DramaWatch Weekly: an ode to home-sewn sequins

On Portland stages, it's a week of home-packaged holiday shows, plus a little dramatic "Chang(e)"

Well, golly. It’s another week of holiday happenings.

For those who want to get out and mingle, PICA will announce its Precipice Fund Award winner at tomorrow’s Winter Social.

A.L. Adams

For those who prefer to stay home and snuggle, The Royal Shakespeare Company is now offering online subscriptions to watch their plays online.

And somewhere in between, in the many venerable halls and hovels of Portland dramatic arts…

CoHo Theatre launches Co Ho Ho!, a double-header of expert performers winkingly pa-rum-pa-pum pandering to the Christmas crowds. Susannah Mars (who’s thoroughly sugar-plumbed holiday songbooks in past years of her Mars on Life revue series) joins the ever-convivial Isaac Lamb (recently seen evangelizing all that is good in PCS’s Every Brilliant Thing) to deliver Holiday Shorts and Songs. They’ll be in character as Vixen the Reindeer and the Abominable Snowman, but even if the bill just said “Mars and Lamb,” we’d know the show was in capable hands.

Susannah Mars, unpacking the season with Isaac Lamb at CoHo.

Co Ho Ho’s other offering, A Liberace and Liza Christmas, features another pair of characters you can guess from the name. David Saffert’s and Jillian Snow-Harris’s lounge act is no midwinter whim; they’ve been honing these impersonations for years. When his idea was a mere seedling at a past Fertile Ground Festival, Saffert memorably went full “method,” showing up to the event’s press junket in character as Liberace. Go kiss one of Mr. Showmanship’s many rings.

Boom Arts hosts a three-day-only run of Chang(e)a docu-drama honoring radical performance activist Kathy Change, who self-immolated in the mid-’90s to protest a lack of democracy in the U.S. government. Soomi Kim, a former Beavertonian now based in New York, plays Kathy in a solo show she co-devised with director Suki Takahashi. The New York Times says the work creates “…[a] visual and aural environment that’s so alluring you want to bathe in it …” and in the context of Boom Arts’ current season theme of resistance, this sounds like it might prove the peak of a larger dramatic arc.

Boom Arts brings Chang(e). Photo: Benjamin Heller

What is with the persistence of vintage performance forms—vaudeville, burlesque, jug band, soft shoe? Why do these things keep getting done, and what is the nature of that particular nostalgia? After ruminating through a couple of episodes of Call the Midwife, I think I know: these arts are what “DIY” did back when that mode was the only option. Before there was even a TV to turn on (let alone Pandora to open), your portable device for entertainment was just your own personal package of jokes and talents and parlor tricks. Some stranger might actually ask you, whilst waiting for some train, if you knew a jig or a tale or a song to pass the time. In Portland Present, nobody has a better grasp on the can-do stand-and-deliver spirit of old-time talent than variety show madam Miz Kitty, whose Winter Wingding happens this Saturday. Any sequins you see, they probably sewed on themselves.

Following this train of thought, did anyone else wonder, “Is that stripper Christmas opera happening this year?” If so, I have sad news: no. Though indie producer Cult of Orpheus would like to make Viva’s Holiday an every-year thing, it didn’t happen this time around. Viva Las Vegas is (don’t let the name fool you) a Portland cult-arts fixture, both muse and creator of various works beyond the very-small stage. Maybe put this opera on your Christmas list for next year?

Speaking of that list, what am I missing? Are there more shows opening that demand ArtsWatch readers’ attention, or shows mid-run that you feel compelled to recommend? Please do. Or at least tell us a joke, Stranger.

 

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