CULTURE

Elizabeth Farley (McKenna Twedt) gradually and tragically gets wise to the actress/prostitute pipeline in Restoration England.

Elizabeth Farley (McKenna Twedt) is fluffing up her theater costume and trying to sneak it out to “a rendezvous.” That’s a nice way of saying she’s been summoned (to the palace by the king, no less) for sex. But, wait, isn’t she an actress?

April De Angelis’ Playhouse Creatures revisits Restoration England (circa 1660) to depict the lives of the first women to take on the mantel of “actress.” Of course, a big part of that story is that society’s general maltreatment of the female gender bled into that profession in all-too-familiar ways. The first actresses were typecast as high and low class. They were solicited for prostitution. They were suspected of sorcery. They were discarded once pregnant or old. Hundreds of years later, those woes still ring true.

Yet far from wallowing, this play engages, absorbs, and entertains. Twedt deftly rides her character’s rise to fame and fall from grace, evoking first scorn and then pity.

My friend who moved to LA to do comedy has a funny habit: she collects and shares all the casting notices she receives each day to play prostitutes. Rich in comedy and rife with insult and stereotype, these requests are so shockingly common they roll into her phone like a ceaseless tide. “Dead prostitute” may be most popular. “Nonspeaking,” almost equally so. “Unpaid” is the coin of the realm. In Hollywood it seems, if one chose, an actress could silently prostitute herself for no pay several times every day. Dead inside? Even better. That would be “method” for most of the roles.

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Lydia: conflicted, and sensational

From a twisted body and a bittersweet silence, Milagro and playwright Octavio Solis soar into spaces vivid and amazing

In an accident to be explained later, Ceci has lost the following:

Speech. Mobility. Clear eyesight.

Unbeknownst to those around her, she retains:

Compassion, cognition, affection, intimacy, love, trust…and even lust.

That’s the fraught and bittersweet premise of Octavio Solis’s Lydia, the play currently onstage at Milagro that—TL;DR—is amazing.

“Lydia” at Milagro: Maya Malán González is transcendent as Ceci. (Photo © Russell J Young.)

 

 

In a device billed as “magical realism,” Ceci flies from and returns to her twisted body, never venturing further than the things she already knows. She relives a moment of rapture before the accident, she perches beside her family members to assess and console them, she throws herself into her loved ones’ arms as she would if, in reality, she still could. I wouldn’t call this “magical realism,” though as directed by Kinan Valdez and played by Maya Malán González, it does cast a powerful spell. I’d say instead that Ceci straddles two parallel worlds: a corporeal and an emotional plane.

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Christopher Rauschenberg: The beauty of the bucket

Portland photographer Christopher Rauschenberg has spent his career paying deep attention to the beauty around him

John Cage said, “Beauty is now underfoot wherever we take the trouble to look.” That seems to be the point of Christopher Rauschenberg’s photographs for more than 40 years.

Beyond that work as a photographer, Rauschenberg was one of the five founders of Blue Sky Gallery—now one of the premier photography institutions in America—back in 1975. He founded the Portland Grid Project in 1995. As the website states: “Christopher Rauschenberg took a pair of scissors to a standard map of Portland and cut it into 98 pieces. He then invited a group of 12 Portland photographers, using a variety of cameras, films, formats, and digital processes, to all photograph the randomly selected square each month. By 2005 they had covered every square mile of Portland and shown each other over 20,000 images.” The Grid Project is now on its third round of photographing the city.

Christopher Rauschenberg, Warsaw, 2016

In 1997-1998 he spent time in Paris rephotographing 500 scenes shot previously by Eugene Atget, who Rauschenberg considers “the greatest photographer of all time.” His website portfolio includes photographs from travels to Europe, China, Tanzania, Thailand, Brazil, and Guatemala. From March 26-April 19 a selection of recent photographs from Poland will be shown at Elizabeth Leach Gallery.

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Beyond the Sea, awash in La Mer

How a French popular song from the 1940s engulfed an American boy of the 1960s and has stayed with him through thick and thin

By STEPHEN RUTLEDGE

Once when I was challenged to name my Top Ten Favorite Songs, I expressed to my friend a desire to be able to erase from my memory all of my favorite songs so that I might have the experience of hearing them again for the first time. It seemed to me that if I listened to a favorite song too often, I might run the risk of wearing it out. I was afraid that eventually it wouldn’t move me in quite the same way. I would still want, maybe even need, to hear it, but the emotional intensity simply wouldn’t be as high. With every listen, I might be searching for that magic and it would be gone.

Now I know that this is not true with the great songs. They are the ones that sound new every time.

As an only child of two working parents, after school, except when I was off to rehearsals or music lessons, I had the house to myself until 6 p.m. I felt free to help myself to the parents’ hi-fi and LP collection, and as I got older, to their liquor cabinet too. They actually paired well, booze and music.

