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Preview: Portland Mercury: Theater

Portland Mercury: Theater & Performance



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Published: Sat, 21 Apr 2018 00:00:01 -0700

Last Build Date: Sat, 21 Apr 2018 19:15:00 -0700

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DeLanna Studi Walks the Trail of Tears

Wed, 11 Apr 2018 04:00:00 -0700

And So We Walked charts the reach of generational trauma. by Emily Gillespie

Standing alone on a stage and trying to explain your worldview to a crowd of strangers is a difficult undertaking. But in her memoir play And So We Walked, running through May 13 at Portland Center Stage, DeLanna Studi allows the audience a glimpse of what life is like as a modern Cherokee woman, and the awkwardness of straddling two cultural worlds.

The one-woman show begins with Studi ruminating on the importance of stories. “Every great story has truth in it, and truth demands to be told,” she says. Then she dives in, starting with an irritating question she’s often asked: “How much Indian are you?” Born to a white mother and a Cherokee father, explains Studi, her identity is complex. As an actress, she’s often told she’s “too Indian” to play white roles, yet in the Cherokee Nation, she doesn’t belong to a clan because clanship is passed down through one’s mother.

Touching upon memories from childhood—including one of a teacher telling her class that Native Indians were extinct—Studi’s story centers on finding her roots by following the Trail of Tears from her ancestral homestead in North Carolina to her family’s current home in Oklahoma. Thousands of Native Americans died along the route following Andrew Jackson’s signing of the Indian Removal Act of 1830.

With the aim of interviewing elders along the way, Studi brought along her father, an old-speaker who could translate Cherokee for her. Because the project was grant-funded, she also hired a project manager who accompanied them on the six-week, 900-mile journey. Along the Trail of Tears, Studi experienced anguish over a lover who ghosted, navigated the politics of a tribal council election, and confronted her father over his disappointment in her nomadic life as an actress.

The play has a memory-like quality, jumping around in time and space, and even entering dreamlike states without warning. At times, the story is hard to follow. Studi bounces between retelling damning events erased from history books and reenacting conversations she’s had over the years, changing the accent and tone of her voice to represent a swath of characters. Changes in lighting and sound do help with these transitions, and cloth weaving through limbless trees behind the stage serve as a backdrop for projected images of the landscape Studi encountered and the historic documents she uncovered as part of her research.

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With so much ground to cover, And So We Walked is fast-paced. Studi speaks rapidly to the audience, and a few tender, heart-exposing moments were cut short by quick transitions to other scenes, leaving the audience craving more intimacy.

In an interview with Portland Center Stage, Studi admitted that she wanted the story to be about the people she met along the way. But director Corey Madden urged her to dive deep and tell her own story.

The result is a play that leaves theatergoers with a better understanding of the generations of trauma that Studi has inherited. Her story forces us to revisit a part of our country’s history that some would rather bury.

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The Thanksgiving Play Skewers America’s Worst Holiday

Wed, 11 Apr 2018 04:00:00 -0700

Larissa FastHorse’s committed, well-crafted satire takes on well-meaning liberals and theater’s diversity problem. by Megan Burbank

Larissa FastHorse’s The Thanksgiving Play, now playing at Artists Repertory Theatre, is a beautiful skewering of sanctimonious, upper middle-class white guilt. It’s a joke at the expense of comfortably privileged people who only began to care about politics after the 2016 election and stopped by the inauguration. It’s a committed, well-crafted satire, right down to the Seventh Generation disinfecting wipes, culturally inappropriate smudging, and references to Burning Man. That’d be enough to sustain this brisk, 90-minute play—please can all plays be 90 minutes—but there’s much more at work here.

The Thanksgiving Play’s very existence is a jab at the theater world’s lack of meaningful diversity—FastHorse’s previous plays, which were focused on Native American characters, weren’t getting reproduced due to theaters’ professed casting difficulties. So FastHorse wrote a play that didn’t require Native actors. The characters in The Thanksgiving Play are white, and it’s a true reversal to see white actors deliver lines written by a Native American playwright skewering white culture. It’s pointed and deservedly mocking, and doesn’t let its characters off the hook.

