Bob Hicks

 

Those were the good old days

Carol Triffle's human comedy "The Reunion" at Imago plays with nostalgia and longing and the surprise of life as it hits us in the face

Imago Theatre is reviving its production of Carol Triffle’s The Reunion, which premiered in June 2017. It reopens Friday, Jan. 12, 2018, and continues for a short run through Jan. 20: ticket and schedule information here. ArtsWatch’s review of the original production, which had the same cast:

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Walking into Imago Theatre on Saturday night to see Carol Triffle’s new play The Reunion was like walking into a hippie pad circa 1969 (yes, I speak from direct experience) on a particularly groovy day. One psychedelically bubbly wall was sporting more peace symbols than a VW camper at the Oregon Country Fair. Donovan was warbling Season of the Witch over the speaker, reminding me in flashback of how snotty the future Nobel Laureate of the Lowlands had been to a singer I liked. No strings of beads were dangling in the doorways, but the stage was aglitter in crepe and saturated color and overdone cheerfulness, as if Triffle had raided The Lippman Company party-supply store with a hundred bucks and an SUV to load the booty into and haul it all off. In other words: perfect.

Party hearty: Sean Bowie, Danielle Vermette, Jerry Mouawad. Photo: Kevin Young

Over the years Triffle’s developed a brittle absurdist comic style that seems deeply rooted in the traditions of mime and clown and slapstick comedy, and at its best can make you laugh out loud while it’s quietly breaking your heart. The Reunion, which runs about a well-paced hour and packs the concise wallop of a good novella, does both – or at least, it did for me. On the surface a Triffle play can feel like an animated jaunt through the Sunday comics, a cartoon landscape inhabited by characters with the oddball normality of the townsfolk in Robert Altman’s Popeye movie. And so it is in The Reunion, where the oddball and laughable and sometimes more than slightly looney settle slowly, almost imperceptibly, into a deep and moving contemplation of the human condition. It’s the sort of thing that good clowns do, this bonding of the foolish and profound, and it makes them essential to the culture.

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Books on the hoof, love on the run

Lakewood's world premiere adaptation of the 1917 novel "Parnassus on Wheels" takes a literary adventure on a horse-drawn caravan of books

C.S. Whitcomb’s Parnassus on Wheels, which is getting its world premiere production at Lakewood Theatre Company and is an early entry in the Fertile Ground Festival of New Work, is an adaptation of Christopher Morley’s 1917 novel of the same name, a robust comedy of incident that straddles a wavering line between mere whimsy and genuine charm. It’s one of those strange, small, individualistic American literary eccentricities that manages to be both innocent and slyly knowing, the sort of outside-the-loop novel you almost certainly didn’t read in college English class but, once having discovered, most likely recall with a smile of affection. It seems frivolous, escapist, a bit of a lark, and so it is. But it also has surprising depths: a little more meat on its bones and it might be mistaken for something by William Saroyan.

Orion Bradshaw and Amanda Soden hit the road in “Parnassus on Wheels.” Photo: Triumph Photography

Parnassus (named after the sacred mountain above the Oracle of Delphi, a place of mystery and knowledge) is the tale of two middle-aged misfits who slowly find each other through the miracle of books. (Yes, the story comes from a time when Americans believed in the edifying powers of learning and education, things worth supporting with a hard-earned dollar or two).

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Peril on ice: an Antarctic tragedy

Lawrence Howard's "Polar Opposites: Amundsen, Scott, and the Race for the South Pole" spins a tale of adventure and deadly ambition

As the pre-show jazz band finished up a generous hour-long set at The Old Church on Saturday night and began packing up, Lawrence Howard sidled downstage, took a look at the big prop perched on a stand behind him, and turned to the audience conspiratorially. “I hate it when the map’s upside down,” he observed, and manhandled the thing – a giant representation of Antarctica and its surrounding waters – into proper position. Even way down under, it appears, what’s up is up and what’s down is down.

Lawrence Howard tells a tale of Antarctica. Photo: Kimmie Fadem

Then Howard, the co-founder of Portland Story Theater who is known as “The Armchair Adventurer” for his own long yarns of historical derring-do, pitched right into his tale, Polar Opposites: Amundsen, Scott, and the Race for the South Pole. Most but not all of Howard’s adventure tales are set against the challenges of the Arctic or Antarctic (he’s also recounted the stories of the Victorian Englishman John “Babbacombe” Lee, who was hanged three times and lived to tell the tale; and of the 1820 sinking of the whaler The Essex, a disaster that inspired Melville’s Moby-Dick), and Polar Opposites takes him back to familiar formidable southern territory. A tale Howard first told in 2011, on the centennial of the events it recounts, it’s the story of the competing expeditions in late 1911 and early 1912 of the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen and the British expeditionary leader Robert Falcon Scott to be the first humans to set foot on the geographic South Pole.

