THEATER

Good morning. Happy holidays. Here’s something of particular interest to all-ages aficionados and puppet-heads:

A.L. Adams

This year’s Revels show features “life-sized puppets,” and combines the legends of Gryla and the Finnish folkloric fox figure. (Say that five times fast!) Like a modern jerk, I have YouTube-searched both for our general edification. Gryla is a Krampus-like Christmas ghoul who eats naughty children. She’s got 13 merry bearded sons (suspiciously similar to the 7 dwarves) whose names denote their idiosyncracies. “Pot-Licker” and “Window-Peeper” are two of the cohort.

Into the woods with the Christmas Revels.

The Finnish fox figure—or Fire Fox—yes, like the browser—moves so fast that its fur sparks static and forms into the Northern lights. Do you want to see this notorious child-chomper and this sparkling vulpine wonder singing and dancing on stage? I kinda do. Revels. Be there or be eaten.

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Boom Arts: A dance for freedom

"Chang(e)" tells the story of the short life of activist/artist Kathy Change, an "alarm against Armageddon"

By ELIZABETH WHELAN

“A universe full of love and wonderful possibilities would be yours if only you would reach for it. You are sitting in timid conformity… Do a dance for freedom.”—Kathy Change, 1996

Kathy Change: an activist, artist and dreamer who devoted her life to spreading her message of radical change in the name of peace, social equality, and a higher sense of global consciousness. She was born in Ohio with the name Kathy Chang, which she eventually switched to Change for performance. Her life was a culmination of misunderstood yet passionately persistent warnings of the social evils of an increasingly catastrophic world. Her vision was hopeful, but the increasing frustration and helplessness she felt led to her own self-immolation on October 22, 1996, when she doused herself with gasoline and lit a match.

Chang(e)—the third section of a trilogy of dance/theater plays that paid homage to Asian American visionaries with early deaths by NYC-based movement artist and actor Soomi Kim directed by Suzi Takahashi—depicts the life and work of a woman whose character was as vibrant as the technicolor wings she danced in while screaming words of warning against nuclear warfare, environmental degradation, the war on drugs, and every other social problem you could name. Boom Arts, a non-profit presenting organization for contemporary art, seeks out artistically adventurous and unusual work to bring to the Portland community, and this revised version of Kim and Takahashi’s 2014 original hybrid play fit in perfectly with Boom Arts’ programming.

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“Charles Dickens Writes ‘A Christmas Carol’” review: Dickens framed

Bag&Baggage Productions’ holiday comedy shows the writer creating his most famous story -- and getting upstaged by it

Charles Dickens was a rock star. On his reading tours in both England and America, fans crowded the venues to hear him read excerpts from his novels, cheered his speeches about social issues.

Charles Dickens was a clown. Yes, the author of The Pickwick Papers and David Copperfield and the rest was also the most popular English language novelist of the 19th century, but he was also known to his friends as a total cutup who loved assuming comic personae and telling uproarious stories, most of which he made up himself.

Charles Dickens was also, therefore, an actor. He liked playing roles so much that he acted in his friends’ plays and even wrote his novels by acting out the various characters in his studio to capture their voices.

Bag & Baggage Productions’ “Charles Dickens Writes ‘A Christmas Carol’ continues through December 23. Photo: Casey Campbell Photography.

Such an inherently theatrical backstory proved irresistible to Bag & Baggage productions artistic director Scott Palmer, an inveterate historical researcher who in 2010 used Dickens’s life story (drawn from his diary and remembrances by family and contemporaries) to create his original comic take on the Victorian English author’s heartwarming Christmas classic. The revived Charles Dickens Writes “A Christmas Carol” runs through Dec. 23 at The Vault theatre. (The information above comes from the company’s characteristically comprehensive study guide to the play)

Palmer’s adaptation — really an old story within a new play — has the added advantage of doubling the show’s appeal. It presents enough of Dickens’s original 1843 Scrooge story to entertain kids and others who are experiencing the holiday classic for the first time in a long time, or ever, while giving those who know the original by heart get an entirely new story around it. But although the combination makes for a generally entertaining holiday show, that framing narrative resembles one of those massive, Dickens-era Victorian picture frames, so ornate that they sometimes distract from the picture they surround. Even so, the show has so much going for it that it makes an easy holiday recommendation.

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Our grande dame takes a bow

Spotlight on: Luisa Sermol, Part 2 of 2. As she completes "The Humans" and prepares a wedding, a Portland icon gets ready for a big move

In the year 1996, Bill Clinton became the first Democratic president elected to a second term in 40 years. The English Patient won the Oscar for Best Picture. Deep Blue became the first computer to beat a world champion, defeating Gary Kasparov. The Dallas Cowboys won their last Super Bowl. And Luisa Sermol returned from New York to her adopted home, Portland, Oregon.

