Brilliant? Let us list the ways

The one-man show "Every Brilliant Thing" begins with an amiable Isaac Lamb and builds its odd-duck case one good thing at a time

Let the record stipulate that the reviewer is not a fan of audience-participation theater.

Let the record stipulate that Every Brilliant Thing, the one-man show that opened Friday evening in the downstairs Ellyn Bye Studio at Portland Center Stage at The Armory, is, is fact, an audience-participation play.

Let the record further stipulate that, notwithstanding his biases, the reviewer found himself to be absolutely charmed, and sometimes moved, and often given to outbursts of immoderate laughter. Let the record observe that the reviewer stands corrected, at least this once.

*

Isaac Lamb works the crowd. Photo: Patrick Weishampel/blankeye.tv

Every Brilliant Thing – performed with intense likability (if that’s a possible thing) by Isaac Lamb, with the smart and nimble collaboration of director Rose Riordan and some on-the-nose sound design by Casi Pacilio – is an odd duck of a play, but then, sometimes the odd ducks are the interesting ones. Written by Duncan Macmillan and original performer Jonny Donahoe, it debuted in 2013 at the Ludlow Fringe Festival in Shropshire before crossing the Atlantic to New York and beyond. It bears a striking affinity to the sort of theater known as standup comedy, which thrives, among other things, on improvisational give-and-take with the audience. Lamb achieves complicity not by bristling aggressively at the audience, as standups often do, but by sweet-talking them, in gee-shucks conspiratorial tones, into helping him out. And help him out they do, even the ones who feel just a little self-conscious about being suckered in.

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Alison Saar: Racial history and its implications

Alison Saar's exhibition of prints and sculpture at PNCA deals with layers of racial history and current realities

By LAUREL REED PAVIC

In its simplest form, an exhibition consists of a selection of work pulled from a collection by a curator. The show Crepuscular Blue: Prints and Sculpture by Alison Saar from the Collections of Jordan D. Schnitzer and His Family Foundation currently at the Center for Contemporary Culture (CCAC) at Pacific Northwest College of Art (PNCA) is the result of a far richer process. Instead of a collection and a curator, this show’s generation involved an artist, a daughter, a printer-turned-curator-turned-collaborator, and a fortunate institution.

This exhibition brings together 19 of Saar’s prints from Schnitzer’s extensive collection and four sculptures and one woodcut from the L.A. Louver Gallery in Los Angeles. The curator, Paul Mullowney, is a Master Printer and owner of Mullowney Printing Company in San Francisco. Mullowney met Saar through her daughter, Maddy Leeser, a PNCA alumna and former student of Mullowney’s. Mullowney was already set to curate a show from Schnitzer’s collection when he met Saar and soon shifted his approach so that the show concentrated solely on her work.

Alison Saar, “High Yella Blue”,lithograph/Courtesy of Jordan Schnitzer Family Foundation

Saar and Mullowney collaborated on three of the prints in the show during the summer of 2017 at Mullowney’s studio (Muddy Water, Topsy and the Golden Fleece, and Eclipse). Both Mullowney and Saar were at PNCA in mid-September and worked on High Cotton alongside students in PNCA’s MFA program in Print Media. Saar gave a lecture at PNCA on September 19 as part of Schnitzer Visiting Artist Lecture Series. Crepuscular Blue continues at PNCA’s 511 Gallery through October 14.

Saar is a sculptor who is also a printmaker and consummate collaborator. Her work engages with racial stereotypes, American history, Modernist tropes, Greek mythology, and contemporary events with equal tact and finesse. Saar is the daughter of an artist but, in turn, she is the mother of artists. No element or identity is treated as more or less worthy of consideration in her work; all are of value.

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Crow’s Shadow’s art of the land

The Hallie Ford Museum's generous retrospective of 25 years at the innovative eastern Oregon print center reveals a vital sense of place

Ghost Camp, a four-piece suite of lithographs by James Lavadour from 2002, all but jumps off the wall as you wander through the generous new exhibit Crow’s Shadow Institute of the Arts at 25 at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art in Salem. Lavadour prints and paintings have a way of leaping like that: they have what curators and dealers like to call “wall power.”

