Theater & dance preview: A week of tumult

Freedom is like a gravy bowl that runneth over...

The October tumult continues, the polls are up and down, the truth is stretched and ignored completely, con men rule and words like “freedom” have begun to decohere.  How else can we explain the Arkansas state representative who argues against anti-slavery laws on the grounds that they limit his freedom, as though freedom was all about him?

So, yes, brutal times. Where to find some balance, some wisdom, some regard for the common good? I’m heading for the theater, where no one is going to try to convince me that slavery is a good thing, in fact, quite the opposite. And no one is going to try to con me or tell me blatant lies. No, they’re going to try to tell me the truth as near as they can make it out. And that’s close enough for me.

You have a tumult of choices of shows opening this weekend. Don’t stay at home listening to the fantasists on TV or reading nonsense in the newspaper. And don’t pretend that nothing’s happening, either, though that course tempts me, I have to say. Gather your forces. Maybe start with Trisha Brown, who is entirely coherent about the nature of freedom.


Trisha Brown, White Bird, Oct. 11-13, Newmark Theater, 1111 SW Broadway — It’s hard to imagine modern dance without the extensive movement experiments of Brown, who was one of the central figures of the Judson dance movement in the 1960s. Maybe because of that work with the basic building blocks of movement and theater, her work always seems both fresh and elemental. Here, she’ll be performing “I’m going to toss my arms — if you catch them their yours,”  a U.S. premiere based on her love of sculpture and calligraphy, and more, including “Les Yeux et l’ame,” below.


Michael J Asberry, Ramona Lisa Alexander, Lance McQueen and Gayle Samuels in “Seven Guitars”/Owen Carey

“Seven Guitars,” Artists Repertory Theatre, Oct. 9-Nov. 11, 1515 SW Morrison St. — In recent years, Portland has seen fine productions of several of the great August Wilson’s 10-play theater cycle, set in an African-American neighborhood in Pittsburgh over a 100 years. To me, “Seven Guitars” is Wilson at his lyrical and musical best, with writing full of comic notes that contrast with the tragedy unfolding before us. How do we negotiate and express our freedom? What are its limits? August Wilson is absolutely profound on the subject. This show kicks off the August Wilson Red Door Project’s fall festival.

Harold Pinter’s “The Homecoming” opens Friday at Defunkt.

“The Homecoming,” Defunkt Theatre, Oct. 12-Nov. 17, Back Door Theater, 4319 SE Hawthorne — Speaking of playwrights at their best, “The Homecoming” may be my favorite Harold Pinter play, so dark and brooding and misanthropic. Yummy. If you were making your way merrily into the ’60s thinking that family life was like “Ozzie and Harriet” or “Leave It to Beaver,” this play and maybe “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” reminded you that all was not moral instruction and a few laugh lines. Paul Angelo directs for Defunkt. Things could get pretty steamy in the intimate confines of the Back Door Theater.

Bill Alexander and David Burnett in “Othello” rehearsal.

“Othello,” Northwest Classical Theatre Company, Oct. 12-Nov. 4, 2110 SE 10th Ave. — Did I mention duplicity? Don’t we always cringe at the thought of “Othello,” maybe because we know how easily misled we are by the con men, without conscience, looking for suckers with a weakness or two they can exploit for their own purposes, however nefarious they may be. So, yes, I’m describing Iago, the racist con man, who will be played by none other than Michael Mendelson in this production, with Wrick Jones as Othello.  And the director is Bill Alexander, former associate director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, among other credits, who has won an Olivier directing nod, among other awards.

From Agnieszka Laska’s “Broken Flowers”/Chris Leck

“Broken Flowers,” Agniezka Laska Dancers, Oct. 12-14, Zoomtopia, 810 SE Belmont — Maybe we can be forgiven for preferring not to consider the awful business of selling young women into sex slavery. Still, we know it happens and not just in faraway places but right here and now. The problem that choreographer Agniezka Laska has is how to translate that business, those lives, into movement, but she has taken on difficult subjects before. James Bash interviewed composer Jack Gabel about the project for Oregon Music News.


“Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson,” Portland Playhouse, Oct. 11-Nov. 11, 602 NE Prescott St. — The question is, can Andrew “Old Hickory” Jackson survive the assault of this rock musical? Then again, shouldn’t he take his licks just like everybody else? With a gigantic cast crammed into the Portland Playhouse’s Prescott Street church, things are going to get BUSY in there. A little biting satire for this election season seems just the thing.

“Body Beautiful,” Oregon Ballet Theatre, Oct. 13-20, Keller Auditorium, 222 SW Clay St. — In conjunction with the Portland Art Museum’s “The Body Beautiful in Ancient Greece” exhibit, Oregon Ballet Theatre gets those bodies in motion with a program built around George Balanchine’s ballet, “Apollo,” to music by Igor Stravinsky. Also on the card, dances by Kent and Christopher Stowell and William Forsythe’s “Second Detail,” above.

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