Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Belarus and Hungary and what you can do

Yeah, it's about time I came out of retirement, right? Well, here's a good reason. Never mind what you think of the Ho-Hum Theater's latest Arthur Miller revival, there are places in the world where theater really matters because it provides a hard-to-govern forum for social ferment. Which has attracted some serious attempts to repress it.

Probably you've heard about what's going on in Hungary these days, but matters in Belarus are no less dire. To bring attention to the plight of the Belarus Free Theater, cities nationally and internationally are co-presenting the event described in the press release below.

Portland's edition is this coming Monday, January 3. Please come if you can to show your support for freedom of expression everywhere and to hear this amazing Pinter piece read. The reading lasts about an hour, and if you like, you'll have the opportunity to sign an online petition. See you there.


Tim DuRoche: (503) 720-6171
Tracy Cameron Francis: (503) 318-4330



December 29, 2010- Portland, OR. In an act of support and solidarity for artistic freedom and international human rights, Portland theater artists will present Free Belarus–Portland, featuring a reading of Being Harold Pinter, a work by The Belarus Free Theater — a group that has been in hiding, following massive government crackdowns on democratic dissent and free expression in the republic of Belarus.

The reading will take place at on the Mezzanine of Portland Center Stage, 128 NW Eleventh Avenue, on Monday, January 3, from 6-7:30 p.m. The event is free and open to the public. Being Harold Pinter is a piece that mixes transcribed statements by Belarusian political prisoners with writings by the award-winning playwright Pinter, who also was a friend and supporter of the troupe. The play blurs the boundaries between art and reality, delivering a poignant contemporary commentary on violence, oppression, freedom and human dignity.
The Portland installment of Free Belarus will feature local acting talents of Bobby Bermea, Chris Harder, Hannah Treuhaft, Dustin Rush, Haley Talbot and Noah Dunham.

The event is part of Global Artistic Campaign in Solidarity "Free Belarus," a coordinated effort by theaters and human rights activists around the country (in Portland, Washington DC, Minneapolis, and New York) and in the UK (including the passionate support of theater luminaries like Ian McKellen, Tom Stoppard, and Jude Law) to bring attention to the plight of artists and citizens in the former Soviet republic. Global Artistic Campaign in Solidarity "Free Belarus" is the U.S. extension of a campaign begun in the UK five years ago by Tom Stoppard and others.

Also that evening at Portland Center Stage, attendees will have the opportunity to hear a statement from co-artistic director Natalya Kolyada and to sign an online petition in support of BFT:

Aaron Landsman, a New York-based theater artist and one of the event’s national organizers, said: “Just keeping their cause visible can make a difference. Because while the Belarusian government is brutal they aren’t dumb. The more attention that is focused on specific individuals there, the less likely they are, frankly, to kill those individuals, and the more likely the country itself will advance . . . I was lucky enough to work with Free Theater in Minsk. I cannot quite describe to you what it feels like to see theater in a safe house in which are crammed 60 of the most eager, desperate people, who are all there to have their sanity restored, their country’s lies undone, their friends remembered.”

The Belarus Free Theater was scheduled to perform at New York’s Public Theater for the Under the Radar Festival, which begins early in January. But that appearance is now threatened, as both founders of the troupe are in hiding, and another member is in jail, as the result of a government crackdown on protests against a presidential election that human rights groups have described as rigged.

The arrests of the theater company members are part of a larger campaign of repression directed by the government of Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, who claims to have won 79 percent of the vote in the recent election. Since 1994 Mr. Lukashenko has run this former republic of the Soviet Union, leading what former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice once called “the last true remaining dictatorship in the heart of Europe.” Last week, Mr. Lukashenko announced that hundreds of “bandits and saboteurs,” including several of his opponents, had been arrested. Among those arrested and detained were members of the Belarus Free Theater including artistic directors Natalya Kolyada and Nikolai Khalezin. Both Kolyada and Khalezin have been released and have gone underground. Their manager Artsiom Zheleznyak is still detained. Over 600 people are still behind bars.

Organized and coordinated by Tracy Cameron Francis (Theatre Without Borders, Hybrid Theatre Works) and Aaron Landsman (Elevator Repair Service), in conjunction with Mark Russell, Artistic Director of Under the Radar Festival, and with the support of Michael Rohd, Sojourn Theater, Mead Hunter, and Tim DuRoche of the World Affairs Council of Oregon—with generous in-kind support from Portland Center Stage.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Xtra, Xtra

“If you can type, you can make movies” -- so goes the tagline for one of the hottest websites in the stratosphere these days, Xtranormal. This outfit provides free software that allows you to put your own dialogue into the mouths of prepared animated characters and then watch their conversation play out.

As such, it’s launched a veritable gold rush of snarky cartoons, sometimes giving voice to wish fulfillment conversations we’d like to have, others time reporting outrageous (and often recurrent) dialogue verbatim.

The first one I saw came to me from the my Cousin Tabitha (nhrn), who I have no doubt has had countless conversations very close to this one. (Warning: this piece contains some “language,” so don’t play it full blast whilst at work o whereva.)

Here’s another fave, created by one of Portland’s best actors, Tim True. If you’re a performer, I’ll bet you’ve had much the same conversation with somebody at some time.

And finally, one I especially love because it has been my lot in life, as a writer, editor and dramaturg, to perform the sort of work that many people believe they could do very well at any time if only they were ever in a mood someday to feel like it. If you’ve encountered analogous attitudes in your profession, whatever it may be, you’ll appreciate “So You Want To Write a Novel”:

Friday, November 26, 2010

I got your new music right here.

Blame it on the holydays, or blame it on my favorite scapegoat — le media social. I do, and frequently -- not merely for convenience, but because it’s demonstrable (accent on demon) that the siphoning off of communicative impulses into Facebook and Twitter makes blogging seem downright long-form (aka antique).

Culpabilities aside, I firmly resolve, with the help of thy grace, to return to ye olde confessional mode soon. Meanwhile, here’s a fun bagatelle for you. One of my favorite composers in the aggressively moderne style is György Ligeti. Like many, my first exposure to this artist was via Stanley Kubrick, who used Mr. Ligeti’s often disturbing music to great effect in The Shining in particular.

Ligeti doesn’t make for pleasant background music; it’s full of quirks, such as flatulent squeaks and whispered words. Many’s the time I’ve been asked to eject his CDs or, more passive-aggressively, just asked “How can you listen to that?” And my response is that I don’t invariably hear scary movie music. Instead I hear whimsical, playful, even mischievous music.

