Bob Hicks


Star bright: Claire Willett’s ‘Galileo’

The summer hit at CoHo takes a whack at the Big Questions. Also: "The Theory of Everything," National Theatre Live.

One of the things I like about Claire Willett’s new play Dear Galileo, the Playwrights West show that’s been a breakout summer hit at CoHo Theatre (it closes Saturday night), is the way it unabashedly reclaims the territory of big ideas for the theater.

We’ve not been living with a theater of big ideas these past few years: the standard modus operandi is to burrow deep and small, homing in on ruptures, trying to dig the pinworm out of the cultural corpus; or to create a loose verbal structure for acting as performance art; or just to riff, comically or ironically, on the innate absurdity of the contemporary condition. The days of Archibald MacLeish’s J.B. and Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, those brash and impertinent knockings-on-the-door of the infinite, seem far behind us, or tucked away safely on high school stages, although that might be changing: Portland Center Stage, the city’s biggest theater company, kicks off its newest season soon not with its usual big-scale musical but with a revival of Our Town.

Chris Porter and Kate Mura as Galileo and daughter. Photo: Steve Patterson

Porter and Mura as Galileo and daughter. Photo: Steve Patterson

Willett isn’t an ironic writer, and she’s not too interested in the theater of small, at least in subject matter. Dear Galileo embraces the mysteries of the universe, as Galileo himself did, back in the 1600s, when he landed in hot water for pointing out that observable phenomena did not square with certain aspects of received religious belief. That didn’t lead him to question spirituality, only to suggest that certain points of didacticism probably needed to be rethought. It also, inevitably, opened the door to a more expansive and questioning view of cosmic possibility that demanded reexamining even the definition of such concepts as “God.” Where does a desert tribal deity fit in an expanding universe of dwarf stars and antimatter and curved infinities and Big Bangs?

“Mathematics is the language in which God has created the universe,” the production’s program quotes Galileo, and that’s the territory Willett claims as her own: the convergences and clashes of science and religion as each tries to understand the shape and reason (if there is one) of the infinite. Must the two necessarily be at odds? Or can a trick of definition, a recalibration of the idea of religion as a process rather than a tablet of restrictions and rules, bring the two quests for understanding into something closer to harmony? What Willett’s attempting to pull off is a bit like getting C.S. Lewis and Samuel Beckett to pack a few sandwiches and go fishing together, although when you think about it, it’s maybe not such a cockamamie idea: Lewis and Beckett are angling in the same stream, even if their catch seems radically different.

In director Stephanie Mulligan’s well-acted and attractively staged premiere production, the eternal questions are got at via three interlinking stories: those of Galileo himself and his devoted if restive daughter (Chris Porter and Kate Mura, who spar with loving exasperation); of New York artist Cassie Willows (Nena Salazar) and her estranged father, Jasper (Gary Powell, the passionate science prof you wish you’d had in college), a celebrated astrophysicist at the Vatican Observatory in the Arizona desert, along with Jasper’s brilliant and emotionally messed up assistant, Gabriel (Nathan Dunkin); and small-town Texas creationist author and TV talking head Robert Snow (Walter Petryk), whose view of religion is as tough and tiny and nigh-unbreakable as a macadamia nut, and his eternally questioning young daughter Haley (Agatha Day Olson), whose eager questions tossed out across the centuries to Galileo give the play its title. Fathers and daughters have as much to do with the play’s emotional and narrative journey as god-the-fathers and the place of mere humans in the universe.

Willett revels in big speeches loaded with big questions, and the Dear Galileo audiences’ eager response to them suggests the skill with which many are constructed, the actors’ deftness of delivery, and perhaps an emerging eagerness by theatergoers to engage with issues bigger than the kitchen sink.

For all its attractions the play is long and sometimes feels as if it’s trying to stuff too much in. I’d need to spend some serious time looking over the script to decide for sure, but it strikes me that two interweaving stories might work better than three, and that the tale of extreme fundamentalist Robert Snow and his daughter might be the odd one out. The stories of the Willows and the Galileis seem to play off each other well: the pioneering astronomer and the contemporary astrophysicist, each trying to balance science and faith, and each thinking in terms far more expansive than the ordinary men and women of their times.

Snow, who clings fervently to the Bishop Ussher timeline of the universe (the good bishop, in his brilliantly wrongheaded journey through the Old Testament’s thicket of begats, determined in 1650 that Creation took place at about 6 p.m. on October 22, 4004 B.C.), and who twists the scientific record to place humans and dinosaurs on the planet at the same time in an effort to align geological reality with an extreme literalist interpretation of scripture, is hard to take seriously as a thinker. He’s simply not a credible match for Galileo and Willows: intellectually speaking, he’s a relic, although men like him have outsized political, educational, and pop-cultural influence. The Snow segment of Dear Galileo could be a case of the Don Juan in Hell conundrum: a fascinating fragment that’s related but doesn’t quite fit in with the mother ship of Man and Superman. Should it be inserted into the play, or left out, or kept separate and run in repertory?

Let that be. It’s a larger question, ultimately for Willett and no one else to decide. In the meantime, audiences have been enthusiastic, and that’s no accident. Neither, Willett might respond, is the universe, although she’d likely add that that’s part of the big question, isn’t it?


