THEATER

‘Civil War Christmas’: many moving parts

Artists Rep's holiday show brings American history to life and brings a fresh approach to classic carols

Why, when we think of “classics,” and especially “Christmas classics,” do we gravitate toward Great Britain? Of course that region’s written history extends further into the past, and their Pagan traditions have seeded many of our modern holiday expressions, from mistletoe to the Christmas tree. Of course most of our best-known carols hail from Britain—and one in particular, Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, rules the winter theater. All of these yuletide flourishes are a tough act to follow, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. Surely there are other stories, American stories, that can offer moral authority and spiritual enlightenment at Christmas time.

Vin Shambry, with Crystal Ann Muñoz in background. Photo: Owen Carey

Vin Shambry, with Crystal Ann Muñoz in background. Photo: Owen Carey

A Civil War Christmas, Artists Rep’s holiday offering, is many degrees removed from Scrooge, skipping across the pond to the banks of the Potomac River in 1864, near the end of the Civil War. As historical fiction, the play certainly passes muster, proving (as Hamilton has) that American history runs Britain plenty of competition when it comes to inspirational characters, interesting dialects and fluffy blouses.

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“A lot of theaters do this show looking very French 1950s, with lots of pink and gold,” remarked Bag&Baggage artistic director Scott Palmer at Sunday’s talkback post-Parfumerie.

And why wouldn’t they? The title suggests Frenchness, elegance, and putting on airs (wink), and the various rebrands the play has inspired—You’ve Got Mail, She Loves Me, The Shop around the Corner—are certainly warm and schmaltzy enough to countenance a general pink-and-gold glow.

But B&B’s version, taking a textual cue from Miklos Laszlo’s original play set in 1930s Budapest, plays it a little cooler and deeper, not just with an austere and neutral set, but with characters taking a few beats between quips for silent contemplation. Considering that comparatively few of the script’s lines are devoted to perfume or toiletries, and many more are directed at the complexities of business and personal relationships and a frank assessment of life goals, I submit to future producers yet another fresh title for the same fare, complete with a retail pun: “Taking Stock.”

A humming retail environment holds contains this charming split narrative that's less about perfume than it is about personal lives.

A humming retail environment contains this charming comedy that’s less about perfume than it is about personal lives.

“Wake up! Your life has passed you by!”

“Do you think I’m doing the right thing?…There’s always just a shadow of a doubt.”

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Yes, Virginia, there IS a good holiday musical

Broadway Rose's holiday revue overcomes the odds of a dark season with a musical mix of merriment and good will

Dear Portland,

Your friends are wrong. They have been affected by presidential elections and a skeptical age. They do not believe a good Christmas musical can be seen. They think that most are simply stuffy decorated sets reviving Dickens from the dead. Yes, Portland, there is a good Christmas musical. It is at Broadway Rose Theatre, and it’s called A Very Merry PDX-Mas.

Broadway Rose is in its 25th year as one of Portland’s premier musical-theater venues, and it’s ending its season on a high note. (The 2017 season begins in late January with Company.) A tightly arranged musical jukebox of holiday classics and contemporary songs is presented in PDX-Mas by an expert song and dance team, backed onstage by a trio led by Jeffrey Childs.

Very merry, Portland style, at Broadway Rose. Photo: Craig Mitchelldyer

Very merry, Portland style, at Broadway Rose. Photo: Craig Mitchelldyer

The team of seven includes a Portland who’s-who of musical and acting talent. Colin Carver was nominated for a PAMTA for his work in Grease. Sarah DeGrave’s musical work has been seen on many Portland stages. Cassi Q. Kohl performed off-Broadway and has two Drammys under her belt. Isaac Lamb won critics over with his performance as the Stache in Peter and the Starcatcher at Portland Playhouse this year, and also holds a Drammy. Dru Rutledge has performed with the Portland Opera, Oregon Symphony, on a host of acting stages, and has a Drammy. Danielle Valentine is a musical theater teacher and has graced many a Portland stage. Benjamin Tissell is hot off the trails of his magnificent lead performance in Broadway Rose’s Fly by Night and is a local arts teacher and Renaissance man.

