Beth Thompson

Cuddles at CoHo

Fear, intimacy and absurdity collide in the CoHo Productions staging of "The Found Dog Ribbon Dance."

I first heard about Cuddle Con — the Portland cuddling convention — shortly before it debuted in 2015. A classmate in an audio storytelling class was doing a project about the event, and I remember thinking that it sounded glorious. As a single 24-year-old with only a couple close friends and no career, I found the prospect of physical intimacy with even a stranger inviting.

As it turned out, I never attended Cuddle Con, but I have remained fascinated by the concept of professional cuddling. What, I have found myself wondering, does it say about our society that people are literally paying for platonic closeness? Has the numbing isolation induced by social media sundered society that badly? Or does professional cuddling simply represent a solution to the age-old agony of loneliness?

Those questions aren’t answered in CoHo’s production of Dominic Finocchiaro’s The Found Dog Ribbon Dance, which I can safely say is the first play I’ve seen about a professional cuddler. Yet the play is a moving and entertaining meditation on the joy of physical intimacy and the awfulness (for some people) of its absence. Watching it may bring up painful memories of isolation (it did for me). But it also delivers a satisfying brew of truth, wit and catharsis.

Faraway, so close: Clifton Holznagel (from left), Beth Thompson and Tom Mounsey test the boundaries of togetherness in The Found Dog Ribbon Dance, a play by Reed College alum Dominic Finocchiaro. Photo: Owen Carey.

Directed by Connery MacRae, The Found Dog Ribbon Dance stars Beth Thompson as Norma, a woman who has started a successful cuddling business in her home. Her clients include an emotionally and physically scarred young woman (Deborah Jensen) and an elderly man (Marty Baeudet) who doesn’t speak a word until near the story’s end.

While the play could have worked as a series of vignettes about Norma’s clients, Finocchiaro chooses other narrative paths. He shows us the evolution of Norma’s romance with Norm (Tom Mounsey), a minor YouTube celebrity who works in a coffee shop, and her ongoing quest to find out who owns the dog she recently found (the pooch is played by Clifton Holznagel, who eschews a tail in favor of a black T-shirt that identifies him as a canine).

Norma’s cuddling technique is exemplary — her voice is so soothing that even her trite insistence that her home “is a safe space” becomes seductive. Achieving intimacy in her personal life proves more difficult for her, an irony that becomes a catalyst for a love-work crisis that causes her to question everything that she has devoted her life to.

It’s disappointing that the explanation for Norma’s fear of closeness with anyone besides her clients turns out to be fairly straightforward. In fact, it’s disappointing that the play offers an explanation at all. Making the story of what cuddling means and why it matters about one person’s inner strife distracts from the fascinating question of why human beings are so starved for connection that cuddling has become a viable job.

That oversight bothered me without diminishing my appreciation for the production’s numerous successes, especially Thompson’s performance. Found Dog chronicles the crumbling of Norma’s romance with Norm, which makes her doubt not just whether she’s capable of being part of a relationship but the value of physical intimacy itself. It’s haunting to watch Thompson take Norma on a journey from preaching the gospel of cuddling (“There’s nothing wrong with asking for what you need”) to all but renouncing her faith (“I want to believe. But I don’t know anymore”).

Tom Mounsey gets all in a whirl in The Found Dog Ribbon Dance. Photo: Owen Carey.

The play suggests that while professional cuddling has value, mediated affection has its limits, an idea that Norm embodies. His fame is the result of a peculiar fetish—he films himself dancing to the music of Whitney Houston while wearing a luchador mask and waving a ribbon through the air. He is willing to look ridiculous in front of anonymous internet users, but he refuses to let Norma see him dance, which underlines the inability of both characters to experience togetherness beyond confines of their respective pursuits.

The beauty of The Found Dog Ribbon Dance lies in its portrait of Norma and Norm gradually bumbling beyond those restrictions. In a show-stopping scene, Norm dances to Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” waving his crimson ribbon in a series of dizzying spirals and swirls. It’s a jubilant spectacle, but it’s just the beginning. Because above all, Found Dog is about how for both Norma and Norm, “I want” becomes “I will.”

SALT on America’s wounds

Inspired by Gandhi's Salt March of resistance, Shaking the Tree's new venture blends art, theater, and dance in a collective raised voice

Shaking the Tree Theatre, under the artistic direction of the imaginative Samantha Van Der Merwe, incorporates visual art into each of its theatrical performances. With SALT, opening Tuesday for an all-too-brief six-day run, Shaking the Tree is flipping that concept on its head. SALT is the first of Shaking the Tree’s acts of resistance – “in direct response,” according to the SALT program, “to a Trump presidency and its implications of hate, exclusion, bigotry, and fear.”

