Bob Hicks

 

Flying, like Godot

"To Fly Again," Jerry Mouawad's brilliant new riff on Beckett, just opened at Imago. Now it's about to close. Catch it while you can.

Walking into Imago Theatre’s Southeast Portland performance space to see To Fly Again, Jerry Mouawad’s verbally nimble, visually wonderful and profoundly light-hearted new show, you enter a strange yet familiar landscape, a rolling plain of sand like a beach’s or a desert’s, a wilderness broken only by a single tree. Quite like that place where Didi and Gogo hang out, waiting and waiting for Godot.

This is no accident. “I cast four actors who had a ‘clown state’ somewhere inside them,” Mouawad told ArtsWatch’s Marty Hughley a few days before the show opened. “I think I’ve flushed out their clowns.” He elaborated: “I thought, ‘Yes, clowns should do Beckett.’ However, I didn’t want to do Beckett. I like Beckett but I wanted something with less of a down quality.”

The family, huddling: from left, Mullaney, Ottosen, Holder, Woods. Photo: Jubel Brosseau

So, not Waiting for Godot, but a variant, an homage, an elaboration, a playful riff that is funny and oddly touching on its own, and funnier and more touching the more you know about Beckett and Godot. The action, such as it is, centers on a quartet of oddball characters, a sort of wandering family-by-default, known as Stink Bomb, Tater, Togo, and Bob (Mark Mullaney, the divinely hesitant Stephanie Woods, Nathaniel Holder and Jake Ottoson, respectively). They do and say the sorts of things that wandering families-by-default in Beckett plays tend to do and say, although Mouawad has given their terse dialogue his own knowing, tongue-in-cheek twists. Their snatches of conversation are proto-Beckettian, coming from nowhere, meaning nothing or everything, and delivered with a deadpan Sad Sack seriousness that, taken with the shambling baggy-pants quality of the whole affair, are frightfully funny:

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‘Watsonville’: What’s old is new

Milagro's revival of Cherríe Moraga's 1990s play about a volatile strike in a California cannery feels like it's lifted from today's headlines

Let’s do the time warp again. Cherríe Moraga’s Watsonville: Some Place Not Here, which opened Friday night at Milagro Theatre, premiered in 1996 and is based loosely on events that took place in the mid-to-late 1980s. But you’ll be excused if you think it’s ripped from today’s headlines or incendiary tweets. This is no warm-and-fuzzy trip down Nostalgia Lane. It’s more Good Lord, here we go again.

Moraga’s play, a stand-alone drama that is also the final chapter in a trilogy including Heroes and Saints and Circle in the Dark, is a messy, sprawling thing that overcomes its structural problems with an overriding passion and declaration of ugly truths (and a few redeeming ones). Its greatest achievement is to create believable and sympathetic characters who are swept up in situations that are usually viewed in political terms – as “problems,” not as people. For the characters in Watsonville the great social drama of a sharp cultural clash is both political and the everyday stuff they have to deal with as they lead their lives.

Bunnie Rivera as Dolores, reluctant radical. Photo: Russell J Young

Set amid a two-year-long strike by cannery workers in the Pajaro Valley farm town of Watsonville in California’s Santa Cruz County, the play ripples with issues that have gained more and more urgency since the right-wing ascendancy that culminated in the national elections of 2016 and has been flexing its muscles ever since. Among them:

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Out & About: Twice the party

The crowds mingle as Willamette University's Senior Art Majors show and James B. Thompson's endangered-water exhibit open. Party on.

SALEM – It was two parties for the price of one at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art three Friday nights ago, and if at first they seemed an unlikely fit, the partygoers almost immediately mingled and merged until you really couldn’t tell who was here for what, because everybody was taking in both scenes, and having a grand old time of it.

The occasion was the opening celebrations for two new exhibits, both of which continue at the Salem museum through May 13: the annual Senior Art Majors show from Willamette University, with which the Hallie Ford is affiliated, and which drew a young and brash and demonstrably exuberant crowd; and Water Is Sacred: Water Is Life, the latest solo show by James B. Thompson, a longtime Willamette art-faculty member and a mature artist at the height of his career. It was a bit of a time warp, but a satisfying one – young artists on the verge, trying things out; a master craftsman and broad artistic thinker exploring terrain he knows intimately, and still making discoveries in it.