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The Buyer, the Cellar, and Babs

James Sharinghousen pulls triple duty in a comedy about an out-of-work actor, his boyfriend, and Barbra Streisand's personal shopping mall

Buyer and Cellar, now ringing up sales at Triangle Productions, is a sharp and poignant celebration of gay culture and one of its divas, the fab Babs. The story isn’t based upon actual events, but most of the background is true.

Actor James Sharinghousen takes us winningly on a 90-minute ride of snarky observations, money struggles, and a clawing ascent toward intimacy. He juggles playing three different characters – a down-and-out struggling actor, a frustrated film producer, and Barbra Streisand – in a tale as strange and alluring as, well, Hollywood.

James Sharinghousen, pulling triple duty. Photo: David Kinder/kinderpics

James Sharinghousen, pulling triple duty. Photo: David Kinder/kinderpics

Alex More is the hero of the play, a burnt-out, unemployed actor who’s too nice to succeed in the Hollywood racket. Between endless and fruitless auditions, he’s taken the odd retail and amusement-park character jobs. His drama studies in Chicago should’ve propped him up for success. Instead he’s honed customer-service skills to pay the rent and get bread on the table. Alex wants to live in a world where you make good art and people appreciate it. Never mind the brutal competition and critics. His naiveté sets him back in the job market, but puts him ahead in the heart department.

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Out There: Holiday Edition

Circus Christmas, cash-and-carry paintings, Post5 expats, and a belly dance potluck. For yuletide thrills, get out there!

While families may prefer to play it safe with their holiday celebrations, sometimes wise ones wander farther, guided by more distant stars. It was ever so.

Welcome to the winter edition of Out There, a semi-regular roundup of special, surprising, or lesser-known arts events. This December, ditch Bing Crosby’s White Christmas in favor of braver fare! Pluck fresh paintings right off a gallery wall and pay for them on the spot! Potluck with belly dancers! And give displaced Post5ers a Christmas to remember.

Wanderlust's Circus Carol features a ringmaster Scrooge haunted by circus-act spirits.

Wanderlust’s Circus Carol features a ringmaster Scrooge haunted by circus-act spirits.

The Big 500

Want to shop for original art the same way you’d load up a cart at the Cash ‘n’ Carry? Then hit the 9th annual Big 500. As its name suggests, this show/sale will unveil 500 paintings by various local artists, available for purchase on the spot. The works are as diverse as you might imagine, yet conveniently uniform in size and price: each 8″ x 8,” and $40. Curated by Chris Haberman (the artist behind the Eagles Lodge mural at 50th and Hawthorne and the now-closed People’s Gallery) this show may have moved from its former home at The Goodfoot Gallery to the Ford Gallery, but it still offers the same unbeatable deal as ever to gift-buyers and decorators on the prowl for original paintings.

Scary Puppet Film Night

Has anticipating the debut of Imago’s puppet masterpiece La Belle put you in the mood for more puppet magic? Then you may want to check out the significantly-more-sinister Scary Puppet Film Night. Beady Little Eyes will show rare and new puppet movies at The Steep and Thorny Way To Heaven. (Make reservations as this is technically a private club.)

Portland Bellydance Guild’s Winter Hafla+ The Art of Bellydance

Mourning the hidden midriffs of bleak midwinter? Then you may enjoy Portland Bellydance Guild’s Winter Hafla. What’s that, you ask? A free, family-friendly party and potluck with a few pro and student performances, plus open dancing and drumming. Feel free to “BYO” any of the following: food, non-alcohol drinks, percussion instruments (drums, tambourines, etc), and of course donations to buoy PBG’s general effort. Or if you’d prefer a more formal sitdown show, head to the Clinton Street Theater for The Art of Bellydance, a lineup of solo and group performers that, unfortunately, happens to be the swan song of four-year belly dance presenter From the Hip.

