THEATER

When sports & Shakespeare collide

Original Practice Shakespeare’s ambitious summer tour brings the Bard (and a referee's whistle) into Portland and surrounding parks

By CHRISTOPHER GONZALEZ

When our loved ones ask us, “Why, dear – why do you want to spend three hours of our evening watching, perhaps for the fifteenth time, yet another Shakespeare production?” we ought not to suggest that we go simply because … it’s good for us. Original Practice Shakespeare Festival provides us with a fresh and infallible argument: “Well, honey dearest, this is our chance to see Shakespeare the way he would’ve seen it.”

Checkmate.

Stan Brown as Capulet in OPS’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Photo: Tiffany Gilly (Rousseau)

It’s odd to think that Portland’s Original Practice Shakespeare is one of only two companies this side of the Mississippi performing Shakespeare as it was originally performed — at least, in certain ways. That is to say, without the convention of rehearsals, directors, memorized lines, and most strikingly, without pretense. (In other ways, performances are decidedly not Elizabethan. Many of the actors are women, for instance. In Shakespeare’s time women were not allowed on the stage; boys played the women’s roles.)

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Coast through summer: theater, music, visual art along the beach

Entertainment along the Oregon Coast includes old-time melodramas, jazz performances and art celebrating birds.

Hot, sunny days make it prime viewing season for the art and entertainment nature offers along the Oregon Coast. But when the sand, wind and occasional rain get to be too much, beachgoers can find plenty of manmade amusements. Summer on the coast brings theater performances, gallery shows and music.

Not every stage welcomes cheers, boos and popcorn-throwing, but that’s how The Astor Street Opry Company defines audience participation during their performances of Shanghaied in Astoria. Given this is their 34th season presenting the play, they must be doing something right. In their words, it’s live, award-winning, family friendly, historical and hysterical; part vaudeville, part soap opera and an entertaining look at cultural folklore on the Columbia River. The story, directed this year by Ashley Mundel, centers on the “shanghaiing” of the play’s hero and his daring rescue in melodramatic style. It runs at 7 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Sundays, July 12 through Sept. 1. Tickets range from $10 to $20. Get the details here.

The Astor Street Opry Company is presenting its 34th season of “Shanghaied in Astoria.”

“Saxophonist to the stars” Patrick Lamb takes the stage at the Coaster Theatre Playhouse in Cannon Beach at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, July 15, as part of the Tom Drumheller Summer Series. Lamb’s last three singles have made the national Billboard Charts, and he was recently inducted into the Oregon Music Hall of Fame. He’s toured with Smokey Robinson, Esperanza Spalding, Gino Vannelli, Bobby Caldwell, Jeff Lorber Fusion, among others, and is now touring solo.

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Revolutionary theater at Deep End

With "Raising Coen," Domeka Parker’s Buckman neighborhood theater company is pushing the limitations of what Improv can be.

By CHRISTOPHER GONZALEZ

From new dramatic forms, to teaching philosophy, to administrative structure and beyond, Deep End Theater is revolutionary theater in all aspects. Led by the indomitable Domeka Parker, this Portland ensemble is changing the perception of what improv is capable of.

Raising Coen is Deep End’s newest improvised play, based on the Coen Brothers’ movies. It is a remarkable piece of long form improv that triumphantly traverses the realm of what we normally think of as Theater with a capital T.  After all, aren’t we tired of going to comedy clubs and laughing halfheartedly at impatient displays of wit and cheap punchlines? We don’t often feel irrefutable pathos, genuine suspense, or palpable horror, do we?

Well, Deep End Theater, which opened in May 2017 in Southeast Portland’s Buckman neighborhood, is no comedy club.

At Deep End, comedy and improv move beyond jokes. Photo: Ken Bryan

Raising Coen elevates the form of improv by inviting us to lean in and explore the integrity of a character’s core values. The dramatic investigation of core values is pertinent now more than ever, as the ethical integrity of our country is so deeply in question. There are so many people on the right and the left politically that are locked to their core values and we thought about how interesting that is,” Parker says. “And then we thought, the Coen brothers write characters like that. Characters that believe so strongly in values like honesty that it drives everything they do and gets them into all kinds of messes.”

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DramaWatch Weekly: story dance

Dancer Andrea Parson teams with story shaper Susan Banyas to tell tales at CoHo Summerfest; Chekhov rides again; a twist on "Shrew"

“I’ve always been interested in theater,” says Andrea Parson, “but I’ve always been on the outskirts of it, because I’m a ‘dancer,’ not an ‘actor.’”
You can practically hear the air quotes as she speaks, conscious of the arts-discipline silos that so often shape the perceptions others have of artists but not the visions they have of themselves. Then again, the emphasis hardly is misplaced: Parson well and truly is a dancer. Winner of the highly prestigious Princess Grace Award for Dance in 2010, she’s been a frequently featured company member with NW Dance Project for several years. But she hasn’t been content to stay at home in the “dancer” silo.

