Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Ding Dong Ding Dong

By way of ringing out the old, I’m going to take a page from my colleague over at ghost light and regale you with snippets of blogs I started in 2008 but never finished, which will now be relegated to the virtual lumber room forever. In no special order….

1. The Opposite of Schadenfreude. This was all about my envy of new play development oases that benefited in a big way from the Mellon Foundation’s recent burst of largesse, gaining in most cases a million megabux each. The NPD universe is small, so of course these are all friends that got these important award – The Playwrights’ Center, for example – so I’m very, very glad for them, and well appreciate the life-changing effect these funds will have to the good. But at the same time I was discouraged, thinking of poor JAW and how those funds could have made the Festival its own entity, not dependent on PCS for its funding. Now I say this fully aware that Mellon has been phenomenally generous to PCS, which in turns benefits JAW, but….I still can’t help think of what might have been. I know, call me Eeyore.

2. Blogs I love but haven’t had a chance to profile because my job takes up my entire life: DreadWhimsy.; FailBlog; what cannot be won might be coaxed; Inogolo; Marissabidilla; Beard.Revue.

3. The Lives of Others. A gorgeous movie ostensibly about a playwright but actually the resilience of the human spirit. Half the movie (the first half) is dramaturgically conventional, but the second half skids along the surface of a series of future events that winds up being powerfully, though quietly, profound. And any more description that that would be a spoiler.

4. Favorite new ear candies: Labradford; Blonde Redhead; To Rococo Rot.

5. Cousin Tabitha and I love to delight each other by having an Incredible String Band quote for every occasion. Handy fragments include: “winter was cold and the clothing was thin”; “certainly the children have seen them”; “shadowy fingers on the curtains at night”; “it’s gone like snow on the water”; and of course, “my cousin has great changes coming.” C.T. (NHRNoc) may have additional faves.

6. Trendy new spices I’ve indulged myself with in 2008: ras el hanout; grains of paradise; vadouvan.

Enough already! Happiest of New Years to you, one and all. See you on flip side (as the kids say)(or said in the late 20th century) in 2009.

Monday, December 29, 2008

NOW HEAR THIS returns, starring Patrick Wohlmut

PCS has been fortunate indeed to benefit from not one but two commissions made possible by the fruitful marriage of minds between San Francisco's Magic Theatre and The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. Sloan's original impetus was to stimulate writing about science and scientists, with the idea of humanizing the field -- putting a human face on it, as it were.

The Sloan had just two stipulations: that the science at the commissioned play's center had to be a "hard" science (no parapsychology, for example) and it couldn't be science fiction.

Our first Sloan went to Nancy Keystone, who's remarkable verfremdungseffekt Apollo starts previews at PCS on January 13! How fitting, therefore, that our second outing will have its public reading within Apollo's powerful nimbus.

PlayGroup member Patrick Wohlmut's commissioned play, Continuum, concerns a researcher's cock-up over an cosmic theory he believes is revolutionary but that mainstream astronomy considers crackpot. He enlists support from an unconventional source, and unwittingly creates a hall of mirrors in which even he is not always sure what is real and what is surreal. The play is, at its heart, a mystery -- one in which the inexplicable cosmos mirrors the endless surprises of the human psyche.

Patrick was aided in his own research by Reed College Professor of Astrophysics Robert Reynolds, who we hope will be on hand to witness the birth of a brand new play. You're invited, too. Here's the 411:


Portland Center Stage’s

invites you to a rehearsed concert reading of

a new play by Patrick Wohlmut

written with the support of a playwriting commission from
The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation

directed by
Stan Foote

Monday, January 5, 2009
7:00 pm
@ Portland Center Stage
128 NW Eleventh Avenue (between Couch & Davis)
on the Main Stage


Our outstanding cast includes:
Paul Glazier, Michael O’Connell and Amaya Villazan


Admission is free and all are welcome

A discussion will follow the reading


In the abstruse world of astrophysical research, Peter -- whose promise in the field is dubious -- needs all the help he can get. But he gets more than he bargained for from a brilliant but erratic collaborator he rescues the streets. In the course of their cat and mouse game, roles reverse and shift, stars and planets collide, and both men find that the universe is not as quantifiable as they expected.

Patrick Wohlmut
Patrick is an actor and playwright. His most recent stage role was as Harry Berlin in Mt. Hood Repertory’s production of Luv, where he also played Colm in Sea Marks. Other favorite roles include Vaughn in In Apparati, for Defunkt Theater; Faust in Faust. Us., for Stark Raving Theater; Peter Austin in It’s Only a Play, for Profile Theater; Sebastian in Twelfth Night, for Portland Actors Ensemble; Ted in Three Plays Five Lives, for Liminal Performance Group; Miles in The Drawer Boy, for Artists Repertory Theater, which also starred William Hurt; and Todd in Earth Stories, for VERB: Literature in Performance, a role that earned him a Portland Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Outstanding Performance in a Supporting Role. As a writer, two of his short plays – The Surrogate Mothers and K-PAN – were featured in Portland State University’s New Plays Festival in 2002. He was also a featured writer for Bump in the Road Theater’s 2004 original production, (Old Age Ain’t) No Place for Sissies. In addition to being the recipient of a Sloan Foundation New Science Initiative commission, Patrick is also working on a play titled The Chain and the Gear, about the effect of the hit-and-run death of a cyclist on a southeast Portland community; and a novel, Putting Woody to Rest, about two teenagers who are haunted by the ghost of Woody Guthrie. He lives with his wife and two children in Portland.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Beyond Subtext

Snow days are great for catching up on the flotsam and jetsam of contemporary culture, and we spent our pre-Christmas evenings indulging in a lot of that of the film ilk. In addition to the aforementioned Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol, we watched I’m Not There (absorbing), Notes on a Scandal (yawn) and Iron Man (couldn’t even finish it).

