Portland Center Stage Fun Home

Portland Center Stage is celebrating it’s 30th anniversary this season! Congratulation! The first productions for this new season are Fun Home running September 16 – October 22 on the US Bank Main Stage and in the downstairs intimate Ellen Bye Theater will be Every Brilliant Thing, running September 23 – November 5, 2017. Both plays have moments of comedy and joy, but also have a dark lining: suicide and depression, the gap between the face one wears to the world and the mental well being inside. On stage and in the audience, you will be laughing and crying together.

Portland Center Stage: Fun Home Publicity Photo Left to right: Medium Alison (Sara Masterson), Alison (Allison Mickelson), Bruce Bechdel (Robert Mammana) and Small Alison (Aida Valentine) in Fun Home at The Armory. Photo by Kate Szrom
Portland Center Stage: Fun Home Publicity Photo Left to right: Medium Alison (Sara Masterson), Alison (Allison Mickelson), Bruce Bechdel (Robert Mammana) and Small Alison (Aida Valentine) in “Fun Home” at The Armory. Photo by Kate Szrom.

[Read more…]

Signature

Spring Musicals at Portland Center Stage

The dressing rooms, hallways, and stages are alive with music at PCS! This past weekend, Portland Center Stage debuted the world premier of of two new shows both featuring music: Wild and Reckless: A New Concert Event with Blitzen Trapper (running until April 30, 2017) and Lauren Weedman Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (running until April 30, 2017).

I attended both and here’s are my thoughts on the Spring Musicals at Portland Center Stage.

Wild and Reckless: A New Concert Event with Blitzen Trapper

Portland Center Stage and Wild and Reckless: A New Musical Event from Blitzen Trapper. Written and Performed By Blitzen Trapper, Directed by Rose Riordan and Liam Kaas-Lentz Poster Design by Michael Buchino Photo by Kate Szrom

[Read more…]

Signature

Portland Center Stage: The Oregon Trail

The latest play to hit the US Bank Main stage at Portland Center Stage is the October 29 – November 20 2016 run of The Oregon Trail. Here’s my thoughts as well as listings of how you can make a ticket to Portland Center Stage: The Oregon Trail a full date by taking advantage of free discussions, happy hours, DJs playing music and board games.
Portland Center Stage: The Oregon Trail By Bekah Brunstetter Directed by Rose Riordan Art by Mikey Mann October 29 - November 20 2016
Portland Center Stage: The Oregon Trail At Portland Center Stage October 29 – November 20 2016. By Bekah Brunstetter Directed by Rose Riordan Art by Mikey Mann

The description for The Oregon Trail play reads

You have died of dysentery! For those who grew up playing “The Oregon Trail” computer game, dysentery was serious business. In this fresh and funny retelling of our history, two Janes traverse The Oregon Trail. “Now Jane” is playing the computer game in 1997; “Then Jane” is in a covered wagon in 1848. A judgey game show narrator, a domineering sister and two oxen try to corral the two Janes. Fate maneuvers them both to a conclusion that changes their lives and sends them to the end of the trail.

Besides the nod the The Oregon Trail, there are multiple nostalgic nods to the 90s peppered through the play, varying from floppy disks to Teen Spirit to more prominently, music that somehow crosses over between Now Jane and Then Jane to hilarious effect. I loved the staging of the entire production with the screens framing the world of Then Jane in slight sepia toned lighting while in front, Now Jane passes through middle school to her mid 20s in cool white lighting or in darkened lighting illuminated by the glow of a computer screen. A turntable is used wonderfully during a ford the river scene, and a tumbleweed doubles down on conveying the environment around the wagon.

Portland Center Stage: The Oregon Trail By Bekah Brunstetter Directed by Rose Riordan Art (L-R) Sarah Baskin as Now Jane and Alex Leigh Ramirez as Then Jane At The Armory October 29 through November 20, 2016. Photo by Patrick Weishampel/blankeye.tv
Portland Center Stage: The Oregon Trail Sarah Baskin as Now Jane (front) and Alex Leigh Ramirez as Then Jane in Bekah Brunstetter’s “The Oregon Trail,” running at The Armory October 29 through November 20, 2016. Photo by Patrick Weishampel/blankeye.tv.

