FEATURED

‘The Events’ review: the unanswered question

Third Rail’s production grapples with the causes of mass shootings

It happened again yesterday. Whenever it happens, and it happens almost literally every day in this country now, it’s always followed by the same question.

Why?

Scottish playwright David Greig began writing his play The Events, running through November 18 At Imago Theatre, in the wake of the horrific July 22, 2011 massacre of 77 children by a right wing white male (sound familiar?) in Utøya, Norway. The story has only become tragically more relevant. Since then, the world has experienced Sandy Hook, Orlando, Charleston, the bloody list goes on through Las Vegas and doubtless more before the year is out, and beyond. And the first question everyone asks is:

Why?

That’s the question Claire, the church choir director and minister who survives a fictional mass killing, keeps pursuing in The Events, too. In fact: that’s pretty much the whole play: Claire repeatedly asking that question, as her life disintegrates around her in the months after the killing spree perpetrated at choir practice by a teenager called only The Boy. ”How can I hate him,” Claire tells her counselor, “if I don’t understand him?

Porter and Gibson in Third Rail’s ‘The Events.’ Photo: Owen Carey.

Greig uses Claire as other plays and movies use journalists or detectives: as a stand in for audience, a character charged with asking questions. And, whether motivated by PTSD, survivor guilt, or her deteriorating relationship with her partner, ask them she does. Over the course of 90 minutes (no intermission) in this production by Portland’s Third Rail Repertory Theatre, Claire (played by Third Rail stalwart Maureen Porter) obsessively seeks her answer from a variety of sources: a psychologist (including one counseling her), a journalist, a politician, an anthropologist, the killer’s father, and finally comes face to face with the instigator of the events himself. They’re all played by the same actor, Joseph Gibson, implicitly showing how the killer’s image occupies her whole life. To all of them, she poses the same question:

Why?

Along the way, Claire flirts with as many solutions: mysticism, religion, vengeance, suicide, sometimes briefly positing alternative timelines that might have eventuated had the various causes identified by all these experts been addressed in time.

Spoiler: neither Claire nor the audience find The Answer to that much-repeated question of why mass killers kill in The Events, which suffers from its sacrifice of character depth for topical breadth. But it does answer an equally important one.

Continues…

‘Diva Practice’ review: self-made magic

Pepper Pepper's solo dance-drag performance takes audiences on a ride through the life cycle of a drag queen

by ANTHONY HUDSON

Being a diva is exacting and it’s lonely. Look at the tragic lives of Maria Callas, Judy Garland, and Edith Piaf. The life of a diva is one of expectation, work, and the pain that comes with it. For a freelance artist, drag queen, and dancer, the same is true – but with an obligation to say yes to any and every opportunity that could mark a big break or financial well-being. To become a diva takes practice – maybe even enough to break your back – and unless you’ve gone viral on social media or hit reality TV gold, you’re going to do all the hard work yourself. Luckily the perks of being a diva include champagne.

Pepper Pepper’s ‘Diva Practice (Solo).’ Photo: Chelsea Petrakis from 2017 Risk/Reward Festival.

Following last year’s Diva Practice duet with Mr. E and a months-long residency tour this spring and summer across the United States, Portland diva-in-the-making Pepper Pepper’s solo dance-drag piece Diva Practice presents the fruit of Pepper’s research into what it takes to summon the heightened feminine, the Diva. Think of it like a drag queen Consumer Reports, only as a dance piece complete with its own fragrance (for real: you can purchase OLO Fragrance’s “Pepper Spray” – it’s like poppers but Pepper! – in the lobby).

Sharing the stage with a suitcase, a webcam, a ring light, and a golden cape that would put Liberace to shame, Pepper summons the Diva and takes us on a ride through the life cycle of a drag queen. Equally dance and drag-based, the show takes on an earworm of a sonic element as well – throughout the piece Pepper only says “yes,” repeatedly, constantly, as many queens who have not yet ascended into RuPaul’s Gender Illusionist Correctional Institute must do to get by.

