Michael Streeter

‘Human Noise’: Music in Carver Land

Imago Theatre's choreographed take on Raymond Carver short stories may activate your interpretive juices

“Bill and Arlene Miller were a happy couple. But now and then they felt they alone among their circle had been passed by somehow.”

That’s how Raymond Carver’s 1970 story “Neighbors” begins, and that’s exactly how Imago’s version of the story in “Human Noise” begins, too, with the narration. Also with Nathan Wonder, Danielle Vermette, Michael Streeter and Carol Triffle on stage, the bare outlines of two apartments, and a percussive score (Kyle Delamarter is the sound designer) in the background.

Michael Streeter and Carol Triffle in “Human Noise” at Imago Theatre/Photo by Jerry Mouawad

Streeter and Triffle take over the narration and dialogue after their neighbors in the story, Wonder and Vermette, leave on vacation, reciting Carver’s words, punctuated by the odd fling of the arm when a sudden, loud percussion cue demands it. The story turns weird: Bill goes over to his neighbors’ apartment to feed their cat, and alone in that space, he starts to explore. “The air was already heavy and it was vaguely sweet.” He tends to kitty, then opens the liquor cabinet and takes a couple of pulls from a bottle of Chivas Regal (an imaginary bottle, actually). When he returns to Arlene, he finds himself in an amorous mood.

“What kept you?” Arlene said. She sat with her legs turned under her, watching television.

“Nothing. Playing with Kitty,” he said, and went over to her and touched her breasts.

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Who’s afraid of a casting switch?

Portlander Michael Streeter thought he was going to produce "Virginia Woolf." Edward Albee's Trust said no. Why? Because Streeter had cast a black actor.

Producer Michael Streeter had been planning since November 2016 for his production of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, intended to appear at Portland’s Shoebox Theatre in September. There was only one hurdle to clear before officially being granted the rights to perform the play, which he had on hold with theatrical publishers Samuel French: he sent headshots of the cast off to the Albee Estate for approval.

The cast of Woolf consists of four characters: a middle-aged married couple (George and Martha, famously played by Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in the 1966 film), and a younger married couple (Nick and Honey). On May 15, Streeter got a call from the Albee Estate asking for him to elaborate on his choice of actor for the role of Nick. Streeter had cast a black actor, and was happy to explain why.

As he said to me by email, “This was a color conscious choice, not a colorblind choice. I believe casting Nick as black adds depth to the play. The character is an up and comer. He is ambitious and tolerates a lot of abuse in order to get ahead. I see this as emblematic of African Americans in 1962, the time the play was written. The play is filled with invective from Martha and particularly George towards Nick. With each insult that happens in the play, the audience will wonder, ‘Are George and Martha going to go there re. racial slurs?’”


Playwright Edward Albee, in an undated photo. UH Photographs Collection, 1948-2000/Wikimedia Commons

The Albee Estate was not convinced. They insisted that the actor be fired and the role be recast. Streeter refused. So the estate refused to grant the rights to the show. Streeter, shocked, took to Facebook: “I am furious and dumbfounded. The Edward Albee Estate needs to join the 21st Century. I cast a black actor in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? The Albee Estate called and said I need to fire the black actor and replace him with a white one. I refused, of course. They have withdrawn the rights.”

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ArtsWatch Weekly: bellying up to the barre

A look at the week that was in Oregon arts. A glimpse ahead at the week that's going to be.

So a terrific dancer walks into a barre and decides to write down what she sees and feels and does. Six years after Gavin Larsen retired from Oregon Ballet Theatre as a principal dancer and mainstay of the company’s halcyon years, dance followers in Portland still marvel at the memory of her energy and grace onstage. She was “a superb, elegantly balanced, dramatically engaged dancer,” as I wrote about her 2009 performance in Josie Moseley’s Hold My Hand at Conduit.

You could pretty much say that about her writing, too: after all, writing is its own form of performance. Larsen has forged a new career as a writer and a teacher since leaving OBT, publishing in publications as diverse as Dance Magazine and The Threepenny Review. She’s contributed to Oregon ArtsWatch, too, training her perceptions on the role of ballet masters in the 20th century, the legacy of the late studio pianist Robert Huffman, and the path to stardom of Northwest Dance Project’s Ching Ching Wong, among other stories.

Gavin Larsen at the barre: everyday ballerina. Photo: Ashby Baldock

Gavin Larsen at the barre: everyday ballerina. Photo: Ashby Baldock

Starting Sunday, Larsen’s writing for ArtsWatch will get more personal. That’s the day we’ll begin publishing Everyday Ballerina: The Shaping of a Dancer, a twelve-part daily series of reminiscences and turning points that pulls back the curtains and gives us inside glimpses of the challenges, uncertainties, and triumphs of the dancers’ life. Just a taste of the style you can look forward to, from Gavin’s recollections of performing in The Rite of Spring: “Some people sweat a lot more than others, and even those who are not heavy sweaters begin to pour and drip as soon as extreme exertion is finished and they are slowly, stealthily, creeping and crawling and oozing their way across the stage to become part of a huge, undulating, slimy mass of dancers twister-ing themselves into the towering pile of limbs we called the Human Monolith.”

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Stormy weather: a ‘Tempest’ erupts

Original Practice Shakespeare takes to the parks with a light squall of a 'Tempest' and 12 other plays performed in a heady improv style

Those no-good dirty scoundrels (now known as actors, but in Shakespeare’s time as players) would often steal word-for-word whole scenes of dialogue from a rival company’s show. Queen Elizabeth had no bureau for copyright affairs, so instead players were given their lines on little “roles,” or scrolls, soon before a play began. That meant no time for them to brush up their Shakespeare, little to no props, and being on their A-game. A player had to keep a good tongue in his head, or a battery of rotten produce and shouts would be hurled at him from the raucous audience. Each person in the cheaper seats spent about a penny a show – one whole day’s wages, so the play had to be good.

Since 2009, Portland’s Original Practice Shakespeare Festival has been staging the Bard in this traditional anarchic manner for free in parks throughout the city. This 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death has the team of actors bringing to life his celebrated words in 21 performances. Players are chosen shortly before the action begins, so each performance is unique and each interpretation of the role is unique. Original Practice Shakespeare wants you, the audience, to go back to “simpler times:” boo, laugh, mock, applaud. Take the attitude of Mr. Shakespeare’s words: “Hell is empty and all the devils are here.” Throw out all the decorum that your blue-haired grandma worked so diligently to foster in you.

Wizarding in the park: Michael Streeter as in impromptu Caliban. Photo: Christa Morletti McIntyre

Wizarding in the park: Michael Streeter as in impromptu Caliban. Photo: Christa Morletti McIntyre

Sunday’s staging of Shakespeare’s late play the Tempest was held, in great complement to the troupe, at Cathedral Park. In OPS tradition a prompter aids the players, and for this performance the role was filled by Andrew Bray. The prompter follows the script (in the case someone loses their lines), sound effects personnel, and stage directions on the fly. Elizabethan theaters didn’t employ costume designers: instead, the players wore the most expensive (their pocket books could buy) fashions of the time. Original Practice Shakespeare adds to the informality by inviting the audience to participate with a kaleidoscope of costumes. This performance’s Prospero, played by Michael Streeter, wore a faux Kapa Hawaiian shirt and a student-of-Montessori preschool wizard hat, but the fashion disaster only added to elevating his deliveries. He’s a shipwrecked magician on some island, after all.

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