DramaWatch: First Nations first

The week onstage: A trio of shows by Native American playwrights; some Freddie Mercury; "La Belle" returns. Plus, new seasons news.

With a rising anti-immigration fever sweeping the United States and President Trump’s threat on Tuesday to deploy military guards along the Mexican border until his exclusionary wall can be built, it is well and truly time for this: A trifecta of plays by Native American writers highlights Oregon’s theater week. Once again, now: Who’s interloping on whom?

“Manahatta”: Se-ket-tu-may-qua (Steven Flores) and Mother (Sheila Tousey) think they are signing an agreement for the Lenape to trade with the Dutch indefinitely. Jakob (Danforth Comins, left) and Peter Minuit (Jeffrey King) have other intentions. Photo: Jenny Graham / Oregon Shakespeare Festival

The world-premiere production of Manahatta, by Cherokee writer and attorney Mary Kathryn Nagle, is off and running at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland. A tale of then and now, it’s the story of Jane Snake, a securities trader who lands on Wall Street in 2008, on the island that was home to her ancestors until they were forced out in the 1600s, and the struggles of her contemporary family in Oklahoma.

DeLanna Studi in “And So We Walked.” Photo: Bert VanderVeen / Triad Stage

On Friday, DeLanna Studi’s solo show And So We Walked opens in the Ellyn Bye Studio of Portland Center Stage at The Armory. It’s the story of a contemporary Cherokee woman who embarks on a 900-mile journey with her father along the Trail of Tears, route of a series of forced relocations from the 1830s to the 1850s that moved much of the Cherokee, Muscogee, Seminole, Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Ponca nations from their Southeastern homelands to what is now Oklahoma. Bonus: An exhibition at The Armory of work by two fine Cherokee artists who live in Portland, mixed-media artist Brenda Mallory and photographer Joe Cantrell.

Larissa FastHorse, author of “The Thanksgiving Play” at Artists Rep. Photo: Conor Horgan

And opening Saturday at Artists Rep is another world premiere, this one of Sicangu Lakota writer Larissa FastHorse’s The Thanksgiving Play. It’s a satire about a group of teachers and actors who’ve been given the task of creating an “ethnically sensitive” play that will honor both Thanksgiving and Native American Heritage Month. Go ahead: Think about it

Oregon has a wealth of excellent and well-known indigenous visual artists, both traditional and contemporary, but indigenous stories have been all but absent from the state’s stages. The writers are there, and the theater world’s catching up to that fact. With more shows actually produced by companies in Oregon and across the country, more indigenous writers will inevitably tell their stories for the stage. This could be the start of something big.


Hitting the high notes: Freddie Mercury, the late lead singer of Queen who unleashed Bohemian Rhapsody and a host of other hits on an unsuspecting world with his three-octave range, gets a short-run appreciation from a tip-top team Thursday through Sunday with Don’t Stop Me Now: The Freddie Mercury Experience, written and performed by Courtney Freed and directed by Isaac Lamb, with music direction by David Saffert and arrangements by Reece Mashburn. That’s a promising lineup. A collaboration with Live on Stage, it’s at CoHo Theatre.


Justine Davis and Jim Vadela in “La Belle.” Photo: Jerry Mouawad

Beauty of a Beast: La Belle: Lost in the World of the Automaton opened to critical and audience applause at Imago Theatre in December 2016. A fantastical, gorgeously designed retelling of the “Beauty and the Beast” story with actors, puppets, and many movable parts, it’s set in the engine room of a steamship, circa 1920. The show’s been on the road, and is back at Imago for another home-town run starting Friday. See our preview peek here.


Chantal DeGroat

Early warning: This short run (just three performances) doesn’t open for another week, but it’s bound to be a hot ticket, so act now. Profile Theatre will be presenting what it calls a “stripped-down concert staging” of Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992, Anna Deavere Smith’s groundbreaking 1994 Broadway hit that she wrote and performed after interviewing nearly 200 people affected by the L.A. riots following the acquittal of the four police officers charged in the beating of Rodney King. Chantal DeGroat will perform, Josh Hecht will direct, and it’ll run April 15-17 on the Alder Stage at Artists Rep.



Must be the season of the which show’s next? If it’s spring (and it is), it’s the season for announcing new seasons, which theater companies have been doing to the sound of virtual trumpets (and, often, the bustle of big-party announcement events).

Latest to join the parade: Artists Repertory Theatre, which on Monday evening announced a smart and very contemporary-looking 2018-19 season of seven main-run shows and a pair of limited engagements.

The season kicks off in September with Dominique Morisseau’s 2016 Obie-winner Skeleton Crew, and finishes in May 2019 with Lauren Gunderson’s The Revolutionists, which is set in the Caribbean in 1973 and spins the tale of “four badass women who fight for the equality of all women and for the love of their country.” In between: Bess Wohl’s Small Mouth Sounds; Everybody, by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, author of An Octoroon; Mike Lew’s Teenage Dick, a modern comic retelling of Shakespeare’s Richard III; Lucas Hnath’s A Doll’s House, Part 2 (what’s up with Nora 15 years later); the world premiere of Whiting Award winner Hansol Jung’s Wolf Play; and short runs of Split Britches’ Unexploded Ordnances (UXO) and Joe Landry’s It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play.