"The Theory of Everything" director Rusty Newton Tennant with actors Samson Syharath, Kimo Camat, Larry Toda, Wynee Hu, Heath Hyun Houghton,Toni-Tabora-Roberts, Kat Templeton and Elaine Low

“The Theory of Everything” director Rusty Newton Tennant with actors Samson Syharath, Kimo Camat, Larry Toda, Wynee Hu, Heath Hyun Houghton,Toni-Tabora-Roberts, Kat Templeton and Elaine Low

Speaking of big ideas (or at least, big titles), Saturday afternoon is the final chance to catch The Theory of Everything, Prince Golmovilas’ expansive comedy about UFOs, Japan, and the Chapel of Love. Produced by Theatre Diaspora, an arm of Dmae Roberts’ MediaRites that produces theater featuring Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, it has its final of just two performances at 2 o’clock Saturday at Artists Repertory Theatre. Tickets are just 10 bucks; info here.


And in case you’ve missed Third Rail Rep’s screenings of the National Theatre’s lauded film versions of live performances, or want to catch some of them again, Third Rail is giving an encore festival this weekend of favorites from the 2014-15 season. Showing Friday through Sunday at Imago Theatre, Third Rail’s new home base, will be Man and Superman, Treasure Island, Of Mice and Men, Skylight, A View from the Bridge, and John. Ticket and schedule information are here.


Read more from Bob Hicks >>

Support Oregon ArtsWatch!





Santa Fe ups the Wattage

Portland artist Marie Watt blankets the territory in Santa Fe's Northwest-tinted summer of art

SANTA FE, New Mexico – Marie Watt’s blankets march down the expanse of a large gallery at SITE Santa Fe, hanging like somebody’s spectacular wash from a row of receding clotheslines. The Portland artist, who comes from Wyoming ranchers on her father’s side and the Turtle Clan of the Seneca Nation on her mother’s, holds down much of the main territory at Santa Fe’s leading home for contemporary art, and her work reaches well beyond the blankets themselves. Cut apart and reimagined, added to by dozens of hands, pictorialized and abstracted, traditional and thoroughly contemporary at the same time, Watt’s blankets reclaim history and invent the future, subtly ravishing the eye along the way.

Marie Watt's blankets at SITE Santa Fe. Eric Swanson Photograsphy

Marie Watt’s blankets at SITE Santa Fe. Eric Swanson Photograsphy

Watt is just one of several Oregon and Pacific Northwest artists whose work is popping up prominently in this city of Southwestern art. Painter and sculptor Rick Bartow is a key part of a show of work by contemporary Native American artists at Chiaroscuro Contemporary Art through Sept. 5. Many fine Northwest pieces, from Alaska to Oregon and Northern California, are in the large exhibition Connoisseurship & Good Pie: Ted Coe and Collecting Native Art, through April 17 at the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian. And as the annual Santa Fe Indian Market and its new rival, IFAM, the Indigenous Fine Art Market, crowded the town with visitors over the past week, a solid sprinkling of Northwest artists were part of the mix.

Santa Fe, with its deep history and mingling of three cultures, has an art scene that is divided along Indian, Hispanic and Anglo cultural lines, but that also crosses borders in interesting and sometimes innovative ways. The museums and popular markets such as Indian, Folk Art, and Spanish work closely together: indeed, the organization that runs the Spanish Colonial Museum also runs Spanish Market, and is trying to expand the market to other cities in the Southwest.

Unlike Portland – which has one large art museum and a single smaller one, the Museum of Contemporary Craft – Santa Fe is littered with small museums, both private and public, in addition to the larger, general New Mexico Museum of Art downtown. What you don’t find in one place, you likely will in another, from the Georgia O’Keeffe to SITE to the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts to the four institutions within easy walking distance on Museum Hill: the Spanish Colonial, Wheelwright, International Folk Art, and Museum of Indian Arts and Culture.

The commercial gallery scene, meanwhile, is vibrant, with many old-liners and a new crop growing in the emerging Railyard District, where the farmers’ market also keeps things bustling, especially in summer and fall. Smallness can have its problems, in funding, collecting, and administration, but the varying sites and approaches create a sense of excitement and churn that single institutions often can’t match. What’s more, unlike other multiple-museum centers such as Los Angeles and New York, everything in Santa Fe is pretty much close to everything else. That makes museum-hopping fun.


Clackamas Rep plays its trump card

J. Pierrepont Finch learns how to succeed in business in the Rep's revival and becomes a man for all political seasons

To anyone convinced that government ought to be run like a business, How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying has arrived just in time to slap that silly idea right out of your skull. It does run like a business, and lord help us all.

As we hurtle willy-nilly into the depths of the national political season, we’ll be hearing that business trope a lot. Goodness, we even have a billionaire businessman leading the charge toward the ballot box, building his campaign on bluster, bullying, and the quaint notion that he’s a populist outsider crashing the gates of the establishment in the name of the people. And The Great Hairscape is nothing new. “After all, the chief business of the American people is business,” declared Calvin Coolidge, the man who presided over the giddy buildup to the Great Depression.

Jameson Tabor as J. Pierrepont Finch, Sydney Weir (center) as Smitty, Cassi Q. Kohl as Rosemary. Photo: Travis Nodurft

Jameson Tabor as J. Pierrepont Finch, Sydney Weir (center) as Smitty, Cassi Q. Kohl as Rosemary. Photo: Travis Nodurft

How To Succeed, which is playing through August 23 in a generally handsome and well-sung revival at Clackamas Repertory Theatre, sees things differently. A hit 1961 Broadway musical based on a best-selling 1952 satirical book written in his ample spare time by a successful and somewhat cynical Madison Avenue ad man, it declares a different truth about the modern corporate world: nobody’s in charge, the place is full of yes men, inertia and the covering of one’s posterior are the chief orders of the day, nobody in management knows the slightest thing about the actual product, and no amount of sucking up can be considered shameless if you want to rise to the top.

