Sally Field

ArtsWatch Weekly: whale of a week

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

The history of art, in a way, is a history of obsession. And who is more obsessed than Captain Ahab, feverish hounder of the great white whale? Herman Melville, perhaps, creator of the novel Moby-Dick, or, The Whale, and thus creator of the monomaniacal Ahab. Or Orson Welles, the mad genius of the cinema, who attempted to latch on to Melville’s harpoon and ride it to obsessive triumph in an unlikely stage adaptation of a novel that might be both untamable and unadaptable. Or, maybe, Scott Palmer, the adventurous artistic director of Bag&Baggage Productions, who’s taken Moby Dick, Rehearsed, Welles’s obsessive adaptation of Melville’s obsessive novel, and brought it to the B&B stage. In his fascinating (and in its own way, obsessive) review of B&B’s production, ArtsWatch’s Brett Campbell quotes Palmer on the book that started it all: “Moby-Dick isn’t a novel, it is an entire imaginative world. It is massive, bulky, colossal, terrifying, majestic and ultimately unfathomable. It is the physical representation of one man’s will, one artist’s transcendent vision, an entire internal universe externalized …”

Bag&Baggage's magnificent obsession. Casey Campbell Photography

Bag&Baggage’s magnificent obsession. Casey Campbell Photography

Giant whales and such, as Brett points out, have been something of a communal obsession in Portland lately, from Portland Experimental Theatre Ensemble’s season-long serial [or, the whale] to Portland Story Theater’s The Essex, the Northwest Film Center’s Welles-fest, a reading of excerpts from the novel at Portland’s Mother Foucault’s bookshop, and the musically adventurous AnyWhen Ensemble’s Moby-Dick inspired Boldly Launched Upon the Deep.

And how does this magnificent obsession (or cascade of obsessions) work out? Campbell writes: “Neither Ahab nor Melville nor Welles nor Palmer let the challenges of their tasks daunt them. Ahab caught his prey, but it cost him his life and those of his crew. Melville’s novel was widely regarded as a crazy failure in its time, and its overabundance of non-dramatic material still repels many readers. Welles’s misguided attempt to turn so inward-gazing a novel as Moby-Dick into compelling stage drama amounted to hunting a white whale; as Palmer acknowledged in a pre-show talk, it’s perhaps a good thing that Welles devoted himself to filmmaking rather than playwriting. In nevertheless choosing to stage Welles’s whale folly (in his centennial year), Palmer again plays the white knight, this time trying to save the white whale. Does he catch the object of his obsession in this new production and redeem Welles’s hubristic vision? Like the others, it’s a foredoomed, magnificent failure that, if you can stick with it long enough, you ultimately can’t let go of.”

America is, of course, a land of magnificent attempts and magnificent failures, which makes this whole thing seem so, well, American. It’s like a magnificent stab at the great American production of the great American adaptation of the great American novel: Who needs perfection when you’ve got a series of obsessions the size of a great white whale?



Vin Shambry (left), Chantal De Groat, and Chris Harder in "We Are Proud To Presnt ..." Photo: Owen Carey

Vin Shambry (left), Chantal DeGroat, and Chris Harder in “We Are Proud To Present …” Photo: Owen Carey

America is also obsessed with race, and the great stain of its racial history, which continues to trouble and obsess us in everything from policing to housing to job opportunity to our political campaigns, where it is sometimes used like a hidden (or not so hidden) persuader of fear and loathing. ArtsWatch’s Barry Johnson delves into this not-so-magnificent American obsession in his review of Artists Rep’s new production of We Are Proud To Present a Presentation About the Hero of Namibia, Formerly Known as Southwest Africa, from the German Sudwestafrika, Between the Years 1884-1915, Jackie Sibblies Drury’s smart and searing play about race, and our continuing difficulty in talking about it honestly, often even when we have the best of intentions. “We Are Proud to Present is a scorpion of a play,” Johnson writes, “and its tail packs a serious punch made all the more deadly by the light tone of the beginning.”



Tamisha Guy and Vinson Fraley Jr. in Kyle Abraham’s ‘The Getting’. Courtesy White Bird, © Jerry and Lois Photography All rights reserved

Vinson Fraley Jr. and Tamisha Guy in Kyle Abraham’s ‘The Getting.” Courtesy White Bird, © Jerry and Lois Photography. All rights reserved.