The journey that both Janes are on is more internal despite that Then Jane is physically traveling in her story. Both women suffer from “a melancholy” – Then Jane from the loss of her mother and home, Now Jane from it seems depression. Then Jane is forced to travel daily along the trail to Oregon, and her heart aches as every step takes her farther away from what has been left behind. Meanwhile, Now Jane is in a state of inertia: friendless, feeling unimportant so as to be left waiting at school, and then later wallowing in an unemployed rut.

Portland Center Stage: The Oregon Trail By Bekah Brunstetter Directed by Rose Riordan Art Sarah Baskin as Now Jane (front) and Alex Leigh Ramirez as Then Jane At The Armory October 29 through November 20, 2016. Photo by Patrick Weishampel/blankeye.tv.
Portland Center Stage: The Oregon Trail Sarah Baskin as Now Jane (front) and Alex Leigh Ramirez as Then Jane in Bekah Brunstetter’s “The Oregon Trail,” running at The Armory October 29 through November 20, 2016. Photo by Patrick Weishampel/blankeye.tv.

Both women also have to contend with a seemingly perfect older sister (both played by the same actress in both time periods) who can’t understand why her sister Jane can’t just get up and move forward. You’ve wasted your privilege and have a bad attitude, the judgey game/life narrotor thunders mockingly to Now Jane, and her sister similarly tells her there are others who have had it much worse and can be sad but Now Jane’s life hasn’t been traumatic enough to be this way. It’s a painful reality for people who face depression: people who think depression can be controlled, or fixed.

I didn’t expect everything to be wrapped up in a happy ending, though I was still surprised at how to me the play seemed to end suddenly. I still am thinking about it since I saw it last night, wondering what do I want from the end that would have closed the story better. If you see the play, what do you think of the ending?

I do recognize that part of the message was about accepting depression and sadness as part of oneself, and that you are not alone. And I greatly appreciate that this is a play not about events that are happening, but the voices of internal struggle within that too often, we hide and don’t talk about when the most helpful thing is to be vulnerable and express it and be listened to.

People are afraid of themselves, of their own reality; their feelings most of all. People talk about how great love is, but that’s bullshit. Love hurts. Feelings are disturbing. People are taught that pain is evil and dangerous. How can they deal with love if they’re afraid to feel? Pain is meant to wake us up. People try to hide their pain. But they’re wrong. Pain is something to carry, like a radio. You feel your strength in the experience of pain. It’s all in how you carry it. That’s what matters. Pain is a feeling. Your feelings are a part of you. Your own reality. If you feel ashamed of them, and hide them, you’re letting society destroy your reality. You should stand up for your right to feel your pain. ~Jim Morrison

This October 29 – November 20 2016 run of Portland Center Stage The Oregon Trail is on the US Bank Main Stage. The performance runs for approximately 90 minutes with no intermission. All performances are at the Armory (128 NW 11th Avenue, in the Pearl District). See more details and other ticket specials for groups, students, military, or learn about rush tickets here.

  • Tuesday – Sunday 7:30 PM. ($25-60 for adults Tues, Wed, Thurs, Sun, $25-70 for the Fri-Sat evening performances)
  • Saturday and Sundays at 2 PM and Thursdays at noon  ($25-55 for adults)

The Oregon Trail at The Armory of Portland Center Stage

As always, PCS is hosting special events so you can explore more about the play or something about the play’s theme, which in this case is gaming! You can enjoy $10 off select tickets using promo codes especially for some of the events below to make it more than just seeing a play – enjoy happy hour, music, board games, and food and drink and get a discounted ticket! Also be sure to like Portland Center Stage on Facebook as there are additional promotions that are often listed there.

Happy Hour: The Oregon Trail

There are several opportunities for happy hour and discussions related to Portland Center Stage: The Oregon Trail before the show.

Post-show Perspectives Series for The Oregon Trail 

Take part in discussions after the show! These are post-show discussions developed in partnership with PIGSquad, Rose City Games and the Oregon Games Organization following these Sunday matinee performances of The Oregon Trail.

November 6, 12 and 13 | 3:30 p.m. | U.S. Bank Main Stage | FREE | Use the Promo Code “PIGSQUAD” for $10 off your ticket to The Oregon Trail!