Broadway musicals, Nat King Cole, Dinah Washington, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Rosemary Clooney, these were the artists that informed my musical tastes. I simply loved filling the silence of our house with these recordings. I sang along. In fact, I learned to sing while attempting to reproduce their sounds.

Bobby Darin’s album That’s All was released in 1959 when I was five years old. After the Original Broadway Cast album of My Fair Lady, it was my favorite LP during my pre-Beatles grade school years. That’s All opens with Darin’s famous version of “Mack The Knife.”

But the second track always stopped me dead and filled me with a wistfulness that I could barely grasp as a kid. That song was titled “Beyond The Sea,” and although it was a swingin’ tune, it somehow broke my young heart, which was a brand new sensation. It frightened me as well. I loved it.

Nostalgia, like chest pain, is often a sign of deeper problems. I know this, and tried to remind myself of that recently as I flew to the place of my childhood. I was studying the landform patterns of Eastern Washington from 28,000 feet and they seemed so familiar to me. I know this land. I recognized and even acknowledged a place where water was scarce. So, why did I flee Spokane the afternoon of my graduation from high school, bound for a port city? I chose Boston because it was so far away, and for Boston Bay with salty air and ships.

In the early 1970s, I lived in an apartment with sliding glass doors that opened to white sand and the Pacific Ocean beyond. I could see Catalina Island on a clear day, and there were not that many clear days in 1970s Los Angeles.

I left LA for Manhattan, where I lived eight blocks from the Hudson River. I would sit at the Chelsea piers to look at the shimmery, silvery surface and smell the water and cruise the guys. I would ride the Staten Island ferry, standing at the bow and singing “Don’t Rain On My Parade.”

In Seattle, circa 1981 to 2001, I lived in a bungalow that was just four blocks from Lake Union and the Shipping Canal. Again, I could smell the salt water and I loved the mournful sound of the foghorns and the toots from the tugs.

In 2001, my husband and I had a collective nervous breakdown and up and moved to Portland. At first I was wary. Where was my water? But, standing naked on a beach at Sauvie Island and watching these huge cargo ships make their way up the mighty Columbia, I realized that it feels very much like having an ocean.

In the early 1990s, the parents sweetly gave me a cassette they had made, a mix-tape of songs that I had embraced in my earliest childhood. One of those songs was “Beyond The Sea.” My mother reminded me that as a six-year-old, I would sing it for company, accompanied by a little dance during the bridge.

The song’s first incarnation was as “La Mer,” and it was written by French composer/ lyricist/ singer/ showman Charles Trenet in 1945 for another French singer. In 1946, Trenet recorded his own version. It became an unexpected international hit, and has since become a chanson classic and a jazz standard.

Trenet claimed that he wrote the lyrics as a poem when he was 16 years old, but it was many years before he came up with a melody for it. In 1943, the tune came to him while traveling by train as he was gazing out of the window at the Mediterranean Sea. He jotted it down on piece of paper and in the afternoon he worked out the details with his pianist. That evening they performed it in front of an audience and nobody seemed to care.

But, over the years the song became very popular throughout the world with plenty of prominent artists recording their own versions. Besides the original in French, the song was also recorded in several other languages with the English version titled “Beyond The Sea” being particularly popular and becoming a signature song for Darin. In 1966 there were already over 100 different recordings of “La Mer.” When Trenet left this world in 2001, there were more than 4,000 different recordings of it with over 100 million copies sold.

The English lyrics are not a translation, by the way. They describe a wistful look at lovers who are separated. The French version is literally about the sea.

In 2001, The Oregonian’s music critic, David Stabler, did a wonderful piece on funeral music. In closing, he requested readers to send him their five choices for songs to be played at their own memorial. My submission was published the next Friday, as I suspected that it might, and of the five, three were songs about the sea, and all five were songs about water: Lyle Lovett’s “If I Had A Boat,” “Once In A Lifetime” by Talking Heads, “Shiver Me Timbers” From Tom Waits, Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “The Waters Of March” (“Águas de Março” in Portuguese) and, of course, “La Mer.”

My invitation was to write about a song that terrifies and inspires. But, I am not really afraid of things. Being afraid is not my shtick. I am not scared of spiders or snakes, or heights or tight spaces, or death or speaking in public (obviously).

Charles Trenet, chanteur.

In October 2013, I was diagnosed with stage four Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. I was immediately hospitalized. I wasn’t afraid, not even when 36 hours later it was explained to me that I would be undergoing brain surgery the next day.

That next day, I was prepped for surgery. A surgical nurse shaved my head and the attending physician drew a map on my skull using marking pens. I was wheeled into the O/R and introduced to the team including the anesthesiologist. Then we all waited. And waited. And waited. The scheduled time came and went and the anesthesiologist made the call that if the neurosurgeon was not in place in five minutes they were going to scrub my launch. I told jokes to keep everyone’s mood light. At the last moment, the hopelessly handsome surgeon breezily made his entrance. He leaned down and in my ear he whispered: “I usually choose the music that is played while I work, but because you held down the fort before I got here, today you get to choose. What song would you like us to play as I open up your skull?”

