CMNW Council

DramaWatch: Springtime & Shakespeare

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival shifts into its '24 season with "Macbeth" and three other shows. Plus: Openings, last chances, a Steep & Thorny party, a pre-peek at Fertile Ground.

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Erica Sullivan as Lady Macbeth and Kevin Kenerly as Macbeth in the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's new production of The Scottish Play. Photo: Jenny Graham
Erica Sullivan as Lady Macbeth and Kevin Kenerly as Macbeth in the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s new production of The Scottish Play. Photo: Jenny Graham

As Rodgers and Hammerstein put it way back in 1945 in the movie musical State Fair, It Might As Well be Spring. As it happens, spring arrived a little early this year — on Tuesday, March 19 — and on the same day the Oregon Shakespeare Festival got a head start on its 2024 season, opening the first of several preview performances of its season-kickoff four productions. Previews continue until the Ashland festival’s official opening next Friday, March 29.

What’s blossoming on the festival’s downtown Ashland campus? The season’s opening quartet includes the newest production of The Scottish Play, Macbeth, starring the popular festival veteran Kevin Kenerly as the man who would be king and Erica Sullivan as Lady Macbeth, scrubbing her hands and exclaiming, “Out, damned spot!”

That’s the centerpiece of a rondelay that also includes, on opening weekend, Liz Duffy Adams’ Born with Teeth, a two-actor battle royal between the fierce competitors and sometime collaborators Will Shakespeare and Kit Marlowe: Alex Purcell plays Marlow and Bradley James Tejeda plays Shakespeare in the Angus Bowmer Theatre, which is named for the 89-year old festival’s founder.

Rounding out the opening quartet are a pair of one-actor, Bard-adjacent shows, both in the intimate Thomas Theatre:

Shakespeare and the Alchemy of Gender, in which playwright and performer Lisa Wolpe, who the festival notes “has arguably played more of the Bard’s male roles than any woman in history,” explores issues of gender, women’s equality, her own family’s experiences during the Holocaust and afterwards, and the continuing relevance of Shakespeare and his plays.

And Smote This … A Comedy About God … and Other Serious $H*T, is performer/writer Rodney Gardiner’s comic take on his attempts, as an “undocumented Black boy growing up in tumultuous 1980s Miami,” to “abandon God despite his deeply Christian roots.” How does that play out? We’ll have to wait to see.

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Cascadia Composers May the Fourth

Henry Fuseli, "Lady Macbeth with the Daggers," 1812; oil on canvas, 40 x 50 inches, Tate Britain, London / Wikimedia Commons.
Henry Fuseli, “Lady Macbeth with the Daggers,” 1812; oil on canvas, 40 x 50 inches, Tate Britain, London / Wikimedia Commons.

Between the debilitating effects of the Covid pandemic and a string of excessively bad years for smoke and forest fires in southern Oregon, the Ashland festival has been struggling. The number of solo and small-cast shows on the season is an indication of some necessary belt-tightening, which few people will notice if the shows are well-received and the festival weathers fire season well.

But the new season — which features the return of Tim Bond, who was associate artistic director for 11 seasons ending in 2007, as the festival’s seventh artistic director — also offers fresh opportunities. With ten total productions, OSF is inching back toward its old standard of 11 shows each season.

There is good financial news, too. As Holly Dillemuth reported for Ashland.news, the Oregon Community Foundation is giving the festival $5 million over the next three years to support the company’s operations. The $5 million is part of a joint $40 million — $20 million each — that the OCF and the James F. and Marion L. Miller Foundation have committed to Oregon arts and culture groups over the next three years. The foundations expect their gifts to spur others from other private and foundation sources. As Dillemuth reported, “The Oregon Legislature also approved a contribution of $2.56 million to OSF in February, pending approval from Gov. Tina Kotek.”

Big groups such as OSF aren’t the only recipients: The Cultural Advocacy Coalition of Oregon notes that more than $9 million of the Miller Foundation’s $20 million will go to smaller arts and cultural organizations across the state, which had been largely left out of the Legislature’s appropriations in its short 2024 session.

Coming later in the festival season, which continues through Oct. 13: Virgins to Villains: My Journey with Shakespeare’s Women, a one-person show featuring festival veterans Robin Goodrin Nordli as writer/performer and Penny Metropulos as director; Lizard Boy, an indie rock musical; Shakespeare’s Coriolanus; Barzin Akhavan’s one-man show Behfarmaheen (If You Please), an immigrant tale that spans, among other things, traditional Iranian music and American pop culture; Shakespeare’s great comedy Much Ado About Nothing; and a stage adaptation of Charlotte Brontë’s novel Jane Eyre.

Writer Darleen Ortega will be covering all four of the festival’s opening shows for Oregon ArtWatch on opening weekend. Watch for her reviews.

OPENING

Hillsboro’s HART (Hillsboro Artists’ Regional Theatre) reaches back to the late 1960s, a time of often intense cultural upheaval, for Paul Zindel’s witty if dark comedy/drama And Miss Reardon Drinks a Little, which involves, as Wikipedia notes, “three sisters: Catherine, an alcoholic; Anna, a hypochondriac; and Ceil, an attention-starved socialite.” Imagine the possibilities.