It’s not business itself that’s in question, mind you: wickets, we can rest assured, the manufacture and sale of which are the core concern of the corporate world of How To Succeed, are vital little doodads, and everyone should have a few spares stashed away in the old croquet set. The worm in the apple’s the ineptitude of the whole process. A bureaucracy, apparently, is a bureaucracy, whether it’s government or business, and the person who figures out how it doesn’t work can scramble to the top of the heap. Not that he or she will be able to do much of anything but sit up there, emperor of futility. But sitting there has its rewards. Dilbert for president!

Or J. Pierrepoint Finch, the eager-beaver hustler at the center of How To Succeed, whose dizzying two-week ascent from window washer to chairman of the board of World Wide Wicket Company is aided and abetted by his scrupulous attention to the advice of a business how-to book. That that’s the only thing he’s scrupulous toward is part of the comedy’s joke, and excellent preparation for a career in politics. The play ends with speculation about Pierrepoint and the U.S. presidency, a position that would trump even chairman of the board.

The company: a little song, a little dance, a little satire. Photo: Travis Nodurft

The company: a little song, a little dance, a little satire. Photo: Travis Nodurft

Jameson Tabor stars as Finch at Clackamas Rep, playing the little schemer like a knife with an ingratiating edge, and a demeanor that falls somewhere between Matthew Broderick (who starred in the 1995 Broadway revival) and a googly-eyed Don Knotts. Finchie’s supposed to be shallow and irritating: nobody notices, or minds, until it belatedly becomes clear that he’s aced almost everyone out.

How To Succeed is a period piece, very much of its Mad Men times, and there are things that go along with that beyond Alva Bradford’s sharp costumes and Chris Whitten’s art-deco, Miami-colored set. There are no persons of color darker than a light tan in the executive headquarters, and no women executives. The women are secretaries or bimbos or both, and even the most ambitious among them aspire to marry a successful executive and preside over a suburban household while their husbands go into the city to slay dragons every day. On the other hand, what’s old is new: the remnants of that idea are likely to pop up during this grueling presidential-nomination campaign, too. (Or have already: even Fox News woman broadcasters, it seems, will be put in their place if they get too uppity with their questions.)

It’s key to remember that How To Succeed, created by the Guys and Dolls team of composer Frank Loesser and writer Abe Burrows (with a couple of others), is a comedy and was never meant as an exposé of American business. As a new Broadway musical, it played to houses packed with people who worked at corporations like World Wide Wicket: the audience was in on the joke. Like all good satire, How To Succeed was only a slight stretch of a broadly perceived reality. The play dug deep into the weak spots of the corporate system, and laid out an extreme-case scenario of how to manipulate it, and it was funny because everyone knew that even if it wasn’t quite plausible, it was possible. Decades later, anyone who paid even an ounce of attention to the Wall Street meltdown of 2008 can see the seed of the disaster right here, planted with a song and a smirk and a dance.

Jonathan Quesenberry as Bud Frump: it's not easy being green with envy. Photo: Travis Nodurft

Jonathan Quesenberry as Bud Frump: it’s not easy being green with envy. Photo: Travis Nodurft

Director Don Elias’s cast at Clackamas Rep is blessed with a solid crop of musical comediennes and reliable character actors. Cassi Q. Kohl as the secretary Rosemary, who falls at first glance for Finch and seems too smart to be so dumb, turns in yet another appealingly polished performance, as do Sidney Weir as her sidekick Smitty, Amanda Valley as super-efficient Miss Jones, and Teresa Renee as the bundle of trouble Hedy LaRue, who’d be the sadder but wiser girl except she’s not sad about a bit of it, and not so wise, either. Jon Quesenberry is a lightly and likably detestable villain as ineffectual mama’s-boy Bud Frump, nephew of the big boss Mr. Biggley (Mark Pierce); good comic turns also come from Britton Adams as Bratt, the personnel guy (these days he’d be “human resources”) and Tony Stroh in the dual roles of nibbly Mr. Trimble and brassy Wally Womper, chairman of the board.

How To Succeed is a clever play, but it’s dated in ways that Loesser and Burrows’ brilliant Guys and Dolls, which has the sophisticated structure of a Shakespeare comedy and the sass of a purely American style, isn’t. The songs are tuneful but, unlike the hit-fest score of Guys and Dolls, more efficient than memorable (the closest thing to a standard is probably I Believe in You). And even with all the rapid action – and, in this production, Megan Misslin’s energetic choreography that assures a constant flow of physical action – the story’s a little brittle; you might find yourself after a while checking in and out.

But not too much. In its own way, this is a classic American tale, too, if not quite a classic of American theater, and its time has circled back again. It’s not hard to imagine a ticket of J. Pierrepont Finch and Professor Harold Hill from The Music Man, though Finch might have to settle for the vice presidential slot. Prof Hill’s proven that if you’re brash enough, you don’t even need to know the territory. And that brand seems to be selling like hotcakes in the political marketplace these days.


How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying continues through August 23 at Clackamas Rep. Ticket and schedule information are here.


In a welcome trend, cabaret’s been popping up here and there in town lately, and Clackamas Rep has a good one lined up for Aug. 16. Singer and actress Meredith Kaye Clark will perform Joni Mitchell’s classic album Blue in a concert setting, accompanying herself on guitar and with Mont Chris Hubbard on piano. The same show sold out a trio of recent performances at Portland Center Stage. Info here.


Clackamas Rep will close its season September 10-October 4 with the Northwest premiere of One Man, Two Guvnors, Richard Bean’s smash 2011 adaptation of Carlo Goldini’s 18th century farce The Servant of Two Masters. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival scored a massive hit in 2009 with its own freewheeling adaptation of The Servant of Two Masters. This material’s a potential gold mine.


