Thursday, February 26, 2009

Stop! in the name of love

Desperate times can lead to fast, foolish solutions. I’ve been fuming all day since getting the news that the Oregon legislature is trying to push through a bill that would allow the State to raid millions of dollars in funds that individual citizens specifically donated for the arts.

The bill’s big idea, of course, is to spending these contributions on badly needed operating expenses, rather than on the arts. The long-term damage of this tactic is obvious; why should anybody contribute to this fund again, when it can be reallocated at any time to become the State’s mad money? What a galling breach of public trust.

Once again the arts finds itself cast into an unfair dichotomy: arts vs. education, arts vs. health care. It’s a false spectrum that has to be shattered once and for all, but anyway:

Others have sounded the alarm already, including the Oregon Cultural Advocacy Coalition, Art Scatter and Culture Shock, and they all provide us with the means to speak out against this shameful proposal. Please visit these sites for information about what you can do. The outcome of the protests – an outcome which may come as soon as this weekend -- will tell the nation whether Oregon is really run by progressives, as we like to think, or by a panicked passel of yahoos.

Meanwhile, Nancy Lublin has a money-making proposal I can actually support. Based on the fact that the average wedding costs 20K, she says all we have to do is legalize gay marriage and an estimated 60 million megabucks will flood the economy. How….stimulating.

Nancy, I like the way you think. And Cousin Tabitha, thanks for bringing this to our attention.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Yes We Can-Can

At last night's season announcement at the Armory, the event was kicked off, as always, by a video created by the fiercely talented Rose Riordan to commemorate the current season. This leads into Chris Coleman revealing what the upcoming season's going to be, you see, complete with scenes and/or songs from each show. Clever, yes?

In case you missed it or if you'd just like to relive it, here's what Rose gave us this year.

PCS's 09/10 Stimulus Package

A bit about the philosophy here. It's a scary time right now. We're all worried about money, and let's face it, it wasn't all that rosey for non-profits to start with. So whatteryagonnado. Solutions espoused by some theaters have included seasons fashioned totally out of public domain scripts; mounting only small-cast plays (one- and two-handers); and offering only plays they're sure people have heard of.

But is that going to work? If money's tight, do audiences really wanted to be reminded of that when they get to the theater?

When times are hard, you invest in your product. You remind people of why they wanted to come in the first place. And you reflect the world you're living in by showing that now is the time to pull together, not to fall apart.

We think next season is a good balance of the familiar and the new, the gritty and the comforting. Only one world premiere in this season, but several highly theatrical adaptations of significant works. I'm proud of us. Here's the plays:


Book by Terrence McNally, lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, and music by Stephen Flaherty
Directed by Chris Coleman
(Main Stage)

E.L. Doctorow’s sweeping novel comes vividly to life in this Tony Award-winning musical, set in one of America’s most volatile gilded ages—the pre-WWI decades of the 20th century. Against the backdrop of the ragtime craze, disparate lives intertwine: a wealthy family; a poor immigrant and his motherless daughter; a black man named Coalhouse Walker. Historical figures like Harry Houdini, J.P. Morgan and Emma Goldman also inhabit this stirring epic, but it is American popular music that carries the story, including marches, cakewalks and -- of course – ragtime.


By George Stevens, Jr.
(Ellyn Bye Studio)

One of America’s greatest heroes takes the stage in this powerful new play about Thurgood Marshall, the grandson of a slave who rose from a childhood in the back streets of Baltimore to become our first African-American Supreme Court Justice. Thurgood is an account and a triumph of courage -- not just for one man, but for the nation he bravely challenged and proudly served. Called a “a don’t miss event” by the New York press, Thurgood invites us to meet and, perhaps just a little, understand a man whose life story is a model for what keeps the idea of the American dream alive.

