NEWS & NOTES

Innkeeper by vocation, actor by avocation

Coaster Theatre's Sue Neuer talks about what it's like to perform in a community where everybody really does know your name

I met Sue Neuer some years ago at the front desk of a favorite Cannon Beach hotel. She knew me as the writer frequently on the road for work. I knew her as the innkeeper who tried to accommodate my need for peace and quiet so I could work. It was only later, when she invited me to the Coaster Theatre for the evening’s performance, that I learned that while innkeeping might be Neuer’s day job, her passion is the theater.

On Friday, Neuer opens in her 18th role at the Coaster, starring as Myra Bruhl in Deathtrap, a comedy-thriller by Ira Levin that holds the record (four years) for the longest running play of its genre on Broadway. The play is about a down-and-out playwright who sees hope in a student’s script and devises plans to stage it as his own. “There are a lot of twists and turns,” said Neuer, who plays the playwright’s wife. “Several people die.”

Neuer and I sat down to talk about what it’s like to be an actor in a town where odds are most everybody really does know your name. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Cannon Beach actor Sue Neuer opens in “Deathtrap,” her 18th Coaster Theatre role, on Friday. Photo courtesy: Coaster Theatre Playhouse

How do you juggle community theater — auditions, learning lines, rehearsals, performances — and a full-time job?

Neuer: Fortunately, I’ve had employers who are supporters of me doing theater and I do my own schedule, so I do it around my rehearsal schedule. You have to carve out the time, when it comes to memorizing your lines. I am a procrastinator when it comes to doing that. I record all my lines and listen to them while I am in the car.

Are you recognized locally first as an actor or innkeeper?

I’m very actively involved in the community. I’ve lived here a while (11 years), so people know me for all sorts of reasons. I have tourists come up and say, “Oh, I saw you in this or that play.” But not a lot of locals support the theater. There are some regular patrons, but I would say the majority of people are tourists looking for something to do. We have some visitors who are season ticket holders and plan trips to Cannon Beach based on shows. That’s always fun. We have some guests who try to plan their trips to take in a show while they’re here. There are locals who have never stepped foot in the theater. They think it’s a movie theater. I don’t say we don’t get the local support, but it’s weird — you’re either into theater or you’re not. If you’re not familiar with what it is, you have to be introduced by other people.

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Artist Deborah Horrell, 1953-2018

The longtime Portland artist dies after a long battle with cancer. A celebration of her life has been set.

Deborah Horrell, 1953-2018. Photo courtesy Elizabeth Leach Gallery

Word has arrived that the longtime Portland artist Deborah Horrell died on August 24 after a six-year battle with lung cancer. She was 65. Her obituary is here.

“It is with heavy hearts that we inform you that our dear friend and gallery artist, Deborah Horrell, recently passed away after several years battling cancer,” her Portland gallery, Elizabeth Leach, announced. “Deborah was a beloved member of the gallery family and larger arts community, known for her dynamic and meticulously crafted works in glass, wood and ceramics, as well as her masterfully drafted drawings and paintings.

“Many of you may know that during the last 18 years Deborah had several periods fighting cancer. She always brought tenacity, immense strength and dignity to this herculean task. During those challenging years, Deborah deepened her infectious love for life, boundless affection for friends, colleagues and collaborators, expanded her witty sense of humor, and her passion for imaginative and creative fashion. Deborah dedicated her time to her family (husband Kit and dog Kenai), her studio art practice and giving back to her community. She served on the board of PICA: Portland Institute for Contemporary Art, participated in art residencies and major exhibitions around the country and was an ever-present and engaged patron and attendee of art and dance events throughout our community.”

A celebration of her life will be held October 6 at PICA, 15 N.E. Hancock Street. Details are here.

Rothko: a tunnel runs through it

Art notes: Portland Art Museum's new pavilion proposal adds a pedestrian walkway; a Forain and a Gorky on loan at the museum

The journey of the embattled Rothko Pavilion has taken a short cut – straight through the Portland Art Museum’s proposed link between its poorly connected north and south buildings. When the project went public in 2016 the glassing-in of what is now an open plaza drew swift objection from pedestrian and bicycle advocates, as well as from critics of what would be a “super-block” on the museum’s South Park Blocks campus.

