gem of the ocean

At PCS, a season for all sorts.

From "Hair" to "Hedwig" to "Emma" and August Wilson's "Gem," a broad range of stories populates Portland Center Stage's 2020-'21 season.

As is the case with pretty much every large theater company in America, Portland Center Stage is trying to broaden the variety of people whose stories are presented in the plays it produces. For the 2020-2021 season, that variety will include long-haired hippies, passionate painters, Latino wrestlers, German rock singers, ancient African-American healers, Asian-American immigrants, bayou brothers, small-town young lovers, and plenty of whatever you want to call Jane Austen’s characters.

PCS recently announced its programming for next season, and there’s something for, well, perhaps not everyone, but for many sorts of folks.

Portland Center Stage will again celebrate the holidays Austen-tatiously with “Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley.” Photo: Russell J Young

Looked at another way, the ten productions that will be on offer range from musicals to satires, cultural commentaries to intimate glimpses into history, to whatever you want to call light-hearted adaptations of Jane Austen stories.

Season-ticket renewal is open now, and new season tickets become available Friday, March 13. So here’s a quick look at what’s coming (Note: The dates listed likely refer to the full slate of public performances. Official opening of each production may occur later than the first date indicated here.)


Vin Shambry and Brenda Phillips in "Gem of the Ocean"/Courtesy Portland Playhouse

We talk about freedom in lots of ways, don’t we? The Occupy Portland/Occupy Wall Street  protesters, for example, are suggesting to us that we are less free because giant financial institutions and other corporations have a disproportionate influence over our government: They limit and “manage” our freedom.

This past weekend I saw Artists Repertory Theatre’s production of Harold Pinter’s “No Man’s Land,” and I saw that play partly as a meditation on something I’d call existential freedom: To what extent do we have the capacity as humans to be free?  And I saw Oregon Ballet Theatre’s “Petrouchka,” which suggested that freedom is within us, waiting to surface, and that it is connected to love — again a sort of existential argument.

Freedom is at the core of August Wilson’s “Gem of the Ocean,” too, which Portland Playhouse opened last Saturday at the World Trade Center. And yes, how we as humans understand our own freedom is an important part of it. But the occasion for this discussion isn’t an abstract self-analysis or a measurement of degrees. The opposite of the freedom in “Gem of the Ocean” isn’t lack of enlightenment.

It’s slavery. Real slavery. And that gives an edge to the argument, to the characters attempting to find themselves, to our understanding of what profound effects actual slavery in American must have had, even 40 years after the Civil War. And then, when you think about it, even now.