THEATER

Actor Russ Fast, 1947-2019

A memorial gathering for the Portland stage and film actor will be at Milagro Theatre on Saturday, March 30

Russ Fast, who died Feb. 20 at age 71 after a fight with cancer, left a lot of memories for a lot of people across a lot of areas when he moved on. He was a sometime musician – a drummer and backup singer – and made an early name for himself as a tap-dancer and lip-syncher. He was a man of the theater, performing, by his own count, in 143 productions in Portland, New York, Seattle, and elsewhere. He sometimes made his living as an accomplished voice actor, and worked regularly in film: movies, television, commercials, industrials. He directed, and taught acting. And with his friend, the actor B. Joe Medley, and Jeanne Medley he opened Character Actors, one of the first talent agencies in the Pacific Northwest.

Friends, family, and fans will gather from 2 to 4 p.m. next Saturday, March 30, for a celebration of remembrance in his honor at Milagro Theatre, 525 S.E. Stark St., where he once was “privileged to play my lifelong hero, Pablo Neruda,” in Burning Patience, Antonio Skarmeta’s play about the great Chilean poet. It’s open to all. There’ll be a light potluck, and attendees are encouraged to share memories and stories.

Portland actor Russ Fast in three undated photos.

Russell George Fast was born July 19, 1947, in Pasco, Wash., and moved with his family while he was still in school to Portland. He graduated from Grant High School, then attended the Pasadena Playhouse College of Theatrical Arts, toured with the school’s children’s theater, worked with the Hollywood Actor’s Group, and moved back north to work with the Director’s Studio in Seattle.

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Letter from NY: Broadway report

What's been lighting the lights on the Great White Way? A Choir Boy, a Mockingbird, Sam Shepard, and a Prom.

By MISHA BERSON

NEW YORK – Somewhere between the dead of winter and the rebirth of spring, Broadway takes a breath. It’s before a stream of shows hoping to vie for Tony Awards take up residence near Times Square.  And it’s after a lot of productions, including really great stuff like last year’s Tony Award for best original musical, The Band’s Visit, prepare to depart.

Yet for a Broadway-bound visitor to New York there is still enough to attract your attendance, if you choose wisely.

During a recent East Coast journey I was able to put together a smorgasbord of shows that included a riveting contemporary drama,  an engrossing play revival, a play based on an American literary classic and – oh, right – a new musical.  (And it wasn’t Cher.)  I watched several screen stars in live action, revisited an old favorite script, and witnessed the flowering of a young African-American writer who is helping revitalize serious American drama on Broadway.

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Tarrell Alvin McCraney’s “Choir Boy.” Photo: Matthew Murphey

LET’S START WITH THAT LAST ONE: Choir Boy, by Tarrell Alvin McCraney. Though it debuted Off Broadway in 2013, this adrenalin- and music-fueled play set in a black all-male prep school made its Broadway debut only this year, after some revision.  If its author sounds familiar, maybe that’s because McCraney collected an Oscar for his screenplay for the valuable film Moonlight. He also wrote the touted new Netflix baseball drama High Flying Bird.

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DramaWatch: Imago flies again

Plus: New boss in Ashland, Ferguson comes to Center Stage, Portland Playhouse's Crowning glory, a rolling "Jump," Just play "No," and more

What’s up at the theater? Funny you should ask.

Last May a wonderfully peculiar vision flew onto the Portland theater scene, and far too quickly, before all but a few people had had a chance to see it, flew off again. Well, spring’s arrived, and To Fly Again, Jerry Mouawad’s dancerly swan of a play, has landed at Imago Theatre again. It opens Friday for another brief run as part of Imago’s Next Wave Festival, and you should try to catch it before it flies the coop yet again on April 6.

