What does ArtsWatch watch? Pretty much, the culture in and around Portland: plays, dance, art, music, ideas that interest us and interest you. In other words, we’re local: What’s going on here and now that’s worth seeing and thinking about?
Still, local means a very different thing in 2016 than it did in 1816 or 1416, when travel was difficult and the idea of place was much more isolated. Today, ideas and influences arrive from everywhere. We’re hooked into a global culture whether we like it or not. Portland is an open city. It might have a bubble, but it doesn’t have a wall. Culturally, that means that much of what we think of as local – what we read and see and hear and even eat – is arriving from somewhere else, influencing the ways we live and think and sometimes, in turn, being influenced by what it encounters here. “Local” is an extremely fluid, and often arbitrary, concept.
So this week, let’s go to the movies.
Actually, we go to quite a few of these vivid interlopers from the “outside” world, and we’ve been writing about them, insightfully and entertainingly, as a vital part of our local culture. Our expanded film coverage, under the expert eye of critic and editor Marc Mohan, includes reviews, interviews, and now, a weekly film newsletter, FilmWatch Weekly, in which Mohan spotlights a few fresh films (in his first letter, it was the made-in-Portland Green Room, starring the legendary Patrick Stewart) and keeps you up-to-date on all the movies we think you’ll find of interest: not the mainstream blockbusters, usually, but the genuinely interesting, challenging, and sometimes risky stuff.
Just a few of the past week’s film stories:
A Hologram for the King. Mohan reviews the newest feature starring Tom Hanks, “the ultimate walking metaphor for the American Everyman,” who finds himself in the midst of a cultural and political mess as a salesman pitching a holographic communications system to the monarch of Saudi Arabia. Who says the business world is dull?
Elvis & Nixon. … and politics gets even weirder. Eric D. Snider reviews this new flick – a “jaunty, silly movie about a trivial event” – based on an actual, if incongruous, 1970 meeting at the White House between the president and the king: Richard Nixon and Elvis Presley. Elvis wants to be an undercover narcotics agent for the feds. Really and truly.
Transcendent Baraka in glorious 70mm. Erik McClanahan celebrates both the 1992 documentary visual tone poem and the Hollywood Theatre’s continuing series in the visually sumptuous widescreen format, which you definitely can’t stream at home.
An interview with the director of Green Room. Mohan sat down at Sundance with Jeremy Saulnier, director of “this white-knuckle, high-octane thriller about a punk rock band menaced by a band of Northwest neo-Nazi skinheads,” to talk about Patrick Stewart, filming in Oregon, and the joys of breakfast at Gravy on North Mississippi Avenue.
Living dead and loving it: a Grimm tale. NBC’s supernatural crime drama Grimm, which has just been green-lighted for a sixth season of adventures, is an excellent example of how the ideas of local and global are extremely fluid. The show’s a national hit, but it’s filmed and set in Portland, and has settled snugly into a Portland way of doing things. Portland actors pop up all the time, sometimes surviving, sometimes dying grisly deaths, and it’s always fun spotting Oregon landmarks. In Dead cert: an extra’s adventure in Grimmlandia, Oregon Book Award winner Cynthia D. Stowell tells the tale of her stint on the show as a 90-year-old corpse who had aged more than 60 years overnight. The key to her thespian success? Be still. Be very, very still.
Gusbandry goes big. While the Hollywood Theatre brings back the glories of the old days by projecting in 70mm, a cutting edge of the film business is going smaller. Much, much smaller. As in, the size of the screen on your smartphone. Through its first five episodes Portland filmmaker Alicia J. Rose’s “topical but raunchy” web comedy The Benefits of Gusbandry has been a clear-cut hit on the tiny screen, and on Thursday (April 28) of this week, the Northwest Film Center will screen all five episodes, plus the world premiere showing of the sixth episode, which will be the season finale. The ever-busy Mohan compares the micro series to Will & Grace: Unlike that 1990s TV hit, he says, Gusbandry “isn’t about people trying to find romantic partners. It’s about people who’ve found each other. It also has a lot more pot smoking. And, frankly, it’s funnier.” He sits down with Rose and co-writer Courtney Hameister to talk about the Gusbandry phenomenon and where it might go next.
