News & Notes: Turner shakes things up; weekend dance & theater

Dance at Conduit, Northwest Dance Project, and Polaris; a short double feature at Imago; 'Invasion! returns

When Grant Turner accepted his Special Achievement Award at the Drammy ceremonies Monday night, he advised the theater crowd to keep its ears tuned for an announcement “soon” about his future.

It didn’t take long.



On Tuesday morning, Portland Shakespeare Project announced that Turner will join the company as co-artistic director with co-founder Michael Mendelson. Turner founded Northwest Classical Theatre Company in 1998, and is resigning from that post because he’s moving to LaGrande in eastern Oregon, where his wife has taken a job, and Northwest Classical needs a full-time artistic leader in Portland. But he wanted to continue to do projects in Portland, and the Shakespeare Project, which Mendelson founded with Karen Rathje in 2011 as a summer program in the Artists Rep complex, seems a good fit.

Mendelson, who is also a core company member at Artists Rep, continues to be one of the busiest actors in town. And he credits Turner with some of the inspiration for founding his own company. “His inviting me to play Shylock in 2009 was a re-awakening of my passion for classic work and I have Grant to thank for that,” Mendelson said in a statement. “We have like minds in our faith in the words and the power of the text, and our different approaches to the material complement one another beautifully.”

Turner will help Northwest Classical make its transition to new leadership through the end of this year.


Which came first, the dancer or the choreographer? Friday through Sunday, Conduit Dance will host Co/Mission, an intriguing program of dance that flips the tables on the ordinary way of doing things. Four soloists will present a new work each – and each soloist chose a choreographer to set the piece on her, rather than the usual other way around. The show is produced by dancers Suzanne Chi and Jamuna Chiarini (a contributing writer to ArtsWatch), who’ll be joined by dancers Jen Hackworth and Rachel Slater. Choreographers taking up the challenge include veteran contemporary dance makers Linda Austin and Linda K. Johnson, plus Lindsey Matheis and Franco Nieto, performing mainstays at Northwest Dance Project. Will the flip-flopped nature of the dancer/choreographer relationships make a difference? Let’s find out.


Matheis and Nieto, meanwhile, will be busy performing in the final weekend of Northwest Dance Project’s appealing and very strong season-ending program, Summer Splendors, at the company’s Mississippi District studios. If all goes as planned, it’ll be the company’s last program in that space before a projected move to a much bigger home on the close-in East Side. Final performances are Wednesday through Sunday; Saturday night’s show is sold out. I reviewed the program after last weekend’s opening.


"Homegrown" at Polaris. Photo: Troy Butcher

“Homegrown” at Polaris. Photo: Troy Butcher

Also finishing its two-weekend run will be Polaris Dance Theatre’s choreographers’ showcase, Homegrown. Artistic director Robert Guitron wanted to emphasize the work of local artists, so he charged each of his choreographers – himself, Gerard Regot, former Oregon Ballet Theatre star and interim artistic director Anne Mueller, and company dancers Kiera Brinkley, Briley Neugebauer, M’Liss Stephenson, and Blake Seidel – with finding a Portland musician or sound designer to create work for his or her new dance. In some cases, the search stopped close to home. Guitron wrote his own music, an easygoing, danceable piece called Moot. Regot wrote music for his own piece, and also for Brinkley’s nervous, edgy Post-Op, a down-in-the-trenches dance punctuated with hospital beeps. The most interesting soundtrack on the program may well be playwright Claire Willet’s memoir-like taped monologue One of Everything, for Neugebauer’s dance of the same name. Choreography and story are about growing up in a family of four siblings, and the attendant pleasures and pains of wherever you happen to land in the chronology. It made me think of Sibling Revelry, the sweet but pointed cabaret act of the singing sisters Liz Callaway and Ann Hampton Callaway: all things equal, much better to have a sister than not.

The level of dancing at Polaris is less sophisticated than what you’ll find at the likes of BodyVox, Oregon Ballet Theatre, or Northwest Dance Project. But the company’s developed a true sense of community (in addition to a lot of work: Guitron says it’s introduced 304 new works, including pieces by 37 guest choreographers) and ways to connect with its audiences that other companies might emulate. Part of it is Guitron’s low-key, genuine friendliness in his brief talks with the audience. Another is the company’s simple acceptance, with utterly no sensationalizing, of all sorts of people as dancers. I first saw the terrific and wheelchair-using Yulia Arekelyan and Erik Ferguson of Wobbly Dance at a Polaris show. Current Polaris dancer Brinkley is a quadruple amputee, and she can be an electrifying performer. Another plus: Homegrown demystifies the dance process and pulls audience members into the company fold highly effectively by screening short video interviews (by Mike Dawson/Soulplay) with each choreographer before her or his dance takes the stage. It’s a humanizing, stress-relieving technique: audience members get to know a little bit about the dance makers and the dances, and it helps them relax and enjoy what follows.

