Bob Hicks

 

Love, loss, & frocks to die for

An Ephron comedy at Triangle Productions celebrates women's bonding and the fine art of stitching fashion into the passages of life

A good piece of theater transports you to a different place, and in the case of Love, Loss, and What I Wore, the sentimental comedy by Nora and Delia Ephron that’s traipsing the metaphorical runway at Triangle Productions, that place is a walk-in closet or a department-store dressing room. The Ephrons’ tale is overflowing with skirts, sweaters, bras, robes, dresses from party to wedding, lipstick, hairdos, shoes/boots/flats/heels – even, if I remember right, a brief constricting fling with that antique instrument of torture, the girdle. It’s a fashion bonanza of a theatrical parade, delivered with a wink and an almost-audible whisper: Try it on. You’ll like it.

All for one, one for all: from left, Michelle Maida, Rebecca Wells, Olivia Weiss, Lisamarie Harrison, Trish Egan. Photo: David Kinder/kinderpix

Theatrical transit’s a good and valuable thing, but as someone whose ordinary concession to the dictates of fashion is a pair of L.L. Bean comfort-waist jeans and a 20-year-old all-purpose Pendleton shirt whose elbows have tragically worn through, I felt a little like a stranger in a strange land, wandering in a world not my own.

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DramaWatch: the naked and the nude

The first two weeks in May bring Portland stages a bundle of shows straddling the territory between the real and the ideal

This Saturday, as it turns out, is World Naked Gardening Day, and don’t worry, neighbors, I’m not taking part: I’m not really much of a gardener. The revelation, however, makes me think of another spot of news I got a few days ago from my friend Gerald Stiebel, in his weekly column Missives From the Art World. Gerald was writing about Monumental, the new show of nude paintings by the 20th and 21st century master Lucian Freud, at Acquavella Gallery in New York, and in it he discusses the fine line between nudity and nakedness:

“The renowned British art historian, Sir Kenneth Clark, in his 1956 book, The Nude: A Study of Ideal Art, made a distinction between the Naked and the Nude, considering the nude as an ideal representation of the naked body. By Clark’s definition Freud’s works are not nudes but might be called naked portraits.

An intimate theater in the flesh: Lucian Freud, “Benefits Supervisor Sleeping,” 1995, private collection, at Acquavella Gallery.

“Freud himself wrote, ‘Being naked has to do with making a more complete portrait; a naked body is somehow more permanent, more factual … when someone is naked there is in effect nothing to be hidden. Not everyone wants to be that honest about themselves; that means I feel an obligation to be equally honest in how I represent them. It is a matter of responsibility. In a way I don’t want the painting to come from me, I want it to come from them. It can be extraordinary how much you can learn from someone by looking very carefully at them without judgment.’”

Hardly anyone would call Freud’s often massive portraits ideals of the human form. They can seem grotesque: hills and vales and fissures and folds of flesh; fantastic landscapes of skin. And yet they hide nothing, at least visually: They exude humility, openness, a sense of natural animal humanness, vulnerable and unguarded.

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DramaWatch: Standing on a Rock

What was and what is, from Sacagawea to Standing Rock, in Mary Kathryn Nagle's time-traveling tale "Crossing Mnisose"

A bit of banter between a couple of young indigenous protesters at Standing Rock drills down wryly and comically on one of the key issues in Mary Kathryn Nagle’s new time-hopping play Crossing Mnisose: the way that many white people either venerate or underestimate nonwhite people, falling back on shopworn assumptions rather than taking the time to listen and learn and simply respect.

Carey (Nathalie Standingcloud), a young woman from nearby Bismark, and Travis (Robert I. Mesa), a key student activist in the 2016 fight to stop the Dakota Access oil pipeline that poses a threat to reservation land and burial sites, break into an impromptu comedy routine about the ways that white New Agers approach them as embodiments of mystical indigenous powers. The mimicry’s spot-on, and only a little exaggerated, which makes it all the funnier, in a shoulder-shrugging, with-friends-like-this sort of way. It’s almost a courtship dance, tough and affectionate and satiric and seductive all at once.

