Bob Hicks

 

Rabbit, run: a miraculous tale

Oregon Children's Theatre's "The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane" follows a marvelous picaresque path

In the beginning a little girl lived in a house on Egypt Street. One day her grandmother gave her a very fine rabbit, almost three feet tall, made mostly of china, with real rabbit fur for its ears. Those of you who’ve read Kate DiCamillo’s novel The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane know what comes next: As fine as Edward Tulane looked (for that was the toy rabbit’s name), he was not a very nice rabbit. He was, in fact, exceedingly vain and careless of other creatures’ feelings, although the little girl showered him with love.

You might say that Edward was selfish and irritating. You might say he was callous, even cruel. You might also ask, why, then, should we care? And that’s where at least a part of the miracle comes in. Because, as things turn out, we do. We care very much.

Luster, Edward in the chair, Newton: a battle of wills. Photo: Owen Carey

Luster, Edward in the chair, Newton: a battle of wills. Photo: Owen Carey

A remarkable emotional alchemy is taking place through April 24 inside Portland’s intimate Dolores Winningstad Theatre, which is hosting a swift and smart and breathless stage version of DiCamillo’s 2006 tale, adapted for a small and nimble cast by Dwayne Hartford. Oregon Children’s Theatre’s new production, under Marcella Crowson’s direction and performed on a spare and clever trap-door set designed by Polly Robbins, is very, very fine: a deft picaresque that somehow gives this story of a rather silly rabbit a good deal of humor and joy and suspense and yearning, and an altogether unexpected (for me, at any rate) emotional depth.

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A death in the family: Rick Bartow

An Oregon giant dies at 69: "We’re made up as much of what we’ve lost as what we’ve gained"

The news came this Sunday morning, as news so often does, via Facebook. A mutual friend posted something sad and cryptic, about losing a good friend the previous night, but she named no name. I scrolled down a little more, and came on another post, from his longtime close friend and gallerist, Charles Froelick, along with a picture of Rick looking not lean and energetic and on the brink of sideways laughter, as I suspect I’ll always think of him, but gaunt and reflective, as if moving slowly to somewhere else, someplace private and unbreachable.

“I’m gathered with incredible people who have broken hearts and strong spirits,” Charles wrote. “Rick Bartow passed away last evening after bravely battling congestive heart failure. His family and close friends surrounded him with love as he exited Earth. His poetry and genius will live on. More info and service plans will be announced.”

Rick Bartow, 2015. Photo courtesy K.B. Dixon, from his book "Face to Face: 32 Oregon Artists"

Rick Bartow, 2015. Photo courtesy K.B. Dixon, from his book “Face to Face: 32 Oregon Artists”

So there it was. And I found myself responding not first as a journalist – here is news, and it needs to be told, and I must tell it – but viscerally. This wasn’t just a public loss, but a personal one as well. I had written about Rick, this extraordinary Oregon artist and man, several times, and I knew him, not well, but in certain ways deeply: He had told me things and shown me things that people don’t always tell and show when a stranger asks to step into their lives for a while, and that humility and generosity created some sort of bond.

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Elizabeth Woody, Oregon’s voice

The state's new poet laureate talks about writing, poverty, salmon, dams, race, family, and the keeping of a way of life

Elizabeth Woody walked into a Southeast Portland coffee shop two minutes behind me, just long enough for me to have snagged the only free table among a crowd of isolated laptop jockeys, and we sat down. She didn’t bother with coffee: she’d had a press of meetings and interviews since the day before, when her appointment to be Oregon’s eighth poet laureate was announced, and more coffee wasn’t in the cards. Plus, she was getting over a lingering bug.

She smiled, warmly, and we began to talk. About writing, and philanthropy, and poverty, and salmon, and dams, and racial violence, and friendships, and family. “I was brought up in a family that believes in public service,” she said at one point. “The house was always open to people from all over Oregon. People were always welcome.”

When word came from the Oregon Cultural Trust that Gov. Kate Brown had appointed Woody to succeed Peter Sears for a two-year term as poet laureate, I thought it seemed an inspired choice. I didn’t know her, though I knew several people who did, including her aunt, the artist Lillian Pitt. But I’d been familiar with her work for a long time, and knew her to be both a bridge-builder and a master of the difficult art of elevated plain speech, an approach to language that draws people in rather than shutting them out. Both traits seem key to the role of poet laureate, who is something of an ambassador-at-large for language, culture, and connection. They are qualities that helped Billy Collins, whose work is otherwise very different from Woody’s, become such a successful national poet laureate in the early 2000s.

