Western States Arts Federation

DramaWatch: A ‘Smuggler’ in an Irish bar, in an Irish bar

Corrib Theatre's play about a guy in a bar is being played by a guy in a bar. Oregon Children's Theatre takes on Shakespeare and a bus trip with Grandma. Freud and C.S. Lewis get down to it.

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Tom O’Leary keeps the bar in “The Smuggler.” Photo: Adam Liberman

“On the day

He got off that ship

He quickly learned

3 things

Allowing him to quip

One –

The streets were not paved with gold

Two –

In fact the streets were not paved at all

And Three –

He had to fuckin pave them all”

– from The Smuggler, by Ronán Noone

***

Corrib just can’t seem to stay out of the bars.

A decade ago, Portland’s Irish-focused theater company came to life in Kell’s Irish Pub, taking an upstairs banquet room as performance space for a spare presentation of the Conor McPherson play St. Nicholas. Not long after, it was back at Kell’s for A Night in November. Now, after years keeping to proper theater spaces, here Corrib is, bellying up again – this time at T.C. O’Leary’s, a hive of Red Sox fandom on Northeast Alberta Street.

But then, this seems like the right place for The Smuggler, playwright Ronán Noone’s thorny grappling with immigrant experiences of self-image, ambition and ethics. For one thing, the story takes place in a bar – or, rather, it uses the framing device of a man in a bar regaling us – in rhyme, no less – with his tawdry tale. The character in question starts his story as a bartender, but more significantly as an Irish immigrant named Tim Finnegan. At O’Leary’s, the role of Tim Finnegan will be played by a bartender, more significantly an Irish immigrant called Tom O’Leary, who happens to own the place.

Whether being a publican is more a proper role than O’Leary’s earlier life as an actor in Dublin we’ll leave for you to judge, perhaps after a drink and a performance.

Artist Jan Baross’s sketch of actor Tom O’Leary in “The Smuggler” from Corrib Theatre.

In any case, in The Smuggler, Tim Finnegan is a writer of decidedly middling accomplishment who tends bar to help pay the bills of his small family in a pricey New England town. But when the bar shuts down right around the time his wife, a physician’s assistant, gets a pay cut, Tim soon finds himself approaching “ a thin line between desperation and acting immorally.” 

Add in heightening tensions in town following a deadly auto accident involving an undocumented immigrant, Tim’s drinking, his wife’s exasperation, his brother-in-law’s faithlessness, some high drama around a Sycamore tree, and a variety of working-class travails. The website TheaterMania called the resulting concoction “a painstakingly crafted and fulfilling dark comedy about the bleak side of the American dream and the complexity of empathizing with someone who behaves so badly … both an exorcism and a riveting sliver of humanity.” 

Opening

“Last Stop on Market Street” illustration by Christian Robinson.

A musical adaptation based on a 2015 illustrated book, the Newbery Medal-winning Last Stop on Market Street, follows a seven-year-old boy through a Sunday with his grandmother. Instead of his usual suburban sloth, phone in hand, he has to go to church, ride the bus, and even work at a soup kitchen. But along the way, with the patient guidance of his Nana, he learns something about how many different sorts of people there are and what it means to recognize their differences and their needs. Oregon Children’s Theatre presents the rhythm-rich show for its last mainstage production of the season, directed by Andrea White – who did such terrific work for OCT on the recent WROL (Without Rule of Law).

***

Meanwhile, another fruitful branch of OCT, its Young Professionals program, tackles the great Shakespeare comedy Twelfth Night, adapted and directed by Lauren Bloom Hanover and using a cast of just six. With such talented teens as the YPs have boasted lately, six should do the trick just fine.

***

The Canon Shakespeare Company, which recently gave us the unusual phenomenon of a sock-puppet video adaptation of Titus Andronicus, takes to the stage for a rather different Shakespeare play, the farcical The Comedy of Errors.

And…not opening…quite yet

Lakewood has postponed the opening night of its production of Camelot to May 5, “due to a breakthrough case of COVID-19 in the production group,” and compensated by adding other performances to the schedule.

Reading time

Tobias Andersen, shown as Big Daddy at Clackamas Repertory Theatre in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” takes on another huge character – Sigmund Freud – in Readers Theatre Gresham’s “Freud’s Last Session.” Photo: Travis Nodurft

Another welcome return to active duty, Readers Theatre Gresham resumes with Freud’s Last Session, featuring the company’s founder, Tobias Andersen.