Robert I. Mesa and Nathalie Standingcloud, flirtatious at Standing Rock. Photo by Patrick Weishampel/blankeye.tv/Courtesy of Portland Center Stage at The Armory

Time warps in Nagle’s plays, or rather, overlaps. The past is prologue to the present, an enduring chord within a freshly written song, the sins of the fathers visiting generations to come. Nagle’s play Manahatta, which premiered last season at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and opens next month in New York, bounces between the stories of a Lenape woman in the 1600s, when Dutch settlers began to take over Manhattan, and a modern-day Lenape woman who is a high-powered securities trader on Wall Street, which sits on land from which her ancestors were evicted.

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Building Mozart’s garden

PSU Opera's designers and artisans create a world onstage for the comic "La Finta Giardiniera." Joe Cantrell tells the tale in photographs.

Photographs by JOE CANTRELL

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was 18 years old when his opera La Finta Giardiniera (The Pretend, or Fake, Gardener) debuted at the Salvatortheater in Munich in 1775. When it opens Friday evening at Lincoln Performance Hall in Portland it’ll feature a cast almost as young, made up of singers in the elite Portland State University Opera program. Under the artistic leadership of onetime New York City Opera star Christine Meadows, PSU Opera has become known for its high-quality, relatively low-cost, professionally designed productions.

The latter is definitely true in the case of La Finta Giardiniera, which is double-cast in seven major roles (“the students have grown incredibly through the experience of preparing Finta,” Meadows says) and will have four performances, April 19, 20, 26, and 28. Its design team is stellar: set by Carey Wong, lighting by Peter West, lavish period costumes by Hadley Yoder, wigs and hair (a major task for this period comic opera) by Jessica Carr and Randy Graff respectively, props by Sumi Wu.

Maeve Stier as the servant Serpetta, surrounded by painterly foliage.

Wong’s ravishing set is dominated in many scenes by a landscape painted on its walls and inspired by Wooded Landscape with a Peasant Resting, a bucolic painting by Mozart’s near-contemporary Thomas Gainsborough, perhaps best-known for his portrait The Blue Boy. Other scenes take place in a cave, providing a sharp contrast in mood between bright and colorful and dark and forboding.

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Notre-Dame, beyond disaster

Monday's fire adds history to its flames. We need our history, the map of who we are and where we might be going. Let the rebuilding begin.

WHAT DO WE DO WHEN A CULTURAL TOUCHSTONE GOES UP IN FLAMES? We watch with fascination, and dread, and a sense of helplessness. And then, apparently, we begin to argue. After Monday’s catastrophic fire broke out in the heart of Paris, social media also lit up in flames. Why should we spend hundreds of millions of Euros rebuilding Notre-Dame Cathedral when people are starving/refugees are being locked up/the planet itself is burning up/other disasters or atrocities don’t get the same attention? Why doesn’t the Catholic Church use its own wealth to foot the bill? (The building is actually owned by the French Ministry of Culture; a charity group, the Friends of Notre-Dame de Paris, raises money for the cathedral’s upkeep.) Some who despise the history and failings of the Church over the centuries suggest we just tear the thing down, and good riddance to bad rubbish.

Yet the sense of loss – the heartbreak, even – in France and around the world is genuine. People who have spent time in the cathedral tumble out their stories, compelled to keep a connection with something they fear might be forever lost. People who haven’t been to the cathedral nevertheless mourn the idea of its loss, of yet another piece of history and remembrance disappearing, like Shelley’s Ozymandias, in the metaphorical sand. And out of this rises a determination: It will be rebuilt. What can be saved, will be saved. What is lost, will be replaced. It won’t be the same. It will be different. But it will endure.