Elizabeth Woody. Photo courtesy Oregon Cultural Trust.

Elizabeth Woody. Photo courtesy Oregon Cultural Trust.

Woody, who was born in the Navajo Nation town of Ganado, Arizona, and is an enrolled member of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, is fifty-six years old, and she wears them well, like someone who’s made sure they fit. She’s one of those people who seem present. She embraces situations, concentrating directly on what and who are in front of her, and like a lot of writers she exudes both a comfort with new situations and a protective reserve: a desire to engage the world, and also a determination to safeguard her solitude. Her conversation rambles like a river, and the water’s clear.

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ArtsWatch Weekly: the language of bargains, a prints of a town

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

Portland’s a provisional sort of town, a place to try things out, take a chance, experiment a little and see what happens. It might have something to do with the town’s rough-and-tumble history, its roots in fishing and logging and shipping, its historical country-cousin status among West Coast cities, without the swagger of San Francisco or glitter of L.A. or sun of San Diego or deeper pockets of Seattle. You can hide in Portland, and just do stuff, and make a life while you’re at it. In the arts, this can be both a blessing and a curse: the extra polish of high-level professionalism doesn’t always get applied, but the sheer guts of working things out, the passion of the process, don’t get ironed away, either.

Leo Lin and Wynee Hu in "TheLanguage Archive"; background: Sofia May-Cuxim, Enrique Eduardo Andrade. Theatre Diaspora photo

Leo Lin and Wynee Hu in “TheLanguage Archive”; background: Sofia May-Cuxim, Enrique Eduardo Andrade. Theatre Diaspora photo

And as an audience member, you can find bargains – deals to see something genuinely interesting but unfinished or in the works. For eight bucks last weekend I dropped down to the basement Ellen Bye Studio Theatre at Portland Center Stage to catch a staged reading of Julia Cho’s smart and insightful comedy The Language Archive, produced by Theatre Diaspora and directed by Dmae Roberts, whose MediaRites is the small theater company’s mother ship. Diaspora specializes in plays written or performed by Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, and in addition to doing its own thing it chips away at some stubborn patterns on the city’s theater scene, opening doors for AAPI performers and cluing people in to a wealth of potential dramatic material from Asian American writers. The Language Archive will have one more reading, at 2 p.m. Saturday at Milagro Theatre, which itself has been a pioneering force in town for Hispanic performance.

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ArtsWatch Weekly: It’s raining cats and dogs. Road trip!

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

In a lot of Oregon schools it’s spring vacation. Maybe you’re already off someplace with the offspring – a beach cabin, or the dreaded Disneyland. (Hint: Enchanted Forest, south of Salem, is a lot closer and a lot cheaper, and it’s open this week.) Maybe your kids are grown and gone, or you don’t have any, but a little early-spring zip out of town sounds like a good idea. Well, why not? Interesting stuff happens all over the place.

Out the Columbia Gorge, the Maryhill Museum of Art opened last week for the 2016 season, which will run through mid-November. I haven’t made the trek yet, but I will, partly to see the museum’s freshened-up display of international chess sets, a collection I find fascinating even though I don’t play the kingly game. There are also interesting-looking exhibitions of American Indian trade blankets (this one doesn’t open until July 16; the others are open now), classic American art pottery, several paintings from the collection that are too big to be on permanent display (size matters, especially when there’s limited space) and – this should be a kid-pleaser – animal paintings from the permanent collection.

"A Golden Retriever," Edwin Douglas, 1900, oil on canvas, Maryhill Museum of Art

“A Golden Retriever,” Edwin Douglas, 1900, oil on canvas, Maryhill Museum of Art

That includes the 1900 A Golden Retriever (above), by the Scottish painter Edwin Douglas, and to be sporting about it, you might want to take the nippers first to the Portland Art Museum to see another great big painting, Carl Kahler’s My Wife’s Lovers (you don’t have to spill the beans on the title), which is on loan through May 15 and is being promoted as “the world’s greatest painting of cats.” Hey, this is the Pacific Northwest: It’s raining cats and dogs.

