Don Horn

Puppet see, puppet do

In the new world of impulsive white-guy supremacy, the gleeful hand-to-hand combat of "Hand to God" suddenly takes a menacing twist

The pew-like audience seating in Triangle Productions’ performance space, The Sanctuary, is fitting for Hand to God, Robert Askins’ church-set dark comedy that opens Triangle’s 2017-18 season. Director and designer Donald Horn’s set perfectly captures the wholesome tackiness of a church classroom, a scene ripe for disruption. And such disruption ensues when teenage Jason begins to realize that Tyrone, the sock puppet he made in his mom’s after-school Bible puppetry class, has taken on a life of its own.

By hand possessed: Caleb Sohigan plays Jason, whose hand puppet Tyrone takes on a wicked life of his own. Photo: David Kinder/kinderpics

Tyrone rips chaotically and hilariously through Jason’s precariously balanced relationships: his mom, still grieving her husband and Jason’s father’s recent death; the girl he has a crush on; the class bully; the slightly smarmy pastor. Tyrone says all the things you’re not supposed to say, does all the things you’re not supposed to do, expresses all the wants you’re not supposed to have. He is, as the monologues that bookend the play suggest, an expression of humanity’s true nature, before some jerk (Tyrone uses a different word) made up the idea of good and evil, God and Satan.


Golda Meir: a life onstage

Wendy Westerwelle brings out the drama of the towering Israeli politician's life in William Gibson's one-woman play at Triangle

Golda Meier’s story is one of the fascinating political tales of the twentieth century: the schoolteacher from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, who became the fourth prime minister of Israel and guided her young nation through the tense days of 1973’s Yom Kippur War, when the country’s survival was deeply in doubt. She was a hawkish icon of a fiercely strategic form of feminism: Margaret Thatcher before Margaret Thatcher, a Hillary Clinton who won the vote. However they felt about her positions, she awoke in many people – women, men, schoolchildren – a rising sense of the possibilities of what could be done in the world, and who could do it.

When we first meet her in Golda’s Balcony, William Gibson’s one-woman play that opened Thursday night at Triangle Productions, it’s 1978 and she is 80 years old, nearing the end of her life. “I am at the end of my stories,” she almost whispers as embodied by actor Wendy Westerwelle, and then proceeds to spin a web of them for ninety minutes, alone onstage, with no intermission.

Westerwelle as Meir. Photo courtesy Triangle Productions!

The tales take her back to her early days in Milwaukee, after emigrating with her family at age 5 from Kiev – moving first to New York, and two years later to the Midwest. Here, in Milwaukee, is where she meets the young Jewish socialist Morris Meyerson, whom she begins to date and then marries on condition that they move to a kibbutz in Palestine. Here, in Palestine, the young Zionist’s life seems truly to begin.


Vreeland: The Artful Dowager

In Triangle's "Full Gallop," Margie Boulé plays fashion and publishing legend Diana Vreeland as a singular force of nature

About 24 hours ago Kate Moss, the long-legged and controversially thin model who pricked the ribs of ’90s feminism, announced she’s started a modeling agency: “not for pretty people.”

Only hours before, Andrew Bolton, the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute curator, was given a page in Vogue for a passé event in fashion time, this year’s Manus x Machina gala, the $25,000 per person event held this year all the way back in May to fundraise and promote the trickle-down philanthropy at our nation’s best museum.

This is not just the opinion of the critic writing it. In America the stewards of art – fine, moving, sometimes with a skilled ensemble cast – have the undesirable day job. In the Europe that Diana Vreeland was hungry for, she saw that the future of fashion and art had a foundation: funded and available.


I don’t wanna be the same as everybody else

Green Day's "American Idiot" at Triangle Productions moves at the speed and angry energy of punk

There is a specific air to the dread of being mediocre and underclass in California. The beaming lights of Hollywood fame, the world-class status of tech giants, the pockets of affluence dotting the coastline, wine valleys, and poorly named Silicon Valley: these are places where the best the world can offer in lifestyles is immersed in gorgeous nature.

