Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Drunken City

Portland Center Stage’s


invites you to a concert reading of

The Drunken City

By Adam Bock


November 3, 2008


@ Portland Center Stage

128 NW Eleventh Avenue (between Couch & Davis)

in the Rehearsal Room

Admission is free, but space is limited

Please email Megan Ward at meganw@pcs.org

to reserve your seat


Marnie’s getting married! The girls are out on the town to celebrate her last night of being single, when they run into Frank and Eddie. Sparks fly and Marnie is left questioning why she’s getting married. In The Drunken City, everyone is trying to sober up and find some balance — especially the bride-to-be.
Adam Bock’s plays include The Thugs (OBIE Award), Swimming in the Shallows (3 BATCC Awards, Clauder Award), Five Flights (Glickman Award), The Typographer’s Dream, The Shaker Chair and Three Guys and a Brenda (Heideman Award), and The Receptionist, which is currently running at CoHo Productions. He is the resident playwright at Encore Theater, a Shotgun Players artistic associate, and a New Dramatists member playwright. He is currently writing a screenplay for Scott Rudin/Miramax.

Our outstanding cast includes:

Brittany Burch, Paul Glazier, Chris Harder, Julie Jeske Murray, Chris Murray & Laura Faye Smith

Now Hear This and Portland Center Stage
gratefully acknowledge the support of
the Oregon Cultural Trust

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Sign of the Times

All right, at this point you can barely tell what's going on here, but this was originally a neighbor's Halloween display: a pretty decent effigy of McCain, liver spots and all, dressed in a Dracula outfit. But now persons unknown have vandalized the poor thing, having shoved something like a carving knife through its face. Scary!

Question is: was it an anti-McCain zealot, or an incensed McCanaanite who took exception to the installation?

Anyhow, you can still make out the headstone at Grandpappy's feet, emblazoned with this legend:

McCain Campaign

From their lips....

Sunday, October 19, 2008

My Big Fat Theatergoing Weekend

Friday night Bucky opened – well, its real and more descriptive title is R. Buckminster Fuller: The History (and Mystery) of the Universe. And though I saw the show in rehearsal and in previews (and was captivated by it), I had to sit out the actual opening because the evening was totally sold out.

And you know that can’t be bad.

So I was cross-town in another quadrant of Oz, at Coho Productions, getting to see the West Coast premiere of The Receptionist, by comely Canadian Adam Bock. It was a gripping experience in many ways. Full of signature Bockage, the dialogue is a hyperreal crazy quilt of sentence fragments, scavenged language and slips of speech that render the action so immediate you find yourself wondering if the actors are improvising. This linguistic legerdemain lends itself so well to comedy that you forget the clever Mr. Bock is probably setting you up. Sure enough and soon enough, a sinister element creeps in – so casually you hardly notice it at first. And that’s very much to the playwright’s point.

As directed by Rose Riordan (who also directed Adam’s The Thugs for PCS), this is a thrilling production, rendered all the creepier by the way the comedy inveigles you into laughing at something that isn’t ultimately funny at all. Of course it didn’t hurt this production that Rose is one of the best directors in Portland, or that among her talents is razor-sharp casting sensibility. With a cast including Sharonlee McLean, Laura Faye Smith (that's her character in the photograh,desperately trying taffy therapy) Chris Murray and Gary Norman, she got to work with some of Portland’s most outstanding actors. Go see this show.

Saturday evening I stayed home to baby-sit Mac, and watched The History Boys on HBO -- a film offering proof positive that not every stage success should be churned into a screenplay.

Oh, but then today. Saw Third Rail’s latest: Terry Johnson’s excoriating comedy Dead Funny. It was a wild afternoon, with most of PCS’s Guys and Dolls cast taking advantage of a free afternoon to indulge in the busman’s holiday of seeing someone else’s matinee. So it was a great audience from the very top.

As Hollyanna McCollum put it in PDXmagazine, “Dead Funny isn’t just a title. It’s a promise.” Personally I was puzzled, through the first act, anyway, at why people were even laughing. Sure there were jokes galore, but much of the humor was pure botulism – watching not one but two marriages fall apart in front of you meant you laughed through your teeth at how painful it all was.

But in Act 2 things get down to their depths. Maureen Porter’s character Ellie, so indomitable in the first half, eventually lets her vulnerability come to fore. And the surprise character of the story, who seems like a mere comic foil at first, turns out to be the most achingly, endearingly human of them all. This is John Steinkamp’s portrayal of Brian, a bachelor poofster so benighted he assumes no one knows he’s gay. He alone, in the end, sees that losing your illusions can be the best thing that ever happens to you.