Peri I. Hildum’s “Shattered New Surface” (foreground) and Miles Solomon MacClure’s “Growing Up, Growing Away (Not What It Looks Like)” on the wall on opening night.

All the accouterments of an opening party were here, and then some: the long table overflowing with free munchies (deeply appreciated by the students there to see their friends’ work); the bustle of people attired variously in student funky, old beatnik artist, Northwest casual, and Friday-night-out-on-the-town; the museum guards keeping a friendly but practiced eye on the proceedings to make sure nothing went bump in the night. Artist friends of the artists were on hand, among them Thompson’s fellow veteran Salem artist D.E. May, one of whose precise template paintings hangs just through a doorway into the museum’s Carl Hall Gallery and its fine collection of Pacific Northwest art.

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DramaWatch Weekly: ‘Major’ news

A Shavian comedy at Center Stage, a baby in peril at CoHo, Peter Pan at NW Children's Theatre, shocks at Artists Rep, Triangle's new season

She is the very model of a modern Major Barbara.

Sorry, wrong Brit classic. Let’s try again.

Major Barbara, by the legendary British wit and armchair socialist George Bernard Shaw (not by Gilbert & Sullivan), is a play of ideas – big ones, as was Shaw’s wont – about the State of Society and How It Should or Should Not Be Run. Major Barbara Undershaft toils ceaselessly for the Salvation Army to uplift those in need. Her father, Andrew Undershaft, works just as hard to pile up money – in his case, by manufacturing and selling munitions. When he then plans to give some of that money to charitable causes, things, well, blow up. Can good causes accept gifts from bad sources? Can bad money do good things? The horror!

Charles Leggett as Andrew Undershaft in “Major Barbara” at The Armory. Photo: Jennie Baker

In the nonprofit world, this is an ever-present question, and the answer is usually (though not always) “We’ll take that money; thanks.” Shaw being Shaw, the question is delivered with more than a dash of switchbacks and wit – plus a fiancé or two. After several preview performances, Major Barbara opens Friday night on the Main Stage of Portland Center Stage at The Armory, and continues through May 13. Besides providing an increasingly rare chance to see a full-out professional production of a Shaw play, it’s special because this will be the final opening night at PCS for Chris Coleman, who’s been the company’s artistic director for many years and is leaving to take a similar post in Denver.

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REBECCA GILMAN IS KNOWN is known for writing socially and politically provocative plays such as Spinning into Butter, which puts its spin on political correctness on college campuses, and Luna Gale, her latest to hit town, appears to follow a similar path. It opens Friday (through May 12) at CoHo Theatre, with a cast including Sharonlee McLean, Danielle Weathers, Kelsey Tyler and others under Brandon Woolley’s direction, and digs into issues of child services, parents’ rights, and adoption. Luna Gale is the infant; the parents are teens under court order to undergo meth rehab; the mother’s born-again mother wants to adopt, against her own daughter’s wishes; and the caseworker’s in the middle of it all.

Sharonlee McLean in “Luna Gale” at CoHo. Photo: Gary Norman

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NORTHWEST CHILDREN’S THEATRE is ending its 25th anniversary season up in the air, and that’s probably a good thing. It’s reviving its popular 2012 production of Peter Pan, a fresh take with a new book by Milo Mowery and a new score by Rodolfo Ortega. Ryder Thompson is Peter, Grace Molloy is Wendy, Andrés Alcalá is Captain Hook, and Kevin Michael Moore is Smee. Flying by Foy, of course, will be on hand to keep things airborne. Opens Saturday; through May 20.

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IT’S BEEN 75 YEARS SINCE this musical fable about farmers and ranchers in the American Midlands rocked the Broadway world, and a fresh take on Rodgers & Hammerstein’s classic musical Oklahoma! joins the rep at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland this week. Whatever else artistic director Bill Rauch’s revival does, it’s going to be topical, with same-sex lead couples. Plus, of course, those songs. Oklahoma! will join Othello, Sense and Sensibility, Destiny of Desire, Henry V, and the world premiere of Mary Kathryn Nagle’s Manahatta in the rep, with Romeo and Juliet, The Book of Will, and Love’s Labor’s Lost opening on the outdoor stage in mid-June, and The Way the Mountain Moved (by Idris Goodman; commissioned by the festival and also a world premiere) and Snow in Midsummer opening later in the season.

