Saturday, October 31, 2009

All Hallows is here

And what better way to pay tribute to it than with this paean to the god and goddess within all of us, composed and performed by a woman who’s immortal herself.

What, you were expecting the Monster Mash? Please! Enjoy your Irish New Year, and give a thought to your ancestors tonight; in Gaelic tradition, the veil between their world and yours is more transparent now than during the whole rest of the year.

Halloween Countdown #2

Terribly late here for getting you my penultimate post for this year's All Hallows soundtrack … look for the last one in just a few hours! I’m tardy because of an exciting meeting this morning, the contents of which are so top secret that I can’t even share them here until November of 2011. Really! Two years off. But I share that much right now just to engender wonderment, annoyance and general pique.

For this post I bring you the amazing Lyke-Wake Dirge, which I first mentioned last All Hallow’s Eve on Mighty Toy Cannon’s fabulous music blog. This is a dirge, all right, but so haunting and with such a gradual build as to become spellbinding – which is, in fact, probably its original function.

In terms of its written history, this song dates back to England’s medieval period, but some believe its origins are much older. The pre-Christian version is reputed to be a culling song – a spell, of sorts, whose addictive power Chuck Palahniuk explores deftly in his novel Lullaby. It’s not hard to see how you could adapt the dirge to your own fell purposes …

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Halloween Countdown #4

A lush, lapidary Talking Deads composition from 1979 – 30 Halloweens ago, yikes. Reportedly David Byrne achieved the disjointed quality of his voice here by wearing a recording device while jogging.

I should warn you that this video starts with an inexplicable 30-second lead-in. Bear with it; it goes away soon, and the music's worth the wait.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Halloween Countdown #5

Another classic, composed by Grieg for a production of Ibsen’s unstageable Peer Gynt. Reportedy, when Ibsen attended the premiere, the person sitting next time expressed admiration for Grieg’s version. To which Ibsen replied: “Oh, you think that’s good, do you?”

I know what he meant. But for sheer storytelling theatricality, you can’t beat “Hall of the Mountain King.”

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Halloween Countdown #7

Alas, this is a latter-day adaptation of the opening music for Kubrick’s adaptation of Stephen King’s The Shining, not the mysteriously unavailable original. Wendy Carlos wrote that – clearly basing it on the “Dies Irae” – which was disturbing almost to the point of being unlistenable…

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Osage County comes to Portland

Tracy Letts is personally responsible for much of the sass I’ve gotten from playwrights in recent years. For decades I’ve said: look, there are a few simple “don’ts” you should follow if you want to be produced. These include:

Three-act plays
Large casts
Kitchen sink dramas about dysfunctional families

Then along comes Steppenwolf and Mr. Letts and August: Osage County, and Q.E.D., come to find out this form, like any other, can be electrifying in the hands of exceptional talent.

Which is not to stay that plays that require 13 actors are any more producible than they used to be. (It will be telling to see how many regional companies slate the play for their seasons once the rights are available.) But can this kind of theater (realistic, sprawling, etc.) still speak to us? Oh yeah.

Now August: Osage County has come to Portland, as a whistle stop in its national tour, to roost for five days at the cavernous Keller Auditorium. Which amounts to a fresh test for the Pulitzer-winning juggernaut. Does the venue swallow up an intimate drama? Will people go to the Keller, which is more often associated with shows like Camelot, for a no-holds-barred drama? Yes and yes.

Tonight’s run was well-attended and warmly received, notwithstanding the Keller’s sound problems. In Act 2 especially, when the family matriarch (played in full-out, pull-no-punches style by larger than life Estelle Parsons) lets the family weaklings have it, the Weston family’s shenanigans are breathtaking.

The outstanding cast (which includes two former Oregonians, Laurence Lau from Lake Oswego High and Paul Vincent O’Connor, formerly of OSF) shines. But no one outshines Estelle, who gets to offer up as vile a cesspool of botulism as you’ll ever see. Or ever wish you’d thought to say yourself. It was great fun tonight to hear some people gasping and others laughing out loud…all at the same lines.

Take note: Portland’s share of the national tour is brief, playing only through this Sunday, October 25. And unlike Camelot, this is one show where you’ll be glad you ponied up for the orchestra seats. Not all the play’s significance lies in its words; you will want to see these characters’ faces.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Halloween Countdown #8

An oldie but moldy, for your delectation. Much of ’60s psychedelia had a sweet tooth for thanatology, which went hand in hand with its penchant for minor keys. Here’s a fun example by the immortal Candadian band Procol Harum.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Halloween Countdown #9

The Munsters are to The Addams Family as beer is to Beaujolais.

