Bob Hicks

 

PAM’s temporary Turner

Art notes: A high-priced Turner is on short-term loan at the Portland Art Museum; Vancouver B.C. art at Leach; Carola Penn's 'Disruptions'

Hanging in a corner of the second-floor European galleries in the Belluschi Building of the Portland Art Museum is a painting that doesn’t usually live there – and not just any painting, but a masterpiece from J.M.W. Turner’s latter period, an 1835 work titled Ehrenbreitstein, or the Bright Stone of Honour and the Tomb of Marceau, from Byron’s ‘Childe Harold’. On short-term loan from an anonymous private collector, it arrived in mid-June and will be in Portland until mid-October.

J.M.W. Turner, “Ehrenbreitstein, or the Bright Stone of Honour and the Tomb of Marceau, from Byron’s ‘Childe Harold’,” 1835, oil on canvas, 48.4 x 36.6 inches.

The painting was included in an Old Masters auction at Sotheby’s London on July 5, 2017, where it was offered with an estimated sale price of $18.7 million-$31.2 million, and sold for $25 million. It had last sold in 1965 for $113,250. “Sotheby’s would have been hoping to get a bit more for the work, which was tipped to have the potential to break Turner’s auction record. But it’s still a good price for such a significant work,” Nicholas Forrest wrote for Blouin Artinfo on the day of the auction. Forrest continued: “One of the greatest works by J.M.W. Turner still held in private hands, Ehrenbreitstein is from a period that is widely considered Turner’s best. The painting depicts the ruined fortress of Ehrenbreitstein near Coblenz, and according to Sotheby’s is the most important oil painting of a German subject that Turner ever painted.”

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Neil Simon, 1927-2018

America's most successful playwright, whose nervous comedies defined an era and helped make a golden age of entertainment, has died at 91

Neil Simon, maybe the most successful playwright in American history, died today at 91, leaving behind a little piece of who we are and how we got this way. Not quite a year ago, in a piece on the Portland Civic Theatre Guild (the old PCT, like the old Mark Allen Players, had often thrived on Simon’s plays), I tried to give Simon and his singular approach to theater and comedy a little context:

“On Tuesday the object of their affections was I Ought To Be in Pictures, the 1979 sentimental comedy by Neil Simon, who is considered something of a ghost of theater past these days but not so many decades ago was the toast of Broadway, and the movies, too, a figure who so dominated the Broadway real estate that younger writers and audiences rebelled against virtually everything about him – his jokiness, his eagerness to please, his devotion to craftsmanship, his middlebrow-ness, his upper-middle-class-ness, his self-congratulatory sentimentality, his sometimes clueless maleness, his unseemly success, his belief that maybe the theater was entertainment and not so much art.

“Well, those battles have been fought, and now, maybe, it’s possible to consider Simon’s plays the way we think of other works from a specific style and period: like Restoration comedies, for instance, in which the artificiality and reliance on coincidence were part of the joke. It’s all artificial, from Shakespeare to Ibsen to Mamet to Shepard to Lynn Nottage to Lisa Kron to Suzan-Lori Parks to Lin-Manuel Miranda and beyond. That’s why they’re called ‘plays,’ not ‘life.’

“Simon was a crown prince in a golden age of American entertainment, especially comedy, when Jewish writers and performers, calling on their recent-immigrant family status and their urban identities and the awful astonishment of having emerged on the other side of the Holocaust, recast the American idea of humor in their own image: Mel Brooks, Mort Sahl, Carl Reiner, Sid Caesar, Lenny Bruce, Woody Allen, Mike Nichols, Elaine May. It was a takeover of sorts of the WASPish mainstream, and it cracked the culture open for further change.”

The full piece, Tuesdays at the Theatre Guild, is here.

 

Saints and sinners toss the dice

Broadway Rose's bright and brassy "Guys and Dolls" revives an American ritual and plays it out with splendid comic verve

During intermission Sunday afternoon at Broadway Rose’s mostly swell revival of Guys and Dolls, a high-powered musical-theater vehicle driven deftly by Ryan Reilly’s mellifluous Sky Masterson and Emily Sahler’s comic knockout of a Miss Adelaide, I found myself thinking, oddly, of the opening paragraphs of Katherine Dunn’s grand and slyly heartbreaking novel Geek Love, the story of a family of genetically mutated circus-sideshow performers and their adventures in the world.

The Binewski kids would sit around enchanted as Papa told the family story, a tale both bizarre and familiar, and would make sure Papa stayed the course:

“We children would sense our story slipping away to trivia. Arty would nudge me and I’d pipe up with, ‘Tell about the time when Mama was the geek!’ and Arty and Elly and Iphy and Chick would all slide into line with me on the floor between Papa’s chair and Mama.

