oregon shakespeare festival

DramaWatch Weekly: Summer Shakes into view

Summer arrives on the wings of Shakespeare and lands in Ashland

In a recent TV ad, pretty young folks in swimwear cluster on a beach while one of their ilk thrusts a hand into a cooler. They look on expectantly, until he fishes a beer from amid the ice, then rejoice at the news he offers: “Summer is here!” The tell-tale sign, we’re told, is that the beer is in its “summer can.”

This, apparently, is how morons recognize the change of seasons.

Summer starts when summer starts—that is, at the solstice (3:07 a.m., next Thursday, should you have some pagan ritual to plan). But there are other markers in the popular imagination, such as Memorial Day (for the truly anxious), the last day of school, or, in Portland, the end of the rains of Rose Festering.

“You kiss by the book.” Romeo (William Thomas Hodgson) and Juliet (Emily Ota) fall in love at first sight./ Photo by Jenny Graham, Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

But if we orient ourselves around what really matters, we know that summer starts this weekend with the opening of three plays in the open-air Allen Elizabethan Theatre at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

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‘Manahatta’: Twice-told tale

Mary Kathryn Nagle's world premiere at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival gets to the roots of Wall Street and a centuries-old culture clash

ASHLAND — Manahatta playwright Mary Kathryn Nagle, somewhat surprisingly, is an attorney. She is also a citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. These identities inform her writing, as evidenced in Manahatta, a world premiere at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, which opened in late March and continues through October 27.

Manahatta is a play set in two worlds — the modern-day (Oklahoma and Wall Street) and hundreds of years earlier in Manahatta (what is now Manhattan) — about a woman set in two worlds. Jane (Tanis Parenteau) is a contemporary Lenape woman living in Manhattan and returning as often as her success on Wall Street will allow to visit her family in Anadarko, Oklahoma. Parenteau also portrays a character named Le-le-wa’-you in the past Manahatta.

Toosh-ki-pa-kwis-i (Rainbow Dickerson, right) tells Le-le-wa’-you (Tanis Parenteau) that Manahatta is no longer a safe place for the Lenape.Photo: Jenny Graham / Oregon Shakespeare Festival

Jane’s Wall Street success is juxtaposed to the life of her sister, Debra (Rainbow Dickerson, a welcome addition to the OSF company, who brings such magic to this role that you will hardly believe she is the same woman who portrays Bianca in Othello), who has stayed at home and is fighting to keep the Lenape language alive. Their mother, Bobbie (Sheila Tousey) knows the language, but refused to speak it for many years, so the daughters aren’t fluent. And, as the story and reality go, the language is at risk of being forgotten.

The Lenape people existed peacefully for centuries in the Northeastern United States, including what is now New York City. Europeans did not understand the Lenape, and the Lenape didn’t understand these new people, so the “purchase” of Manhattan was much more like a robbery. Jane comes face to face with these stark realizations while living in New York. She is mostly glued to her office, but manages to learn how Wall Street got its name (the Dutch traders built a wall to keep out the people they stole the land from).

Everyone — particularly her boss, Joe (Danforth Comins), and his boss, Dick (Jeffrey King) — keeps telling Jane how amazing it is that she is having such success here: her, a Native American, successful on Wall Street and paving a path for others to follow? The irony, of course, is not lost on the audience that Jane’s path started here and that, in fact, her ancestors literally carved the path (Broadway was the original trail carved through the brush of Manahatta by her people).

Every actor in this play shows great range, portraying someone in the earlier time period, too (and transitioning from one character to the other onstage, before our eyes): Parenteau becomes Le-le-wa’-you, in love with Se-ket-tu-may-qua (Steven Flores, who plays Jane’s Lenape friend, Luke, in Anadarko, who has been adopted by the town banker/church choir director, played by David Kelly). There are no clear-cut transitions, and often the past starts crawling in while those in the present continue their story. This is especially poignant when Jane is experiencing a crisis on Wall Street and her ancestors join her, recalling the real tragedy that occurred here so long ago.