Compare. Contrast. Discuss.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

PDX jiffy pops

In keeping with my latest dubious honorific as “the Tim Gunn of Portland theater,” here’s a few cultural kernels that are about to pop.

Tomorrow evening (Friday), Fool for Love opens at the CoHo, directed by the always fashion forward Megan Ward, and way to go, guys, for getting the splashy article in The Oregonian today.

Plus, the [First Annual?] Steven Dietz Festival rages on here. Recently Becky’s New Car opened to critical acclaim over at Artists Repertory Theatre, just barely in advance of Portland Playhouse’s popular production of Fiction.

The latter has the edge, however, with the playwright himself appearing after this Saturday evening’s performance for a post-play confabulation with none other than moi-même. But wait, there’s more! Earlier that same day at 2pm, ART hosts a staged reading coproduction of Yankee Tavern, Mr. Dietz's latest play. Portland hearts Steven.

Bonus gratuitous non sequitur

On the national front: apparently Balloon Boy’s not the one getting a spanking now. Bad dad!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

All's well that starts well

No doubt you’ve heard about Britain’s National Theatre’s latest gambit – showing high-definition, "live-captured" screenings of selected shows? It got off to a great start with the much-lauded production of Phèdre, starring none other than Helen Mirren, and on the strength of that success, now has a whole season of filmed productions ready to tour the galaxy.

When I first heard about this, I was thrilled. Here was an opportunity to see outstanding international theater without first spending eight cramped hours in a fuselage with swine flu in continuous circulation. And I rushed to the laptop to google NT LIVE. Who would be stepping up to the bat? Northwest Film Center? The Art Museum? PCS? A university, peut-etre?

Nope. Nary a taker, and actually, as it turned out, with good reason. Showings require special, high-end gear that’s costly. So Portlanders were apparently out of luck.

Until now. Thanks to the forward-thinking folks at Third Rail Rep and some of their extremely generous (and anonymous) donors, the British are coming to Portland, Oregon. First up: All’s Well That’s Ends Well, a celebrated production directed by Marianne Eliot, on October 24.

Two more productions will air here next year, including an adaptation by the fab Mark Ravenhill and a premiere by Alan Bennett. And get this: tickets are 20 bucks. In London nowadays, that’s what you’ll pay for a pint and a really sad little shepherd’s pie. So thank you, Third Rail, for bringing London to us. Consider me first in line for tickets.

Monday, October 12, 2009

"The choir has a lot to think about."

You remember ground-breaking play The Laramie Project. The original production, as created and performed by the Tectonic Theater Project, was a high watermark of my life in the theater. In the hands of less sterling artists, a play dealing with the brutal and inhuman murder of Matthew Shepard could have been a lachrymose screed. But this company, under the direction of Moisés Kaufman, was astounding. By interviewing people of all stripes in the Wyoming town about the aftermath of the murders, the company’s composite portrait ultimately affirmed my faith in humanity, when it could easily have ratified a more misanthropic view.

The play’s presentational style was thrilling, too, since it proved that a documentary style of performance could also be great theater.

How could it already be a full decade since the murder that sparked the project? Eleven, actually. Somehow it is, and Tectonic has created an epilogue: The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later. It will be read tonight at Lincoln Center and simultaneously all over the country in all kinds of venues and communities -- over 150 in all.

Portland, I’m proud to say that is participating in multiple locations, with at least five different readings going on that I know of. I’m going to the downtown hearing, presented by the New Century Players at downtown’s Newmark Theatre (at PCPA) with a team that represents a spectrum of local theater, including Stan Foote, Rose Riordan and Scott Yarbrough in the large cast.

Many of tonight’s readings are free; the one I’m attending is a benefit, with proceeds being donated to community action groups. Of course I want to support that, but beyond that, I want to be in the midst of other theater folk when I revisit an event that is so emotional for me.

And you know what about that? So what if this is preaching to the choir. I’m tired of people using that expression as an excuse for not participating. Anyway, as Tony Kushner has said, the choir has a lot to think about.

So come on down and be part of something. I’ll see you there.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Because it’s October.

Plus it’s my birthday.

Witch’s Hat, by Robin Williamson

certainly the children have seen them
in quiet places where the moss grows green

coloured shells jangle together
the wind is cold the year is old the trees whisper together
and bend in the wind they lean

next week a monkey is coming to stay

if I was a witches hat
sitting on her head like a paraffin stove
I'd fly away and be a bat
across the air I would rove

stepping like a tightrope walker
putting one foot after another
wearing black cherries for rings

Friday, October 9, 2009

Three things I want you to see at Wordstock

Full disclosure: these are three events I planned, so of course I consider them must-sees. They’re all omnibus occasions -- panel discussion/reading events, designed to extract maximum performance value out of each sojourn. Check it out.

