CULTURE

David Mamet, plowing through

Why, in the #me too age, revive tough-guy Mamet's "Speed-the-Plow"? For Asylum Theatre's Jason Manicchia it's the thrill of the language.

David Mamet.

The name evokes images of hard-swearing, fast-talking, testosterone-dripping, cigarette-smoking, poker-playing, scam-running, angry white men spiritually crippled by existential angst and taking it out on everybody they come into contact with, even – or especially – each other. There was an extended moment, lasting some thirty years, when Mamet was the popping, crackling heartbeat of the American theater. His plays were known for tight plots, scintillating dialogue with trademark staccato musicality, and scathing satirical wit.

But the world changed and Mamet didn’t. Or rather, he became even more Mamet than he was before. Something happened, something that had been hovering around the edges of the Mamet legend at least since the incendiary theatrical stacked deck called Oleanna burned its way across the American stage. In the 2000s, Mamet had a very public split with, as he called them, “Brain-Dead Liberals.” That tough-guy, cigar-chomping persona had curdled and hardened into a neo-con. Or, as Christopher Hitchens put it in his scathing review of Mamet’s 2011 book The Secret Knowledge, Mamet became “one of those people who smugly believe that, having lost their faith, they must ipso facto have found their reason.”

And when, in that book, Mamet apparently states that “Part of the left’s savage animus against Sarah Palin is attributable to her status not as a woman, neither as a Conservative, but as a Worker,” (italics mine), you begin to see just how unerring Hitchens’ assessment might be.

Brianna Ratterman and Jason Maniccia, sealing the deal. Photo: Gary Norman

So what, if anything, does this prodigiously gifted and deliciously controversial playwright still have to say to 2018 America? Well, the new (old) theatre company Asylum Theatre sought to answer that very question with it’s production of Mamet’s popular and wickedly black comedy, Speed-the-Plow, which is continuing through Dec. 23 at the Shoebox Theatre.

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Talking a blue streak

The powerful "Cop Out: Beyond Black, White & Blue," from the August Wilson Red Door Project, furthers a public conversation about law enforcement and race.

“Ain’t no reason to lie, just me and you right now,” says a 22-year-old black man, standing center stage in only underwear.

His near-naked body slowly disappears as he pulls on black clothing and snaps in and buckles up layers of heavy riot gear. This black man is a police officer. This police officer is confiding something in the audience. Beneath all the modern paramilitary armor, he admits he’s still afraid.

So begins Cop Out: Beyond Black, White & Blue, presented by the August Wilson Red Door Project.

Cop Out is a series of monologues written for and with police officers. It is a companion piece to Hands Up, a piece written by and for African Americans dealing with police profiling.

Cop Out delves into the hidden realities of those men and women whose job it is to exist in the liminal space between order and chaos — realities that involve a tremendous amount of unexpressed trauma and fear.

Julana Torres takes the public to task for its irresponsibility in one of the complex, powerful monologues of “Cop Out.” Photo: Kathleen Kelly

Each monologue in Cop Out, directed by Red Door co-founder Kevin Jones, explores the never-ending nuance and complexity of each officer’s experience.

“So I Was Driving Along,” by Andrea Stolowitz, stands out as an especially challenging piece. Victoria Alvarez Chacon plays an off-duty black police officer who takes a wrong exit and gets lost in white suburbia. She is soon pulled over, with her daughter asleep in the back of the car. Tension rises as we hear the audible approach of black boots on concrete and the tapping of a gloved hand on her window. An aggressive light flashes on Chacon, and the first thing she sees, with “telescopic vision”, is the police officer’s hand resting on his gun.

“I’m starting to freak out. I’m a cop, and I’m freaking out. Why is his hand on his gun?,” she asks, as her heartbeat sounds through the speakers.

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VizArts Monthly: December rules

This month's Portland visual arts exhibitions jump through the centuries and land firmly in the here and now

The year may be winding down, but the art scene sure isn’t. This month, you can visit the Japanese Garden to catch the only US stop of an international exhibition of Hokusai’s Manga, or see Japanese art from twelve centuries under one roof at the Portland Art Museum. For something more local, there’s the opening of a big new gallery project by Albertina Kerr, The Portland Art and Learning Studios. Also of note, PICA will be hosting the Precipice Fund awards and winter social not far down the street. Heading further north, you can catch a good show at Disjecta and its newer tenant, Carnation Contemporary. If you’re a fan of independent galleries, you can catch the last-ever show at Grapefruits, or enjoy the reliably engaging programming at Ori or Nationale. Whatever you’re in the mood for, brave the cold and the rain and you should be able to find something good out there this month.