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NW Dance Project: to wit, to woo

The premiere of Ihsan Rustem's "Le Fil Rouge" adds a dash of ebullient humor and style to the dynamic company's intense spring program

Northwest Dance Project is a lot of things, and a lot of very good things, but one thing it’s usually not is witty. This is a not-thing it has in common with many contemporary dance troupes (Portland’s BodyVox and a few independents like Linda Austin and Gregg Bielemeier are notable exceptions): wit isn’t generally a large part of the package in contemporary choreography.

So for lovers of the lightness of being, Thursday night’s premiere performance of Ihsan Rustem’s Le Fil Rouge was a surprise and a delight. It was also a highlight of the Project’s strong spring program, Louder Than Words, which repeats Friday and Saturday nights in the Newmark Theatre.

Julia Radick and Kody Jauron in the premiere of Ihsan Rustum's "Le Fil Rouge." Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

Julia Radick and Kody Jauron in the premiere of Ihsan Rustum’s “Le Fil Rouge.” Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

Le Fil Rouge, or “The Red Thread,” is an evocation of the smart pop music and fizzy Hollywood dance styles of the 1950s and ’60s, a light and ebullient tip of the contemporary hat to the mating game in its many woozy variations: Like Twyla Tharp and a few others before him, Rustem’s not afraid to mine the energy and inventiveness and nostalgic attractions of popular culture. Performed by the entire company of nine dancers, the new piece cavorts through an appealing soundtrack of tunes by Yma Sumac, Doris Day, Edith Piaf, La Lupe, and others.

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ArtsWatch Weekly: whale of a week

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

The history of art, in a way, is a history of obsession. And who is more obsessed than Captain Ahab, feverish hounder of the great white whale? Herman Melville, perhaps, creator of the novel Moby-Dick, or, The Whale, and thus creator of the monomaniacal Ahab. Or Orson Welles, the mad genius of the cinema, who attempted to latch on to Melville’s harpoon and ride it to obsessive triumph in an unlikely stage adaptation of a novel that might be both untamable and unadaptable. Or, maybe, Scott Palmer, the adventurous artistic director of Bag&Baggage Productions, who’s taken Moby Dick, Rehearsed, Welles’s obsessive adaptation of Melville’s obsessive novel, and brought it to the B&B stage. In his fascinating (and in its own way, obsessive) review of B&B’s production, ArtsWatch’s Brett Campbell quotes Palmer on the book that started it all: “Moby-Dick isn’t a novel, it is an entire imaginative world. It is massive, bulky, colossal, terrifying, majestic and ultimately unfathomable. It is the physical representation of one man’s will, one artist’s transcendent vision, an entire internal universe externalized …”

Bag&Baggage's magnificent obsession. Casey Campbell Photography

Bag&Baggage’s magnificent obsession. Casey Campbell Photography

Giant whales and such, as Brett points out, have been something of a communal obsession in Portland lately, from Portland Experimental Theatre Ensemble’s season-long serial [or, the whale] to Portland Story Theater’s The Essex, the Northwest Film Center’s Welles-fest, a reading of excerpts from the novel at Portland’s Mother Foucault’s bookshop, and the musically adventurous AnyWhen Ensemble’s Moby-Dick inspired Boldly Launched Upon the Deep.

And how does this magnificent obsession (or cascade of obsessions) work out? Campbell writes: “Neither Ahab nor Melville nor Welles nor Palmer let the challenges of their tasks daunt them. Ahab caught his prey, but it cost him his life and those of his crew. Melville’s novel was widely regarded as a crazy failure in its time, and its overabundance of non-dramatic material still repels many readers. Welles’s misguided attempt to turn so inward-gazing a novel as Moby-Dick into compelling stage drama amounted to hunting a white whale; as Palmer acknowledged in a pre-show talk, it’s perhaps a good thing that Welles devoted himself to filmmaking rather than playwriting. In nevertheless choosing to stage Welles’s whale folly (in his centennial year), Palmer again plays the white knight, this time trying to save the white whale. Does he catch the object of his obsession in this new production and redeem Welles’s hubristic vision? Like the others, it’s a foredoomed, magnificent failure that, if you can stick with it long enough, you ultimately can’t let go of.”

