Cat in the Hat

And suddenly it’s October. Among other things – pumpkin patches, Yom Kippur, the World Series, Halloween – that means we’re two days from First Thursday, Portland’s monthly gallery hop of new shows. This week’s visual art calendar is a doozy, from open studios to Warhol with lots between.

A few of the highlights:

James Lavadour Ruby II, 2016 oil on panel 32" x 48"

James Lavadour, “Ruby II,” 2016, oil on panel, 32″ x 48.” PDX Contemporary.

James Lavadour at PDX Contemporary. It’s always a good day when new work by Lavadour, the veteran landscape expressionist from Pendleton, comes to town. This show, called Ledger of Days, furthers his exploration of the land and its mysteries. “A painting is a structure for the extraordinary and informative events of nature that are otherwise invisible,” he writes. “A painting is a model for infinity.” Lavadour is also one of the moving forces behind Pendleton’s innovative and essential Crow’s Shadow Institute of the Arts, which celebrates its 25th anniversary next year. Watch for what’s coming up.

The new Russo Lee Gallery: 30 years. What you’ve known for years as Laura Russo Gallery is celebrating three decades with a showing of new work by its distinguished stable of artists – and with a new name. The name is a fusion of the gallery’s long tradition and current reality. After founder Laura Russo died in 2010, her longtime employee Martha Lee bought the business and continues to operate it. This show promises to be a statement of sorts, and will have a catalog available.

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Cat in the Hat for President!

NW Children's Theater opens its season with a sassy Seuss favorite, plus a pop-rock musical about the presidents in all their semi-glory

“Just START, already!” the young lady seated next to me, possibly five years old, sighed impatiently. Unfortunately she still had a ten-minute wait until 1 o’clock showtime, a lag that she and her friend – or possibly sister – filled partly by doing counting games: a hopscotch-rhythm advance by ones up to fifty, with a slight pause as each “zero” landmark was achieved, then starting over at one and climbing up the ladder again. It seemed certain she could have kept going to sixty and seventy and beyond, but games have rules, and that’s not how this game worked.

When a kid’s come all the way to a theater and wedged through a notably hyperactive crowd just to see The Cat in the Hat, any delay can be excruciating. Fortunately, when Dr. Seuss’s famously flamboyant Cat eventually showed up in the lanky form of actor John Ellingson, he did so with an emphatic splat. This production, at Northwest Children’s Theater & School, is bright and giddy and tautly wound like an old-time cartoon, an effect amplified by Rodolfo Ortega’s bouncy silent-movie-like score and Jake Newcomb’s whiz-bang sound design.

John Ellingson as the Cat in the Hat, Jenny Bunce (and hand puppet) as the Fish. Photo: ©2016 Pat Moran

John Ellingson as the Cat in the Hat, Jenny Bunce (and hand puppet) as the Fish. Photo: ©2016 Pat Moran

Katie Mitchell’s adaptation, produced originally by the National Theatre of Great Britain, is pretty much a three-D amplification of the book itself, which is a good thing, because most of the audience knew the words by heart, and there’s no sense in fiddling with either words or hearts. The set (by Ellingson) looks like the house in the book, the costumes (by Nancy Christy) look very much like the costumes in the book, and the characters – Harper Lea as the Boy and Gracie Jacobson as Sally, the befuddled kids home alone while their mom’s out; Jenny Bunce as a very funny and exasperated pet Fish (she does the talking; her hand puppet does the swimming); Snigdha Malladi and Hallie Bartell as Thing 1 and Thing 2, the Cat’s kittenish partners in mayhem – are the very characters from the book, doing the very things the characters in the book do. In short, there’s something pleasingly ritualistic about the whole enterprise: It is what it is, and what it is is what it’s supposed to be.

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ArtsWatch Weekly: If you build it, they will come (to Hillsboro)

Bag&Baggage takes a big leap, Bluebeard meets Chihuly at the symphony, Renée Fleming wows the crowd, a cat in a hat, the things August Wilson learned

Don’t look now (or do), but while the center of cultural gravity in Portland might still be on the downtown side of the Willamette River, it’s been shifting and expanding. The restaurant crowds started heading for the inner East Side a good fifteen years ago, and theaters escalated the eastward march. Things didn’t stop there. Immigration and population shifts created booming pockets of culture farther out, both east and west: the new Chinatown along the East Side’s 82nd Avenue, a Russian community along Foster Road, several Latino enclaves, a large Indian community in parts of Beaverton and Hillsboro, near the Silicon Forest. Suburbs have grown, and begun to assert their own identities separate from the city core. They’ve built or broadened their own cultural centers, from the nascent Beaverton Center for the Arts to established theater companies like Lake Oswego’s Lakewood Theatre and Tigard’s Broadway Rose.

Exterior rendering of the new Bag&Baggage theater in downtown Hillsboro, slated to open in April 2017. Image: Opsis Architects

Exterior rendering of the new Bag&Baggage theater in downtown Hillsboro, slated to open in April 2017. Image: Opsis Architects

While much of Portland Proper wasn’t looking, the onetime farm town of Hillsboro has become a city of more than 100,000 people, many looking for culture without having to trek to downtown Portland. Bag&Baggage theater settled into the suburb’s downtown core eleven years ago, performing sometimes on an outdoor stage and mostly in the Venetian Theatre, an old vaudeville and movie house. A little more than a year ago it bought an old Wells Fargo bank building on Main Street and began the long quest to raise $1.4 million to transform it into a new performance center.

Let Scott Palmer, B&B’s founder and artistic director, pick up the story from there, as quoted in a recent press announcement:

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