Post5

Like Janet, plan it, Bomb-itty’s at it

Post5's contemporary "add-rap-tation" of Shakespeare's "Comedy of Errors" is da bomb

They can’t, they won’t, and they don’t stop dropping beats and heavy rhymes in an “add-rap-tation” of Will’s ill verses in Post5 Theatre’s production of the critically acclaimed Bomb-itty of Errors.

Bomb-itty authors Jordan Allen-Dutton, Jason Catalano, and Erik Weiner are in a tense rap battle over centuries with the Bard, and take on one of his most absurd comedies with a win for all. The Comedy of Errors is made fresh as two sets of twins get rapped up in a case of mistaken identities and have 99 problems as a result, including the female kind.

Anya Pearson and Joel Patrick Durham. Greg Parkinson Photography

Anya Pearson and Joel Patrick Durham. Greg Parkinson Photography

It would take a nation of millions to hold these four actors back, as they come close to equalling that 99 in number of costume and character changes in two hours. In this multi-layered universe, popular ’90s Rap has Dromeos and Antipholuses rocking their Adidas in Syracuse. Unlike the Comedy, where the Bard’s devices become heavily used and the audience tries to dispense its belief and regain a little composure, in Bomb-itty you don’t feel easily amused. While the time is neigh for a renaissance of that cultural era, the clever live-spinning of DJ Enoch’s live back-beats has the characters face off with lyrical grabs and attitudes from Shakespeare, Cypress Hill, Public Enemy, Outkast, the Beastie Boys, Biggie, and Broadway, with all the glory of a pristine white-walled sneaker: “She loves you, yeah. Like the Beatles, the birds and the bees. And do it so you should.” “I don’t know anyone who would be so vain to not accept the offer of such a nice chain.”

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Superstar, taking on shadows

Andrew Lloyd Webber's 1970s concept musical was a show for its times. Michael Streeter's "Superstar" revival at Post5 is a show for our times, too.

Jesus of Nazareth, the historical man and radical upstart, probably had no plans to become famous, and given what we know, fame would’ve cramped his style. But a superstar he became, and for the first time in many years, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s Jesus Christ Superstar is being produced on a professional Portland stage with Michael Streeter’s current version at Post5.

I spoke with Streeter on the phone, and he said he’d coveted his older brother’s vinyl copy of Jesus Christ Superstar when he was a kid. Nobody would produce the musical, so it was first a hit in 1970 as a concept album in the United States. Lloyd Webber noted that, by being limited to that format, he and Rice cut all the extras and fat from the normal progression of a stage musical. Eventually it became a staple onstage, too, running for more than 700 performances on Broadway beginning in 1971. The productions Streeter has seen over the years resembled a church Passion Play, and with his, he wanted to get to the heart of the matter, much as the original album did for the composers.

Ernie Lijoi as Jesus and Ithica Tell as Judas. Photo: Greg Parkinson

Ernie Lijoi as Jesus and Ithica Tell as Judas. Photo: Greg Parkinson

Jesus Christ Superstar is a musical giant and has rocking good tunes. The lyrics are clever, and the songs easy enough to sing along to: the seeds of what would become a powerhouse career for Weber and Rice are evident.

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Stupid Kids stand out

Oh, those kids: The OUTWright Theater Festival brings back a 1991 coming-out drama inspired by "Rebel Without a Cause"

It could be said that modern drama is a footnote to Hamlet: one man up against the world. In the late John C. Russell’s 1991 play Stupid Kids, a teenager who nicknames himself Neechee is a candidate to be just such a loner.

Post5 is celebrating the OUTWright Theater Festival with the festival’s feature production of Stupid Kids, a play whose narrative moves in and out of a plot and characters that suggest the famed teenage angst-noir classic Rebel Without a Cause, with a hindsight fantasy of coming out in the ’90s and coming out ahead.

