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DramaWatch: Arf! says Sandy

Joining the sassy orphan and her dancing billionaire on this week's stages are a medieval "Everyman" update, several worthy mid-run shows, and a pair of catch-'em-quicks-before-they-close.


Christopher Swan as Daddy Warbucks and Rainier (Rainey) Treviño as Annie in the Broadway tour of the musical “Annie.” Photo: Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade.

In a column that was going to comment primarily on the surge of theatrical activity in Oregon after the long slow thaw from the pandemic years (we’ll get to that), who’d’ve guessed a sassy orphan girl and a billionaire with a heart of gold would grab the top spot?

Yet here we are, with the latest Broadway tour of the musical Annie hitting town for a quick run Tuesday-Sunday, May 14-19, in the 3,000-seat Keller Auditorium. Based on Harold Gray’s long-running newspaper comic strip Little Orphan Annie, which began in 1924 and became hugely popular during the Depression and World War II years and on into the ’50s, the musical is getting to be a bit of an antique, too: It opened on Broadway 47 years ago, in 1977.

But it’s a lively antique, brash and upbeat and a lot of fun. Gray, who died in 1968, might’ve spun in his grave at the liberties the stage show took, essentially turning his picaresque tale of up-from-the-bootstraps gritty individualism into a rousing, upbeat celebration of FDR’s New Deal liberalism.

Gray’s Daddy Warbucks was far from a fan of FDR and all of that socialist nonsense, which tended to get in the way of the god-given rights of swashbuckling billionaires. His fondness for Annie was, in a way, his saving grace, and the musical builds on that — plus some terrific song and dance, a few comically cartoonish bad guys, a good deal of broad humor in general, that sassy-smart redhead, and a canine co-star. Annie is old-fashioned in a congenial way: It’s a well-paced, optimistic afternoon or evening of smart and only slightly edgy escapist entertainment, and that’s nothing to sneeze at. Arf! says Sandy.

Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ “Everybody”

North Portland’s Twilight Theater Company is opening a period piece of a very different sort. Like Annie, it, too, is updated. But Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ 2017 play Everybody reaches back to a far earlier time: It’s a contemporary version of the 15th century morality tale Everyman, which you might’ve read in your freshman college English class, and which has a genuine literary and cultural reach across the centuries.

Jacobs-Jenkins, author of such plays as Appropriate, Gloria, An Octoroon, and this year’s Purpose, has had several of his plays produced in Portland, primarily at Profile Theatre and Artists Rep.

Everybody arrives with a twist, something like Nassim Soleimanpour’s Nassim (see below), in which a different actor performs the show at each performance. In Everybody, everybody gets into the act — eventually. Riffing on the whims of fate in the game of life and death, the play dictates that each actor learn the entire script, and at every performance a lottery decides who’ll play which role.


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As with its medieval ancestor, Everybody deals with the Big Questions and the seeming randomness of life. In Twilight’s version, there are five Somebodys, one Usher, one Love, one Time, and one Death. How does it all play out? It’s something of a roll of the Universal dice.

Ah, the Revels of spring!

The sun is out, the weather’s warm, the trees have bloomed: It must be spring. If you need more convincing, Portland Revels is onstage this weekend only at downtown’s Brunish Theatre with its Spring Revels program, called At the Root and put together by the swiftly rising actor/singer/songwriter Lo Steele, who uses storytelling and music “to celebrate the bonds women build through the ritual of styling one another’s hair.” The show, directed by (ArtsWatch columnist) Bobby Bermea, features the 2024 Spring Revels Chorus, directed by Anthony Michael Shepard — and also the enthusiastic good cheer of Revels’ trademark audience participation. Go ahead: Lift your voice to the rafters.

Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 10; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 11; and 2 p.m. Sunday, May 12.

