JAW

DramaWatch Weekly: On the Proscenium

Portland Shakes loose a few new plays, Staged! welcomes some alumni home, and new shows open in Portland and Ashland

Michael Mendelson long has been one of Portland’s busiest and most accomplished actors, but even by his standards he has a packed calendar for the coming theater season. He’ll head east to the Midwest later this month to help Nebraska Rep kick off its 2018-19 season, directing David Javerbaum’s divine comedy An Act of God (with Trisha Miller, Mendelson’s co-star in Artists Rep’s 2011 God of Carnage, taking the role of God this time). Once back in town, he’ll be in a string of promising Artists Rep showsSmall Mouth Sounds, Everybody (by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, whose brilliant An Octoroon featured Mendelson last fall) and A Doll’s House, Part 2. He has work in the offing for Profile Theatre, as well.

And — oh, yeah — he heads his own company, too. So before all of that, there’s Portland Shakespeare Project and this weekend’s fourth annual Proscenium Live Festival of New Work, a four-night series of free performances.

Michael Mendelson — in mogul mode from Craig Wright’s “Mistakes Were Made” at Artists Rep in 2013 — has his plate full with acting, directing and leading Portland Shakes. Photo: Owen Carey

Produced in conjunction with the literary journal Proscenium, the festival is something of a family affair. Proscenium is the work of brothers Steve and Billy Rathje, whose mother Karen Rathje is managing director of Portland Shakes and audience services manager for Artists Rep, where the festival will be held. Steve Rathje also is an actor, appearing here in Patrick Wohlmut’s Patchwork Dreams.

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DramaWatch Weekly: time to JAW

Portland Center Stage's new-plays fest hits its stride. Plus: Isaac Lamb on gender and "The Music Man," Rene Denfeld on "Glass Managerie"

Summer stinks.

Sure, the long days are great, but the summer sun is a hot-tempered tyrant. There’s no good basketball to watch. And maybe worst of all, there’s not as much theater to see.

Ah, but then there’s JAW.

Portland Center Stage’s annual playwrights festival is an oasis in the (relative) desert of the summer performance calendar. Originally called Just Add Water/West, it started in 1999 as an offshoot of a similar program at the New York Theater Workshop. Over the years, it has served as an incubator of works by such renowned playwrights as Itamar Moses (Outrage, Celebrity Row), Lauren Gunderson (Parts They Call Deep), Adam Bock (The Thugs, San Diego), Jordan Harrison (Act a Lady, Futura), Constance Congdon (Paradise Street), Marc Acito (Birds of a Feather), Will Eno (Middletown, Gnit), Kimberly Rosenstock (99 Ways to Fuck a Swan), Dan O’Brien (Body of an American), and Yusef El Guindi (Threesome).

This year’s JAW, ready to roll. Photo: Portland Center Stage at the Armory

As useful as JAW is for writers — giving each a director, a dramaturg, a cast, and more than a week for concentrated rehearsals and revisions — its a boon as well for theater fans when it gets around to what PCS calls “the Big Weekend.” That’s when the public gets let into the process for a series of free staged readings, along with other performances and events.
Because the plays being presented are still being developed, there’s not much in the way of production history or reviews to inform our expectations, but you can read brief descriptions of the plays and playwright bios at the PCS website. In any case, the spirit of discovery — both in plays well-polished or those still finding their form — is one of the great pleasures of JAW, along with the lively lobby conversations between readings.

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