Yosa Buson: Thatched Retreat on Cold Mountain – detail

Poetic Imagination in Japanese Art: Selections from the Collection of Mary and Cheney Cowles
Through January 13, 2019
Portland Art Museum,1219 SW Park Avenue
PAM is ending the year with a bang – in addition to the knockout American realism exhibit, you can still catch this gorgeous exhibition spanning 12 centuries of Japanese art. Selected from the collection of Mary and Cheney Cowles, this exhibit highlights one of the strongest themes in this remarkable private collection – art closely related to poetic traditions in Japan.

  • Waka and the Courtly Tradition, featuring work rooted in the poetry and culture of the waka traditions of the ninth through 12th centuries
  • Ink Painting and the Zen Milieu, tracing the adoption and flowering of Zen Buddhism in Japan and the monochrome ink painting style that emerged with it
  • Literati Culture, showcasing the lyrical, romantic landscapes from the 18th and 19th century turn to Neo-Confucian philosophy
  • Modern Innovations, surveying 20th-century innovations of 20th-century artists in Japan as they engaged with traditional techniques in a modern, often highly personal style

Worth noting: the exhibition includes an installation of a traditional Japanese teahouse and newly-commissioned, fully-illustrated catalogue.

Page from Hokusai Manga

Page from Hokusai Manga

Manga Hokusai Manga
December 1, 2018 – January 13, 2019
Portland Japanese Garden, 611 SW Kingston Road

Sure to be a crowd-pleaser, one of the most famous Japanese artists of all time, Katsushika Hokusai, meets modern Japanese manga. Prints and illustrations by the world-famous artist of the iconic print the Great Wave off Kanagawa will be juxtaposed by with work by top contemporary manga artists. A traveling exhibition this will be the only chance to see this show in the Us. Hokusai Manga refers to an 800-page edition of prints, released between 1814 and 1878 in 15 hand-bound volumes, which was the origin of the term that is still in use today to refer to Japanese comics and animation. Materials accompanying the show provide wealth of historical and cultural context, thanks to a curatorial team including many prominent Japanese scholars and art directors.

alienated rhy thm

Alien ate d Rhy thm

Alien ate d Rhy thm
Through December 22
Ori Gallery, 4038 N Mississippi Avenue

If you’re not into the white-cube aesthetic, artists Hiba Ali and Jonathan Chacón have got a show for you. Noticing the prominence of a particular shade of orange in the branding and marketing of a variety of gig-economy services such as Caviar, Ali has literally painted the gallery orange, maintaining that “contemporary color of labor and danger, it is racialized and classed.” Ali engages Amazon’s “customer obsessed” mascot, Peccy in her video Abra to further discuss these issues, and has brought soap bubbles into the discussion of economic bubbles. Chacón’s installation is a text piece using the medium of foam puzzle tiles, adorned with objects and laid out throughout the gallery floor. This engaging, inventive show brings diverse methods and materials to focus on the question “How do queer people of color, repetitively move through environments designed to work against them?”

Holiday Sale - Installation view with chandelier

Holiday Sale – Installation view with chandelier

Exhibit 1 – Holiday Sale
Through January 30
Portland Art and Learning Studio
4852 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd

Portland Art and Learning Studio is a new, 10,000 square-foot outsider art gallery established by the Albertina Kerr foundation. Serving nearly 200 artists, the mission of the studio is to “achieve fulfillment by reframing perceptions around intellectual and developmental disabilities through creative practice and community building.” The inaugural exhibition features a mural and large canvases by Studio member Sakari Muhommad, and a “a series of richly textured and experimental weavings” by Native American textile artist Ricky Bearghost. Hanging from a chandelier in the center of the gallery, his weavings include found materials such as sticks and bottle caps, as well as handmade ceramic beads. As many of that artists served by the Studio experience disability and are members of vulnerable populations, gallery director Daniel Rolnik maintains the importance of creating space in the arts for their voices. “Our artists are proud of who they are and we feel fortunate to be able to support their desires to have their works shown to the art world,” says Rolnik.

