NEWS & NOTES

DramaWatch Weekly: Everyone and your mother

Here come the "Humans"; "Hamilton" tix; "Belfast Girls" hit town; Chris Coleman says goodbye; "Psychic Utopia"; Lauren Modica returns

An extended family meets for a holiday meal in a space too small to comfortably contain them all.

A.L. Adams

The forced intimacy sparks spats, reveals secrets, and heightens the whole group’s awareness of their fragile humanity. It’s Thanksgiving Dinner. And it’s also The Humans, the play that opens at Artists Rep this week. (Preview performances are mostly sold out, but the rest of the run is fair game.)

Speaking of hard-to-get tickets, Hamilton‘s coming to Portland, and ticket sales open on Friday. (Everyone and your mother, sync your watches and watch the calendar.)

“Hamilton” tickets go on sale Friday. Photo: Joan Marcus

Remember a few weeks ago when I suggested you lend Hand2Mouth your houseplants? That was for Psychic Utopia, a well-researched and likely insightful homage to cults and communes created with contributing writer Andrea Stolowitz. It opens Thursday, and should be worth your time, whether or not your ficus is set to make a cameo.

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DramaWatch Weekly: Encore!

What goes around comes around: Portland performances ArtsWatch is happy to see again.

This week, let’s give it up for encore performances, from racially significant statements to heartwarming Christmas traditions. Turns out there are plenty of kinds of performances that make you go, “Hey. Let me see that again.”

The August Wilson Red Door Project’s “Hands Up” returns for two performances.

Here’s a serious one: This weekend, the August Wilson Red Door Project re-presents Hands Up for two nights only at Wieden + Kennedy. This collection of monologues features seven playwrights’ insightful, individual takes on a sadly recurring theme: police violence against Black people. Hands Up plans another (longer/wider) run in 2018, and your support now can help make that happen. Hopefully as the message reverberates, the atrocities that make it so necessary will abate. But even the best theater can only change a few minds at a time, so realistically, this may be the beginning of a long run.

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Sitting in the packed audience at the Fremont Theater last Thursday night for Portland Story Theater’s latest Urban Tellers show was both exhilarating and disheartening. Exhilarating because this was the latest chapter in Urban Tellers’ illuminating series of tales told by immigrants in and around Portland. Disheartening because this was the next-to-last Urban Tellers show ever in this little jewel of a space on Northeast Fremont Avenue in the Sabin/Alameda/Irvington overlap.

The following night’s repeat performance would be the end. Both houses were sold out. That made no difference: The Fremont is shutting down Nov. 12, and for Portland Story Theater, this was the abrupt end of a regular monthly gig. Matthew Singer wrote about the shutdown in Willamette Week, telling an all too familiar tale. “The basic circumstances are that we just ran out of money,” co-owner David Shur told him. Shur also noted that attempts to soundproof the space to appease other tenants of the building proved too costly.

Rodrigo Aguirre, Ruiyuan Gao (center) and Marisol Batioja-Kreuzer in the final Urban Tellers at the Fremont Theater. Photo: Kelly Nissl

The Fremont was used mainly as a music space, becoming one of several halls that helped fill the gap for jazz shows after the legendary Jimmy Mak’s shut down early this year. But it was home to Portland Story Theater and a few other more theatrical presenters, too, including puppeteer Penny Walter’s daytime Penny’s Puppets family shows and the old-time radio theatrics of Tesla City Stories, whose live shows are presented as if in a radio studio, sound effects included. Penny’s Puppets has its final show at the Fremont this Friday, Nov. 10. Tesla bids its adieu to the Fremont with a show the following evening, Nov. 11.

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Train of thought. Stream of consciousness. String of significance.*

This week, I’m free-associating the latest in theater news. Hop on. We’re moving.

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FROGZ is back. (No, I don’t mean “Frogs,” and I don’t mean “are.”)

A.L. Adams

FROGZ, Imago Theatre’s 30ish-year-old world-touring original masterpiece of movement theater rumored to “retire” a couple years ago, will spring back to life this holiday season. A set of wordless vignettes performed in gorgeously realistic animal costumes, FROGZ opens on a trio of frogs trying not to look at each other. Trust me; you’ll love it. (And so do kids.)

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Imago did Medea last season (and ArtsWatch argued over it). The mythic Medea was also the inspiration for Mojada, which opens at The Armory this week. Mojada, an adaptation set in LA, comes to Portland via the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

Josefina (Nancy Rodriguez, left) shares a happy moment with Tita (VIVIS) in “Mojada: A Medea in Los Angeles.” Photo: Jenny Graham/Oregon Shakespeare Festival

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Meanwhile, Pericles Wet, an adaptation of Pericles, is queued for a world premiere by the Portland Shakespeare Project. Pericles Wet will be staged at Artists Rep, as will Profile Theater’s forthcoming set of plays, Water by the Spoonful and The Happiest Song Plays Last. These shows—presented in rep in two senses of the term—open this week. Both are by Profile’s featured 2017 playwright, Quiara Alegría Hudes, and both stories center on Iraq War veterans.