Q.E.D.: this performance of Ligeti’s Mysteries of the Macabre, as performed by the fabulous Oregon-based new music ensemble Beta Collide, in a video produced by Yachats company BlueDot Productions. Consider this proof positive that new music doesn’t have to be a solemn affair.

Mysteries of the Macabre from BlueDot Productions on Vimeo.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Theater High

A highlight of my recent trip to see my sainted mother in St Louis was a visit to the Rep to see a new play by Matthew Lombardo, High. As rolling premieres go, this production is something of a stampede; it had runs at Hartford Theater Works and Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park before moving on to St Louis Rep, and the plan all along was to wind up Nueva York — Broadway.

When my mother picked up the tickets, the box office took one look at her and decided to do some pre-emptive deprogramming. “You do realize it’s……gritty?”

This spurred me to go online and find out just how nitty this gritty could get. Apparently the fuss is about the main character — a potty-mouthed nun sans wimple (but avec rosary) who works in a Church rehab service. Enter the challenge of her life in the form of an equally battle-scarred addict, and a shady priest with a mysterious agenda, and the games begin.

How does a lurid three-hander get Broadway legs? By dint of its star, Kathleen Turner. The very idea of sexy Ms. Turner married to Christ yet speaking fluent gutter punk is too delicious to resist. The gambit worked for the Rep; we were there on closing night, and the place was packed.

We got to sit within spitting distance of Ms. Turner, whose legendary smoky voice has deepened to a near-baritone. The woman has gravity; she commands a stage presence you don’t always get from movie stars in live performances. Fortunately for the production, her costars (Evan Jonigkeit and Michael Berresse) are both excellent — as they had better be, to stand up to Ms. Turner’s incandescence. In fact all the production elements are superb; there seems to be nothing else for this show to do but open on Broadway.

It’s interesting to me that St Louis was part of this gradual slouch toward New York. Leafing through the Rep’s program, I was impressed to see ads for about a dozen more theaters than I knew existed in that town. Seth Gordon is now at the Rep, as its Associate AD, where he’ll be kick-starting a new play development wing; he was out of town while I was there, but I was privileged to have lunch with two other noted theater artists, dramaturg Megan Monaghan and director Tlaloc Rivas, both teaching now at U of Missouri. And Carter Lewis has been catalyzing Wash U’s playwriting program for several years now. Looks like I have to revise my assumptions about St Louis being a theater backwater.

Oh, about the box office’s warnings? The putative grittiness came down to occasional blue language, a brief but convincing display of violence, and a smidge of nudity. My sainted mother’s assessment? “I’ve seen worse than that on TV.”

Sunday, October 31, 2010

All Hallows Eve

No doubt you’ve gathered that I love all things Hallowe’en. The cheesy cinematic frightfests, the symphonic renditions of the Dies Irae, the kids’ costumes, the scary cocktails and appetizers, the whole silly business.

Yet on the actual night of the 31st, you won’t catch me out partying. For me it’s a high holiday — a spiritual tide I want to hitch a ride on — and thus a time for meditation.

Though the usual concept of the holiday’s antecedents is that it was about frightening about away unwanted spirits, there’s more to it than that. The basic idea, for the ancient Celts, was that at this time of year, the membrane between the seen and the unseen was thinnest. Sure, you might want to take precautions about unwelcome spooks, but what about those you would want? Your ancestors, in other words, or the recently departed.

I have a few of both I’d like to hear from again. So later tonight, when the street noise has died down and the kids are back at home sorting through their plunder, I’ll be listening closely for a word from some people I very much miss.

Toward that end, here’s a little music, courtesy of Harold Budd and Brian Eno (from their album The Pearl) for all you October people.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Dark Shadows rises from the vaults

Tomorrow I'll blog about what All Hallows Eve really means to me. But lest you think I don't appreciate the creepy/kooky/mysterious/ooky part of the occasion, here's "one from the vaults," as Dr. Frankenfurter sez.

When I was a boy, a new soap opera appeared on daytime TV: Dark Shadows. Because it came on right around the time I got from home school, my brother and I used to watch it while we had our afternoon snack. It was supposed to be a gothic romance, like Wuthering Heights or Rebecca. Only this was set on the spooky Maine coast -- the very area Stephen King would later mine so much from -- and though the show got the moody, claustrophobia-inducing atmosphere down pat, it was (pardon the expression) deadly dull.

And not just to kids, apparently. Ratings plummeted. Finally, in a desperate move, the show's creators took the show in a radical new direction ... and the rest is television history. Feast your eyes on that episode of the no-budget, semi-unintentionally camp horrorfest, Dark Shadows, where you were guaranteed a live blooper in nearly every airing.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Hilarity and Disparity at Portland Playhouse

Currently playing at Portland Playhouse: one of my favorite plays of all time, Telethon, by Kristin Newbom. This play focuses on three people with various forms of disability, and their two underpaid, undervalued caretakers, who are only minimally more functional, all within the context of a “treat” for the disabled charges, as all five as adjourn from an unspecified fundraising event to a Dunkin’ Donuts. Most of the play is laugh-out-loud funny, but watch out -- you're being set up.

SPOILER ALERT! If you don’t want to know what happens in the play, read no further.

All five characters are put through a process defined by American holidays that call for or allow dressing up in costume. Over the course of Halloween, Christmas and Easter, the Dunkin’ Donuts bears witness to the changes — subtle, blatant or nonexistent — in their lives.

Telethon’s climax comes, aptly enough, at Easter, a time that celebrates renewal; the two caretakers are about to undergo major reversals of fortune. They're so caught up in their own news that they hardly notice the turmoil they’re causing their charges: one of them seems stunned, another cries quietly, and the third goes to a pay phone and attempts to call 911.

The uproar ends the scene and we segue to the Fourth of July, but now the Dunkin’ Donuts is quiet. And as we take this in the empty stage, we realize those five people will never visit the place together again. The phone is still dangling off the hook and, weirdly, we hear one side of a conversation coming out of it.

Now: when we first presented this play in reading form during JAW, and again now in Portland Playhouse’s excellent production, people have been baffled by this final scene. Some have gone so far as to say the coda has no relation to the play! But you know … it’s always worth our while to assume the playwright had something in mind. Such as an imaginative leap. Or to jump a synapse from one epiphany to the next, and ask you to forge the connection yourself.

In the wake of love lost, of abandoned relationships and the sheer heedlessness of life’s relentless momentum, the emptiness of the stage in this final scene devastates me. The sense of revelation hovering on the fringes, yet always just barely beyond our grasp, reminds me of Beckett’s most moving works.

I therefore want to share the text of this final scene with you (I have Kristin’s blessing and that of the show’s director, Rose Riordan), in the hopes that when you see the play, viewing the footage of the parade described below and hearing half of a conversation that’s like a lifeline to another time, the scene will have the impact for you that it does for me.

