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‘Caught up in the riptide’: ‘Sweat’ at Linfield Theatre

Lynn Nottage's drama of working-class life is difficult and ambitious -- and Linfield College is putting on a production that leaves the audience gobsmacked

You might be forgiven lowered expectations when a college theater launches a production of a work as ambitious and difficult as Lynn Nottage’s Sweat, which opened last week at Linfield College in McMinnville and continues this weekend. Actors lack the experience generally seen on a professional stage; some may not have had theater training beyond the rehearsals. Young people who perhaps haven’t even thought of having children play parents, etc. It’s not ideal.

All that said, Linfield’s Sweat, which I saw on opening night, is a triumph and reminder that local theater can leave you as gobsmacked as anything you might see in Portland or Ashland. After the heartbreaking final scene, there were tears in the audience. During a talkback session, one audience member quietly noted that she couldn’t talk about it; she needed some time. One man said, “I’ve lived that.” I saw the play in 2015 at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, so I knew how it ends. And I was gobsmacked all over again.

I found myself sitting almost dead center, next to Ronni LaCroute, whose sponsorship helped make the production — and the hiring of guest director Adleane Hunter — possible. Behind me was Miles Davis, the college’s president. He’d brought with him a young man from McMinnville High School who had, apparently, never seen a play before. I can’t even. Talk about setting the bar high! Who knows what seed that experience planted? All told, it was a memorable evening.

Nicole Tigner (left) plays Jessie and Elise Martin plays Tracey in a scene from Lynn Nottage's Pulitzer Prize-winning “Sweat,” which continues its run at Linfield College Theater in McMinnville 7 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. Photo courtesy: Linfield College Theatre
Nicole Tigner (left) plays Jessie and Elise Martin plays Tracey in a scene from Lynn Nottage’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “Sweat,” which continues at 7 p.m. Thursday through Saturday at Linfield College Theatre. Photo courtesy: Linfield College Theatre

Sweat opens with two tense exchanges. A parole officer (Linfield junior Robert Santos, lending solid credibility to the play’s smallest role) interviews two parolees: Jason (Sam Hannigan, a junior from Hood River) is an angry young man sporting white supremacist tattoos who seems coiled to strike at any moment, and Chris, a young black man (played by Isaiah Alexander, one of three guest artists featured in the cast) who is more subdued and defeated. We learn that they’ve been in prison several years and recently met for the first time since an incident that got them locked up. Yes, the audience eventually sees what the incident was, and yes, it’s horrible.

Continues…

Dance review: Reggie Wilson’s got the POWER

White Bird brought Reggie Wilson to town and he brought a lesson about black Shakers

The world premiere of POWER in July of 2019 was an evening-length work, yet Reggie Wilson was generous enough with his energy to give a post-show interview after the second performance. When asked how he envisioned the world that the piece so fully occupies, he replied, “I tend not to envision—or project.” Instead, he said, he works with “found stuff” and with his many like-minded collaborators. He feeds their shared curiosity with deep research.

Dancers in Reggie Wilson's Fist and Heel Dance Troupe
Dancers in Reggie Wilson’s Fist and Heel Dance Troupe perform a duet to Solon Bushi by the Staples Singers. Photo by Christopher Duggan

Commissioned by Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, Wilson developed POWER in part during a residency at the Berkshire-based Hancock Shaker Village. He had been led there by his research into the history and experience of Rebecca Cox Jackson, a black woman who became a prominent figure in Shaker history. “I had heard about black Quakers because of their involvement with the Underground Railroad and abolition, but it hadn’t occurred to me that there might be black Shakers,” Wilson said, voicing a realization shared by many in the audience on Thursday night at the Portland premiere of POWER.

At Hancock, Wilson discovered how much more there was to the Shaker tradition than “just furniture and celibacy.” Dance and movement held a special place in Shaker religion and society as a direct way to liberate the soul and invite temporary possession by spirits.

Wilson knew that Rebecca Jackson, also known as Mother Rebecca, had her own singing and prayer group whose members were mainly black women. In his talk after the premiere, Wilson mused, “wouldn’t they carry over some of that … physicality and practice that they already had in their African, Afro-baptist, Afro-methodist kind of worship? If Shakers are moving, and moving into Spirit, and Africanist traditions are shaking and moving into spirit…so…Yeah!” At that point he spread his hands and gave the audience a look.