Director Laurie Woolery has managed the transitions impeccably — with a strong assist from lighting designer James F. Ingalls, who can shift our attention even when the action on stage doesn’t change. Woolery is respectful of and attentive to the playwright’s script and the Lenape history. “So respectfully,” writes Woolery, who lives in New York, “we have been excavating this history out of the soil, rocks and roots of this sacred island despite [it] being buried beneath cement, steel and glass.”

Se-ket-tu-may-qua (Steven Flores)gives Le-le-wa’-you (Tanis Parenteau) a wampum necklace that belonged to his mother. Photo: Jenny Graham / Oregon Shakespeare Festival

Dickerson is also Le-le-wa’-you’s sister and Tousey once again her mother in the Lenape world. Jane’s bosses are traders who help, each in his own way, rip this precious land from the Lenape people. Kelly is a pastor in Manahatta. In both worlds, Kelly sees himself as the “savior” of the Lenape: He goes so far in Anadarko as to tell his adopted Lenape son, Luke, that he saved him. The savior complex is hard to watch — as the church choir director who also works at the bank effectively takes Bobbie’s lifelong home away from her. It’s not Manahatta, but it serves as an effective symbol, bringing up fresh for Bobbie all she has lost: her husband, her language, her people’s culture, and now her home.

Comins, King, and Kelly all portray characters that must be difficult to embrace—uttering words like “savage” and continually treating the Lenape as less than people (“You speak!” they exclaim, delighted and surprised as if a baby had spoken its first words, when a Lenape person speaks their language). Each of these actors does a fine job (and Comins deserves extra credit for bringing something completely different to this stage within a day, or hours, of portraying Iago in Othello). But they leave the emotional resonance and most powerful moments to the Native characters.

The actors make their transitions from one time period to another brilliantly, not only due to strong performances and shifts in language and mannerisms, but also with the help of costumes (designed by E.B. Brooks) that transfer from one period to another, and of the set (by scenic designer Mariana Sanchez) that looks so simple at first glance — a table, some rocks, a chair — but contains so much: centuries, even.

This play points out what should be obvious: Our successes in America are built on the backs and lives of the Native people who occupied this land before our ancestors took it from them and relegated them to reservations, where they were ignored at best or gravely mistreated at worst. There is no clearer indication or symbol of what we have built this country on than in Manhattan in general and Wall Street in particular. The Dutch traders were able to steal Manhattan easily without guilt, because the Lenape people did not understand the concept of “owning” a place. So, they were driven out, violently and permanently (or so Jane’s “rare” success would seem to indicate), and the Europeans were able to make millions and build skyscrapers as symbols of their wealth.

Luke (Steven Flores) has doubts about the mortgage loan his adoptive father Michael (David Kelly) has encouraged a friend to take out to pay off her family’s medical bills. Photo: Jenny Graham / Oregon Shakespeare Festival

But if you build your life and hopes and dreams around monetary successes, Nagle warns, you are bound to lose it all. Destroying the ways and lives and homes of the Native people whose land this truly is will not lead to redemption — no, I gather, not even if you’re a pastor or a church choir director. Manahatta may leave you shattered, but it also offers a glimmer of hope. Debra’s work preserving the Lenape language, Jane learning about Manhattan’s history, and this world-premiere play in the Thomas Theatre are all reasons to believe that all is not yet lost.

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Ashland: ‘Oklahoma!’ for today

Bill Rauch's gender-fluid revival of the classic musical at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival breaks into fresh new territory for a new age

ASHLAND — Oklahoma! broke new ground when it debuted in 1943: It was the first time Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II paired up to create a musical, for starters. If you’re skeptical that it could still break new ground in 2018, you are not alone. It’s hard to imagine a musical about finding love in the Oklahoma Territory as very relevant, let alone earth-shattering, in today’s world.

But before you write it off, take a peek at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s version, which opened last month and continues through October 27 in the Angus Bowmer Theatre. This new production is directed by OSF Artistic Director Bill Rauch, the visionary who has led the festival since 2007 and will depart in August 2019 to lead the Perelman Center in New York’s World Trade Center. Rauch has pushed OSF further into embracing inclusion, diversity, and equity —and that is nowhere clearer than in his Oklahoma!

