‘The Drowning Girls’ review: Resurfacing violence’s victims

Bag & Baggage’s revelatory story of the first celebrity serial killing puts the spotlight on the women, not their murderer

Bag and Baggage Productions sure got the timing right for its production of The Drowning Girls. We arrived at Hillsboro’s Venetian Theatre opening night amid a deluge, only to hear the eerie recorded echoes of dripping water and see beautiful projected aquatic imagery against the back wall behind the stage.

Water, water everywhere; the three actors spend much of their stage time in Victorian bathtubs, their hair and bathing gowns drenched. The magnificently minimal set features a trio of three-story tall figurative shower curtains. In this third Bluebeard story of the season (following Shaking the Tree and the Oregon Symphony’s productions), water has replaced blood as a signifier of wife murder.

Those potent production elements, including the gripping acting and directing, make The Drowning Girls overcome a flawed though frequently fascinating script to produce a wonderfully immersive theatrical experience.

Bag & Baggage's 'The Drowning Girls' runs through October at Hillsboro's Venetian Theatre. Photo: Casey Campbell Photography.

Bag & Baggage’s ‘The Drowning Girls’ runs through October at Hillsboro’s Venetian Theatre. Photo: Casey Campbell Photography.

The timing is apt in another way. This show about the social sexism that contributed to the serial murders of three women opened just hours after a celebrity presidential candidate revealed his serial sexist violation of today’s women.

Of course, Bag & Baggage artistic director Scott Palmer couldn’t have known what was going to happen at the end of the 2016 presidential campaign months ago when B&B chose this play for its fall production. But while the scale of the two violations a century apart differs, the underlying social attitudes that contributed to them remain, as Palmer put it, “sickeningly relevant.” Like The Shining or Silence of the Lambs (though less gruesome than either), it’s that rare Halloween/Day of the Dead show that really makes you think and sympathize instead of just scaring you.


Akropolis Reed Quintet: Strutting and strolling

Chamber Music Northwest stalwarts return for concert and community engagement


Nobody struts like the Akropolis Reed Quintet. The ensemble stands up when they play—unusual for wind players—and there are moments when they walk around the stage. Even when they stay in one place, they shake and shimmy and groove with the music. But mainly I mean that they metaphorically strut. When they play, the music has this brisk, bouncy, breezy, easy strolling quality…something the stuffy old term andante is supposed to signify, but usually doesn’t.

Akropolis, a Project Protégé Artist with Chamber Music Northwest, is a pretty ambulatory group in another way. Their October 8 Portland performance was the second time I’ve seen them this year, and they perform in Portland often enough to call it “a second home.” Sponsored by CMNW and Portland5, it was the ninth and final concert of this tour, and they’ll be on the road again next week. I caught them at Mount Hood Community College out on the far side of Gresham over the summer, playing for a bunch of suburban college kids in a venue that could hardly be more different from the Dolores Winningstad Theatre in bustling downtown Portland’s Center for the Arts. The Michigan-based group, which prides itself on reaching out to new audiences (and especially students), seems to love playing just about everywhere they can.

There’s something special about the tour-tightened, battle-sharpened vigor that a musical group acquires when they hang out together, play frequently, and tour obsessively. The Landrys—Matt on sax, Kari on clarinet—just got married, making this tour their honeymoon; the quintet feels very much like one of the vagabonding family bands of old. Yet they are also savvy entrepreneurs who maintain a busy schedule and an engaging social media presence, and they are about to release their third album.

Akropolis outreach presentation at VIBE East Winds during Chamber Music Northwest's 2016 Summer Festival. Photo: Jonathan Lange.

Akropolis outreach presentation at VIBE East Winds during Chamber Music Northwest’s 2016 Summer Festival. Photo: Jonathan Lange.

And it’s not just concerts. The Akropolis members are highly focused on their educational outreach endeavors, making clinics and workshops as much a part of their touring priorities as their more conventional concerts. They give workshops about the challenges of the music business in addition to their other outreach programs. In fact, this tour’s ninth concert coincided with the tour’s tenth educational event, a clinic Akropolis gave earlier in the day for local homeless youth advocacy groups New Avenues for Youth and p:ear.