Continues…

‘Orfeo’ review: a contract for excellence

Stephen Stubbs leads Pacific MusicWorks's masterful authentic concert reading of Monteverdi's pioneering opera based on the Orpheus myth

by BRUCE BROWNE and DARYL BROWNE

Pacts with the Devil rarely work out. The decks are usually stacked in the devil’s favor. Joe Boyd (Damn Yankees) yearns for the return of his youth. Jabez Stone (The Devil and Daniel Webster) just wants some good luck for a change. Keanu Reeves’s character in Devil’s Advocate wants professional success. Those Faustian characters, and the needy protagonist Faust himself, want more than the earthly pleasures currently offer.

Then there is Orfeo, title character of Claudio Monteverdi’s opera performed last weekend by Pacific MusicWorks. In this concert version presented by Portland Baroque Orchestra at Portland’s Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, the performing forces were a composite of early music experts: cornetto, trombones and recorders of Dark Horse Consort, eight soloists/choristers, and the Pacific MusicWorks Orchestra, led by Grammy Award winning Seattle-based music theorbo artist Stephen Stubbs.

Stephen Stubbs led Portland Baroque Orchestra’s performance of Monteverdi’s ‘Orfeo’ at Portland’s Trinity Episcopal Cathedral. Photo:

In Greek mythology, Orpheus (Orfeo in Italian) is a dude to rally round. He embraces only the “good,” uses music to charm the flora and fauna and to even soften the most hardened heart. There is something about Orfeo that makes him more palatable than Faust, more endearing. In this segment of the Orphic saga, he is at one moment ecstatic over his coming wedding to Eurydice, then plunged headlong into despair over her sudden death by serpent. In quintessential Orphic style – heroic, confident – he sets out to find and work his charms on Plutone (Pluto), the God of, you know, down there. He will bring Eurydice back to life. But alas, because of his passion, his pact does not end as well as he had hoped. Yet somehow we applaud his effort.

All of the above enticed the 40-something Claudio Monteverdi to set Orfeo to music. Further inspired by the libretto of Alessandro Striggio the Younger, his colleague at the court of Mantua, Monteverdi wrote emotional, picturesque, complex and riveting music which was, like caramel sauce on a latte, cast and staged – to a degree anyway.

This is an important operatic work. First opera? Fact check: FALSE. No, not even the first Orphic opera. Florentine composer Jacopo Peri preceded it with his own L’Euridice. But it was a ground breaking and landmark work. It was written on his way toward Monteverdi’s professional apex, the position of Maestro di Capella, at San Marco in Venice.

Monteverdi was interested in pursuing the innovative idea of drama being sung on stage. It is important to understand this as a gradual evolution of the genre when we see Orfeo. Those anticipating a fully costumed, staged with scenery and developed musical drama might be underwhelmed by Orfeo. But on Friday evening, there were so many things about which to be overwhelmed.

Continues…

MusicWatch Weekly: sounds of home — and beyond

Music from Ukraine, Russia, Mali, France, Spain, and even Oregon highlight the week in Oregon music

This week’s Oregon music highlights amount to a world tour. Got more recommendations? Please add to the comments section below.

Cascadia Composers presents Bernstein/Steinke & Friends
Two of Oregon’s most venerable composers celebrate their 75th birthdays with a range of chamber music.  Delgani String Quartet plays Steinke’s Songs of the Fire Circles, inspired by Native American poet K’os Naahaabii, and (with Steinke on oboe) music inspired by paintings by Marc Lifschey. Bernstein is represented by his Sunlight and Shadow for flute, clarinet and piano, revised September Soundscape for viola and piano, Musical Mirages for piano, and Threading Light for flute and piano.
Friday. Portland State University, Lincoln Hall Room 75 – 1620 SW Park Ave.

Fandango!
The multinational Chicago-based chamber ensemble, the latest addition to Friends of Chamber Music’s entertaining Not-So-Classical series, arranges danceable classics and commissions new works for their versatile flute-cello-guitar-violin lineup. Two of the members comprise the excellent Cavatina Duo, which plays this game quite delightfully too. This menu of music by Vivaldi, Falla, Rachmaninoff, Boccherini, Balkan and a contemporary trio by American composer Alan Thomas inspired by the richly diverse music of the Sephardic Jews as they migrated throughout the Mediterranean, North Africa, and the Balkans, makes a tasty program for casual classical and world music fans as well as Baroque aficionados.
Friday, The Old Church, Portland.

