THEATER

‘Romeo and Juliet’ kicks off summer theater in wine country

Penguin Productions brings Shakespeare's tragedy to the outdoor stage, plus more Bard outdoors in Beaverton, and World Beat Festival in Salem

Penguin Productions was the new kid on Yamhill County’s theater scene just a couple of years ago, mounting productions of Macbeth and As You Like It right out of the gate. Last year, they forged ahead with Hamlet and Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband. On Friday, the company opens its third season with more Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet.

Cambria Herrera will direct "Romeo and Juliet" at Penguin Productions.
Cambria Herrera will direct “Romeo and Juliet” at Penguin Productions. Photo by: Piper Tuor Photography

These are professionals, many of whom have been seasoned on Portland stages in recent years, and for season three we have a couple of George Fox University alums who are doing some heavy lifting for one of Shakespeare’s oft-performed tragedies.

Director Cambria Herrera earned a BA in acting and directing from the Newberg-based Christian college. Recent credits include: Peter/Wendy at Bag&Baggage, The Little Mermaids Project at Enso Theatre Ensemble, Proof at Valley Repertory Theatre, and Balkan Women and Twelfth Night at George Fox. Herrera is also a facilitator/co-founder of the AGE Women of Color in PDX Theatre Collective and serves on the leadership committee for PDX Latinx Pride.

Also from George Fox is Olivia Anderson, who spent a year at the university as an adjunct director for University Players, a traveling, student storytelling-ensemble that tours original shows around the region. She will play Juliet across from Brandon Vilanova’s Romeo. Vilanova hails from the Pacific Conservatory Theatre Professional Acting Training Program and has worked at San Diego Repertory Theatre, San Diego Old Globe Theatre, Santa Maria Pacific Conservatory Theatre, and Bag&Baggage. Stephanie Spencer, who played Ophelia in last year’s Hamlet and Mabel in An Ideal Husband, takes on the coveted role of Mercutio.

Continues…

OUTwright: a Booty Candy tale

Fuse's annual festival of queer theater focuses on a comedy about a black man navigating the world of sex. It's laughter with an edge.

For a long time now, Fuse Theatre Ensemble has been one of the most openly political theater companies in town. Queer-forward, inclusivity has been a hallmark and a principle of its work for years. But this season is different. This season, the crowning gem of Fuse’s OUTwright Festival is Robert O’Hara’s Booty Candy, and, for a theater company that prides itself on pushing boundaries and upsetting expectations, this production is yet another new direction.

For eight years Fuse’s OUTwright Festival, which this year continues through June 30 at the Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center, has been one of the most anticipated and adventurous events of the theatrical year. It’s never quite the same from one season to the next. Sometimes it engages several venues, sometimes only one. It started out as only table readings of scripts, but now incorporates readings, full productions, and forums exploring a variety of topics centered on the company’s mission. Whatever the offerings, however many venues, whoever the artists are that are involved, the goal of the OUTwright Festival stays constant. “The mission never really changes,” says Fuse Artistic Director Rusty Tennant. “We’re here to celebrate the queers.”

Gerrin Mitchell, Charles Grant, Shareen Jacobs in OUTwright Festival’s Booty Candy.

Tennant, who wears many hats as a theater artist (director, scenic designer, actor, technical director, teacher are just the ones I know off the top of my head) is forthright about what makes this particular OUTwright Festival different from the ones that have gone before. “The focus of this year’s festival,” he says, “is centering people of color and underrepresented groups within the LGBTQIA-plus umbrella.” When asked why this was the year to focus on people of color in the queer community, Tennant says simply, “Because we hadn’t.”

Continues…

‘Aladdin’: Middle Eastern enough?

In its latest stage and screen riffs on a fantasy tale with Orientalist roots, Disney makes a highly selective push for representation

By MELORY MIRASHRAFI

One month before Disney’s new live-action Aladdin opened in movie theaters nationwide, the Broadway tour of the hit musical came to Portland. While millions of viewers across America are flocking to see both adaptations of the 1992 classic, only one version features any actors of Middle Eastern descent.

