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August 6, 2014

Intellectual though he was, writer H.L. Mencken positively came undone, his friend Anita Loos observed, under the beguiling spell of some … blonde.

August 6, 2014

Ellie Greenwich is the boss. A master songwriter, Greenwich had a hand in composing buckets of Top 40 hits, such as “Chapel of Love,” “Hanky Panky,” “Da Doo Ron Ron” and other baby-boomer jams.

July 16, 2014

Throughout the opening night performance of Grease at Actors Cabaret of Eugene, I noted that my 8-year-old companion, and the elderly gentleman next to him, were both alternately laughing, clapping or simply enthralled. Young and old, they were watching a musical from the 1970s about teenagers from the 1950s; they were both loving it.

June 25, 2014

A limitless cosmos of doorways and dead-ends, New York City is a dream, as much a state of mind as it is a place on the map. Adam Gwon’s 2009 musical Ordinary Days beautifully captures the chaotic flux of NYC in a nutshell, by reflecting in microcosm the city’s everyday influence on the romantic lives of two couples. Deceptively simple in form, Gwon’s love letter to Gotham is a minor masterpiece of lyricism and perk, condensing worlds of emotion into a mere 90 minutes.

June 19, 2014

“A lot of people around age 13 are trying to find themselves,” says Jenny Bryant, performing this weekend in 13 at Actor’s Cabaret of Eugene. Castmate Angel McNabb adds, “The play relates to middle school, because kids are always trying to find a group where they fit in.” 

With music and lyrics by the Tony award-winning American playwright Jason Robert Brown, book by Dan Elish and Robert Horn and direction and choreography by Lanny Mitchell, 13 features a cast of young people from around the region, ranging in age from 10 to 16.

June 19, 2014

According to Aristotle, comedy is harder to pull off than tragedy, and farce is the most challenging genre of all. How to get the audience to emotionally engage with all of the goofy plot twists, the ridiculous sight gags and the improbable situations? How to, in the immortal words of film star Donald O’Connor, “Make ’em laugh?” Well, if the lofty goal is a good old-fashioned giggle, then Cottage Theatre’s Moon Over Buffalo doesn’t disappoint. 

June 12, 2014

Claire, Jason, Warren and Deb are just four ordinary New Yorkers, but their lives intersect in the most extraordinary ways as they search with classic longing for love and fulfillment in a very modern setting.

Ordinary Days is a contemporary musical by up-and-coming American composer Adam Gwon. According to Charles Isherwood of The New York Times, “Mr. Gwon writes crisp, fluid and often funny lyrics that reflect the racing minds of the four New Yorkers on a nervous search for their immediate futures.”

June 5, 2014

According to Dr. La Donna Forsgren, playwright and associate professor of theater arts at University of Oregon, there are three things newcomers should know when they sit down to enjoy her adaptation of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland at Hope Theatre:

1. Clap when you want.

2. Laugh when something funny happens.

3. Dance along if you like the music.

(Oh, and there will be a bathroom break, too.)

May 29, 2014

According to the National Survey of High School Biology Teachers, 13 percent of American high school bio teachers explicitly teach creationism in the classroom. Sixty percent give evolution very little class time and 17 percent don’t even touch the subject at all, wanting to avoid the whole controversy. These statistics speak to the state of radical religious interference with education, which gives a ’50s play new relevance in the 21st century.

May 15, 2014

A witty, often biting examination of neighborhood integration, white flight, gentrification and just how far we have not come in the last half century, Clybourne Park is playwright Bruce Norris’ 21st-century response to Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun, in which a black family plans to move into a white neighborhood. Norris’ play, now at Oregon Contemporary Theatre, takes Hansberry’s tale of balancing assimilation and heritage full circle as white professionals return with grand plans to the neighborhoods their grandparents fled.

May 8, 2014

A strange species of magical realism pervades Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods, a darkly funny musical that mashes up a handful of our most familiar fairy tales into a salty stew of deviant psychology and romantic dissatisfaction. Keeping the outward trappings of the fables intact, Sondheim douses them with the realpolitik of reality. Hence, Cinderella finds her Prince only so-so, Little Red Riding Hood is a snarky brat and Rapunzel, left alone too long in her tower, is a neurotic mess.

May 1, 2014

Is it just me, or is the Eugene theater scene undergoing something of an ascendance these days? Is there a minor renaissance of the dramatic arts going on in our midst? Could it be that, along with the hip, new vitality of our downtown, pushing out decades of apocalyptic slouch and economic zombification, this city is also experiencing a similar surge in creative endeavors and the venues that host them?

May 1, 2014

The human memory is a most wily creature, a Picasso-like construction of images and emotions. And if we manipulate our own memories, to what extent is anything we remember real?