A couple of other recent 2018-19 season announcements:

CoHo Productions: The Northwest Portland company’s four-show season opens in September with Philip Ridley’s Brit satire Radiant Vermin, directed by Scott Yarbrough. It’ll be followed by Lauren Gunderson’s “hilarious, farcical, all-female power-play” The Taming (her play The Revolutionists is on Artists Rep’s calendar), directed by Mariel Sierra; Tony Burgess’s Pontypool, about a sleepy Oregon town, a radio shock jock, and possibly a zombie riot, directed by Gavin Hoffman; and Pulitzer Prize-winner (for Between Riverside and Crazy, which just closed at Artists Rep) Stephen Adly Guirgis’s Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train.


Portland Center Stage. The city’s biggest theater company has announced an 11-show season for its two stages at The Armory (plus a week-long 10th anniversary run of Storm Large’s eight-mile-wide hit Crazy Enough in June 2019).

A revival of the Tony-winning musical The Color Purple opens the season in September, followed by the West Coast premiere of company fave Adam Bock’s A Life, which was commissioned by PCS. The holiday season features returns of the double feature of Truman Capote’s A Christmas Memory and singer-actor Merideth Kaye Clark and Brandon Wollery’s Winter Song; and, in a separate show, another go-round with The Second City’s A Christmas Carol: Twist Your Dickens. January brings an adaptation of Jane Austen’s Sense & Sensibility, followed by Jonathan Tolin’s Buyer & Cellar, an oddball rooting-around in Barbra Streisand’s basement that’s also been produced locally by Triangle Productions. Tiny Beautiful Things is based on Portland writer (The Wild) Cheryl Strayed’s Dear Sugar advice columns. Neel Keller directs Dael Orlandersmith’s Until the Flood, a probing look at the aftermath of the riots in Ferguson, Missouri, sparked by the police shooting of Michael Brown. The Cherokee playwright Mary Kathryn Nagle, author of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s current Manahatta, is back on the Oregon boards with Crossing Mnisose, a world premiere about “one of America’s first feminists, Sacagawea.” May 2019 brings David Hare’s The Breath of Life and Karen Zacarias’s comedy Native Gardens.


WEDNESDAY MORNING UPDATE. This just in: Oregon Children’s Theatre has just announced its 2018-19 season, with five mainstage shows in the Newmark or Winningstad Theatre of Portland’5 Centers for the Arts downtown, plus three shows by the Young Professionals Company in OCT’s Studio Theater on the near East Side. A stage version of Ella Enchanted kicks things off in October, followed by Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed (a momentous occasion), The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors (“no one could beat them … until they met each other!”), Jason and the Argonauts, and Diary of a Worm, a Spider, and a Fly. The Young Professionals season, aimed at tweens and teens: Shiver (a mute boy goes missing in a snowstorm), Impulse (improv comedy), Good Kids (something happened to Chloe at a party, and she can’t remember what).



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Bob Hicks is a Senior Editor and writer at Oregon ArtsWatch. He's been writing about arts and culture in the Pacific Northwest since 1978, first as arts editor and movie critic at the Oregon Journal, then for 25 years at The Oregonian as a writer and editor covering the performing, visual, and literary arts. His most recent art books include "Kazuyuki Ohtsu" (Pomegranate), "James B. Thompson: Fragments in Time" (Hallie Ford Museum of Art), and "Beth Van Hoesen: Fauna and Flora" (Pomegranate). His work has appeared in American Theatre, Biblio, Professional Artist, Prologue, Art Scatter, and elsewhere. He also writes the daily art-history series “Today I Am.”

3 Responses.

  1. Bob Hicks says:

    The editors at American Theatre magazine have a big long list of Native American theater companies and playwrights. https://www.americantheatre.org/2018/03/20/a-list-of-native-theatres-and-theatremakers/

  2. Just a visitor says:

    Hello , Freddie’s vocal range was 4 octave , from the F2 to an F6.True that the last vocal study confirmed just 3 octaves and 2 semitones , but that study wasn’t based on the official live performances.On the live Performances, specially during the works tour (1984-1985), Queen was doing some impromptus , where Freddie was not just showcasing a huge vocal range ( D6 , Eb6 notes , very low notes from the second octave) but he was also showcasing a 3 diferent tessituras : Baritone , Tenor , Countertenor .

    • Bob Hicks says:

      Just a Visitor, I’m gonna give you this one. I was curious, so I looked it up on that font of accuracy, Wikipedia. Wikipedia gave him credit for three octaves, siting three sources, including Rolling Stone. After I saw your note I went straight to the Rolling Stone source, which says four octaves, so a full octave got lost in the translation. (Then again, the same RS story ranked Kurt Cobain as a better singer than Patsy Cline, so who you gonna believe?)

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