The super-block dissent never seemed to make much sense. Portland’s downtown city blocks are famously only 200 feet long – miniatures compared to the blocks in most cities – and both museum buildings, plus the proposed connector, are low-rise structures, which further diminishes the sense of mass. The pavilion’s glass exterior lightens the visual effect even more: the museum would be long but low, with far less sense of bulk than, say, Big Pink, which fits its block’s footprint yet seems massive.

Refined Rothko Pavilion design, with open passageway. Illustration: Vinci Hamp Architects & Hennebery Eddy Architects

The objections of pedestrian advocates are more persuasive, especially since so many older people live in the apartments and condominiums in the museum district. For many of them, having to walk around the museum rather than cutting through the courtyard would represent a true hardship.

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In Newport, 30 and going strong

The visionary Performing Arts Center at Nye Beach helped galvanize the region's growth. On Saturday it celebrates 30 years, and looks ahead

I discovered Newport in 1993, a fluke visit on our way home from Portland to the southern reaches of the state. I stayed in Nye Beach at a hotel that no longer exists, just a few steps from the Performing Arts Center, still fairly new at just five years old. Nye Beach was by then a bit faded, salty, sandy, rough around the edges, but perfect in that way, too. I must have seen the PAC back then, though I can’t say I recall it. But seven years later when we moved here, I recall thinking, worried as I was about the smallness of this town set between ocean and bay, that surely a thriving art scene spoke well for it.

Over the years, I attended plays, my first opera, the symphony, memorial services, fundraisers and the readings by David Odgen Stiers that even on the darkest, dreariest of nights added a touch of magic to the holiday season. Sometimes I went to the PAC not so much for the entertainment at hand, but as an excuse to cast aside the usual jeans and sweaters for a dress. Heels. Red lipstick. I have no doubt it was the PAC that got me through some of the grimmer, grayer, Coast-stormy winters.

Newport Performing Arts Center groundbreaking ceremony, 1987.

So yes, I’ve always appreciated the PAC, though I confess I can see now I’ve taken it for granted. But then I sat down to write about the upcoming 30th anniversary celebration. I talked with Catherine Rickbone, executive director of the Oregon Coast Council for Arts, and her army of volunteers; I talked with the people who were here when the PAC was a fond wish, a shimmering dream, albeit not particularly realistic.

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Antonio Sonera’s Badass Hospitality

As the city's new theater season swings into action, Portland's maverick director speaks out about why it's done, and who should have access

Antonio Sonera is the maverick of the Portland theater scene: a wild card, an enigma, complicated and controversial, undoubtedly gifted, knowledgeable and hard-working. He’s been a vital part of the Portland theater scene for 30-odd years, yet in many ways, he’s on the outside looking in. He hasn’t worked at Artists Rep in years. He’s never directed at Portland Center Stage. He’s never worked at Portland Playhouse or Profile or Defunkt. He’s on the Drammy Committee, yet, in those same three decades of doing good — and oftentimes great — work in this town, he’s yet to win a Drammy himself. If you look back over his career his record holds up against any local director you can name. El Paso Blue, References to Salvador Dali Make Me Hot, El Grito Del Bronx, Boleros for the Disenchanted, Invasion!, Sans Merci, God of Carnage and his most recent piece World Builders all were among the most memorable productions of the seasons in which they appeared. A lot of accolades and awards are sprinkled throughout that small sampling of Sonera’s work — as well as a lot of risks being taken and buttons being pushed. When Sonera works these days, it’s primarily on projects he’s developed or produced.

Recently, I had a chance to sit down and talk with him about that hiatus; about his company, Badass Theatre; and about the state of theater in Portland. Anyone who knows Sonera already knows he had a lot to say. He’s a man of strong opinions and he’s not afraid to speak them. He’s also a thoughtful man, smart, experienced and perhaps most importantly, he gives a damn. You can agree with him or not, but you can’t deny his passion or commitment.