The dance takes that feeling and runs with it. Wilson sees the deep-running conduits connecting seemingly different cultures through the universal experience of groups of people coming together to dance, worship, and build a community. And of course, collaborating with math advisor Jesse Wolfeson to incorporate African fractal geometry into the work makes sense. Indigo batik-printed fabric, in the hands of Japanese biochemist-turned-costume-designer Naoko Nagata does in fact blend well with traditional Shaker dress. In fact, it all comes together so solidly on stage, one has to wonder why more avowedly-postmodern dance companies haven’t paid attention to this kind of collective, untrained group folk dance that has supported communities in nearly every country throughout history.

In the kaleidoscope of inspiration and references in the show, two items — a fabric and a song —  exemplify the intersection of traditions, crafts, identities, and materials that comprise POWER

The show opens with Wilson intoning a Shaker hymn and cradling a bolt of cloth dyed indigo with batik patterning. The fabric originally came from a collaboration, Call and Response, with textile artist Arianne King Comer, and is still stiff with wax from the batik process. Wilson first brought it back to the company simply because they needed more material for the beautiful, historically-inspired costuming that takes such a prominent role in POWER. However, a closer look revealed complexities in the fabric that mirror those explored in the show.

Originally from Asia and deeply rooted in the textile traditions of that region, indigo became a cash crop in the Southern Colonies, up there with tobacco and cotton. The Batik patterns call to mind vibrant African patterned fabric, but that history is complicated too. When Dutch colonists imported Asian batik techniques and patterns to their African colonies, they crowded existing resistance-dye traditions out of the market, casting a shadow of cultural influence that still lingers today. And in the hands of Nagata and her fellow costume designer Enver Chakartash, they became a gorgeous complement to the old-fashioned lines of demure Shaker dress. Full skirts with multiple layers of flounces and swags, mini-capes called “berthas”, head wraps, and overalls alike sported patterned indigo in the place of the famous Shaker Blue, and it worked.

Costume designer Nagota found herself at the intersection of another formal choice that, while not obviously related to the historical material in question, makes perfect sense in the world conjured in the show. A beautiful duet between two of the male dancers is performed to the Staple Singer’s 1970 version of Solon Bushi, a traditional Japanese sea shanty. Wilson remembers that version, while Nagota remembers it as a ubiquitous folk song. Wilson first played the Staples version during a rehearsal almost as a prank on Nagota. Unsure if it was “really Japanese,” Wilson figured that if he put it on and it got Nagota’s attention, there might be something to talk about. And, in fact, a Delta gospel group, deeply involved in the labor movement of the 1960s, singing a work song about fishing, with a driving rhythm, made sense. Looking deeper into it, the song and its history fit quite snugly with the Shaker idea of sacred labor, of labor being a way to connect with spirits.

Wilson says it got him “thinking about different workers, across the planet, they just have to keep going, keep going…sometimes they find a meditative way to do it, sometimes it’s survival.” The song became a way for him to get “a bigger reach” to the Shakers’ ideas, beyond the common conception that they are restricted to a “very New England, very white” world. 

Wilson is labeled as a postmodern choreographer, which is true in the technical sense. Among the many popular misconceptions that accompany that term, perhaps the most interruptive is the idea that anyone working under postmodernism is doing so willfully, in an attempt to forge a new school of arbitrary pastiche, like the Impressionists fought for their place on the gallery walls. It is more of a situation now than a movement, and it is important to know how that situation affects what we are looking at. What Wilson is looking for in POWER wouldn’t be better served by an attempt at historical recreation, yet he’s not finding it by being willfully postmodernist. Rather, in the postmodern situation, he is searching, omnivorously and omnidirectionally, for a way to be true to the spirit of a lived history that can’t be explicitly known, and the deep ideas that informed that experience. 

The movement, costuming, and music in the show have far more energy, variety and color when compared to traditional Shaker dance. But the point isn’t to create some sort of of bumped-up Shaker remix, rather to show how all the disparate elements brought together here are rooted in something more shared. By working to create something that holds together so well despite its fusion of diverse traditions and aesthetics, Wilson has revealed those deeper currents. 

