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2022: The year at the theater

Oregon's theater scene took the year literally in stages, from Covid caution to something resembling (but not quite) full speed ahead.


Joe Joseph, Sasson Gabay, and Janet Ducal in “The Band’s Visit.” Photo: Evan Zimmerman, MurphyMade

In a year that began cautiously because of continuing Covid outbreaks, a good deal happened on Oregon’s theater stages–if not as much as in an “ordinary” year, far more than in 2020 or 2021.

It was partly a year of bunking together and sharing resources: Artists Rep, with the long remodel of its own building still in process, sharing space with Portland Center Stage at The Armory; the “Cuomo Collaborative” of three leading small companies sharing the CoHo Theatre space; the theater schools Bridgetown Conservatory of Musical Theatre and The Actors Conservatory sharing new digs at the historic Tiffany Center.

ArtsWatch’s writers were on hand for a good deal of of the action, and brought readers an invigorating variety of reports. Some highlights:



Oregon Cultural Trust

Jan. 6: The understated eloquence of “The Band’s Visit.” The year began with a touring production at Keller Auditorium of a Broadway hit–but not your ordinary, pull-out-the-stops Broadway hit, as Marty Hughley wrote about this “small wonder,” which won 10 Tony Awards: “(I)t’s surprisingly low-key, eschewing flash and grandiosity at pretty much every turn, and presenting its everyday characters not as unsung heroes but simply as folks muddling through mundane lives in mundane places. Yet it tells its unremarkable tale with such emotional honesty and narrative delicacy, with such a fine attention to those things that cause a quickening amid the quotidian, that it brushes up against the profound and the deeply moving.”

Jan. 13: On masks, snacks, safety, theater etiquette and Hercule Poirot. Marty Hughley goes to the theater (it’s Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express) because, after months of shutdowns, he wants to see a live show in an actual theater. Covid is still with us, he tells his readers, a reminder prompted by cavalier behavior among the audience.

Strongwoman Tera “Supernova” Zarra, performing for Clowns Without Borders. Photo: Tim Neighbors of Invisible Harness

Feb. 16: A strongwoman, a fire dancer, and the joy of clowning across borders. Amy Leona Havin talks with strongwoman Tera “Supernova” Zarra and fire dancer/aerialist Alicia Cutaia about circus arts and Clowns Without Borders, the group that travels the world to perform for people in crisis zones.

Feb. 17: “Thurgood” and the inherent drama of We the People. Lester Purry’s fine solo performance at Portland Playhouse as the first Black member of the Supreme Court finds a fitting tension in the Constitution itself, Marty Hughley writes.

From left: Rebby Yuer Foster, Armon Lalonde, and Kayla Hanson in rehearsal for Shaking the Tree’s “Chick Fight.” Photo: Emily Hogan

March 3: A rowdy group “Chick Fight.” “I have this desire to create a visual world and then see how it plays out in a theatrical context,” Shaking the Tree’s Samantha Van Der Merwe tells Marty Hughley about her visually potent, immersive style of theater–in this case, a group slamdown among the likes of Medusa, Britney Spears, Medea, Lindsay Lohan, and even that original temptress, Eve.

March 3: Fun and grief with Dick and Jane and Sally, who’s deaf. Director Jessica Wallenfels and PSU actors dug marvelously into family dynamics and the myriad aspects of negotiating the deaf and hearing worlds, Marty Hughley writes: “(W)hether or not Sally really can ‘talk like everybody else,’ maybe what matters is that – like this marvelous show – she can really communicate and make a connection.”


Oregon Cultural Trust

March 8: Stage & Studio: Marc David Pinate and “Antigone.” Dmae Lo Roberts talks in a podcast interview with the playwright and Borderlands Theater leader, whose U.S. border adaptation of Antigone played at Milagro Theatre.

Lauren Steele, stepping out in “Queens Girl in Africa.” Photo: Travis Nodurft

April 7: A cavalcade of Queens Girls, “Hamilton” & “Freestyle Love Supreme.” “Acting is something that Lauren Steele can do seriously,” Marty Hughley writes in praise of Steele’s performance in Part 2 of the Queens Girl trilogy at Clackamas Rep. “The script calls for quicksilver shifts in accent, affect, mood, language, body language; Steele never lets us see how much work must have gone into it all, so smooth and instant is every transition, so clearly delineated is each new voice and stance.” And in Lauren Steele: “Queens Girl” actress and “Nighttime” singer, Stage & Studio’s Dmae Lo Roberts talks via podcast with the rising star, who is wowing theater audiences and carrying forward a rich family musical legacy.

May 24: Bobby Bermea on theater, art, & life: Welcome to a new column. A teller of tales and theater-artist-about-town digs into the “cauldron of creativity” of his happy place, the rehearsal room, in his inaugural column for ArtsWatch.