Viva’s Holiday

This gloriously notorious Portland-made “stripper opera” retells a true tale from Magic Gardens, the memoir of legendary local stripper Viva Las Vegas. Chris Corbell (formerly of Classical Revolution PDX and Muse:forward) conceived of the project, composed the opera and debuted it last season with support from members of Opera Theater Oregon and the blessing of Viva herself. With a twelve-piece orchestra, four singers, and a bit of tasteful nudity, it’s the only Christmas show of its kind.

White Album Christmas

Do you tire of the usual Christmas carols and winking 1950’s fireside kitsch? Have you ever yelled at Bing Crosby, “You’re no Beatles!”? Then Wanderlust Circus has a treat for you. This production is just what it says on the tin: a show set to the Beatles’ White Album, only “Christmas” to the extent that it happens in winter and it’s family-friendly. While The Nowhere Band plays the whole double album—horns, roars, refrains and all—cirque-bohemian dancers, aerialists, jugglers and clowns run helter skelter, embodying the psychedelic spirit of each song and together celebrating the album’s halcyon splendor.

A Circus Carol

Wanderlust’s other holiday tradition is much more in the Christmas-y canon, but still pretty full of surprises. Ringmaster Noah Mickens plays Scrooge, and each “spirit” that visits him is a different style of circus performer. Gypsy-jazz Christmas covers played by the brilliant Three Leg Torso and sung by various characters propel the storytelling and give each act something to swing to.

N.E.W. Residency Performance

There’s no telling what to expect from this culminative dance showcase by the participants of New Expressive Works’ 8th 6-month residency: Dana Detweiler, James Healey, Jessica Hightower, and Renee Sills. Well, maybe there’s some telling. Though soundscape maestro Jay Clarke humbly downplays his contribution of new music to the show, claiming “The music is fine but the dancers are the main attraction,” audiophiles and film buffs who remember Clarke’s gorgeous score from the  2010 documentary Marwencol  will be resoundingly sold.

Spectravagasm: Holidazed

Spectravagasm, the twisted brainchild of brilliant comic actor Sam Dinkowitz and a handful of Post5 Theatre clowns, is a long-running sketch comedy series that’s already covered many themes including Camp, Love, Art, Death, and Drugs. Bum luck that as Dinkowitz emerged from three winters in PCS’s Twist Your Dickens to prep a Holiday ‘gasm, he learned Post5 was losing their proverbial room at the inn. With Post5 closing their Sellwood location, Shaking The Tree has now agreed to host Spectravagasm‘s wayfaring players. Anyone who’s wistful for Twist can count on similar irreverence from Dink in his new digs.

A Christmas Carol: A One-Man Ghost Story

Another orphaned show from Post5’s sudden closure is Phillip Berns’ solo version of A Christmas Carol. Even if you’ve seen the Christmas classic performed solo elsewhere before, this rendition is a rare treat because the spry, youthful actor playing all the roles is much more of a Tiny Tim/Cratchitt/Nephew type than a Scrooge sort. The planned full run has been compressed into three dates of dinner theater at Picnic House. Go partake in this comfort and joy.

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These events occur at various venues throughout the month of December. For further details, click directly on event titles.

 

 

 

Love’s Labour’s Lost: on Post5’s uncertain future

The scrappy theater company hits a crossroads, with no artistic leadership, the loss of its nonprofit status, and no shows in the immediate future

From its beginnings in 2011, Post5 Theatre has had its fingers on a vital part of Portland’s pulse. The often packed houses have swayed between a rowdy fellowship and an emotional entourage, depending on the comedy or tragedy on stage. And it’s done it at bargain ticket prices, allowing it to develop a younger and broader audience than many of the city’s higher-budget companies.

