CULTURE

Revenge tragedy, political farce

The Public Theatre kills off a Trump-like Julius Caesar, and the outrage flies. What happens when theater and politics clash.

It’s the murder heard ’round the Web. Stab-stab-stab, and the emperor’s dead. Across vast stretches of Blue America, a metaphorical wish has been fulfilled. And lo, a righteous and avenging fury has swept across the nation from stage right, and the shouting heads have shouted ’til they’re blue in the face, and the mighty money spigot has cranked shut. New York’s Public Theatre has done the unthinkable in its Shakespeare in the Park production of Julius Caesar. It’s dressed up JC to look like Donald Trump, and allowed the assassination to go on (quite explicitly, according to the reviews), and the play to proceed to the perpetrators’ plummet from the heights, felled by the hubris of their own violent act.

The cultural world is unlikely to have a flashier flash point this summer, although considering the political craziness of the moment, all bets are off. A production of a classic play about politics has itself entered the political theater, where the stakes are higher and the action’s vastly more ruthless. It’s at once a tragedy and a farce, on a level that The Public’s director Oskar Eustis might not have anticipated, even though he courted the controversy.

“Murder of Caesar,” Karl Theodor von Piloty, 1865, oil on canvas, Lower Saxony State Museum, Hanover, Germany

Agitators have rushed the stage and disrupted several performances, loudly shouting canned slogans: “Liberal hate kills!” “Goebbels will be proud!” “The blood of Steve Scalise is on your hands!” (This is the same Steve Scalise, shot at baseball practice by a looney who had also been a Bernie Sanders supporter, who has proudly touted his A+ rating from the National Rifle Association.) One such interruption came from an “investigative journalist” and right-wing operator named Laura Loomer, whom up to that point I had had the extreme pleasure of never having heard. “Stop the normalization of political violence against the right!” she shouted, perhaps in defense of the candidate of the right who suggested that his loyal Second Amendment supporters might have a solution to the distressing outrages of his liberal election opponent. Corporate sponsors Bank of America and Delta Air Lines, aghast at the thought that their feel-good marketing support of free theater in the park might make them targets of a backlash that could cost them business, promptly withdrew their backing – and in the process, created a backlash to the backlash that almost certainly will cost them business. Shakespeare festivals across the country (including Oregon’s in Ashland) that had nothing to do with The Public or its Julius Caesar drew vitriolic complaints and even, in some cases, threats of violence from an aroused right-wing faithful. It all made, if nothing else, for “good TV.”

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Morehshin Allahyari at Upfor: Flux, ambiguity, the unknown

Morehshin Allahyari exhibition at Upfor Gallery explores the jinn tradition for help in understanding the present

By LAUREL REED PAVIC

Female figures in the Western mythological tradition tend to end up filling one of two roles: either they are benevolent earth mothers or they are evil seductresses who exist only to trip up male heroes. There doesn’t seem to be much middle ground or even the possibility of duality. Through video and sculpture, Morehshin Allahyari introduces two jinn that defy this dichotomy in She Who Sees the Unknown at Upfor Gallery through June 24. While the jinn, Huma and Ya’Jooj Ma’Jooj, are fearful monsters, they are necessary to survival. Allahyari proposes the rejection of easy notions of “good” or “evil” in favor of flux, ambiguity, and the unknown. Contemporary maladies demand reimagined spirits.

In the pre-Islamic and Islamic traditions, jinn are non-human spirits who have the power to affect both humans and the earth. Jinn can be invoked through talismans—written and figurative supplications. Allahyari has included reproductions of three talismans from historical texts in the gallery: one to summon jinn, another to “treat fever” and a third to “treat hallucination and madness”.

Morehshin Allahyari’s ‘Huma’, 3D printed resin/Courtesy of Upfor Gallery, photograph by Mario Gallucci

Huma is the namesake jinn of the exhibition. Immediately opposite the gallery entrance is a figure of Huma and three abbreviated talismans. All are products of a 3D printer. The three-headed female figure is made of black resin; she looks menacing and dangerous. The talismans are clear resin arched shapes with intertwined symbols and script: an alpaca of sorts, a figure with a magic square body, a head with outstretched arms.

