rich rubin

FG reviews: Staging history

Cottonwood in the Flood, Deception, and One Weekend in October dramatize racially charged moments.

This year’s Fertile Ground Festival offered several plays relating to race and history. I caught readings of three of them, each in a different stage of development. All three show promise, as well as flaws that are easier to spot once they’re actually read before an audience — a prime reason Fertile Ground is so valuable.

The terrific cast of Rubin's Cottonwood in the Flood.

The terrific cast of Cottonwood in the Flood.

Cottonwood in the Flood

The story of a mid 20th century African American family that moves from south to north and deals with the challenges of social, economic, racial and even geographical change — it sounds like an ideal set up for an August Wilson play, if the longtime Seattle based playwright had written about the Northwest he migrated to instead of the Pittsburgh he grew up in.

Wilson liked to write about how place changes over generations, and Vanport, Oregon — the site of Portland playwright Rich Rubin’s Cottonwood in the Flood and the aforementioned fictional family’s struggles — existed for only six years, before succumbing to the great flood of 1948, and becoming, along with Celilo Falls, Oregon’s Atlantis. It proved an eventful stretch, both militarily (with workers churning out important components of America’s World War II arsenal), and socially, as a de facto experimental precursor to racial integration.

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Fertile Ground Festival profile: Playwright Rich Rubin

After a career as a physician, the prolific Portland playwright turned to theater, with a positive prognosis.

With his work everywhere at this year’s Fertile Ground Festival, you’d think Rich Rubin was a veteran playwright. The upcoming readings of two short plays (Will’s Dramaturge and Eggs Over Easy) and readings of two more full-length plays, Cottonwood in the Flood and One Weekend in October are only the latest of many he’s had performed at the Portland festival in the past few years.

Although he calls Portland home, Rubin is hardly just a local phenomenon. He just returned from a workshop of still another play, Caesar’s Blood, at Actors Theatre of Charlotte, following readings in Long Beach and Chicago, and preceding one in Utah. In fact, his plays have been read, workshopped and otherwise performed all over the country and beyond. His Marilyn/MISFITS/Miller was one of my favorite 2013 FG offerings, and his plays have been finalists for the Oregon Book Awards in 2013 and this year. Cottonwood was a 2012 JAW Festival finalist at Portland Center Stage, and One Weekend a finalist in two different London theater festivals. A recent track record like that surely suggests the culmination a lifetime of familiarity with the theater.

The terrific cast of Rubin's Cottonwood in the Flood.

The terrific cast of Rubin’s Cottonwood in the Flood.

Nope. “I started going to the theater about ten years ago,” Rubin tells ArtsWatch. “I’ve been writing plays about six or seven years.” In that time he’s written about 12 full length plays and 20 shorter pieces (one-acts or ten-minute plays), with more cooking.

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