Portland Columbia Symphony Adelante

DramaWatch: Quixote on the Texas border, ‘Port Authority,’ ‘Kinky Boots’

A busy week onstage also brings "The How and the Why," a youth devised show from Hand2Mouth, Eleanor Roosevelt, holdovers including "Sanctuary City," plus "Spear" and other last chances.

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On a quest in "Quixote Nuevo" at Portland Center Stage, a co-production with South Coast Repertory and Seattle Rep. Photo: Jingzi Zhao/courtesy of Portland Center Stage.
On a quest in “Quixote Nuevo” at Portland Center Stage, a co-production with South Coast Repertory and Seattle Rep. Photo: Jingzi Zhao/courtesy of Portland Center Stage.

What if Don Quixote, Miguel Cervantes’ brilliantly perplexing knight on a tumultuous quest to revive chivalry, were tilting at windmills along the modern-day United States/Mexican border instead of the countryside of early 17th century Spain?

That’s exactly where playwright Octavio Solis puts him in Quixote Nuevo, his contemporary adaptation of Cervantes’ 1605 novel. After several preview performances, Quixote Nuevo opens Friday, March 8, at Portland Center Stage.

In her interview for ArtsWatch with the talented Southern Oregon playwright Solis, Misha Berson traces the play’s long journey through several versions and several cities, beginning in very different form at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 2009.

“In its recent Seattle run,” Berson writes, “Quixote Nuevo charmed critics and audiences with its picante blending of Spanish and English, its mirthful farcical bits and bittersweet poignancy, its Tejano-flavored music, and nods to Mexican folklore and Chicano Teatro-style theatrics.”

The play’s hero is Don Quixote, but he’s a contemporary Don Quixote, suffering from dementia, who literally believes he’s someone else. His sidekick Sancho Panza gets around on a bicycle cart, not a donkey, hawking iced fruit bars. In the play’s many comic bits, Berson quotes Solis, “I took my cues from Cervantes – all that humor, scatological and earthy and bawdy.”

But Quixote Nuevo, Berson notes, also has a very serious side: Solis responds to what he calls Donald Trump’s “vile demonization of undocumented migrants to the U.S.” Berson continues: “The playwright (whose Mexican parents came to the U.S., settling to raise a family in El Paso) says he is using a theatrical ‘bully pulpit’ to show that the much-maligned refugees crowding our borders ‘are not monsters, demons and rapists. They are people who want hope.’” 

Don Q might be just the person to bring it.

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Also opening

The fine Irish playwright Conor McPherson (The Weir; The Seafarer; Shining City; book for the musical Girl from the North Country, with music by Bob Dylan, which comes to Keller Auditorium in the Broadway in Portland series this June) returns to the Portland stage with the March 8 opening of his 2001 drama Port Authority at Imago Theatre.

Jerry Mouawad directs Tory Mitchell, Mikhail Duggan, and Matt Sunderland in a three-generational play that mixes unrequited love, a cocaine frenzy, and a mysterious package delivered to a senior center. Keep on you toes: McPherson and Mouawad are both adept at springing surprises on an audience. As New York Times critic Ben Brantley wrote of a 2008 production, “”I found myself holding on to what these actors had to say as if I were a five-year-old at bedtime being introduced to The Arabian Nights.”

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Eleanor Roosevelt and Margie Boulé, who plays the First Lady in “Eleanor” at Triangle Productions.

The talented Margie Boulé takes on the challenge of playing quite possibly the most significant First Lady in U.S. history in Mark St. Germain’s Eleanor at Triangle Productions. It’s a one-person play, and Boulé not only portrays Eleanor Roosevelt but also gives voice to the show’s many supporting characters. It’s a relatively short run, through March 23, and is likely to be a hot ticket.

“If first lady Eleanor Roosevelt were to ‘come back,’ as she does in Mark St. Germain’s new solo play, she’d encounter an America and a world that need her social justice advocacy and compassion for the underprivileged more than ever,” David L. Coddon wrote in the San Diego Union-Tribune, reviewing a 2023 production at North Coast Rep.

Meanwhile, Triangle’s production of Donnie’s Make Me Gorgeous! has entered its fifth month Off-Broadway in New York.

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Millions of people have got a kick out of Kinky Boots, the multiple-Tony winning musical comedy with a pop score by Cyndi Lauper and a witty book by Harvey Fierstein. Now it’s your chance: Stumptown Stages opens its production March 8 at the Winningstad Theatre in downtown Portland.

And what’s so kinky? “This winsome men-in-frocks show puts its best foot forward,” Michael Billington writes in a 2015 review for The Guardian, declaring that the stage show improves on the 2005 movie it’s based on. “It remains the story of Charlie Price, who turns an ailing Northampton shoe factory into a roaring success by catering for a niche market: that of drag queens demanding thigh-high red boots that offer ‘two-and-a-half feet of irresistible tubular sex.’ At the same time, we see how Lola, the project’s design consultant, overcomes the prejudices of Charlie and his co-workers to the sight of men in frocks. All ends happily at a Milan shoe fair where the collapsing business is glamorously rebooted.