Two video works help to explain Huma: one shows Allahyari’s formulation of the figure, and the other the digital construction that resulted in the physical object in the gallery. The video She Who Sees the Unknown: Huma incorporates images of the figure with a spoken account of Huma’s appearance, raison d’etre, and areas of expertise. Allahyari’s version of Huma is an anti-earth mother. She is responsible for fever and madness, both of humans and of the planet. To the left of the narrative video is a 3d Scanning Screen Capture Performance of the technical process Allahyari used to model and digitally manifest the figure. This is identified as a performance because it is a record of the digital scanning process.

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A bigger, bolder Jewish Museum

The Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education takes over the old craft museum space with a broadened vision and a vibrant Russian art show

In a crowded second-floor gallery at the corner of Northwest Davis Street and Park Avenue, the joint was jumpin’. Television cameras whirred in the new home of the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education, a small jewel of a museum location that had been sitting vacant for many months. Reporters cornered curators and scribbled notes. Early birds wandered up and down the stairs of the 15,000-square-foot space’s two stories. The Russian artist Grisha Bruskin, outfitted in black from his close-cut coil of hair to his sleek sneakers, was talking about his new exhibit, ALEFBET: The Alphabet of Memory, which was spread like a giant quilt across the main-floor gallery below. Preparations for Sunday’s free public grand opening were in full swing, and the mood was jubilant.

Bruce Guenther, curator of inaugural exhibition, and Judy Margles, director of Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education. Photo: Palma Corral

It was Wednesday in the prime Pearl District space, which had been home to the Museum of Contemporary Craft until that museum was abruptly shut down by the board of the Pacific Northwest College of Art more than a year ago, shocking both the city and a tightknit national craft art scene that had considered MoCC a pacesetting institution. After several months of hammering, sawing, painting, and reshaping spaces, it’s been reborn as the new home of the Jewish museum, which has moved from a space half its size and far less strategically located. Judy Margles, the museum’s longtime director, addressed the preview-day crowd. The designers took a bow. Bruce Guenther, the former chief curator of the Portland Art Museum who is curating the museum’s first season of exhibitions, introduced Bruskin, whose ALEFBET he praised as taking “its place with the tapestry masterworks.” And if the bubbly wasn’t flowing (it was a Wednesday morning, after all) the coffee was: Suddenly a space that had housed an important cultural center that had died before its time seemed alive with hope and possibilities again.

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Deep End Theater: funny without trying

Domeka Parker's new improv company teaches performers to enjoy every moment and to act authentically, not just race to the next punchline.

The improv begins before the teacher even gives the go-ahead, and it seems to happen by accident. The students are standing in a circle, taking turns saying their name and when and whether they’ve tried improv before. When one student says “Never,” the teacher exclaims, “Oooh,” wagging her hips in a little happy-dance.

“Oo-oooh!” echoes the group, mimicking the hip-waggle. For the next student, they take it further: “OOOOoooo–ooh!” Eventually, each introduction is followed by a long, enthusiastic chorus of “OOOOOOOOoooo–oooooh!” and a veritable dance party. Hence, introductions take forever, but incorporate a warmup.

A beep from the kitchenette breaks the spell. “The coffee is done!” chirps the teacher. “The coffee is done!” sing her new acolytes.

Deep End ensemble members Malcolm McClinton, Talon Bigelow, and Elena Afanasiev, in “Level Up” class. Photo: Ken Bryan

Spontaneous and loose as this scene may seem, improv instructor Domeka Parker knows exactly what she’s doing. She was born and raised into theater by parents (Scott Parker and Victoria Parker-Pohl) who started some of Portland’s first comedy troupes, Savoir Affair and Waggie and Friends, and she’s has been performing since 1986, teaching since 2008, and touring internationally since 2013. And now, Parker has a theater company of her own, offering beginner and advanced improv training as well as hosting events and shows.

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‘James Beard: America’s First Foodie’ review: Oregon’s own culinary pioneer

PBS documentary airing Sunday chronicles the life of a Portland-born champion of farm-to-table cooking

By ANGELA ALLEN

Portland’s food royalty stepped out in full force May 5 when Northwest Film Center screened James Beard: America’s First Foodie at Portland Art Museum’s Whitsell Auditorium.

