DramaWatch: Going to the Chapel and we’re gonna see theater

Chapel Theatre Collective makes its debut in Milwaukie, the Red Door Project finds a helpful way to "Cop Out," Red Riding Hood goes Shaking the Tree, and more.

Jason Glick had no intention to run a theater company.

“I’d tried to start a theater company before, in Nashville, when I was in my twenties and I didn’t know what not to do,” he says. “And I was happy with my place in the community here, with the acting work I was getting at Artists Rep and such. Fundraising, worrying about where the money’s coming from for the next show, that kind of stuff was never on my bucket list.”

And yet, here he is at the Chapel Theatre in Milwaukie, a performance space that opened earlier this year, preparing the debut show by  the resident theater company, the Chapel Theatre Collective.

“It really just fell in my lap,” he says, talking before a recent rehearsal of Anatomy of a Hug. “And there was a feeling that we’re in the right place at the right time.”

Jessica Hillenbrand (clockwise from front right) Murri Lazaroff-Babin, Amanda Vander Hyde and Jason Glick rehearse “Anatomy of a Hug” at Chapel Theatre. Photo: Danielle Weathers.

The place is a refurbished church a reasonable drive from Portland proper, not far off of highways 99 and 224. It has 99 seats on movable risers, a small bar for beer, wine and sodas, a computerized lighting board, and a basement eatery called the Secret Pizza Society (a relative  of the Southeast Portland vegan deli Papa G’s). The time is an era of increasing competition for too few performance spaces in the city. (The space also is the regular home of the dance company Trip the Dark., and the company Street Scenes also has plays scheduled there later this year.)

The origins of the Chapel Theatre Collective can be traced back to Milagro’s 2016 production Davita’s Harp, whose cast included, among others, Glick, Danielle Weathers and Illya Torres-Garner. Later, after Torres-Garner, who owns a construction company, had purchased the old chapel near his home, he also happened to be doing work on Glick’s house and talked about wanting someone to produce theater in his new space. Glick, a former Theatre Vertigo member,  joined on as artistic director, with Weathers, who’s been leading the Reading Parlor series at CoHo, and Torres-Garner as associate artistic directors.

The company will present three productions for its inaugural season, with Anatomy of a Hug looking like a very promising start. The script, by Kat Ramburg, concerns an awkward, TV-obsessed young woman trying to cope with the unexpected attentions of a sweetly enthusiastic co-worker and with an uncomfortable reunion with her mother, released from prison as she’s dying from cancer. Glick directs, with Jessica Hillebrand in the central role, plus Jacklyn Maddux, Murri Lazaroff-Babin and Shareen Jacobs.

Chapel Theatre Collective’s “Anatomy of a Hug” deals with the difficulty of getting close when you’ve become a wooden character in your own life story.

February will bring Stephanie Alison Walker’s Friends With Guns, with Torres-Garner directing Glick and Weathers, then sometime in the spring, Weathers will direct Torres-Garner and others in Rachel Bonds’ Curve of Departure.

Regardless of the choice of the scripts and the talent on stage, fledgling theaters can have a rough go of it. Is this a scary thing to be doing?

“Not when I’m in the rehearsal hall, ‘cause that’s my jam,” Glick says with a smile. But he’s approaching it all seriously. “We have to run it like a business, not like a bunch of theater kids having fun. It’s about not having egos but working together toward a collective goal. And I’m not in this for one season, My hope is that we’re doing this for long-term prospects.”

Cop to it

Attempting a cultural response to the spate of police shootings a few years ago, in Ferguson, Missouri and elsewhere, the New York company the New Black Fest commissioned a set of monologues that became the powerful theatrical testimony Hands Up: 7 Playwrights, 7 Testaments. Though that show has been presented all around the country, perhaps no one has utilized it as extensively and effectively as a community-discussion platform as has Portland’s August Wilson Red Door Project, which has presented 55 performances in 25 different venues around the Northwest.

Now, seeking to expand and deepen the conversations that Hands Up has helped facilitate, Red Door has created a companion project of its own: Cop Out: Beyond Black, White & Blue.

