Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Feast of All Hallows Eve

The children have seen them
In quiet places where the moss grows green
Colored shells
Jangle together
The wind is cold, the year is old,
The trees whisper together

And bent in the wind they lean.

—“Witches Hat,” Robin Williamson

Got to love Portland, a town after my own heart. When I went to Kaua’i in early September, it was beastly hot, like it could never be anything again but the top o’th’summer. And when I returned eight days later, autumn was in full swing, with leaves turning color, the sky bruise-purple, and rainrainrain……ah, so good to come home.

More importantly for my pagan soul, the night I returned – and this was September 17, mind you – I passed a porch with a jack-o-lantern on its top step. Yes, I mean a carved pumpkin with a burning candle in it, leering at me madly. And all over the neighborhood were homes already festooned with Halloween regalia: strings of orange lights, spooky construction paper cut-outs taped to windows.

Leaving PCS this evening, it thrilled me to feel the excited atmosphere of the downtown – traffic conspicuously absent, people rushing around, some in costume, even. The sense of festivity in the air. And in Irvington, where I live, black-clad kids rushing from door to door, the smell of wood fires and candle wax and burning pumpkin in the air.

No trick or treat for me, though. Coming home to a dark house that we kept that way all evening, I proceeded to celebrate in my own way. Nothing too wild; my days as card-tearing, broomstick-riding, cauldron-stirring witch are dormant, for the time being. But I still observe that hour of meditation, when I visit with Those Who Must Be Remembered. My much-missed grandparents, Irene and Joe. My high school buddy Mike Prosek, who died of lymphatic cancer shortly after we graduated. Randy West, of Storefront fame, the first person I knew (of many to come) to die of AIDS.

The whole impetus for Hallowe’en, you know, is that it’s the night of the year when the veil between the spirit world and ours is the thinnest. If you’re ever going to make contact with someone who has passed on before, this is the time to attempt it. For years I performed a Dumb Supper on this night, an achingly beautiful ritual in which you prepare a meal – in complete silence – for you and the missed one, and you eat together in wordless communion. For me, sometimes this coming together is simply sensed; other times it is movingly palpable. And healing.

It makes exquisite sense to me that the ancient Irish considered Samhain (that’s Halloween to you) the end of the old year and the start of the new one.

Monday, October 22, 2007

It's beginning to look a lot like Hallows.....

PlayGroup is PCS’s writers’ unit, which meets every other week to read new member writing, commiserate, talk about theater issues, and generally be of support to one another. Our latest provocation is an outrageous group show, devised just in time for Halloween, entitled Frenching the Bones. The title refers to an actual culinary term about scraping meat off ribs. Yikes!

We are indebted to member Sam Gregory for the ooky concept, centered around a nine-course dinner. Each playwright drew a course name out of a hat, and was therewith charged with writing a short playlet that somehow combined the substance of that course with ... horror. We start with an insouciant amuse-bouche, and gnaw and gnash our way to the heady “wine & spirits” course at the end.

The spirit of the Grand Guignol lives on!

Sam’s brainchild is free of charge, and all are welcome. Here are the details:


WHO: Portland Center Stage PlayGroup
WHAT: Frenching the Bones
WHEN: Tuesday, October 30, 2007 -- 8 PM
WHERE: CoHo Theater, 2257 NW Raleigh, Portland OR


Frenching the Bones: A Night of New One Acts on Horror & Food

On October 30, PlayGroup presents a reading of nine brief one-acts exploring the twisting connections between horror and food.

Comic and Grotesque, Touching and Horrifying, Tasty and Tasteless, the nine courses on this menu run the gamut of sensations.

Four talented actors take all 28 roles.

The evening will be directed by Matthew B. Zrebski, with stage directions voiced by Virginia Belt.

The playwrights include William S. Gregory, Hunt Holman, Althea Hukari, Shelly Lipkin, Ellen Margolis, Steve Patterson, Patrick Wohlmut, Nick Zagone and Matthew B. Zrebski.

The cast includes Sharon Mann, Chris Murray, Gary Norman and Cecily Overman.

The show starts at 8 PM, and runs under two hours.

We are indebted to OREGON CULTURAL TRUST for supporting the work of PlayGroup, and to COHO PRODUCTIONS for providing us with a place to perform as a way of encouraging original playwriting.

See you at CoHo!

Sunday, October 14, 2007

I see Paris, I see France

Bumptious bloggers have reminded me that I posted a photo of Russell Parkman's set model for The Underpants weeks ago without ever making good on my promise to explain why. Well. Above is a photo of Russell's model; for a close-in peek of a more refined version, please check out my post of 9/25.

This is a play with a plot that turns on a series of maneuvers set in motion when young wife Louise’s lingerie slips down around her ankles at a very public event. Man after man starts showing up at Louise’s home, hoping to rent a room there under the oblivious eye of Theo, the stuffed shirt of a husband. And all the while the wacky upstairs neighbor eggs Louise on toward infidelity, encouraging her to revenge herself on her husband’s indifference by engaging in dalliances with the tenants. Hence, since feminine machinations drive the play forward, Rose (Rose Riordan, the play’s fearless directrix)wanted a living room in which men felt uncomfortable – out of their element, like visitors to a foreign country.

