Weekend Theater preview: So political and so personal

The first four Portland plays of October go well beyond the ballot box

The next few weeks Portland theater plunges into the new season with a vengeance, specifically a political vengeance. Yes, artistic directors knew an election would be nigh when they set their seasons! Fortunately, the level of discussion in the theater will far exceed that of the campaign rhetoric and media coverage, which honestly, couldn’t be much lower, could it? Not to editorialize or anything. Elections should be about the things that matter most to us as citizens, a competition of ideas and descriptions and proposals. And so seldom do they become that, even local elections.

But yes, I digress. Because what happens in the theater during the next few weeks has the possibility of changing my thinking far more than the silly campaign chatter that passes for political discussion. Ahem. Off the soap box…

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Danny Wolohan, William Salyers in “The Body of an American”/
Photo by Patrick Weishampel

“The Body of an American, Portland Center Stage, Oct. 5-Nov. 11, Ellyn Bye Studio, 128 NW 11th Ave. — This play began as series of emails between playwright Dan O’Brien and the Pulitzer-winning war photographer Paul Watson, O’Brien struck by Watson’s heroism (he is most famous for his shot of a Mogadishu crowd dragging the body of an American soldier through the streets) and Watson doubting the premises of his work as a photojournalist. The emails began a friendship and an assignment together in the Canadian Arctic. And finally this play, a vivid two-hander that was workshopped at the 2011 JAW new play festival. Oregon Shakespeare AD Bill Rauch directs, which is interesting all by itself! (And yes, I wrote about it back then…)

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Garfield Wedderburn, Sam Benedict and Bobby Bermea in rehearsal for Profile’s “Master Harold”/Photo: Jamie Bosworth

“Master Harold… and the Boys,” Profile Theatre, Oct. 3-28, Theater! Theatre!, 3430 SE Belmont St. — Profile begins its season-long exploration of Athol Fugard, the great South African dramatist, with one of his most vivid (and semi-autobiographical) accounts of life under apartheid  “Master Harold” is Fugard at his mid-career best and sharpest. Jane Unger, who just stepped down as Profile’s artistic director, directs. Her successor, Adriana Baer, was recently interviewed by Portland Theatre Scene.

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Michael O’Connell, Maureen Porter, “That Hopey Changey Thing”/Owen Carey

“That Hopey Changey Thing,” Third Rail Repertory Theatre, Oct. 5-21, Winningstad Theater, 1111 SW Broadway — Richard Nelson is writing a cycle of plays based on recent American history, and this one is set in 2010 on election day in the house of the (relatively) liberal Apple family as they deal with the crushing election defeat of the Democratic Party. But the play isn’t an ideological rant—it’s more a reasonable (though occasionally passionate) discussion of politics mixed in with some (of course!) family drama. The cast features several of Third Rail Rep’s stalwart acting company (Bruce Burkhartsmeier, Maureen Porter, Mike O’Connell, just to name three), directed by the company’s artistic director Scott Yarbrough.

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Anne Sorce, Heath Hyun Houghton, Grant Miller, Rebecca Lowe in “The Black Lizard”/Courtesy Imago

“The Black Lizard,” Imago, Oct. 5-Nov. 4, 17 SE 8th Ave. — Jerry Mouawad is bringing back this delicious semi-comic melodrama by Yukio Mishima (yes, the tortured aesthete who led a Marx Brothers-like coup d’etat that ended, very UN-Marx Brothers-like, in his ritual suicide), which was a sensation last spring. I wrote about it at some length then, and found it appropriately delirious. This version has four new cast members, but the principals—the unflinching detective (Matt DiBiasio) and the Black Lizard herself (Anne Sorce), who has an obsession with diamonds belonging to other people.

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