Also finally got round to the Extras Christmas Special, the series conclusion to Ricky Gervais’ highly original exploration of narcissism, venality and celebrity status – and only a year after everyone else! There was a moment I especially enjoyed, when main characters Andy and Maggie are lunching at The Ivy, a posh watering hole for successful playwrights as well for film industry movers. The Ivy is widely assumed to be the setting for Pinter’s last play, Celebration, so it’s a fun in-joke when Andy drops his voice and says to Maggie, “Oh look, there’s Harold Pinter.”

Eerie to discover, next day, that Mr. Pinter was making his last exit at the same time I was enjoying Gervais’ affectionate joke. That's the playwright to the right, acting in a production of Krapp's Last Tape -- a play by another writer who can boast a Yuletide death.

Pinter’s contribution to dramatic literature may be well nigh incalculable. It’s isn’t just the body of work, remarkable though that is; it’s also that he changed our understanding of how dialogue could work. As his friend Henry Woolf saw it,

"People for the first time in English drama spoke in non sequitors — as if they hadn't heard what had just been said to them," Woolf says. "They had to have heard, but they didn't want to respond so there were these strange pauses and silences."

Turns out Pinter wasn’t the only trailblazing performing arts luminary to give up the ghost on Christmas Day. Eartha Kitt, who made Lady Bird Johnson cry at a White House dinner by criticizing the war in Viet Nam, also left us last night. She was as outspoken as Pinter himself, but with both of them, it’s their work we’ll remember. Feast your eyes and ears:

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Greetings from tropical Portland!

White Christmas here in a big way. Yep, it's snowing again in Portland, breaking all previous records for consecutive days of winter wonderland (though not for amount of snow; you have to go back to the 1880s for a record to beat). So it's a quiet holiday around my neighborhood; no going over the hills and through the woods to Grandmother's house this year, not unless your vehicle has chainschainschains....

Right now the snow's coming down in a dense cascade of of big, gloppy, wet flakes that look exactly like stage snow -- the stuff that falls from the rafters at the end of A Christmas Carol, which never fails to stimulate applause. Here at home, we're a bit past applauding. Oh, it is beautiful. But the weather seers promised us rain today -- the much-maligned, much-missed winter rains of Oregon that we now want to wash away this postcard Christmas.

Well, in the spirit of the holidays I offer you a different postcard, received of Algis Griskevicius, a Lithuanian artist whose work I love. Check out his photography in particular, which has a sense of movement and narrative about it that makes me wish he would photograph theater.

Happy Holidays, everyone. Oh -- the snow just turned into sweet, blessed rain! We're saved! Hoppy, Hoppy Gnu Yr!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A guilty Christmas pleasure

Over at Parabasis, they’re fessing up to repeat viewing of various Yuletide chestnuts. As I stated there, my personal fave is the 1962 TV special, Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol. This hour-long musical version condenses Dickens’ classic tale admirably. Apart from some odd dramaturgical concessions, like changing the order of the ghosts, the teleplay sticks amazingly close to the original 1843 language, lifting entire passages from the novella.

Of course the show wasn’t the first to deploy this stock-in-trade, nor was it was last – as my own adaptation attests. The animation influenced not only my text, but also the composer’s – Rick Lewis and I share our admiration for this cartoon that has, in subtle ways (?), made it into our own version.

In order to insert Mr. Magoo into the TV version, the authors invented a framing device in which Magoo is on his way to the Broadway opening of a brand new staging of the holiday classic – starring himself. After some folderol concerning getting ready to go on stage, the fable begins and we disappear into its absorbing narrative. But we’re reminded of the frame at every commercial break, when curtains close upon the action and the cartoon audience applauds! At end, as the myopic Magoo takes his final bow, he trips on the stage riggings, causing the set flats to collapse – thus literally “bringing down the house.”

The frame doesn’t do much for the story except explain Mr. Magoo’s presence in it, but there’s something charming about the old-fashioned opening and closing of curtains, and the frequently iterated reminder that this story is being presented specifically to you – no sleight of hand, finally, no suspension of disbelief. It’s a redemptive story of goodness willing out just in time, and you don’t need movie magic to believe in it.

Years ago I bought the DVD, which is still wrapped in cellophane. Every year I brandish it, but my partner scowls and points out that there is no end of life-or-death football to witness on TV. This year, however, when we’re all but snowed in and could use a spiritual makeover, I feel certain I will prevail.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Obiter Dicta

A recent read that has continued to haunt me (not a random choice of clichés, as you’ll see) is Julian Barnes’ absorbing new non-fiction work, Nothing To Be Afraid of. As soon as I heard of the book I knew I’d get my hands on it ASAP and devour it, because the whole project is something I’ve thought of doing myself. I.e.: Mr. Barnes has taken 244 pages to explore his worries, hopes, ideas about -- and general sense of outrage over -- the fact that he will one day die.

