Bob Hicks

 

A Cinderella story for modern times

Portland Opera's sly and witty version of Rossini's "La Cenerentola" sparkles with raffish theatricality and hints of power used and tamed.

While the temperature in downtown Portland was inching toward 100 degrees on Sunday afternoon something cool was happening in the Newmark Theatre, and it wasn’t just the air-conditioning. Portland Opera was kicking into the second performance of its current run of Gioachino Rossini’s splendid little comedy La Cenerentola (it has four remaining performances, July 19, 21, 25, and 28), and it felt just a little like good old-fashioned populist show biz: music-hall stuff, bright and gaudy and smoothly polished and pleasingly antique, like a visit to the Moulin Rouge or D’Oyly Carte. The band was brassy and cheeky and the acting was brisk and impeccably choreographed, an effect accidentally underscored by the coincidental scheduling of auditions for those high-kicking goddesses of the basketball court the Blazer Dancers in the Winningstad Theatre downstairs. The Blazer aspirants had their own contingent of enthusiastic followers, and the blend of opera lovers and sporting fans led to an interesting mixture of audiences and sometimes skimpy costuming in the lobby beforehand.

Caught in the frame: Stepsisters Tisbe (Laura Beckel Thoreson, left) and Clorinda (Helen Huang) primp and preen. Photo: Cory Weaver/Portland Opera

La Cenerentola is a retelling of the Cinderella story, without the fairy godmother or the magic mice and pumpkin but with some terrific melodies, and after the lengthy overture (William Tell wasn’t the only overture Rossini wrote) the opera opens with the two spoiled stepsisters popping about the stage like bright-cheeked marionettes, or maybe floppy rag dolls in their skivvies, while Cenerentola, poor cinder maid, slumps morosely in the corner, singing a sad song that only irritates her petulant sisters as they primp and fuss.

Fatuous step-pappa Don Magnifico (there is no stepmother in this version) is snoozing out of sight in the background, and pretty soon a beggar shows at the doorstep: He is roundly reviled by the stepsisters but treated kindly by Cenerentola (or Angelina, as she comes to be known for her sweet spiritual goodness), who feeds him while the sisters aren’t looking. Let that suffice for setup. There is a prince, there is a ball, there are disguises, there is a search (not for a glass slipper, but a matching bracelet), and love, of course, triumphs. Love, and a friskily told, slyly comic story.

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Sense & Sensibility, deftly matched

Suddenly the Dashwood sisters are all over Oregon. Clackamas Rep is on the boards with its version of Jane Austen's lively and enduring tale.

The problem, as so often in the novels of Jane Austen, is entailment, that peculiar institution among the British of willing estates only to the male heirs of the line, leaving the women bereft, or at least forced to move to modest cottages in the countryside. The problem, further, is how to deal with such reduced circumstances (and indeed, with the vagaries of life): by leading with the head, or the heart, or some creative combination of the two. The anticipation, of both head and heart, is to achieve a state of marital happiness that, in a troubled and troublesome world, will also suffice in the economic realm. Money might not buy happiness, but it does provide stability, and stability is that soil in which true romance and contentment of the soul can grow and prosper.

Sam Levi as Edward Ferrars, Kailey Rhodes as Elinor Dashwood in Clackamas Rep’s “Sense and Sensibility.” Photo: Sam Ortega

So welcome to the Dashwood sisters, central figures in Miss Austen’s 1813 novel Sense and Sensibility (which was published at first anonymously, under the moniker “By a Lady”). When we meet them, in Clackamas Repertory Theatre’s new production of Kate Hamill’s episodic stage adaptation, their father has just died, leaving his estate to John, his weakling son from his first marriage, who is led about by the nose by his shrewish and selfish wife Fanny, who persuades John that his father’s deathbed instruction to him that he provide for his half-sisters and their mother doesn’t really mean what it seems. And so the sisters – sensible Elinor and romantic Marianne, primarily, but also younger Margaret and their mother, who quietly copes – find themselves tossed out of their manorial home and onto the mercies of Mrs. Dashwood’s distant relative Sir John Middleton, who proves himself an amiable and generous fellow and helps them settle in to a pleasant but modest cottage, where the girls’ prospects, nevertheless, are severely reduced: to put it bluntly, no fortune, no fortunate match.

