THEATER

Grownup stories; Mercury rising

Courtney Freed's tribute to Freddie Mercury and Rosalinde Block's "grownup" tales explore the possibilities of the solo show

By ANGELA ALLEN

Something poignant resonated from the one-woman musicals Don’t Stop Me Now and Drama of the Gifted Grownup that appeared recently in Portland.

The shows’ stars—Courtney Freed in Don’t Stop Me Now and Rosalinde Block of Drama of the Gifted Grownup — never took breaks during their breathless 90-minutes cabaret performances. They were so immersed and invested in material that they had created, and in Block’s case, lived through, that they risked others not finding these close-to-their-hearts shows as interesting as they did. And though touching, their pieces were far from Broadway productions (as were the $20 ticket prices).

But these two performers, if not megastars like Barbra Streisand or Carole King, were talented and utterly sincere, and they exuberantly conveyed those values to their small audiences.

Courtney Freed, cutting loose on Freddie Mercury songs.

 

Don’t Stop Me Now

Freed, the Portland creator and center-stage performer of Don’t Stop Me Now: The Freddie Mercury Experience that played April 4-8 at the 95-seat wraparound Coho Theater, loves the late and great Queen performer. Freddie Mercury tops her list of voice role models though she doesn’t quite have his three-plus-octave range. You couldn’t have stopped Freed’s admiration for the rocker during the show any more than you could have stopped the slick, sweet Mercury from aching about love a few decades ago.

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The Quiet Men, ready to explode

Corrib Theatre's tense, potent production of Owen McCafferty's "Quietly" drags the Irish Troubles into the present in a Belfast Pub

The power of Owen McCafferty’s Quietly, Corrib Theatre’s latest production, takes you by surprise.

It starts slowly and, naturally, quietly. In fact, when it begins, it’s just a lone barman, Robert (Murri Lazaroff-Babin), sending texts to his love – or loves? The texts set up that they have moved to Belfast, where this play is set, from Poland. No one seems entirely happy about it.

Enter Jimmy (Ted Rooney), a depressed or angry (is there really a difference?) regular at the bar, clearly comfortable shooting the breeze with Robert, but not talking about anything particularly important. Their conversation mostly centers on a soccer match between Poland and Northern Ireland playing on a TV — and a 1974 soccer match between Poland and West Germany. But Jimmy hates soccer, so this conversation is meaningless. Or is it?

From left: Tim Blough, Murri Lazaroff-Babin, Ted Rooney. Photo: Adam Liberman

Jimmy mentions that someone might stop by to talk to him, and to ignore any yelling. Robert has plenty of worries of his own, what with some local folks not appreciating having a Polish bartender. So he doesn’t want any trouble.

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DramaWatch Weekly: ‘Major’ news

A Shavian comedy at Center Stage, a baby in peril at CoHo, Peter Pan at NW Children's Theatre, shocks at Artists Rep, Triangle's new season

She is the very model of a modern Major Barbara.

Sorry, wrong Brit classic. Let’s try again.

Major Barbara, by the legendary British wit and armchair socialist George Bernard Shaw (not by Gilbert & Sullivan), is a play of ideas – big ones, as was Shaw’s wont – about the State of Society and How It Should or Should Not Be Run. Major Barbara Undershaft toils ceaselessly for the Salvation Army to uplift those in need. Her father, Andrew Undershaft, works just as hard to pile up money – in his case, by manufacturing and selling munitions. When he then plans to give some of that money to charitable causes, things, well, blow up. Can good causes accept gifts from bad sources? Can bad money do good things? The horror!

Charles Leggett as Andrew Undershaft in “Major Barbara” at The Armory. Photo: Jennie Baker

In the nonprofit world, this is an ever-present question, and the answer is usually (though not always) “We’ll take that money; thanks.” Shaw being Shaw, the question is delivered with more than a dash of switchbacks and wit – plus a fiancé or two. After several preview performances, Major Barbara opens Friday night on the Main Stage of Portland Center Stage at The Armory, and continues through May 13. Besides providing an increasingly rare chance to see a full-out professional production of a Shaw play, it’s special because this will be the final opening night at PCS for Chris Coleman, who’s been the company’s artistic director for many years and is leaving to take a similar post in Denver.

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REBECCA GILMAN IS KNOWN is known for writing socially and politically provocative plays such as Spinning into Butter, which puts its spin on political correctness on college campuses, and Luna Gale, her latest to hit town, appears to follow a similar path. It opens Friday (through May 12) at CoHo Theatre, with a cast including Sharonlee McLean, Danielle Weathers, Kelsey Tyler and others under Brandon Woolley’s direction, and digs into issues of child services, parents’ rights, and adoption. Luna Gale is the infant; the parents are teens under court order to undergo meth rehab; the mother’s born-again mother wants to adopt, against her own daughter’s wishes; and the caseworker’s in the middle of it all.