I requested “Beyond The Sea.” Without missing a beat he asked: “The original French or an American cover version?” … it seemed that he had all of them on his iPad. So … there was the very real chance that the very last thing I was ever going to hear was Charles Trenet singing “La Mer.” As I counted backwards from 100 as the Propofol was administered, I reached 97 and then I felt all at sea.

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Portland writer and actor Stephen Rutledge writes the daily Born This Day column on World of Wonder’s WOW Report. He wrote this piece in November 2016 for SONGBOOK PDX, a gathering of writers speaking on “the music that terrified and inspired them.” As an actor, Rutledge has appeared in 150 full stage productions, seven feature films, over 50 commercials, and dozens of voice-overs.

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Sounds of Spain: borders and time

The Byrd Ensemble's concert of 16th century church music keeps the flame of a different culture, with resonances for our own

On Sunday afternoon, thanks to the Seattle choir The Byrd Ensemble, I crossed several borders without passport or visa or patdown by border patrols. The first was the entry to St. Stephen’s Catholic Church in Southeast Portland, where the Byrds, in a concert presented by Cappella Romana, were performing. The second was the border to Spain, the source of most of the music on the program, which was titled “Spanish Music for the House of Habsburg.” The third was time itself: For the afternoon I was in the embrace of the 16th and early 17th centuries, places attainable only through the fragmental collective memory of a learned culture.

The Byrd Ensemble: travelers in time.

The big attraction was Tomás Luis de Victoria’s Requiem Mass, a long, mournful, and revelatory work of imagination and restraint, which the ten-singer choir delivered with a lovely unity of sound: as with most top choirs, the group voice is closely calibrated and takes precedence over the individual voice. The classically proportioned St. Stephen’s has rich and lively acoustics, and the choir’s singing, with its crisp balances and full bass tones, seemed sometimes like the sonorous boom of a pipe organ filling the hall. After intermission the program continued with another short Victoria piece, a pair by his contemporary Cristóbal de Morales, one by Alonso Lobo, and a finale by the great, slightly older, Italian counter-reformation composer Palestrina.

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B&B’s ‘Brontë’ is one for the books

Polly Teale's dramatic tale of the fabulous literary sisters takes the library as its stage for Bag&Baggage. It's a page-turner.

Homeschooled kids are as blessed with imagination as preachers’ daughters are fraught with repressed passion—and The Brontë sisters, being both, had both in spades.

In a house on a hill above a textile town in rural 19th-century England, Anne, Charlotte, and Emily led a relatively quiet and ordinary day-to-day life while writing torridly romantic fantasies—most notably, Charlotte’s Jane Eyre and Emily’s Wuthering Heights. Polly Teale’s Brontë, which Bag&Baggage Productions opened last weekend, vacillates between the sisters’ real and fantasy lives.

And how does this play out on stage?

Jessi Walters as Anne and Morgan Cox as Emily. Casey Campbell Photography

It doesn’t! Instead, it gambols gamely through the aisles of the Hillsboro Public Library in a promenade-style performance born of sudden necessity. B&B, long headquartered at Hillsboro’s Venetian Theatre but planning to transition into a newly acquired building next year, has cut its 16-17 season short to accommodate the recent sale of the Venetian. In the process, Brontë has abruptly become the company’s season-closer, its library location an auspicious work-around. That said, Scott Palmer and company flourish in the face of adversity, setting Brontë so artfully in its library location that it actually feels preferable to a stage. How appropriate, after all, to show the late sisters living on amid books.

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By SAMUEL EISEN-MEYERS

In March of 2016, President Obama lifted restrictions on travel to Cuba by individuals for “people to people” educational trips. I quickly started planning a way to take advantage of this sudden crack in the wall separating us from the island and its people. For the past decade, I had dreamed of going to Cuba and tried to imagine what it was like. And in April I landed in Havana, intending to spend a month observing and documenting Cuban art and artists.

After a week in Havana, my path finally emerged from a series of chance encounters with Cuban artists and their friends—I was going to Galeria Taller, an artists workshop in Matanzas, a city of around 150,000 on the north coast of the island, less than 60 miles from Havana. The taxi ride to Matanzas is close to an hour-and-a-half long, I found, but once I arrived there, things started moving quickly.

Outside the Galeria Taller,
Matanzas, Cuba/Photo by Ernst Kluge

The building that houses Galeria Taller seemed like a museum that had come from the leftover materials used to build the foundation and interior of one of Gaudi’s churches. The vast 100-foot pastel walls, softened by the prevailing weather, charred bricks and the obvious hard labor of restoration, gave a sense of dignity to the 160-year-old structure. Birds guarded the roofless walls from the sky, and the echoes of the streets provided a soundtrack for Matanzas’s finest sculptors, painters and creatives.

“We are open.”

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