DramaWatch Weekly: on ’til November

Im Portland theater it's a week of the Rooster, The Events, seasonal cosplay, and some houseplants for Hand2Mouth

Has it occurred to you that Halloween is the only time of year when regular people moonlight as actors?

A.L. Adams

And all the more so since character cosplay has engulfed general-category costumes. Instead of “a zombie,” or “a pirate,” more and more people seem to dress as “this zombie” or “that pirate” from some show or movie, leaving them oddly depicting a mix of the character they’re being, the actor who famously plays the character, and themselves. And just like that, your Halloween party spread is transformed into craft services on a Hollywood set, with Captain Johnny-Jack Depp-Sparrow, who is actually Kevin from work, scarfing all of your Doritos. How meta.


DramaWatch Weekly: Out there, the drama is real

From the news to the stage, A.L. Adams' new column gives the lowdown on a week's worth of action on the Portland theater scene

Holy moly, is this week huge! Here we are in the throes of most theaters’ season kickoff with much too much to cover—not to mention TBA. (Just kidding; of course I’ll also mention TBA.)

A.L. Adams

In local season opening news, PHAME’s got a new executive director, Action/Adventure Theater has closed its doors after an epic five-year run, and Readers Theatre Rep just raised their ticket price to a whole $10 (still worth every penny, I’m sure; they’ll read two Arthur Miller plays this weekend).

How about national news? Anything major? Sometimes (actually, constantly) I look at what themes are playing out on Portland stages and think about how much they resonate with real-life events that are actually happening. If I may:



The Drama Is Real: Shows that hit a nerve with current news

In the news: Last Tuesday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a repeal of DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that offers protected status to undocumented persons who’ve lived in the US since their childhood. Meanwhile, onstage: Last weekend, Ingenio Milagro, a Milagro Theatre’s playwright development symposium similar to Portland Center Stage’s JAW festival, presented four scripts including Monica Sanchez’s Los Dreamers, the story of “Dreamer” Scoobi.


In the news: The Oregon Bach Festival is reeling over international backlash after firing their artistic director Matthew Halls in response to an incident one might call “Grit Gate.” The Telegraph reports that Halls was overheard joking with his friend, African-American singer Reginald Mobely, and had made a quip about grits while mimicking a southern accent. Though both Mobely and Halls maintain that the joke was about the South generally rather than a Black stereotype, a white woman who overheard the remark complained to University of Oregon leadership, who summarily relieved Halls of his post. With press outlets in Halls’ native England picking up the story, Grit-Gate seems to have grown into an international incident. Meanwhile, onstage: Hillsboro’s Bag&Baggage opened its season last weekend (in a new space) with Rebecca Gilman’s Spinning into Butter, a drama wherein an African American student at a primarily white college receives hate mail and the school’s administration struggles to react appropriately, arguably making things worse.


In the news: Hillary Clinton has just released what is sure to be a polarizing book, What Happened, asking exactly that of her 2016 presidential campaign and taking belated jabs at her opponents left and right. Meanwhile, onstage: Hillary Clinton, of all people, will visit Portland on December 12. See Portland’5 for details.



Mister Theater: feet off the furniture, kid.

Out There: Shows for explorers

Sweep The Leg: A Karate Kid Musical Parody is happening at Mister Theater, which I didn’t even know was a thing. From the address, it looks like Mister is a neighbor of beloved life-drawing lair Hipbone Studios and belly dance hot spot Studio Datura. (I’m sure it means Mister like “man,” but with this heat persisting into next week and these actors karate-kicking up a sweat, the other kind of “mister” couldn’t miss.) 

Back Fence PDX This storytelling showcase regularly presents a solid roster of raconteurs, and this installment includes “Portland’s Funniest Person 2017” Caitlyn Weierhauser, aptly-named web series star Ben Weber, sketch comedy specialist Andrew Harris, cultural competency consultant Bealleka, and retro glam cult novelist Jennifer Robin.

Under The Influence: All Trumped Up Ernie Liloj must be “tired of winning.” After his original musical Under The Influence earned two Drammies in 2015 (Best Original Score and Best Actor in a Musical) he seems to have asked, “What would really put this over the top?” What puts anything over the top? A dollop of Trump, of course. A cast that includes two alums of Post5’s legendary clown shows, Ithica Tell and Jessica Tidd, should feel right at home at the Funhouse Lounge, a venue complete with a themed “clown room.”



This week at TBA

 Now onward to PICA TBA:17 (Portland Institute for Contemporary Art’s Time-Based Art Festival), whose program I’ve perused and—just as my ArtsWatch colleague Jamuna Chiarini did for dance—I’ve plucked all of the remaining theater works from the schedule and linked them here for your ease. Less easy for me, and I’ll tell you why: this calendar is chockfull of crossover acts, most especially performance artists who infuse their theatrical pieces with varying amounts of original music.