The faithfulness to his “reconstruction” is to those deeper inspirations and ambitions of the material, and to what his dancers bring to the show from their many, individual backgrounds. That’s what the show is true to, to the extent that the dancers do not look like professional dancers at times, but like people moving their bodies for an ecstatic, spiritual purpose, supporting a tight-knit community. 

Dancers in Reggie Wilson's Fist and Heel Dance Troupe
Fist and Heel Performance Group members in custom Shaker-inspired costumes. Photo by Christopher Duggan

Specific, symbolic elements from Shaker dance do appear in the show—shaking out the hands, raising them to hearts and the heavens. Modern dance techniques intersect with the almost trance-like wheeling and repetition of spiritual group dances. At times it is hard to decide whether the foundation comes from the Shakers or from the other areas of Wilson’s broad interest, such as African ring-shout dances.

Perhaps the most striking quality to the movement in POWER was its realism. While the dancers in Fist and Heel clearly have all the skills one would expect of a professional troupe of their caliber, their choreography seemed to intentionally forgo polish in the service of presence. For lack of better words, they just seemed to be dancing the way their bodies wanted to move—like the people who created these dances would move.

As the Shakers’ black members are an overlooked and important part of their history, so is the role of spiritual movement in why we, as an audience, watch dancers. They do something very human—get together, clap, move together in a group. This ritual has served a purpose, which sometimes seems lost in modern society. POWER makes it easier to see that purpose and the humble beauty that drives it.

DramaWatch: Musings on behavior, blackness, and what shows to see

Some thoughts on theater etiquette, on ideas about race and cultural preference, and on what shows to see this week in Portland.

Ben Cameron is a former executive director of Theatre Communications Group and program director for the arts at the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, and when he was in those roles  I had the pleasure of hearing him speak about a variety of arts issues. One of the memorable observations he would make, a decade or two ago, was that the audience for the arts in America was made up predominantly of the kind of people who had been good at school in the 1950s and ‘60s — that is, well-educated, well-to-do, often white, with mainstream sensibilities and manners. The reason, he suggested, wasn’t just that these were the folks with the money to attend art events, but that they were the folks comfortable at art events, that art events operate by the same sorts of rules and conventions they’d thrived in before at school: “You come in, you sit over there. No, not up there on the stage — that’s for somebody else. You sit there, pay attention and be quiet. They get to talk, you don’t. You respond when we tell you to.” And so forth.

His point being, the arts — perhaps theater in particular — are presented in a context that carries behavioral expectations, and those aren’t the expectations that everyone is used to. So, if more people are to engage in the arts, the question then becomes about who has to adjust, the arts or the audience. 

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s Angus Bowmer Theatre can feel like a sanctified space, as in this 2019 production of As You Like It, directed by Rosa Joshi. Some folks like it quiet and full of rapt attention. Photo: Kim Budd.

Cameron was addressing broad and ongoing issues about cultural engagement and growth, but his observation came to mind recently in a narrower context: theater etiquette.

Complaints about a decline in theater etiquette are evergreen. My apologies for burdening you with yet another. I just seem to be encountering the topic from all angles these days.


For one thing, on my most recent trip to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, I was stunned to observe something I don’t think I’d ever seen before in what is, to me, a kind of sanctified place: in the August Bowmer Theatre, just two seats away from me, someone eating during a performance! Yes, lobby concession stands sell snacks, and I don’t know the theater policy about bringing food into the auditorium itself; I just hadn’t imagined someone breaking the spell of that place in particular in such a way.

And to the woman in the row behind me at the Armory during opening night of Redwood last weekend: The line that you missed — and loudly told your companion that you’d not heard — was, “Did you really just use your stepmom to Love, Actually-stoop-scene me?”