Sharonlee McLean in “Luna Gale” at CoHo. Photo: Gary Norman

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NORTHWEST CHILDREN’S THEATRE is ending its 25th anniversary season up in the air, and that’s probably a good thing. It’s reviving its popular 2012 production of Peter Pan, a fresh take with a new book by Milo Mowery and a new score by Rodolfo Ortega. Ryder Thompson is Peter, Grace Molloy is Wendy, Andrés Alcalá is Captain Hook, and Kevin Michael Moore is Smee. Flying by Foy, of course, will be on hand to keep things airborne. Opens Saturday; through May 20.

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IT’S BEEN 75 YEARS SINCE this musical fable about farmers and ranchers in the American Midlands rocked the Broadway world, and a fresh take on Rodgers & Hammerstein’s classic musical Oklahoma! joins the rep at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland this week. Whatever else artistic director Bill Rauch’s revival does, it’s going to be topical, with same-sex lead couples. Plus, of course, those songs. Oklahoma! will join Othello, Sense and Sensibility, Destiny of Desire, Henry V, and the world premiere of Mary Kathryn Nagle’s Manahatta in the rep, with Romeo and Juliet, The Book of Will, and Love’s Labor’s Lost opening on the outdoor stage in mid-June, and The Way the Mountain Moved (by Idris Goodman; commissioned by the festival and also a world premiere) and Snow in Midsummer opening later in the season.

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NATURAL SHOCKS, Lauren Gunderson’s new one-woman play about gun violence, will have a staged reading at 7:30 p.m. Friday on the Alder Stage at Artists Rep, on the 19th anniversary of the Columbine shootings. It’s free, but you need to reserve a seat, and any donations will go to the organizations March for Our Lives and Everytown for Gun Safety. Lauren Bloom Hanover will perform, and Kisha Jarrett will direct. Gunderson is also the author of Artists Rep’s next full-run show, I and You, opening May 20.

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ANOTHER NEW SEASON: Triangle Productions has joined the recent crowd of companies announcing their 2018-19 seasons. The six-show season opens in September with Holland Taylor’s Ann, about the late and legendary Texas governor Ann Richards. It’ll star Margie Boulé, and that seems like a good pairing of smart, talented and witty women. In November and December it’s Who’s Holiday, starring Daria (Bad Dates, Judy’s Scary Christmas) and written by Matthew Lombardo (Looped!). In February 2019, Helen Raptis stars in I’ll Eat You Last: A Chat with Sue Mengers. No, it’s not about the Donner Party. Mengers was a fabled Hollywood agent with A-list clients. Dirt, no doubt, will be dished. March brings Straight, by Scott Elmegreen and Drew Fornarola, followed in May by Love, Loss, and What I Wore, an evening of monologues and ensemble pieces by the fabulously funny Ephron sisters, Nora and Delia. The season concludes in June 2019 with Matthew Lopez’s The Legend of Georgia McBride, about a guy who gets fired as an Elvis impersonator and then discovers a drag show’s taking his slot.

Sweet Dreams: It’s Patsy Cline time

Sara Catherine Wheatley returns to Broadway Rose for a third go-round as the legendary country star in "Always, Patsy Cline." It's a charm.

You could do far worse in life than to spend an afternoon or evening with Patsy Cline. And for the couple of hours that singer/actor Sara Catherine Wheatley impersonates the great country singer onstage in the musical Always, Patsy Cline at Broadway Rose Theatre, it’s tough to think of anything better, either.

Wheatley, who came from Alabama, lived and worked in Portland from 2007 to 2014, starring in shows as varied as Hairspray, The Drowsy Chaperone, and Cats. She now lives in Nashville, and is back for her third go-round with Patsy at Broadway Rose, repeating her role from runs in 2009 and 2013. It’s like slipping into a pair of boots that grow more comfortable every time you try them on.

Sara Catherine Wheatley in “Always, Patsy Cline.” Photo: Craig Mitchelldyer/2013

Always, Patsy Cline, directed here by Chan Harris, is nominally a play about the night in 1961 when Cline bonded with a fan in Houston, good ol’ gal Louise Seger (played, again, with drawling exuberance by Sharon Maroney), and went home with her after her concert, where they chatted up a storm in the kitchen and living room, talking about kids and men and cooking and the whimsicalities of life. This actually happened, and Patsy and Louise remained friends, writing to each other until Cline died in a plane crash in 1963, at age 30.