  • November 6 – With Paul Culp, CEO of SuperGenius and P. Renee Shimek, gamer and Ph.D. candidate in Psychology, moderated by Kelsey Tyler
  • November 12 – With Corey Warning, co-founder of Rose City Games, and Mo Cohen, founder of Queermo Games, moderated by P. Renee Shimek
  • November 13 – With Will Lewis, co-founder of Rose City Games, and Peter Lund, COO of SuperGenius, moderated by P. Renee Shimek

Movie Night with Girl, Interrupted

November 7 – This is a new kind of event – a movie night?! PCS is offering a chance to get ready for the coming-of-age travails in The Oregon Trail with a screening of Girl, Interrupted which is a brilliant pairing before or after you see this play. Arrive at 7:00 p.m. to enjoy complimentary Sizzle Pie pizza and soda before the movie! November 7 | 7:30 p.m. showtime; 7:00 p.m. pizza | Ellyn Bye Studio | FREE | Use the Promo Code “MOVIENIGHT” for $10 off your ticket to Oregon Trail

As always, the Armory Bar before the show (since there is no intermission) has interesting specialty cocktail choices to select from featuring local ingredients and themed to match the show for your consideration. Don’t feel the pressure to drink it all before going to your seat – you can bring it in with you if it’s in a plastic cup with a lid!
Specialty cocktails for The Oregon Trail at Portland Center Stage

Disclosure: I was invited to see this production of Portland Center Stage: The Oregon Trail, but I will always provide my honest opinion and assessment of all products and experiences I may be given. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are entirely my own.

Signature

Portland Center Stage: Pianist of Willesden Lane

The latest play to hit the US Bank Main stage at Portland Center Stage is the April 2 – May 1 2016 run of The Pianist of Willesden Lane. So far, it’s the most emotionally moving play I’ve experienced in Portland. I cannot recommend this play highly enough –  it’s not often theater can be such a powerful, and memorable, experience.

The description for the play reads

Set in Vienna in 1938 and in London during the Blitzkrieg, The Pianist of Willesden Lane tells the true and inspirational story of Lisa Jura, a young Jewish musician whose dreams are interrupted by the Nazi regime. In this poignant show, Grammy-nominated pianist Mona Golabek performs some of the world’s most stunning music as she shares her mother’s riveting true story of survival. Pianist is infused with hope and invokes the life-affirming power of music.

It’s both simple and complicated. The Pianist of Willesden Lane is a daughter telling the story of her young mother during wartime. It’s a connection of love between them you feel from beginning to end of the performance, and you can palpably sense the admiration and respect a daughter has for understanding her mother as a person, not just as a parent. So often parents don’t think to share all the details of their lives to their children, and we’re so fortunate that Lisa not only passed on her stories to Mona, but Mona recognized what a remarkable story it is and how important it is to further share it with the world to not forget the past, and also influence the future.

The Pianist of Willesden Lane is history, but also has parallels and lessons to our current times and about people in general. World War II and the Holocaust may be over, but unsafe and unlivable horrible circumstances, fleeing refugees, and having compassion and reaching out to strangers as a fellow human is still very now.

It’s about loss, and hope, being a survivor, the unsung heroes among everyday people whose small and big kindness and actions can help make a difference in a life.  Most of all, The Pianist of Willesden Lane is about the power of music to be a human lifeline that grounds an individual’s inner storms, connects people effortlessly of all backgrounds, and is timelessly inspirational.

That use of music here is what is most magnificent here and makes this a must see show. As purely a theater performance and story told on stage, it’s certainly adequate, but you are getting essentially a giant bonus where you also receive a classical music concert from a gifted musician.

Pianist of Willesden Lane demonstrates to the audience by taking us along with it to experience it firsthand instead of just telling us about the power of music.  It shows and reminds us the way music has this magic that is universal and can touch you and move you in an indescribable way nothing else can in life.  Even as some of the musical selections may be classics you recognize, the way they are interwoven into this retelling of a memoir presents them in a fresh way emotionally that is impactful and engaging for the entire show. Prepare to be moved.

The Pianist of Willesden Lane Based on the book The Children of Willesden Lane by Mona Golabek and Lee Cohen Adapted and directed by Hershey Felder Photo ©mellopix.com April 2 - May 1, 2016
The Pianist of Willesden Lane Based on the book The Children of Willesden Lane by Mona Golabek and Lee Cohen. Adapted and directed by Hershey Felder. Photo ©mellopix.com At Portland Center Stage April 2 – May 1, 2016

Inspired by her mother’s life, Mona Golabek also established the Hold On To Your Music Foundation to expand awareness and understanding of the ethical implications of world events such as the Holocaust, and the power of the arts, especially music, to embolden the human spirit in the face of adversity.