You’re welcome. But is that you didn’t hear a line sufficient reason to keep those around you from hearing the next one? I believe it isn’t. Instead, try to hold the details of the moment in your mind until intermission or curtain and then ask your friend, “By the way, did you catch what she said when…”

As exasperated as I can get by such moments, I’m always aware that I’m in that audience as a matter of privilege, usually by the grace of complimentary press tickets. If I’d paid $40, $80 or $100 for my seat, I might feel freer telling fellow audience members that they’re disturbing my experience of the show (waiting until intermission, of course). Then again, if I’d made such an investment, maybe I’d feel more entitled to chat or eat or otherwise enjoy myself. (Well, I wouldn’t, but maybe that’s why others do.) 

Those instances fresh in my mind, I came across a short piece in The New Yorker about a 10-year-old’s Ten Commandments of theater etiquette going viral on Twitter this summer. That led me to an article in Town and Country Magazine by the aforementioned young theater fan’s uncle, a New York publicist named Seth Fradkoff, who apparently gets more exasperated than I do:

“I am, admittedly, more of a stickler than most,” he writes. “I recently found myself at Tootsie: The Comedy Musical for a second time. I love this show, but I only made it as far as the second number before the staff of the Marquis Theater asked me to leave. Why? The woman in Row B of the mezzanine crinkling her Twizzlers after inhaling a bag of pretzels during the overture was the last straw! After an usher declined to assist me, I walked to her row, reached across the man seated on the aisle, and grabbed the Twizzlers. I threw them into the aisle, and went back to my seat—for about a minute, until I was asked to leave.”

I must admit, I’m with him on the matter of crinkly candy wrappers. Cell phones are capable of causing all manner of mischief during a performance, but something about the prolonged static crackle of someone slowly unwrapping a sweet or a cough drop, all the effort to be careful and unobtrusive backfiring horribly, really sets the teeth on edge.

In 2016, the Hollywood Reporter surveyed a few dozen Broadway performers about what audience behavior bothers them, and the most colorful response came from (no surprise) Harvey Fierstein: “In my 44 years of trodding the boards, I have witnessed everything from people passing a whole roast chicken up and down a row, to someone trying to take down the script in dictation, to folks videotaping the show through cameras taped inside their hats, to guys getting blowjobs. People, please — this ain’t the movies!” 

That’s a funny line, but there’s something crucial there, I think. At least to my mind, the rules are different in a movie theater than they are in what I’ll snobbishly call a real theater. Unless someone’s being truly obnoxious, I don’t much care about talking during a movie because I know I could come back and see it again; whatever I might have missed still will be there, unchanged. However precise a theatrical performance, part of its thrill is in the unreproducible moment.

Then again, there are viewpoints more snobbish than mine. Seeking some set of guidelines with a ring of authority, I came across a list from the Etiquette School of New York. I suppose attending a Broadway house isn’t the same as popping down to the Shoebox Theatre, but in either case I’m not on board with rule No. 1 on this list, to dress as for a special occasion. Casual attire is fine, but so is sloppy attire. It’s only stinky attire that should concern us. And I’ll choose how to show my appreciation, thank you; that I should stand to applaud a show just because others are (rule No. 16) strikes me as overbearing.

But that brings things back yet again to the question of who decides.

A 2018 article on the Folger Shakespeare Library website references a book by a British academic researcher named Dr. Kirsty Sedgman: “The Reasonable Audience: Theatre Etiquette, Behaviour Policing, and the Live Performance Experience… argues that theatre etiquette is bound up in sexist, racist, and ableist social norms, designed specifically to produce separations between elite and ‘mass’ audiences…As Dr. Sedgman explains, when we talk about theatre etiquette now (she prefers the term ‘behavior policing’), we need to acknowledge both its notable and suspect aspects: That it’s a way to reinforce a shared vision of socially-acceptable behavior that makes public space better for all, and also a morally suspect act that is disproportionately wielded against people of color, the working class, etc.”

That sounds reasonable. Except that, unless there’s verifiable, quantifiable data (and perhaps Sedgman has some), isn’t this in itself a racist/classist presumption — that those falling afoul of the rules of etiquette must be those of certain social strata, that such strata somehow determine our behavior?

Maybe we’re left to rely on the great spiritual insight from Monty Python’s Life of Brian: “You’ve all got to figure it out for yourself.” I like the theater to be almost like a holy place, a place of engagement and absorption, where the moment onstage lets me know what’s appropriate, whether that’s raucous laughter or silent, rapt attention. Maybe you like theater to be someplace to forget the strictures of everyday life, a place to feel spontaneous and free, Twizzlers included. But we each have to be cognizant of each other when we’re sharing the theater space, and negotiate, in a manner of speaking, accordingly.