DakhaBrakha performs at Portland’s Star Theater. Photo: Tetyana Vasylenko.

Habib Koité & DakhaBrakha
Beginning in the mid-1980s, the great Malian singer and guitar virtuoso brought together many of the musically fertile country’s disparate musical traditions, added a dash of Western rock, and his exuberant Afrobeat performances and recordings soon brought awards, world tours, gigs with Bonnie Raitt and Jackson Browne, etc. Lately he’s jettisoned drum kit for the African instruments djembe and calabash, and added a banjo (an instrument that originated in Africa). He sings in four languages, including English, about social issues like war, forced marriage, and female genital mutilation, but also happier subjects like soccer — all with a gentle, pulsating groove.

While DakhaBrakha’s three female singers have collected traditional folk songs from elderly women in villages around their native Ukraine, they venture way beyond ethnomusicology, with other members wielding cello, percussion (including tabla), didgeridoo, and other decidedly untraditional instruments. The Kyiv-based band incorporates dub, hip hop, African music and much more, melding roots music with a contemporary, urban sensibility that includes influences from punk, theater (including traditional costumes), minimalism, and politics.
Friday, Star Theater, Portland.

Hilary Gardner and Ehud Asherie
Gardner’s glowing voice and Asherie’s supple pianism have attracted critical raves over the last decade on New York’s cabaret scene. Their alluring new release The Late Set covers “American Songbook” standards written between around 1920 and 1960. Expect tunes (seldom the most-covered ones) from Rodgers & Hart, Harold Arlen, Irving Berlin, and other stalwarts.
Thursday, Jazz Clubs NW, North Bend; Saturday, The Shedd, Eugene; Sunday, Classic Pianos, Portland.

Burnt Sugar Arkestra plays two shows in Portland.

Burnt Sugar Arkestra
Its name reveals this big band’s spacy Sun Ra influence, but the band also draws inspiration from other 20th century big bands including Duke Ellington, Parliament/Funkadelic and Art Ensemble of Chicago. The band claims it has included “Irish fiddlers, AACM refugees, Afro-punk rejects, unrepentant be-boppers, feminist rappers, jitterbugging doowoppers, loud funk-a-teers and rodeo stars of the digital divide.” This time, they’ll “caramelize” a famous jazz album of the early civil rights era: drummer/bandleader Max Roach’s We Insist! Freedom Now Suite.
Saturday, Jack London Revue, Portland.

Chris Rogerson at Chamber Music Northwest in 2015. Photo: Lisa Wang.

Oregon Symphony 
The orchestra kicks off its new, year-long socially conscious Sounds of Home series, which combines non-musical elements with the music in response to timely social issues, with a concert focusing on immigration. Acclaimed pianist Kirill Gerstein plays a pair of piano concertos, one written by an immigrant, pioneering early 20th century composer Arnold Schoenberg, who fled Europe for America when the Nazis came, and the other, Rhapsody in Blue, by an immigrant’s son, George Gershwin. Gerstein’s jazz jazz background should come in handy in that one. And the orchestra commissioned the impressive young composer Chris Rogerson, who’s impressed Chamber Music Northwest audiences in recent years, to collaborate with award-winning immigrant playwright Dipika Guha on a new work, premiered in this show, that focuses on the immigrant experience.
Saturday-Monday, Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Portland.

Negative Press Project
The Bay Area piano and bass duo (Andrew Lion and Ruthie Dineen) bring their fascinating tribute to late, great singer/songwriter/guitarist Jeff Buckley to Oregon.
You don’t have to be a Buckley fan to enjoy it.
Saturday, Alberta Street Pub, Portland; Sunday, Jazz Station, Eugene, and Monday, Volcanic Theatre Pub, 70 SW Century Drive, Bend.

Vancouver Symphony
There’s a Russian flavor to the VSO show, with Russian-American pianist Alexander Toradze soloing in 20th century Russian master Sergey Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3, and the orchestra also playing Mussorgsky’s Persian Dances and suites from two of Stravinsky’s most enchanting ballet scores, The Fairy’s Kiss and The Firebird.
Saturday & Sunday, Skyview Concert Hall, 1300 NW 139th Street, Vancouver WA.

