THEATER

‘Appropriate’ review: all in the family

University of Portland production of Branden Jacobs-Jenkins drama shows love and racism through the generations

by MARIA CHOBAN & BRETT CAMPBELL

Appropriate racism: “I was like, ‘How invisible can I make it?’” – Branden Jacobs-Jenkins

Exasperated, Rachel grabs a huge orange photo album, hands it to her young hyperactive son, pushes him to the couch telling him to shut up or else. The huge 2’X2′ orange photo album contains photos of broken necked victims of lynchings. Which Rachel quickly discovers by glancing down at her suddenly quiet kid.

This is not the spoiler.

Two teens descend from upstairs with mason jars of souvenirs: body parts from the lynched victims. All this in an Arkansas plantation house where three siblings and their families combust, cleaning up the estate.

Nor is this the spoiler.

The five-year-old breaks up a full family brawl— by appearing in Klan-wear. The teenage girl tenderly shares her pilfered lynching pics with the cousin she’s crushing on.

Unbelievably, not even all these incidents are the spoiler. The audience is laughing as the horror ratchets. Racism — the gift that keeps on giving. One of us is stifling the guilt and inAppropriateness of our guffaws as Candide meets Whack-A-Mole.

University of Portland staged Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’s Appropriate (2013) October 4 – 8. Enroute to her MFA, director Jessica Wallenfels led her college-student actors through a madcap dark comedy. With wild cartoon exaggerations and furious forward motion, Wallenfels and BJJ gave us a great ride, right up to near the end where the oldest sibling, Toni, suddenly switches gears and delivers an unconvincing paean to her dear, departed daddy.

University of Portland’s ‘Appropriate’ L-R Joe Flory, Kaylie Haas, Sammie VanNorstrand, Pat Johnson, Brandon Chadney, Patrick Holland, Emma Pace, Rebby Foster. Photo: Gary Norman.

Two ArtsWatch writers both enjoyed the show, but for slightly different reasons.

MC: I walked out of the show happily flummoxed, processing the difference between Appropriate (2013) and An Octoroon (2010). This production was wicked fast. BJJ writes furiously and Wallenfels directed her cast to accelerate into and on top of each other.

In contrast, Octoroon’s tedious script (written when BJJ was 26) and Artists Repertory Theatre’s production put me to sleep. This was not due to BJJ’s writing, as “BJJ’s” “therapist” noted on ArtsWatch, but because BJJ relied on copy / pasting too much of a 150-year-old melodrama — The Octoroon (1859) — written by a second rate playwright, Dion Boucicault.

Nevertheless, I loved BJJ’s ability to draw emotion with his own minimal unsentimental lines, particularly in the opening monologue. In fact, it was BJJ’s writing that pushed me to take a chance on a student production to check out how he has evolved as a playwright. Over three years from 2010’s Octoroon (which he wrote when he was 26) to Appropriate (2013), BJJ matured lifetimes.

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Crow of triumph, cry of despair

"Year of the Rooster" at CoHo struts across an aggressive and violent stage. It's winner take all. And it's desperately funny.

The first clue might come in the program credits, where Kristen Mun, who ordinarily would be listed as fight coordinator, is instead credited as “violence director.”

Somehow you get the feeling this show might be amping things up.

That intuition pays off within scant seconds at the top of the show, when Sam Dinkowitz struts cockily onstage, chest puffed, muscles bulging, head twitching, hurling a fusillade of profanity upward, toward the sun, his mortal enemy, the bane of his life, the creature whose very rising in the morning is an affront to his nature, the shining devil he has sworn to kill.

Rolland Walsh (and eggs) in “Year of the Rooster.” Photo: Owen Carey

It’s a mad, mad, mad, mad world out there, a place of unleashed testosterone, of kill or be killed, eat or be eaten, win or drop dead. In a universe where everything’s brutally, comically exaggerated, nobody’s more over the top than Odysseus Rex, the raging killer Dinkowitz plays. Odysseus Rex is a rooster. More than a rooster, he’s a fighting cock. More than a fighting cock, he’s a champion. And this is his story.

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Judy & Stink’s big fat treasure hunt

Oregon Children's Theatre's world premiere of a fresh Judy Moody adventure searches for clues on a vacation island

To kick off its 30th season, Oregon Children’s Theatre has premiered a huge event: the first production in a rolling world premiere of Judy Moody & Stink: The Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Treasure Hunt. Based on the popular children’s books by Megan McDonald, Judy Moody & Stink was co-commissioned by seven children’s theater companies around the nation, and Oregon Children’s Theatre is the first of the seven to get it onstage. On opening night, Artistic Director Stan Foote – who also directs the play – announced that playwright Allison Gregory and one of the other commissioning artistic directors were in the house.

Nothing to crab about: a fantasy treasure hunt. Photo: Owen Carey

A first-of-its-kind commission of this magnitude, launching at Portland’s own Newmark Theatre, can tend to give theatergoers lofty expectations. And, while the production is solid – with bright sets that change before your eyes, a clue-riddled plot, and solid performances across the board (with an exceptional one or two) – it doesn’t quite live up to those heights.

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DramaWatch Weekly: on ’til November

Im Portland theater it's a week of the Rooster, The Events, seasonal cosplay, and some houseplants for Hand2Mouth

Has it occurred to you that Halloween is the only time of year when regular people moonlight as actors?