Even the title evinces his ambivalence; he notes that that the titular statement, so often offered the dying as a fortificaiton against mortal terror, reveals its ambiguities with a mere shift in emphasis: “there’s nothing to be afraid of.”

Precisely, Mr. Barnes says. It’s that “nothing” that scares us.

Not that the book’s a blustery rodomontade about staring death down. Actually, just as you’d expect from the fabulist’s fiction, he brings great brio and self-deprecating humor to his task, as though faintly embarrassed to be admitting to his thanatophobia in the first place.

Since I share his dread, I thought the book was a great read, from start to finish. Here’s just a taste of it:

“Do we create art in order to defeat, or at least defy, death? To transcend it, to put it in its place? You may take my body, you may take all the squidgy stuff inside my skull where lurks whatever lucidity and imagination I possess, but you cannot take away what I have done with them. Is that our subtext and our motivation? Most probably—though . . . it’s pretty draft. Those proud lines of Gauthier’s I was once so attached to—everything passes, except art in its robustness; kings die, but sovereign poetry lasts longer than bronze—now read as adolescent consolation. Tastes change; truths becomes clichés; whole art forms disappear. Even the greatest art’s triumph over death is risibly temporary. A novelist might hope for another generation of readers—two or three if lucky—which may feel like a scorning of death; but it’s really just scratching on the wall of the condemned cell. We do it to say: I was here too.”

Keeping the inevitable at bay is not the only reason to write, or paint or compose or what have you. But isn’t some element of that always present, however sublimated it may be? I'm grateful to Julian Barnes for this humorous, well-considered circumnavigation.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Novel That Predicted Portland

Thank you, Ms. Cynthia, you of Culture Shock fame, for bringing a fun Scott Timberg article to my attention that recently ran in The New York Times. Essentially the piece is a thoughtful review of the ‘70s classic cult favorite Ecotopia, a speculative work of fiction written by Ernest Callenbach. Some credit the author with kick-starting a barrow full of ideas that we are increasingly adopting.

Like what? At one point in his article, Mr. Timberg asks:

"So what has 'Ecotopia' given us?

"A great deal, thinks Professor Slovic of the University of Nevada, including the bioregionalism movement, which considers each part of the country as having a distinct ecological character to be cultivated. The green movement’s focus on local foods and products, and its emphasis on energy reduction also have roots in “Ecotopia,” he said. In fact, much of Portland, Ore., with its public transport, slow-growth planning and eat-local restaurants, can seem like Ecotopia made reality."

Apparently the novel’s influence has been so osmotic that I was unaware that the term “Ecotopia” originated with it. Today it’s used to refer to the Pacific Northwest in general, and occasionally it’s also bandied about as the region’s future name, reserved for when it finally gets fed up with the U.S. and secedes from the Union.

The other name you hear in this regard from time to time is “Pacifica.” Did you know that Oregon has legislation on the books that allows for an initiative process that could authorize secession? So do Washington and California. Hmmmm…….

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Stopping by Portland on a snowy evening

Got to love Portland. In this town, Halloween decorations start going up around September 1, and in many households, don’t go away for months. They just coexist with the Christmas trappings. So that now, in mid-December, with snow straight out of central casting falling all over the town, you walk past porches festooned with fir garlands….and pumpkins still holding down the front steps. Many windows still have construction paper witches taped to them – but now the witches share the honor with cut-out snowflakes.

It’s an apt macaronicism, since St Nicholas was originally the Catholic Church’s recuperation of an old folk figure that seemed a tad too Satanic for post-medieval tastes.

Anyway, here in Portlandia, autumn has definitely given way to winter; it’s beginning to look a lot like the Solstice, everywhere you go. In fact today I’m staying indoors and working at home, partly thanks to night-long migraine episode, but partly because the weather outside is frightful. And in between script reports, press announcements and responding to email, my favorite way to heat the house is cooking.

Lunch was a velvety carrot soup, perfect for cleaning out your fridge and also for watching those dire weather forecasts on streaming video. If you want to make it yourself, you’ll need:

· 1-2 tablespoons butter
· 1-pound carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
· 1/2 cup chopped onion
· ¼ cup (or more) shallots
· 3 cups chicken broth
· 1/2 cup orange juice
· 1 tablespoon orange zest
· 1 tablespoon brandy
· 2 teaspoons of bonnes herbes and/or herbes de Provence, crushed


Melt butter in heavy large pot over medium heat. Add carrots and onion; sauté until onion is soft, about 8 minutes. Add broth; cover and bring to boil. Reduce heat, uncover, and simmer until carrots are tender, 10 minutes or so.

Puree soup in blender (I used an immersion blender) until smooth. If you used a conventional blender, return soup to pot now. Stir in orange juice, brandy, and crushed herbs. Simmer 5 minutes for flavors to blend, then season to taste with salt and pepper.

This made just enough for James and I, but we eat supersized portions, alas. For friends or normal people (quick! what’s the literary reference there?), or as a first course, you could probably serve four.

We had garlic bread with this – with impunity, since no theatergoing is possible tonight.

If by some miracle you still have fresh tarragon, I bet that that would make a terrific replacement for the dried herbs. Would make a good garnish, too.