 Are such shows concerts, or are they theater? Yes.

Will all performance artists be required to write their own music from now on? I hope so. Discuss.

 TBA performances this week include several appearances by Saudi artist Sarah Abuabdallah, three Sigourney Weaver Jam Sessions by Manuel Solano, an evening with singer/monologuist Joseph Keckler, the pop song/deadpan storytelling pairing of Half Straddle‘s Ghost Rings, Cvllejerx throwing a Super Tantrum, and the “psychoacoustic” thralls of Sound et Al.

My must-see is longtime Portland music scene fixture Holland Andrews (of Like a Villain, Aan, and Samadams), who, having lately completed an artist residency in Paris, will present collaborative work with Alain Mahé that interprets Dorothée Munyaneza’s interviews of Rawandan rape survivors following the country’s 1994 genocide. Obviously something to scream about, but also worth getting further context from a follow-up conversation; Sunday’s show will be followed by a talkback. For more femme-empowered protest music, check out Retribution, Tanya Tagaq‘s “howling protest” in defense of indigenous and human rights, or party your catharsis out with Demian Dineyazhi‘s Death Dance, a brown/indigenous punk statement that doubles as a “sweaty celebration.”


Whew! That’s all the drama I have for this week. Hand me my mister.



With this column, the sharp-witted and sharp-eyed A.L. Adams begins her weekly look at what’s happening on Portland’s theater stages. Look for DramaWatch Weekly every Tuesday.






Lydia: conflicted, and sensational

From a twisted body and a bittersweet silence, Milagro and playwright Octavio Solis soar into spaces vivid and amazing

In an accident to be explained later, Ceci has lost the following:

Speech. Mobility. Clear eyesight.

Unbeknownst to those around her, she retains:

Compassion, cognition, affection, intimacy, love, trust…and even lust.

That’s the fraught and bittersweet premise of Octavio Solis’s Lydia, the play currently onstage at Milagro that—TL;DR—is amazing.

“Lydia” at Milagro: Maya Malán González is transcendent as Ceci. (Photo © Russell J Young.)



In a device billed as “magical realism,” Ceci flies from and returns to her twisted body, never venturing further than the things she already knows. She relives a moment of rapture before the accident, she perches beside her family members to assess and console them, she throws herself into her loved ones’ arms as she would if, in reality, she still could. I wouldn’t call this “magical realism,” though as directed by Kinan Valdez and played by Maya Malán González, it does cast a powerful spell. I’d say instead that Ceci straddles two parallel worlds: a corporeal and an emotional plane.


ArtsWatch Weekly: Revel without a Claus

Commedia Christmas, O'Connor & Ives, Nutcracker, Imago's new Belle, Milagro's Posada, more "Messiah," Kurosawa Dreams, and more

This year’s dragon, not red as in the picture here from 2014 but a bright scaly green, was sitting in a little storage corner outside Portland Revels’ offices in the Artists Repertory Theatre creative hub one day last week, waiting patiently for assembly. It was in two pieces: a hind portion stretched over a large backpack, with room for levers, and a gangly top, again with movable parts, which when occupied by puppeteer Shuhe Hawkins will stretch giraffe-like perhaps 12 or 15 feet above the stage. It is a lovely creature all in all, and that fabled dragon-slayer St. George really ought to be ashamed.

Taggin’ with the dragon, in the 2014 Revels. Portland Revels photo

It’s Revels time again – this year’s Christmas Revels runs for eight performances Friday through December 21 at St. Mary’s Academy downtown – and for Bruce Hostetler, newly settled in as artistic director after about five years of working with and directing the annual winter solstice show, that means settling into the hundreds of details at hand while he’s also thinking about bigger things. If you don’t know about Revels – which is in its 22nd year in Portland, and began in 1975 in Cambridge, Massachusetts – it’s a grand and genuinely family get-together of singing, dancing, storytelling, mumming, and playing old-time instruments that is rooted in Celtic customs but regularly roams the earth, making connections with other cultures’ solstice traditions. Santa Claus? That’s somebody else’s tale.


¡Felices Fiestas! con Milagro

Milagro Theatre pulls out the stops on Sunday for its 14th annual free holiday celebration

On Sunday, Milagro Theatre will celebrate one of the city’s most congenial holiday gatherings, its 14th annual Posada Milagro, an all-ages immersive experience of Latin American traditions for La Navidad.

Posada Milagro, a community celebration of the season. Milagro Theatre photo

The “Miracle Inn” portrays the journey or Pastorela of Mary and Joseph as they search for shelter and await the birth of baby Jesus. Posada Milagro will include two performances of the Pastorela, at 2 and 4 p.m. Sunday. Papalotl Ballet, Portland’s own multigenerational ballet folklorico de Mexico, will perform its whirling and toe-tapping repertoire of dance, backed by music from Cosecha Mestiza.

