Fertile Ground: Curtains (almost) up

ArtsWatch speed-dates the makers of 2017's Portland new-works festival. We don't kiss, but we do tell. Here's what's happening.

By CHRISTA McINTYRE, A.L. ADAMS, and BOB HICKS

One thing we’ve learned in life: You can’t date everyone. Even speedily.

Nevertheless, the three of us took a pretty good shot at it on the first Thursday in January, when we set up business at a big table in Artists Repertory Theatre’s upper lobby and braced ourselves for an onrushing tide of producers, writers, directors, and performers in this year’s Fertile Ground Festival, an orgy of new theater, dance, comedy, solo, musical-theater, circus, and other performance works that’ll scatter across the city January 19-29.

The meet-and-greets, which are set up roughly like a speed-dating session (or so we’ve been told), are a cacophony of elevator speeches, and as it happens, all three of us knew what to expect from previous years’ free-for-alls. Theater people line up in front of a confusion of journalists from print, online, radio, and television outlets and work their way to the front, where they get five minutes to pitch their show and explain why that journalist really, really ought to see it and write very, very nicely about it. Then a whistle blows, and everyone moves on to the next encounter. Did you get that phone number/email address/press release/oddball memento? We’ll be in touch. (That little pink-wrapped chunk of Hubba Bubba bubble gum from 1980’s Teen Musical? We’ve tossed it in the drawer with all of our leftover 1982 Easter Peeps to help us make it through Armageddon.)

At the ArtsWatch table, and beyond. Fertile Ground photo

As usual, Fertile Ground boss Nicole Lane kept things on a strict schedule, and by evening’s end we hadn’t got around to talking to everyone. A few no doubt got caught up at other tables and ran out of time. A few just had other priorities. Some, we imagine, didn’t show up at all: they’re not the dating kind. Still, out of seventy-plus acts, we managed among us to talk with people from roughly forty. Add to those the dance productions that ArtsWatch’s Jamuna Chiarini has written about separately, and … let’s just say we played the field.

One of the great things about Fertile Ground, which began as an annual festival in 2009, is that it’s open to new projects at every stage of production, from first readings to staged readings to workshops to world premieres. Theater companies have started to book premiere productions to coincide with the festival, lending the city a sense of freshness and discovery, at least on its performance stages, every January. It’s like a smaller Edinburgh Fringe Festival (and just as unpredictable), but made up entirely of local acts.

We’ve gone through our notes and compiled short entries below on all of our speed-dates, rather like scribbling in our Dear Diary and opening it for all the world to see. The shows are presented in alphabetical order, because we kind of like alphabetical order, which, like the Dewey Decimal System and the win/loss percentages in basketball and baseball standings, arranges reality in an easily understandable fashion. Read on!

– B.H.

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Jacob Trillo and Anthony Arnista in “The Adventures of Walter and Bruce.” Arnsista Photography

THE ADVENTURES OF WALTER AND BRUCE

Walter and Bruce love vaudeville with a cynic’s edge, and they return to Fertile Ground with a fresh set of comedy. After the success of last year’s show, they went on an acclaimed international tour that produced this, from Canada’s CBC News: “This duo brims with potent chemistry; a piston-pumping energy and precise laser-like timing.”

 Workshop. 8 p.m. Jan. 27, 28, 29, Circus Project.

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ASTORIA: PART ONE

There seems to be an emerging theme over at Portland Center Stage. From their re-brand as “The Armory” to their more-regional-than-ever season of shows, it’s all about place-making. Peter Stark’s Astoria retells the founding of our Northwest neighbor city in two parts: Part One is about its discovery and Part Two is about its settling by Euro-Americans. With a mere sixteen actors portraying more than 80 characters from diverse origins, it’s a dialect coach’s dream (or nightmare?). The hyper-competent Mary Mac is enjoying the rare challenge to work with Native American accents as well as Scottish, German, French Canadian and more. Your Fertile Ground Pass applies to the January 22, 24, and 25 evening performances of Astoria: Part One at The Armory.

