Hailey Bachrach

 

Theater to feed your TV jones

"Nesting" enters its second season at the Shoebox, one-upping TV tropes like binge-watching by adding theatrical urgency to the action

The rise of streaming services and TV series released in a single chunk has more or less done away with Hollywood’s traditional pilot season. But until recently, you could find one in Portland: Action/Adventure Theater’s annual Pilot Season showcase was an evening of “pilot episodes” of short, serialized plays, one of which would be selected for a full run the following season.

Joel Patrick Durham’s pilot wasn’t chosen. And in hindsight, he thinks that’s for the best.

Energized by the audience response to his runner-up pilot, Durham (who I met when we worked together with the Original Practice Shakespeare Festival) decided to self-produce Nesting at the Shoebox Theater in 2016, along with co-producer Natalie Heikkenen. The response to that was sufficiently enthusiastic that Durham and Heikkenen were inspired to pull another leaf from the television playbook, and come back with something not many plays get: a second season.

Isabella Buckner, Tyharra Cozier an Jacob Camp in rehearsal for “Nesting: Vacancy.” Kathleen Kelly/ KKellyphotography

Like the first season, Nesting: Vacancy — which opens in October on Friday the 13th — will run in four forty-five-minute, sequential “episodes,” two per night. Though the two parts share a setting– an abandoned Portland house– they don’t share a story. In the vein of popular anthology television shows American Horror Story or True Detective, season two will start fresh, with a completely new set of characters. Specifically, a pair of siblings who find themselves squatting in the mysterious house while on the run from a murky past.

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Puppet see, puppet do

In the new world of impulsive white-guy supremacy, the gleeful hand-to-hand combat of "Hand to God" suddenly takes a menacing twist

The pew-like audience seating in Triangle Productions’ performance space, The Sanctuary, is fitting for Hand to God, Robert Askins’ church-set dark comedy that opens Triangle’s 2017-18 season. Director and designer Donald Horn’s set perfectly captures the wholesome tackiness of a church classroom, a scene ripe for disruption. And such disruption ensues when teenage Jason begins to realize that Tyrone, the sock puppet he made in his mom’s after-school Bible puppetry class, has taken on a life of its own.

By hand possessed: Caleb Sohigan plays Jason, whose hand puppet Tyrone takes on a wicked life of his own. Photo: David Kinder/kinderpics

Tyrone rips chaotically and hilariously through Jason’s precariously balanced relationships: his mom, still grieving her husband and Jason’s father’s recent death; the girl he has a crush on; the class bully; the slightly smarmy pastor. Tyrone says all the things you’re not supposed to say, does all the things you’re not supposed to do, expresses all the wants you’re not supposed to have. He is, as the monologues that bookend the play suggest, an expression of humanity’s true nature, before some jerk (Tyrone uses a different word) made up the idea of good and evil, God and Satan.

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The ‘type’ in the casting

"Miss Ethnic Non-Specific" tackles a big and important topic, but keeps things on the surface

If you’ve never been an actor, you may never have had cause to wonder about your type. In the biz, that means the type of role you would get considered for and cast in. Are you a leading lady? A best friend? When you imagine which characters on TV look and act like you, that’s probably your type.

Very possibly, of course, you can’t really think of anyone on TV or in movies who looks or acts like you. If you’re disabled, if you’re fat, if you’re genderqueer, if you’re an orthodox Muslim or Jew, if you’re a thousand other things. Hollywood’s scope is narrow, and many, many people are left outside looking in at beautiful idols whose lives and bodies seem nothing like their own.

There has been extensive research into why this matters, and it’s something most people understand on an intuitive level, even if they can’t quite explain it. But in Kristina Haddad’s new play Miss Ethnic Non-Specific, which she wrote and stars in, Haddad is never able to articulate why Hollywood’s need to fit everyone into a vanishingly narrow range of boxes is so problematic.

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Finding Jesus, finding herself

Corey Maier's solo show "Endless Oceans" traces a voyage through faith, sexuality, and the mysteries of discovering one's own truth

A few years ago, when my alma mater Saint Mary’s Academy became the center of a hiring scandal, I learned that there had been a secret Gay-Straight Alliance while I was a student there. This came as a total shock. I distinctly remember seeing references to “Geography Club” (the name this group went by) and wondering, “What the hell does that mean?” before continuing along my way. Well, what it meant was, “this is a GSA we can’t actually call that.” And I’d had no idea.

I don’t know if Saint Mary’s is allowed to have open queer identity groups now. But of course, in many Christian contexts, with so much cultural pressure to the contrary, even an open queer support group might not be enough for some students. One suspects that it wouldn’t have done much for Corey Maier, the writer and subject of the autobiographical solo show Endless Oceans, performing through Aug. 20 at the Back Door Theater (normally the home of Defunkt).