After each performance there’ll be a chance to take a swing at a piñata. Latinx Improv will entertain the crowd with their comic storytelling. The afternoon will include hands-on activites, too: adults and children have five handicrafts to choose from, including ornament-making.

Traditional tamales and hot chocolate will be available to buy from Tortillería y Tienda de Leon. Even better, you can bring a donation for the Oregon Food Bank and help support families in our community.

This year’s Posada will feature a photo booth, too. Put on your best or ugliest Christmas sweater to get the picture done right!


Admission to Posada Milagro is free. However, the Pastorela is limited to ticket-holders only. Free tickets will be distributed on a first-come, first served basis at the theater beginning at 1 p.m. on the day of the event. For one day only, this family-friendly event is on Sunday, December 18th from 1 PM to 5 p.m. at El Centro Milagro, 537 S.E. Stark St., Portland.

Golden cage, broken promises

Olga Sanchez's new play at Milagro looks inside the realities of life on the West Coast child sex-trade corridor



In Olga Sanchez’s new play Broken Promises, Adriana is a whip-smart girl whose broken life becomes entangled with the winding sex-trade corridor known as the West Coast Circuit. Sanchez, back at Milagro, where she was until recently artistic director, and director Francisco Garcia collaborate to remind us that a golden cage is still a cage.

Part mural and part graffiti, scenic designer Tomás Rivero’s stage background has two winged dancing calacas, or skeleton figures, with a banner saying, “It’s not me, es la vida,” winding through their embrace. A grip of blindfolded Ben Franklins shouts out, “In no one we trust.” The stage invokes the moving picture from a freight train, the kind you see lined up in the yards, carrying outlaw messages across the land.

Twisted promises, broken lives. Photo: Sylvia Malan Gonzalez

Twisted promises, broken lives. Photo: Sylvia Malan Gonzalez

At the start of Broken Promises, which is part of the city-wide Fertile Ground festival of new works, a jazz upright bass line quickly moves from a high-society chord to a heavy beat and break. Just as in Sanchez’s script, the furious sounds and story unfold fast, and Garcia’s players move in and out in a perfect tempo. Roman Vasquez’s soundtrack is real. Hip-hop aficionados will recognize and appreciate the cuts he makes: there’s a nod to 1977, the 2010 album from the Chilean political hip-hop star Ana Tijoux. Milagro has carefully linked the sound, script, backdrop, and actors in a detail that constantly echoes the motifs in the play and references them to Latino culture. Sanchez’s dialogue and Garcia’s gentle hand have made a performance that is tangible, but carries the weight of tragedy with a poetic intensity.


A ‘Night’ for the American ages

Milagro's "American Night: The Ballad of Juan José" takes a whirlwind dream flight through the untold tales of a nation

If he’d taken NoDoz the whole thing might not have happened. But Juan José, studying feverishly for his American citizenship test, inevitably falls asleep over his stack of books and facts and potential test questions (“Name the original 13 colonies of the United States”). When he falls asleep, he dreams. When he dreams, he dreams a fascinating whirlwind of encounters with people and situations who don’t seem to get mentioned in the textbooks he’s been poring over – or if they’re mentioned, their stories are a little different when they tell them themselves. And some of this stuff is, let’s just say, disturbing.

Holy smokes. Is Juan José going to end up just chucking the whole idea and heading back to Mexico?

Osvaldo Gonzalez, Shelley B. Shelley, Joe Gibson: ordinary heroes. Photo: Russell J Young

Osvaldo Gonzalez, Shelley B. Shelley, Joe Gibson: ordinary heroes. Photo: Russell J Young

American Night: The Ballad of Juan José, a swift and scattershot scramble through an alternate but no less real history of the United States, was developed and premiered at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 2010, and since then has been freed to move about the country, getting little updates and fresh takes along the way. Written by Richard Montoya of the satirical performance troupe Culture Clash, it’s made hay out of its alternate viewpoint, considering history from the bottom up instead of the top down: what does the promise of the Constitution and Bill of Rights mean if you’re an immigrant or a black woman or a labor organizer or an Indian guide like Sacagawea or a black kid like Emmett Till, murdered in Mississippi for supposedly flirting with a white woman? When a place says “give me your tired, your poor,” what does it really mean?

Now American Night has landed in Portland, appropriately at Milagro Theatre, the city’s center for Latino performance and culture, and it’s been worth the wait. Director Elizabeth Huffman’s production is quick and cartoon-like, a Looney Tunes film reel of a show that plays up the script’s absurdist, caricatured aspects, sometimes at the cost of lingering for greater emotional effect over some of the more serious episodes. But it’s a kaleidoscope of a play, and kaleidoscopes keep on turnin’. The original Ashland production pulled out a lot of technical bells and whistles, and Milagro’s grittier version shows how well the show can do done with more limited resources: Megan Wilkerson’s lighting and set, with its simple lineup of entrances and exits that open and shut like vertical trap doors, make it easy to switch scenes with lightning speed; Sara Ludeman’s costumes and Sharath Patel’s nervously shifting sound design keep things snappy.