BTW: haul in one of those leftover pumpkins from the porch, roast is and substitute it for the carrots in the recipe, and you'll be ready for New Year's Eve in no time.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Almost Famous, starring MrMead

Tuesday evening I was on KGW, briefly, repping PCS on a Christmas Carol promo. Here it is, if you're interested. I am not. Interested in seeing it. Ever ever. I'd rather be waterboarding than listening to the sound of my own voice, much less seeing my mouth acting in concert with it.

Sounds like vanity, I know, but really it's more like a self-esteem issue. As long as I'm not confronted with hard evidence to the contrary, I can go around town assuming I look like this.

But it takes only one errant glance into a reflective storefront window to be reminded that I actually look more like this.


Nevertheless, here's the clip, if you dare:

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Where was I.

O yes. I was talking about myself.

Forgive me for my neglect, dear fellow traveler. I know you’ve been waiting for me to finish this post for a week. In the interim, much has happened, including the opening of our retooled, freshly re-tinseled A Christmas Carol.

Excuses aside (I mean, being busy never seems to slow down the good peeps of Culture Shock), last week, as you’ll recall, I was tracing the genealogy of my own aesthetic origins, and came to realize I owe it all (such as it is) to . . . Walt Disney. Or rather, Disneyland. That’s right. For all my high-mindedness, my earliest notions about what theater should be were shaped by a corporate entity that built its fortune through pillaging Western civilization’s folk myths and figures. Well, figurines: Snow White, Cinderella -- Paul Bunyan, for mercy’s sake. Abraham Lincoln, even.

Case in point: as a little boy, I remember being captivated by a new attraction in “the park” called The Enchanted Tiki Room. This was and is an event of vaguely Polynesian inspiration in which animatronic birds of festive plumage preen, sing and burble away. Even as a kid I knew the content was corny, but the experience was….complete.

First we were admitted to an enclosed holding area outside the “hut” where the experience was to take place. As I recall, every feature of this pen was part of the experience, even the trash bins. There was a water feature made from bamboo pipes that emptied noisily into a pool; if you peered into the water, you saw that the pool’s bottom was littered with the partly submerged skeletons of lizards or anyway something of reptilian persuasion.

In due course we got to shuffle into the hut itself, and we (la familia) seated ourselves on one of four sides of a small square. Looking around, I saw gruff-looking tikis surrounded the playing area like they were guarding it. Above, thatched roof; behind, walls and windows shuttered with reeds. The hut seated maybe 80 spectators.

Then the show started with the famous nonsense of robot parrots waking up and cajoling the audiences with canned dialogue and mortifyingly twee treacle (“let’s all sing like the birdies sing / tweet tweet tweet tweettweet”). But the good part was the conclusion. On some cue I no longer recall, the parrots’ were yanked up and out of sight, and the tikis – which we all assumed to be mere set dressing – woke up. Bug-eyes gaping madly, wooden mouths moving up and down, these fearsome gods intoned some guttural, driving incantation (probably my first inkling there was more to music than Herman’s Hermits, Petula Clark and Papa Haydn). The tikis worked themselves up to a frantic crescendo, and at the very climax the lights went out (someone always shrieked at this), and the hut was lit only by flashes of faux lightning, which enabled you to see rain running down the windows.

As the thunder died out and we filed out of the place, I had no trouble belaying my critique of the material in favor of the experience I just had. And in years to come, through my early years at Storefront and on to my subsequent career as a groovy performance artist, it was some time before I realized my debt to the Tiki Room. The salient qualities were:

1. The performance surrounded its audience.
2. There was surprise (presumed inanimate objects lurching into performance).
3. Several senses were assailed at once.
4. The performance began upon admittance to the area, started long before the “actors” and persisting after they had exited.

Years later now, I’m more often in the position of enabling others to create their performative work than I am in doing it myself. But these things still inform my understanding of what makes an affective and memorable experience for audiences – which is, in sum, to transform them from passive spectators to participants.

Portland is rich in artists who espouse these same views, whether avowedly or not. But that’s a different post altogether……

Saturday, November 29, 2008

But enough about you.

Often I’m asked to describe what I’m looking for in a play. And since I pride myself on my eclecticism, the sheer constancy of my criteria has sometimes come as a surprise. Sure, I admire all kinds of plays. And yes, one thing I’ll say for me, I’m skilled at separating my personal tastes from questions of how effective a script will be. Yet there are aesthetic yardsticks I bring into play (as it were) more often than not:

Does stage space get used or at least acknowledged? If your play doesn’t use the spatial relations that are one of theater’s strengths, you should ask yourself if you’ve really wound up with a teleplay. (All right, I can think of several exceptions to this rule of thumb. But unless your work is on a par with Pinter or Beckett, get smart!)

Is there an awareness that an audience is sitting right there? I don’t mean I expect every place to contain direct address or break the fourth wall or employ Verfremdungseffekt. But even the most “realistic” of scripts should take into account that spectators will never for a moment forget they are watching a play, and writing that takes cognizance of this is going to be more effective.

Do you ask the audience to participate in creating your play’s meaning? Remember that if they’re going to sit there passively and be spoon-fed the script’s content, they could have done this more cheaply and more comfortably in front of their own televisions. Give them a break and give them something to figure out – let them bring themselves into a mental dialogue with you.