World premiere. Many performances Jan. 14-Feb. 12, Portland Center Stage at The Armory

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Natasha Kotey, aswim in “Atlantis.” Photo: Laura Hadden

ATLANTIS

Broken Planetarium presents its third fully staged work, Atlantis, after last year’s adaptation of Shelley’s Frankenstein which played sold-out shows. Laura Dunn returns to direct this dystopia where the island of Manhattan becomes submarined due to climate change and the upper-crusty urbanites turn to swimming and grow gills. The top floors of the skyscrapers are undisturbed and the Washington Park folk-beatnik singers make home there. The folk opera is about “loss and how people adapt to loss” in an imaginative telling reminiscent of Leo Lionni’s Fish Is Fish and J.G. Ballard’s Highrise.

World premiere. 8 p..m. Jan. 19, Jan. 22. 10 p.m. Jan. 20. 1:30 p.m. Jan. 21, Clinton Street Theatre. 

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THE BABY PROJECT

Recent NYC transplant Sarah E. Shively wrote and performs this one-woman show. She also lived it. “It’s about my journey to pregnancy,” she says. There were obstacles, including that biology thing: “My eggs were old. They were geriatric by fertility standards.” In a time of fierce battles over abortion rights, she says, she felt like a rebel by battling to become pregnant. Also, science: “In 2012 there were changes happening in the babymaking world. And we were lucky.” Her son is now three and a half years old.

Staged reading. Seven performances at a variety of venues, Jan. 21-25, 28-29.

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Chris Carczmar, Marquis Domingue, Randy Draper, London Bauman in “Badge of Honor.” Photo: Tim Blough

BADGE OF HONOR

Actor and writer Tim Blough drops by to talk up his new script, winner of this year’s Portland Civic Theatre Guild New Play Award. Race, politics, loyalty, the use and misuse of media, and public perceptions play into a tale of two former LAPD cops, one running for mayor, the other now police chief. They meet again 12 years after both were involved in the shooting of an African American teen – and the past becomes a key to the present.

Staged reading. 7:30 p.m. Jan. 23, 10:30 a.m. Jan. 24, The Sanctuary (Triangle Productions).

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BLIND

Playwright Bonnie Ratner continues her exploration of race and history with a drama set in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, during the tense times of 1967, a year of racial division and riots from Newark to Detroit to Tucson (and Portland, with the Albina Riot on August 30) that flared just months before the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. on April 4, 1968. Ratner and actor Jocelyn Seid laid out the conflict: every day a Jewish merchant commutes from Long Island to his shoe shop in predominantly black Bed-Stuy, where he survives in fear and ignorance and operates behind locked doors. “He knows nothing about the neighborhood,” Ratner says, which is a huge part of the problem. Blind was originally a screenplay and at one point Judd Hirsch was attached to it but it didn’t get made; now it’s been reshaped for the stage. With the vital question of who owns a neighborhood, Ratner says, “it’s a play for this time.” Bobby Bermea directs.

Staged reading. 1 p.m. Jan. 28, 7:30 p.m. Jan. 29, Third Rail Rep at Imago Theatre. Talkback led by The Color of Now after Jan. 28 reading.

Bonnie Ratner’s “Blind”: tense times in 1967.

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BUNNY

Prismagic’s troupe consists of a contortionist, a magician, and their pet rabbit. Guess which one they call “Bunny?” Not the rabbit! The rabbit is “Magic.” To promote a performance that must defy description, Bunny the contortionist went toes-over-head on ArtsWatch’s desk while the magician, Frank, foreshadowed a few of their best spectacles: bunnies appearing and disappearing, Bunny transforming into Frank, and various aerial tricks accompanied by the croon of a cello. This show, set accessibly at Curious Comedy Theater, is appropriate for all ages.

World premiere. 7:30 p.m. Jan. 18 & 25; 1 & 4 p.m. Jan. 29; Curious Comedy Theater

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CRACKIN’ THE CODE: A COMEDY OF QUESTIONABLE MORALS

Playwright and director Steve Coker’s Crackin’ The Code works off the belief that “men are worthless until they’re 35.” Bill is caught in a love triangle with his best friend and his best friend’s soon to be ex-wife. Can Bill get his cake and eat it, too? Coker is a script doctor and part of Stage Works Ink, where he wrote the critically acclaimed musical Adventures of Dex Dixon: Paranormal Dick.

