Sharonlee McLean

PAMTAs: It’s ‘Scarlet,’ ‘Addams’

Portland Playhouse's adaptation of "The Scarlet Letter" and Broadway Rose's "Addams Family" top Portland's night of musical-theater awards

The 2018 PAMTA awards, Portland’s annual celebration of its year in musical theater, swept into the Dolores Winningstad Theatre in downtown Portland Monday night like a showstopper tune.

Big winners in the award ceremony, hosted by actor Darius Pierce, included outstanding original musical winner Scarlet, Portland Playhouse’s adaptation of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel The Scarlet Letter; and Broadway Rose’s The Addams Family, which took the best-revival PAMTA and, like Scarlet, several individual awards.

Lisamarie Harrison as Morticia in Broadway Rose’s “The Addams Family,” winner of the outstanding revival PAMTA. Photo: Sam Ortega

One of the evening’s highlights was a special “outstanding contribution” award to the popular and highly admired performer Sharonlee McLean.  “Sometimes without even knowing it an actor brings something to the room, something intangible, special, weighty, an asset they may not even know they possess,” the introduction said. “Such a unique, wonderful and magnificently talented actor is Sharon Lee McLean.”

Susannah Mars and Eva “Rainbows” Hudson Leoniak in Portland Playhouse’s outstanding original musical, “Scarlet.” Photo: Brud Giles

This year’s PAMTA awards, for achievement during the 2017-18 season. Categories and winners are in boldface, with finalists listed after:

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DramaWatch Weekly: Left Hook

Rich Rubin's Portland boxing tale, part of Vanport Mosaic, takes a jab at the city's woozy racial history. Plus the week's openings and closings.

“Let me tell you somethin’, boy. You never know what’s comin’ … and the sooner you learn that, the better off you be!”

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A few years ago, when playwright Rich Rubin approached Damaris Webb about directing some of his work, she chose the play Cottonwood in the Flood because it told a piece of history unfamiliar to her, the fascinating story of the 1948 Vanport flood. Left Hook, another Rubin play that Webb is directing, in a production that opens Thursday night at the Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center, gets closer to a history she knows. Extending the story of the repeated displacement faced by Portland’s black community, Left Hook is set in the 1970s, as urban renewal roils the Albina neighborhood that had absorbed the black Vanport diaspora a quarter century earlier.

Damaris Webb directs Rich Rubin’s play “Left Hook,” running May 24-June 10, as part of Vanport Mosaic. The cast includes Anthony Armstrong, Kenneth Dembo, Jasper Howard, Shareen Jacobs, Tonea Lolin, and James Savannah. Photo: Shawte Sims

Webb, who has chronicled her bi-racial background in a solo show called The Box Marked Black, grew up in the Irvington neighborhood and none of her family was forced to relocate for the major construction projects of the era – Memorial Coliseum, the I-5 freeway, and an abortive expansion plan for Emanuel Hospital. But she recalls that during the development of Left Hook she was shown a photo of the Black Panthers Portland headquarters when it was in the midst of being shut down by city officials. She recognized someone in the photo: her father, who worked for the Portland Development Commission.

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DramaWatch Weekly: Be yourself?

Is there such a thing as "just playing yourself" onstage? What does that mean? Plus, openings, closings, nachos, and a Terrence McNally film

Caroline, or change?

Pretend. Play-acting. Make believe. The actor’s art is a curious challenge: Use your heart and mind, body and soul, to appear to be someone else.

Fine actors do it often. And yet, something in that seeming contradiction at the essence of the art sometimes results in an odd response: “Oh, yeah, he’s a good actor, but he only plays himself.”

That’s a bit of off-the-cuff criticism I’ve heard from time to time in talking to Portland theater fans, and I’ve always been puzzled by it. What does such an assertion imply about the nature (or even the definition) of acting? Is “playing yourself” a shortcut to authenticity or a form of cheating? How do you speak someone else’s words and be yourself, anyway?

