ArtsWatch Weekly: Starting again

Wake up. Put on your game face. Ready or not, theater doors are open and a strange revival's under way.

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THE SEASON’S SHIFTED, AND WE’RE IN SOME SORT OF STRANGE REVIVAL. After a long social sleep, things are happening. People are out and about, at school, at work, in coffee shops and music halls. Museums and theaters and galleries are open (like everyplace else, with restrictions). Concerts, plays, dance performances are on the boards again, and as social and cultural life reawaken, a kind of muted, uncertain exhilaration is in the air.

How do we do this, again? Do we remember? Have the rules of engagement changed?

“Finally being together again in an audience felt miraculous, and also — if I am being completely honest — a little strange, and unfamiliar,” the playwright Sarah Ruhl writes in an essay for The New York Times about personal, theatrical, and medical masks. “… I know I’m not the only one in the theater community who feels oddly dislocated now; the quarantine itself was awful but had a glacial clarity about it; at least one knew what to do — one stayed put. Now that theater, dance and music (our secular New York City worship rituals) are back, there is celebration, and, I find, a sense of floating oddly — in a landscape that should feel like home.”

Does it feel like that? Will the landscape seem, again, like home? If we’re not, as Yeats had it, slouching toward Bethlehem, we’re not exactly rushing full gallop back to the Before Times, either. Neither our minds nor our bodies are fully attuned. Still, the theater doors are opening. It begins.



On stage: sights & sounds of a season stirring

As stages begin to bustle, Marty Hughley’s DramaWatch returns. Broadway Rose finds a winner in the Scottish Highlands. The Spoon Benders bust out of the silverware drawer, and the TBA Festival finishes on time.

Jarran Muse in the world-premiere production of “Bojangles of Harlem: The Bill Robinson Musical,” from Stumptown Stages in the Dolores Winninstad Theatre. Photo: Owen Carey

DRAMAWATCH: BACK IN THE SADDLE AGAIN. After a long layoff during the height of Covid times, Marty Hughley’s back on the theater-desk range, riding herd over the dramatic and comic and newsy critters out on the theatrical range. This week he looks at what’s happening at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, why a traveling production of Jesus Christ Superstar constituted good news, a few shifts in administrative chairs, Stumptown Stage’s new musical about the legendary dancer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, and more. About that JC at the Keller: “Yes, this is what normal used to be — city life, culture, crowds heading to the theater. It all was a heartening sight to see again last week, when a touring production of Jesus Christ Superstar played at the Keller. That it was a crowd drawn by Andrew Lloyd Webber was mildly depressing, but no one ever said normal was always good. Face masks and vaccination cards weren’t part of the old normal, but they’re now part of the normative, and that’s most certainly good.”

WEEKLY (P)REVIEWS: PULLED BACK INTO A CATAPULT. Robert Ham talks with the Spoon Benders about their musical breakout during the Covid shutdowns, takes a look at the rise of the young rapper/producer Kadren, and recounts the out-on-the-edge exhilarations of Grammy winner Kiefer’s recent show at Holocene.

TBA FEST: “MOVE YOU: INTERVENTION.” The Portland Institute for Contemporary Art’s TBA, or Time-Based Art, festival wrapped up on Sunday, but not before Elizabeth Whelan joined the crowd walking through Portland’s Boise neighborhood in an event that combined the dance form J-Sette and a look at the history that largely displaced Black Portlanders from what had been a center of the city’s Black culture.

INVITATION TO BEING A FUTURE BEING. Meanwhile, Lindsay Costello experiences a TBA event that used sound, words, and striking images to create a vivid and compelling exploration of Indigenous culture, history, and memory.

From left: Benjamin Tissell, Colin Stephen Kane, Danielle Valentine, and Hannah Lauren Wilson in “Loch Lomond” at Broadway Rose Theatre Company. Photo: Craig Mitchelldyer

HIGH ROADS, HIGH NOTES. Bojangles of Harlem isn’t the only world-premiere work of musical theater in town. Bennett Campbell Ferguson takes in Loch Lomond, the new musical from Broadway Rose Theatre Company, and declares it “grandly tragic.” That’s a good thing. With music by Neil Douglas Reilly and book and lyrics by Maggie Herskowitz, Loch Lomond is set in the Scottish Highlands during the Jacobite uprising of 1745, and tells the interlinked stories of two brothers and their wives. Reilly’s music, Ferguson writes, “allows emotions to swell and soar like helium balloons,” and Herskowitz’s tale “weaves a wistful narrative that lets the brothers make peace with their mortality and savor sweet memories of the world they left behind.”

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Here’s looking at things: the art week

Portland Open Studios opens the doors and gets back in the real-space thick of things (but bring your mask!). In Ashland, a solo show of collages by Bruce Burris recalls the music of the 1960s and brings the beat up to contemporary concerns. 

The A to (almost) Z of Portland Open Studios, with 83 other artists between: Julio Aleman’s oil portrait “Bien Ching” (left) and April Xu’s oil painting “The Girl in the Red Sweater” (right).

