Scatter update: Deemer’s hyperdrama, Mothers of God, women with whips

By Bob Hicks

With Mrs. Scatter on the road eating fresh pineapple and downing margaritas with childhood friends, Mr. Scatter and the offspring have been batching it the last few days.

Mrs. Scatter's fresh pineappleWhile that’s led to a somewhat more relaxed sense of structure (oh, my goodness: is it midnight already?), the basics have been covered: boys showered, sheets washed, fruit or vegetables shoved down reluctant teenager’s plant-averse throat, same reluctant teen’s homework swiped at (eek! it’s finals week!).

It’s also led to a more, well, scattered approach to Mr. Scatter’s schedule. While Friends of Scatter Barry Johnson and Marty Hughley have been dutifully hitting the theaters and discovering interesting things (Barry wrote about the Fertile Ground new-works festival’s Famished, Meshi Chavez and tEEth for OPB; Marty wrote about the fascinating-sounding The Tripping Point: An Exhibition of Fairytale Installations, also at Fertile Ground, for Oregon Live) Mr. Scatter’s been going with the flow.

This is how the flow went.


On his way to Mochitsuki on Sunday afternoon (one son was watching Jane Campion’s The Piano for his English class, with a welcome assist from Ms. Reality’s Netflix account; the other was home listening to Grieg’s In the Hall of the Mountain King on CD), Mr. Scatter ran into actress Eleanor O’Brien, who was standing on a sidewalk outside the Tiffany Center with a stack of postcards for her new show, Girls’ Guide: Dominatrix for Dummies, which will run at Theater! Theatre! Feb. 10-26.

Eleanor O'Brien in "Girls' Guide"The circumstance excites and unnerves her, because it turns out to be a very big roll of the dice: she plunked down money to rent the hall right after quitting her day job. “I’ve waited tables for 20 years,” Eleanor said. “People come up to me acting like they know me, and I have to stop and think, did they see one of my shows, or did I serve them lunch?”

O’Brien is part of an illustrious show-biz family  her mother is Vana O’Brien, the longtime leading Portland stage performer, and Vana’s father was the stage and movie actor Van Heflin, who won a supporting-actor Oscar for 1941’s Johnny Eager – but bloodlines don’t pay the bills. The comically erotic Girls’ Guide grew out of Eleanor’s experiences as an actress in New York, trying to find a day job to make ends meet, and somehow finding herself a novice in the sex industry, catering to clients with a wish to be overwhelmed. The outcome, she said, was sometimes surprisingly tender. Confused on exactly how to proceed, she finally asked one client what he wanted. “He said, ‘I want to be wanted.'”

As he was leaving, Eleanor handed Mr. Scatter one of her postcards. “How does one train to become a professional dominatrix?” it asked in big red letters at the top.

Strenuously, Mr. Scatter imagines.


The same day, Mr. Scatter received a note from Charles Deemer, king of the hyperdrama, announcing the Smashwords release of his collected writings on the subject. Hyperdrama is a sort of exploded theatrical form, inspired partly by the world of physics and taking place in real space with several “stages” involved simultaneously in different aspects of the same moment in time: what might be happening with the offstage characters in The Seagull, for instance, while the onstage characters are speaking as Chekhov determined they would in his play? Deemer wrote the answer – or at least, his answer. Generally the audience is free to wander from one space to another, creating its own “timeline” out of a multiplicity of possibilities.

Charles Deemer's "Hyperdrama"“I’ve put together what I hope is the clearest overview of hyperdrama, and my work in it, in a free ebook at Smashwords (all formats, including reading online),” Charles wrote. “I call it Hyperdrama: my obsession with a new theater form. I’m excited about getting this in the marketplace where young folks read because I still hope to inspire young theater artists/playwrights to look into this and moved the ball forward in an arena apart from computer games, that is, in live performance. Pissing against the wind but then I’ve got a lot of experience doing that ha ha.”

