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Theater

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. 

May 4, 2017

Even if Actors Cabaret of Eugene’s current production of Cabaret were a drop-dead disaster, I’d still recommend it wholeheartedly. This 1966 hit Broadway show, based on Christopher Isherwood’s novel Goodbye to Berlin, is so timely it’s chilling. Dark and dastardly, the musical captures, with wit, humor and loathing, the malevolence that fascism bleeds into every corner of life, until not even the chorus line is safe.

April 27, 2017

It’s not every day that an established playwright and screenwriter passes on an opportunity to create an updated Broadway show, but that’s just what Douglas Carter Beane (To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar) initially did. 

“The problem with Cinderella always is: She loses the shoe at intermission — got it! — and that gives you the second act just for the guy to find the girl, and that’s really a lot to ask out of a second act,” Beane says. “So, as I do on every good thing I’ve ever done in my life, I passed. I was not really that interested.”

April 20, 2017

Through family — through the shared, interconnected knots between the generations — a loose tapestry is woven that cinches down to become the present moment.  

And so we find ourselves laughing, reflecting and understanding as we view a humane, accessible and embryonically powerful new work — Blue Door by Tanya Barfield, playing now at Oregon Contemporary Theatre.

April 13, 2017

“Eleanor Roosevelt is someone who has really infiltrated my life,” Jane VanBoskirk says. “It’s helping me deal with Trump, hearing what she went through and all the troubles she had.”

On Thursday, April 20, the Portland actor, who has made a career of one-woman shows about strong women, comes back to town for a single performance of Eleanor Roosevelt: Across a Barrier of Fear at Springfield’s Wildish Theater.

All proceeds from the one-woman production, which is sponsored by Eugene Weekly, go to Planned Parenthood of Southwestern Oregon.

April 13, 2017

There’s always something a bit queasy about the prospect of a community theater taking on a big and bouncy Broadway musical: Despite the best intentions, the inherent limitations of local theater, compounded by the complex requirements of such shows, often lead to a production that is uneven at best, disastrous at worst. Fiasco is forever waiting around the corner.

March 30, 2017

Technically speaking, Dear World isn’t a very good musical. In fact, it’s well-nigh ridiculous, a shameless crowd-pleaser that is somehow baggy and thin at once, swapping character development and narrative coherence for broad strokes of platitude and attitude stitched together by the pomp-and-circus-pants of forced Parisian gaiety and bunk philosophical truisms. The songs are pretty good, though.

March 23, 2017

There’s nothing quite like very short plays to whet or renew your appetite for live theater. Don’t like what you’re watching? Wait a few minutes, and you get a brand-new story.

That constant variety helps explain the popularity of the Northwest Festival of Ten-Minute Plays, which premiered its ninth annual incarnation last weekend with an evening of eight 10-minute new plays at Oregon Contemporary Theatre.

March 16, 2017

In Philadelphia, the city of Brotherly Love, some sisters could use a little prayer. The convent’s out of cash — no one’s tithing anymore! — and Mother Superior (a resplendent Cindy Kenny) declares the situation dire.

Enter Chelyce Chambers as Deloris, a nightclub chanteuse with a heart of gold. Deloris witnesses some bad doings by her bad boyfriend, and — you guessed it — has to don a nun’s habit to keep from getting whacked.

(Wait? Wasn’t this a 1992 hit movie starring Whoopi Goldberg? Yup, the same, but now with singing and dancing, because … why not?!)

March 9, 2017

The University of Oregon Theatre Program presents two student plays this weekend and next: The Fruit Stand by Sravya Tadepalli and On the Street Where We Used to Live by Cora Mills.

Both plays are winners of the New Voices playwriting competition. The UO’s Joseph Gilg has shaken off retirement to direct.

March 1, 2017

Sarah Ruhl is an interesting playwright. Her work achieves emotional valences that, for me, are completely contradicted by her style — a style I find myself hard pressed to describe with any satisfying accuracy. Mamet on anti-depressants? Chekhov lite? Swift with a Swiffer?

Ruhl’s writing is mannered yet silly, frivolous but somehow depthy, a bitter pill coated in sugar. Her loudest harangue remains a coo. Distinctly middle-brow and yet hardly milquetoast, she seems to set herself up as a wag and nag for the NPR glitterati, a bit preening and twee but itchy-scratchy nonetheless.

February 23, 2017

Sarah Ruhl’s Melancholy Play, opening Friday night, Feb. 24, at Oregon Contemporary Theatre, posits an idea that seems utterly un-American: What if it’s OK not to be happy? What if we don’t need to smile all the time, despite our ingrained right to the pursuit of happiness?

February 23, 2017

Identity is a bitch. By the time we’re grown up enough to ask ourselves who we are and what the hell we’re doing with this thing called life, we realize our so-called self is an infinitely convoluted and mysterious patchwork — a mashup of past indignities, adopted attitudes and a certain incommunicable something howling deep inside for meaning and contact.