James Beard

Several notable Portland chefs, restaurateurs, brewers, food press and enthusiastic cooks appeared in the movie — and in the audience. Post-film, moviegoers among the standing-room-only crowd were invited to nosh on Beard’s famous onion sandwiches (on white bread with homemade mayo) at the convivial reception. Bon vivant Beard (1903-1985) would have been proud of that event; he loved to bring people together, and fresh local food was his way to do it.

Hard to believe this film, which airs tonight, May 21, on PBS’s American Masters and is available for streaming on the PBS website, is the first full documentary about one of Portland’s favorite citizens. Born in Portland in 1903 to an independent mother who ran a boarding house with righteous attention to market-fresh meals, Beard grew into what one newspaper called “America’s grand poobah of food.” Before he dove thoroughly into the food world, he went to Reed College, where, commentators in the film claim, he was kicked out for having an affair with another man. (Update: as ArtsWatch reader Robin Tovey notes below, that claim may not hold up. Decades later in 1976, Reed gave him an honorary degree.) He tried his talents at theater, but eventually food stuck as his calling.

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Who’s afraid of a casting switch?

Portlander Michael Streeter thought he was going to produce "Virginia Woolf." Edward Albee's Trust said no. Why? Because Streeter had cast a black actor.

Producer Michael Streeter had been planning since November 2016 for his production of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, intended to appear at Portland’s Shoebox Theatre in September. There was only one hurdle to clear before officially being granted the rights to perform the play, which he had on hold with theatrical publishers Samuel French: he sent headshots of the cast off to the Albee Estate for approval.

The cast of Woolf consists of four characters: a middle-aged married couple (George and Martha, famously played by Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in the 1966 film), and a younger married couple (Nick and Honey). On May 15, Streeter got a call from the Albee Estate asking for him to elaborate on his choice of actor for the role of Nick. Streeter had cast a black actor, and was happy to explain why.

As he said to me by email, “This was a color conscious choice, not a colorblind choice. I believe casting Nick as black adds depth to the play. The character is an up and comer. He is ambitious and tolerates a lot of abuse in order to get ahead. I see this as emblematic of African Americans in 1962, the time the play was written. The play is filled with invective from Martha and particularly George towards Nick. With each insult that happens in the play, the audience will wonder, ‘Are George and Martha going to go there re. racial slurs?’”


Playwright Edward Albee, in an undated photo. UH Photographs Collection, 1948-2000/Wikimedia Commons

The Albee Estate was not convinced. They insisted that the actor be fired and the role be recast. Streeter refused. So the estate refused to grant the rights to the show. Streeter, shocked, took to Facebook: “I am furious and dumbfounded. The Edward Albee Estate needs to join the 21st Century. I cast a black actor in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? The Albee Estate called and said I need to fire the black actor and replace him with a white one. I refused, of course. They have withdrawn the rights.”

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A Cascadia Composer in Cuba

A Portland composer brings her music to Havana, and returns with a new perspective on music in everyday life

by CHRISTINA RUSNAK

Editor’s note: with Cascadia Composers bringing Cuban contemporary classical music to Portland for a Friday concert performed by FearNoMusic, we’re sharing Cascadia Composer Christina Rusnak’s experience exploring the Havana music scene and recording her music there last year.

Politics may divide us, but music unites us. In 2015, I was invited by Parma Recordings to come down to Cuba with four other American composers to record our pieces in Havana, Cuba. The focus of much of my musical work is at the intersection of place and culture. To experience Cuban culture and music at this historic juncture – it seemed like destiny called! Along with supervising the recording two of my compositions, I was able to explore Havana and gain some insights on Cuban music, art, and life.

Approaching Havana. Photo: Christina Rusnak.

The piece I submitted was a short work to be sung by the women’s choir Vocal Luna. Written for a wedding, Parma asked if I could I write a companion piece for them to sing. “Yes” is a composer’s best friend, so I finished a funeral piece in January and sent them both off to be rehearsed for the Havana recording session in April 2016.

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