 World premiere. 7:30 p.m. Jan. 19, 20, 21, 26, 27, 28. 2 p.m. Jan. 22, 29, The Alberta Abbey.

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CRAZY DUKES/DAISY DUKES

The first thing to know is that PDX Playwrights’ showcase of shorts is called “Daisy Dukes.” Get it? Like the shorts named after the iconic short-short-sporting Dukes of Hazard character. So if Daisy Dukes features short plays by the writing group’s members, what does Crazy Dukes feature? Crazy short plays generated from a crazy playwrights’ challenge: write and perform a play in just 48 hours. Six participating playwrights will collect audience suggestions during the intermission of Daisy Dukes, then split and reconvene two days later to present a performance of the shorts they’ve written with the help of a cast of randomly assigned actors.

Workshop. Daisy Dukes 7 p.m. Jan. 20 & 28, Hipbone Studio. Crazy Dukes 9:30 Jan. 27-28, Hipbone Studio.

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Eliza Jane Schneider’s “Displaced”: Homelesness goes global.

DISPLACED

Voice and stage actor Eliza Jane Schneider is perhaps best-known for voicing all the female characters on South Park. But she spent the first two decades of her career traveling the world as a street musician, and part of her career has evolved into a kind of creative journalism, listening to and passing along stories from the edges as she seeks out and records dialects of all sorts for her voice work. All of that goes into Displaced, her solo show about the global homeless crisis. “I’ve been around the world recording dialects, and I’ve talked with homeless people everywhere,” she says. Her aim is to illuminate the untold stories of the people she met on the streets through character impersonations, and true to her busking roots, she’ll play live looped music on a seven-string violin. The show is “sort of a documentary musical. This is one point in life where people actually do burst into song.”

Staged reading. 3 p.m. Jan. 20-21, 26-28; 8 p.m. Jan. 22; Abbey Arts.

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DO YOU BELIEVE IN MAGIC

Having established in her prior solo show that she “hates positive thinking,” Faith Helma now takes another tack—maybe even a complete reversal? Now’s the time, she says, to see how people who are awakening and focusing like never before can direct that collective mental energy. Appropriately set in a yoga studio, this performance by the seasoned Hand2Mouth alum will feature some new original music composed by Helma, some audience interaction via notecards, and plenty of self-reflection about how we currently feel, and what can or should be done.

Workshop. 9 p.m. Jan. 20, 21, 28; 7 p.m. Jan. 21, 28; Yoga Refuge.

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DUST ON MY SHOES: THE MUSICAL

Beverly Frentress of Stone Soup Blues has written a musical with 12 original tunes. Dust on My Shoes takes cues from electronic dance, R&B, blues and pop rock. The diverse cast of nine will wrestle with questions around the timeless plotlines of marriage infidelity and how to preserve a blended family.

 Staged reading. 2 p.m. Jan. 22, 12 p.m. Jan. 29, then Feb. 9-11, 16-18, 23-25, Hipbone Studio.

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Ajai Terrazas Tripathi, Marlon Jimenez Oviedo, Danielle Pecoff, Emile Dultra in Milagro’s “El Payaso.” Photo: Russell J Young

EL PAYASO

How do you honor the legacy of the activist artist who inspired Clowns Without Borders? With a partly scripted, partly devised theater piece that uses plenty of the late Ben Linder’s best gifts—movement arts, clowning around, and wearing many hats (four actors play more than 10 parts)—to tell a serious story. Thirty years ago the young Portlander, an engineer as well as a clown, worked to bring electricity and vaccines to rural Nicaragua. In Milagro Theatre’s tribute, a fictional Latino college student who’s experienced the Flint water crisis travels to Nicaragua and observes the positive impact Linder’s work continues to have on a community. In the spirit of things, performer Danielle Pecoff bounces over to the ArtsWatch table with a big smile and a red foam clown nose to talk about Linder, who was killed in 1987 by U.S. government-backed Contra fighters. Linder “took what he believed in and he took action,” Pecoff says. “He worked with children to inspire them through clowning.” His slaying helped spark a huge political fight in the United States. The production is bilingual, in Spanish and English, and will go on national tour after its Fertile Ground opening.

