DramaWatch: a new place to play

Lewis & Clark prof Stepan Simek opens a small, flexible studio space. Plus: Openings around town and in Fertile Ground.

Stepan Simek is a professor of theater at Lewis & Clark College, a director, and an accomplished theatrical adapter and translator. Now he’s also a real estate developer.

Well, in a manner of speaking. Simek recently opened a small studio space for “actors, directors, musicians, singers, teachers, coaches, and anybody who may need a beautiful, affordable, flexible, and warm place to rehearse, teach classes, do small performances, concerts, readings, meetings, pop-ups, auditions, and whatever else may strike your creative need or fancy.” Or, as he put it during an open-house event earlier this month, “Everything is allowed, except amplified music and Bible study.”

The 2509 is a new studio space in Northeast Portland, open for rehearsals, performances and other creative uses. Photo: courtesy of Stepan Simek.

The place, a handsome 600-square-foot daylight basement, is named after its street address, 2509 NE Clackamas St., in a part of Portland known as Sullivan’s Gulch. Simek hopes it will help, in whatever small way, with the general space crunch afflicting so many Portland artists. But that wasn’t the project’s original purpose.

At first, Simek was setting out to repair his house’s crumbling foundation, which would require raising it on jacks. He and his wife Esther Saulle-Simek, a musician, decided to have a lower-level addition built as an apartment, or what’s known these days as an “accessory dwelling unit.” But the construction process turned out to be more than twice as long, and more than twice as expensive, as originally planned. Eventually they reasoned that they’d stand a better chance of recouping their costs with piecemeal rentals, even at low rates.

Still, though, the 2509 has a homey feel, with a gas stove along one wall opposite a small wet bar. It has a full bathroom and curtained-off area at the back that can be used as a bedroom for visiting artists. A grid attached to the middle of the ceiling holds a small LED lighting system, double-paned windows minimize sound for the surrounding residential neighborhood, and there’s room to seat an audience of 50 or so.

Already Hand2Mouth Theatre has used the 2509 for rehearsals, the renowned Portland actor Michael O’Connell has used it to teach classes, and Orchestra of the Moon — a band that includes Saulle-Simek and plays what it calls “early music for modern times” — performs there this Saturday night and Sunday afternoon.

Simek hopes the place will stay busy. (Reservations can be made by email: simek@lclark.edu) After repeating his line about it being open to everything but amplified music and Bible study, he says simply, “I want it to feel alive. I want life!”


Post5’s ‘Equus’: ride alone

The company's stab at Peter Shaffer's drama about a boy who blinds horses and the man who tries to cure him gallops around the center of the play


Phillip J. Berns, as Alan Strang, a 17-year-old boy who’s committed a shocking act, appears onstage with heavy-lidded magenta rings under his eyes. His fragile, slumped, bone-figured shoulders are held in by the noose of his cardigan, whose threads weigh him down. He is defeated.

But then, so is every character in Post5 Theatre‘s new production of Peter Shaffer’s intense 1973 drama Equus. The needling curve of this psychological thriller creates a storytelling arch: Strang is defeated, but not broken. And as in a trial, the members of the audience become witness and judge, looking at their own futures and making a case.

Philip J. Berns as the troubled Alan Strang, with Todd Van Voris as Dysart and Jill Westerly Gonzales as Hester. Photo: Russell J Young

Phillip J. Berns as the troubled Alan Strang, with Todd Van Voris as Dysart and Jill Westerly Gonzales as Hester. Photo: Russell J Young

Post5 Theatre, where all of this is going down, has a reputation for taking a simple play and stacking it on its edges, putting an old guard in today’s features. Equus by any standard is well-written, its architecture harking to the Greeks and their chorus. While the roots of Shaffer’s play run deep, the production hinges on the fourth wall and breaking it: Equus is a psychological drama hell-bent for leather.

On a car ride in the early 1970s, Shaffer heard from a close friend the tale of a boy caught blinding horses with a metal spike in a stable in the English countryside. Fascinated, Shaffer set out to find the possible motivations behind this violent crime, from an armchair psychologist’s view.