“We lived in my parents’ basement again — they’re kind of my transitional housing (laughs)– until Rick found some work.” A year or so after she and her then-husband, Rick Waldron, arrived from New York, her daughter, Isabella, was born. In addition to being a new mom, Sermol started looking around and doing outreach work: the Haven Project, pairing underserved teens with professional actors, directors, and writers; Artists Rep’s Actors-to-Go; her continuing work with Portland Actors Conservatory, the training ground for new professional actors. Through this work she started to meet other theater artists in town, such as Lorraine Bahr and Haven founder Gretchen Corbett. Corbett subsequently cast Sermol in her production of The Taming of the Shrew.

Another relationship also facilitated her re-integration into the Portland theater scene, superseding all the others and becoming not just one of Sermol’s most productive artistic partnerships but also among her most enduring friendships: Louanne Moldovan. They had met when Sermol was in town doing Midsummer.

“Oh, I know! Hairdresser!” remembers Moldovan, “That’s how we knew each other. Because I went to the same hairdresser as her, Valerium, unbeknownst to each other. I was in there one day bringing a flyer to one of my shows as I always did, and he said, “Oh my gosh, you have to meet Luisa. She’s an actress and was in New York.”

Sermol concurs. “Louanne pops in and Valerium had wanted me to meet her. She’s handing out all these flyers for The Wild Party and you know Louanne. There’s all this energy.” Moldovan picks up the story: “You know me, I’m like, “Tell me all about yourself! What are you doing! Blah blah blah! And that’s how we first met, was through the hairdresser.”

Luisa Sermol: The grande dame. Photo: Owen Carey

When Sermol returned to Portland, opportunities for an Equity actress in town were not what they are today. But she remembered that Cygnet, a literary theater company, specialized in stage readings, which opened up possibilities. She re-established contact with Moldovan, who ran the company and was all over the idea. “She did the John Sayles piece about the truck drivers that Teddy Roisum was in. That was what we did first. Then we did a holiday show that was a hoot. Lot of funny material and singing and everything.” And the two became fast friends, cemented by going through pregnancy at the same time. “We went through pre-natal yoga together,” says Moldovan. “We went to Ringside and had big steaks together when we were craving protein.” That friendship — and creative partnership — continues to this day. (The day after Sermol’s current show, Artists Rep’s The Humans, closes, Cygnet will do a reading of The Holiday Show, which will feature Sermol, at Tabor Bread.)

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Spotlight on: Luisa Sermol

Part 1 of 2: Birth of an Artist. As the grande dame of Portland theater prepares to move on, Bobby Bermea traces the beginnings of her career

There is a moment toward the beginning of Artist Rep’s The Humans, not too long after the parents have arrived at the children’s New York apartment, before much of the shenanigans, revelations and pandemonium have ensued, when Luisa Sermol comes to a moment of stillness at the top of the stairs. While a scene is happening on the floor below, she just stands there … and even so, it takes an act of will to tear your eyes away from her. Much of The Humans is artfully choreographed chaos — but not this. Sermol comes to a stop and time stops with her. Though you know next to nothing about this Deirdre Blake’s life, on a visceral level you feel everything that has brought this character to this moment. You feel the weight of her life, the joys long past, the choices made, the brokenness, the frustrations, the boundless love. It’s a moment that not all actors have in them. There is nothing to do. You just have to be. And few actors do that better than Luisa Sermol.

Luisa Sermol: The North Star. Photo: Owen Carey

She’s the North Star of the Portland theater community. She’s our grande dame, our standard-bearer. She’s been acting in Portland for twenty years. She graduated from Juilliard. She’s won five Drammys. She’s worked at almost every major house in Portland. She’s tackled everything in this town from Shakespeare to Johnna Adams and she’s done it with power, precision and vulnerability — and she’s made it look effortless (when, of course, it is anything but). Her hallmark is being able to dig down to the depths of her soul and leave it all on the stage. If Theatre Thanos came down in his spaceship, she would lead Portland’s team of Drama Avengers out to fight him. Tony Sonera, for whom Sermol gave two of her award-winning performances, put it this way: “When you have the big role, with big shoes, with big expectations, when it’s too difficult for you to figure out, you bring in Luisa Sermol.”

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‘Pericles Wet’: a tale for tough times

Portland Shakespeare Project's premiere of Ellen Margolis's adaptation of "Pericles" takes a rough-and-tumble journey through a perilous world

By JOHN LONGENBAUGH

Shakespeare’s plays spin in and out of social relevance. At times of war and upheaval, the histories and political dramas like Coriolanus and Julius Caesar call to us, while the ritualistic restoration of order in the comedies is best suited to relatively calm times. So what plays are best suited to an age where the sociopolitical reality, not to put too fine a point on it, is a god-awful mess?

