Portland performance

ArtsWatch Weekly: a Tempest and an operatic pot shot

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

WELL, SHOOT. The whole thing explodes into a duel, of course, but before that there’s a tangled romance, and a cad’s carelessness, and a whole lot of glorious singing, and, well, why not a wintry tale for a midsummer opera? Portland Opera moves into the cozier confines of the Newmark Theatre beginning Friday night for its new production of Eugene Onegin, Tchaikovsky’s lyric opera based on Pushkin’s verse novel, and things are looking promising – if not for Onegin himself, who lives to deeply regret shooting his best friend, Lensky, then for the audience. ArtsWatch’s Christa Morletti McIntyre interviewed stage director Kevin Newbury, fresh off his acclaimed world-premiere production of Fellow Travelers at Cincinnati Opera, and discovered his plan to create an Onegin that will resonate with his fellow Gen Xers. Newbury has reset the late 19th century tale in the 1980s, around the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union and crumbling of the Berlin Wall. The “political and nuclear-threatening war of grudges” between East and West, McIntyre writes, helped “to unpack the meanings and individual lives impacted by this new kind of war, which was as visually stunning as it was oppressive and terrorizing.” All that, of course, plus some gorgeous music.

Ilya Repin, "Eugene Onegin and Vladimir Lensky's Duel," 1899, watercolor, white lead and India ink on paper, Pushkin Museum, Moscow/Wikimedia Commons

Ilya Repin, “Eugene Onegin and Vladimir Lensky’s Duel,” 1899, watercolor, white lead and India ink on paper, Pushkin Museum, Moscow/Wikimedia Commons



JULY’S FIRST THURSDAY IS THIS WEEK, and there is considerable to look forward to the monthly gallery walk. (Some galleries open shows on Last Friday or First Friday or according to their own schedules). A few we have our eye on: J.D. Perkin’s Island, an exhibit of the Portland sculptor’s fascinating-looking contemporary busts, coupled with some selected works by the late, great Robert Colescott, at Laura Russo Gallery; Sarah Siestreem’s Winter Work paintings, with Cynthia Mosser’s Beach Body, at Augen; the all-star anniversary lineup at PDX Contemporary in A Stand of Pine in a Tilled Field: 21 Years at PDX; the stylized figures and settings of R. Keaney Rathbun’s Memory and Stone, at Waterstone; and Blackfish’s annual Recent Graduates Exhibition of work from Oregon’s college and university art departments. Also, the Portland Biennial, an ambitious overview of work by 34 contemporary artists, opens Saturday at Disjecta, and should be well worth a long look. And on the north coast in Astoria, K.B. Dixon’s 32 Faces, his black-and-white environmental portraits of well-known Oregon artists in their elements, opens Saturday. ArtsWatch wrote about the exhibit when it opened at Michael Parsons Fine Art in Portland in February.


ArtsWatch Weekly: Steampunk Sweeney, award season begins

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

It’s a brilliant beginning. Sitting in the audience you’re not quite sure whether it’s part of the music or some Victorian version of an emergency air raid warning: that long sharp shriek of a whistle that pierces the air and just keeps on slicing like the blade on a piece of heavy machinery run amok. Then the orchestra barges dissonantly in, and the chorus raises a clangor, and you’re attending the tale of Sweeney Todd, the closest thing the world of musical theater and opera has to a steampunk antihero.

Smoke-spewing factories and magical elixir: Toby (Steven Brennfleck) plays the crowd in Portland Opera's "Sweeney Todd." Photo: Cory Weaver

Smoke-spewing factories and magical elixir: Toby (Steven Brennfleck) plays the crowd in Portland Opera’s “Sweeney Todd.” Photo: Cory Weaver

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, which has two performances left on Thursday and Saturday at Portland Opera in a production featuring the magnetic bass-baritone David Pittsinger as Sweeney and Susannah Mars as the ghoulishly pragmatic Mrs. Lovett, is a musical tale grounded in the upheavals of the Industrial Revolution, under whose disruptive rules and relentless sway we still live even if the rough promise it ushered in has taken on the aspect of a ghost revolution. Sweeney! Sweeney! He’s our conscience, our warning, our mirror. Plus, he sings. And that steampunk shriek keeps coming back now and again, just to remind us of what special brand of seductive, human-devised hell we’ve entered.

ArtsWatch reviewers Bruce and Daryl Browne took in a Sunday afternoon performance when the temperature outside was a sweltering 100 degrees, and report an almost-full house. “Perhaps they came in from the “city on fire” in shorts and spaghetti straps because they wanted to see great musical theater,” they write. “Maybe this was their very first opera production. Or they came because it was Steven Sondheim’s grisly musical-turned-opera, a tale of moral decay across classes with magnetic appeal to a diversity of theater goers. But aye, we ought not worry about the why. Just know that Portland Opera conjured the brilliance of Stephen Sondheim and those present were treated to a stunning afternoon of entertainment and artistry.” Read the full review here.