Van Der Merwe was inspired to create this first act in Shaking the Tree’s four-year project by Gandhi’s speech on the eve of the 1930 Salt March (or Dandi March). In that speech, he famously encouraged his followers to resist peacefully. “We have resolved to utilize all our resources in the pursuit of an exclusively nonviolent struggle, he said. “Let no one commit a wrong in anger. This is my hope and prayer. I wish these words of mine reached every nook and corner of the land.” Van Der Merwe asked a cross-section of the city’s finest artists — from many cultures, genres, and backgrounds — to use Gandhi’s speech as a jumping-off point.

SALT teams around Samantha Van Der Merwe’s “Thread.” Photo: Meg Nanna

The Shaking the Tree space is divided into eight 8×8 boxes, and each artist (with Van Der Merwe’s piece, created out of salt, in the center) was given that space to create something, anything. Some artists will be performing as part of their piece, or have others performing. Some is visual art. Some have video. Some are interactive.

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A gorgeous fairy tale, in triplicate

CoHo's "This Girl Laughs, This Girl Cries, This Girl Does Nothing" is a theatrical marvel about the adventures of not-so-identical triplets

At the risk of revealing my own ignorance, I must admit I had no idea what I was going to see when I was tapped to review CoHo Productions’ This Girl Laughs, This Girl Cries, This Girl Does Nothing. I hadn’t heard of Finegan Kruckemeyer, the esteemed Australian playwright who has had 84 plays commissioned on five continents and whose works have been translated into eight languages.

These Girls, into the woods and beyond. Photo: Owen Carey

I was even mildly annoyed to see that this play about women was written by a man. “What could he know?” I thought. “What does he have to say on this topic that hasn’t been said before?” Turns out the answer to both question is, “So much.”

This Girl Laughs was first produced in 2011 in Argentina and has been produced dozens of times and received numerous awards since. According to Kruckemeyer’s website, it’s suitable for ages 7 to adult. Which might make one think this is production for children. It is, and it isn’t.

This is a play about children. Or people, I should say, who start out as children – as people often do. And it is about how three specific children – identical triplet girls, who, like most identical twins/triplets/etc., turn out not to be identical at all. It is also about, as CoHo has written, “cakes, battle, sun bathing, world carrying, unpleasant badgers, boring people, dancing, romance, walnuts, and long walks.” This is a fairytale. It is about loss, love, and redemption. It’s an odyssey, a bildungsroman in triplicate, and an epic poem.

But none of these descriptions is wholly true. If you were to read the script for This Girl Laughs, This Girl Cries, This Girl Does Nothing, it would read like a novel, with chapters, in a third-person narrator’s voice. It’s a story about losing everything and finding a way to recover. It’s tragic and hopeful. It’s heartbreaking and hilarious. Kruckemeyer’s website says it can be performed by any number of players, and has been performed by one to 30.

Sharon Mann and Beth Thompson, traveling underseas. Photo: Owen Carey

Because this tale is broad and universal, just like a life (or three), and can be melded and shaped and shifted in magical ways. And what CoHo has done with Kruckemeyer’s beautiful words is capture lightning in a bottle.

With a cast of six fine Portland actors (most of whom I’ve enjoyed watching onstage a time or two or several), and under the deft direction of Tamara Carroll, CoHo’s space transforms from a modest home in the forest where three girls live with their mother and father – “And the girls knew in their hearts that this happiness they felt, living in the forest with that man and that woman, it would never end. … Until one day, it ended” – into a snowy wood, and then into warring villages and into beaches and a lighthouse floating across the sea and a vacated bakery and a Snow White-style fairytale filled with animals and a single young woman living out her life in the forest, and into the most boring town in the world, and into a mansion. …

It’s no small feat to pull all of this off on any stage, particularly a smaller space such as CoHo’s. Kaye Blankenship’s scenic design, Jennifer Lin’s lighting, and Sarah Andrews’ props play a major part in bringing this magic to life – but so does that incredible cast of six.

So, let’s talk about the singular actors who make up that cast: Conor Eifler (Younger Man), Duffy Epstein (Older Man), and Sharon Mann (Older Woman) play a plethora of characters and help narrate the triplets’ journeys. They are all so good that it feels unfair to single any of them out, but Epstein gets the most poignant and trickiest plot points, and he rises to the challenge. Epstein recently outshone a remarkable cast in Profile Theater’s Water by the Spoonful. That he doesn’t do that here is to his credit – he downplays his roles here in service to the greater good.