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The Wyeths’ whys and why nots

The Portland Art Museum's look at three generations of the famous family's work isn't everything it might be. But what it is reveals a lot.

After spending some quality time with the animals in the print show Kingdom Animalia: Animals in Print from Dürer to Picasso one day last week, I moved up to the second floor of the Portland Art Museum’s main Belluschi building to take another look at The Wyeths: Three Generations, a traveling show that continues through Jan. 8. When I first saw it shortly after it opened in early October the special exhibition galleries were packed with visitors young and old, most seeming genuinely interested in the works of father N.C., son Andrew, and grandson Jamie. On a lazy Wednesday afternoon last week the crowd was much thinner, though still steady. But if the thrill wasn’t exactly gone, it had hit a lull.

Andrew Wyeth, “Morning at Kuerners,” n.d., watercolor, Collection of Melvin “Pete” Mark and Mary Kridel Mark. T2017.84.7. Oregon ArtsWatch photo

The Wyeths, which is from the Bank of America collection and came into being largely because this year is the centenary of Andrew Wyeth’s birth, is a curious show, genuinely interesting but in a much smaller way than the shouting makes it out to be. The works by Andrew are both the strongest and weakest part of the exhibit – strongest because he’s much the best artist of the three; weakest because he’s underrepresented, and his best work isn’t here. (A much deeper traveling show focusing on him alone, Andrew Wyeth: In Retrospect, is at the Seattle Art Museum through Jan. 15.)

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Animal kingdom: That’s a print

The Portland Art Museum's new "Kingdom Animalia" showcases five hundred years of prints of animals, from Dürer to Picasso and beyond

When I dropped into the Portland Art Museum a few days ago I slipped quickly past the giant robotic monstery thing looming over the entrance to the Animating Life exhibition of designs from the Laika movie studio, beyond earshot of the strange rumble of noise emanating from the animations like a troubled stomach under the influence of Alka-Seltzer. My destination was down the stairs to one of my favorite spots in the museum, the comforting and vastly quieter graphic arts galleries.

Albrecht Dürer (German, 1471-1528), “Die wunderbare Sau von Landser (The Monstrous Sow of Landser),” ca. 1496, engraving on antique laid paper, The Mark Adams and Beth Van Hoesen Art Collection, public domain, 2007.59.2

The exhibition Kingdom Animalia: Animals in Print from Dürer to Picasso had opened just a few days earlier, and a nice small crowd was wandering through, spending some quality time with the almost sixty prints on view. It’s a brisk stroll through five centuries of art, with explorations of the animal kingdom as disparate as Dürer’s grotesque The Monstrous Sow of Landser; Franz Marc’s placid yet quietly energetic Tierlegende (Animal Legend), a small woodcut of an idyllic, almost Eden-like gathering of harmonious beasts; and Adolf Dehn’s actual, if imaginary, scene from Eden, 1945’s Before the Fall, which shows a very hairy Adam holding a sly snake aloft, a flirty Eve discreetly hiding her privates with a showgirl’s fan, and a garden full of animals who seem to have a glancing kinship with Maurice Sendak’s wild things.

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Rothko alley: a walk to the park?

Portland Art Museum heads to City Hall on Thursday with a new plan to build its pavilion and give public access to the park

UPDATE: On Wednesday, Dec. 13, the Portland City Council approved an a 3-1 vote the Portland Art Museum’s proposal to enclose the plaza passageway between the museum’s two buildings to allow construction of a glass pavilion connecting the two. The vote isn’t final – next step in the process is a hearing before the city’s Historic Landmarks Commission – but it’s a necessary and significant stamp of approval. Museum officials brought a revised plan to keep the pavilion open for public passage during the hours the downtown streetcar runs: 5:30 a.m.-midnight weekdays, 7 a.m.-midnight Saturdays, and 7 a.m.-11 p.m. Sundays. Revised plans also call for significant improvements to accessibility inside the museum buildings. The museum still needs to raise about $20 million of its $75 million goal: $50 million for design and construction, $25 million for its endowment.

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A little over a year ago the Portland Art Museum proudly announced plans for a $50 million addition – the Rothko Pavilion, an elegant tall glass passageway that would connect the museum’s two major buildings, the original 1932 Belluschi Building to the south and the Mark Building, a refurbished Masonic Temple, to the north.

Almost immediately, the protests began.

Artist’s rendering of the Portland Art Museum’s new Rothko Pavilion, from Southwest Park Avenue.

