Christa McIntyre

 

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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Manifesting a murderer’s mind

"Manifesto," taken from the words of Isla Vista spree killer Elliot Rodger's writings, replays a violent loop in search of meaning

Read the news on any given day and there’s either a shooting or an anniversary of a shooting. It’s not easy to become numb to the violence, but keeping up with it is demanding. The six degrees of separation theory keeps us tied to events. I knew someone running in the Boston Marathon when the homemade bombs went off. My childhood friend lives in Connecticut and texted me about the Newtown tragedy. Another friend was taking his small children to see Santa on the fateful night a few years back at Clackamas Town Center. We may not all have the same geographic or personal proximity, but the shootings can echo through our own lives.

Manifesto, a one-person performance created by Sam Reiter, Solveig Esteva, and Emma Rempel and performed by Reiter, is a claustrophobic rollercoaster ride through the mind of a spree killer. It begins with neglected human elements and maps a course from irrational traps to bloodthirsty rage.

Sam Reiter as mass killer Elliot Rodger. Photo: Solveig Esteva

You might remember the story. Manifesto is an adaptation of the real words left behind by Elliot Rodger, an isolated 22-year-old in Southern California who carried out the Isla Vista killing spree of May 23, 2014, murdering six people near the campus of the University of California Santa Barbara before killing himself with a gunshot wound to the head.

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Beehive’s hum and sting

Broadway Rose takes a musical tumble into the the sounds and styles (and hairdos) of the 1960s

Breathe a sigh of relief: the Broadway Rose New Stage has high enough ceilings to accommodate the fabulous hairstyles that parade across the stage in the company’s latest production, Beehive.

Beehive, a musical revue of the top ten hits and girl groups of the 1960s and a clever celebration of women’s voices, begins with six young teenagers who find refuge in the family garage to practice their dance moves and vocals along with the radio hits that consume their world. These are more than just songs: they’re maps that chart the bumpy waters of adolescent emotional lives. It’s a rite of passage for most kids (and a vexation to their parents) to hole themselves up in a room and fall head over heels for music.

The hairdos have it in Broadway Rose’s “Beehive.” Photo: Liz Wade

Unlike many of us who copied dance moves in the secrecy of our bedrooms, these girls from the golden age of American culture, music, and design have the style handbook down. Their coiffures are architectural masterpieces, replicas of the hairsprayed skyscrapers of the girl-group greats who rocked the original locks. The beehive hairdo took an enormous amount of weekly effort to perfect, from the right kind of shampoo to the best size soup can to achieve maximum flip to the intense under-teasing and overlaying back comb. It’s the American version of the geisha’s shimada. And at Broadway Rose, Andrea Enright’s Leslie Gore has the hair down to a T, with golden highlights framing her face. The cast moves through several costume changes as the conservative Jackie Kennedy lines become relaxed and individual as the decade advances. The whole ensemble of hair, costume, and stage is eye candy, like leafing through a 3D fashion history.

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Broken tulips, tethered lines

Sara Fay Goldman's solo show "Tether" at Fertile Ground illustrates the beauty and sorrow of ADD

Sara Fay Goldman’s Tether: A One-Woman Anti-Circus about Brain Chemistry is listed in the 2017 Fertile Ground guide as a work in progress. Artists always struggle with where the perfect ending points are in a work and Goldman may have elaborate ideas on how to expand her show, but Tether, directed by Rusty Tennant, is a dynamic, well composed, seemingly complete performance as it stands that champions those beautiful humans who aren’t neurotypical.

You may have seen a BBC television show hosted by science historian James Burke called Connections. In one episode he takes you on a journey showing how the Little Ice Age in medieval times led to the invention of chimneys, buttons, waistcoats, and wall tapestries, and from there guides you into the 20th century, showing how little advances in technology led to gasoline engines. It’s in these mental bridges that Burke connects the dots between what seems improbable or dissimilar, and illustrates the ripple effect of history and human ideas, exposing the corners where they touch.

Sara Fay Goldman in “Tether.” Photo: Myrrh Larsen

Goldman moves in similar mental circles, using a hyper-ecstasy, a touch of pain from alienation, the art of acrobatics, performance art, and some delicious monologues. She’s been diagnosed with attention deficit disorder, and Tether is an intimate portrait of her interior life. In Act I she’s the red-nosed Auguste clown who scrolls out a rapid-fire dialogue, jumping from one quote to the next. Digging into Cartesian ideas about being, piecing those reflections with a reference to Alvin Lucier’s famous study in stuttering I am Sitting in a Room, jumping to a monologue by Bottom from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, referring to Bottom’s involvement with the juice of a rare flower in the play, then puzzle-piecing it to the Tulip Wars of 1637, Goldman props herself onto a soapbox about the British colonizers’ approach to botany and ends with the dull irony of scientific watercolor reproductions of cataloged species hanging for display in hipster bars. It’s a high-flying and exquisite execution of how creative cognition’s roller-coaster ride turns and twists at high speeds from the inside out.

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El Payaso: Not just clowning around

Milagro's bilingual Fertile Ground play recalls clown/activist Ben Linder and highlights current social and political struggles

On April 30, 1987, David and Elisabeth Linder buried their 27-year-old son, Ben, in Matagalpa, a small city in Nicaragua. Ben Linder had been tortured and killed two days before with American arms at the hands of Reagan-backed Contras fighting an insurgent war against the nation’s leftist Sandinista government. A funeral led by then-Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega Saavedra followed, with a procession of thousands of local and foreign mourners, and in that crowd marched clowns from the Nicaraguan National Circus, their painted mouths turned downwards.

Milagro contributes to Portland’s ninth annual Fertile Ground Festival of new works with its world premiere of El Payaso, a bilingual agitprop play that matches our times and is based on Ben Linder’s life. El Payaso (The Clown) runs through January 21 and then sets off for a national tour to educate middle schoolers.

Milagro’s “El Payaso”: clowing, engineering, pushing for change. Photo: Russell J Young

Based on talks with Linder’s parents and some of Ben’s letters, rising Latino star playwright Emilio Rodriguez wrote the script. Rodriguez co-owns the Black and Brown Theatre Company in Detroit, where he is also a teacher. He’s known for writing scripts with a well-developed poetic muscle, and El Payaso is a living eulogy to the fallen activist Linder. Half the play is spoken in Spanish, and an elementary proficiency is helpful to follow along.

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