Cranberries and the art of thanks

Maybe generosity of spirit (and an ability to take the tart with the sweet) is at the heart of the holiday and the arts. Happy Thanksgiving.

It’s Thanksgiving, and I hope, if you’re reading this, you’re giving yourself a little break in your day: waiting while the sweet potatoes are baking, maybe, or pausing before you pack hot dishes in the car and head out to break bread with friends. It’s a day for friendships and family and connections. And a day for rituals. We all have them.

One of mine is making the cranberry sauce, which I do two or three days in advance so the flavors meld and settle. My method is both improvisatory and familiar. Take a good-sized orange, peel it well and scrape off all the pith, dice the peel small and toss half or two-thirds of it in the pot. Cut the orange itself into slightly bigger chunks; add them and the juice. A generous dash of nutmeg, half a cinnamon stick, no more than half the amount of sugar that recipes generally call for: a satisfying sauce calls for a touch of sweet, but as with rhubarb, if you don’t like the tartness, why are you bothering? A little water to give the thing some liquid, stir and boil, add the fresh berries and cook ’em until they pop.

Gratitude in a pot: making the cranberry sauce.

Well, that’s one way. That’s one tradition. And Thanksgiving’s very much about tradition.

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This week is more about connecting with friends and family, contemplating gratitude, and consuming vittles than imbibing music, but Oregon nevertheless offers its usual bounty of concerts this week if you know where to look.

Lucas Pitts stars in the Portland Ballet’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert.

One place is in a dance performance: the Portland Ballet’s annual live-music enhanced Thanksgiving show this time features John Clifford’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream Friday-Sunday at Portland State’s Lincoln Performance Hall. Ken Selden leads the PSU Orchestra and opera singers in Mendelssohn’s ever-sparkling score, accompanying an 80+ member cast in one of the season’s most reliably entertaining events.

An Unforgettable Nat King Cole Christmas features Chicago/Broadway musical star Evan Tyrone Martin reminding us why Cole was one of the last century’s finest singers. Friday-Sunday at Portland’s Winningstad Theatre.

Evan Tyrone Martin covers Nat King Cole this weekend.

Speaking of Portland State, a free recital Tuesday at Lincoln Hall celebrating the PSU String Scholarship Fund features some of the city’s finest classical musicians, including cellist Hamilton Cheifetz, violinist Tomas Cotik, pianist Julia Lee and PSU students playing Vivaldi, Bach, Gliere, Handel, Popper, Granados, Rachmaninoff and Beethoven.

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Gearhart’s secret little jewel for artists

Since 1950, the Trail's End Art Association -- the oldest of its kind on the north coast -- has offered artists a place for camaraderie and confidence

Susan Bish remembers well the first time she set foot in Gearhart’s Trail’s End Art Association gallery.

Painter Susan Bish says she was not much of a joiner when she first heard about the Trail’s End Art Association more than 30 years ago, but today, the former association president says she’s glad she took the plunge. “In the Dunes,” by Susan Bish

It was the mid ‘80s. Bish had learned of the gallery and studio from association members she met at the Astoria swimming pool. In her high school and college years, Bish, now 82, was an avid painter, but over the years, she had left the medium as she became more involved in the theater, married, and raised a family. She was intrigued about the association, but as she told her friend, “I’m not much of a joiner.”

So her friend offered to pay half of Bish’s membership — $20 at the time — and Bish signed on. She was excited about the idea of getting back into painting and sharing the camaraderie of other artists. But she would soon second-guess herself.

“I remember the first time I walked into the building,” she said. “I was a little turned off. It was all these little old ladies who painted rocks. I thought, oh my god, this is pretty bad.”

The association’s studio and gallery, at 656 A St., is in a former school built around 1905. Photo by: Lori Tobias

She stuck around anyway, eventually becoming association president.

“It’s changed greatly over the years and it’s all for the good,” Bish said. “It’s a fantastic organization and I’m glad I joined when I did.”

This month, as the 68-year-old association prepares for its annual Holiday Fest, it also celebrates its status as the oldest art association/co-op of its kind on the north coast. Besides providing studio and gallery space for members, it offers classes and workshops open to the public.

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Demanding to be seen in a faceless bureaucracy

Mohamed Asem's memoir "Stranger in the Pen" reflects on identity and belonging

Mohamed Asem is a man between countries and cultures, which puts him squarely at odds with bureaucratic systems that crave neat little scribbled-in circles. When everything is carefully defined, there are fewer choices. No gray area. Nothing to consider or worry about. So what happens when it isn’t?

Asem is a man of independent means with no permanent ties, free to explore the world when and how he chooses. Yet he learns abruptly, rudely, and quite painfully that “where” is not always a possibility. Not all doors are open to him. In his short memoir (131 pages), Stranger in the Pen, newly published by Portland’s Perfect Day Publishing, Asem recounts in his understated prose how he’s detained overnight at Gatwick Airport in London in July 2016, a few days after the Bastille Day terrorist attack, in which a semi-truck drove through crowds in Nice, France, killing 86 people.

Mohamed Asem for Perfect Day Publishing, June 2018. Photo by Jason Quigley.

Like a film lens moving in and out of a close-up, throughout the airport story Asem deftly weaves in memories and details about the rest of his life, one that defies categories and easy identification so that it stymies Border Control agents. Born in California and raised in Paris and Kuwait, he’s not truly at home anywhere.