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Expounding on that theme, mid-month Profile will host a reading by local veterans expressing their personal experience, as honed through a Writers Guild workshop. Community Profile: Our City’s Veterans is one-night-only and free.

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Speaking of personal experiences…is also what renowned voice coach Mary McDonald-Lewis, actor/director Pat Janowski, and select other storytellers will be doing at the next Solospeak, titled (no doubt in homage to Elizabeth Warren) Nevertheless, We Persist.

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You know who else persists? ArtsWatch. This week in theater, Maria Choban and Brett Campbell reel over Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ racially overtoned and sardonically misnomered Appropriate. Also, Bob Hicks reviews CoHo’s latest, Year of the Rooster, in which comedy and stagefight standout Sam Dinkowitz plays an actual rooster.

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Remember this one from the actors-as-animals hit parade? Jana Lee Hamblin, John San Nicolas (he’s the shirtless one, paying a chimp), Sarah Lucht, and Joseph Gibson in “Trevor” at Artists Rep. Photo: Owen Carey

Here are some other unforgettable animal performances by Portland actors in recent memory: John San Nicolas as a chimp in Trevor, Nelda Reyes as the titular monster in Feathers and Teeth, The various human stallions of Post5’s Equus and the human horses of A Civil War Christmas…aaand…I’m blanking. Who else? Feel free to shout out your favorite local animal acting in the comments.

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If memory serves, the bird in To Kill a Mockingbird is merely metaphoric, and never appears onstage. Lakewood is mounting the morally potent classic starting this weekend and continuing through mid-December.

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Mockingbirds are renowned for their song. So are the several real-life choirs with whom Third Rail Rep is alternately performing its latest play, David Grieg’s The Events. With a surprisingly harrowing plot for its setting—a choir rehearsal room—this play promises to leave us grappling to “fathom the unfathomable.”

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All right; I must fly, exit, go—and soon, so must Éxodo, Milagro Theatre’s homage to the Day of the Dead. Catch it this weekend or next, or you’ll have to wait until next year, this time.

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*Not a common idiom, but doesn’t it sound like it could be?

DramaWatch Weekly: on ’til November

Im Portland theater it's a week of the Rooster, The Events, seasonal cosplay, and some houseplants for Hand2Mouth

Has it occurred to you that Halloween is the only time of year when regular people moonlight as actors?

A.L. Adams

And all the more so since character cosplay has engulfed general-category costumes. Instead of “a zombie,” or “a pirate,” more and more people seem to dress as “this zombie” or “that pirate” from some show or movie, leaving them oddly depicting a mix of the character they’re being, the actor who famously plays the character, and themselves. And just like that, your Halloween party spread is transformed into craft services on a Hollywood set, with Captain Johnny-Jack Depp-Sparrow, who is actually Kevin from work, scarfing all of your Doritos. How meta.

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DramaWatch Weekly: Rumor has it

Day of the Dead, day of the cabaret, day of the All Jane Comedy Festival (plus another episode of YouTubinator)

Is Milagro Theatre downsizing, moving or closing?

A.L. Adams

Nope, says Producing Creative Director Roy Antonio Arauz, but he can see why people are asking. While their annex space, El Zocalo, has been undergoing accessibility upgrades, their boarded-up front windows have been beset by spraypaint and wayward fliers, making them deceptively appear shut-down.

But don’t fret! Portland’s longest-running Latino theater is gearing up as usual for its annual highlight: a Dia de Muertos play that always wraps a new theme around the sacred and sensorially rich traditions of the fall holiday. It opens next week and continues through mid November. ‘Til then, ignore the unfortunate window dressing.

“Exodo,” Milagro Theatre’s 22nd annual Day of the Dead spectacular, opens Oct. 20. Photo: Russell J Young

Here in the ArtsWatch theater department, further rumors abound: that (according to Bobby Bermea) Shaking the Tree’s Samantha Van Der Merwe is a magician, that (via TJ Acena) Artists Rep’s trying to mess with our minds. According to Deann Welker, Lost in Midair is the real deal, and if you ask Bob Hicks, the Portland Civic Theatre Guild has had a lot going on for a long time. Read all about it.

Oh! And even though I missed season 1, I heard Season 2 of Joel Patrick Durham’s horror serial Nesting: Vacancy might be worth looking into. Who was saying that? Oh, right: its actors. Well, maybe they would know. Here at ArtsWatch, Hailey Bachrach is vouching.