“Mama would pretend to be fascinated by her sewing and Papa would tweak his swooping mustache and vibrate his tangled eyebrows, pretending reluctance. ‘Welllll …’ he’d begin, ‘it was a long time ago …’

“ ‘Before we were born!’

“ ‘Before …’ he’d proclaim, waving his arm in his grandest ringmaster style, ‘before I even dreamed you, my dreamlets!’”

I thought of Dunn’s novel not only because both Geek Love and Guys and Dolls are uncanny dreams, tales of outrageous characters and situations in search of a normalcy they can call their own, but also because the Binewski kids, wrapped and rapt in the magic of a familiar story that is also their story, seem like stand-ins for almost any audience at a show like Guys and Dolls.

Brandon B. Weaver, Will Shindler and Jesse Cromer in “Guys and Dolls.” Photo: Craig Mitchelldyer

By this point in its life – the musical debuted on Broadway in 1950, based on already familiar stories by the wise-guy story spinner Damon Runyon – there is no surprise to be sprung; or rather, the surprises come not in the tale itself, which most everybody knows (and bless you if you’re a newbie: there’s nothing like the first time), but in the unveiling of the particulars of this particular production in this particular performance. The warmth and pleasure come not in the shock of the new, but in the communal ritual of revisiting a story known and loved. In a theater world possessed by an overwhelming and necessary urgency to create something new, it’s a good reminder that theater is also built on ritual and repetition, on the familiar fascination of listening once again to a well-told tale. Even if it’s about gangsters or geeks. Tell us again, Papa.

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A Cinderella story for modern times

Portland Opera's sly and witty version of Rossini's "La Cenerentola" sparkles with raffish theatricality and hints of power used and tamed.

While the temperature in downtown Portland was inching toward 100 degrees on Sunday afternoon something cool was happening in the Newmark Theatre, and it wasn’t just the air-conditioning. Portland Opera was kicking into the second performance of its current run of Gioachino Rossini’s splendid little comedy La Cenerentola (it has four remaining performances, July 19, 21, 25, and 28), and it felt just a little like good old-fashioned populist show biz: music-hall stuff, bright and gaudy and smoothly polished and pleasingly antique, like a visit to the Moulin Rouge or D’Oyly Carte. The band was brassy and cheeky and the acting was brisk and impeccably choreographed, an effect accidentally underscored by the coincidental scheduling of auditions for those high-kicking goddesses of the basketball court the Blazer Dancers in the Winningstad Theatre downstairs. The Blazer aspirants had their own contingent of enthusiastic followers, and the blend of opera lovers and sporting fans led to an interesting mixture of audiences and sometimes skimpy costuming in the lobby beforehand.

Caught in the frame: Stepsisters Tisbe (Laura Beckel Thoreson, left) and Clorinda (Helen Huang) primp and preen. Photo: Cory Weaver/Portland Opera

La Cenerentola is a retelling of the Cinderella story, without the fairy godmother or the magic mice and pumpkin but with some terrific melodies, and after the lengthy overture (William Tell wasn’t the only overture Rossini wrote) the opera opens with the two spoiled stepsisters popping about the stage like bright-cheeked marionettes, or maybe floppy rag dolls in their skivvies, while Cenerentola, poor cinder maid, slumps morosely in the corner, singing a sad song that only irritates her petulant sisters as they primp and fuss.

Fatuous step-pappa Don Magnifico (there is no stepmother in this version) is snoozing out of sight in the background, and pretty soon a beggar shows at the doorstep: He is roundly reviled by the stepsisters but treated kindly by Cenerentola (or Angelina, as she comes to be known for her sweet spiritual goodness), who feeds him while the sisters aren’t looking. Let that suffice for setup. There is a prince, there is a ball, there are disguises, there is a search (not for a glass slipper, but a matching bracelet), and love, of course, triumphs. Love, and a friskily told, slyly comic story.

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Sense & Sensibility, deftly matched

Suddenly the Dashwood sisters are all over Oregon. Clackamas Rep is on the boards with its version of Jane Austen's lively and enduring tale.

The problem, as so often in the novels of Jane Austen, is entailment, that peculiar institution among the British of willing estates only to the male heirs of the line, leaving the women bereft, or at least forced to move to modest cottages in the countryside. The problem, further, is how to deal with such reduced circumstances (and indeed, with the vagaries of life): by leading with the head, or the heart, or some creative combination of the two. The anticipation, of both head and heart, is to achieve a state of marital happiness that, in a troubled and troublesome world, will also suffice in the economic realm. Money might not buy happiness, but it does provide stability, and stability is that soil in which true romance and contentment of the soul can grow and prosper.

