Virginia Woolf

ArtsWatch Weekly: Jamison and Thomas, together again

A look at the week that was in Oregon arts. A glimpse ahead at the week that's going to be.

It was thirty years ago almost today that Jamison/Thomas Gallery opened in downtown Portland, entering a very small gallery scene and injecting it with something fresh: a broader sense of what defined art, beyond academe and boardroom collections. It grew out of the little Folkcraft Gallery, which William Jamison had set up as a sort of gallery and shop (I once picked up a couple of small rag rugs there, to add a shot of rustic color to my tiny apartment of the time) and where the younger Jeffrey Thomas went to work. When it morphed into Jamison/Thomas, the new gallery kid in town upended expectations and opened its doors to a lot of brash new talent, much of which fell into “outsider” territory, a natural fit for a gallery with roots in folk art.

"Jeffrey and William," Stan Peterson, 1994.

“Jeffrey and William,” Stan Peterson, 1994.

Twenty years ago Jamison died from the effects of AIDS, one of the multitude swept away in the years of the plague, but he’s never been forgotten. Two prime city galleries – Froelick and PDX Contemporary – have direct links to Jamison/Thomas, and scores of artists’ careers have been aided by the gallery’s openness to fresh ideas.

Buehler+show+1985_9040+copyOn Wednesday, Thomas opens the show Jamison/Thomas Gallery: 1985, at his new gallery Jeffrey Thomas Fine Art in the emerging Slabtown gallery district of Northwest Portland. Among the ’80s artists represented will be a lot of familiar names: Gregory Grenon, Rick Bartow, Tom Cramer, Stan Peterson, Mark Bullwinkle. Deb Norby, Baba Wagué Diakité, Eric Stotik, and others. The exhibition, besides being a look back at what a significant slice of the city’s contemporary art scene looked like three decades ago, is also a fundraiser for the William Jamison Scholarship at Pacific Northwest College of Art.

Thomas calls the show “a time warp of sorts,” and “an unvarnished exhibition that will showcase ‘the good, the bad, and the ugly’ of the 1980s mainstream art scene in Portland. No punches are pulled. Some artworks remain as fresh and relevant as the day they were made. Other art reminds us of a specific period in history, the Reagan years, when the world started moving towards design-based explorations of surface patterns and effects over deeper emotional content.”

Thomas (left) and Jamison, back in the day.

Thomas (left) and Jamison, back in the day.

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Twyla Tharp on Paris and the right to assemble. The sterling choreographer Twyla Tharp, whose company performed in Portland a month ago in the White Bird dance series, has been writing a journal for the New York Times, and today she wrote about the terrorist attacks on Paris, and what such breakdowns mean to the everyday process of culture, for which the arts are an exploration and a metaphor. How, in the face of atrocity, does the show go on? Tharp writes: “Ultimately we go on with no mention of this obscene parallel reality abroad. But our pre-curtain announcement, ‘Turn off cellphones as a courtesy to fellow audience members,’ seems poignant to me as I think about courtesy, as I think about gatherings, and as I realize that performance cannot take place without the right to assemble. … my focus is jumbled. The world is on fire again.” Amid the flames, the world of the stage may seem irrelevant, and yet it is precisely for such things that individual rights, the cultural value of living and letting live, exist: to guarantee the small, and personal, and perhaps irrelevant. And from such seemingly inconsequential things rise the larger principles of civility and how humans choose to live with themselves and one another. For artists and all of us, Beckett might have framed the situation best: I can’t go on. I must go on.