So…see you at the theater! …but please don’t pass me the chicken.

Best line(s) I read this week (annotated)

The epiphany that sets in motion that plot to Redwood, the world premiere currently at Portland Center Stage, takes place in a hip-hop dance class: “I was grooving away…when a great and powerful love overtook me. Love for the beautiful black bodies in that room, the beautiful, black, tunes. And I thought: history!” Later on in the play, another character responds to her mother’s claims about the family’s hard work and success by asserting that her family had denied and hated their blackness and instead “moved mostly in white spaces at great cost to our sense of ‘heritage.’”

Charles Grant leads the hip-hop dance element in Redwood at The Armory. Photo: Russell J. Young.

The White Bird dance series show at Lincoln Hall this weekend, Power by Reggie Wilson/Fist and Heel Performance Group, is a kind of choreographic thought experiment about the African-American legacy within the spiritual expressions of the Shakers. More history, more black bodies moving in (presumed) white spaces.


And so all this has your humble DramaWatcher — whose black body grew up in the decidedly white space of Portland’s Laurelhurst neighborhood — pondering what “blackness” means, culturally speaking. (I mean, I just looked up at my TV screen and saw Tyler Perry’s face — beneath ludicrous Madea wig and make-up — followed by the words “stream black culture.” If I hate that, am I hating blackness, or just hating the commercial promulgation of some of its lesser traits? Or am I just, justifiably, hating Tyler Perry??)

All of this leads me back to the files to find a favorite old clip from, oddly enough, exactly 25 years ago:

“Lately I’ve realized my idea of what’s ‘Black enough’ now extends to whatever gets me open. For example, my Top 10 list of albums for this year will be dominated by white-boy singer-songwriters—Nirvana, Soundgarden, Nine Inch Nails, Richard Thompson, Jeff Buckley, Chris Whitley, Bryan Ferry—because they’re making music out of the sorts of emotional scar issues my 37-year-old soul scrapes up against on the daily….Moreover, when I think of my favorite artists of ’94, I think of them as my niggas. Neil Young? That’s my nigga. Bryan Ferry? He my nigga too.

…I’ll be a Black chauvinist for life, but what makes that chauvinism so chewy and gooey are the contradictions. These pop up whenever anybody tries to nail Blackness in a coffin. At that [Organization of Black Designers] conference in Chicago, [cinematographer] Arthur Jaffa talked about how ‘My Favorite Things’ is dope more because of John Coltrane than Rodgers and Hammerstein, and I thought, maybe to you, my brother. I treasure the Julie Andrews and the Coltrane renditions of the song equally. And cherish even more Betty Carter’s version because Carter feasts on Andrews’ spritely but manic reading of the lyrics and Trane’s arabesques to arrive at something even more bugged out, Black and beautiful. I dig work that flips the script on our received notions of Black and white. I also dig things that are so Black even most Black folks don’t know what to do with them.”

—The great music/cultural critic Greg Tate in a November 8, 1994 column in the Village Voice.

Opening

Among the various tragedies occurring along the southern border of the U.S. has been the disappearance of hundreds of young women from around Ciudad Juarez — women often last seen on the route home from factory jobs, and presumed murdered or kidnapped into sex trafficking. La Ruta, which premiered last year at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre, shines a light on this dark history, focusing on two mothers desperately hoping for their daughters’ return. Playwright Isaac Gomez—a native of El Paso, just across the border from Juarez—calls it both “a play about a group of women living in the wake of unspeakable loss” and “an interpersonal journey of healing, of growth, of resilience and of empowerment.” Dámaso Rodríguez directs for Artists Repertory Theatre, which is staging the show at the Southeast Portland headquarters of Portland Opera.

La Ruta tells a tale of loss and resilience along the U.S.-Mexico border. Photo: Kathleen Kelly.