Voices from Another Portland
Saturday, 2pm, Wieden + Kennedy Stage
Remember last June when I gushed over my favorite summer book, Portland Queer? Now meet five of the book’s contributors, as they read from their stories and wax philosophical over writing about Portland places and experiences as viewed through a different lens.

Editor Ariel Gore assures these writers – Marc Acito, Jacob Anderson-Minshall, Wayne Flowers, Colleen Siviter and moderator Dexter Flowers – are writers who love to perform and/or are performers who love to write. Sounds heady!

Stages of Playwriting
Sunday, 2pm, McMenamins Stage
Our three guests – Marc Acito, Storm Large and Cynthia Whitcomb – have all had recent hits on Portland stages that are now primed to wow audiences on the national scene. These writers will talk about the many advantages of workshopping homegrown work – including the support of local collaborators, an avid fan base, and most importantly, fellow writers (all three participate in the Big Brain Trust). Plus this panel is moderated by bon vivant Floyd Sklaver, so what’s not to like?

And yes, that is indeed Storm in the photo at right -- because I will stop at nothing to attract people to these panels – all dolled up as Gretchen Lowell, the dangerously fetching antiheroine of Chelsea Cain’s novels. (Chelsaa, you know, is also appearing at Wordstock: Sunday, 1pm, Colubmia Sportwear Stage.)

Border Crossings
Sunday, 3pm, McMenamins Stage
First of all, this discussion is moderated by Portland media goddess Dmae Roberts, okay? And then her guests are Marilyn Chin, Canyon Sam, and redoubtable Portlander Polo Catalani. Together they’ll discuss the tricky business of how you represent other cultures in writing without casting them in the dubious distinction of being exotic or resorting to other forms of orientalism. This is bound to be a lively discussion.

Saturday, by the way, is my 2nd annual 75th birthday. So show up for me, why don’t you.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Hellzapoppin’: Wordstock opens!

For you kids, Hellzapoppin’ was a riotously popular revue, in its heyday, that changed all the time. It was understood anything could happen at any time. You know it better through its descendant, the ancient TV show, Laugh-In.

But never mind, because that’s not what this post is about. The old title was also once a synonym for a constantly revolving kaleidoscope of activity, and today, on the eve of Wordstock’s opening, that describes things pretty well. With over 160 authors participating, it’s a thrilling advent.

Probably you know that you can get the weekend schedule of authors speaking, reading and teaching at the Wordstock website, but did you know that meanwhile a cavalcade of coterminous activity is happening all over town?

One must-see event is Chicago’s celebrated 2nd Story troupe, the company that “combines high-energy performance storytelling with live music and delicious wine.” What better way to inaugurate a festival celebrates the spinning of tales, right?

Doug Whippo from 2nd Story on Vimeo.

But wait, there’s more. Naturally you know Live Wire!, the live radio event that “isn’t just a show, it’s a happening.” Well, Saturday night at the Aladdin brings us the 5th Live Wire! Wordstock Extravaganza at the Aladdin Theater, starring a glittering bevy of Wordstock guests including Sherman Alexie, Richard Dawkins, Chelsea Cain, Candy Tan and more.

Both events are sure to be popular, and as a die-hard Portlandian you know that Live Wire! always sells out, so don’t wait for hell to freeze over. Get those tickets now.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Playing hooky

Entre nous, even whilst feverishly preparing for Wordstock, I have managed to sneak in a novel by a writer not appearing in this year’s festival. (Hopefully you’ll meet him at future fests.) You may know the divine Mr. M already from his theater assays: several Marivaux translations to his credit, for instance, plus the book for the Broadway musical version of The Triumph of Love, to name just a few things. So naturally when I learned that University of Wisconsin Press was publishing his first novel, I was all over it.

And my fanaticism was rewarded. Sugarless is a sparkling, beguiling sucker punch. It starts out as an edgy, nervously funny high school romp. Then the author gradually lures you into more dangerous waters. And even as Rick (the story’s young protagonist) achieves his pyrrhic victory, the story becomes unexpectedly poignant.

Serendipitously, Sugarless comes out a time when Fox’s musical juggernaut Glee is attracting huge audiences. But this book – which mines a different high school refuge, the speech department and its myriad contests – focuses less on the reactions of the rest of the student body (who are well nigh irrelevant in this miniature terrarium) and more on the internecine rivalries between Rick and his competitors.

Obviously this is a great book for anyone who endured the rigors of less than mainstream glory during high school: glee club, chess club, the drama department, et al. But anyone who came of age sexually during this period – which is to say, I think…all of us? – will respond to Rick’s misadventures with a sympathy that’s sometimes aggrieved, more often amused, and most often with wry commiseration.

I loved this book, and I think you will, too.