If you’re part of it. Johnny Rotten droned an angry anthem in 1977 when he proclaimed kids had no future. Enemies of the English Punk fathers were colorful aristocrats, and the shocking popularity of commercial rebellion was less tragic and more inspiring. To be young, poor, and disenfranchised as the parade of wealth, culture and comforts rolls by endlessly is a certain kind of in-your-face hell. New York has a dirtiness and an assumed injustice, but it keeps the nightmare at bay with culture and a vibrant underground. California makes the best case for a good existential crisis.

All-American idiots: staging Green Day's pink anthem. Photo: Triangle Productions

All-American idiots: staging Green Day’s pink anthem. Photo: Triangle Productions

As a kid in the late ’80s and early ’90s I hung out with the punks. We’d see Jawbreaker in nasty little clubs, stage-dive, research the best way to polish our Doc Martens. For a time I let homeless crusties live in my small studio apartment in downtown Denver. I was a Misfits, Op Ivy fan. Even bands like the Clash were too polished for me. So a few nights ago I went into Triangle Productions’ new staging of American Idiot with apprehension. But the performances were so enthusiastic and fueled that I went home and put Green Day’s album on with a new appreciation for more than a piece of recent music history, and became a fan.


Bringing back the Babes, and other memories

The lore and legend of Storefront Theatre live on in Portland's theatrical genetic pool – and in a new show at Triangle

By virtue (if that’s the right word) of being old and here for a long time, I’ve come to be considered something of an expert on the storied Storefront Theatre, which shut its doors for good in 1991. In truth, the world’s filled with people who know the Storefront story far better than I do, because they helped create it. I saw it only from the outside, as a spectator and a journalist. The real experts – people like Henk Pander, Wendy Westerwelle, Teddy and Alice Deane, Izetta Smith, Polly and John Zagone, Leigh Clarkgranville (now Aza Cody), Victoria Mercer, Wrick Jones, Rosalie Brandon, Sharon Knorr and a revolt of fellow Angry Housewives, Ross Huffman-Kerr, Susan Stelljes, David Chelsea, Marychris Mass, and a host of others – lived it.

Storefront shut down 24 years ago, longer than the 21 years it existed, and still it’s something of a legend in Portland. That’s the way legends work: one brief string of shining moments, and a long afterlife.

"Babes" at Triangle: a little cheese, a little sleaze. Photo: Triangle Productions

“Babes” at Triangle: a little cheese, a little sleaze. Photo: Triangle Productions

Storefront sprang to life in 1970 as a direct response to the Kent State killings that shocked the nation and kicked fresh life into America’s antiwar movement. Through the years it leaped and sometimes lurched from being a theater company that was also an alternative community (or maybe an alternative community that also did theater) through various phases that reflected its shifting people and accelerating times. It was hip and bawdy and visually robust, an experiment in romantic-utopian anarchy that went through a crisis when its founders split off, and gradually became more conventional as new people moved in, old people moved on, and the lure of moving mainstream in the brand-new Portland Center for the Performing Arts proved irresistible. In a weird way, Storefront got swallowed by its own success – which, ironically, also left the former shoestring operation with a mountain of bills.

Triangle Productions’ Storefront Revue: The Babes Are Back, which runs through May 31, brings back some of the theater’s glory days, in a format loosely based on the old Babes on Burnside burlesques that Storefront produced after abandoning its original space on industrial North Russell Street and moving into a former porno movie house just off of West Burnside Street in Old Town. Assembled by Triangle’s Don Horn after a prodigious amount of research, it’s the latest in his series of shows based on historical adventures and adventurers in Portland, from the flashy night-club impresario Gracie Hansen to Native American jazz legend Jim Pepper, figure-skating melodramatist Tonya Harding, and a reworking of Westerwelle’s Sophie Tucker show, Soph: An Evening with the Last of the Red Hot Mamas, which was originally developed and produced at Storefront. Horn has a lasting affection for Portland’s historical demimonde, the subterranean old creatives who spiced up the good gray river city before the young creatives came to town and put a tattoo on it.