Snow Falling on Cedars

Based on the book by David Guterson, adapted for the stage by Kevin McKeon
(Main Stage)

Northwesterner David Guterson won the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction when this novel was published and it quickly went on to become a national best seller and a regional classic. Now adapted for the stage by Seattle’s Book-it Repertory Theatre (the people who brought us Pride and Prejudice), this haunting story takes place in 1954, north of Puget Sound, on an island so isolated that no one who lives there can afford to make enemies. But when Kabuo Miyamoto is charged with murder, the community’s secrets emerge one by one. Gripping and densely atmospheric, Snow Falling on Cedars is a masterpiece of suspense.

The Chosen

Adapted from the Chaim Potok novel by Aaron Posner
Ellyn Bye Studio)

A standing-room-only hit wherever it plays, this award-winning adaptation from the award-winning novel is the coming-of-age story of two boys growing up in two very different Jewish communities—“five blocks and a world apart”—in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, in the 1940s. Reuven Malter and Danny Saunders are intelligent and inquiring young men who form a unique friendship following a heated baseball game between their rival yeshivas. The boys grow to manhood in very different families, and amid the historic debate about the founding of the state of Israel. As they question both their own destinies and the times in which they live, they learn important lessons about each other, their fathers and themselves. This is a story of friendship, family and difficult choices that we must all make on the path to understanding, respect and reconciliation

Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps

Adapted by Patrick Barlow from the book by John Buchan
(Main Stage)

Newly adapted for the stage and a hit of the 2008 Broadway season, whodunit meets hilarious in this recklessly theatrical riff on Alfred Hitchcock’s cinematic 1935 masterpiece, a hit of the 2008 Broadway season. This blissfully funny story follows the adventures of our handsome hero Richard Hannay, complete with stiff-upper-lip, pencil moustache and British gung-ho attitude, as he encounters dastardly murders, double-crossing secret agents, and, of course, devastatingly beautiful women. A wonderfully inventive and gripping comedy thriller, The 39 Steps features four fearless actors playing 139 roles in an evening of fast-paced fun and thrilling action.

Joe Turner’s Come and Gone

By August Wilson
Directed by Timothy Douglas
(Main Stage)

The year is 1911 and, haunted by seven years on a chain gang, Herald Loomis appears in Pittsburgh to reunite his family. Surrounded by the vibrant tenants of a black boarding house, he fights for his soul and his song in the dawning days of a century without slavery. Often called a spiritual mystery, Joe Turner's Come and Gone is part of August Wilson's ten-play Century Cycle, which depicts the African American experience in each decade of the twentieth century. Joe Turner’s Come and Gone originally opened on Broadway in 1988, where it received a Tony Award nomination for Best Play and won that year's New York Drama Critics Circle Award.

The Best So Far (working title)

By Marcy Heisler and Zina Goldrich
Ellyn Bye Studio)
World premiere!

From one of the hottest team of songwriters in New York (spin some of their most fun credits), comes the premiere of a new musical as saucy, zany and romantic as a carriage ride through Central Park. With a wit and melodic purity reminiscent of Cole Porter or Dorothy Parker, The Best So Far takes a ride through the wilds of modern romantic relationships. Whether the characters are 18 or 80, the terror and thrill of leaping into commitment looms large and keeps them spinning.

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

Lyrics and Music by William Finn, Book by Rachel Sheinkin
Main Stage)

Six kids face off in the battle of their lives. The competition is intense. The words are outrageous. Let the spelling (and the singing) begin! Three adults adjudicate the proceedings: a nostalgic former spelling bee winner, a mildly insane Vice Principal and The Official Comfort Counselor completing his community service to the State of New York. Both tender and sardonic, this hilarious Tony Award-winning musical of overachievers' angst brings you inside the spelling championship to end them all. From the author of Falsettos and A New Brain.

Special Holiday Offerings!!!

