Bob Hicks

 

Otis Café: the fire this time

The landmark diner, a cultural touchstone near the Oregon Coast, goes up in flames on July 4. Its owner plans to rebuild. Here's hoping.

If the best news from July 4 came from the many hilarious reactions to President Donald “The Rain Made Me Do It” Trump’s historical conflation of the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, and the Age of Flight, the worst news – at least, for many Oregonians – may have been the fire Thursday evening that seems to have destroyed the legendary Otis Café.

Inside the Otis Café on a summer day in 2013. Oregon ArtsWatch photo

Shannon Gormley’s story today in Willamette Week reports that there were no injuries from the blaze that swept through the landmark diner, which sits – or sat – bright-red and beckoning just a few miles east of the coast on the way to Lincoln City, “but owner Jeff England tells WW the damage appears to be a total loss, and the historic cafe will likely have to be demolished.” While damage is still being assessed, England tells Gormley he plans to rebuild: “We all will learn and grow as we pull together and work together to bring the Otis Café back. Will it be as quaint as the 1920s building that we very possibly have lost? It’s hard to recreate that.”

England’s point is well-taken. As with an Old Master painting, much of the Otis’s charm derives from a patina built up over many years: the way the woodwork dents and shines, the just-right sagging of the floors, the inevitable pocks and marks of time. It can’t be renewed. It can only approximate and begin again. Its people, of course – the cooks and servers and deliverers and local regulars and weekend drop-ins from the city and workers in the nearby woods who stop in for a loaf of pumpkin bread or a fresh pie on the way home – will re-create it in their own image, and, if all goes well, a tradition will begin anew.

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A history of Portland women artists

Katherine Ace's "9 Portraits" celebrates the strength of a generation of women artists. All nine gather to talk about how they got there.

It’s all about the art, of course. But it’s also about the artists and the viewers, and how and why the art came to be. So on a sunny Saturday morning at Froelick Gallery off Northwest Broadway in Portland, a standing-room-only crowd of more than 80 people, many of whom had ducked and dodged around the Portland International Beerfest setting up in the park a block away, gathered to delve into a particular work of art and its double and singular visions.

Katherine Ace, 9 Portraits, diptych, 2019; oil, alkyd on canvas, 72 x 120 inches, at Froelick Gallery through July 13. Photo: Jim Lommason

The crowd, many of whom were also artists, packed the place to get a close look at 9 Portraits, artist Katherine Ace’s 10-foot-wide diptych group portrait of nine prominent veteran Portland women artists, and to hear those artists talk about the painting, their careers, and the often difficult path of making it as a woman in a traditionally male-dominated field.

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The unkindness of strangers

James Canfield's distillation of "A Streetcar Named Desire" highlights NW Dance Project's premieres, with Sarah Slipper's dance of love

The funk and sweat and desperate seediness of New Orleans are so thick in the air above James Canfield’s new dance Sketches of Connotation that you can almost smell them rising from the stage of Lincoln Performance Hall. It’s an intoxicating aroma.

Sketches, Canfield’s distilled evocation of Tennessee Williams’ beautiful nightmare of a play A Streetcar Named Desire, is the anchor of NW Dance Project’s fifteenth-season-ending Summer Premieres program, which opened Thursday and continues Friday and Saturday nights, and it’s a gorgeous, exquisitely crafted piece of dance theater, the work of a choreographer who’s stayed true to his longtime vision of dance as a reflection of popular culture and who now, as a veteran artist, seems fully in control of his considerable imaginative skills.

William Couture, Anthony Pucci, Colleen Loverde, Kody Jauron, Katherine Loverde, and Franco Nieto in the world premiere of James Canfield’s Sketches of Connotation. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

NDP’s program of three premieres also includes company artistic director Sarah Slipper’s Save Me the Plums, a sweet and often funny dance of love and loss performed beautifully by Andrea Parson and Franco Nieto; and Felix Landerer’s angsty All’s Been Said, in which a dancer in a polar-bear mask declaims about magicians and climate change.

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Drama Watch: A clown’s tale

"Going Down in Flames" traces a great clown's fall. Plus: critical changes at The New Yorker, what's up on Oregon stages in June.

One of the things about Joan Mankin was, she was always a surprise: always in the moment, rarely the same thing twice, an improvisational spirit whose free-form antics could throw her fellow performers for a loop, delight her audiences, and send her shows spinning into another dimension. So when the sound of a train rumbling down the tracks behind The Headwaters Theatre during a performance of Going Down in Flames on Saturday night broke the action and prompted Joan Schirle, who was playing the late, great American clown Mankin, to break into an ad-lib wisecrack, it was like a side-splitting visitation from beyond: Queenie Moon, upending expectations and stealing the scene again. And the audience cracked up.

Jeff Desautels (left), Joan Schirle as Joan Mankin, and Michael O’Neill in Danny Mankin’s Going Down in Flames at The Headwaters.

