THEATER

Today in politics: Singing a revolution

As America scrambles toward the presidential election goal line, Lakewood Theatre harks back to the origins with the high-spirited musical "1776"

They were, in a manner of speaking, the original Tea Partiers. A bunch of stridently anti-tax, small-government extremists, they were hell-bent on disrupting the political status quo, wresting control from the capital and expanding local authority. The prevailing powers likely saw them as kooks, cranks and malcontents.

Yet, under that sainted sobriquet “the Founding Fathers,” they are remembered and revered as some of history’s greatest men — passionate, courageous, resourceful, visionary — and among the most influential political thinkers, writers and activist the world has known.

And if we’re to believe the way they’re being portrayed currently at Lakewood Theatre Company, they could sing a little, too.

Foundational harmonizers, from left: Jeremy Sloan (Robert Livingston), Adam Eliott Davis (Thomas Jefferson), Dennis Corwin (Roger Sherman). Triumph Photography

Foundational harmonizers, from left: Jeremy Sloan (Robert Livingston), Adam Eliott Davis (Thomas Jefferson), Dennis Corwin (Roger Sherman). Triumph Photography

1776, the high-spirited musical by composer/lyricist Sherman Edwards and librettist Peter Stone, dramatizes their finest hour. Well, actually, their finest two months, that crucial period from early May to early July in which the Second Continental Congress, against internal odds and long division (or maybe the reverse), approved a resolution to declare the 13 colonies independent of Great Britain, and so launched a new nation upon the tide of history.

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Arts Sampler: Eugene by train for a car free, arts-stuffed weekend

Eugene offers arts lovers a walkable bazaar of music, theater, dance and more

Story, video and photos by GARY FERRINGTON

As the fall arts season opens, arts-loving Portlanders and other Oregonians seeking a relaxed, car-free weekend exploring dance, music, theater, and the visual arts can look 100 miles up river from Portland. Visitors arriving by train from Portland or points north will find most of Eugene’s cultural activities within walking distance of downtown lodging options — a healthy alternative to driving. If motor transportation is needed, the nationally award-winning LTD bus system and numerous taxi companies provide reliable travel about the city.

Eugene at the headwaters of the Willamette.

Eugene at the headwaters of the Willamette.

Amtrak Cascade train service makes rail passenger travel along the corridor between Eugene and Portland, with connections to Seattle and Vancouver, B.C., a comfortable coach or business class option for sitting back and watching the scenic Willamette valley roll by as sleek modern Spanish designed Talgo trains pass through a rural countryside not easily seen from the ever increasingly congested I-5 freeway.

The coming arts season offers some excellent opportunities for visitors to enjoy an arts-saturated weekend in Eugene. Read on for a guide to venues, dining options, exhibitions, performances, and discover some historical architecture along the way.

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‘Hughie’ review: Mute beauty

Imago Theatre's straight ahead staging of rarely performed one-act play follows Eugene O'Neill's script to a fault

It is one of those hotels, built in the decade 1900-10 on side streets of the Great White Way sector, which began as respectable second class but soon were forced to deteriorate in order to survive. Following the First World War and Prohibition, it had given up all pretense of respectability, and now is anything a paying guest wants it to be, a third class dump, catering to the catch-as-catch-can trade. But still it does not proper. It has not shared in the Great Hollow Boom of the twenties. The Everlasting Opulence of the New Economic Law has overlooked it.

Those are the opening lines of Eugene O’Neill’s late career play Hughie. But you won’t hear them in Imago Theatre’s entertaining new production, running through September 18, or in most any other, because that evocative writing doesn’t appear in any of the scripted dialogue. What audiences who attend any straight production of O’Neill’s script will experience is essentially an extended monologue, delivered here by one of Oregon’s finest actors, Todd Van Voris.

Sean Doran and Todd Van Voris in Imago's 'Hughie.'

Sean Doran and Todd Van Voris in Imago’s ‘Hughie.’

While many will find this rarity well worth seeing just for what’s onstage, I can’t help feeling that this Hughie is a missed opportunity to fully realize one of American theater’s most oddly powerful theatrical inventions.

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Monkey business at Artists Rep

In Nick Jones's tick-tock "Trevor," Jon San Nicolas is the most human chimp in town. Laugh, nervously, at your own discretion.

Two scenes:

– On Saturday evening, before opening night of Nick Jones’s sort-of-comedy Trevor at Artists Repertory Theatre, I’m sitting at Gilda’s Italian Restaurant in the Commodore Hotel building, across the street from the theater. I’m here because a Portland Timbers soccer match is beginning soon just down the street at Civic Stadium (I refuse to use the ballpark’s current corporate nom-de-plume), and in order to find parking for less than twenty bucks my wife and I decide to show up early and spend a good deal more to have a nice dinner beforehand. The place is packed with pre-theater folk (Profile Theatre has a show tonight, too), a mob of soccer fans all dressed in green, and presumably a few people who just happened to make reservations for 6 o’clock on this particular Saturday. The din’s incredible, like the high-pitched thrumming of generators at an electrical power station, and the servers are hustling around at warp speed, taking orders, carrying platters, running filled wine glasses upstairs and down. In the open kitchen you can see the cooks moving in an orchestrated whir like the blades on an electric mixer, chop-chop-chop. What stands out is the professional efficiency of the staff, who move quickly and unobtrusively from table to table, checking on the wine, refilling the bread plate or the water glass, whisking away dirty plates, bringing a new fork if needed. On a hectic evening, only by running as a well-rehearsed team can a restaurant staff create the illusion of ease and calm and keep the whole edifice from falling into chaos.