The Pianist of Willesden Lane at the US Bank Main Stage of Portland Center Stage runs until May 1, 2016. The performance runs for approximately 90 minutes with no intermission. All performances are at the Armory (128 NW 11th Avenue, in the Pearl District). See more details and other ticket specials for groups, students, military, or learn about rush tickets here.

  • Tuesday – Sunday 7:30 PM. ($25-69 for adults Tues, Wed, Thurs, Sun, $25-75 for the Fri-Sat evening performances)
  • Saturday and Sundays at 2 PM and Thursdays at noon  ($25-58 for adults)

You can enjoy $10 off select tickets using promo code “SOCIAL”. Note that the promotional code valid only on seating areas 1-3 and is not valid on previously purchased tickets, student tickets or in combination with other discounts and is subject to availability. Also be sure to like Portland Center Stage on Facebook as there are additional promotions that are often listed there.

PCS is also still hosting special Social Hour events. These are events that allow you to connect with Portland artists prior to a performance on all Thursdays in April from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. (includes a beer or glass of wine on PCS) and the Sundays of April 10, 17 and 24 and May 1 from 1 to 2 p.m. (includes a complimentary mimosa on PCS). The April 7 event features a conversation about the universal language of music and life of a pianist while the April 10 and April 24 events feature Third Angle New Music. You can find out more at the PCS website.

As always, the bar before the show (since there is no intermission) has interesting specialty cocktail choices to select from featuring local ingredients and themed to match the show for your consideration. Don’t feel the pressure to drink it all before going to your seat – you can bring it in with you if it’s in a plastic cup with a lid!
Specialty cocktails for The Pianist of Willesden Lane at Portland Center Stage

How much do you know the story of your parents before they were parents? If you have children, how will you pass on your stories to them, is there a certain coming of age or turning point you are aware of?

Disclosure: I was invited to see this production, but I will always provide my honest opinion and assessment of all products and experiences I may be given. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are entirely my own.

Signature

Stupid F***ing Bird at Portland Center Stage

When I saw last year that Stupid F***ing Bird was on the list for Portland Center Stage‘s season, I was pretty excited. Around this time last year I attended the PCS production of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike which was a fun modern take with references to famous Russian playwright and short story writer Anton Chekhov as well as a bit of meta mocking and mashup of theater and modern times. I really enjoyed the production. Stupid F***ing Bird is similar, but focuses specifically on having fun with Chekhov’s The Seagull. Stupid F***ing Bird at Portland Center Stage is running now until March 27.

Art by Julia McNamara poster for Stupid F***ing Bird at Portland Center Stage. By Aaron Posner Directed by Howard Shalwitz
Art by Julia McNamara presenting Stupid F***ing Bird at Portland Center Stage. By Aaron Posner Directed by Howard Shalwitz

You don’t have to know anything at all about Chekhov to enjoy Stupid F***ing Bird. It addresses things we can all relate to as a human being- loving someone and wanting to be loved back, wanting to be meaningful, wondering about the point of life. And as you can tell right away from the title, it does so in a cheeky way that doesn’t hold back from expletives and strength of feelings.

If you want to know a little background though, Chekhov spotlights how the everyday includes opposite moods and emotions occurring simultaneously.  Overall, his works reflect that life is comedic and maddening and fascinating in being sorta terrible. I believe Chekhov inspired Leo Tolstoy in showing how unhappy families are all unhappy in their own way.

Kate Eastwood Norris as Emma Arkadina, Ian Holcomb as Conrad Arkadina, Charles Leggett as Eugene Sorn and Cody Nickell as Doyle Trigorin in Stupid F***ing Bird at Portland Center Stage
(l-r): Kate Eastwood Norris as Emma Arkadina, Ian Holcomb as Conrad Arkadina, Charles Leggett as Eugene Sorn and Cody Nickell as Doyle Trigorin in Stupid F***ing Bird at Portland Center Stage. Photo by Patrick Weishampel/blankeye.tv

Similar to The Seagull, in  Stupid F***ing Bird not a lot of action happens onstage – instead, the audience experiences the conversations and observations that lead before and in the aftermath of those offstage events – and this script follows suit. You are an observer of a group of people and their relationships to each other because drama is people in the everyday, rather than big events. Thankfully, Stupid F***ing Bird trims down the original play to a manageable number of people and acts, and their names are a lot more normal to make it a lean and more effective and clear story.  It doesn’t follow the The Seagull directly but more takes inspiration by carrying forward all the intended sentiments but into more current times, and distills it into bigger emotions.