Sharonlee McLean, “a force of unearthly brilliance” in “Luna Gale.” Photo: Owen Carey

These and other questions came to mind afresh not long ago when I watched Sharonlee McLean as Caroline, an overworked social worker, in Rebecca Gilman’s Luna Gale, which ended its run at CoHo Theater last weekend. It was another wonderful performance on her part (and from the entire cast, for that matter), but it was her very reliability that reminded me that she’s one of the local performers about whomll I’ve heard that odd opinion: plays herself.

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DramaWatch: Third Rail’s the charm

The lowdown on this week's openings and closings, new seasons on the way, and a blast of a party coming up for Third Rail Rep

“When Third Rail first came on the scene,” says Maureen Porter, “there was little else happening. It was a different scene and a different city.”

So it was, back in 2005 when Third Rail Repertory Theatre — already a couple of years worth of planning meetings into its life as a fledgling company — rocketed onto theatergoers’ radar with an acclaimed production of Craig Wright’s Recent Tragic Events. An artists’ collaborative that started out as a fully professional Equity company, they were the little guy that could, quickly coming to be considered in the front rank of Portland theaters alongside Portland Center Stage and Artists Rep; significantly smaller in budget and number of productions, but consistently punching above their weight with top-quality work.

Maureen Porter

Not long after Third Rail began to solidify its reputation, I switched from my longtime position at The Oregonian, covering popular music, to writing about theater — an art form about which I knew all too little. (Yes, yes, I know — some things never change.) I quickly fell in love with theater, and Third Rail was (along with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and, I suppose I’d have to say Artists Rep) why. The company picked great plays, comedies with devilish bite, dramas with surprising, insightful slants. The acting was consistently arresting, featuring a steady core of talented company members. The direction (in the early years, always by founding artistic director Slayden Scott Yarbrough) showed a scrupulous attention to detail, textual interpretation carried out coherently and cohesively through  all aspects of design and performance. The tremulous containment of Gretchen Corbett as a woman in political danger in A Lesson From Aloes; Porter’s fantastic (literally) bipolar mood swing in The Wonderful World of Dissocia; pretty much every little thing about Enda Walsh’s antic yet high-minded Penelope (a take-off on the Odyssey, set in an abandoned swimming pool)…for several years, it was high point after high point.

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Surviving the Baby Wars

CoHo's "Luna Gale" chronicles a volatile and exhilarating custody battle

There is a moment in CoHo’s astounding new production of Rebecca Gilman’s Luna Gale when a mother learns a stomach-churning secret about her daughter. Yet she doesn’t scream, shake her first or exclaim that it can’t be true. She simply freezes as still as a photograph.

That is what it feels like watching Luna Gale. Gilman’s story of a brutal custody battle in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, may not be soothing, but in the hands of director Brandon Woolley and his ferociously committed cast, it is spellbinding. Together, they embrace not only Luna Gale‘s power to provoke, but also the fact that it is entertainment in the best and brashest sense of the word—a roller coaster of a play packed with twists that could have made a Sixth Sense-era M. Night Shyamalan howl, “Why didn’t I think of that?”

Sharonlee McLean, “a force of unearthly brilliance” in “Luna Gale.” Photo: Owen Carey

The first hairpin narrative turn arrives in the opening scene, where we meet a young couple, Karlie and Peter (Shannon Mastel and Jacob Camp). With her black nail polish, ripped jeans and James Dean-style bellowing, Karlie looks like a teenager fuming in the principal’s office. However, we quickly learn that she and Peter are immersed in all-too-adult crises. Not only are they meth addicts, but they are also in danger of losing their baby daughter Luna to Karlie’s mother, Cindy (Danielle Weathers, who also co-produced the show), an evangelical Christian who hides her vindictive spirit behind touchy-feely declarations like “The thing about Jesus is that he always gets results.”

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