In a fairy tale, one must take measures: Duffy Epstein, Alex Ramirez de Cruz, Jen Rowe, Beth Thompson. Photo: Owen Carey

And, that greater good is those three girls of the title, the triplets. Carmen, the youngest and the one who “does nothing” (but what a lie that is) is played with sweetness, quiet, and innocence by Alex Ramirez de Cruz. The middle sister, Beatrix, the girl who cries (and does so much more than that) is played with reckless abandon, charisma, and comedic timing by Beth Thompson. And the oldest, Albienne, who laughs (though not as often as you’d think), is brought to life by the remarkable Jen Rowe, a force to be reckoned with at all times, but particularly when she’s wielding a sword in battle or flour in a bakery.

Seeing this triptych of women on the CoHo Stage, you will be struck by how lucky you are (although they have all been on the same stage at least once before, in Portland Playhouse’s Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson in 2012, they didn’t carry that play in the same way). It is not an overstatement to compare casting these three to casting the likes of Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, and Laura Dern in a television show: Audiences are rarely that lucky.

And yet here we are in 2018 with HBO’s Big Little Lies on our televisions – and, if you are lucky enough to be in Portland right now, This Girl Laughs, This Girl Cries, This Girl Does Nothing onstage at CoHo Theatre.

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This Girl Laughs, This Girl Cries, This Girl Does Nothing continues through March 3 at CoHo Theatre, 2257 N.W. Raleight St., Portland. Ticket and schedule information here.

 

Portland theater: victimizing women

Well intentioned adaptations of Greek theater classics undermine the originals’ dramatic power

by MARIA CHOBAN

Once upon a time, a spoiled sorceress, the apple of her father’s eye, fell in lust with an equally self-absorbed foreigner. The beautiful brat paid no attention to her father — the king’s — warnings. The foreigner, on a quest to steal treasure from their kingdom, seduced her with the cunning of a Greek. The barbarian sorceress cast magic spells on the dragon guarding the treasure, allowing the cad to steal the Golden Fleece and flee. The besotted sorceress joined him, securing their escape by murdering her own brother. She sprinkled his fingers and toes into the ocean, slowing the pursuers to pick up the pieces to bury.

Fast forward ten years and two kids later. Now no longer a princess but a mistrusted stranger in a Greek land, Medea thinks Jason will worship her just as her father did. But the middle-aged status seeker, tired of the “skila’s” (bitch’s) shrill tirades, pulls off one more cunning trick. He convinces the king of Corinth to allow him to marry his beautiful young daughter. 

Anne Sorce as Medea: a family tragedy. Photo: John Rudoff/Polaris Images.

My Greek grandmother pauses. Kerchief tied around her head, kitchen apron, thick black grandma shoes. Ankle-less squat feet. We’re sitting on the back stairs of her house, her black olive eyes as crazy as Medea’s. She tortures me with anticipation.

That’s the Medea telling her story in my Greek grandmother’s crazy eyes. That’s the Medea Euripides brought to the playgoers in 431 b.c.

That’s the Medea you read about in the news, like Diane Downs who shot her own kids.

We hate her, we fear her, but we reverberate because she’s buried in each of us.

The Medea we got in Imago Theater’s recent production of Medea is NOT that frenzied vibrant living Greek murderess. Imago gave us static lines that thudded through the continual andante pace. I knew we were off to a bad start when the Nurse trudged in ritualistically. Euripides starts the play like a gunshot. The nurse in a tizzy, wringing her hands, worries that her mistress will do something really really awful SOON! Greeks don’t trudge. We wring our hands, fret and talk fast!

This Medea isn’t the only example of modern productions and adaptations sapping the originals’ artistic vitality in a misguided attempt to bring a modern feminist angle to ancient classics. Last year, Shaking the Tree Theatre used Edna O’Brien’s adaptation of Euripides’s Iphigenia at Aulis, which turns Iphigenia into a sacrificial victim by deleting lines where she admonishes her mother to suck it up, and that show Iphigenia as headstrong an outlier as is her father, Agamemnon.

I haven’t seen it, but I’m worried about what I’ve heard of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s Medea adaptation (Mojada: A Medea in Los Angeles, continuing in the Angus Bowmer Theatre in Ashland through July 6) with playwright Luis Alfaro’s script telling an immigrant’s story.

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Shaking the Tree’s ‘Head. Hands. Feet.’: Not so grim fairy tales

There will be blood in Portland theater’s “Tales of Dismemberment” but not all the body parts add up.

As you enter the theater, actors clad in neutral grey courteously greet you, lead you to a basin, and solemnly help you wash your hands. The splashing water provides the only sound in the hushed, neutral-colored space dominated by pale bluish greys — the better to contrast with the blood that will flow in Shaking the Tree theatre’s annual Halloweenish horror show.

Actually, the gore isn’t portrayed realistically but symbolically; Head. Hands. Feet. is by no means a fright fest. In fact, the first half consists of fairy tales, although anyone’s who’s read non-Victorian-sanitized ancient tales knows how really, ah, grim and gory they can be.