For years, Tony Fuemmeler’s mask and puppetry work has contributed to shows by Artists Rep, Oregon Children’s Theatre and others, so Portland theater fans should be a natural part of the audience for a two-decade retrospective of his masks, Reveal/Conceal, that’s just gone up in the Parrish Gallery of the Chehalem Cultural Center in Newberg. But—theater being a collaborative art form—Fuemmeler also brings other artists into play with the companion exhibit A Universal Feeling. After fashioning unpainted papier-mâché masks for a set of emotions (fear, joy, surprise, anger, sadness and disgust) Fuemmeler shipped them off to 62 other artists around the world, inviting them to complete the pieces. Collaborators including local theater makers such as Cristi Miles, Jamie M. Rea and Damaris Webb, but cover a gamut of artistic disciplines, ages, genders and so forth. Friday’s opening reception looks like a good time to catch these exhibits, but they’ll continue until just after the New Year.

Tony Fuemmeler in his mask-making studio. Photo: Dennis Galloway.

“After their last show ends in a disastrous theater fire, two vaudevillians wake up to discover that they may not have survived.” But if they wake up, then that means they must have…oh…right…it’s just a story. In which case, I suppose there’s your key metaphysical conflict right there. Duo Doppio’s Fabrizio & Cabriolet In: The Afterlife features the aforementioned vaudevillian buffoons in a life-and-death comedy that draws on the circus, puppetry and improv backgrounds of creators Ari Rapkin and Summer Olsson. As the show’s press release says of the two: “They are clowns. Unless you are afraid of clowns. Then they are physical comedians.”


Ah, here’s a show I won’t be caught dead anywhere near: FLASH AH-AHHH!!,  StageWorks Ink’s parody of the campy 1980s Flash Gordon flick. You? Go ahead and give it a try, you might enjoy it, it’s been popular enough to be celebrating this Clinton Street Theater engagement as its “fifth anniversary and finale run.” Me? It features the music of ‘70s/’80s rock band Queen, and I hate Queen more than you want to know, so, I’ll pass.


Billed as a “a 21st century TRANSlation” of the rock musical Hair, the cleverly titled Wig updates the story from 1968 New York City to the experimental drag scene of contemporary Portland’s eastside, from which the cast is drawn.


Gresham’s Eastside Theater Company presents Frozen Jr., a stage adaptation of the paradoxically hot Disney film musical, tailored for child and teen performers.

One night only!

Even amid the generally agreeable members of Portland’s theater community, Matt Zrebski presents an especially sweet-natured disposition. But behind that soft-spoken facade, dark forces must be roiling. Zrebski’s writing returns over and over again to quasi-apocalyptic  fantasies and luridly nightmarish scenarios, high dives into a subconscious cloudy with fears. 

His new play In the Darkest Hallway is based on a true-crime mystery known by the grim name of the “Boy in the Box.” Zrebski has approached the story with his characteristic formal invention, crafting a four-character play for one actor that dribbles out details from differing perspectives across time, distilling a potent atmosphere of dread and yearning. 

The terrific Sharonlee Mclean performs the play in a Sunday-night reading at Milagro, directed by Casey McFeron. 


Playwright Milta Ortiz’ Judge Torres premiered in January at Milagro and ArtsWatcher Bennett Campbell Ferguson judged it “a loving, entertaining and—most of all—imaginative tribute” to Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Xiomara Torres, who immigrated to the U.S. in 1980 as an undocumented nine-year-old. That production was directed by Mandana Khoshnevisan, who is bringing it back for one performance at The Vault Theater in Hillsboro, home to Bag & Baggage, where Khoshnevisan is an associate artist. The show will be followed by a talk-back discussion with the cast and director, facilitated by Pacific University Assistant Professor of English, Elizabeth Tavares.


Live renditions of radio drama hardly count as a rare thing, nor do performances of spooky tales. But performing by candlelight and presenting it all along with food and wine? Sounds like a promising package deal, called Lights Out! A Night of Radio Horror, on offer from Seven Sails Vineyard on Northwest Germantown Road. 


Larissa FastHorse’s The Thanksgiving Play, an hilarious yet socio-politically astute satire about American history and liberal guilt, was a hit at Artists Rep in the spring of 2018. So, if you missed it or would like seasonal refresher, Readers Theatre Gresham presents a reading. 

