Hailey Bachrach

 

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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Theater at the intersection

Two themes at TCG's national conference in Portland – diversity and "maker" creativity – suggest a future for the art form

The Theatre Communications Group annual national conference, which landed in downtown Portland for four days last week, had two stated themes which I initially found, if not exactly contradictory, at least not particularly relevant to one another. One of the main programmatic strands was called “At the Intersections,” a series of structured workshops centered on diversity and allyship. The other was a stated interest in celebrating Portland’s “maker” culture, and exploring ways to apply this concept to theatrical work. Both interesting and worthy and, laid side-by-side, at first seeming sort of random.

But as I actually attended the conference, I found unexpected resonance between the two strands. The question of diversity and the question of how to redefine theater’s cultural role in relation to new movements and technology seemed to me to intersect in a broader question about how the theatre industry can find new ways to define its value.

I mean that in two senses, and they both feel particularly pressing here in Portland. The first is, of course, financial. As Artists Rep artistic director Dámaso Rodriguez pointed out during a live taping of the American Theatre magazine podcast, in most cities, the most well-established companies pay a symbolic fee on an incredibly long lease, while the smaller and less financially stable companies pay exorbitant monthly or weekly rents. This is true in Portland, too, where the brunt of the financial burden of steeply climbing real estate prices is borne by the small companies least able to absorb any additional costs, much less costs growing at the rate of Portland’s rents.

Portland-based “Hands Up: 7 Playwrights, 7 Testaments,” the August Wilson Red Door Project’s touring show of works by African American writers, was featured at the TAG annual conference.

Pair this with theater’s increasing—or at least ongoing—cultural irrelevance. As exciting as Hamilton was, it does not seem to have heralded theater’s return to the mainstream. We know well, and it remains true, that audiences are small, white, and old. How can theaters prove their value to new and current audiences in order to remain alive in both the short and long term? How can they prove their value to a city that seems happy to fill its trendiest areas with condos and storefronts instead of arts venues?

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