Milagro Theatre

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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DramaWatch Weekly: Rumor has it

Day of the Dead, day of the cabaret, day of the All Jane Comedy Festival (plus another episode of YouTubinator)

Is Milagro Theatre downsizing, moving or closing?

A.L. Adams

Nope, says Producing Creative Director Roy Antonio Arauz, but he can see why people are asking. While their annex space, El Zocalo, has been undergoing accessibility upgrades, their boarded-up front windows have been beset by spraypaint and wayward fliers, making them deceptively appear shut-down.

But don’t fret! Portland’s longest-running Latino theater is gearing up as usual for its annual highlight: a Dia de Muertos play that always wraps a new theme around the sacred and sensorially rich traditions of the fall holiday. It opens next week and continues through mid November. ‘Til then, ignore the unfortunate window dressing.

“Exodo,” Milagro Theatre’s 22nd annual Day of the Dead spectacular, opens Oct. 20. Photo: Russell J Young

Here in the ArtsWatch theater department, further rumors abound: that (according to Bobby Bermea) Shaking the Tree’s Samantha Van Der Merwe is a magician, that (via TJ Acena) Artists Rep’s trying to mess with our minds. According to Deann Welker, Lost in Midair is the real deal, and if you ask Bob Hicks, the Portland Civic Theatre Guild has had a lot going on for a long time. Read all about it.

Oh! And even though I missed season 1, I heard Season 2 of Joel Patrick Durham’s horror serial Nesting: Vacancy might be worth looking into. Who was saying that? Oh, right: its actors. Well, maybe they would know. Here at ArtsWatch, Hailey Bachrach is vouching.

Lakewood Theatre’s Cabaret  closes this weekend, looking clean and cheesy in counterpoint to this summer’s Broadway Portland offering, which felt credibly dark and sleazy. (How much realness do you want from strippers and Nazis? It’s negotiable.) One thing fans of this musical ought to stop not knowing, is that downtown Portland has a real-life Kit Kat Club. Mere blocks from the Keller, its existence recently rendered Broadway Portland’s poetic PR pitch “We welcome you to the Kit Kat Club…” downright confusing to high/low arts amphibians like me. Hedging my bets, I attended both events, finding surprising similarities: Each Kit Kat had a glittery, mischievous emcee; each featured winky burlesque and wobbling flesh. In each, the writer was quickly befriended by a sly businessman with a hidden agenda. But at only one of the parallel Kit Kats did I witness dancers doing carnival strongman feats, including The Bed of Nails and The Crushing of One’s Fingers under a Tin Can—and believe it or not, that was on the small stage. All of which is to say: Cabaret the musical closes this weekend at Lakewood, probably sans can-crushing but with plenty of satiny pizazz. Cabaret the concept continues, probably forever.

Now let’s be naughty and play the little game we love, but PR people so often hate: Let’s YouTube search some more performers! In my experience, comedians are the most cool with that anyway, and luckily, this weekend dozens are coming. I’ll race you to the YouTubinator!

First up, searching Amber Ruffin yields a deep trove of video treasure. As a staff writer on Late Night with Seth Meyers she frequently appears in recurring bits like “Amber Says What,” “Amber’s Minute of Fury,” and “Jokes Seth Can’t Tell.” Here she is recapping the 2016 Olympics in a single word, and here she is flipping her wig in defense of a congresswoman.  And just watch the next twenty or so clips that come up. I did.

Well, shoot. If we do this for all 48 acts from All Jane Comedy Festival, we’ll be at it until it’s over. Just go to these shows. They start tonight.

Laura Sams candidly takes one of 48 slots at the All Jane Comedy Festival Oct. 11-15.

 

 

 

 

ArtsWatch Weekly: Great Graham

Revisiting Martha Graham's potent power of the past; a Wanderlust Mother's Day; Michael Curry's "Perséphone" with the Symphony; Brett Campbell's music picks

Martha Graham created her legendary American modern dance company in 1926, and it’s difficult to imagine, more than 90 years later, just how earth-shattering her early works must have seemed. Graham carved legends out of time and space: intense, pristine, pared to the bone. She created a hyper-expressionist, essentially American style of dance, built on the works of Denishawn and other pioneers but reimagined in the movement possibilities and theatrical impulses of her own body.

