Brief affair, puzzling twist

Triangle's intimate, beautifully performed family story "Our Mother's Brief Affair" jumps the expositional tracks, and it's difficult to care


Children view their parents as sexless creatures, even though a child’s entire existence is the product of raw parental sexuality. And, it is mothers more often than fathers who are placed on a rigid, unearned pedestal of purity and selflessness by their offspring. In Our Mother’s Brief Affair, at Triangle Productions, author Richard Greenberg explores the life of Anna (Michelle Maida), a mother who is neither selfless nor pure, and her relationship with her twin children, Seth (Alex Fuchs) and Abby (Deanna Wells).

Deanna Wells, Alex Fox, Twig Webster, Michelle Maida: intimate mysteries. Photo: David Kinder/Kinderpics

Anna steps onto the stage before the lights go low, sitting on one of the two benches that make up the entirety of the set and occupying herself quietly as the audience continues murmuring pre-theater chatter. When Seth steps on the stage, he launches into the first of the night’s bouts of exposition. An obituary writer by trade, he has trouble fully capturing his mother as he has come to know her. She isn’t a cold woman, exactly, but she also isn’t the sort prone to affectionate behaviors like assigning nicknames to her children. Anna is also what Seth terms “an average situational liar but not at all a maker of fables.”


‘Death and the Maiden’ review: a history of violence

Bag & Baggage's production of Ariel Dorfman's play about confronting the consequences of repression makes more persuasive political analysis than drama

A man bound and gagged. A woman pointing a gun at him. Confess his crime against her, or else.

You can’t ask for a much tenser set up than that. Death and the Maiden keeps the audience wondering throughout: did he do it, and will she do it? One of those questions will be resolved before the show is over.

But although they drive the plot, those aren’t the main questions raised by Ariel Dorfman’s provocative 1990 play now running at The Vault Theatre in Hillsboro. How do people, and by extension society, heal from past violence? Is confession enough? Or confession plus repentance? How about vengeance? Or should we just leave the past buried and move on?

Mandana Khoshnevisan as Paulina and Anthony Green as Roberto in Bag & Baggage Productions’ ‘Death and the Maiden.’ Photo: Casey Campbell Photography.

Dorfman’s play purports to dramatize this recurring conundrum by reducing it to three characters: A vengeful victim, blindfolded, tortured and raped years before by minions of a now-deposed military dictatorship. Her maybe-victimizer, whose voice resembles that of the man who, during the depths of the repression, tortured her to the recorded strains of a string quartet.  Her husband, who happens to be involved in the country’s efforts to confront its repressive past.

But even as the plot, and the ethical arguments, unfold, Dorfman’s script, and this production, leave those characters pretty much where they started. While Death and the Maiden poses some still-urgent questions, here it dutifully proceeds more like a combination formula thriller and a detached classroom ethics debate than an emotionally gripping character drama.


March Music Moderne preview: celebrating Debussy

Festival commemorates the creativity and influence of composer Claude Debussy with concerts of his music and new works by Oregon composers

While everyone is checking their brackets for one kind of March Madness (go Ducks!), some of us are equally excited by the return of another crazy rite of spring. March Music Moderne has been on hiatus for while, so it’s even more thrilling to welcome back one of Oregon’s most fascinating music melanges, because it spotlights music you can’t hear at other Oregon classical music concerts, primarily composers who write or wrote music in the modernist tradition. And unlike most overpriced classical music concerts, March Modness is always free, subsidized by Priest (whose wealth lies in his musical generosity rather than negotiable currency) himself.

Actually, though, this edition of MMM superficially resembles Ye Olde Classical Music in at least one way: what I call necromusicophilia, the worship of dead composers. Classical music institutions, desperately needing a news hook to provide an excuse to pay more than usual attention to composers who aren’t going to be releasing any albums of new material or embarking on tours, tend to focus on round number birthdays or, more macabrely, death days.

Claude Debussy, 1908.

For Claude Debussy, that day came exactly 100 years ago Sunday, when the French composer died of cancer during World War I as German shells exploded near his Paris home. But why would the generally mid-20th century March Music Moderne’s three concerts this weekend at Portland’s Community Music Center, and associated other activities this month, commemorate Debussy’s demise?

One answer may be that it was one of his groundbreaking works, Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, that turned MMMpresario Bob Priest onto classical music, rescuing him from rock music’s gutters and vaulting him into the palace of — nah, not really. Priest still cherishes Jimi Hendrix, Prince and other rock and pop deities. And as we’ll see, this festival includes far more new music — and by Oregon composers — than old.

But Priest is far from alone in his Debussy devotion. This isn’t the only centennial commemoration of his death happening around the world this year. There are days when he’s my favorite composer too. And it’s a sign of Debussy’s artistic significance and variety that he’s legitimately claimed as a major inspiration by many if not most composers who followed — modernist, post-mod, and otherwise, including one of Priest’s prime mentors, Olivier Messiaen. That’s how rich was his palette — from La Mer’s turbulent seascapes to Children’s Corner’s playful naivete to Pelleas and Melisande’s shadowy moods and so much more. And that’s why Debussy makes an appropriate centerpiece of a modern music festival: not just for his past accomplishments, but also for his future impact, which continues here and now.


Austin Granger’s commonplace miracles

When things go right, "I have the uncanny sense that the photographs were already there, just waiting for me. They feel predestined."



