Christa McIntyre

 

‘Lungs’: She’s having a baby

Third Rail's two-hander about anxiety, parenthood, and the state of the world updates the conversation on love and life

Anxiety is nothing new for us mortals, but the anxieties of our own Age of Anxiety can seem unprecedented. Third Rail Rep has birthed to the stage a prescient look into 21st century parenthood and its particular anxieties with its production of Duncan Macmillan’s Lungs, now playing at CoHo Theatre.

Playwright Macmillan hangs with the in-yer-face theater crowd of the U.K. His work shares the painful honesty of the genre, although he handles the audience with a gentler approach than his peers. He’ll shock you, but only because he’s given a line to a character that reveals some fragment of inner dialogue you’ve experienced at one time or another: the kind of inner conversation that if spoken, would lead to both catharsis and shame.

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Pierce and Miles: modern problems. Photo: Owen Carey

Anxieties? Take your pick. In the few days before Third Rail’s Lungs opened, Portland’s air hung with what felt like beads of red mercury, magnifying the sun and sweeping up fine particles of dust. The cityscape seemed to be a postcard from the dystopian future. Bone-dry streets summoned up the smell of dirt and caked urine and a museum of litter; they showed off the city’s haves and have nots with struggling homeless camps dotting the underpasses. Local news reported that Portland’s air quality index was worse than Beijing’s, and the governor declares a state of emergency.

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A band of ghoulish outsiders

Broadway Rose raises The Addams Family from the dead in a rousing romp of a musical comedy

America has always been a fertile ground for outsiders. The consequences of not fitting might be dangerous or deadly, but our art world has long opened its arms to carry malcontents like cream at the top. Eventually what was once strange, awkward, or foreign becomes cherished. “An institution” is a phrase that’s sometimes thrown about. We also have a little place in  our hearts for the dark side, the shadowy world where a headless horseman terrorizes young New England, or a beating heart raises guilt through the floorboards.

And who, or what, is more of an outsider/insider American clan than The Addams Family, who are kicking up their musical-comedy heels in a rousing new production at Broadway Rose?

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Lisamarie Harrison as Morticia, with ensemble in Broadway Rose’s “The Addams Family.” Photo: Sam Ortega

It’s been a long and ghoulish and very American road for the Addamses from the pen of cartoonist Charles Addams to the musical-theater stage. When Addams first drew his family from an inkwell, America was in the throes of the Great Depression. A freelancer, he made his reputation with the New Yorker. Encouraged as a child by his father to keep at the pen, Addams was inspired by the Victorian homes of his New Jersey neighborhood, and drew skulls and crossbones for his high school newspaper. In one of his first jobs out of college, he doctored crime-scene photos for a publication. His professional career was made with the creation of his crazy, kooky family, cementing his paychecks and reputation for half a century.

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The hound of the comic thrills

Clackamas Rep romps through Ken Ludwig's spoof of the Sherlock Homes mystery "Hound of the Baskervilles"

The man in the deerstalker hat and his biographer sidekick Dr. Watson live for the thrill of the hunt in Ken Ludwig’s screwball spoof of the most popular of Sherlock Holmes’ tales, Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery.

The whodunit of this play, which has just opened at Clackamas Repertory Theatre, is less about the butler, the shady neighbor or estranged relative, but rather the grist that lies in which of the five actors is playing which of the 40 or so characters at any particular time. The cast, directed by David Smith-English, ebbs and flows on and off stage in a contradance with lightning-quick changes into detailed costumes. If it wasn’t for the ease and energetic joy the cast carries as the pace increases over the performance, you might almost think you were at a hockey match, where players often lose a few pounds in sweat per game. The puck doesn’t stop there, as the audience lapses into a meta meta suspension of disbelief and the real laughs kick in. By the end of the play the timing is rapid-fire and off-the-hinges absurd. In one of the final moments two people play three characters locked in an embrace, trading off hats and lines like they live in a 4D funny mirror.

Dennis Kelly and John San Nicolas in Ken Ludwig’s Sherlock Holmes spoof. Photo: Travis Nodurft

This Sherlock Holmes (John San Nicolas) does not wear the long drawn face of a nicotine addict who also likes tight fluffy lines of cocaine to fuel his broad assumptions from few details. Ludwig’s Sherlock is a stable middle-class armchair-professor hired gun who probably in a few decades of literature will inspire a James Bond-type genius, but with the contrast of being unavailably sexy. Dr. Watson (Dennis Kelly) is the detective chasing skirts. Watson, as narrator and chronicler to his trusty flatmate, is also in hot pursuit of female affection and Holmes’s approval at every turn and twist of the plot. His high-cheekbone smile of satisfaction looks to be the result of years of good marks at boarding school.

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Everything you wanted to know*

*... about Texas, but were afraid to ask. (And about the OUTwright Festival, and its cult hit "Sordid Lives.")

Fuse Theatre Ensemble’s OUTwright Theatre Festival, celebrating its fifth year, is bringing a lot more to the table than it has in previous years: a bevy of readings and workshops, some already finished, others still to come. And it has one main attraction: Del Shores’ cult hit Sordid Lives, which has manifested in a few incarnations since it first saw daylight in 1996: play, film, and television. OUTwright is staging the cult classic in its first form: live, onstage, fully produced.

The Funhouse Lounge, where all of this is happening, is just off the busy corridor of close-in Southeast Portland now known as “D Street.” Nestled in between houses, it stands out as a Carlo Collodi-inspired oasis with a gallery of velvet paintings dedicated to dead celebrities, an exotic collection of faux-Versailles mirrors, and a bar dedicated to drinking from the sort of 90 proof well that any chaps-wearing man would find an after-hours home. It’s the perfect place for Sordid Lives, which is best described as a John Waters-inspired text, but with a lot more compassion and “real” moments.