"Stupid Kids": rebels looking for a cause. Photo: Carrie Anne Huneycutt

“Stupid Kids”: rebels looking for a cause. Photo: Carrie Anne Huneycutt

The celluloid icon Jim Stark, made famous in Rebel by the young James Dean, had a soft-looking physique, long hair for the time, and a pouty lip. Underneath his neat red package was a nihilism that rejected the hero worship of WWII vets and their boxed-up world obsessed with stability. Many generations of distrusting youths adopted his look, sneer, and sexiness. But maybe they forgot the end of the film, where Jim goes home and the implication is he’s ready to tow his dad’s line. There’s a tension between Jim and his friend Plato, and Hollywood rumors have propagated that Dean and Sal Mineo, who played Plato, were lovers. Stupid Kids takes the retro obsession of the ’90s with the past, but instead of delivering a Saul Bass-illustrated pays de cocagne, a land of luxury, the play reaches a step ahead.

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ArtsWatch Weekly: artists at play

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

When visual artists and show people get together, interesting things often happen. Some collaborations have become legendary: Isamu Noguchi’s sculptural set designs for modern dance icon Martha Graham; Léon Bakst’s expressionistic designs for Ballets Russes. The original designs and even the title for the musical Fiddler on the Roof were inspired by the paintings of Marc Chagall. More recently, the South African artist William Kentridge’s astonishingly absurdist designs for the Metropolitan Opera’s 2010 production of Shostakovich’s equally astonishing and absurd The Nose brilliantly suggested the tone of the Gogol story that inspired the opera. Last season, Portland Opera produced Stravinsky’s classic mid-twentieth-century opera The Rake’s Progress, based on William Hogarth’s famous eighteenth century series of paintings and prints, with David Hockney’s inspired modernized designs.

Pamina (Maureen McKay), Paageno (John Moore) and Sendak's set. Photo: Cory Weaver

Pamina (Maureen McKay), Papageno (John Moore) and Sendak’s set. Photo: Cory Weaver

Now Portland Opera is back with a new production of Mozart’s fabulist opera The Magic Flute, using sets and costumes designed in 1980 by the brilliant children’s author and illustrator Maurice Sendak, whose designs for The Nutcracker were also a mainstay at Seattle’s Pacific Northwest Ballet for many years. Sendak’s sets and to a lesser extent his costumes for The Magic Flute are immediately identifiable as his and his alone: in this case the collaboration is an overlay of artistic sensibilities, a discovery of parallels between two artists whose outlooks differ but mesh well. Sendak’s bright color sense and playfully exaggerated figurative style emphasize the childlike aspects of Mozart’s music and the opera’s slightly nonsensical tale. Sendak didn’t so much rethink his source material, the way that Kentridge and Hockney did, as find a level of mutual agreement, a seductive surface that allows the music to dive more deeply behind the mask. He created very traditional tableaux, but in his own  pleasing and agreeable style, and the result is … well, pleasing and agreeable and pertinent.

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A wrinkle in the bedsheets

Paula Vogel's "Desdemona, a Play About a Handkerchief" at Post5 turns the feminist tables on "Othello"

There are at least two reactions to Desdemona: She’s an annoying servant to her husband Othello, who keeps her waiting for days near their marriage bed, with little service to herself and person; or she’s the chrysalis of love’s dedication at all costs to the man she loves. Somewhere in the middle is the real wife of Othello, and with its new production of Desdemona, a Play About a Handkerchief, Post5 Theatre follows its recent staging of Shakespeare’s tragedy with Paula Vogel’s exploration of Desdemona’s character.

Vogel’s 1987 psychoanalytical voyage was ahead of its time. The America of the 1980s suffered a feminist backlash from which we are still recovering. We still hide under our bedsheets; state by state we step one foot forward and one step back in the political gender arena. Some of us can marry whom we wish. Others can’t use a public bathroom. The uncomfortable distinction of rights versus character continues on its unreasonable path. Vogel’s women’s-perspective version of the play, directed for Post5 by Mary McDonald-Lewis, puts sex-positive inquiry into the most extreme corners, with an acute understanding of Desdemona and the scholarship that unpacks her handkerchief. Out of the adversity and sacrifice of this late-twentieth-century feminism we have emerged with an understanding that there is no black and white. Each of us is who we are, by our own terms; and one day, we hope, that will be the golden rule.