She collaborated with many of the great composers and visual artists of her time, which was long and artistically fertile: born in 1894, she created her final dance in 1990, the year before she died at age 96. Her bold, emphatic approach to dance can seem overstated to contemporary audiences. Yet it carries the intensity and hyper-expressionism of the great silent movies, and if you just give it a chance, something of the pure rawness of her glory years comes through, as if it were new all over again.

Martha Graham in “Dark Meadow,” 1946. Reproduced with permission of Martha Graham Resources, a division of The Martha Graham Center of Contemporary Dance, www.marthagraham.org. Library of Congress.

No company built by a daringly original dancemaker – not Graham’s, or Balanchine’s, or Alvin Ailey’s, or José Limón’s – can survive on memories of its founder alone, and it can be a tricky business to balance the tradition of what was once radical with the need to remain in the contemporary swim of things. The Graham company, under current artistic director Janet Eilber, mixes things up boldly. When the company performs Wednesday evening in Portland’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall as part of the White Bird dance season the program will include works by a couple of high-profile contemporary dancemakers: the Spanish choreographer Nacho Duato, who now runs the Berlin State Ballet, and the Belgian choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui. But the core of the program will be two of Graham’s own works, 1948’s Diversion of Angels and Dark Meadow Suite, a distillation of an ambitious 1946 work that ran 50 minutes in its original form (the suite is much shorter).

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ArtsWatch Weekly: Play it, Sam

On the 88th day the pianos will play, all over town. Plus: The Japanese Garden reopens, Brett Campbell's music tips, new theater & dance

Wednesday, in case you haven’t been counting, will be the 88th day of 2017.

A piano, as you probably know, has 88 keys.

And that seems like an excellent excuse to throw a big piano party, which is exactly what Portland Piano International is doing with its minimalistically named Piano Day. Portland’s Piano Day, PPI declares, is the first in the United States. The celebration first struck a chord in Germany two years ago when pianist Nils Frahm proclaimed March 29 as Piano Day, and it’s crescendoed rapidly to Japan, Slovenia, Australia, the Netherlands, Israel, Canada, France, and elsewhere.

Dooley Wilson at the keyboard, playing “As Time Goes By” in the 1942 Warner Bros. movie “Casablanca.”

So what’s happening? Piano playing. Lots of it, by lots of pianists (no, not Francis Scott Key or Alicia Keys), in lots of styles, from noon to 10 p.m. in four locations: Portland City Hall downtown, All Classical Portland radio headquarters in the Portland Opera building at the east end of the Tilikum Crossing bridge, Alberta Abbey in Northeast Portland, and TriMet’s Oregon Zoo MAX Station. Listening’s free, but the pianists are also taking donations for PPI and educational programs, and a little payback is a good thing. Play it, Sam.

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ArtsWatch Weekly: let the good times reel

NW Film Center's "Reel Music," plays about D.B. Cooper and Ben Linder and a guy named Fly Guy, atlas art from post-Gutenberg days

“Tradition!” Tevye the milkman barked, and with that emphatic proclamation the song and dance reeled on. The traditions that last the best are the ones that constantly reshape themselves within the structures they’ve set up, and certainly the Northwest Film Center’s Reel Music Festival, which spools into its 34th annual edition on Friday, fits that category. The basic idea is the same as always: pull together a whole bunch of films about music and musicians (documentaries, primarily), but do new ones every year, and let the good times roll. Or reel.