Ellen Margolis

I might nominate Pericles for the honor, and in particular an adaptation entitled Pericles Wet by Portland playwright Ellen Margolis. “I think Pericles  might be starting to have its moment,” she says. And though her adaptation began two years ago as a Proscenium Live! project, in our moment of feckless leaders, sexual malfeasance and the “Me, Too,” movement, it’s hard to disagree.

Like our times, the text of the original Pericles is a mess. It was unpublished in the First Folio and only available in a later Quarto edition, and scholars aren’t even sure if the play is Shakespeare’s at all, though the consensus is that somewhere between half and a third of the play is his, with the most likely collaborator an innkeeper and middling playwright named George Wilkins. What’s more, the text is filled with errors, signs of a sloppy printing, and most likely a text re-created from the failing memories of original actors, not an actual script. To create a stageable Pericles directors often cut and reassemble the Quarto text, drawing liberally from a prose version of the same story published by Wilkins after the play’s success.

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DramaWatch Weekly: an ode to home-sewn sequins

On Portland stages, it's a week of home-packaged holiday shows, plus a little dramatic "Chang(e)"

Well, golly. It’s another week of holiday happenings.

For those who want to get out and mingle, PICA will announce its Precipice Fund Award winner at tomorrow’s Winter Social.

A.L. Adams

For those who prefer to stay home and snuggle, The Royal Shakespeare Company is now offering online subscriptions to watch their plays online.

And somewhere in between, in the many venerable halls and hovels of Portland dramatic arts…

CoHo Theatre launches Co Ho Ho!, a double-header of expert performers winkingly pa-rum-pa-pum pandering to the Christmas crowds. Susannah Mars (who’s thoroughly sugar-plumbed holiday songbooks in past years of her Mars on Life revue series) joins the ever-convivial Isaac Lamb (recently seen evangelizing all that is good in PCS’s Every Brilliant Thing) to deliver Holiday Shorts and Songs. They’ll be in character as Vixen the Reindeer and the Abominable Snowman, but even if the bill just said “Mars and Lamb,” we’d know the show was in capable hands.

Susannah Mars, unpacking the season with Isaac Lamb at CoHo.

Co Ho Ho’s other offering, A Liberace and Liza Christmas, features another pair of characters you can guess from the name. David Saffert’s and Jillian Snow-Harris’s lounge act is no midwinter whim; they’ve been honing these impersonations for years. When his idea was a mere seedling at a past Fertile Ground Festival, Saffert memorably went full “method,” showing up to the event’s press junket in character as Liberace. Go kiss one of Mr. Showmanship’s many rings.

Boom Arts hosts a three-day-only run of Chang(e)a docu-drama honoring radical performance activist Kathy Change, who self-immolated in the mid-’90s to protest a lack of democracy in the U.S. government. Soomi Kim, a former Beavertonian now based in New York, plays Kathy in a solo show she co-devised with director Suki Takahashi. The New York Times says the work creates “…[a] visual and aural environment that’s so alluring you want to bathe in it …” and in the context of Boom Arts’ current season theme of resistance, this sounds like it might prove the peak of a larger dramatic arc.

Boom Arts brings Chang(e). Photo: Benjamin Heller

What is with the persistence of vintage performance forms—vaudeville, burlesque, jug band, soft shoe? Why do these things keep getting done, and what is the nature of that particular nostalgia? After ruminating through a couple of episodes of Call the Midwife, I think I know: these arts are what “DIY” did back when that mode was the only option. Before there was even a TV to turn on (let alone Pandora to open), your portable device for entertainment was just your own personal package of jokes and talents and parlor tricks. Some stranger might actually ask you, whilst waiting for some train, if you knew a jig or a tale or a song to pass the time. In Portland Present, nobody has a better grasp on the can-do stand-and-deliver spirit of old-time talent than variety show madam Miz Kitty, whose Winter Wingding happens this Saturday. Any sequins you see, they probably sewed on themselves.

Following this train of thought, did anyone else wonder, “Is that stripper Christmas opera happening this year?” If so, I have sad news: no. Though indie producer Cult of Orpheus would like to make Viva’s Holiday an every-year thing, it didn’t happen this time around. Viva Las Vegas is (don’t let the name fool you) a Portland cult-arts fixture, both muse and creator of various works beyond the very-small stage. Maybe put this opera on your Christmas list for next year?

Speaking of that list, what am I missing? Are there more shows opening that demand ArtsWatch readers’ attention, or shows mid-run that you feel compelled to recommend? Please do. Or at least tell us a joke, Stranger.