DramaWatch Weekly: A test, a lull, lean prose

On Portland stages, it's a week for "Fun Home," Raymond Carver, catching up with "An Octoroon," and checking the horizon

Let there be more than one female character.

Let them talk to each other.

Let them have a conversation that’s less than 100 percent about men.

A.L. Adams

That’s The Bechdel Test, a set of guidelines Graphic Novelist Alison Bechdel sensibly suggested in 1985 as a way to vet narratives for basic fairness. In my theater reviews, I’ve used it—not because it’s a buzzword, I could give a rip—but because when I find myself already bothered by a 2-D plot, applying this test gives me an impartial reason why. #notallmen. See what I did there? Never mind.

Here’s something extraordinary: Alison Bechdel has an autobiographical musical, Fun Home.

What’s more, it’s won a Tony, and I bet it passes the Test. It opens this week at Portland Center Stage at The Armory.

Aida Valentine (left), Karsten George (center), and Theo Curl in “Fun Home.” Photo: Patrick Weishampel/blankeye.tv

Think-piece brinksmen on Bechdel’s level, those whose theories have become common knowledge, rarely produce their own art. Malcolm Gladwell, for instance, rode “The Tipping Point” to the edge, but not to Broadway. Richard Florida, who championed and later renounced “The Creative Class,” never made a musical about it (arguably, The Music Man scooped him). Yet here comes Alison Bechdel—the mind behind the pen that’s pinpointed exactly what was wrong with so many others’ stories—striding into the spotlight* to answer a dare critics-who-are-also-artists hear daily: “Let’s see you try it.”

Okay. Bam. Tony.



What else what else?

Now that TBA has ticked away and most local theaters have season-opened, this is a slower theater weekend than last. To be honest, this is the part of the cycle I like: shows that have already started are going steady; there’s time to view the horizon.


Carver and Gallagher, back in the day.

Oh, here’s a thing! Imago Theatre’s currently nerding out on late author Raymond Carver. (Their last writer muse was Baudelaire.) Human Noise, an impressionistic staging of three of his short stories plus a poem, runs for only six shows starting Thursday. Carver’s lean prose works are well-suited to a short run. On Sept. 30, the theater will also host an evening with Carver’s wife, Tess Gallagher. Danielle Vermette interviewed Gallagher for ArtsWatch: Read it here.

In the always-open Out There category, you might venture to Alberta Abbey this weekend for a show just recommended to me by my most trusted bellydance connection. Angamazad, presented by Fox & Beggar—which is apparently a theater company and not an English pub—entices with the promise of, among other pleasures, “the desert songs of bird maidens.”


Andrea Vernae (left) and Josie Seid in “an Octoroon.” Photo: Russell J Young

If you haven’t yet, get over to Artists Rep. They’re doing An Octoroona racially confrontational redux of a nineteenth-century farce that in clumsier hands could be a mockery—but trust Artists Rep to approach such work thoughtfully. Follow their lead: as you enjoy what looks to be a high-energy show, pay attention to the ways in which it bothers you.


In the coming weeks, I spy Shaking The Tree. I see a Poison Waters Pageant. I see a showcase of female playwrights, and an Amelia Earhart puppet show, and I’m sure we’ll stumble across some sort of Halloween horror. There’s always more drama. Embrace it.


*Figuratively. Bechdel does not act in this play.



The sharp-witted and sharp-eyed A.L. Adams scopes out what’s happening on Portland’s theater stages weekly. Look for DramaWatch Weekly every Tuesday.





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