Gary Norman

ArtsWatch Weekly: A world on fire

Trees in Trouble. Farewell, Tim Stapleton. Maryhill finally opens. Lots of music. Women in film. Pop-up posters. TBA, Street Roots & more.

NOTHING I CAN WRITE ON A DAY LIKE THIS IS MORE IMPORTANT than the story sweeping across Oregon and the West, where high winds and wildfires and crackling-dry conditions have unleashed historic devastation. Whole communities have been erased. Main highways are blocked off; others have been bumper-to-bumper crawling with people fleeing danger zones. Hundreds of people have been burned out of house and home. Complex ecosystems have been uprooted; wildlife flee with no sure place to go. In Oregon as of Thursday afternoon at least 800 square miles of land was burning, much of it out of control. 

Amid the chaos I’ve seen many small tales of courage, generosity, and resourcefulness. People in the country offering refuge for horses, livestock, pets. Parking lots and driveways offered for people escaping in their trucks or campers. Neighbors helping clear downed trees. Medical and utility and emergency workers, already stretched by the mounting catastrophes of this most extraordinary year, laboring overtime under daunting and exhausting circumstances. As I sit at my desk at 10 in the morning and look out the window the sky has turned from blood-orange to a pink-tinged gray. The acrid smell of smoke seeps through the cracks and into my nostrils. And I am deeply aware, and immensely grateful, that I am one of the fortunate ones, sitting in a stretch of Portland that’s been spared the worst of these multiple conflagrations, and that, barring a radical shift in weather patterns, is likely to remain a safe shelter. 

How did we get here? Where are we heading? In search of some answers ArtsWatch’s Barry Johnson talked with Portland writer Daniel Mathews, author of the recent book Trees in Trouble: Wildfires, Infestations, and Climate Change. Mathews takes a long view of the state of the forests, the destabilizing effects of climate change, the role of public policy, and other factors contributing to the chaos of the land. “I’m heartbroken looking at the maps and seeing so many towns and forests I visited just in reporting for this book,” Mathews tells Johnson. “This week’s fires are shocking and truly historic: it’s likely that more acres burned in the West than in any 48-hour period in written history, including the Big Blow-up of 1910. … I  guess there are a lot of disconnects between science and policy in this country, but forest fire policy is one of the most stubborn.”


TIM STAPLETON: FAREWELL TO A GREAT SPIRIT


The much loved Tim Stapleton, in transition. Photo courtesy Gary Norman

TIM STAPLETON, THE LONGTIME PORTLAND set designer, visual artist, writer of uncommonly good memoirs, and occasional actor, died at a hospice care center on Labor Day morning, Sept. 7, from the effects of ALS, Lou Gehrig’s Disease. He leaves legions of friends and admirers, and an enormous hole in Portland’s artistic community. Tim, born in Kentucky coal country in 1949, constantly called in his work on memories of those days and that culture, and before he had to move to hospice care he made his home in The Holler, a stretch of country-in-the-city in a tucked-away part of northern Portland, which is where photographer Gary Norman took the portrait above. In it, Tim seems to be simply walking away, toward something, taking his soft wry voice and sometimes jagged laughter and passion and wit with him, but leaving a trail of memories behind. 

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Ch-ch-changes, good and bad

In review: Triangle Productions' "TRANS-formations" and "The Madness of Lady Bright"; Twilight Theater Company's "Antigone"

From the moment Matthew Sunderland steps onstage at The Sanctuary in Donnie’s new play TRANS-formation you sense you’re going to be in for an interesting ride. Sunderland stars as George/Christine in this 70-minute drama about the transsexual pioneer Christine Jorgensen, and the way he wraps himself around the story of this fascinating true-life character is impressive: his clear sharp tenor voice, masculine but not entirely; his body language, so firmly between; his immediate link with the audience, forged by the urgency to tell his tale.

