DramaWatch: a new place to play

Lewis & Clark prof Stepan Simek opens a small, flexible studio space. Plus: Openings around town and in Fertile Ground.

Stepan Simek is a professor of theater at Lewis & Clark College, a director, and an accomplished theatrical adapter and translator. Now he’s also a real estate developer.

Well, in a manner of speaking. Simek recently opened a small studio space for “actors, directors, musicians, singers, teachers, coaches, and anybody who may need a beautiful, affordable, flexible, and warm place to rehearse, teach classes, do small performances, concerts, readings, meetings, pop-ups, auditions, and whatever else may strike your creative need or fancy.” Or, as he put it during an open-house event earlier this month, “Everything is allowed, except amplified music and Bible study.”

The 2509 is a new studio space in Northeast Portland, open for rehearsals, performances and other creative uses. Photo: courtesy of Stepan Simek.

The place, a handsome 600-square-foot daylight basement, is named after its street address, 2509 NE Clackamas St., in a part of Portland known as Sullivan’s Gulch. Simek hopes it will help, in whatever small way, with the general space crunch afflicting so many Portland artists. But that wasn’t the project’s original purpose.

At first, Simek was setting out to repair his house’s crumbling foundation, which would require raising it on jacks. He and his wife Esther Saulle-Simek, a musician, decided to have a lower-level addition built as an apartment, or what’s known these days as an “accessory dwelling unit.” But the construction process turned out to be more than twice as long, and more than twice as expensive, as originally planned. Eventually they reasoned that they’d stand a better chance of recouping their costs with piecemeal rentals, even at low rates.

Still, though, the 2509 has a homey feel, with a gas stove along one wall opposite a small wet bar. It has a full bathroom and curtained-off area at the back that can be used as a bedroom for visiting artists. A grid attached to the middle of the ceiling holds a small LED lighting system, double-paned windows minimize sound for the surrounding residential neighborhood, and there’s room to seat an audience of 50 or so.

Already Hand2Mouth Theatre has used the 2509 for rehearsals, the renowned Portland actor Michael O’Connell has used it to teach classes, and Orchestra of the Moon — a band that includes Saulle-Simek and plays what it calls “early music for modern times” — performs there this Saturday night and Sunday afternoon.

Simek hopes the place will stay busy. (Reservations can be made by email: simek@lclark.edu) After repeating his line about it being open to everything but amplified music and Bible study, he says simply, “I want it to feel alive. I want life!”

Opening

Nick Cearley in “Buyer & Cellar” at The Armory. Photo by Patrick Weishampel/blankeye.tv courtesy of Portland Center Stage at The Armory.

The premise is absurd. As the show Buyer & Cellar readily admits, it couldn’t “possibly have happened with a person as famous, talented and litigious as Barbra Streisand.” It’s brilliant all the same: the notion that the singer has a private shopping mall in the basement of her Malibu dream house and hires a struggling actor to man the shops. Rose Riordan directs this affectionately barbed Babs send-up. Actor Nick Cearley was last seen at PCS in Little Shop of Horrors, but this will be his eighth (!) production of Buyer &  Cellar.

Tobias Andersen is a Lifetime Achievement Drammy Award winner and one of the most respected — as well as enduringly enthusiastic — members of the Portland-area theater community. So let’s just let him speak on his own behalf here about his latest work: “I’m directing a production of Equus for the Twilight Theater that opens this Friday, the 25th, and I don’t think I’ve ever been prouder of anything in my career,” he wrote to DramaWatch in a recent email. “Jim Butterfield, who has done the play and knows the horse choreography, is directing with me and we have come up with one of the most passionate, illuminating, terrifying  renditions of the play I’ve ever seen…This one is as special as anything in my many years. Our Dysart is extraordinary and if any LA agent should wader into our audience, he would sign the young man playing Alan the minute the curtain call ended. The kid is that good. Just sayin’.”  

According to my friend, Wikipedia, “more than 25,000 women have played in Nunsense productions worldwide.” Who knew? I might add , “Who cares?” — except that the Nunsense production Sharon Maroney is directing for Broadway Rose includes the marvelously talented Malia Tippets. And — while I don’t care to speculate whether this rightly adds to that 25,000-plus tally — the reliably entertaining Dan Murphy stars in this clearly popular comedy as Sister Mary Regina.

And, of course, the Fertile Ground festival of new works has begun! Last week’s DramaWatch column offered some recommendations, as did a piece by Bob Hicks about the festival’s speed-dating-style media event. Go dig in!

NT Live

I rather love the story — which director Nicholas Hytner has acknowledged as “not totally untrue” — that Hytner changed the title of Alan Bennett’s play The Madness of George III to The Madness of King George when making it into a film because he feared American audiences would think it was a sequel and that they’d missed parts I and II.

Landing somewhere between stage play and film, a “live-captured” high-definition recording of the National Theatre’s recent The Madness of George III production anchors a full weekend of NT Live presentations at Portland’s World Trade Center Theater. Also playing are Bennett’s 2018 Allelujah!, which The Guardian’s Michael Billington called “a play full of quiet anger under its surface charm”; the Strindberg adaptation Julie, by Polly Stenham; and, most enticing of all, King Lear, starring the great, great Ian McKellen.

Closing

Esteemed ArtsWatch senior editor Bob Hicks recently checked out Dear Marna, a writing/directing effort from veteran Imago Theatre performer (and occasional ArtsWatch contributor) Danielle Vermette. Likening it to the distinctively off-kilter works created by Imago co-founder Carol Triffle, Hicks calls it “a nervous comedy of dislocation about dating tapes, dementia, and bad boyfriends.” You’ve not much time left to get the nerve.

Best line I read this week

“My most treasured childhood memories are of deer hunting with my father using nuclear missiles. Dad and I would pack sandwiches and drinks (Bud for him, Coke for me), head out to the woods, hide in the foliage in our camouflage hazmat suits, load up a Minuteman III in the launch vehicle, calibrate the angle and the initial velocity, set a timer to detonate it, take cover in our steel-encased underground bunker, then come out seventy-two hours later and pick up all the carcasses in the blast area. And I’ll tell you what: those hours in the bunker, just goofing off and waiting for the dispersal of the nuclear fallout, were the best we ever spent.”

— from “I’m a Proud Nuclear-Missile Owner,” by Teddy Wayne, in The New Yorker

That’s all I have for now. I’ll try to do better the next time.

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