Washougal Art & Music Festival

DramaWatch: It’s ‘Uncle Vanya’ time

A welcome Chekhov return. Also this week: Hand2Mouth's devised "Memento Mori," ghost stories in Milagro's "Borderline," Oregon crashes the Tony and Drama Desk Award parties.

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A rehearsal feast for “Uncle Vanya.” Photo courtesy 21ten Theatre.

Call me old school, but to my mind there is no bad time for Chekhov. Master storyteller (his short stories are among the finest ever written). Creator of stage plays that are at once deeply tragic and deeply comic and inextricably intertwined. Chronicler of cultures growing and shrinking and falling apart and leaving their inhabitants behind. Inventor of characters so complex and conflicted and passionately human that we continually rethink and reinvent them in our minds, even though we know they aren’t “real.” Oh: and by other profession, a physician. Like Shakespeare’s, his works are as broad as the imagination, open to multiple actorly interpretation and possibilities.

It’s good news, then, that our old friend Uncle Vanya is back in town, at the intimate and actor-friendly 21ten Theatre, where director Chris Conner has assembled a promising cast that includes, among others, Angie Tennant, Doren Elias, Kathleen Worley, and Ted Rooney as Vanya. Another plus: It’s being performed in a new translation by the talented Stepan Simek.

All the elements are there, as they have been since Vanya debuted at the Moscow Art Theatre in 1899. The country estate, which Vanya manages. The fateful visit, which includes a dazzling and nigh-unto-irresistible young wife. Love bouncing around like a ball on a billiards table, missing its intended targets and hitting the wrong ones. Lives shattered and reshaped. And over it all, a downpour of yearning.

Time to dive in once again. After all, it’s Chekhov.

Also opening

“Memento Mori” in the devising room. Rehearsal photo courtesy Hand2Mouth Theatre.

The Latin term “memento mori” means, more or less, “remember, we’re all going to die,” and is accompanied in its long artistic tradition by images such as skulls, hourglasses, coffins, and sometimes the Grim Reaper his own bad self, swinging a scythe.

“Devised theater” is an approach to play-making in which a playwright and script aren’t central to the process. Instead a company of performers and designers begins with an idea and, through trial, error, rehearsal and exploration, creates a show as a group process: In a very real sense, everyone’s the author.

Put ’em together and what you get this week is the premiere of Memento Mori: A Meditation on Death, a devised show by the company Hand2Mouth Theatre, being performed at Imago Theatre. Hand2Mouth is devoted to devising, and has been doing it for a long time. It’s not exactly improv, but the method of getting to the show’s ultimate shape is improvisational and collaborative.

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What’s it all about, Alfie? It’s a group reflection, one assumes, on the cosmic inevitable, from its great philosophical questions to the enormity of the mundane: As Hand2Mouth puts it, “Who will cancel my Instagram account and what photos will they find on my phone or in the depths of my old Myspace account?” As Samuel Beckett put it, it’s the Endgame. Rattle those bones. The possibilities are, well, infinite. Or, as Hand2Mouth suggests: “Death. The ripples. Dearly beloved, what happens next?”

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Christine Anjelle and Patricio Mendoza in Milagro’s premiere of “Borderline.” Photo by MiriFoto.

Andrew Siañez-De La O’s Borderline gets its premiere this week at Milagro Theatre, continuing a partnership between playwright and company that’s been going on for some time: Milagro first presented it, in an earlier version, with Teatro Unidos for the 2019 INGENIO play reading series. Enthusiasm for that reading led to this full-fledged world premiere.

The border is the Texas/Mexico border, and fantasy and reality walk a wavery line along it. Milagro is calling Borderline a “drama, mystery/thriller, sci-fi” show, and presenting it in English with some Spanish (the company has a long successful history with bilingual productions).

As Milagro sums up the situation: “We are all told ghost stories as kids, but for children of the border, these stories are very real warnings about the world outside their home. In the old cotton fields of Socorro, Texas, Enzo and Rosita have snuck away to write ghost stories, while Tony and Veronica are both building up the courage to tell the other a secret. Threatened by a creature in the darkness, this group of teens will have to rely on each other and the voice of Tío Ofelio, a radio DJ, to escape the desert alive.”

