DramaWatch Weekly: Fertile Ground, Playing Favorites

As Portland's sprawling festival of new performance works begins, A.L. Adams picks her best bets (and weaves in a nonfestival highlight, too)

For YEARS, at multiple publications, I used to compile an overview of Fertile Ground titled “Fertile Ground Speaks for Itself,” wherein quips from the scripts submitted by their authors comprised the entire story, and I just formatted it.

It is, after all, a lowercase-f fringe festival, an uncurated and welcoming workshop space where indeed the pieces DO “speak for themselves.” But now I’m in grad school. And my time to listen is limited. If I go at all, I’ll have to be pre-selective. Hence, I find myself (for the first time) inclined to speak up for particular festival participants whom I’ve already observed doing good work. If your time is limited like mine, here’s my short list of “good risks.”

Nikki Weaver and friends, piecing things together for “Weaving Women Together.” Portland Playhouse photo

Aubrey Jessen’s appeared in many plays at Action/Adventure, portraying everything from a superhero action star to a breathlessly anxious secretary. I didn’t catch her playwrighting debut, Hawthorne, but a Drammy nod suggests it was deft. A speech therapist by trade, Jessen seems even in her improvs like a master of metacognition, with a keen awareness of thoughts-about-thoughts and an aw-shucks persona that makes such musings accessible. I’d deem it worth seeing what she does in Velvet.  It’s a double-header with Autumn Buck’s Sable in the Forest. Phillip Berns—last seen carrying A Christmas Carol solo—is directing Velvet. I could say a lot about Berns, but my opinionated aunt side would rather just pat your arm and exclaim, “He’s very good!”

Philip Cuomo is a longtime acting instructor, but what his performances teach me is how to hold onto wonder even though you know better. Whatever he’s doing with Philip’s Glass Menagerie—besides highlighting Tennessee Williams’ observations of fragility—will probably be masterful.

Portland Playhouse co-founder Nikki Weaver is as consistent as the moon. Everywhere she pops up, she’s luminous. Having apparently now enhanced her bewitching powers with a “magical skirt,” she debuts Weaving Women Together, a solo show not part of Fertile Ground but new, and running at the same time. It’s sourced from her female friendships, whose through-line is the construction of a symbolic garment from their combined scraps of sentimentally significant fabric. In other hands, this might be maudlin. In Weaver’s, I bet it will work.

Garland Lyons as Mesmer in Brad Bolchunos’s “Spellbinders.” Photo: David Gilde

In the About Damned Time category, I spy a full-lengther by Brad Bolchunos, a part-time playwright whose short works have been consistent standouts in Fertile Ground showcases for years now. This guy’s humor is wry and sly, and he has a special way of making the mundane suspenseful and strange. Now, in Spellbinders, he gets a whole show to tackle the haunted, hypnotic life of the Theremin’s inventor? Do not pinch me or I’ll wake.

Of COURSE there are many more shows than this to see. Of COURSE there are many great performers and playwrights whom I have yet to know. For those, check the schedule. That (almost) goes without saying.

3 Responses.

  1. Brad Bolchunos says:

    Thank you for your excellent coverage, compelling style and, as always, your insightful impressions.

  2. Aubrey Jessen says:

    These are such lovely comments – thank you! – but I need to make a correction: “Sable in the Forest” by Autumn Buck, directed by Phillip Berns, and “Velvet” by Aubrey Jessen, directed by Emilie Landmann.

Comments are closed.