World premiere. 7:30 p.m. Jan. 12-14, 2 p.m. Jan. 15, 7:30 p.m. Jan. 19-21, Milagro Theatre.

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FREE BOX

Mary Rose, co-creator with Nathaniel Holder of this endlessly improvised show, stops by to explain its topsy-turvy approach: “It’s inspired by meandering through Portland and looking at all the free boxes” – those take-what-you-want, leave-what-you-will gift boxes scattered around town. She calls the resulting show “an object-based improvised adventure.” At each performance audience members will bring whatever objects they want to the show and, without letting Rose or Holder see them beforehand, put them in a box onstage. The performers will then improvise a show based on what they find inside. It’s done through Action Theater improv, a technique, Rose says, that is “very grounded in the body.” Sean Bowie directs.

World premiere. 7:30 p.m. Jan. 19, 21, 27; 9:30 p.m. Jan. 20, 26, 28; Headwaters Theatre.

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THE FLOWER CART

Writer/performers Tobin Gollihar and Ian Paul Sieren look back to the bleak days of the HIV epidemic, when a diagnosis was virtually a death sentence, playing nine characters between them, including the father and son owner-operators of a flower cart outside a hospital, where visitors stop to pick up a bouquet to take to patients. The son’s best friend is gay, and there are, as they say, worries. “It’s like the whole world changes in front of their eyes,” Gollihar says. “It’s a comedy, but the subject matter is so dark.”

World premiere. 7:30 p.m. Jan. 12-14, 19-21, 26-28, Performance Works NW.

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4×3

PDX Playwrights offers another clever title, 4×3, that’s actually an amazingly accurate description of what this showcase is: four short plays, by three playwrights. Brad Bulchonus’s Knock It Off and The Glurping explore dark humor about gentrification and Muslim-phobia. Lauren Emery’s The Rusty Wheel skewers the casual sexual exploitation too often seen in the service industry. “It’s about a woman who’s groped on the job,” says Emery, who was a bartender for years. Recalling the president-elect’s infamous groping/grabbing video as “a slap in the face to women,” she “thought, ‘Well, I have to say something’.” Miriam Feder, PDXP’s esteemed producer, presents Morning Coffee, a comment on romance over fifty.

Staged reading. 7 p.m. Jan. 22, 5 p.m. Jan. 29, Hipbone Studio.

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Sophya Vidal, “ARCS,” in Homebrew 2017. Photo: Yamil Lopez

HOMEBREW 2017: A PDX ANIMATION SHOWCASE

Returning for a second year, HOMEBREW is a celebration of new works by PDX animators: stop motion, traditional and everything after. This year’s creative and thoughtful short flicks will be followed by a panel of several creatives answering with a Q&A.

World premiere screening. 3 p.m. Jan. 22, 29, 5th Avenue Cinema

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HURL

Playwright Charlie O’Neil’s Hurl, which tells the story of immigrant refugees around the contemporary theme of racism, will be given a staged reading by Portland’s own Irish theatre, Corrib. On a sports field in rural Ireland, immigrants from Africa, South America, Southeast Asia, and Bosnia are trying to find a way to fit into Irish society, but their skin colors and backgrounds are standing in the way, and with refugee status they can’t get work. They take to the game of hurling to pass their time and try to get a foot in the door of Irish society.

 Staged reading. 7:30 p.m. Jan. 23, Artists Repertory Theatre.

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I AM AN ACTRESS … A PASSION PLAY

Actress and author Jane Comer has joined forces with Denver director Melanie Moseley for I Am An Actress…A Passion Play. Comer’s one-person play is about her journey from growing up a farm kid in rural Oregon to actress on the stage. Struggling with the identity she’s boxed into and critics of her ambitions, Comer looks into risk and what it means to follow your passion.

Workshop. 2 p.m. Jan. 21, 22, 28, Multnomah Arts Center, Multnomah Village.