That’s a lot of potentially fascinating plot. In addition to ghosts and other denizens of the dark, the production offers a chance to see some younger actors take on leading roles. There’ll also be student matinees, and workshops available to low-income schools through grant funding that “will delve into real life issues at the border and will have students writing their own trickster tales so they can learn about how myths have the power to influence reality.” The show is recommended for ages 13 and older.

Catch ’em while you can

Kate Mura in “The Play About My Father.” Photo courtesy Fuse Theatre Ensemble.

It’s the end of the road this week for a couple of shows that are wapping up their runs. The Play About My Father, Kate Mura’s one-woman show at Fuse Theatre Ensemble in the Back Door Theatre, says goodbye after its Sunday, May 5 performance. Bobby Bermea talked with Mura here for ArtsWatch about the long evolution of the show, which, as he writes, “was initially conceived by the Dell’Arte-trained Mura as a 20-minute mask show at the very first Fertile Ground. … Though it no longer has masks, The Play About My Father still features Mura’s unique brand of ‘physical storytelling, corporeal mime, improv and a magic skirt!’”

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And at Theatre in the Grove in Forest Grove, the three working-class women who turn the tables on their misogynist boss in 9 to 5: The Musical go off the clock triumphantly after their May 5 performance.

Nabbing those nominations in the Big Apple

Former Oregon actor Wade McCollum, star of Triangle Productions!’ Off-Broadway show “Make Me Gorgeous!,” is nominated for a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Solo Performance. Photo: Maria Baranova

Awards season is kicking into high gear in New York, where nominations were announced this week for both the Drama Desk Awards and the Tony Awards, and a few familiar Oregon faces were among the nominees. Actors Shoshana Bean, Patrick Page, and Wade McCollum are up for acting awards, Portland’s Triangle Productions! and playwright Donnie (Don Horn) are part of the package, and part-time Portland producer Corey Brunish has a hand in a couple of things, including the new revival of Cabaret, which grabbed nine Tony nominations.

Bean, who grew up in the Portland area from age 9 and graduated from Beaverton High School, is part of a big winner, too: Her show, the musical Hell’s Kitchen, got a heady 13 Tony nominations. She’s nominated for a Tony (her second nomination, after 2022’s Mr. Saturday Night) for Best Featured Actress in a Musical, and for the same category in the Drama Desk Awards. Earlier, she was nominated for a Lucille Lortel Award for her Hell’s Kitchen performance, giving her a rare triplicate.

Page, a Broadway regular who grew up in Monmouth (where his father taught theater at Western Oregon University) and spent time on stages at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and in Portland, nabbed a Drama Desk nomination for Outstanding Solo Performance for his show All the Devils Are Here: How Shakespeare Invented the Villain.

Also nominated for a Drama Desk Award in the Outstanding Solo Performance category was McCollum, a longtime Portland stage favorite, for his Off-Broadway Make Me Gorgeous!, giving onetime Oregonians two of the five nominations in the category. McCollum’s nomination follows his Lucille Lortel nod for the same role, a nomination that also included Portland playwright Donnie and the show’s Portland producing company, Triangle Productions!

Brunish and his producing company Freedom Theatricals were nominated for a Tony for Cabaret, Brunish’s 16th Tony nomination since 2012. Cabaret is also one of three Drama Desk nominees for Outstanding Revival of a Musical. Brunish is also a producer of the Off-Broadway musical How To Dance in Ohio, which took Drama Desk nominations for lead performance (Liam Pearce), outstanding book (Rebekah Greer Melocik), and a special award honoring its Authentic Autistic Representation Team.

Drama Desk Awards, which consider shows on Broadway, Off Broadway, and Off-Off Broadway, will be given June 10. See the complete list of nominees here.

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The Tony Awards, which are for Broadway shows only, will be given June 16. See the complete list of nominees here.

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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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