Telethon continues through this weekend, closing where the script begins — on Halloween.






Yeah, I know.
It’s strange how things happen.

Uh huh.

Remember that night out on the driveway?


Because the sunflowers had stopped blooming.
I picked the last three and brought them in.
They were a little mangled, but they looked okay.


We had just come back from dinner.
You took us to that little restaurant in your old neighborhood.
What was it?

Yeah, Sam’s Wiener House.
That’s right.

Uh huh.

Nine wieners with everything on them,
six orders of fries,
four milkshakes,
a diet coke
and a sprite.
The kids sat at the counter.
Spun around and around on the stools while we talked.

The first house you bought.
The dog you had before the kids were born.
That tattoo you got in the army.
Your job.
Those guys you had to fire.
Your brothers and sisters.
The town where you grew up.
The Sunday morning flea market.
Your grandmother’s farm.
The stack of Penthouses and bag of weed you had hid in her shed.
How your parents died.
Your first girlfriend.
What was her name?

Oh yeah.

You knew just when to leave.
Before the kids threw up from too much spinning.

I offered to pay.
You said it was your treat.

On the way back you showed us the best trick or treat house.
The one where the guy dressed up in stilts as Uncle Sam?


When we got back we stood there in the driveway.
The kids rode their bikes around and around
And the sky turned from blue to orange.
You only had a few minutes before you had to go.

You looked so sad that night.

We want to make sense of it all.
Want to grasp onto some kind of reason for the hurt.

It all goes by so quickly doesn’t it?

They are ripped from us.
All of them.

They come into our lives.
The people we care for
Or who take care of us.
The ones we love and look after.
The ones who love us back
Despite it all.
And then they go.
Sometimes in a flash
Without any warning.
Other times in a long and lingering dance.

Yet the wars continue.
One grows into the next.
Kings and queens are killed and born again.
Discoveries, great works of art and riches are made, displayed
and forgotten.
We learn to spell.
We memorize the vocabulary words and dutifully we take the tests.
Our tiny world builds upon itself.
Like soap bubbles in the bath.
We gaze at ourselves, naked
And we wonder-
This world we are creating,
is it -


Oh, that’s okay
I should go too.

I will.

Take care.



Saturday, October 23, 2010

Confessions of a defector

For the second year in a row, I celebrated my 75th birthday at the Wordstock Festival. If you have to work on your solar return, Wordstock’s a grand place to do it: a swirling, teeming whirl of book lovers, exhibitors, publishers, book purveyors and of course authors.
Ironic indeed, therefore, that I came home on Sunday evening, exhausted but proud, to gifts that included a brand new ….. wait for it ……………. Kindle.

Yeah, a Kindle. You know, Amazon’s “wireless reading device,” the one whose advent of recent years was widely heralded as the death knell for books and bookstores both. And I got not just any Kindle, but the new improved model: smaller, lighter, faster and greyer than its ancestors, with free wifi and 3G built into it, making it reputedly of use where in the wide world.

With all the zealotry of a convert, immediately I popped for a sleek black leather cover for the device that actually has a night light built into its spine — an ingenious, marriage-saving innovation.

First downloads: Atwood’s latest, The Year of the Flood; Lorrie Moore’s A Gate at the Stairs; and Between the Acts, Woolf’s brilliant and underrated novel that it’s time I revisited.

But the irony is not lost on me: I came straight from a festival where a constant topic of conversation concerned what happens to hardcover books in the digital age, and I gleefully launched into downloading virtual books.

The issues surrounding Kindles and their kin are legion. Most obviously: if you can already get many books steeply discounted by shopping at Amazon, and then the Kindle download costs close to half of that, who is making money anymore? If you guess it’s not the authors, you would be correct. One commentator has called digitalization of extant texts “the greatest act of piracy since Francis Drake sailed the Spanish Main.” But old or new, everyone takes a hit, from publisher to vendor.

One apparent winner in the digital death match (apart from the makers of e-book readers) is the consumer, who gets more for less. And therein lies the hope of the whole endeavor. If people can instantly gratify their impulses to get and read a certain book or newspaper or magazine, perhaps they will do it more often, and ultimately spend more money.

Sounds good. But then what happens to bookstores, which need to hold onto a vast inventory to be of any use? For that matter, what happens to festivals like Wordstock or the Brooklyn Book Festival, events that lure noteworthy authors with the promise of selling a lot of books?

Naturally enough, the answer is that they will have to gradually reinvent themselves and create new or augmented reasons for being. For instance, it’s great that I can start reading The Year of the Flood this instant. But nothing compares to trotting down to the Schnitz, as I did last month, to hear her and Ursula K. Le Guin chat about writing. And I will certainly have read Armistead Maupin’s new book Mary Ann in Autumn by the time he arrives at Powell’s (on November 12) -- only if I read on the Kindle, what will I give him to sign?

Anyway. There is a groundswell of thinking about the rights of everybody involved (see this, for example) — so much so that I’m tempted to go to law school (not really) just so I can part of hashing it all out. But as my own behavior attests, the genie is out of the bottle; one day books in print may be yet another artifact we refer to nostalgically as “sooooooo 20th century.”

Actually there are downsides for readers in this as well as upsides for writers -- but that’s another post. To be continued...

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Zeitgeist in the Heights

Hate musicals? Especially hate the canned, prefab Broadway spectacles with music styling that’s 20 years out of date?

Running right now at the Keller is the antidote to all that: In the Heights, the Tony-winning upset (which snagged Best Musical of 2008, among other distinctions) that gleefully thumbs its nose at all the musical theater “rules” and gets away with it.

Indeed, if you’re a devotee of more typical Broadway fare, In the Heights may confuse you at first. Its Latin/rap-inflected musical idioms aside, it’s almost closer to opera than to musicals per se; it’s all but through-composed, with only a handful of spoken sections. Also, since the first rule of theater stagin in general is to control the eye of the spectator, it’s astonishing (and liberating) to find the show's staging does not always demand you stare at predetermined locations. In the dance numbers — and there are many — so much is going on in every corner of the stage, and it is so individuated (i.e.: not always patterned or synchronized), that you could watch this show several times before you saw it all. The photo at left gives you an idea. (It’s of the original Broadway cast, but I assure you the touring company now here in town is outstanding.)

And what dance it is. The dazzling spectrum of moves is largely free of the shopworn Vegas-style vocabulary that makes many musicals so dull; instead you’re treated to a frenetic, more free-form approach (or at least the illusion therefore) that looks like it’s right off the streets.