American Night is an ensemble play, with Ozvaldo Gonzalez at the center as dreamwalking Juan José and nine actors moving swiftly in and out of dozens of roles as antagonists and spirit guides. Juan José is a go-getter and an escapee, an honest cop in Mexico who got on the wrong side of the system and fled north, leaving behind his pregnant wife, who now has a child he’s never seen. He has his Green Card and is eager to gain citizenship so his family can join him in the U.S. – that’s why he’s working so hard. Gonzalez plays him as something of a wide-eyed innocent, surprised to learn that the armor isn’t always shining on the country he craves to join, but also adept at rolling with the punches.

Gonzalez with Garland Lyons as a surprising Klansman. Photo: Russell J Young

Gonzalez with Garland Lyons as a surprising Klansman. Photo: Russell J Young

The ensemble – Enrique E. Andrade, Orion Bradshaw, Michelle Escobar, Joe Gibson, Anthony Green, Heath Hyun Houghton, Garland Lyons, Louanne Moldovan, Shelley B. Shelley, with Adrienne Flagg providing voiceovers – is adept at producing quick sharp caricatures, moving like lightning from Teddy Roosevelt to anti-immigration strongman Sheriff Joe Arpaio to a hilariously caricatured Bob Dylan & Joan Baez to dockworkers angry over immigrants taking scarce jobs. Among the more intriguing tales Montoya tells are those of Viola Pettus (Shelley), a black woman in west Texas who set up a camp to care for victims of the 1918 influenza epidemic, accepting all comers, even Klansmen; of Ralph Lazo, a Mexican- and Irish-American teenager who voluntarily joined his Japanese-American friends in a World War II internment camp; and of Nicholas Trist, Luis Cuevas, and Bernardo Couto, who negotiated the treaty that ended the Mexican-American War in 1848, possibly saving tens of thousands of lives by ceding much of modern-day California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Colorado, Nevada, and Utah to the United States – the same land now being repopulated by legal and illegal immigrants whose ancestors had been locked out by the signing of the treaty.

Montoya immerses Juan José in the stories beneath the ideals of the history books, introducing him to both heroes and antagonists outside the usual tellings. In a way, he’s preparing Juan José for the citizenship test you wish he’d be able to take: a more nuanced, complete, and less starry-eyed version of the American story. If the play is sometimes angry, it’s never cynical; if it’s instructive, it’s also open-hearted and consistently entertaining. A hard-to-resist charm bubbles along the shifting surface of this alt-history. Join this thing called America, it seems to urge Juan José. Just know what it is you’re joining.

Milagro artistic director Olga Sanchez led a wide-ranging and vigorous talkback after Saturday night’s performance, with playwright Montoya, University of Portland professor Rene Sanchez and Portland State professor Margot Minardi also on the panel. Sanchez likened the play to jazz, a composition with a strong structure allowing for lots of improvisation, and that seems right, both for the play and for the American experiment itself. Minardi talked about the phrase “revisionist history,” which is often used as a slam but which, she points out, gets to the heart of historical investigation: we are constantly shifting and revising, choosing to emphasize those trends and events in the past that shed differing light on the story according to the concerns of the present. And Montoya stressed that Juan José, who is introduced in his dream to a United States with warts as well as promise, is himself an opportunist, seeking a better life for himself and his family: it’s the strength of the immigrant experience.

Heath Hyun Houghton: stylin' in the internment camp. Photo: Russell J Young

Heath Hyun Houghton: stylin’ in the internment camp. Photo: Russell J Young

In the end, American Night is an intriguingly optimistic play, one that takes the country’s toughest blows, gathers its counterbalancing stengths, and emerges stronger. “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others,” Winston Churchill once said, quoting a source no one seems to have been able to nail down. He also said, in a speech in the House of Commons, in 1944: “My idea of (democracy) is that the plain, humble, common man, just the ordinary man who keeps a wife and family, who goes off to fight for his country when it is in trouble, goes to the poll at the appropriate time, and puts his cross on the ballot paper showing the candidate he wishes to be elected to Parliament — that he is the foundation of democracy. And it is also essential to this foundation that this man or woman should do this without fear, and without any form of intimidation or victimization. He marks his ballot paper in strict secrecy, and then elected representatives … together decide what government, or even in times of stress, what form of government they wish to have in their country. If that is democracy, I salute it. I espouse it. I would work for it.”

Welcome to America, Juan José. Eyes wide open, you are now a partner in the ever-shifting experiment.


American Night: The Ballad of Juan José continues through May 23 at Milagro. Ticket and schedule information are here.

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