Read more from Bob Hicks >>

Support Oregon ArtsWatch!



‘Play’: the play’s the (meta) thing

D.C. Copeland's newest at Shaking the Tree is a spry leap into artifice and reality, a play about the play of making a play

Play, D.C. Copeland’s aptly named and spryly entertaining new play that premiered Thursday evening at Shaking the Tree, playfully underlines a crucial point: in the theater, there is no such thing as realism.

That is, realism isn’t reality. It’s just another style, artificial like all the rest. Characters live and breathe and do what they do at the whim of an invisible hand – not Adam Smith’s elusive economic balancer, but the hand of an unseen character known as the playwright, who may or may not be in control of the impulses that move her to play the pieces of the play the way she does. The playwright, in this case, is the mother of invention, and she has the audacity to openly display the artificiality of her enterprise while at the same time trying to lure the audience into that emotional complicity with the characters that we call, for convenience, “realism.”

Modica (left), Martin, San Nicolas in "Play." Photo: Gary Norman

Modica (left), Martin, San Nicolas in “Play.” Photo: Gary Norman

A few shades of Luigi Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author are flitting about the stage, although the characters in Play generally tend to consider the author more of a minor irritation than a crucial element of the action. And Copeland’s play dovetails, in intriguing ways, with a couple of other meditations on self-invention and the inherent theatricality of people’s lives that are on the boards in Portland right now: Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night at Portland Shakespeare Project and Much Ado About Nothing at Post5. Viola invents an artificial reality that slowly aligns with “real” reality in Twelfth Night, as much through the power of language as through the foolery of disguise. Beatrice and Benedick trick the tricksters in Much Ado by following the self-deception of their mutual passion to discover it is the key to the very deep truth that their illusion is, in fact, their central truth: in a “real” sense, they’ve created (or perhaps discovered) themselves. In both plays – let’s say all three, because Copeland’s, too, is very much about the mysterious power of language to create and alter and sometimes destroy life – words are the magic that create and sustain existence out of nothingness.

If that sounds very meta-, well, it is. Like her simpler and much darker The Undiscovered Country, which premiered in May at Defunkt, Play relishes the gamesmanship of theater, and Copeland could hardly hope for a smarter and more vibrant production than she gets in this premiere production, which is directed by John San Nicolas, who also stars in the key role of the Narrator (meta-theatrical plays pretty often have a narrator, so named or not: think Our Town). Some plays are very forgiving: their virtues are so narrative and near the surface that they can survive even mediocre productions. Play is of the more elaborate and particular sort: it’s a loose-jointed yet cunningly structured edifice that everyone involved, from director to performers to designers, must fully comprehend and be in agreement on. In lesser hands, the whole puzzle could fall apart, like amateur Beckett. Play is very much a gamble – that the director and actors will get what’s going on, and that the members of the audience will appreciate having the blueprint created and contradicted and reshaped in front of their eyes.

The illusion of Play is that you can strip the illusion away, revealing all of its working parts, and still leave it intact. The danger is that the audience will see it as mere trickiness, and get bored when the arbitrary wand waves again. It’s very much, though not exclusively, a play for insiders – for artists, who grapple with this issue of reality and illusion every day in their own work; and for avid arts followers, who are fascinated by what it is that artists are about. Except for a couple of points where my attention flagged and I fantasized that I’d dropped in on a grad-school philosophy-of-theater seminar, I was caught up in both the play and the production, appreciating its little twists and plunges and cluster-bombs of comedy and even, though I usually loathe such things, its occasional forays into audience participation (partly, I think, because the audience-participation bits weren’t done earnestly, but with self-deprecating humor: how far can we manipulate you and get away with it?).

From left: Green, Groben, Conway, Modica, Martin, San Nicolas. Photo: Gary Norman

From left: Green, Groben, Conway, Modica, Martin, San Nicolas. Photo: Gary Norman

Play exists at various and shifting levels of reality: the unseen playwright, who is both the most and least important “character”; the omniscient and a little caustic Narrator; the actor playing a playwright, who seems to be pulling the strings except when they sometimes pull her; the characters the actor/playwright creates; even the audience, which is repeatedly exhorted to respond and get involved. The play begins, skippingly, with a character who decides she’s a playwright (bright and bushy Vonessa Martin, as Flan) and a second character (the arch and ferociously funny Lauren Modica, as Lola) who, somewhat arbitrarily, becomes her roommate. Flan declares; Lola prods; Flan scribbles; Lola argues. An extended family springs to life: best friends Grace (Kelly Godell) and Lila (Keiko Green); Grace’s daughter Rosalind (Tiffany Groben), who undergoes an entire life cycle over the play’s intermissionless 80-odd minutes; Grace’s too-good-to-be-true husband (Spencer Conway), who maybe isn’t so good but then again maybe is; and Joshua J. Weinstein as a sort of stagehand/factotum/handy spare part to be comically employed when the situation arises. The characters stumble, under Flan’s arbitrary hand, through episodes ludicrous and touching, comical and tragic, drunken and sober, furtive and open; and at some point the enthusiasm of the process gives way to something more wearing and heavier for the play’s creator to bear. Things happen to the characters that the playwright (the playwright in the play, and maybe the one outside of it, too) regrets but somehow cannot change: some things, she says, just have to be the way they have to be. Creation, as it turns out, is something weightier than just fun and games. Fantasies take on moral and emotional dimension.