Mankin, or Queenie Moon, as her famous clown persona was called, was a shining light of the West Coast new vaudeville/agitprop theater scene that thrived from the 1960s forward, employing old-fashioned theatrical styles for new and often culturally subversive purposes. She worked with the San Francisco Mime Troupe and the physical-theater stalwarts the Dell’Arte Players, as well as a lot of mainstream companies. I remember her best, and most fondly, as a star of the Pickle Family Circus, the wonderful San Francisco-based acrobatic and clowning company whose traveling shows I would seek out whenever they were in rational range, from Grant Park in Northeast Portland to the Southwest Oregon timber town of Coquille.

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Humans on the move, profoundly

Lauren Carrera's gallery-size art installation at Blackfish is an odditorium of seductive specimens that asks, Where are we going?

Walk into Museo du Profundo Mundo presents: THE ASCENT OF MAN, Lauren Carrera’s remarkable gallery-sized installation at Blackfish Gallery that closes Saturday, and you’ll find yourself in another world – very like the one you’ve just left on the street outside but skewed, reshaped, its ordinary objects out of scale and oddly juxtaposed, as if you’ve entered an odditorium of a natural history museum where time speeds up and implications drip like dew in a primeval forest. You get the sense that you’re someplace ancient and recent and yet to come, a museum of cause and unintended effect. Is this where we were? Is this where we’re going?

The long human voyage: detail from Nuclear Family: Ascent of Man.

It’s an odd sensation, a mixture of dread and delight. Profundo Mundo has an almost steampunkish affection for the antiquarian, extending even to the language in its explanatory statements on the walls. “Museo du Profundo Mundo: The Carrera Expedition,” the opening plaque declares, and then continues:

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Painting Vanport into the picture

The Vanport Mosaic Festival and artist Henk Pander delve deeply into the ripple effects of a 1948 disaster that destroyed an Oregon city

Seventy-one years ago next Thursday, on May 30, 1948, a railroad berm on the Columbia River gave way and the waters swept in, wiping out the city of Vanport in an overwhelming flood, killing at least 15 people and leaving roughly 17,500 homeless. It was an epic disaster, destroying what during its boom years had been Oregon’s second-largest city, built during World War II to house workers in the Portland and Vancouver Kaiser shipyards and their families. And in an almost completely white state, forty percent of its population had been African American.

For the past four years, the Vanport Mosaic Festival has been commemorating the short and fascinating life of the city that was washed away, and its continuing influence on the shaping of Portland. This year’s festival continues through June 5, with events ranging from self-guided walking tours and narrated bus tours of the former Vanport site (it stretches across what’s now Delta Park and other areas) to oral history documentaries about everyday life in Vanport, screenings of documentaries about the murder by white supremacists of Ethiopian immigrant Mulugeta Seraw 30 years ago and the MAX Train killings by a white supremacist two years ago, the performance Gambatte: An American Legacy, and more.

Henk Pander, The Call (Vanport interior before the flood), 2019, watercolor, 40 x 60 inches

And for the second straight year, artist Henk Pander will have a major show at Cerimon House of paintings about the Vanport Flood. Building Memories: Recent Watercolors, which opens Friday and continues through June 2, follows last year’s War Memories, Liberty Ships and the Climate Refugees of Vanport, much of which later traveled to the Newport Visual Arts Center on the Oregon Coast.

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What’s up, doc? Let me down easy.

Profile Theatre winds up its season with Anna Deavere Smith's deep dive into health care in America. It's a matter of life and breath.

How are you feeling? Been to the doctor lately? How’s your health insurance? Uncovered emergency bills draining your wallet and shooting your blood pressure through the stratosphere? Go to the closest hospital instead of the in-network hospital for that medical emergency, and now you’re stuck with the entire thirty-thousand-dollar bill? Welcome to health care in America.

And welcome to Let Me Down Easy, Anna Deavere Smith’s remarkable series of linked monologues that are getting a remarkably vivid and engaging performance through June 16 from Profile Theatre. Smith’s play both is and isn’t about such pertinent questions. First produced in 2008 as a solo show performed by its author, Let Me Down Easy predates Obamacare, “death panels,” skyrocketing costs on crucial medications, the relentless right-wing campaign to dismantle the Affordable Care Act and leave millions with no coverage at all, the state-by-state assault on abortion and reproductive rights, and the rising rebellion against private insurance companies and demand for single-payer health coverage.

Vana O’Brien as Texas Governor Ann Richards. Photo: Brud Giles

In a political sense, then, Smith’s play is last decade’s news. And yet it still feels fresh and up-to-date, because it’s less an agitprop play about specific policies than an inquisitive investigation into people’s attitudes toward life and death and the ways we think about what a healthy life means. In one way or another each of the twenty-odd characters in Let Me Down Easy is dealing with questions of mortality. As James H. Cone, a minister, puts it in the opening monologue: “Let. Me. Down. Easy. Those are words of a broken heart.”

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