They can also seem pretty backward from a 21st century perspective, often punishing characters — particularly females — who transgress social norms. Accordingly, all three devised stories — and the adaptation of a classic Greek play that occupies the show’s second half — to some degree sanitize their models to make them more progressive/feminist/modern and, well, Portland than the originals.

Shaking the Tree Theatre's Head.Hands.Feet.

Shaking the Tree Theatre’s Head.Hands.Feet.

While that updated sensibility may make the stories seem more suitable to today’s audiences, it sometimes also makes them a shade too comfortable, at the expense of the dark reality they caution us about — not too different, ultimately and ironically, than what the Victorians did to those dark stories. It’s almost like thinking the world is like what we saw at the Democratic convention, and just ignoring that other one — the real horror show of last summer. At times, the apparent attempts to bring out more contemporary perspectives on these ancient tales actually undermine the modern moral stance these adaptations are trying to advance.

Nevertheless, as with any production involving the Portland theater power trio of imaginative director Samantha Van Der Merwe, and irresistible actors Beth Thompson and Matthew Kerrigan, you should see Head. Hands. Feet. — though not to be terrified, but to have your terrors cleansed.

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Drammys: a night for Misbehavin’

Portland Center Stage's Fats Waller musical sweeps up six trophies at Portland's annual theater awards; "Orlando" wins big; actor Gavin Hoffman hits a double

Ain’t Misbehavin’, Portland Center Stage’s bold large-scale rethinking of the intimate Fats Waller musical revue, swept up much of the hardware Monday night at the Drammy Awards, sharing the spotlight with Orlando, Profile Theatre’s brash adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s time-traveling, gender-bending adventure novel.

Ain’t Misbehavin’ dominated the evening with six awards, including best production of a musical, director of a musical (Chris Coleman), music direction (Rick Lewis), ensemble performance in a musical, scenic design (Tony Cisek), and costumes (Alison Heryer, who was also nominated for Orlando).

Portland Center Stage's "Ain't Misbehavin'": best ensemble in the best musical on the dest-designed stage. (Photo by Patrick Weishampel/blankeye.tv)

Portland Center Stage’s “Ain’t Misbehavin'”: best ensemble in the best musical on the best-designed stage. (Photo by Patrick Weishampel/blankeye.tv)

Orlando, which was part of Profile’s season of plays by Sarah Ruhl, won the coveted award for best production of a play, plus two other major categories: best actress in a play (Beth Thompson, who was also nominated for best supporting actress in Profile’s In the Next Room, or the vibrator play) and director of a play (Matthew B. Zrebski).

The Drammy Awards ceremony, Portland’s annual celebration of top achievements in theater, jammed the downtown Newmark Theatre of Portland’5 Centers for the Arts with a mixed crowd of theater fans and stage professionals, from actors and directors to designers and stagehands. In all, 117 productions were considered for awards by the 16-member Drammy committee. Late-season shows that were still running in June, such as Portland Playhouse’s hit Peter and the Starcatchers, Corrib’s Our New Girl, Triangle’s American Idiot, defunkt’s The Udmurts, and Artists Rep’s Grand Concourse and The Skin of Our Teeth, will be considered for 2016-17 awards.

Actor and director Beth Harper, founder and artistic director of the professional-training Portland Actors Conservatory, won this year’s lifetime achievement award, and it was a popular choice: when she walked onstage she was greeted with a standing ovation by the crowd, several of whom had graduated from the Actors Conservatory, and several more of whom have worked with her in shows. “For a girl from Pea Ridge, Tennessee, Miss Beth, you have done all right,” actor and director Brenda Hubbard said in introducing her. Harper thanked her own mentor, the legendary late Portland teacher and director Jack Featheringill, and commented, “It really does feel quite lovely to be appreciated.”

Gavin Hoffman scored a rare double victory in the acting categories, taking home the best actor Drammy for his performance as a desperate actor juggling life and art in The Understudy at Artists Repertory Theatre, and the supporting actor award for his performance in Great Expectations at Portland Center Stage. David Bodin shared the supporting-actor award for his Malvolio in Portland Shakespeare Project’s Twelfth Night. “I’m not greedy, really I’m not,” Hoffman said disarmingly in the second of his two acceptance speeches.

Best actress Beth Thompson in best play production "Orlando" at Profile Theatre. Photo: David Kinder

Best actress Beth Thompson in best play production “Orlando” at Profile Theatre. Photo: David Kinder

Other major acting awards went to Brian Demar Jones for best actor in a musical (Under the Influence, Fuse Theatre Ensemble), Malia Tippets for actress in a musical (Heathers: The Musical, Triangle Productions and Staged!), Jamie Rea for supporting actress in a play (A Doll’s House, Shaking the Tree), Cassie Q. Kohl for supporting actress in a musical (H.M.S. Pinafore, Mock’s Crest Productions), James Sharinghousen for supporting actor in a musical (Oklahoma!, Broadway Rose), and Kai Tomizawa for young performer (Junie B. Jones: The Musical, Oregon Children’s Theatre).

