Bob Hicks


Review: NW Dance Project’s splendid ‘Splendors’

The company closes its 10th season on a high note, and looks ahead to a new and bigger home

Summer Splendors is very likely the last program Northwest Dance Project will present in its small light-filled studio on North Shaver Street, and if so the company’s going out in high style: this is one of the most appealing dance programs I’ve seen in months.

Forced out by the frenzied real estate roulette of North Mississippi Avenue (the studio is just around the corner from the hubbub of the Mississippi strip), NDP will move its busy summer schedule to the new glassed-in studios at Portland State University’s Lincoln Performance Hall. And the company’s in negotiations to move permanently into a much larger space on Portland’s close-in east side. If all goes smoothly, that space will be converted for studios over the summer, and ready for NDP to begin its 11th season in the fall.

From left: Kilbane, Nieto, Labay in "Tis Is Embracing." Photo: Christopher Peddecord

From left: Kilbane, Nieto, Labay in “This Is Embracing.” Photo: Christopher Peddecord

In the meantime, nab tickets for Summer Splendors if you can. The program opened Friday night and continues through June 15, and not a lot of tickets are available.


40 whacks and a bad attitude

Center Stage's Lizzie Borden musical chops a rock 'n' roll path into the American legend of family and violence

Turns out, it wasn’t 40 whacks.

Abby Durfree Gray Borden, Lizzie’s stepmother, took 19 blows to the back of her head on that fateful August day in 1892. Andrew Jackson Borden, Lizzie’s father, was dispatched with an efficient 11.

So much for legend.

As most schoolkids know, Lizzie, the most famous daughter or son of the mill town of Fall River, Massachusetts (sorry, George Stephanopoulos and Emeril Lagasse), was acquitted of the double ax murders. It took the jury just an hour and a half of deliberation to set her free, and no one else was ever charged.

Mary Kate Morrissey (left) as Lizzie, Kacie Sheik as Alice. Photo: Patrick Weishampel

Mary Kate Morrissey (left) as Lizzie, Kacie Sheik as Alice. Photo: Patrick Weishampel

Still, almost everyone thinks she dunnit. What most of us know about Lizzie Borden is neatly summed up in that famous, wryly understated doggerel, which neatly catapults her into the rarefied ranks of American folklore:

 Lizzie Borden took an ax

And gave her mother 40 whacks.

When she saw what she had done

She gave her father 41.

Lizzie, the new Broadway-hopeful musical at Portland Center Stage, bops along somewhere between folklore and fact. An unrepentant rock musical that mimics the overblown expressive style of arena rock, it revels in its own inventions (or at least, unprovable assertions): Lizzie’s dad repeatedly molested her; Lizzie and her neighbor, Alice Russell, were lovers.


OBT serves a little dessert

The ballet company's intimate new show at BodyVox puts a capper on the season and hints at things to come

And now, for a little light dessert.

The last time we saw Oregon Ballet Theatre, in April at the Newmark Theatre, it was the end of an era – an ambitious program paying tribute to the retiring principal dancer Alison Roper, who had spent her entire distinguished ballet career at OBT. The program was fraught with meaning: a farewell to a beloved performer, and also an emphatic stamp on Kevin Irving’s first season as artistic director. The whole affair had the feel of a celebratory gala banquet.

Avery Reiners with Ansa Deguchi and Katherine Menogue in Michael Linsmeier's "Found You." Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

Avery Reiners with Ansa Deguchi and Katherine Menogue in Michael Linsmeier’s “Found You.” Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

On Wednesday night, OBT played progressive dinner, moving on for its seasonal dessert to the intimate and casual BodyVox Dance Center, where it opened CREATE, an evening of short works choreographed by company dancers. The setting is ideal for the program, which continues through Sunday, June 1: professional but close and conversational, almost like a studio except it has more seating and more sophisticated technical systems. It’s an energizing space that creates an instant connection between audiences and performers.


Janice Scroggins: rest in peace

The great Portland jazz and blues pianist dies of an apparent heart attack

The last time I saw Janice Scroggins she was playing the blues. It was a Monday night, March 3 of this year, at the regional finals of the August Wilson Monologue Competition on the Main Stage at Portland Center Stage. While the competition judges were deliberating and getting ready to send three of the 15 high-school contestants on to the national finals in New York, the singer Marilyn Keller, in a long blues-diva gown reminiscent of the imperial title character’s in Wilson’s great play Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, was singing from the bottom of her soul. And Janice, with that trademark energetic thump that had a little bit of Oklahoma and a little bit of Oakland and a little bit of gospel and a whole river of American musical history in it, was driving the songs with rolling clarity from the piano bench.