Portland photographer Austin Granger, who grew up in northern California and studied philosophy at the University of California, Santa Cruz, prefers to load film into his Fuji GF670 or Deardorff 5 by 7 instead of pushing a card into a digital camera. Sticking to the old rituals, he’d also rather shoot in black and white than in color. Sixty of his images are on display through April 10 at LightBox Photographic Gallery in Astoria.

Granger calls photography “at once commonplace and utterly miraculous.” Among his landscape and nature images, the influence of Group f/64 photographers Ansel Adams and Edward Weston is apparent, Granger readily acknowledges. Adams is one of his heroes, and sharp-focused, meticulously framed photos are among his images’ hallmarks, as they are of his mid-century California predecessors.

“Self, Alvord Desert, Oregon,” self-portrait, 2016.

The 76-page catalog for Granger’s LightBox exhibition is titled Correspondence. “When I’m photographing well, I have the most uncanny feeling that the pictures are predestined,” Granger said. “I recognize them. They echo the feelings inside myself. They correspond.”


Bill Bulick, arts agency architect, has died

Bill Bulick built the Regional Arts & Culture Council into a model arts agency, imitated around the country

Bill Bulick, the architect of the Regional Arts and Culture Council, the primary way government supports the art in the tri-county area, died yesterday in Portland. He had lived with Parkinson’s Disease for many years. He was 65.

When I first met Bulick in the late 1970s, he was affiliated with Artichoke Music, the great folk music center, attempting to get coverage for Artichoke shows. He was so earnest and so affable that his pitches were impossible to resist: He made me feel that I was doing a great service to the culture at large by helping to spread the word, and to this day, I think he was right.

By then, he had attended Reed College, the University of Chicago and Portland State, worked as a studio potter, and spent a couple of years in Ireland studying Celtic music. In 1983 he helped organize Wildgeese, the leading proponent of Celtic music in the Northwest, and he became the first program director at Pioneer Courthouse Square.

Bill Bulick, here making a presentation in Bradenton, Florida, spread the arts plan behind RACC across the country.

The culture at large: Bill switched gears and careers, moving from the folk music niche into arts administration. His sense of fairness, his calm demeanor and his determination were a perfect fit in this role, and he quickly became a crucial figure at the old Metropolitan Arts Commission, Portland’s city arts bureau, which he joined in 1987. By 1989, he had become executive director, succeeding Selina Ottum, who had professionalized the arts commission before moving to the National Endowment for the Arts as Deputy Chair.


Edna Vazquez with Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble review: homeward sound

Portland mariachi singer/songwriter's music shines in new, original arrangements for jazz band


In an interview with Edna Vazquez on Beyond Category – the PJCE Podcast a few days before her February concert with Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble (PJCE), executive director Douglas Detrick asked the Portland singer-songwriter about Portland as a home, and her sense of home. You’ll have to listen to the podcast to find out her answer, but Detrick followed up by confessing that whenever he attended her performance, it felt like home for him.

Edna Vazquez’s grandfather listened to the big band music of the 1940s and as a child, Vazquez loved its melodies and motion. Although her own music is rooted in mariachi, she finds that jazz is a parallel genre.

Edna Vazquez performed with Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble at Portland’s Old Church. Photo: Douglas Detrick.

Vazquez’s mariachi music felt right at home in new arrangements for jazz ensemble at her 2018 PDX Jazz festival performance at The Old Church with PJCE. The concert was repeated in Gresham and Hood River.



Adapting Ibsen’s dark drama Hedda Gabler for dance is an ambitious undertaking: that much is clear when you’re greeted by two pages of program notes explaining the plot as you settle in for the world premiere of NW Dance Project’s Hedda. It’s sort of a heavy lift for viewers, although once you’ve read through the lengthy synopsis, you have a pretty good idea of what’s happening onstage.

Good thing, because this particular play is driven less by outright action than buttoned-up, Victorian-era emotional turmoil. Company artistic director Sarah Slipper has managed to pull a compelling contemporary movement narrative from it, aided by composer Owen Belton, from whom the company commissioned a score, and set designer Luis Crespo. Belton’s moody score amps ups up the dread, and layers in the sounds telegraph specific settings and actions. Crespo’s set design for the main characters’ home, where most of the action takes place, is simple but effective: black beaded curtains to the left and right, suggesting entryways, and a piano at the center banked by several bouquets of flowers.

Andrea Parson as Hedda in NW Dance Project’s “Hedda” at the Newmark Theatre/Photo by Blaine Truitt Covert

Why flowers? Because Hedda (Andrea Parson) and her husband, Tesman (William Couture) have recently returned from their honeymoon, during which he worked on his academic research and she, presumably, slouched around the hotel, bored witless. She is still bored when the curtain rises: We find her draped over the piano, practically oozing ennui—that is, until her maid, Berte (Katherine Disenhof), begins ushering in a series of guests.

There is Hedda’s old schoolmate, Thea (Lindsey McGill); Tesman’s old academic rival, Lövborg (Franco Nieto); and Judge Brack, a friend of the Tesman family. Each arrives with an agenda. Thea loves Lövborg, an alcoholic, and is trying to save him from himself; Lövborg, who has dried out, is trying to publish a promising new paper; and Tesman, who is sweet on Hedda, has come with the warning that Lövborg may land the professorship Tesman wants.