This unity of education, performance, community engagement, and professional development is central to Akropolis’ mission. Despite all this “yeoman’s work,” as saxophonist Landry called it, when they took the stage at Winningstad Theatre, he gracefully thanked us for coming to their concert and not one of the myriad other shows happening nearby (some of them in the same building). “We’re glad you found us!” Landry, said with an easy grin.


FilmWatch Weekly: From “Certain Women” to “Computer Chess” and beyond

Movies playing this week can take you to from a back alley in 1980s L.A. to the slopes of a Guatemalan volcano

If you go by Hollywood rules, the only movies coming out this week are The New Tom Cruise Movie, The New Tyler Perry Movie, and The Latest Horror Prequel Based on a Board Game.

But we don’t play that way. We know there are so many cinematic options here in Portland it can make your head spin. (And not in a Classic Demonic Possession Movie kind of way.) What follows, then, is a daily guide to film consumption for the week of October 21-27:

Kristen Stewart in "Certain Women"

Kristen Stewart in “Certain Women”

Friday 10/21: “They Live”: John Carpenter’s sci-fi political allegory was released in 1988, a.k.a. the tail-end of the Reagan Era. It’s about a regular guy (played by the late, great, locally-sourced pro wrestling legend “Rowdy” Roddy Piper) who discovers that alien overlords have been brainwashing humanity with subliminal messages designed to encourage consumerism and submission. Only with a special pair of sunglasses can he see the billboards, and the bad guys, for what they are. This is an almost perfect blend of Carpenter’s patented B-movie genius with a darkly satirical message that’s still relevant—and probably always will be. Also, it features the single best (and longest) back-alley fistfight in film history. (5th Avenue Cinemas, 9:15 pm, also screens Saturday & Sunday)

Saturday 10/22: “Computer Chess”: The year is 1980-something. The setting is a competition among some of the earliest (and nerdiest) programming enthusiasts to see who can create the best computer chess program. The weirdness level is rising fast. Director Andrew Bujalski had been known for his so-called “mumblecore” movies (“Beeswax” screens at the 5th Avenue Cinemas Friday and Sunday), but this 2013 effort takes that bare-bones aesthetic and dips it in mescaline. Shot in black-and-white on primitive video equipment, it follows an eccentric cast of characters through a weekend that eventually spirals into sublime surreality. Bujalski will be in attendance for this showing, held as part of Portland State University’s “Portland State of Mind” festival. (PSU, Lincoln Hall Recital Hall, Room 75, 1620 SW Park Ave., 7 pm)

Sunday 10/23: “Certain Women”: The latest film from Portland-based director Kelly Reichardt (“Wendy & Lucy,” “Meek’s Cutoff”) adapts three short stories by Montana-based author Maile Meloy, each one focusing on a, you guessed it, certain woman. Laura Dern is a lawyer dealing with a chauvinistic, unstable client in the first; Michelle Williams is an affluent, conflicted wife and mother in the second; and Kristen Stewart is a night school teacher in the third, and strongest, segment. The film’s discovery is Lily Gladstone, playing a lonely, shy ranch hand who develops an enigmatic infatuation for Stewart’s character. Their delicate rapport is captivating, and “Certain Women” is another landmark in the career of one of America’s foremost independent filmmakers. (Cinema 21, opens Friday and continues through the week, multiple showtimes)

Monday 10/24: “The Idealist”: Several of the films in the Northwest Film Center’s annual survey of New Scandinavian Cinema are fairly routine examples of standard genres: family drama, romantic comedy, culture-clash sports movie, etc. “The Idealist,” while it doesn’t break any new ground cinematically, is an absorbing political thriller about a crusading journalist on a quest to exposes decades-old lies and secrets. In 1968, an American B-52 crashed near Thule Air Base in Danish-controlled Greenland with four hydrogen bombs on board. Twenty years later, a Danish reporter investigates a rash of illnesses plaguing workers from the base, and the story leads him to Washington, D.C., Texas, and the top ranks of his country’s government. The movie deftly weaves archival footage into its fact-based story for a nice documentary feel. (Whitsell Auditorium, 7 pm)