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A few things to consider this week:

  • Dali Quartet at The Old Church, On Thursday, Friends of Chamber Music brings the Venezuelan quartet, all graduates of their country’s El Sistema music training program as well as of American conservatories, for a program of Latin American classics.
  • Tomás Svoboda’s Clarinet Concerto: On Friday and Sunday, the Portland Columbia Symphony features the legendary Portland composer’s 2013 concerto, featuring its original soloist, Michael Anderson. Also on the program: Reznicek’s Eine Lustspiel Overture, Dvorak’s New World Symphony.
  • Original Practice Shakespeare’s Twelfe Night. The OPS shtick of controlled anarchy in the supposed manner of the Elizabethans works best with the comedies, and this one (complete with Original Practice Spelling) is one of the best. It’s at McMenamins Mission Theater on Wednesday evening only. Kids are welcome with adults (and with a 6:30 p.m. curtain and 5:30 doors-open, it’s OK on a school night), and the show (but not the food or drink) is free.
  • Dogfight at Staged!The Portland premiere of the 2012 Off-Broadway hit, a musical that sweeps its audience back to 1963 and the budding pressures that would soon explode in Vietnam, continues through November 29. The talented Paul Angelo directs the Staged! production, which is at CoHo Theatre.
Ryan Monaghan, Max Artsis, Danny Walker in Dogfight at Staged! Photo: David Kinder

Ryan Monaghan, Max Artsis, Danny Walker in Dogfight at Staged! Photo: David Kinder

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Great films, great Northwest. The Northwest Filmmakers’ Festival has been an annual Portland attraction since way back in 1973, and this year’s edition, the 42nd, ends on Wednesday. ArtsWatch has been keeping its eye on the action. Lily Hudson interviews Thomas Phillipson, who’s run the show for the past 15 years, and departs after this one. The diversity of approaches by the region’s filmmakers continues to impress him: “(T)he work is so varied that any summing up seems feels forced and exclusive.” And Hudson and Erik McClanahan take a look at some of the festival’s highlights, including Ian Berry’s documentary Make Mine Country, about the continuing impact in the Caribbean island nation of Saint Lucia of the country music that American GIs stationed there in the 1940s brought with them. The film, Hudson writes, offers “plenty of space for the joys and sorrows of Golden Age country to echo through this most unexpected of locales.”

Ian Berry's Make Mine Country at the Northwest Filmmakers' Festival.

Ian Berry’s Make Mine Country at the Northwest Filmmakers’ Festival.

 


 

ArtsWatch links

 


Adriana_Baer_small-450x300Adriana Baer talks about leaving Profile Theatre.
Seemingly at the top of her, and her company’s, game, Profile’s energetic artistic director announced this fall she was leaving. She sits down with Marty Hughley for ArtsWatch to talk about why, and what the future might hold. Baer on the knotty process of running a company: “Every AD I’ve ever talked to spends more time, by a huge margin, administrating, fundraising, budgeting, producing – left-brained stuff – than artistically creating.”

Golden Retriever review: Fashion over form. Tristan Bliss gets all hot and bothered about the music ensemble’s show at the Old Church: “(U)pon arrival I quickly realized that I was in for a show that badly wanted to be cool. Wanted to be cool above anything else, including creating or listening to emotionally engaging music.”

Vanessa Van Obberghen: Emotional data. Mack McFarland decodes the Antwerp-based artist’s exhibition idealSTATE at Portland’s Worksound International: “Van Obberghen aims to share the malevolent side of data. its easily manipulative character, an unreliable, un-representable frenemy whose intentions are never clear and subject to outside influence.”

Orlando, from page to stage. Martha Ullman West takes in Sarah Ruhl’s play Orlando at Profile Theatre and traces its pedigree back to the audacious Virginia Woolf novel on which it’s based: “The book ends with: ‘And the twelfth stroke of midnight sounded; the twelfth stroke of midnight, Thursday, the eleventh of October, Nineteen hundred and Twenty Eight.’ That’s where Ruhl’s play ends, too. And if Woolf’s five-hundred-year family saga in three hundred pages is impressive, Ruhl’s distillation of it in less than two hours of stage time boggles the mind.”

Portrait of Virginia Woolf, by Roger Fry, ca. 1917. Leeds Museum and Galleries/Wikimedia Commons

Portrait of Virginia Woolf, by Roger Fry, ca. 1917. Leeds Museum and Galleries/Wikimedia Commons

 


 

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‘Orlando,’ from page to stage

Profile and playwright Sarah Ruhl give Virginia Woolf's time-hopping romp of an adventure novel yet another big transformation

In the summer of 1957, when I was living in exile in Rye, New York, whiling away the time between my freshman and sophomore years at Barnard as a live-in babysitter, and whining about it, my father suggested I read Orlando, Virginia Woolf’s  fictional biography of  her friend and lover Vita Sackville-West.  Sarah Ruhl’s dramatization of Woolf’s most popular novel is playing at Profile Theatre through November 22nd, and while it’s not entirely successful, it definitely has its pleasures.