And while we’re on the subject: In Kyle Abraham dances about race, Nim Wunnan writes for ArtsWatch about the dance troupe Abraham.In.Motion’s canny and provocative performance in the White Bird series, a trio of works rooted in hip-hop, modern, and contemporary dance. The show “confidently and gracefully engaged both historical and very immediate issues of race and the individual’s place in this culture,” Wunnan says, and adds: “We start to understand in this work that certain movements and positions are almost exclusive to black bodies in this culture. And we rightly start to feel uncomfortable in our seats, notably when the usually vibrant and fluid [Tamisha] Guy sinks to the floor with a leaden exhaustion, face down, with her hands behind her back in an unmistakable position of submission, of arrest. The one Oscar Grant was in when he was shot point blank in the back.” Grant, in case you’ve lost track amid the the seemingly endless string of “incidents” involving police and black citizens, was slain by a Bay Area Rapid Transit policeman in the early hours of New Year’s Day 2009 in Oakland.



Heath Koerschgen and Danielle Weathers in "Davita's Harp." Photo: Friderike Heuer

Heath Koerschgen and Danielle Weathers in “Davita’s Harp.” Photo: Friderike Heuer

A few things to keep in mind on this week’s calendar:

Davita’s Harp. The Jewish Theatre Collaborative has been preparing all season for this world-premiere adaptation (by Jamie M. Rea and director Sacha Reich) of Chaim Potok’s 1985 novel about a contentious family in the New York of the 1930s, as the world is churning toward disaster. Opens Saturday; through April 9 at Milagro Theatre.

Arvo Pärt and The Ensemble. Justin Graff gets us all in the mood for the notable chamber and vocal group’s weekend performances of the mesmerizing music of Pärt, “one of the world’s greatest living composers.” And in A Pärt Pilgrimage, Graff gets considerably more personal, telling the tale of his journey to Talinn to meet the master, of sharing chocolates,  and a session at the keyboard. All pilgrimages should be so rewarding. The performances: 7 p.m. Saturday at Eugene’s Central Lutheran Church; 4 p.m. Sunday at Portland State University’s Lincoln Recital Hall.

Northwest Dance Project. The Portland ensemble’s newest concert is called Louder Than Words, which might be appropriate, because it’s been raising the roof lately with performances in New York and elsewhere. A new work from the company’s talented resident choreographer, Ihsan Rustem, plus one each from artisitic director Sarah Slipper and Brazilian dancemaker/filmmaker Alex Soares. Newark Theatre, Thursday through Saturday.




ArtsWatch links


Wangechi Mutu, “Histology of Different Classes of Uterine Tumors”/Courtesy of PNCA

Wangechi Mutu, “Histology of Different Classes of Uterine Tumors”/Courtesy of PNCA


Wangechi Mutu and the revolt of the female form. Grace Kook-Anderson looks at 511 Gallery’s Northwest premiere exhibition of this post-colonial, feminist, New York-via-Nairobi artist. “Mutu’s women are distorted figures, hybrids of animals and natural elements, bodies that are capable of great force,” she writes.

Michelle De Young: heavy going. What happens when a Wagnerian powerhouse of a voice meets an art song in recital? Katie Taylor went to the acclaimed singer’s Friends of Chamber Music concert and found the combination of voice and material sometimes disconcerting.

Oscar nominee Ciro Guerra: an interview. Erik McClanahan talks with the Colombian-born director of the foreign-language nominee Embrace of the Serpent. Bummed that he didn’t haul home an Oscar? “We were kind of relieved we didn’t win,” Guerra said. “There was a favorite going in and it’s great not to be the favorite. It can be a lot of pressure. Even winning can be a lot of pressure. So we just made the best of it and enjoyed it.”

Toxic glory: Heathers: The Musical. Christa Morletti McIntyre takes a look at the ’80s glory that was the cult teen movie, and the new glory of its musical-theater adaptation, which is is getting a slam-bang co-production from Triangle and Staged!

Born to run (and to film): Wim Wenders, continued. Marc Mohan looks at more of the Northwest Film Center’s fascinating series by the German director. This time around: Paris, Texas; Kings of the Road; The American Friend; The State of Things.

In Mulieribus: hours well spent. Bruce Browne celebrates the “happy marriage” at Mt. Angel Abbey of the outstanding choir’s Renaissance music and exquisite projected art from a medieval book of hours.

Last chance: Jacques Rivette’s twelve-hour Out 1. The French New Wave director’s ambitious, audacious, half-a-day opus has rarely been seen in the past forty-five years, but the Northwest Film Center’s been showing it, cut into digestible segments. Marc Mohan pays his respects.

Bullshot Crummond rides again. Lakewood Theatre’s world-premiere production of the latest Crummond comedy, a sequel to a 1970s parody of the old Bullshot Drummond British adventure series, revels in an old-fashioned sort of fun, Christa Morletti McIntyre writes.

