Portland Civic Theatre Guild

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.


Tuesdays at the Theatre Guild

Flying under the radar, the venerable Portland Civic Theatre Guild keeps some civilized traditions alive (and raises money for new things)

Walking into The Sanctuary on Northeast Sandy Boulevard for one of the Portland Civic Theatre Guild’s monthly play readings is a little like walking into a town meeting in Miss Jane Marple’s St. Mary Mead, minus the lurking murderer. Cookies and coffee and no doubt some tea are being served. A clubby camaraderie inhabits the proceedings, an understated festive air. Little histories are here: Most everyone seems to know, or at least recognize, most everyone else, and while the attendees might be mostly outside the target parameters of corporate marketing metrics, they are active and inquisitive and in good humor, and no doubt value common sense. A feeling persists of something civilized and basically good, a small pleasure: a bulwark on this past Tuesday morning, barely more than a day after the evil of the Las Vegas massacre, against the bleakness of the outside world.

As with St. Mary Mead and its inhabitants, it would be unwise to underestimate this crowd and its proceedings. They may not be in the market for the latest exhibitions from the seething swamps of contemporary performance art, but they know their theater (many of them have been, and some continue to be, on the stage), and the pleasures to be had in communing with a style of playfulness that might not be the height of fashion but has not lost its charm. It’s quite easy, and enjoyable, to slip into the spirit of the thing.

The gathering of the Guild: active and involved.

On Tuesday the object of their affections was I Ought To Be in Pictures, the 1979 sentimental comedy by Neil Simon, who is considered something of a ghost of theater past these days but not so many decades ago was the toast of Broadway, and the movies, too, a figure who so dominated the Broadway real estate that younger writers and audiences rebelled against virtually everything about him – his jokiness, his eagerness to please, his devotion to craftsmanship, his middlebrow-ness, his upper-middle-class-ness, his self-congratulatory sentimentality, his sometimes clueless maleness, his unseemly success, his belief that maybe the theater was entertainment and not so much art.


Tuesdays with Hamlet (and coffee and a meddling ghost)

Civic Theatre Guild's monthly morning readers' season kicks off with the farce 'I Hate Hamlet'

The Tuesday morning crowd at The Old Church: coffee, cookies, comedy

The Tuesday morning crowd at The Old Church: coffee, cookies, comedy

Fall has blustered into Portland, blowing and drenching the city into the little huddled Dublin or Edinburgh it becomes when the summer sun fades to gray. Put away those hiking boots: time for indoor pursuits.

This is the time when the theater season lights up like the first blaze of the season in the living room fireplace, and already the flames are flickering brightly. “The Big Meal” and “Mistakes Were Made” at Artists Rep. An audacious “Richard III” at Northwest Classical Theatre. “The Mountaintop” and “Fiddler on the Roof” at Portland Center Stage. “The Great Gatsby” at Bag&Baggage. “Sweet and Sad,” part two of Richard Nelson’s quietly provocative quartet of plays about life in contemporary America, at Third Rail. The Hitchcock spoof “The 39 Steps” at Clackamas Rep and the “Camelot” musical spoof “Spamalot” at Lakewood. Portland Playhouse is stepping into the troubled territory of Lisa D’Amour’s “Detroit.” And already Triangle’s “Kiss of the Spiderwoman” has rung its final curtain and kissed goodbye to its popular run.

With all of this action it’s easy to overlook some of the city’s little satisfactions – the low-budget, out-of-the-limelight shows that nevertheless often attract very good performers and directors willing to make a short commitment to a project that just seems like fun to do. That’s certainly the case with the Portland Civic Theatre Guild’s First Tuesday Readers Theatre series, which kicks off its newest season this week (on October 1) with Paul Rudnick’s farce “I Hate Hamlet.”


Nobody’s going to talk a lot about the deep human truths laid bare in Rudnick’s 1991 play, or its searing social commentary. A lot of people will talk fondly about the thing’s smart comedy and flair. It’s the sort of show people like for its sheer theatricality. Put another way: it’s fun.

So is the Theatre Guild’s Tuesday morning series. It’s a civilized, tea-and-crumpets sort of affair (more likely, coffee and snacks, which come with the $8 ticket), and it’s a get-out-of-the-house-in-the-morning thing, beginning at 10 a.m. Adding to the charm: performances are in the congenial carpenter-Gothic coziness of The Old Church downtown, one of the city’s little performance-hall gems.

Every good farce needs a good setup, and Rudnick’s is very good. A television star who just happens to be living in John Barrymore’s former New York apartment is gearing up to play Hamlet, his dream role, at Shakespeare in the Park. His girlfriend adores Shakespeare. But Hollywood comes knocking with the offer of a new TV pilot and big bucks. And Barrymore’s busybody ghost keeps gadding about the apartment, giving unwanted advice and generally mucking up the works.

Connor Kerns directs Schuyler Schmid as the actor, Andrew, and veteran Michael Fisher-Welsh as Barrymore’s champagne-swilling ghost. Spencer Conway, Debbie Hunter, Chrisse Roccaro and McKenna Twedt round out the cast.

Speaking of ghosts: The play’s original Broadway run is still gossiped about for Nicol Williamson’s notoriously swashbuckling performance as Barrymore, an interpretation that alienated the rest of the cast and culminated in a sword-fighting injury to Evan Handler, the original Andrew, who ended up leaving the show. Unlikely to happen here. But with ghosts, you never know.


Here’s the rest of the Guild’s Readers Theatre season:

  • November 5: “Late: A Cowboy Song,” by Sarah Ruhl (“The Clean House”), directed by Mary McDonald-Lewis.
  • December 3: “First Night,” by Jack Neary, directed by Brian Allard.
  • January 28: A still-to-be-selected play in development for the annual Fertile Ground festival of new plays.
  • February 4: “Mark Twain’s ‘The Diaries of Adam and Eve,’” by David Birney, directed by Judy Clover.
  • March 4: “Crumbs from the Table of Joy,” by Lynn Nottage, directed by Bobby Bermea.
  • April 1: “Humble Boy,” by Charlotte Jones, directed by Micki Selvitella.
  • May 6: “A Musical Treat,” a program featuring some of the city’s best musical-theater performers, directed by Adair Chappell.


 Performances are at The Old Church, 1422 S.W. 11th Avenue at Clay Street. Coffee is at 10 a.m. and showtime is 10:30. Single tickets are $8; season tickets (which don’t include the Fertile Ground show) are available for $49.


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