Not part of any subscription package, but subscribers get early ordering privileges

A Christmas Carol

Adapted by Mead Hunter from the novella by Charles Dickens
Directed by Rose Riordan
(Main Stage)

Already a Portland holiday tradition, this original adaptation by PCS’ own Mead Hunter asks the timely and reflective questions: What do you value most? And is it what’s truly important? At the holiday season, renew your answers to these essential questions alongside Tiny Tim, Ebenezer Scrooge and a sleigh full of ghosts and magical creatures as we remount this warm and engaging adaptation of the Dickens classic. In this version, Scrooge’s nephew Fred stands in for the spirit of the season, expressing what we all love about the story when he says to Scrooge; “[This] is a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely.”

The Santaland Diaries

By David Sedaris
Adapted for the stage by Joe Mantello
(Ellyn Bye Studio)

The woman at Macy's asked, "Would you be interested in full-time or evening and weekend elf?"
I said, "Full-time elf." I have an appointment next Wednesday at noon.

Based on the outlandish, and true, chronicles of David Sedaris’ experience as Crumpet the Elf in Macy’s Santaland display, this hilarious cult classic features comic encounters during the height of the holiday crunch. NPR humorist and best-selling author of When You Are Engulfed in Flames, Me Talk Pretty One Day and Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, David Sedaris has become one of America’s pre-eminent humor writers. PCS brings a holiday favorite back to Portland as a special Studio Theater presentation.

“Priceless observations, both outrageous and subtle. Destined to hold a place in the annals of American humor writing.” –New York Times

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Happy Birthday Futurism

Leave it to the indefatigable and omnipresent Tim DuRoche to pay homage to the 100th anniversary of The Futurist Manifesto – on the actual day, mind you, which was February 20.

My belated observance is surprising considering I owe so much to the scattershot movement founded to celebrate all things moderne. (Well, so do you, but back to ME.) Back when I fancied myself a cool and trendy performance artist in San Francisco’s fecund but brief New Wave era, I kept bumping into an unsettling phenomenon. If I banged around on found objects and called it a concert, the Futurists had already been there. If I “invented” a noise poem, what did I find but that the Futurists had bested me again. And if you thought the 1960s invented the Happening, think again. The Futurists’ gleeful public stunts lacked method, but they had madness aplenty.

As a group, the original Futurists were willfully obnoxious in the extreme – think Animal House with bowler hats instead of togas – and had I lived in the Italy of 1909, I am sure their antics would have worn out their welcome fast. Click on one such manifestation below, if you like, which dates back to 1968.

But 100 years later, their influence is everywhere in ways both wondrous and pernicious. Then fast forward mentally to right now. Where would Facebook and Twitter be without the ethos that a single sentence fragment can be poetry?

Celebrate Futurism’s dubious nativity by re-reading the Marinetti’s famous manifesto, which nowadays, for me, is equal parts felicity and despair. In any case, you can trace the course of much of 20th-century European theater from this moment. As Marinetti said,

Let us leave good sense behind like a hideous husk and let us hurl ourselves, like fruit spiced with pride, into the immense mouth and breast of the world! Let us feed the unknown, not from despair, but simply to enrich the unfathomable reservoirs of the Absurd!

Friday, February 20, 2009

What the World Needs Now

Yeah, you guessed it. I have started another blog.

All right, so this announcement is not exactly an epic of massive impact. In fact it has already caused dismay in some people. When I told my Cousin Tabitha I planned to launch an editing blog, her response was: “Oh, no!”

It was unclear whether this had to do with editing or with blogging per se.

The establishment of this new entablature of all things editorial comes as an extension of my SuperScript website. That site, of course, exists to hawk my literary services. But as such there isn’t room to bemuse over, complain about or revel in my obsession with the printed word. Hence: The Editing Room!

And now we digress.

It turns out that there are blogs, sometimes many blogs, in existence on anything you care to make up. Try it – this is a fun game you and your browser can play together. Here are the results of my research, spurred by the flotsam (but not jetsam) of my mind at this moment:

Living by Cartesian principles

Famous nuns of the Reformation

Dangerous international eateries

Sexual embarrassments of early middle age

Now: search for editing blogs, and you yield 16,800,000 results! So in mustering the effrontery to make it 16,800,001, I wanted to do something different. Most blogs of this stripe, it seems, are dedicated to clarifying where apostrophes go, and the differences between “that” and “which.” Not that I’m above that, but, well…..I’m going to try something a little different. Like favoring the jetsam over the flotsam, and eschewing the schoolmarm approach. Because there are blogs a-plenty dedicated to that proposition.

