Sense and Sensibility

Going, going, gone: 2019 in review

A look back at the ups and downs and curious side trips of the year on Oregon's cultural front

What a year, right? End of the teens, start of the ’20s, and who knows if they’ll rattle or roar?

But today we’re looking back, not ahead. Let’s start by getting the big bad news out of the way. One thing’s sure in Oregon arts and cultural circles: 2019’s the year the state’s once-fabled craft scene took another staggering punch square on the chin. The death rattles of the Oregon College of Art and Craft – chronicled deeply by ArtsWatch’s Barry Johnson in a barrage of news stories and analyses spiced with a couple of sharp commentaries, Democracy and the arts and How dead is OCAC? – were heard far and wide, and the college’s demise unleashed a flood of anger and lament.

The crashing and burning of the venerable craft college early in the year followed the equally drawn-out and lamented closure of Portland’s nationally noted Museum of Contemporary Craft in 2016, leaving the state’s lively crafts scene without its two major institutions. In both cases the sense that irreversible decisions were being made with scant public input, let alone input from crafters themselves, left much of the craft community fuming. When, after the closure, ArtsWatch published a piece by the craft college’s former president, Denise Mullen, the fury hit the fan with an outpouring of outraged online comments, most by anonymous posters with obvious connections to the school.

Vanessa German, no admittance apply at office, 2016, mixed media assemblage, 70 x 30 x 16 inches, in the opening exhibit of the new Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art at Portland State University. Photo: Spencer Rutledge, courtesy PSU

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Sense & Sensibility, deftly matched

Suddenly the Dashwood sisters are all over Oregon. Clackamas Rep is on the boards with its version of Jane Austen's lively and enduring tale.

The problem, as so often in the novels of Jane Austen, is entailment, that peculiar institution among the British of willing estates only to the male heirs of the line, leaving the women bereft, or at least forced to move to modest cottages in the countryside. The problem, further, is how to deal with such reduced circumstances (and indeed, with the vagaries of life): by leading with the head, or the heart, or some creative combination of the two. The anticipation, of both head and heart, is to achieve a state of marital happiness that, in a troubled and troublesome world, will also suffice in the economic realm. Money might not buy happiness, but it does provide stability, and stability is that soil in which true romance and contentment of the soul can grow and prosper.

Sam Levi as Edward Ferrars, Kailey Rhodes as Elinor Dashwood in Clackamas Rep’s “Sense and Sensibility.” Photo: Sam Ortega

So welcome to the Dashwood sisters, central figures in Miss Austen’s 1813 novel Sense and Sensibility (which was published at first anonymously, under the moniker “By a Lady”). When we meet them, in Clackamas Repertory Theatre’s new production of Kate Hamill’s episodic stage adaptation, their father has just died, leaving his estate to John, his weakling son from his first marriage, who is led about by the nose by his shrewish and selfish wife Fanny, who persuades John that his father’s deathbed instruction to him that he provide for his half-sisters and their mother doesn’t really mean what it seems. And so the sisters – sensible Elinor and romantic Marianne, primarily, but also younger Margaret and their mother, who quietly copes – find themselves tossed out of their manorial home and onto the mercies of Mrs. Dashwood’s distant relative Sir John Middleton, who proves himself an amiable and generous fellow and helps them settle in to a pleasant but modest cottage, where the girls’ prospects, nevertheless, are severely reduced: to put it bluntly, no fortune, no fortunate match.

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DramaWatch Weekly: Summerfest!

CoHo's short-run festival and the Risk/Reward fest put the movement into theater. Also: "Sense and Sensibility," last chance for "Fences."

A year ago, when Sayda Trujillo approached Jessica Wallenfels about directing a solo performance she was developing, she had a particular contribution in mind.

“She did come to me with a very specific ask: ‘I want this to be physically demanding and difficult, and I want your help with that,’” Wallenfels recalls.

Trujillo is hardly a stranger to physicality herself — she teaches voice and movement at the Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre. Nor, for that matter, to solo shows — she’s created three previous ones that have been presented internationally, including at such prestigious theatrical incubators as REDCAT in Los Angeles. But she and Wallenfels have some familiarity with each other as well, having met as undergraduates at California Institute of the Arts and later taught together at California State Summer School of the Arts. Wallenfels, a multi-faceted Portland artist, brought expertise as one of the top theater choreographers in the Northwest.

Sayda Trujillo in her solo show “Right, Up, Left (Definitely Oops!.” She’ll perform “Win the War or Tell Me a Story” at CoHo Summerfest.

The resulting show, Win the War or Tell Me a Story, serves as the kick-off to CoHo Summerfest 2018, beginning Thursday, June 28. It should make a fine introduction, reflecting CoHo Theater’s longstanding interest in solo performance and personal storytelling, yet also hinting at the distinguishing characteristic of this year’s selections, which are more movement-oriented overall.

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