Among several special awards, the Portland Civic Theatre Guild gave out $17,000 for several projects, including $2,000 to the Rex Putnam High School theater department for children’s theater programs, $4,000 to CoHo Theatre for an exterior sign, $5,000 to John Ellingson to study puppet design in England, and $6,000 to Shaking the Tree for lighting and sound equipment. And the group Age and Equity for the Arts awarded $30,000 – $10,000 to Profile Theatre, $20,000 to CoHo – to support equity programs. Imago Theatre won the Artslandia Award of $5,000 in advertising and publicity.

The evening’s hosts were the seven members of The 3rd Floor comedy troupe, and what might have been a logistical disaster turned out instead to be a smooth, sometimes surprising, and often very funny addition to a show that ran a little over two and a half hours. The group’s quick wits and easy teamwork made the evening run like a machine – the sort of machine that includes spatters of blood, a cranked-up Carmina Burana soundtrack, an 8-foot-tall Sasquatch helping to announce the best-costume nominees, and at least one close-to-the-bone running gag. The troupe’s performance was refreshing and bittersweet: after 20 years onstage, it’ll call it quits after a July 9 reunion/retirement show at Artists Rep.

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The complete list of 2015-16 Drammy winners and nominees. Winners are listed in boldface at the top of each category:

 

BEST ACTOR IN A MUSICAL

Brian Demar Jones
Under the Influence
Fuse Theatre Ensemble

Max Artsis
Dogfight
Staged!

Jared Miller

Oklahoma!
Broadway Rose Theatre Company

Joel Walker
Thoroughly Modern Millie
Broadway Rose Theatre Company

BEST ACTOR IN A PLAY

Gavin Hoffman
The Understudy
Artists Repertory Theatre

Bobby Bermea
The Set-Up
Cygnet Productions

Allen Nause

Chapatti 
Corrib Theatre

Seth Rue
Blue Door
Profile Theatre

 

BEST ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL

Malia Tippets
Heathers: The Musical
triangle productions! & Staged! 

Claire Avakian
Thoroughly Modern Millie
Broadway Rose Theatre Company

Courtney Freed
Falsettos
Live On Stage

Kailey Rhodes
Chicago
Metropolitan Community Theatre Project

 

BEST ACTRESS IN A PLAY

Beth Thompson
Orlando
Profile Theatre

JoAnn Johnson
Mothers And Sons
Artists Repertory Theatre

Val Landrum
The Miracle Worker
Artists Repertory Theatre

Kayla Lian
Davita’s Harp
Jewish Theatre Collaborative

 

BEST CHOREOGRAPHY

Jessica Wallenfels
H.M.S. Pinafore
Mock’s Crest Productions

Maija Garcia
Cuba Libre
Artists Repertory Theatre

Maria Tucker
Oklahoma!
Broadway Rose Theatre Company

Kent Zimmerman
Ain’t Misbehavin’
Portland Center Stage 

 

BEST COSTUME DESIGN

Alison Heryer
Ain’t Misbehavin’
Portland Center Stage

Sarah Gahagan
In the Next Room, or the vibrator play
Profile Theatre

Alison Heryer
Orlando
Profile Theatre

Ashton Hull
Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play
Portland Playhouse

BEST DIRECTOR OF A MUSICAL

Chris Coleman
Ain’t Misbehavin’
Portland Center Stage

Diane Englert
Heathers: The Musical
triangle productions! & Staged!

Bruce A. Hostetler
H.M.S. Pinafore
Mock’s Crest Productions

Sharon Maroney
Oklahoma!
Broadway Rose Theatre Company

 

BEST DIRECTOR OF A PLAY

Matthew B. Zrebski
Orlando
Profile Theatre

Michael Mendelson
The Understudy
Artists Repertory Theatre

Louanne Moldovan
The Set-Up
Cygnet Productions

Pat Patton
Waiting For Godot
Northwest Classical Theatre Collaborative

 

BEST ENSEMBLE IN A MUSICAL

Ain’t Misbehavin’
Portland Center Stage

Cuba Libre
Artists Repertory Theatre

In the Heights
Stumptown Stages

Thoroughly Modern Millie
Broadway Rose Theatre Company

 

BEST ENSEMBLE IN A PLAY

The Set-Up
Cygnet Productions

Cock
defunkt theatre

Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play
Portland Playhouse

Orlando
Profile Theatre

 

BEST LIGHTING DESIGN

Don Crossley
The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane
Oregon Children’s Theatre

Kristeen Willis Crosser
The Understudy
Artists Repertory Theatre

Carl Faber
Orlando
Profile Theatre

Diane Ferry Williams
Ain’t Misbehavin’
Portland Center Stage

 

BEST MUSIC DIRECTION

Rick Lewis
Ain’t Misbehavin’
Portland Center Stage

Tracey Edson
H.M.S. Pinafore
Mock’s Crest Productions

Jonathan Quesenberry
Heathers: The Musical
triangle productions! & Staged!

