corrib theatre

Mary of the mysteries

Jacklyn Maddux tells a tale of wonder and regret as the mother of Jesus in Colm Tóibín’s "The Testament of Mary" for Corrib Theatre

Holy Mother of God, how could you say such things? Tense, sad, argumentative and just this side of bitter, Jacklyn Maddux is far from a Renaissance painter’s vision of the Virgin Mary. Then again, that symbol of serene and ardent holiness is not what Colm Tóibín wants her to be. What he wants, as things turn out, is something more combative and conflicted in its mysteries.

Watching Maddux’s solo turn for Corrib Theatre in The Last Testament of Mary, Tóibín’s stage adaptation of his 2012 novella, I thought almost inevitably of Nikos Kazantzakis and his startling, in some circles notorious, novel The Last Temptation of Christ.

Temptation was first published in Greek in 1955, the year that Tóibín was born in Ireland, and although Last Testament is in no way connected stylistically or narratively to the earlier novel, they share a thematic understanding: religious myth is built on human experience. It is rote among Christians to refer to Jesus as both man and god, and yet the “man” half of the equation is routinely subsumed, as if it were a tainted and shameworthy thing, in the glories of the god. Kazantzakis roiled the official waters by writing a novel in which Jesus, far from being above or otherwise separated from humanity, was deeply and passionately human. He felt every emotion, every temptation, including the temptations of the flesh; only by being fully human and understanding what that meant could he be the kind of god he was.

Jacklyn Maddux as Mary, remembering. Photo: Owen Carey

The Last Testament of Mary concentrates on the human, too, through the voice and experiences not of Jesus but his mother, speaking, finally, years after the events. And Mary, to tell the truth, isn’t buying a lot of the mythology. Tóibín chose the word “testament” carefully: This remarkable and sometimes heartrending narrative is indeed a testimony and not a gospel (from the Old English “god spell,” or “good news”). To Mary’s mind, there’s not much good about it. Her account of her son’s life and death could almost be a legal deposition, a statement of the facts as the witness sees them, and yet it is also a dogged questioning, a ruthless self-examination, a turning-inside-out of the soul.

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ArtsWatch Weekly: thinking about Orlando, and the impact of art

A look at the week that was in Oregon arts. A glimpse ahead at the week that's going to be.

ANOTHER DAY, ANOTHER MASSACRE. The latest one, unless another sneaks in before deadline, came in the wee hours Sunday morning at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, where a U.S.-born gunman carrying an assault rifle and claiming allegiance to ISIS opened fire, killing forty-nine people, wounding fifty-three, and then being slain himself in a shootout with police. He may or may not have been gay; several people reported that he was a semi-regular at the club. He was certainly homophobic. He may or may not have been a radical jihadist: initial indications are that he was acting as a lone wolf. Orlando’s is being called the worst mass shooting in United States history, at least by a lone gunman, and who knows how long that record will stand? (Other massacres have been more deadly, but not as quick or efficient: the Wounded Knee Massacre carried out in 1890 by U.S. Cavalry troops on the Lakota Pine Ridge Indian Reservation left at least three times as many dead.)

We’ve been here before, over and over, from Sandy Hook to Columbine to Virginia Tech to Reynolds High School in suburban Portland to Umpqua Community College in southern Oregon, and on and on and on and on, world without end, amen, amen.

Portland Gay Men's Chorus performs Saturday at Schnitzer Hall. 2010 photo

Portland Gay Men’s Chorus performs Saturday at Schnitzer Hall. 2010 photo

It’s difficult to rank these atrocities – impossible, really – because whatever the body count, people are killed, survivors are shattered, worlds are torn apart. This one comes with an increasing sense of futility, a belief that the nation lacks the political and moral will to do anything about it. Here at ArtsWatch we won’t get into the political arguments of what can or can’t be done: those arguments are all around us, and by this point you know where you stand and how you will respond. I will say that some form of rational control on the sale of firearms, and a civilian ban on the sale and possession of assault weapons, are necessary in a civilized society. And I will note that this latest massacre hits cultural communities hard, because so much of the arts world has been invigorated and often led by GLBTQ artists and the creativity they’ve brought to dance, theater, music, the movies, literature, and visual art. So many gay people have been drawn to the arts, partly, because for all of its ordinary human quirks and bickering and biases and self-indulgences and jealousies and backbiting and exaggerations, the arts world is also open and generous and welcoming to talent wherever it rises. In that sense, we are all gay. We stand as one.

