Bag&Baggage

ArtsWatch year in theater 2017

From "Astoria" to "The Humans" with a whole lot in between, a month-by-month stroll with ArtsWatch through the year in Oregon theater

From Portland Center Stage’s Astoria: Part I (Part II is streaming around the bend in January, along with an encore run for Part I) to Artists Rep’s The Humans and a slew of holiday shows, it’s been a busy, busy year in Oregon theater.

In Ashland, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival rolled out another season blending contemporary and classic with a wide-angle world view. And the fine actor G. Valmont Thomas, after spending a season playing Falstaff in all three plays in which the great character appears, died in December from bone cancer, at age 58.

In Hillsboro, Bag&Baggage, which had been temporarily homeless, opened a spiffy new home in a renovated downtown former bank building.

In Portland, the sprawling Fertile Ground festival introduced dozens of new works (and, like Astoria, is gearing up for a fresh new run in January). Chris Coleman, Center Stage’s artistic director for 17 years, announced he would be leaving at the end of this season to take over the theater at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. TCG, the influential Theatre Communications Group, held its annual conference in Portland. And theater companies large and small produced more plays than The Count could count in a dozen seasons of Sesame Street.

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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.

DramaWatch Weekly: Out there, the drama is real

From the news to the stage, A.L. Adams' new column gives the lowdown on a week's worth of action on the Portland theater scene

Holy moly, is this week huge! Here we are in the throes of most theaters’ season kickoff with much too much to cover—not to mention TBA. (Just kidding; of course I’ll also mention TBA.)

A.L. Adams

In local season opening news, PHAME’s got a new executive director, Action/Adventure Theater has closed its doors after an epic five-year run, and Readers Theatre Rep just raised their ticket price to a whole $10 (still worth every penny, I’m sure; they’ll read two Arthur Miller plays this weekend).

How about national news? Anything major? Sometimes (actually, constantly) I look at what themes are playing out on Portland stages and think about how much they resonate with real-life events that are actually happening. If I may:

 


 

The Drama Is Real: Shows that hit a nerve with current news

In the news: Last Tuesday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a repeal of DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that offers protected status to undocumented persons who’ve lived in the US since their childhood. Meanwhile, onstage: Last weekend, Ingenio Milagro, a Milagro Theatre’s playwright development symposium similar to Portland Center Stage’s JAW festival, presented four scripts including Monica Sanchez’s Los Dreamers, the story of “Dreamer” Scoobi.

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In the news: The Oregon Bach Festival is reeling over international backlash after firing their artistic director Matthew Halls in response to an incident one might call “Grit Gate.” The Telegraph reports that Halls was overheard joking with his friend, African-American singer Reginald Mobely, and had made a quip about grits while mimicking a southern accent. Though both Mobely and Halls maintain that the joke was about the South generally rather than a Black stereotype, a white woman who overheard the remark complained to University of Oregon leadership, who summarily relieved Halls of his post. With press outlets in Halls’ native England picking up the story, Grit-Gate seems to have grown into an international incident. Meanwhile, onstage: Hillsboro’s Bag&Baggage opened its season last weekend (in a new space) with Rebecca Gilman’s Spinning into Butter, a drama wherein an African American student at a primarily white college receives hate mail and the school’s administration struggles to react appropriately, arguably making things worse.

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In the news: Hillary Clinton has just released what is sure to be a polarizing book, What Happened, asking exactly that of her 2016 presidential campaign and taking belated jabs at her opponents left and right. Meanwhile, onstage: Hillary Clinton, of all people, will visit Portland on December 12. See Portland’5 for details.

 


 

Mister Theater: feet off the furniture, kid.

Out There: Shows for explorers

Sweep The Leg: A Karate Kid Musical Parody is happening at Mister Theater, which I didn’t even know was a thing. From the address, it looks like Mister is a neighbor of beloved life-drawing lair Hipbone Studios and belly dance hot spot Studio Datura. (I’m sure it means Mister like “man,” but with this heat persisting into next week and these actors karate-kicking up a sweat, the other kind of “mister” couldn’t miss.) 

Back Fence PDX This storytelling showcase regularly presents a solid roster of raconteurs, and this installment includes “Portland’s Funniest Person 2017” Caitlyn Weierhauser, aptly-named web series star Ben Weber, sketch comedy specialist Andrew Harris, cultural competency consultant Bealleka, and retro glam cult novelist Jennifer Robin.

