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DramaWatch: Classics reworked and nostalgia relived

CoHo Lab turns the old and familiar into the fresh and new; revues revive the rockin' '50s, Hollywood '30s and Bollywood '90s; plus other late-summer fun


Describing a work of art as “classic” can mean many things, but it usually connotes a sense of durability, of solidity, of wholeness. Those qualities are likely to come in handy for the four theatrical classics currently being run through the modernizing, re-energizing, hybridizing, multi-disciplinary mill of the CoHo Lab.

Continuing to emphasize the development of new work, CoHo Productions has hosted four projects for workshop time during the past two weeks. On Sunday evening it will present excerpts from the four plays in-progress:

Crucible — Philip Cuomo, CoHo’s producing artistic director, flexes his creative artistic muscles with a radical take on the Arthur Miller classic, re-imagined with the help of the CoHo Clown Cohort. Consider it a follow-up to his highly successful comic-yet-poignant clown version of The Glass Menagerie.


Scary clowns: A cross-wielding Maureen Porter terrorizes Olivia Weiss in rehearsal for Philip Cuomo’s clowning adaptation of “The Crucible.” Photo: Jessica Dart

House of the Living — director Samantha Shay’s dance-theater interpretation of Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler as “psychosexual grande ballet.”

Girl v Troll (or Dam Things) — A.R. Nicholas (collaborating with a cast that includes such fine actors as Nick Ferrucci and Cecily Overman) braves a troll’s lair, but somehow infuses an internet-age story with the tragic princess Electra as a sort of Greek chorus.

Fire & Meat — writer/director Eve Johnstone looks at the ancient poem Beowulf by way of John Gardner’s perspective-shifting 1971 novel Grendel, employing both feminist analysis and puppetry.

This is the third summer of the CoHo Lab, which Cuomo says is focused not on rehearsing but on lead artists working with their performers on generating something new.

“The lab has been all about giving artists an opportunity to create new content,” he says. “Going into the process this time, I had no content and Samantha had no content. Eve had a draft started, and Anna (A.R. Nicholas) had a whole play written but wanted to create a subplot that served as a line going through the existing material.”

Having worked for 20-30 hours with the resources CoHo provides, the artists presented what they’d created earlier this week, performing for each other and a small audience of invited guests, and gathering feedback. After that, they got a little more studio time to respond to that feedback (or not) and to each choose 15-25 minutes worth of material for Sunday’s public showcase.

The hope is that this will give a boost to worthy ideas that — like Philip’s Glass Menagerie — will grow into full productions in January’s city-wide Fertile Ground festival of new works, and then in more targeted showcases such as CoHo’s Summerfest, or the Artists Rep-housed Risk/Reward. As Cuomo puts it, “We definitely see it as establishing a pipeline.”

Nostalgia, three ways

Musical revues celebrating bygone eras have a natural appeal — as handy showcases for talent, as memory ticklers for older audiences, as lightweight cultural histories for younger ones. And so, Lakewood Theatre revisits the era of rock’n’roll innocence with Buddy Returns, a tribute to the hits of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper, the three young stars who died together in a 1959 airplane crash.

Push the same idea back a couple of decades and the result is something like Puttin’ on the Ritz: Hits of the 1930s, presented by Portland Sings. Featuring Portland Sings founder Courney Freed, this dive into the Great American Songbook benefits from top-flight guest stars Pam Mahon and Isaac Lamb, accompanied by pianist Mont Chris Hubbard.

(However great that group of singers is, though, will they ever be able to top this?):


And, since it’s quite possible — in fact, quite popular — to have nostalgia for things you never experienced firsthand, A Bollywood Dream looks like a boon for those who came to love the spectacle of 1990s Indian movie musicals through the belated magic of YouTube. DJ Prashant directs a live recreation of the form on the stage of the Armory, then facilitates the post-show dance party.

Bag & Baggage Theater Productions Shakespeare Hillsboro Oregon

On the clock

Immediacy has its virtues. So does planning. Maybe the concept of the 24-hour play is an attempt to find a sweet spot between the two, somewhere between the solidity of a scripted show and the spontaneity of an improvisation. I don’t mean, of course, a play that goes on for 24 hours (though the monologuist Mike Daisey has tried that, sort of), but one that’s created entirely over the course of a 24-hour period. Writers are given some sort of prompt to work from, stay up all night hammering out a script. Come morning, they hand off their handiwork to a director and some actors, who spend the day getting the thing up on its feet. By that evening, it’s time to walk that talk.
Haywire: 24-hour play showcase is a version of this being produced this weekend at Curious Comedy Theater. The website doesn’t say who’ll be writing or performing, but let’s just assume they’re all quick-witted.

Fundraising up a storm

This is a column about theater, not about glorified cocktail parties. But if the glory in question is a production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest directed by the redoubtable Mary McDonald Lewis — the beneficiary of this fundraising event by the troupe Speculative Drama — surely there’s a place here to recommend it.

Best line I read this week

“A. Imagine Donald Trump’s library. B. You’d have to.” — a tweet from Dick Cavett, as reported in The New York Times.


It never had occurred to me to draw any parallels between Katherine Dunn’s novel Geek Love and the classic mid-century musical Guys and Dolls, but leave it to ArtsWatch’s inimitable senior editor Bob Hicks to suss the similarities. In any case, he loves the play (as well as the book) and suggests you might want to make it to this Broadway Rose production while you can.

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


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.