Sam Levi as Edward Ferrars, Kailey Rhodes as Elinor Dashwood in Clackamas Rep’s “Sense and Sensibility.” Photo: Sam Ortega

So welcome to the Dashwood sisters, central figures in Miss Austen’s 1813 novel Sense and Sensibility (which was published at first anonymously, under the moniker “By a Lady”). When we meet them, in Clackamas Repertory Theatre’s new production of Kate Hamill’s episodic stage adaptation, their father has just died, leaving his estate to John, his weakling son from his first marriage, who is led about by the nose by his shrewish and selfish wife Fanny, who persuades John that his father’s deathbed instruction to him that he provide for his half-sisters and their mother doesn’t really mean what it seems. And so the sisters – sensible Elinor and romantic Marianne, primarily, but also younger Margaret and their mother, who quietly copes – find themselves tossed out of their manorial home and onto the mercies of Mrs. Dashwood’s distant relative Sir John Middleton, who proves himself an amiable and generous fellow and helps them settle in to a pleasant but modest cottage, where the girls’ prospects, nevertheless, are severely reduced: to put it bluntly, no fortune, no fortunate match.

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Standing Rock and beyond

Portland's new Elisabeth Jones Art Center opens with a national exhibit of contemporary Native American art and an eye on social engagement

Nine days before the June 7 grand opening of The Elisabeth Jones Art Center on the Pearl District’s western stretch, a kind of controlled chaos is in the air. The racket of a power drill ricochets off the high ceilings of this sprawling post-industrial space as Hugh Russell, an artist and the center’s house carpenter, screws sheetrock into wooden frames against a wall that will soon be hung with artworks. Shae Uisna, the new center’s assistant director, sits in a folding chair with a notebook in her hands, a phone in her lap, and a list of things to get done.

Two large fabric sculptures, made from remnants of tents used at the Dakota Access oil-pipeline standoff near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation that spreads across several counties in North and South Dakota, hang from the ceiling of the art center’s main gallery like soft-sided pyramids or upside-down tipis. A giant section of old-growth fir log, a good ton’s worth of tight-grained wood destined to be hewn into a canoe, sits on a frame of 4x4s by the wide garage doors that open to the sidewalk in front of Northwest 14th Avenue. Across the street a giant hole-in-the-ground construction site is swiftly filling in and rising, extending the bustling neighborhood’s urban infill and insulating the art center from the streak of Interstate 405 beyond 15th Avenue a block west.

Ricardo Caté’s Standing Rock stand, painted on the wall of the Elisabeth Jones Art Center. ArtsWatch photo

John Teply, the art center’s director and guiding force, emerges from the door to a spacious gallery/workspace called The Project Room, wincing just a bit from a sore toe that had blown up with a giant blister somewhere along the 12 miles he walked during North Portland’s recent St. Johns Parade, for which he was this year’s chair. Teply is a longtime working artist himself, and his hands and sleeves are spattered with a rainbow of paint, bright evidence of the “working” part of “working artist.”

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Festivals, awards, a college dies

News & notes: an arts festival in Wilsonville, the PAMTA musical theater awards, Marylhurst's loss to the arts, PassinArt goes deep east side

It’s not quite summer, but it’s festival season – and Wilsonville, just a short skip south of Portland on the freeway, is leading the charge. Coming up Saturday and Sunday, June 2-3, is this year’s Wilsonville Festival of Arts, which will spread out over the city’s Town Center Park with contemporary music, dance, visual art, theater, literary events, film, design, and performance art.

Master maskmaker and director Tony Feummeler will lead maskmaking events at the Wilsonville Festival of Arts.

“This year, we are introducing three commissioned interactive art installations by artists Damien Gilley, Palmarin Merges and Tiana Husted,” festival director Sarah Wolfe noted in a press release. “Also new is a partnership with NW Film Center in Portland. We are teaming up to offer a Micro Movie Theatre, featuring short films by filmmakers throughout the Pacific Northwest. And we will be featuring several Oregon Book Award winners and finalists as special guests for our focus on literary arts, Art of the Word. Latinx and alter-abled contemporary artists will also be highlighted.”

Singer Saeeda Wright

The lineup looks ambitious and intriguing, with attractions ranging from a reading by this year’s Ken Kesey Award fiction winner Omar El Akkad (American War); to demonstrations in skills from etching to 3D printing to weaving and spinning; to performances by R&B star Saeeda Wright and the innovative troupe DanceAbility. And of course, there’ll also be artists’ and crafters’ booths, ice cream and other food stands, and beer: It wouldn’t be a festival without ’em. Festival entry is free; hours are 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday.