What actually is rare is an editing blog where the visitors ever comment. So let’s buck the trend. Check out the new digs and say something – I dare you.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Read your heart out

To fete Oregon’s sesquicentennial in fine style, the Oregon State Library has compiled a list of 150 books with something important to say about our young region. The list includes books for young readers as well as "older."

A delllllllllllicate undertaking, in a state as literary as ours. Once you’ve counted the dead writers and must needs pass into the land of the quick, you’re likely to incite squabbles. But our fearless librarians have forged on undaunted.

Along with the books you’d expect – Ramona the Pest (which is set on Klickitat Street, one block away from where I’m scribbling right now) and The Shy Stegosaurus of Cricket Creek for the kids, and Sometimes a Great Notion and Honey in the Horn for the grown-ups – there are some pleasant surprises.

Molly Gloss gets two nods, for The Hearts of Horses and The Jump-off Creek, as does Ursula LeGuin, for The Lathe of Heaven and also for Searoad. There’s a collection of Floyd Skloot’s poems as well as Kim Stafford’s A Thousand Friends of Rain. Most gratifying is to see Chuck Palahniuk represented, even if Fugitives and Refugees: A Walk in Portland, Oregon is surely his least scabrous writing.

No one’s going to be totally happy with such a list, of course. I’m a tad gruntled to see no mention of any graphic novel, a form in which Portland is abundant. And the omission of Tom Spanbauer is perplexing – or not, depending on just how faint of heart you assume a State library organization is likely to be.

Still, it’s a worthy list – one I’ll refer to as I start to work my way through it. After all, to paraphrase James Joyce, it took these authors a hundred years to write all these books, the least I can do is take a hundred to read them.

Monday, February 16, 2009

When has hatred had enough?

Nothing is more dangerous than a zealot on a mission. And it’s a sure sign of zealotry when someone can’t tolerate ideas, or cultures, or religions other than his own. And forget about human nature! East or west, evangelism of all stripes basically demands that people not be .... people.

Case in point. Creepy Ken Starr, the poster boy for this sort of intolerance, is back already. Not content with the passage of Prop 8, he and his so-called “Prop 8 Legal Defense Fund” have filed legal briefs -- ostensibly to defend the constitutionality of Prop 8 but also, as long as they’re at it, to forcibly divorce 18,000 same-sex couples that were married in California last year. The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in this case on March 5, 2009, with a decision expected within the following 90 days.

The Courage Campaign has created a video called "Fidelity," with the permission of musician Regina Spektor, that puts a face to those 18,000 couples and all loving, committed couples seeking full equality under the law. If you have the same response to it that I did, you can help spread the word by sharing it with your friends ASAP -- before the March 2 deadline.

"Fidelity": Don't Divorce... from Courage Campaign on Vimeo.

After you watch the video, if you’re so moved, please join me and over 100,000 people who have signed a letter to the state Supreme Court, asking them to reject Starr's case. Click here for more information. Thanks.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Three shows it’s (almost) too late to see

Heard this old theater joke?

ACTOR: You must come see me in my new show.

CRONY: When do you close?

It’s a semi-joke, anyway, and it’s on me. I’m as bad as every other theater person, always waiting to the last minute to see plays. It’s a bad habit, because I’ve often wished too late I could see a show twice. Yet here I am, up to my old tricks, recommending shows to you at Hour 11.75.

