Monday, June 27, 2011

Monday night and the dramaturg is IN.

Admittedly, I love all aspects of dramaturgical service in the theater. Rehearsals. Think pieces about the shows. Contextualizing a production for audiences. Hanging out with the actors. Design conferences. You name it.

But there’s something especially pure about the research phase of a new project, when I’m simply reveling in the universe a writer has created, that for me is especially luxuriant.

In the past couple of days, I’ve looked into spaghetti westerns as one way to inform the new Milo Mowery/Rody Ortega musical, El Zorrito, which will debut at Northwest Children’s Theater this coming season. And I’ve searched for images of Boise streets, morbidly obese English teachers and Mormon underwear as we start work on Sam Hunter’s The Whale for its production next year at Denver Theater Center.

And tonight I’ve been looking into the story behind the story of a classic fairy tale, also for Northwest Children’s Theater, that James Moore is adapting. The title gives you a good sense of the playwright’s overall tone: Rapunzel — Uncut!

Here’s a tidbit from my research: “rapunzel” was an old-timey name for a leafy plant they used to cultivate in old Europe, more commonly called rampion, which we now call lamb’s lettuce. When Rapunzel’s mother was pregnant with her, she (Mom) had major cravings for the plant, which led to stealing it from the garden of a very talented and lonely witch — and you know the rest of the story.

As Karen Finley has wryly pointed out in her play The Theory of Total Blame, everything is always the mother’s fault, from Clytemnestra to Lynne Spears. So I appreciate this poem I came across by Carolyn Williams-Noren, where she gives voice to the least sympathetic character in the fairy tale in “Rapunzel’s Mother.”

I can't explain why I wanted that simple
thing so much: dark green rampion leaves, the curled
coverlets of them stacked together on the sideboard,
the rainy steam of them cooking, the hot full softness
and the bittersweet bite in my throat, mouthful
after mouthful. It was as if there was no other way to keep alive.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

On with the show

Now that the 2011 Drammy Awards are laid to rest, we can look forward to the 2011-12 season, which is already shaping up to be exceptionally exceptional. Here are just a few of the many, many upcoming shows I wish were opening today.

First of all, check out Portland Playhouse’s entire season, which starts with my favorite August Wilson play (and also his most mysterious), Gem of the Ocean, and ends with one of America’s most dazzling young playwrights (Terell Alvin In between are Tony Kushner AND Portland’s very own Greek goddess, Eugenia Woods. Wow. Plus here’s a teaser: stay tuned for some more good news from the Brothers Weaver very soon now.

ART has one of its strongest seasons ever coming up. Just two of its must-see productions are a new adaptation of The Duchess of Malfi by the Joe Fisher and Annie Baker’s profoundly affecting Circle Mirror Transformation. PCS looks strong, too; I’m especially looking forward to Universal Mind, a piece utilizing The Doors’ music and Allen Ginsberg’s writing.

Not to be outdone, Miracle Theater’s looking very groovy next year with strong plays by José Rivera (Boleros for the Disenchanted) Oedipus el Rey by Luis Alfaro. Theater Vertigo also has a strong line-up; I can't wait for the production of Scottish writer David Greig's play, The American Pilot, which will be directed by Matt Zrebski.

Northwest Children’s Theater
has commissioned new plays from Milo Mowery, who wrote this year’s bracingly original version of Snow White, and James W. Moore (yes, he of defunkt fame). Who can resist James’ title: Rapunzel — Uncut!

And then along comes CoHo. Among three strong offerings this year, look out in particular for a demented new comedy by Ebbe Roe Smith titled Day of the Docent. Yes, that’s right. Prepare to be totally unprepared.

We expect an audacious season from Third Rail, but next year is downright gobsmacking. All three plays will astonish you, and also, I think, extend your sense of what this boundless company can accomplish. My personal fave: Penelope, by Irish genius Enda Walsh, which looks at the situation of Odysseus’ wife from the POV of……her suitors.

However, the grooviest production of all next year just might be Oregon Children Theatre’s adaptation of The Storm in the Barn, the celebrated graphic novel by Matt Phelan, adapted here by the always superb Eric Coble, about a boy’s startling face-down with a sinister presence in a Kansas barn, circa 1937. Original music by Portland band Black Prairie! Here’s a taste from the book’s trailer:

Nor do you have to wait till fall for good theater; next month brings the inaugural production of the long-awaited Portland Shakespeare Project with As You Like It, directed by AD Michael Mendelson.

So color me whatever, but if you ax me, we’re looking at the best season in Portland theater in a long, long time…..

Sunday, June 12, 2011

That most wonderful time of the year

Ah, The Drammy Awards, 2011 edition. We always call it the year’s largest cast party. And every year it really does feel that way, as a good chunk of Portland’s theater community gathers at the Crystal Ballroom to honor another season of gobsmacking theater. Darius Pierce, whose sense of humor make Stephen Colbert look like a stiff, hosts. The famed JAW Festival gets a special achievement award. And beyond that, all bets are off.

If you're not from around these parts, you may be surprised to learn that Portland has a lot of theater — much more than you’d expect, for a town of this size. Every year the work of over a hundred companies is considered for distinction. And, yes, why not admit it, some of that work is subpar (London’s about the only city I know of where you can walk into a theater at random and probably have a good experience), but an astonishing amount of each season’s offerings is of impressively high quality.

Even so, it’s actually pretty hard to get a Drammy Award. Only Committee members who have seen a particular show get to vote on it, of course (there are 15 of us in all), and a nomination must get a whopping 80% of ayes to carry the award. Which means that if all 15 can vote on a particular nomination, that’s 12 people who have to be in agreement. Yikes.