Thelonious Monk with his band in 1959, from “The Jazz Loft According to W. Eugene Smith.” Credit 2016 The Heirs of W. Eugene Smith, FilmBuff

This year’s edition, which runs through February 5, kicks off with a foulmouthed film about the Rolling Stones (Robert Frank’s 1972 Cocksucker Blues) that followed the band on tour after the Altamont debacle, and was so raunchy and revealing about the seedier side of rock that it was shelved, and is only rarely seen. Here’s your chance. You might want to pair it with the more genteel, if that’s the right word, The Rolling Stones Olé Olé Olé!, filmed on last year’s Latin American tour. I like the looks of 1957’s The Jazz Loft According to W. Eugene Smith, filmed by the Life Magazine photographer when he lived and worked in an illegal loft teeming with artists and musicians and house parties and jam sessions in Manhattan’s Flower District during a golden age of jazz; A Poem Is a Naked Person, a cinematic portrait of Leon Russell directed by Maureen Gosling and the great Les Blank that was unreleased for 40 years because Russell, a co-producer, didn’t like it; and Mose Allison: Ever Since I Stole the Blues, Paul Bernays’ portrait of the essence-of-hip pianist and singer who was yet another member of last year’s sizable artists’ march into the final sunset. You, no doubt, will find your own favorites. Check the schedule and put on your toe-tapping shoes. It’s a tradition.

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Doing anything Friday night? How about hanging out on 82nd Avenue?

The East Side strip, which runs north-south for many miles, was once considered a barrier of sorts between the city and the sprawl, and also an economic barrier, with a richer urban population to the west and a poorer, semi-rural population to the east. East County didn’t get in the game very much, and when it did, it was often as a political football. 82nd became neon central, home to everything from used car lots to Southeast Asian restaurants to massage parlors – and, increasingly, a rich stew of ethnic and immigrant cultures.

Signs of the times: Sabina Haque's 82nd Avenue.

Signs of the times: Sabina Haque’s 82nd Avenue.

That’s what makes it interesting to Portland artist Sabina Haque, a very good painter and collagist whose work in recent years has moved also toward installation, film, and cultural and cross-cultural projects, including her provocative series on drone warfare in Pakistan, where she grew up.

Haque, as artist in residence for the Portland Archives & Records Center, has been digging deeply into the area’s long and complicated history, finding a cultural through-line to match the strip of concrete that divides culture from culture and east from west. From 6 to 9 p.m. on Friday she’ll unveil what she’s created in Annexation & Assimilation: East 82nd Ave, a giant exhibition/event in the 8,000-square-foot APANO/JADE multicultural center at 82nd and Southeast Division Street. The free event will include video projections on 20-foot screens, oral histories, shadow theater, poster installations and more – for some, a rousing introduction to a part of Portland they hardly know; to others, a simple statement of the place they live.

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In ‘El Muerto Vagabundo,’ many worlds collide

Milagro's Dia de Muertos play has plenty to offer seasonally, spiritually, and sociopolitically

If you wander into Milagro Theatre’s El Muerto Vagabundo, what will you see? A world premiere of a seasonally themed story about homeless people both living and dead. A split narrative performed in both Spanish and English (with some of the best jokes delivered only in the latter).

You’ll watch The Kid (Diego Delascio), a recently orphaned young Mexican-American boy who hopes to contact his parents by observing Dia de Muertos, and his cynical older sister (Mariel Sierra), a social worker who serves many homeless clients, follow a mysterious (for lack of a better term) hobo clown into an “underworld,” a homeless camp under a bridge that doubles as a gateway between the dead and the living. From there, you’ll be treated to what amounts to a series of monologues from archetypes of the homeless condition, with a smorgasbord of stagecraft, a few surprising plot twists, and a feelgood, spookily sentimental finish.

Themes of celebration and mortality share the stage as two "dead" characters entertain the living. L to R: Geo Alva, Carrie Anne Huneycutt, Carlos Manzano, Patricia Alvítez, Juliet Maya Buri and Robi Arce

Themes of celebration and mortality share abound as two “dead” characters entertain the living. L to R: Geo Alva, Carrie Anne Huneycutt, Carlos Manzano, Patricia Alvítez, Juliet Maya Buri, Robi Arce. Photo: Russell J Young

That experience alone is enough—but it’s not all there is. Those who follow Portland theater will appreciate several more contexts in which this particular play could be viewed.

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