Bolai Cao: abundant talent. It was a propitious meeting at Portland Piano International, Jeff Winslow writes – the rising young pianist Bolai Cao performing a new work by the veteran Oregon composer Bryan Johanson, a piece created in homage to Domenico Scarlatti.

Hello, My Name Is Doris: Sally Field talks about her new movie. ArtsWatch’s Marc Mohan chats with the two-time Oscar winner about her latest turn, as a “socially inept, eccentrically clad” office worker who develops a crush on her younger boss. “Some people have called it a love story, but I think it’s a coming of age story,” she says. “The challenge of being a human being is will we open up to every different stage of our life?”

Johanson and Prochaska: media speak. Borrowing from Marshall McLuhan’s famous dictum “the medium is the message,” Paul Sutinen looks at new shows by veteran painter/printmakers George Johanson and Tom Prochaska and declares the medium does matter.


Tom Prochaska, "Hillside Nevada," 2016, acrylic on canvas, 16 x 20 inches. Photo: Dan Kvitka

Tom Prochaska, “Hillside Nevada,” 2016, acrylic on canvas, 16 x 20 inches. Photo: Dan Kvitka



About ArtsWatch Weekly

We send a letter like this every Tuesday to a select group of email subscribers, and also post it weekly on the ArtsWatch home page. In ArtsWatch Weekly, we take a look at stories we’ve covered in the previous week, give early warning of events coming up, and sometimes head off on little arts rambles we don’t include anywhere else. You can read this report here. Or, you can get it delivered weekly to your email inbox, and get a quick look at all the stories you might have missed (we have links galore) and the events you want to add to your calendar. It’s easy to sign up. Just click here, and leave us your name and e-address.


And finally…

We end with a couple of requests. First, if you have friends or family members who you think would enjoy our cultural writing online, could you please forward this letter to them? The bigger our circle of friends, the more we can accomplish. Second, if you’re not already a member of ArtsWatch, may we ask you to please take a moment and sign on? What you give (and your donation is tax-deductible) makes it possible for us to continue and expand our reporting and commenting on our shared culture in Oregon. Thanks, and welcome!

Become a member now!

Interview: Sally Field discusses her new movie “Hello, My Name Is Doris”

The two-time Oscar winner stars as an office worker of a certain age who develops a crush on her younger boss

Few performers can match the hyperbolic curve of the five-decade career of Sally Field. What other actors have transitioned as seamlessly from the charming, empty-headed world of network television to Oscar-winning glory and the unmitigated respect of their peers?

Even more impressively, perhaps, Field has managed to maintain a length Hollywood career without ever once being tarnished by rumor or scandal. In fact, if you Google “Sally Field” and “scandal,” the worst thing—in fact, the only remotely relevant thing—that comes up is a National Enquirer piece from 2011 that’s below even that tabloid’s subterranean standards.

Isabella Acres and Sally Field in HELLO, MY NAME IS DORIS

Isabella Acres and Sally Field in HELLO, MY NAME IS DORIS

She got her first break playing the titular boy-crazy surfer girl on “Gidget” in 1965, and followed it up with, infamously, “The Flying Nun,” a gig Fields has admitted she despised. Shedding that perky, girl-next-door image wasn’t easy or quick, but studying with Lee Strasberg in the mid-1970s prepared her for her breakthrough, Emmy-winning role as a woman suffering from multiple personality disorder in “Sybil.”

From there, her career prospered on parallel tracks: As the relatable object of Burt Reynolds’ desire in the “Smokey and the Bandit” films and others, Field mined the cuteness that had made her a star. But the genuine fire beneath that diminutive exterior was what landed her two Best Actress Academy Awards in a span of five years, first for the indomitable union organizer in 1979’s “Norma Rae,” then as a Depression-era widow fighting to save the family farm in 1984’s “Places in the Heart.”

It was in her acceptance speech for that second Oscar that Fields uttered the much-parodied line “…you like me, right now, you like me!” (Not “you really like me,” as she’s often misquoted.) Only Katharine Hepburn, with four, has won more Best Actress statues than Field, but since the mid-1990’s, her filmography had been somewhat sparse before a resurgence in recent years.

Field played Peter Parker’s Aunt May in Marc Webb’s 2012 “The Amazing Spider-Man” and its sequel, but it was her performance as Mary Todd Lincoln in Steven Spielberg’s 2013 “Lincoln” that reminded audiences and critics of her talent, and garnered her an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress. It’s hard to imagine two characters more disparate in tone than Gidget and Mary Todd Lincoln, and to have played them both, even nearly fifty years apart, requires a malleable talent.