I’d heard of Orlando, but  no novel of Woolf’s was on the freshman English syllabus at Barnard; nor, I later discovered, was she considered good or influential enough to be part of the course I took on the English novel, or even one I took on modern literature and the allied arts. None of her books were in my high school library; and this was long before her letters and diaries were published, or Leonard Woolf’s extraordinary multi-volume memoirs, or the various biographies of their friends and relations.

Profile's "Orlando," from left: Ben Newman, Crystal Muñoz, Beth Thompson, Ted Rooney, Elizabeth Rotham. Photo: David Kinder

Profile’s “Orlando,” from left: Ben Newman, Crystal Muñoz, Beth Thompson, Ted Rooney, Elizabeth Rotham. Photo: David Kinder

I read Orlando in one or two nights, and enjoyed it as the adventure story it is, loving the chief protagonist’s struggles to write poetry, which mirrored my own, although I sometimes found Woolf’s style difficult to follow. I loved particularly the description of the frozen Thames during the reign of  King James the First, when Orlando falls in love with a Russian princess named Sasha, who wears trousers and breaks his heart.

I don’t  remember feeling startled by Orlando’s transformation from male to female, or the cross-dressing, but then, I grew up in Greenwich Village, and took such declarations of sexual orientation for granted.  More important, I now realize, many of Woolf’s references, quips, and opinions went right by me, and I did not even begin to grasp the magnitude of  Woolf’s achievement in compressing half a millennium of  English history (political, social and literary) into the two hundred and ninety-nine pages of the Hogarth Press edition of the book.

First edition of the novel.

First edition of the novel.

Or, as I reread it this past weekend, how laugh-out-loud funny this highly opinionated coming-of-age story (for Orlando is certainly that) can be.  A housekeeper is named Grimsditch, a chaplain Dupper;  reading and poetry are a disease; a long-winded poet, very, visits Orlando in his 365-room mansion (modeled on Sackville-West’s childhood home, which really did have that many rooms) and declares that poetry is dead – at the time that Shakespeare, Marlowe, and Donne are writing. When Woolf gets to the Victorians, she really goes to town, describing the clutter of their homes, decrying the emphasis on marriage and childbearing for women, what she calls the modesty of the female intellect, and, oh joy, sending up Romantic and Victorian poetry with such vapid verse as this:

And then I came to a field where the springing grass

Was dulled by the hanging cups of fritillaries,

Sullen and foreign-looking, the snaky flower

Scarfed in dull purple, like Egyptian girls.

The biography-cum-novel (Woolf refers to herself as the biographer throughout the book) ends in the 20th century; Orlando has married and borne the first of several children, and finished The Oak Tree (the stand-in for Sackville-West’s long poem The Land) which took her five hundred years to write [sic].  She has received awards and even money for it, and considers herself grown up. She is still, however, looking for her selves, as she is reunited with her husband, Marmaduke Bonthrop Shelmerdine, who has been away at sea, but returns home on an airplane. The book ends with: “And the twelfth stroke of midnight sounded; the twelfth stroke of midnight, Thursday, the eleventh of October, Nineteen hundred and Twenty Eight.”

That’s where Ruhl’s play ends, too.  And if Woolf’s five-hundred-year family saga in three hundred pages is impressive, Ruhl’s distillation of it in less than two hours of stage time boggles the mind. In Profile’s production, she has help: the spare set consists of a highly stylized oak tree, designed by Tal Sanders, and props designed by Drew Dannhorn, which change, stylistically, as the centuries pass.   Those transitions are also accomplished with an excellent soundscape by Em Gustason, who combines snippets of period music with the tolling of bells and the thrum of engines, when we get to the twentieth century. Alison Heryer’s costumes assist, as well; the only failure is Orlando’s sleeveless dress at the end of the play: in 1928, dresses had sleeves, and if they didn’t, were worn with a jacket to cover the upper arms. Carl Faber’s lights contribute to the shifting of mood, scene, and time of day, and the show, in short,  is well and skillfully produced.