Curly (Tatiana Wechsler, right) tries to entice Laurey (Royer Bockus) into accompanying her to the box social. Photo: Jenny Graham / Oregon Shakespeare Festival

This is inclusive rethinking and casting at its most innovative. Rauch’s production reimagines Curly (Tatiana Wechsler) as a woman and Ado Annie becomes Ado Andy, a flirtatious boy torn between his affections for Ali Hakim, the Persian peddler (Barzin Akhavan makes this character more than the stereotype you might recall from previous versions), and Will Parker (Jordan Barbour), the not-that-bright-but-in-love cowboy. Jonathan Luke Stevens is pitch-perfect as this reimagined Ado Andy. When he explains to Laurey that no “fellers” gave him the time of day until he “rounded up a little,” he shoves his rear end out for emphasis. This is a (hilarious) breath of fresh air for women, who have suffered our whole lives at the stereotype of men desiring nothing more than a buxom bombshell. Stevens’ entire performance is made funnier because he is a man at the “butt” of these far-overdone female stereotypes (for example, when Will calls him the “sweetest sugar in the territory” or says he is going to “make an honest woman out of him”).

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DramaWatch Weekly: ‘Major’ news

A Shavian comedy at Center Stage, a baby in peril at CoHo, Peter Pan at NW Children's Theatre, shocks at Artists Rep, Triangle's new season

She is the very model of a modern Major Barbara.

Sorry, wrong Brit classic. Let’s try again.

Major Barbara, by the legendary British wit and armchair socialist George Bernard Shaw (not by Gilbert & Sullivan), is a play of ideas – big ones, as was Shaw’s wont – about the State of Society and How It Should or Should Not Be Run. Major Barbara Undershaft toils ceaselessly for the Salvation Army to uplift those in need. Her father, Andrew Undershaft, works just as hard to pile up money – in his case, by manufacturing and selling munitions. When he then plans to give some of that money to charitable causes, things, well, blow up. Can good causes accept gifts from bad sources? Can bad money do good things? The horror!

Charles Leggett as Andrew Undershaft in “Major Barbara” at The Armory. Photo: Jennie Baker

In the nonprofit world, this is an ever-present question, and the answer is usually (though not always) “We’ll take that money; thanks.” Shaw being Shaw, the question is delivered with more than a dash of switchbacks and wit – plus a fiancé or two. After several preview performances, Major Barbara opens Friday night on the Main Stage of Portland Center Stage at The Armory, and continues through May 13. Besides providing an increasingly rare chance to see a full-out professional production of a Shaw play, it’s special because this will be the final opening night at PCS for Chris Coleman, who’s been the company’s artistic director for many years and is leaving to take a similar post in Denver.

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REBECCA GILMAN IS KNOWN is known for writing socially and politically provocative plays such as Spinning into Butter, which puts its spin on political correctness on college campuses, and Luna Gale, her latest to hit town, appears to follow a similar path. It opens Friday (through May 12) at CoHo Theatre, with a cast including Sharonlee McLean, Danielle Weathers, Kelsey Tyler and others under Brandon Woolley’s direction, and digs into issues of child services, parents’ rights, and adoption. Luna Gale is the infant; the parents are teens under court order to undergo meth rehab; the mother’s born-again mother wants to adopt, against her own daughter’s wishes; and the caseworker’s in the middle of it all.

Sharonlee McLean in “Luna Gale” at CoHo. Photo: Gary Norman

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NORTHWEST CHILDREN’S THEATRE is ending its 25th anniversary season up in the air, and that’s probably a good thing. It’s reviving its popular 2012 production of Peter Pan, a fresh take with a new book by Milo Mowery and a new score by Rodolfo Ortega. Ryder Thompson is Peter, Grace Molloy is Wendy, Andrés Alcalá is Captain Hook, and Kevin Michael Moore is Smee. Flying by Foy, of course, will be on hand to keep things airborne. Opens Saturday; through May 20.

