Lance Nuttman

Gallery Theater steps back on the boards

The McMinnville theater reopens with Lance Nuttman in a one-man show about quarantine, connection, and the nature of inspiration

A play is an odd artistic creature that inhabits three time zones simultaneously: The time it was conceived and written, the period in which it is set, and finally, any time that it is performed. These zones can overlap, though not necessarily.

Alessandro Baricco’s play Novecento (translated by Ann Goldstein) is set in the early 20th century. It first appeared as a short story in the 1990s and was first performed in 2010 in London. But for Gallery Theater in McMinnville, it’s that final temporal plane that lends this short, single-actor piece an outsized significance that will not be lost on the audience and is definitely on the mind of the performer. It will be the first live theater on Gallery’s main stage since it went dark in March 2020.

“I am very aware of how utterly lucky I am to even have this opportunity,” actor Lance Nuttman told me earlier this month. “To be able to return to the stage is what every single creative wants right now. The gravity of how important this return is to all of us is not lost on me for a moment.”

Lance Nuttman rehearses the role of Tim Tooney in “Novecento” on the Gallery Theater stage in McMinnville. Photo by: Seth Renne, courtesy Gallery Theater
Lance Nuttman rehearses the role of Tim Tooney in “Novecento” on the Gallery Theater stage in McMinnville. Photo by: Seth Renne, courtesy Gallery Theater

Gallery opens the nine-show run Friday, May 28, and continues it through June 13. The play was on the schedule before, but set in the theater’s black box studio. It’s moved to the main stage so a limited, masked audience can be spread out safely.

The McMinnville theater’s Novecento exemplifies the artistic cross-pollination common to the Willamette Valley’s theater community. A few years ago, Randall Tosh, artistic director of The Verona Studio in Salem, approached theater veteran Ed Schoaps, who has made Pentacle Theatre across the river his home base since the mid-1970s, with the script and asked him to direct.

“When I read it, I immediately thought of Lance,” Schoaps told me. “I called Randall and I said, ‘OK, I’m interested in doing the show, but I have someone in mind to play this part.’ He said, ‘Is it Lance Nuttman?’ And I said, ‘Yeah.’ And he said, “I was thinking the same thing.’”

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Art from the quarantine life

Artists emerge from the shutdown with work created in isolation, and live theater returns to the Yamhill County stage

Cultural life in Yamhill County hasn’t returned to pre-pandemic levels of activity, but the engine is revving louder these days. People are making plans, holding rehearsals, scheduling summer art camps. We won’t see a full-scale Aquilon Music Festival or Terroir Creative Writing Festival until probably next year, but optimism is in the air.

To begin this week, a delightful new exhibit at the Chehalem Cultural Center in Newberg addresses a question that’s been on my mind since mid-March 2020: What will artists do with this? How will they spend their time? How will a historic, life-changing pandemic translate to the stage, page, and canvas?

From Gesture to Jester: Finding the Reality of Memory, by Molly Van Austen and Joe Robinson, begins to answer those questions with sketches and sculpture — work done while living the quarantine life.

Joe Robinson says his “East Creek Vessel [2]” (20 by 17 inches) is a “culmination of skill and community.” During firing, Robinson and his students burn 10 cords of wood and produce 1,000 or more pots. “These works speak for themselves as pieces that couldn't be made by a single artist, given their size and firing method.” Behind the pot, Molly Van Austen’s 175-foot scroll snakes through the Parrish Gallery. Photo by: David Bates
Joe Robinson says his “East Creek Vessel [2]” (20 by 17 inches) is a “culmination of skill and community.” During firing, Robinson and his students burn 10 cords of wood and produce 1,000 or more pots. “These works speak for themselves as pieces that couldn’t be made by a single artist, given their size and firing method.” Behind the pot, Molly Van Austen’s 175-foot scroll snakes through the Parrish Gallery. Photo by: David Bates

Robinson owns East Creek community art studio outside Willamina, where this summer he’ll host workshops and camps that give participants a chance to fire ceramics in his 40-foot anagama wood-fired kiln. His large, beautiful pots are positioned around Chehalem’s Parrish Gallery, and in the show notes he reflects on his art, “a process that can only be accomplished when many hands come together, a coming together that our society deeply craves as the pandemic has forced us into isolation.

“As artifacts of process and community,” he continues, “these vessels display the evidence of micro-geology driven by humans and recorded in stone through flame.”

Weaving among Robinson’s majestic ceramics is a single, 175-foot-long roll of paper on which Canby artist Van Austen used graphite and colored pencils to record, day by day, her memories and imaginings over our pandemic year. COVID-19 wasn’t her first pandemic; she also lived through the polio epidemic of the mid-20th century.

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‘The Graduate’ on the edge

The #MeToo movement raises challenges for Gallery Theater's production of the 1960s tale of seduction and the American dream

The hottest theater ticket in Yamhill County this week is unquestionably at Gallery Players of Oregon in McMinnville, where a three-week run of The Graduate (yes, that Graduate) opens Friday.

Terry Johnson’s adaptation of Charles Webb’s novel (which became an award-winning film starring Dustin Hoffman) will be performed in the Arena, the smaller of Gallery’s two stages with seating for about 80. Inside the company, it’s known as a venue for Gallery’s edgy productions — plays that might offend, or lesser known plays not expected to draw an audience that would fill the main, 236-seat auditorium. Given that The Graduate’s most popular incarnation is more than 40 years old, the play may be relatively obscure. Given the subject matter (an explicitly rendered, sexually charged extramarital affair), it also falls into edgy territory for Yamhill County audiences.

Benjamin Braddock (John Davis Jr.) decides to follow the lead of Mrs. Robinson (Holly Spencer) in Gallery Theater's production of “The Graduate,” which opens Friday, July 26, in McMinnville. Photo by: EKay Media, courtesy Gallery Theater
Benjamin Braddock (John Davis Jr.) decides to follow the lead of Mrs. Robinson (Holly Spencer) in Gallery Theater’s production of “The Graduate,” which opens Friday, July 26, in McMinnville. Photo by: EKay Media, courtesy Gallery Theater

Based on what I’ve seen and what I’ve heard from other actors, Arena shows have drawn larger audiences in recent years. One hopes that The Graduate does as well, for here is an opportunity for audiences to see the artistic alchemy that can happen when a talented and seasoned actor takes a spin in the director’s chair.

Having been involved with Gallery since the late 1990s, I’ve known some people involved in the production for years and in a couple of cases have worked with them on stage. Surprisingly, I’d never spoken with the director until we sat down to chat about this show.

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