America is, of course, a land of magnificent attempts and magnificent failures, which makes this whole thing seem so, well, American. It’s like a magnificent stab at the great American production of the great American adaptation of the great American novel: Who needs perfection when you’ve got a series of obsessions the size of a great white whale?

 


 

Vin Shambry (left), Chantal De Groat, and Chris Harder in "We Are Proud To Presnt ..." Photo: Owen Carey

Vin Shambry (left), Chantal DeGroat, and Chris Harder in “We Are Proud To Present …” Photo: Owen Carey

America is also obsessed with race, and the great stain of its racial history, which continues to trouble and obsess us in everything from policing to housing to job opportunity to our political campaigns, where it is sometimes used like a hidden (or not so hidden) persuader of fear and loathing. ArtsWatch’s Barry Johnson delves into this not-so-magnificent American obsession in his review of Artists Rep’s new production of We Are Proud To Present a Presentation About the Hero of Namibia, Formerly Known as Southwest Africa, from the German Sudwestafrika, Between the Years 1884-1915, Jackie Sibblies Drury’s smart and searing play about race, and our continuing difficulty in talking about it honestly, often even when we have the best of intentions. “We Are Proud to Present is a scorpion of a play,” Johnson writes, “and its tail packs a serious punch made all the more deadly by the light tone of the beginning.”

 


 

Tamisha Guy and Vinson Fraley Jr. in Kyle Abraham’s ‘The Getting’. Courtesy White Bird, © Jerry and Lois Photography All rights reserved http://www.jerryandlois.com

Vinson Fraley Jr. and Tamisha Guy in Kyle Abraham’s ‘The Getting.” Courtesy White Bird, © Jerry and Lois Photography. All rights reserved. http://www.jerryandlois.com

And while we’re on the subject: In Kyle Abraham dances about race, Nim Wunnan writes for ArtsWatch about the dance troupe Abraham.In.Motion’s canny and provocative performance in the White Bird series, a trio of works rooted in hip-hop, modern, and contemporary dance. The show “confidently and gracefully engaged both historical and very immediate issues of race and the individual’s place in this culture,” Wunnan says, and adds: “We start to understand in this work that certain movements and positions are almost exclusive to black bodies in this culture. And we rightly start to feel uncomfortable in our seats, notably when the usually vibrant and fluid [Tamisha] Guy sinks to the floor with a leaden exhaustion, face down, with her hands behind her back in an unmistakable position of submission, of arrest. The one Oscar Grant was in when he was shot point blank in the back.” Grant, in case you’ve lost track amid the the seemingly endless string of “incidents” involving police and black citizens, was slain by a Bay Area Rapid Transit policeman in the early hours of New Year’s Day 2009 in Oakland.

 


 

Heath Koerschgen and Danielle Weathers in "Davita's Harp." Photo: Friderike Heuer

Heath Koerschgen and Danielle Weathers in “Davita’s Harp.” Photo: Friderike Heuer

A few things to keep in mind on this week’s calendar:

Davita’s Harp. The Jewish Theatre Collaborative has been preparing all season for this world-premiere adaptation (by Jamie M. Rea and director Sacha Reich) of Chaim Potok’s 1985 novel about a contentious family in the New York of the 1930s, as the world is churning toward disaster. Opens Saturday; through April 9 at Milagro Theatre.

Arvo Pärt and The Ensemble. Justin Graff gets us all in the mood for the notable chamber and vocal group’s weekend performances of the mesmerizing music of Pärt, “one of the world’s greatest living composers.” And in A Pärt Pilgrimage, Graff gets considerably more personal, telling the tale of his journey to Talinn to meet the master, of sharing chocolates,  and a session at the keyboard. All pilgrimages should be so rewarding. The performances: 7 p.m. Saturday at Eugene’s Central Lutheran Church; 4 p.m. Sunday at Portland State University’s Lincoln Recital Hall.

Northwest Dance Project. The Portland ensemble’s newest concert is called Louder Than Words, which might be appropriate, because it’s been raising the roof lately with performances in New York and elsewhere. A new work from the company’s talented resident choreographer, Ihsan Rustem, plus one each from artisitic director Sarah Slipper and Brazilian dancemaker/filmmaker Alex Soares. Newark Theatre, Thursday through Saturday.