The dusty dancers in Imago’s “To Fly Again.” Photo: Jubel Brosseau

I reviewed last year’s production, which had the same cast as the current one (you can read the full review here), and here’s what I wrote, in part:

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Spotlight on: a theatrical ‘Jump’

In a leap of faith, Confrontation and Milagro collaborate on a "rolling premiere" of Charly Evon Simpson's new play

Expect the unexpected from Confrontation Theatre.

Its second full production, a co-production with Milagro, is Charly Evon Simpson’s Jump, which opens at the Milagro space on Friday. Two full shows in (its first full production was James Webb’s comedy Sibling Rivalry in 2017) and the nascent theater hasn’t come across as a company that, on the surface, might seem particularly “confrontational.” That’s just how artistic director La’Tevin Alexander Ellis wants it.

“Confrontation means to confront all topics,” Ellis says, “all things within the Black community first, and then those outside of our community. It’s not necessarily about picking a fight and arguing, and it’s definitely not just about racism, because that shit gets tiring. There’s not anything stereotypical. There are no caricatures. That’s the goal, that’s the plan – confronting all of that. Not just in the negative of trying to pick a fight with white people.”

Not that Confrontation is averse to more volatile subject matter. In smaller productions, it’s taken on Amiri Baraka’s searing The Dutchman (2015) and took part in 2016’s Every 28 Hours national series of extremely short plays in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. And its next show, another co-production (with Portland Playhouse), will be Dominique Morisseau’s Pipeline, a piece “about the school-to-prison pipeline,” says Ellis. “We’ll come back with the little bit about race there but it’s more about motherhood and how do we respond to this unjust, inadequate educational system.”

In other words, Confrontation Theatre is about presenting and exploring issues that confront the Black community in all its nuance and complexity. Which is what drew Ellis and the rest of Confrontation (actor Andrea Vernae, actor/director Tamera Lyn, sound designer Philip Johnson, education director Jasmine Cottrell and community outreach director Alagia Felix) to Simpson’s multi-faceted jewel of a play, Jump.

Andrea Vernae in “Jump.” Photo: Russell J Young

“These are just people going through human shit,” says Ellis, “and we’re watching it unfold before our eyes. It’s a story about something that really impacts our community but is not explicitly about our community.” Jump is a story that could happen to anybody. The family in this case just happens to be Black. Which is important because the play deals a lot with depression, which is as much of an issue in the Black community as elsewhere, but no one ever talks about it. “Historically, there is a lack of both diagnostic and treatment studies on depression. This lack of studies on depression in African Americans has existed for decades. African Americans are underserved, understudied, and misdiagnosed as a group.” A key study published in 2014 in the journal Frontiers in Psychiatry, Misconceptions of Depression in African Americans, underscores that.

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Ashland picks new artistic leader

Nataki Garrett, who directs this season's "How To Catch Creation," will become the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's sixth artistic director

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival announced a new artistic director in a Tuesday morning release. Nataki Garett will be the Ashland festival’s sixth artistic leader, replacing Bill Rauch, who is completing his final season before taking over as the first artistic director of the new Ronald O. Perelman Center for the Performing Arts at the rebuilt World Trade Center in New York.

It’s a plum job, one of the top posts in the American nonprofit theater, and one of several nationally that have been open in the past year. And it marks a sweeping change in leadership, with top positions across the country going to women and people of color, as The New York Times details in today’s editions.

Garrett most recently was acting artistic director for the Denver Center for the Performing Arts during its 18-month leadership transition. Chris Coleman, who was artistic director of Portland Center Stage for 17 years, was appointed to the permanent post in Denver. Coleman was replaced by Marissa Wolf, who moved from Kansas City Rep to take the reigns last September.

Garrett, who holds as MFA in directing from California Institute of the Arts, has worked for more than 20 years as “a theatre administrator, director, producer, playwright, educator, activist and mentor.”