Lakewood Theatre’s Cabaret  closes this weekend, looking clean and cheesy in counterpoint to this summer’s Broadway Portland offering, which felt credibly dark and sleazy. (How much realness do you want from strippers and Nazis? It’s negotiable.) One thing fans of this musical ought to stop not knowing, is that downtown Portland has a real-life Kit Kat Club. Mere blocks from the Keller, its existence recently rendered Broadway Portland’s poetic PR pitch “We welcome you to the Kit Kat Club…” downright confusing to high/low arts amphibians like me. Hedging my bets, I attended both events, finding surprising similarities: Each Kit Kat had a glittery, mischievous emcee; each featured winky burlesque and wobbling flesh. In each, the writer was quickly befriended by a sly businessman with a hidden agenda. But at only one of the parallel Kit Kats did I witness dancers doing carnival strongman feats, including The Bed of Nails and The Crushing of One’s Fingers under a Tin Can—and believe it or not, that was on the small stage. All of which is to say: Cabaret the musical closes this weekend at Lakewood, probably sans can-crushing but with plenty of satiny pizazz. Cabaret the concept continues, probably forever.

Now let’s be naughty and play the little game we love, but PR people so often hate: Let’s YouTube search some more performers! In my experience, comedians are the most cool with that anyway, and luckily, this weekend dozens are coming. I’ll race you to the YouTubinator!

First up, searching Amber Ruffin yields a deep trove of video treasure. As a staff writer on Late Night with Seth Meyers she frequently appears in recurring bits like “Amber Says What,” “Amber’s Minute of Fury,” and “Jokes Seth Can’t Tell.” Here she is recapping the 2016 Olympics in a single word, and here she is flipping her wig in defense of a congresswoman.  And just watch the next twenty or so clips that come up. I did.

Well, shoot. If we do this for all 48 acts from All Jane Comedy Festival, we’ll be at it until it’s over. Just go to these shows. They start tonight.

Laura Sams candidly takes one of 48 slots at the All Jane Comedy Festival Oct. 11-15.

 

 

 

 

DramaWatch Weekly: Puzzles and Cults

From "Caught" to Reverend Billy to storytelling to "Chalk Circle" to readings and "You in Midair," a weekful of openings

Happy glacially gradual onset of fall. Let’s talk theatre … er, theater.

A.L. Adams

Here at ArtsWatch, some new reviews are in.

Bob Hicks is smitten with Every Brilliant Thing and Matthew Andrews seems impressed by Fun Home, putting the Armory 2-for-2.

Artists Rep’s An Octoroon, which closed last weekend, left Maria Choban in metaphorical therapy, and NWCT’s Starlings delighted DeAnn Welker. Onward.

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Artists Rep is prepared to ensnare you with Caught, a “sly philosophical puzzle” presented as a multimedia work with both gallery installation and performance components. I wonder if the growing popularity of “escape rooms” is conversant with this kind of theater. I also wonder how the habituation of video game play informs the escape rooms that may or may not have tripped the wire on a seeming explosion of this type of theater. Discuss.

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Reverend Billy drops in at Boom Arts to revive us again.

Here’s another puzzler: why does “protest” within performance art get so much more respect than protest on the street? Sure, sometimes it’s a quality standard, but many street protest efforts also pass artistic muster. From the businessman-satirizing Yes Men, to these butoh-esque “zombies” in Hamburg, to these stoic Michiganders sitting in grim solidarity with oil-soaked birds, performative protestors who bring fringe-fest-worthy confrontations to the public sphere deserve a little more applause. In this mood, Boom Arts brings performance protest figurehead Reverend Billy to The Old Church this weekend. The Reverend, who’s been dramatically preaching the gospel of “Stop Shopping” for many years—often to hostile audiences during direct action—has earned a weekend preaching to the choir. Additional ways to find religion this week include the opening of a ritualistic-looking Caucasian Chalk Circle at Shaking the Tree, and Siren Theater storytelling showcase Cult Status. (Rumor has it they’ll be serving actual Kool-Aid.)

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Correct me if I’m wrong: a staged reading is to a play what a book is to a movie. While the latter is already chock full of multi-sensory material, the former leaves more space for your own imagination. This month, Portland Playhouse’s Fall Reading Series mixes it up with three contemporary plays at various locations from Sellwood to NW. In the hands of this stah-rong batch of actors, I bet those scripts will sing. Can I say they’re by female playwrights as a “by the way”? And someday can female playwrights be so prevalent that no point need be made?

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And finally, here’s a hard one. With no joy in the pun, I call “trigger warning” on a show about a 1980s celebrity murder presented by the mother of the deceased. In You in Midair, Danna Schaeffer grapples with the 1989 death of her daughter Rebecca Schaeffer, a star of the sitcom My Sister Sam, on her front porch at the hands of a deranged gunman. Seekers of catharsis and context on this particular week may find it here.

 


 

Look for A.L. Adams’ DramaWatch Weekly every Tuesday.