WHAT A WEEK IT’S BEEN, RIGHT? Phone calls and whistleblowers and suppressions and impeachment hearings. A teen-aged climate activist who speaks sharply at the United Nations and prompts both cheers and jeers from the political-media talking heads. A fair amount of fiddling, if we can make a historical comparison, as Rome burns. The Ukrainian Affair looks dark and complex, which by coincidence is what Bobby Bermea has to say about Theatre Vertigo’s season-opening show, the world premiere of Dominic Finocchiaro’s play complex – small “c”, infinite anxieties. Bermea, in his pre-opening interview with Finocchiaro, calls Vertigo “the David Lynch of Portland theater,” and if it feels like we’re living in a David Lynch world, well, that’s life in the 21st century fast lane.
ALSO OPENING THIS WEEKEND, at Portland Playhouse, is Sarah DeLappe’s The Wolves, a play about “the vim and vigor of a pack of adolescent warriors” who do their battle on the soccer pitch, and if that doesn’t remind you just a bit of the young climate activist Greta Thunberg playing on a much bigger field, well, I ask you. Meanwhile, Portland Center Stage is moving into preview performances at The Armory of what looks to be a hard-boiled, stripped-down, lean and mean Macbeth, with all of its raw palace intrigue, which gets me thinking also about Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part II and “uneasy lies the head that wears a crown,” and … well, things do circle around, don’t they?
WHAT ELSE IS IN THE NEWS? Let’s see. … Lynda Barry, the wry and spry cartoonist (Ernie Pook’s Comeek) and graphic novelist who got her start in Seattle and has a loyal Northwest following, won one of this year’s 26 MacArthur Foundation “genius grants,” which makes us happy. Barry told the New York Times, in its story about the awards, “I’m really interested in what happens when writing splits off from drawing, which is a vestigial language. I think both suffer.”
AND THAT DRAWS US BACK TO PORTLAND, and Waterstone Gallery, where the artist Shu-Ju Wang, declaring that of all her exhibits her current show Things That Don’t Float is the one “most explicitly based on stories,” has invited a slew of storytellers to tell tales in the gallery, surrounded by her art. Her storytelling instructions? Make ’em about fear, or water, or fear of water. Why? Because the show is very much about fear as an engine for creativity, and in the case of Things That Don’t Float, the specific fear about “how climate change and sea level rise threaten our modern civilization – our infrastructures, our sculptures, paintings, our books – very little of which were made to be good at floating.” And, well, doesn’t that just loop right back to Greta Thunberg?
MEANWHILE, OUR VISUAL ARTS EDITOR, Laurel Reed Pavic, takes a deep dive into Portland2019, Disjecta Contemporary Art Center’s biennial exhibition, which this time around focuses sharply on art of political, racial, and environmental concern. “Cultural disorientation runs rampant in 2019,” she writes. “… Artists and intellectuals everywhere feel an urgency to make art about pressing social and political issues. Ignorance is a bliss to which art is no longer entitled.”
In that declaration, it’s tough not to read some of the fervor and controversy that’s also filling the front pages with news about whistleblowing and congressional hearings. As Bette Davis said in All About Eve, “Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy night.”
A NERVOUS MYSTERY, AND OTHER TALES
IF WE’RE NERVOUS NOW, THINK ABOUT HOW PEOPLE FELT IN 1958, when a whole family disappeared mysteriously, possibly into the cold December waters of the Columbia River. The Family That Vanished, David Bates’s interview with Portland writer JB Fisher about Fisher’s new book Echo of Distant Water: The 1958 Disappearance of Portland’s Martin Family, has been one of ArtsWatch’s most avidly read stories of the year, retrieving a sensational true trauma for a new generation of readers.
LORI TOBIAS OFFERS A WELCOME BREAK FROM FRICTION with Carving her own path, her interview with the Oregon carver and weaver Monica Setziol-Phillips, whose new work is being installed at Salishan Lodge on the coast, near several pieces by her late, legendary father, the woodcarver Leroy Setziol. Like so many others’ this week, Setziol-Phllips’ works are deeply steeped in the physical environment. “They come from the energy of the ocean, the abstract patterns that form in the sand, the weather,” she told Tobias.
In Corvallis, meanwhile, Patrick Collier visits the Truckenbrod Pop-Up Gallery and writes, in Through the pinhole, vastly, about Julie Bradshaw’s imaginings of new planets from a long way up. Might not a new planet, one wonders, be just the ticket?
BUT MORE ANXIETY’S JUST AROUND THE CORNER, even in the dance world. In her story A new festival addresses dire conditions for dance, Jamuna Chiarini writes about Portland choreographer Samuel Hobbs’s new contemporary dance festival Union PDX – Festival:19 and his fears, many of them financial, for the state of the dance scene. “We are all scrambling for the same scraps,” Chiarini quotes Hobbs. …”We need visibility and accessibility.”
A lot of other dance is happening this week, too, including NW Dance Project’s season-opening Infall, Kalakendra’s presentation of the Indian dance drama Ardhanareeswaram, and The Portland Ballet’s presentation at Cinema 21 of the film Danseur, about the determination and struggles of young men pursuing careers in ballet. Get the details in Chiarini’s DanceWatch Monthly.
A NEW SERIES, STARTING WITH THE WRITERS
PHOTOGRAPHER AND WRITER K.B. DIXON, who’s created a long series of portraits of Portland cultural leaders for ArtsWatch and also created visual essays on events and attractions as varied as Portland’s coffeehouse culture, Albany’s carousel museum, Tuba Christmas, the Portland Womxn’s March & Rally for Action, Astoria’s rough-hewn everyday attractions, and the Portland Roadster Show, has begun a new ArtsWatch series concentrating on closeup portraits of artists. The series debuted this week with The Artist Series: Writers. In it he creates startlingly probing portraits of 10 leading Portland writers, along with brief excerpts from their work. It’s a beautiful collection of images, well worth your time – and this is only the beginning.
WAIT. WAIT. WE’RE NOT DONE YET.
BACK ON THE CITY’S STAGES, THAT NEWS-BULLETIN ANXIETY and righteous anger and thirst for change persist. In Airing Ireland’s dirty laundry, Marty Hughley writes about Corrib Theatre’s production of Eclipsed, the sordid tale of Ireland’s Magdalene Laundries, where unwed mothers and their children were often condemned to life and death under medieval circumstances. Writing from Seattle with A little ‘Medea’ in modern clothes, Misha Berson reviews Yussef El-Guindi’s newest play, People of the Book, which updates the Greek tragedy amid a roiling Middle Eastern-American setting.
And in Hearing Injustice Brett Campbell writes about FearNoMusic’s most recent concert of new contemporary compositions, based on last year’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Brett Kavanaugh. “It was such a fraught moment, a watershed event,” composer Kenji Bunch told Campbell.
THERE YOU HAVE IT: Art wading into real life, with all of its contradictions and perils and anger and anxieties, again and again. And that, as they say, is the week that was. See you next week, same time, same place – good Lord willing and the ocean don’t rise.