But something else is going on in this suite, too. In that familiar Lavadour way Ghost Camp is partly abstract and partly taken from the spacious hilly land of eastern Oregon and Washington near Pendleton, where he lives. A scrawl of lines seems almost arbitrary until you look a little closer and realize they are deft intimations of shapes on the horizon or buildings breaking up the open spaces. Searing streaks of color suggest trees, red and glowing and perhaps – who knows, in a runaway fire season like this one? – on the way to being charred.

James Lavadour (Walla Walla, b. 1951), “Ghost Camp,” 2002, ed. 16, suite of four, four-color lithographs with graphite pencil on Arches 88 white paper, 34 1/4 x 43 3/4 inches overall, CSP 02-114 a, b, c, d. Photo: Dale Peterson

Oh: and, sticking up from the top right print like a towering forest snag, the jagged teeth of a giant crosscut logging blade grind relentlessly at the sky. The suite is inspired by Lavadour’s memories of a forest he used to wander as a child – a forest that’s since been clear-cut, and essentially no longer exists. The lithographs are at once an honoring of the past, a preservation of history, a documentation of a present state of mind, an act of beauty, and a lament. The more you look the more you see; the more you see the more you feel.

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‘Fun Home’ review: tragicomic

Loving, audacious musical adaptation brings Alison Bechdel's popular graphic novel family drama to Portland Center Stage

by MATTHEW ANDREWS

To create a successful adaptation, you need an abundance of two qualities: audacity and love. Cleverness helps (so does money), but those two are the important ones. They keep each other in check: audacity gets you started, helps you make necessary cuts and alterations, empowers the act of (re)creation; love keeps you honest, helps you recognize the essentials, and reminds you of why you’re devoting yourself to another artist’s labors. Audacity drives the process, love guides it. Think of them as the right hand of blessing and the left hand of darkness.

Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori’s award-winning 2013 adaptation of Alison Bechdel’s also-award-winning 2006 graphic memoir Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, playing through October 22 at The Armory, benefitted from an extra helping of both. The source material is as personal and intimate as it gets: the successful cartoonist’s first graphic novel, a memoir revolving around the tumultuous four months bracketed by her own coming out and her closeted father’s suicide, is an auteurishly dense and complex piece of literature. It’s dark, and funny, and deeply literary in the interdisciplinary way that has become the special province of comic books—sorry, “graphic novels”—ever since Will Eisner turned out his magnificent A Contract with God in 1978 and bequeathed his name to the genre’s highest honor. It would make a pretty good movie; it would make an incredible Netflix series.

The cast of “Fun Home” at The Armory. Photo: Patrick Weishampel/blankeye.tv.

Instead, Kron and Tesori turned Bechdel’s book into an Off-Broadway musical. It won a bunch of Tonys, went On-Broadway and then on tour, and eventually Portland Center Stage decided to bring it to Portland. I can hardly think of a better home for the sophisticated, queer-themed family drama. I went and saw it the other night on the recommendation of literally every theater person I know, and it did not disappoint. It’s refreshingly brief at 90 minutes; it hits all of the book’s high points and lovingly expresses its central themes and character arcs in surprising ways; the set and costumes and props and other theater accoutrements all look cool; the singing and acting were great, the live band is awesome, and it’s even got a few really catchy tunes. In fact, you should stop reading now and go buy your tickets before the rest of the run sells out.

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‘An Octoroon’ meta-review: theatrical therapy

Taking a playwright off the stage and putting him on the couch

by MARIA CHOBAN

Editor’s note: After watching Artists Repertory Theatre’s new production of An Octoroon, in which playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins begins with an imaginary conversation with his shrink, we wondered what it might have sounded like if the conversation between psychiatrist and playwright had continued. We imagine it might have gone something like this.

“THERAPIST”:
I think you lost your nerve.

“BJJ”:
Really? Why? Because I went all meta ?

“THERAPIST”:
Having  the playwright appear on stage and talk about writing his play is pretty meta.

“BJJ”:
It distances the audience from the story and allows them to protect themselves emotionally by reminding them that it’s all a fictional construct. I mean, it worked for the Oregon ArtsWatch reviewer.

“THERAPIST”:
And bringing in that tired old device of supplying exposition by having someone talk to a therapist.

“BJJ”:
Like we’re doing right now.