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INTO THE NIGHT: AN EXPLORATION OF LIFE, LOVE & LOSS

By blending various disciplines—most notably opera, film, and belly dance—Allegro Dance Company explores the emotional journey of confronting mortality. Between short films that share the personal stories of doctors, social workers, and cancer patients who labor closest to loss, three singers and a troupe of dancers will perform elegantly symbolic original music and choreography that seeks to embody feelings like loneliness, love, regret, and longing. Produced by Ashley Lopez, an experienced Tribal Fusion dancer and teacher, this work is likely to be meticulously graceful.

World premiere. 7:30 p.m. Jan. 28, 3:30 p.m. Jan. 29, BodyVox Theater.

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THE JADE DECANTER

Humor and intrigue abound with this noir improv story that takes cues from audience members. Eight cast members in two acts untangle a web of dastardly doings in the gritty underbelly of the 1940s crime world.

 World premiere. 7:30 p.m. Jan. 20, 27, The Brody Theater.

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Sugaray Rayford sings Paul deLay’s songs in “Just This One.” Photo courtesy Sugaray Raford

JUST THIS ONE: A PAUL DELAY CELEBRATION

For playwright Wayne Harrel, Just This One is clearly a passion project. His eyes light up as he describes the life and music of the late Paul deLay, the notorious Portland character who inspired his new musical. DeLay was a giant on the Northwest blues scene, a big-hearted personality and talented singer, songwriter, and harmonica player who got busted for dealing cocaine in 1990 and sentenced to what he would later call a “41-month federally funded artist’s retreat.” Emerging from lockup a stronger artist than ever, he continued rocking for 17 more years. Rather than trying to condense deLay’s whole career into a stage-worthy show, Harrell’s musical dramatizes a pivotal moment—the night before deLay had to go to jail. Sugaray Rayford (as seen in PCS’s Ain’t Nothin’ But The Blues) portrays deLay, while three high-profile powerhouse female singers, Lisa Mann, LaRhonda Steele, and (recent Prince protegee) Saeeda Wright, play deLay’s associates, vying to call “dibs” on performing his songs while he’s in jail.

Concert performance. 7:30 p.m. Jan. 21, Alberta Rose Theatre.

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LEFT HOOK

If Damaris Webb and The Vanport Mosaic have any say in it, Portland’s Vanport Flood, which displaced a huge swath of our African-American community in 1948, will be raised from a footnote to a headline in our region’s history. That was the mission of playwright Rich Rubin’s Cottonwood in the Flood, which was a finalist (but not workshopped) at PCS’s JAW Festival in 2012, then performed as a staged reading at Fertile Ground in 2015 and as a play at Interstate Firehouse in 2016. Now The Vanport Mosaic and Rubin shift the spotlight to a fictitious club not unlike the world-famous (yet like the floods, too-oft-overlooked) Knott Street Boxing Gym, and the fighters who’ve been sparring and winning there since 1950, just after the Flood.

Staged reading. 7:30 p.m. Jan. 20-21, 2 p.m. Jan. 21-22, Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center.

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LITERARY THEORY

Playwright Sherry Lane took a Portland State University class on the History of Literary Theory, because she couldn’t find the class she wanted with a philosophy classics line up of Plato, Descartes, Hobbes, etc. On the first day reading over the syllabus Lane discovered, much to her surprise, that all her dream thinkers had made the professor’s cut. Lit Theory is a lively look into what makes the field what it is through the eyes of a Portlander.

 Staged reading. 12 p.m. Jan. 22, Hipbone Studio. 

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MEN RUN AMOK (OR IT TAKES BALLS)

Steve P. Perkins is an internationally shown multimedia artist whose scripts have been staged theatrically and broadcast on PBS. He makes his homes in San Fransisco and New York City, where he’s a self-described rubber stampaholic. Perkin’s Men Run Amok (or It Takes Balls) is based on his slim, well-designed, self-published book A Man Ought to Know That, which he dedicates to his son-in-law and grandson. Working with playwright Jim Menges, Men Run Amok (Or It Takes Balls) is a workshop of three short performances that looks with some good laughs at the collateral damage caused by testosterone, gender power struggles, and aging gracelessly through consumer sex.

Workshop. 7:30 p.m. Jan. 22, 23, 24, Shout House.