The legacy of racism and oft-ignored genocide at the heart of America’s worst holiday is revealed in all of its terrible glory here, with offensive elementary Thanksgiving skits intercut with the action, as struggling, tunic-clad director Logan (Sarah Lucht) attempts to put together an age-appropriate yet enlightened yet abstract yet accessible Thanksgiving performance for elementary schoolers. She’s joined by her street-performer paramour, Jaxton (Michael O’Connell), an obnoxious new age-y man wearing a culturally appropriated mala, who reminded me of every real obnoxious new age-y man wearing a culturally appropriated mala. They’re assisted—somewhat—by Alicia (Claire Rigsby), a white actress they’ve mistakenly identified as Native American based on her intentionally racially ambiguous headshot, and Caden (Chris Harder), an amateur actor and dramaturg played by Harder with a manic delivery reminiscent of The Good Place’s Jason Mendoza.

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The play’s broad silliness—and the actors’ commitment to its absurdity—makes these characters easy to laugh at, and it was a medium-weird experience to hear a room full of Portland theatergoers—mostly white, and mostly, I’d guess, over 40–laugh, essentially, at themselves. Maybe that’s an important exercise, though. It’s easy for well-intentioned liberals of a certain age and character to drown their pretty good values in self-seriousness and sanctimony. (This is, after all, the Pacific Northwest, the center in the Venn diagram between West Coast whiteness and well-intended liberalism.)

Only by laughing at our performative seriousness do we see it’s part of the problem.

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O, Democracy!

Wed, 28 Mar 2018 04:00:00 -0700

Hamilton will make you feel better about being an American. by Megan Burbank Whenever political anxiety gets me so on edge that freezing my phone into a block of ice and joining the back-to-the-land movement start to seem like reasonable decisions, I put on an episode of The West Wing, and let Leo, Toby, Josh, C.J., Sam, and President Bartlet take the wheel. The West Wing is—and always was—a liberal fantasy, and an imperfect one at that. Aaron Sorkin wrote some jokes into the first couple seasons that now read plainly as workplace harassment. Beloved characters disappear without warning or explanation. There is an entire episode that is just an extremely boring “live” “broadcast” of a fake presidential debate. But none of that matters when W.G. “Snuffy” Walden’s score swells over the opening credits, filling me with patriotic fervor for a fictional administration where public servants are good at their jobs, understand the life-and-death stakes of running a country, and harbor appropriate discomfort with the power entrusted to them. Electoral College aside (because fuck that relic of slavery!), I am a true believer in the Democratic process and the imperfect, ongoing American experiment. I believe in civic engagement the way some people believe in the eucharist. Because when public policy is working the way it should, it has the power to make people’s lives better in material, measurable ways. It can be transformative. At present, it’s been hijacked. I need to be reminded that this wasn’t always the case, and won’t be forever. I share my appreciation for Sorkin’s long-departed TV show in part because Lin-Manuel Miranda has cited it as an inspiration for his American history hip-hop musical Hamilton, whose touring production has just arrived in Portland. But mostly, I bring it up because, even though the play’s been running for two years, and it might give you FOMO to know you’re watching its second touring cast, and the cheap-ticket lottery odds are not in anyone’s favor, one of the best reasons to see something like Hamilton right now is that it brings that essential West Wing feeling, that reminder of the promise of America. Only moreso, because it’s about our founding fathers, and none of them are played by old white guys. This feels like a big, ebullient “fuck you” to the racist assholes currently mistaking misspelled bigotry for public policy while they enter and exit (and exit, and exit) the highest office in the land. But Hamilton is also much more than that. It’s one thing to know that representation matters. It’s another to experience it in the form of Ta’rea Campbell’s rapping genius as Angelica Schuyler, Marcus Choi’s gravitas-filled performance as George Washington, and even Nik Walker’s Aaron Burr, who made me like Aaron Burr, eventual murderer of Alexander Hamilton, more than Aaron Burr perhaps deserves. Though it’s set in the distant past, Hamilton looks like the political future—at least the one I hope for—where those in power accurately reflect the people they represent. In this regard, Hamilton exceeds its outsized hype, but I knew going in that it wouldn’t be perfect. In his review for the New Yorker, Hilton Als writes that Miranda “doesn’t have much feeling for his female characters; for the most part, they’re plot points in silk.” For the most part, I’m inclined to agree, especially in the case of Eliza Hamilton (Shoba Narayan), who helped Alexander publish The Federalist Papers and opened the first private orphanage in New York City, but here is reduced to empty descriptors like “trusting” and “kind,” sings a song literally called “Helpless,” and does things like tell Alexander to go to bed rather than stay up working, a scenario straight out of a nagging-wife-and-indolent-husband sitcom that doesn’t jibe with the real-life Eliza’s role in nurturing and preserving Alexande[...]


