“Twist Your Dickens”

DramaWatch: Holiday Edition!

Christmas Carols, radio plays and parodies dominate the seasonal-theater calendar.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! If you’re into that sort of thing.

Tradition holds that the next few weeks will be dominated by Christmas cheer — and likely by Christmas hype, Christmas stress, and when it comes to the world of theater, Christmas cliche.

What starts in autumn as a theater season wrestling with big themes of life and society suddenly turns into a procession of simplistic celebrations of sentiment and/or frivolity.

Then again, cliches become cliches for a reason. Imbue the right ones with a little action and they become ritual, tradition. Wrap them in sturdy narrative and they become chestnuts, even classics.

So never mind my jaundiced, churlish, runaway-Catholic’s view. Holiday-season theater offerings abound, for those who want to unwind from shopping, entertain family, or get a refresher course in some of those seasonal ideals. Here’s your DramaWatch Christmas theater menu:

Tim Blough (in cap) at the center of “A 1940s Radio Christmas Carol” at Broadway Rose. Photo by Sam Ortega.

By my count, no less than a half-dozen productions in the Portland area this season are based around Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and/or old-timey radio broadcasts. Perhaps each represents a particular period of potent nostalgia, a century apart — the early Victorian era that’s done so much to shape our romanticized holiday images, and the Great Depression and World War II, evoking memories of social unity carrying us through hardship. In any case, the two periods meet at Broadway Rose in A 1940s Radio Christmas Carol, in which a broadcast of the Dickens tale is undermined by so many minor mishaps that the cast takes to riffing on the story in the style of (the then-new genre) film noir. Tim Blough, Joe Theissen and Malia Tippets are among the notable talents involved.

Continues…

DramaWatch Weekly: A Dickensian Nor’wester and scattered Revels

ArtsWatch forecasts this week's holiday theater weather.

This weather, huh? What’s the forecast for this weekend and beyond?

A.L. Adams

To the southwest, there’ll be scattered Revels, with peak conditions for viewing Nordic Lights, and some precipitation rolling in from the Mediterranean will leave conditions Pericles Wet, while a family drama high pressure front builds up between Morrison and Alder. A Dickensian chill will sweep along the east river bank, building into a twister as it crosses into Northwest and breaking into gales of wry laughter as it heads for the Hils. It will miss Tigard altogether, which will experience mild enough conditions to continue its Holiday Parade already under way. Meanwhile, the Northeast will experience bursts of gospel, and as you head toward Columbia, be on the lookout for flaming radicals.

Dickensian drama is blowing in with the return of Portland Playhouse’s popular “A Christmas Carol” (above), Scott Palmer’s “Charles Dickens Writes ‘A Christmas Carol'” at Bag & Baggage in Hillsboro, Second City’s “Twist Your Dickens” at The Armory, and Phillip J. Berns’s “A Christmas Carol: A One Man Ghost Story.” Photo: Portland Playhouse

As you head Southeast, expect some choppy seas, and an abrupt shift as Utopia closes at Hand2Mouth and a dystopia opens at Theatre Vertigo: Victor Mack will direct José Rivera’s Marisol, a near-contemporary of Angels in America with some similar motifs—mental illness and spiritual warfare between angelic beings—along with some surprisingly ripped-from-current-headlines themes—namely, the struggle of a Puerto Rican woman against an unjust god who is dying and “taking the rest of the universe with him.” Also the frenzied desperation of an urban hellscape where citizens driven into homelessness by debt and personal injury gnash and wail in the streets.

Langston Hughes’s “Black Nativity”: a shining star. PassinArt photo/2016

Happy holidays, y’all. Jacob Marley left a message; something about “mankind being our business?” He said he’ll try again—repeatedly throughout our city, then at Vertigo on Christmas week, when Phillip Berns reprises his solo version of the classic.

Imago’s’classic “Frogz” leaps back into the swim. Photo: Imago Theatre

But what were we talking about? Oh yes. The weather. Northwest Children’s Theater will experience spells of magic, to subside by midnight. And tell the kids next weekend’s conditions should be ideal for watching FROGZ. Til then, stay warm, from hands to heart.

DramaWatch Weekly: Encore!

What goes around comes around: Portland performances ArtsWatch is happy to see again.

This week, let’s give it up for encore performances, from racially significant statements to heartwarming Christmas traditions. Turns out there are plenty of kinds of performances that make you go, “Hey. Let me see that again.”