And I could go on, but I’ll spare you. The point of all this is that I was trying to trace the origins of this mental canovaccio, and by working backwards I was surprised to find myself in . . .

. . . oh, but this post is already lengthy, so you’ll have to tune in to the next post if you want to know the shocking truth behind my unyielding and highfalutin standards. K? (The image above gives it way, really.)

Friday, November 21, 2008

Life on the A-list, part deux

I refer to Artistic staff, that A-list. Yes, we manage to have our fun. But it's not all about picking your favorite scripts and delineating the "deep tissue" of contemporary drama, you know. And lately we've had more than our share of budget meetings, planning sessions, and similar Gordian knots.

But anyway. Daily frustrations notwitstanding, this afternoon I heard tell of a new play by Timothy Daly entitled Derrida in Love. Isn't that a great title? Made me not just chortle, nor merely guffaw, but actually cacchinate.

And I was refreshed, and went on my way exulting.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Gay Is the New Black

Every Sunday, as I’m hanging out with the New York Times – and after I’ve perused the magazines, Arts & Leisure and the Book Review, in that order – I turn to the gloriously unnecessary Style section. Specifically, I turn to the back, where they put the engagement announcements.

Yes, I admit it! I’m counting how many same-sex couples choose to announce their betrothals or their nuptials in this conspicuous way. The Times, to its credit, start posting “gay marriages” soon after Massachusetts legalized such unions. So the wedding column went from irrelevant to compelling for me almost overnight.

For a while we averaged 2-3 male couples. Only rarely was there female pair, a fact that I ascribed to the male penchant for display. And O, any Sunday with neither persuasion to show for itself discouraged me.

There was a time there when I was discouraged for a month o’Sundays. Fewer and fewer same-sex weddings, and I couldn’t help but notice that the netherward number followed the hateful legislations happening in more and more states, including Oregon.

But the something happened. People are ornery, and the more they’re told they have no rights because they’re not worthy of them, the more contrary they’re going to get. And the uglier the evildoers got (by which I mean those seeking to withhold others’ rights), the more previously disinterested people found their outrage.

I’m one of those – the reluctantly outraged.

Used to be, I didn’t get it about marriage, and its supposedly awesome sanctity. Let the hets have it, I thought, with its medieval trappings and its kitschy oaths. And I listened with dubious interest here in Oregon, a few years ago, when Measure 36 was on the ballot. There was all manner of cant about how marriage had to be protected, though no one was never able to articulate how exactly it was being threatened.

Over and over again, the evildoers’ standard statement was: “I have nothing against those people personally; let them have their civil unions or whatever, but let us preserve the traditional definition of marriage.” But the very next year, those same people were in high dudgeon when the State attempted to go ahead and codify legal unions. “It’s marriage by another name!” they shrieked. And thus gave the lie to all they’d said before.

They stoutly maintained it wasn’t about prejudice and hate. But it was. And it is. They could come up with no other reason, apart from vague references to the destruction of civilization. But it all range hollow, because at the end of the day, all they wanted is to keep an entire strata of Americans – 10% PLUS of them, for pete’s sake – in a stigmatized, disadvantaged state.

How can they not see this? Or are these presumptive Christians just behind caring?

So now that Proposition 8 has passed, once again I’m appalled at the large number of human beings willing to stand up and say, Yes, I support upholding the traditions of bigotry, cruelty and unfairness. Yes, I wish to continue interfering with other people’s right to happiness, and yes, I mean to maintain the current level of hatred and intolerance.

Congratulations! Because thanks to you, I’ve come to see it’s not enough to hope that people will do the right thing. It’s like the lunch counters of Alabama all over again. when in the 60s. Black folk came back to those eatiers again and again, and got knocked down again and again, until the bigots were too ashamed to continue their oppression.

So now I’m going to get married, and challenge today’s bigots to tell me that means nothing. Thanks for radicalizing me.

Okay, it’s a stretch to call me radical. I mean I’m no Wanda Sykes. But still! Even passive resistance can carry the day. Maybe it’s the only thing that does, finally.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Preview of Coming Attraction

Nancy Keystone's multimedia epic Apollo opens in exactly 60 days and I can't wait. But now, thanks to the cool new banner at the top of PCS's site, I can literally count the seconds -- check it out here.

Meanwhile, let me tantalize you with this image from the workshop Nancy just finished in Los Angeles.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Local hero

Melpomene and Thalia have spoken. And the winner is....Steve Patterson! That’s Steve in the photo, looking like a cross between Hunter S. Thompson and James Bond (the classic one), incognito except for my bruiting his success about. After his articulate and poised appearance at the Wordstock Festival of Books on Sunday, Steve went on that evening to snag the coveted Angus L. Bowmer Award for Drama with my favorite play of his, Lost Wavelengths.

In his acceptance speech, he graciously thanked his PlayGroup colleagues for their support and their counsel. But hey, we’re just glad to say we know the guy.

Actually, to qualify my first reference: M & T had nothing to do with this. The Bowmer Award is the playwriting part of the Oregon Book Awards, and is offered biannually by the fabulous people at Literary Arts. The way this works is that an out-of-state playwright of note serves as the judge, so as to avoid any appearance of cronyism.