PassinArt’s “The Meeting”

PassinArt: A Theatre Company continues its series of monthly Monday evening play readings with Jeff Stetson’s The Meeting, depicting an imagined meeting between Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. As the company describes it: “Differing in their philosophies, but alike in their mutual respect, the two men debate their varying approaches to the same grave social problems, both prepared to die for their beliefs but neither aware of how soon their assassins’ bullets would await them.” The reading’s at 7 p.m. Monday, May 13, at Albina Arts Center, 16 N.E. Killingsworth St., and free tickets are available here.

Catching up on some worthy mid-run shows

The world premiere of Andrew Siañez-De La O’s “Borderline” at Milagro. Photo by MiriFoto.

Here’s where we get to the part about the surge of theatrical activity as the cultural world slowly emerges from the pandemic doldrums. It’s true, theaters are still struggling to bring back audiences in the numbers of the pre-Covid years, and the financial setbacks of the pandemic years are still having an oversized effect on companies’ budgets and the chances they’re willing to take.

But right now Portland stages are filled with shows that are attracting audiences and enthusiasm. This is a good week to catch up with some productions that are in mid-run, before they run out of time:


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Borderline at Milagro. Andrew Siañez-De La O’s play about four teens in the desert along the Texas/Mexico border, complete with ghost tales and a serious look at immigration, is proving to be a hit for Milagro. Bobby Bermea talks here with young stars Eli Ingraffea and Mila  Kashiwabara, and Dmae Lo Roberts has a conversation here with the playwright on her Stage&Studio podcast. Borderline continues through May 18.

Coriolanus at Portland Center Stage. This updated version of Shakespeare’s history/tragedy, which feaures an all women/nonbinary cast, was reviewed enthusiastically for ArtsWatch by Darleen Ortega, and also discussed here in an earlier DramaWatch column. It continues at PCS through May 19, then moves to Ashland, with several cast changes, for a July 23-Oct. 13 run at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

Uncle Vanya at 21ten Theatre. In one short week Portlander Stepan Simek’s new translation of the classic Chekhov play, and Chris Conner’s direction and talented cast, have built an enthusiastic fan base. DramaWatch’s discussion of the play is here. This fresh take on Uncle Vanya continues through May 26.

The Brother and the Bird at Shaking the Tree. Visually seductive theater and out-of-the-ordinary storytelling, based on Alicia Nutting’s story, which in turn is an adaptation of one of the Brothers Grimm’s grislier, more haunting tales. The Brother and the Bird continues through May 18.

From a Hole in the Ground at Corrib. More fascinating mythology, this one of the Irish variety, from Portland’s Irish-centric contemporary company. Bobby Bermea profiles the Portland playwright, Ken Yoshikawa, here. “I’m curious about other ways of telling stories,” Yoshikawa tells Bermea. “How much can I stretch the audience’s willingness to jump into what they’re seeing? I’m really interested in breaking the rules of reality.” From a Hole in the Ground continues through May 19 at the Historic Alberta House.

Delphon “D.J.” Curtis, Jr. (left), Charles Grant and Jasonica Moore in “Passing Strange” at Portland Playhouse. Photo: Shawnte Sims

Passing Strange at Portland Playhouse. The Playhouse’s production of Stew’s coming-of-age rock musical, with its sterling cast and fine direction by William Earl Ray, has been packing ’em in. Darleen Ortega’s review is here, and a DramaWatch preview is here. It continues through May 26.

Legally Blonde: The Musical at Stumptown Stages. Sophia Takla, Miss Oregon 2022, plays fashionista sorority girl turned Harvard Law School whiz Elle Woods in this musical-theater adaptation of the 2001 movie comedy starring Reese Witherspoon as a late-blooming feminist. Legally Blonde continues through May 19 at downtown Portland’s Winningstad Theatre.


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She Persisted: The Musical at Oregon Children’s Theatre. Another musical with feminist cred, this one based on the book written by Chelsea Clinton and illustrated by Alexandra Boiger, celebrates woman trailblazers including Harriet Tubman, Virginia Apgar, Ruby Bridges, Sally Ride, Florence Griffith Joyner, and Sonia Sotomayor. She Persisted continues through May 26 at the Newmark Theatre.

