Bob Hicks

 

Atticus, tried and all too true

Lakewood's sharp and moving "To Kill a Mockingbird" does justice to an American classic that reverberates in a curious time capsule

To Kill a Mockingbird is a cherished time capsule of American literature and culture, a concise and moving statement about childhood, innocence, courage, and race. Its main characters – feisty tomboy Scout Finch, her brother Jem and friend Dill, the mysterious and frightening Boo Radley (much talked about but rarely seen), and above all that towering figure of decency and strength, Atticus Finch – are genuine American icons, up there within shouting distance of Huckleberry Finn and Captain Ahab and poor besmirched Hester Prynne. Scout and Jem and Dill and Boo and Atticus, of course, are all white Southerners, and it’s telling that the novel’s major black characters – Scout’s substitute-mother cook and housekeeper, Calpurnia, and Tom Robinson, the honest laborer who is falsely but fatally accused of rape – are not nearly so well-etched in the public consciousness.

Mockingbird doubles, maybe triples, in time. Harper Lee’s novel was published to acclaim in 1960, in the midst of the civil rights movement, after Brown v. Board of Education and Rosa Parks’ bus rebellion and the Little Rock desegregation crisis, before the Selma marches and the rise of the Black Panther Party and the assassinations of Medgar Evers and Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. It was both a repressive and an exciting time, when liberal hopes and expectations, in spite and perhaps in part because of the naked resistance they faced, ran high.

Kate McLellan as Scout, Monica Fleetwood as Calpurnia, Bram Allahdadi as Jem in “Mockingbird.” Lakewood Theatre photo

The novel is set, however, in an earlier time – the early to middle 1930s, during the depths of the Great Depression, in small-town Alabama, a seat of rigid segregation and no small amount of mob violence. From that viewpoint the actions of Atticus and the lessons Scout learns are truly heroic: resolute stands against the corruption of the place and culture they knew and loved. Tom Robinson loses his life. Scout loses her innocence, but gains something much larger: an understanding of the moral universe, and an emerging ability to cope with its demands.

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Sitting in the packed audience at the Fremont Theater last Thursday night for Portland Story Theater’s latest Urban Tellers show was both exhilarating and disheartening. Exhilarating because this was the latest chapter in Urban Tellers’ illuminating series of tales told by immigrants in and around Portland. Disheartening because this was the next-to-last Urban Tellers show ever in this little jewel of a space on Northeast Fremont Avenue in the Sabin/Alameda/Irvington overlap.

The following night’s repeat performance would be the end. Both houses were sold out. That made no difference: The Fremont is shutting down Nov. 12, and for Portland Story Theater, this was the abrupt end of a regular monthly gig. Matthew Singer wrote about the shutdown in Willamette Week, telling an all too familiar tale. “The basic circumstances are that we just ran out of money,” co-owner David Shur told him. Shur also noted that attempts to soundproof the space to appease other tenants of the building proved too costly.

Rodrigo Aguirre, Ruiyuan Gao (center) and Marisol Batioja-Kreuzer in the final Urban Tellers at the Fremont Theater. Photo: Kelly Nissl

The Fremont was used mainly as a music space, becoming one of several halls that helped fill the gap for jazz shows after the legendary Jimmy Mak’s shut down early this year. But it was home to Portland Story Theater and a few other more theatrical presenters, too, including puppeteer Penny Walter’s daytime Penny’s Puppets family shows and the old-time radio theatrics of Tesla City Stories, whose live shows are presented as if in a radio studio, sound effects included. Penny’s Puppets has its final show at the Fremont this Friday, Nov. 10. Tesla bids its adieu to the Fremont with a show the following evening, Nov. 11.

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Crow of triumph, cry of despair

"Year of the Rooster" at CoHo struts across an aggressive and violent stage. It's winner take all. And it's desperately funny.

The first clue might come in the program credits, where Kristen Mun, who ordinarily would be listed as fight coordinator, is instead credited as “violence director.”

Somehow you get the feeling this show might be amping things up.

That intuition pays off within scant seconds at the top of the show, when Sam Dinkowitz struts cockily onstage, chest puffed, muscles bulging, head twitching, hurling a fusillade of profanity upward, toward the sun, his mortal enemy, the bane of his life, the creature whose very rising in the morning is an affront to his nature, the shining devil he has sworn to kill.

Rolland Walsh (and eggs) in “Year of the Rooster.” Photo: Owen Carey

It’s a mad, mad, mad, mad world out there, a place of unleashed testosterone, of kill or be killed, eat or be eaten, win or drop dead. In a universe where everything’s brutally, comically exaggerated, nobody’s more over the top than Odysseus Rex, the raging killer Dinkowitz plays. Odysseus Rex is a rooster. More than a rooster, he’s a fighting cock. More than a fighting cock, he’s a champion. And this is his story.

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I Am This: Jewish artists in Oregon

A new exhibit traces the history and variety of Jewish art in the state. A second show tells the tale of a painting that saved lives.

It’s both easy and hard to wrap your head around I Am This: Art by Oregon Jewish Artists, the elegant small new exhibit at the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education.

Easy because the choices of artists are mostly familiar to Portland art followers, and because they share curator Bruce Guenther’s taste for modern and contemporary works that deal, whatever else might be going on in them, with the notion of beauty.

Hard because the questions the exhibit asks – What does it mean to be Jewish? What does it mean to be a Jewish artist? What does it mean to be a Jewish artist from Oregon? – are so elusive, with so many different answers, and ultimately with so many unanswered and perhaps unanswerable question marks. “Here we are, looking inward,” museum director Judith Margles remarked at a press preview last week, and maybe that’s at least a large part of what being Jewish means.

