Electric talk talk talk

Enda Walsh's "The New Electric Ballroom" at Third Rail Rep is a tall tale sailing on a torrent of language

Less than a minute into the opening speech of Enda Walsh’s sort-of comedy The New Electric Ballroom at Third Rail Rep I tucked my pen back into my pocket and gave up on the idea of taking notes: no way could I keep up with this thundering waterfall of words. “By their nature people are talkers,” says the spinster Breda, and talk talk talk they do, phrases tumbling and shooting and skipping and flying until your ears give up and run behind your back to hide. The gift of gab, the Irish call it, though at times you wonder – and I suspect Walsh does, too – if the gift isn’t just as much a curse.

The thing is, everybody talks in Electric Ballroom, but nobody talks with. It’s pretty much all speeches, ingrown toenail sorts of rants, in choreographed turns, and it takes a while to figure out who the choreographer is. At first you think it’s the youngest of the three sisters, Ada (Maureen Porter), who seems to be barking out odd orders like a stage manager under duress. You’re pretty sure it’s not Clara (Diana Kondrat), who speaks in elliptical staccato bursts, and is also the announcer of the obvious: “There’s a lull in the conversation,” she chirps at several pregnant pauses in the verbal onslaught, after some barb or another has landed a little too deep. Eventually the caller of the shots appears to be Breda (Lorraine Bahr), the one with the wicked past, at least in these cloistered and ritually embalmed sisters’ minds. But the truth is, not a one of ’em’s actually participated in life enough to have done anything wicked at all, except in their imaginations, which they use to turn on those torrents of language that become a sort of virtual reality, a made-up life that becomes the only life they really have. Sad’s the word for it, and it’s a word that’s short and not so sweet.

Kondrat (left) with Bahr and Porter: the three sisters. Photo: Owen Carey

Kondrat (left) with Bahr and Porter: the three sisters. Photo: Owen Carey

Walsh is, of course, Irish (Third Rail also produced his play Penelope a few seasons back, which was directed, as Electric Ballroom is, by Philip Cuomo), and this contemporary play takes place in some isolated Irish village, a place with cliffs and docks and a seafood cannery, the kind of place where everybody knows everybody and secrets are both open and long-lasting, sometimes for generations. It’s enough to make any escapee from the boonies to a bigger city shudder at the memory, although if you’ve read any of Tana French’s psychological crime novels set on the narrow-minded streets of Dublin, you might also wonder if the difference is all that big.


‘Blue Door’: truth & consequences

Profile's taut production of Tanya Barfield's drama of a black man in conflict with his soul brings back the ghosts of pain and opportunity

In the dark, the sounds of African drumming and a loud, exultant chant ring out. Lights up, and the dialogue begins. “Divorce!” the actor Victor Mack declares, rolling and spitting the word in bafflement, savage humor, and contempt. What follows in Blue Door, which opened Saturday night at Profile Theatre, is close to two hours of dramatic exploration of what divorce means – not only or even mostly the divorce of Mack’s character, Lewis, from his wife, but of Lewis’s attempted divorce from his own black identity and cultural history.

Seth Rue in "Blue Door." Photo: David Kinder

Seth Rue in “Blue Door.” Photo: David Kinder

Blue Door, the second full production in Profile’s season of plays by Portland native Tanya Barfield, takes a big leap forward by trimming its sails. Its issues are larger and deeper than those in the season’s appealing but sprawling first production, The Call, but the focus is much tighter: Just Mack and fellow actor Seth Rue, who plays a variety of characters in Lewis’s long family story, are onstage.


Post5’s ‘Othello’: less is more

A stark and delicate dance of power gets stripped down to its basics in Post5's "Shakesqueer" telling of the tale

Any relationship involves a delicate dance of power. We negotiate and bargain the trivial to keep the little sparks alive. In love, we try to set aside little irritations for the sake of the oneness. If we’re in for the long haul, most of the everyday is both beautiful and eclipsed by our understanding of whom we care for.

And in this dance, Post5 has stripped bare Shakespeare’s Othello and rearranged the steps.

In director Caitlin Fisher-Draeger’s production the Other is not the Moor, as in the traditional interpretation of Othello. Rather, the have-nots are the Other: the inexplicable Iago, whose passions begin and end in fury; Cassio, who fights for love and liege; and in the end, the motives that lie behind Othello and Desdemona’s desire for each other is the real alienation.

Tell and Tidd: passion and betrayal. Photo: Carrie Anne Huneycutt

Tell and Tidd: passion and betrayal. Photo: Carrie Anne Huneycutt

Post5 has done some Shakesqueering: most of the roles are played by women, the one exception being Rodrigo, acted by Sean Doran, who shifts the weight of his walking leg while the other clumps in a cast. He has no affection for Desdemona, and the implied ulterior motives to help Iago: he is half a man, his impotence in stark contrast to the band of Amazons who make the stage.


Rabbit, run: a miraculous tale

Oregon Children's Theatre's "The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane" follows a marvelous picaresque path

In the beginning a little girl lived in a house on Egypt Street. One day her grandmother gave her a very fine rabbit, almost three feet tall, made mostly of china, with real rabbit fur for its ears. Those of you who’ve read Kate DiCamillo’s novel The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane know what comes next: As fine as Edward Tulane looked (for that was the toy rabbit’s name), he was not a very nice rabbit. He was, in fact, exceedingly vain and careless of other creatures’ feelings, although the little girl showered him with love.