Most people in the crowd were stretching their legs or chatting or taking a break in the lobby or just too excited about the competition to pay much attention. But for anyone who cared to actually listen, there it was: the sound of a nation, genuine and jumpy and unalloyed, the rhythm and passion that also suffused Wilson’s great dramas of African American life, piercing the fog of corporate-pop and playing down to the bones. Janice loved doing that.

Janice Scroggins, in a photo from her Facebook page.

Janice Scroggins, in a photo from her Facebook page.

Janice Scroggins died on Tuesday evening, May 27, 2014, in Portland, apparently of a heart attack. She was 58. Her death came as a shock: She had been as active as ever on the music scene, and just last year had been inducted into the Oregon Music Hall of Fame. Oregon Music News announced her death, but not before word already had begun racing around social media.


News & Notes: remembering John Buchanan, a slew of Irish plays

San Francisco honors the late Portland museum director; Synge's 'Playboy' kicks off a trio of Irish dramas

John Buchanan was just 58 years old when he died, from cancer, on December 30, 2011. He had been director of the San Francisco Museums of Fine Art for some time, shaking up the Bay Area art scene in ways familiar to Portlanders, brashly organizing blockbuster shows and bringing hundreds of thousands of people inside the doors of the Legion of Honor and the de Young Museum, the two spaces that make up the SF museum complex.

John Buchanan

John Buchanan

As he had been in Oregon, where he was director of the Portland Art Museum, he was a polarizing figure: a controversial administrator and an energetic showman who was criticized in some quarters for being a populist and praised in others for essentially the same thing. In both cities, he amped up public enthusiasm and brought in the bucks.

A few days ago, many of his friends from around the world gathered in San Francisco to celebrate the dedication of the John E. Buchanan, Jr. Court at the de Young. The San Francisco Chronicle’s Leah Garchik was on hand and filed this report, which includes remarks by Buchanan’s widow, Lucy Buchanan, who worked side by side with him in reshaping the Portland museum: John was a boundlessly energetic man until the cancer sapped his strength, and Lucy kept up with him step for step. Garchik recounts a story, both funny and insightful, about a private tour of Graceland, Elvis’s Memphis mansion, that helped secure the loan of some artwork Buchanan wanted to exhibit. He was an impresario, an enthusiast of life, and now he has a courtyard to prove the point.

After he died, I wrote this assessment of his years in Portland, and Barry Johnson wrote this assessment for ArtsWatch.




Going Irish. Portland theater’s about to start an unofficial festival of Irish plays.

  • On Saturday, Artists Rep opens Playboy of the Western World, J.M. Synge’s classic knowing comedy about a fellow who goes about bragging that he’s just killed his dad, and how he gets a bunch of surprising responses to his boasting of it. Dámaso Rodrigues directs Chris Murray as young Christy, along with such notables as Bill Geisslinger, Michael Mendelson, Allen Nause, Amy Newman, and Isaac Lamb.
  •  The following week, Third Rail Rep opens The Beauty Queen of Leenane, completing Martin McDonaugh’s Leenane Trilogy, which also includes The Lonesome West and A Skull in Connemarra. Scott Yarborough’s cast is led by Damon Kupper and Maureen Porter, and the show opens May 30 in the Winnie.
  •  And on Saturday, June 7, Corrib Theatre, which is dedicated to all things Irish, opens The Hen Night Epiphany, Jimmy Murphy’s dramatic comedy about a group of contemporary Dublin women who gather at a hillside country cottage to drink, deliberate, and celebrate their friend’s bachelorette party. Gemma Whelan directs a cast that includes Dana Millican, Luisa Sermol, Amanda Soden, Jacklyn Maddux, and Jamie M. Rea – a lot of potential firepower.



Keller plunders ‘Pirates’

Portland Opera's transfer of Ashland's sprightly Gilbert & Sullivan gets lost in the 3,000-seat auditorium's cavernous translation

What a difference a house makes.