Object with drawing from Provender

Object with drawing from Provender

Provender: Georgina Lewis and Sarah Rushford
Through December 23
Grapefruits,211 N Kerby Ste D

An exhibition of experimental drawings and process-related prints and photographs that represent current work by Boston artist Georgina Lewis and Portland artist Sarah Rushford. Former co-director of Ortega y Gasset Projects in Brooklyn, Rushford has recently returned to drawing after establishing herself as a video artist. Both artists use experimental drawing “as a means of coping with anxiety, fear, and paralysis that they feel emotionally, in their careers, in their art processes, and especially in their civic lives…” If that sounds heavy, you will appreciate the unexpected thread of play and happenstance that carries through the laregly-monochrome installation. Process-based graphite drawings, small sculptures and assemblages, and other materials have been thoughtfully installed in various ways that play well with the rough-hewn charm of Grapefruits.

This, sadly, is the final show by this scrappy gallery known for hosting innovative shows by emerging artists and creating a comprehensive resource guide for artists in Portland. However, former members of Grapefruits are in talks to start a new project in the same space, a small warehouse unit with a loading dock down the same dead-end alley in Portland’s North Industrial district where PNCA recently opened studios in the former Ouroboros glass factory. Look for further developments in 2019.

Netta Fornario by Ty Ennis

Netta Fornario by Ty Ennis

The Marble Fountain: Ty Ennis
Through December 30
Nationale, 3360 SE Division

In this solo show by Nationale favorite Ty Ennis, “melancholic dreams” mix with holiday lore and art historical references in this dreamy show of half-remembered figures, scenes, and moods. “When we are young, the world appears full of magic,” Nationale says in the press release. “We are the center of our universe—we know of little beyond our guided travels. Time equals now.” Ennis’s loose brushwork evokes this less-rationalized, perhaps more-lived way of seeing the world with a steady intensity.

A puzzling light and moving - installation view

A puzzling light and moving – installation view

A puzzling light and moving: Kate Newby
Ongoing
Lumber Room, 419 Northwest 9th Avenue

A meditative, eclectic show that collects found materials, handmade objects, and site-specific constructions to reflect on a process of “prolonged engagement” by New Zealand and New York-based artist Kate Newby’s prolonged engagement. Through site visits, conversations, and exploring our city, Newby has been making and thinking about items in this show for the last two years, and it is likely to continue for some time. Walking among the objects hanging in groups from the ceiling and stacked in corners of Lumber Room’s Pearl-district loft hopefully can spark that that sense of quiet, ongoing thoughtfulness within the viewer.

Between Here and The Machine

Between Here and The Machine

Carnation Contemporary
November 30-December 23
Carnation, 8371 N Interstate Avenue
In this show, three prominent West Coast artists utilize a variety of analog and digital forms to interrogate what Carnation calls “the ubiquity of mediated images.” Bean Gilsdorf, Rhonda Holberton, and Anthony Discenza negotiate different arenas in which we create, share, and consume images in the age of Instagram and increasingly powerful smartphones. Each artist uses a variety of tools to draw attention to and disrupt the many layers of processing and interpretation that modern images go through. Archival news photos, low-fi 3D modeling, hand-sewn soft sculptures, and image composites are all fair game in this show.

One of Portland’s newer independent galleries, Carnation Contemporary is located in the space formerly occupied by Carl and Sloan gallery on the side of Disjecta’s exhibition space.

Still from "Dislocation Blues"

Still from “Dislocation Blues”

I’ve known rivers: I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins
December 2 – 30
Disjecta, 8371 N Interstate Avenue

This exhibition is presented as a dialogue between the artistic practices of Carolina Caycedo and Sky Hopinka. Caycedo’s video work pays homage to Langston Hughe’s poem The Negro Speaks of Rivers and emphasizes the political and cultural roots of ecological destruction and the populations that suffer its effects most in our current society. Hopinka’s work addresses “considerations around homeland, the preservation of language, and the undefinable spaces between the known, the sought after, and the unknowable.” His film, Dislocation Blues, refutes the broader narratives of the protests at Standing Rock with individual stories from members of the resistance. Drawings, sculptures, and found objects as well as more video work from both artists further probe the conversation around these pressing issues.

Black Nativity: The joy is now

PassinArt's Portland production of Langston Hughes's gospel musical moves up to a bigger church, and keeps the music fresh

Fifty-seven years ago, Langston Hughes, Alvin Ailey and Carmen de Lavallade decided the world needed a celebration of Christmas apart from re-runs of It’s A Wonderful Life and myriad adaptations of A Christmas Carol and The Nutcracker in various mediums. What was needed, they surmised, was something with a little color to it, a little extra flavor. What they came up with was an original piece called Wasn’t It a Mighty Day? – traditional Christmas songs done in a gospel style along with other gospel music, all strung together by narration that tells the story of the Nativity. By the time it opened Off-Broadway in 1961 – one of the first Black productions ever to do so – Ailey and Lavallade had left the production over a dispute about the new name, Black Nativity.

