THEATER

Tom(boy) Sawyer on the run

Connor Kerns' new heroine adaptation of the Mark Twain adventure is fun. It could've been radical, too.

One of my favorite parts of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is when Tom Sawyer suddenly reappears near the end of the story, and the worlds of Twain’s two most famous novels jarringly collide. Tom, still wrapped up in his adventure fantasies, gets Jim unjustly arrested and himself nearly killed because he wants to plan a daring escape rather than just tell everyone that Jim is, in fact, now free. Tom’s still just a kid; Huck has learned that there is a real world out there, with real danger and real consequences. And that’s the difference between the pair of their eponymous novels, too. Though The Adventures of Tom Sawyer includes murder and danger, the terror of the circumstances is mostly held at arm’s length by Tom’s boyish innocence.

Tom (Taylor Jean Grady) chills with some tunes. Photo: Gary Norman

In the new play Tom(boy) Sawyer from Quintessence: Language & Imagination Theatre, director and playwright Connor Kerns’ Tom(asina) Sawyer is not an innocent. She’s a weed-smoking community college dropout slacking her way through her twenties in Washougal, Washington in 1989. She can’t sing, but she dreams of being in a band. She can’t decide if she’s in love with her best friend Hector Finn, or her friend Jenny Thatcher. She hates The Man, but doesn’t really know why.

Continues…

Five questions for the Falstaffs

Between them, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's K.T. Vogt and G. Valmont Thomas are playing the Big Guy in all three of his shows. Here's what they think.

This year, Falstaff is all over the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. OSF patrons can see all three plays that feature that most well-loved, most roundly hated, most written-about of Shakespeare’s (perhaps) comic creations, Sir John Falstaff. He appears as a mentor, teacher, playmate, and friend to Prince Hal – who will someday be Henry V – in both parts of Henry IV, and this season, he’s played in both by G. Valmont Thomas.

The Henrys are some of the best of Shakespeare’s history plays, but Falstaff has a longer life: A theory exists that Queen Elizabeth liked the character of Falstaff so much that she asked the Bard to write a play, supposedly in 14 days, which featured Falstaff in love. True or not, The Merry Wives of Windsor is a comedy that indeed features Sir John Falstaff trying to woo and win at least a couple of women at once, and hijinks definitely ensue. It’s a comedy, but also for several scenes an excellent farce, and it features Falstaff considering his place in life as he grows older. Thomas played that role in OSF’s 2006 version of Merry Wives, but this year the Falstaff of love is played by the festival’s K.T. Vogt.

Poins ((Michael Gabriel Goodfriend) and Mistress Quickly (Michele Mais) are unconvinced by Sir John Falstaff’s (G. Valmont Thomas’s) account of his bravery during a robbery in “Henry IV, Part 1.” Photo: Jenny Graham, Oregon Shakespeare Festival

With the festival’s summer open-air shows opening this weekend on the Elizabethan Stage (Merry Wives on Friday, June 16; Mary Zimmerman’s adaptation of The Odyssey on Saturday; Disney’s Beauty and the Beast on Sunday) we asked both Falstaffs five questions via email as they rehearsed for the openings of Merry Wives and Henry IV, Part 2. They are due to present themselves for a similar discussion for a special donor/member event on Sunday morning of opening weekend.

Continues…

Theater at the intersection

Two themes at TCG's national conference in Portland – diversity and "maker" creativity – suggest a future for the art form

The Theatre Communications Group annual national conference, which landed in downtown Portland for four days last week, had two stated themes which I initially found, if not exactly contradictory, at least not particularly relevant to one another. One of the main programmatic strands was called “At the Intersections,” a series of structured workshops centered on diversity and allyship. The other was a stated interest in celebrating Portland’s “maker” culture, and exploring ways to apply this concept to theatrical work. Both interesting and worthy and, laid side-by-side, at first seeming sort of random.