“THERAPIST”:
Yup. You think you were going meta by having a character named BJJ onstage in a play by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins? I’m gonna go meta on your meta! Now I’m putting both of us in quotes — in my 2017 story about your 2014 play about the original 1859 play (The Octoroon by Dion Boucicault) based on the original 1856 book (The Quadroon by Thomas Mayne Reid).

“BJJ”:
So you’re saying that going meta is OK?

“THERAPIST”:
Can be. It’s like any other dramatic or literary device. It depends on how well you do it. Whether or not it connects.

“BJJ”:
Well, did it?

“THERAPIST”:
Not really. But your opening monologue sure did.

Joseph Gibson as BJJ in Artists Repertory Theater’s ‘An Octoroon’
Photo: Russell J. Young.

“BJJ”:
You liked my monologue?

“THERAPIST”:
I liked how you, a black playwright, immediately made me, a white female, feel the low grade depression you were dealing with. You turned it into a universal that connected . . . At least with me.

 

THERAPIST:
What makes you happy?

BJJ:
I don’t know.

THERAPIST:
Really? Nothing makes you happy?

BJJ:
Not really.

THERAPIST:
What about work? Doesn’t the theater make you happy?

BJJ:
I mean . . . Some of it. Not all of it.

THERAPIST:
So you’re not excited about your work?

BJJ:
I mean I’m not not excited.

 

“THERAPIST”:
Too bad that —

“BJJ”:
What?

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DanceWatch Weekly: Embracing the matriarch

Mizu Desierto says good-bye to the matriarch of her family and channels her final teaching, plus PWNW Alembic and Kalakendra

Portland dance this weekend is a magical convergence of female energy, wisdom, spirituality, discussions of death and dying, creation, and letting go of it all. On Friday, three powerful choreographer/performers who defy definition—Mizu Desierto from Portland, and Haruko Crow Nishimura and Joshua Kohl, co-artistic directors of Degenerate Art Ensemble from Seattle—will share an evening. The works are based in Butoh but expand beyond, utilizing dance, theatre, live sound, and video to address and meditate on a variety of human states and experiences.

Jamuna Chiarini

This week I interviewed Desierto, a dance/theatre artist with a 20-year practice in Butoh and the co-founder of Portland’s Water in the Desert, a major hub of artistic activity that includes The Headwaters Theatre, Prior Day Farm, and the annual Butoh College. Desierto, who has been a major contributor to the Portland dance and art scene in many ways for many years, will present her solo Matriarch, a dance/film collaboration with composer Lisa DeGrace and video designer Stephen Miller. Matriarch examines death and dying, lineages, and bees—specifically queen bees.

My email interview with Desierto about what inspired the work and how she created it, begins below after this week’s performance listing.

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MusicWatch Weekly: community spirit

Musical highlights around Oregon this week

This week’s Oregon music highlights feature several concerts devoted to bringing communities together and celebrating various heritages that help make up the larger community that we all belong to. Please add your suggested music events in the comments section below.

Leyla McCalla performs at Portland’s Old Church Concert Hall Saturday.

“In a Landscape”
Portland pianist Hunter Noack has embarked on a second September series of outdoor performances around Oregon. (Read my ArtsWatch story about the first one.) This time, he’s put a nine-foot Steinway on a trailer, and is toting it to eastern Oregon. He’s also bringing wireless headphones to distribute to listeners so they can experience the music without alfresco acoustical limitations, and various guest artists, from singer and former Miss America Katie Harman Ebner, Pink Martini founder/pianist Thomas Lauderdale and members of various Oregon orchestras. Check the website for who’s playing what and where and other details on individual performances through September 30.
Wednesday, Oregon Trail Interpretive Center, 22267 OR Highway 86, Baker City; Thursday, Tamástslikt Cultural Institute, 47106 Wildhorse Blvd. Pendleton.

Eugene Symphony
The orchestra performs a recent work by contemporary Chicago composer Augusta Read Thomas, and Joyce Yang solos in Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1 before the orchestra unless that pinnacle of Russian Romanticism, Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4.
Thursday, Hult Center, Eugene.

Music for Everyone Day
A wide variety of musicians, including the Woolen Men, Skull Diver, Ashi, JoJoScott and more, supply the tunes in this free, family-friendly four hour celebration.
Friday, Portland City Hall.