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IT’S BEEN 75 YEARS SINCE this musical fable about farmers and ranchers in the American Midlands rocked the Broadway world, and a fresh take on Rodgers & Hammerstein’s classic musical Oklahoma! joins the rep at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland this week. Whatever else artistic director Bill Rauch’s revival does, it’s going to be topical, with same-sex lead couples. Plus, of course, those songs. Oklahoma! will join Othello, Sense and Sensibility, Destiny of Desire, Henry V, and the world premiere of Mary Kathryn Nagle’s Manahatta in the rep, with Romeo and Juliet, The Book of Will, and Love’s Labor’s Lost opening on the outdoor stage in mid-June, and The Way the Mountain Moved (by Idris Goodman; commissioned by the festival and also a world premiere) and Snow in Midsummer opening later in the season.

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NATURAL SHOCKS, Lauren Gunderson’s new one-woman play about gun violence, will have a staged reading at 7:30 p.m. Friday on the Alder Stage at Artists Rep, on the 19th anniversary of the Columbine shootings. It’s free, but you need to reserve a seat, and any donations will go to the organizations March for Our Lives and Everytown for Gun Safety. Lauren Bloom Hanover will perform, and Kisha Jarrett will direct. Gunderson is also the author of Artists Rep’s next full-run show, I and You, opening May 20.

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ANOTHER NEW SEASON: Triangle Productions has joined the recent crowd of companies announcing their 2018-19 seasons. The six-show season opens in September with Holland Taylor’s Ann, about the late and legendary Texas governor Ann Richards. It’ll star Margie Boulé, and that seems like a good pairing of smart, talented and witty women. In November and December it’s Who’s Holiday, starring Daria (Bad Dates, Judy’s Scary Christmas) and written by Matthew Lombardo (Looped!). In February 2019, Helen Raptis stars in I’ll Eat You Last: A Chat with Sue Mengers. No, it’s not about the Donner Party. Mengers was a fabled Hollywood agent with A-list clients. Dirt, no doubt, will be dished. March brings Straight, by Scott Elmegreen and Drew Fornarola, followed in May by Love, Loss, and What I Wore, an evening of monologues and ensemble pieces by the fabulously funny Ephron sisters, Nora and Delia. The season concludes in June 2019 with Matthew Lopez’s The Legend of Georgia McBride, about a guy who gets fired as an Elvis impersonator and then discovers a drag show’s taking his slot.

DramaWatch Weekly: Hamilton-plus

Lin-Manuel Miranda's Broadway mega-hit grabs the spotlight. But Portland and Ashland stages are overflowing with other top bets, too.

Don’t look now, but the two-ton elephant’s about to plop down in the living room. That’s right: Hamilton, the touring version of the Broadway mega-hit, opens on Tuesday, March 20, in Portland’s Keller Auditorium for 24 performances through April 8, and if you don’t have your tickets yet – well, good luck. That pencils out to 72,000 available seats, and most of them are long gone.

So you’re on the outside looking in: How to score a ticket? Lottery, baby! Every performance will have 40 tickets available for 10 bucks each, and you can hit the lottery line for each show two days in advance, starting Sunday for opening night. Here’s the link. Or, you could go through one of the ticket-resale sites and offer your first-born child, your mother-in-law, and a case of Eyrie 1975 South Block Pinot noir.

Shoba Narayan, Ta’Rea Campbell and Nyla Sostre head for Portland with the “Hamilton” national touring company. Photo © Joan Marcus 2018

Veteran West Coast theater critic Misha Berson saw the company during its Seattle run before its Puddletown engagement and filed this report for ArtsWatch readers. “Hamilton comes at you at 100 miles per hour, a power vehicle running on all cylinders,” she writes. “It’s the theatrical equivalent of IMAX but all human, all live, and with none of the techno-tricks designed to hypnotize and overwhelm. What seduces you here is a group of mostly black actors in velvet breeches and ruffled shirts, singing ‘I’m not throwing away my shot!’ with a visceral intensity you can feel from the balcony, and an array of drifting, be-gowned young women exhorting you to ‘Look around, look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now’.”

