Note to Self

ArtsWatch Weekly: Triffle on a cloud, a lobster in the tank

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

Carol Triffle is Portland’s most prominent stage absurdist, a quiet comic renegade who makes a virtue of never connecting the dots. Her theater is whimsical, outrageous, so ordinary that it defies the ordinary, stretching it into cosmic pretzel shapes. It’s an anti-theater, almost, bopping narrative on the nose and then ducking around the corner to put on clown makeup and reappear as something utterly different, yet somehow also just the same. At its worst, it falls apart. At its best, it feels a bit like watching Lucille Ball or Danny Kaye caught inside a spinning clothes dryer and howling to get out. Head-scratching occurs at a Triffle show, and the audience can be divided between those who adore the effect and those who simply scratch their heads.

Source, Fagan, Hale, on a sofa, on a cloud, in a funk. Imago Theatre photo.

Sorce, Fagan, Hale, on a sofa, on a cloud, in a funk. Imago Theatre photo.

Francesca, Isabella, Margarita on a Cloud, Triffle’s newest show at Imago Theatre (where she is co-founder and, with partner Jerry Mouawad, creator of the mask-and-costume phenomenon Frogz), is the story, if that’s the right word, of three sisters who feud inseparably, supporting one another through thin and thin. Margarita (Ann Sorce, an Imago vet who’s utterly internalized Triffle’s madcap expressionist style) is the one who won all the beauty contests. Francesca (Megan Skye Hale) is the one who lost all the same beauty contests. Isabella (Elizabeth Fagan), the baby, is the one who seems to have just accidentally starred in a porno film. Isabella’s boyfriend RayRay (Kyle Delamarter) and Margarita’s fella Bob the Weatherman (Sean Bowie) drop in now and again, eager, somehow, to attach to the sisterly scene.

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A tribe of artists, noting the self

Review: Adrienne Flagg and company's "Note to Self" at CoHo crosses generational boundaries in revealing ways

In Note to Self, a chorus of humans explores longing, discovery, warmth, desperation, hurt, patience, resilience and strength to weave together a tapestry of shared experiences across the last 75 years from different vantage points.

The new play, created and directed by Adrienne Flagg and presented with CoHo Productions, begins in the open-armed tragedies of childhood and sets into motion a stirring, fluid, well-choreographed cast. Childhood can be a time when innocence becomes tarnished by the experience of becoming an adult, and the play, developed by Flagg and the performers over many months, holds nothing back. The chorus is consistent and on the move, at one moment arching like the elegant plumes of a dark night that might destroy the last moments of sun, then breaking easily into a dignified dance toward a piercing ray of light. It’s a well-thought-out arrangement balancing the movement of a group and the force of an individual. Just as the performers’ bodies move in unison and off into singular persons, the twelve voices speak out at times with equally weighted and counterpointed words as an idea rounds out.

Armond Jam Frazier, dancing.

Armond Jam Frazier, dancing.

The dance of becoming an adolescent is tempered by the almost surreal imagination of childhood, the ideas that come from not knowing the rules of engagement, a precious place where anything and everything is embraced and possible: “I was sure someone French or Californian were my real parents.” “I got kicked out of the Bluebirds for writing a poem about a Mexican bar.”

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Note to Self, across time

Adrienne Flagg and actors collaborate on an adventure into identity and character at different stages in life

Imagine for a moment — as most of us have at one time or another — that you could go back in time and talk to yourself at a younger age, imparting hard-won wisdom and warnings. Then there are those moments when you wish you could see things the way you did early on, when you were full of energy and passionate hope, when life seemed simpler.

Just as useful might be the foresight and perspective – at any age – to recognize life’s lessons as they come along. And make a note to self.

All three of those notions course through a fascinating play premiering Friday night at CoHo Theater. Note to Self, devised by producer/director Adrienne Flagg in collaboration with the show’s performers, revolves around the stories of a half-dozen characters, each a composite played by two actors, one younger, one older. Together, these stories form what the show’s website calls “a personal examination of how individuals change and grow over time.”

The cast members range in age from 23 to 80. Some, such as Jane Fellows and Chris Porter, are highly regarded veterans of the city’s theater scene; others have never been in a play before. Male, female, black, white, straight, gay, transgender, etc. – the perspectives are diverse, but ultimately speak less to divides than to commonalities. All have shared stories of their own lives, and together they’ve created a kind of theatrical mosaic that sparkles with reflections on ideals and identity, family and society, love and loss, dreams and disappointments.

 

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The two character known as George – Rabbit carrying Tim Stapleton – during a workshop on the Sandy River. Photo: Brent Barnett

The two character known as George – Rabbit carrying Tim Stapleton – during a workshop on the Sandy River. Photo: Brent Barnett

“Note to Self… take the chance.”

Artistic inspiration often travels mysterious paths, but even so it might come as a surprise that Note to Self has its origins in Shakespeare. Specifically, bad Shakespeare.

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ArtsWatch Weekly: the kindness of strangers and the skin of our teeth

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

Here it is, the middle of May, and suddenly Portland’s theater season is entering its final stretch before summer, which brings its own busy theater mini-season, indoors and out. The city’s two biggest companies open shows this weekend, both high-profile American classics and both due for a fresh look.

Flickering desire: "Streetcar" at Portland Center Stage. Photo: Patrick Weishampel/blankeye.tv.

Flickering desire: “Streetcar” at Portland Center Stage. Photo: Patrick Weishampel/blankeye.tv.

On Friday, Portland Center Stage opens its revival of Tennessee Williams’ rough, sensual, groundbreaking A Streetcar Named Desire, which in its 1947 debut featured Jessica Tandy as Blanche, Kim Hunter as Stella, and a smoldering hunk of muscle named Marlon Brando as Stanley. Center Stage has come up with a new Southern strategy, rethinking the play in a thoroughly multiracial milieu, with national players Kristen Adele as Stella, Demetrius Grosse as Stanley, and Diedrie Henry (a onetime regular at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival) as Blanche. Can we depend on the kindness of strangers?

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