First thing when I showed up in Portland eight years ago, I was informed that I would need to reverse my vacation habits. Plan on going somewhere dry during the winter months,” they advised me. “You’ll want to spend every minute of the summer right here in town.”
Fine, except for one thing. Every summer Portland coasts through a period of disquieting calm, starting just after the Drammy Awards and last till September, when there’s just not a lot to see. Blame it on the climate, everybody says; western Oregon enjoys about three months when it’s pleasant to be outside, and by god people want to be outdoors all the damn time. Traditionally there are a few moments of excitement, such as the annual JAW Festival, but basically…let's just say it’s pretty easy to stay current with everything that’s on.
So for years some of us having saying: what if we tested those assumptions, and put together something inside some nice cool venues to see what happens? Apparently the 100th theater monkey got wind of this idea, because suddenly the entire town is bucking the conventional weather wisdom.
Witness, for example the fabulous Wet Ink Festival of new plays, presented by Playwrights West. This is a wild reading series of plays that didn’t exist at all until a few weeks ago, which have been receiving their first public airings now at CoHo Theatre. Something about the sheer recklessness of the endeavor has paid off handsomely; all the plays have been fantastic. BTW, the concluding entry happens tomorrow, the third of July: Nick Zagone’s latest escapade, Lee Marvin Be Thine Name. I definitely plan to be there.
Nor does CoHo’s fun end there; the progressive, outside-the-black-box venue has a whole slate of summerfare in store for intrepid theatergoers. PCS is likewise making good use of what was once known (in the kinder, gentler 20th century) as “down time.” In addition to the annual ferment of JAW, the Ellen Bye Studio downstairs will cook with a summer cabaret created and performed by vocal powerhouses Susannah Mars and Gavin Gregory that is going to be hothothot.
Miracle Theatre Group simmers all summer long, too, and it’s off to a very good start with its current production, Songs for a New World, a veritable revelation of vocal fireworks written by Jason Robert Brown and co-produced by Staged!, the endlessly inventive musical theater company. TAKE NOTE: this powerful song cycle also concludes its run tomorrow night (Saturday, July 3), so if you prefer music theater to Wet Ink’s verbal hijinks, get your tickets right this minute. And if you’re missing out, not to worry; Staged! is mounting a virtual Jason Robert Brown festival, having presented a concert version of The Last Five Years just last night, continuing with its theater camp’s mounting Brown’s Parade, and concluding in August with a cabaret entitled JRB Songbook.
Upcoming too is an ambitious and literally far-reaching new exploration by Sojourn Theatre/ called On the Table — which needs its own blog entry, so stay tuned — and a great opportunity over at Third Rail to see the NT Live presentation of London Assurance, starring the legendary Fiona Shaw. And let us not forget what is fast becoming a summer tradition here, Third Eye’s latest installment of bloody, disgusting short plays in the tradition of Théâtre du Grand Guignol.
I haven’t mentioned the various Shakespeare assays (including a colorful Pericles), and even then this isn’t everything. But it’s a lot, when you’re used to pretty much…..nothing. For those of us who do fear the heat of the sun, it’s a summer we can suffer.