A few things to watch for on this week’s calendar:
Peter and the Starcatcher. Portland Playhouse directors Brian Weaver and Rebecca Lingafelter have nabbed a promising cast (Isaac Lamb, Darius Pierce, Chip Sherman, Damon Kupper, Duffy Epstein, among others) for this Peter Pan prequel based on the novel by Riddley Pearson and Dave Barry. Saturday through May 29.
Into the Beautiful North. Subtitled An Adventurous Quest, Karen Zacarías’s “rolling world premiere” play, part of the National New Play Network, is a stage adaptation of the novel by Luis Alberto Urrea, inspired by the film classic The Magnificent Seven. Friday through May 28.
Man of La Mancha. Old pros Greg Tamblyn (director) and Alan D. Lytle (music director) revive the Broadway musical chestnut at Lakewood Theater, with Leif Norby as Don Quixote, Joey Cote as Sancho Panza, and Pam Mahon as Aldonza/Dulcinea. Friday through June 12.
Jefferson Dancers 40th anniversary. The elite corps based at Jefferson High School celebrates four decades in the limelight with its spring concert series in the Newmark Theatre of Portland’5 Centers for the Arts. Thursday through Saturday, April 27-30.
Hands Up. The August Wilson Red Door Project’s series of seven monologues by seven black playwrights based on police shootings of Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, John Crawford III in Beavercreek, Ohio, and others concludes its run in Portland with a pair of performances at Artists Repertory Theatre. Free; donations accepted at the door. Friday-Saturday, April 29-30.
Jon & Jen. One of the low-key delights of Portland’s theater scene is the Portland Civic Theatre Guild’s monthly series of readings-and-coffee, and every season Adair Chappell directs a staged musical version. This year’s feature, a two-hander set against the changes from the 1950s to the 1960s, stars Meredith Kaye Clark and Drew Harper, with Brian Michael on piano and Liz Byrd on cello. Monday, May 2, at Cerimon House; Tuesday, May 3, at The Old Church.
Still Life: Scenes from a Faraway Nearby. Longtime actor Megan Cole (Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Star Trek, Seinfeld) presents a staged reading of the story Nighthawks, by Carolyn Barbier, a nurse who considers the questions of life and death and how and when and whether ventilator tubes should be removed. One performance, Wednesday, April 27, Cerimon House.
Worth My Salt. Risk/Reward Festival brings Jody Keuhner, aka drag queen Cherdonna Shinatra, from Seattle for a dance/theater/drag/clown show that The Stranger calls “an uncategorizable spectacle.” Friday-Sunday, April 29-May 1, Portland Center Stage.
Sarah Pujanen’s journeys of change. Daniel Heila previews the violinist and composer’s concert Saturday night (April 30) at Nordia House, homing in on the deep influence of her Finnish heritage.
PICA gets a new, permanent home. The Portland Institute of Contemporary Art, now a full-fledged adult at age 21, is moving into a permanent home on the East Side. Portland Monthly’s Fiona McCann has the story.
Teresa Christiansen looks beyond the horizon. The photographs in Christiansen’s new show at Melanie Flood Projects, Patrick Collier writes, take liberties with the landscape.
The Ensemble’s wall of sound. Bruce Browne reviews The Ensemble’s performance of Bach’s great B Minor Mass and finds it, despite many fine moments, a little short of first-rate: “The choir … was often unable to create more than a formidable wall of sound, unrelentingly forte (loud), and with an absence of variety in articulations.”
Linda Austin, dancing inside everyday life. Nim Wunnan considers the Portland dance stalwart’s recent solo performance of her work A head of time [solo]: “So much of what we call strange is simply something personal glimpsed from the outside. Austin, on her own, wrapped up in a Mickey Mouse blanket, wearing a Cheese Stands Alone tank-top and growling like a wolf, is no stranger than we are when we think the rest of the world is sleeping. She just knows how to put it on stage.”
About ArtsWatch Weekly
We send a letter like this every Tuesday to a select group of email subscribers, and also post it weekly on the ArtsWatch home page. In ArtsWatch Weekly, we take a look at stories we’ve covered in the previous week, give early warning of events coming up, and sometimes head off on little arts rambles we don’t include anywhere else. You can read this report here. Or, you can get it delivered weekly to your email inbox, and get a quick look at all the stories you might have missed (we have links galore) and the events you want to add to your calendar. It’s easy to sign up. Just click here, and leave us your name and e-address.
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