Portland Opera’s Turn of the Screw is now history, in fact, but I want to record what a transcendent experience it was. Britten’s music still seems as fresh as when he first wrote it, starting out with bright notes glancing all over the place that turn darkly fulsome in due course. I love this piece because it’s a rare opera that works as theater. And it stays much closer to Henry James than the movie version of the book, The Innocents (which is fabulous for different reasons). In Britten’s version (libretto by Myfanwy Piper), you have to ask yourself: are there really ghosts haunting the children? Or are the children actually bedeviled by a tweaky, sex-starved caretaker on the verge of mania?

At this writing, you’ve still got three hours to get over to Profile Theatre Project and see Neil Simon’s Biloxi Blues, in an excellent production directed by Pat Patton. Yes, I know. Neil. But BB is one of Simon’s best; it’s far less self-congratulatory than his other autobiographical works. The reason to go, though, in addition to the taut direction and the cleverly designed set (by Tal Sanders), is the seamless ensemble performance. What a cast—terrific across the board, though I have to single out a young actor named Alec Wilson, who plays Eugene, the stand-in role for the playwright. His earnest, self-deprecating and effortlessly warm portrayal makes him the young man that every guy hopes he was at that age.

Also playing in a few hours, and again at 7:30 for its closing performance, is ART's must-see powerhouse The Seafarer, by Irish sleeper Conor McPherson. This playwright is often compared to his countryman Martin McDonagh, and unfairly; the McPherson has a well-observed fascination with the apparently ordinary, to which he adds an ear for the eerie that turns naturalism inside out. (Not to ding McDonagh for something he doesn’t aspire to, though. But that’s another post.)

This is Allen Nause’s best directing to date (since I’ve been around, anyway), and the entire cast is outstanding, especially Bill Geissinger as a man who commits the worst deadly sin of all: despair. He believes his soul is so utterly lost that not even God can save him.

Not that the play’s a dirge – far from it! There’s a twist to the play that not even this jaded old structuralist saw coming. You won’t, either. Two more performances – get your butt over to ART, or wonder forever what all the fuss was about.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Guilty Pleasures

As we all know, you can’t come home from a night out and go straight to bed. And this was never truer for me than during Fertile Ground. There were so many improving ways I might’ve destressed after all those days of early calls and late, late nights. Like start reading the barely portable book Nancy Keystone gave me, Art & Physics, by Leonard Shlain. Or list to Couperin’s Mysterious Barricades, a harpsichord album that has yet to leave its jewel case. Or even catch up with what Wonkette has to say about Obama’s waning hopes for biparistanship.

But no. What did I do instead? Watch TV till I couldn’t keep my eyes open. Which typically that didn’t take long. To borrow a quaint vernacular phrase from the 80s: it was like dropping a couple of ludes. Take a look.

Top Chef. Between the lithesome Padma Lakshmi, and the Darth Vader of cultural cognoscenti Tom Colicchio, this take-no-survivors competition has a no-nonsense tude that I wish other “reality” shows would emulate. Favorite weekly moment: the gong that always sounds as the contestants up for elimination face the judges.

Mamma Mia. Rarely do you get to see movie starts willingly put themselves in a situation where they clearly have no idea what they’re doing. The whole giggly, frothy mess looks like karaoke night at ChopStix. Can’t say I was entertained, but neither I could stop gaping at it.

Transsiberian. Ordinarily I don’t watch action-adventures movies (can’t abide suspense even in the trailers, let alone the actual movies), but I wanted to relive happy memories of my own Siberian adventure of two winters ago. Yep, it brought back the countryside I remember. Except I wasn’t chased across it by Ben Kingsley.

Damages. Is anyone watching this Glenn Close vehicle on F/X? Never mind that the plot is crawling with red herrings. It’s great fun to see legal eagle Patty Hewes be mean to her associates, and there’s at least one outrageous double-cross per episode. Catch it before it jumps the shark, though; there are already signs that the story line plans to recuperate Close’s character by showing up that she’s not as bad as we were led to believe. At the end of the first season, it appears that she hired an assassin to get rid of an underling who was becoming inconvenient – talk about the boss from hell! But now…let’s just say this season co-starts Timothy Olyphant as the boy next door you KNOW is going to turn out to be bad bad bad. K?

