Sara Fay Goldman

‘Human Noise’: Music in Carver Land

Imago Theatre's choreographed take on Raymond Carver short stories may activate your interpretive juices

“Bill and Arlene Miller were a happy couple. But now and then they felt they alone among their circle had been passed by somehow.”

That’s how Raymond Carver’s 1970 story “Neighbors” begins, and that’s exactly how Imago’s version of the story in “Human Noise” begins, too, with the narration. Also with Nathan Wonder, Danielle Vermette, Michael Streeter and Carol Triffle on stage, the bare outlines of two apartments, and a percussive score (Kyle Delamarter is the sound designer) in the background.

Michael Streeter and Carol Triffle in “Human Noise” at Imago Theatre/Photo by Jerry Mouawad

Streeter and Triffle take over the narration and dialogue after their neighbors in the story, Wonder and Vermette, leave on vacation, reciting Carver’s words, punctuated by the odd fling of the arm when a sudden, loud percussion cue demands it. The story turns weird: Bill goes over to his neighbors’ apartment to feed their cat, and alone in that space, he starts to explore. “The air was already heavy and it was vaguely sweet.” He tends to kitty, then opens the liquor cabinet and takes a couple of pulls from a bottle of Chivas Regal (an imaginary bottle, actually). When he returns to Arlene, he finds himself in an amorous mood.

“What kept you?” Arlene said. She sat with her legs turned under her, watching television.

“Nothing. Playing with Kitty,” he said, and went over to her and touched her breasts.

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… and oddly, as a pitched political battle sweeps the nation, life goes on. How will the arts world respond to the extraordinary events of the day? How, if at all, will this most divisive and pugilistic of administrations respond to the world of art? Shoes could drop at any moment: the administration has already stated its intent to kill the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities, and to end federal funding to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. While Nero threatens to cut off the fiddles, here are a few highlights of what’s going on in and around town.

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IT’S FIRST THURSDAY this week, when many galleries open their new monthly shows, so visual art is on our minds. The Portland Art Museum has opened Rodin: The Human Experience, a major show of 52 bronzes, and Constructing Identity, an important overview of historical and contemporary work by African American artists.

Louis Bunce, “Apple”, 1968. Oil on canvas. 41” x 48”//Courtesy Hallie Ford Museum of Art

And the invaluable Hallie Ford Museum of Art in Salem has opened Louis Bunce: Dialogue with Modernism, a retrospective on the late Oregon artist, who Paul Sutinen, in his ArtsWatch review of the show, identifies as a key figure in the city’s cultural life, the catalyst for making Portland a city of modern art. “It is an important show,” Sutinen declares. “It is a great show. It is accompanied by a monograph on Bunce by Roger Hull. It is important. It is great.” And then he explains why. See the sort of thing that the Savonarolas of the federal purse are eager to upend.

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Broken tulips, tethered lines

Sara Fay Goldman's solo show "Tether" at Fertile Ground illustrates the beauty and sorrow of ADD

Sara Fay Goldman’s Tether: A One-Woman Anti-Circus about Brain Chemistry is listed in the 2017 Fertile Ground guide as a work in progress. Artists always struggle with where the perfect ending points are in a work and Goldman may have elaborate ideas on how to expand her show, but Tether, directed by Rusty Tennant, is a dynamic, well composed, seemingly complete performance as it stands that champions those beautiful humans who aren’t neurotypical.

You may have seen a BBC television show hosted by science historian James Burke called Connections. In one episode he takes you on a journey showing how the Little Ice Age in medieval times led to the invention of chimneys, buttons, waistcoats, and wall tapestries, and from there guides you into the 20th century, showing how little advances in technology led to gasoline engines. It’s in these mental bridges that Burke connects the dots between what seems improbable or dissimilar, and illustrates the ripple effect of history and human ideas, exposing the corners where they touch.

Sara Fay Goldman in “Tether.” Photo: Myrrh Larsen

Goldman moves in similar mental circles, using a hyper-ecstasy, a touch of pain from alienation, the art of acrobatics, performance art, and some delicious monologues. She’s been diagnosed with attention deficit disorder, and Tether is an intimate portrait of her interior life. In Act I she’s the red-nosed Auguste clown who scrolls out a rapid-fire dialogue, jumping from one quote to the next. Digging into Cartesian ideas about being, piecing those reflections with a reference to Alvin Lucier’s famous study in stuttering I am Sitting in a Room, jumping to a monologue by Bottom from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, referring to Bottom’s involvement with the juice of a rare flower in the play, then puzzle-piecing it to the Tulip Wars of 1637, Goldman props herself onto a soapbox about the British colonizers’ approach to botany and ends with the dull irony of scientific watercolor reproductions of cataloged species hanging for display in hipster bars. It’s a high-flying and exquisite execution of how creative cognition’s roller-coaster ride turns and twists at high speeds from the inside out.

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