Readers Theatre Rep

DramaWatch: Orwell’s doubleplusgood oldthink

The week in Portland theater features Artists Rep talking totalitarianism in "1984," Fake Radio turning back the clock, Shakespeare in the house, and more.

Here in mid-September, school is back in session, so that means that somewhere some teen is reading Nineteen Eighty-Four. Lots of teens in lots of places, more than likely. As did so many of us, I read George Orwell’s famous dystopian novel in high school and found it both fascinating and (even though the titular time-frame was yet a few years away then) prescient. 

But, having not revisited the book in more than 40 years, I do not remember the appendix.

“The Principles of Newspeak,” a linguistic essay following the familiar story, serves a central role in 1984, the 2013 stage adaptation that opens Artists Repertory Theatre’s season. Playwrights  Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan use the appendix, which uses the past tense in discussing the totalitarian government and its use of ideologically coercive language, as the basis of a framing device for the stage, presenting a group of people discussing the story from an historical remove. 

“Far from being a shallow postmodern device,” Variety wrote about a 2014 production at London’s Almeida Theater, “this adds a further layer of creepiness to the tale, allowing us to see the nightmare as something not in the future but in the near past.”

Fight the power. Winston Smith (Chris Harder) goes against government in Artists Rep’s stage version of George Orwell’s 1984.

The year 1984 is by now roughly equidistant from the time the novel was published and our present moment. Time and dates aren’t all that essential to Orwell’s social critique, which, like all literary dystopias, is as much descriptive as speculative. Which is another way of underlining the depressingly enduring relevance of the tale. 

Continues…

DramaWatch: the naked and the nude

The first two weeks in May bring Portland stages a bundle of shows straddling the territory between the real and the ideal

This Saturday, as it turns out, is World Naked Gardening Day, and don’t worry, neighbors, I’m not taking part: I’m not really much of a gardener. The revelation, however, makes me think of another spot of news I got a few days ago from my friend Gerald Stiebel, in his weekly column Missives From the Art World. Gerald was writing about Monumental, the new show of nude paintings by the 20th and 21st century master Lucian Freud, at Acquavella Gallery in New York, and in it he discusses the fine line between nudity and nakedness:

“The renowned British art historian, Sir Kenneth Clark, in his 1956 book, The Nude: A Study of Ideal Art, made a distinction between the Naked and the Nude, considering the nude as an ideal representation of the naked body. By Clark’s definition Freud’s works are not nudes but might be called naked portraits.

An intimate theater in the flesh: Lucian Freud, “Benefits Supervisor Sleeping,” 1995, private collection, at Acquavella Gallery.

“Freud himself wrote, ‘Being naked has to do with making a more complete portrait; a naked body is somehow more permanent, more factual … when someone is naked there is in effect nothing to be hidden. Not everyone wants to be that honest about themselves; that means I feel an obligation to be equally honest in how I represent them. It is a matter of responsibility. In a way I don’t want the painting to come from me, I want it to come from them. It can be extraordinary how much you can learn from someone by looking very carefully at them without judgment.’”

Hardly anyone would call Freud’s often massive portraits ideals of the human form. They can seem grotesque: hills and vales and fissures and folds of flesh; fantastic landscapes of skin. And yet they hide nothing, at least visually: They exude humility, openness, a sense of natural animal humanness, vulnerable and unguarded.

Continues…

Mary McDonald-Lewis knows how to talk.

More importantly, she knows how to teach others how to talk. If you’ve been to more than a few theater productions in Portland, chances are strong that you’ve heard her work, which falls into the category of valuable contributions that ideally you won’t quite notice. As a dialect coach (or “voice & language consultant,” or various other job descriptions) she’s contributed to innumerable shows and trained many more performers.

A skilled voice actor herself, of course, she’s also made an impact locally and nationally as a labor activist. As ArtsWatch tracked her down earlier this week, she was in the midst of packing for a quick trip to Los Angeles to help negotiate a new SAG-AFTRA (Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) contract covering voice work for animation.

Mary McDonald-Lewis, a.k.a. “Mary Mac,” is best known as a voice actor and dialect coach, but has a varied role in the theater world.

Mary Mac, as she’s widely known, knows how to talk in the more casual sense as well. That is, she’s a delightful conversationalist — quick-witted, knowledgeable, curious, engaging. We met at an airy Italian joint in her longtime Northeast Portland neighborhood to talk Shakespeare — she’s directing a production of The Tempest at the Steep and Thorny Way to Heaven — but she first spoke enthusiastically about the show’s producers, Megan Skye Hale and Myrrh Larsen, and the creative performance space they’ve nurtured beneath the Hawthorne Bridge.

“They’re kind of one of the young power couples of Portland arts,” she says of Hale (who’ll play Ariel in this production) and Larsen. “They’re both classic and modern at the same time. They have a real fascination with classical work, especially Shakespeare…And they’re very modern in terms of inclusiveness, cross-gender and multi-gender casting, and their overall approach to the work. It’s not politics with them, it’s passion: It’s just the way that art should be made.”

When I mentioned that I’d not been to the Steep and Thorny Way, McDonald-Lewis fairly glowed about it. “You sort of expect Sherlock to emerge from the steam,” she said of its gritty neighborhood near the river. “It’s this dark heart that just runs on love. They are scrappy and they dream big. Some real magic comes off that tiny stage.”

Continues…

DramaWatch Weekly: Pop-up City

It's a week for short runs, from Chekhov to Twilight in L.A. – plus full-run shows on Patsy Cline, the Irish Troubles, and a sex crime coverup

Pop-up restaurants. Pop-up bars. Pop-up nightclubs, galleries, boutiques, publishing houses, concerts. We’re living in a pop-up world, so why not pop-up theater?

The traditional method of producing is to start a theater company, announce a season, and run a half-dozen shows for several weeks at a time. That still dominates, especially in the nonprofit theater world.

But more and more, quick-hit shows are spicing up the scene. You might not see reviews of them very often, because they’re in and out, here and gone. But a growing number of  producers and performers are taking advantage of short-run opportunities, and it takes a little scrambling to keep up.

What is the Fertile Ground Festival but a massive series of pop-ups? What about a company like Boom Arts, which exists to bring in a steady stream of political or experimental shows from around the world for very brief runs? What about the several play-reading series in town? And it’s not just small lean groups popping up and down. The two biggest theater companies in town, Portland Center Stage at The Armory and Artists Repertory Theatre, are playing the short-run, special-event game, too.

Continues…