PAMTA, PAMTA, WHO’S GOT THE PAMTA? If it’s June, this must be theater award season. The Tonys arrive in New York this Sunday, June 12, complete with national television audience. Portland’s Drammys follow up on June 27 in the Newmark Theatre. And last night, Monday, the PAMTAs – the Portland Area Musical Theatre Awards – kicked things off with a big bash in the Winningstad Theatre.


ArtsWatch Weekly: farewell jazz fest, young lovers, noblesse oblige

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

Well, that was quite a week, wasn’t it?

  • We saw Downton Abbey off to that great fox hunt in the sky, with a whizbang final episode that brought babies and pairings-off tumbling into the untaped future and put a stamp on the age of noblesse oblige. All in all it was, we noted (quoting the most excellent Dowager Countess Maggie Smith, for so we tend to think of her), “happy enough.”
  • We wrapped up the latest PDX Jazz Festival, which was dedicated to John Coltrane and his fellow reed players but was at least as notable, Angela Allen writes, for the excellence of its pianists. Allen praised the likes of sax virtuosos Nicole Glover, Sonny Fortune, Ravi Coltrane, and others, then added: “The keyboardists, though, stole my heart — not only the soloists but the sidemen who played in trios and quartets, duos and big bands, alongside the headliners.” The esteemed jazz journalist Doug Ramsey was in town for the festivities, too, and filed several reviews on his excellent site Rifftides, which we’ve reprinted with his permission here. Also, do take a gander at Mark Sheldon’s wonderful photos accompanying both stories of musical moments frozen in time, including this one, of 77-year-old sound explorer Charles Lloyd:
Charles Lloyd © 2016 Mark Sheldon

Charles Lloyd © 2016 Mark Sheldon

  • And we took a multifaceted look at Oregon Ballet Theatre’s newly announced season and its just-closed revival of James Canfield’s Romeo and Juliet, a long-missing company cornerstone: Canfield, OBT’s founding artistic director, brought it into the company with him when OBT was formed in 1990, but until this production it hadn’t been seen onstage here in more than fifteen years. First, in Sweet tragedy: rehearsing ‘R&J’, Martha Ullman West delves into the rehearsal hall and the ballet world’s history with Shakespeare’s teenage tragedy. Then, in Ballet masters of the 21st century, dance journalist and former dancer Gavin Larsen follows OBT’s ballet masters Lisa Kipp and Jeff Stanton as they prepare the company’s dancers for the ballet. Finally, in A fresh ‘R&J,’ a fling with the giants, Ullman West talks about OBT’s just-announced 2016-17 season (called Giants) and reviews the performance of R&J, in which she finds Ansa Deguchi revelatory as Juliet.


ArtsWatch Weekly: 24/7 Fertile Ground (plus cats)

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

All right, it’s not really twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Fertile Ground just seems that way. Portland’s eighth annual festival of new performance does happen daily, and often both daytime and evening, and every day through Sunday, when it completes its eleven-day marathon run. By that point it will have staged more than 160 performances of new works in more than thirty venues across the metropolitan area. And while the festival itself will end, several of the works will continue, because theater companies have begun to program their new plays during the festival’s annual January run, capturing some of the splash and then settling in for an ordinary several-week slot. You can catch up here with what’s happening when and where for the rest of the festival.

Sam Reiter as The Maiden Tsar in "Baba Yaga." Photo: Trevor Sargent

Sam Reiter as The Maiden Tsar in “Baba Yaga.” Photo: Trevor Sargent

Here at ArtsWatch we’ve been out and about, catching the shows we can, and here, so far, is our Fertile Ground report:

Into the Woods with Baba Yaga. Sam Reiter is Baba Yaga, Christa Morletti McIntyre writes, embodying the mythos of the Slavic folk tales’ strange and powerful woman of the woods.

Just art: a creative shot in the arm. I Want To Destroy You, Rob Handel’s new play at Theatre Vertigo, plays smartly and provocatively with a fictionalized version of the saga of Chris Burden, the performance artist who catapulted to fame by having himself shot in the arm, I write.

Woman, trapped. Sue Mach’s new adaptation of the story The Yellow Wallpaper, Christa Morletti McIntyre writes, leaves you feeling “like the pit of your stomach was ripped out and lost down a hole.”

In search of the great white … leg. The latest chapter in Portland Experimental Theatre Ensemble’s continuing riff on Moby-Dick, Barry Johnson writes, concentrates its attention on something that isn’t there: Captain Ahab’s missing leg.


