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DramaWatch: ‘Tartuffe,’ Original Practice Shakespeare take the shows outside

Here comes summer, and the acting heads outdoors. Plus: Ashland under the stars, Risk/Reward Fest, Deep End's improv dive, a "Madwoman" at Cygnet, and a 24-hour play-a-thon.


Molière's satiric comedy "Tartuffe" is playing outdoors at the Tom Hughes Civic Center Plaza in Hillsboro. Photo courtesy Bag & Baggage Productions
Molière’s satiric comedy “Tartuffe” is playing outdoors at the Tom Hughes Civic Center Plaza in Hillsboro. Photo courtesy Bag & Baggage Productions

The first day of summer is Thursday, June 20, the forecast for Portland is 88 degrees and sunny skies, and although June weather in Oregon can be unpredictable, the hankering to get shows out of the indoors and into the outdoors is rising again.

Part of the appeal, of course, is simply being able to enjoy an afternoon or evening show under pleasant skies. But in a way taking things outdoors is also feeding a nostalgic hunger for the roots of Western performance, from the amphitheaters of Classical Greek tragedies and comedies to the open squares of medieval morality plays, the roofless theaters of Elizabethan times and the wanderings of commedia dell’arte companies, setting up temporary stages in town plazas wherever they roamed.

“Tartuffe” on the civic plaza

The great French actor and playwright Molière was a child of Italian commedia, transforming its stock characters and broad situational humor for the more sophisticated and literary French stage. His 17th century comedy Tartuffe, a biting and very funny satire about religious hypocrisy that was for a time suppressed under influence of the church, is now an oft-repeated classic that still has the ability to put some caustic crunch into the laughter.

Hillsboro’s Bag & Baggage Productions is all in on the outdoors, doing two more performances of Tartuffe (at 7 p.m. Thursday and Friday, June 20-21) in the Tom Hughes Civic Center Plaza on Hillsboro’s East Main Street — a modern-day version of the sort of town square where a commedia performance or a morality play might’ve drawn audiences a few centuries ago. And the ticket cost — there isn’t one — is definitely an attractor: As the late Portland retailer and “Wake up!” television pitchman Tom Peterson used to say, “Free is a very good price!”

Bag & Baggage keeps the outdoor mojo going on Saturday the 22nd with its summer party Plaza Palooza!, also in the Tom Hughes Civic Center Plaza. The 7:30 p.m. show will feature music from The Pyrettes and CHERA CHERA, magic by Professor DR Schreiber, an LED light show, and food. Like Tartuffe the party’s free, but it’s also a company fundraiser, so bring your wallet along.

Original Practice Shakespeare in the parks

Shakespeare in the park, with an Original Practice twist.
Shakespeare in the park, with an Original Practice twist.

Meanwhile, Original Practice Shakespeare slips into its newest season of free Shakespeare in greater Portland parks with its kickoff show, Midsummer Midsommer, on the summit of Mt. Tabor at 9 p.m. Friday, June 21. (Fittingly, the company spells the play’s title the old-fashioned way: A Midsommer Nights Dreame.) Original or not, this isn’t your everyday Shakespeare: It’s outdoors, moving from park to park, and far from being burnished, it’s resolutely improvised.

The actors show up before showtime not knowing who they’re going to be playing: The audience assigns actors to roles (come early for this part) about an hour before the curtain goes up — or would go up, if a curtain existed. Actors wade into the action script in hand, but a script containing only the lines their character is supposed to speak. Chances are that now and again performers will be ducking around and about picnic blankets laid out by people in the audience. And someone very like a referee hangs around the action, making sure stuff happens when and where it’s supposed to happen. When an OPS show is hitting on all cylinders, it can be a kick in the pants.


All Classical Radio James Depreist

The season continues July 5-Aug. 26, with performances ranging from The Merry Wives of Windsor to King Lear to Much Adoe About Nothing to The Tempest to Twelfthe Night and more. You can see the schedule and venues here.