 


 

 

ArtsWatch links

 

Wangechi Mutu, “Histology of Different Classes of Uterine Tumors”/Courtesy of PNCA

Wangechi Mutu, “Histology of Different Classes of Uterine Tumors”/Courtesy of PNCA

 

Wangechi Mutu and the revolt of the female form. Grace Kook-Anderson looks at 511 Gallery’s Northwest premiere exhibition of this post-colonial, feminist, New York-via-Nairobi artist. “Mutu’s women are distorted figures, hybrids of animals and natural elements, bodies that are capable of great force,” she writes.

Michelle De Young: heavy going. What happens when a Wagnerian powerhouse of a voice meets an art song in recital? Katie Taylor went to the acclaimed singer’s Friends of Chamber Music concert and found the combination of voice and material sometimes disconcerting.

Oscar nominee Ciro Guerra: an interview. Erik McClanahan talks with the Colombian-born director of the foreign-language nominee Embrace of the Serpent. Bummed that he didn’t haul home an Oscar? “We were kind of relieved we didn’t win,” Guerra said. “There was a favorite going in and it’s great not to be the favorite. It can be a lot of pressure. Even winning can be a lot of pressure. So we just made the best of it and enjoyed it.”

Toxic glory: Heathers: The Musical. Christa Morletti McIntyre takes a look at the ’80s glory that was the cult teen movie, and the new glory of its musical-theater adaptation, which is is getting a slam-bang co-production from Triangle and Staged!

Born to run (and to film): Wim Wenders, continued. Marc Mohan looks at more of the Northwest Film Center’s fascinating series by the German director. This time around: Paris, Texas; Kings of the Road; The American Friend; The State of Things.

In Mulieribus: hours well spent. Bruce Browne celebrates the “happy marriage” at Mt. Angel Abbey of the outstanding choir’s Renaissance music and exquisite projected art from a medieval book of hours.

Last chance: Jacques Rivette’s twelve-hour Out 1. The French New Wave director’s ambitious, audacious, half-a-day opus has rarely been seen in the past forty-five years, but the Northwest Film Center’s been showing it, cut into digestible segments. Marc Mohan pays his respects.

Bullshot Crummond rides again. Lakewood Theatre’s world-premiere production of the latest Crummond comedy, a sequel to a 1970s parody of the old Bullshot Drummond British adventure series, revels in an old-fashioned sort of fun, Christa Morletti McIntyre writes.

Bolai Cao: abundant talent. It was a propitious meeting at Portland Piano International, Jeff Winslow writes – the rising young pianist Bolai Cao performing a new work by the veteran Oregon composer Bryan Johanson, a piece created in homage to Domenico Scarlatti.

Hello, My Name Is Doris: Sally Field talks about her new movie. ArtsWatch’s Marc Mohan chats with the two-time Oscar winner about her latest turn, as a “socially inept, eccentrically clad” office worker who develops a crush on her younger boss. “Some people have called it a love story, but I think it’s a coming of age story,” she says. “The challenge of being a human being is will we open up to every different stage of our life?”

Johanson and Prochaska: media speak. Borrowing from Marshall McLuhan’s famous dictum “the medium is the message,” Paul Sutinen looks at new shows by veteran painter/printmakers George Johanson and Tom Prochaska and declares the medium does matter.

 

Tom Prochaska, "Hillside Nevada," 2016, acrylic on canvas, 16 x 20 inches. Photo: Dan Kvitka

Tom Prochaska, “Hillside Nevada,” 2016, acrylic on canvas, 16 x 20 inches. Photo: Dan Kvitka

 


 

About ArtsWatch Weekly

We send a letter like this every Tuesday to a select group of email subscribers, and also post it weekly on the ArtsWatch home page. In ArtsWatch Weekly, we take a look at stories we’ve covered in the previous week, give early warning of events coming up, and sometimes head off on little arts rambles we don’t include anywhere else. You can read this report here. Or, you can get it delivered weekly to your email inbox, and get a quick look at all the stories you might have missed (we have links galore) and the events you want to add to your calendar. It’s easy to sign up. Just click here, and leave us your name and e-address.

 


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