THEATER

DramaWatch Weekly: Variety Valentine

From laughing/crying nothing girls to "The Pride" to a long-lost comedy to offbeat Valentine shows, the theater week should be a snap(shot)

Few titles are as directly descriptive of plot as CoHo’s forthcoming This Girl Laughs, This Girl Cries, This Girl Does Nothing, an all-ages fable about three sisters who take diverging paths through the wilderness into womanhood. Eenie, meenie, miney mo; I wonder which sister is played by Jen Rowe? I’m guessing Albienne, the fighter?

“This Girl Laughs, This Girl Cries, This Girl Does Nothing.” Photo courtesy CoHo Productions

Defunkt opens The Pride, a widely split narrative that jumps a 60-year span to connect characters who share (almost?) nothing but a name. I love a good split narrative because the story—Humanity!—is already implied, and the rest of the exercise is just exploring the subtler curiosities of character. Spoiler: we’re all connected. But what will these particular people say and do?

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Ch-ch-changes, good and bad

In review: Triangle Productions' "TRANS-formations" and "The Madness of Lady Bright"; Twilight Theater Company's "Antigone"

From the moment Matthew Sunderland steps onstage at The Sanctuary in Donnie’s new play TRANS-formation you sense you’re going to be in for an interesting ride. Sunderland stars as George/Christine in this 70-minute drama about the transsexual pioneer Christine Jorgensen, and the way he wraps himself around the story of this fascinating true-life character is impressive: his clear sharp tenor voice, masculine but not entirely; his body language, so firmly between; his immediate link with the audience, forged by the urgency to tell his tale.

Matthew Sunderland as George/Christine Jorgensen. Photo: David Kinder/Kinderpics

And what a tale. Donnie (the pen name of Donald Horn, who is also director, scenic and sound designer, and producer through Triangle Productions, the company he founded in 1989) has done his homework and assembled a smart, deeply informed play about Jorgensen, concentrating on the young Army veteran’s decision to undergo sex-change surgery and become a she. It’s a taut tale, with just two other actors, both of whom also are superb: Jacquelle Davis as Jorgensen’s sister Dolly (with a cameo as a schoolteacher with a mean streak) and Mark Pierce as Dr. Christian Hamberger, the Danish endocrinologist who made the transformation happen. Both Dolly and Dr. Hamberger have very human and natural friendships with George/Christine, and that’s crucial to the play’s success. The doctor talks science. George talks feelings. Out of their creative collaboration, Christine is born.

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A swift and savvy ride

Taking Dad on a roller-coaster vacation to Auschwitz: Lisa Kron's "2.5 Minute Ride" at Profile embarks on a funny, searing journey of discovery

Playwright Lisa Kron’s 2.5 Minute Ride isn’t easy to describe. Jane Unger, who directed the production on the boards at Profile Theatre, doesn’t even try in her “From the Director” notes. She is aiming for the spirit of discovery for audiences, and I respect that. Still, there are a couple of things we should get out of the way about this play and this production:

First, it’s very funny. For this season-opening one-woman show, Profile cast New York actor Allison Mickelson in the role of Lisa, and she is clearly adept at delivering lines with sarcastic humor. Mickelson, who also starred last fall in Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home for Portland Center Stage, makes the perfect Lisa, playing her just uptight enough, self-deprecating, and hiding generations of emotions under layers of biting comedy.

Allison Mickelson, laughing into the abyss. Photo: David Kinder

Second, this is a play about family vacations with her aging father. That sounds simple, right? But the two vacations Lisa describes over the course of this 75-minute play are to two difficult places to take an aging father: a roller-coaster theme park and Auschwitz, the concentration camp where her father’s parents both lost their lives. This point is introduced early in the play, so I hope learning it now won’t detract from your sense of discovery while hearing Lisa’s journey unfold.

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Astor’s great and messy quest

In Part 2 of Chris Coleman's sweeping historical drama "Astoria," a rich man's dream runs aground – but not before it reshapes Oregon's fate

In the early years of the 19th century, John Jacob Astor, a German immigrant who’d already become wealthy through the fur trade and Manhattan real estate, gambled big on a grand vision. His plan was to establish an “emporium” near the mouth of the Columbia River — a geographic feature only recently known to Europeans and Eastern settlers — supported by fur-trapping posts along its tributaries. This would allow him to dominate the Pacific Northwest’s vast supply of one of that era’s most valuable resources. His company would then be able to initiate a lucrative global shipping network, trading in not just furs but Chinese tea and European manufactured goods. Flush with early-American idealism, he further hoped to set the stage for a democratic government in the region, a political and cultural sister to the fledgling United States, then still clustered on the continent’s eastern edge.