PORTLAND OPEN STUDIOS IS OPEN AGAIN. After going virtual last October for the first time in its 20-odd years, this eagerly anticipated annual event is back to its roots, which are in the solidly nonvirtual working studios of working visual artists, who open their doors to anyone who’d like to visit, see where the art gets made, talk with the artists, and maybe even buy something straight out of the studio. This year’s studio crawl, which sprawls across the metropolitan area, happens the next two Saturdays and Sundays, Oct. 9-10 and 16-17. It’s part of a nationwide movement to bridge the distance between artmakers and art followers (Washington County’s Open Studios Tour will be Oct. 16-17), and among its agreeable aspects is the opportunity to get to know about some genuinely good artists who aren’t part of the gallery scene: Several do have gallery representation; quite a few don’t. About 85 artists will be welcoming visitors during the Portland studio tours. If you go, take care. Masks will be required in all studios, and you can see other Covid policies here

Bruce Burris, “Some Ol’ Logga Said Every Finger Tells a Story” (2020). 48 x 34 x 3 inches. Image courtesy of Schneider Museum of Art.

AN ARTIST-ACTIVIST “KEEPS ON KEEPING ON.” “Many young minds of the generation to which Bruce Burris belongs gained some of their political awareness while in their basements listening to what was then considered radical, socially-conscious rock and roll music,” Patrick Collier writes about artist Burris, whose solo exhibition A Shrine for a Shrine is at the Schneider Museum of Art, in Ashland. Those 1960s/’70s roots remain strong in Burris’s art, and are applied to new social, political, and environmental realities, Collier writes. Burris’s art, Collier adds, has grown in other ways, too: “(H)e recognizes that when two-way conversation is absent, only mutual blame and recrimination remain. This is what sets Bruce Burris apart as an artist activist.”



At the movies: Bond and a whole lot more

As Daniel Craig hands in his license to thrill, a talk with “Dr. 007” about the cultural influence and meanings of the Bond franchise. An over-50 filmmaker nod. Plus, Icelandic and French films on the perils and pleasures of parenting, some blood-red Italian “yellow films,” and a first look at that new Bond blockbuster. 

Can this romance last, or is it the end of the road? Léa Seydoux as Dr. Madeleine Swann, on the run with Daniel Craig’s Bond in the new “No Time To Die.”

BOND FAN PICKS THE BRAIN OF “DR. 007.” When No Time To Die goes into wide release on Friday, Oct. 8, it’ll be the end of the line for Daniel Craig as James Bond, although almost certainly not for the franchise, which is deeply embedded in the psychic memories of generations of movie fans. No Time To Die is either the 25th or 27th movie in the Bond franchise, depending on which films are considered “canonical.” The movie versions of Ian Fleming’s globe-trotting British spy novels began in 1962 with Dr. No and have progressed with a series of Bonds: Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan, David Niven (in the odd-man-out 1967 parody of Casino Royale, the first of Fleming’s Bond novels, in 1953), and Craig, who at 15 years has been the longest-lived Agent 007. 

What’s it all mean? Unabashed Bond (and Craig) fan Bennett Campbell Ferguson got on the phone with Dr. Lisa Funnell, known in academic and fandom circles as “Dr. 007” for her scholarly publications on the Bond phenomenon and its cultural implications, from feminism to toxic masculinity to the wielding of power and a fading imperialism. Dr. Funnell is also a Bond fan, and she and Ferguson, well, bonded over that. Their conversation ranges far and wide, like a secret agent on an international mission. “Dr. Funnell and I both crave revisionism,” Ferguson concludes, “but we also want joy from whoever replaces Craig. ‘Bring in a solid new creative team with great ideas about, “How do we make the Bond film of the future?”‘ Dr. Funnell says. ‘I don’t want to see a remake of the past—move me forward to a beautiful standalone narrative where Bond simply does his job. And that is being the best British agent in the world.”

AN INTERNATIONAL NOD FOR A PORTLAND FILM. Being Me in the Current America, written by Josie Seid, performed by Shareen Jacobs, and directed and produced by Dmae Lo Roberts (with Samson Syharath as co-producer) for MediaRites, has won a “commended” award in the best drama category of the just-concluded Women Over 50 Film Festival, an international event based in the United Kingdom. Roberts is also the creator of the Stage & Studio podcast, which appears on ArtsWatch. Being Me began life as part of Theatre Diaspora’s’ stage solo shows The –Ism Project, and MediaRites remade it for screening.

FILMWATCH WEEKLY: PARENTING TIPS FROM “LAMB” & “LITTLE GIRL”; ITALIAN THRILLERS AND–OH, YEAH, JAMES BOND. Marc Mohan gives the word on what’s new at the movies – an Icelandic fable about a highly unusual baby; an affecting French documentary about a transgender child; a series of Italian bloody “yellow films”; Daniel Craig’s last go-round as Bond, in No Time To Die.



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About the author
Senior Editor

Bob Hicks has been covering arts and culture in the Pacific Northwest since 1978, including 25 years at The Oregonian. Among his art books are Kazuyuki Ohtsu; James B. Thompson: Fragments in Time; and Beth Van Hoesen: Fauna and Flora. His work has appeared in American Theatre, Biblio, Professional Artist, Northwest Passage, Art Scatter, and elsewhere. He also writes the daily art-history series "Today I Am."

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