It was inspiring, too, to see Mr. Steinkamp in a role that really allows him to use his considerable talents. Let’s hope we start seeing him more often.

Not a bad tally, eh? Three terrific plays (including Bucky) and awesome performances throughout – not something I’m able to say every weekend. Portlandia, you have a wealth of outstanding theater to see right now. Take advantage while you can.

Friday, October 17, 2008


Does this ... put you in mind you of anything recent?

Thanks to my mysterious Cousin Tabitha for this contribution. May your shillelagh never warp.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Portland girl makes good!

Tonight we finally got to see the climax of Project Runway’s 5th season, culminating as always with a lavish Bryant Park fashion show. The winner: PDXer Leanne Marshall, who took top honors for her frothy line of lighter-than-air couture collection.

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that her success means Portland’s loss, at least for the immediate future. According to Olivia Barker, Leanne now

plans to move from Portland, Ore., to New York, hire a team "so that I don't have to sew 24 hours a day like I do now," and change the name of her label to Leanne Marshall. "I just think Leanimal didn't quite fit my line," she said. "People always asked if I did a lot of animal prints." Like her predecessor [Christan Siriano], she's hoping to stage a solo show at New York Fashion Week in February.

Miss you already, Leanne, but best of luck! Thanks for making us proud.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

No comment

McCain's arts statement:

John McCain believes that arts education can play a vital role fostering creativity and expression. He is a strong believer in empowering local school districts to establish priorities based on the needs of local schools and school districts. Schools receiving federal funds for education must be held accountable for providing a quality education in basic subjects critical to ensuring students are prepared to compete and succeed in the global economy. Where these local priorities allow, he believes investing in arts education can play a role in nurturing the creativity of expression so vital to the health of our cultural life and providing a means of creative expression for young people.

And Obama's platform:

Reinvest in Arts Education: To remain competitive in the global economy, America needs to reinvigorate the kind of creativity and innovation that has made this country great. To do so, we must nourish our children's creative skills. In addition to giving our children the science and math skills they need to compete in the new global context, we should also encourage the ability to think creatively that comes from a meaningful arts education. Unfortunately, many school districts are cutting instructional time for art and music education. Barack Obama believes that the arts should be a central part of effective teaching and learning.

The Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts recently said "The purpose of arts education is not to produce more artists, though that is a byproduct. The real purpose of arts education is to create complete human beings capable of leading successful and productive lives in a free society." To support greater arts education, Obama will:

---Expand Public/Private Partnerships Between Schools and Arts Organizations: Barack Obama will increase resources for the U.S. Department of Education's Arts Education Model Development and Dissemination Grants, which develop public/private partnerships between schools and arts organizations. Obama will also engage the foundation and corporate community to increase support for public/private partnerships.

---Create an Artist Corps: Barack Obama supports the creation of an "Artists Corps" of young artists trained to work in low-income schools and their communities. Studies in Chicago have demonstrated that test scores improved faster for students enrolled in low-income schools that link arts across the curriculum than scores for students in schools lacking such programs.

---Publicly Champion the Importance of Arts Education: As president, Barack Obama will use the bully pulpit and the example he will set in the White House to promote the importance of arts and arts education in America. Not only is arts education indispensable for success in a rapidly changing, high skill, information economy, but studies show that arts education raises test scores in other subject areas as well.

---Support Increased Funding for the NEA: Over the last 15 years, government funding for the National Endowment for the Arts has been slashed from $175 million annually in 1992 to $125 million today. Barack Obama supports increased funding for the NEA, the support of which enriches schools and neighborhoods all across the nation and helps to promote the economic development of countless communities.

---Promote Cultural Diplomacy: American artists, performers and thinkers - representing our values and ideals - can inspire people both at home and all over the world. Through efforts like that of the United States Information Agency, America's cultural leaders were deployed around the world during the Cold War as artistic ambassadors and helped win the war of ideas by demonstrating to the world the promise of America. Artists can be utilized again to help us win the war of ideas against Islamic extremism. Unfortunately, our resources for cultural diplomacy are at their lowest level in a decade. Barack Obama will work to reverse this trend and improve and expand public-private partnerships to expand cultural and arts exchanges throughout the world.

---Attract Foreign Talent: The flipside to promoting American arts and culture abroad is welcoming members of the foreign arts community to America. Opening America's doors to students and professional artists provides the kind of two-way cultural understanding that can break down the barriers that feed hatred and fear. As America tightened visa restrictions after 9/11, the world's most talented students and artists, who used to come here, went elsewhere. Barack Obama will streamline the visa process to return America to its rightful place as the world's top destination for artists and art students.