Black with colored amoeba-shaped pieces from artist Palmerin Merges’ installion art in Wilsonville.

The granddaddy of ’em all, the Portland Rose Festival, is working up a head of steam, too. The city’s annual extravaganza kicked off Friday, May 25, with a Memorial Day weekend CityFair on the riverfront (much more to come, from elephant ears to open-air concerts, in Tom McCall Waterfront Park), and the big event, the Grand Floral Parade, is June 9. After that, dig out your maps and fill in your calendars: you can pretty much hop from festival to festival around Oregon all summer long.

 


 

 

AND IF FESTIVAL SEASON IS HERE, CAN AWARDS SEASON BE FAR BEHIND? Portland’s double whammy of theater award celebrations kicks off Monday, June 4, at 7 p.m. in the Winningstad Theatre with the annual PAMTA musical-theater awards. Started and produced by Broadway/Portland producer/actor/director Corey Brunish, who’s picked up more Tony producing honors in recent years than he can count on all his fingers, it’s always a fun, well-produced event. Actor Darius Pierce, who’s just about perfect in the role, returns as the evening’s host.

A few of the musical-theater productions that have been under consideration for this year’s PAMTA Awards.

Awards will be presented in 21 categories, and as befits the musical theater, which thrives as much on revivals as new work, the best show category has been divided into two parts. This year’s nominees for outstanding revival are Broadway Rose’s The Addams Family, Gypsy, and Always, Patsy Cline; Pixie Dust’s Billy Elliot and Beauty and the Beast; and Triangle’s Avenue Q. Nominees for outstanding original show are Portland Playhouse’s Scarlet, Northwest Children’s Theatre’s Cinderella and Peter Pan, Stumptown Stages’ Folk City, Broadway Rose’s Trails, and Staged!’s John Hughes High. See the complete list of nominees here.

The older and more inclusive Drammy Awards will celebrate their 40th anniversary at 7 p.m. Monday, June 25, at Portland Center Stage – an interesting choice for venue considering that last year the city’s two biggest theater companies, Center Stage and Artists Rep, dropped their participation in the awards. Both awards events are free.

 


 

BUT WHAT ABOUT MARYLHURST? The recent announcement that Marylhurst University, the small institution south of Lake Oswego, will close its doors after 125 years sent alarms not only through the education world but the arts world as well. The university has been rocked by sharply declining enrollment and swiftly rising deficits since the national recession of a decade ago, Jeff Manning reported in The Oregonian. Fall term enrollment was more than 1,400 in 2013, and fewer than 750 in 2017.

An active opposition made up of students, former students, and faculty members has emerged in an attempt to overturn the board’s decision and find a new path to financial sustainability, but it faces a steep uphill battle. The closure of Portland’s vital and lamented Museum of Contemporary Craft, which was carrying a much smaller deficit, proved final.

From Christine Bourdette’s 2008 show “Riddles, Bunnyheads and Asides” at The Art Gym.

Marylhurst has been well-known in art circles for The Art Gym, an innovative and essential contemporary art center that paid deep attention to the work of living regional artists and usually published catalogs of its shows. Its loss, if the decision remains final, will be large. The university also offers a variety of valuable academic art programs, some of which, including its masters program in art therapy counseling, cross over into other disciplines.

The university has an active music presence and was home to many fine concerts in its intimate performing spaces: I still remember seeing the innovative 20th century composer Terry Riley (In C) in performance in the mid-1990s not playing his own minimalist-leaning music but singing traditional Indian ragas, sweeping and gliding and bending and always landing right. “Tonally, the raga is more like a string suspended between two sticks: Usually it’s slack, but you can draw it taut when you want,” I wrote at the time. “Riley is a master of the slide from slack to taut.”

A community loses such traditions at its own peril.

 


 

PassinArt takes the theater where the people are.

REPULSING THE MONKEY. PassinArt: A Theatre Company, in collaboration with ROSE Community Development, is entering its final two performances of Michael Eichler’s play Repulsing the Monkey, about a brother and sister who inherit a blue-collar bar in Pittsburgh and must decide, in the face of gentrification, whether they can keep it going. Final performances are at 7 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, May 29-30, with a discussion after the Wednesday show, and one of the interesting things about the production is where it’s being performed – at the T.E.A.M. Event Center in deep East Portland, at 9201 S.E. Foster Road. As Portland’s own gentrification and escalating housing prices force many people farther from the city center, arts and performance almost certainly will have to follow them. PassinArt’s most recent production, in North Portland’s Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center, was a well-received run of August Wilson’s Two Trains Running. Tickets for Repulsing the Monkey are a wallet-friendly $5-$15 sliding scale.