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‘Our New Girl’: a lie of the mind

Corrib Theatre's contemporary Irish psychological thriller lights a volatile match to a not-so-happy hearth and home

Myths across the ages tell about strangers arriving at doorsteps and how the gods will give you good fortune if you trust enough to let the strangers in. Yet more often than not, that’s not how the story unfolds – and certainly not in the case of Our New Girl, a psychological thriller at Corrib Theatre that plays upon the dynamics of human relationships at their most vulnerable.

Nikki Weaver, fresh on the heels of her performance as Ibsen’s Nora in Shaking the Tree’s A Doll’s House, is Hazel, a former high-powered attorney whose confidence is now compromised in what seems an endless web of homegrown complexity. Much like Nora, Hazel has demands placed on her as a work-at-home mother of a social-climbing, workaholic husband.

Happy to be here: L-R, Salmon, McKinney, Van Voris, Weaver. Photo: Owen Carey

Group hug: L-R, Salmon, McKinney, Van Voris, Weaver. Photo: Owen Carey

Weaver plays the role with a stubbornness that speaks to Hazel’s recent past, when she had power from her career outside the home. The world she inhabits now is a posh London apartment with all the latest amenities: a clean, crisp, picture-post-card salute to Crate and Barrel showpieces. The entire play is acted out in the apartment’s kitchen, whose primary tint of white is offset by many light-gold bottles of olive oil. Many homes find their heart in the kitchen, where creating and dishing meals ignite end-of-the-day conversations when families can bond. This kitchen is sterile: the closest things to nourishment it offers are fresh cucumber sandwiches. Hazel and her family are being drawn and quartered. Why, who, and how are the anxieties at play.

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ArtsWatch Weekly: Steampunk Sweeney, award season begins

A look at the week that was in Oregon arts. A glimpse ahead at the week that's going to be.

It’s a brilliant beginning. Sitting in the audience you’re not quite sure whether it’s part of the music or some Victorian version of an emergency air raid warning: that long sharp shriek of a whistle that pierces the air and just keeps on slicing like the blade on a piece of heavy machinery run amok. Then the orchestra barges dissonantly in, and the chorus raises a clangor, and you’re attending the tale of Sweeney Todd, the closest thing the world of musical theater and opera has to a steampunk antihero.

Smoke-spewing factories and magical elixir: Toby (Steven Brennfleck) plays the crowd in Portland Opera's "Sweeney Todd." Photo: Cory Weaver

Smoke-spewing factories and magical elixir: Toby (Steven Brennfleck) plays the crowd in Portland Opera’s “Sweeney Todd.” Photo: Cory Weaver

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, which has two performances left on Thursday and Saturday at Portland Opera in a production featuring the magnetic bass-baritone David Pittsinger as Sweeney and Susannah Mars as the ghoulishly pragmatic Mrs. Lovett, is a musical tale grounded in the upheavals of the Industrial Revolution, under whose disruptive rules and relentless sway we still live even if the rough promise it ushered in has taken on the aspect of a ghost revolution. Sweeney! Sweeney! He’s our conscience, our warning, our mirror. Plus, he sings. And that steampunk shriek keeps coming back now and again, just to remind us of what special brand of seductive, human-devised hell we’ve entered.

