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Theater

December 7, 2017

In all honesty, I must admit that I copped quite an attitude before walking into Cottage Theatre’s current production of Seussical, a Broadway musical based on the work of beloved children’s author Dr. Seuss, aka Theodore Geisel. First of all, I absolutely adore Geisel, and not least for his resistance, during his lifetime, to having any of his lovely creations — all those hunches and sneetches — run through the grinder of crass commercialization and corporate marketing.

November 30, 2017

If you love Donald Trump, you can suck it. 

Well, certainly you can quit reading this review (though I’m not sure why you even picked up this paper), and if you love him, please don’t buy a ticket to see the Kinsey Sicks’ Things You Shouldn’t Say at Oregon Contemporary Theatre. 

Everyone else: This is the funniest show you will see all season.

I recently caught up with the Sicks (Winnie, Trixie, Rachel and Trampolina), aka Nathan Marken, Ben Schatz, Jeff Manabat and Spencer Brown. In case it’s not obvs, we’re all BFFs. 

November 22, 2017

Verily, the Old Testament is many things to many people, believers and skeptics and repudiators alike; but one thing it decisively is not is fun, or funny. From a merely literary standpoint, the Pentateuch itself, the first five books of the Bible, is a dour affair, full of the grievous and bloody growing pains of a new nation.

November 16, 2017

They don’t make them like Harold Pinter anymore, and right now at Lane Community College you can enjoy Pinter’s masterful The Birthday Party, tenderly cooked to a lustrous crackle. This production whizzes by, with direction and performances that fully embrace Pinter’s penchant for the absurd.  

Director Cullen Vance finds the musical score within Pinter’s cadence, his rich, piping hot words, and this taut cast chomps through the proceedings like a tight jazz sextet. 

November 9, 2017

First published in 1969, Ursula K. Le Guin’s feminist sci-fi classic The Left Hand of Darkness tells the story of Genly Ai. Ai is an envoy from the Ekumen, a loose confederation of planets, and he has come to the snowy planet Gethen on a diplomatic mission to persuade the nations of Gethen to join the Ekumen.

A semi-musical original adaptation of The Left Hand of Darkness is running through Nov. 12 at the University of Oregon’s Robinson Theatre. The work is directed and adapted by University of Oregon Theatre Arts faculty John Schmor. 

November 9, 2017

Jordan Harrison’s excellent play, the Pulitzer-nominated Marjorie Prime — now at Oregon Contemporary Theatre under the direction of Willow Norton — tackles the prickly issue of artificial intelligence in much the same way Raymond Carver’s short stories take on the mute pangs of working-class despair — as a sparse domestic drama teetering on an abyss of absence, loss and strangled desire. And, like Carver’s work, Harrison’s play is by turns arid and profound, shot through with a prosaic tedium that barely girds the sadness humming beneath its surface.

November 2, 2017

If you want to feel hope for the future, I recommend interviewing South Eugene High School theater students.

Emma Mowry and Jakobi Luke, both seniors, have been active in theater throughout high school, and are working to bring two shows to the stage this weekend, The Laramie Project, and its sequel, The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later. 

“The biggest challenge has been the story — what happened, and sitting with that,” Ten Years Later director Mowry says. “It’s not easy to get into that mindset.” 

October 19, 2017

I’m a snob and a sniff and a two-bit dilettante of the lowest rank.

For instance, I once dismissed Stephen King as an immature populist hack whose middlebrow fiction is an affront to all things literary, and I felt that same way about playwright Neil Simon — a sentimental moron whose tweedy Borscht Belt shtick had transformed the grand tradition of romantic comedy into an efflorescence of twee and treacle.

October 12, 2017

Like so much that descends to us from the rich and fertile period of the late 19th century — Freud, Nietzsche and Marx, to name but the obvious heavies — Robert Louis Stevenson’s gothic novella The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde has entered common parlance, describing an aspect of the human condition, and not a particularly pleasant one.

September 28, 2017

Will Eno’s Middletown, playing now at Oregon Contemporary Theatre, is a masterfully written, beautifully produced effort that seeks the extraordinary in the everyday. 

Directed by Tara Wibrew, Middletown is like a metaphysical global positioning system that the playwright uses to orient us to a cosmological map of seemingly ordinary moments.

September 21, 2017

Somewhere during the first act of Jesus Christ Superstar — playing now at Actors Cabaret of Eugene — I realize that basically Jesus is every parent who gets kids through the gauntlet of back-to-school. All the extracurricular activities! The Parent Nights! The potlucks! The carpool. It’s just exhausting. 

Act One Jesus is the cooped-up, hen-pecked provider, anointing, healing, hugging — and he’s kind of had it. “There’s too little of me!” he complains. 

Jesus, I feel you. 

August 24, 2017

This year Shakespeare in the Park adapted Henry V for a short outdoor performance directed by Sharon Sèlove. A narrator (David Stuart Bull), sporting awesome warrior braids, aids the transition between settings and synopsizes missing scenes.