The Gondoliers
Light Opera of Portland’s latest Gilbert & Sullivan show.
Friday-Sunday, Alpenrose Dairy Opera House, 6149 SW Shattuck Road, Portland.

The Dover Quartet performs in Ashland. Photo:Tom Emerson.

Dover Quartet
The Chamber Music Northwest favorites return to Oregon to play quartets by contemporary American composer Richard Danielpour, Tchaikovsky, and Bartók.
Friday, Southern Oregon University Recital Hall, Ashland.

The Broken Consort
One of the most potentially exciting additions to Oregon’s music scene, this early music ensemble recently relocated from Boston and New York to Portland. Their repertoire ranges far beyond the too-limited scope of the state’s other historically informed performers, including new music (they just recorded an album of originals by leader and singer Emily Lau), and this concert focuses on American baroque music. Yes, there was such a thing. People were making music in the Americas during the 17th and 18th centuries. The eight musicians, who hail from Portland, Los Angeles, New York, and beyond, sing and play music written in the New England colonies (by composers like the great William Billings and Francis Hopkinson), in Spanish colonial America, shape note hymns, and even 19th century songs by Stephen Foster. But they’ll also perform music for ngoni, the instrument brought by African slaves, Native American chants and more, including the west coast premiere of Douglas Buchanan’s 2016 Green Field of Amerikay. It’s the fall’s most fascinating concert.
Saturday, Nordia House, and Sunday, The Hallowed Halls, Portland.

Jim Pepper Native Arts Festival
The fifth annual celebration of a true Oregon original and legendary Native American jazz saxophonist includes Tracy Lee Nelson, Winona LaDuke, Gary Ogan, and more. And if you’re interested in Pepper’s life and work, check out Organic Listening Club’s latest edition at Artists Repertory Theater on October 17.
Saturday, Parkrose High School, Portland.

Taiko Together
If you live outside Japan and enjoy the stirring sounds of Japanese percussion music, or just like whacking on big drums,  Portland is the place to be. This concert brings together all four of the city’s taiko ensembles — Portland Taiko, Takohachi, En Taiko, and Unit Souzou — in a celebration of some of the world’s most, ah, striking sounds. It’s a fine opportunity to sample the different varieties available too, from youth-oriented classes to traditional tunes to folk dance to new music and more.
Saturday, P.C.C. Sylvania, Performing Arts Center.

Portland Taiko at its fall 2016 concert. Photo: Brian Sweeney.

The Vanport Mosaic and Maxville Heritage
Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble’s fascinating new project kicks off with a free performance featuring music performed by singer Marilyn Keller and pianist Ezra Weiss, featuring Weiss’s song with lyrics by Renee Mitchell, inspired by the story of Maxville. This afternoon discussion event includes presentations about Maxville and Vanport, followed by a talk with the artistic creators, who are hoping to receive input from the community itself for this important multimedia community history project.
Saturday, Oregon Historical Society, 1200 SW Park Ave, Portland.

Leyla McCalla
Former Carolina Chocolate Drop cellist/singer/guitarist/banjoist Leyla McCalla’s music draws on her Haitian heritage as well as the Creole, Cajun, jazz and French influences that still simmer in and around her New Orleans home. McCalla’s covers of traditional song and sometimes poignant, sometimes danceable, expertly crafted original music reflect the vitality of the many rich folk traditions she’s assimilated.
Saturday, Old Church Concert Hall, Portland.

OneBeat
Organized by NYC’s Bang on a Can new music collective and sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, the four-year-old OneBeat program brings young (age 19-35) musicians from around the world to collaboratively create original music, play it on tour, lead workshops with local young audiences, and “develop strategies for arts-based social engagement” when they return to their home countries. This year’s fellows include South African vocalist Nonku Phiri; Aisaana Omorova, a komuz (traditional three-stringed strummed instrument) player from Kyrgyzstan; Chicago-based producer Elijah Jamal; and Belorussian producer and singer Natalia Kuznetskaya. The program has come to Sisters, Portland and elsewhere around the nation in years past; see it now before our current rulers find out about this effort to increase intercultural understanding.
Saturday, The Belfry, Sisters.

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