Under The Influence: All Trumped Up Ernie Liloj must be “tired of winning.” After his original musical Under The Influence earned two Drammies in 2015 (Best Original Score and Best Actor in a Musical) he seems to have asked, “What would really put this over the top?” What puts anything over the top? A dollop of Trump, of course. A cast that includes two alums of Post5’s legendary clown shows, Ithica Tell and Jessica Tidd, should feel right at home at the Funhouse Lounge, a venue complete with a themed “clown room.”

 


 

This week at TBA

 Now onward to PICA TBA:17 (Portland Institute for Contemporary Art’s Time-Based Art Festival), whose program I’ve perused and—just as my ArtsWatch colleague Jamuna Chiarini did for dance—I’ve plucked all of the remaining theater works from the schedule and linked them here for your ease. Less easy for me, and I’ll tell you why: this calendar is chockfull of crossover acts, most especially performance artists who infuse their theatrical pieces with varying amounts of original music.

 Are such shows concerts, or are they theater? Yes.

Will all performance artists be required to write their own music from now on? I hope so. Discuss.

 TBA performances this week include several appearances by Saudi artist Sarah Abuabdallah, three Sigourney Weaver Jam Sessions by Manuel Solano, an evening with singer/monologuist Joseph Keckler, the pop song/deadpan storytelling pairing of Half Straddle‘s Ghost Rings, Cvllejerx throwing a Super Tantrum, and the “psychoacoustic” thralls of Sound et Al.

My must-see is longtime Portland music scene fixture Holland Andrews (of Like a Villain, Aan, and Samadams), who, having lately completed an artist residency in Paris, will present collaborative work with Alain Mahé that interprets Dorothée Munyaneza’s interviews of Rawandan rape survivors following the country’s 1994 genocide. Obviously something to scream about, but also worth getting further context from a follow-up conversation; Sunday’s show will be followed by a talkback. For more femme-empowered protest music, check out Retribution, Tanya Tagaq‘s “howling protest” in defense of indigenous and human rights, or party your catharsis out with Demian Dineyazhi‘s Death Dance, a brown/indigenous punk statement that doubles as a “sweaty celebration.”

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Whew! That’s all the drama I have for this week. Hand me my mister.

 


 

With this column, the sharp-witted and sharp-eyed A.L. Adams begins her weekly look at what’s happening on Portland’s theater stages. Look for DramaWatch Weekly every Tuesday.

 

 

 

 

 

ArtsWatch Weekly: barking mad

Biting into September's shows, Brett Campbell's music picks, Miss Ethnic Non-Specific, West African drumming & dance, more

Here we are in the Dog Days of Summer, and we pretty much know what the phrase means: that hot and often muggy stretch of August that seems to last forever, when the sun saps energy and the whole world seems to lag. But where did the saying come from?

Maybe from the rising of the dog star, Sirius – a period, as Wikipedia describes it, that “Greek and Roman astrology connected with heat, drought, sudden thunderstorms, lethargy, fever, mad dogs, and bad luck.” Not to mention this week’s Dog Days interloper, the lunar blotting-out of the sun. The story ambles down from Zeus to Achilles, Hector, Seneca, and Pliny, on into the medical lore of the early modern age and even the Age of Reason: The Clavis Calendria of 1813 declares that in the Dog Days “the Sea boiled, the Wine turned sour, Dogs grew mad, Quinto raged with anger, and all other creatures became languid; causing to man, among other diseases, burning fevers, hysterics, and phrensies.”

It’s their time: “Pierrepont Edward Lacy and His Dog, Gun,” attributed to Milton W. Hopkins, 1835-36, oil on canvas, Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester, Rochester, New York

All of which, frankly, has us looking forward to September, which in the cultural world (maybe as a carryover from the traditional school calendar) is the true time of fresh beginnings. Theater seasons begin to kick in. The dance calendar gets busy. The Oregon Symphony gets ready to swing into action again. TBA, the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art’s annual Time-Based Art festival, overtakes the city Sept. 7-17.

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ArtsWatch Weekly: a Persian R&J

Outdoor Shakespeare with a twist; more music festivals; Mozart & Bach; an ArtsWatch apology; a profusion of prints

Summer and Shakespeare seem to go together like Abbott and Costello, or toast and jam: You can have one without the other, but somehow they’d feel incomplete. Little danger of that in Oregon, where we get our summer Shakespeare aplenty, often with a twist.