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Standing Rock and beyond

Portland's new Elisabeth Jones Art Center opens with a national exhibit of contemporary Native American art and an eye on social engagement

Nine days before the June 7 grand opening of The Elisabeth Jones Art Center on the Pearl District’s western stretch, a kind of controlled chaos is in the air. The racket of a power drill ricochets off the high ceilings of this sprawling post-industrial space as Hugh Russell, an artist and the center’s house carpenter, screws sheetrock into wooden frames against a wall that will soon be hung with artworks. Shae Uisna, the new center’s assistant director, sits in a folding chair with a notebook in her hands, a phone in her lap, and a list of things to get done.

Two large fabric sculptures, made from remnants of tents used at the Dakota Access oil-pipeline standoff near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation that spreads across several counties in North and South Dakota, hang from the ceiling of the art center’s main gallery like soft-sided pyramids or upside-down tipis. A giant section of old-growth fir log, a good ton’s worth of tight-grained wood destined to be hewn into a canoe, sits on a frame of 4x4s by the wide garage doors that open to the sidewalk in front of Northwest 14th Avenue. Across the street a giant hole-in-the-ground construction site is swiftly filling in and rising, extending the bustling neighborhood’s urban infill and insulating the art center from the streak of Interstate 405 beyond 15th Avenue a block west.

Ricardo Caté’s Standing Rock stand, painted on the wall of the Elisabeth Jones Art Center. ArtsWatch photo

John Teply, the art center’s director and guiding force, emerges from the door to a spacious gallery/workspace called The Project Room, wincing just a bit from a sore toe that had blown up with a giant blister somewhere along the 12 miles he walked during North Portland’s recent St. Johns Parade, for which he was this year’s chair. Teply is a longtime working artist himself, and his hands and sleeves are spattered with a rainbow of paint, bright evidence of the “working” part of “working artist.”

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Festivals, awards, a college dies

News & notes: an arts festival in Wilsonville, the PAMTA musical theater awards, Marylhurst's loss to the arts, PassinArt goes deep east side

It’s not quite summer, but it’s festival season – and Wilsonville, just a short skip south of Portland on the freeway, is leading the charge. Coming up Saturday and Sunday, June 2-3, is this year’s Wilsonville Festival of Arts, which will spread out over the city’s Town Center Park with contemporary music, dance, visual art, theater, literary events, film, design, and performance art.

Master maskmaker and director Tony Feummeler will lead maskmaking events at the Wilsonville Festival of Arts.

“This year, we are introducing three commissioned interactive art installations by artists Damien Gilley, Palmarin Merges and Tiana Husted,” festival director Sarah Wolfe noted in a press release. “Also new is a partnership with NW Film Center in Portland. We are teaming up to offer a Micro Movie Theatre, featuring short films by filmmakers throughout the Pacific Northwest. And we will be featuring several Oregon Book Award winners and finalists as special guests for our focus on literary arts, Art of the Word. Latinx and alter-abled contemporary artists will also be highlighted.”

Singer Saeeda Wright

The lineup looks ambitious and intriguing, with attractions ranging from a reading by this year’s Ken Kesey Award fiction winner Omar El Akkad (American War); to demonstrations in skills from etching to 3D printing to weaving and spinning; to performances by R&B star Saeeda Wright and the innovative troupe DanceAbility. And of course, there’ll also be artists’ and crafters’ booths, ice cream and other food stands, and beer: It wouldn’t be a festival without ’em. Festival entry is free; hours are 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday.

Black with colored amoeba-shaped pieces from artist Palmerin Merges’ installion art in Wilsonville.

