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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

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Review of Three Days of Rain at Portland Center Stage

From May 17 – June 21, 2015, at Portland Center Stage (PCS) the production of Richard Greenberg’s Pulitzer Prize-nominated play Three Days of Rain will be playing at the U.S. Bank Main Stage. The play stars 3 main cast members – two of which you may recognize from the TV show Grimm which is set and filmed in Portland – aka Silas Weir Mitchell (he plays Monroe in Grimm) and Sasha Roiz (he plays Captain Renard in Grimm)  – as well as Lisa Datz (a veteran of Broadway and other TV shows herself). The story takes place in an apartment in Manhattan New York, with six characters, in two time periods.

It starts with the children in 1995 in Act 1. Then via that apartment as a connector, transitions after intermission in Act 2 to their parent’s time in 1960. During the two acts, the play explores the relationships of the 3 characters of each generation to each other, and also the differences and similarities between the generations of the parents and children. In many ways, Act 1 poses questions about the past from the children, and also implies questions about how the children we met in Act 1 became the people they are. Now Act 2 provides answers.

I was very lucky in that I was invited to watch the play on Opening Night.
Portland Center Stage cocktail themed for the Three Days of Rain, the Grey Skies with Crater Lake gin, earl grey simple, lemon and honey Inside the Portland Center Armory, a look at the gorgeous poser for Three Days of Rain and the hanging lights that are like stars over the stairway in the atrium

Overall, my review of Three Days of Rain is that as an audience member, you are uniquely placed in the position of being able to see two sets of times, and seeing and hearing directly from each character. We hear two different interpretations of what the entry “Three days of rain” mean. Then it is left to us to exposit the rest of the journal entries, and the lives of the people on what happens next so that they lead to each other. It makes for great after the play dinner or drinks chat. And, the play invites you to do so – after all, there are times the characters are directly addressing us, the audience, as if asking for our input as third party.

In Three Days of Rain, there is some remarkable acting as we watch the actors so fully embody two different people that have such opposite emotional temperatures and stances on life. The costuming is spot on, from the typical 90s New Yorker leather coat and turtlenecks and slacks to smart tailoring and the use of that gold color in clothing in the 60s. The set and lighting is magnificent – Manhattan messy starkness almost like a squatter’s residence in the 90s, and then transformed in the 60s to warm sophisticated elegance befitting of a set of Mad Men. Even the background lighting implying the rest of the city shadows changes to match the vibe of the times.
Portland Center Stage production of Three Days of Rain poster

The play begins Act 1 with Walker (Silas Weir Mitchell), a man searching desperately to connect with his father Ned. His father is a man Walker barely knows as he complains about his father being so silent. But he yearns to know him –  we learn upon his father’s death, Walker then disappeared for a year without attending his father’s funeral and has only just returned from that disappearance. Walker has a lot of thoughts and emotions, and we see through the scenes how his sister Nan (Lisa Datz) and childhood friend Pip (Sasha Roiz) seem to revolve around Walker’s emotionally emphatic view of life.

It’s the type of character whose over-dramatic personality and impulsive behavior would seem irritating. But to Silas’ credit Walker comes off as someone who is seeking find his place as he literally wanders the world, but is so sensitive he feels too much. Even as he pronounces his judgmental statements, you still find him likable because it doesn’t seem he believes himself superior – he just finds life overall farcical. You can understand why Nan and Pip can both be frustrated but drawn by love to support and help him, despite his neurotic nature.

As Pip, Sasha plays a soap opera star and his 90s hair… well, the fact that Sasha can draw you in and make you look past the hair is testament to his strength of presence. Of the three characters in Act 1 Pip is the less weighty in thought, but he’s not shallow. It seems more like he’s just not the intellectual that Walker and Nan are – but he is earnest, and smart balanced with everyman sensibilities. His lightness may be because of, or perhaps is why, he seems the most happy with himself of the three and accepting of who he is and what life has handed him.

(l-r) Silas Weir Mitchell, Lisa Datz and Sasha Roiz in “Three Days of Rain” at Portland Center Stage. Photo by Patrick Weishampel/www.blankeye.tv.
Portland Center Stage production of Three Days of Rain, ((l-r) Silas Weir Mitchell, Lisa Datz and Sasha Roiz in “Three Days of Rain” at Portland Center Stage. Photo by Patrick Weishampel/www.blankeye.tv.

In Act 2 we travel back to the 1960s, and we meet the more reticent Ned (Silas again) that Walker was trying to hard to understand.  We find that Ned is the one who acts as a grounding foundation for the brighter lights he sees in his friend and architect partner Theo (who he calls genius), and the delicate and dramatic Southern belle Lina.