Decades later, Black Nativity is still serving its original function of providing something other than the standard, all-white Christmas fare. There is a Black Nativity production going on somewhere in just about every corner of the nation. In Portland, Black Nativity is produced by the longest-running Black theater company in the city, PassinArt.

Almost forty years ago, following much the same impetus as Hughes, Ailey and Lavallade in New York, Connie Carley, Michael Brandt and Clarice Bailey decided to fill a need they saw in the cultural scene of Portland. Together, they created  PassinArt, whose goal is literally to pass the art and culture (and history, knowledge, etc.) of the Black community down from one generation to the next. After a brief period of flux, Carley became the managing director and Jerry Foster became the artistic director. The two have kept PassinArt going ever since. (Last season, their production of August Wilson’s Two Trains Running garnered eight finalist nods in the Drammy Awards, including one for Oustanding Production, and took home the prizes for Ensemble and Set Design.)

The 2018 “Black Nativity” cast. Photo courtesy PassinArt

Like Two Trains, many PassinArt productions deal with issues around social justice that face the Black community. For both Carley and Foster, the purpose behind Black Nativity is the same – but different.

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Craft or art? Who cares? HEATWAVE fiber art is amazing

The show at Newberg's Chehalem Cultural Center demonstrates that fabric art is so much more than "just quilts"

I have an embarrassing confession, but that’s actually a good thing, because it goes straight to the heart of an important artistic question that is raised — or perhaps I should say, is powerfully answered — by an exhibition at the Chehalem Cultural Center in Newberg.

It’s an occasion for a teachable moment.

“Hot Flash!” A collaboration by Sherri Culver and Mary McLaughlin. Commercial cotton and silk fabrics, threads. Raw edge, fused, machine appliqué; machine quilting; hand embroidery; fabric paint and inks (for eyes). 37 x 35.5 inches. Photo by: Hoddick Photography

HEATWAVE is a themed exhibit produced by High Fiber Diet of the Columbia FiberArts Guild, which has been around for nearly half a century in the Portland area. What I must confess is that when I clicked my way to the page for this exhibition on the center’s website and saw that it’s a show of “art quilts,” I felt … well, a little underwhelmed.

“Oh,” I thought. “Quilts.” A bias that I wasn’t really conscious of was triggered, one perhaps based on distant, faded memories of being bored as a child while my mom took forever in a fabric store. I was mildly disappointed that this exhibition in the Parrish Gallery was just quilts — not painting, or sculpture. Not, well, art.

Sheryl LeBlanc’s “Fire in the Log Yard.” Disperse dyed polyesters, silk chiffon, trupunto. 29.5 x 32.5 inches. “Like a storage of ordinance, I have often wondered what a fire in a full log yard would look like on an extremely hot and dry day … perhaps during a severe drought, when the logs have not been recently sprayed with water.” Photo by: David Bates

Then I went and saw it.

I’ve seen it three or four times now, marching in on each occasion to look specifically at that exhibition, to spend a few more minutes with this piece or that. I am repeatedly drawn to the intense crimson, yellow, and green in Diane English’s Remembrance, which uses the imagery of blooming poppies as a “symbol of remembering those who have passed in the heat of wars.” Sheryl LeBlanc’s Fire in the Log Yard is, quite simply, one of the most extraordinary images I’ve seen in any medium recently.

Detail from “Fire in the Log Yard.” Photo by: Jon Christopher Meyers

The work is astonishing and beautiful and, occasionally, mysterious. One afternoon mid-November I had my 9-year-old son with me. Anything but bored, he ran around the Parrish Gallery, exclaiming, “Look at this one, Daddy!” Then, darting around a corner, “Look at this one!”

Back at home, I dived into a study of the Arts and Crafts movement and, specifically, an inquiry into what I quickly came to regard as an artificial and mostly semantic divide between art and craft, this idea that the two are somehow separate, that “craft” does not rise to the level of “art”. When I suggested to an ArtsWatch editor that he dispatch someone with a deeper background in visual arts to cover the show, which runs through Jan. 5, he kindly advised, basically, I do my job.

“I think there’s some explaining to be done about how people approach it, how it fits into the world of ‘fine’ art, which so often treats it like a stepchild,” he said. He pointed to the historically sexist and even classist attitude about this — one that I, perhaps, had at some level internalized, one that was surely at the root of my “Oh … quilts?” moment. Fabric and other non-painting and sculptural forms are too often seen, somewhat dismissively, he added, as “women’s art” or “folk art.” Or a “craft.”