Closing 

“At once profoundly soulful and gloriously silly,” wrote ArtsWatcher Bennett Campbell Ferguson, “Amor Añejo’s fullness of spirit makes it an unmissable play.” But if you’re not to miss the latest Dia de Muertos celebration at Milagro, this weekend is your chance. 


With Women of Will, an astute explication of the feminine in Shakespeare by renowned actor/director Tina Packer, the time has passed to catch the engaging overview that Bob Hicks reviewed for ArtsWatch. But some of Packer’s deeper dives into particular periods of the Bard’s development are on tap at Portland Playhouse this weekend.


And should you want to take in the touring Broadway production of Miss Saigon at the Keller Auditorium, performances continue through Sunday.

The flattened stage

OK, so the pay-off is a bit late in arriving with this clip, but…all the same…“No soggy bottoms here!”


That’s all I have for now. I’ll try to do better the next time. 

Portland Book Festival: Sometimes too much is a good thing

The Portland Book Festival moves outdoors to accommodate both the crowds and the profusion of writers

By KATIE TAYLOR

Literary Arts will pitch a big tent in Shemanski Park on Saturday, November 9, and it will be full of authors and the readers who love them. 

Portland Book Festival (formerly known as Wordstock) challenges the unpredictable outdoors this year, moving its popular “In Conversation” stage out of Portland Art Museum’s Crumpacker Library and into the park, courtesy of Portland Parks Foundation. The Book Fair will also overflow its indoor boundaries to occupy Portland Art Museum’s Sculpture Garden.

“We needed a bigger space and we were using all we had, so we made a new one,” said festival director Amanda Bullock.  

A scene from the book fair of the 2018 Portland Book Festival/Photo courtesy Literary Arts

A circus is a good analogy for Portland’s big annual book event, with its 100+ authors appearing on nine stages all in one dense, delirious, daylong literary orgy.

Malcolm Gladwell is one of the headliners of this year’s Portland Book Festival./Photo courtesy Literary Arts

“It’s intentional FOMO,” Bullock said. “There’s always something happening, a new event starting every 15 minutes. Even if one thing is full, there’s always something else to check out.” So, don’t worry: Everybody’s missing out on something!

This is the fifth year Bullock has organized the festival, more fully realizing her guiding ethos for the event each time. “We want to be a festival for every kind of potential reader. Diversity of voices is important—age, gender, ethnicity, where they’re from, where they are in their career, what their genre is. The density of the festival is a great way to fulfill that dream.”

With that principle in mind, the Festival has added a new genre this year: romance. “It’s an amazing genre,” Bullock said. “People think of romance as Regency bodice rippers, but there are a lot of really modern stories being told through this genre today.” A panel called “Royal Romance: Modern Love Stories” features New York Times bestselling romance writers Jasmine Guillory and Casey McQuiston, whose recent releases both feature royal affairs. The event is moderated by McKenzie Kozman.

Continues…

MusicWatch Monthly: A harvest feast

Stay warm with a smorgasbord of chamber music, choral music and art songs, and orchestras aplenty

Music for chambers

This weekend, Sunday the 3rd, local cellist Diane Chaplin brings her solo show Il Violoncello Capriccioso to Weisenbloom House, a lovely little salon in Southeast Portland. The present author first encountered Chaplin in 2011, when she joined Lewis & Clark gamelan Venerable Showers of Beauty for a performance of Lou Harrison’s deliriously melodic hybrid masterpiece Double Concerto for Violin, Cello, and Javanese Gamelan. Chaplin spends most of her time playing with Portland Cello Project and The Unpresidented Brass Band, but she just got back from a summer in Italy and she’s ready to show off her evening of cappricios by Klengel, Piatti, and Cambini, along with Ernest Bloch’s Suite No. 3 and works by Alan Chaplin, Michal Stahel, and Aaron Minsky.

Local classical organization Friends of Chamber Music, as their name implies, specializes in inviting established chamber ensembles and soloists to perform in Portland. Last month, it was Swedish soprano Anne Sofie von Otter, and you can read Katie Taylor’s take on that fine performance right here.