When director Bill Rauch’s spritzed-up production of Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance played at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 2011, it was daring not just for its latter-day musical insertions (from the Beatles to Michael Jackson) but also for its setting: it played on the Elizabethan Stage, the festival’s 1,200-seat open-air theater, a space open to birds and bees and rain and the ambient buzz of motorcycles and monster trucks rumbling through town. The production mostly triumphed over those odds, thanks in part to miking that added a slight metallic undercurrent to the actors’ voices but also allowed the music and lyrics to come across crystal-clear. The show was a deserved hit.

Justice will be served: the constables of "Pirates." Photo: Cory Weaver/Portland Opera

Justice will be served: the constables of “Pirates.” Photo: Cory Weaver/Portland Opera

So when Rauch and Portland Opera struck a deal to recreate the production in Portland, with the same design and production team but a new cast of acting singers rather than singing actors, hopes were high: what might this charming production be like in the enclosed and more soundproof setting of Portland’s Keller Auditorium?


News & Notes: Last Chance Café

Four shows to set at your table before they close on Sunday

All good things must come to an end, and sometimes they do it before we have a chance to see them. This is the final weekend for four things in Portland that might get you out of the house and into a seat at the cultural banquet before their final day tomorrow, Sunday, May 11.

Mendelson and Alper in "The Quality of Life." Photo: Owen Carey

Mendelson and Alper in “The Quality of Life.” Photo: Owen Carey

The Quality of Life. Artists Rep’s beautiful, deep, and nuanced production of Jane Anderson’s four-hand drama has three more performances, at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Sunday. By turns funny, contemplative and sorrowful, it explores the relationship between two mature couples and their four conflicting attitudes toward impending or recent death. It’s a quiet stunner, with superb direction by Allen Nause, an imaginative set by Tim Stapleton, and top-of-the-line performances by Linda Alper, Michael Mendelson, Susannah Mars, and Michael Fisher-Welsh. Look here for Marty Hughley’s excellent ArtsWatch review. Ticket information here.

A Kaddish for Bernie Madoff. Subtitled Spiritual Implications of the Financial Collapse, Alicia Jo Rabins’ musical theater piece opened for a brief run in February but was smacked, like so many shows, by the snowstorm that kept people mostly indoors. It came back Thursday for a brief run at PSU’s Lincoln Hall Studio Theatre, and has final performances of this run at  7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Sunday. Producer Boom Arts says Rabins “views Bernie Madoff and the system which allowed him to function through the lens of ancient Jewish and Buddhist texts on financial ethics, ecology, and cycles.” ArtsWatch’s A.L. Adams caught the show this time around and will file her report. Win Goodbody of Portland Theatre Scene saw it in February and raves, calling it “a season highlight.” Ticket information here.

Othello. Portland Center Stage’s production of Shakespeare’s provocative tragedy has drawn mixed response from audiences, but it’s a stately-looking show that lays out the play’s themes and relationships cleanly, blending humor and drama. Read Marty Hughley’s nuanced review for ArtsWatch here. Final performances at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Sunday. Ticket information here.

Venice: The Golden Age of Art and Music. The Portland Art Museum’s big exhibition featuring the likes of Canaletto, Tintoretto, Tiepolo, and Strozzi, along with some gorgeous period musical instruments and musical scores, successfully suggests the form and nature of cultural life over three centuries when Venetian influence was at its height. I reviewed the show for ArtsWatch after it opened in February. Today and tomorrow are its final days; the museum’s open until 5 p.m. Saturday and from noon to 5 p.m. Sunday.

Bernardo Strozzi, “Street Musicians,” 1634-37, oil on canvas, 43.3 x 61.6 inches, Detroit Institute of Arts. Photo: The Bridgeman Art Library

Bernardo Strozzi, “Street Musicians,” 1634-37, oil on canvas, 43.3 x 61.6 inches, Detroit Institute of Arts. Photo: The Bridgeman Art Library



  • Design Camp_OregonArtsWatch_02
  • "The Best of Now" Northwest Dance Project theater dress rehearsal
  • 14-SF_April-OAW_CMNW_72
  • 300x250_IN_Motion_Final
  • Arts Watch Ad
  • Still_Dog_Star_300x250
  • Oregon ArtsWatch on Google+