Carol Triffle

‘Human Noise’: Music in Carver Land

Imago Theatre's choreographed take on Raymond Carver short stories may activate your interpretive juices

“Bill and Arlene Miller were a happy couple. But now and then they felt they alone among their circle had been passed by somehow.”

That’s how Raymond Carver’s 1970 story “Neighbors” begins, and that’s exactly how Imago’s version of the story in “Human Noise” begins, too, with the narration. Also with Nathan Wonder, Danielle Vermette, Michael Streeter and Carol Triffle on stage, the bare outlines of two apartments, and a percussive score (Kyle Delamarter is the sound designer) in the background.

Michael Streeter and Carol Triffle in “Human Noise” at Imago Theatre/Photo by Jerry Mouawad

Streeter and Triffle take over the narration and dialogue after their neighbors in the story, Wonder and Vermette, leave on vacation, reciting Carver’s words, punctuated by the odd fling of the arm when a sudden, loud percussion cue demands it. The story turns weird: Bill goes over to his neighbors’ apartment to feed their cat, and alone in that space, he starts to explore. “The air was already heavy and it was vaguely sweet.” He tends to kitty, then opens the liquor cabinet and takes a couple of pulls from a bottle of Chivas Regal (an imaginary bottle, actually). When he returns to Arlene, he finds himself in an amorous mood.

“What kept you?” Arlene said. She sat with her legs turned under her, watching television.

“Nothing. Playing with Kitty,” he said, and went over to her and touched her breasts.

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ArtsWatch Weekly: Sweet Lou

A Lou Harrison celebration, invasion of the theater hatchers, Jewish museum's new home, shrinking Bach Fest, more

It’s been a busy seven days in Portland and Oregon, with all sorts of notable cultural events going on. The Astoria Music Festival, after an opening recital Sunday by Metropolitan Opera star and Northwest favorite (she grew up in Centralia, Wash.) Angela Meade, is in full swing. Portland Opera continues its latest foray into musical-theater waters with Man of La Mancha (two more performances, Thursday and Saturday in Keller Auditorium).

Among the past week’s many other highlights:

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Detail from Russian artist Grisha Bruskin’s tapestry series “ALEFBET: The Alphabet of Memory,” opening exhibit of the Oregon Jewish Museum in its new home. Photo: Oregon ArtsWatch

JEWISH MUSEUM’S BIG MOVE. The Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education opened its doors in its new, much bigger, home in a prime gallery row location, the former space of the late lamented Museum of Contemporary Craft. Its new home opens up fresh possibilities for OJMCHE. You can read our take: A bigger, bolder Jewish Museum.

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Those were the good old days

Carol Triffle's human comedy "The Reunion" at Imago plays with nostalgia and longing and the surprise of life as it hits us in the face

Imago Theatre is reviving its production of Carol Triffle’s The Reunion, which premiered in June 2017. It reopens Friday, Jan. 12, and continues for a short run through Jan. 20: ticket and schedule information here. ArtsWatch’s review of the original production, which had the same cast:

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Walking into Imago Theatre on Saturday night to see Carol Triffle’s new play The Reunion was like walking into a hippie pad circa 1969 (yes, I speak from direct experience) on a particularly groovy day. One psychedelically bubbly wall was sporting more peace symbols than a VW camper at the Oregon Country Fair. Donovan was warbling Season of the Witch over the speaker, reminding me in flashback of how snotty the future Nobel Laureate of the Lowlands had been to a singer I liked. No strings of beads were dangling in the doorways, but the stage was aglitter in crepe and saturated color and overdone cheerfulness, as if Triffle had raided The Lippman Company party-supply store with a hundred bucks and an SUV to load the booty into and haul it all off. In other words: perfect.

Party hearty: Sean Bowie, Danielle Vermette, Jerry Mouawad. Photo: Kevin Young

Over the years Triffle’s developed a brittle absurdist comic style that seems deeply rooted in the traditions of mime and clown and slapstick comedy, and at its best can make you laugh out loud while it’s quietly breaking your heart. The Reunion, which runs about a well-paced hour and packs the concise wallop of a good novella, does both – or at least, it did for me. On the surface a Triffle play can feel like an animated jaunt through the Sunday comics, a cartoon landscape inhabited by characters with the oddball normality of the townsfolk in Robert Altman’s Popeye movie. And so it is in The Reunion, where the oddball and laughable and sometimes more than slightly looney settle slowly, almost imperceptibly, into a deep and moving contemplation of the human condition. It’s the sort of thing that good clowns do, this bonding of the foolish and profound, and it makes them essential to the culture.

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‘La Belle’: a beauty of a Beauty

Imago's bold and charming "La Belle: Lost in the Automaton" retells the age-old "Beauty and the Beast" as a steampunk vaudeville (with puppets)

The tale, with its many themes and variations, is hundreds of years old, at least. A woman, an embodiment of purity and innocence, is forced into the company of a frightening Other, something primal, whether animal or spirit, something dark and debased. Yet there is recognition and love, trial and transformation. Hidden natures are revealed. Opposites balance and resolve.

Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve crystallized it in 1740 as La Belle et la Bête. It may be best known by many from Jean Cocteau’s luminous, numinous 1946 film of that same name.  To many more, its image is fixed as a Disney product, 1991’s animated mass-market musical Beauty and the Beast.

Jim Vadala and Justine Davis: the beast and the beauty aboard ship. Photo: Jerry Mouawad

Perhaps future generations, though, will think of the story and imagine not forests and castles but the grimy engine room of a coal-powered steamship. Their memories will be filled not with Disney’s storybook colors or Cocteau’s poetic cinematic effects but with a more immediate kind of artistic magic: puppets and automatons and actors on a stage.

They’ll think of Imago.

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Imago Theatre’s ‘La Belle: Lost in the World of the Automaton’

Imaginative version of Beauty and the Beast presented the imaginative Portland theater company's biggest challenge yet

Imago Theatre is at a turning point. For 35 years, Portland’s most original theater company has specialized in making something beautiful out of not much: some masks, some movement, some music, often using no words or sets at all. The result: the long-running, enormously popular mask shows Frogz and ZooZoo, and dozens of other magical theatrical creations.

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“La Belle: Lost in the World of the Automaton.” Imago photo

But after more than three decades, Imago founders Carol Triffle and Jerry Mouawad decided the time had to retire those warhorses. Last summer, the couple announced they were selling the former Southeast Portland Masonic lodge that’s long served as Imago’s headquarters, performing and rehearsal space, and prop and costume shop. This weekend, Imago opens its biggest, riskiest venture ever. Given Imago’s flair for dazzling visual imagery and movement, La Belle: Lost in the World of the Automaton, which runs December 9-January 8, is likely to be a beauty. But for its  creators, it’s been a bit of a beast.

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ArtsWatch Weekly: Triffle on a cloud, a lobster in the tank

A look at the week that was in Oregon arts. A glimpse ahead at the week that's going to be.

Carol Triffle is Portland’s most prominent stage absurdist, a quiet comic renegade who makes a virtue of never connecting the dots. Her theater is whimsical, outrageous, so ordinary that it defies the ordinary, stretching it into cosmic pretzel shapes. It’s an anti-theater, almost, bopping narrative on the nose and then ducking around the corner to put on clown makeup and reappear as something utterly different, yet somehow also just the same. At its worst, it falls apart. At its best, it feels a bit like watching Lucille Ball or Danny Kaye caught inside a spinning clothes dryer and howling to get out. Head-scratching occurs at a Triffle show, and the audience can be divided between those who adore the effect and those who simply scratch their heads.

Source, Fagan, Hale, on a sofa, on a cloud, in a funk. Imago Theatre photo.

Sorce, Fagan, Hale, on a sofa, on a cloud, in a funk. Imago Theatre photo.

Francesca, Isabella, Margarita on a Cloud, Triffle’s newest show at Imago Theatre (where she is co-founder and, with partner Jerry Mouawad, creator of the mask-and-costume phenomenon Frogz), is the story, if that’s the right word, of three sisters who feud inseparably, supporting one another through thin and thin. Margarita (Ann Sorce, an Imago vet who’s utterly internalized Triffle’s madcap expressionist style) is the one who won all the beauty contests. Francesca (Megan Skye Hale) is the one who lost all the same beauty contests. Isabella (Elizabeth Fagan), the baby, is the one who seems to have just accidentally starred in a porno film. Isabella’s boyfriend RayRay (Kyle Delamarter) and Margarita’s fella Bob the Weatherman (Sean Bowie) drop in now and again, eager, somehow, to attach to the sisterly scene.

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ArtsWatch Weekly: the kindness of strangers and the skin of our teeth

A look at the week that was in Oregon arts. A glimpse ahead at the week that's going to be.

Here it is, the middle of May, and suddenly Portland’s theater season is entering its final stretch before summer, which brings its own busy theater mini-season, indoors and out. The city’s two biggest companies open shows this weekend, both high-profile American classics and both due for a fresh look.

Flickering desire: "Streetcar" at Portland Center Stage. Photo: Patrick Weishampel/blankeye.tv.

Flickering desire: “Streetcar” at Portland Center Stage. Photo: Patrick Weishampel/blankeye.tv.

On Friday, Portland Center Stage opens its revival of Tennessee Williams’ rough, sensual, groundbreaking A Streetcar Named Desire, which in its 1947 debut featured Jessica Tandy as Blanche, Kim Hunter as Stella, and a smoldering hunk of muscle named Marlon Brando as Stanley. Center Stage has come up with a new Southern strategy, rethinking the play in a thoroughly multiracial milieu, with national players Kristen Adele as Stella, Demetrius Grosse as Stanley, and Diedrie Henry (a onetime regular at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival) as Blanche. Can we depend on the kindness of strangers?

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