"Desdemona": repression and release. Photo: Carrie Anne Huneycutt

“Desdemona”: repression and release. Photo: Carrie Anne Huneycutt

Shakespeare’s Desdemona moves back and forth with “yes, my lord and yes my lord.” Vogel’s Desdemona is a dread of boredom who seeks out any stimulus and promise. Minutes, hours, days, weeks go by just waiting. The two Desdemonas meet on even ground because they do not understand the power of sex, within themselves or in relation to others. It is this physical disassociation that undoes the world strand by strand, minute by minute. Vogel isn’t gimmicky. It’s all in the image and metaphor. Desdemona in Shakespeare is a mirror to the Moor. In Vogel she’s a mirror on Othello and herself. Vogel is also looking deep into the virgin/whore complex, and declaring that it’s not enough to master what are seemingly two different attitudes; one must also take out the gloves and dig deeper into an authentic identification. There is a freedom in exploring, but being listless in a time of confirmation gives a bare-boned result: where Iago’s deception kills Desdemona off in Othello, in Vogel’s play it is her own confusion that turns a marriage bed into a deathbed.

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Post5’s ‘Othello’: less is more

A stark and delicate dance of power gets stripped down to its basics in Post5's "Shakesqueer" telling of the tale

Any relationship involves a delicate dance of power. We negotiate and bargain the trivial to keep the little sparks alive. In love, we try to set aside little irritations for the sake of the oneness. If we’re in for the long haul, most of the everyday is both beautiful and eclipsed by our understanding of whom we care for.

And in this dance, Post5 has stripped bare Shakespeare’s Othello and rearranged the steps.

In director Caitlin Fisher-Draeger’s production the Other is not the Moor, as in the traditional interpretation of Othello. Rather, the have-nots are the Other: the inexplicable Iago, whose passions begin and end in fury; Cassio, who fights for love and liege; and in the end, the motives that lie behind Othello and Desdemona’s desire for each other is the real alienation.

Tell and Tidd: passion and betrayal. Photo: Carrie Anne Huneycutt

Tell and Tidd: passion and betrayal. Photo: Carrie Anne Huneycutt

Post5 has done some Shakesqueering: most of the roles are played by women, the one exception being Rodrigo, acted by Sean Doran, who shifts the weight of his walking leg while the other clumps in a cast. He has no affection for Desdemona, and the implied ulterior motives to help Iago: he is half a man, his impotence in stark contrast to the band of Amazons who make the stage.

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ArtsWatch Weekly: The prints & the Oscars, big whale, Stupid Bird, Lear

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

That’s a print. No, we’re not talking about the movies, or the end of a scene shot, or Sunday’s Oscars broadcast, which we found fascinating on all sorts of levels, including the mostly successful tightrope that the host Chris Rock and his writers pranced so nimbly across, smiling and laughing as they took the ringmasters down a notch or two. It’s tough challenging the circus from inside the big tent, but points were made. The big question, of course, remains: what, if anything, will actually be done? In a way, the trouble is less a second year running of all-white acting nominations than the system that makes such an imbalance possible: a lack of great, good, and even middling roles for black and brown actors. The tendency to think of all roles as “white” roles unless the script specifies they are for  minority actors. Projects greenlighted with an eye on white audiences, and projects stopped in their tracks because they’re too “ethnic” to guarantee a hefty profit. And although the absence of black roles was the focus of protests, we also like what the Mexican filmmaker Alejandro G. Iñárritu, who won the Oscar for directing The Revenant, said in this morning’s New York Times: “The debate is not only about black and white people. We are yellow and Native Americans and Latin Americans.” And we are all of us stories, waiting to be told. If you’re running a story factory, you really ought to be aware of that.

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