---Provide Health Care to Artists: Finding affordable health coverage has often been one of the most vexing obstacles for artists and those in the creative community. Since many artists work independently or have non-traditional employment relationships, employer-based coverage is unavailable and individual policies are financially out of reach. Barack Obama's plan will provide all Americans with quality, affordable health care. His plan includes the creation of a new public program that will allow individuals and small businesses to buy affordable health care similar to that available to federal employees. His plan also creates a National Health Insurance Exchange to reform the private insurance market and allow Americans to enroll in participating private plans, which would have to provide comprehensive benefits, issue every applicant a policy, and charge fair and stable premiums. For those who still cannot afford coverage, the government will provide a subsidy. His health plan will lower costs for the typical American family by up to $2,500 per year.

---Ensure Tax Fairness for Artists: Barack Obama supports the Artist-Museum Partnership Act, introduced by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT). The Act amends the Internal Revenue Code to allow artists to deduct the fair market value of their work, rather than just the costs of the materials, when they make charitable contributions.

Any questions?

Thank you Tim DuRoche for extracting these two quotes from The Salt Lake Tribune and MyBarackObama, respectively. And thanks to Splattworks for the visual aids.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Adventures in Playwriting, cont'd

That’s right, the birthday madness continues. Thank you Dawn Young for the droll mortification at right. I feel a new Facebook portrait coming on.

Anyhow. It was my good fortune last night to take in another high watermark in the annals of Portland’s crazy-ass one-off events. This one, InsomniACTS, was a benefit for Portland Theatre Works that sets a new benchmark for fiscal transparency: all the money raised by the event goes toward a workshop of a new play by Andrew Wardenaar this coming spring, Live from Douglas.

InsomniACTS was a double-headed beast, conceived by PTWKS’s AD, Andrew Golla, and playwright/impresaria Eugenia Woods. Eager patrons crowded the fabulously groovy Hipbone Studio on Friday evening to see short plays by six notable Portland dramatists, including Nick Zagone, after which each writer was auctioned off on the spot. The winning bidder got to commission a playwright to write an entirely new short piece, with first and last lines of the commissioner’s choosing. Then the assembled voted on three props that had to be used in all six playlets.

Oh, and the playwrights had from then until 6:30am next morning to compose and turn in their scripts. Which would be cast and rehearsed that day, for presentation that same evening.


When I showed up on Saturday night, you could taste the excitement; a nervous flutter made the Studio seem to flap like a sail. Actors running back and forth; directors toting sacks of props peculiar to their own piece; an audience clearly prepared to have a rollicking good time. And they got it. Me, too.

The props turned out to be a gas mask, an oversized ladle and a stuffed crow. The given lines, in every single case, were of course diabolically challenging. All the writers did a game job, but specials props must go to Ellen Kesend for her hysterically funny and excoriating send-up of American recklessness, I Sold It on E-Bay.

With any luck, InsomniACTS will be an annual event. If so, they’ll be turning people away at the door, so get there early next time. And Andrew: jack up those admission prices! It is a benefit, after all.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Best Barfday Ever

My big birthday weekend got off to quite a start last night, when I headed off to see james moore ’s new play, wish, produced by one of my favorite Portland companies, defunkt theatre. Officially playwriting credit goes to james, but the script was developed through a workshop process with the other defunktionals.

Defunkt works out of The Back Door Theatre, which sounds like a dirty bookstore but is actually one of Portland’s tiniest venues – a Lilliputian black box behind the Common Grounds Coffee House over on Hawthorne. I got there early, and with a slightly upset stomach, thanks (I now think) to some new medication I’d swallowed an hour prior. And for some reason – insanely, as it would turn out – I decided that a tumbler of hot chocolate would be just the thing to soothe my stomach.

Already you know where this is headed.

The house opened and I took a seat in the second row. Behind me sat three women of a certain age. I overhead this little exchange:

Lady 1: And so….here we are! Surprise! This is the start of your birthday weekend!

Lady 2: What?

Lady 3: Your birthday. We’ve planned a full agenda of things to celebrate your birthday all weekend long, and this is our first stop!

Lady 2: I don’t get it.

Lady 1: We’re seeing this play for your birthday.

Lady 2: What, this play?

Lady 3: What’s the matter, don’t you want to see this play?

Lady 2: No.

[30 or so seconds of silence, then a complete change of subject]

They uttered this dialogue within earshot of the playwright and his girlfriend, who were sitting nearly next to them. But then, exactly as though this Beckettian exchange was the evening’s curtain raiser, the lights went down and wish began.