Tesla City Stories at The Old Church. Not a mid-run show, but a one-off: The popular live vintage radio theater series, now in its 10th year, has its newest show for one night only, at 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 10.

Say hello (again) to Artists Rep

Speaking of theater’s slow emergence from the pandemic years, may we introduce you, once again, to Artists Repertory Theatre? Portland’s second-biggest theater company, which has been off the boards for what seems an eternity because of Covid shutdowns, a massive and excruciatingly long renovation of its home space, and seemingly more perils than Pauline, is tiptoeing back into the mix.

Its performance spaces are still in the works, but other actual events are beginning to happen. On Saturday, May 18, it’ll throw open its doors for Encore Gala, a combination party, fundraiser, and celebration of its impending full reopening, complete with the announcement of a new season of shows. “This celebration, announcing our 2024/25 season, held in our own home, marks a significant milestone for ART—a momentous occasion to gather together and commemorate our survival, our resilience, and our unwavering dedication to the performing arts in Portland,” the company declares.

And from May 21 to June 16 the company will roll out its Encore Festival of three staged readings of shows from its past, and one peek into its future. Playing in the large completed lobby space of ART’s home at 1515 S.W. Morrison St. will be readings of Keely & Du (1994-95 season), Speech & Debate (2008-09), and Skeleton Crew (2018-19), before wrapping things up with a look at what’s to come with Lava Alapai’s Sunny’s Gifts and Things.

Quick, before they’re gone

All good things must come to an end, and in Portland theater that includes two shows.

At Portland Center Stage, the hit play Nassim, which features a different actor at every performance, wraps thing up on Sunday, May 12: See Darleen Ortega’s ArtsWatch review here.


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And Hand2Mouth’s collaboratively devised theater piece Memento Mori: A Meditation on Death closes its short run at Imago Theatre after its May 11 performance. If you have the time and inclination, you might catch both it and Twilight’s similarly themed Everybody: The eternal questions never die.

Patrick Page nabs a Lortel

Patrick Page in his solo show “All the Devils Are Here — How Shakespeare Invented the Villain,” which he wrote and performed, and for which he won a Lucille Lortel Award. Photo: Julieta Cervantes

Theatrical awards season has kicked off resoundingly in New York with Sunday, May 5’s ceremony for the Lucille Lortel Awards honoring Off-Broadway and Off-Off Broadway shows. Former Oregonian Patrick Page walked off with the trophy for Outstanding Solo Show for his Shakespearean riff All the Devils Are Here — How Shakespeare Invented the Villain, in which, The New York Times declared in its review, he “practically twinkles here between scenes of malevolence.”

Up for an award in the same category was Make Me Gorgeous!, produced by Portland’s Triangle Theatre, written by Triangle’s Donnie (Don Horn), and starring former Portland standout Wade McCollum. “Being nominated was a win,” said Donnie, who was in New York for the ceremony. “One of the proudest nights of my theatrical career.”

Oregon native Shoshana Bean was also nominated for Outstanding Featured Performer in a Musical, a category won by her Hell’s Kitchen castmate Kecia Lewis. See the full list of winners and nominees here.

Coming up June 10 are the Drama Desk Awards (nomination list here), in which Page and McCollum are again nominated for best solo performance, and Bean is again nominated for her Hell’s Kitchen featured role. The Broadway-centric Tony Awards cap things off June 16.

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Photo Joe Cantrell

Bob Hicks has been covering arts and culture in the Pacific Northwest since 1978, including 25 years at The Oregonian. Among his art books are Kazuyuki Ohtsu; James B. Thompson: Fragments in Time; and Beth Van Hoesen: Fauna and Flora. His work has appeared in American Theatre, Biblio, Professional Artist, Northwest Passage, Art Scatter, and elsewhere. He also writes the daily art-history series "Today I Am."


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