Playhouse Creatures

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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Elizabeth Farley (McKenna Twedt) gradually and tragically gets wise to the actress/prostitute pipeline in Restoration England.

Elizabeth Farley (McKenna Twedt) is fluffing up her theater costume and trying to sneak it out to “a rendezvous.” That’s a nice way of saying she’s been summoned (to the palace by the king, no less) for sex. But, wait, isn’t she an actress?

April De Angelis’ Playhouse Creatures revisits Restoration England (circa 1660) to depict the lives of the first women to take on the mantel of “actress.” Of course, a big part of that story is that society’s general maltreatment of the female gender bled into that profession in all-too-familiar ways. The first actresses were typecast as high and low class. They were solicited for prostitution. They were suspected of sorcery. They were discarded once pregnant or old. Hundreds of years later, those woes still ring true.

Yet far from wallowing, this play engages, absorbs, and entertains. Twedt deftly rides her character’s rise to fame and fall from grace, evoking first scorn and then pity.

My friend who moved to LA to do comedy has a funny habit: she collects and shares all the casting notices she receives each day to play prostitutes. Rich in comedy and rife with insult and stereotype, these requests are so shockingly common they roll into her phone like a ceaseless tide. “Dead prostitute” may be most popular. “Nonspeaking,” almost equally so. “Unpaid” is the coin of the realm. In Hollywood it seems, if one chose, an actress could silently prostitute herself for no pay several times every day. Dead inside? Even better. That would be “method” for most of the roles.

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