This also means that often a show arousing strong feelings pro and con will fall victim to a hung jury. How this pans out if that for me personally, every year I’m proud to have nudged an award or two in being that wouldn’t have carried the day otherwise . . . and contrariwise, there are some that I really, really regret not being able to inspire enough swing votes. I bet if you polled all 15 Committee members, all would say the same thing.

2011’s ceremony, which takes place Monday evening at the fab Crystal Ballroom, will much of a muchness only more so. There are going to be a few surprises that will astonish people. And some popular favorites that will cause standing ovations and verklempte acceptance speeches. And then too, as Ben Waterhouse points out, part of fun is griping about all the deserving people and companies who were — yet again! — “overlooked.”

See you there. But you might not see me. I’m thinking of pulling a Ruth Reichl. Not because anyone's looking for me, but just because how often do you get to go somewhere incognito?

Friday, June 10, 2011

You are now watching New Play TV

Dare I wonder if the new play universe is slouching toward reinventing itself? Between the provocative water cooler that HowlRound instantly became, and now New Play TV, the marginalized art form we call the theater is showing signs of jumping from the margins and the footnotes right into the headlines.

New Play TV is is a "collective media outlet for live events and performances relevant to the new play sector." It's interactive and media-savvy and fun, and it's open to any and all new play "stakeholders." Right now it's covering an amazing amount of The Dramatists Guild conference currently in progress, and tonight, par example, you can watch a full performance simulcast from the FURY Factory Festival of Ensemble Theater.

Just today NPTV posted an excellent interview by our own Andrea Stolowitz interviewing the legendary Emily Mann. And you can watch it here or watch it there. How cool is that?

newplay on Broadcast Live Free

Thursday, June 9, 2011

"Hippies of endless variation"

"We're so thankful for all we've got
And so sorry for everything we're not..."

As the only person in the great State of Orygun who has not yet weighed in on the TV show Portlandia — well. Seeing as how the IFC social satire’s been renewed for a second season, it’s high time I added to the general blogritude to say that I thought the show was.........intermittently amusing. Brilliant when it stuck to lampooning things genuinely Bridgetown, but tepid when it resorted to warmed-over SNL-style sketches.

My favorite episode of Season 1 was the second or third one, where the Mayor (played by the eerily apposite Kyle MacLachlan) commissioned a pair of local roustabouts to write a theme song for the City of Roses. Their ham-fisted attempts to hack out something suitably anthematic served as an ongoing motifs for that episode, with each songwriting attempt worse than the one before, of course.

The punch line for the storyline didn’t come till the credits, when you were treated what the two songwriters actually turned in to the Mayor. And the wonderful epiphany was that it was good — dippy and DIY and beguiling at all once, the combination of which is, after all, very much a Stumptown specialty.

I wish it really were the city’s theme song. Here it is, see you what think.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Are you an Oregon playwright?

Fantastic. Do this now: submit your application to Literary Arts for the Oregon Literary Fellowships. It costs nothing to apply; application is E-Z; and if you’re selected you get a nice chunk of change and probably a serious career boost along with it. The deadline for application is June 24 (not a postmark deadline, by the by).

Genres up for awards include poetry, fiction, literary nonfiction, drama, and young readers literature. Which I mention because of all the genres, playwriting is, for some reason, still not on the radar of Oregon’s burgeoning playwriting community. Hence your chances of grabbing the brass ring are much, much greater, statistically, than if you submitted, say, literary fiction.

All the coaching you could ever need can be found at Paper Fort, an excellent writer’s resource created by the fabulous Susan Denning.

What you are waiting for, get off the interwebs and starting crafting that application. You’ve got nothing to lose but your undeserved obscurity.

And if you still need encouragement, here’s a little Alice Cooper to inspire you to take action:

Friday, June 3, 2011

JAW 2011 preview, part one

I’m way late in relaying this information — it was released nearly two weeks ago — but I’ve been reallyreally busy. Which calls for another blog post altogether, but for now...

…I want to focus on the first weekend of the festival formerly known as Just Add Water. This first leg of the festivities is called Made in Oregon, and it’s a reading series of new works by — who else? — all Oregon-based writers. This year’s a special one for me personally, because 3 of the 4 participants are former members of PlayGroup (the writers group I ran for seven years back at PCS), and these same writers are now charter members of Playwrights West — a group of playwrights committed to fully producing one work per year of a member playwright, along the lines of 13P and Workhaus Collective.

M in O boasts of a brand new play by the fab Matthew B. Zrebski with a title I find fulsome, for some reason: Forky. I haven’t read it and plan not to, so as to be totally awed by this playwright’s always spellbinding dramatic vision. For now I can only say: Expect to be startled.

Another must-see: Andrea Stolowitz’s beautiful and moving play Antartikos, fresh from its workshop at the New Harmony Project. ART presented an early version of this play for this year’s Fertile Ground Festival, directed by Gemma Whelan, which came off splendidly. Someone is going to up and actually produce this play and do very well by it. Theaters, take note!

Rounding out the Playwrights West juggernaut is Patrick Wohlmut’s play Continuum. Megan Kate Ward presented an early version a couple of years ago in her popular Now Hear This series at PCS, to showcase the play as a Sloan Commission. The story is a surprising cat-and-mouse game between two scientist, one of whom has several different identities at his disposal—and equally complex reason for creating them.

Also exploring questions of identity is Made in Oregon’s fourth offering, by Portlander Brian Kettler. Personal is a thriller that investigates how personality and especially celebrity can be created as well as dissolved by our society’s avid love of hero workshop. Inspired by a James Tiptree story (though pretty much using the story as a point of departure), Brian’s play is disturbingly funny and thoughtful and, ultimately, like Patrick’s play, a mystery at heart.

Made in Oregon runs during the week of July 11, probably later in the week. You can check specific show times once they’re posted on the JAW website; meanwhile you can read more about these writers here.