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Good Morning Miss America Takes on Mortality and Caretaking

Wed, 14 Mar 2018 04:00:00 -0700

CoHo's latest depicts a the reality of aging without sugarcoating. by Nancy Slavin

I saw CoHo Productions' Good Morning Miss America on International Women's Day, which turned out to be appropriate timing, given that across the globe women do the majority of the caretaking for the elderly. In America, that gender disparity is particularly evident if the elderly are still at home, and as baby boomers age, that describes more people every day. Many seniors are relegated to institutions for care, and many of us don't like to discuss this–but not Phyllis Yes. The well-known Portland visual artist, Lewis & Clark instructor, and newly celebrated playwright has brought this difficult and frustrating topic into the spotlight with Good Morning Miss America.

Good Morning Miss America examines one woman's journey of assisting her aging mother and stepfather, who want to hold onto each other and their independence, despite their increasing physical and mental frailty. That woman, Jane (Lorraine Bahr), is a successful, busy artist who also doesn't live near her mother and stepfather, which means facilitating long-distance elder care. Jane's mother, Doris (Jane Fellows, who also directed), has serious chronic health conditions, but Lou (Rick Sadle), Jane's stepfather, insists he can manage Doris' needs. So Jane travels back and forth between their home and hers, managing finances, medications, and plans, while also trying to convince her sister, Cindy (Kelley Marchant), to help out. Complex strata of dysfunctional family dynamics–like parental favoritism, various neuroses, and creepy boundaries–come to light, as both elders' mental and physical health deteriorate.

No character in Good Morning Miss America is particularly lovable, and their worsening circumstances lead to cringe-worthy behaviors. The moments of levity Yes has written into the script don't provide quite enough relief. Sadle took on the role of Lou only a few months before opening, and he looks as if he could've used more rehearsals to master the tricky balance of portraying the character's devolution. But Bahr expresses with depth the frustration, sadness, worry, and psychological pain of watching her mother age, especially when Doris confuses her daughters' identities.

As the play comes to its denouement, Jane realizes she has no choice but to accept things as they are–her mother's love, her sister's capacity to be of service–even when they aren't what she would've hoped for. A few times during and after Good Morning Miss America, I wondered why anyone would watch a play that depicts real life with such sad intensity. But this inevitable circumstance is one we will all face, and we need to see the reality of it.

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At Portland Playhouse, Scarlet Gives Hester Prynne a Voice

Wed, 14 Mar 2018 04:00:00 -0700

And a song! Surprise! It's a Scarlet Letter musical! by Megan Burbank

Nathaniel Hawthorne's slut-shaming classic The Scarlet Letter isn't fun at all, but Michelle Horgen's new adaptation at Portland Playhouse, Scarlet, really is. It's also a musical? I don't know, I'm just as surprised as you are. Because with the crucial exception of the 2010 Hawthorne-inspired movie Easy A, I hold no special place in my heart for The Scarlet Letter. None. Yes, it's a morality tale about the far-reaching damages of New England Puritanism, but it spills much ink on female suffering to make this larger point, and I am too young to have been forced to read it in high school. Speaking of high school, Commissioner Nick Fish brought his high school copy of the book to the play's opening night performance, in a gesture both highly adorable and expected from our arts commissioner, before giving a peppy speech reminding all assembled of the value of art. You don't have to tell me twice, mister!

