Bob Hicks

 

ArtsWatch Weekly: popcorn time

A look at the week that was in Oregon arts. A glimpse ahead at the week that's going to be.

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.

A Japanese snow monkey in the widescreen visual poem "Baraka."

A Japanese snow monkey in the widescreen visual poem “Baraka.”

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.

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ArtsWatch Weekly: a Will and a way

A look at the week that was in Oregon arts. A glimpse ahead at the week that's going to be.

The first thing we do, let’s count all the layers. He’s been updated, squeezed down, rethought, rewritten, cleaned up, dirtied down, worshipped unabashedly, reviled occasionally, shrugged off as a front man for some more sophisticated writer (Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, is the latest in a long line of contrarian candidates), quoted out of context ’til the cows come home.

Shakespeare's funerary monument, Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon, England. Wikimedia Commons

Shakespeare’s funerary monument, Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon, England. Wikimedia Commons

And still, four hundred years after his death, old Will Shakespeare’s a survivor. In a lot of ways, it seems, he’s never been healthier. He’s translated into pretty much every language of any size on Earth, and adapted into everything from ballets to symphonic musical scores to teen-movie comedies. And he’s an economic powerhouse: towns from Ashland, Oregon to Stratford-upon-Avon, England are built on the sturdy foundation of the money and visitors he draws in.

So, happy anniversary, Will. No one’s absolutely sure of the precise date he was born, but he was baptized on April 26, 1564 (probably three days after his birth), and died on April 23, 1616, and April 23 – this Saturday – is the day that much of the world will be celebrating his legacy. In Portland, the biggest party might be Shakespeare at 400, an all-day event (8:30 a.m.-5 p.m.) at Portland State University’s Lincoln Performance Hall. It’s presented by PSU, the Portland Shakespeare Project, and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s “Play On! Project” of contemporary “translations” of the plays (that word’s caused a lot of ruckus in the Church of Shakespeare), with input from the Folger Shakespeare Library’s The Wonder of Will celebration. There’ll be lectures, and readings, and a sonnet slam, and excerpts from three of OSF’s controversial translations by contemporary playwrights. Come see and hear for yourself what Amy Freed’s done with The Taming of the Shrew, Ellen McLaughlin with Pericles, and Douglas Langworthy with Henry VI: fresh approaches, or sacrilege?

Everything’s free, but organizers want to know how many people will be showing up, so click that link above and send in your RSVP.

"Oberon, Titania, and Puck with Fairies Dancing," William Blake, ca. 1786, watercolor and graphite on paper, 18.7 x 26.6 inches, Tate Britain, London / Wikimedia Commons

“Oberon, Titania, and Puck with Fairies Dancing,” William Blake, ca. 1786, watercolor and graphite on paper, 18.7 x 26.6 inches, Tate Britain, London / Wikimedia Commons

 


 

Once upon a time the woods were mighty, and so were the men who worked in them. Paul Bunyan could clear-cut a hillside with a single swing of his ax (such activities are frowned upon these days) and hard-working, hard-living woodsmen were memorialized in folk songs: I see you are a logger, and not just a common bum, for nobody but a logger stirs his coffee with his thumb.

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Onstage: Joe Pulitzer, Snow White, and other kids’ stuff

From 'Newsies' to 'Snow White' to 'Chrysalis,' children's theater takes on a dizzying variety in Portland

Children’s theater, like children’s lit (and, come to think of it, like kids themselves), comes in a dizzying variety. Musicals, for instance: the old razzle-dazzle, which can sweep kids up in a spectacle of neverland. The Broadway in Portland series opens the stage version of Disney’s Newsies Tuesday night for a six-day run at Keller Auditorium, and although it’s not specifically a children’s show, it’s here because kids have made it a hit.

Original company, North American Tour of Disney’s "Newsies." ©Disney. Photo by Deen van Meer

Original company, North American Tour of Disney’s “Newsies.” ©Disney. Photo by Deen van Meer

The timing for Newsies could scarcely be better. Today this year’s Pulitzer prizes were announced (the hip-hop historical musical Hamilton won for theater), and Newsies is about an 1899 newsboys’ strike for better pay against the penny-pinching press titans Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst. Those were the days! Thanks for the prize, Joe. Now, about that paycheck.

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ArtsWatch Weekly: the rap on ‘Hamilton’ (and other historical horrors)

A look at the week that was in Oregon arts. A glimpse ahead at the week that's going to be.

By now you probably know that Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton, the hottest ticket on Broadway since roughly the War of 1812, is coming to town sometime in the 2017-18 Broadway in Portland season. ArtsWatch predicts a run on the box office rivaling the run on the stock market in 1929.

But wait: what’s this? A front-page story in Monday’s New York Times calls a historical time out. In The Times’s investigative shocker, several historians declare that Miranda’s musical doesn’t get the history right: apparently, Alexander Hamilton couldn’t even rap as well as Pat Boone. Just kidding. There are other complaints: the show views historical events through inappropriately modern eyes; Hamilton wasn’t really such a saint.