Jeffrey Childs
Oklahoma!
Broadway Rose Theatre Company

 

BEST ORIGINAL MUSIC

Ernie Lijoi, Kevin Laursen, Lawrence Rush
Under the Influence
Fuse Theatre Ensemble

Adrian Baxter
The Set-Up
Cygnet Productions

Rory Stitt
The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane
Oregon Children’s Theatre

Matthew B. Zrebski
Chrysalis
Oregon Children’s Theatre (Young Professionals)

 

BEST ORIGINAL SCRIPT

Noah Dunham
How to Stop Dying
Action/Adventure Theatre

Ernie Lijoi
Under the Influence
Fuse Theatre Ensemble

Sacha Reich + Jamie Rea
Davita’s Harp
Jewish Theatre Collaborative

Claire Willett
Dear Galileo
Playwrights West

 

BEST PIT ENSEMBLE

Cuba Libre
Artists Repertory Theatre

Chicago
Metropolitan Community Theatre Project

Mame
Lakewood Theatre Company

Oklahoma!
Broadway Rose Theatre Company

 

BEST PRODUCTION OF A MUSICAL

Ain’t Misbehavin’
Portland Center Stage

H.M.S. Pinafore
Mock’s Crest Productions

Heathers: The Musical
triangle productions! & Staged!

Under the Influence
Fuse Theatre Ensemble

BEST PRODUCTION OF A PLAY

Orlando
Profile Theatre

Cock
defunkt theatre

The Set-Up
Cygnet Productions

The Understudy
Artists Repertory Theatre 

 

BEST SCENIC DESIGN

Tony Cisek
Ain’t Misbehavin’
Portland Center Stage

Stephen Dobay
In the Next Room, or the vibrator play
Profile Theatre

Tal Sanders
Orlando
Profile Theatre

Tim Stapleton
Waiting For Godot
Northwest Classical Theatre Collaborative

 

BEST SOUND DESIGN

Rodolfo Ortega
Blue Door
Profile Theatre

Richard E. Moore
The Drunken City
Theatre Vertigo

Seth Nehil
Time, A Fair Hustler
Hand2Mouth

Scott Thorson
Sex With Strangers
Portland Center Stage

 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A MUSICAL

James Sharinghousen
Oklahoma!
Broadway Rose Theatre Company

Troy Pennington
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee
Broadway Rose Theatre Company

Blake Stone
Heathers: The Musical
triangle productions! & Staged!

Joe Theissen
Thoroughly Modern Millie
Broadway Rose Theatre Company

 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A PLAY

David Bodin
Twelfth Night
Portland Shakespeare Project

and

Gavin Hoffman
Great Expectations
Portland Center Stage

Matthew Kerrigan
In the Next Room, or the vibrator play
Profile Theatre

Todd Van Voris
The New Electric Ballroom
Third Rail Repertory Theatre

 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL

Cassi Q. Kohl
H.M.S. Pinafore
Mock’s Crest Productions

Amanda Pred
Heathers: The Musical
triangle productions! & Staged!

Danielle Purdy
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee
Broadway Rose Theatre Company

Emily Sahler
Thoroughly Modern Millie
Broadway Rose Theatre Company

 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A PLAY

Jamie Rea
A Doll’s House
Shaking the Tree

Crystal Ann Muñoz
Twelfth Night
Portland Shakespeare Project

Anne Sorce
Time, A Fair Hustler
Hand2Mouth

Beth Thompson
In the Next Room, or the vibrator play
Profile Theatre

 

BEST YOUNG PERFORMER

Kai Tomizawa
Junie B. Jones: The Musical
Oregon Children’s Theatre

Annabel Cantor
Ramona Quimby
Oregon Children’s Theatre

Morgan Fay
The Wrestling Season
Oregon Children’s Theatre (Young Professionals)

Agatha Olson
The Miracle Worker
Artists Repertory Theatre

 

LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD

Beth Harper

 

SPECIAL AWARDS: 

Best Properties Design: Kaye Blankenship, In the Next Room,” or The Vibrator Play, Profile Theatre

Best Scenic Artist: Mindy Barker, The Drunken City, Theatre Vertigo

Best Solo Performance: Matthew Kerrigan, The Dissenter’s Handbook, Shaking the Tree Theater

Special achievement by a producer: Adriana Baer (Profile) and Samantha van der Merwe (Shaking the Tree), Passion Play