Jimmy Garcia as Pierre Dorion and Leif Norby as Robert McClellan with members of the cast of “Astoria: Part Two.” Photo: Patrick Weishampel/blankeye.tv

To these ends, Astor, in 1810, sent two expeditionary parties toward the Columbia, one by sea around Cape Horn, the other overland, heading out from St. Louis along the trail blazed a few years earlier by Lewis and Clark. The harrowing, often deadly, adventures of these groups is vividly told in Peter Stark’s 2014 best-seller Astoria: John Jacob Astor and Thomas Jefferson’s Lost Pacific Empire, a Story of Wealth, Ambition and Survival, and now in Chris Coleman’s sweeping theatrical adaptation for Portland Center Stage. Astoria: Part One premiered last season; Astoria: Part Two is on the boards at The Armory through Feb. 18, with a few bonus performances of the first installment sprinkled through the schedule.

SPOILER ALERT: Astor fails.

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Solofest preview: e pluribus unum

Bag & Baggage Productions' new festival shines a spotlight on storytelling by excluded voices

It’s easier than ever for us to hear people who have long been marginalized. From vlogs to podcasts to YouTube and the rest, the proliferation of expressive avenues has revealed a tremendous demand to hear personal stories from once-stifled voices. “The rise of shows like The Moth shows that storytelling is becoming super-trendy,” says Bag & Baggage Productions’ artistic director Scott Palmer. “Whether on a podcast or a TED Talk, there’s a movement featuring the singular voice of the storyteller.”

As solo storytelling has spread, theater has followed. Theater artists like Anna Deavere Smith and others have used solo storytelling to widen the lens to include stories of America’s diverse cultures and experiences. “We’ve been noting over last few years an increased awareness and interest in solo performers across the country,” Palmer says, “especially when those pieces are tied directly into issues of equity and social justice.” For example, “there are significant implications of the #metoo movement — people listening to and respecting individual stories. They’re a touchstone of how we move through the world.”

Damaris Webb performs in Solofest this weekend.

Result: while in the past, inexpensive-to-produce storytelling was sometimes dismissed as “poor man’s theater” more suited to fringe festivals than mainstream venues, Palmer says, “the values of artistic excellence, commitment, and preparation have risen, and those barriers between theater and storytelling are coming down.”

That’s why, when the company moved into its intimate new venue The Vault last year, Palmer created Solofest, which he hopes will be an annual showcase for solo performers, especially those telling stories that reflect the company’s values of equity and diversity. Curated by Palmer and B&B associate artistic director Cassie Greer, this year’s debut installment features four different performers telling personal stories in a theatrical setting. Two stories will run at each performance in different combinations from Feb. 1-4 at The Vault. 

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Well, Fertile Ground happened, and while I offered a few prognostications, for the first time in many years I didn’t get out to see those shows. Can you please use the comments to tell me, and more importantly each other, what you loved? With a festival that’s so egalitarian by nature, community opinions should hold the most sway anyway.

Now then:

The word around ArtsWatch via our reviewer TJ Acena is that Magellanica, which recreates the feeling of its setting, Antarctica, with a glacially paced 5+ hour runtime, is “worth it.”  I believe it. If I had to pick a group of people to get marooned in the Antarctic wilderness with, I’d actually consider Artists Rep’s company of actors. They’re versatile and compassionate, and they can make fire.

Alisha Menon is the Girl Prince in Northwest Children’s Theatre’s “Chitra.” Photo: David Kinder

Corrib’s all-age-appropriate Lifeboat closes at Northwest Children’s Theater this weekend, making way for Chitra, The Girl Prince, NWCT’s second major collaboration with Indian dance expert Anita Menon (the first being 2015’s Jungle Book). Nice to see Ken Yoshikawa pop up in a kids’ production and what looks like a romantic lead. His earnestness will not be lost on all ages.

What else?

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Long, cold, and worth it

Artists Rep's premiere of E.M. Lewis's Antarctic drama "Magellanica" – all five and a half hours of it – tells an epic tale of lives on the edge

Oregon playwright E.M. Lewis’s new show Magellanica opens with a scientist holding a parka and some luggage. “No one ends up in Antarctica by accident,” she says matter-of-factly. It’s true. Those who head deep into the frozen continent do must have strong resolve. The journey is long but those who make it hope for great payoffs.

Magellanica, which had its world premiere on Saturday at Artists Repertory Theatre, embraces this ethos with a five-and-a-half hour run time. The question you’re probably asking is, “Does the payoff justify its length?” The answer is a definite yes.

Don’t worry: There are three intermissions and a dinner break.

From left: Vin Shambry, Sara Hennessy, Allen Nause, Michael Mendelson, John San Nicolas, Joshua J. Weinstein, Barbie Wu, Eric Pargac. Photo: Russell J Young

Set in 1986, Magellanica follows five scientists, one cartographer, and two crew members to an international research station at the South Pole, the most inhospitable place on the surface of the earth. Some of them are there to study the newly discovered hole in the ozone layer. Some are there to escape their own pasts. Some are doing both at the same time.

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