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The other history, laughter included

DeLanna Studi's "And So We Walked" and Larissa FastHorse's "The Thanksgiving Play" showcase the indigenous side of the American story

Holidays, especially those steeped in notions of national identity, breed all manner of rituals. For instance, in The Thanksgiving Play by Larissa FastHorse, getting its world premiere at Artists Repertory Theatre, the character Alicia recalls the family tradition that “came from my mom’s people.” They called it Frozen Turkey Bowling, and the ritual entailed buying an extra frozen bird and rolling it down the driveway to knock over wood blocks.

My prized, personal Thanksgiving tradition, adopted over the past decade, is simply to post the same video again to my Facebook page. It’s an unpolished little clip of the brilliant comedy trio the Apple Sisters performing Pilgrim/Indian Song, their pointed pocket history of white settlement in what came to be these United States. In just a few high-stepping stanzas, the Pilgrims move from beseeching (“Come on, chap, tell a pal: How’d you get that harvest?”) to blunt (“Hey there, Injuns. Get off your land!”), and the grandness of the theft is summed up with a brief but stirringly patriotic coda: “And that’s America!”

Viewed with even a smidgen of equitable perspective, the history of European colonization and expansion is shameful. As S.C. Gwynne puts it, merely in passing, in Empire of the Summer Moon, his book about the rise and fall of the Comanches, “(n)o tribe…ever managed to resist for very long the surge of nascent American civilization with its harquebuses and blunderbusses and muskets and eventually its lethal repeating weapons and its endless stocks of eager, land-greedy settlers, its elegant moral double standards and its complete disregard for native interests.”

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DramaWatch Weekly: Pop-up City

It's a week for short runs, from Chekhov to Twilight in L.A. – plus full-run shows on Patsy Cline, the Irish Troubles, and a sex crime coverup

Pop-up restaurants. Pop-up bars. Pop-up nightclubs, galleries, boutiques, publishing houses, concerts. We’re living in a pop-up world, so why not pop-up theater?

The traditional method of producing is to start a theater company, announce a season, and run a half-dozen shows for several weeks at a time. That still dominates, especially in the nonprofit theater world.

But more and more, quick-hit shows are spicing up the scene. You might not see reviews of them very often, because they’re in and out, here and gone. But a growing number of  producers and performers are taking advantage of short-run opportunities, and it takes a little scrambling to keep up.

What is the Fertile Ground Festival but a massive series of pop-ups? What about a company like Boom Arts, which exists to bring in a steady stream of political or experimental shows from around the world for very brief runs? What about the several play-reading series in town? And it’s not just small lean groups popping up and down. The two biggest theater companies in town, Portland Center Stage at The Armory and Artists Repertory Theatre, are playing the short-run, special-event game, too.

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About that turkey of a play …

The premiere of Larissa FastHorse's "The Thanksgiving Play" at Artists Rep skewers liberal guilt and whitewashed history. It's also very funny.

Going into The Thanksgiving Play at Artists Rep I was prepared for a little laughing and a lot of uncomfortable cringing. I’ve come to expect this from modern satires touching on the traumatic legacies of racism in America. They often punch you in the gut when you least expect it. But The Thanksgiving Play, which is receiving its world-premiere production hereproves to be more laughs than cringes. A lot more.

That isn’t to say that playwright Larissa FastHorse isn’t making a smart critique of our country’s inability to grapple with our history. But instead of tackling the entire bloody and complex history of America’s genocide and erasure of its native peoples, she narrows her focus to something simple and unassumingly simple: How do we talk to kids about Thanksgiving?

Building the better Thanksgiving pageant, from left: Chris Harder, Michael O’Connell, Claire Rigsby, Sarah Lucht. Photo: Russell J Young

Set in a classroom, the show opens on drama teacher Logan (Sarah Lucht) and her partner Jaxton (Michael O’Connell). They are the whitest of white upper-class liberals. In the first 10 minutes they:

  • Mention shopping at a farmers market.
  • Talk about yoga a little too much.
  • Constantly try to out-perform each other as the most progressive.

Together, they plan to devise an ethnically sensitive, historically accurate Thanksgiving play for children that also celebrates Native American history month and meets the various objectives set by the school board. To help them in this endeavor they have enlisted local elementary teacher, and obsessive history buff, Caden (Chris Harder) and Alicia (Claire Rigsby), a superficial actress from L.A. hired to provide a Native American perspective.

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