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Norwegian Polar Explorer Fridtjof Nansen, ready for action. Courtesy Portland Story Theatre

NANSEN OF THE NORTH

Lawrence Howard’s “armchair adventure” storytelling tales of the historic adventures of Antarctic explorers and adventurers including Amundsen, Scott, and Shackleton have been meticulously researched and consistently engaging mainstays of Portland Story Theatre’s repertoire. With Nansen he does a 180, following the story of the great Norwegian explorer Frietjof Nansen, whose quest to reach the North Pole came before any of the southern journeys. Howard wryly and admiringly quotes Nansen: “It is better to go skiing and think about God, than it is to go to church and think about skiing.” Expect an ice-crackling good tale.

World premiere. 8 p.m. Jan. 20, 21, 27, 28, Fremont Theater.

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NEW FRONTIERS IN VAGINAL CONSCIOUSNESS (VAGCON™)

Dr. Tallulah, the main character in New Frontiers, is … well, a character. And VagCon is … well, probably what it sounds like. This one-hour, one-woman show is the latest in a long tradition of Fertile Ground shows that spoof seminars. Kelly Nesbitt plays a sexagenerian “Shamanic Healer, Sexual Activist, Zen Cosmetologist and Vaginal Consciousness Pioneer” who’s (over?) eager to educate her followers about vaginal power. “I go deep!” she exclaims, gazing intently over her glasses and furtively fingering her giant beaded necklaces. “Come with me on this journey!”

World premiere. 8 p.m. Jan. 19-21 at Lightbox Kulturhaus; 8 p.m. Jan. 27-29 at SomaSpace.

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1980’s TEEN MUSICAL.

Performer Lisamarie Harrison and Staged! executive director Diane Englert slide on over armed with Pop Rocks and a green Pee-Chee and one of those juicy things encased in chewable wax to talk about the company’s newest teen musical. “It’s heavily influenced by John Hughes movies of the ’80s,” one of them says (it gets a little confusing after the fact to remember which one said what). “In fact, it takes place at John Hughes High.” Hughes directed The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink, Ferris Beuller’s Day Off, Home Alone, and Sixteen Candles, so you begin to get the idea. There’s a character named Samantha, who’s invisible, and “everyone else is fabulous,” and something called the French School of Ennui enters the picture. As does period-friendly music by creators Eric Nordin and Mark LaPierre. And 22 teen actor/singers ages 15-18 from across the metro area, and just two adult performers: musical-theater stalwarts Harrison and Susannah Mars. Englert directs.

Staged reading. 7 p.m. Jan. 27-28, World Trade Center theater.

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What if a couple of contemporary sisters fell into Bruegel’s 1565 “Hunters in the Snow,” and had to live in its world?

SISTERS IN THE SNOW

Longtime Portland theater reviewer Holly Johnson flips to the other side with a play of her own, which is inspired by Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s famous 1565 painting Hunters in the Snow at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. “I love this play,” says director Hester Schell. “This is a play about time travel and the power of art.” The seed was planted, Johnson adds, about 15 years ago, when Portland playwright Matt Zrebski offered a writing group a prompt to write something about the cold. That got Johnson thinking about Bruegel’s snow scene, and the world inside the painting, and eventually “about how we never know another person.” Not even a sister. In the play, two sisters at odds enter the painting together, and … well, we’ll see. This is a reading, with a fine cast that includes Amanda Soden and Brynn Baron as the sisters.

Staged reading. 3 p.m. Jan. 21-22, Ellyn Bye Studio, Portland Center Stage.

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STORIES FROM MACLAREN CORRECTIONAL FACILITY

Rogue Pack is back at Fertile Ground with more young authors’ work, this time with stories from an Oregon youth correctional facility. In what is part play and part advocacy work, 10 writers ages 12-24 share their stories through original theater pieces. The goal of the stories is to empower the incarcerated youths by giving their work a platform and to create community awareness about the realities and hardships the kids face.

 Workshop. 7:30 p.m. Jan. 20, 21, 27, 28, Sellwood Playhouse.