But as I actually attended the conference, I found unexpected resonance between the two strands. The question of diversity and the question of how to redefine theater’s cultural role in relation to new movements and technology seemed to me to intersect in a broader question about how the theatre industry can find new ways to define its value.

I mean that in two senses, and they both feel particularly pressing here in Portland. The first is, of course, financial. As Artists Rep artistic director Dámaso Rodriguez pointed out during a live taping of the American Theatre magazine podcast, in most cities, the most well-established companies pay a symbolic fee on an incredibly long lease, while the smaller and less financially stable companies pay exorbitant monthly or weekly rents. This is true in Portland, too, where the brunt of the financial burden of steeply climbing real estate prices is borne by the small companies least able to absorb any additional costs, much less costs growing at the rate of Portland’s rents.

Portland-based “Hands Up: 7 Playwrights, 7 Testaments,” the August Wilson Red Door Project’s touring show of works by African American writers, was featured at the TAG annual conference.

Pair this with theater’s increasing—or at least ongoing—cultural irrelevance. As exciting as Hamilton was, it does not seem to have heralded theater’s return to the mainstream. We know well, and it remains true, that audiences are small, white, and old. How can theaters prove their value to new and current audiences in order to remain alive in both the short and long term? How can they prove their value to a city that seems happy to fill its trendiest areas with condos and storefronts instead of arts venues?

Continues…

Theater notes: TCG and the Tonys

The national theater scene parties down in Portland. Oregonians grab the hardware at the Tonys. The Drammys and PAMTAs are on the way.

The bright-red-lettered lanyards bobbed and weaved and scooted around the lobbies and meeting rooms and stairwells and elevator shafts of the downtown Portland Hilton and Duniway hotels for four days last week, swinging in perpetual motion from hundreds of chests as conventioneers at the Theatre Communications Group‘s annual national conference scurried around the place like cattle on the brink of a stampede. TCG, a sort of think tank and clearing house for the people who run and work in theater companies across the nation (among many other things, it publishes American Theatre magazine, the bible of the nonprofit theater biz), was in town from Wednesday through Saturday, taking in the sights, seeing Portland shows, meeting and greeting and eating and gossiping, and gathering in small and large groups to hash out the issues of the day. Those ranged from matters of equity, diversity, and inclusion – the conference’s major themes – to such crucial behind-the-curtain issues as raising money, adapting to new technologies, producing in small or isolated markets, and how to create or refine a brand.

Regan Linton with Joseph Anthony Foronda in the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s 2015 production of “Secret Love in Peach Blossom Time.” Photo: Jenny Graham

Out of dozens of possibilities on Friday afternoon, I wandered at random into a large room where a breakout session titled “Creative Access: Accommodations for Professional Performers with Disabilities” was going on. It was crowded: a lot of people were interested in the issue. This wasn’t about wheelchair access or seating arrangements for audience members, though those are important matters. It was about, are theater companies creating roles for blind or deaf or limited-mobility actors, and what do those performers need to do their jobs, and what challenges do they face in auditioning, and are there stairs to deal with backstage or bathrooms that aren’t upstairs or downstairs, and if a performer is dyslexic can she get a copy of the script early for auditioning, or if he’s visually impaired can you supply a reader, and is there a dressing room on stage level, and if not, what can you do to create a temporary one? “When I roll into a room,” the veteran actor Regan Linton said, “I’m trying to get across not only that  I’m the best person for the role, but also that I’m a human being who deserves to live.” She laughed to ease the sting, but the point was made.

Continues…

Those were the good old days

Carol Triffle's human comedy "The Reunion" at Imago plays with nostalgia and longing and the surprise of life as it hits us in the face

Walking into Imago Theatre on Saturday night to see Carol Triffle’s new play The Reunion was like walking into a hippie pad circa 1969 (yes, I speak from direct experience) on a particularly groovy day. One psychedelically bubbly wall was sporting more peace symbols than a VW camper at the Oregon Country Fair. Donovan was warbling Season of the Witch over the speaker, reminding me in flashback of how snotty the future Nobel Laureate of the Lowlands had been to a singer I liked. No strings of beads were dangling in the doorways, but the stage was aglitter in crepe and saturated color and overdone cheerfulness, as if Triffle had raided The Lippman Company party-supply store with a hundred bucks and an SUV to load the booty into and haul it all off. In other words: perfect.

