Looped

ArtsWatch Weekly: Bring it on, TBA. Bring it on, fall theater.

A look at the week that was in Oregon arts, and a glimpse ahead at the week that's going to be.

The greatest moment in my on-and-off love affair with the TBA festival came in the rising moonlight of Jamison Square on the second anniversary of the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The performers were the great, New York-based Japanese dancers Eiko + Koma, whose slow, deliberate, breath-stoppingly beautiful butoh-inspired movement simply tore a hole in the sky. Their piece, danced in and around the water on that evening in 2003 and suffused with light, was called Offering, and it was exactly that: a sad, deep, hopeful blessing. “It strikes me, on this anniversary of death, that the world’s war-makers would detest this dance, which is about deep truths that can’t be glossed or managed,” I wrote at the time. “It is the holy and profane, inseparable, wrapped into one.”

This year’s festival, TBA:15, kicks off on Thursday, and runs pretty much nonstop through September 20, with a handful of exhibitions carrying through to October 11. There’s always the chance that something might rise out of it to such heights. A good deal probably won’t come close: TBA is about breaking molds and trying things out and taking chances, and when you take chances, the odds of failure rise. Contrarily, only by taking chances do you make the likes of Eiko and Koma’s Offering possible, and that’s what keeps audiences coming back. So, who’ll it be this year? Okwui Okpokwasili? Lars Jan? Tyondai Braxton? Lucy Yim? Radhouane El Meddeb? Dynasty Handbag? Dana Michel? Amy O’Neal? Someone else? The full schedule’s here. Let the games begin.

Italian choreographer and theater director Alessandro Sciarroni gives the U.S. premiere of his performance work FOLK-S, Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? on Friday at TBA:15. Photo: Paolo Porto

Italian choreographer and theater director Alessandro Sciarroni gives the U.S. premiere of his performance work FOLK-S, Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? on Friday at TBA:15. Photo: Paolo Porto

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WELCOME TO ARTSWATCH WEEKLY. We’ve been sending a letter like this every Tuesday for a couple of years now to a select group of email subscribers. We’ll continue to do that, and beginning today we’ll also post it weekly on the ArtsWatch home page. In ArtsWatch Weekly, we take a look at stories we’ve covered in the previous week, give early warning of events coming up, and often head off on little arts rambles that we don’t include anywhere else: the allure of drive-in movies, for instance, or the meanings of the high-end art supermarket, or even the comfort and joy of stopping at the Otis Cafe on the way to the coast. From now on, you can read this report here. Or, you can get it delivered weekly to your email inbox, and get a quick look at all the stories you might have missed (we have links galore) and the events you want to add to your calendar. It’s easy to sign up. Just click here, and leave us your name and e-address.

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THE OLD AND THE NEW OF IT: While you’re waiting for the Portland Art Museum’s Seeing Nature, the big landscape show opening October 10 of paintings from the Paul Allen family collection, lots of smaller exhibits are worth a visit now. The print galleries are showing Now on View, recent acquisitions ranging from Canaletto to Whistler, Mark Tobey, Rita Robillard and others, through December 13. (Left: Dürer‘s 1518 engraving The Virgin and Child Crowned by Two Angels.) And the contemporary master Anish Kapoor has an exhibit of 18 bright prints from the Jordan D. Schnitzer collection, on view through October 25. (Right: Burgundy Red, from the series Shadow IV, 2011, etching, 28 3/16 x 37 5/16 inches. © Anish Kapoor and Paragon | Contemporary Editions Ltd.)

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THEATER, THEATER, WHO’S GOT THE THEATER? A few shows, such as Triangle’s Looped (see below) and Post5’s enormously entertaining Equivocation, have jumped the gun, but Portland’s new theater season begins with a wallop this weekend. Among this week’s new shows:

“Passion Play.” Profile Theatre continues its Sarah Ruhl season with parts 1 and 2 of this time-traveling trio, leading up to a longer run of part 3 September 25-October 24 at Shaking the Tree. Short run; Wednesday through Sunday.