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SUCCESSFUL STRATEGIES

Stolowitz

What better place than Oregon wine country to reset a French farce? Seasoned playwright Andrea Stolowitz visited Vincent Wine Company and others to research their winemaking process, from field to barrel to bottle, then adapted L’Heureux Stratagème, Pierre de Marivaux’s 1733 farce, to that industry’s distinct terroir. The challenge at the center of the story, how to make love stay, is analogous to the winemakers’ struggles: how to make grapes flourish, how to age wine gracefully, and how to run an operation that, like all agriculture and many relationships, progresses in fits and starts. “I really don’t write comedies,” Stolowitz says. “But I wanted to write a comedy. And I wanted to write an adaptation.” Artists Rep’s artistic director Dàmaso Rodríguez directs a high-powered cast.

Staged reading. 7:30 p.m. Jan. 23-24, Artists Rep’s Alder Theatre.

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THE TAIL OF SLEEPING BEAUTYWITH PUPPETS!

Northwest Children’s Theatre has a good track record with original musicals, and this one goes one step beyond: it has puppets. More than 200 of them, Jenny Bunce says, flopping up with a shaggy specimen on her hand and speaking the sort of puppet-speak the actors will be using while the puppets act things out. There’ll be a cast of 11 puppeteers – “we’ve got ensemble birds and we’ve got principle birds” – and although the sizes vary, they’re all hand puppets. It’s created by NCT masterminds Sarah Jane Hardy and John Ellingson, with music by The Bylines: Reece Marshburn and Marianna Thielen.

World premiere. Noon & 3 p.m. Jan. 28-29, then Saturdays-Sundays Feb. 4-26.

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THE TALL TALES OF PAUL BUNYAN

Drawing from the collections of folk tales from logging camps, The Tall Tales of Paul Bunyan seeks to set the story straight and bring in the big guy’s Swedish pals Hels Helson, Jenny Inkslinger, and Big Ole. This world premiere focuses on Paul’s “tall talk, tall doing and adventure stories” of the great logger life in the deep woods of the frontier, and celebrates the origin myths of rugged American individualism. Hand-crafted puppets and new folk songs illuminate the tales of our original giants. Of course, Babe the Blue Ox will be there. Recommended for ages 10 and older.

 World premiere. 2 p.m. Jan. 21, 28. 7 p.m. Jan. 21, 22, 27, 28, 29. 8 p.m. Jan. 24, Mister Theater.

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TETHER: A ONE-WOMAN ANTI-CIRCUS ABOUT BRAIN CHEMISTRY

A pendulum may swing any which way, but it will always eventually return to center thanks to its tether. Or at least that’s how multitalented circus/puppet/theater performer Sara Fay Goldman experiences life since her late-breaking diagnosis of ADHD. Goldman’s all-over-the-place solo show seeks to make an engaging aerial allegory between the physical space she explores and the mental centering that she performs daily. Fuse Theatre’s Rusty Tennant directs a piece that exists, as Goldman writes, “at the intersection of disease and identity – Oh, look: there’s a daisy …” To tell her tale she uses circus, music, mime, storytelling, and dance: “I wrote this as a narrative but it’s very experimental in form.”

Fully staged workshop. 9 p.m. Jan. 19 & 26; 5 p.m. Jan. 22 & 29; 7 p.m. Jan. 25; The Steep and Thorny Way.

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Ally Yancey, Reid Bondurant, London Mahina, Jack Stock Lynn in “Uncommon Sense.” Arnista Photography

UNCOMMON SENSE

A variety show may be the last place you’d expect to explore themes of social justice … but why is that? After all, what is the social justice movement if not a celebration of variety? Echo Theater Company, Sister Grit Collective, Tempos Contemporary Circus and Sir Cupcake’s Queer Circus each presents its vision for an equitable world in all sorts of forms, from aerial arts to circus arts to storytelling. As Tempos’ Kraig Mead puts it, thinking like a dancer matters (“How you move across the room is as important as what you do”) and in circus/aerial work, details matter (“We can’t improv this stuff, because it’s too dangerous”).

Workshop. 8 p.m. Jan. 20-21, 27-28; 1 p.m. Jan. 22, 29; 4:30 p.m. Jan. 22; Echo Theater.