ArtsWatch reviewers Bruce and Daryl Browne took in a Sunday afternoon performance when the temperature outside was a sweltering 100 degrees, and report an almost-full house. “Perhaps they came in from the “city on fire” in shorts and spaghetti straps because they wanted to see great musical theater,” they write. “Maybe this was their very first opera production. Or they came because it was Steven Sondheim’s grisly musical-turned-opera, a tale of moral decay across classes with magnetic appeal to a diversity of theater goers. But aye, we ought not worry about the why. Just know that Portland Opera conjured the brilliance of Stephen Sondheim and those present were treated to a stunning afternoon of entertainment and artistry.” Read the full review here.

 


 

PAMTA, PAMTA, WHO’S GOT THE PAMTA? If it’s June, this must be theater award season. The Tonys arrive in New York this Sunday, June 12, complete with national television audience. Portland’s Drammys follow up on June 27 in the Newmark Theatre. And last night, Monday, the PAMTAs – the Portland Area Musical Theatre Awards – kicked things off with a big bash in the Winningstad Theatre.

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Animal Instinct: Corrib’s ‘Chapatti’

Two geezers, 19 cats, a dog, and a dilemma: Nause and Maddux find life and love (maybe) near the end of the line

To begin with, Dan’s a dog man, even though he’s trying to give away his boon companion for reasons that will become unsettlingly clear. Betty’s a cat woman – you could almost say a crazy old cat lady, given that she’s got nineteen, more or less, prowling around the house, and curiously, no one ever questions how the place smells. Obviously, this is never going to work.

Then again, as they say, opposites attract.

I wouldn’t call Christian O’Reilly’s 2014 play Chapatti the flip side of The Gin Game, exactly, although you could make the case. D.L. Coburn’s oddly Pulitzerized 1976 two-hander, like Chapatti, throws together an older man and an older woman in a situation not entirely in either one’s control, and is a showcase for actors of a certain age, giving them sparkling leading roles rather than confining them to playing old Uncle Fred and Aunt Bea, stuck in the corner with the overstuffed furniture in yet another family drama about the libidos and travails of kids in their twenties or even their forties.

Nause and Maddux: animal instinct. Photo: Owen Carey

Nause and Maddux: animal instinct. Photo: Owen Carey

In that sense Chapatti (the title is the name of Dan’s little bowser, whom we never see on stage, although his presence is felt) and Gin are blood brothers, star vehicles for seasoned performers who know the tricks of the trade. But while The Gin Game grows increasingly nastier – time hasn’t turned resentful Weller into a cuddly bear, and he goes raging into that good card game like an unrepentant attack dog, stripping away the niceties of civilization as he snarls – Chapatti heads in a different direction, toward reconciliation and second chances. It unabashedly wears the trappings of a traditional romantic comedy (geezer meets geezer, geezer and geezer endure complications, geezer gets geezer) but it’s not precisely a sentimental play, because it veers away from the romcom formula, deepening and dropping into disturbing danger zones, and it leaves a great big question at the end, so you can’t say it’s all sunshine to The Gin Game‘s surly storm. But if Chapatti isn’t bubblingly optimistic, it’s generously hopeful, and it provides a lot of fun as it rolls down the tracks on its ninety-minute journey toward whatever its unsettled destination will be.

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Review: The Hen Night Epiphany

Corrib Theatre's first complete play fully fledges.

 

Among ladies who call each other “Lads” and toast each other with “bitch whiskey,” you’d think there’d be no secrets, no topics too taboo. But you’d be wrong, as we gradually learn in Jimmy Murphy’s The Hen Night Epiphany.

HEN NIGHT 3

Bride-to-be Una has decided to spend her hen night (aka bachelorette party) introducing her friends to her future home, a real fixer-upper in the hills outside of Dublin. After kicking up a fuss about their hike from the car, the remoteness of the place, and the accommodations (tents in an overgrown and littered yard), the gang settles in for a long evening of drinking…but each of their thoughts are elsewhere. Triona has been arguing with her long-term live-in man-child boyfriend, and this event has keened her worry that they’ll never marry. Kelly, a serial short-term dater, has just split with a would-be wedding escort who she’d seemed to really like. Anta, Una’s godmother, is racked with lingering guilt about her late husband. And Olive, Una’s future mother-in-law, has doubts about the match and the house; she resents Una for spiriting her son away from town. All subsequent plot details would be spoilers—not of action, but of the various revelations that surface as the evening wares on, leaving the characters with nothing to do but talk.