Hands Up related the experiences black men have had with racial prejudice and with police; Cop Out gives police their say. “Not as a way to equalize things,” stresses Red Door co-founder and Cop Out director Kevin Jones. “It’s really about engaging police officers in a way that invites them to talk about things that are hard to talk about. The live with a lot of trauma, and sometimes they can go silent with it.”

Whereas Hands Up features, in most of its monologues, direct reflections of the experiences of its writers, Cop Out might be considered more filtered, Though one of its writers is a former police officer turned screenwriter, it has mostly been created from interviews with police officers. But with contributions from the likes of Portland playwrights Andrea Stolowitz and Bonnie Ratner, it might well be no less powerful and immediate an experience.

Though the official opening run of the show isn’t until sometime this winter, this weekend’s preview run is a chance to help sharpen the presentation and, presumably, the issues that may arise in the discussions following each performance.

Opening

Shaking the Tree’s season opener “_the Wolf” takes a new look at a perhaps not-so-little Red Riding Hood.

By 2012, Samantha Van Der Merwe of Shaking the Tree had been doing well-crafted work on a shoestring — from children’s plays to Athol Fugard — for a while already. But it was that year’s The Tripping Point: an Exhibition of Fairytale Installations, a Fertile Ground collaboration with Playwrights West, that began gaining her a reputation as one of the city’s most boldly creative directors. In the years since, she’s returned a few times to some of the themes and methods of that success, but not so directly, it would appear, as she does with her new show _The Wolf, a devised-theater work with “word crafting and poetry” by Anya Pearson. Again we’ll visit multiple installations —  or dioramas, as she calls them this time — presenting aspects of a story, this time a single tale, that of good ol’ Little Red Riding Hood. The Shaking the Tree website describes the show as “a visual and auditory exploration of desire, longing, and miscommunication of the sexes through the fairytale lens.”

Portland Center Stage favorite Adam Bock looks at longing through a different — though no less fanciful — lens in his play A Life, in which a sad singleton searches for answers from astrology (of all things). Reportedly it contains a big, unexpected plot twist, but what might really be worth looking forward to is Rose Riordan’s usually whip-smart directing and a cast that includes the always terrific Dana Green and Gary Norman, among others.

Gemma Whelan’s Irish-focused Corrib Theatre opens its 2018-19 season with Hurl, by Charlie O’Neill, in which an alcoholic priest leads a rag-tag team of immigrants and refugees to success in the very Irish sport of hurling. Tracy Cameron Francis directs.

Readings, one-offs, misc.

John Logan’s play Red is an intellectually engaging, emotionally ferocious examination of the power of art and the perils of artistic personalities such as those of its subject, the great 20th-century painter Mark Rothko. The plucky young Crave Theatre Company presents a reading with a nice small gendered twist: the part of Rothko will be taken by Maia McCarthy, the role of his protege/antagonist, Ken, by Kylie Jenifer Rose.

Having been completely unaware of seasons one and two, I’m sorry to say I can’t tell you anything about season three of Follies, except that 1) it is NOT Stephen Sondheim’s musical but producer/performer Stefano Iaboni’s sketch/physical comedy showcase, and 2) Iaboni, born and raised in Rome, says that it “says ‘ciao’ to traditional stand-up and improv and instead highlights the richly diverse, artistic and hilarious world of physical comedy, variety and contemporary clown.”

Similarly, all I know about Portland Story Theater’s long-running Urban Tellers series is that despite the name it apparently is not about bank employees. Rather it consists of true stories by Portlanders, this time including Jeff Burke, Lynn Fitch, Steve Eggerts, Sharon Gavin, Kyle Cooper and Leah Carey, with hosts Lynne Duddy and Lawrence Howard, plus a house band.

Closing

This weekend, the storm passes for the immersive staging of The Tempest at the Steep and Thorny Way to Heaven, Summit Theatre closes the book on the Steven Dietz relationship drama Fiction, and Shakespeare in Portland’s William Shakespeare Lives lives just one more day at Imago.

Best line I read this week

“A man’s work is nothing but this slow trek to rediscover, through the detours of art, those two or three great and simple images in whose presence his heart first opened.” — Albert Camus, as quoted in The New Yorker (Sept. 24), in a profile of the director Sam Mendes.

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

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