A.L. Adams

 

DramaWatch Weekly: Double Chekhov, Ghost Hunters

It's January. Time to shake off that holidays hangover and get on with the shows.

Hello. The holidays are over and now plays can be about anything again. Next week brings Fertile Ground, brimming with homegrown theater offerings of every conceivable topic and timbre. There’ll be almost too much to mention then, so this week by comparison is short to summarize.

For those who can’t wait ’til next week, a couple of plays are opening early that you can Chekhov your list.* Northwest Classical Theatre brings Patrick Walsh’s adaptation of The Three Sisters to its old stomping grounds the Shoebox (with a familiar face from last season’s Playhouse Creatures gracing the cast). I, for one, miss the days when NWCT used to hang their collection of velvet cloaks in the Shoebox’s breezeway. Glad they’re back.

Dainichia Noreault as Irina, Elizabeth Jackson as Masha, Christy Bigelow as Olga in Northwest Classical Theatre Collaboration’s “Three Sisters.” Photo: Gary Norman

Portland Experimental Theatre Ensemble presents Štĕpán Šimek‘s “visceral, in-your-face” take on Uncle Vanya at Reed College. Expect surprises. (Though in the context of Chekhov, what does that mean? A gun not firing? Who knows?)

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Good morning. Happy holidays. Here’s something of particular interest to all-ages aficionados and puppet-heads:

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This year’s Revels show features “life-sized puppets,” and combines the legends of Gryla and the Finnish folkloric fox figure. (Say that five times fast!) Like a modern jerk, I have YouTube-searched both for our general edification. Gryla is a Krampus-like Christmas ghoul who eats naughty children. She’s got 13 merry bearded sons (suspiciously similar to the 7 dwarves) whose names denote their idiosyncracies. “Pot-Licker” and “Window-Peeper” are two of the cohort.

Into the woods with the Christmas Revels.

The Finnish fox figure—or Fire Fox—yes, like the browser—moves so fast that its fur sparks static and forms into the Northern lights. Do you want to see this notorious child-chomper and this sparkling vulpine wonder singing and dancing on stage? I kinda do. Revels. Be there or be eaten.

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DramaWatch Weekly: an ode to home-sewn sequins

On Portland stages, it's a week of home-packaged holiday shows, plus a little dramatic "Chang(e)"

Well, golly. It’s another week of holiday happenings.

For those who want to get out and mingle, PICA will announce its Precipice Fund Award winner at tomorrow’s Winter Social.

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For those who prefer to stay home and snuggle, The Royal Shakespeare Company is now offering online subscriptions to watch their plays online.

And somewhere in between, in the many venerable halls and hovels of Portland dramatic arts…

CoHo Theatre launches Co Ho Ho!, a double-header of expert performers winkingly pa-rum-pa-pum pandering to the Christmas crowds. Susannah Mars (who’s thoroughly sugar-plumbed holiday songbooks in past years of her Mars on Life revue series) joins the ever-convivial Isaac Lamb (recently seen evangelizing all that is good in PCS’s Every Brilliant Thing) to deliver Holiday Shorts and Songs. They’ll be in character as Vixen the Reindeer and the Abominable Snowman, but even if the bill just said “Mars and Lamb,” we’d know the show was in capable hands.

Susannah Mars, unpacking the season with Isaac Lamb at CoHo.

Co Ho Ho’s other offering, A Liberace and Liza Christmas, features another pair of characters you can guess from the name. David Saffert’s and Jillian Snow-Harris’s lounge act is no midwinter whim; they’ve been honing these impersonations for years. When his idea was a mere seedling at a past Fertile Ground Festival, Saffert memorably went full “method,” showing up to the event’s press junket in character as Liberace. Go kiss one of Mr. Showmanship’s many rings.

Boom Arts hosts a three-day-only run of Chang(e)a docu-drama honoring radical performance activist Kathy Change, who self-immolated in the mid-’90s to protest a lack of democracy in the U.S. government. Soomi Kim, a former Beavertonian now based in New York, plays Kathy in a solo show she co-devised with director Suki Takahashi. The New York Times says the work creates “…[a] visual and aural environment that’s so alluring you want to bathe in it …” and in the context of Boom Arts’ current season theme of resistance, this sounds like it might prove the peak of a larger dramatic arc.

Boom Arts brings Chang(e). Photo: Benjamin Heller

What is with the persistence of vintage performance forms—vaudeville, burlesque, jug band, soft shoe? Why do these things keep getting done, and what is the nature of that particular nostalgia? After ruminating through a couple of episodes of Call the Midwife, I think I know: these arts are what “DIY” did back when that mode was the only option. Before there was even a TV to turn on (let alone Pandora to open), your portable device for entertainment was just your own personal package of jokes and talents and parlor tricks. Some stranger might actually ask you, whilst waiting for some train, if you knew a jig or a tale or a song to pass the time. In Portland Present, nobody has a better grasp on the can-do stand-and-deliver spirit of old-time talent than variety show madam Miz Kitty, whose Winter Wingding happens this Saturday. Any sequins you see, they probably sewed on themselves.

Following this train of thought, did anyone else wonder, “Is that stripper Christmas opera happening this year?” If so, I have sad news: no. Though indie producer Cult of Orpheus would like to make Viva’s Holiday an every-year thing, it didn’t happen this time around. Viva Las Vegas is (don’t let the name fool you) a Portland cult-arts fixture, both muse and creator of various works beyond the very-small stage. Maybe put this opera on your Christmas list for next year?

Speaking of that list, what am I missing? Are there more shows opening that demand ArtsWatch readers’ attention, or shows mid-run that you feel compelled to recommend? Please do. Or at least tell us a joke, Stranger.