As Copeland and her characters shift between action and commentary, commentary and action, director San Nicolas’s actors hover in a territory between avatars and fully fleshed characters, developing emotional shadings despite the playwright’s insistence that they are mere inventions: imperceptibly, they coax the audience into caring about their fates. This, too, is part of the illusion of the theater: It’s what happens every night onstage, only more baldly, almost perversely, stated in Play. And the actors’ deep dives into their characters, that fusion of the real and unreal that makes good fiction feel so very much alive, is crucial to it all.

It’s an exceptionally strong cast: I was taken particularly by Green’s emotionally confused Lila and Modica’s brassy Lola. And San Nicolas’s Narrator is a wonder, ranking with his outstanding work in the likes of Badass Theatre’s Invasion! and Artists Rep’s The Motherfucker with the Hat. He’s a stretchy-elastic, caustic, rueful, show-offish, restrained, unpredictably funny conduit of high-voltage energy, connecting everyone to everyone else. It’s ferocious. Then again, it’s only a play.


Play, produced at Shaking the Tree by Cracked Nutshell (well, you’ve got to if you’re going to eat the nut), has a limited run of nine performances though August 8. Ticket and schedule information are here.









Drammys: ‘Snowstorm,’ ‘Mary Poppins,’ lots of love

Portland theater's annual awards party turns into a love-in Monday night, with a special award for Miracle Theatre and a lifetime honor for Tobias Andersen

The 37th annual Drammy Awards, Portland’s celebration of the best and brightest in the year’s theater scene, hit the Newmark Theatre Monday night like a roller coaster of love – for stage managers and dressers and designers, for directors and writers, for the whole crazy game of theater and the people who are held happily hostage by it.

The Snowstorm, Eric Nordin and Jessica Wallenfels’ ambitious original combination of theater, music, and dance that came out of this spring’s Fertile Ground new-works festival, took three awards, including the coveted best production Drammy, and by the crowd reaction, was an immensely popular choice. It was produced by CoHo Productions and Many Hats Collaborations.

Beth Thompson as Bear in best-production winner "The Snowstorm"; mask by Tony Fummeler. Photo: Brud Giles

Beth Thompson as Bear in best-production winner “The Snowstorm”; mask by Tony Fummeler. Photo: Brud Giles

But if any single show dominated the evening, it was a musical by a children’s theater company. As it did in the PAMTA musical-theater awards two weeks ago, Northwest Children’s Theater’s high-flying Mary Poppins swept up in the musicals categories, taking seven awards, including best musical production, direction of a musical (Sarah Jane Hardy, who also took the choreography award), and actor in a musical (John Ellingson, who also won for his Mary Poppins prop design). The show’s large cast and crew stayed in shape hustling onstage multiple times, to loud applause. Hardy spoke passionately about the Portland way of doing children’s theater, which, she said, is to have lots of children as opposed to all adult actors in the shows, and Ellingson gave moving tribute to his husband for his support, remarking that he hoped it would be the last time such a comment would be viewed as a political statement.

Northwest Children's Theatre's "Mary Poppins" dominated the musical-theater awards. Photo: David Kinder

Northwest Children’s Theater’s “Mary Poppins” dominated the musical-theater awards. Photo: David Kinder

After years at the Crystal Ballroom and, before that, at the Benson Hotel, the Drammys moved uptown into the 870-seat Newmark, a hall that provided a touch of class and put the theater awards in an actual theater. If the atmosphere cut back on some of the evening’s trademark rowdiness, it also made hearing from the audience much easier, and gave the evening a grown-up feel. Emcee Dan Murphy kept the crowd titillated with a dizzying succession of costume changes, each time emerging from the wings like a Cher impersonator in a bargain Nevada casino lounge. At one point he and presenter Olga Sanchez, artistic director of Miracle Theatre, showed up onstage in nearly identical electric-blue evening gowns. Sanchez took the style award, Murphy the comedy crown.

Matthew B. Zrebski won the directing Drammy for Theatre Vertigo’s Bob: A Life in Five Acts, and gave an eloquent acceptance speech – so eloquent that ArtsWatch stopped taking notes and just listened. The major acting awards went to a clutch of popular veterans. Luisa Sermol won best actress for her distressed mother in Badass Theatre’s Sans Merci, and Oregon Shakespeare Festival regular Michael Elich took the top-actor prize for Arthur Miller’s The Price at Artists Rep. Todd Van Voris won for supporting actor in Northwest Classical’s Macbeth; Dana Green took the supporting actress trophy for her double turn as a wisecracking mistress and an ice-skating wife in Profile’s Dead Man’s Cell Phone; and Rebecca Lingafelter won for solo performance for Grounded at CoHo. Elisha Henig took the young-performer trophy for The Snowstorm, and brought the house down by profusely thanking his parents, then noting that they had written his acceptance speech.

Luisa Sermol took top actress honors for her harrowing performance in "Sans Merci." Photo: Russell J Young

Luisa Sermol took top actress honors for her harrowing performance in “Sans Merci.” Photo: Russell J Young

Top musical acting awards went to Ellingson in Mary Poppins and Dru Rutledge for Lakewood’s sweet and lovely version of She Loves Me; Cassi Q. Kohl won best supporting musical actress, also for She Loves Me; and Eric Little scared up the best supporting actor in a musical award for his Riff Raff in Live On Stage’s The Rocky Horror Show.

Yussef El Guindi won the original script award for Threesome, his volatile blend of skin and politics, at Portland Center Stage.

Rusty Tennant helped set the scene early on with his acceptance speech for best scenic design, which he won for Post5’s zombiepocalype The Last Days. Racing onstage late from the lobby – he really hadn’t been expecting to win – he noted that he’d worked at big-budget theaters that tossed out whole sets after a run, and made the case for working small and cheap and smart instead. “Seriously, 275 dollars?” he said. “I thought I had no chance. What you’ve honored is sustainability in the theater!”

