Sara Catherine Wheatley

DramaWatch: Fences & Frogs

The week on stage features an August Wilson classic, a revival of a children's hit, Salt, Swans, Clowns, labor struggles, Todd Van Voris solo

Portland Playhouse has emerged over the past decade as one of the city’s top theaters for a variety of reasons: energetic young leadership, an invitingly casual atmosphere, and early sponsorship that resulted in free beer.

But you might think of it as The House That August Wilson Built. After all, it was a 2010 production of Wilson’s Radio Golf that first amplified the buzz about the young company beyond theater cognoscenti. Since then the Playhouse has had repeated success with Wilson’s majestic depictions of hardscrabble lives in the predominantly African American Hill District of Pittsburgh.

Lester Purry stars as former baseball hero Troy Maxson in August Wilson’s “Fences.” Portland Playhouse photo

The production of Fences opening this weekend is the seventh of Wilson’s epic century cycle of plays to be staged by Portland Playhouse. The story of an ex-baseball star toiling as a garbage man, it deals with the challenges of identity and self-respect for black people in the 1950s. It’s Wilson’s greatest hit, a Pulitzer and Tony winner (and a Denzel vehicle), so Wilson fans won’t want to miss it, and neither should those who don’t yet know the joy. Much more conventionally structured than his other, more discursively poetic works, this is an ideal introduction to Wilson’s enduring themes and settings.

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Sweet Dreams: It’s Patsy Cline time

Sara Catherine Wheatley returns to Broadway Rose for a third go-round as the legendary country star in "Always, Patsy Cline." It's a charm.

You could do far worse in life than to spend an afternoon or evening with Patsy Cline. And for the couple of hours that singer/actor Sara Catherine Wheatley impersonates the great country singer onstage in the musical Always, Patsy Cline at Broadway Rose Theatre, it’s tough to think of anything better, either.

Wheatley, who came from Alabama, lived and worked in Portland from 2007 to 2014, starring in shows as varied as Hairspray, The Drowsy Chaperone, and Cats. She now lives in Nashville, and is back for her third go-round with Patsy at Broadway Rose, repeating her role from runs in 2009 and 2013. It’s like slipping into a pair of boots that grow more comfortable every time you try them on.

Sara Catherine Wheatley in “Always, Patsy Cline.” Photo: Craig Mitchelldyer/2013

Always, Patsy Cline, directed here by Chan Harris, is nominally a play about the night in 1961 when Cline bonded with a fan in Houston, good ol’ gal Louise Seger (played, again, with drawling exuberance by Sharon Maroney), and went home with her after her concert, where they chatted up a storm in the kitchen and living room, talking about kids and men and cooking and the whimsicalities of life. This actually happened, and Patsy and Louise remained friends, writing to each other until Cline died in a plane crash in 1963, at age 30.

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