Tuesday, 10/25: “Here is Harold”: Why not make it a Scandinavian twofer and check out this dark Norwegian comedy about a put-upon furniture store owner whose business collapses after a giant IKEA store opens nearby. With his life in shambles, Harold decides to kidnap the founder of IKEA, Ingvar Kamprad (who does not, unfortunately, play himself). Despite his ineptness, he manages to track down Kamprad, who turns out to be anything but a reluctant abductee. This isn’t the only film in the Scandinavian series to feature comical scenes of attempted suicide, but it’s the one that feels most in tune with the region’s particular brand of fatalism. (Whitsell Auditorium, 6:30 pm)

Wednesday, 10/26: “The Lost Arcade”: Portlanders eager for that retro gaming experience have places like Ground Kontrol and Quarterworld, but nothing can truly recapture the grimy camaraderie of New York City’s classic arcades. At least this affectionate documentary makes it seem that way. Focusing on a place called Chinatown Fair, which was preparing to close in 2011 after thirty years in business, it commemorates a subculture and an urban milieu that simply can’t compete in the era of Xbox and PlayStation. (Hollywood Theatre, 9:30 pm)

Thursday, 10/27: “Ixcanul”: The Internet Movie DataBase lists only sixteen films that were shot in the Mayan language, and two of them were made by Mel Gibson (“Apocalypto”) and Darren Aronofsky (“The Fountain”). This one is set among the indigenous Kaqchikel people of Guatemala, and tells a surprisingly involving story about a 17-year-old girl sentenced to an arranged marriage by her parents. When she finds herself pregnant, and not by her fiancé, prayers to the local volcano may not be enough the resolve the situation. Entrancing cinematography and convincing performances from a non-professional cast make this a promising first feature for director Jayro Bustamante, and a film worth seeking out. (Living Room Theaters, opens Friday, Oct. 21, and continues through the week)

Weekly MusicWatch: Romantic classics

Music by Romantic composers dominates this week's Oregon classical music concerts

The fall flood of fab jazz continues on Oregon stages this week, along with recommended classical music from medieval to modern and more — including an eruption of German romanticism from Mahler, Liszt, Brahms, Schubert and more. Please add your recommendations in the comments section below.

Frode Gjerstad Trio
October 19
Turn! Turn! Turn!, 8 NE Killingsworth, Portland.
This Creative Music Guild show actually features a different incarnation of the Norwegian alto saxophonist’s usual threesome, this time featuring the renowned Chicago cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm, the one-time student of Morton Feldman and Pauline Oliveros with whom Gjerstad has played often in a duo format. He’s also performed with avant jazz musicians like William Parker, Derek Bailey, Evan Parker and many other exploratory improvisers, so this looks like a must-see for fans of out there jazz.

Eugene Symphony
October 20
Silva Concert Hall, Hult Center, Eugene.
Danail Rachev leads the orchestra in Gustav Mahler’s tragic 1904 sixth symphony, which seems to contain a whole galaxy of emotions — he’d actually married and celebrated the arrival of two children just before writing the symphony, mostly on a pastoral vacation — before he brings the big hammer down at the end.

Rudresh Mahanthappa
October 20
The Old Church, 1422 SW 11th Ave., Portland.
Both NPR and Downbeat magazine declared the saxophonist’s album Bird Calls the top jazz album of 2015, at last freeing Mahanthappa from the shadow of his even more famous sometime collaborator and fellow Indian American jazz master Vijay Iyer. As the album title suggests, Mahanthappa draws heavily on Charlie Parker’s legacy, but this is no retro bop tribute, as it also embraces his many other influences, from pop and funk to hip hop and of course Indian traditional music.

PDX Jazz brings Rudresh Mahanthappa to Portland. Photo: JimmyKatz.

PDX Jazz brings Rudresh Mahanthappa to Portland. Photo: JimmyKatz.

Norah Jones
October 20
Keller Auditorium, 222 SW Clay St.(corner of SW 3rd Ave. & Clay), Portland.
The pop/folk singer, who vaulted to fame thanks to jazz record label Blue Note, leans a little closer to jazz on her newly released Day Breaks album.

Liszt Week 2016
October 19-22
University of Oregon School of Music and Dance, Eugene.
A complete traversal of the composer’s monumental piano cycle Years of Pilgrimage (Années de Pèlerinage Troisième Année), performed by UO piano students and live streamed at 7:30 pm each night. Images depicting the works of art that inspired most of these piano pieces will be projected throughout the recital. UO prof Alexandre Dossin concludes the week of Lisztomania with a recital featuring the big b minor sonata on Oct. 22.