Go ahead: Mortgage the house. Or you could get lucky in the lottery.

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Oregon Shakespeare Festival: Changing the social order

Daniel Pollack-Pelzner views the first four plays of OSF's season as expressions of social change

By DANIEL POLLACK-PELZNER

“We’re here to change the social order. So deal with it.”

That’s the cheery, cheeky ensemble announcement that begins Karen Zacarías’s wildly entertaining Destiny of Desire—a deliciously theatrical homage to the mistaken identities, thwarted romances, and swooning pageantry that drive Latin American telenovelas—and it could well serve as the motto for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s new season.

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival production of “Destiny of Desire” by Karen Zacarías is pointedly riotous. Or is that riotously pointed?/Photo by Jenny Graham.

“I’m a Latina and I’m a woman; I’m not exactly popular right now,” Zacarías admitted after the opening performance last month, but as audience members danced to a mariachi band in the Angus Bowmer Theatre lobby, her popularity, and the appeal of theater that reflects her imagination, looked poised to soar.

An 80-year-old tourist destination in small-town southern Oregon that has a dead white male as its middle name, as its staff is fond of joking, might not seem the likeliest engine of social change. Under its outgoing artistic director, Bill Rauch, however, its resident company has become 70 percent actors of color, and the 2018 lineup features five new plays by women. Those include Mary Kathryn Nagle’s brilliant Manahatta, which tracks land frauds from the Dutch West India Company to Lehman Brothers, and Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig’s adaptation of a Chinese classic about criminal justice and climate change, Snow in Midsummer—not everyday tourist fare.

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DramaWatch Weekly: Crikey!

Blimey: Some Portland stages are getting all Irish on us. Plus a Magic Show, a White Hound of the North, and mom's brief scandalous affair

Fun linguistic facts: Did you know “blimey” is short for “blind me,” and “crikey” for “croak me?” And just like that, an expression of simple surprise becomes a murmured self-annihilation. Thank James Joyce for putting it to paper, and thank the Irish for their wry twist on the human condition, which, this month, we celebrate.

At least two companies seem to be making St. Patrick’s festivities official, mentioning “Irish Month” in promoting intimate Irish shows: Portland Story Theater’s Luck of the Irish and Readers Theater Repertory’s Lovers: Winners.

The former will fill the Old Church to the brim with music and blarney for a 90-minute step-dancing, harping, fiddling variety and storytelling show.

The latter, a dramatic reading of Brian Friel’s Lovers: Winners, eavesdrops on two teenagers struggling to focus on studying for their exams, even as “an unforeseen event propels them into disgrace.” Ooooooo. (Call 971.266.3787 to make reservations. The Blackfish Gallery fills up fast.)

Oh! And it looks like fly-by-night micro-company Speculative Drama and Susurrations will soon debut an Irish-infused White Hound of the North at The Steep and Thorny Way to Heaven (reserve at events@thesteepandthornywaytoheaven.com)

Of course, you can’t mention Irish Theater in Portland without checking in on Corrib. One may even wonder if, like serious partiers shun New Year’s Eve as “amateur night,” serious Irish folklorists snub St. Patty’s. Sure enough, looks like they’re laying low in the afterglow of Lifeboat, and in more ways than one, prepping Quietly for April. Two Irishmen meet in a Belfast bar 30 years after The Troubles to remember events and reconcile a rift.

 

Oh: And how about a little sleight-of-hand? Portland Center Stage opens Andrew Hinderaker’s “The Magic Play” this weekend on the Main Stage at The Armory. That’s Jack Bronis as “Another Musician” waving that giant Queen of Hearts. Photo: Patrick Weishampel/blankeye.tv

What sort of affair is Our Mother’s Brief Affair? Sounds like a talkie on a park bench rather than a song-and-dance soiree. Triangle Productions opens it this weekend. Like Mother’s iconic Burberry trench coat, it sounds like a subdued character study in revealing, concealing, and putting on airs.

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