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December 22, 2016

Eugene actor David Stuart Bull was born and raised in England, just over the border from Wales. And for 30 years, Bull has brought a piece of his childhood to Lane County, performing Dylan Thomas’ timeless classic, A Child’s Christmas in Wales, at Café Soriah. 

Bull, a retired chimney sweep, says his connection to Thomas’ work goes back to his youth. “It’s like revisiting my childhood Christmases,” Bull explains.

December 8, 2016

A classic Broadway musical in every sense of the phrase, including its most ambivalent and queasy connotations, Annie Get Your Gun is a textbook example of American stage artistry at its mid-20th-century apotheosis: With music and lyrics by Irving Berlin, the show oozes a charm and confidence completely devoid of cynicism, which is not to say the static stereotypes it trots out (racial, sexual, socioeconomic) are lacking in self-criticism, or even their own undoing.

December 1, 2016

David Sedaris is a masterfully droll storyteller, and his one-man play The Santaland Diaries, playing now at Oregon Contemporary Theatre, is the perfect pairing for this heightened holiday season.

Let’s face it: 2016 has been a smoldering dumpster fire. Prince, Bowie, Rickman — that little election a few weeks ago — even Thanksgiving couldn’t go unscathed, as everyone’s TV mom, Florence Henderson, was called to the Brady Family Meeting in the Sky. Curse you, year from hell!

We need some laughs. 

November 23, 2016

I try to get away, but it keeps pulling me back in: Trump. It’s infected everything, this national nightmare. As I flail and floggle about for answers and curatives, it seems that simply everything becomes an abysmally significant metaphor — a parable for incipient fascism, rampant bigotry and the ugly chancre now broiling at the core of the human spirit.

November 10, 2016

As the stage faded to black on the final scene of University Theatre’s current production of The Dead, and the cast finished belting out a musicalized version of what might be the finest closing paragraph in all of English fiction, I suddenly found myself clutching my head with both hands. Yes, I tend to overreact. I take no pleasure in relating this, but it must be done.

November 3, 2016

Director Michael P. Watkins of Actors Cabaret of Eugene brings a steampunk twist to Richard O’Brien’s cult musical The Rocky Horror Show and, of course, the performance will make you wish you’d donned your fishnets and black lace corset.

Unsuspecting newlyweds Janet (Hailey Henderson) and Brad (Benjamin Sanders) open the show’s wild ride with a tale of young love. Dammit, Janet, you should have known life is never as simple it seems. The pair faces car trouble while en route to visit former high school science teacher, Dr. Scott (Scott Machado).

October 27, 2016

Dan LeFranc’s quickly dives into a chaotic script with his play, The Big Meal, which features an otherwise mellow plot. Two young lovebirds meet and begin the dance of a relationship, sparking a tale that unfolds over the next five generations — all at the same restaurant table. 

The play had its off-Broadway world premiere at the American Theater Company in Chicago back in 2011. The character’s multi-generational stories unravel around the crucible that is the American dinner table, and director Brian Haimbach brings it to life at Oregon Contemporary Theatre.

October 13, 2016

Although I’m aware that conflicts of one kind or another have rocked Ireland for centuries, my knowledge of early 20th-century Irish history is admittedly, and perhaps regrettably, patchy, and I’m going to go ahead and wager that, in 2016, it is for most people.

And this is a hindrance for Very Little Theatre’s current production of Sean O’Casey’s Juno and the Paycock, on now under the direction of Michael Walker. 

October 13, 2016

If you could peer into this critic’s embryonic soul, I suspect you’d find A Chorus Line lyrics. 

I wore grooves into my album of the original cast recording as a kid, and heck, my supercool local public elementary school put it on as a fabulous bootleg production, minus the racier numbers, when I was in second grade. Over the years, I’ve probably seen it 25 times, from multiple national tours to Broadway. 

In other words, I know this show. 

September 22, 2016

It makes me all fizzy and giddy to see men dress up like women. There’s something so joyously liberating about it all. And I don’t think I’m the only one who finds female impersonators a total hoot and super sexy. Gay, straight, bi, femme, butch, blah blah blah: Just about everyone I know gets chirpy at the sight of an aging queen squeezed into a sleek satin dress and bellowing “I Will Survive” like a diva in heat.

September 22, 2016

Paris, September 1793: The Bastille has fallen, feudalism’s dead and the Rights of Man have been declared. (That all sounds pretty good, right?)

But wait, there’s more:

Enter brilliant playwright Lauren Gunderson, who illuminates a murky, muddling moment in history with her bold new play, directed with strength and humor for Oregon Contemporary Theatre by Elizabeth Helman. 

September 8, 2016

Half a century ago this world, as well as worlds beyond our solar system, fell in love with the ’60s television series-turned-movie franchise known as Star Trek.

Christina Allaback, creative director of Eugene’s Trek Theatre, says that along with the relationships among central characters like Kirk, Spock and McCoy, the show’s underlying message of hope helps Star Trek endure.