Now all of that is endangered, and the company’s survival is in question: there will be no new productions at least through the first few months of 2017. The leadership triumvirate of artistic directors Paul Angelo, Rusty Tennant and Patrick Walsh resigned early this month after announcing the company had lost its Sellwood district home and revealing that it had also lost its vital 501(c)(3) nonprofit status, which is crucial for fundraising and tax purposes. The company’s board expects Post5 to regain its nonprofit standing. But even with that, it now faces the difficulty and expense of finding a new performing space in a tight real-estate market. And it has no artistic leadership.

Bill Cain's "Equivocation," directed by Paul Angelo and featuring Todd Van Voris (left) and Keith Cable, was a hit for Post5 in September 2015. Russell J Young photo

Bill Cain’s “Equivocation,” directed by Paul Angelo and featuring Todd Van Voris (left) and Keith Cable, was a hit for Post5 in September 2015. Russell J Young photo

Earlier this year in an interview with Willamette Week, Angelo, Tennant and Walsh commented on the changes taking place at Post5 under their leadership after months of silence to the press and ticket buyers. The trio’s artistic direction was a departure from that of founders Ty and Cassandra Boice, who had come to embody what the company was about. Ty was a handsome leading man and deft comic actor with a devoted following. Cassandra was a smart and canny director with deep comic chops. Together they worked long and hard and set the tone for what became known as a scrappy, creatively populist company that was counted on for, among other things, smooth and accessibly populist Shakespeare productions. When they left, Post5’s image and reality seemed bound to change.

The new leadership group told Willamette Week that the next productions’ budgets would be conservative, but they hoped to create more sophisticated and edgier approaches to plays. The artistic directors also mentioned they’d been dealing with a few unexpected struggles, but felt they were now contained. As one of them told WW, “Every theater here is one big mistake from going under.”

After seven productions in the current season, the trio tendered their resignations on Nov. 1. Things were not, to put it mildly, as they had expected. With three months of back rent due, Post5 was about to lose its space. Angelo directed his last play there, Coyote on a Fence. The Post5 board members hustled to find spaces for their final production of the season, company member Philip J. Berns’ unique spin on A Christmas Carol. As of today, Nov. 21, the company’s website lists the play as part of its season, but the ticket link says “there are no current dates or times.”

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‘What She Said’ proves comedy can be taught

Lez Stand Up's class for comedians delivers a promising fresh set of funny women

Meyers-Briggs. The Rapture. A crush on Ursula the Sea Witch.

On Sunday, That’s What She Said—the graduate showcase for students of Lez Stand Up‘s first-ever comedy class—surveyed female and queer comic consciousness and debuted nine new faces. Now, without further ado, here are the three most promising comics from the bunch, and the rest can return to their day jobs.

Just kidding!

The most surprising thing about this showcase, other than the array of crayon colors streaked through various performers’ hair, was their consistently high comic competence for beginners. Alyssa Clayton, Kate Aguilar, Megan Hattie, Shannon Sales, Carolyn Main, Katie Piatt, Lisa Koluvek, Collin McFadyen, and Shilpa Joshi each delivered a respectable five-minute set, with natural gestures and viable joke structures and no obvious copycats. There really weren’t any duds in the bunch—and if that sounds like faint praise to you, then I know you haven’t watched a lot of open mics.

Lez Stand Up's lineup of new comedians aren't shy about their political leanings.

At Sunday’s That’s What She Said, Lez Stand Up’s lineup of new comedians worked a few political statements into their material. Photo provided by Aaron Michael Walker.

Having popped into many of Portland’s open mics over the last decade or so, from Suki’s Bar to Tonic Lounge to the Boiler Room, I’ve long since stopped expecting to laugh. Even at Helium Comedy, the national franchise that runs its weekly Tuesday open mics with the precision of a factory floor, most brand-new comics fall just short of funny, and many strain to perfect the art of audience connection.

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