You might say that Edward was selfish and irritating. You might say he was callous, even cruel. You might also ask, why, then, should we care? And that’s where at least a part of the miracle comes in. Because, as things turn out, we do. We care very much.

Luster, Edward in the chair, Newton: a battle of wills. Photo: Owen Carey

Luster, Edward in the chair, Newton: a battle of wills. Photo: Owen Carey

A remarkable emotional alchemy is taking place through April 24 inside Portland’s intimate Dolores Winningstad Theatre, which is hosting a swift and smart and breathless stage version of DiCamillo’s 2006 tale, adapted for a small and nimble cast by Dwayne Hartford. Oregon Children’s Theatre’s new production, under Marcella Crowson’s direction and performed on a spare and clever trap-door set designed by Polly Robbins, is very, very fine: a deft picaresque that somehow gives this story of a rather silly rabbit a good deal of humor and joy and suspense and yearning, and an altogether unexpected (for me, at any rate) emotional depth.


Radio Redux preview: Radio days revived

Eugene theater company performs classic broadcast stories live


Listen with your eyes closed to the soundscape that surrounds you. What do you hear and what do you imagine within the theater of your mind? Are those the footsteps of an approaching mugger? Who is inserting a key in the front door? That sound of crashing plates — an accident or domestic fight?

Radio theater encourages you, the listener, to create your own images of the characters and sounds you hear as they perform radio classics from the past.

Radio Redux. Photo: Gary Ferrington.

Radio Redux. Photo: Gary Ferrington.

When the Eugene repertory theater group Radio Redux brings its production  of It Happened One Night to the Hult Center’s Soreng stage at 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 8, and 2 p.m. Sunday, April 10, it will transport theater goers back to a time when radio broadcasters of the 1930s-’50s performed “live” drama before a studio audience. And instead of watching former Oregonian Clark Gable chase Claudette Colbert in the Academy Award winning 1934 film version of the story, they’ll create the images in their own minds.


From shipwreck to fairy tale

Notes on the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s first four plays of 2016



Theater, from the audience side, often feels like a beautiful dream. You go in, the lights go down, and if all goes well, you’re captivated for somewhere between 90 minutes and at a stretch, four hours. That’s one of the usual experiences at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, where – in completely undreamlike ways – teams of experts at sound, light, video, costumes, timing, action and words nudge up against one another to bring the world in the play to life.

When the season opens with one of Shakespeare’s gender-bending romantic comedies, that creation of magic is, quite practically, a demand, and this season, Twelfth Night mostly hits its magic mark. But theatrical magic isn’t confined to the Shakespeare play in the four shows that opened this year’s festival, three of which take British literary heritage and spin it into a distinct product of the United States. The final show is also invested in heritage and magic, a poetic dream, or perhaps nightmare, by way of Latin America.

Of the four plays that opened in late February, only one seemed fully ready to go opening weekend. That one is also the one that has the shortest run: The River Bride, by poet Marisela Treviño Orta and directed by Laurie Woolery, which ends on July 7. The others needed more time in the rehearsal oven for various reasons. It’s probable that by the time you, dear reader, buy tickets, the plays will have taken a more final form.


Twelfth Night


Let’s begin with Twelfth Night (in the Bowmer Theatre through Oct. 30), as opening weekend did. Twelfth Night is a wild, woolly comedy, meant to entertain Queen Elizabeth and her court at Christmas, though there are exactly zero Christmas references in it. You can argue (fairly) that 1999’s Shakespeare in Love* doesn’t merit its Best Picture win at the Oscars, but one thing that movie did well, perhaps more subtly than I thought at the time, was introducing Twelfth Night.


Eugene Concert Choir, Oregon Contemporary Theatre previews: Alzheimer’s onstage

'Shadow and Light,' 'Blackberry Winter' explore the consequences of Alzheimer’s Disease through music and theater


Most of us will eventually know a family member, friend, acquaintance, or colleague who, as a vibrant individual today, will be slowly transformed by the onset of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Their subtle slide into the shadows is difficult to first recognize and then accept. But as the loss of mental capacity becomes more pronounced, the lives of those affected, the families and friends who care about them are changed forever.

Diane Retallack conducts Eugene Vocal Arts in the world premiere of "Shadow and Light." Photo: Eugene Concert Choir.

Diane Retallack conducts Eugene Vocal Arts in the world premiere of “Shadow and Light.” Photo: Jon Christopher Meyers.

The arts have long provided a way of exploring the emotional consequences of mental illnesses like Alzheimer’s. Themes of anxiety, schizophrenia, melancholy, depression and other disorders have appeared in paintings and sculpture, on stage, or in music.

This month, Eugene Concert Choir’s select chamber ensemble, Eugene Vocal Arts and Oregon Contemporary Theatre offer two new productions about people with Alzheimer’s disease and their caregivers. On Saturday, April 2, an introductory symposium co-hosted by the two arts organizations initiates a month of music and drama.


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