Hillsboro theater

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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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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The patriot act: ‘Coriolanus’

Using Thomas Sheridan's 1749 adaptation, Bag&Baggage creates an up-to-the-minute political tragedy that is "struck with sorrow," outdoors

As Coriolanus and her soldiers stormed up the steps of the Hillsboro Civic Center with swords at their sides, a group of pedestrians across the street yelled somewhat in jest: “Killers! They have swords!” From the pavement to the confusing current global political theater, Coriolanus, Shakespeare’s most chameleonic of plays, still finds a home. Bag&Baggage uses Thomas Sheridan’s 1749 revision of Coriolanus (Sheridan retitled it Coriolanus, or the Roman Matron) and an all-female cast to suck out the marrow of the drama in our high-stakes and stressful election year.

The stage for this production, which Bag&Baggage is calling the first recorded production of Sheridan’s version in American history, is outdoors, with an almost rooftop vantage on the backside of the civic center, facing the MAX tracks. A 21st century brushed-steel pediment is supported by sleek columns, a forum where pristine glass meets seamlessly with new concrete. Behind the windows are faint corporate printed posters of important civilians; here and there a plastic office machine or grey Formica desk pushes against the many panes doubling the repeated squares. Panels of red and black with sniper-looking holes make up the curtain. Gene Roddenberry would approve the design. The “stage” pans out with more cement and potted-flower arrangements that lead to a vast set of stairs. The action in Coriolanus takes place throughout this space, moving all around the audience. The cast is a moving chessboard, with geometric choreographed marches and moves. It’s as if we in the audience are the Roman “people” who sit and judge where the corruption lies, and with which official.

Lindsay Partain as Virgilia, Arianne Jacques as Valeria, and Maryanne Glazebrook as Volumnia. Casey Campbell Photography

Lindsay Partain as Virgilia, Arianne Jacques as Valeria, and Maryanne Glazebrook as Volumnia. Casey Campbell Photography

Cassie Greer, athletic and tan, carries this Coriolanus with the posture of a masculine corporate predator. Her black hair, tightly pulled back, creates a signature that says whatever lies on the inside is exactly where it will remain. Her Coriolanus has no human weakness on the surface. In the most important scenes of the play, her finished rhetoric reverberates like a cannon blast off the concrete set and echoes over the rooftops. There’s some Napoleon thrown into her approach to the character: an upstart nobility that is on the verge of being drowned by arrogance, but for a while is smart enough to keep it under wraps. She moves like the petit emperor, every minute a pose to justify her authority. The two whips of eyeliner she wears frame her eyes, not in a feminine way, but more like minimal warpaint and an ornament for seduction.

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