 

Nicholas Granato as Romeo/Majnun in Bag&Baggage’s “Romeo and Juliet (Layla and Majnun).” Casey Campbell Photography

Consider Romeo and Juliet (Layla and Majnun), an interweaving of Shakespeare’s romance and the 12th century Persian poet Nizami’s epic tale of a feud between families. Bag&Baggage’s premiere opens Thursday on the outdoor stage of the Tom Hughes Civic Center Plaza in downtown Hillsboro, in a production that B&B artistic director Scott Palmer believes blends R&J with one of its primary sources. “When you read the texts side by side, the parallels between the two tales are really astounding,” Palmer tells ArtsWatch’s Brett Campbell. “There’s no smoking gun, but we do know (Shakespeare) was reading Italian sources and those were heavily influenced by Persian masterpieces from the 11th and 12 centuries. There is just no question that Layla and Majnun had a powerful, although indirect, influence on Romeo and Juliet.” Read Campbell’s full story here.

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Revenge tragedy, political farce

The Public Theatre kills off a Trump-like Julius Caesar, and the outrage flies. What happens when theater and politics clash.

It’s the murder heard ’round the Web. Stab-stab-stab, and the emperor’s dead. Across vast stretches of Blue America, a metaphorical wish has been fulfilled. And lo, a righteous and avenging fury has swept across the nation from stage right, and the shouting heads have shouted ’til they’re blue in the face, and the mighty money spigot has cranked shut. New York’s Public Theatre has done the unthinkable in its Shakespeare in the Park production of Julius Caesar. It’s dressed up JC to look like Donald Trump, and allowed the assassination to go on (quite explicitly, according to the reviews), and the play to proceed to the perpetrators’ plummet from the heights, felled by the hubris of their own violent act.

The cultural world is unlikely to have a flashier flash point this summer, although considering the political craziness of the moment, all bets are off. A production of a classic play about politics has itself entered the political theater, where the stakes are higher and the action’s vastly more ruthless. It’s at once a tragedy and a farce, on a level that The Public’s director Oskar Eustis might not have anticipated, even though he courted the controversy.

“Murder of Caesar,” Karl Theodor von Piloty, 1865, oil on canvas, Lower Saxony State Museum, Hanover, Germany

Agitators have rushed the stage and disrupted several performances, loudly shouting canned slogans: “Liberal hate kills!” “Goebbels will be proud!” “The blood of Steve Scalise is on your hands!” (This is the same Steve Scalise, shot at baseball practice by a looney who had also been a Bernie Sanders supporter, who has proudly touted his A+ rating from the National Rifle Association.) One such interruption came from an “investigative journalist” and right-wing operator named Laura Loomer, whom up to that point I had had the extreme pleasure of never having heard. “Stop the normalization of political violence against the right!” she shouted, perhaps in defense of the candidate of the right who suggested that his loyal Second Amendment supporters might have a solution to the distressing outrages of his liberal election opponent. Corporate sponsors Bank of America and Delta Air Lines, aghast at the thought that their feel-good marketing support of free theater in the park might make them targets of a backlash that could cost them business, promptly withdrew their backing – and in the process, created a backlash to the backlash that almost certainly will cost them business. Shakespeare festivals across the country (including Oregon’s in Ashland) that had nothing to do with The Public or its Julius Caesar drew vitriolic complaints and even, in some cases, threats of violence from an aroused right-wing faithful. It all made, if nothing else, for “good TV.”

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B&B’s ‘Brontë’ is one for the books

Polly Teale's dramatic tale of the fabulous literary sisters takes the library as its stage for Bag&Baggage. It's a page-turner.

Homeschooled kids are as blessed with imagination as preachers’ daughters are fraught with repressed passion—and The Brontë sisters, being both, had both in spades.

In a house on a hill above a textile town in rural 19th-century England, Anne, Charlotte, and Emily led a relatively quiet and ordinary day-to-day life while writing torridly romantic fantasies—most notably, Charlotte’s Jane Eyre and Emily’s Wuthering Heights. Polly Teale’s Brontë, which Bag&Baggage Productions opened last weekend, vacillates between the sisters’ real and fantasy lives.

And how does this play out on stage?

Jessi Walters as Anne and Morgan Cox as Emily. Casey Campbell Photography

It doesn’t! Instead, it gambols gamely through the aisles of the Hillsboro Public Library in a promenade-style performance born of sudden necessity. B&B, long headquartered at Hillsboro’s Venetian Theatre but planning to transition into a newly acquired building next year, has cut its 16-17 season short to accommodate the recent sale of the Venetian. In the process, Brontë has abruptly become the company’s season-closer, its library location an auspicious work-around. That said, Scott Palmer and company flourish in the face of adversity, setting Brontë so artfully in its library location that it actually feels preferable to a stage. How appropriate, after all, to show the late sisters living on amid books.

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