In Ashland, Shakespeare & “Jane Eyre” under the stars

From left: Caroline Schaffer, Thilini Dissanyake, and Jennie Greenberry in the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's stage adaptation of "Jane Eyre." Photo: Jenny Graham
From left: Caroline Schaffer, Thilini Dissanyake, and Jennie Greenberry in the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s stage adaptation of “Jane Eyre.” Photo: Jenny Graham

Meanwhile, at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, audiences are getting starry-eyed for the summer: Two new shows on the festival’s biggest stage, the open-air Allen Elizabethan Theatre, officially opened last weekend. Shakespeare’s delicious comedy Much Ado About Nothing (its bickering central characters, the reluctant lovers Beatrice and Benedick, are updated, more evolved versions of Kate and Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew) and a stage adaptation of Charlotte Brontē’s novel Jane Eyre settle into repertory through early October.

Watch for Darleen Ortega’s ArtsWatch reviews soon of those two shows plus Robin Goodrin Nordli’s solo show Virgins to Villains: My Journey with Shakespeare’s Women and the recently opened indie-rock musical Lizard Boy.

Lots of risk, lots of reward

The Clown Mystics (Given Davis, Urks Io, Zai Outlaw) are among the featured attractions at this year's Risk/Reward Festival. Photo courtesy of Risk/Reward.
The Clown Mystics (Given Davis, Urks Io, Zai Outlaw) are among the featured attractions at this year’s Risk/Reward Festival. Photo courtesy of Risk/Reward.

Portland’s Risk/Reward Festival of New Performance has taken enough risks and reaped enough rewards to fill 15 annual festivals, and the 16th is coming up this weekend — Friday through Sunday, June 21-23, at the Portland Institute for Contemporary Arts’ Hancock Building, 15 N.E. Hancock St. See the full schedule of events here.

Risk/Reward is a fertile showcase for all sorts of innovative and chance-taking performance by Pacific Northwest artists. As the festival puts it, “Risk/Reward champions artists and audiences who push the boundaries of the performing arts,” which makes it a good match with the similarly committed PICA. This year’s presentations range from dance (Tahni Holt and Emma Lutz-Higgins) to a drag workshop; a festival-within-the-festival of new performance by the Clown Mystics, Portland actor Paul Susi and others; and late-night showcases featuring, among others, the intriguingly named Trash Witch Trio. Most acts will perform all three days.

“Ten different artists were selected to develop and present 20-minute pieces in PICA’s Annex Theater and on the late-night Warehouse stage,” festival director James Mapes says. “Not only that: Anthony Hudson and Pepper Pepper’s Second Annual Drag Theatre Workshop will present Svetlana Trantastic and Sonnei Verbena’s new work, installation artist Lyndsay Hogland will fill the warehouse with Dead People’s Sheets, and we’ll ring in opening night with Dark Reflector, Ryan Cross’s new musical project. And the R n’ R Bar will keep the pARTy going ’til late!”

As those risky cultural innovators Bill and Ted advise in their Excellent Adventure: Party on, dudes.


Washougal Art & Music Festival

An improvisational dive into the Deep End

Graphic illustration for Deep End Theater's"Presence," with a hand peeking out from the shadows.

It’s an improvisational sort of week in Oregon theater. In addition to Original Practice Shakespeare’s luck-of-the-draw approach to casting and some of the approach at the Risk/Reward Festival, Deep End Theater Ensemble takes a deep dive into chance with its new show Presence, an “improvised, immersive play” opening June 21 and continuing through the 29th at Southeast Portland’s cozy 21ten Theatre. Once again, the audience plays a big role in the improvising, as something akin to what cultural anthropologists and sociologists like to call “participant observers.”

Presence is an immersive improvised drama about living in the present while connected to the past,” Domeka Parker, Deep End’s artistic director, says. “The audience is invited to make an important choice before the show begins; this choice is revealed to the improvisers after they’ve already begun the play, which sends the story in a direction no one would have expected. The interaction of the audience choice and the choices made by the performers makes Presence a unique and moving theatrical experience.”