Sponsor
Portland Playhouse Bella An American Tall Tale Portland Oregon

Andersen, in an email exchange, describes the play: “The conceit is that Freud, just before he died, invited C.S. Lewis to his home. Freud, a confirmed atheist, wants to know about Lewis’ ‘Saul to Tarsus’ conversion, why he really converted, and the two historical figures devote the rest of their time to arguing Christianity versus Atheism. One helluva script … Michael Streeter will read Lewis, I’ll read Freud … Oddly enough, I’ve played both gentlemen previously. Shadowlands, which is all about Lewis’ relationship with American divorcee Joy Gresham, remains one of the best experiences I’ve ever had onstage.  It was the play that brought me to Portland. And I played Freud for one of Maestro Murry Sidlin’s ‘Nerve Endings’ concerts called ‘The Dreams of Gustav Mahler.’ Got one of the biggest laughs ever when I said, ‘Sometimes Herr Mahler, a cigar is just a cigar.’”

Movie night

Many theater companies pivoted to producing online video during the Covid pandemic’s darker days. For Portland’s The Theatre Company, the shift came before it had even had a chance to get its first stage show open, and it dove into learning a new craft. 

In addition to commissioning several small plays specifically for video, the company also created The Pickle Factory Series, gathering 20 artists last November for a week of collaboration, resulting in eight short films that will be shown Saturday at the Village Ballroom in Northeast Portland. 

Closing

Music is in the air! But not for long. At least, not in the form of three crowd-pleasing shows that close up shop this weekend: the justly celebrated Revolutionary-era rap musical Hamilton in a touring Broadway production; its hip-hop/improv-comedy cousin (both being co-created by Lin-Manuel Miranda) Freestyle Love Supreme at Portland Center Stage; and that durable Euro-pop Cheese Whiz factory Mamma Mia! in a community-theater production at Theatre in the Grove.

The flattened stage

For those of you who still can put aside all the calibrations of cultural representation/appropriation demanded of us these days and enjoy some less-than-perfectly-naturalistic entertainment, here’s a bit of time-hopping pleasure:

Best line I read this week

“‘Community’ makes everything sound better. It makes ‘the activist community’ sound approachable; it makes ‘the skin-care community’ sound important; it makes ‘the Christian community’ sound inclusive and kind; it makes ‘the medical community’ sound folksy and skilled at the bedside; it makes ‘the homeless community’ sound voluntary; it makes ‘the gun rights community’ sound humanistic; it makes ‘the tech community’ sound like good citizens.”

— Carina Chocano, in The New York Times Magazine

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

Marty Hughley

Marty Hughley

Marty Hughley is a Portland journalist who writes about theater, dance, music and culture. His honors have included a National Arts Journalism Program fellowship at the University of Georgia, a fellowship at the NEA Arts Journalism Institute in Theater and Musical Theater at the University of Southern California, and first-place awards for arts reporting in the Society of Professional Journalists Pacific Northwest Excellence in Journalism Competitions. In 2013 he was inducted into the Oregon Music Hall of Fame for his contributions to the industry. A Portland native, Hughley studied history at Portland State University, worked at the alternative newsweekly Willamette Week in the late 1980s as pop music critic and arts editor, then spent nearly a quarter century at The Oregonian as a reporter, feature writer and critic. His recent freelance work has appeared in Oregon ArtsWatch, Artslandia and the Oregon Humanities magazine. He lives with his cat, and dies a little with each new setback to the Trail Blazers.
Marty Hughley

Marty Hughley

Marty Hughley is a Portland journalist who writes about theater, dance, music and culture. His honors have included a National Arts Journalism Program fellowship at the University of Georgia, a fellowship at the NEA Arts Journalism Institute in Theater and Musical Theater at the University of Southern California, and first-place awards for arts reporting in the Society of Professional Journalists Pacific Northwest Excellence in Journalism Competitions. In 2013 he was inducted into the Oregon Music Hall of Fame for his contributions to the industry. A Portland native, Hughley studied history at Portland State University, worked at the alternative newsweekly Willamette Week in the late 1980s as pop music critic and arts editor, then spent nearly a quarter century at The Oregonian as a reporter, feature writer and critic. His recent freelance work has appeared in Oregon ArtsWatch, Artslandia and the Oregon Humanities magazine. He lives with his cat, and dies a little with each new setback to the Trail Blazers.

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