David Swadis and Lisamarie Harrison: two tokes over the line. Photo: Triangle Productions

David Swadis, Lisamarie Harrison: two tokes over the line. Photo: Triangle Productions

I never saw a show on Russell Street, where the legend began. Storefront hit the boards in 1970, and I hit town in 1974, and for my first few years in Portland I was otherwise engaged. Besides, co-founders Tom Hill and Anne Gerety didn’t much cotton to the mainstream press: The Babes Are Back includes the infamous (at least, in journalistic circles) tale of Hill threatening to punch my former colleague Ted Mahar in the nose if he ever stepped inside the theater’s door. Mahar once told me he’d also received a pages-long, angry letter from Gerety. It was handwritten, and as she composed she pressed so hard and furiously on the paper that the back of each sheet looked as if it had been embossed. I did, curiously, see Storefront’s original show, its bawdy, largely nude adaptation of Aristophanes’ antiwar satire Lysistrata, a production celebrated and reviled for the large prosthetic decorated penises that the men in the cast waved around. I was living in Bellingham at the time, finishing my studies at Western Washington State College (now WWU), and was part of a small group trying to come up with ways to respond to the Kent State shootings. One of Gerety’s sons, Chris Condon, was there, too, and told the group his mother had started a theater company in Portland that was doing a radical nude Lysistrata, and he was pretty sure he could get her to bring it north. Great, we said, and up they came. The show was a rousing (and, as longtime Portland actor/teacher/director Ed Collier, who happened to be there, too, reminded me, a rather drunken) success: It caught the spirit of the times.

I started following Storefront closely after the company moved to Burnside in 1980. The burlesques were often brilliant: blends of standup, vaudeville, carnival-style burlycue served with a nostalgic wink, topical satire, and terrific songs, mostly written by the talented Teddy Deane, who had come to Portland with the psychedelic folk band Holy Modal Rounders and just stuck around. That’s the format that Horn’s musical at Triangle follows, although not completely: he adds a lot of history, which gives a sense of how the company lived and died but also makes the evening episodic and a bit disjointed. Adding a cabaret-style emcee as a narrator/performer (R. Dee and Huffman-Kerr were naturals in similar roles for Storefront) could help synthesize the history and the show; moving some of the history off the stage and into the program could also tighten things and help the show just be the show. Horn’s cast – led by the sultry earth mama-ish Lisamarie Harrison, whose sass and brass set just the right Storefront tone – sings and performs with verve, and the onstage band, led from the keyboard by John Quesenberry, is a constant and creative presence, underscoring how important Deane was to the success of the original shows.

My memories of Storefront include watching a mouse scamper across the stage during August Wilson’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (that was nothing compared to the mouse Deane recalls falling out of the ceiling and onto his piano keyboard at Russell Street before skittering away), and the legendary designer/director Ric Young, dressed all in black with silver-white hair and beard, lean and swashbuckling like a pirate of Penzance, strolling through downtown with his retinue of the moment, and a lot of serious plays, like Miguel Piñero’s Short Eyes and Steven Berkoff’s Greek and Romulus Linney’s Holy Ghosts and W.B. Yeats’s astounding Cuchulain Cycle and Young’s A Passion for Fresh Flowers and a gobsmacking version of Sam Shepard’s The Unseen Hand directed by Kelly Brooks. Shepard had played drums briefly with the Holy Modal Rounders in New York, and for a while, when he was working out of San Francisco, his shows would open at the Magic Theatre there and head up the coast shortly after to Storefront. The Burnside Street space was a step up from Russell, but it could still be sketchy. One afternoon, after I’d been sitting in on a rehearsal for a show starring the late, great Peter Fornara – it was Billy Bishop Goes to War, as I recall – I walked outside and straight into a brawl on the sidewalk. Two guys were going at it, with a crowd around them, urging them on. Then one pulled out a knife. I ducked back into the theater, grabbed the house telephone (this was before cell phones) and called 911. By the time I got back outside, both the crowd and the man with the knife were gone, and the other guy was lying on the sidewalk, bleeding from a wound in his thigh as the cops pulled up. Storefront came by its grit honestly.