Continues…

Northwest Art Song, Susan Graham reviews: women in and out of love

The Ensemble and Friends of Chamber Music present two vocal concerts featuring old and new songs about the female experience of love

by JEFF WINSLOW

Of all the ways composers scoop up gulps of whatever universal river of music flows through the human soul and shape them into works, my favorite is probably the art song. At its best, an art song is a miraculous thing, a happy ménage à trois of compelling soundscape, absorbing lyrics – and not least, beautiful singing, something that depends on the composer and all the other musicians in on the game as well as the singer. (This does not in any way exclude the work of people who prefer to think of themselves as songwriters. A hit doesn’t need much art, and art doesn’t need to be a hit, but at wonderful times they do indeed come in the same package.)

In recent years, Portland has attracted a welcome stream of excellent singers, who fill the ranks of, and even direct, organizations devoted to art song as well as choral music. Two singers who recently commanded my delighted attention, soprano Arwen Myers and mezzo Laura Beckel Thoreson, happen to be the artistic directors of Northwest Art Song. They also perform regularly with top local vocal groups such as The Ensemble of Oregon. For the opening concert of The Ensemble’s season, “Nevertheless, She Persisted,” which I caught two weeks ago last Sunday afternoon at downtown Portland’s First Christian Church (repeated from the previous evening in Eugene), they put together an absorbing show exploring many kinds of love, exclusively from a woman’s point of view: all music and lyrics were written and performed entirely by women. Not only that, the music was utterly of our time, mostly written in the last two years, the oldest written at the cusp of the millennium.

Northwest Art Song performed women’s music in Eugene and Portland. Photo: Cory Niedfeldt.

Naturally with any collection of new work, there were misses as well as hits, but they opened with a stunner, Hyacinth Curl by Kati Agócs, who visited Portland last summer when her piano trio Queen of Hearts was performed at Chamber Music Northwest. Agócs put the lyrics together from Sufi devotional poetry (possibly written around 1830) by early 19th century Iranian noblewoman and mystic Bibi Hayati. As with claims that the Song of Solomon expresses religious devotion, you could have fooled me. Myers’s and Thoreson’s sinuous lines wrapped around each other, aptly expressing the lyrics’ barely concealed eroticism, with only an occasional handbell for punctuation. At the most charged moments, the women’s duet trailed off into silence, and after almost unbearable anticipation, the next stroke of the handbell was perfectly placed (that is, pitched) for maximum (aural) pleasure.

There was probably no way Abbie Betinis’s The Clan of the Lichens, on the equally mystical but almost asexual nature-loving texts of Opal Whiteley, could keep up this kind of interest, but the five-song set showed off Myers’s abilities to great advantage, and at their best were engaging and effective. “All Things Live” was one standout, with Myers ripping out fast, digitally precise scales and other vocal fireworks, popping off a couple of high D’s as if they were the easiest thing in the world. Even more attractive was the off-kilter, halting waltz “A Tale for Children and Taller Ones,” which dusted the cleverest lyrics and most colorful piano writing of the set with another dash of delicious musical acrobatics from Myers.

Continues…

‘Appropriate’ review: all in the family

University of Portland production of Branden Jacobs-Jenkins drama shows love and racism through the generations

by MARIA CHOBAN & BRETT CAMPBELL

Appropriate racism: “I was like, ‘How invisible can I make it?’” – Branden Jacobs-Jenkins

Exasperated, Rachel grabs a huge orange photo album, hands it to her young hyperactive son, pushes him to the couch telling him to shut up or else. The huge 2’X2′ orange photo album contains photos of broken necked victims of lynchings. Which Rachel quickly discovers by glancing down at her suddenly quiet kid.

This is not the spoiler.

Two teens descend from upstairs with mason jars of souvenirs: body parts from the lynched victims. All this in an Arkansas plantation house where three siblings and their families combust, cleaning up the estate.

Nor is this the spoiler.

The five-year-old breaks up a full family brawl— by appearing in Klan-wear. The teenage girl tenderly shares her pilfered lynching pics with the cousin she’s crushing on.

Unbelievably, not even all these incidents are the spoiler. The audience is laughing as the horror ratchets. Racism — the gift that keeps on giving. One of us is stifling the guilt and inAppropriateness of our guffaws as Candide meets Whack-A-Mole.