Another thing I appreciated about this show: since it’s about a neighborhood (specifically a corner in Washington Heights), it reflects all its residents, to be interracial and intergenerational. Sure there’s plenty of young love going on, but there are middle-aged and elderly residents, too, who get their time onstage. And their experience is beautifully reflected in the songs they sing: survivors favor anthems, older characters go for a lyrical style, and the youngsters sport more muscular, jangly motifs.

This truly is a musical for our time. In short: Starlight Express it ain’t.

The remarkable music and lyrics are by the man who conceived the show, Lin-Manuel Miranda. You can check out his Tony acceptance speech below, which may be the most stirring one ever delivered at the ceremony, and is here courtesy of the legendary Cousin Tabitha, who accompanied me to the Keller last night and loved it. By the way, the book is by Quiara Hudes, the playwright whose Elliot, a Soldier’s Fugue got a beautiful, haunting production at Miracle Theatre Group a few years ago.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Autumn does this to me.

Whatever you think about Jonathan Larson's RENT (and let's face, the split over its artistic merits tends to be generational), the whole show is worth it for this one anthem. It's been said about literature that its only real subject is death. But the soul-shaking thing about theater is that it can testify to that inevitability -- that "our little life is rounded by a sleep" -- while simultaneously celebrating our joy that we got to be part of it.

Also, just for overkill, here's Idina Menzel's sweetly plaintive rendition of the same song:

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Wordstock takes off!

Since many people have asked what I recommend for this year’s edition of the Pacific Northwest’s largest literary and book fest, here’s a few very subjective offerings that I’m seeing for sure. Mind you, these are in addition to the big names I mentioned here last month: Meloy + Lethem + Chang + Egan + Bender. Plus my helpful hints at The Editing Room. But hey, why not take them all in? For ten minibucks you can stay all day both days, October 9-10 — and celebrate my 82nd birthday with me on Sunday in high style.

So. First off: if you make theater in Portland, you know Gemma Whelan, the Irish director. But did you know she’s a novelist? Well, special for you: her brand new novel, Fiona: Stolen Child has just been released. Gemma will read from the book on Sunday, and also participate in a panel discussion entitled “First Book, First Person.”

You may also be interested to know (or forewarned) that this year dueling film crews will be trawling the halls of the Oregon Convention Center. Monica Drake is behind a fictional film set at “a literary festival much like Wordstock” — I hear the role of an infant was just cast the other day — and the irrepressible Arianne Cohen, author of The Tall Book, will have a team all the way from Germany trailing her as she wends her way through the bustling weekend. Will the two crews bump into one another, a là Stanley & Livingstone, and start filming each other? That would be very po-mo.

A new gambit this year is what we’re calling “conversations” — not panels, just two or three people conversing around an allied topic, like when Jon Raymond and Jim Lynch discuss “place-based writing” on Sunday.

As for panels, hot ones abound this year. Among my faves: “Ghosts with the Most,” in which four successful ghostwriters talk about the perils and the pinnacles of the biz. That’s on Saturday. That same day, members of San Francisco’s The Grotto (including Stephen Elliot of Rumpus fame) and Portland’s Periscope cover how creating within a community of writers can jump start your work.

What else. Rumors abound of rogue journalists going the way of literary paparazzi this year; will the VIP Room be stormed? We find out Friday night at the aptly named authors’ reception.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Hair Today, Hair Tomorrow: The Musical and Society

Guest post by Joy Paley

Hair, the ’60s counterculture musical, is coming to Portland Center for the Performing Arts in December. The classic rock musical, which celebrates radical political and social ideas that emerged during the Vietnam War era, has been running in various forms for the last 40 years, and you’ve felt its reverberations in popular culture whether you know it or not.

Groundbreaking for its time
When Hair debuted on Broadway in 1968, it sloughed off all notions of what was “appropriate” for a musical. James Rado and Gerome Ragni, the two men who conceived the musical, wanted to make theater that reflected the rising discontent and cultural change they felt in their neighborhood of the East Village. Rado and Ragni had friends who were dodging the draft; people were growing their hair long to protest mainstream society. Drugs, especially marijuana and LSD, were becoming widely used. Commenting on their idea for Hair, Rado said: “It was very important historically, and if we hadn’t written it, there’d not be any examples. We thought, ‘This is happening in the streets,’ and we wanted to bring it to the stage.”

Not just sensational
Hair wouldn’t be running for 40 years if the musical only had shock value to offer. Although the musical did offer the first totally nude actors on Broadway, as well as what many perceived to be a desecration of the American flag, the musical went beyond upsetting the older generation’s notions of propriety. It was more about questioning everything that was mindlessly accepted as a norm, whether it be from government or from society.

Hair was one of the first musicals to have a fully integrated cast; 1/3 of the cast members were African American. Songs in the musical openly mock racial stereotypes, such as “Colored Spade” where the militant black man Hud satirically reads off a list of racial slurs. In another song, a groups of white and black women sing about their love for the opposite race. Indeed, the subtitle for the musical is “The American Tribal Love Rock Musical,” and the idea of a tribe — a united group of diverse people — is an important theme.

Before and After Hair
Although Hair was groundbreaking as a musical that addressed issues of social unrest, it wasn’t without precedent. While in college, Rado was inspired by Rodgers and Hammerstein plays; while the playwrights are often remembered as writing uplifting musicals like Oklahoma! and The King and I, their works also explored issues of race, sex, and class. South Pacific explored racist feelings of whites toward Pacific Islanders, and Carousel depicted domestic violence. Porgy and Bess, by Gershwin, also had a fully integrated cast.

Hair did invent the idea of the concept musical, a play where the theme or statement is more important than the plot. Other concept musicals sprung up after Hair, including Company, Follies and Pacific Overtures by Hal Prince in the’70s. After Hair, other musicals also went on to use rock music scores, including Two Gentleman of Verona, Jesus Christ Superstar, Grease and Dreamgirls. Hair set the precedent for using theater as a venue of social change that can be seen in later successful musicals like Rent.

Where to see Hair
Hair is running at the Portland Center for the Performing Arts from Tuesday, December 28 to Sunday, January 2. On weekdays shows start at 7:30 pm, Saturday at 2 and 7:30, and Sunday at 1 and 6:30. Information on purchasing tickets can be found at the Portland Center for the Performing Arts’ website.

Joy Paley is a guest blogger for My Dog Ate My Blog and a writer on online schools for Guide to Online Schools.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Lee + Me

Guess what, one week from this evening — aka October 4 — a singular sensation for you. Playwright Lee Blessing will be here in town, performing his one-man play Chesapeake himself.