The main point of contention was that the pavilion, which would fill in the space of the current plaza between the two buildings, would cut off the public passageway between Southwest 10th Avenue, on the museum’s west side, and Southwest Park Avenue, to the east. The plaza has been used by bicyclists, pedestrians, and neighborhood residents, and although the museum’s plans called for keeping the pavilion open to passers-through for free use during the day, opponents argued that that wasn’t enough, and that the plan constituted a hardship in particular for older people and people with movement disabilities, who would be forced to go around the block to get to the park. Others objected to the idea of an unbroken long museum campus along the Southwest Park Blocks, arguing that the resulting mass would be out of character with downtown’s intimate 200-foot city block scale.

A lot of talking and replanning and negotiation has been going on in the months since, and on Thursday, Dec. 7, the museum will take a revised plan to the Portland City Council, hoping to gain approval for a compromise that would be acceptable to all sides. Museum director Brian Ferriso will present the museum’s proposal to the council at 2 p.m. in a meeting that, as always, is open to the public. The main point he’ll deliver: The museum would keep the pavilion open for free public passage from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily. Keeping the doorways open would cost the museum about $100,000 annually in security costs, a museum spokesman estimated.

Artist’s rendering of the Rothko Pavilion connection and passageway, seen from Southwest 10th Avenue.

In a letter to museum members on Tuesday, Ferriso announced a long-term plan to make the museum itself more accessible to people with disabilities. “There’s no question that we have a long way to go,” he wrote, “but I know we can create a Museum that is a national model for accessibility. The proposed Rothko Pavilion is key to that effort. It will not only become an open and accessible welcoming center for visitors, school tours and the community, it will enable more extensive renovations that will open galleries and create barrier-free connections on all three floors.”

From an internal point of view, the Rothko Pavilion is a sorely needed addition. Its 30,000 square feet of new space would create new public spaces, room for sculptures now located in the plaza’s sculpture court, and add nearly 10,000 square feet of gallery space to the museum’s current 30,000. It would establish a vital link between the museum, which has almost no work by pavilion namesake Mark Rothko, who grew up in Portland, and the Rothko family, with a promise of rotating artworks to display. Most importantly, the pavilion is designed to truly link the two buildings and create sense and flow out of their hodgepodge of gallery spaces, making it vastly easier for visitors to find their way around.

Museum staff have created a Frequently Asked Questions page that gives the museum’s views on what the project will or won’t accomplish. Funding for the pavilion project is expected to come mostly from private sources, with $1 million from the State of Oregon.

In the meantime, it’s up to the City Council to decide whether a public passageway open most of the time but closed in the late night and early morning hours is in the public’s best interest. Stay tuned. And go to the council meeting if you have something to say.

 

God speaks. You listen.

The Lord God Almighty, Creator of the Universe, lays it all on the line in the celestial comedy "An Act of God." Listen up, or be left behind.

Let it be known that the Lord God Almighty, Creator of the Universe, Incorporeal Presence Sometimes Taking on the Form of Flesh, is now appearing several nights a week and Sunday afternoons in Portland, Oregon, at Triangle Productions, whose home on Northeast Sandy Boulevard is fortuitously known as The Sanctuary.

His Awesome Holiness has taken the form of a local actor of some repute named Norman Wilson, and is playing Himself in a little comedy called An Act of God, which is purportedly written by a television funnyman named David Javerbaum, multiple winner of and nominee for Emmy Awards for his work as a writer and/or producer for Jon Stewart and David Letterman and others, but if you want to know The Truth the monologue seems to be coming Straight From the Mouth Of, if you know what I mean. No burning bushes or any of that old-style cosmic show-biz stuff. Just some jokey insider talk-show chat and the occasional reverberating roar when something gets under His temporal skin.

God on His couch, spreading the word. Triangle Productions photo

A few things are on The Divine One’s Mind, perhaps most pressingly the rule of law as interpreted by the overly adoring and literalist masses. “Yea, I have grown weary of the Ten Commandments,” He pronounces. “In the same way Don McLean has become weary of American Pie.” A hit like that defines and typecasts you: You can’t get away from it. G-d lets the audience in on a few puckish stretchings of the truth in the telling of original stories (the actual quote, it turns out, was “And Adam and Steve were naked and knew no shame”) and splits a Celestial Gut that anyone still takes that two-by-two thing seriously: He means, how many animals are there, and how much room was on that ark? And He announces a new Big Ten, keeping a couple of the old ones but in the main tossing the original list into the Heavenly trash bin. Among the newbies: Thou shalt not tell others when to fornicate, Thou shalt not kill in My name, Thou shalt separate Me and state. All very sensible, it seems, but who knows if these ones might take hold, or if the old ones might not hang around embarrassingly like Confederate Hero statues in Southern town squares, ruthlessly and rigorously defended by unbending believers in the Old Faith?

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