He also wasn't wrong. What makes this version of The Scarlet Letter so enjoyable is its depiction of Hester Prynne not as a vessel for a lofty rhetorical argument against conformity, but as a person–a woman who, like many of us, finds herself in violation of a social contract she has no recollection of signing, who is punished publicly for something her male counterparts do freely, and who must navigate a restrictive, backward community with nothing but her own inner resources. This sounds like most women I know, and in this regard, Rebecca Teran's Hester is delightfully ordinary. She's smart and she's human, and her depth, inventiveness, and sympathetic characterization are enough to get me on board with the idea of a Scarlet Letter musical, which is no mean feat.

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A general aesthetic of well-employed simplicity also helps matters, from a small but strong pit orchestra–major props to the oboists, who have their work cut out for them here–to Alison Heryer's costume designs, which employ color sparingly and smartly to break up the Puritan shades of greige and visually signal narrative progression. But my favorite part of the musical arrives in the form of Horgen's song "Call Me a Witch," about women being accused of witchcraft for failing to adhere to restrictive social norms, sung with gleeful dry wit by Susannah Mars. When Mars took the stage for this particular number, I realized what set this version of The Scarlet Letter apart: It's less caught up in proving Hester's innocence than in suggesting an alternative to a system that requires such an exoneration at all–an alternative Scarlet depicts as one of community and friendship among marginalized women. That's a coven I'd gladly join.

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This Girl Laughs, This Girl Cries, This Girl Does Nothing Reworks the Fairy-Tale Princess Trope

Wed, 21 Feb 2018 04:00:00 -0800

The latest from CoHo Theatre elevates a nursery-rhyme plot into something moving and complex. by Nancy Slavin

You’d be correct to fret that a modern-day fairytale could be in danger of tipping into childish sentimentality—especially when it includes a mother who dies, a father who marries an evil stepmother, and three children abandoned in the woods. But with excellent direction and casting, and imaginative set-design and choreography, CoHo Theatre’s production of Finegan Kruckemeyer’s This Girl Laughs, This Girl Cries, This Girl Does Nothing, elevates its nursery-rhyme plot into a moving exploration of identity, autonomy, and family.

Albienne, Beatrix, and Carmen, played by Jen Rowe, Beth Thompson, and Alex Ramirez de Cruz, deal with death and abandonment separately, losing their foundation of sisterhood as they launch into individual young adult lives. While experiencing loneliness, war, strangers in strange lands, and the unknown, each girl must discover who she is in order to grow up. It’s a narrative that can be appreciated by both older audiences who’ve been there, and younger viewers who sense bumpy journeys waiting ahead.

While there’s no real dancing or singing in the play, the actors’ interwoven third- and first-person storytelling sounds musical, and their intricate blocking and prop movements seem choreographed. They even turn busy dialogue—which sometimes includes sing-songy rhymes like “three, trees, and these”—into clever moments of theater.

Jessica Dart, outreach and communications coordinator for CoHo, says that This Girl Laughs is one of the few shows the theater has put on with a younger audience in mind. “The co-producers feel very strongly that middle and high school students should experience this play,” Dart says. “Along with adults, since it tells a decades-long coming-of-age story. The hope is that some intergenerational discussion will emerge from that.”

The play is also a theatrical representation of how the CoHo Theatre operates under its co-production model. Each year, CoHo calls for applications from theater artists interested in its mission of broadening perspectives and cultivating empathy. Once vetted, CoHo provides guidance, strength, space, cash, and people-power while co-producers raise and match funds, do publicity, cast parts, run rehearsals, and more. Artistic Director Philip Cuomo says the theater is an “incubation and nurturing space for theater artists to take on more responsibilities.” The co-production model echoes what the three sisters in This Girl Laughs have to learn to do: individually take on challenging roles, and take responsibility for their choices while navigating the intricacies of life.