Part psychological study, part fast-paced thriller, The Other Place is a play that explores the fascinating study of memory. According to The New York Times, the play is “cunningly constructed entertainment that discloses its nifty twists at intervals that keep us intrigued.” 

April 24, 2014

That Puck! What an imp, what a funnin’ fool. Should any wee hint of the grave or the dour threaten to shank the shambolic ether of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, rest assured that frolicsome Puck, aka Robin Goodfellow, servant to Oberon (King of the Faeries), will hop to and eradicate all frowns with a sly spree of herkimer-jerkimer and utter tomfoolery. Nay, Puck ─ as the sprightly stand-in for Shakespeare’s bumptious side ─ will have none of our earnestness. Life, after all, is but a dream.

April 10, 2014

Since its debut in 1964, Fiddler on the Roof has held a certain special status among Broadway shows. It is the Beastie Boys of musicals — beloved, offbeat, wise and wiseacre-ish, slapstick hip. More times than I can count, the mere mention of Fiddler has caused a friend to break out in baritone: “If I were a rich man, yubby dibby dibby dibby dibby dibby dibby dum…”

April 10, 2014

A soul stolen by a photograph, a tree-worshiping Christian camper and five wildly different folks stuck in a box: It can only be the Northwest Festival of Ten-Minute Plays, the fascinating evening that feels like flipping up rocks and seeing a pulsating world beneath, then moving to the next. NW10 encompasses all the grand excitement of sharing art without any of the pretension.

March 27, 2014

British theater is heady, chewy stuff — especially British farce, which typically excels in wit and wordplay. Consider, for instance, a playwright like Sir Tom Stoppard, who included in his masterpiece Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead a scene in which the two leads play a rapid-fire “Game of Questions” that is essentially verbal Ping-Pong on speed. In general, American drama post-Tennessee Williams lacks such linguistic finery.

March 20, 2014

More so than any other theater company in town, Actors Cabaret of Eugene continues to reflect the spirit and ethos of Eugene. Led by artistic director Joe Zingo and executive director/producer Joe Roberts — and with help from the indomitable Mark Van Beever, whose music direction is always top tier — ACE channels the best of our local culture by remaining free-spirited and at the same time hewing close to a tradition that is equal parts frontier strong and renegade D.I.Y.

March 13, 2014

Spiritual fracture and cultural alienation are at the heart of Ecstasy: A Water Fable, a play by Egyptian-American writer Denmo Ibrahim based on the Sufi tale “When the Waters Were Changed.” Directed by Michael Malek Najjar, UO’s University Theatre’s production of Ibrahim’s work — a triptych that flashes among three characters all seeking some form of reconnection with their origins — is technically adept and swift, clocking in at about 90 minutes.

March 6, 2014

Lavish parties, love, murder, truth and ennui: F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 tale of the amoral moneyed class continues to raise questions in a new century.

Tangled up in someone else’s messy, selfish love triangle, Nick Carraway is simultaneously dazzled and disgusted by the wealthy residents of Long Island. His questions of money, power and what some people expect to be able to buy in this world are particularly apt in 2014. 

February 27, 2014

The Phoinix Players have made it their ongoing — and often lonely — mission to single-handedly revive musical theater in Eugene, and they do an admirable job at conjuring the sort of song-and-dance productions that sent Broadway hellzapoppin’ from the era of Tin Pan Alley to the Great Depression. The troupe, a clutch of talented 20-somethings, is adept at mounting small-scale floorshows that oftentimes achieve a kind of retro grandeur. When they’re on, they hit the mark beautifully.

February 13, 2014

Lord knows, existentialism is old hat by now: It’s practically taken for granted among the cognoscenti that God is dead, life is meaningless, language is a prison, we are alone, etc., etc. Used to be the muscular existentialist pose involved an angry brow knitted under a fedora, with cigarette ash dropping upon a tattered copy of Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra; now, every 13-year-old playing Grand Theft Auto with a belly full of Dr. Pepper knows that life is a bunk game, full of sound and fury signifying nothing.

February 6, 2014

John Cariani’s 2004 romantic comedy, Almost, Maine, flopped when it opened in New York but is now the most produced play in our high schools, which might just tell you everything you need to know about this play that is beseechingly quaint and cosmically cute but not altogether lacking in bite.

January 30, 2014

Some things never change, especially in Eugene, where great pockets of time stop and drop into a sinkhole of self-fertilization. Look at our eternal perpetuation of hippie nostalgia, which has become a cottage industry in itself, for better and worse. Marx noted that all great historical moments — like the long-gone Age of Aquarius, for instance — occur twice, the first time as tragedy and the second as farce, and for those among us who forget that Easy Rider did not have a happy ending, a pair of plays currently in production carry a strong corrective message.