Party hearty: Sean Bowie, Danielle Vermette, Jerry Mouawad. Photo: Kevin Young

Over the years Triffle’s developed a brittle absurdist comic style that seems deeply rooted in the traditions of mime and clown and slapstick comedy, and at its best can make you laugh out loud while it’s quietly breaking your heart. The Reunion, which runs about a well-paced hour and packs the concise wallop of a good novella, does both – or at least, it did for me. On the surface a Triffle play can feel like an animated jaunt through the Sunday comics, a cartoon landscape inhabited by characters with the oddball normality of the townsfolk in Robert Altman’s Popeye movie. And so it is in The Reunion, where the oddball and laughable and sometimes more than slightly looney settle slowly, almost imperceptibly, into a deep and moving contemplation of the human condition. It’s the sort of thing that good clowns do, this bonding of the foolish and profound, and it makes them essential to the culture.

Continues…

‘Bardoville’ review: Bukowski in Bardoville

Experimental multimedia paratheatrical ritual sets the poet's words in motion

by MITCH RITTER

My pilgrim’s progress toward the mid-May premiere of Bardoville, an “intermedia performance ritual,” began last March at Portland ‘s Clinton Theater’s emotionally transformative screening of the enigmatic Northwest-filmed work The Book of Jane, an engaging contemporary rendering of the Triple Goddess mythology from Irish lore created by former Berkeley-based performance artists and creative collaborators, paratheater researchers, filmmaker and musical/aural collage artists Antero and Sylvi Alli.

Memorie Eden, Hank Peterson, Randal S. Slager, Wendy Allegaert and Cibyl Kavan in “Bardoville.”

Following a trance-inducing musical performance by Sylvi, Antero explained during the Q & A his own pilgrims’ progress from Scandinavian philosophy and art student to teacher and paratheater practitioner of the experimental director Jerzy Grotowski’s work method and approach. On their company ParaTheatrical ReSearch PDX website, I found the working vision statement of the paratheater classes and experimental project genesis of Bardoville with a note at the end coyly crediting “Text by C. Bukowski.”

Continues…

At last, Thom Pain’s back in town

Will Eno's startling, wryly funny, deeply moving play returns with a memorable performance by Todd Van Voris for the new Crave Theatre

At long last, Thom Pain is back in town.

That is to say, Thom Pain (based on nothing), a marvelous, many-faceted monologue by the playwright Will Eno, is running through June 11 at the Shoe Box Theatre, in a smart, spare production featuring the resurgent Portland acting star Todd Van Voris in a performance that’s wryly funny and deeply moving. This is one of those small, theater-lovers’ passion projects that pop up now and again and make for something truly memorable. And this one has been, in a certain way, a long time coming.

Todd Van Voris in “Thom Pain (based on nothing).” Photo: Russell J Young

Thom Pain, a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2005, first showed up in Portland a few years later. Devon Allen of the Portland State University faculty directed her former student, Matt DiBiasio, in the role at a small campus theater. But because of the location, perhaps, and that the production took place amid the busy weeks of the Fertile Ground festival, the show largely was overlooked. I caught it only at the end of the run, but have been forever grateful that Allen talked me into attending. It remains one of the most remarkable performances I’ve seen on a Portland stage  — intense and discomfiting, desperate and controlled, awkward and awe-inspiring. Allen and DiBiasio remounted the show again several months afterward, in November 2008, at a much larger venue, the Kingstad Center in Beaverton, but again, location may have kept it from being as widely seen as it deserved.

Continues…