Maier amid the mysteries of life. Photo: Angela Genton

Very early in the show, Maier describes the day she found Christ at the hands of a tattooed youth minister who she portrays with a black beanie cap and a wholesome swagger, who calls her to surrender herself to Jesus. I surrendered myself to Corey just a few minutes before, when she described her less-than-enthusiastic churchgoing as a Catholic youth. There was only one thing she liked about mass, she explains: “The body of Christ was stale … but the blood of Christ was fermented.” She glances at the audience, wide-eyed with the giddy innocence of teenage transgression. “You can take a big gulp.”

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Ashland Shakespeare: out of chaos

This season's four Shakespeare shows – "Henry IV One and Two," "Julius Caesar," "Merry Wives" – ripple across thematic borders

ASHLAND – At first glance, this season’s slate of four Shakespeare plays at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival feels like a game of “one of these things is not like the other”: Henry IV Part One and Two are an obvious pairing, and they join up with The Merry Wives of Windsor via the character of Falstaff, who appears in all three (a number that leaves him tied with Prince Hal for the second-most appearances of a single character in separate Shakespeare plays, one behind Margaret of Anjou). Then there’s Julius Caesar. Well, that political tragedy’s tone isn’t so far off from the Henry IV plays, but then what about Merry Wives?

For all the plays’ dissimilarities, a closer look reveals rich thematic threads that lend OSF’s Shakespearean season a sense of cohesion, and a subtle but highly relevant message. All of these plays, which continue in repertory in Ashland through mid-October or later, are concerned with the making and breaking of relationships, and with efforts to define community out of chaos.

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“Henry IV, Part One”: Hotspur (Alejandra Escalante) prepares to bid her wife Lady Percy (Nemuna Cessay) farewell before joining her father’s rebellion on the battlefield. Photo: Jenny Graham

The two parts of Henry IV make up a sort of mini-repertory in the small Thomas Theatre, with almost all of the actors in them appearing only in those two plays, and casting carrying through from one part to the next. Jeffrey King returns from last year’s Richard II—then, he played the ambitious usurper Bolingbroke, now not-so-firmly settled into his status as King Henry IV.

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The journey, not the destination

Dspite some too-literal bumps along the road, Profile's version of Quiara Allegría Hudes’ "26 Miles" provides a trip that sticks with you

High school is rough. In another era, tenth grader Olivia Jacob would have a blog or a YouTube channel. But it’s 1985, so she has to settle for handmade zines that she hands out at school and sends to her mostly absent mother, Beatriz, and her physically present but emotionally constipated father, Aaron. But when things get desperate, she finds herself embracing a source of solace that has called to restless hearts across the centuries: a road trip.

Quiara Allegría Hudes’ 26 Miles at Profile Theatre begins on the night that Olivia, after throwing up fifteen times probably from food poisoning, calls her mother in the middle of the night and sets in motion an accidental journey that sees their small, fractured family reconfigured.

On the road: Julana Torres and Alex Ramirez de Cruz. Photo: David Kinder

As most road trip stories know (this one included), the destination itself is almost always a bit of a disappointment. The journey is where everything good happens. The same might be said of 26 Miles itself: though the plot clangs against some clichés—a mystery doctor visit, a frigid and jealous stepmom, lines like “The woman he knew is gone”—Hudes’ lyric, poetic language almost always serves to lift the scenes above familiarity. Olivia’s monologues in particular, delivered with endearing teenage awkwardness by Alex Ramirez de Cruz, are delicate and lovely.

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Tom(boy) Sawyer on the run

Connor Kerns' new heroine adaptation of the Mark Twain adventure is fun. It could've been radical, too.

One of my favorite parts of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is when Tom Sawyer suddenly reappears near the end of the story, and the worlds of Twain’s two most famous novels jarringly collide. Tom, still wrapped up in his adventure fantasies, gets Jim unjustly arrested and himself nearly killed because he wants to plan a daring escape rather than just tell everyone that Jim is, in fact, now free. Tom’s still just a kid; Huck has learned that there is a real world out there, with real danger and real consequences. And that’s the difference between the pair of their eponymous novels, too. Though The Adventures of Tom Sawyer includes murder and danger, the terror of the circumstances is mostly held at arm’s length by Tom’s boyish innocence.

Tom (Taylor Jean Grady) chills with some tunes. Photo: Gary Norman

In the new play Tom(boy) Sawyer from Quintessence: Language & Imagination Theatre, director and playwright Connor Kerns’ Tom(asina) Sawyer is not an innocent. She’s a weed-smoking community college dropout slacking her way through her twenties in Washougal, Washington in 1989. She can’t sing, but she dreams of being in a band. She can’t decide if she’s in love with her best friend Hector Finn, or her friend Jenny Thatcher. She hates The Man, but doesn’t really know why.

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