Miracle Theatre Group won a Special Achievement Award for three decades of presenting Latino theater and other arts, including its innovative Spanish-language touring program. (ArtsWatch’s participant-observer note: I presented the award to Miracle, and was pleased to do so.)

And veteran actor, director, and producer Tobias Andersen, who was also nominated for best director of a musical for Lakewood’s She Loves Me, won this year’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Introduced movingly by his longtime friend and colleague Allen Nause, Andersen talked briefly of his days in Los Angeles and hanging in Milton Berle’s dressing room and working with science fiction giant Ray Bradbury on a one-man show, The Illustrated Bradbury. He quoted “my hero,” Clarence Darrow, on the beneficial necessity of unions, which, he said, have made it possible for him to do the work he does. Then he got down to his abiding love for the Portland theater community that has made him feel at home. Accepting his award, he noted, “You realize, everyone, that this arrives at the pinnacle of my career, having just closed as Scratch the Cat.” Then he gave what amounted to a benediction for the entire evening: “I cherish this as I cherish all of you. Thank you so much.”

Tobias Andersen accepts his lifetime achievement award beneath a giant photo of himself at ease. Photo: Laura Grimes

Tobias Andersen accepts his lifetime achievement award beneath a giant photo of himself at ease. Photo: Laura Grimes

The winners, in boldface, with other finalists listed below them:


Todd Van Voris, Macbeth, Northwest Classical Theatre Company

Mujahid Abdul-Rashid, The Piano Lesson, Portland Playhouse

Joseph Costa, The Price, Artists Repertory Theatre

Chris Harder, Intimate Apparel, Artists Repertory Theatre


Rusty Tennant, The Last Days, Post5 Theatre

John Ellingson, Mary Poppins, Northwest Children’s Theater

Peter Ksander, The Three Sisters, Portland Experimental Theatre Ensemble (PETE)

Alan Schwanke, The Piano Lesson, Portland Playhouse


Cassi Q. Kohl, She Loves Me, Lakewood Theatre Company

Carmen Brantley-Payne, Show Boat, Lakewood Theatre Company

Signe Larsen, Mary Poppins, Northwest Children’s Theater

Danielle Purdy, tick, tick…BOOM!, triangle productions!


Em Gustason, The Sweatermakers, Playwrights West

Richard E. Moore, The Turn, The Reformers

Mark Valadez, Grounded, CoHo Productions

Matt Wiens, The Other Place, Portland Playhouse


Elisha Henig, The Snowstorm, CoHo Productions + Many Hats Collaboration

Thom Hilton, Columbinus, Oregon Children’s Theatre, (Young Professionals)

Agatha Olson, The Turn, The Reformers

Haley Ward, Ivy and Bean: The Musical, Oregon Children’s Theatre


Eric Little, The Rocky Horror Show, Live On Stage

Andrés Alcalá, Mary Poppins, Northwest Children’s Theater

Paul Harestad, Grease, Broadway Rose Theatre Company

Salim Sanchez, Parade, Staged!


Sarah Jane Hardy, Mary Poppins, Northwest Children’s Theater

Kemba Shannon, The Rocky Horror Show, Live On Stage

Jacob Toth, Grease, Broadway Rose Theatre Company

Jessica Wallenfels, The Snowstorm, CoHo Productions + Many Hats Collaboration


The Rocky Horror Show, Live On Stage

The Music Man, Broadway Rose Theatre Company

The World Goes ‘Round, Broadway Rose Theatre Company

tick, tick…BOOM!, triangle productions!


Mary Rochon, Mary Poppins, Northwest Children’s Theater

Alison Heryer, The Mystery of Irma Vep, Third Rail Repertory Theatre

Darrin J. Pufall, The Rocky Horror Show, Live on Stage

Mary Rochon, The Jungle Book, Northwest Children’s Theater


Dana Green, Dead Man’s Cell Phone, Profile Theatre

Sofia May-Cuxim, ¡O Romeo!, Milagro

Rebecca Ridenour, ¡O Romeo!, Milagro

Olga Sanchez, Learn to be Latina, Milagro


Daniel Meeker, Lizzie, Portland Center Stage

Don Crossley, Grounded, CoHo Productions

Daniel Meeker, The Other Place, Portland Playhouse

Peter West, ¡O Romeo!, Milagro


Jeffrey Childs, The World Goes ‘Round, Broadway Rose Theatre Company

James Beaton, Lizzie, Portland Center Stage

Jonathan Quesenberry, She Loves Me, Lakewood Theatre Company

Darcy White, The Rocky Horror Show, Live On Stage


Sarah Jane Hardy, Mary Poppins, Northwest Children’s Theater

Tobias Andersen, She Loves Me, Lakewood Theatre Company

John Oules, The Rocky Horror Show, Live On Stage

Jacob Toth, Grease, Broadway Rose Theatre Company


John Ellingson, Mary Poppins, Northwest Children’s Theater

Drew Harper, tick, tick…BOOM!, triangle productions!