“The Best of Everything.” Bag& Baggage throws dips into the secretarial pool of the wayback machine with this adaptation of a Rona Jaffe best-selling 1958 novel. B&B calls it a cross between Mad Men and Peyton Place. Opens Thursday; through September 27.

“One Man, Two Guvnors.” Clackamas Rep grabs the local premiere of Richard Bean’s enormously popular, very free adaptation of Carlo Goldoni’s 18th century physical farce The Servant of Two Masters. Opens Friday, through October 4.

“Waiting for Godot.” Northwest Classical Theatre Collaborative brings a promising lineup to Beckett’s classic cross of spiritual angst and baggy-pants comedy: Pat Patton directs Don Alder as Estragon and Grant Byington as Vladimir, with Todd Hermanson, Steve Vanderzee, and Eric Lyness. Opens Friday; through October 11.

“Anything Goes.” Why, yes, we do believe the glorious music and lyrics are by the inimitable Cole Porter. Lakewood Theatre’s revival uses the Lindsay/Crouse updated book and features Amy Jo Halladay as Reno Sweeney,Brian Demar Jones as Billy Crocker, and Malia Davis as Hope Harcourt, with reliable support from the likes of Shawn Rogers and Darius Pierce. Anchors aweigh. Opens Friday; through October 18.

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Pure as the driven slush: Margie Boulé’s Tallulah

"Looped," a look at the stage and screen diva's still-glittery fading years, kicks off Triangle's "Year for Women"

By CHRISTA MORLETTI McINTYRE

It’s 1965. Herman Miller has designed every chair in America, Ma Bell rotary dial phones come in colors to accent each room of your home, and the three-martini work meeting is standard. We’re at the end of an era: pillbox hats and Brylcreem hair styles are soon to be replaced by mop-topped British invaders and the sound of Bell helicopters in Vietnam on the living-room television screen.

We’re in Los Angeles, where the major studios are struggling with prima donna actors, bankruptcy, and the rising ticket sales from B movies produced by smaller companies. There’s been a gaffe in a film recording, and Tallulah Bankhead has been called back into the studio to record an overdub of one line so editing on her latest movie, Die! Die! My Darling!, can be completed.

Boulé at home on the staircase. Photo: Triangle Productions

Boulé at home on the staircase. Photo: Triangle Productions

Ten years ago the recording of this session was unearthed, and playwright Matthew Lombardo took the premise and made a play called Looped, which opened Thursday night at Triangle Productions, with Margie Boulé delivering a glamorous and overflowing performance as the powerhouse diva Tallulah. Bankhead was one of the first American show-biz celebrities to really bank on celebrity. She never bothered to remember first names, so she took up the habit of calling everyone “Dahling.” She was the youngest member of the fabled Algonquin Roundtable, moving strategically to the hotel to make a closer “in” with the literati and makers of the day: she sharpened and refined her wit under Dorothy Parker.

Onstage in Triangle’s Looped, the sound engineer, Steve (James Sharinghousen) and the producer, Danny Miller (David Sargent) await the perpetually late Tallulah. Boulé enters with a bam in a satin purple cocktail dress highlighted by a crystal brooch. As she descends the stairs in her furs and sunglasses, we almost see a famous Bankhead drunk-tumble. It’s hard to act a drunk: it means being very sober, on-point, and having lots of iced tea in a decanter. Boulé gives us Tallulah: the glamour, the calculated and fractured physical movements of an alcoholic, the long drawn face of a nicotine addict, the overconfidence of someone who has spent her life alone, the sexiness of a woman who knows what she wants, and the rapier wit for which Tallulah was famous. In an almost perfect sense, Boulé was meant for this role: for years she provided the Walter Winchellese to The Oregonian. She was beloved for her columns that covered the serious, eccentric, and everyday life of Portland. More than any journalist in town, she had a constant repartee with her readers. On the side, she more than moonlighted with acting: she’s been in more than 100 productions and that deep experience shows.