Nataki Garrett, new boss at OSF. Photo: Bill Geenen

“I am absolutely thrilled to be named incoming artistic director of Oregon Shakespeare Festival and it is an honor and privilege to inherit such a wonderfully rich and dynamic legacy of artistic excellence in partnership with a dedicated board, staff, company and local community,” Garrett said in a prepared statement. “I am equally excited and inspired by OSF’s dedication to expanding our worldview and look forward to maintaining our commitment to the revolutionary spirit of Shakespeare and classical text, while continuing to explore and expand opportunities for new voices and narratives through new play development.”

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Oregon Spotlight: Spring breaks from Shakespeare to Caravaggio

Our sampler of hits and bits from around the state offers music in Covallis and Medford, art in Bend and Roseburg, film on the Coast, and OSF is live in Ashland

We’ve set the clocks ahead, spring is coming, and that means Oregonians are tentatively emerging from their abodes with a mind to hit the road for day and weekend trips. What’s on the state’s cultural menu?

Mark Murphey (holding book) plays William Joad, who meets unexpected relative Martin Jodes, played by Tony Sancho (on ground), in Octavio Solis’ “Mother Road” at Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Photo by: Jenny Graham/Oregon Shakespeare Festival

Mark Murphey (holding book) plays William Joad, who meets unexpected relative Martín Jodes, played by Tony Sancho (on ground), in Octavio Solis’ “Mother Road” at Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Photo by: Jenny Graham/Oregon Shakespeare Festival

For starters, it’s showtime at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland. Right out of the gate, four options: Lauren Yee’s Cambodian Rock Band in the Thomas Theatre, while the Angus Bowmer hosts As You Like It, Hairspray: The Broadway Musical and Mother Road, a new play by Octavio Solis, inspired by John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath and featuring OSF favorite Mark Murphey as William Joad. Solis is an Oregon playwright, and he’s calling this a “sequel” to Steinbeck’s classic, although it continues the story from an immigrant’s perspective. This is a world premiere directed by outgoing artistic director Bill Rauch and likely to be a play you’ll be proud to say, years from now, “I saw it first at OSF in Ashland.” Tickets and more info here.

Meanwhile, a few other options beyond Portlandia:

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Celebrate St. Pat’s with music, poetry, or love gone astray

Coast calendar: Irish and Andean music in Lincoln City, PoetryFest in Manzanita, and rom-coms open in Nehalem and Cannon Beach

You don’t need to go to the local pub to get your green on this St. Patrick’s Day. Instead, you can drop in at the Lincoln City Cultural Center, where Pipedance presents St. Patrick’s Day Unplugged, a multi-cultural celebration. Nora Sherwood and Gary Burman, the duo behind Pipedance, play multiple instruments, and Sherwood is a champion stepdancer. The pair will be joined by the Andean band Chayag, led by Alex Llumiquinga, and flamenco dancer Sophia Solano.

This is a new approach to the Cultural Center’s traditional St. Pat’s celebration, said director Niki Price.

Detail from “The Irish Piper” by William Oliver Williams, 1874, oil on canvas, Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum, Quinnipiac University, Connecticut

Detail from “The Irish Piper” by William Oliver Williams, 1874, oil on canvas, Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum, Quinnipiac University, Connecticut

The celebration had grown into a nice event over the past six years, Price said, but it was time for a change. “We took it off the stage and put it on the floor of the auditorium on a raised platform. There are tables around the platform so it will feel a little more like you are in a pub. You are going to be much closer to the music.”

The Saturday night show kicks off at 6 p.m. March 16 with a traditional dinner by the cultural center’s Judy Hardy, featuring corned beef, cabbage, potatoes, soda bread, and dessert. The Sunday show starts at 2 p.m. with snacks and beverages. Tickets range from $32 to $8, depending on the show.

“What you will see is a small ensemble on this platform,” Price said. “Sherwood is going to be doing some dancing as well as working on the pennywhistle. It’s not going to be this big booming electric version of a St. Patrick’s show, but rather a personal, more intimate experience.”

All ages are welcome. For ticket information, go here.

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