Deemer also has a new paperback out from Round Bend Press – his collection Eight Oregon Plays – and a new novel coming soon from the same publisher, with the intriguing title Sodom, Gomorrah and Jones (sounds like the Devil’s law firm). And this is where the flow gets interesting, because Eleanor O’Brien’s mother Vana starred as the no-nonsense tavern owner Stella in the 1984 premiere of Deemer’s best-known play, Christmas at the Juniper Tavern, which is one of the plays included in Eight Oregon Plays. Coincidence for Dummies!

“Ah, in search of a young Turk group of actors to take hyperdrama and run with it,” Deemer added. “I don’t know if you saw my design for a hyperdrama theater but it’s easy to explain. Think 3 concentric circles. Outer circle, audience area. Middle circle, wider, actors’ playing area. Inner circle, thin, screens behind the playing area where images can be projected to set the scene. So now you can go anywhere in an instant.

“Yes, this makes for less of ‘a living movie’ and a more abstract theater environment but it has advantages: now clearly, purely, this is an actors’ form of theater (as it should be). And best, it’s a permanent space so you can build an audience. My Chekhov hyperdrama could be performed here easily — which is a hell of a lot easier than finding a country home on a lake!”


Notes kept arriving. Mr. Scatter received one from Richard Maviks, who owns a tiny art gallery in Northwest Portland called, perhaps wryly, Gigantic. His new show opening First Thursday is called Mother of God, and features works by five woman artists on the subject of women in religious stories. “There are four little pieces from what the artist is calling the Domestic Madonna series,” Maviks writes. “In keeping with the Domestic Madonna theme, that same artist also made dish towels, styled a little like Jewish prayer shawls, with a woman’s prayer in Yiddish against the evil eye silk-screened on. Another one of the artists is doing a triptych on Adam’s three wives – Lilith, the little-known and unnamed second wife, and Eve.”

El Greco, "The Assumption of the Virgin," 1577/Wikimedia CommonsThis seems interesting because, barely a blip in human time after religious subjects dominated the world of art, religion can hardly buy a ticket to the art-world show anymore, and therefore anyone who commits to the subject is committing an act of obstinacy or bravery or both, which deserves at least a little attention. And it seems coincidental because at the time Maviks sent his note I happened to be reading a 2004 review by John Updike of an exhibition of El Greco paintings at the Met, a show made up largely of religious paintings by a revered artist who didn’t entirely float Updike’s boat. “Soaring operatic concoctions like The Virgin of the Immaculate Conception (1608-13) are in their way stupendous,” Updike wrote, “though the vapid expressions of the pointy noses of his long-necked females give their cosmic occasions a flavor of Watteauesque fete.” Updike added: “His art has the slickness of any art that doesn’t subject itself to a constant reality check.” Mother of God, that was not a compliment.


So it’s gone. The flow has moved through a lot of music on radio and CD, among it Schubert, Copland, operatic highlights from La Boheme and Turandot, and the Met broadcast of Tosca. Mr. Scatter spent Tuesday evening listening to Portland Opera young artist Lindsay Ohse singing art songs by Mozart, Poulenc and Rachmaninoff, with superb piano accompaniment by Robert Ainsley. We’ve taken time out for that hifalutin soap opera Downton Abbey (things are looking bad on the reproductive front for Matthew, and Lady Mary might have to actually marry that crass commoner press lord to keep the story of the dead Turk in her bed hushed up) and the BBC’s 21st-century version of Sherlock Holmes, in which Dr. Watson is played by Martin Freeman, the actor who also played the sweetly naked stand-in for a movie sex scene in Love, Actually and will soon be ridiculously famous for starring as Bilbo Baggins in Peter Jackson’s two-film version of The Hobbit. For those roles we affectionately refer to Freeman around Art Scatter World Headquarters as Porn Star Hobbit.

Which gives Tolkien for Dummies a whole new twist.