News & Notes: ‘5 Useless Degrees’ hates ‘Detroit’

The theater podcast thinks the Portland Playhouse show is "everything that is wrong with Portland theater"

October 10, 2013—After missing the first 30 episodes of the podcast “5 Useless Degrees & a Bottle of Scotch,” I finally caught up with it for the 31st, in time to hear Eric Kilgore and James Engberg (who possess the five useless degrees, mostly in theater, and an enviable selection of whiskey) review Portland Playhouse’s “Detroit.” Which is what they do: Talk about a play every week.

They are affable hosts, and when they finally get past the opening patter, they train their serious attention on a play, in this case the Lisa D’Amour play I JUST reviewed.

We agreed on one thing: D’Amour’s play is not explicitly about the 2008 economic collapse! And then, by extension I suppose, that it IS about the four characters in the play and their lives, together and apart. But they HATED it. Kilgore had read the script and didn’t want to see it in the first place, and when he wanted to leave at intermission, Engberg, fearful of the height of his seat, too hot from the onstage grilling, perhaps worried about carbon monoxide levels, and thoroughly bored (even angry bored), agreed to go. “Why do we need to actually grill things?” he asked rhetorically.

Let’s see. Kilgore called the script “boring and insignificant,” after saying that it represents “everything that is wrong with Portland theater.” And Engberg capsulized the experience this way: “I feel there is very little to say about this play because there is so little substance there.” And what should we do instead, James? “Go live your life. Go have a barbecue. Go meet your neighbors.”

They compared “Detroit” to another naturalistic drama, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”, which maybe isn’t quite fair, because then we’re talking about one of the high-water marks in American theater. But what the heck? Why not use the best as a tool to analyze a new play? Then Kilgore said, “When I go to the theater, I want it to be larger than life,” and I started to understand his intense dislike of “Detroit,” because it is certainly not a Hyper Drama. Its language is relatively sedate (compared to the academics’ language in “Virginia Woolf,” though I’d argue it has a certain poetry at times, too), and as my review suggested, nothing ever really happens. Except for some grilling. Kilgore and Engberg say “Detroit” is too particular, not general enough, and that’s exactly what I like about it. I love a show in which nothing much gets said and nothing much happens!

This little disagreement isn’t going to keep me from tuning into “5 Useless Degrees,” though, not a bit. They care about theater, enough to do those 30 previous episodes, which is a major commitment. They’re smart and knowledgeable. They have a sense of humor. And it’s theater talk!

And if they ever invite ArtsWatch to drink a little Scotch with them, we’ll let you know!

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Portland is a Wiki hotbed (why wouldn’t we be), and so it makes sense that we would participate in some way in Wikipedia Loves Libraries, “a general initiative for improved Wikimedia engagement with libraries (and archives) and more concretely an annual campaign of wiki-workshops and edit-athons at libraries around Open Access Week.”

The Portland Wiki Loves Libraries project will be held from 1-4 p.m. on Sunday, October 13, at the Portland Art Museum’s Crumpacker Family Library, second floor of the Mark Building. The local arts community will be the focus of the edit-a-thon. The event will also kick off the Oregon Arts Project, an on-wiki initiative to improve coverage of the arts in Oregon. The event goals will be to create a list of Oregon artists who do not have Wikipedia articles, register and provide training to new contributors to Wikipedia, and start articles for notable artists, arts organizations, and works. ArtsWatch is going to try to participate itself.

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Marin Alsop

Marin Alsop

Finally, a couple of items on the issue of women conductors of classical music. Now, you wouldn’t think of gender as an issue, really, when it comes to conducting, and if you did, I’d simple smirk at you and say, “Marin Alsop.” ‘Nuf sed. But prominent conductors in Russia (no surprise, maybe) and France (big surprise) have said some inflammatory things on the subject. Justin Davidson gives them a hiding at Vulture, and NPR then joins in energetically itself.

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