Homegrown finishes its run with performances Friday through Sunday, June 13-15. Ticket and schedule information here.


Carol Triffle and Mark Mullaney in "Pimento" at Imago. Photo: Jerry Mouawad

Carol Triffle and Mark Mullaney in “Pimento” at Imago. Photo: Jerry Mouawad

What are Jerry Mouawad and Imago Theatre up to these days? Fresh off of Allen Nause’s best-actor win at the Drammys for his Mouawad-directed performance in Harold Pinter’s The Caretaker, Imago’s unveiling a very short run of an intriguing-looking double feature: Thornton Wilder’s rarely performed one-act metaphysical comedy Pullman Car Hiawatha; and Mouawad’s own Pimento, which features, in his words, “three clowns in innocent yet ‘accidentally’ lewd encounters.” We can only imagine – or catch the show, which runs Thursday through Sunday, June 12-15. One way or another, Mouawad’s experiments tend to be highly interesting. Ticket and schedule information here.


One of last year’s most audacious shows, Jonas Hassen Khemiri’s satiric political comedy Invasion!, reopens Wednesday night right where it left off, onstage at Miracle Theatre. Director Antonio Sonera and his original cast – Gilberto Del Campo, Chantal DeGroat, John San Nicolas, and Nicole Accuardi – are back in the saddle, rocking the horse of expectation until it darned near tips over. Invasion! was the debut show of Badass Theatre Company, and as word of mouth grew it became a hit. A.L. Adams reviewed last year’s production for ArtsWatch, declaring, “I went from wanting to punch the actors, to wanting to hug them.” That’s quite an arc. The run continues through June 27. Ticket and schedule information here.

Del Camp, DeGroat, San Nicolas, Accuardi in "Inasion!" last year. Russell J Young Photography

Del Campo, DeGroat, San Nicolas, Accuardi in “Invasion!” last year. Russell J Young Photography




Theater notes: mi casa es su casa, and other news

Jewish Theatre moves into Milagro, Badass is Goodass, the boys still matter, CoHo goes Irish

Invasion of the brain snatchers: Badass at Milagro

Invasion of the brain snatchers: Badass at Milagro


United we stand. Divided, maybe the curtain falls.

In the wake of February’s announcement of the shutting-down of Southeast Belmont’s Theater! Theatre! building to make room for a tea warehouse, Portland theater companies have been doing more shuffling than a nervous rookie at a Texas Hold ’Em tournament. The city’s East Side has several other theater spaces, some with long histories and reputations for exciting, unpredictable theater. But in many ways Theater! Theatre! was the heart of the East Side scene, and its loss was greeted with weeping and gnashing of teeth.

A few months later, the loss of the little theater center is still keenly felt. But the sudden theater real-estate squeeze has led to an interesting, and oddly promising, result: companies are starting to shack up together.

Profile Theatre quickly found a home on the West Side, where it’ll be in residence in the Artists Repertory Theatre complex. Theatre Vertigo, the other major tenant at Th! Th!, downsized to the shoebox-sized Shoebox Theatre, whose cozy digs it’ll share with the resident Northwest Classical Theatre Company. And as A.L. Adams reported here, Post5 Theatre and Action/Adventure are doing the sleepover thing, and Tears of Joy has announced it’ll be leaving the Portland Center for the Performing Arts and moving into the Imago building in close-in Southeast, thus bringing under one roof two companies that have made their international reputations on puppetry and physical theater.

Latest company to join the real-estate shuffle is the small but adventurous Jewish Theatre Collaborative, another group cast adrift by the Theater! Theatre! shutdown.  JTC has announced it’ll be taking up residence at El Centro Milagro on inner Southeast Stark, home of the Hispanic-centered Miracle Theatre Group. The matchup seems like a good one: Milagro’s Jose Gonzales has been a mentor to JTC’s artistic director, Sasha Reich, who’s also directed mainstage shows at Milagro. And Milagro already has an open-door policy for short-term users, taking the “centro” part of its name seriously. JTC is planning a world-premiere adaptation for next year of Meir Shalev’s novel “A Pigeon and a Boy.”