Ben Newman and Beth Thompson: sparks fly. Photo: David Kinder

Ben Newman and Beth Thompson: sparks fly. Photo: David Kinder

It opens with the same scene as the novel: Beth Thompson as Orlando, clad in red tights, is practicing swordsmanship on the dried-up head of an infidel one of his ancestors has brought back from foreign parts. Thompson’s stance is boyish. She strides across the stage, displaying the legs that seduced a great queen, even though Orlando was late for the banquet in her honor.

Some of the narrative is provided by a chorus consisting of Crystal Munõz, Ben Newman, Ted Rooney and Elizabeth Rothan, a device that did not work when they were required to speak in unison, at which they failed, making their lines nearly incomprehensible. As individual characters, they did much better, particularly Munõz as Sasha, the Russian princess, who appears in every century of the action, and as the cockney Mrs. Grimsditch.  Rothan portrays a marvelously elderly, faintly lascivious, and always imperious Queen Elizabeth the First, who Ruhl has make an appearance in the twentieth century, something that does not occur in the novel.  While no sensible person would ask a playwright working nearly a century after Woolf wrote Orlando to be faithful to every jot and tittle of the book, this seemed pointless to me in the context of the play itself.  I also wasn’t sure why the great transformation scene, as well done as it was, takes place later, when Orlando is ambassador to Turkey, than it does in the novel, although I do understand why her subsequent stay with the gypsies is excised, as amusing and as pertinent to Sackville West’s family history as that is.

Rooney’s comic turn as the Roumanian archduke, whom Orlando, by that time back in England, cheats at a gambling game involving flies and cubes of sugar, is hilarious, as is his portrayal of Dupper, the inept chaplain who marries Orlando. So is the wonderfully named Marmaduke Bonthrop Shelmerdine, Esquire, played by Newman with a kind of practical yet romantic husbandly skill. Thompson’s consistently convincing and intelligent performance as both the male and the female Orlando certainly contributes to the viability of this conversion of novel to drama.

Portrait of Virginia Woolf, by Roger Fry, ca. 1917. Leeds Museum and Galeries/Wikimedia Commons

Portrait of Virginia Woolf, by Roger Fry, ca. 1917. Leeds Museum and Galleries/Wikimedia Commons

The drama has many wonderful moments: the tension as Orlando waits for Sasha to join him in a clandestine departure from England to Russia (she stands him up); the scene with the flies and the sugar cubes;  the bit on the boat returning to England from Turkey, when Orlando realizes that being a woman pampered by a man (in this case the ship’s captain) means a loss of power; and the descent of several large wedding rings onto the stage when Orlando feels nagged, and how, into marriage.

And yet, while Ruhl uses much of Woolf’s language in the dialogue as well as the narrative, the players don’t seem to savor the words, even when poetry is under discussion or being quoted, perhaps because the various accents are problematic for them, although Thompson manages Orlando’s upper-class diction very well. Matthew B. Zrebski’s direction keeps the actors moving all the time, always a good thing in the eyes of this reviewer of dancing.  However, when humor is called for, it can verge on the burlesque, which for me doesn’t work. Woolf’s humor is far more intellectual than physical, and it seems to me that Ruhl, a prolific and excellent writer with a family of young children to tend to as well, did this adaptation for serious reasons.

Some of them pertain to the regressive political situation in which we find ourselves in the United States today. Anything that makes us laugh about those issues (and Ruhl’s play certainly achieves that) needs to be seen, faithful to the book or not, episodic rather than cohesive; it remains, in an age of increasing mindlessness, entertainment that makes us think.

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Profile Theatre’s Orlando continues through November 22 on the Alder Stage of Artists Repertory Theatre. Ticket and schedule information here.