 

PATA SPOTLIGHT AWARDS:

The following Spotlight awards were presented by Portland Area Theatre Alliance (PATA):

  • Other: Kate E. Ortolano, sign language
  • Crew: Crew of The Skin of Our Teeth at Artists Repertory Theatre
  • Stage Manager: Karen Hill
  • Stage Manager: D Westerholm

 

PORTLAND CIVIC THEATRE GUILD AWARDS:

  • Mary Brand Award: $2,000 to Rex Putnam High School Theatre Department Children’s Theatre Program to bring theater to elementary school audiences that otherwise could not afford to attend.
  • Leslie O. Fulton Fellowship: $5,000 to John Ellingson for travel to England to study at the Beverly Puppet Festival in July, following which he will connect and interact with several prominent puppet companies in England.
  • Portland Civic Theatre $4,000 Award  to CoHo Theatre to pay for the creation and installation of an exterior sign marking the building and increasing the visibility of the theatre.
  • The Portland Civic Theatre $6,000 Award to Shaking the Tree to upgrade their lighting and sound equipment.

 

AGE AND GENDER EQUITY AWARDS:

  • $10,000 to Profile Theatre
  • $20,000 to CoHo Productions

‘Orlando,’ from page to stage

Profile and playwright Sarah Ruhl give Virginia Woolf's time-hopping romp of an adventure novel yet another big transformation

In the summer of 1957, when I was living in exile in Rye, New York, whiling away the time between my freshman and sophomore years at Barnard as a live-in babysitter, and whining about it, my father suggested I read Orlando, Virginia Woolf’s  fictional biography of  her friend and lover Vita Sackville-West.  Sarah Ruhl’s dramatization of Woolf’s most popular novel is playing at Profile Theatre through November 22nd, and while it’s not entirely successful, it definitely has its pleasures.

I’d heard of Orlando, but  no novel of Woolf’s was on the freshman English syllabus at Barnard; nor, I later discovered, was she considered good or influential enough to be part of the course I took on the English novel, or even one I took on modern literature and the allied arts. None of her books were in my high school library; and this was long before her letters and diaries were published, or Leonard Woolf’s extraordinary multi-volume memoirs, or the various biographies of their friends and relations.

Profile's "Orlando," from left: Ben Newman, Crystal Muñoz, Beth Thompson, Ted Rooney, Elizabeth Rotham. Photo: David Kinder

Profile’s “Orlando,” from left: Ben Newman, Crystal Muñoz, Beth Thompson, Ted Rooney, Elizabeth Rotham. Photo: David Kinder

I read Orlando in one or two nights, and enjoyed it as the adventure story it is, loving the chief protagonist’s struggles to write poetry, which mirrored my own, although I sometimes found Woolf’s style difficult to follow. I loved particularly the description of the frozen Thames during the reign of  King James the First, when Orlando falls in love with a Russian princess named Sasha, who wears trousers and breaks his heart.

I don’t  remember feeling startled by Orlando’s transformation from male to female, or the cross-dressing, but then, I grew up in Greenwich Village, and took such declarations of sexual orientation for granted.  More important, I now realize, many of Woolf’s references, quips, and opinions went right by me, and I did not even begin to grasp the magnitude of  Woolf’s achievement in compressing half a millennium of  English history (political, social and literary) into the two hundred and ninety-nine pages of the Hogarth Press edition of the book.

First edition of the novel.

First edition of the novel.

Or, as I reread it this past weekend, how laugh-out-loud funny this highly opinionated coming-of-age story (for Orlando is certainly that) can be.  A housekeeper is named Grimsditch, a chaplain Dupper;  reading and poetry are a disease; a long-winded poet, very, visits Orlando in his 365-room mansion (modeled on Sackville-West’s childhood home, which really did have that many rooms) and declares that poetry is dead – at the time that Shakespeare, Marlowe, and Donne are writing. When Woolf gets to the Victorians, she really goes to town, describing the clutter of their homes, decrying the emphasis on marriage and childbearing for women, what she calls the modesty of the female intellect, and, oh joy, sending up Romantic and Victorian poetry with such vapid verse as this:

And then I came to a field where the springing grass

Was dulled by the hanging cups of fritillaries,

Sullen and foreign-looking, the snaky flower

Scarfed in dull purple, like Egyptian girls.

The biography-cum-novel (Woolf refers to herself as the biographer throughout the book) ends in the 20th century; Orlando has married and borne the first of several children, and finished The Oak Tree (the stand-in for Sackville-West’s long poem The Land) which took her five hundred years to write [sic].  She has received awards and even money for it, and considers herself grown up. She is still, however, looking for her selves, as she is reunited with her husband, Marmaduke Bonthrop Shelmerdine, who has been away at sea, but returns home on an airplane. The book ends with: “And the twelfth stroke of midnight sounded; the twelfth stroke of midnight, Thursday, the eleventh of October, Nineteen hundred and Twenty Eight.”