This year’s judge was an outstanding writer and also one of the nation’s best teachers (i.e., guide, guru, fellow traveler) of playwriting. No, not her. The other one: Sherry Kramer.

Author of When Something Wonderful Ends and David’s Redhaired Death, among many other plays, this daring and groundbreaking artist certainly had a plethora of innovative work to select from the many Oregon authors who submitted this year. But she gamely got it down to five nominees and ultimately selected Mr. Patterson for the brass ring.

Lost Wavelengths, a play about a Jandek-like songwriter and the outsider music specialist who is searching for him, is a haunting, sometimes eerie play that lurches madly from the laugh-out-loud funny to the achingly painful. It ought to be produced all over the U.S., and I hope the Bowmer Award will garner it the attention it deserves. It was first read here in town at Portland Theatre Works, and subsequently workshopped in JAW 2006, so it’s ready for prime time. Let me know if you’re intrigued, and I’ll put you in touch with Steve.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Baragh O'Bama?

All right, just one more jubilant post-election posting and then I'll move on, I swear.

But guess what, Obama's "Irish." Inasmuch as his great-great-great grandfather came from the Old Country. I love that -- not only because I can claim him as a compatriot, but because this fact points up the absurdity of judging (or accepting or rejecting) anyone on the basis of their antecedents. Whether your ancestors came from Kenya, Kansas or Killarney, you're here now. We're all mutts and we might as well be proud of it.

Non e vero?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Wordstock Loves You

Oregon playwriting gets a boost of well-deserved recognition this Sunday when the five finalists for the 2008 Oregon Book Awards find out who gets the Angus L. Bowmer Award for Drama.

Literary Arts presents the drama award every other year, and each time it’s adjudged by a prominent literary figure from out of state, in order to avoid even the appearance of cronyism. (Isn’t that cute? I think Literary Arts is unaware of how teeny tiny the theater universe actually is….) Now that the name of the lucky winner is in the can, we can learn the judge’s erstwhile secret identity: the fab and glam Sherry Kramer, who is not only a fiercely original writer but also one of the best playwriting teachers in the nation. So it will be interesting indeed to see who Sherry selected for top honors.

The competition is fierce: Dori Appel of Ashland, for Hat Tricks; Jacklyn Maddux of Portland, for Strange Sightings in the Great Southwest; Steve Patterson of Portland, for Lost Wavelengths; Francesca Sanders of Portland, for I Become a Guitar; and George Taylor of Beaverton, for Renaissance.

Confession: I’m partisan here. Francesca is an alumna of PlayGroup, the playwriting group that I host at PCS; and Steve is a current PlayGroup member. The play for which he’s nominated got a workshop in JAW 2006. Good thing the choice of ultimate winner is not up to me.

BUT! Here's what is up to me. Prior to the announcement Sunday evening, all five playwrights will be appear at Wordstock, speaking on a panel moderated by moi-meme. I’ll ask each writer to read a brief excerpt from his/her nominated work, then I’ll ask some questions, then you’ll ask some questions.

Date: November 9, at the climax of the 3-day festival
Time: 2pm sharp
Place: Oregon Convention Center, Wieden + Kennedy Stage, Room D-136

Wordstock, by the way, is Portland’s “annual festival of the book.” It's a big deal, a real celebration of writing of all kinds, from poetry to graphic novels. Click here to see its whimsical (and oddly touching) welcome video with a great bonus: images of gorgeous autumnal Portland.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


Breaking news: THERE IS A GOD, after all.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the 44th President of the United States of America.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Happy, Happy Hallowmas

Sure, you knew that Hallowe’en is an elision of All Hallows Eve, but what about All Hallows itself? Better known today as All Saint’s Day, it’s sort of a European Day of the Dead kind of thing. November 1 honors saints in the broad sense of dead people who have “attained the beatific vision.” It’s a holy day of obligation in some corners of the Catholic dispensation. The following day, All Souls’ Day, is set aside for the “faithful” who are not destined for Hell but who still have a ways to go before acceding to their ultimate heavenly post. Praying for them is understood to help walk them up the stairs, as it were.

My sainted mother was/is Catholic. My father, well….let’s say his spiritual interests were more atavistic. This meant they had in common an uncommon sense of an unseen world impinging upon human affairs. Though I was born on October 10, she took a bit of a risk and waited till Hallowmas to have me baptized. The risk, you see, is that had I died prior to baptism, I would have spent eternity floating around in Limbo, happy enough but ignorant of the limitless bliss I might have enjoyed if not for my parents’ intransigence.

But all went well, and I was formally presented to the unseen world on November 1, in the company of the all the saints.

If you and I are acquainted, you may judge for yourself whether this bit of sympathetic magic panned out as my mother hoped.

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

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!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Quite Contrary

Whenever we go to a restaurant, my partner like to make a droll little game out of guessing what I’ll order. And damn it all anyway if he isn’t almost always correct. How does he do it? “Easy,” he will tell our guests. “I’m just look for the weirdest thing on the menu and I know that’s what he’ll order.”

I don’t mean to be contrarian. But the habit is long-ingrained. I first noticed it decades ago, because my musical self-education happened in isolation. Only gradually did I learn – for example – that it was good to be into the Rolling Stones except for the one out and out disaster of their career, the execrable Their Satanic Majesties Request (1967). Even my hippie roommate back then dismissed it summarily as “psycho-pukey!” And listening to it nowadays I can hear what we meant; yes, it’s a mess, a muddled mélange of tweetings and bleatings, but I love it precisely because of its excesses.