Just in case you haven’t had the pleasure of meeting Lee yet, he has written more than 30 plays, many of them radically different from one another in terms of style and content, including A Walk in the Woods, Cobb, Two Rooms and Eleemosynary. That’s Lee in the photo, on the left, along with partner Melanie Marnich (whose play Tallgrass Gothic you may remember from JAW a few years ago) and Jim Houghton, AD of Signature Theatre Company.

Lee’s in town kicking of Profile Theatre Project’s new season of all Lee, all the time, which starts previews this Wednesday with Great Falls. The Chesapeake presentation will happen on Reed’s campus, where Lee spent his undergrad years. The event’s a partnership between Reed, Profile and the Wordstock Festival, whose multifarious happenings will already be underway as of this Friday.

Now Chesapeake is not an autobiographical account; it takes serious acting chops to pull it off. So you can bet I’m taking advantage of this chance to hear the author read his own work. Full disclosure, though: I’m not just attending for a lark. I’m conducting the Q&A with Lee following his reading. Not to worry, I’ll be a softball prince and avoid questions such as: Is it weird to be married to someone as gorgeous as Melanie?

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Mystery author found

Remember I recently asked for help identifying the author of a poem I came across? Well, she’s turned up — in my own neighborhood, in fact. Whereas I had suspected the poem came from a grant proposal I had reviewed last year (whose author has no Internet presence and therefore could not be tracked down without bloodhounds), I was fortunate to have the poet herself recognize her work and contact me.

So. The poem I published here turns out to be an experiment penned by the redoubtable writer, editor and writing coach Suzanne LaGrande. But the piece was not created to express Suzanne qua Suzanne (as we used to say in grad school lit crit), but rather that of a young character in the novel she’s currently working on. Just FYI.

After having published Ms. LaGrande without attribution, I feel the least I can do is plug her upcoming writing critique group, which starts just two weeks from now. Check it out.

And how did I come across that mystery poem in the first place, you ax? I keep telling you, I am so in with the in crowd.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Autumn on the astral plane

Top secret meeting last night in RACC’s conference room, where I was beguiled by the photography on exhibit there. David Emmite’s revisionist portraits of woodland creatures are wryly amusing -- the coyote, for example, baying at the night sky with the aid of a megaphone, or the raccoon on the prowl with the help of an ingeniously constructed nightlight.

The artist’s website is a funhouse of high-concept drolleries. One of my favorite is below. Warning: you can easily lose one or two evenings poring over the animations alone.

USS Concept from David Emmite on Vimeo.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Back to norbal.

Tonight TBA:10 comes to an end, and I get my life back. Sort of. Because now it's three weeks to Wordstock!

It's been an awesome Time-Based Art Festival, though, with many more palpable hits than misses, and I'm already looking forward to TBA:11. Meanwhile, here's a little something to send everybody off with a little primitive time-based art from le ancien regime.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

TBA10 comes to frothy climax

PICA’s internationally well-regarded Time-Based Art Festival comes to a crescendo this weekend, so even while the madness continues, I want to share what I’ve seen thus far. My posts about TBA:10 have all been posted on the Urban Honking site, so here for your convenience (I GIVE and I GIVE and…) are the links:

Rufus Wainwright and friends

The Wooster Group

Gare St. Lazare Players

The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, by Mike Daisey

Most importantly, tonight is your last chance to see national treasure Nature Theater of Oklahoma performing its madcap recap of what people remember about Romeo and Juliet. And yes, you guessed it, the photo at right is from this performance. That should give you an idea.

Upcoming fast, at 2:30 TODAY, is an exploratory discourse/performance with Mike Daisey, who will talk about his mammoth new work in progress, All the Hours in the Day, which will ultimately be a 24-hour monologue. This scares me more for Mike himself than it does for his spectators. But we had coffee at the clean and well-lighted Public Domain on Wednesday, where I heard a lot about this new gesamtkunstwerk, which sounds awesome — literally.

Also, Emily Johnson’s The Thank-You Bar continues today and tomorrow and the buzz about it is deafening. Six more performances but only 40 are admitted to each showing, so plan ahead.

Friday, September 10, 2010


Yeah, it may be a semi-quiet here for awhile, while I'm vacationing over at PICA's 8th Time-Based Art Festival -- TBA:10, to cognoscenti like us.

I'm the Festival's blogging fool this year -- one of many, actually, part of a crack team, as it were, that includes Lisa Radon, Tim DuRoche, Emily Katz, Tall Matt Haynes, Julie Hammond and many more numinous beings. But all our posts appear at Urban Honking -- how convenient! But Blogorrhea's first-ever guest blogger is in store for next week, just to keep things prolix.

And just in case someone's already plastered over my first piece for TBA:10, you can read my response to Rufus Wainwright's kick-off event last night at the Schnitz, featuring Thomas Lauderdale, Storm Large and Janis Kelly, right here.

Other top picks for TBA:10: Gare St Lazare Players; The Wooster Group; Nature Theater of Oklahoma; Emily Johnson, if you can even still get a ticket; and Mike Daisey's new piece, The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, opened last night and is already rumored to be the Festival's absolute must-see.

By the way, this photo is from a new Charles Atlas piece, “Institute for Turbulence Research (V2),” a 3-channel video installation, video mirror unit, transparent screen, & 6 minute loop. Which I also can't wait to see. FYI.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

I could go on and on....

Why do Portlandians refer to Portland as Portlandia? Damned if I know, but I’ve always loved it that our sardonic affection for the soggy city has come up with this moniker — comparable, perhaps, to San Franciscans invariably referring to their home as The City, or even the more ubiquitous SoCal sobriquet of Ellay.

And now you know there’s this new TV series about to air, Portlandia, which may do for Stumptown what The Drew Carey Show did for Cleveland. Whatever that was. Or was it Cincinnati?

That’s another post. I’m just showing up now to note that there’s been an awesome amount of boundary-busting theatrical activity here lately, and there’s about to be a lot more. I hope you caught Chris Harder’s superb solo piece Fishing for My Father recently, where Chris portrayed a kind of po-mo scary clown (of the machismo sort, not the Krusty variety) and turned it into a meditation on what it means to be male and, ultimately, human.

Just as palpably and inexplicably touching is the current production of Will Eno’s Oh, the Humanity, which has one more weekend over at The Church. As deftly navigated by Our Shoes Are Red/The Performance Lab, this is a sweetly tart collection of short Eno pieces that proves what we already knew: he’s the bastard love child of Samuel Beckett and Jon Stewart. Definitely catch this show.