Look at that model; everything about it is sinuous, curvaceous. I don’t think there’s a right angle in Russell’s design. The confectionery colors suggest flounce and bounce. Even the wallpaper, dappled as it is with queen-sized cherries, suggests – or rather announces -- a comic longing for love or at least romantic adventure. (You have to click on the 9/25 image to see this.) Freud would be pleased; not only is he referenced within the first minutes of Steve Martin’s free adaptation of this play, he gets a set worthy of a libido run amok.

Here’s a little historical tie-in for you betwixt The Underpants and Cabaret. When the Nazis came to power (and Chris Coleman’s Cabaret ends with the ratification of Hitler’s government), one of their first official actions was to ban any artists perceived as “degenerate” or otherwise counter to the new order. This play’s original author, celebrated playwright Carl Sternheim, was certainly on the list.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


Well, somebody has to say it. Yes, I turn timeless today. And so though it's a 12-hour day at PCS and though I'm still drowning in a constant stream of internally produced PUS (that's right, thank you), I will still strive to celebrate the me of me all day today.

The illustration on the left is from an ancient Incredible String Band anthology entitled Relics. That seemed apropos for my 75th solar return.

No need to send presents, but psychic flashes of all kinds would be most welcome.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

one sick mofo

Discovered recently during my astral travels that one of my favorite writers, Jason Grote, has been ill with symptoms that sound like mine. And I left him a sympathy note, which I’m more or less redacting in this post in order to conserve what little energy I have (hakhak).

As I was saying to meine grote, as with him, this disgusting business started off small -- a coughling and a sniffle or two -- and soon graduated into a plethora of unpleasantries.
One lovely thing that helped me through it all a birthday present from my sainted mother: ye olde Addams Family episodes, on DVD. That helped a lot on those daze when all I could do was sit in bed and moan like Lurch.

Plus it was something of an epiphany to realize how much the show influenced me as a kid. Or perhaps I should say: ratified me. I distinctly remember the time that my (sainted) mother and I visited Great-Aunt Edna’s house in Saint Louis – a mysterious and ooky manse that from the outside looked exactly like the Addamses. I mean exactly. At one point during the visit I left the sitting room on the pretext of needing to pee, then sneaked upstairs to have a look around. Room after room after room was full of furniture covered with sheets. To my young imagination, it looked like a ghost cotillion.

Edna died somewhere in the 1960s. Thousands of dollars were found stuffed under her mattress. She survived the depression, Mom explained, and evidently never regained her trust in banks.

When I moved to Portland in 2002, I dismayed my realtors by telling them that I was essentially looking for a haunted house. I wanted something at least three stories tall, preferably old, drafty and imposing, the sort of place that kids would dare each other to ring its doorbell on Halloween. Never mind that I didn’t need such a place. Houses like that didn’t exist in Los Angeles, and now that I’d moved to Wuthering Heights, I wanted a home to match.

There are many such houses in Portland, but for various reasons, I did not wind up with one of them. I like my house very much, but Morticia would not feel comfortable here.
And as for me, well … looking at her old episodes, I realized that it was the Addams home I was looking for all along. Maybe it’s still out there waiting for me.

Also during my long convalescence, whenever I grew too enfeebled to sit up, all I had to do was switch the laptop from The Addams Family to a library DVD of Cymbeline, which providentially I had checked out only days before becoming bedridden. Let me tell you. At least in this BBC version, watching that play was likely dropping a couple of ludes. I mean soporific. Presumably it's more compelling in performance...?

Saturday, October 6, 2007

More about Cabaret, old chum

In preparation for all the Prologues, Q&A sessions and everything else associated with the Portland Center Stage production of Cabaret, this summer I finally broke down and read The Berlin Stories, by Christopher Isherwood. These remarkable, mostly autobiographical accounts of Berlin partying while Hitler rises to power are harrowing, funny, revealing and absorbing. I should have read them decades ago; it’s the sort of book that can show a young writer there’s a middle ground between confessional diarism and fiction.

Don't do as I did, though, and take the book on vacation with you. Imagine me avidly and anxiously rushing through these stories, as “Cliff Bradshaw” (Isherwood’s nom de guerre) traipses through Berlin’s seedier spider traps with the Nazis growing ever more menacing and numerous….and all while I’m sunning myself at the edge of the world in emerald green Kaua’i. Embodying a new definition of cognitive dissonance. I hardly needed to be transported away from Hanalei, but it was a journey worth taking nevertheless.

Since then, in my follow-up research, it touched me to learn that there’s now a plaque on the front of the house where much of The Berlin Stories unfolded, acknowledging the building’s historical and literary importance. It makes Cabaret all the more poignant knowing that most of its characters – Fraulein Schneider, Ernst, Fraulein Kost, Bobby, and of course Sally Bowles herself – actually lived, and lived in that very residence. I hope to visit it myself someday.

Meanwhile, here’s a some fun spots for you: Storm Large’s promo for the production, done in character; same for Wade McCollum; and also a brief introduction by the play’s director and my boss, Chris Coleman. Cheers.