A “Madwoman” jump-starts the new series Cygnet Salon

Among the cast of “The Madwoman of Chaillot,” from left: Danny Bruno, Tobias Andersen, Beth Harper.

Cygnet Productions has been producing literary theater in various forms in Portland since 1992 — including, during pandemic shutdown days, Cygnet Radio Hour. Now it’s launching Cygnet Salon, a series of monthly staged readings of literary scripts, including some vibrant rediscoveries plucked from the library shelves of long ago.

The first reading in the new series will be at 7 p.m. Monday, June 24, at 21ten Theatre, which is becoming a hub for excellent and often daring small-scale theater, and it’s a doozy: The Madwoman of Chaillot, Jean Giraudoux’s biting 1943 satire about a “group of gluttonous businessmen and politicians” out to further enrich themselves by pumping out oil discovered beneath the streets of Paris, in the process mutilating the city and its citizens above. So what? As one of the corporate plotters notes, “Wherever the poor are happy, and the servants proud, and the mad are respected, our power is at an end.”

Countess Aurelia, the “madwoman,” of course, has other ideas, and the concept of who’s mad and who’s sane goes topsy turvy: This is a classic satirical farce that reverberates down the decades to today.


Oregon Cultural Trust

Cygnet’s artistic director, Louanne Moldovan, has always attracted top talent for her projects, and the cast for Madwoman reads like a who’s who of Portland theater over the past 30-odd years: Don Alder, Tobias Andersen, David Bodin, Danny Bruno, Michael Fisher-Welsh, Beth Harper, David Meyers, Sammy Rat Rios, Chrisse Roccaro, Marilyn Stacey, Michael J. Teufel, Wendy Westerwelle.

Why staged readings? “Cygnet Productions has presented our share of fully-produced plays—but staged readings have always been the heart of our existence,” Moldovan says. “We have delved into the diversity of literature with actors who are attracted to and passionate about this alternative theatrical genre. Thankfully, our audiences share this love of writing and wordplay. Maybe it sparks the feeling of being read to as a child? There is something unique and touching about being read to; I think it emphasizes the voice of the writer as much as the actor/reader, which is pretty magical.”

Each month the Salon will donate proceeds from ticket sales to a different charitable group. For this kickoff show, Moldovan says, “we are benefitting Oregon Recovers, which takes an innovative, effective approach to helping people with the disease of addiction.”

Coming up next at the Salon, on Monday, July 22, and also at 21ten Theatre: an evening of works by John Steinbeck, with selections from East of Eden, Cannery Row, and The Grapes of Wrath.

A hard (and creative) day’s night

Show card for PlayWrite's 24-Hour Play-a-Thon.

You’ve got 24 hours. On your mark. Get set. Go! The playwrights’ group PlayWrite, Inc. is strapping on its running shoes for its ” high-wire, race-the-clock 24-Hour PLAY-a-Thon,” and this one’s for the hares, not the tortoises.

The premise is simple, and a little scary: Playwrights, actors, directors, and stage managers will have 24 hours to write, rehearse, and stage eight short pieces, culminating in a performance at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, June 22, at Northwest Children’s Theater’s home space, The Judy, in downtown Portland. It’s a bit like the NBA finals, except with eight teams, not just two. And it’s a fast-break game, not a slow defensive battle.


Oregon Cultural Trust

Three judges (or referees?) — Sarah Jane Hardy, Northwest Children’s Theatre’s artistic director; children’s-lit author Jelani Memory, founder of A Kids Book About; actor/director/dialect coach Saren Nofs Snyder — will select a judges’ choice winner. There’ll also be an audience choice winner, and prizes for best use of a required prop and best use of a required line.

No word on whether participants will be provided a pillow and a cot once the marathon/sprint is done.

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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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