Hamblin, San Nicolas, Luch, Gibson: couch potatoes and more. Photo: Owen Carey

Hamblin, San Nicolas, Lucht, Gibson: couch potatoes and more. Photo: Owen Carey

– On Sunday morning, as I sit down at my kitchen nook to begin to write this piece, a sonic boom sounds from the dining room behind me, and a blur of black fur, ears bent back like paper-airplane wings, streaks to the back of the house. On the dining room floor is a potted plant, messily unpotted – ceramic shards are scattered like little poison darts around the room. Dirt is blanketing the rug, burrowing beneath it, unaccountably splattered on windows and sills seemingly a safe distance from the scene of the crime.

I mention these two occurrences because (a) the success of Artists Rep’s Trevor is extraordinarily tied to the skills of its running crew, who have an unbelievable mess to set up and then clean up nightly and must run the show with the precision of a madcap farce, although that’s not precisely what Trevor is; and (b) if a five-pound, five-month-old kitten can inflict this much damage in a dining room, how much more havoc can a 150-pound grown chimpanzee create if let out on the loose?

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Under the gun in Ory-gun

In "The Gun Show" at CoHo Theatre, Vin Shambry and E.M. Lewis bring the great American elephant into the living room and tell true tales

What will happen if people confuse The Gun Show with a Gun Show? Director Shawn Lee says he’d be delighted. The day after CoHo Theatre’s opening night this Friday (September 9), The Original Rose City Gun Show will kick off at the Portland Expo Center—and while the proximity of the two events may be a coincidence, it certainly demonstrates the immediacy of the play’s theme.

Drive 20 minutes outside of Portland in almost any direction, and you may see a bumper sticker that re-dubs our state “Ory-gun.”

Vin Shambry tells tales in "The Gun Show." Photo: Shawn Lee

Vin Shambry tells tales in “The Gun Show.” Photo: Shawn Lee

Turn on the news, and you may or may not see sufficient coverage of whatever mass-shooting happened within the last two weeks.

Or perch on a bench in Colonel Summers Park, as actor Vin Shambry did recently while studying his Gun Show script, and you may discover that you’re sharing your bench with a gun enthusiasts’ magazine.

Guns are everywhere. If the left wing is trying to take them all, as some on the right assume, they have their work cut out for them. Playwright E.M. Lewis is relatively quick to clarify that that’s not her objective. Hailing from the rural “Orygun” town Monitor (just east of Woodburn), she’s had an intimate long-term relationship with the gun as an implement of recreation and protection as well as a tool of threat and disaster—and she’s penned a script comprised of five true gun stories from her life that cover as many sides of the issue. For example, her first date with her future husband was spent learning how to shoot on a sunny day beside a pond. She wore a bikini top. He wrapped his arms around her while showing her how to line up the sights. Sparks flew.

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Places of enchantment, page to stage

How I watched my novel "The Enchanted" become a play in Edinburgh, and what the theater has taught me as a writer

By RENE DENFELD

A few weeks ago I was sitting front row at a stage in Edinburgh, Scotland. The lights were dimmed.

I was remembering a day several years before.

It had been a bright spring day, and I remembered walking out of the death row prison where I work, trying to save men from execution. My car keys were in my hand, rustling. I felt the fetid air lift off my skin.

I had passed under the high, stained gothic walls, the guards at the towers with guns resting idly on me. I could hear the prison doors slamming.

And I heard a soft voice, speaking clearly.

“This is an enchanted place,” he said.

I had known right away that this was not an inmate I had met. But he was there, on the dungeon of death row, waiting for me in a cell like the others I knew, and he would tell me a story.

So started the journey into my first novel.

Rene Denfeld in Edinburgh with a puppet from the group Pharmacy's stage adaptation of her novel "The Enchanted."

Rene Denfeld in Edinburgh with a puppet from the group Pharmacy’s stage adaptation of her novel “The Enchanted.”

I went home that night and the poetry began. I wrote and wrote. Over time the narrator became so real I could see him. He would perch next to me in his prison smock, his feet bare, his toenails and fingernails curled into talons from not being allowed scissors or sharp items of any kind. His hair was grey around a caved, toothless face. He looked at me with longing.

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Like Janet, plan it, Bomb-itty’s at it

Post5's contemporary "add-rap-tation" of Shakespeare's "Comedy of Errors" is da bomb

They can’t, they won’t, and they don’t stop dropping beats and heavy rhymes in an “add-rap-tation” of Will’s ill verses in Post5 Theatre’s production of the critically acclaimed Bomb-itty of Errors.

Bomb-itty authors Jordan Allen-Dutton, Jason Catalano, and Erik Weiner are in a tense rap battle over centuries with the Bard, and take on one of his most absurd comedies with a win for all. The Comedy of Errors is made fresh as two sets of twins get rapped up in a case of mistaken identities and have 99 problems as a result, including the female kind.

Anya Pearson and Joel Patrick Durham. Greg Parkinson Photography

Anya Pearson and Joel Patrick Durham. Greg Parkinson Photography

It would take a nation of millions to hold these four actors back, as they come close to equalling that 99 in number of costume and character changes in two hours. In this multi-layered universe, popular ’90s Rap has Dromeos and Antipholuses rocking their Adidas in Syracuse. Unlike the Comedy, where the Bard’s devices become heavily used and the audience tries to dispense its belief and regain a little composure, in Bomb-itty you don’t feel easily amused. While the time is neigh for a renaissance of that cultural era, the clever live-spinning of DJ Enoch’s live back-beats has the characters face off with lyrical grabs and attitudes from Shakespeare, Cypress Hill, Public Enemy, Outkast, the Beastie Boys, Biggie, and Broadway, with all the glory of a pristine white-walled sneaker: “She loves you, yeah. Like the Beatles, the birds and the bees. And do it so you should.” “I don’t know anyone who would be so vain to not accept the offer of such a nice chain.”

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