The granddaddy of ’em all, the Portland Rose Festival, is working up a head of steam, too. The city’s annual extravaganza kicked off Friday, May 25, with a Memorial Day weekend CityFair on the riverfront (much more to come, from elephant ears to open-air concerts, in Tom McCall Waterfront Park), and the big event, the Grand Floral Parade, is June 9. After that, dig out your maps and fill in your calendars: you can pretty much hop from festival to festival around Oregon all summer long.

 


 

 

AND IF FESTIVAL SEASON IS HERE, CAN AWARDS SEASON BE FAR BEHIND? Portland’s double whammy of theater award celebrations kicks off Monday, June 4, at 7 p.m. in the Winningstad Theatre with the annual PAMTA musical-theater awards. Started and produced by Broadway/Portland producer/actor/director Corey Brunish, who’s picked up more Tony producing honors in recent years than he can count on all his fingers, it’s always a fun, well-produced event. Actor Darius Pierce, who’s just about perfect in the role, returns as the evening’s host.

A few of the musical-theater productions that have been under consideration for this year’s PAMTA Awards.

Awards will be presented in 21 categories, and as befits the musical theater, which thrives as much on revivals as new work, the best show category has been divided into two parts. This year’s nominees for outstanding revival are Broadway Rose’s The Addams Family, Gypsy, and Always, Patsy Cline; Pixie Dust’s Billy Elliot and Beauty and the Beast; and Triangle’s Avenue Q. Nominees for outstanding original show are Portland Playhouse’s Scarlet, Northwest Children’s Theatre’s Cinderella and Peter Pan, Stumptown Stages’ Folk City, Broadway Rose’s Trails, and Staged!’s John Hughes High. See the complete list of nominees here.

The older and more inclusive Drammy Awards will celebrate their 40th anniversary at 7 p.m. Monday, June 25, at Portland Center Stage – an interesting choice for venue considering that last year the city’s two biggest theater companies, Center Stage and Artists Rep, dropped their participation in the awards. Both awards events are free.

 


 

BUT WHAT ABOUT MARYLHURST? The recent announcement that Marylhurst University, the small institution south of Lake Oswego, will close its doors after 125 years sent alarms not only through the education world but the arts world as well. The university has been rocked by sharply declining enrollment and swiftly rising deficits since the national recession of a decade ago, Jeff Manning reported in The Oregonian. Fall term enrollment was more than 1,400 in 2013, and fewer than 750 in 2017.

An active opposition made up of students, former students, and faculty members has emerged in an attempt to overturn the board’s decision and find a new path to financial sustainability, but it faces a steep uphill battle. The closure of Portland’s vital and lamented Museum of Contemporary Craft, which was carrying a much smaller deficit, proved final.

From Christine Bourdette’s 2008 show “Riddles, Bunnyheads and Asides” at The Art Gym.

Marylhurst has been well-known in art circles for The Art Gym, an innovative and essential contemporary art center that paid deep attention to the work of living regional artists and usually published catalogs of its shows. Its loss, if the decision remains final, will be large. The university also offers a variety of valuable academic art programs, some of which, including its masters program in art therapy counseling, cross over into other disciplines.

The university has an active music presence and was home to many fine concerts in its intimate performing spaces: I still remember seeing the innovative 20th century composer Terry Riley (In C) in performance in the mid-1990s not playing his own minimalist-leaning music but singing traditional Indian ragas, sweeping and gliding and bending and always landing right. “Tonally, the raga is more like a string suspended between two sticks: Usually it’s slack, but you can draw it taut when you want,” I wrote at the time. “Riley is a master of the slide from slack to taut.”

A community loses such traditions at its own peril.

 


 

PassinArt takes the theater where the people are.

REPULSING THE MONKEY. PassinArt: A Theatre Company, in collaboration with ROSE Community Development, is entering its final two performances of Michael Eichler’s play Repulsing the Monkey, about a brother and sister who inherit a blue-collar bar in Pittsburgh and must decide, in the face of gentrification, whether they can keep it going. Final performances are at 7 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, May 29-30, with a discussion after the Wednesday show, and one of the interesting things about the production is where it’s being performed – at the T.E.A.M. Event Center in deep East Portland, at 9201 S.E. Foster Road. As Portland’s own gentrification and escalating housing prices force many people farther from the city center, arts and performance almost certainly will have to follow them. PassinArt’s most recent production, in North Portland’s Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center, was a well-received run of August Wilson’s Two Trains Running. Tickets for Repulsing the Monkey are a wallet-friendly $5-$15 sliding scale.