Actually, autumn’s shaping up pretty fabulously. Theatre Vertigo graces us with Sarah Ruhl’s Dead Man’s Cell Phone starting October 15, plus Third Rail opens soon (well, October 8) with Chris Chibnall’s Kiss Me Like You Mean It.

And ever since I found out Portland Playhouse was going to produce Kirsten Newbom’s astonishing play Telethon -- directed by Rose Riordan, no less -- I’ve been itching for it to get here, but we have to wait till October 7 for that hilarious and disturbing sucker punch. But hey, Hand2Mouth’s Uncanny Valley is about to open at Reed, and is likely to be one of the fall’s most exuberant offerings.

That’s saying something, considering that PICA’s internationally lauded festival TBA:10 opens this Thursday. As always, it opens with a bang; Rufus Wainwright headlines an evening of crooning at the Shnitz that is rumored to includes pieces from his opera, Prima Donna. And which will feature some beloved local figures, including Carlos Kalamar, Thomas Lauderdale and Storm Large.

EFF why eye, I’m one of TBA’s blogging fools this year, so visit Urban Honking daily to see how the opening went, as well as all what’s funny, scary and other provocative for those 10 crazy days and nights.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Poem for a perfect autumn day

For make no mistake about it, it is indeed autumn here in the somnolent Pacific Northwest. And in accordance with the usual signs -- the softer slant of light, the scents of the earth cooling down, the return of morning mists -- I came across this poem in a notebook. It has no attribution and I cannot find its author via Web dowsing or through any other source. If you recognize the writer's work, will you please let me know?

I post this in particular for the participants of last spring's Delve course on August Wilson, for whom this poem will remind them of Joe Turner's Come and Gone and especially of Gem of the Ocean.


Some persons are possessed
With the power to tell
Perfect strangers
what is most evident in the air
They pull the past
like rays of light
Into the present

There are people who see the hidden things
Below the earth's surface:
Veins of metals
bones of the dead
subterranean waters
rise up to
greet their feet
their hands vibrate
in the pulsing shapes
of the earth's underground arteries

Light impressed upon an object
Retains its influence for centuries
Radiant forces proceeding from the dark
Form pictures

Why not waves of sound?
In perpetual existence
a panorama
Passing into unending symphony?

The great picture gallery of eternity
Mountains elevated, degraded lakes formed, drained, life
flourishes Passes away
New constellations reveal secrets
We have never been able to discover

Why not read the history of the planets
In the heavenly bodies beneath our feet?

The faintest whisper
Of every generation carried
In unyielding

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Guilty pleasures and other recent manias

Sorry there hasn't been time for coffee lately. Or blogging or generally gadding about. I've been ... reading. Yes, that's right. One of my favorite things about working with Wordstock -- the literary and book fest that starts in just 36 days -- is that I get to indulge my mania for reading to the max and still feel like I’m working. Here are just a very few of the books I’ve recently read as “research” for October, when I meet their authors in person.

All Is Forgotten, Nothing Is Lost, by Lan Samantha Chang. This somber, affecting novel by the director of the famed Iowa Writers' Workshop starts like it’s going to be a scathing satire of grad school writing programs, and then goes on to span decades in the lives of several poets to show what they sacrifice and what they gain back from their lives as scribblers. Wonderful.

The Big Burn, by Timothy Egan. Ordinarily I’m not a big nonfiction guy, but this book -- about the nation's largest forest fire, which burned more than three million acres in 1910 and has affected conservation policy to this day -- had me spellbound in the introduction, well before it gets to its actual subject. Suffice it to say that Mr. Egan can write.

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, by Aimee Bender. Don’t be put off by the title. This book’s intriguing premise -- about a girl who discovers she can taste the feelings cooked into food by their emotive preparers -- beguiles you with humor and then takes you to disturbing places.

Chronic City, by Jonathan Lethem. This is my first foray into the notoriously genre-busting work of Mr. Lethem, and let me tell you, it’s heady stuff. Clearly the heir apparent to territories blazed by Thomas Pynchon, this novel envisions a dystopian Manhattan so deliriously colorful that I want to move there this minute.

Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It, by Maile Meloy. Awesome. Majestic. The sheer austerity of this writer’s prose provides a series of canvases you get to project yourself into. Many of these stories are haunting in their spare portraits of people on the horns or moral dilemmas. You want to judge them, then realize that would be an act of self-criticism. I now want to read every word this writer’s ever written. Oh, and Portland connection: how endearing is it that she’s Colin’s big sister?

More to come. Moremoremore.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Summer 2010 -- that's a wrap!

Though it’s not (quite) September yet, I’m going to go ahead and exult. It’s a dank, dark and wuthering day here in Portland, Oregon; the drizzle is sifting down through pines; and word has it that it’s snowing on Mt. Bachelor right now. Leaves of dogwood trees and shrubs have already begun changing color! So although there’s still plenty of time left in the season for a heat snap, I’m proceeding to herald autumn’s arrival, which never fails to cheer my gothic soul.

What is it about the fall that summons nostalgia and reminiscence? Maybe because summer already seems like a memory? I think of Lewis Carroll’s introduction to Alice in Wonderland:

A tale begun in other days,
When summer suns were glowing—
A simple chime, that served in time
The rhythm of our rowing—
Whose echoes live in memory yet,
Though envious years would say “forget.”

Autumn’s onset always prompts me to haul out all my ancient Incredible String Band’s albums, whose music reeks of autumn. Here’s a taste:

Some say autumn saddens them because it represents a corridor to winter, which they associate with death and negation. But I think of both seasons as just doors into other incarnations, ones where we occupy the same space as our ancestors and the veil between us is thinner.

However we regard it, we wouldn’t be human beings if we didn’t simultaneously resist and revel in these annual changes. That’s how contrary we are. Which reminds me that Carroll’s poem continues with this poignant couplet:

We are but older children, dear,
Who fret to find our bedtime near.

Happy Autumn.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The play everyone’s afraid of

Sydney Theatre Company’s coming to town, and that’s a big deal. As a world-class company that has shared its stage with the likes of Complicite, Cheek by Jowl, Out-of-Joint and the National, STC itself has toured to prominent American venues including BAM and the Kennedy Center. Plus its co-artistic director is Cate Blanchett, whose early career was fostered by this theater. So forgive me if I’m just a wee bit IMPRESSED that Cate and STC are coming to Portland for a co-pro with our very own Artists Repertory Theatre.

And that ain’t all. The play in question is a towering classic of American drama: none other than O’Neill’s masterpiece, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Long Day’s Journey into Night. This is a play that is rarely performed, and for good reason. It is a horror show; it starts out with a sense of grim foreboding and gets more and more harrowing as it progresses.