 

DramaWatch Weekly: A Dickensian Nor’wester and scattered Revels

ArtsWatch forecasts this week's holiday theater weather.

This weather, huh? What’s the forecast for this weekend and beyond?

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To the southwest, there’ll be scattered Revels, with peak conditions for viewing Nordic Lights, and some precipitation rolling in from the Mediterranean will leave conditions Pericles Wet, while a family drama high pressure front builds up between Morrison and Alder. A Dickensian chill will sweep along the east river bank, building into a twister as it crosses into Northwest and breaking into gales of wry laughter as it heads for the Hils. It will miss Tigard altogether, which will experience mild enough conditions to continue its Holiday Parade already under way. Meanwhile, the Northeast will experience bursts of gospel, and as you head toward Columbia, be on the lookout for flaming radicals.

Dickensian drama is blowing in with the return of Portland Playhouse’s popular “A Christmas Carol” (above), Scott Palmer’s “Charles Dickens Writes ‘A Christmas Carol'” at Bag & Baggage in Hillsboro, Second City’s “Twist Your Dickens” at The Armory, and Phillip J. Berns’s “A Christmas Carol: A One Man Ghost Story.” Photo: Portland Playhouse

As you head Southeast, expect some choppy seas, and an abrupt shift as Utopia closes at Hand2Mouth and a dystopia opens at Theatre Vertigo: Victor Mack will direct José Rivera’s Marisol, a near-contemporary of Angels in America with some similar motifs—mental illness and spiritual warfare between angelic beings—along with some surprisingly ripped-from-current-headlines themes—namely, the struggle of a Puerto Rican woman against an unjust god who is dying and “taking the rest of the universe with him.” Also the frenzied desperation of an urban hellscape where citizens driven into homelessness by debt and personal injury gnash and wail in the streets.

Langston Hughes’s “Black Nativity”: a shining star. PassinArt photo/2016

Happy holidays, y’all. Jacob Marley left a message; something about “mankind being our business?” He said he’ll try again—repeatedly throughout our city, then at Vertigo on Christmas week, when Phillip Berns reprises his solo version of the classic.

Imago’s’classic “Frogz” leaps back into the swim. Photo: Imago Theatre

But what were we talking about? Oh yes. The weather. Northwest Children’s Theater will experience spells of magic, to subside by midnight. And tell the kids next weekend’s conditions should be ideal for watching FROGZ. Til then, stay warm, from hands to heart.

What are you up to this week? Any family coming to town? What do you eat and not eat these days? And what theater might you and your familial crew wish to see?

At The Armory this weekend, Mojada closes and the holiday spirit gets crackling between A Christmas Memory and Winter Song, a double header that would seem the sentimental alternative to the barn-burning Scrooge-buster Twist Your Dickens. A Christmas Memory revives a Truman Capote short story about a young boy with an unlikely best friend, an elderly female cousin who matches his emotional maturity and assists him in his games and schemes, including their darling caper of secretly making presents for their other relatives. (Say it with me: “Awwwwwww!”)

“Winter Song” at The Armory: Mont Chris Hubbard (left), Merideth Kaye Clark, and Leif Norby. Photo: Patrick Weishampel/blankeye, courtesy Portland Center Stage at The Armory

Winter Song is a warmhearted holiday song revue performed by Portland’s premier Joni Mitchell cover artist Meredith Kaye Clarke (Snuggle in and go “Ahhhh.”) This show gets a head start on Dickens, but once both get going, ushers might as well leave signs in the lobby to sort attendees: “Humbugs, main house; saps downstairs.”

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DramaWatch Weekly: Everyone and your mother

Here come the "Humans"; "Hamilton" tix; "Belfast Girls" hit town; Chris Coleman says goodbye; "Psychic Utopia"; Lauren Modica returns

An extended family meets for a holiday meal in a space too small to comfortably contain them all.

A.L. Adams

The forced intimacy sparks spats, reveals secrets, and heightens the whole group’s awareness of their fragile humanity. It’s Thanksgiving Dinner. And it’s also The Humans, the play that opens at Artists Rep this week. (Preview performances are mostly sold out, but the rest of the run is fair game.)

Speaking of hard-to-get tickets, Hamilton‘s coming to Portland, and ticket sales open on Friday. (Everyone and your mother, sync your watches and watch the calendar.)

“Hamilton” tickets go on sale Friday. Photo: Joan Marcus

Remember a few weeks ago when I suggested you lend Hand2Mouth your houseplants? That was for Psychic Utopia, a well-researched and likely insightful homage to cults and communes created with contributing writer Andrea Stolowitz. It opens Thursday, and should be worth your time, whether or not your ficus is set to make a cameo.

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DramaWatch Weekly: Encore!

What goes around comes around: Portland performances ArtsWatch is happy to see again.

This week, let’s give it up for encore performances, from racially significant statements to heartwarming Christmas traditions. Turns out there are plenty of kinds of performances that make you go, “Hey. Let me see that again.”

The August Wilson Red Door Project’s “Hands Up” returns for two performances.

Here’s a serious one: This weekend, the August Wilson Red Door Project re-presents Hands Up for two nights only at Wieden + Kennedy. This collection of monologues features seven playwrights’ insightful, individual takes on a sadly recurring theme: police violence against Black people. Hands Up plans another (longer/wider) run in 2018, and your support now can help make that happen. Hopefully as the message reverberates, the atrocities that make it so necessary will abate. But even the best theater can only change a few minds at a time, so realistically, this may be the beginning of a long run.

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