John Longenbaugh

New voices of ArtsWatch 2017

A dozen writers have joined the ArtsWatch ranks this year. Find out who they are, and what they're bringing to the cultural mixer.

In one important way it’s been a very good year for Oregon ArtsWatch: We’ve added a lot of good writers to our mix, deepening and broadening our coverage of everything from dance to theater to music to visual arts to literary events and more.

ArtsWatch has been able to add the voices of a dozen new contributors 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.

In 2018 we hope to add even more fresh voices and perspectives to our continuing engagement with Oregon’s complex and diversified cultural life.

Meet 2017’s new writers, from A to Z (all right; A to W), and sample their work:

 


 

TJ Acena

A Portland essayist and journalist who studied creative writing at Western Washington University, TJ was selected as a 2017 Rising Leader of Color in arts journalism by Theatre Communications Group. He writes about theater and literary events for ArtsWatch, and also contributes to American Theatre Magazine and The Oregonian in addition to literary journals such as Somnambulist and Pacifica Literary Journal. Web: tjacena.com

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Greg Watanabe with Mao on the wall in “Caught.” Photo: Russell J Young

CAUGHT IN A LIE, OR A TRUTH

Acena reviews the installation and performance Caught at Artists Rep, a play that crosses the line between fact and fiction, fake news and real. “If it feels like there’s something I’m not telling you about Caught, you’re right. Don’t take it at face value: There’s a hidden conceit to the show. But discovering that conceit is what makes Caught compelling.”

 


 

Bobby Bermea

 

A leading actor, director, and producer in Portland and elsewhere, Bobby specializes in deeply reported and insightful profiles of theater and other creative people for ArtsWatch. A three-time Drammy Award winner for his work onstage, he’s also the author of the plays Heart of the City, Mercy, and Rocket Man.

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‘Pericles Wet’: a tale for tough times

Portland Shakespeare Project's premiere of Ellen Margolis's adaptation of "Pericles" takes a rough-and-tumble journey through a perilous world

By JOHN LONGENBAUGH

Shakespeare’s plays spin in and out of social relevance. At times of war and upheaval, the histories and political dramas like Coriolanus and Julius Caesar call to us, while the ritualistic restoration of order in the comedies is best suited to relatively calm times. So what plays are best suited to an age where the sociopolitical reality, not to put too fine a point on it, is a god-awful mess?

Ellen Margolis

I might nominate Pericles for the honor, and in particular an adaptation entitled Pericles Wet by Portland playwright Ellen Margolis. “I think Pericles  might be starting to have its moment,” she says. And though her adaptation began two years ago as a Proscenium Live! project, in our moment of feckless leaders, sexual malfeasance and the “Me, Too,” movement, it’s hard to disagree.

Like our times, the text of the original Pericles is a mess. It was unpublished in the First Folio and only available in a later Quarto edition, and scholars aren’t even sure if the play is Shakespeare’s at all, though the consensus is that somewhere between half and a third of the play is his, with the most likely collaborator an innkeeper and middling playwright named George Wilkins. What’s more, the text is filled with errors, signs of a sloppy printing, and most likely a text re-created from the failing memories of original actors, not an actual script. To create a stageable Pericles directors often cut and reassemble the Quarto text, drawing liberally from a prose version of the same story published by Wilkins after the play’s success.

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A Victorian Christmas: ART’s Sherlock-Scrooge mashup

... oh and robots, so maybe it's a steampunk holiday

Michael Mendelson as Sherlock Holmes/Owen Carey

By EMILY STEVENS

While the concept seems kitschy, Artists Repertory Theatre’s remount of “Sherlock Holmes and The Case of the Christmas Carol” is so filled with Victorian nostalgia and cheer that it’s just crazy enough to work.

The story is predictable enough: Sherlock Holmes has returned to Baker Street after fighting Professor Moriarty to the death and spending several years abroad while all believed him to be dead, too. This bloodshed has shaken him to the core, and he has withdraw from friends, ceased to see clients, ignored his violin, and shut himself up with unsavory experiments— on the whole, he’s utterly disenchanted with society of all kinds.

After nasty fights with his dear compatriot Dr. Watson (Tim Blough) and his caretaker and landlady Mrs. Hudson (Jane Fellows) on Christmas Eve, Holmes is treated to the hauntings of three ghosts (or, rather, two ghosts and a weird furnace robot). You know the drill: After revisiting all the pains and regrets of Christmas past, the tragedies he himself could have prevented in Christmas present and the dooms of Christmas Yet To Come; Holmes is given a new lease on life and a great amount of hope and holiday spirit just in time for Christmas Day.

This mashup is taken up with the best intentions. Playwright John Longenbaugh is an obvious Sherlock fanatic, and he lovingly creates a fully realized character with a tangible past, present and future. His writing style is rich, his wit cutting, and clocking in at just about two hours, there isn’t an extraneous or over-indulgent moment in the script. Associate Director John Kretzu’s direction is clear and effective in his last hurrah at Artists Rep as associate artistic director, and Michael Mendelson plays Holmes’ every crotchety quirk on point. Despite minor lapses in dialect, the cast shines as an ensemble in multiple roles. The sets and costumes are cozy and traditional  and the ghosts are spooky without being cheesy (with the exception of the aforementioned robot).

At times the premise  does feel a little more forced than other renditions of A Christmas Carol (the 1998 film Scrooged is one of my favorites). Are we truly supposed to feel that Holmes’ soul is doomed in the same way as Ebenezer Scrooge’s, “… a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner”? I never quite got there. The deep pit of purgatory doesn’t seem to be looming in the climax of the play, and I wish Kretzu had gone just a little bit darker.

But, if you suspend your disbelief a little, there are some truly fine moments played out onstage. Sherlock isn’t earth shattering, but it touches on the surface of what it means to be human just enough to remind us what this whole yuletide season is all about.

Sherlock Holmes and The Case of the Christmas Carol runs through December 30th. Visit the Artists Repertory Theatre website for more information.

 
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