Frederick Littman's sculpture "Torso" (1968. Bronze, 46 x 22 x 12 inches, The Arlene and Harold Schnitzer Collection, Portland) and Mark Rothko's 1928 painting "Beach Scene" (oil on canvas mounted on board, Reed College, Kaufman Memorial Art Collection, gift of Louis and Annette Kaufman in memory of Isaac and Pauline Kaufman). Oregon ArtsWatch photo

Frederick Littman’s sculpture “Torso” (1968. Bronze, 46 x 22 x 12 inches, The Arlene and Harold Schnitzer Collection, Portland) and Mark Rothko’s 1928 painting “Beach Scene” (oil on canvas mounted on board, Reed College, Kaufman Memorial Art Collection, gift of Louis and Annette Kaufman in memory of Isaac and Pauline Kaufman). Oregon ArtsWatch photo

Guenther, the former longtime chief curator of the Portland Art Museum who is curating the first year of shows at the Jewish Museum since it moved into the old Museum of Contemporary Craft space in the Pearl District, spoke of the sometimes uneasy relationship between group and individual identity: “We live in an age of individualization, identity as core, as shield, as conflict.”

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Portland’s Grand Central Station

Everybody comes to Powell's, and photographer K.B. Dixon's new exhibition and book find volumes in the mix of people and place

Photographs by K.B. DIXON

Powell’s City of Books is Portland’s Grand Central Station, the teeming crossroads of the city’s cultural life: not just one of the nation’s great commercial repositories of literature and language, but a busy transit center of people and ideas. Kids, teens, singles, doubles, parents, grandparents. Locals who drop in for an hour and spend the day. Serious scholars doing research. Tourists who treat it like a shrine. Foreign visitors looking for something in their native language, or something to help them brush up on their English skills. People on their way to someplace else. People on their way back from someplace else. Browsers, buyers, passersby. Like Rick’s, it seems, eventually everybody comes to Powell’s.

 

Entering the temple: the south entrance on Burnside.

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IT IS ALSO, LIKE THE MULTNOMAH County Central Library just a few blocks away, one of Portland’s best people-watching places, an almost endless fascination of faces, connections, and enthusiasms. Something about a great bookstore encourages people to be very public and very private at once – lost, publicly, in the obsessions and curiosities of their own minds. Portland photographer and writer K.B. Dixon believed Powell’s was an ideal spot to pursue his own obsession for creating interesting and culturally telling black and white images. He gained permission to spend hours and hours in the aisles, following his eye where it led. The results of his project are now on view in a sort of meta-exhibition: images of Powell’s at Powell’s, in the bookstore’s Basil Hallward Gallery, upstairs in the Pearl Room, through October. Images here are from the exhibition or the larger selection of photographs in Dixon’s accompanying book, titled simply The Bookstore.

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An epic circle, intimately drawn

A classic Brecht circles around to today: Shaking the Tree's personal-sized epic "Caucasian Chalk Circle" spins a funny and pertinent tale

Gather ’round, children, for a long autumn’s tale. It’s epic, and intimate, and small-scale, and so big a whole village could hardly wrap its arms around it. It’s an interlocking set of stories, really, in five acts and a prologue, moving freely from a 14th century Chinese fable, to the Soviet Union sometime near the end of the Second World War, to right here and now. It’s frankly artificial, and lands a few resounding truths, and is funny and cruel and consoling, and very private and very political. It is not, as one artistic director recently described the contemporary theater scene with a slight whaddya-gonna-do shrug, “ninety minutes, no intermission.”

It’s a Brechtian world, round and round. Photo: Gary Norman

It is, in fact, a little over three hours, one intermission. But that’s OK: It’s Bertolt Brecht’s The Caucasian Chalk Circle, and some things are worth a little extra time. Shaking the Tree’s new production of this 20th century classic is binge-watching in a single seating, and it somehow manages to feel both classic and contemporary without diminishing either. It delivers an old-fashioned wallop of vivid, simply staged theatricality, and the ensemble has so much energy to go with so few props in such a small space that in its expressionistic fervor it sometimes overdoes things: words get lost in the rafters as they overlap; actions tumble helter-skelter. Not very often, though, and when they do it seems a matter of epic style overwhelming the space, without the distancing that gives epic its most potent effect. Consider this a minor and almost inevitable drawback. The payoff is that the intimate is truly intimate, and sweeps the audience not just into its embrace, but also into a kind of active partnership. As the tales spin out things become clearer and clearer. The quieter moments take precedence, and an emotional gravity grabs hold.

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The Complexion of the times

Bach, Bowie, and Maya Angelou: White Bird kicks off its 20th season of dance with the contemporary ballet company Complexions

The mood was festive in the Newmark Theatre in downtown Portland Thursday night: a new White Bird dance season was beginning, and Complexions Contemporary Ballet was in the house. The lobbies were bump-into-you bustling, the seats were almost all filled in, and though the jeans and casual shirts that so define Portland sartorial style were on plentiful display among the audience, plenty of fine plumage was on show, too. Dressed up or dressed down, the crowd was pumped to get this thing going again.

White Bird was embarking on its 20th season of presenting contemporary dance from around the world to Portland audiences (Thursday night’s program repeats Friday and Saturday), and Complexions, which was founded in 1994 by a pair of Alvin Ailey dancers, was on the program for the first time since 2009. It was, all in all, a welcome return.

The company, in “Star Dust” mode. Photo courtesy White Bird

All three works on Thursday’s program were choreographed by Dwight Rhoden, who founded Complexions with Desmond Richardson, and though the influences range from the purely balletic to jazz and hip hop and the theatrics of the arena rock ‘n’ roll stage, and the movements are often distinguished by a contemporary, deliberately awkward elegance, they are also classical in their centered balances and line.

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