Poster for Storefront's original burlesque. Courtesy Don Horn

Poster for Storefront’s original burlesque. Courtesy Don Horn

A friend who saw Triangle’s The Babes Are Back sent me a note afterwards. It’s good to keep the cultural memory of Storefront alive, she wrote. But “it’s equally true that edgy, humorous, original theater ‘like they did in the old days’ is being created anew right now in other theaters — constantly at Action/Adventure, and frequently enough at Post5 (through Cassandra Boice’s Sound & Fury and clown shows).”

Fair enough. Except for Imago and some puppet or dance companies like Tears of Joy and BodyVox, I can’t think of anyone in town who’s doing the astonishing sort of visual theater that Storefront did under the influence of Young and Pander and others. And the stylish, often topical wit of the burlesques, which were closer in spirit to old Saturday Night Live and new The Daily Show than to standard American stage drama, is tough to find in town today. But that old rebellious Storefront spirit has atomized and spread all over town, mutating to fit the changing times. When Storefront finally gave up the ghost in 1991, I wrote that “in today’s theater there are no young radicals. It’s a dutiful, well-trained, may-I-have-a-job-please? generation.” I was wrong. Through exasperation or dismay or a temporary dip in the quality of shows or – who knows? – just a case of the snits, I failed to notice that it was only the tactics, not the core resolve, that had shifted. From Defunkt to Shaking the Tree to Vertigo to PETE and many others, little Storefronts are all over town now, rethinking theater and American culture in their own, contemporary ways. And in another quarter-century, someone will be carrying the torch for them.

In the meantime, all hail the good old days. In their messy, sprawling, abrasive, pretentious, gorgeous, inventive, utopian, flamboyant way, they really were.


Storefront Revue: The Babes Are Back continues through May 31 at Triangle Productions; ticket information is here. At 7 p.m. on Friday, May 22, a half-hour before curtain, Bob Hicks will lead an audience talk on Storefront and its history.


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Musical biographies relive Pepper, debunk Madoff

Two of this weekend's shows had key themes in common, but couldn't have felt more different.

If you will, a story problem:

Two semi-biographical musical theater pieces open in the same weekend. One commemorates Native American jazz musician Jim Pepper. It’s fueled by a positive attitude and bound for simplicity. The other rebukes Jewish Ponzi-scheme perpetrator Bernie Madoff. What emotions is it fueled by, and what’s it driving at? At what point(s) will the two musicals meet, and at what angle(s) will they diverge?

Still from video by Mustafa Bhagat, Flicker Filmworks

Still from video by Mustafa Bhagat, Flicker Filmworks

A Kaddish for Bernie Madoff , presented by Boom Arts, is Alicia Jo Rabins’ labor of—not exactly love, but let’s say concern and fascination, in response to the infamous Madoff Ponzi scheme. When the former chairman of NASDAQ was busted in 2008 for robbing investors blind since the ’80s, fabricating all of their earnings and never trading a single stock on their behalf, Rabins was close enough to feel the fallout. An artist’s residency had landed the musician and Torah scholar in the heart of New York’s financial district, in a vacant floor of an office building near Madoff’s. The neighborhood was abuzz, and so was the Jewish community. It seemed that Madoff’s actions had, in one way or another, touched everyone she knew.