"Hamilton" on Broadway. Photo: Joan Marcus

“Hamilton” on Broadway. Photo: Joan Marcus

Here at ArtsWatch we believe this is only the tip of a very large iceberg. Our friends at WikiLeaks are about to blow the lid on a volcano of theatrical and movie scandals, and they’ve given us the inside scoop on a few. Maria von Trapp didn’t actually climb evr’y mountain, though she gave it the old college try. That thing that happened on the way to the Forum wasn’t funny: please stop laughing at other people’s misfortunes. Abraham Lincoln never even met a vampire, let alone slay one. I misremembered Mama. Andrew Jackson was … all right; he was pretty bloody bloody.

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Electric talk talk talk

Enda Walsh's "The New Electric Ballroom" at Third Rail Rep is a tall tale sailing on a torrent of language

Less than a minute into the opening speech of Enda Walsh’s sort-of comedy The New Electric Ballroom at Third Rail Rep I tucked my pen back into my pocket and gave up on the idea of taking notes: no way could I keep up with this thundering waterfall of words. “By their nature people are talkers,” says the spinster Breda, and talk talk talk they do, phrases tumbling and shooting and skipping and flying until your ears give up and run behind your back to hide. The gift of gab, the Irish call it, though at times you wonder – and I suspect Walsh does, too – if the gift isn’t just as much a curse.

The thing is, everybody talks in Electric Ballroom, but nobody talks with. It’s pretty much all speeches, ingrown toenail sorts of rants, in choreographed turns, and it takes a while to figure out who the choreographer is. At first you think it’s the youngest of the three sisters, Ada (Maureen Porter), who seems to be barking out odd orders like a stage manager under duress. You’re pretty sure it’s not Clara (Diana Kondrat), who speaks in elliptical staccato bursts, and is also the announcer of the obvious: “There’s a lull in the conversation,” she chirps at several pregnant pauses in the verbal onslaught, after some barb or another has landed a little too deep. Eventually the caller of the shots appears to be Breda (Lorraine Bahr), the one with the wicked past, at least in these cloistered and ritually embalmed sisters’ minds. But the truth is, not a one of ’em’s actually participated in life enough to have done anything wicked at all, except in their imaginations, which they use to turn on those torrents of language that become a sort of virtual reality, a made-up life that becomes the only life they really have. Sad’s the word for it, and it’s a word that’s short and not so sweet.

Kondrat (left) with Bahr and Porter: the three sisters. Photo: Owen Carey

Kondrat (left) with Bahr and Porter: the three sisters. Photo: Owen Carey

Walsh is, of course, Irish (Third Rail also produced his play Penelope a few seasons back, which was directed, as Electric Ballroom is, by Philip Cuomo), and this contemporary play takes place in some isolated Irish village, a place with cliffs and docks and a seafood cannery, the kind of place where everybody knows everybody and secrets are both open and long-lasting, sometimes for generations. It’s enough to make any escapee from the boonies to a bigger city shudder at the memory, although if you’ve read any of Tana French’s psychological crime novels set on the narrow-minded streets of Dublin, you might also wonder if the difference is all that big.

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‘Blue Door’: truth & consequences

Profile's taut production of Tanya Barfield's drama of a black man in conflict with his soul brings back the ghosts of pain and opportunity

In the dark, the sounds of African drumming and a loud, exultant chant ring out. Lights up, and the dialogue begins. “Divorce!” the actor Victor Mack declares, rolling and spitting the word in bafflement, savage humor, and contempt. What follows in Blue Door, which opened Saturday night at Profile Theatre, is close to two hours of dramatic exploration of what divorce means – not only or even mostly the divorce of Mack’s character, Lewis, from his wife, but of Lewis’s attempted divorce from his own black identity and cultural history.

Seth Rue in "Blue Door." Photo: David Kinder

Seth Rue in “Blue Door.” Photo: David Kinder

Blue Door, the second full production in Profile’s season of plays by Portland native Tanya Barfield, takes a big leap forward by trimming its sails. Its issues are larger and deeper than those in the season’s appealing but sprawling first production, The Call, but the focus is much tighter: Just Mack and fellow actor Seth Rue, who plays a variety of characters in Lewis’s long family story, are onstage.

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Dance/Undance: BodyVox’s risk

With eight new dances by non-choreographers, "Pearl Dive Project" takes a big chance and pries open the doors of creativity

Must be something in the water over on Northwest Northrup Street: BodyVox keeps drinking from the well of chance, and emerging spritzy and refreshed.

When last we checked in on the Portland contemporary dance company, back in December, it was doing a show called The Spin: spin a giant wheel, à la Wheel of Fortune, land on a pie-slice printed with the name of a piece from the company’s repertory, and the dancers would perform it. Each night’s show was different, depending on the luck of the spin, and that was part of the fun.

Brent Luebbert, Anna Marra, Katie Scherman, Scott Stampone in China Forbes's "Transformed." Photo: Blaine Truitee Covert

Brent Luebbert, Anna Marra, Katie Scherman, Scott Stampone in China Forbes’s “Transformed.” Photo: Blaine Truitee Covert

On Thursday night, with the opening of Pearl Dive Project, the risks got even riskier. The point of the show, which continues through April 23, is to see what emerges when creative nondancers try their hand at creating dance. This is choreography by people who don’t do choreography. With one exception, the featured dancemakers don’t even have backgrounds in dance, though several are fans who’ve seen a lot of it from the seats. The idea: what if you take a group of creative people in other fields and ask them to apply their skills and intuitions to the world of dance? Can they do it? What sorts of images and movements might they create?

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