Brian Demar Jones, Bat Boy: The Musical, Funhouse Lounge

Joe Theissen, La Cage aux Folles, Pixie Dust Productions


Dru Rutledge, She Loves Me, Lakewood Theatre Company

Chrissy Kelly-Pettit, Mary Poppins, Northwest Children’s Theater

Chrissy Kelly-Pettit, The Music Man, Broadway Rose Theatre Company

Mary Kate Morrissey, Lizzie, Portland Center Stage


Mary Poppins, Northwest Children’s Theater

Grease, Broadway Rose Theatre Company

The Rocky Horror Show, Live On Stage

The World Goes ‘Round, Broadway Rose Theatre Company


Bob: A Life in Five Acts, Theatre Vertigo

Learn to be Latina, Milagro

¡O Romeo!, Milagro

The School for Lies, Theatre Vertigo


Yussef El Guindi, Threesome, Portland Center Stage

Sean Doran, The Turn, The Reformers

Eric Nordin, The Snowstorm, CoHo Productions + Many Hats Collaboration

C.S. Whitcomb, The Seven Wonders of Ballyknock, Lakewood Theatre Company


Matthew B. Zrebski, Bob:  A Life in Five Acts, Theatre Vertigo

Bobby Bermea, Wait Until Dark, Northwest Classical Theatre Company

Olga Sanchez, ¡O Romeo!, Milagro

Jessica Wallenfels, The Snowstorm, CoHo Productions + Many Hats Collaboration


Michael Elich, The Price, Artists Repertory Theatre

Chris Harder, The Snowstorm, CoHo Productions + Many Hats Collaboration

Heath Koerschgen, The Seven Wonders of Ballyknock, Lakewood Theatre Company

Damon Kupper, The Night Alive, Third Rail Repertory Theatre


Luisa Sermol, Sans Merci, Badass Theatre Company

Amy Newman, Tribes, Artists Repertory Theatre

Vana O’Brien, 4000 Miles, Artists Repertory Theatre

Jamie Rea, The Snowstorm, CoHo Productions + Many Hats Collaboration


Mary Poppins, Northwest Children’s Theater

Grease, Broadway Rose Theatre Company

She Loves Me, Lakewood Theatre Company

The Rocky Horror Show, Live On Stage


The Snowstorm, CoHo Productions + Many Hats Collaboration

The Piano Lesson, Portland Playhouse

The Price, Artists Repertory Theatre

The Three Sisters, Portland Experimental Theatre Ensemble (PETE)


Devised work: ¡O Romeo!Milagro

Puppet design: Jason Miranda, When Animals Were People, Tears of Joy

Original music: Amir Shirazi¡O Romeo!, Milagro

Properties design: John Ellingson, Mary Poppins, Northwest Children’s Theatre

Solo performance: Rebecca Lingafelter, Grounded, CoHo Productions

Music performance: Eric Nordin, The Snowstorm, CoHo Productions + Many Hats Collaboration

Fight choreography: Sam Dinkowitz, Wait Until Dark, Northwest Classical Theatre Company


Miracle Theatre Group, El Centro Milagro


Tobias Andersen, actor, director, producer


Award for emerging theater company, Post5 Theatre


Presented by the Portland Area Theatre Alliance

– Stage Manager, Jenn Lindell

– Crew Member, Jake Newcomb

– Other, Cindi Kinder, school house manager at Northwest Children’s Theatre


– PETE (Portland Experimental Theatre Ensemble), $4,000 for a mobile professional sound system

Theatre Vertigo, $4,000 for renovations to its new venue, The Shoebox Theatre

Leslie O. Fulton Fellowship: Kristen Mun, $5,000 to create an armory of theatrical weaponry

Mary Brand Theatre for Youth Award: Playwrights West, $2,000 for the Teen West Project at Wilson High School

East Side scramble: enter the N.E.W.

As a heated real estate market intensifies the hunt for performance spaces, an arts entrepreneur and a real estate investment firm take over the old Zoomtopia

Real-estate bingo and the scramble for performance and studio spaces continue to do an awkward dance on Portland’s inner East Side, sometimes executing a neat two-step, sometimes stomping on each other’s toes.

Latest entry in the dance: the former Zoomtopia space at Southeast Eighth and Belmont, where a real-estate investment company and an arts entrepreneur appear to be enjoying a mutually beneficial tango: WYSE Real Estate Advisors gets a new headquarters, and dance teacher and producer Subashini Ganesan gets 3,000 square feet of studio and gathering space that’ll also be used by several other arts groups. What’s more, both parties are happy with the arrangement.

PICA's TBA 2014 workshop by Meryem Jazouli (Casablanca, Morocco) in Zoomtopia's Studio 2. Photo: Chelsea Petrakis

PICA’s TBA 2014 workshop by Meryem Jazouli (Casablanca, Morocco) in Zoomtopia’s Studio 2. Photo: Chelsea Petrakis

The deal struck for Zoomtopia, though less than the outright purchase Ganesan had originally hoped for, seems like a solid win for both parties, and it’s not the first one. In spite of development pressure and the loss of spaces such as the old Theater! Theatre! building on upper Belmont, which rendered more than a dozen performance groups temporarily homeless, a few other winners have emerged in the East Side dance.

Northwest Dance Project, squeezed out of its spot on the Mississippi Corridor, landed a bigger, better home space in the shadow of the Franz Bakery plant, just north of Burnside. Miracle Theatre and the nearby Imago Theatre, where Third Rail Rep will also take up residence in the fall, have solidified their East Side beachholds, creating vibrant small centers for performance. The tiny Shoebox Theatre and the Backdoor Theatre, a little room behind a coffee shop on Southeast Hawthorne, have helped define an East Side theatrical style: bare-bones, rough-and-tumble, experimental in a variety of ways. Shaking the Tree has planted a new, bigger flag on the East Side, Triangle Productions has pioneered performance on Sandy Boulevard, The Headwaters has colonized the far north, and multiple-studio buildings for visual artists and other creative workers now dot the inner East Side: indeed, they’ve been so successful that rents have begun creeping up, and artists, inevitably, are starting to look farther east and south in search of cheaper work spaces.

s_313The Central Eastside Industrial Zone, in particular, is under pressure, and the squeeze there ripples out to nearby areas. Hard by the Willamette River and only a short bridge-hop away from downtown, it’s being eyed increasingly as a potential gold mine for apartment and condo development – especially since Portland has one of the tightest housing vacancy rates in the nation.