That’s where Ruhl’s play ends, too.  And if Woolf’s five-hundred-year family saga in three hundred pages is impressive, Ruhl’s distillation of it in less than two hours of stage time boggles the mind. In Profile’s production, she has help: the spare set consists of a highly stylized oak tree, designed by Tal Sanders, and props designed by Drew Dannhorn, which change, stylistically, as the centuries pass.   Those transitions are also accomplished with an excellent soundscape by Em Gustason, who combines snippets of period music with the tolling of bells and the thrum of engines, when we get to the twentieth century. Alison Heryer’s costumes assist, as well; the only failure is Orlando’s sleeveless dress at the end of the play: in 1928, dresses had sleeves, and if they didn’t, were worn with a jacket to cover the upper arms. Carl Faber’s lights contribute to the shifting of mood, scene, and time of day, and the show, in short,  is well and skillfully produced.

Ben Newman and Beth Thompson: sparks fly. Photo: David Kinder

Ben Newman and Beth Thompson: sparks fly. Photo: David Kinder

It opens with the same scene as the novel: Beth Thompson as Orlando, clad in red tights, is practicing swordsmanship on the dried-up head of an infidel one of his ancestors has brought back from foreign parts. Thompson’s stance is boyish. She strides across the stage, displaying the legs that seduced a great queen, even though Orlando was late for the banquet in her honor.

Some of the narrative is provided by a chorus consisting of Crystal Munõz, Ben Newman, Ted Rooney and Elizabeth Rothan, a device that did not work when they were required to speak in unison, at which they failed, making their lines nearly incomprehensible. As individual characters, they did much better, particularly Munõz as Sasha, the Russian princess, who appears in every century of the action, and as the cockney Mrs. Grimsditch.  Rothan portrays a marvelously elderly, faintly lascivious, and always imperious Queen Elizabeth the First, who Ruhl has make an appearance in the twentieth century, something that does not occur in the novel.  While no sensible person would ask a playwright working nearly a century after Woolf wrote Orlando to be faithful to every jot and tittle of the book, this seemed pointless to me in the context of the play itself.  I also wasn’t sure why the great transformation scene, as well done as it was, takes place later, when Orlando is ambassador to Turkey, than it does in the novel, although I do understand why her subsequent stay with the gypsies is excised, as amusing and as pertinent to Sackville West’s family history as that is.

Rooney’s comic turn as the Roumanian archduke, whom Orlando, by that time back in England, cheats at a gambling game involving flies and cubes of sugar, is hilarious, as is his portrayal of Dupper, the inept chaplain who marries Orlando. So is the wonderfully named Marmaduke Bonthrop Shelmerdine, Esquire, played by Newman with a kind of practical yet romantic husbandly skill. Thompson’s consistently convincing and intelligent performance as both the male and the female Orlando certainly contributes to the viability of this conversion of novel to drama.

Portrait of Virginia Woolf, by Roger Fry, ca. 1917. Leeds Museum and Galeries/Wikimedia Commons

Portrait of Virginia Woolf, by Roger Fry, ca. 1917. Leeds Museum and Galleries/Wikimedia Commons

The drama has many wonderful moments: the tension as Orlando waits for Sasha to join him in a clandestine departure from England to Russia (she stands him up); the scene with the flies and the sugar cubes;  the bit on the boat returning to England from Turkey, when Orlando realizes that being a woman pampered by a man (in this case the ship’s captain) means a loss of power; and the descent of several large wedding rings onto the stage when Orlando feels nagged, and how, into marriage.

And yet, while Ruhl uses much of Woolf’s language in the dialogue as well as the narrative, the players don’t seem to savor the words, even when poetry is under discussion or being quoted, perhaps because the various accents are problematic for them, although Thompson manages Orlando’s upper-class diction very well. Matthew B. Zrebski’s direction keeps the actors moving all the time, always a good thing in the eyes of this reviewer of dancing.  However, when humor is called for, it can verge on the burlesque, which for me doesn’t work. Woolf’s humor is far more intellectual than physical, and it seems to me that Ruhl, a prolific and excellent writer with a family of young children to tend to as well, did this adaptation for serious reasons.

Some of them pertain to the regressive political situation in which we find ourselves in the United States today. Anything that makes us laugh about those issues (and Ruhl’s play certainly achieves that) needs to be seen, faithful to the book or not, episodic rather than cohesive; it remains, in an age of increasing mindlessness, entertainment that makes us think.

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Profile Theatre’s Orlando continues through November 22 on the Alder Stage of Artists Repertory Theatre. Ticket and schedule information here.