Field’s new film, while smaller in scale than a Spielbergian history lesson or a super-hero saga, is uniquely suited to the actress’ talents and experience. In “Hello, My Name is Doris,” she plays a socially inept, eccentrically clad woman who is left to fend for herself after her mother dies. Doris is an unusual character—something of a hoarder, and clearly inexperienced in the ways of the world, but functional enough to work an office job in Manhattan that she commutes to from her Staten Island home.

There, after attending a self-empowerment seminar, she develops a crush on her new boss, the much younger John (Max Greenfield of TV’s “New Girl”). Doris’ unrequited affections are played for laughs, but never in a way that diminishes her humanity. And that balancing act succeeds thanks to the unexpectedly sensitive direction of Michael Showalter (“Wet Hot American Summer”) as well as the inexhaustible dignity of Sally Field. No matter how paper-thin her characters, Field has always embodied them as full-fledged individuals, and Doris is no exception.

I had the great pleasure to speak with Field by telephone last week, and she was as gracious and generous with her time as you’d expect.


Q: The first half or so of the movie is relatively light-hearted, but then it takes something of a darker turn as it explores Doris’ personality. Was it a challenge to pivot your performance that way?


A: It was always a dance, how to have that interior going on even though you weren’t really articulating it until certain times when it was finally delivered. It is a dangerous movie in that way, and Michael and I were talking about it all the time. How do you make her a real, three-dimensional person and not a cartoon or a caricature? You have to root her in real places and in what her history’s been.


Q: It almost seems like a microcosm of the way your career has evolved, from these upbeat, perky characters to playing Mary Todd Lincoln. Does that reflect how you’ve been able to evolve as a perfomer?


A: Well, I can’t really answer that. When I did “Gidget” I was seventeen. When I was a child, I spoke as a child, you know? One of the reasons, when I read this screenplay, that I wanted to do it was that it’s a coming of age story. Some people have called it a love story, but I think it’s a coming of age story. The challenge of being a human being is will we open up to every different stage of our life? Or will there come a stage where it opens up and we’re to transition to another part of our existence and we don’t have the courage to do it? Because it’s so frightening to be old and new. Because it’s so vulnerable to not know where to put your feet, and not know what’s expected or what you want. And that doesn’t just happen in adolescence. That’s the big one, but they’re all transitions—from being a toddler to a child, from being an adolescent to a full adult, and then a maturing adult. How do I allow what I am now into my life and fully be it?


Q: Wow, you’re really dropping some knowledge here. That’s some serious wisdom. I’m not sure I can follow that up with “What was it like working with Tyne Daly?” [The onetime “Cagney & Lacey” star plays Doris’ acerbic best friend.]

Tyne Daly and Sally Field in HELLO, MY NAME IS DORIS

Tyne Daly and Sally Field in HELLO, MY NAME IS DORIS

A:  Absolutely you can! Because she surely knows what it is I’m talking about! Tyne and I worked together a kabillion years ago, in regional theater, and we just fell together instantly as if we’d never been apart for one single moment. That’s how good and generous and open she is. Talk about somebody who can do comedy and flip right into sadness! That’s incredibly hard to do.


Q:  I need to ask about Doris’ wardrobe, since even more so than for most characters, it’s an integral part of who she is and our perceptions of her. What sort of input did you have into crafting her look?


A: Total input. Michael wanted me to create the character so I did. I copied her hairdo from a Brigitte Bardot hairdo from 1961, except Bardot’s was blond and with a postiche on top. And we had a great costume designer. Her name is Rebecca Gregg, and she went and collected racks and racks and racks of clothes from the old wardrobe houses—Western Costume, and the Universal wardrobe department. And she went to thrift shops and Goodwill. We had no idea who Doris was. We knew she had to be a certain degree of eccentric, but we didn’t know where that would land. And so I just started playing dress-up, and slowly, something started to emerge, like a picture in a development bath. We started to see who she was.


Q: Michael Showalter comes from a sketch comedy background, and nothing in his previous feature films has the level of empathy or emotionalism that we see in “Doris.” What convinced you that he would be able to help you create a moving, three-dimensional character?


A: I didn’t really know his background. I had seen one of his films, it was really quirky and had a central character that had a sadness to him. You’d have to ask him to get this exactly, but I’ve heard him say that [“Doris”] was the first time that he felt he had his own voice. This is very much Michael. He didn’t want Doris to be somebody you laughed at her expense. That it wasn’t a mean laughter, but more a sense of wanting her to find her way and rooting for her.


Q: Without spoiling anything, what’s your take on the final, enigmatic shot of the film?


A: Well, I can’t really have a take without spoiling it, but we went around a lot about what it should be, and I think we ended up with the perfect choice.


(“Hello, My Name Is Doris” opens on Friday, March 18, at the Living Room Theaters.)