Silas is wonderful in really showing a range of character in the energy he exudes as Ned. It even is a bit of a shock to see how the same actor who was so boisterous and talkative before is now so calm and moderate, and how he can act through silence. This demonstration of incredible range is true of all three actors, as they must shift the emotional energy to embody the new parental character who is not yet a parent – being  completely different yet also a hint of foreshadow for the children we just met.

Unlike the portrayal in Pip of a man who seems to be happy with his place in life even if it’s not too high, in this timeline Sasha plays Theo, a man who sees himself as a rising star trying to make a big mark on the world, and is struggling to manifest his talent. You can sense even from the various ways Sasha just stands the difference between this confident father and the humbler son, and both are magnetic.

The biggest dramatic change here lies in the characters played by Lisa, who goes from portraying the guardian big sister and voice of reason of Nan in the first act, to now the sassy, smart and passionate about life drawling and all aflutter Lisa. She is projecting what now we realize son Walker will inherit, as we the audience look for hints of the eventual mental breakdown she has which puts her out of the picture of the lives the children in Act 1.

(l-r) Silas Weir Mitchell, Sasha Roiz and Lisa Datz in “Three Days of Rain” at Portland Center Stage. Photo by Patrick Weishampel/www.blankeye.tv.
Portland Center Stage production of Three Days of Rain, (l-r) Silas Weir Mitchell, Sasha Roiz and Lisa Datz in “Three Days of Rain” at Portland Center Stage. Photo by Patrick Weishampel/www.blankeye.tv.

We have the ability as the audience to see what parent and child were each individually like around the same age, and compare their personalities and what they are trying to do at that same point in time of their lives, 3 decades apart. We are privy to the hopes and dreams a father had, and know what kind of person he becomes and his son becomes. It makes you think about the hopes and dreams your parents may have had for you, spoken and unspoken  – and wonder about the various ways of how you have and have not fulfilled them.

It may make you wonder about being able to get a chance to see what your parents were like at your age – how were some of those traits passed to you, or how are you not the same at all? What are the stories behind some of those old photos of your parents? You know your parents as your parents, but how well do you really know their motivations and choices?

There is no overt explanation of the how the two acts and the characters have affected each other through the two time periods. You may feel like we did that the second act even seems to end abruptly because it doesn’t try to conclude anything at its end It only presents the evidence for the audience during the course of the acts to gather, and leaves it up to interpretation. You might hate this, or take up the offer of debate with your fellow theater companion.

F and I debated based on what we find out the journal means to Ned, how Ned truly felt about Theo and Theo’s early death. We discussed whether Walker did realize Ned’s dream life – and whether that dream turned out all that Ned had thought it would be. How did the Ned and Lina and Theo we meet in the second act evolve into the Ned and Lina parent personalities, or impressions of parents, that we hear from Walker and Nan and Pip? And, since we had both also seen The Lion (my review here), PCS’s other current production also dealing with a son and the legacy of his father, we compared the two sons tormented by memories of their father and who was more sympathetic and why.

There isn’t a resource guide up yet as I write this post, but I always recommend looking through one if you happen to attend a play that has one available, it can be a great source for extra trivia or background context, and fodder for more discussion. Look for the resource guide on the Three Days of Rain home page.

May 17 – June 21, 2015 Performance Times and Prices (Wheelchair and youth/student tickets $25-30. Rush tickets are $20. See more details and other ticket specials for groups or military here):

  • Evenings: 7:30 PM: Tues, Wed, Thurs, Sun ($44-68) and Friday ($54-74) or Saturday ($59-79)
  • Matinees: 2 PM Saturday and Sundays ($46-62) or Noon on Thursdays ($41-57)

The run time of the play is about 2 hours 15 minutes with one intermission.

Three Days of Rain is recommended for ages 14+ as it contains mature language and sexuality. The actors in this production will be using tobacco-free herbal cigarettes. Children under 6 are not permitted at any PCS production.

If you plan to sip a beverage (with a lid on in the theater), I would recommend the Portland Center Stage cocktail themed for the Three Days of Rain, the Grey Skies, a cocktail with Crater Lake gin, earl grey simple, lemon and honey. Check out the other themed cocktails at as well (the last 3 listed at the bottom are for Three Days of Rain, the first three are for The Lion – though you can order any of the 6 of course!)
Portland Center Stage cocktail themed for the Three Days of Rain, the Grey Skies with Crater Lake gin, earl grey simple, lemon and honey Armory Bar cocktails you can enjoy while watching Portland Center Stage shows The Lion or Three Days of Rain

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

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