When I saw the Broadway revival many years ago, starring Colleen Dewhurst and Jason Robards as the fractious parents (Mr. Robards originated the role of the elder son in the play’s premiere production in 1956) and Jamey Sheridan and Campbell Scott as the sons, I was also struck by the way the script produced its meaning through its very setting. The story starts at 8:30 in the morning, and concludes at midnight of the same day. As the ghosts of the past press in on the characters, so too does the house fill with literal gloom, as first shadows and eventually total darkness engulf the family.

So why would you submit yourself to an evening with four people going from bad to worse? Because not only is the script excellent, it’s also a tour de force for every actor in it. Taking on the role of patriarch James Tyrone, a magnificent ruin of a man, is akin to playing an American King Lear; it’s that devastating. In this production, ART perennial favorite William Hurt assays the role, repeating the performance that garnered him great reviews in Australia.

All the other actors can be no less superb; a weak link in this quadrille would cause the whole thing to collapse. This cast includes one of Portland’s finest actors, Todd Van Voris, playing elder son Jamie; from all accounts, he’s been holding his own admirably.

Long Day’s Journey into Night begins this Friday the 13th at the mammoth Newmark Theatre (tip: do not purchase seats closer than the sixth row unless you enjoy exercising your neck’s flexor muscles). Gawker alert: Saturday is the opening night, and Cate is rumored to be attending! You have until September 5 to see the show, but I wouldn’t wait; this is a production everyone will be talking about.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Shall we dance?

Going to the fab Willamette Writers Conference, by any chance? If so, please look me up. For the next three days, from 8:30 am till noon, I’ll be holding down the Manuscript ER there — a fun gig where you can simply show up, writing sample in hand, and get my refreshing and perhaps even bracingly frank response to it.

Bring your actual prose, or one of its exponents, such as query letter or a book proposal. Or simply bring your questions. Wondering why anyone would want to read your new memoir about your family, Lives of the Obscure? I'll be honest) Is the supernatural thriller past its prime? Depends. What exactly is a writer’s platform? E-Z! All will be revealed.

Plus -- special for you! -- it’s free free free, as a perk of being a conferencee. Though if you brought me a latte, I wouldn’t hold it against you. No sugar, but a sprinkle of nutmeg on the top if you have it.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Corny as Kansas in August? NOT.

So last night I showed up at South Pacific’s opening at the Keller with interest and trepidation. It’s kind of where I came in, as musicals go — with the movie version, anyway, I’m not that old. I was too little to appreciate the story at the time, which I remember as being long and slow. But I grew up hearing the Broadway cast album and knew all the songs by heart, even if I couldn’t quite puzzle out the story. What was going on over on Bali Ha’i, I asked? My parent claimed they didn’t know either.

Come to find out: it’s a terrific story. That’s right, South Pacific actually works as theater, which is amazingly rare with musicals. Debuting in the middle of Rogers and Hammerstein’s incredibly fecund collaboration, it must have been bracing stuff in 1949; it starts out as a love story, and beguiles you into assuming things will develop along certain lines. But just about when you’ve gotten totally comfortable, it has a reversal just before the close of Act I that drew audible gasps throughout the audience last night — from a Portland audience of 2010.

The clip I have here is from the 2008 Tony Awards, with the original Lincoln Center cast, but the touring company I saw last night was top-notch, especially Carmen Cusack as Nellie Forbush, the “high as the Fourth of July” heroine with feet of clay. The voices, the dancing, the production values — particularly Michael Yeargan’s clever set, with its bamboo blinds that morph into sun-dappled water and even manage to suggest time passing — are all superb. (The photo above, by Peter Coombs, is from the tour I saw last night.)

This is the first offering in Broadway Across America’s new season, which has some genuinely thrilling shows in store, most notably In the Heights. But South Pacific, as a perfect extension of Bart Sher’s celebrated production, is the absolute must-see. And you only have through this Sunday, August 8, to catch it, so hurry up. This is one show where it's worth popping for the expensive seats.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Sam Gregory is coming soon to a theater near YOU

Beloved Portland playwriting icon William S. Gregory’s latest play, Necessity, is in the midst of a week’s rehearsal at Portland Center Stage — a workshop that culminates this Saturday with a public reading, as part of JAW: A Playwrights Festival. Here’s what the playwright has to say about the upcoming event.

Sam, a lot of people here associate your writing with elegance, crackling wit, smart badinage. Not necessarily the visceral. Would you say that Necessity is a departure from what you usually explore in writing?

Thank you for asking this, Mead. Necessity is set in the rural American South in 1919. This is an aural culture that places a premium on skill in what we might call linguistic performance: the sermon, the storyteller, the gossip. A good performance in any of these was judged on elegance in delivery, elements of wit and humor, and a passionate need to communicate. The visceral, passionate language found in Necessity, salted with humor, is a natural outgrowth of my body of work.

What was the play’s impetus?

I was inspired to write Necessity by my desire to create theater of tremendous power that has a visceral effect on the audience. Theater today must be astounding: hit the heights of human experience, plumb the depths of our souls and situations. I looked to the Greeks and to the glorious and terrible experience of Americans in the First World War as fertile ground for stories and situations of extreme passion that can move and touch the audience.

Contemporary political correctness dictates that white people don’t get to write about people of color. And unwritten guidelines for producibility suggest that writers craft small-cast scripts. Did you have qualms about flying in the face of both these notions?

I thought on these very things for quite a while. Eventually I realized I had no choice. This play was in my head begging to come out and for my own sanity I needed to put secondary considerations aside and write it. There are times when the muse speaks and the artist must create or risk losing his connection to art.


William S. Gregory’s Necessity will be read this coming Saturday, July 24, at 4pm, at the Gerding Theater in the Portland Armory, with an outstanding cast including Crystal Fox, Vin Shambry, Heather Simms, Wendell Wright, Kevin Jones, Gary Yates, Gavin Gregory and Rachael Ferrera, directed by Chris Coleman.

Stick around afterward for the Theater Fair and for Famished, a site-specific piece written by Eugenia Woods and directed by Megan Ward, presented with the considerable talents of Jessica Wallenfels, Steve Brian, Courtney Freed, Isaac Lamb, Lori Ferraro, Sharonlee McLean, Michael Fisher Welsh, Tanner Ward and Tim Stapleton.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Quelle hommage!

Long, long ago, in a century far, far away, I happened to be visiting the Pompidou Centre when it was showing a remarkable special exhibition. I think it was called “After Manet,” though I can find so sign of the show on the Beaubourg’s labyrinthine website, so maybe I dreamed the whole thing. But the show consisted entirely of pastiches of Manet’s groundbreaking Olympe, the painting that shocked delicate sensibilities in its own time and that still has the power to provoke today.