This comes as no surprise: There were no Middle Eastern actors in the original, either. To this day, I remember the moment I learned Princess Jasmine was voiced by a white woman. When I was twelve I primarily identified with Belle from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (an introverted reader with an engineer for a father), so I was disappointed to be assigned Jasmine as my character at a Disney-themed birthday party because of my “Arabianness.” Princess Jasmine has since followed me around as the only “Middle Eastern” Disney Princess (Jasmin also happens to be my middle name, which doesn’t help), and although there’s no such place as “Agrabah,” an inevitable connection formed between the two of us, making it particularly shocking when I realized that the voice I had been listening to had never been Middle Eastern at all. While Jasmine’s vocals are done by Filipina singer and actress Lea Salonga, her speaking voice belongs to white American actress Linda Larkin, a difficult truth to swallow as someone who grew up identifying with Jasmine in part because she looked like me.

While the new live-action movie version of Aladdin in theaters attracts praise for its inclusion of Middle Eastern actors in its cast, it’s unsettling that the simultaneous Broadway tour is seemingly void of any such effort. Recent Disney endeavors such as The Princess and the Frog and Moana seem to seek cultural specificity and an acute awareness of race in a push for equity, diversity, and inclusion.  It’s certainly also worth noting that both of the aforementioned examples are animated, circumnavigating certain elements of the casting process, such as embodiment. Why, then, the gap between what is seen on stage and screen when it comes to Aladdin?

*


Andrés Felipe Orozco as the Calip in an onstage revival of Kismet in Neustrelitz, Germany, 2019. Photo: Tom Schweers

AS AN IRANIAN-AMERICAN THEATER-MAKER and cultural consultant, I often ask what keeps a production from accurately representing a certain region, ethnicity, or culture. While Aladdin (2019) takes steps to right the lack of accurate cultural representation, it falls short of erasing Disney’s xenophobic legacy – one that stems from a combination of the tale’s Orientalist origins, as well as a history of misrepresentation of Middle Eastern people in theater and film.

Continues…

“The Breath of Life”: Boomer regrets

In David Hare's play at Portland Center Stage, Gretchen Corbett and Julia Brothers deal with loss and fear

If I were going to guess (and I suppose I am), I’d suggest that the moment Boomers in the audience will react to most immediately, probably with a snort, comes near the start of the first scene after intermission in David Hare’s 2002 play, “The Breath of Life.”

“The enemies of the bourgeois, isn’t that what we called ourselves?,” asks Madeleine, now in her sixties, still working, and still true to her leftish politics. “And how did it turn out?”

These aren’t real questions. Madeleine continues: “The obituary of my generation. We left no loft unconverted. The revolutionary project: to leave the world a little more chic than we found it. Future historians will write: ‘these are the people who took the world one notch up-market.’”

Julia Brothers, left, and Gretchen Corbett in David Hare’s “The Breath of Life” at Portland Center Stage/Photo by Kate Szrom

Right. “We left no loft unconverted.” In Portland we might say, “We invented the Pearl District.” Or: “We planted million dollar condos on North Williams.”

Madeleine and Frances, the only two characters in the play, exchange a few more lines, and then Madeleine again:

“We imagined we were protesting Vietnam. Looking back it seems like some us were protesting their own future. A rare moment of prescience. A short carnival of revolt before the long luxury of self-improvement. Five years of protest. Thirty of acquiescence.”

This is Hare at his best, really. Sharp, acerbic, funny, keen to the dilemmas of his generation (which also happens to be mine), of the failures of politics, religion, the American empire, and then the wreckage of regret they, we, have left behind. Other Hare plays may be more satisfying as a whole—maybe “Plenty,” “Racing Demon” or “Skylight”—but “The Breath of Life” is a nicely concentrated dose of Hare. (He’s also good at thrillers: “Collateral” on Netflix is a fine case in point.)

Although the production of “The Breath of Life” at Portland Center Stage was disrupted right before opening night when Sharonlee McLean, who was set to play Frances, dropped out of the show, it has found sure footing with Julia Brothers, who is now starring alongside Gretchen Corbett’s Madeleine.