This play may not be right for anyone feeling cynical about the world, or who wants to escape it. It stirs up complicated feelings of disappointment, love, loss, and accountability. But more than ever, we need a play that manages to transform the time-worn princess fairytale into a thought-provoking piece about strong, talented women who are active, responsible agents in their own lives.

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Sleep No More! Shaking the Tree’s Macbeth is Here!

Wed, 21 Feb 2018 04:00:00 -0800

Sleep no more! Shaking the Tree's Macbeth is here. by Megan Burbank

Like most of Shakespeare’s death march tragedies, Macbeth is one of those plays that seems to go on forever right up to its blood-soaked apotheosis. The final plunge into madness and death can be thrilling if it’s done well, but most Shakespeare productions just give me flashbacks to carrying around the heavy slab of a college-issued Riverside Shakespeare and scribbling finals week essays in little blue books alongside my fellow type-A Hermiones. It’s not always delightful material to revisit, and it’s often too familiar to give me the rare suspension of disbelief that is the best part of live theater.

But I have a hard time saying no to anything at Shaking the Tree—artistic director Samantha Van Der Merwe’s productions are too inventive, intricate, and carefully experimental to pass up—so I set aside my quibbles with Shakespeare to see how the company would handle the Scottish play. For the most part, director Van Der Merwe’s Macbeth is traditional—it’s performed in the round, with clever staging and set-pieces, and simple yet effective costuming incorporating an abundance of dark draping and a slick repurposing of lyrical sandals.

Where this Macbeth really shines is in its approach to gender, with casting that adds a welcome gloss of contemporary social commentary to well-known source material. Both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are played by women—Jamie Rea and Anne Sorce. It’s fun to witness Rea and Sorce, often seen crushing it in critical yet secondary roles, as Shakespeare’s morally bankrupt leads. And in an adorable in-joke for anyone familiar with the text, one of Shakespeare’s iconic witches (arguably the best part of Macbeth) is played gamely by a man, Sam Dinkowitz.

Shaking the Tree typically convenes solid supporting ensembles, and Macbeth’s no exception: Arie Annyita is effective in several roles, including Macbeth rival Malcolm; Heath Koerschgen turns in strong performances as both the Thane of Lochaber (there are so many thanes in this play!) and doomed Young Siward, and it’s especially a treat to see Portland theater HBIC Vana O’Brien among the witches—my plus-one even recognized her from a previous appearance as a witch in Artists Repertory Theatre’s Broomstick, because that’s how good Vana O’Brien is at witchy roles.

With Macbeth, Shaking the Tree makes something familiar into something dark and occasionally genuinely horrifying—but never as campy or rotely predictable as many Shakespeare productions. If you’re a jaded recovering English major, it may not seem essential, but for first-time viewers, there’s much to recommend it.

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Jamie M. Rea as Macbeth.


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Kodachrome Captures the Nostalgic Pull of Photography

Wed, 14 Feb 2018 04:00:00 -0800

The JAW Festival pick premieres at Portland Center Stage. by Emily Gillespie

There’s a reason why saying a picture’s worth 1,000 words is such a cliché. The sentiment is one we’ve likely all experienced, even on a personal level—catching sight of a framed scene from memory or a familiar face beaming into a camera lens, and feeling the nostalgic pull of a different place and time. The essence of that experience is beautifully captured in Kodachrome. The play intermixes moments of gut-wrenching sadness with lighthearted humor, all while forcing the audience to pause and confront each emotion with the click of a shutter.

Weaving drama with photography, Kodachrome focuses on Suzanne (Lena Kaminsky), also known as the Photographer, who starts things off by breaking the fourth wall, saying to the audience: “I have loved.” She then guides theatergoers through the town of Colchester and its interconnected stories of love and loss.

Along the way, Suzanne points and shoots, capturing moments that are instantly projected onto the stage’s backdrop for the audience to see. With each shot, she creates a poignant moment. The audience instantly understands the photograph on a deeper level, because they get to see it taken: They feel the pain behind a close-up shot of wringing hands, the loving intention in an image of a colorful floral arrangement. Like any good tour guide, Suzanne explains things throughout (“I just help people look at things”) and asks rhetorical questions. (“Is love something we invented so we could feel pain more intensely?”)

