Caucasian Chalk Circle

DramaWatch Weekly: on ’til November

Im Portland theater it's a week of the Rooster, The Events, seasonal cosplay, and some houseplants for Hand2Mouth

Has it occurred to you that Halloween is the only time of year when regular people moonlight as actors?

A.L. Adams

And all the more so since character cosplay has engulfed general-category costumes. Instead of “a zombie,” or “a pirate,” more and more people seem to dress as “this zombie” or “that pirate” from some show or movie, leaving them oddly depicting a mix of the character they’re being, the actor who famously plays the character, and themselves. And just like that, your Halloween party spread is transformed into craft services on a Hollywood set, with Captain Johnny-Jack Depp-Sparrow, who is actually Kevin from work, scarfing all of your Doritos. How meta.

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Spotlight on: Samantha Van Der Merwe and ‘Caucasian Chalk Circle’

Myth, story, and a striking visual sense have been the hallmarks of Shaking the Tree's creative force. Now she's taking on a Brecht classic.

Every year in the Rose City, a Shaking the Tree production is one of the most hotly anticipated events of the theatrical season. Samantha Van Der Merwe, Shaking the Tree’s founder, artistic director, and primary engine, has built a sterling reputation for work that is visually striking, thematically powerful and dramaturgically daring. She is perhaps our most adept magician, with an eclectic and facile command of the theatrical vocabulary. Her singular visual sense is part and parcel of her storytelling oeuvre. She has a knack for making simple choices that feel audacious. Van Der Merwe’s special gift is knowing the one specific detail that will alight the audience’s imagination, and make its members her intimates in the act of creation.

Samantha Van Der Merwe, Shaking the Tree’s driving creative force. Photo: Dmae Roberts

Now, Van Der Merwe has turned her attention to one of her most ambitious projects yet: Bertolt Brecht’s The Caucasian Chalk Circle, which opened in her company’s Southeast Portland warehouse space October 6 and continues through November 4. At first glance Brecht, the famed modernist and “epic theater” proponent, would seem an uneasy fit for Van Der Merwe’s particular brand of spell-casting. But if you look a little deeper, the pairing of the two disparate sensibilities seems almost inevitable.

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DramaWatch Weekly: Puzzles and Cults

From "Caught" to Reverend Billy to storytelling to "Chalk Circle" to readings and "You in Midair," a weekful of openings

Happy glacially gradual onset of fall. Let’s talk theatre … er, theater.

A.L. Adams

Here at ArtsWatch, some new reviews are in.

Bob Hicks is smitten with Every Brilliant Thing and Matthew Andrews seems impressed by Fun Home, putting the Armory 2-for-2.

Artists Rep’s An Octoroon, which closed last weekend, left Maria Choban in metaphorical therapy, and NWCT’s Starlings delighted DeAnn Welker. Onward.

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Artists Rep is prepared to ensnare you with Caught, a “sly philosophical puzzle” presented as a multimedia work with both gallery installation and performance components. I wonder if the growing popularity of “escape rooms” is conversant with this kind of theater. I also wonder how the habituation of video game play informs the escape rooms that may or may not have tripped the wire on a seeming explosion of this type of theater. Discuss.

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Reverend Billy drops in at Boom Arts to revive us again.

Here’s another puzzler: why does “protest” within performance art get so much more respect than protest on the street? Sure, sometimes it’s a quality standard, but many street protest efforts also pass artistic muster. From the businessman-satirizing Yes Men, to these butoh-esque “zombies” in Hamburg, to these stoic Michiganders sitting in grim solidarity with oil-soaked birds, performative protestors who bring fringe-fest-worthy confrontations to the public sphere deserve a little more applause. In this mood, Boom Arts brings performance protest figurehead Reverend Billy to The Old Church this weekend. The Reverend, who’s been dramatically preaching the gospel of “Stop Shopping” for many years—often to hostile audiences during direct action—has earned a weekend preaching to the choir. Additional ways to find religion this week include the opening of a ritualistic-looking Caucasian Chalk Circle at Shaking the Tree, and Siren Theater storytelling showcase Cult Status. (Rumor has it they’ll be serving actual Kool-Aid.)

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Correct me if I’m wrong: a staged reading is to a play what a book is to a movie. While the latter is already chock full of multi-sensory material, the former leaves more space for your own imagination. This month, Portland Playhouse’s Fall Reading Series mixes it up with three contemporary plays at various locations from Sellwood to NW. In the hands of this stah-rong batch of actors, I bet those scripts will sing. Can I say they’re by female playwrights as a “by the way”? And someday can female playwrights be so prevalent that no point need be made?

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And finally, here’s a hard one. With no joy in the pun, I call “trigger warning” on a show about a 1980s celebrity murder presented by the mother of the deceased. In You in Midair, Danna Schaeffer grapples with the 1989 death of her daughter Rebecca Schaeffer, a star of the sitcom My Sister Sam, on her front porch at the hands of a deranged gunman. Seekers of catharsis and context on this particular week may find it here.

 


 

Look for A.L. Adams’ DramaWatch Weekly every Tuesday.