Andrea Parson, telling stories. Photo: Fuschia Lin

A few years ago, for instance, she studied clowning, in a workshop taught by CoHo Productions’ producing artistic director Philip Cuomo. Now, she’s bringing a show of her own to CoHo’s Summerfest 2018. Finding Soul: a Constellation of Stories is a dance-theater hybrid co-directed by Parson and Susan Banyas, featuring Parson, Megan Dawn and Stephanie Schaaf, each performing an amalgam of movement and text, image-making and emotional expression, personal memory and family history.

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‘Romeo and Juliet,’ fresh again

Jaded from too many R&Js? Dámaso Rodriguez's production for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival makes the tale seem vital and new.

ASHLAND — Romeo and Juliet must be a theater director’s greatest challenge. How does one make what is arguably the best-known play in the English language fresh and new for audiences who have probably seen or read a version or several of this play already?

Ask Dámaso Rodriguez, who directs the production running through October 12 on the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s Allen Elizabethan Stage. He manages in a number of ways to make Romeo and Juliet something new, without gimmicks and while sticking closely to the original play.

Nurse (Robin Goodrin Nordli) tells Juliet (Emily Ota) that her cousin Tybalt has been killed and her husband Romeo has been banished from Verona. Photo: Jenny Graham, Oregon Shakespeare Festival

First, instead of casting the role of “Chorus,” he has the entire cast — shrouded in white or black cloaks — serve as the chorus. Romeo and Juliet, in fact, recite the opening setup, in which the narrator/Chorus tells us what is about to transpire. Having the star-crossed lovers themselves tell us their own fates has a profound impact here, because you find yourself wondering why, if they know what’s about to happen, can’t they stop it? Which is, as Rodriguez explains in the playbill, the real tragedy: “The tragedy of Romeo and Juliet isn’t their untimely death but the myriad ways it could have been avoided.” He heightens that sense of “WHY CAN’T THEY MAKE IT STOP?!” over and over, starting with them reading us their own fates.

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Still Dancing, Still the Queen

Broadway Rose's "Mamma Mia!" is a not-so-guilty pleasure

I was eating a veggie burger and chatting with two fellow journalists when the subject of guilty-pleasure music came up. This was a few weeks ago and for a moment, I debated whether I should reveal the truth. But eventually, I summoned the courage to say it. “I wouldn’t call it a guilty pleasure because I don’t feel guilty about it,” I told them, “but I love ABBA.”

I expected to be tossed from the room with French fries shoved up my nostrils. That didn’t happen. Instead, one of my friends simply said something along the lines of, “If you’re going to go for cheese, you may as well go for the king of cheese.”

Laura McCulloch, Peggy Taphorn, and Lisamarie Harrison in “Mamma Mia!” Photo: Craig Mitchelldyer

That sums it up for me. ABBA, the Swedish pop group of chart-topping, Broadway-busting fame, is fueled by giddy electronic beats and a feverish sentimentality that makes their songs easy to mock—and makes them a giddy joy. It’s addictive music, but it’s more than that. It’s a sound that reverberates with contagious glee and romance, making you think of swirling disco balls, heartache, Molly Ringwald, and prom night.

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Saving Shakespeare, word by word

Ashland's daring and delightful "The Book of Will" tells the tale of the Bard's company rescuing his plays (and themselves) after his death

ASHLAND — It’s no secret that the Oregon Shakespeare Festival loves Shakespeare’s plays. The company was created 83 years ago to perform his works, and has been doing so ever since. In the past decade, though, it’s also demonstrated a passion for stories about the most famous playwright who’s ever lived. In 2009 the festival staged the world premiere of Bill Cain’s Equivocation; then the movie-turned-play Shakespeare in Love last season; and now popular playwright Lauren Gunderson’s The Book of Will — as much a tribute to the players who loved the Bard as a tribute to the Bard himself.

This production — one of three that opened in June on the stage of the open-air Allen Elizabethan Theatre, the largest of the festival’s three performance spaces — is perhaps the perfect play for OSF audiences, who geek out on their own love of the Bard and can wholly relate to characters like John Heminges (Jeffrey King), whose wife, Rebecca (Kate Mulligan) tells him, “Most people go to church. You went to the Globe.” And the cast is filled with OSF veterans (plus a couple of newer faces) who have a love of Shakespeare in common with their audiences.

Henry Condell (David Kelly) and John Heminges (Jeffrey King) are pleased by the reaction of Anne Hathaway (Kate Mulligan) to the newly completed folio of her late husband’s plays. Photo: Jenny Graham, Oregon Shakespeare Festival

King, David Kelly, and Kevin Kenerly — with 66 years at OSF among them — bring the last of The King’s Men (the acting company of which Will was a part) to life as The Book of Will opens. It will be King’s Heminges and Kelly’s Henry Condell who do the bulk of the work here. These are the two friends who ensured Will’s words would live on. But Kenerly gets to shine brightest in the opening scene: He portrays Richard Burbage, after all, the head of the King’s Men and the star of Shakespeare’s plays. Burbage is angry about how folks are performing Shakespeare since Will’s death, and he shows off to one young actor in a tavern, giving Kenerly opportunity to perform bits from some of the great plays of the canon. It’s glorious to see Kenerly — who’s played Romeo, Hotspur, Macduff, Orlando, Oberon, and many others — show off his own craft, and Burbage’s.

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