Cast a glass eye: Faith Helma’s alchemy

"I Hate Positive Thinking," a solo show at the Fertile Ground festival, takes a skewed look at the self-improvement industry


Faith Helma brings her alchemy to the stage with I Hate Positive Thinking.

The stage at Shout House, where this Fertile Ground festival show had its world premiere on Friday and continues through February 7,  is curated with found objects: an overly plush zebra textile that a Burner would glue-gun into a vest; a small nautical shelf that a housewife in Maine would put her glass lobster curios on; a fire-engine-red tape deck from the early ’90s; a blanket patterned with blue flower motifs from an imaginary art period; two electric candles that may have been placed on a window sill for overzealous Christmas decorating. Helma’s aura of purpose in her “manifesto against the self-improvement industry” radiates from the collection. Over the next hour, she transforms these conspicuous props as agents through her performance.

Faith Helma, solo. Photo: NicholeStewart

Faith Helma, solo. Photo: NicholeStewart

Helma shapes her metamorphosis into an elegant and vulnerable piece that takes a careful look into the meaning of life as defined by its constant adoration of change. Helma, in her light electric blue sateen jumpsuit, makes solemn transitions from curious, to lost, quixotic, despairing, raging, tender, intellectual; all framed by the important idea that the quest, no matter how small or unknown, is at the heart of the living experience.

The power behind I Hate Positive Thinking begins with its honesty and the way it makes connections between an armchair philosophy and a much bigger theater of the world. Helma’s space invites and honors the audience to become part of her process, and makes I Hate Positive Thinking truly a work in progress. It is constantly growing. Each performance is born new and not quite the same.

Helma’s take on the nonsense of “positive thinking” is real, and sometimes starkly funny. How did we get from Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations to How to Tame Your Inner Gremlin as coping mechanisms in an uncertain world?

Walking away from Helma’s performance is in itself a paradox: you feel lighter in your shoulders; it touches your anger and regret, and opens new eyes on the world. I Hate Positive Thinking is less about the self-help industry and more as if Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek and performance artist Janine Antoni had made a one-person show. There is a binary trend in the dramatic arts to celebrate both the rawness of the underscored and the opulence of grand productions. Helma does neither, but transmutes big ideas into what could be called everyday life, and honors that that is exactly the meaning we begin with.


I Hate Positive Thinking continues through February 7 at Shout House, 210 S.E. Madison St., Suite 11. Ticket and schedule information here.

ArtsWatch Weekly: The ground is fertile. The age is golden.

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

It started, as so many things do, with a casual conversation. “You know what this town needs?” “What if?” “What we really ought to do is …”

The very first Fertile Ground festival of new performance works, in January 2009, featured singer McKinley’s musical Gracie and the Atom; the Algonquin Round Table play Vitriol and Violets, with music by jazz wit Dave Frishberg; and new plays by the likes of William S. Gregory, Sandra De Helen, Eleanor O’Brien, Steve Patterson, Matt Zrebski, and others.

This week the eighth annual Fertile Ground opens for an eleven-day run, Thursday through January 31. And it’s not fooling around. This year’s festival will include more than 160 performances on more than 30 stages across the metropolitan area. What began mostly as a theater showcase has expanded to embrace dance, performance art, aerial and acrobatic acts, new-vaudeville, clowning, even film animation, which has a lively presence in Oregon. Offerings range from the biggest theaters in town to pop-up projects, and cover just about every step in the process, from readings to full-blown world premieres.

Echo Theatre will be the hub for circus and aerial acts at this year's Fertile Ground.

Echo Theatre will be the hub for circus and aerial acts at Fertile Ground. Photo: Renata Kosina

A couple of weeks ago three ArtsWatch writers joined the mob at Artists Repertory Theatre for Fertile Ground’s big media kickoff, a “speed-dating” evening in which producers, performers, and playwrights lined up to spend five minutes with a writer or reporter, pitching their project. What we gathered in these assembly-line interviews, we compiled in Fertile Ground: Let the fest begin. Among the things we learned: When a woman comes after you with a hatchet, she’s not after your scalp, she just wants to tell you about her play Grimm Northwest. Faith Helma hates positive thinking so much that she wrote a solo show about it. And playwright Patterson, who was in the original Fertile Ground, is back with another, a play he describes as “kinda like a feminist Huck Finn on acid.” We’re pretty much sold on that.



Solid Gold Cadillac. All right, not a Cadillac. Brett Campbell’s talking about serious contemporary music. “We may be entering a golden age for Oregon contemporary classical music, he writes for ArtsWatch. “This past fall might have brought Oregon music lovers more new music by Oregon classical composers than any season in history.” That includes, among many other projects, a fresh performance of Portland pianist and composer Darrell Grant’s The Territory. Of Grant, who teaches at Portland State University and is a leading figure on the city’s jazz scene, Campbell says that if Oregon had a most-valuable player award for musicians, “I’d nominate Darrell Grant.”