While women in pants, wearing makeup, having a profession, and keeping an apartment of their own was seen as scandalous in the 1920s, Bankhead kicked it up a notch or 20. “I’m a lesbian. What do you do?” she introduced herself. Much like celebrities of our day, she never had an addiction problem, because she could afford it. She reportedly smoked more than 150 Craven A cork-tipped cigarettes a day, could polish off a bottle of bourbon in half an hour, unless the weather was sweltering and she held it to her chest for a few seconds. Then there was that little penchant for codeine and cocaine: “My father warned me about men and booze, but he never mentioned a word about women and cocaine.”

die_die_darling_movieThe beautiful, morose, aristocratic Southerner made her name on the stage in England, and descended upon Hollywood to sleep with Gary Cooper. She was the rare woman actress who wasn’t afraid of being directed by Alfred Hitchcock ( in an adaptation of Steinbeck’s Lifeboat), and was a close friend of Tennessee Williams.

But back to that recording studio in 1965. For all that Bankhead had done – become an international star of the stage and screen, gossip-column headliner, libertine, and outspoken liberal Democrat Dixiecrat – it took her 8 hours to record that single line of dialogue. Tallulah had a deep voice, like Lauren Bacall, with an affected Southern accent. And like Judy Garland, she has her place in the pantheon of gay heroes, women and men. Her acerbic wit, noted and adapted by other semi-outed actors such as Paul Lynde, has become part of a legacy. There have been six plays devoted to the icon of Tallulah Bankhead, and even one comedic drag duo, the Dueling Bankheads. In Looped, Lombardo took the opportunity of an eight-hour overdub odyssey to create a chance for the real Tallulah to come forward, with some respite from a fan who takes a moment in time to speak to his hero.

Bankhead did the sort of things that several fading stars of the Hollywood system did: starred in live-broadcast television plays, had a failed variety show, did cameos on pop-culture television, and made horror films. Die! Die! My Darling! was from the British Hammer Films, a company that thrived on excessive amounts of psychological and physical gore, to the point of being campy to avoid censorship. It’s in this moment that we catch a glimpse into Triangle’s Looped: where other productions have concentrated on the Sunset Boulevard quality of the play, we get to see dialogue, acting, circumstance that has dimension and experience, and does what the stage does best: create the human experience.

Lombardo’s play weaves actual Bankhead sarcastic quotes into the dialogue, and Boulé delivers the script with a natural ease. Sargent plays the straight man well: his over-ironed posture, as if he left the hanger in his grey suit when he put it on, takes her punches with grace. He’s also a man of the era, showing little emotion until he’s pushed to the edge. Triangle’s Looped deftly overlaps stock theater characters from history such as Falstaff (Bankhead) and Pierrot the Fool (Miller) by overlapping them with their mid-century real life counterparts.

With a tour-de-force like Tallulah, supporting actors have to be the rice or mashed potatoes to the main course. Their acting is all the more important as scaffolding to hold the invisible joints of the play together, and Donald Horn’s skill as a director can be seen in this intricate performance. As Tallulah was once quoted: “Nobody can be exactly like me. Sometimes even I have trouble doing it.”

The first act will have you laughing at Bankhead’s outrageous and true proclivities and quips: “I’ll be the first to say I’m bisexual: Buy me something, I’ll be sexual.” I was worried that 90 minutes of listening to a deep Southern gravelly-voiced “dahling” might be hard to handle. But, the ease with which Boulé and Sargent work together, it wasn’t a problem in the slightest: the rest of the audience and I came to love our antihero in no time. In Act II, the sarcasm and bitterness give way to their origin, the painful truth. One of which many of us can identify: “Touching a woman’s purse is like touching her vagina.” The play’s highlight comes when Tallulah is reminiscing over her failed performance as Blanche DuBois in her friend Tenny’s A Streetcar Named Desire. Boulé moves flawlessly from Bankhead to DuBois, from DuBois to Bankhead, and back again.

This is Triangle Productions’ 26th season, with a lineup the company has dubbed “The Year for Women.” It’s start off with a bang. We look forward to the rest of the season (coming up next is The Book of Merman, with Amy Jo Halliday as the brassy Miss Ethel), and seeing Boulé on the stage more.

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Looped continues at Triangle through September 26. Ticket and schedule details are here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
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