His accent doesn’t fit no matter what language he speaks. He’s comfortable with family and friends in Kuwait, but his introverted ways (so “Western”) make him a tough fit in a culture that is so social, and his perpetual single status inhibits his ability to buy property so he can have privacy and write. On top of that, he’s light-skinned because his ancestors moved to Kuwait from other countries, so even in a Kuwaiti airport he’s often asked to get in a line for non-citizens. Where does the meta stop?

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Here is not there

In Transit: From Home to Where at Blue Sky Gallery

by RACHEL ROSENFIELD LAFO

Immigration is a hot topic these days, not only politically but also in the cultural sector as artists respond to a growing humanitarian crisis. The traveling exhibition In Transit at Blue Sky Gallery through December 30 confronts this timely and difficult topic through photographs and videos of migrants and refugees in the Middle East and Europe who have been forced to leave their homes due to war, political upheavals, economic deprivation, and strife. While the situation in each country varies and each migrant experiences a different set of circumstances, there is a commonality to their existence in a state of transition, with little security or recourse.

The five artists selected by curator Peggy Sue Amison have worked with immigrants in Iran, Jordan, Lebanon, Italy, and Germany, providing a window into the lives of people who endure in constant states of uncertainty, loss, sorrow, fear and frustration. By collaborating with their subjects over a period of time, sometimes years, and giving them a voice, the artists restore dignity to those often seen only as interlopers or victims rather than individuals.

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The hidden history of ‘Oklahoma!’

Contemporary reinterpretations of the classic American musical may be getting back to its root: It's based on a play by a gay Cherokee man.

By DANIEL POLLACK-PELZNER

Seventy-five years ago, as Rodgers and Hammerstein’s new musical Oklahoma! was beginning its sellout run on Broadway, the Times ran an indignant letter from Eva Paul, of Provincetown. “It is rather amusing to notice the insouciance and naïve bravado with which all the perpetrators of Oklahoma! eliminate all mention of Lynn Riggs,” she wrote. “After all, did he or did he not give them a plot to which they more or less adhered and a galaxy of characters which none of them ever approached in their other undertakings?”

Original poster for “Oklahoma!” on Broadway, 1943. Wikimedia Commons

He did: a decade earlier, Riggs had enjoyed a brief Broadway success at the Theatre Guild with his play Green Grow the Lilacs, which evoked the cowboys and farmers of his childhood in Indian Territory, before Oklahoma became a state. Traditional folk songs and picturesque dialogue enlivened a courtship triangle: whether Laurey, a young homesteader, would go to a party with Curly, a cocky cowboy, or Jeeter Fry, a rough farmhand. In 1942, the Guild’s producer, Theresa Helburn, saw a revival of Green Grow the Lilacs and thought it could furnish the material for an American folk opera on the model of Porgy and Bess, which the Guild had also staged. She engaged Richard Rodgers—his partnership with Larry Hart dissolving as Hart fell prey to alcoholism and depression—to compose the music and Oscar Hammerstein—longing for a hit after a series of flops with his Show Boat partner, Jerome Kern—to adapt Riggs’s play and write the lyrics.

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‘Miss Julie’ still challenges the chains of convention

If Strindberg's classic, at The Verona Studio in Salem, is too intense for the holidays, head to Gallery Theater for "It's a Wonderful Life"

The Verona Studio in Salem will do some heavy lifting in the Willamette Valley’s theater scene this month. The company, based in the Reed Opera House Mall, is mounting a production of August Strindberg’s Miss Julie, where the Darwinian theory of “survival of the fittest” is put to the test with a romantic encounter that crosses class lines.

The show opens a three-weekend run on Nov. 29. While the show was in rehearsal last week, director Gregory Jolivette exchanged a few emails with me. That interview is below, but first, a bit about the play, for the uninitiated.

Johan August Strindberg was a prolific Swedish writer (in addition to the naturalistic theater for which he is famous, he was also a novelist, essayist, and poet) whose career spanned about four decades — mostly during the latter half of the 19th century. He wrote more than 60 plays, and his 1888 drama Miss Julie is widely considered his masterpiece. It’s performed frequently and has been adapted to film many times — most famously in 1951 by the Swedish director Alf Sjöberg and most recently in 2014 by Liv Ullmann. I haven’t seen that one, which stars Jessica Chastain and Colin Farrell, but I have seen Sjöberg’s version, which is available on home video through the Criterion Collection and is well worth your time.

Belladina Starr and Seth Allen tackle the bucket-list roles of Julie and Jean in “Miss Julie,” Strindberg’s searing classic about class, gender, and money. Photo courtesy: Roman Martinez of Roman Films for The Verona Studio

Miss Julie features a cast of three. The title character (played in Verona’s production by Belladina Starr), the daughter of a Swedish nobleman, is drawn to Jean, her father’s valet (played by Seth Allen). Christine (Penelope Bays) is a cook for the estate who finds herself in the thick of it. It’s such a challenging, complex work, so rich in its themes and characters, that I wanted to know something about the person who decided to tackle it for The Verona Studio.

Tell us about your background and involvement in theater.

Gregory Jolivette: I stumbled into the theater during my freshman year of high school and have since been doing it as a hobby. I’ve been involved in over 40 productions, mostly as an actor in both community and professional theater companies. Although I grew up in Northern California, Oregon has been a significant part of my theater journey because of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Seeing plays there as a high school student is what really got me hooked on theater arts. Those formative experiences at OSF also explain my interest in the classics. My interest in directing was piqued around the time I moved to Salem in 2013. I started out by assistant-directing a couple of shows at the Pentacle Theatre, and, in 2017, had my directorial debut with The Verona Studio’s well-received production of ‘Night, Mother.

Do you remember a particular play and/or performance you saw at OSF that showed you what theater can do?

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