News & Notes: remembering John Buchanan, a slew of Irish plays

San Francisco honors the late Portland museum director; Synge's 'Playboy' kicks off a trio of Irish dramas

John Buchanan was just 58 years old when he died, from cancer, on December 30, 2011. He had been director of the San Francisco Museums of Fine Art for some time, shaking up the Bay Area art scene in ways familiar to Portlanders, brashly organizing blockbuster shows and bringing hundreds of thousands of people inside the doors of the Legion of Honor and the de Young Museum, the two spaces that make up the SF museum complex.

John Buchanan

John Buchanan

As he had been in Oregon, where he was director of the Portland Art Museum, he was a polarizing figure: a controversial administrator and an energetic showman who was criticized in some quarters for being a populist and praised in others for essentially the same thing. In both cities, he amped up public enthusiasm and brought in the bucks.

A few days ago, many of his friends from around the world gathered in San Francisco to celebrate the dedication of the John E. Buchanan, Jr. Court at the de Young. The San Francisco Chronicle’s Leah Garchik was on hand and filed this report, which includes remarks by Buchanan’s widow, Lucy Buchanan, who worked side by side with him in reshaping the Portland museum: John was a boundlessly energetic man until the cancer sapped his strength, and Lucy kept up with him step for step. Garchik recounts a story, both funny and insightful, about a private tour of Graceland, Elvis’s Memphis mansion, that helped secure the loan of some artwork Buchanan wanted to exhibit. He was an impresario, an enthusiast of life, and now he has a courtyard to prove the point.

After he died, I wrote this assessment of his years in Portland, and Barry Johnson wrote this assessment for ArtsWatch.




Going Irish. Portland theater’s about to start an unofficial festival of Irish plays.

  • On Saturday, Artists Rep opens Playboy of the Western World, J.M. Synge’s classic knowing comedy about a fellow who goes about bragging that he’s just killed his dad, and how he gets a bunch of surprising responses to his boasting of it. Dámaso Rodrigues directs Chris Murray as young Christy, along with such notables as Bill Geisslinger, Michael Mendelson, Allen Nause, Amy Newman, and Isaac Lamb.
  •  The following week, Third Rail Rep opens The Beauty Queen of Leenane, completing Martin McDonaugh’s Leenane Trilogy, which also includes The Lonesome West and A Skull in Connemarra. Scott Yarborough’s cast is led by Damon Kupper and Maureen Porter, and the show opens May 30 in the Winnie.
  •  And on Saturday, June 7, Corrib Theatre, which is dedicated to all things Irish, opens The Hen Night Epiphany, Jimmy Murphy’s dramatic comedy about a group of contemporary Dublin women who gather at a hillside country cottage to drink, deliberate, and celebrate their friend’s bachelorette party. Gemma Whelan directs a cast that includes Dana Millican, Luisa Sermol, Amanda Soden, Jacklyn Maddux, and Jamie M. Rea – a lot of potential firepower.



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