This show is a milestone for the relatively new Corrib Theatre: it’s the company’s first fully-staged production in a true theater space. Where prior shows have been fully acted but staged in tastefully bare rooms, for this one Kristeen Willis Crosser packs the CoHo set chock full of scenic elements that double as props. Summer Olsson chooses simple, modern costuming (knit casual separates, Teva sandals) and a dab of special-effects makeup to help sell the story.

“I like that Jimmy Murphy sets the play squarely in the 21st century,” remarks director Gemma Whelan. To wit: Una obtained the house after tenants who couldn’t pay their mortgage during the recent crisis were hastily evicted. The yard is still littered with their children’s toys. The other modern touch is equally impossible to miss: the women frequently excuse themselves to talk on their cell phones, demonstrating that there’s no longer any such thing as a true “getaway.” Even so…some distance from Dublin seems to provide perspective on problems that are not at all contemporary, but rather timeless and undeniably gendered.

Murphy’s capture of a female group dynamic is amazingly acute—and in this cultural moment, it has to be. With growing awareness of the Bechdel Test and a TV climate forever impacted by the strong female roles in Jenji Cohen’s Orange is the New Black, there’s a sense that storytelling can’t default back to man-centricity to the same extent that it so often has in the past. Though most of Hen Night‘s conversation (in defiance of Bechdel) is about men, its loyalties lie with the female perspective…and anyway, since they’re talking about a wedding, the women’s romantic relationships dominate the conversation more naturally than they otherwise might.

There’s a faintly discernible divide in this production along Actors’ Equity lines: those who happen to have it also happen to give slightly stronger performances. Jacklyn Maddux is compelling as the haunted, tentative Anta, painstakingly deciding how much she should or shouldn’t say. Luisa Sermol as Olive reprises some of her no-nonsense pluck from Xmas Unplugged, but this time it’s ominously overshadowed by the demon of denial. Amanda Soden as Una favors us with a variation of the loyal friend she played in Foxfinder…only this time she’s the somewhat reluctant center of attention, desperate to laugh off the group’s growing concerns with a tomboyish charisma that makes her appropriately hard for the others to oppose. Dana Millican as the high-strung, conservative Triona and Jamie M. Rea as Kelly are each plenty credible, but here and there a facial flicker betrays them. Rea, however, is particularly coordinated in her use of props, balancing unwieldy stacks of yard debris adeptly with the rigors of her role. In the small theater, such persona-inhabiting work puts everyone on the spot.

For those who’ve been following Corrib’s season, Hen Night falls squarely between the bawdy, elated energy of A Night in November and the poetic hopelessness of Tales of Ballycumber. Like the milk and liquor that combine to make “bitch whiskey,” it’s a heady mix.

Preview: ‘The Hen Night Epiphany’

The little Corrib Theatre's biggest production ever gathers some of the city's finest actresses

Portland’s Corrib Theatre is a tiny company about to take its first big step.

Launched in the fall of 2012 by the Irish-born stage director Gemma Whelan and software designer/photographer/theater aficionado Win Goodbody, Corrib focuses on contemporary Irish stage literature and so far has presented a few staged readings and two solo shows so spare that if the actor had walked away you’d never guess you were looking at a theatrical set — because you’d more likely be looking at, say, an unadorned banquet room in Kells Irish Pub.

Now, Corrib (named after a river and lake on the west coast of Ireland) is offering something a bit more elaborate. Jimmy Murphy’s The Hen Night Epiphany, which opens Saturday night at CoHo Theater, features a cast of five and a full complement of scenic, sound and lighting designs.

The hens in rehearsal for an all-night epiphany

The hens in rehearsal for an all-night epiphany

It’s a gamble —as perhaps is any show by a fledgling company. Goodbody no longer is involved because, according to Whelan, he felt Corrib wasn’t ready to mount a full production of this size in a traditional theater.

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