Eventually it would be a good thing for the East Side to develop a new multiple-stage theater center, maybe even more technically sophisticated, to replace Theater! Theatre! In the meantime, the recent reshuffling is a good reminder that a lot of performance spaces already exist. And spaces should be used: down time is wasted time and wasted money. Audiences have been used to following specific companies and going where they perform. Now maybe they’ll start thinking about going to specific performance halls and seeing who happens to be there on a given night. In a tight economy, it’s not a bad plan.



 Speaking of Milagro, another new company – Badass Theatre, an artist-driven group led by director Antonio Sonera, who has a long history with Milagro – has opened its first show, and it’s a doozy. Jonas Hassen Khemeri’s “Invasion!” is a structurally audacious, politically provocative comedy-drama that tumbles together like a Cubist jigsaw puzzle and packs an emotional wallop even though its story’s as scrambled as the breakfast special at a blue-collar diner. A.L. Adams wrote enthusiastically about the opening here, not mixing her metaphors anywhere near as egregiously as I just did. And the show’s being performed – of course – at Milagro.

The good news is that “Invasion!” is a gutsy play in a fine production that’s a terrific kickoff for the new company. The bad news is that most shows have had lots of empty seats. That’s too bad, because Badass is committed, among other things, to presenting affordable theater, with a promise that no one will ever pay more than $20 for a ticket, and a vow to get people in the doors even if they have no money at all.

My advice: Go see it before it disappears. It runs Thursdays-Sundays through June 29. A four-hander with enough scene and character changes to satisfy a “Greater Tuna” junkie, it shoots straight to the heart of our contemporary fears of the Other, notably others who happen to be Muslim, but the points are broad enough to haul in any number of other Others, too. And actor John San Nicolas absolutely nails an incredible seven-minute culminating monologue that may not be as lengthy or jaw-dropping as the infamously over-the-top monologue in David Hirson’s rhymed-couplet comedy “La Bete” but is more incisive and emotionally moving and crucial to the structure of the play. Words, words, words, as the world tumbles down.


The Boys, acting to beat the band. Photo: Holly Andres

The Boys, acting to beat the band. Photo: Holly Andres


About a week ago I went to see Mart Crowley’s 1968 drama “The Boys in the Band,” partly to see how a play that was so potent in its own time would hold up in our very different times. “Boys” is a bitchfest set at a gay birthday party that’s been crashed by a straight guy, an old college roommate of one of the boys. Premiering the year before the Stonewall Riots, it rocked a theater world that was as gay then behind the scenes as it is now but wasn’t used to seeing gay characters or situations portrayed so openly onstage. “B in the B” was very much a play of its moment, and plays of the moment don’t always have long lives.

Yet I found defunkt theatre’s production, directed by Jon Kretzu in “his/hers” tandem with Lillian Hellman’s “The Children’s Hour,” surprisingly contemporary. It’s a period piece, but a period piece with continuing reverberations. People still keep secrets. People are still afraid to be found out, about any number of things. Homosexuality is vastly more open and accepted than it was in 1968, but opposition can still be furious, from politics to pulpits. For gays and non-gays alike, coming to terms with who and what we are is still a difficult process, fraught with peril. So the boys in the band are exactly who they were in 1968, but also empathetic stand-ins for all sorts of people in 2013. The play’s strengths ­– its sharply drawn characters, its honesty, its emotional brutality counterbalanced with tenderness – are still strong. Its weakness – its fever-pitched melodrama – is still a weakness. Like “As Is” and “The Normal Heart” and “Angels in America,” it’s part of a living history, and it was good to see it again.

In keeping with the opportunistic-performance-space theme, “Boys” is being  performed in a private home on East Burnside Street near Music Millennium, to an audience of just 20 a night. The setting approximates the Manhattan-apartment setting of the play, and the crowd is seated in little folding chairs around the perimeter of the living room, in arm’s length of the revelers. Too bad the room isn’t a little bigger, with armchairs. The show has already been extended and continues through Saturday (June 22), but all remaining performances are sold out.


 Meanwhile, in Northwest PDX, where Vertigo DIDN’T relocate, the cozy CoHo Theatre space continues its busy summer schedule. Week Two of the Solo Summer! Festival commences with Tonya Jone Miller’s “Threads” June 20-23, followed by a return of Erin Leddy’s much-praised “My Mind Is Like an Open Meadow” June 27-23. And this coming Monday, June 24, the new Corrib Theatre, which specializes in all things Irish and theatrical, will have another reading of Jimmy Murphy’s comic gabfest “The Hen Night Epiphany.” Gemma Whelan directs a promising cast of Laura Faye Smith, Jamie Rea, Nikki Weaver, Vana O’Brien and Jacklyn Maddux.


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