August 17, 2017

Although roughly the contemporary of those two titans of 19th-century epic Russian literature, Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, Anton Chekhov was great in the minutest of scales, the minorest of keys.

On the surface, his melancholy plays are pastorals turned inside out as he flays open domestic intimacy to reveal the grotesque narcissism and exotic sadness that isolate us from each other. In this sense, he was Lynchian before David Lynch breathed a breath — Lynch minus the multi-dimensional fuck-all, with a bowl of borscht.

August 10, 2017

The trend in Shakespeare performance is to toss off all the “adieus” and “but softs” with the casual tone of a texting teenager. I, for one, love this style. Breaking down the artifice deepens Will’s poetry and warms up his philosophy. And Very Little Theatre’s charming production of Shakespearean rom-com As You Like It is very much in this fashion. 

July 27, 2017

The year is 1927. The Great War, which we now remember as World War I, is a distant memory. The stock market is booming. Life is good for the investing class. And football has become a happy obsession for students and their parents on college campuses across the United States.

That’s the setting for Good News!, a frothy, seldom-produced 1927 musical rom-com by Laurence Schwab, B.G. DeSylva and Frank Mendel, which runs at The Shedd through July 30.

June 29, 2017

I was born in 1995. I was 6 when the Twin Towers fell, and only 10 when Hurricane Katrina hit. This last presidential election was the first I could legally vote in — yeah, I know, what a great memory, right?

So, when I sat down in Actors Cabaret of Eugene to review its newest musical, Disaster! — a parody of 1970s disaster movies such as The Earthquake and The Poseidon Adventure (neither of which I had ever even heard of), chock-full of entirely ’70s tunes — I had no idea of what I was getting into.

June 22, 2017

While not as well known as Jay Gatsby or Huckleberry Finn, Mama Rose is one of the defining characters of American literature. At once a hustler, a social climber, a visionary and an imposter, the hard-edged protagonist of the classic 1959 Broadway musical Gypsy would sell not only her soul, but her children’s souls as well, to break the bonds of dull poverty and rise to wealth and stardom, vicarious or otherwise.

June 22, 2017

The title of Very Little Theatre’s latest mainstage show, Perfect Wedding, is a bit of an oxymoron: There’s no such thing.

June 15, 2017

Perhaps it’s just fate, a roll of the dice, but in all the several years I’ve been reviewing the work of community theaters, I’ve seen two plays pop up over and over and over again, perennial blooms in the revolving seasons of repertory stagecraft.

One of them is Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People, which I really wouldn’t mind never seeing again. The other is Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, appropriately referred to by its author as “a trivial comedy for serious people.”

June 8, 2017

Mr. Burns: a Post-Electric Play, written by Anne Washburn and directed by Tricia Rodley, imagines an eerie future where firelight provides the only illumination and recounting old episodes of The Simpsons kindles the only warmth. 

Full disclosure: Anne Washburn and I went to the same small liberal arts college. (I started college the same year The Simpsons premiered — in 1989.) 

And I remember Washburn was a sharp cookie — but a crap stitcher. 

May 25, 2017

Even now, several days after seeing it, digesting it and churning it all over in my mind, I find I’m having a mixed response to Oregon Contemporary Theatre’s current production of Venus in Fur, David Ives’ two-person play-within-a-play based on Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s 1870 novel of the same name.

Of several things, however, I am certain. The production itself is magnificent, revealing once again the sure touch of director Craig Willis as an elegant and economical manager of dramatic tension.

May 25, 2017

When I last checked in with Brian Haimbach, writer, actor, and head of the theater program at Lane Community College, it was February 2016, and he was about to premiere his one-man show, How to Be a Sissy.

I couldn’t give it away in print then, but can happily admit now that I was in on a little secret. At the close of the show last year, Haimbach was going to propose to his longtime partner, Vincent Mays.  

“I got down on one knee,” Haimbach says. “And said, ‘Now that we can — I think we should.’” 

May 11, 2017

I hear a lot of people saying they wish they saw more positive news stories — that they’re tired of the gruesome, sad pieces they read online, or see on TV, about war and disease-stricken countries. I’m not going to lie and say that I enjoy those types of stories, though I do think they’re important. But maybe, as a journalist, I’m biased. 

May 4, 2017

You have two great new reasons to visit the Oregon Shakespeare Festival right now — Hannah and the Dread Gazebo, a charming, balanced inquiry into race, culture and family, and UniSon, a new musical based on almost-forgotten poetry by genius playwright August Wilson.

Both plays make their world premieres this spring at the Ashland festival.

Directed by Chay Yew, Jiehae Park’s Hannah and the Dread Gazebo, running through Oct. 28 in the intimate Thomas Theatre, has a brilliantly curious title, evoking a kind of gothic cautionary tale.