I loved it. It began as a quirky comedy with a very light, even breezy touch – a departure for james moore for sure, I thought. But of course that was a feint. The play’s most beguiling character is introduced in the next scene, and we learn shortly thereafter that she’s been brutally murdered. From there the play becomes a mystery of sorts, David Lynchish in the sense that the bottom drops out of our assumptions over and over again. In the final’s final movement, we were treated to a descent into an eerie dreamscape in which a skein of psychological tropes are investigated and then set aside – but not discarded. Several narrative possibilities are suspended in a floating solution of images, repeated phrases and references to people, objects and even a hamster, all of which seemed inconsequential earlier in the play.

That’s all I can tell you. I don’t know how it turned out, because I was coping with my own distresses. As the play went on, my gastrointestinal problems were growing increasingly urgent. And, well. Not that you asked, but I spent about a half hour trying to will the bile in my gut to stay where it belonged. After all, I was at the dead center of a 40-seat house; the playwright was seated behind me, the actors were right there in front of me. I put things off as long as I could, but it got to where a brackish liquid was creeping up my throat and I could no longer swallow it down. I thought oh my god, I’m about to give these actors the worst review of their lives by vomiting right at their feet!

Fortunately at that moment they moved upstage. I took advantage by jumping up, almost knocking over the poor guy next to me (actor extraordinaire Tom Moorman, BTW) and dashed out of the theater and into the cafe. Of course the bathroom was locked, so I ran through the place like Swamp Thing was after me, into the street. It must have been startling; I remember hearing someone drop a plate.

I got down the street only as far as the restaurant next door – which, alas, had large windows fronting the street – just as a large, voluble group of diners were exiting the place. I rushed to the low hedge underneath the windows and emptied a steaming torrent of hot chocolate into it. At least I supposed that’s what it was; it smelled like bad clams.

All the conversation around me stopped.

I straightened up, cleared my throat, and walked around the corner with as much dignity as can be managed when there’s cuckus on your sports jacket. I didn’t even consider going back in the theater – just found my car, leaned against it and cried for a few seconds, then got in the car and drove slowly, slowly home.

I was told later that night by the playwright that I missed his favorite part: the hamster opera! And so, my disgrace notwithstanding, I may have to return to the scene of my ignominy and see wish all over again. It’s worth it, not just to see singing hamsters but to revisit the story with a more omniscient overview. Beside, the acting was a pleasure throughout -- especially from Zero Feeney, a performer of strangely graceful gravity. You should see it, too; it’s the perfect antidote to all those bland television shows that expect nothing of you and don’t really need you to see them in the first place. Treat yourself now. Don’t wait for your barfday.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Happy Birthday to ME

In the interests of astronomical accuracy, my real solar return is still six days away. (I’ll be 74, thank you – one year younger than last time round!) The above-captioned milestone I refer to is actually the blog’s. Because at some point this morning, its site meter passed 10,000 visitors and slogged on to the current tally of 1,008. I have to love that number because it’s divisible by the number of prime numbers below – obviously!

As you might surmise, John Cage is the bodhisattva of the day, since I have nothing to say and I am saying it. Nevertheless and howsoever, I am astonished to have that many entities viewing this blog in the space of 18 months, especially since for the first third of that I only posted once every other month. So thank you, whoever you are, for checking in with me once in awhile.

To mark the occasion, today I thought I would abuse your patience by reverting to the age-old assumption that one’s medical symptoms are of intense interest to the entire blogosphere. Often, over the years, friends and others have accused me of being a space alien of some stripe or other, and not a human being at all. And I’ve come to realize that the evidence for this is mounting.

For ex:

1. I’m supposed to have a unique blood type – something about the blood cells having an odd shape, I don’t understand it.

2. My brain waves will not register on a biofeedback machine. This is true, it’s been tried several times. The machine will sit there as still as though I were dead.

3. Technically I’m hermaphroditic, in that my body houses vestigial oviducts. (According to my doctor, this is not actually unusual – he says one out of six men has this harmless condition. You might want to check into it for yourself if you’re of the male persuasion…)

4. I’m cursed with mixed brain dominance, which is also a mixed blessing. I believe it does have its peculiar advantages, but my leading symptom is that often when I’m trying to speak, too many synonyms crowd into my head at once and what comes out is a garbled amalgam. Hence public speaking is a horror show for me because I never know what will come out of my mouth.

Talking to a physician years ago about all of the above, she commented: “I would have to say that you’re either an evolutionary step forward…..or backward.”


I just realized that all these disclosures are going to scandalize my cousin, who is so private that she leaves no trace on the Web whatsoever; she’s as gossamer as the Web itself. Yet here I am, warding away potential clients with all my weirdnesses laid bare.

Sorry, Cousin “Tabitha” (NHRN). But I’m sanguine. Any one of us could develop a list of idiosyncrasies just as odd, though perhaps some would scruple to keep it to themselves.

Happy Birthday to US!