Wild Women of Winedale

A flood of memory, a mosaic of the future

ArtsWatch Weekly: The Vanport Mosaic Festival goes virtual, bringing the legacy of the great flood of 1948 into contemporary Portland

ON MEMORIAL DAY IN 1948 A RAILROAD BERM BURST in the lowlands just south of the Columbia River and north of Portland, sending a swiftly moving wall of water over the edge and inundating the city of Vanport, killing 15 people, leaving 17,500 homeless, and essentially wiping the city off the map. Vanport had been hastily constructed six years before to house workers and their families building warships in the Kaiser shipyards of Portland and Vancouver. At its height it had had a population of 40,000, making it the second-biggest city in Oregon at the time. In the decades since, the disaster has been forgotten by many, lost in the march of “progress” (Delta Park and the Portland International Speedway now sit where Vanport once thrived). For others it’s become an almost mythological touchstone, an emblem of what Portland and Oregon had been and what it would become, especially in its attitudes and actions about race. As Brett Campbell put it in his 2015 review of Rich Rubin’s play Cottonwood in the Flood, which debuted at an early Vanport Mosaic Festival and was set in Vanport in the 1940s, the city became, “along with Celilo Falls, Oregon’s Atlantis.” 

Henk Pander, “Vanport,” watercolor, 40 x 60 inches, from his series of large history paintings of the flood and its aftermath. Pander will be part of the Vanport Mosaic virtual festival in an online conversation, “Painting History,” with Chisao Hata and other artists who have depicted Vanport in their work. Image © Henk Pander 

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Looking for a few Wild women

Sue Neuer of Cannon Beach finds casting a play scheduled for a September opening has its challenges – not all of them related to COVID-19

Last time we caught up with actor Sue Neuer, she was playing a lead role in Deathtrap and readying to play the Wicked Witch in The Wizard of Oz. Neuer, an innkeeper in Cannon Beach by day, is tackling a new role, one that may prove to be among her most difficult.

Neuer has signed on to co-direct The Wild Women of Winedale, by Jesse Jones, Nicholas Hope, and Jamie Wooten. It’s her first go at directing and the challenges are plenty. Opening night is planned for Labor Day weekend at the NCRD performing arts center in Nehalem. The question is, will the show really go on? We talked with Neuer about the task ahead.

How, in this crazy time, did you end up with your first directing gig?

Neuer: I was planning on auditioning for Spamalot at the Coaster. That got canceled and I hadn’t made any plans to do anything else. I am on the board of Rising Tide Productions. George Dzundza was going to do Wild Women. [You may remember Dzundza from his roles in The Deer HunterWhite Hunter Black HeartBasic InstinctCrimson Tide, and Dangerous Minds and the long-running NBC series Law & Order.] He backed out for personal reasons. I thought about it and contacted Margaret Page, another Rising Tide board member, and said I’d do it if she would co-direct — even though I’ve never directed before — and she agreed.

Sue Neuer says Rising Tide Productions is incorporating social distancing and virtual rehearsals into plans for its September show. “Our whole mission is to do theater,” she says. “Of course we’d like an audience, but our mission is to support actors and let them work in their craft.”

What’s been the toughest part so far?

I’m having difficulty casting the show. I posted on our Facebook page we are going to try to do the show and were holding private auditions. I didn’t get any response to that. So, I’ve just been reaching out to actors I know to precast the show.

COVID-19?

No, it’s not because people are scared of the virus. I think it’s the timing. The show opens Labor Day weekend. Some people already had plans. I have a couple of actors in Astoria interested, but they don’t want to drive to Nehalem to put on the show.

Tell us a bit about the show.

It’s a great script, all women between 40 and 60. There are six monologues and three leads. It’s about two sisters and a sister-in-law. They’re at a crossroads in their lives. They’re the Wild sisters and they live in Winedale. The show takes place mostly in the living room of one of the sisters. She is the director at a museum and is working on a project videotaping women to talk about profound events that have shaped their lives.

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