This month, FOCM brings the Danish String Quartet to Portland State’s Lincoln Performance Hall for two evenings of Bach, Beethoven, Schnittke, Shostakovich, and Webern on November 4th & 5th. Despite the lack of contemporary composers, that’s a pretty nice program: miscellaneous Bach (including a Well-Tempered Clavier arrangement done by Mozart in a fit of enthusiastic reverence) and two rather Bachish late Beethoven quartets (127 and 135) provide the traditionalist foundation; Webern’s austere and terrifying pre-serial quartet of 1905 and Schnittke’s thorny, polystilistic third quartet provide contrarian modernist counterpoint. Snuggled morbidly between them, Shosty’s moribund final quartet.

Continues…

DanceWatch: a big yes to November

As a new season settles in, Oregon's dance calendar overflows with opportunities

“No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds! – November!” This line begins the chapter on November in my favorite childhood book, A Time to Keep, the Tasha Tudor Book of Holidays, and is also the last line of a poem by poet and humorist Thomas Hood (1799 -1845) called NO!

The story line of  A Time to Keep is prompted by a little girl asking her mother, “What was it like when mommy was me?” Tudor lovingly illustrates each month of the year and that family’s holidays and traditions for each of them.

Tudor (1915-2008) was an American author and illustrator whose stories and beautifully detailed illustrations created whimsical, magical worlds for children of all ages to enter. 

I particularly liked November in A Time to Keep, because it describes a family coming together from all around and celebrating the holiday with food and impromptu performances as entertainment. I like to imagine that this is what we are doing here in Portland in the winter, gathering together in warm, cozy spaces, eating, drinking, and watching dance.

And this November has no shortage of dance: twenty performances, from a few Halloween carryovers to important anniversary celebration performances, circus performances with a social justice bent, Shakespeare, ballet, and much more. Scroll down to see it all! 

Dance Performances in November

Week 1: November 1-3

Members of the cast of Redwood by Playwright Brittany K. Allen that runs November 1-17 at Portland Center Stage at The Armory.
Photo by Russell J. Young/Courtesy of Portland Center Stage.

Redwood (World Premiere)
Playwright Brittany K. Allen 
Directed by Chip Miller
Choreography by Darrell Grand Moultrie
November 1-17
Portland Center Stage at The Armory, 128 N.W. 11th Ave.

A young Black woman’s relationship with her white boyfriend is upended when her uncle’s exploration of their family’s lineage reveals that her ancestors were enslaved by her boyfriend’s ancestors. Guided by a hip-hop dance class chorus, choreographed by Darrell Grand Moultrie (choreographer of Instinctual Confidence and Fluidity Of Steel for Oregon Ballet Theater), this American family learns to live and love in a present that’s overpopulated with ghosts.

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Warp, weft, in between and beyond

Martha Daghlian reports on the Textile Connections Symposium “Textiles & Culture: Past, Present, and Future”

As Portland Textile Month wrapped up its second year, the Textile Connections Symposium made its debut on October 26th and 27th 2019. The Symposium was a weekend-long gathering held at Pacific Northwest College of Art (PNCA) that consisted of artist lectures and discussions on Saturday and a “makers’ marketplace” on Sunday all of which aimed to spark critical conversation and networking amongst a broad range of artists and craftspeople in the metro area. The Symposium was independently produced by a team of dedicated volunteers with support from Columbia FiberArts Guild, PNCA, Oregon Community Foundation, Portland Textile Month, and Regional Arts and Culture Council. The inaugural theme of “Textiles & Culture: Past, Present, and Future” was an apt focus for an art medium that spans generations and cultures, albeit not always continuously or comfortably. 

I attended the speakers’ day with two companions from the fiber/textile arts community. We  encountered a diverse group with a shared interest in developing community and finding ways for fiber art to assert its relevance into the twenty-first century. Nearly a dozen artists spoke about their work to an enthusiastic audience, reflecting both on the craft legacies they had inherited and on their individual efforts to innovate and bring their practices forward aesthetically and conceptually. This tension between respect for the past and anticipation of the future provoked much open-ended and considerate discussion regarding the complex relationships between art, craft, identity, sustainability, and pedagogy that proved the Symposium’s success in forging connections and inspiring critical engagement within the fiber arts community.

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