Antonio Sonera, up close and personal. Photo: Tim Krause

When World Builders rolled around this June Portland hadn’t heard from Badass in four years, which was too bad. Because when Badass had spoken, people had listened. Invasion!, Jonas Hassen Khamiri’s perception-shattering tornado of a play, was easily the most talked-about theater piece of its season. Sans Merci, Johnna Adams’ brutal exploration of love and grief, contained a trio of outstanding performances, headed by the amazing Luisa Sermol, ripping her soul to tatters and leaving it there on the stage for everybody to see. (Sermol won an award for her work, not her first by any means, and not her first under Sonera’s direction. She’d taken home another Drammy for her work in Boleros for the Disenchanted at Milagro in 2012.)

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Labor Day: The Art of Work

From Oregon artists and museums, a look at the world of work and the varieties of labor

Today is Labor Day, the day we celebrate the American labor movement and its drive to guarantee living wages and safe, decent working conditions for all workers. It’s been an official federal holiday since 1894, through boom times and hard times, strikes and strike-busting, and massive shifts in technology and public/private economic strategies that have weakened the labor movement that inspired the holiday. A historic transfer of wealth away from the working and middle classes and into the bank accounts of the superrich threatens much of what the labor movement has accomplished in the past century and more. Nevertheless, the movement persists.

Art is skilled labor, and quite naturally, artists often depict work and workers in their art. Here’s a selection of Oregon pieces that celebrate labor in its many forms. The second and sixth images are from the exhibition Strength and Dignity: Images of the Worker from the Permanent Collection, at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art in Salem through October 21.

IN THE FACTORIES, where the labor movement took root: Joseph Stella, Factories at Night, ca. 1936/1943, oil on canvas, 36 x 36 inches, allocated by the U.S. government, commissioned through New Deal art projects, Portland Art Museum.

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Neil Simon, 1927-2018

America's most successful playwright, whose nervous comedies defined an era and helped make a golden age of entertainment, has died at 91

Neil Simon, maybe the most successful playwright in American history, died today at 91, leaving behind a little piece of who we are and how we got this way. Not quite a year ago, in a piece on the Portland Civic Theatre Guild (the old PCT, like the old Mark Allen Players, had often thrived on Simon’s plays), I tried to give Simon and his singular approach to theater and comedy a little context:

“On Tuesday the object of their affections was I Ought To Be in Pictures, the 1979 sentimental comedy by Neil Simon, who is considered something of a ghost of theater past these days but not so many decades ago was the toast of Broadway, and the movies, too, a figure who so dominated the Broadway real estate that younger writers and audiences rebelled against virtually everything about him – his jokiness, his eagerness to please, his devotion to craftsmanship, his middlebrow-ness, his upper-middle-class-ness, his self-congratulatory sentimentality, his sometimes clueless maleness, his unseemly success, his belief that maybe the theater was entertainment and not so much art.

“Well, those battles have been fought, and now, maybe, it’s possible to consider Simon’s plays the way we think of other works from a specific style and period: like Restoration comedies, for instance, in which the artificiality and reliance on coincidence were part of the joke. It’s all artificial, from Shakespeare to Ibsen to Mamet to Shepard to Lynn Nottage to Lisa Kron to Suzan-Lori Parks to Lin-Manuel Miranda and beyond. That’s why they’re called ‘plays,’ not ‘life.’

“Simon was a crown prince in a golden age of American entertainment, especially comedy, when Jewish writers and performers, calling on their recent-immigrant family status and their urban identities and the awful astonishment of having emerged on the other side of the Holocaust, recast the American idea of humor in their own image: Mel Brooks, Mort Sahl, Carl Reiner, Sid Caesar, Lenny Bruce, Woody Allen, Mike Nichols, Elaine May. It was a takeover of sorts of the WASPish mainstream, and it cracked the culture open for further change.”

The full piece, Tuesdays at the Theatre Guild, is here.