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WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE’S FOOLS

Michael O’Neill, a former Barnum and Bailey performer, Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre graduate, and member of Clowns without Borders, adapts Shakespeare’s fools in this fully staged world premiere directed by Bruce Hostetler. Scholar and master clown O’Neill will perform 12 fools and their scenes from eight Bard plays in an hour, and explore the adage, “Comedy is tragedy plus time.”

 World premiere. 8 p.m. Jan. 20, 21, 27, 28. 2 p.m. Jan. 22, 29, then 8 p.m., then Feb. 2, 3, 4, 9, 10, 11, BodyVox.

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WINGS OF FIRE

What began as a straight play that was produced in New York and Washington, D.C., has migrated west with its authors and reemerged as a musical, with new music and lyrics by Austin Riley Green and a script adapted by its author, Hayley Hoffmeister Green, to the demands of the musical stage. It’s based on the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of March 1911, in New York City, in which 146 young men and women, trapped inside the sweatshop because the doors were locked to make sure no one could leave work early, perished. “It was actually the largest workplace tragedy all the way up until 9/11,” Hoffmeister Green says. Most of the workers were young Russian Jewish immigrants, and much of the script is taken from contemporary newspaper stories and transcripts from the resulting trials for neglect. The last quarter of the play looks at the tragedy’s aftermath, including major reforms. The music, Riley Green says, is inspired by popular tunes of the times.

Staged reading. 2 p.m. Jan. 22, Lakewood Theatre, Lake Oswego.

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WORD.VOICE.

Four short plays and some poems by young writers “at the edge” make up this program from PlayWrite, Inc., which pairs actors with the writers, all graduates of PlayWrite’s intensive writing workshop. A professional theater person works with each young writer for 24 hours total, working to bring out the kids’ voices. The works veer into intriguing places, says PlayWrite’s Brooke Dabalos – “a crow with one leg; and a tumbleweed that has a dead beetle inside it. … What’s great about all the plays is that the stakes are really high for all the characters.”

Staged reading. 6 p.m. Jan. 29, Main Stage at the Armory.

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YOUNG PLAYWRIGHTS FESTIVAL AT LAKEWOOD THEATRE

In the first installment of what program director Megan Kate Ward hopes will be many, four aspiring young playwrights will present one-act plays that they’ve honed in consultation with professionals, including Andrea Stolowitz (of Fertile Ground’s Successful Strategies). Nikolas John Alves, Meghan Mueller, Haley Phillips, and Natalie Schur will make their debut with provocative topics including family planning, soul-selling, and grocery store hijinks.

Reading. 2 p.m. Jan. 28, Lakewood Theatre, Lake Oswego

 

 

 

 

3 Responses.

  1. Rich Rubin says:

    Hi Christa, A.L. and Bob,
    Rich Rubin here, the author of LEFT HOOK and COTTONWOOD IN THE FLOOD.
    Thanks very much for mentioning both plays and the work that Damaris Webb and I are doing.
    However, I would like to clarify two points:
    First, though COTTONWOOD IN THE FLOOD made the finalist list for the 2012 JAW festival (as per an April 23, 2012 letter sent to me by JAW), it was never workshopped at JAW and I’ve never claimed it was.
    Second, though the renowned Knott Street Boxing Club is indeed part of Portland’s history, the boxing club at the center of LEFT HOOK is not actually based on it. LEFT HOOK is a work of fiction and the “Left Hook Boxing Club” is a fictitious boxing club. However, the historical context on which the play is based — the aborted expansion of Emanuel Hospital in the early 1970s — is indeed a very real event.
    Damaris Webb has assembled an excellent cast for LEFT HOOK and we are excited about its upcoming staged reading performances. Please come see the play and please let us know what you think.
    Best wishes.
    Rich Rubin

  2. Sherry Lane says:

    Thank you for including my show! In addition to Plato, the play includes the literary theory of Aristotle, Pierre Corneille, Mary Wollstonecraft and others. More info on the staged reading is available here:

    Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/literarytheorylane/
    Google: https://goo.gl/LaaX2a

    Sherry Lane

  3. Bob Hicks says:

    Rich Rubin, thanks for the clarifications!

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