A punch to the civic jaw

Rich Rubin's "Left Hook," set in Albina when urban renewal was tearing the black district apart, packs a personal tale in a political wrapper

Rich Rubin’s Portland boxing drama Left Hook, set in the 1970s era of urban renewal when the city’s vibrant Albina black neighborhood was largely clear-cut for a hospital development that never occurred, had its world premiere Thursday at the Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center as part of the Vanport Mosaic Festival, and the timing was propitious. Earlier in the day President Trump had issued a posthumous pardon to Jack Johnson, the early 20th century heavyweight boxing champion who was convicted of the crime of transporting a white woman across state lines for immoral purposes – or, more frankly, of being a free black man in America who openly reveled in his wealth and talent and refused to “stay in his place.”

It was a put-up job, frankly racist, and without a shred of justification. The woman in question was one of Johnson’s many lovers, accompanying him willingly, and the irony is thick that after more than a century of politicians floating like butterflies away from the issue the president who finally pardoned him is a man who has used race- and immigrant-baiting code words to build a fervent following of angry white voters. (You can also say that however welcome the pardon is – and it is very welcome – the word “pardon” itself seems somehow insufficient, implying as it does that the person in question was guilty of a crime but is forgiven out of the goodness of the forgiver’s heart. “Exoneration,” stating clearly that a wrong has been committed and that the fault lies not with the accused but with the state that was the accuser, seems much more to the point.)

Damaris Webb directs Rich Rubin’s play “Left Hook,” running May 24-June 10, as part of Vanport Mosaic. The cast includes Anthony Armstrong, Kenneth Dembo, Jasper Howard, Shareen Jacobs, Tonea Lolin, and James Bowen II. Photo: Shawte Sims

The crimes against the habitués of Ty’s boxing club and their Albina neighbors in Left Hook are softer (indeed, in legal terms there is no crime at all) but of equally disruptive, perhaps even devastating, consequence. What occurs is a potent blend of money, ambition and politics, a triumvirate that often sees high opportunity in the displacement of the poor and underrepresented. In Portland, urban renewal already had resulted in the bulldozing of Italian, Jewish, and working-class neighborhoods at the south end of downtown; the removal of miles of homes and other buildings to push three freeways through a thicket of neighborhoods, dissecting and isolating them in the process; and the destruction of a bustling black community and the jazz and nightclub scene that went with it to build Memorial Coliseum (the Portland Trail Blazers’ original home) and other “civic improvements.”

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ArtsWatch Weekly: flood & mosaic

A look back, a look ahead: This week, the big news is the Vanport Mosaic Festival

SEVENTY YEARS AGO ON MAY 30 FLOODWATERS SWEPT IN from the Columbia River and burst through a 200-foot section of dike just north of Portland, inundating the city of Vanport, killing 15 people and wiping the city off the face of the Earth. Vanport was Oregon’s second-largest city at the time, with a population of 40,000 at its wartime peak before falling off after the end of World War II.

Henk Pander, “Vanport,” watercolor, 40 x 60 inches, 2018. On view at Cerimon House through Sunday in his Vanport Mosaic exhibition “Artworks of Henk Pander: War Memory, Liberty Ships, Vanport.” It then moves to the White Stag Building May 29-June 12.

Vanport was an “instant city” created primarily to house workers in the Kaiser shipyards and their families. It was for a time the most racially integrated city in the state, with a large African American population and many Asian Americans, too. Many white workers moved out after the war; black workers and their families largely stayed because of exclusionary housing practices in neighborhoods across Portland. The memory of Vanport remains strong in the city’s African American community.

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