Directed by Rose Riordan and written by Adam Szymkowicz, Kodachrome was among the scripts at 2015’s JAW: A Playwrights Festival, which is put on yearly by Portland Center Stage and brings a handful of playwrights from across the country to Portland for a two-week workshop.

With nearly all of the cast playing dual roles, a true highlight of the show is Ryan Tresser’s performance. As two characters, the Gravedigger and the Young Man, Tresser, who previously appeared in PCS’ One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, expressively embodies both, forcing the audience to empathize with the wide array of complex emotions each inhabits.

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So Long, Astoria

Wed, 14 Feb 2018 04:00:00 -0800

Portland Center Stage's ambitious two-part play comes to an end. by Nancy Slavin

The dark, dank stage of Portland Center Stage’s production of Astoria, like all the actors on it, plays multiple roles: fort, ship, and forest. The set is reminiscent of old, loamy spruce groves on the Northern Oregon coast, where I lived for 25 years. But Chris Coleman’s adaptation of Peter Stark’s book about John Jacob Astor and Thomas Jefferson’s Lost Pacific Empire—with the subtitle, “A Story of Wealth, Ambition, and Survival”—suggests that the story of westward expansion is more like a vast, detrimental clear-cut than something to applaud.

The Armory’s success in pulling off this play—2017’s best-selling Portland theater production—is a fitting send-off before Coleman relocates to become artistic director for the Denver Center for the Performing Arts Theatre Company. The first of its two installments focused on the American belief in Manifest Destiny, and could be viewed as an epic tribute to rugged founding fathers. But Astoria also implies that the word “survival” in Stark’s subtitle is not only about confronting harrowing natural elements in land and sea expeditions, but also the darkest parts of ourselves. The fictionalized historical characters exhibit excessive greed, ineptitude, arrogance, and a deep sense of entitlement to take what they want when they want it, with no regard for existing human, wildlife, and plant populations.

The play’s second installment considers the costs inherent in establishing the first city built on fur trade, though the first half of the play offered no real opinion on them. Still, when Captain Jonathan Thorn (Ben Rosenblatt) looks out at the audience with an icy stare, we can also see the complex, rotted interior of his soul. DeLanna Studi’s portrayal of Marie Dorian gives us a woman literally pregnant with the conflict of being responsible for white men’s lives while sensing that their success will endanger Native Americans. “White men don’t like to share” is a line from Astoria that skulks in my mind, not because it landed as ironic historical commentary, but because the quip echoes an old American story that continues to threaten our survival.