The play brings the weight of the inner turmoils and longings within each of its characters quickly and succinctly – each of the actors and actresses were perfect in completely embodying who they are even without words. Each person is complex – with a positive trait as well as a negative trait that helps you empathize but at the same time shake your head a little.

Con, played by actor Ian Holcomb is the energy that propels the people through the story with his desperation for love and meaning. I don’t know how as an actor he digs in every night to find the emotional energy to pour into portraying the brash ambitions of that kind of young man so well. He really makes it real, helping everyone feel for his “I want to change the world” hopes while also feeling exhausted as he takes himself so seriously. You can relate to the bemusement, patience, and exasperation reactions of the other characters to him.

Meanwhile, you can understand his obsession with the radiant Nina played by Katie deBuys whose presence is like a breath of fresh air compared to all the glass half empty viewpoints everyone else has. She does a wonderful job of presenting that lightness at the start that contrasts sharply as she hardens, with a great assist from wardrobe from floaty ethereal garments to being all wrapped up in layers from coldness at the end.

Katie deBuys as Nina, Cody Nickell as Doyle Trigorin, Kate Eastwood Norris as Emma Arkadina, Charles Leggett as Eugene Sorn, Darius Pierce as Dev and Kimberly Gilbert as Mash in Stupid F***ing Bird at Portland Center Stage
(l-r): Katie deBuys as Nina, Cody Nickell as Doyle Trigorin, Kate Eastwood Norris as Emma Arkadina, Charles Leggett as Eugene Sorn, Darius Pierce as Dev and Kimberly Gilbert as Mash in Stupid F***ing Bird at Portland Center Stage. Photo by Patrick Weishampel/blankeye.tv

I most fell in love with Kimberly Gilbert’s Mash through her brilliant physical presentation with her body language, fully taking advantage of stage presence. While Con and Nina may be the center of the story, it’s the tragedy and comedy as represented by Nina, or the perfect timing of observations by Charles Leggett as Sorn, that I think are the heart of the play. They experience a quieter, parallel addressing of Con’s and Nina’s yearning for love and meaning, and I think Masha and Sorn serve as the author and audience surrogate. The script also breaks the fourth wall immediately, including us the audience as observers that those on the stage are conscious of and sometimes directly address and interact with at times, and getting meta with it’s source material as well as theater in general and us!

After the play, it’s interesting to chat with others who have seen the play on your order of who you liked the most to least, in order. I won’t give away the end, but it’s one that leaves it open to us and ensuing conversation to decide what it all means, if anything at all…

There is some mature language and sexuality so PCS recommends it for ages 16+.  The play notes that “Contains mature language (surprise!) and content, fleeting nudity, fog, loaded guns and theater people.”

Stupid F***ing Bird at Portland Center Stage run until March 27. The performance runs for approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes, including one 15 minute intermission. All performances are at the Armory (128 NW 11th Avenue, in the Pearl District) on the U.S. Bank Main Stage. See more details and other ticket specials for groups, students, military, or learn about rush tickets here.

  • Tuesday – Sunday 7:30 PM. ($25-64 for adults Tues, Wed, Thurs, Sun, $25-70 for the Fri-Sat evening performances)
  • Saturday and Sundays at 2 PM and Thursdays at noon  ($25-53 for adults)

You can enjoy $10 off select tickets to Stupid &?@#!*% Bird using promo code “SOCIAL”. Note that the promotional code valid only on seating areas 1-3 and is not valid on previously purchased tickets, student tickets or in combination with other discounts and is subject to availability.

As a special for March, PCS is hosting a special March series of Social Hour events featuring local performance companies Hand2Mouth, Performance Works NW, PETE and Shaking the Tree. These are events that allow you to connect with Portland artists prior to a performance on all Thursdays in March from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. (includes a beer or glass of wine on PCS) and all Sunday’s in March from 1 to 2 p.m. (includes a complimentary mimosa on PCS)!

Disclosure: I was invited to see this production, but I will always provide my honest opinion and assessment of all products and experiences I may be given. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are entirely my own.

 

 

Signature