Isaac Lamb

ArtsWatch’s hit parade 2017

Readers' choice: From a musical fracas to rising stars to a book paradise, a look back on our most read and shared stories of the year

Here at ArtsWatch, it’s flashback time. It’s been a wild year, and the 15 stories that rose to the top level of our most-read list in 2017 aren’t the half of it, by a long shot: In this calendar year alone we’ve published more than 500 stories.

Those stories exist because of support from you and people like you. Oregon ArtsWatch is a nonprofit cultural journalism organization, and your gifts help pay for the stories we produce. It’s easy to become a member and make a donation.

Here, back for another look, is an all-star squad of stories that clicked big with our readers in the past 12 months:

 


 

Matthew Halls conducted Brahms’s ‘A German Requiem’ at the 2016 Oregon Bach Festival. Photo: Josh Green.

The Shrinking Oregon Bach Festival

In June Tom Manoff, for many years the classical music critic for National Public Radio’s All Things Considered, looked at the severe drop in attendance and cutbacks in programming at the premiere Eugene music festival. He summarized: “Thinking ahead, I ask: If this year’s schedule portends the future, can OBF retain its world-class level? My answer is no.” His essay, which got more hits than any other ArtsWatch story in 2017, got under a lot of people’s skin. But it was prescient, leading to …

Bach Fest: The $90,000 solution. This followup that had the year’s second-highest number of clicks: Bob Hicks’s look at the mess behind the surprise firing of Matthew Halls as the festival’s artistic leader and the University of Oregon’s secretive response to all questions about it.

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Brilliant? Let us list the ways

The one-man show "Every Brilliant Thing" begins with an amiable Isaac Lamb and builds its odd-duck case one good thing at a time

Let the record stipulate that the reviewer is not a fan of audience-participation theater.

Let the record stipulate that Every Brilliant Thing, the one-man show that opened Friday evening in the downstairs Ellyn Bye Studio at Portland Center Stage at The Armory, is, is fact, an audience-participation play.

Let the record further stipulate that, notwithstanding his biases, the reviewer found himself to be absolutely charmed, and sometimes moved, and often given to outbursts of immoderate laughter. Let the record observe that the reviewer stands corrected, at least this once.

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Isaac Lamb works the crowd. Photo: Patrick Weishampel/blankeye.tv

Every Brilliant Thing – performed with intense likability (if that’s a possible thing) by Isaac Lamb, with the smart and nimble collaboration of director Rose Riordan and some on-the-nose sound design by Casi Pacilio – is an odd duck of a play, but then, sometimes the odd ducks are the interesting ones. Written by Duncan Macmillan and original performer Jonny Donahoe, it debuted in 2013 at the Ludlow Fringe Festival in Shropshire before crossing the Atlantic to New York and beyond. It bears a striking affinity to the sort of theater known as standup comedy, which thrives, among other things, on improvisational give-and-take with the audience. Lamb achieves complicity not by bristling aggressively at the audience, as standups often do, but by sweet-talking them, in gee-shucks conspiratorial tones, into helping him out. And help him out they do, even the ones who feel just a little self-conscious about being suckered in.

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DramaWatch Weekly: Bedsheets and Bongos

Start clicking those links: It's time to play The YouTube Theater Research Game

You play, I play, we all on-the-sly play …The YouTube Theater Research Game!

A.L. Adams

Admit it, Kids: When you see that a show is starring So-and-So, or that it’s from Such-and-Such company, you probably can’t slap those names in a search window fast enough. What comes up may or may not be relevant to their latest work. It may or may not be what their PR people would prefer to show you. But it comes up in a flash, and it at least answers a few who-and-whats, and soon you’re making a slightly more informed showgoing decision.

Shall we?

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Rose City Shakespeare actors append “Lysistrata” in rehearsal. Photo: Jeremy Gardels

The Rose City Shakespeare Company’s current offering at Alberta Rose promises “burlesque, aerial dance and giant paper maché dongs,” but all they brought to this rehearsal video were some bedsheets and bongos. Is Lysistrata holding out on us? Ah. Right. I see what they did there.