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Portland Opera Puccini

It’s a short run, opening Saturday, March 23, and continuing through the 31st. Historical note: Miss Reardon was the first show produced by Chicago’s now-legendary Steppenwolf Theatre.

***

Milagro Theatre closes out its El Mundo de Las Mujeres, or Women’s History Month, with a single performance at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 23, of the album release concert A Song for Trees, “an anthropomorphic project” in which performers Clara Grun and Amy Vanacore “convey human stories through their unique connection with trees. … Their music is characterized by piano-driven melodies, poetic lyrics in both English and Spanish, layered vocals, and a fusion of acoustic and electronic sounds.”

closing

Margie Boulé concludes her run as Eleanor Roosevelt in "Eleanor." Photo courtesy Triangle Productions.
Margie Boulé concludes her run as Eleanor Roosevelt in “Eleanor.” Photo: David Kinder/Kinderpics.

This weekend marks last chance for several shows around town that are wrapping up their runs. Grab a ticket while (and if) you can:

Eleanor. Margie Boulé concludes her well-received performance as Eleanor Roosevelt in Mark St. Germain’s one-woman play Eleanor with performances Friday and Saturday evenings, March 22-23, at Triangle Productions.

Adopt a Sailor. Chris Harder directs this play about a sophisticated New York couple and the sailor from Arkansas whom they “adopt” for a day during Fleet Week. Cultural clashes ensue. Friday-Sunday, March 22-24, at 21ten Theatre.

Stupid Fucking Bird. Aaron Posner’s intriguing, often moving contemporary adaptation of Chekhov’s The Seagull finishes its run at Sunnyside Community Center on Saturday, March 23. The play premiered at Wolly Mammoth Theatre in Washington, D.C., and in 2016 had a good run at Portland Center Stage.

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Cascadia Composers May the Fourth

Port Authority. Director Jerry Mouawad’s take for Imago Theatre on the terrific Irish playwright Conor McPherson’s tale closes Sunday, March 24.

The How and the Why. Sarah Treem’s play about evolutionary biology and the choices women must make, directed by Kathleen Worley, closes Sunday, March 24, at Twilight Theatre Company.

A Steep and Thorny Night

Aerial hoop performer Jacki Ward will be one of many performers at March 31's benefit performance for The Steep and Thorny Way to Heaven. Photo courtesy Jacki Ward.
Aerial hoop performer Jacki Ward will be one of many performers at March 31’s benefit performance for The Steep and Thorny Way to Heaven. Photo courtesy Jacki Ward.

As Marty Hughley reported for ArtsWatch in January, that month’s severe ice storm caused havoc at close-in East Side Portland’s The Steep and Thorny Way to Heaven, the rehearsal and performance space that’s home to Speculative Drama in addition to Steep and Thorny: A burst sprinkler pipe, as Hughley quoted the company, “dumped a half a block’s worth of sprinkler system directly into our 1000 sqft uninsulated warehouse space, at pressure. Our entire venue and rehearsal space was flooded from the top down. … The long and short of it is that all of our sound and lighting equipment is likely unsalvageable from water and ice damage inside of it.”

Well, help and a good party are on the way. On Sunday, March 31, Misfit Academy and Steep and Thorny present Resurrection: A Benefit for The Steep and Thorny Way to Heaven, at Alberta Rose Theatre. Expect a good time and some mind-bending (and a few body-bending) performances. On tap for the party: Jacki Ward (aerial hoop); Operafication (suspension); PDX Broadsides (music); The Identical Twins (clowning); Amica Hunter (physical comedy); Nick Lacy (draglesque); Betsie Heart (burlesque and flow); Nyx Nova (aerial silks); Jay Edidin (micro-fiction); Myrrh Larsen (music); Speculative Drama (theater); Megan Skye Hale (MC).

This will not be the same ol’ same old.

The Ground is getting Fertile

Looking down the road just a bit, one of Portland’s signature events, the Fertile Ground Festival of new performance, is coming up quickly: Eleven days of new works in all sorts of theatrical (and a few other) forms, in states of development from staged readings to workshops to full-blown performances, running in spaces all across the metropolitan area April 12-21.

Because of the pandemic years, when the festival went virtual, and last year’s “strategic hiatus” after longtime director Nicole Lane moved on, this will be the first live, in-person Fertile Ground since 2020. It’s coming roaring back to life with a new director, Tamara Carroll, and a full slate of new works eager to take the stage.

Sponsor

Portland Opera Puccini

On Wednesday evening ArtsWatch writers Bobby Bermea and Brett Campbell went to Fertile Ground’s pre-festival press meet and were greeted by a tsunami of playwrights, directors, producers, and performers eager to talk about what they were doing for the festival. New director Carroll; former director Lane, who spent a great deal of time working with the new team during the festival’s transition year; and several staff members were on hand, too. Campbell and Bermea are now sifting through their discoveries and shaping their reactions. Look for their reports on ArtsWatch before the festival begins.

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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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