And now back to work.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Here we go again. [heavy sigh]

So many have written so well about the misguided Coburn Amendment (e.g., Parabasis, Culture Shock) and its discouraging implications that I won’t reproduce our collective jeremiad here. But fundamentally, what irks me personally about the whole business is this ongoing assumption that the arts are frilly extras that somehow exist outside the American economy.

I can think of no better refutation of this persistent belief that Penelope Burk’s recent post on Burk’s Blog. In short, she refers to a dialogue in which an interviewer expressed how important a physician’s life-saving work was, while all she had ever done was work in the arts. His quiet response to her was: “My job is to save lives; your job, working here in the arts, is to make those lives worth saving. We are both equally important.”

Question now is: what can be done about the proposed changes to the stimulus package, and both aforementioned sites will assist you with that. As they point out, it really does just take two minutes to make your voice heard.

Friday, February 6, 2009

The Follies.

Okay, so what all happened at Fertile Ground, anyway?

Lots. A few highlights for me personally:

Apollo. Yes, full disclosure etc etc, this is a show I’ve been close to for several years now. Of course I love it. But come on, how often do you get to see work of this scope and size and ambition without going to BAM? To be sure, it is long (3 hours, 32 minutes), but this week I ran into several people seeing it for the second time.

Maudee Dear, a new play by Marguerite Scott, part of the “Down and Dirty at 12:30” series of afternoon readings. This was a clever, post-feminist update of Medea, translocated to a trailer home in rural Oregon, which used the tension of our expectations about the familiar myth to propel us forward.

Althea Hukari’s The Orchard, directed by Olga Sanchez and read by an outstanding cast, including the Luisa Sermol and Gray Eubank.

Fin Kennedy’s playwriting Lab, which took place on the Gerding’s main stage with Apollo’s operatic set as a backdrop, followed that night by an interview with him and Rose Riordan on the set of How To Disappear Completely and Never Be Found.

The Playwrights Town Hall meeting, with guest speakers Michael Rohd, Lue Douthit and Gary Garrison, moderated by me. The guests were articulate, compassionate and often wryly funny, but the attendees were the real stars.

A workshop presentation of Krishna’s Folly, written by Eugenia Woods and directed by Megan Ward, about a youthful and unlikely avatar, with an outrageously talented cast: Damon Kupper, Christine Calfas, Paul Glazier and Maureen Porter. (I know!) This was at Hipbone Studio, where we imbibed this wonderful story while breathing in the smell of oil paints, surrounded the work of visual artists and one enormous work created on the spot for the show by a graffiti artist.

And of course Open City, whose eight interlocking tropes me made proud to be a Portlander and well as PlayGroup’s ringleader.

Though I made it to a lot of events, I ended the Festival with a troubling sense of how much I didn’t see. How come? Parochial concerns -- I was minding my own events. Which leads me to wonder if the whole 10-day affair was rather like the old Spanky and Our Gang episode in which so much of the neighborhood comes together to create their “follies” that the only one free to attend the performance is Spanky’s dog, Petey.

The significance of that was lost on the Little Rascals, but not on you, I’m sure. At least for Year One of Fertile Ground, its success can be measured by how much of its own community came together to create it. Playwrights turned into producers; people turned up at the Town Hall meeting identifying themselves as writers, directors and designers that no one had seen before. Ultimately many of us were thunderstruck by what can happen when an entire strata of local culture decides its going to funnel all its energy into a sustained party.

Since the closing party on Monday night, I've been in semi-hibernation. Showing up to work at PCS every day since has felt like vacation. But you know what? I can't wait till next year.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

All right already.

Just tonight I'm beginning to feel like I'm climbing out of Fertile Ground Festival post-partum recovery mode. So posts will resume tout de suite, I promise. Meanwhile you'll have to make do with this video that the demented Professor DreadWhimsy recently unleashed on Facebook.