The August Wilson Red Door Project’s “Hands Up” returns for two performances.

Here’s a serious one: This weekend, the August Wilson Red Door Project re-presents Hands Up for two nights only at Wieden + Kennedy. This collection of monologues features seven playwrights’ insightful, individual takes on a sadly recurring theme: police violence against Black people. Hands Up plans another (longer/wider) run in 2018, and your support now can help make that happen. Hopefully as the message reverberates, the atrocities that make it so necessary will abate. But even the best theater can only change a few minds at a time, so realistically, this may be the beginning of a long run.

Continues…

News & Notes: We catch up and we fall behind

Some thoughts on Dave Frishberg and Rebecca Kilgore, "Song of the Dodo," Union Tanguera, and "Twist Your Dickens"

Last night I dropped by Ivories for a late supper with a few friends. On Wednesdays, Dave Frishberg and Rebecca Kilgore usually command the bandstand the lounge, and last night they were joined by Lee Wuthenow on tenor sax. Things were nice and informal, frequent collaborators getting together to share some old songs that hovered near the mainstream American Song Book without quite landing there. While I was listening, “Old Devil Moon” was probably the most central. The music they made was very smart, a little understated, and deeply proficient, and of course, I left with a smile on my face.

I also left thinking how many great experiences are available on any given night in Portland, even a Wednesday, and how any of them could sustain a long consideration (tonight at Ivories pianist Tom Grant continues his vocal showcase with Julie Collura and Heather Keizur). Anything involving these three certainly could, and I made a mental note to come back later with my reporter’s hat on and an empty notebook and pen in my pocket. But then I did the same thing, in a way, with Portland Experimental Theatre Ensemble’s “Song of the Dodo”: I promised to get back to it later.

Portland Experimental Theatre Ensemble's "Song of the Dodo"/Gary Norman

Portland Experimental Theatre Ensemble’s “Song of the Dodo”/Gary Norman

I brought it up in the context of Veterans Day and Joe Sacco’s new graphic book on the Battle of the Somme, hoping to light on it again. And now it’s entering its closing weekend, and I haven’t. Fortunately, others have reviewed it positively and in a more timely fashion, including the Mercury’s Alison Hallett who concludes her review this way:

For me, a big measure of the success of a non-narrative show—when there are no characters to assess, no storyline to follow—is how effectively the show engages my curiosity. Do I want to understand this cryptic piece of theater? Is there humor and rigor? Am I motivated to understand how the pieces fit together? In the case of Song of the Dodo, the answer is yes.

I didn’t find “Dodo” cryptic, exactly. The three sections are comprehensible, though very different, and though they aren’t explicitly connected, they echo, one in the other. The play is a pastiche of elements (interviews with Katharine Hepburn and Nicol Williamson, who died last year, Euripides’ “Hecuba,” and yes, the song and antics of the dodo bird), and the juxtaposition of elements generally strangers to each other leads us to a deeper encounter than any of them might have generated by themselves. And the performances are excellent, not uniformly excellent, each excellent in its own way.

So yes, I could go on…

****

Let’s see, what other reminders do we need to give ourselves?

Why yes, Claudia Codega and Esteban Moreno’s French-Argentinian tango company, Union Tanguera, performs “Nuit Blanche (Sleepless Night)” an inventive projection of the dance form into the 21st century through a story as old as tango itself—the flirtations, betrayals, and romance that can happen during one long night in Buenos Aires. Since Portland has a fairly large community of tango fans, the audience should be one of the attactions, too. White Bird is bringing them for three nights, Thursday-Saturday (Nov. 21-24), at the Newmark Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway. Cold nights sometimes require hot dancing.

"Twist Your Dickens," Portland Center Stage/ Patrick Weishampel

“Twist Your Dickens,” Portland Center Stage/ Patrick Weishampel

The Second City comedy team of Peter Gwinn and Bobby Mort have devised a zany (and R-rated) re-interpretation of “A Christmas Carol,” filled with comic sketches, improv and guest stars. The biggest star is Craig Cackowski (who plays “Officer Cackowski” on the TV sitcom “Community”) as Scrooge, though the cast is full of comedy veterans, including Second City’s Beth Melewski. “Twist Your Dickens” runs through December 22 at Portland Center Stage, 128 NW 11th Ave. Goodness knows what they’d do to “Great Expectations” (but honestly, I’d like to find out.)