Matthew Sunderland as George/Christine Jorgensen. Photo: David Kinder/Kinderpics

And what a tale. Donnie (the pen name of Donald Horn, who is also director, scenic and sound designer, and producer through Triangle Productions, the company he founded in 1989) has done his homework and assembled a smart, deeply informed play about Jorgensen, concentrating on the young Army veteran’s decision to undergo sex-change surgery and become a she. It’s a taut tale, with just two other actors, both of whom also are superb: Jacquelle Davis as Jorgensen’s sister Dolly (with a cameo as a schoolteacher with a mean streak) and Mark Pierce as Dr. Christian Hamberger, the Danish endocrinologist who made the transformation happen. Both Dolly and Dr. Hamberger have very human and natural friendships with George/Christine, and that’s crucial to the play’s success. The doctor talks science. George talks feelings. Out of their creative collaboration, Christine is born.

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Broadway Rose takes flight

The off-Broadway musical "Fly by Night" glows in the company's smart and funny new production

Broadway Rose and director Isaac Lamb are bringing the fleeting magic of stardust to the stage with their new production of the 2014 musical Fly by Night.

A potent mix of youthful optimism and struggle marks this dark comedy. From the opening, Joe Theissen’s narrator (one among many parts he plays), decked out in brill-combed hair, thin tie and small-lapel suit, takes us back to the kind of dirty but creative streets of Greenwich Village in 1965. The musical has the feel, look, and smell of a dusty early Simon and Garfunkel album, if it were co-written by Rod Serling: plot twists around learning through loss, and how to channel it with some catchy riffs.

"Fly by Night": coffee, company, songs for the crowd. Photo: Craig Mitchelldyer

“Fly by Night”: coffee, company, songs for the crowd. Photo: Craig Mitchelldyer

Fly by Night is an off-Broadway musical by Kim Rosenstock, Will Connolly and Michael Mitnick, and it has the layers, heavy crafting and emotional insight that Yale mafia graduates are known for. From the first number, Circles in the Sand, the audience is hooked. You want to buy the soundtrack. It’s updated folk music that came out of the coffee shops and underground taverns in the early Bob Dylan-worshipping days: simple, syrupy, good pop with clever lyrics. John Quesenberry leads the band’s performances over two and a half hours with energy, enthusiasm, and charm. Connolly and Mitnick’s music is like a good Indie record; it’s Vampire Weekend and the Shins pared down to groovy elements. There is a seamless transition into every song and it’s amazing to watch dialogue slide into song. The “now they’re going to sing” abrupt monologues are missing, and as the cream separates, the dearness of the story rises to the top.

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‘Outgoing Tide’: The play of laughter and forgetting

Bruce Graham's play about how a family contends with Alzheimer's leads to further consideration

Tobias Andersen and Gary Norman in CoHo's "The Outgoing Tide"/Brud Giles

Tobias Andersen and Gary Norman in CoHo’s “The Outgoing Tide”/Brud Giles

By RICHARD WATTENBERG

A play about Alzheimer’s disease and end-of-life decisions hardly sounds like an evening chock full of laughs. And yet Bruce Graham’s “The Outgoing Tide” addresses these topics in a taut family drama that skillfully balances pathos with humor that is sometimes dark and sometimes tender. Graham’s play and the current CoHo production of it successfully eschew sentimentality. Instead we are offered a thoughtful glimpse into the particular dynamics driving one family as its dementia-stricken patriarch tries to tie up loose ends and guarantee the future security of his loved ones.

“The Outgoing Tide” is a loosely structured play. While for the most part Graham’s family drama is set in and around the Chesapeake Bay cottage where the hard-nosed Gunner and Peg, his wife of more than fifty years, currently live, the action frequently detours into the past to represent, by way of showing and not just telling, significant moments in Gunner and Peg’s family history.

The focus, however, is on Gunner and Peg’s current dilemma: Gunner, portrayed with light-hearted irascibility by Tobias Andersen, is gradually losing his battle with Alzheimer’s. The loyal Peg, played with a high-strung intensity by Jane Fellows, believes that moving from their home into a care facility, where she can continue to attend to her husband’s needs but with ever-present professional assistance, has become necessary.

To help her convince the stubborn Gunner to take this step, she enlists their fifty-year-old son, Jack. Gary Norman’s sullen, depressed Jack has his own problems. He is in the process of working out a divorce with his wife, and he is disappointed by his own son’s inability to find a path for himself. Even more troubling for Jack is a lingering fear that Gunner might not ever have really loved him.

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