Plus my favorite Beatles song (after “Drive My Car”) is “Hey Bulldog,” how contrary is that??

Once an acquaintance severed contact with me for finding literary motifs in Patti Smith’s underrated album Wave. “What? You call that punk??” Well, no. Not then, not now, but somehow it spoke to me in a different way than her brasher, more consistently artful opuses.

Same with plays. Marat/Sade! How could you entertain such embarrassing twaddle! And The Fantasticks – now you’re being deliberately retrograde! And The Revenger’s Tragedy, well….now you’re just trying to be obnoxious.

Case in point: it’s true, I actually enjoy The Famous Life and Death of King Henry the Eight [sic]. As history it may be pabulum, but considered as a romance -- ! It has its moments.

And movies, don’t get me started. Let me just point out that in days of yore I was repeatedly bashed for loving The Big Lebowski (1998). How could I even refer to that blotch on the Coen Brothers’ otherwise sterling record! What a bumbling fumble, what a crass attempt to garner box office success. Now, of course, the movie’s been rediscovered and recuperated, and I am exonerated.

I expect to wait a little longer to be forgiven for my psycho-pukey proclivities.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

You can get there from here

Check it out: fab graphic designer Michael Buchino has riffed on the famous New Yorker cover to display how the universe looks from our end of it. I find it especially endearing that the only two places in his cartography between here and Boston are Chicago and Louisville.

PS Having now failed several times to upload a photo you can actually see, I'm now making the illegal move of just linking directly to where the image lives: right here.


Monday, September 22, 2008

You are here

You know how in the past I’ve alluded to PlayGroup’s top secret, unassailable, never-to-be-scruted blog? Where we hang out our highest aspirations and most petty grievances out to dry, away from the jaundiced public eye?

Well, the post below (plus its photo above) is timely rrrrrrripped from that blog – with the poster’s permission, of course – one Steve Peterson. It’s too nice a thing not to share it on the intergalactic scale of my blog. [kidding] [blushing at my own cupidity] [anyway] Here it is:

I picked up the new issue of American Theatre, and I was pleased to see it contained four Portland theater references: a story on set design for Sometimes a Great Notion (with a beautiful photo by Owen Carey); a piece on ART's new resident ensemble, including pics of four Portland actors; a piece on Oregon Children’s Theatre's collaboration with a Milwaukee (WI) theater (the show--I forget the title--is going to play both there and here); and a JAW reference in the article on David Adjmi's play Stunning. Stuff on PCS, ART, and Milagro crops up now and then in American Theatre, but I was kind of thrown by so many references in one issue. Maybe some lobbying from those in the know could coax a story on Fertile Ground … It does have news peg in that the festival's kind of a unique cross between a fringe theatre festival and a music festival model (e.g., South by Southwest). Which would be tres cool. No?

But yes.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The revolutionary costume du jour

Okay, so what about your promise to explain the bobble doll of two posts ago, you ax querulently. A thousand pardons – things are cranking up at PCS lately, so I’ve been buried by work and pursued by correspondence, to put it floridly.

Anyway. The little lady is “Little Edie” Beale, with whom I’ve become obsessed after recently re/viewing the legendary cinema verite masterpiece from the Maysles brothers, Grey Gardens. I saw this over 30 years ago, when I was a tad too young to understand what the fuss was about; I think I dozed through large sections of the movie.

What a revelation seeing it again now. Spellbound by the film from start to finish, I couldn’t take my eyes off these two daft ladies living together in squalor amid the ruins of a formerly opulent mansion in the Hamptons. Raccoons (which Big Edie and Little Edie feed) peek through holes in the walls; the once formal gardens are now thickets that grow right up to the front door. In one infamous scene, a cat defecates behind a grand portrait of Big Edie from her glory days.

Because the Beales were close relatives of Jackie Kennedy (aunt and cousin), many people reviled the filmmakers, back in 1975, for being exploitive and sensationalist. Seeing it now, though, have to wonder if the charge can stick when you’re filming people who so very much want to be exploited. Little Edie mugs for the cameras, showing off her unique fashion sense, warbling away whenever possible (she actually had a cabaret act in New York, briefly, following the death of Big Edie a year after Grey Gardens was made), even dancing in costume. The Beales were thrilled with the movie; when Big Edie was asked for a statement on her deathbed, her last words were: “Everything I have to say is in the film.”

Perhaps what fascinates me nowadays is wondering what it takes to devolve into the daffy reclusivity of the Beales. How long would it take me, really, if I decided never to leave my house again? Not so much as I’d like to think, I bet. We have a light bulb over the stairs to the basement that has been burnt-out for a year. And a water-damaged ceiling in one room we haven’t repainted in over five years. It’s not hard for me to envision a time of life, a state of mind, a state of sheer desuetude from which, one fine day, I would simply shrug say: oh well.


Just for fun, after you’ve looked at the clip above of Little Edie from the original film, check out how the moment is interpreted in the musical adaptation of the same name starring the one and only, absolutely fabulous Christine Ebersole.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Fade to white

This past Friday, maverick writer David Foster Wallace hung himself. If you’ve never gotten round to reading his writing, you have wonderful experiences ahead of you. And if you have, perhaps you feel like I do – stunned, bereft (since to read his work is to feel you know some small part of him) and also angry. To think of all the works to come that will now never manifest.