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Getting Lost in Magellanica

Wed, 07 Feb 2018 04:00:00 -0800

Artists Rep's Six-Hour Behemoth is About More than Climate Change by Thomas Ross Eight people—scientists, engineers, soldiers—head to the South Pole for the winter in 1986. This is the simplest synopsis of Magellanica, the nearly six-hour play by Oregon’s E.M. Lewis. Artists Repertory Theatre wants you to “binge-watch” it, which I begrudgingly admit is accurate terminology. Winter is dark at the South Pole, where there is “one sunrise and one sunset a year.” The aurora australis lights the sky in green streaks; one scientist is there to study that. Two climatologists attempt to prove or disprove the existence of a hole in the ozone layer. Two people fall in love, one attacks another, one tries to write a book, one wants to make “a new and accurate map of the world.” One’s a Norwegian ornithologist waiting for summer, when he’ll head to an island of “only penguins and French people. Mostly penguins.” Over eight months of winter, each will try to keep themselves and each other alive, and eventually—sure—try to save the world. Sara Hennessy and Michael Mendelson play the climatologists, she American and he Russian, as they bicker over who—and whose country—has the right to conduct research on climate change, and what that research proves. But Lewis knows what the audience knows: There is a hole in the ozone layer, humans did make it, and 30 years later, the world still needs saving. The argument eventually evolves into one of how to present the truth to a public unwilling to acknowledge it. {{image:1}} The ornithologist, Lars (Eric Pargac) is writing three books. One’s a secret, but another is a children’s book about penguins. In one of the play’s funniest and most moving scenes, he tells his children’s story entirely in Norwegian, waddling maniacally around the stage, enlisting the other characters as actors in a story they delightedly struggle to understand. It’s tempting to call kind, hilarious Lars the heart of the play. It’s tempting to say that of every character. In the first act, they’re all set up fairly one-dimensionally: sweet Scandinavian goofball, shut-off grieving American, obstinate Soviet curmudgeon, traumatized veteran leader, affable drifter handyman, American immigrant wunderkind, adorable old mapmaker, extremely British asshole. By the third act, those descriptions barely begin to encapsulate the characters. After the first act, I liked hating Joshua Weinstein’s permasneer as English scientist William Huffington so much I actively hoped he wouldn’t be redeemed. By the third act, I wanted to rock him peacefully to sleep in my arms. Barbie Wu plays May Zhou, a science prodigy driven by a compulsion to impress her demanding parents. It’s a trope-y model-minority characterization that quickly becomes something deeper, specific to the character and the situation, as May grows attached to ailing Bulgarian cartographer Todor Kozlek (Allen Nause). Kozlek’s “new and accurate map of the world” quickly spins into a swimmy, feverish, at least four-dimensional record that’s more of knowing the world than the known world. Where Wu’s every movement is an articulation of anxious energy and fear of wasted potential, Nause wanders the stage with a graceful, balletic bewilderment in the face of a boundless yet finite world. {{image:2}} Vin Shambry and John San Nicholas round out the cast as the non-scientists. John San Nicholas is another dark horse contender for heart of the show—a late monologue places his character Freddy “on the edge of important.” San Nicholas is also the only actor who can always read Lewis’ sometimes-purple soliloquies completely naturally, with the amiable tragedy of someone who genuinely doesn’t[...]


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Roller Coasters, Emotional and Otherwise, in 2.5 Minute Ride

Wed, 07 Feb 2018 04:00:00 -0800

Profile Theatre's new season begins with Lisa Kron's reflection on family and trauma. by Megan Burbank

Profile Theatre’s commitment to producing plays by women and people of color continues this month, in a new double season focused on playwrights Anna Deavere Smith and Lisa Kron. First up: Kron’s 2.5 Minute Ride, an autobiographical solo show that packs volumes into 75 minutes with Kron stand-in Lisa (Allison Mickelsen, last seen as an Alison Bechdel proxy in another autobiographical show, Portland Center Stage’s Fun Home).

Lisa’s a bundle of nerves, someone who talks her way convulsively through moments of discomfort. In a free-wheeling monologue that covers the idiosyncrasies of the Midwest (“Health food in the Midwest is anything in a pita”) and two family trips—one to Sandusky, Ohio’s Cedar Point amusement park, the other to Auschwitz—Lisa is a friendly Virgil shepherding us through her attempts to understand her father, a Holocaust survivor and roller coaster enthusiast.

Though its central metaphor feels forced at times, Kron’s script contains no didactic bludgeoning or gratuitous accounts of violence. Instead, her seemingly breezy treatment allows for an oblique, somewhat shielded entry into trauma. While there’s no way to capture individual suffering with complete accuracy in any work of art, it’s to Kron’s credit that her script prompts examination of trauma less through what’s said than through silence. “You all already know what this looks like, right?” she says, recounting the trip to Auschwitz with her father. “You’ve seen these images before. You don’t need me to describe this to you.”

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She’s right. We can fill in the details, and the play trusts us to do just that. As Mickelsen’s subsequent, slow-burning pause elapsed, I thought back to all those images, all those stories, all those Holocaust memoirs. I haven’t been to Auschwitz, but I was reminded of the closest proxy of it I’ve ever seen: a scale model of a concentration camp in a German history museum in Berlin, the tiny figures of prisoners lined up in the direction of the gas chamber, its surprisingly slapdash machinery a stark reminder that someone was tasked with cobbling together an infrastructure for genocide, and followed orders.

