Aubrey Jessen

Portland Mini Musical Festival review: brief encounters

Fertile Ground Festival musical showcases benefit from focus on relationships

It’s hard enough to produce believable character relationships in a full length musical, what with the characters breaking into song and dance in the midst of their encounters. Yet even in under 15 minutes each, most of the six short works in this year’s edition of the Portland Mini Musical Festival at downtown Portland’s Brunish theater managed that difficult trick, mostly by focusing on a single relationship each.

Raimer and Carver in ‘Work Friends.’ Photo: David Kinder.

Work Friends, the most thoroughly successful of the lot, showed how even in just a few minutes, deftly drawn characters can evoke real sympathy — all while singing and dancing. Aubrey Jessen’s touching and hilarious office bromance earned genuine guffaws for its beautifully blocked cubicle dance, Jessen and composer Mont Chris Hubbard’s uproarious lyrics, and a winning, multifaceted (singing/dancing/acting) performance by Collin Carver. Kurt Raimer and Courtney Freed also excelled. An office worker longs for a closer connection to his charismatic but oblivious office mate, but doesn’t know how to make it happen— until an eavesdropping colleague stages a welcome intervention.

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DramaWatch Weekly: Fertile Ground, Playing Favorites

As Portland's sprawling festival of new performance works begins, A.L. Adams picks her best bets (and weaves in a nonfestival highlight, too)

For YEARS, at multiple publications, I used to compile an overview of Fertile Ground titled “Fertile Ground Speaks for Itself,” wherein quips from the scripts submitted by their authors comprised the entire story, and I just formatted it.

It is, after all, a lowercase-f fringe festival, an uncurated and welcoming workshop space where indeed the pieces DO “speak for themselves.” But now I’m in grad school. And my time to listen is limited. If I go at all, I’ll have to be pre-selective. Hence, I find myself (for the first time) inclined to speak up for particular festival participants whom I’ve already observed doing good work. If your time is limited like mine, here’s my short list of “good risks.”

Nikki Weaver and friends, piecing things together for “Weaving Women Together.” Portland Playhouse photo

Aubrey Jessen’s appeared in many plays at Action/Adventure, portraying everything from a superhero action star to a breathlessly anxious secretary. I didn’t catch her playwrighting debut, Hawthorne, but a Drammy nod suggests it was deft. A speech therapist by trade, Jessen seems even in her improvs like a master of metacognition, with a keen awareness of thoughts-about-thoughts and an aw-shucks persona that makes such musings accessible. I’d deem it worth seeing what she does in Velvet.  It’s a double-header with Autumn Buck’s Sable in the Forest. Phillip Berns—last seen carrying A Christmas Carol solo—is directing Velvet. I could say a lot about Berns, but my opinionated aunt side would rather just pat your arm and exclaim, “He’s very good!”

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