For years I’ve been meaning to write to Mr. Wallace and ask him if he’d ever thought of trying his hand at playwriting. He’s written so much dialogue into his novels, and Brief Interviews with Hideous Men is all "dialogue," after a fashion. I feel he could have really run with the ball in writing for live performance.

There’s a terrific tribute to the late author, written by Laura Miller, just posted on I recommend reading it in full, and then reading her excellent interview with him from 1996, which contrasts poignantly with the news of his untimely end. Here's an excerpt from the tribute:

He was my favorite living writer, and I know I have plenty of company in that. His detractors accused him of being show-offy, of calling attention to his own cleverness, but they, too, were wrong. He meant, with his footnotes and his digressions, to acknowledge the agonies of self-consciousness and the "difference between the size and speed of everything that flashes through you and the tiny inadequate bit of it all you can ever let anyone know." Point taken. Still, I read about his characters, each tennis prodigy and recovering addict and transvestite hooker and yuppie and ad exec and game show contestant and closeted political aide, and thought: Hey, I know you. Maybe it was an illusion -- Wallace would have been the first to admit as much -- but it made me feel less alone, too.

David, I'm so sorry. I never knew you really meant it.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

For fashionistas only

Some say the poplulation of the U.S. can divided into just two psychological profiles: them's that recognize the figure to the left, and those that do not.

Hint: the cat and the raccoon at the base of the bobblehead can be adjusted any way you like. Kind of like the outfit, in real life, once upon a very dirty mattress.

Why all this has recently invaded my consciousness (such as it is) will be revealed in a few days. Until then I'm going to be away at an undisclosed location with my art peeps. Really! Let me know what I missed at TBA.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Just flew in from Tilburg, and boy....

TBA:08 continues apace. Yesterday I took in a felicitously conceived walkabout conceived by Khris Soden, entitled "The Portland Tour of Tilburg." Huh? From the Festival web site:

Tilburg, in the province of Noord-Brabant, is the sixth largest city in The Netherlands. Like Portland, it is home to bicycle boulevards, punk rock bars, public squares, and a vibrant do-it-yourself arts and music scene. For TBA:08, Khris Soden invites you to join him on a historical and cultural walking tour of the city core of Tilburg, and you won’t even need to purchase a plane ticket. The Portland Tour of Tilburg traces an exact route of Tilburg’s streets from about 9,000 miles away; Powell’s Books becomes Tilburg Central Station, Pioneer Courthouse Square rests on the Old Market, and the Bus Mall becomes the cultural heart of the city. Soden’s tour weaves a narrative of the two cities, bending the ideas of perception of place. After TBA:08, Soden will board a plane to Tilburg in order to conduct The Tilburg Tour of Portland for that city’s ZXZW Festival.

The above image shows the one city superimposed over the other. Nifty!

Part of the fun of this piece was the reaction of puzzled passerby catching Khris’ patter out of context – as, for instance, the moment when we stood amassed together in front of Portland’s most notorious gay bathhouse while Khris explained that in Tilburg this is the site of city’s wildest alternative music scene.

For an excellent account of what the walk was like, I can do no better than Megan Kate Grace, so I refer her to you.

Got your tickets to Built yet?

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Built for fun

TBA:08 is getting off to a great start this year with a number of events that simultaneously critique and celebrate Portland as a unique social experiment. I got a jump on the action tonight by catching the preview performance of Sojourn Theatre’s ingenious and fun new piece, Built.

The setting for the play is in South Waterfront, Portland’s glossy new development that reclaimed a blighted marshland -- long assumed uninhabitable thanks to decades of industrial waste dumped there -- and constructed a space age village of riverfront high-rises (many facing Mt Hood) built according to rigorous Green standards.

Built interweaves performed sections with game-playing activities that capture audience statements and use them in the evening’s narrative. Some of these activities are individual; I opened a kitchen drawer, for instance, to find a grid, a box of figurines, and an instruction to place a figurine in whichever quadrant represented my experience (raised in a city, in a rural environment, a small town, etc.). Later I wound up in a group of spectators where we were asked to choose which city services we wanted closer to our residences, and to arrive at a loose consensus with the others in the group.

One of the most breathtaking performances involved a couple literally walking a tightrope (actually two parallel cables) who gradually grow into disaffection as their attempt to buy a home reveals prejudices and fears that had never come to light before. Here, as elsewhere, the inventive choreography kept your eyes engaged and left your ears free to consider a series of overlapping dialogues. I especially remember one person saying a community should develop, not be developed, and then a counterpoint argument challenging that notion as a reactionary bias.

The whole event echoed a civic dialogue that’s been brewing here for years. We’re often reminded that the popular image of Portland, which is ballyhooed these days in everything from The New York Times to Bon Appetit, is the result of meticulous planning that was begun 30 years ago. How is that discussion proceeding today? Who is safeguarding what we’ve gained, and who is making sure it continues to evolve along with its citizenry?

Built is a heady and entertaining launch into these issues, and I hope you can see it. Performances are free, but only 40 can participate at one time, so reserve your space tonight.