Blitzen Trapper

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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ArtsWatch Weekly: Random favors

Steven Dietz's "This Random World," Ronald K. Brown dance, Portland Photo Month, Brett Campbell's music picks of the week, Blitzen Trapper & more

Steven Dietz is one of the most famous American playwrights Broadway’s never heard of. Last year’s This Random World is his 34th produced play, and that’s not even counting his 11 adaptations – an astonishing number, approaching the total of that fellow from Stratford. Many of them have been hits on the regional theater circuit, from the Humana Festival of New Plays at Actors Theatre of Louisville (where This Random World got its start) to major companies coast to coast. Except New York, where his Fiction, to make a long story short, made it to Off-Broadway’s Roundabout in 2004.

“This Random World” opens this week at Portland Actors Conservatory.

There’s little explaining a situation like this. Dietz’s plays are smart, well-shaped, actor-friendly, and on interesting topics, although they tend not to include things like falling chandeliers or singing cats. No matter. Regional audiences like them. A lot. Many of his plays have helped shape the contemporary American theater, and they move from city to city with ease: More Fun Than Bowling, Foolin’ Around with Infinity, Ten November, God’s Country, Lonely Planet, Becky’s New Car, Rancho Mirage, and more.

This weekend, This Random Life gets its West Coast premiere at Portland Actors Conservatory, and there’s reason to believe it’ll be worth a visit. This year’s class at the professional acting school has some very good talent, and it’s coming off a knockout production of Suzan-Lori Parks’ In the Blood. PAC’s talented Beth Harper is directing, and the fine veteran actor Kathleen Worley is a guest artist. Plus, it’s a secret you can keep from the Great White Way while it’s busy reliving Groundhog Day.

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Wild and Reckless drugs and dynamics

A fairly detailed look at Blitzen Trapper's first foray into musical theater.

A rock guitarist friend* once told me there are two ways to reach an audience: be a star, or be a black hole. A star emotes and explodes, releasing bursts of energy that can be seen and felt for miles, blasting the audience back against the walls. A black hole, in contrast, retreats so completely into itself that everything around it is pulled closer to its ever-deepening, ever-contracting center. A black hole sucks the air out of a room and draws the audience inside it.

Drugs offer a similar dichotomy: stimulants explode, opiates implode. Love, too, can push or pull. These are the dynamics the members of the band Blitzen Trapper has been playing with in their first musical Wild and Reckless—and the more masterfully they manipulate those polarities, the more electric it’s gonna get.

A new musical by a local band is an atypical risk for Portland Center Stage, but Blitzen Trapper had some unique selling points: They’re tight-knit, long-term creative collaborators who started out in Salem, making them especially appropriate for PCS’s Northwest Stories series. They’ve long since transcended the Portland music scene and maintained more widespread fame as a touring band, drummer Brian Koch has already been active in Portland theater, singer/songwriter Eric Earley has penned some novels, and the band had a well-connected friend, theater-creator-about-town Liam Kaas-Lentz, who helped plead their case to PCS and now co-directs their show with Rose Riordan.

Eric Earley as The Narrator and Leif Norby as The Dealer in “Wild and Reckless” at The Armory. Patrick Weishampel/blankeye.tv.

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ArtsWatch Weekly: Media Blitzen

A pair of premieres at Center Stage, dance and theater openings, Brett Campbell's weekly music picks, Christopher Rauschenberg & more

It’s a busy weekend at the Armory, where Portland Center Stage hangs its hat: world-premiere opening nights Friday for Wild and Reckless, the new concert/play from the band Blitzen Trapper, and Saturday for Lauren Weedman Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. Both will be playing on the Main Stage, in repertory.

We haven’t (of course) seen either show yet, so we’ll quote the company on what’s up with Wild and Reckless: It “traces the unforgettable tale of two kids on the run, in a futuristic vision of Portland’s past. Evoking a bygone era of Portland, this sci-fi love story features a rock-and-roll score that pairs unreleased songs with favorites from the band’s catalog, including Black River Killer and Astronaut.” And what, precisely, is a futuristic vision of Portland’s past? Francis Pettygrove and Asa Lovejoy tossing a coin in spacesuits to name the city? Probably not. But tune in Friday, or anytime through April 30, to find out.

Eric Earley as The Narrator and Leif Norby as The Dealer in “Wild and Reckless.” Photo: Patrick Weishampel/blankeye.tv.

Lauren Weedman we know a little better from her smart and edgy previous one-woman shows at Center Stage and elsewhere. She could run a clinic on how to grab and hold an audience’s attention: She can be funny, and she can be fierce, and she has the focus of a hawk hunting rabbits in an open field. This newest show, also through April 30, homes in on heartbreak and how to mend it, and arrives with big hair, tight jeans, and a passel of country tunes. Plus, a backup band.

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