It’s the look on Olympe’s face that does the provoking: frank, perhaps daring, ultimately as unreadable as the Mona Lisa. But as for originality, Manet himself was composing a variation on a popular Orientalist theme already popularized by artist such as Ingres and Benouville. E.g.:

What started me on this search was that I recalled one painting in the Beaubourg show (there were over 30, if memory serves) in which the reclining odalisque had sprouted fangs, and her equally unreadable servant held a jack-o-lantern in lieu of fleurs. Never did find this online (please let me know if you do), but I was astounded by the breadth and sheer quantity of homages this painting has inspired. Here’s a mere smattering.

There are countless abstractions of Manet's quasi-original, like this one by Bob Kessel:

and numerous reversals of gender, race, class, what have you, such as this fun one of Ken Smith's:

and 3D versions, such as this marvelous one by Paul Spooner.

There are even commercial covers (thank you, Yves Saint Laurent):

And ones that combine the softly erotic with an implicit political hint of something slyly feminist or patently recidivist, depending on how you want to interpret it. This is by Bartlomiej Dabrowski.

But my faves tend toward the overtly political, like Kayti Didrikesen's Man of Leisure, King George:

If you have favorites of your own, please share. Especially if you come across the Jack O'lympe, my holy grail of pastiches.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Let’s go, BooseyCo

Conventional wisdom in English-language literature has long dictated that certain “canonical” works are must-read classics for all(Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, e.g.) while others, though arguably brilliant, are GSO — for grad students only (e.g., The Mill on the Floss).

The canonistas dump Dion Boucicault (above-captioned phonetically for your convenience) into the latter category, and unjustly. His shamelessly commercial plays, dating back to the mid- and late 19th century, were immensely popular in English-speaking theaters of their day. In due course their hegemony (!)(sorry, grad school jargon dies hard) got dethroned by none other than our old friend Oscar, whose megahit The Importance of Being Earnest managed to have it every which way with these comedies — he lampooned them, yet honored their methods at the same time.

Dion’s very first hit in a long and storied career was London Assurance (1841), and it’s been enjoying a renaissance in recent years thanks to such theater visionaries as Sam Mendes and, currently, Nicholas Hytner. We can see Mr. Hytner’s National Theatre production this coming, on July 17, thanks to Third Rail Rep’s NT Live presentation. I’m going to the matinee performance (2pm), so please come to that showing so I won’t be all alone. If you can do without my company, however, there’s also a 7pm showing.

If you haven’t been to an NT Live showing before, you’re in for a real treat. These are broadcasts of live National performances -- notable productions that allow you to see excellent London theater without the bother of a transatlantic flight.

And what of London Assurance itself? The character names give you a clue; there are servants named Pert and Cool and a lawyer called Meddle. There’s also an aging fop named Sir Harcourt Courtly (which I think should be my new nom du guerre) and a “horse-riding virago” known as Lady Gay Spanker, who refers to her submissive husband as Dolly (which actually IS one of my many monikers). There are attempts by the older characters to lech off the younger ones, but you may suspect from the start that young lust will prevail in the end — even it takes some saucy gender-bending along the way. Throw in the acting talents of Fiona Shaw and Simon Russell Beale, among other luminaries, and you’ve got yourself a classic — the kind you actually enjoy.

Think of it as grad school, but without the tears and caffeine-laden overnighters, and with all the romantic hijinks. See you there.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Ticket to ride

What’s more fun than seeing someone you know and like on the cover of American Theatre magazine? Seeing the show that inspired the cover, of course. Ya, that’s Liam Kaas-Lentz’s handsome mug to the right, gracing the April issue of said publication. And that's Hannah Treuhaft below, photographed with Liam. Both are company members of Sojourn Theatre — one of the jewels in the crown of national theater, let alone Stumptown’s. And guess what, next week Sojourn opens a new show it’s been working on for years.

On the Table is ambitious even by Sojourn’s standards. Reflecting the company’s commitment to site-specific and journey-based theater, every performance starts in two different locations simultaneously: Portland, and the rural town of Molalla (population 7,500). You start in one location, or you start in the other, where you bear witness to a community event and meet a host of fictional characters. Following that, you all board a bus and travel to an intermediate third location, where you meet the audience — and the characters — of another play altogether.

It turns out, you see, what you saw back in Molalla or Portland was just part of a bigger story. That bus ride is a journey through time as well as space, because now you are 20 miles and 30 years from where we started. All 90 of us wind up at one big communal dinner, where two people are about to make the biggest decision of their lives. From the Sojourn press release:

They’ll turn to their neighbors (you), and ask a question of life-altering and state-defining significance. Join us as we revisit the truth of a conversation that never occurred, and that happens every day, in an effort to help two families and an urban/rural citizenry decide – once and for all – who needs whom, and why?

Intrigued? I am. Usually theater happens in a cocoon of darkness. We’re safe; almost by definition, nothing is going to happen to us there. And while that shared experience of sitting in the dark while being told a story may imply a community forum, it’s rarely really the case. Sojourn’s presentations are remarkable because they actually need you to see them in order to complete the play — not just so you’ll buy a ticket, not to justify some grant, but because the play is actually about your presence in that room. Or in this case, at that table, breaking bread with 89 other people.

Rarely has “going along for the ride” been this specific. You are invited to come along, and you are needed. But if you want to be part of it, get your tickets soon. The nature of Sojourn’s work means it usually has short runs in small venues. And typically the company will have light houses for its first weekend, then word gets out, then suddenly it can’t accommodate all the people who want to have the experience. And people like me are throwing tantrums and dropping names like Oprah and Obama just to wrangle single tickets.

So don’t say I didn’t warn you. Get your tickets now. Then you’ll know what American Theatre is talking about.


What: World Premiere of Sojourn Theatre’s On The Table

Where: In Portland: The Church, 602 NE Prescott
In Molalla: Rosse Posse Acres, 32690 S Mathias Road

When: July 15 - August 1 (Wed - Sun 8:00pm), previews July 15 & 16

$15 General Admission
Pay-What-You-Can Preview on July 15
$25 Sojourn SupporTix (help keep prices low by choosing this premium rate)
$12 Students & Seniors (limited availability; advance purchase & show ID at door)

Tickets on sale at right here.

Advance purchase is strongly recommended. Only 90 tickets are available for each performance: 45 in Molalla, 45 in Portland. Wear comfortable shoes as the audience will stand and move throughout the event. Please call 971.544.0464 prior to purchasing tickets if you have questions or special needs regarding accessibility/mobility.