“Are you ready?”
As showtime approached for the Portland Center Stage production of Major Barbara on opening night, artistic director Chris Coleman left his aisle seat in row L and strode to the lip of the stage. Even to fairly casual followers of the company there must have been little doubt as to how he would greet the audience: “Are you ready?”
It’s how he’s begun his introductory remarks for years — possibly (did any historian of local culture have the foresight to note this?) since he came to the company from Atlanta in 2000. So, with that question and the usual thanks to sponsors, everything went according to custom. Which felt a little odd.
As Coleman moved toward the stage, I set down the cup of coffee I was drinking and shifted in my seat, preparing to join in the standing ovation I expected would greet those three little words. April 20’s Major Barbara performance was something of a milestone, after all; the director’s final opening night at PCS after more than 17 years there. The company’s managing director, Cynthia Fuhrman, even made a point of sending out an email about the show’s significance and her desire to “pack it with arts community folks.”
And yet the evening felt decidedly muted, matter-of-fact, business-as-usual. No spontaneous pre-show ovation materialized (umm…should I have been the one to start it?). At the play’s end, Seattle actor Charles Leggett stepped out front to coax Coleman onto the stage, but the director merely grabbed a bouquet of flowers, waved back at the now-cheering crowd, then rushed off as though his taxes were overdue.
Surely this didn’t reflect a good-riddance attitude on anyone’s part. Coleman’s long tenure has had its naysayers, as anyone’s would have, but on the whole it has been a tremendous success, bringing managerial stability, artistic consistency and, most significantly, the varied benefits of the Armory, the Pearl District home PCS moved into midway through the Coleman era.
On the other hand, it’s been nearly six months since Coleman announced that he’s leaving the banks of the muddy Willamette for the mountain greenery of the Denver Center for the Performing Arts’ Theatre Company, so old news is no news. Perhaps more to the point, we’re in a sort of limbo here. We know that Coleman is part of our theatrical past; we’ve little idea about our theatrical future.
Bill Rauch, the wildly successful artistic director of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival for the past dozen years, will head to New York next year to run a major new performing-arts space at the World Trade Center. Meanwhile, major reconfigurations are coming to Artists Repertory Theatre’s downtown space, with half the building being sold to developers. With Coleman’s departure, that means a period of transition at all three of the state’s largest theater companies.
In all three cases, it’s too soon to tell what it all means, what’s in store. We just know that a change is gonna come.
At least Coleman has left us with a good question:
Are you ready?
Bard and Baggage
The scale and visibility may be different from the Portland Center Stage job, but the leadership that Scott Palmer has provided at Hillsboro’s Bag & Baggage is worthy of note, too. That company, also, found a way to create a well-suited performance home that also allows it to deepen community connections.
This Saturday, for example, Palmer and several of his regulars will open the Vault, that aforementioned space, to present St. Shakespeare: An Elizabethan Variety Show Fundraiser. Famous scenes and soliloquies, and other playful bits of Bardolatry are in store, intended to help the nearby All Saints Episcopal Church.
Meanwhile, the company has just announced the plays for its 2018-’19 season:
As You Like It, or Love in a Forest — Associate Artistic Director Cassie Greer adapts Shakespeare’s beloved romantic comedy along with a Restoration-era play by Charles Johnson, and presents the resulting entanglements both inside the Vault theater and outside in its courtyard. July 12-29, 2018.
Deathtrap — Palmer directs Ira Levin’s durable thriller as your Halloween treat. Oct. 4-31, 2018.
Bell, Book and Candle — Christmas becomes the season of the witch, as Palmer directs a classic comedy full of romantic spells. Nov. 29-Dec. 23, 2018.
The Island in Winter — Cuban-American playwright Carlos-Zenen Trujillo delivers the first script for Bag & Baggage’s “Problem Play Project,” transporting Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale to Havana and Miami. March 7-24, 2019.
Peter/Wendy — Peter Pan, the boy who never grows up, gets what Greer calls “a much more adult exploration of the psychology and meaning underpinning this classic ‘children’s story,’” in this take by playwright Jeremy Bloom. May 2-19, 2019.
Opening: Lakewood Theatre Company gets that old-time religion (of a sort) with the musical comedy Sister Act. Stephen Spotswood’s Girl in the Red Corner — a 2017 Helen Hayes Award winner as best original play, now getting its West Coast premiere by defunkt, explores a discouraged woman’s self-awakening through mixed martial arts. And at Shaking the Tree, artistic director Samantha Van Der Merwe expands with the new short-run SALT on the installation approach she’s used so fruitfully in shows such as 2012’s fairy-tale-inspired The Tripping Point, this time focusing on civil disobedience. The 10 pieces set around the theater will be “a mix of live, ongoing, repetitive action, film, or static visual art,” and feature such noted performers as Beth Thompson, Bobby Bermea and Jamie Rea.
Closing: The steamship is about to sail again on Imago Theatre’s wondrously inventive La Belle, a beauty of a Beauty and the Beast adaptation. Artists Rep is about to clear the table of The Thanksgiving Play and all its delicious political satire. Portland Actors Conservatory’s Good Kids get(s) kicked out of the Shoebox Theater on Sunday. And Wednesday offers just one more chance at the grim cavalcade of stars in Theatre Vertigo’s Mass Murder.
Give it a couple of Shakes: Northwest theaters certainly serve up their share of Shakespeare, but there’s something great, too, about hearing the Bard’s works in their native tongue. Britain’s National Theatre (with some help from our local friends at Third Rail Rep) presents high-definition video captures of performances from London in the NT Live series. This Sunday brings a high-drama double bill to the World Trade Center Theater: Julius Caesar at noon, and the greatest of them all, Hamlet (this one starring Benedict Cumberbatch), at 4 p.m.