Notre-Dame Cathedral, from the Seine, 2013. Photo: K.B. Dixon

You don’t need to be Catholic, or Christian, or even religious at all, to believe that this is an important thing. Notre-Dame is history, and history is elusive yet essential: It’s the seedbed of our shared culture, the map of how we came to be. This cathedral, which has been built and added on to and tumbled down and rebuilt and somehow shaped into a kind of ungainly grace from its cobbled-together mishmash of styles and centuries, is humbling evidence of the fits and starts and disasters and transformations and triumphs and extreme fragility of our civilization, which in its current state often seems dangling from a swiftly fraying string. As much as it is a religious symbol and a testament to the entwined power of church and state, Notre-Dame is a shrine to beauty. We need such places to remind us of where we’ve been, what we’ve become, what we might yet be – and to provide us with those moments of mystery and deepened awareness and connection and the stopping of time that intimate encounters with great works of art provide.

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DramaWatch: Aliens in rom-coms

Corrib's "How To Keep an Alien" in review, "Jesus Takes the 'A' Train' and "Crossing Mnisose" opening, children's theater, new seasons

Irish playwright Sonya Kelly’s How To Keep an Alien, which took the best-production award when it premiered at the Tiger Dublin Fringe in 2014 and is now enjoying its West Coast premiere from Corrib, Portland’s all-Irish theater company, isn’t about flying saucers and little green men. It’s about that other kind of alien – the foreign-born kind, the kind who faces political and sometimes actual walls when trying to move from one nation to another, and who must overcome not only bureaucratic obstacles but also personal ones, the sort we often erect between our desires and our fears.

It’s intriguing, often appealing, and whimsically constructed, like a shifting tower leaning sharply to one side: an odd duck of a play, and I mean it no disrespect when I say it’s a contemporary rom-com, the sort of story that might make a good Hallmark movie if Hallmark movies ever were to recognize the actual and ordinary existence in the world of homosexuality (or, for that matter, the desirability of non-white characters filling any role in a romantic comedy larger than supportive sidekick). I happen to like a good rom-com, and this one has the enormous advantage of being about two lesbians falling in love, but approaching their affair altogether naturally, with no flashing lights of cultural or political importance: just two people going through what people of all sorts all over the world go through every day. The decision to not make a big deal out of the lovers’ gender – to treat it matter-of-factly, as just the way this story goes – is in fact a bigger deal than making a big deal would be.

Amy Katrina Bryan (left) and Sara Hennessy in Corrib Theatre’s “How To Keep an Alien.” Photo: Adam Liberman

In this case the two people overtaken by emotional attraction are Sonia, an Irish actor starring in a historical costume drama that she finds ridiculous, and Kate, the show’s Australian stage manager, who is also, in a meta sort of way, the onstage stage manager of How To Keep an Alien, batting back and forth between the reality of the story and the reality of the production. If this sounds confusing, it sometimes is, but usually isn’t.

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BodyVox dives for pearls

It's a high-risk gamble: Can a group of non-choreographers create a compelling evening of dance? BodyVox decides to find out.

Creativity is a mysterious beast. We try to lasso it and stick it in separate corrals: Writers here. Painters here. Composers here. Actors here. Dancers here. Git along, little dogies, but stay in place. Except creativity can also be a stubborn beast, with a will of its own, and sometimes it just doesn’t cotton to corrals.

That’s the underlying texture of the Pearl Dive Project, BodyVox’s series of short pieces choreographed by people who aren’t choreographers or even dancers, but who’ve distinguished themselves in other creative fields. How might their experiences as novelist, chef, painter, art director, photographer, or filmmaker translate when working with skilled moving bodies in a rehearsal hall and on a stage? What does creativity have in common across disciplines, and how is it specific to a single form of expression?

Brent Luebbert, not quite dead in Sherrie Wolf’s “Elegy.” Photo by Blaine Truitt Covert.

The idea’s novel, and risky, and also, in a way, simply a reflection of reality. Creativity does spill over. Victor Hugo and August Strindberg were great writers, and also visual artists of note. Comic actor Jim Carrey paints, provocatively. Albert Einstein played classical violin, by most accounts very well. Even politicians get into the act. Winston Churchill was an amateur painter. Harry Truman played piano. Bill Clinton plays the saxophone. George W. Bush paints.

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