Mika Aono

‘Caught up in the riptide’: ‘Sweat’ at Linfield Theatre

Lynn Nottage's drama of working-class life is difficult and ambitious -- and Linfield College is putting on a production that leaves the audience gobsmacked

You might be forgiven lowered expectations when a college theater launches a production of a work as ambitious and difficult as Lynn Nottage’s Sweat, which opened last week at Linfield College in McMinnville and continues this weekend. Actors lack the experience generally seen on a professional stage; some may not have had theater training beyond the rehearsals. Young people who perhaps haven’t even thought of having children play parents, etc. It’s not ideal.

All that said, Linfield’s Sweat, which I saw on opening night, is a triumph and reminder that local theater can leave you as gobsmacked as anything you might see in Portland or Ashland. After the heartbreaking final scene, there were tears in the audience. During a talkback session, one audience member quietly noted that she couldn’t talk about it; she needed some time. One man said, “I’ve lived that.” I saw the play in 2015 at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, so I knew how it ends. And I was gobsmacked all over again.

I found myself sitting almost dead center, next to Ronni LaCroute, whose sponsorship helped make the production — and the hiring of guest director Adleane Hunter — possible. Behind me was Miles Davis, the college’s president. He’d brought with him a young man from McMinnville High School who had, apparently, never seen a play before. I can’t even. Talk about setting the bar high! Who knows what seed that experience planted? All told, it was a memorable evening.

Nicole Tigner (left) plays Jessie and Elise Martin plays Tracey in a scene from Lynn Nottage's Pulitzer Prize-winning “Sweat,” which continues its run at Linfield College Theater in McMinnville 7 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. Photo courtesy: Linfield College Theatre
Nicole Tigner (left) plays Jessie and Elise Martin plays Tracey in a scene from Lynn Nottage’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “Sweat,” which continues at 7 p.m. Thursday through Saturday at Linfield College Theatre. Photo courtesy: Linfield College Theatre

Sweat opens with two tense exchanges. A parole officer (Linfield junior Robert Santos, lending solid credibility to the play’s smallest role) interviews two parolees: Jason (Sam Hannigan, a junior from Hood River) is an angry young man sporting white supremacist tattoos who seems coiled to strike at any moment, and Chris, a young black man (played by Isaiah Alexander, one of three guest artists featured in the cast) who is more subdued and defeated. We learn that they’ve been in prison several years and recently met for the first time since an incident that got them locked up. Yes, the audience eventually sees what the incident was, and yes, it’s horrible.

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Calendar: Fiber arts, author talks, musical theater and whimsical cello

It's a busy month in Yamhill County, with art openings, open mics, author readings, romantic comedy, and music ranging from chamber to Latin jazz

It’s one of those weeks that illustrates the rich artistic and cultural opportunities that abound even in small Oregon towns — a reminder that one need not live in Portland to see good shows and films or hear authors speak. Let’s get to it, in more or less chronological order:

CURRENTS GALLERY IN DOWNTOWN McMINNVILLE just closed a show displaying the work of many fiber artists, only to follow it with another featuring the work of a single artist. Marlene Eichner, one of the gallery’s many owners, unveiled Just Say Sew on Monday, featuring one-of-a-kind wall hangings, pillows, purses, and screens. Stylistically, the collection is all over the map, ranging from the extremes of abstract and realism, and made using an equally diverse range of techniques. I popped in briefly during the installation and was struck by the painterly look of the pieces. The show runs through Nov. 10. A reception is scheduled during McMinnville’s 3rd on 3rd art and wine walk.

"Happy Place," by Marlene Eichner, was made with mosaic and applique techniques and is based on a watercolor by an artist friend, Joan Weins. Eichner calls it a "stylized representational landscape." Photo courtesy: Marlene Eichner
“Happy Place,” by Marlene Eichner, is made with mosaic and applique techniques and is based on a watercolor by an artist friend, Joan Weins. Eichner calls it a “stylized representational landscape.” Photo courtesy: Marlene Eichner

Eichner has been working with fabrics most of her life. Her mother made all her clothes through high school, and she made her own clothes and dolls in junior high home-economics classes. She has a degree in English literature and worked in California’s public sector after her daughter was born, while continuing to dabble in various artistic forms.

“When I retired at 54, I returned to my sewing roots and started a serious cottage industry, merging art and fabric,” she said. “I have made everything conceivable with fabric, including purses, pillows, banners, room screens, etc., starting with traditional projects and styles and gradually gaining confidence to evolve into serious fine art.”

Marlene Eichner unveiled her new fabric show at Currents Gallery in McMinnville this week. The show runs through Nov. 10. Photo by: David Bates
Marlene Eichner unveiled her new fabric show at Currents Gallery in McMinnville this week. The show runs through Nov. 10. Photo by: David Bates

She focuses on wall pieces using not only traditional quilting/piecing techniques, applique, and mosaic, but also incorporating free-style, free-motion machine thread-painting, and embroidery.  “My interest is in the interplay of light and color when using disparate fabrics to form a cohesive finished product,” she said. “So I play with many genres, from very abstract pieces, to both stylized and detailed representational pieces.”

Eichner said she uses either the highest quality fabric she can find, or she makes it herself in one of three ways: She’ll photocopy items such as textured paper and plant material, scan, and even manipulate them digitally, and then print on treated fabric.

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