June 4: Fuse’s OUTwright invigorating festival. Bobby Bermea traces the growth and success of Portland’s innovative Queer theater festival, which hits its 10th anniversary during Pride Month.

July 1: More sugar in the Chekhov tea. Years ago, Marty Hughley writes, he met the jazz pianist Andrei Kitaev for lunch–and stared in disbelief as Kitaev poured spoonful after spoonful of sugar into his tea. “I’m Russian,” the pianist explained simply. The Portland Experimental Theatre Ensemble’s new adaptation of The Cherry Orchard, he adds, reminds him of Kitaev and his tea. It’s an energizing jolt of the sweetly unexpected–in a good way. And in PETE’s “Cherry Orchard,” laughing through the apocalypse, our reviewer Max Tapogna revels in the show’s fine balance between comedy and despair.

July 22: Imago in Pirandelloland. Jerry Mouawad and Drew Pisarra’s new Voiceover dips into dance and sound with an existential twist, Marty Hughley writes.

… and now they are three. The newly formed Cuomo Theatre Collaborative will house three creative small companies — CoHo Productions, Third Rail Rep, and PETE — in CoHo’s Northwest Portland building. Photo courtesy CoHo Productions.

July 29: Welcome to the Cuomo Collaborative. Small-theater stars CoHo, PETE, and Third Rail join forces to beat the real estate game, Marty Hughley writes–a move spurred by Philip Cuomo, CoHo’s visionary producing artistic director, who died in 2021 from lymphoma.


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Aug. 24: Bobby Bermea: The truth about Polonius. Sure, Hamlet’s the hero, and gets all the praise. But why? asks the actor playing the prince’s put-upon counsel in Salt and Sage’s production of the Danish Play. Isn’t Polonius a reasonable and honest guy, just doing his job?

Sept. 20: Artists Rep welcomes its new leader. Marty Hughley talks with new artistic director Jeanette Harrison, who brings a commitment to a diversity of voices to Portland’s second largest theater company.

Sept. 23: Stepping into another Mann’s shoes. No, it’s not over yet. When lead actor Richie Stone in Broadway Rose’s musical “The Evolution of Mann” is sidelined by Covid, Marty Hughley writes, director Isaac Lamb takes the stage for opening night.

From left: Andrea White, Chavez Ravine, Don Kenneth Mason, and Lauren Steele in “the ripple, the wave that carried me home,” a co-production of Portland Center Stage and Artists Repertory Theatre. Photo: Shawnte Sims/courtesy of Portland Center Stage

Oct. 28: Black theater and Black joy, in ripples and waves. In a season of shows about Black life in America, Marty Hughley writes, Christina Anderson’s captivating “the ripple, the wave” carries the conversation home: “As charmingly warm, personable and down-to-earth as it is politically incisive, poetically eloquent and emotionally grand, the ripple… serves up Black joy that’s been earned through generations of effort in the world and reflection in private places. It shows Black life in marvelous specificity and fullness, neither as tragic historical trap nor as clowning cliche. We see everyday people – just with an extra rock or two to push up the hill.”

Kristina Wong in “Kristina Wong, Sweatshop Overlord” at La Jolla Playhouse. Photo: Jenna Selby, courtesy of La Jolla Playhouse.

Oct. 30: Stage & Studio: Kristina Wong, Sweatshop Overlord. Dmae Lo Roberts carries on an illuminating podcast conversation with the Pulitzer-nominated Wong about making masks, the Auntie Sewing Squad, and the solo show Wong is performing in a co-production of Portland Center Stage and Boom Arts. Marty Hughley reviews Wong’s “sharp and heartwarming look behind the politics of Covid,” here.

Nov. 9: Ashland: New plays, new ideas, all around the town. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival and Ashland New Plays Festival wrap up seasons of bold plays that grapple with modern issues and life, Brett Campbell writes.

Nov. 19: Where the future Lives. Share and share alike: Two of Oregon’s premier theater schools, Bridgetown Conservatory of Musical Theatre and The Actors Conservatory, are sharing space in the historic Tiffany Center, Bobby Bermea writes.


All Classical Radio James Depreist

Dec. 1: An “Our Town” for all towns. Fuse Theatre’s ”beautiful and spare” production of Thornton Wilder’s American classic tells the story of love and loss from a queer perspective, Max Tapogna writes.

What’s on the theatrical menu: An anteater waiter? At “ZooZoo,” yes. Photo courtesy Imago Theatre.

Dec. 6: Going to the ZooZoo. As holiday shows take over the theater calendar, Imago does the season with a twist, bringing back itss magical menagerie of costumed critters to delight kids of all ages.

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