Rabins began networking through her Jewish community and interviewing acquaintances who’d had direct experience with Madoff: two finance executives who’d foreseen the disaster, an elderly woman who’d lost her savings, a lawyer defending clients who’d overdrawn their false accounts and were now being subjected to “claw backs,” an FBI agent who’d raided Madoff’s headquarters on the 17th floor of the iconic “lipstick building”…

What was it about “not Madoff the criminal, but Madoff the phenomenon” that inspired such misplaced trust from his community? What irresistible promises did he dangle? And what does investors’ acceptance of those false promises teach us about the modern American mindset? Namely: “We’re in a culture where we don’t have to look out for one another…the only way to be truly safe is to make a bunch of money and put it far, far away….We have an unconscious faith that money can protect us from tragedy and old age.”

The scope of Rabins’ research is pretty stunning. With the ideal combination of distance and personal stake in the story, she could just as easily have created an academic lecture on Madoff. But to many, especially in the Jewish faith community, Madoff’s betrayal isn’t merely academic; it’s personal, even spiritual—”the definition of ‘bad for Jews,'” Rabins laughs wryly. To wit, the synagogue closest to Madoff’s Palm Beach, Florida country club reportedly excommunicated him by saying a kaddish, a prayer traditionally reserved for the dead. So, for additional philosophical context, Rabins drew quotes from Biblical and Kabbalistic scripture. She even interviewed a Jewish Buddhist monk.

In Kaddish, Rabins weaves a set of practical and spiritual crises into a rich sensory tableau. She narrates her perception of the Madoff events and re-enacts her interview subjects’ testimony in song. She live-loops melancholy violin riffs and strews torn-up papers on the stage. Behind her, in Zak Margolis’s sparse animations, line graphs veer off course, morph into skyscraper windows, blow away like leaves. Leaves blow through living rooms, too…a false sense of security shattered. “Bring me your empty jars; I will fill them…” sings Rabins, making reference to a Kabbalist tale about creation that involves vessels cracking under the pressure of God’s divinity. Storytelling that could’ve been melodramatic is instead measured, empathetic and elegant. It’s as emotionally haunting as it is intellectually resonant. Like a more natural, less comic Lauren Weedman, Rabins effortlessly shrugs in and out of the characters she’s interviewed. She sits like a man. She postures like a cop. She wrings her hands like a widow.

Her music, too, is strikingly well-suited to the themes. The lines on the graph climb and fall; the violin ascends and descends. Live loops chop data into repetitive segments; the stock figures do the same. Yet amid the staccatos of suspense and the swoons of despair, there’s of course a romance, a humanity. For mourning, the violin is the perfect thing to play.

Ed Edmo and M. Cochise Anderson share folklore before kicking Jim Pepper jams.

Ed Edmo and M. Cochise Anderson share folklore before kicking Jim Pepper jams.

The Jim Pepper Project, not to be confused with the Jim Pepper Native Arts Festival that happens later in the summer, is Triangle Productions’ and artistic director Don Horn’s tribute to a local Native American jazz legend who pioneered jazz/rock/Native folk fusion from the ’60s to the early ’90s. Pepper died at age 52 from lymphoma. Best known for his single Witchi Tai To, a jazz variation of a tribal folk tune, Pepper also toured Europe, released several full albums, and was heavily honored by his tribes, the Kaw and Creek. His saxophone sits in the National Museum of the American Indian.

“This isn’t a ‘Fosse Fosse Fosse’ sort of show,” Horn explained last week to KBOO’s Dmae Roberts—seeming to mean that, compared to the razzle-dazzle dance numbers of jazz choreographer Bob Fosse, Pepper would be sedate. An understatement; the show’s tribal dances are reserved and regal, almost anti-Fosse. Okay. So this show doesn’t overreach with flash. Is it weighty, then, with substance?