A.L. Adams

And all the more so since character cosplay has engulfed general-category costumes. Instead of “a zombie,” or “a pirate,” more and more people seem to dress as “this zombie” or “that pirate” from some show or movie, leaving them oddly depicting a mix of the character they’re being, the actor who famously plays the character, and themselves. And just like that, your Halloween party spread is transformed into craft services on a Hollywood set, with Captain Johnny-Jack Depp-Sparrow, who is actually Kevin from work, scarfing all of your Doritos. How meta.

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‘Farndale’ review: slight drag

Bag&Baggage Productions' cross-dressed Brit-com theater spoof offers low humor in high heels

The show begins before the show begins. As the audience gradually trickles in from the lobby and bar, a dumpy, worried looking, Chaplin-esque figure wanders the spare set, making adjustments to the chairs, side table, and other props. While audience members take their seats, some chatting with each other in the aisles, some don’t even notice a molding suddenly falling off a wall. The beleaguered little prop man frowns, and with help from some unwitting audience members, undertakes repairs. Then a rather ample — and amply bewigged and be-pearled dowager — appears, loudly handing out programs.

Norman Wilson, Patrick Spike, and Jeremy Sloan play Thelma Greenwood, Phoebe Reece, and Merdeces Blower in Bag&Baggage’s produc on of The Farndale Avenue… Murder at Checkmate Manor. Photo: Casey Campbell.

Welcome to Bag&Baggage Productions’ The Farndale Avenue Housing Estate Townswomen’s Guild Dramatic Society’s Murder at Checkmate Manor, the farce-within-a-farce shambling and stumbling across the stage through October at Hillsburg’s, er, Hillsboro’s The Vault. Before the evening is done, audiences will suffer through faux French, egregious wordplay, spoonerisms, malfunctioning props, dysfunctional malaprops, blown cues, stilted acting, overacting, wandering facial hair makeup, spotlight hogging, backstage cattiness, a failed fashion show, karaoke, an invisible canine, cheesy strobe effects, and a not entirely Thrilling Michael Jackson flashback.

I hasten to add that the parade of ludicrous ineptitude is entirely intentional on Bag&Baggage’s part. One in a series of ten popular 1970s farces perpetrated by the British team of Walter Zerlin Jr. and David McGillivray that spoof earnest but hopelessly incompetent amateur theater companies, Farndale is a play that tries, and alas only occasionally succeeds, in making good comedy out of deliberately bad theater.

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The significance of ‘Insignificance’

Albert Einstein, Marilyn Monroe, Joe McCarthy and Joe DiMaggio walk into a hotel room. Defunkt Theatre seeks big ideas in a 1982 play.

History repeats. Leaders consolidate power until they lose it all. New scientific discoveries overturn the way we look at the world and then become taken for granted. Society claims progress for women while still treating them as objects. We see these patterns but never really seem to learn how to avoid them. Defunkt Theatre opens its season looking back at our own history with Terry Johnson’s 1982 play Insignificance.

Set in a hotel room in 1950s New York, the show centers on four of the most iconic characters of the era: Albert Einstein, Marilyn Monroe, Joe McCarthy, and Joe DiMaggio. Due to liberties Johnson takes with history the characters are referred to simply as The Professor, The Actress, The Senator, and The Ballplayer. While they are ostensibly the historical figures they represent, they are also ciphers for Johnson’s exploration of politics, celebrity, and science.

Tabitha Trosen as The Actress, Gary Powell as The Professor. Photo: Rosemary Ragusa

Insignificance is a show about ideas. The light plot revolves around The Professor (Gary Powell), beset on one side by the anti-Communist Senator (Nathan Dunkin) and on the other be the advances of The Actress (Tabitha Trosen).

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‘Angamazad’ review: handmade tales

Fox & Beggar Theater's circus-style production lights up Arabian Nights

And Shahrazade noticed that dawn was approaching and stopped telling her tale. Thereupon Dunazade said, “Oh sister, your tale was most wonderful, pleasant and delightful.”

“It is nothing compared to what I could tell you tomorrow night, if the king would spare my life,” Shahrazade said.

“By Allah,” the king thought to himself. “I won’t slay her until I hear some more of her wondrous tales.”

That’s the setup of A Thousand and One Nights a/k/a Arabian Nights a/k/a Alf Layla Wa Layla, the compendium of thrilling stories of Sindbad the Seaman, Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves, Aladdin and the Magic Lamp and so many more.

Fox & Beggar’s ‘Angamazad.’ Photo: Carrie Anne Huneycutt.

And that’s the story (or at least a glimpse of it) that Fox & Beggar Theater brought to Portland’s Alberta Abbey for a one-weekend run at the end of last month. With over 4,000 pages of folk tales from across the Middle East available in the colossal collection, drawn from both recent (Lyons & Lyons) and 1888 (Richard Burton’s classic) translations, the creative team of writer/director Heather Beckett and her F&B co-artistic director Nat Allister had to be selective. And while, hamstrung by a tedious opening sequence, it couldn’t keep me entirely enthralled for its three-plus hour running time, much less a thousand nights and a night, Angamazad offered abundant enthusiasm and moments of magic.

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