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I thought maybe serial theater had died off with Action/Adventure…but no [cue Frankenstein organ music]…IT’S ALIIIIVE! In this video, it sounds like Theatre Vertigo is reanimating the form for its October offering, Joel Patrick Durham’s Nesting: Vacancy. Three things I like about this: 1) Joel Patrick Durham’s been acting-about-town and seems to have a steady hand. 2) Watching several episodes of a play is the perfect TV/theater hybrid. 3) The cast has some strong players and seems gung-ho. One caution: Vertigo does not mess around when they cry “horror.” They’ve mounted some horror there before (in their tiny Shoebox Theatre space) that legit made me want to kill or die. Hopefully in this series, the horror will be cut with the hint of comedy that Durham’s general demeanor suggests.

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Triangle’s “Pageant” crowd at Darcelle XV Showplace

Triangle Productions, in cooperation with Darcelle XV, has uploaded a glittering preview video of their current drag-stravagant audience-interactive musical, Pageant. Going a little off-script, here’s a profile of one of the show’s most charismatic queens, Poison Waters.

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Finally, let’s misbehave and watch a video that PR people would deem flagrantly off-topic, but I’d say permanently pertains to the career of Portland actor Isaac Lamb. Lamb stars in Every Brilliant Thing, which opens at The Armory this Friday, but never mind that. He also perma-stars on the internet as a trailblazer of The Lip Sync Performance Proposal. Enjoy.

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Oh! And ICYMI:

Barry Johnson caught Imago’s take on Raymond Carver, Human Noise, which runs one more weekend, and Brett Campbell got the last word on Bag&Baggage’s Spinning Into Butter, which just closed.

‘Ordo Virtutum’ review: sister act 1

In Mulieribus's mix of theater, music and explanation at Chamber Music Northwest proved too much of a good thing

Last month, I went to a concert, and a college lecture broke out. In Mulieribus’s Chamber Music Northwest performance of music by Hildegard of Bingen and other composers at Reed College’s Kaul Auditorium contained some glorious singing, intermittently compelling theater, and informative talk. Unfortunately, all those tasty ingredients made for an indigestible stew. Here’s how it went down. (All timings approximate.)

In Mulieribus sang music by Hildegard of Bingen and other composers at Chamber Music Northwest. Photo: Tom Emerson.

7:30 pm. Concert scheduled to start.

7:40 pm. CMNW executive director Peter Bilotta gives his usual affable introduction, and introduces In Mulieribus and IM board member and Portland conductor and music prof Scott Tuomi. Instead of singing, In Mulieribus members take their seats in chairs on stage while Tuomi reads from prepared text a biography of Hildegard of Bingen, and information about an Italian Renaissance composer, one Giaocomo Fogliano.

7:50 pm. In Mulieribus at last rises and sings a three-minute piece by Fogliano chosen in part because it uses the words “In Mulieribus” (“among women”). The singers return to their seats.

7:53 pm. Tuomi talks — or rather reads — more about Hildegard and about the music of the next composer, Seattle choral director Karen Thomas.

7:59 pm. In Mulieribus rises and sings Thomas’s Hildegard-inspired O virtus sapientiae. Its spiraling melodies provided recognizable references to Hildegard’s own music, while its slightly astringent harmonies and irregular rhythms placed it firmly in the present.

They sit.

8:03 pm. Tuomi expatiates on the featured composer, Hildegard.

8:08 pm. In Mulieribus sings Hildegard’s Caritas abundant. They return to their chairs.

8:12 pm. Tuomi talks about the next composer on the program, Britain’s Tarik O’Regan, one of today’s most important and engaging young choral composers.

8:16 pm. In Mulieribus sings O’Regan’s Columba aspexit, which like Thomas’s work sets Hildegard’s words. They exit.

8:20 pm. Tuomi talks about the main course, Hildegard’s morality play Ordo Virtutum.

8:30 pm. Actors Isaac Lamb, Chantal DeGroat, Dana Green, Maureen Porter and Alex Ramirez de Cruz give a staged reading, in English, of Ordo Virtutum.

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A band of ghoulish outsiders

Broadway Rose raises The Addams Family from the dead in a rousing romp of a musical comedy

America has always been a fertile ground for outsiders. The consequences of not fitting might be dangerous or deadly, but our art world has long opened its arms to carry malcontents like cream at the top. Eventually what was once strange, awkward, or foreign becomes cherished. “An institution” is a phrase that’s sometimes thrown about. We also have a little place in  our hearts for the dark side, the shadowy world where a headless horseman terrorizes young New England, or a beating heart raises guilt through the floorboards.