Jeffrey Wood
October 21
First Presbyterian Church, 1200 SW Alder, Portland.
In this free concert, the Lake Grove Presbyterian Church organist plays music by J.S. Bach, Dietrich Buxtehude, and contemporary German composer Hans-André Stamm on the magnificent Jaeckel pipe organ.

Medieval Sensorium
October 21
Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, Eugene.
In this free, historically contextualized lunchtime event, faculty members and graduate students in the University of Oregon School of Music and Dance perform medieval music in a multimedia environment with religious painting, sculptures and other devotional objects.

The Ensemble
October 21, St Luke’s ~ San Lucas Episcopal Church, 426 E 4th Plain Blvd, Vancouver, WA, October 22, Central Lutheran Church, 1857 Potter Street, Eugene, October 23, The Old Church, 1422 SW 11th Avenue, Portland.
A quartet of Portland’s finest classical singers joins a pair of pianists  to perform Brahms’s light-hearted Romantic classic, Love Song Waltzes. Written for amateur musicians, these mega-pop hits of their day made Brahms a star and a lot more money than his symphonies, and remained popular ever since. Better still, the vocal quartet will sing contemporary songs written by Cascadia Composers Lisa Marsh, Theresa Koon and ArtsWatch contributor Jeff Winslow.

Extradition Series
October 22
Leaven Community Center, 5431 NE 20th Ave @ Killingsworth, Portland.
The final concert in the inaugural year of this quarterly Creative Music Guild series features “ quiet, spacious compositions that give substantial freedom to the musicians in determining aspects of the final, performed pieces,” says series creator Matt Hannafin. This one features music by Michael Pisaro (in which, Hannafin says, “each performer plays just two stones, and the whole arrangement is accompanied by a parallel arrangement of 45 time-based cells of ambient “pink noises” created by Pisaro, whose durations match those of the different time-based cells being performed by the percussionists), Audra Wolowiec with Jesse Mejía and CHOIR, (see the semaphore entry below), Antoine Beuger, Derek Ecklund’s “Columbia River Sound Map and Tim Westcott’s “A Land of Falling Waters”.

Colin Currie performs with the Oregon Symphony. Photo: Marco Borggreve.

Colin Currie performs with the Oregon Symphony. Photo: Marco Borggreve.

Oregon Symphony
October 22-24
Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Portland.
Read my Willamette Week preview of the orchestra’s performance of contemporary American sounds and a Romantic classic by Richard Strauss, with guest percussionist Colin Currie.


Portland Baroque Orchestra review: Prodigal sounds

Historically informed orchestra reaches forward into the Classical and Romantic eras with abundant skill but sometimes insufficient forces


Who is the greatest classical music prodigy of all time?

If you answered Mozart, you’re not alone. You also probably didn’t attend the Portland Baroque Orchestra’s latest concert.

Because if you had, you might agree with the PBO’s leader, baroque violin superstar Monica Huggett, that the man who in his childhood was called “the second Mozart” was in fact greater than the first. That man? Felix Mendelssohn, born in 1809, 18 years after Mozart’s death.

PBO played Mozart and Mendelssohn. Photo: Jonathan Ley.

PBO played Mozart and Mendelssohn. Photo: Jonathan Ley.

No one — certainly not Ms. Huggett — would argue that Mendelssohn was a greater composer than Mozart. But as a child and teenager, Mendelssohn wrote music far beyond what Mozart composed at the same age. Is there anything in Mozart’s oeuvre to compare with Mendelssohn’s Octet in E-flat major, composed at the age of 16, or the Overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, written when Mendelssohn was 17? If you add the three Mendelssohn pieces played by the PBO, the case strengthens, for the young prodigy wrote them all between the ages of 12 and 14.

In fact Mendelssohn completed 12 string symphonies, in three to five movements, at that age, started a 13th, and for good measure also wrote a nifty violin concerto for string orchestra, running about 20 minutes. The PBO played one of the 12 (the 6th), the one-movement 13th, and the concerto in the first half of their “Mendelssohn & Mozart” program, October 14-16.


