ANOTHER DAY, ANOTHER MASSACRE. The latest one, unless another sneaks in before deadline, came in the wee hours Sunday morning at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, where a U.S.-born gunman carrying an assault rifle and claiming allegiance to ISIS opened fire, killing forty-nine people, wounding fifty-three, and then being slain himself in a shootout with police. He may or may not have been gay; several people reported that he was a semi-regular at the club. He was certainly homophobic. He may or may not have been a radical jihadist: initial indications are that he was acting as a lone wolf. Orlando’s is being called the worst mass shooting in United States history, at least by a lone gunman, and who knows how long that record will stand? (Other massacres have been more deadly, but not as quick or efficient: the Wounded Knee Massacre carried out in 1890 by U.S. Cavalry troops on the Lakota Pine Ridge Indian Reservation left at least three times as many dead.)
We’ve been here before, over and over, from Sandy Hook to Columbine to Virginia Tech to Reynolds High School in suburban Portland to Umpqua Community College in southern Oregon, and on and on and on and on, world without end, amen, amen.
It’s difficult to rank these atrocities – impossible, really – because whatever the body count, people are killed, survivors are shattered, worlds are torn apart. This one comes with an increasing sense of futility, a belief that the nation lacks the political and moral will to do anything about it. Here at ArtsWatch we won’t get into the political arguments of what can or can’t be done: those arguments are all around us, and by this point you know where you stand and how you will respond. I will say that some form of rational control on the sale of firearms, and a civilian ban on the sale and possession of assault weapons, are necessary in a civilized society. And I will note that this latest massacre hits cultural communities hard, because so much of the arts world has been invigorated and often led by GLBTQ artists and the creativity they’ve brought to dance, theater, music, the movies, literature, and visual art. So many gay people have been drawn to the arts, partly, because for all of its ordinary human quirks and bickering and biases and self-indulgences and jealousies and backbiting and exaggerations, the arts world is also open and generous and welcoming to talent wherever it rises. In that sense, we are all gay. We stand as one.
It’s common to say that such outbursts of violence spring from ignorance and lack of imaginative capacity, and that is no doubt true, but in an odd way they might also spring in part from too much imagination, or the wrong sort: the trumped-up fears of the other; the sort of imagination that overtakes one’s mind, building alternate realities and isolating one from the rest of the world. There are fantasies, and there are fantasies, and not all of them involve unicorns. It is imagination, for instance, that helps keep old enmities alive, reshaping memories into potent carriers of ancient hatreds. In Praise of Forgetting: Historical Memory and Its Ironies, a new book by the historian David Rieff reviewed by Gary J. Bass in Sunday’s New York Times Book Review, suggests that a healthy culture has a more nuanced view of when to remember and when to let things go; that a fine line exists between learning from history and becoming caught in vicious cycles. “It’s one thing for people to settle and move on; it’s another to get them to forget,” Bass writes. “… Rieff’s book feels painfully relevant for today’s sour populist mood.”
THERE IS ANOTHER KIND OF IMAGINATION, of course, the kind that art at its best inspires, a simultaneous deepening of rationality, compassion, empathy, the powers of thought – those things that carry our hope amid the world’s onslaught of violence. I’m not talking about the lazy bang-bang lizard-brain approach to fun and profits that Hollywood so often takes: what other institution in our society has done so much to romanticize gun culture and its tragic shortcuts to problem-solving? I’m talking about art that deepens, prods, laughs, unveils, inspires, explores the great questions. And art that provides solace. I’ll always be grateful to the Portland Baroque Orchestra and the choir Cappella Romana for their profound performance, on the evening of the day of the Sandy Hook massacre of December 14, 2012, of Handel’s complete “Messiah” in the soaring curve of downtown Portland’s First Baptist Church.
Another such opportunity arises this Saturday, June 18, when the Portland Gay Men’s Chorus presents its concert “The Divas” in the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. It’s the final concert of the chorus’s 36th season – going back to the days when being gay in America seemed sometimes closer to Oscar Wilde and the threat of jail than to the current sense of inclusion and possibility that the Orlando massacre has shattered, at least temporarily. The divas joining the chorus are a good lot: Dru Rutledge, Jennifer Gill, and the indomitable Susannah Mars, who’s just finished her captivating run as the pie-flinging Mrs. Lovett in Portland Opera’s Sweeney Todd. Sometimes, the best thing to do is to get together and sing.
COMING UP THIS WEEK:
MOTOWN THE MUSICAL. The national touring company of the Broadway hit about the Motown sound drops into Portland’s Keller Auditorium beginning Tuesday night and continuing through Sunday. American music, through and through.
VIVOCE’S THE DEER AND THE NIGHTINGALE. The women’s chorus of Portland Revels celebrates its 10th anniversary with a pair of performances of music from (in the Revels’ globe-trotting tradition) Bolivia, Ecuador, Bulgaria, Romania, Xhosa (Africa), North America (Shaker and others), Renaissance Italy, France, and the British Isles. Saturday evening at St. Michael & All Angels Church, Sunday afternoon in the Eliot Chapel of First Unitarian Church.
PETE’S PROCEDURES FOR SAYING NO. Portland Experimental Theatre Ensemble’s season-long immersion into the mind and art of Herman Melville continues with this show based loosely on Bartleby, the Scrivener, and, in PETE’s words, “what conditions might make a person choose the roaring chaos of the deep over the relative safety of the shore.” Opens Saturday; through July 2 at Shaking the Tree.
I DON’T WANNA BE THE SAME AS EVERYBODY ELSE. Christa Morletti McIntyre reviews Triangle Productions’ musical-theater celebration of Green Day’s punk extravaganza American Idiot.
NORTHWEST DANCE PROJECT: DANCES WITH WOLVES. Nim Wunnan reviews NDP’s program of three world premieres and discovers something wild in the works of Carla Mann, Sarah Slipper, and Yin Yui.
FILMWATCH WEEKLY: JUST THE FACTS. This week Marc Mohan’s look at the movies skips the big-screen video-game mediocrities and homes in on some fascinating documentaries, including the flabbergasting Weiner.
OREGON CHORALE: SPRINGY SUMMER SEASON. Bruce Browne listens in as the third candidate for the Chorale’s open artistic directorship, Scott Tuomi, conducts the choir in a program ranging from Byrd to Brahms to Britten to Bernstein, plus a few more.
HOME MOVIES: HAIL CAESAR!, ANOMALISA, ZOOMTOPIA, MORE. Marc Mohan updates ArtsWatch readers on some good recent movie bets now available for home viewing.
OREGON SYMPHONY: MEGA-MAHLER. The orchestra’s season-ending performance of Mahler’s massive third symphony, Jeff Winslow writes, matches its epic scale.
OUR NEW GIRL: A LIE OF THE MIND. Christa Morletti McIntyre reviews Corrib Theatre’s tense contemporary Irish thriller by Nancy Harris.
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