“You could make a case against the musical as a piece of preachy uplift about sexual tolerance. But it won me over through the quality of the lead performances, the verve of its staging and its conviction, in its fetishistic worship of thigh-high boots, that there’s no business like shoe business.”

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Hand2Mouth Theatre’s Youth Devising Residency Program gives young people 14 to 18 a chance to immerse themselves in all aspects of theater-making, and to learn how to feed their creativity. This weekend — March 7-9 — the group will be performing its new devised show, What Brings You Here?, at Portland State University’s Boiler Room theater. You can read all about the program, the process, and the play in Bobby Bermea’s ArtsWatch column Bobby Bermea: Devising the future at Hand2Mouth.

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How did we get here? Who are we, deep down? Sarah Treem’s play The How and the Why, which opens March 8 at North Portland’s Twilight Theatre Company, addresses such imponderables in a drama that, in the company’s words, is “about science, family, and survival of the fittest. On the eve of a prestigious conference, an up-and-coming evolutionary biologist wrestles for the truth with an established leader in the field,” presenting her theory on why human females menstruate while most other mammals don’t. It’s directed for Twilight by the smart and meticulous Kathleen Worley.

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PPH Passing Strange

Continuing

Melory Mirashrafi (left) and Ezri Reyes in Third Rail's "Sanctuary City." Photo: Owen Carey
Melory Mirashrafi (left) and Ezri Reyes in Third Rail’s “Sanctuary City.” Photo: Owen Carey

Pulitzer Prize-winner (for Cost of Living) Martyna Majok takes on the complexities of adolescence in Third Rail Rep’s Sanctuary City, which continues through March 17 at Northwest Portland’s CoHo Theatre. Melory Mirashrafi, Ezri Reyes, and Brave Sohacki star in a tale of growing up that’s given pungency by the fact that its main characters are “living the realities of being undocumented immigrants in America, the only country they know as home.”

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Tigard’s Mask & Mirror Community Theatre gets down to monkey business for another couple of weekends with Inherit the Wind. Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee’s 1955 American classic is a fictionalization of the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial, in which a Tennessee school teacher was arrested for teaching the theory of evolution in his science class. The trial pitted legal giants William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow against each other. Lest the subject seem quaintly antique, consider that today the trial would probably be in Florida.

Last chances

Actors Rocco Weyer and Ryan Edlinger in Corrib Theatre’s “Spear.” Photo: Owen Carey
Actors Rocco Weyer and Ryan Edlinger in Corrib Theatre’s “Spear.” Photo: Owen Carey

Corrib Theatre’s production of Irish playwright CN Smith’s Spear closes Sunday, March 10, at 21ten Theatre in Southeast Portland. Bobby Bermea, interviewing Smith and director Joy Nesbitt for ArtsWatch, wrote: “Collectively they aim to tilt the axis of the racial reckoning conversation back to where they feel it belongs – centered on the problem of white supremacy and what steps white people must take to clean up the mess they have made.

“Despite this far-reaching super-objective, Spear is a very personal play about three young men — Irish, white, and feeling unmoored in a world of rapidly shifting perspectives and ideas. None of them would self-define as white supremacist or alt-right. But when a Black friend from high school achieves international acclaim as an Olympic javelin thrower (hence, Spear), all of them find themselves locked in a spiritual struggle with their inner demons and insecurities.”

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Fuse Theatre Ensemble’s premiere of Portland theater artist and playwright Ajai Tripathi’s Great White Gives It Up also closes on Sunday, March 10. Starring Tripathi as Sandeep, or “Snakecharmer,” and Patrick Hilton as Bert, or “Great White,” it’s a stand-alone sequel to Tripathi’s Great White Gets Off, which premiered in December at Fuse. ArtsWatch’s Bobby Bermea wrote that both plays deal with interracial love and sex. Great White Gives It Up, Tripathi told Bermea, follows “the same idea where human beings are taking on the whole of history and the culture that they represent within them. That’s the sequel. It gets a little bit deeper into what interracial relationships can entail. Whereas (the first play) is more about physical lust and physical attraction and a lot of sex.”

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Cascadia Composers May the Fourth

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Forest Grove’s Theatre in the Grove wraps up A Year with Frog and Toad, the musical based on Arnold Lobel’s nigh-unto irresistible Frog and Toad stories, with a Friday evening peformance and matinees Saturday and Sunday, March 7-9. Catch ’em while you can — or, if you can’t, hold your amphibian horses until April 6, when Northwest Children’s Theater and School opens its own production of the musical.

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Karin Magaldi directs Shakespeare’s classic Measure for Measure in a student production at Portland State University’s Lincoln Performance Hall. Of note: It’s the West Coast premiere of Aditi Brennan Kapil’s modern-verse translation, commissioned by the group Play On Shakespeare, which began at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and which specializes in updated versions of the Bard’s works. Final performances are Thursday-Saturday, March 7-9.

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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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