Darrell Grant: MVP?

Darrell Grant: MVP?



A few things to consider on this week’s calendar:

  • Celestial Carnaval. As Portland’s suburbs and surrounding communities grow bigger, the art scene expands, too. Out west, the Valley Art Association‘s been at it a long time. This party and fundraiser Saturday night celebrates fifty years for the association, which operates a gallery in Forest Grove and presents events including an annual sidewalk chalk festival. Saturday night in downtown Forest Grove, with the ever-excellent 3 Leg Torso providing the tunes.
  • Great Expectations. After a week of previews, Portland Center Stage’s adaptation of the Dickens classic opens Friday night, with Stephen Stocking as Pip, Dana Green as Miss Havisham, and a solid supporting cast. It anticipates yet another adaptation opening in late February at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland.
  • Beethoven-Bartok Festival. The admirable Jerusalem Quartet returns to town to show some classical flexibility at Friends of Chamber Music in four concerts at Lincoln Performance Hall, Thursday, Saturday, Sunday, and next Tuesday.
  • Dido and Aeneas. Baroque opera doesn’t get performed much in Portland, but The Ensemble is on hand to help correct the oversight with performances Saturday in Eugene and Sunday in Portland of Henry Purcell’s lovely first opera, along with excerpts from John Blow’s even earlier version.



ArtsWatch links

Tabitha Trosen and Ty Boice: cruising for a bruising. Lakewood Theatre photo.

Tabitha Trosen and Ty Boice: cruising for a bruising. Lakewood Theatre photo.

Upstart: Lakewood’s Golden Boy. Christa Morletti McIntyre considers Ty Boice’s knockout performance in Clifford Odets’s heavyweight role, and the links between Odets’s conflicted boxer and his own career.

In search of the great white .. leg. Barry Johnson follows Portland Experimental Theatre Company’s next stop in its quest to deconstruct Moby-Dick, this one called [or, the whale]. Sometimes what isn’t there is what’s there.

Engaging ears, eyes, minds. Gary Ferrington previews the creative Cascade Composers’ upcoming show in Eugene, citing concert organizer Daniel Brugh: “There’s gonna be a few lights of a variety of colors, video, some sound-induced visuals and lots and lots of darkness! This is music experienced in an alternative way.”

Golden cage, broken promises. Broken Promises, Olga Sanchez’s new play at Milagro about the child sex-trade corridor  in Oregon and along the West Coast, “straddles cultural, social, and age divides,” Christa Morltti McIntyre writes.

Woman, trapped. Sue Mach’s new stage adaptation at CoHo of the classic story The Yellow Wallpaper, Christa Morletti McIntyre writes, feels “like the pit of your stomach was ripped out and lost down a hole.”

Grace Carter, caught in the wallpaper. Photo: Holly Andres

Grace Carter, caught in the wallpaper. Photo: Holly Andres



About ArtsWatch Weekly

We send a letter like this every Tuesday to a select group of email subscribers, and 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 sometimes head off on little arts rambles we don’t include anywhere else. 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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Fertile Ground: Let the fest begin

ArtsWatch's writers "speed-dated" the producers, writers, and performers of Portland's sprawling new-works festival. Here's what they discovered.


If you host it, they will come. And come they did, from east, south, west, and north: dozens of playwrights, producers, choreographers, clowns, actors, dancers, acrobats, and other show folk, each intent on one thing: to serially date as many members of the press as they possibly could in one brief evening.

The press, let it be noted, does not ordinarily do this sort of thing. But this first Thursday of the new year was the Fertile Ground new-works festival’s speed-dating-with-the-media night, and for everyone involved (including three of us from ArtsWatch – Brett Campbell, Christa Morletti McIntyre, and Bob Hicks), getting a lot of information out there in a very short time seemed like an excellent idea.

It was also a little like a drive-by clipping by a fleet of eighteen-wheelers. Or a massacre in the making. “Why is that woman coming at us with a hatchet in her hand?” we found ourselves wondering nervously at one point.

Festival director Nicole Lane, calling the speed-dating shots. Photo: Christine Toohey

Festival director Nicole Lane, calling the speed-dating shots. Photo: Christine Toohey

As reporters and editors sat at long schoolhouse-style tables in the upper lobby at Artists Repertory Theatre, or set up their cameras and mics in any spare corner they could find, supplicants lined up chin-deep for their five-minute shots at making an impression. At the end of five, a clang sounded above the clatter and din, and the next in line moved up. “Give ’em your elevator speech,” festival director Nicole Lane instructed helpfully, although no elevator was in a sight.


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