Well…to a point of satisfaction and due deference, well shy of new insight. The link between jazz and native music is mentioned, but not analyzed; a Native American myth is recited, but not decoded; the lingering effects of Native marginalization are touched on, but not delved into or depicted; details about Pepper’s life and feelings are mostly skimmed over, less like in-depth biography than promotional music “bio.”

There’s only one good thing about a good man dying: It affords us a chance to learn more about his life. Quotes can be culled from a diary or personal correspondence. Unpleasant events can be brought to light as learning experiences. Even for an all-ages audience, real-life drama is welcome. Let’s see how a great person became or remained great in the face of resistance.

Taken as a whole, The Jim Pepper Project is more like a tribute concert with commentary than a full-fledged play. Pepper appreciators won’t learn anything they didn’t already know…but they’ll surely welcome the chance to revisit his music and honor his spirit with the help of a sparkling cast of actor/musicians. M. Cochise Anderson practically shoots sunbeams in the role of Pepper. He also plays the Native American wooden flute and the saxophone and sings. Salim Sanchez as Sundiata is a second Mister Charisma, making his dynamic entrance dancing up the aisle to take his place on percussion. Karen Kitchen as Sun Carrier is quietly dignified, singing a lovely Native-language translation of “Amazing Grace.” While not “Fosse,” the show certainly doesn’t lack for flair.

Two biography musicals, each about ethnic community figureheads, each a window into belief systems of a particular culture…couldn’t be more different in vision and tone. As the weekend closes, only Pepper, which continues through May 31, remains on offer; Kaddish has already finished a too-short four-night run at PSU’s Lincoln Hall Studio Theatre, but seems worthy of a remount or two in the future. (The next My Mind Is Like An Open Meadow, perhaps?) If you caught both shows along with ArtsWatch, you may wish you could cross them…to get the deeper read, on the better man.


A. L. Adams also writes the monthly column Art Walkin’  for  The Portland Mercury, and is  former arts editor of Portland Monthly magazine. Read more from Adams: Oregon ArtsWatch | The Portland Mercury
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A ‘Fiesta’ on a rainbow platter

Triangle's solo play 'American Fiesta' sets the table for a conversation about gay marriage

It’s not a Christmas show, but it’s probably got the brightest holiday wrapping in town. “American Fiesta,” Steven Tomlinson’s one-man play at Triangle Productions, is about Fiesta ware, that groovy mix-and-match dinnerware that brightened the Great Depression and several decades after with its rainbow of colors designed to spread decorative sunshine across America’s tables.

Cash and carry: the search for satisfaction. Triangle Productions.

Cash and carry: the search for satisfaction. Triangle Productions.

I don’t say that ironically or the least bit snarkily. I quite like Fiesta, although I’ve never owned a piece. And I like that the company that continues to make Fiesta, the Homer Laughlin China Co. of Newell, West Virginia, created it as a beautiful cheap product for the masses, most of whom, in Fiesta’s beginning years at least, were in desperate need of good cheap products, because cheap was all they could afford.

Of course, Fiesta ware isn’t really what “American Fiesta” is about, although it sort of is. The lead character, the storyteller, one of a large handful of characters major and minor that actor Gary Wayne Cash ably brings to life, collects the stuff in what is both a minor obsession and a major metaphor. How does one collect, and why? What does one value, the having or the getting? Is one captivated or obsessed? Is one adding to a full life, or trying desperately to fill a void? Does one seek perfection, or the nicks and cracks and little stories of age and experience? Does the collector control the collection, or does the collection control the collector?

All pertinent questions in the game of life. But although they surround and bring focus to “American Fiesta,” they’re not ultimately what the play’s about. It is, rather, the story of an approaching-middle-aged man not unlike playwright Tomlinson (who starred in the original production) who is living with his male partner in Austin, Texas, and still emotionally tied to his parents in small-town Oklahoma, and who wants to marry his partner, but, this being 2004 and the United States, will have to go to Canada to do so. And he would love for his parents to go there, too, but considering that they believe his homosexuality to be something of a noxious illness contracted from breathing in the fumes of the bubbling brimstone at the gates of Hell (though they love him, yes they do), that ain’t a-gonna happen.