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NATURAL SHOCKS, Lauren Gunderson’s new one-woman play about gun violence, will have a staged reading at 7:30 p.m. Friday on the Alder Stage at Artists Rep, on the 19th anniversary of the Columbine shootings. It’s free, but you need to reserve a seat, and any donations will go to the organizations March for Our Lives and Everytown for Gun Safety. Lauren Bloom Hanover will perform, and Kisha Jarrett will direct. Gunderson is also the author of Artists Rep’s next full-run show, I and You, opening May 20.

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ANOTHER NEW SEASON: Triangle Productions has joined the recent crowd of companies announcing their 2018-19 seasons. The six-show season opens in September with Holland Taylor’s Ann, about the late and legendary Texas governor Ann Richards. It’ll star Margie Boulé, and that seems like a good pairing of smart, talented and witty women. In November and December it’s Who’s Holiday, starring Daria (Bad Dates, Judy’s Scary Christmas) and written by Matthew Lombardo (Looped!). In February 2019, Helen Raptis stars in I’ll Eat You Last: A Chat with Sue Mengers. No, it’s not about the Donner Party. Mengers was a fabled Hollywood agent with A-list clients. Dirt, no doubt, will be dished. March brings Straight, by Scott Elmegreen and Drew Fornarola, followed in May by Love, Loss, and What I Wore, an evening of monologues and ensemble pieces by the fabulously funny Ephron sisters, Nora and Delia. The season concludes in June 2019 with Matthew Lopez’s The Legend of Georgia McBride, about a guy who gets fired as an Elvis impersonator and then discovers a drag show’s taking his slot.

Sweet Dreams: It’s Patsy Cline time

Sara Catherine Wheatley returns to Broadway Rose for a third go-round as the legendary country star in "Always, Patsy Cline." It's a charm.

You could do far worse in life than to spend an afternoon or evening with Patsy Cline. And for the couple of hours that singer/actor Sara Catherine Wheatley impersonates the great country singer onstage in the musical Always, Patsy Cline at Broadway Rose Theatre, it’s tough to think of anything better, either.

Wheatley, who came from Alabama, lived and worked in Portland from 2007 to 2014, starring in shows as varied as Hairspray, The Drowsy Chaperone, and Cats. She now lives in Nashville, and is back for her third go-round with Patsy at Broadway Rose, repeating her role from runs in 2009 and 2013. It’s like slipping into a pair of boots that grow more comfortable every time you try them on.

Sara Catherine Wheatley in “Always, Patsy Cline.” Photo: Craig Mitchelldyer/2013

Always, Patsy Cline, directed here by Chan Harris, is nominally a play about the night in 1961 when Cline bonded with a fan in Houston, good ol’ gal Louise Seger (played, again, with drawling exuberance by Sharon Maroney), and went home with her after her concert, where they chatted up a storm in the kitchen and living room, talking about kids and men and cooking and the whimsicalities of life. This actually happened, and Patsy and Louise remained friends, writing to each other until Cline died in a plane crash in 1963, at age 30.

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DramaWatch Weekly: Pop-up City

It's a week for short runs, from Chekhov to Twilight in L.A. – plus full-run shows on Patsy Cline, the Irish Troubles, and a sex crime coverup

Pop-up restaurants. Pop-up bars. Pop-up nightclubs, galleries, boutiques, publishing houses, concerts. We’re living in a pop-up world, so why not pop-up theater?

The traditional method of producing is to start a theater company, announce a season, and run a half-dozen shows for several weeks at a time. That still dominates, especially in the nonprofit theater world.

But more and more, quick-hit shows are spicing up the scene. You might not see reviews of them very often, because they’re in and out, here and gone. But a growing number of  producers and performers are taking advantage of short-run opportunities, and it takes a little scrambling to keep up.

What is the Fertile Ground Festival but a massive series of pop-ups? What about a company like Boom Arts, which exists to bring in a steady stream of political or experimental shows from around the world for very brief runs? What about the several play-reading series in town? And it’s not just small lean groups popping up and down. The two biggest theater companies in town, Portland Center Stage at The Armory and Artists Repertory Theatre, are playing the short-run, special-event game, too.

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