Continues…

At its best, theater makes magic happen onstage. Fairy tales do the same on the page. So I had high hopes for a pair of short-run May Portland theater productions that updated magical children’s tales. Unfortunately, while each provided sporadic moments of stage sorcery, neither could overcome decidedly un-enchanting scripts.

Mermaid Meets Music Man

Portland indie theater company Broken Planetarium specializes in cheerfully low budget enchantment. (“We’re trying to get beyond ‘scrappy,’ impresaria Laura Dunn noted in a quick pre-show fundraising appeal.) Its fabulous Atlantis made rough magic from cheekily low-fi design, a compelling story set on a post-climate catastrophe flooded New York City rooftop, and Dunn’s delightful original folk songs.

Laura Christina Dunn in ‘Sirens of Coos Bay.’ Photo: Sophia Diaz.

BP’s latest show, Sirens of Coos Bay, takes H.C. Andersen’s ever-popular The Little Mermaid to the 1990s southern Oregon coast town, where the curious creature from the deep (“I want stories I have never known,” LM sings at the outset) encounters a local rock band whose frontman must fall in love with her if she’s to survive on dry land. 

Scriptwriter Dunn draws on her immigrant mother’s memories of the setting’s time and place to weave in evocative details about the timber wars, spotted owl, economic decline. Torn between the bickering boys in the land band, on one fin, and on the other, a female a cappella chorus of fellow mermaids who can’t understand why she’d give up undersea immortality, she also confronts her lover’s own demons, depression and addiction induced by his hometown’s sense of isolation and limited horizons.

Continues…

Once more, into the thicket

Broadway Rose makes musical magic with the tragedy and song of Sondheim's "Into the Woods"

What if the prince who Cinderella married turned out to be a philanderer? What if Jack’s war on giants didn’t end after he came down the beanstalk? What if Rapunzel suffered from PTSD and couldn’t enjoy her happily ever after? Those are some of the seductively perverse questions explored in Stephen Sondheim’s justly legendary 1987 fairy-tale musical Into the Woods, which has been brought to poignant, vibrant life in a new production by the Broadway Rose Theatre Company.

Into the Woods is a daunting play. It calls for a cast and crew able to make sense of its disparate narrative elements (twisted romance, morbid comedy, haunting tragedy) and get audiences through a few bland songs (“A Very Nice Prince,” “It Takes Two”) that lack the clarity and force of the play’s most iconic musical numbers (“Agony,” “You Are Not Alone”). Those challenges are managed seamlessly by director Jessica Wallenfels and her actors, who have journeyed into the maze of Sondheim’s music (and James Lapine’s book) and emerged with a production that is beautiful, freewheeling, and whole.

Erin Tamblyn in Broadway Rose’s Into the Woods. Photo: Liz Wade

Like all enduring works of art, Into the Woods is a vast canvas upon which multiple ideas have been projected. While the play can be taken simply as a cheeky-sad reboot of the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault, some viewers have deemed it a metaphor for the AIDS crisis—not a stretch, given that its second act revolves around an unstoppable force that kills indiscriminately (in one case, almost immediately after sex).

Continues…

PAMTAs: It’s Guys, Dolls, Rock, Scissors

"Guys and Dolls" and the new "Legend of Rock Paper Scissors" take the top trophies at Portland's 2019 musical-theater awards

Broadway Rose’s rollicking revival of Guys and Dolls and Oregon Children’s Theatre’s new musical The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors scored big wins Monday night at the Portland Area Musical Theatre Awards. Guys and Dolls took the best-production award for the 2018-19 season, plus outstanding director (Sharon Maroney), music director (Jeffrey Childs) and sound design (Brian K. Moen). Rock Paper Scissors won for outstanding original musical, plus original score (Eric Nordin) and director of an original musical (Stan Foote, OCT’s artistic director, who retires later this year).

PAMTA emcee Darius Pierce with the hardware. Photo: David Kinder/kinderpics

The award ceremony, in downtown’s Dolores Winningstad Theatre, was presided over by emcee Darius Pierce and PAMTA founder Corey Brunish, the multiple Tony-winning Broadway producer and longtime Portland performer.

Continues…