No, “American Fiesta” is bittersweet: love and marriage will triumph, but not over all obstacles. And if the play teaches anything (although lessons aren’t really what the theater is about), it might be this: if you do what you can and what you must, the rest of the world might learn to accommodate you. American attitudes toward gay marriage are shifting faster than the speed of summer lightning, and in a way this play, set just nine years ago, already feels a little like a period piece. Not quite, of course, because the worm hasn’t entirely turned: in many places, attitudes are ahead of the law; in others, the law will outpace attitudes. And at deeper levels – how parents and children learn to get along; how each of us reconciles our private life with the private lives of other people close to us, and with public attitudes and demands – this story is unlikely to go out of date no matter what happens in the gay marriage debate.

“American Fiesta” clocks in at about an hour and a half, with no intermission, which is a long time for a solo performer to hold the stage. Cash (aided by some subtle but effective lighting effects designed by Jeffrey Woods) manages it very well, juggling tour de force character switches with a calm and intimate and wryly humorous storytelling center. The trick is to make all of the characters, even the gruff and bigoted ones, seem essentially likable, and Cash does that beautifully. There are rough edges. The quick shifts demand some very sharp performance changes, and although Cash almost always makes it crystal clear just who’s speaking in any given moment, on rare occasion things get a little muddy. And playwright Tomlinson has stuffed an awful lot onto the table, very likely too much, like a fruit cake with just one more cup of candied pineapple tossed in for good measure. “American Fiesta” has a political edge – it talks about the intentional pushing of opinions to the extremes, creating an angry nation that would rather battle to an exhausted standstill than collaborate or compromise in any way – and while there’s a lot of truth in that, it sometimes seems to intrude on what’s essentially a personal tale. But then, that’s the point, too: it IS a personal tale, and politics is part of it. If the play rambles, storytelling often tends to ramble: this play doesn’t really care about the Aristotelian unities.

Cash ranges around the little auditorium in The Sanctuary, Triangle’s space on Northeast Sandy Boulevard, sometimes speaking from a back aisle and sometimes from the floor in front of the front row and often while rearranging the Fiesta ware on director and set designer Don Horn’s smartly festooned stage, which by the end of the performance will include a full set of nesting bowls all lined up in colorful order. Wandering into the audience is a risky ploy that often falls flat, but Cash makes it work naturally and almost inevitably, partly because his gentle approach to the story creates a bond of intimacy with the audience almost from the beginning. As he flicks through the voices and attitudes of the collector and such supporting characters as his mother and father and partner and fellow collectors and farm folks selling off their old stuff, he makes us think he’s simply telling the truth of his life, as he sees it.

Horn’s set is dominated by display shelves and a large Fiesta collection donated by longtime Triangle supporter Joan Hayward, whose idea this production was, before she died. The donated Fiesta pieces will be sold during the show’s run as a way to raise money for Triangle, and as Hayward’s final contribution to the company. The Oregonian’s been covering that story like a harvest table at a Martha Stewart photo shoot. (See here, and here, and here.)

There are a million ways an actor could take this script, and no two, I suspect, would ever play it alike. That’s because it’s such a personal play – not, finally, archetypal at all, but intensely individual – and every actor is going to have to put a great deal of himself into it. On Saturday night, Tomlinson was in attendance, having traveled to Portland from Austin, and after the show, he, Cash, and Horn chatted with the visibly and audibly appreciative audience. Horn talked about the long journey to producing the play, and Cash about his nervousness of performing in front of the playwright, and Tomlinson about how he thought Cash had turned “American Fiesta” into his own play, reflecting his own experiences and outlook on life.

All in all, it was a sweet evening. And I don’t mean that ironically or the least bit snarkily, either.


“American Fiesta” continues through December 22. Ticket information is here.


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