And who, or what, is more of an outsider/insider American clan than The Addams Family, who are kicking up their musical-comedy heels in a rousing new production at Broadway Rose?

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Lisamarie Harrison as Morticia, with ensemble in Broadway Rose’s “The Addams Family.” Photo: Sam Ortega

It’s been a long and ghoulish and very American road for the Addamses from the pen of cartoonist Charles Addams to the musical-theater stage. When Addams first drew his family from an inkwell, America was in the throes of the Great Depression. A freelancer, he made his reputation with the New Yorker. Encouraged as a child by his father to keep at the pen, Addams was inspired by the Victorian homes of his New Jersey neighborhood, and drew skulls and crossbones for his high school newspaper. In one of his first jobs out of college, he doctored crime-scene photos for a publication. His professional career was made with the creation of his crazy, kooky family, cementing his paychecks and reputation for half a century.

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‘The Flick’ whirs to life

At Third Rail, Annie Baker's long and entertaining drama set in a shabby movie house ripples in the moments of bright light

Avery is something of a cinema savant. Not only is he thoroughly conversant with mainstream movies, always remembering when they were released and which stars shared the screen, but he’s absorbed Truffaut, Bergman and the like. At just 20 years old, he’s watched “the entire Criterion Collection” — nearly 900 mostly arcane art-house titles on DVD. And he’s memorized great chunks of Pulp Fiction, which he argues is the last truly great American film.

Sam, his co-worker, just calls him a snob. Sam’s tastes are — depending on how you see such things — a bit more populist or a bit less discerning. He clearly loves movies too, and relishes talking about them with Avery; he just doesn’t load them with the kind of existential weight and true-believer value judgments that Avery does.

Jonathan Thompson as Avery and Rebecca Ridenour as Rose: flicker and fade. Photo: Owen Carey

And then there’s Rose. She has her favorites, but movies in general just don’t mean much to her anymore, not since she’s been in her current job. Rose and Avery and Sam work at The Flick, a run-down old single-screen movie house.

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3 hijackers, 25 strangers, no NPCs

CoHo and playwright Tommy Smith's 's D.B. Cooper play "db" delivers the goods

Do you…

  • … have a nostalgic or forensic fascination with D.B. Cooper, an airplane hijacker and bank robber who parachuted from a Portland-based flight to freedom in 1971 and was never found?
  • … think that Mad Men would’ve been pretty two-dimensional without Peggy?
  • … grit your teeth through True Detective‘s plot-holes just to enjoy Matthew McConaghey’s caustic existential rants, and do you yearn to hear that dialogue style in a stronger story?
  • … have a thing for eternal enigmas and alternate realities, like Schrodinger’s Cat, the Mandela Affect, et cetera? Having given up on proving which thing is true, can you just appreciate the permanent uncertainty?
  • … sometimes wish your theater seat would rumble and quake while the lights flash, briefly transforming the play you’re seeing into an amusement park ride?

Then db, onstage now at CoHo Theatre, may be just the play for you!

It’s no coincidence that Tommy Smith and Teddy Bergman’s script for db, and CoHo’s premiere staging of it, both work on so many levels. Inspired by a life-long fascination with the D.B. Cooper legend, Smith and Bergman first developed a heavily-researched three-hour staged reading that fleshed out at least 10 different robbery suspects. With some workshopping, Smith whittled the script down to to a taut 75-minute play that proposes just three versions of the elusive Cooper character: a bipolar businessman who acquired the money to lure himself a wife, an out-of-work Vietnam vet with debts, and a transgender aviator who needed the cash for her surgery.

Duffy Epstein and Dana Green. Photo: Owen Carey

Even once the play was in production, with Isaac Lamb directing, they continued to perfect the writing. Their last revision, Smith revealed at Sunday’s talkback, happened just ten days before opening! While such rigor approaches neurosis, the payoff in this case is great. This heist story, which would easily lend itself to a trite, testosterone-drunk action flick  or a series like Unsolved Mysteries, becomes, with deft and diligent handling, a complex yet compelling piece of theater.

But how?

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