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From ‘Hands Up’ to ‘Cop Out’

Red Door follows its show about racial profiling and police violence against African Americans with a deep delve into the cops' own lives

Two years ago the August Wilson Red Door Project started its run of Hands Up, and it made the rest of Portland theater seem damn near frivolous. It was bare-bones theater, as fundamental as it gets. Set, pictures of victims of police shootings strung along the back wall – and maybe a chair. Lights up, lights down. Costumes, everyday clothes. Sound, at a minimum. An actor walks to the middle of the stage and tells the truth. That was it. No flash, no dazzle, no spectacle. Not even illusion. Hands Up was as direct and resonant an experience as an audience was likely to encounter. In a starkly secular society, Hands Up’s frank illumination of a national conversation felt like church for people who don’t go to church and the news for people who don’t watch the news. Real life was put on stage and there wasn’t a metaphor or a symbol in sight. These were burning headlines given living, breathing life.

A collection of seven monologues by seven different playwrights performed by seven different actors, Hands Up explored the fears and anxieties of the Black community around racial profiling and police violence against African-Americans. In the two years since, Hands Up has been seen by more than six thousand Oregonians and had some 60 performances in various sites around the state. But the numbers don’t tell the entire Hands Up story. More than a play, it was an event, a town hall meeting, a public testimonial, and an opportunity to bear witness.

Kevin Jones. Photo: Owen Carey

This weekend the Red Door Project follows up the eminently powerful Hands Up with an original piece of its own devising, Cop Out: Beyond Black, White & BlueCop Out follows the formula of Hands Up. It’s a collection of monologues built around the stories of real people – in this case, cops. Kevin Jones, artistic director of the Red Door Project and director of Cop Out (Damaris Webb and Phil Johnson are co-directors), insists that the piece is not a rebuttal to Hands Up or a “defense” of cops. What Cop Out is, he says, is an “opportunity for healing”: “We felt that we had polarized on one side, that being the experience of the African-American. We felt that there was an important part of the story that needed to be told. The idea being that many in the public saw the police as a monolithic entity comprised of equal parts power. I thought it was time to recognize that these were human beings. And by telling their stories we could help humanize them.”

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Photo First: Tuba Christmas

Three hundred big brass horns playing Christmas songs in Pioneer Courthouse Square? Brace yourselves: It's a Portland tradition

Text and Photographs by K.B. Dixon

Improbable as it sounds (pun intended), Tuba Christmas is a real thing. An inspired creation, it is a mix of Santa Claus and Surrealism. An annual event in Portland since 1991, it features some 300 or so tubas galumphing their way through the Christmas songbook—Hark the Herald Angels Sing, O Come All Ye Faithful, The First Noel, etc., etc. It is a performance-art piece transfigured by the comedy of its cockamamie premise into an old-fashioned bit of mainstream fun.

This showcase for big winds was originally conceived (in what must have been a psychoanalytically significant fever-dream) by Harvey Phillips, “Titan of the Tuba,” in New York in 1974 as a tribute to William Bell, his teacher and mentor. Initially a sort of public-relations stunt to gain the poor old put-upon tuba (the Rodney Dangerfield of the brass section) a little harmless recognition, it evolved quickly over the years into a national phenomenon. There are Tuba Christmases everywhere now from Kennebunkport, Maine, to Elkhart, Indiana, to Sacramento, California.

Mr. Phillips—the first tubist to be inducted into the American Classical Music Hall of Fame—was dedicated to this sea-creature of an instrument. He formed a foundation (the Harvey Phillips Foundation) to address all things tuba. It is active to this day with scholarships, lectures, clinics, and public performances financed by Tuba Christmas registration fees. If every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings, every time a sousaphone oompahs Silent Night a subsidized tuba player gets a cleaning snake (or a jar of tuning-slide grease).

Mining the preposterous for pleasure, this basso extravaganza has become a treasured local tradition. The Tuba Christmas in Pioneer Courthouse Square this year will be Portland’s 28th. The sound of B-flat thunder rumbling slowly up through 18 feet of intestinal tubing on its way to Frosty the Snowman will put a smile on even the most curmudgeonous face.

Tuba Christmas

  • Pioneer Courthouse Square, 701 S.W. Sixth Ave. Portland
  • December 8, 1:30 to 3:00 p.m.
  • Free

Conference, 2012

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