Adrienne Flagg

Martha Bakes in Black & White

Fertile Ground 2021: Playwright Don Wilson Glenn and director Damaris Webb take a historical spin through the first First Lady's kitchen

You’d be hard-pressed in 2021 to find a more dynamic force in Portland theater than Damaris Webb. In the past few years she’s acted, directed, collaborated, written and produced at a dizzying pace, sometimes doing all five things at once on a given work of art. Webb and Laura Lo Forti are the twin engines that propel Vanport Mosaic, a multifaceted art nonprofit that specializes in “memory activism,” preserving and holding space for voices and stories from the greater Portland area that have been marginalized if not outright suppressed. 

If that weren’t enough, a couple of years ago, Webb played the mother of a legend in Oregon Children’s Theatre’s …And In This Corner: Cassius Clay. She conceived and then created, with a host of other Black artists, Soul’d: the Economics of Our Black Bodies, Vanport Mosaic’s powerful exploration of how the exploitation of Black bodies has been integral to the American economy since its inception. Webb directed the Confrontation Theatre/Portland Playhouse co-production of Dominique Morriseau’s searing Pipeline, a heart-wrenching piece about the prison-industrial complex. When it’s noted how much of her work is built around social justice, Webb says frankly, “Well, I’m Black and I’m a woman. What else am I gonna talk about?” 


ONLINE FESTIVAL: FERTILE GROUND 2021


That clarity of purpose is front and center in Vanport Mosaic’s new offering for this year’s Fertile Ground festival of new works, Martha Bakes, a brand-new piece (naturally) written by Webb’s long-time collaborator Don Wilson Glenn, directed by Webb, and starring Webb’s high school classmate, Portland stage veteran Adrienne Flagg, as none other than Martha Custis Washington. It premieres at 4:30 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 2\31, on the festival’s Facebook and YouTube channels, where it will remain available to view for free through Feb. 15. 

(Glenn has another piece in this year’s Fertile Ground Festival, Troy, USA, which he co-wrote with Dmae Roberts, and which is being produced by Bag&Baggage as part of that company’s Problem Play Project. It premieres at 9 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 31, at Fertile Ground.)

Playwright Don Wilson Glenn, author of “Martha Bakes” and co-author with Dmae Roberts of “Troy, USA,” both premiering online Sunday, Jan. 31, at Fertile Ground.

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Fertile Ground 2021: Digital seedlings sprout

The annual PDX festival of new works, which ordinarily sprawls across spaces large and small throughout the metro area, has become a garden of virtual theater

As the pandemic raged through Portland last year, Nicole Lane wondered what to do about Fertile Ground. For 11 years, the festival had been a sweeping showcase for new works (it’s best known for theater, but has also incorporated dance and film). Yet with a tradition of cramming crowds into venues across the city, it was ill-suited to a post-COVID 19 world.

That’s why Lane, who has been festival director since 2010, began to envision a virtual version of Fertile Ground. “I don’t know what bee was in my bonnet, but I saw it,” she says. “I saw the possibilities.”


ONLINE FESTIVAL: FERTILE GROUND 2021


On January 28, those possibilities will become realities. By offering a zany mix of free, prerecorded performances through February 7 (the festival features everything from an interactive baking show to a spinoff of A Christmas Carol titled Fezziwig’s Fortune) Fertile Ground 2021 seeks to sustain the festival’s rambunctious spirit—and shake up its status quo with a lineup with works from BIPOC and LBGTQ visionaries.

Myhraliza Aala’s audacious tale of the horrors of the dating game, “Oh My Dating Hell,” premieres at 9 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 28, Fertile Ground’s opening night. It’s produced by Aala Is Possible.

Fertile Ground has long been renowned for its restless rhythm. It typically spans an epic range of stories (the Fertile Ground plays that I’ve written about include a multigenerational airport drama and a screwball comedy about an alligator-ravaged hotel) and beckons audiences into performance spaces both expected (Artists Rep) and eccentric (Mother Foucault’s Bookshop). 

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Farewell to the Tangerine Window

In his final days, the beloved set designer and artist Tim Stapleton hosted a steady flow of friends. Now, his final artwork is on display.

“To get to the Tangerine Window you had to go on a bit of a spirit journey,” as Mary McDonald Lewis puts it.

The window in question was at West Hills Health & Rehabilitation, a nursing facility in Portland’s Multnomah Village, with low-slung yellow-brick buildings and well-manicured lawns. “You’d walk down the narrow side of the building, through a gate and into a little courtyard of small lawns, park benches, little gardens,” McDonald Lewis continues. The anodyne surroundings are scrupulously, pleasantly plain — except for one section. There, little bursts of color catch the eye — flowers in sky-blue planter pots, a yellow rubber duck in a rusted iron bird feeder, large ceramic carp glazed in brilliant cobalt blue, seeming to swim along a dry stream of stones. And then, instead of the standard-issue white curtains of the other rooms, a flash of bright orange appears like a welcome.
“It’s like a window that you’d expect to see on ‘Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.’ A window that glowed like monarch butterfly wings. But then, inside, is a very ill man. And yet, within moments you’re caught up in his eyes, and in his stories, and then it’s just Tim. You’re with Tim.”


Photographer Owen Carey, who shot this portrait of Tim Stapleton in 2013, joined forces with Stapleton on many a play and many a cocktail. Carey says that in one of his last text exchanges he asked if he should bring anything on his next visit. “He asked for ‘some Pirate’s Booty, your booty, and a Negroni in a sippy cup.’”

Timothy Wayne Stapleton, an accomplished and beloved figure in the Portland arts scene, died on Sept. 7, at age 71, from the effects of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, the motor neuron condition commonly known as “Lou Gehrig’s disease.” For the last several months of his life, pushing against the isolating effects of both the COVID-19 pandemic and his progressively debilitating illness, many of his many friends made pilgrimages to what everyone called the Tangerine Window.

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