Twilight theater

DramaWatch Weekly: time to JAW

Portland Center Stage's new-plays fest hits its stride. Plus: Isaac Lamb on gender and "The Music Man," Rene Denfeld on "Glass Managerie"

Summer stinks.

Sure, the long days are great, but the summer sun is a hot-tempered tyrant. There’s no good basketball to watch. And maybe worst of all, there’s not as much theater to see.

Ah, but then there’s JAW.

Portland Center Stage’s annual playwrights festival is an oasis in the (relative) desert of the summer performance calendar. Originally called Just Add Water/West, it started in 1999 as an offshoot of a similar program at the New York Theater Workshop. Over the years, it has served as an incubator of works by such renowned playwrights as Itamar Moses (Outrage, Celebrity Row), Lauren Gunderson (Parts They Call Deep), Adam Bock (The Thugs, San Diego), Jordan Harrison (Act a Lady, Futura), Constance Congdon (Paradise Street), Marc Acito (Birds of a Feather), Will Eno (Middletown, Gnit), Kimberly Rosenstock (99 Ways to Fuck a Swan), Dan O’Brien (Body of an American), and Yusef El Guindi (Threesome).

This year’s JAW, ready to roll. Photo: Portland Center Stage at the Armory

As useful as JAW is for writers — giving each a director, a dramaturg, a cast, and more than a week for concentrated rehearsals and revisions — its a boon as well for theater fans when it gets around to what PCS calls “the Big Weekend.” That’s when the public gets let into the process for a series of free staged readings, along with other performances and events.
Because the plays being presented are still being developed, there’s not much in the way of production history or reviews to inform our expectations, but you can read brief descriptions of the plays and playwright bios at the PCS website. In any case, the spirit of discovery — both in plays well-polished or those still finding their form — is one of the great pleasures of JAW, along with the lively lobby conversations between readings.

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DramaWatch Weekly: Hamilton-plus

Lin-Manuel Miranda's Broadway mega-hit grabs the spotlight. But Portland and Ashland stages are overflowing with other top bets, too.

Don’t look now, but the two-ton elephant’s about to plop down in the living room. That’s right: Hamilton, the touring version of the Broadway mega-hit, opens on Tuesday, March 20, in Portland’s Keller Auditorium for 24 performances through April 8, and if you don’t have your tickets yet – well, good luck. That pencils out to 72,000 available seats, and most of them are long gone.

So you’re on the outside looking in: How to score a ticket? Lottery, baby! Every performance will have 40 tickets available for 10 bucks each, and you can hit the lottery line for each show two days in advance, starting Sunday for opening night. Here’s the link. Or, you could go through one of the ticket-resale sites and offer your first-born child, your mother-in-law, and a case of Eyrie 1975 South Block Pinot noir.

Shoba Narayan, Ta’Rea Campbell and Nyla Sostre head for Portland with the “Hamilton” national touring company. Photo © Joan Marcus 2018

Veteran West Coast theater critic Misha Berson saw the company during its Seattle run before its Puddletown engagement and filed this report for ArtsWatch readers. “Hamilton comes at you at 100 miles per hour, a power vehicle running on all cylinders,” she writes. “It’s the theatrical equivalent of IMAX but all human, all live, and with none of the techno-tricks designed to hypnotize and overwhelm. What seduces you here is a group of mostly black actors in velvet breeches and ruffled shirts, singing ‘I’m not throwing away my shot!’ with a visceral intensity you can feel from the balcony, and an array of drifting, be-gowned young women exhorting you to ‘Look around, look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now’.”

Go ahead: Mortgage the house. Or you could get lucky in the lottery.

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Ch-ch-changes, good and bad

In review: Triangle Productions' "TRANS-formations" and "The Madness of Lady Bright"; Twilight Theater Company's "Antigone"

From the moment Matthew Sunderland steps onstage at The Sanctuary in Donnie’s new play TRANS-formation you sense you’re going to be in for an interesting ride. Sunderland stars as George/Christine in this 70-minute drama about the transsexual pioneer Christine Jorgensen, and the way he wraps himself around the story of this fascinating true-life character is impressive: his clear sharp tenor voice, masculine but not entirely; his body language, so firmly between; his immediate link with the audience, forged by the urgency to tell his tale.

Matthew Sunderland as George/Christine Jorgensen. Photo: David Kinder/Kinderpics

And what a tale. Donnie (the pen name of Donald Horn, who is also director, scenic and sound designer, and producer through Triangle Productions, the company he founded in 1989) has done his homework and assembled a smart, deeply informed play about Jorgensen, concentrating on the young Army veteran’s decision to undergo sex-change surgery and become a she. It’s a taut tale, with just two other actors, both of whom also are superb: Jacquelle Davis as Jorgensen’s sister Dolly (with a cameo as a schoolteacher with a mean streak) and Mark Pierce as Dr. Christian Hamberger, the Danish endocrinologist who made the transformation happen. Both Dolly and Dr. Hamberger have very human and natural friendships with George/Christine, and that’s crucial to the play’s success. The doctor talks science. George talks feelings. Out of their creative collaboration, Christine is born.

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Well, Fertile Ground happened, and while I offered a few prognostications, for the first time in many years I didn’t get out to see those shows. Can you please use the comments to tell me, and more importantly each other, what you loved? With a festival that’s so egalitarian by nature, community opinions should hold the most sway anyway.

Now then:

The word around ArtsWatch via our reviewer TJ Acena is that Magellanica, which recreates the feeling of its setting, Antarctica, with a glacially paced 5+ hour runtime, is “worth it.”  I believe it. If I had to pick a group of people to get marooned in the Antarctic wilderness with, I’d actually consider Artists Rep’s company of actors. They’re versatile and compassionate, and they can make fire.

Alisha Menon is the Girl Prince in Northwest Children’s Theatre’s “Chitra.” Photo: David Kinder

Corrib’s all-age-appropriate Lifeboat closes at Northwest Children’s Theater this weekend, making way for Chitra, The Girl Prince, NWCT’s second major collaboration with Indian dance expert Anita Menon (the first being 2015’s Jungle Book). Nice to see Ken Yoshikawa pop up in a kids’ production and what looks like a romantic lead. His earnestness will not be lost on all ages.

What else?

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