Shaking the Tree’s ‘Head. Hands. Feet.’: Not so grim fairy tales

There will be blood in Portland theater’s “Tales of Dismemberment” but not all the body parts add up.

As you enter the theater, actors clad in neutral grey courteously greet you, lead you to a basin, and solemnly help you wash your hands. The splashing water provides the only sound in the hushed, neutral-colored space dominated by pale bluish greys — the better to contrast with the blood that will flow in Shaking the Tree theatre’s annual Halloweenish horror show.

Actually, the gore isn’t portrayed realistically but symbolically; Head. Hands. Feet. is by no means a fright fest. In fact, the first half consists of fairy tales, although anyone’s who’s read non-Victorian-sanitized ancient tales knows how really, ah, grim and gory they can be.

They can also seem pretty backward from a 21st century perspective, often punishing characters — particularly females — who transgress social norms. Accordingly, all three devised stories — and the adaptation of a classic Greek play that occupies the show’s second half — to some degree sanitize their models to make them more progressive/feminist/modern and, well, Portland than the originals.

Shaking the Tree Theatre's Head.Hands.Feet.

Shaking the Tree Theatre’s Head.Hands.Feet.

While that updated sensibility may make the stories seem more suitable to today’s audiences, it sometimes also makes them a shade too comfortable, at the expense of the dark reality they caution us about — not too different, ultimately and ironically, than what the Victorians did to those dark stories. It’s almost like thinking the world is like what we saw at the Democratic convention, and just ignoring that other one — the real horror show of last summer. At times, the apparent attempts to bring out more contemporary perspectives on these ancient tales actually undermine the modern moral stance these adaptations are trying to advance.

Nevertheless, as with any production involving the Portland theater power trio of imaginative director Samantha Van Der Merwe, and irresistible actors Beth Thompson and Matthew Kerrigan, you should see Head. Hands. Feet. — though not to be terrified, but to have your terrors cleansed.


FearNoMusic review: Fond farewell

New music ensemble co-founder Joel Bluestone passes the sticks to his successor in a concert celebrating the percussionist's quarter-century contribution to Oregon music


Joel Bluestone walked onstage to thunderous applause and an immediate standing ovation.

“I haven’t played a note yet!” he demurred with a grin.

The applause at the September 30 show at Portland State university’s Lincoln Recital Hall wasn’t for the notes Bluestone hadn’t played yet, but for all those he had played over the 25 years since he and pianist Jeffrey Payne founded Portland new music ensemble FearNoMusic.

Bluestone (right) with FearNoMusic at the ensemble's final concert last spring at Portland State University.

Bluestone (right) with FearNoMusic at the ensemble’s final concert last spring at Portland State University.

In 1992, new music was “a legitimate entity to be afraid of,” current FNM artistic director Kenji Bunch said in introducing the percussionist. “We wouldn’t be here today if not for Dr. Joel Bluestone,” Bunch continued. “We all owe a huge debt to people like Bluestone, who has shown such generosity, with an open mind and an open heart.”

Although Bluestone will keep his busy schedule as a guest artist, including stints with San Diego experimental ensemble Swarmius and local Cascadia Composers group Crazy Jane, he will be “passing the sticks” to Oregon Symphony percussionist Michael Roberts; Bluestone told ArtsWatch he is retiring as FNM percussionist in order to explore new musical projects.

When Bunch asked him what music he wanted to perform in this, his final concert as a member of the group, Bluestone said, he first thought of all the solo showcase pieces he has played through the years. But, he said, as he thought about FNM’s long history, he reflected on the importance of his relationships in the group: “These are some of my best friends in the world!” He chose his program accordingly, selecting compositions by some of FNM’s composers-in-residence (including Bunch) and featuring personally meaningful collaborations with these musicians who have meant so much to each other. Bluestone’s selections celebrated his colleagues and highlighted his own enduring obsessions with melody, the color of sounds, and the charm of found and constructed instruments.


  • oaw-2016-10-fagan-ikeda
  • enlightningtalksad-final
  • epoch-jamuna-chiarini-push-fold-300x250
  • medium-rectangle-300x250
  • 300X250_artswatch
  • inbal_300x250
  • Artslandia Daily Calendar