So far, zoning stipulations and opposition from the light-manufacturing and warehouse businesses that have made a thriving industrial home there have kept things relatively quiet. (Information on the city planning bureau’s draft plan for the Southeast Quadrant is here.) But with the Rose District and the Oregon Convention Center to the north and the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry and the Portland Opera headquarters to the south, the land between is becoming more and more coveted for its development potential.

Add the rapid development of the long-slumbering nearby Lloyd District, and the heat’s starting to rise. People in the arts and creative fields who’ve found comfortable and relatively inexpensive quarters on the inner East Side are beginning to look nervously over their shoulders, wary of spiraling costs that would push them out – ironically, the same sort of feelings that blue-collar workers and business owners in the industrial area are having. Some artists are advocating live/work rezoning, which would allow actual loft living as opposed to the faux-loft apartments and condos in the Pearl District – in effect, they argue, creating a symbiotic relationship with the industrial and warehouse interests to keep a flexible status quo in the area, with some added residential use.

Other artists are beginning to toss around the risible words “rent control,” a term that not so very long ago, when Portland was known as the low-rent district of West Coast cities, would have been dismissed as both alien and outlandish. Rent control likely would face opposition from both developers, as a loss of potential market-rate returns, and the city, as a tax-revenue drain. And to control rent, you need to have rentals in the first place. As Chad Rheingold, a shareholder and vice president of WYSE, says: “The city is pretty clear that they don’t want housing in the Central Eastside Industrial Zone,” unless it’s on major thoroughfares, where it can be clustered.


Amid this overheated atmosphere, an intriguing meeting of commercial and creative minds is taking place at the old Zoomtopia space, across the street from Grand Central Bowl and close to the studios that Oregon Ballet Theatre is abandoning to move to the West Side’s South Waterfront district. Zoomtopia, the lively arts incubator founded and developed in 2010 by Carole Zoom, has emerged from uncertainty to become a dual-purpose space.


Quintana Galleries, home to Native American art, will close

After 42 years, the important Portland gallery will end its run, with no one immediately to take its place

A major and unique slice of Portland’s art culture is about to disappear: Quintana Galleries, which for 42 years has dealt in fine Native American and First Nations art, will shut its doors for good on August 15. Founded by Rose and Cecil Quintana in a 500-square-foot Old Town space, the gallery grew to be a major player nationally, counting museums and significant collectors among its clients and helping nurture the careers of many leading native artists.

"Eagle & Human Bentwood Chest," David Boxley, Tsimshian Nation, 2012, 26.5 x 34 x 18 inches, red cedar, operculum shells, pigment, Portland Art Museum purchase from Quintana Galleries

“Eagle & Human Bentwood Chest,” David Boxley, Tsimshian Nation, 2012, 26.5 x 34 x 18 inches, red cedar, operculum shells, pigment, Portland Art Museum purchase from Quintana Galleries

The gallery’s artists have covered North America, from Mexico to the Arctic: many Kwakwaka’wakw artists, including carver Calvin Hunt and the prolific Henderson clan; the late, great Haida carver and sculptor Bill Reid; Tsimshian artists David and David Robert Boxley; Oregon’s Yakama/Warm Springs legend Lillian Pitt; Chinook carver Greg Robinson; and many others, from Tlingit to Blackfoot to Cree to Skokomish and more.

Several years ago the gallery relocated to a bigger space on Northwest Ninth Avenue, technically a part of the Pearl District but with a more settled feel than much of the go-go, pop-up neighborhood. Just up from the North Park Blocks on a block sandwiched by the old-time Fullers Cafe on one end and the Pearl Bakery on the other, it’s a quiet stretch that feels like the best of old Portland and new Portland combined. For many people, Quintana has been, quite literally, its heart.

 Interior of Quintana Galleries, 2015. Kevin McConnell Photography.

Interior of Quintana Galleries, 2015. Kevin McConnell Photography.

Cecily Quintana, Rose and Cecil’s daughter, who has been heading the gallery for years, explained the family’s decision in a press statement: “The decision to close the gallery came only after months of careful thought and many family discussions. The reason the Quintana Family chose to close the gallery is simple: after 42 years of running a small business, the Quintanas are looking forward to retiring and enjoying the fruits of their labor. They have chosen to close the gallery rather than sell it, as they were unable to find a buyer who shared the same values and commitment to Native American art that the gallery was founded on.”

The family’s inability to find a successor constitutes a major loss for the city, the region, and the nation, which has few galleries concentrating on the works of native artists, and fewer whose embrace is so wide. Several first-rate contemporary Native American artists are represented in Portland by Froelick, Augen, and other galleries (Quintana’s artists tend to work in more traditional styles, though not exclusively), but the impending closure leaves a giant hole. We wish good luck to the Quintanas, and can’t help hoping that someone steps in to build on what they’ve established.


  • OAW 2015-10 Duckler Shotola-Hardt
  • OAW_Momix
  • NWDP1516SeasonTILE_sized
  • PSP-turn-300x250-3
  • 300x250-SWS
  • BofE ArtsWatch Ad
  • 300x250-ourtown
  • Oregon ArtsWatch on Google+

  • Subscribe to Blog via Email

    Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.