Victoria Blake as Dr. Eve and Michael J. Teufel as Brother Boy. Greg Parkinson Photography

There are towns in Texas where, if you order a salad at a restaurant, your waitress will ask: “Potato or macaroni?” And in Sordid Lives there is an itsy bitsy town called Snyder, Texas, on the outskirts of the Panhandle, that has a single restaurant whose salad is composed of wilted iceberg lettuce paired with a thick slice of roma tomato similarly aged and drowned in an almost aspic consistency of French dressing. There is one stop light. One water tower. Plenty of homes and churches. A school. There is nothing else. Shiner Bock is the light and cheap beer that Texans romanticize, in spite of its actual taste. Women still wear their hair high: as the saying goes the higher the hair, the closer to God. It is welded together by cans of spray-net. No person leaves their home without full attire and face on. Plastic surgery is part of most cosmetic approaches to staying young at heart.

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Janie’s got her gun

Defunkt blows up the war of the sexes with Sheila Callaghan's "That Pretty Pretty; or, The Rape Play"

What happens when a pair of radical ex-strippers on a homicidal Thelma and Louise road trip become the inspiration for a 4chan-tinted, Wes Anderson-style tale? In Defunkt’s new staging of Sheila Callaghan’s That Pretty Pretty; or, The Rape Play, a radical Pandora’s box of no-apologies theater, gender-identity bending, and raw angst dusted with a heavy sugar-coating of pop culture lets loose.

Theater and television writer Callaghan’s script is poetically muscled, fervent, and meticulous in its craft, and director Paul Angelo takes on a tough job with a play that has enough stage directions to put George Balanchine in a spin. This highrise production has enough levels for the highbrow playgoing aesthete, and enough grit for lowbrow surveyors to take a shine to the blacker-than-black humor Callaghan is known for.

Jessica Tidd, Blake Stone, and Jessica Hillenbrand in “That Pretty Pretty. Photo: Rosemary Ragusa

The play’s beginning echoes ancient Greek repetition in a fragmented cacophony, and throws the character’s identities and gender into a finely sharpened Cuisinart. It’s an accurate portrait of the creative process: dead-files, collected memories of conversations, cutouts from pictures, snatches of dialogue underlined in novels, all of it informing and nurturing the next creative spark. The dialogue of That Pretty Pretty; or, The Rape Play is hyper-fresh, like an observation of people’s internet scrolling in a rundown Venice, California cafe.The play’s pacing is frenetic – somewhere between practice-shooting clay pigeons while high on cocaine and riding a rollercoaster that betrays the physics of killing thrill-seekers. Like a rotten snow globe found in the rubble of a decayed inner city, the pieces drift down and come into a cohesive narrative shape. This play is difficult to its core: Without Angelo’s experience on stage and the emotional and physical bravery of the cast, the lucid drama could fall flat.

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Musical tempest on a small island

Milagro Theatre negotiates the troubled waters of Cuban identity in a new musical

The waters of a troubled past are explored in Óye Oyá, a buoyant new Cuban musical presented in Spanish with English supertitles at Milagro Theatre. Based loosely on Shakespeare’s late romance The Tempest, it has a book by Rebecca Martinez based on a treatment by Rodolfo Ortega, airline pilot by day and prolific and acclaimed composer by night, whose music and lyrics for the show create a moving soundscape to explore modern-day Cuban identity conflict.

The roots of that conflict run deep, in politics, in history, and in this show. The island of Cuba has triggered anxiety on the international political stage for decades. The early 1990s, when Óye Oyá takes place, saw a new rush of worry as Cuba’s biggest Cold War backer, the U.S.S.R., was falling apart. You may remember news flashes of refugees on handmade rafts of plastic, wood, and tarp desperately attempting the passage to Florida. For some the romance of the Cuban Revolution and its bearded heroes remained. Yet there was also a sharp divide between Cuban-American historical memory and that of people who remained on the homeland. Fidel Castro’s recent death sparked tough debate on his legacy, making way once again for a nervous tick about Cuba’s future. While the country is opening its doors for business, refugees who were burned by Castro’s government are unwavering in their conservatism. The majority of them are Republicans, wanting a strong man to hand down sentencing on the Cuban government and uphold the embargo until the island nation changes politics.

Cuban tempest: a little rhythm, a little dance, a little romance. Photo: Russell J Young

Cuba’s many aspects are best felt in its music. Óye Oyá delivers a sample of the intricate rhythms and melodies that captivate hearts and pull feet onto dance floors, the mysterious arresting passion and ache that is born in Cuban song.

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Tear down (or build) that wall

Robert Schenkkan's political provocation "Building the Wall" at Triangle pokes into the Trump Effect and a possible American future

Building the Wall, Robert Schenkkan’s quick-out-of-the-gate stage response to the American political and cultural shift of the past year, is a well-timed last-minute addition to the current season at Triangle Productions. A protest play that questions whose America this will be in the wake of the Trumpian political revolution, it runs for a brief engagement through April 29 at The Sanctuary.

On the surface Building the Wall, which is directed at Triangle by company leader Donald Hornis a conversation between two people who seem like polar opposites. One man sits in an orange prison jumpsuit. Opposite him is a history professor, who is also a black woman. The prisoner dropped out of school, got a GED and entered the military. The professor is a liberal. The prisoner is a modern-day Republican.

Gavin Hoffman and Andrea Vernae: over the wall. David Kinder/Kinderpics

But the conversation isn’t just between this unlikely pair. It’s the conversations we’ve been having at the dinner table with family, on the bus with strangers, in our social media feeds, in an explosive era of journalism, overflowing town halls, and packed activist meetings. The conversation between Rick and Gloria is also with us.

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