University of Portland staged Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’s Appropriate (2013) October 4 – 8. Enroute to her MFA, director Jessica Wallenfels led her college-student actors through a madcap dark comedy. With wild cartoon exaggerations and furious forward motion, Wallenfels and BJJ gave us a great ride, right up to near the end where the oldest sibling, Toni, suddenly switches gears and delivers an unconvincing paean to her dear, departed daddy.

University of Portland’s ‘Appropriate’ L-R Joe Flory, Kaylie Haas, Sammie VanNorstrand, Pat Johnson, Brandon Chadney, Patrick Holland, Emma Pace, Rebby Foster. Photo: Gary Norman.

Two ArtsWatch writers both enjoyed the show, but for slightly different reasons.

MC: I walked out of the show happily flummoxed, processing the difference between Appropriate (2013) and An Octoroon (2010). This production was wicked fast. BJJ writes furiously and Wallenfels directed her cast to accelerate into and on top of each other.

In contrast, Octoroon’s tedious script (written when BJJ was 26) and Artists Repertory Theatre’s production put me to sleep. This was not due to BJJ’s writing, as “BJJ’s” “therapist” noted on ArtsWatch, but because BJJ relied on copy / pasting too much of a 150-year-old melodrama — The Octoroon (1859) — written by a second rate playwright, Dion Boucicault.

Nevertheless, I loved BJJ’s ability to draw emotion with his own minimal unsentimental lines, particularly in the opening monologue. In fact, it was BJJ’s writing that pushed me to take a chance on a student production to check out how he has evolved as a playwright. Over three years from 2010’s Octoroon (which he wrote when he was 26) to Appropriate (2013), BJJ matured lifetimes.

Continues…

MusicWatch Weekly: scary sounds

Scary times deserve scary music in Oregon this week

There’s a lot to be afraid of these days, and this week’s Halloween and other concerts offer plenty of spooky music to suit the times.

Dracula
Chamber Music Northwest brings America’s leading new music ensemble, the Kronos Quartet, back to Portland for an ideal Halloween spectacle: a live performance of venerable American composer Philip Glass’s 1999 score (with Glass himself playing keyboards) to the classic 1931 film starring Bela Lugosi.
Wednesday, Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, 1037 SW Broadway Ave. Portland.

Joe Kye, ARCO-PDX
The Korea-born, Seattle-raised composer/violinist/singer who moved to Portland from LA last year opened for Amplified Repertory Chamber Orchestra of Portland last February. Now electric classical band returns the favor in this release concert for Migrants, Kye’s second release, which ranges from pop to jazz and even a bit of rapping. Along with Kye’s looping violin and vocals, the show includes Portland’s BRAVO Youth Orchestra and Northwest Dance Project’s Ching Ching Wong, with whom Kye embarks on a world tour. Read Jamuna Chiarini’s story on the collaboration.
Friday,  Alberta Abbey, Portland.

Joe Kye opened for ARCO-PDX last February.

Naomi LaViolette
Portland classical fans know her as the longtime accompanist for Oregon Repertory Singers, but LaViolette is also a composer and  sincere, ‘70s style singer-songwriter who’s performed at PDX Jazz Festival, Doug Fir, and Jimmy Mak’s. She also written for ORS, some of whose singers join musicians from the Oregon Symphony, the Oregon Repertory Singers and Grammy-wining oboist Nancy Rumbel in this CD release concert for her new CD, Written For You.
Saturday, Old Church Concert Hall, 1422 SW 11th Ave, Portland.

Portland Baroque Orchestra
The tragedy of Orpheus, which is still being set by composers (Philip Glass did a recent version), has been part of opera since the very beginning — and this 1607 version by Claudio Monteverdi is among the first operas and the first Baroque masterpieces, though echoes of Renaissance music remain. This historically informed Pacific MusicWorks production led by Grammy-winning Seattle based early music master Stephen Stubbs should bring us as close to Monteverdi’s intentions as possible in a concert reading.
Friday, Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, Portland.

Senju Matsunami
Accompanied by traditional dance and shakuhachi flute, venerable koto master plays classical Japanese tunes, adaptations of Western music, and more.
Saturday, Winningstad Theatre, Portland.

Continues…