The Reading Parlor

ArtsWatch Weekly: let the good times reel

NW Film Center's "Reel Music," plays about D.B. Cooper and Ben Linder and a guy named Fly Guy, atlas art from post-Gutenberg days

“Tradition!” Tevye the milkman barked, and with that emphatic proclamation the song and dance reeled on. The traditions that last the best are the ones that constantly reshape themselves within the structures they’ve set up, and certainly the Northwest Film Center’s Reel Music Festival, which spools into its 34th annual edition on Friday, fits that category. The basic idea is the same as always: pull together a whole bunch of films about music and musicians (documentaries, primarily), but do new ones every year, and let the good times roll. Or reel.

Thelonious Monk with his band in 1959, from “The Jazz Loft According to W. Eugene Smith.” Credit 2016 The Heirs of W. Eugene Smith, FilmBuff

This year’s edition, which runs through February 5, kicks off with a foulmouthed film about the Rolling Stones (Robert Frank’s 1972 Cocksucker Blues) that followed the band on tour after the Altamont debacle, and was so raunchy and revealing about the seedier side of rock that it was shelved, and is only rarely seen. Here’s your chance. You might want to pair it with the more genteel, if that’s the right word, The Rolling Stones Olé Olé Olé!, filmed on last year’s Latin American tour. I like the looks of 1957’s The Jazz Loft According to W. Eugene Smith, filmed by the Life Magazine photographer when he lived and worked in an illegal loft teeming with artists and musicians and house parties and jam sessions in Manhattan’s Flower District during a golden age of jazz; A Poem Is a Naked Person, a cinematic portrait of Leon Russell directed by Maureen Gosling and the great Les Blank that was unreleased for 40 years because Russell, a co-producer, didn’t like it; and Mose Allison: Ever Since I Stole the Blues, Paul Bernays’ portrait of the essence-of-hip pianist and singer who was yet another member of last year’s sizable artists’ march into the final sunset. You, no doubt, will find your own favorites. Check the schedule and put on your toe-tapping shoes. It’s a tradition.

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ArtsWatch Weekly: Revel without a Claus

Commedia Christmas, O'Connor & Ives, Nutcracker, Imago's new Belle, Milagro's Posada, more "Messiah," Kurosawa Dreams, and more

This year’s dragon, not red as in the picture here from 2014 but a bright scaly green, was sitting in a little storage corner outside Portland Revels’ offices in the Artists Repertory Theatre creative hub one day last week, waiting patiently for assembly. It was in two pieces: a hind portion stretched over a large backpack, with room for levers, and a gangly top, again with movable parts, which when occupied by puppeteer Shuhe Hawkins will stretch giraffe-like perhaps 12 or 15 feet above the stage. It is a lovely creature all in all, and that fabled dragon-slayer St. George really ought to be ashamed.

Taggin’ with the dragon, in the 2014 Revels. Portland Revels photo

It’s Revels time again – this year’s Christmas Revels runs for eight performances Friday through December 21 at St. Mary’s Academy downtown – and for Bruce Hostetler, newly settled in as artistic director after about five years of working with and directing the annual winter solstice show, that means settling into the hundreds of details at hand while he’s also thinking about bigger things. If you don’t know about Revels – which is in its 22nd year in Portland, and began in 1975 in Cambridge, Massachusetts – it’s a grand and genuinely family get-together of singing, dancing, storytelling, mumming, and playing old-time instruments that is rooted in Celtic customs but regularly roams the earth, making connections with other cultures’ solstice traditions. Santa Claus? That’s somebody else’s tale.

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ArtsWatch Weekly: vote, and other opportunities

Looking back, looking ahead: a week's worth of theater, dance, music, film, and art in and around Portland

After all that feuding and fussing it’s election day, and nothing on this week’s calendar is more important. In Oregon, with its vote-by-mail elections, that means today is last chance, not first chance. Remember, ballots must be received by 8 p.m. Tuesday, not just postmarked by today. That means it’s too late to mail your ballot: You’ll need to drop it off. You can do that at your branch library and other designated spots. If you haven’t turned your ballot in yet, stop reading this right now and get ‘er done. If your vote is safely cast, scroll on down and take a look at a few visual reminders that the United States has been doing this for a long time. Except for the Bingham painting, the images come from the Library of Congress’s 2012 book Presidential Campaign Posters: 200 Years of Election Art:

"The County Election," George Caleb Bingham, 1852, oil on canvas, 38 x 52 inches, Saint Louis Art Museum

“The County Election,” George Caleb Bingham, 1852, oil on canvas, 38 x 52 inches, Saint Louis Art Museum

 


 

A FEW THINGS HAPPENING THIS WEEK:

Northwest Filmmakers’ Festival. The 43rd edition of the Northwest Film Center’s annual regional showcase runs Thursday through Tuesday at the Portland Art Museum’s Whitsell Auditorium and Portland State University’s nearby 5th Avenue Cinema and Skype Live Studio. Shorts, features, and documentaries ranging from the battle over water rights to an internet horror tale to life in a modern medieval village.

Epoch. An evening of new dance from Samuel Hobbs (November) of push/FOLD and ArtsWatch dance columnist Jamuna Chiarini (The Kitchen Sink), with music by Hobbs and Lisa DeGrace. Friday and Saturday, BodyVox Dance Center.

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First date with the family

At The Reading Parlor, things get messy when the cast meets "The Humans" for the first time. That's part of the fun.

It was a crowded and convivial setting for what Danielle Weathers, organizer of The Reading Parlor, likes to call a “first date with a play.” In a little side room of the Artists Repertory Theatre complex on Sunday night, seven music stands cozied up in a row. On each sat a thick stage script marked heavily with felt pen to denote each performer’s lines. Seven actors then walked in and sat in the seven chairs behind the seven music stands. They were gathering for the first time and getting their first look at this particular script, which on Sunday was for The Humans, Stephen Karam’s funny and quietly wrenching domestic drama that won this year’s best-play Tony and is still going strong in New York. Karam’s play takes place at a family Thanksgiving gathering in Lower Manhattan, and, well, you know how those things can go: familiarity, secrets, surprise.

Weathers and friends have been presenting these free monthly readings for about a year and a half now, moving from venue to venue as opportunity arises. The idea is to give Portland theater people and audiences a first glimpse at new or recent plays that may or may not eventually get full productions in town. (It’s hard to believe that someone won’t snap up The Humans as soon as it’s available.) And when she says “first date,” Weathers means it: The Reading Parlor catches the experience of putting together a production in those first, fragile, erratic, and beguiling moments, when you’re just getting the picture of the thing. “This is going to be messy,” she told the crowd before Sunday’s reading began, “and I encourage that.”

No, this is not the family in "The Humans." But things do get rowdy. Jan Steen, "The Merry Family," 1668, oil on canvas, 43.5 x 55.5 inches, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam / Wikimedia Commons.

No, this is not the family in “The Humans.” But things do get rowdy. Jan Steen, “The Merry Family,” 1668, oil on canvas, 43.5 x 55.5 inches, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam / Wikimedia Commons.

The Reading Parlor is one of several low-cost reading series in town (Readers Theatre Rep does monthly readings of short plays at Blackfish Gallery, and the grand old Portland Civic Theatre Guild has been doing monthly daytime coffee-and-readings for decades, most recently at Triangle Productions’ Sanctuary). It stands out not just because it’s free but also because it’s unrehearsed – about as close to impromptu experience as you can come.

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