator of the Universe, Incorporeal Presence Sometimes Taking on the Form of Flesh, is now appearing several nights a week and Sunday afternoons in Portland, Oregon, at Triangle Productions, whose home on Northeast Sandy Boulevard is fortuitously known as The Sanctuary.

His Awesome Holiness has taken the form of a local actor of some repute named Norman Wilson, and is playing Himself in a little comedy called An Act of God, which is purportedly written by a television funnyman named David Javerbaum, multiple winner of and nominee for Emmy Awards for his work as a writer and/or producer for Jon Stewart and David Letterman and others, but if you want to know The Truth the monologue seems to be coming Straight From the Mouth Of, if you know what I mean. No burning bushes or any of that old-style cosmic show-biz stuff. Just some jokey insider talk-show chat and the occasional reverberating roar when something gets under His temporal skin.

God on His couch, spreading the word. Triangle Productions photo

A few things are on The Divine One’s Mind, perhaps most pressingly the rule of law as interpreted by the overly adoring and literalist masses. “Yea, I have grown weary of the Ten Commandments,” He pronounces. “In the same way Don McLean has become weary of American Pie.” A hit like that defines and typecasts you: You can’t get away from it. G-d lets the audience in on a few puckish stretchings of the truth in the telling of original stories (the actual quote, it turns out, was “And Adam and Steve were naked and knew no shame”) and splits a Celestial Gut that anyone still takes that two-by-two thing seriously: He means, how many animals are there, and how much room was on that ark? And He announces a new Big Ten, keeping a couple of the old ones but in the main tossing the original list into the Heavenly trash bin. Among the newbies: Thou shalt not tell others when to fornicate, Thou shalt not kill in My name, Thou shalt separate Me and state. All very sensible, it seems, but who knows if these ones might take hold, or if the old ones might not hang around embarrassingly like Confederate Hero statues in Southern town squares, ruthlessly and rigorously defended by unbending believers in the Old Faith?

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DramaWatch Weekly: A Dickensian Nor’wester and scattered Revels

ArtsWatch forecasts this week's holiday theater weather.

This weather, huh? What’s the forecast for this weekend and beyond?

A.L. Adams

To the southwest, there’ll be scattered Revels, with peak conditions for viewing Nordic Lights, and some precipitation rolling in from the Mediterranean will leave conditions Pericles Wet, while a family drama high pressure front builds up between Morrison and Alder. A Dickensian chill will sweep along the east river bank, building into a twister as it crosses into Northwest and breaking into gales of wry laughter as it heads for the Hils. It will miss Tigard altogether, which will experience mild enough conditions to continue its Holiday Parade already under way. Meanwhile, the Northeast will experience bursts of gospel, and as you head toward Columbia, be on the lookout for flaming radicals.

Dickensian drama is blowing in with the return of Portland Playhouse’s popular “A Christmas Carol” (above), Scott Palmer’s “Charles Dickens Writes ‘A Christmas Carol'” at Bag & Baggage in Hillsboro, Second City’s “Twist Your Dickens” at The Armory, and Phillip J. Berns’s “A Christmas Carol: A One Man Ghost Story.” Photo: Portland Playhouse

As you head Southeast, expect some choppy seas, and an abrupt shift as Utopia closes at Hand2Mouth and a dystopia opens at Theatre Vertigo: Victor Mack will direct José Rivera’s Marisol, a near-contemporary of Angels in America with some similar motifs—mental illness and spiritual warfare between angelic beings—along with some surprisingly ripped-from-current-headlines themes—namely, the struggle of a Puerto Rican woman against an unjust god who is dying and “taking the rest of the universe with him.” Also the frenzied desperation of an urban hellscape where citizens driven into homelessness by debt and personal injury gnash and wail in the streets.

Langston Hughes’s “Black Nativity”: a shining star. PassinArt photo/2016

Happy holidays, y’all. Jacob Marley left a message; something about “mankind being our business?” He said he’ll try again—repeatedly throughout our city, then at Vertigo on Christmas week, when Phillip Berns reprises his solo version of the classic.

Imago’s’classic “Frogz” leaps back into the swim. Photo: Imago Theatre

But what were we talking about? Oh yes. The weather. Northwest Children’s Theater will experience spells of magic, to subside by midnight. And tell the kids next weekend’s conditions should be ideal for watching FROGZ. Til then, stay warm, from hands to heart.

Family fuss? It’s only human

In the comic drama "The Humans" at Artists Rep, Thanksgiving dinner with the Blakes just might knock the stuffing out of you

Maybe you missed it last year when that big musical about the Founding Fathers was the talk of the Tonys and just about anyplace else you turned. But while Hamilton was sweeping up most of the attention and a bunch of Tony Awards, including best new musical, a much smaller play was making its own mark: Stephen Karam’s family comedy-drama The Humans, which took the award for best new play, plus two more for best performers and one for best set design. If it never broke through as a pop-cultural phenomenon the way Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical hit has, The Humans has left its mark, and is likely to be produced many times for many years on many regional stages.

From left: Vana O’Brien (in wheelchair), Quinlan Fitzgerald (partially hidden), John San Nicolas, Luisa Sermol, Val Landrum (partially hidden), Robert Pescovitz. Photo: Russell J Young

On Saturday night it opened on Artists Repertory Theatre’s Morrison Stage after a week of preview performances, beating Hamilton to the Portland punch. (A few Portlanders got a first look at The Humans a little over a year ago, when The Reading Parlor performed an engaging and decidedly promising one-night staged reading of it in a little side room at Artists Rep.) The Hamilton road company will settle into Keller Auditorium for a run March 20-April 8 next year, and I can still hear the wails reverberating from frustrated potential ticket buyers who couldn’t get through on the phone lines when advance sales kicked off Nov. 17.

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‘Belfast Girls’: It’s about time

Corrib Theatre's resonant staging of a play about women escaping the Irish Famine rings true amid today's sea change of women's rights

“The time of women is coming.” Uttered by a character early on in Corrib Theatre’s production of Belfast Girls, it sounds like foreshadowing. This is a play, after all, about five women escaping Ireland during the Irish Famine of 1845-1852. They board a ship called the Inchinnan en route to Australia, with hopes of a better life.

What we know, of course, and what the playwright Jaki McCarrick knew when she wrote this play in 2015, was that the time of women is still coming. The statement – and these five fiery female characters – are particularly prescient today, amid a sea change in women’s rights, particularly the right to be free of sexual abuse, assault, and harassment. But we all also know that time can’t come soon enough.

The Belfast Girls, from left: Summer Olsson, Hannah Edelson, Tiffany Groben, Brennan Dwyer, Anya Pearson. Photo: Adam Liberman

When Belfast Girls begins, we meet four women escaping Ireland, bonded by a shared dorm quarters on the ship taking them toward their dreams. There is the de facto leader, Judith (Anya Pearson), a well-spoken woman unafraid to speak her mind. She is joined by Ellen (Brenan Dwyer) – “stupid Ellen,” as Judith calls her in the beginning, but we learn there is much more to her than anyone realizes. Hannah (Summer Olsson) – called “fat Hannah” by Judith and her other companions – carries more grief and resilience than anyone should have to muster. Sarah (Hannah Edelson) is the stranger in the group, a country girl – and the only one who was not a street girl in Belfast. Still, she has her reasons to be here, and we’ll learn those soon enough. These four are joined before departure by Molly (Tiffany Groben), a weak and sickly maid from outside of Belfast who has carried on books and more than her share of secrets.

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