Stupid Fucking Bird

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.

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Stupid bird, damned love

Aaron Posner's contemporary riff on "The Seagull" at Portland Center Stage is prickly, passionate, profane, and loaded with love

The bird, the bird, the damned dead bird. In his great shambling masterwork The Seagull Anton Chekhov never metaphor he didn’t like, but just what the hell does this piece of bagged and bleeding flesh mean, anyway? There it flops, shot out of the air, presented as a desperate gift, and maybe it stands for Nina and maybe it doesn’t, but even if it does, what does it mean about Nina? Theater people and audiences have been arguing about it, or just plain scratching their heads over it, for 120 years.

In Stupid Fucking Bird, Aaron Posner’s prickly, passionate, speech-spouting, erratic, profanity-laced, and sometimes very funny contemporary riff on The Seagull that opened Friday night at Portland Center Stage, it comes out to a great big nothing: a metaphor that just lies there, heavy and inarticulate. It confuses even Connie (Konstantin in the original), the lovelorn radical-symbolist playwright who drops it at his former lover’s feet like a cat presenting a rat to its person, who understandably feels less than flattered by the offering. Like the obsessions of the play’s morose characters, it’s a big meaningless blob that nevertheless gets in the way of everything.

Katie deBuys as Nina in the play-within-a-play, with, from left, Cody Nickell, Kate Eastwood Norris, Charles Leggett, Darius Pierce, Kimberly Gilbert. Photo: Patrick Weishampel/blankeye.tv

Katie deBuys as Nina in the play-within-a-play, with, from left, Cody Nickell, Kate Eastwood Norris, Charles Leggett, Darius Pierce, Kimberly Gilbert. Photo: Patrick Weishampel/blankeye.tv

That’s sort of the way things go in Chekhov’s universe of missed connections, crossed purposes and obstinate illusions among the fading gentry: ah, life, life! And still, Chekhov thought of his plays as mainly comedies. Konstantin Stanislavski, his most famous and successful director, insisted they were mostly tragedies. Posner thinks of The Seagull, at least, as a handy launching pad for momentum-busting rants on the state of the theater, the hopelessness of love, the lovelessness of hope, and other scraps from the Chekhov notebook.

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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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