“There are dystopic science fiction stories,” Allaback explains. “With Star Trek you have the opposite of that — the possibilities of where the human race can go.”

August 25, 2016

It’s such a good idea. Why didn’t someone think of it sooner?

“I was out one day moseying around on Skinner’s Butte,” Robert Newcomer says. “I thought, ‘Wow, this is fairyland up here.’” 

Newcomer, a native Texan and theater arts educator who relocated to Eugene four years ago, is directing Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the inaugural production of Bard on the Butte. 

August 25, 2016

Oregon Performance Lab is back for its second summer of theater workshops, bringing rising playwrights of America to Eugene. Described as a “three-week pop-up laboratory,” OPL connects artists with venues, actors and an audience for theatrical experimentation.

The wife-and-husband team of Willow Norton (artistic director) and Corey Pearlstein (creative director) are based in New York but have roots in Eugene. On the heels of last year’s successful inaugural season, now they are fueling even more ambitious plans.

August 18, 2016

As an accidental theater critic for the past 15 years or so, first in Seattle and now in Eugene, I’ve had the great good fortune to see Shakespeare performed in a variety of ways and in a variety of settings, professional and otherwise. Often upon the stage it’s just a poor player strutting and fretting, signifying very little, yet other times the work is divine beyond all reason.

August 11, 2016

Living in Oregon’s Willamette Valley means that Manifest Destiny, also known as the Pacific Ocean, is never more than an hour away. From this distance, or even up close, it’s easy to romanticize such a beautiful place. Gazing upon the Pacific, anything feels possible.

Visit the Oregon Coast, however, and sometimes you find sandblasted people and communities, stooped low against literal and metaphorical headwinds — economically and emotionally depressed. 

August 4, 2016

The passion of a young scholar knows no bounds. In the pursuit of knowledge, the King of Navarre and his best friends swear a sacred vow to renounce sleep, wine and even women for three years as they engage solely in educating themselves. 

Then the witty Princess of France and her ladies in waiting arrive at the court of Navarre to negotiate a land dispute. Mayhem ensues.

August 4, 2016

Central to the comic tension of You Can’t Take It With You is a fairly routine dichotomy that, perhaps by its very nature, remains forever unresolved, and which best might be summed up thus: freedom versus bondage.

Of course, freedom and bondage have been at war since before Socrates whispered in Plato’s ear and Jesus put a shellacking on the Pharisees, but in this country we like to imagine capitalism invented the eternal conflict between vile materialism and spiritual liberation — in other words, Wall Street versus Main Street.

July 21, 2016

Eugene audiences have a rare opportunity this summer to see School of Rock, a hit musical still running on Broadway.

Eularee Smith, executive director of Upstart Crow Studios, says it’s unusual for a show still on Broadway to be licensed for nationwide production. Upstart Crow Studios is a local nonprofit youth-oriented performing arts association.

June 30, 2016

I have two sisters, much younger than me, the offspring of my father’s second marriage. I love them both dearly, but when they were little girls and I was in my 20s, they drove me batshit crazy — especially with their fanatical devotion to all things Disney. Both of them possess gorgeous singing voices, always have, and traipsing around the house they would suddenly stop, raise their arms with operatic urgency and begin belting out some saccharine ballad from The Lion King or The Little Mermaid.

If I hear about Ariel one more time, so help me ...

June 16, 2016

Bravo, Scapino! Based on Molière’s 1671 comedy Les Fourberies de Scapin, Cottage Theatre’s presentation of Scapino! — directed by George Comstock — is a quirky tale of love and mischief. The play is set in Naples, and the frantic plot is fairly easy to follow, assuming you’ve had enough coffee that day. 

May 26, 2016

Now celebrating its 14th season, The Shedd’s Magical Moombah serves up vaudevillian romps for kids as well as kids-at-heart. 

I chased down two of Moombah’s illustrious founders, Judith “Sparky” Roberts and Scotty Perey, to see what makes Moombah tick. 

“The main idea is to share songs — American standards — from the popular awareness,” Roberts says. 

In a Moombah show, those songs are packaged in a way that’s kid-centered and fun. 

May 26, 2016

The irreverent postmodern humor of Monty Python — a stew of bawdy iconoclasm, parodic schmaltz and geek-boy cheekery — achieved perhaps its finest expression in the 1975 movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail. This cult classic contains so many insider touchstones (the Knights Who Say Ni, Frenchmen who fart in your general direction, a homicidal rabbit) that, by now, it requires its own cultural thesaurus.

May 26, 2016

Chekov updated for a post-Prozac world in OCT’s uneven production of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike

As with writers David Mamet or Aaron Sorkin, to properly experience playwright Christopher Durang you first have to commit to the musical rhythms of his language. Durang’s humor, dark and cynical as it is, lies within that rhythm.