Reflections like these are encouraged by Kron’s sensitive, holistic framing, her inference of audience intelligence, and the play’s undeniable and frightening political resonance. Kron’s father, who was still alive when 2.5 Minute Ride was written, died in 2015. “I yearn to hear his thoughts about this current regime. I’m also relieved he’s not here to see it,” she writes in an essay about her play’s revival, echoing a sentiment I’ve often heard—and felt—over the past year. “He would have a fascinating analysis. But so many times in this past year I’ve read the news, wondering if these events would trigger in him a fresh unleashing of old trauma.”

But Kron has something else to add: that her father would have found hope in popular uprisings like the 2017 Women’s March. “The hundreds of thousands rising up to say, ‘This way of treating people is wrong and I will not go along with it,’” she writes, “would have moved him beyond measure.”

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Sanity in Your Earbuds

Wed, 24 Jan 2018 04:00:00 -0800

Crooked Media's Lovett or Leave It is a necessary antidote to Trump's America. by Ned Lannamann Politics is crazy-making, and the discussion around politics—on cable news, on op-ed pages, on Twitter—is even worse. So it’s kind of unbelievable that the antidote to this ongoing madness is a group of podcasts about politics, in which conversations on the issues of today function as a countermeasure to the frustration, alienation, and anger that rational-thinking people experience every day in Trump’s America. Crooked Media—the online media company started by former Obama staffers Jon Favreau, Tommy Vietor, Dan Pfeiffer, and Jon Lovett—drops aural bundles of sanity several times a week, and their podcasts aren’t just required listening for more than a million people, but have become trusted sources of political opinions and a vital mouthpiece for the left. This week, Lovett, who co-hosts the semiweekly Pod Save America podcast with his Crooked Media co-founders, is bringing his solo project to Portland. It’ll be the first time a Crooked Media podcast has taped here since the company formed as a response to Trump’s election in November 2016. Lovett or Leave It is a gabby and outspoken weekly podcast that plays loosely with the variety-show format. (After working as a speechwriter for Obama, Lovett wrote for television, including co-creating the sitcom 1600 Penn.) Lovett’s show is always recorded live, and more often than not, it’s flat-out hilarious, featuring a panel of guest comedians and games played with audience members for prizes. In another era, this might sound like some hokey, Capitol Steps-style bullshit. It’s anything but. We’re living in perhaps the most absurd time in American history, and Lovett or Leave It’s humor does not depend on satire, thank god. (I think America might finally be beyond satirizing.) Instead, Lovett’s show often functions as a cathartic scream into the void, and he’s adopted a tongue-in-cheek, self-aggrandizing persona whose frankness and tendency to rant serve as a vicarious release valve for listeners. Yuks aside, Lovett or Leave It and Crooked Media’s other shows take their politics refreshingly seriously. As a recent New York Times profile on the company pointed out, past political humor outlets such as Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show would often refuse to come down on one side or the other, instead retreating to the sidelines where they could smirk at the left or right with equal distance. Crooked Media has zero interest in appearing unaffiliated—these guys worked for a Democratic president and on Democratic campaigns, and their podcasts often explicitly detail what listeners can do to help Democratic causes (such as the recent election of Alabama senator Doug Jones over Trump-backed alleged child molester Roy Moore). Lovett, Favreau, and Vietor just concluded a trip to Europe slyly dubbed the “American Apology Tour,” during which they tackled foreign policy issues. But as for what Lovett will be discussing in Portland on Lovett or Leave It, it’s impossible to predict—the news cycle moves far too quickly. There’s a good chance there will be some impressive guests on his panel—past guests include Norman Lear, Sarah Silverman, Kumail Nanjiani, Cameron Esposito, Jenny Slate, Hari Kondabolu, and Ronan Farrow. But whatever Lovett and his guests end up talking about, listeners across the globe will soon have it in their earbuds—and they’ll definitely be laughing along. [ Comment on this story ] [ Subscribe to the comments on this story ] [...]