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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.

May 19, 2016

Premiering this weekend at Oregon Contemporary Theatre, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, winner of the 2013 Tony Award for best play, represents a kind of second act for playwright Christopher Durang.

“Durang is known for his outrageous comedy, and rightfully so,” OCT director Tara Wibrew says. “But I particularly appreciate that his characters are lovable. In many of Durang’s pieces, there isn’t a villain against a hero — just good people taking opposing routes in an attempt to make life better.” 

May 5, 2016

Written by Joe DiPietro with music by Jimmy Roberts, I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change is a series of skit-like vignettes punctuated by songs loosely hung around themes of love, sex, relationships and marriage. First performed Off-Broadway in 1996, the popular and award-winning musical is on now at Actor’s Cabaret under the direction of Anthony Krall.

April 28, 2016

Way back when, the late, great American writer Kurt Vonnegut published a short story — “Who Am I This Time?” — about a pair of community theater actors who, awkward in so-called real life, fall in love through the character they play on stage. In Vonnegut’s sure hands, the conceit is melancholy and sweet, a concession to the fraught slapstick of authentic emotional connection.

April 21, 2016

Sharply written and deeply empathic, Steve Yockey’s Blackberry Winter trains a bright light on Vivienne, whose mother has lived with Alzheimer’s disease for a few years and is now in the throes of transitioning from assisted living (Vivienne refers to it as “the Residence Inn”) to a more confining, yet safer, nursing home.  

Played with tenderness and perfect clarity by Mary Buss, Vivienne is magnetizing as she draws us towards onstage objects that both elicit and anchor all-too fleeting memories: a little wooden horse, a pile of ladies’ scarves, a trowel. 

April 21, 2016

If we could time travel, rock-‘n’-roll fans might want to dial their wayback machines to Memphis’ Sun Records, Dec. 4, 1956, when legends Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash created an unforgettable musical session.   

Perkins, already a powerhouse with hits like “Blue Suede Shoes,” had booked the studio that day and hired a little-known session player to back him up — a guy named Jerry Lee Lewis. 

April 14, 2016

It’s not necessarily downbeat to claim that a given theatrical production is completely carried by one performance in particular — to lavish praise on an actor who puts the play on her back and carts it expertly and, of equal importance, joyously from her first appearance on stage to the proverbial drop of the velvet curtain.

This is especially true in community theater, a distinctly democratic institution where the egalitarian instinct gives a nudge to tender swaths of talent that blend in a stew of ability, some of it realized but not always.

March 31, 2016

Ah, Paradise: What an orchard of happiness. Endless green, endless time and endless innocence, unsullied by death and the knowledge of it. What’s not to like? But God, in his infinite wisdom, looked upon Eden’s immaculate expanse and thought unto himself: Needs something. Needs a beholder to appreciate my handiwork and artistry, my Godness. Needs people.

And so there were people, and everything went to hell.

March 31, 2016

“It’s been some time that I’ve been wanting to have music that gives voice to those who’ve gone through Alzheimer’s disease and dementia,” says Eugene Concert Choir artistic director and conductor Diane Retallack, who has poured her energies into making the world premier of composer Joan Szymko’Shadow & Light a reality.