Tag Archives: Jon Kretzu

What’s old is new: Wm Shkspr in PDX

  • Portland Shakespeare Project’s Michael Mendelson talks about big casts, big dreams, and the allure of the classics

"The Weird Sisters," Henry Fuseli, 1783. Wikimedia Commons.

By Bob Hicks

Michael Mendelson is sitting at his regular table at Kornblatt’s Delicatessen in Northwest Portland, where he is greeted warmly by name and the waitress checks back on him more often than the line cooks slap classic corned beef and pastrami sandwiches on the busy kitchen’s window. Your regular, Michael? He smiles and nods. Soon his crisp bagel and mound of lox are at hand.

Michael Mendelson, artistic director of the new Portland Shakespeare Project, as Gayev in "The Cherry Orchard" at Artists Repertory Theatre. Photo: OwenCarey/2011.After all these years in Portland as one of the city’s best and busiest actors, Mendelson is still an industrial Midwest big city boy in certain inalienable ways, including his appetite for honest-to-god deli food, which you can’t much get around here except at oases like Kornblatt’s and Kenny & Zuke’s. He also stands out in spite of himself for a certain reserved elegance that is common in the neighborhoods of older cities but almost an oddity in loosey goosey Portland. At times Mendelson carries the hint of an Old World gentleman, a man of quietly impeccable business affairs. Here he is, an actor, on his way to the rehearsal hall (he’s playing Gayev in Artists Rep’s current production of The Cherry Orchard), sitting in a deli wearing a tie and dress shirt, perfect-length cuffs buttoned and jacket slung carefully over the adjacent chair. Let other people keep Portland weird. Mendelson will keep it rooted, thank you very much.

Of late Mendelson has been devoting much of his time to a massive new project: the launching of the Portland Shakespeare Project, a summer company that will make its debut July 13-August 7 with the comedy As You Like It, featuring Darius Pierce as Touchstone, Cristi Miles as Rosalind, Melissa Whitney as Celia, and original music by the noted singer/songwriter Mary Kadderly. You might not have heard of PSP (Mendelson is founder and artistic director) but the city’s actors have. More than 175 sent head shots and resumes. Mendelson and staff saw more than 100 in initial audition, called back 42, and finally cast 16 for 21 roles.

Continue reading What’s old is new: Wm Shkspr in PDX

What wedding? — on Chekhov, string quartets, bridges, drums and locavores

  • The royal whatzis
  • The Cherry Orchard at Artists Repertory Theatre
  • Noble Viola on Opus at Portland Center Stage
  • Brian Libby on the failed Columbia River Crossing
  • Portland Taiko tells a tale
  • James E. McWilliams on eating locally and globally

Portland Taiko. Photo: Rich Iwasaki/2009Portland Taiko. Rich Iwasaki/2009

By Bob Hicks

We’re given to understand some sort of white-tie wedding is taking place in the wee hours of Friday morning, and much of the world is agog. Art Scatter does not plan to cover it. With any luck — if the cat doesn’t come slapping at our cheek with her paw, demanding to be let outside — we’ll be snoozing.

And now, on with the news.

Chekhov the composer: On Wednesday night the Scatters took in The Cherry Orchard, playwright Richard Kramer’s world-premiere adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s final dramatic masterpiece, at Artists Rep. It struck us again that, like so many leading playwrights, Chekhov thought like a musician.

Like a string quartet: Linda Alper, Tim Blough (background), Michael Mendelson and Tobias Andersen in "The Cherry Orchard." Photo: Owen CareyThere isn’t much story to The Cherry Orchard, but there are themes, counter-themes, motifs. It’s chamber music, and the way we hear it can be startlingly different from production to production, depending not just on our own life experiences (interpreting Chekhov relies to an extreme on what the audience brings to it) but also on the emphases of interpretation on the stage: Do we concentrate on the cello tonight, or the bassoon? In truth, I suspect that even more so than ordinarily, every member of the audience sees a different play when watching Chekhov.

Kramer’s intermissionless adaptation, which I like quite a lot, sets out to rough up the Chekhov-as-wistful-yearning school of thought, and it succeeds. To extend the musical metaphor, it’s a bit like Bach rearranged by Bartok: depths and balances and gorgeous tones, but syncopated and spiked up.

Continue reading What wedding? — on Chekhov, string quartets, bridges, drums and locavores

Link: killing cats in Inishmore

Artists Repertory Theatre playbill logo

By Bob Hicks

On Saturday night, Mr. Scatter put on his professional drama-critic hat (it’s a metaphorical hat; it was a blustery evening, so he actually wore a rain jacket with a hood) and went to Artists Repertory Theatre to see Martin McDonagh‘s nasty little comedy The Lieutenant of Inishmore. He means that “nasty little comedy” bit in the nicest possible way: Inishmore is savage and bloody and brutal, and it’s true that more than one cat, in addition to several humans, who seem to deserve it more, comes to a violent end. But it’s also genuinely funny, in that nervous why-am-I-laughing-at-this way.

A brief review ran in Monday morning’s Oregonian, and you can read Mr. Scatter’s much more complete version online here at Oregon Live. He can imagine a more violently scary  production, and he can imagine a more broadly comic one, but he thinks Artists Rep director Jon Kretzu and his cast got the balance about right.

McDonagh is a transgressive writer, dealing in that unruly space between myth and reality: another of his plays, The Pillowman, is about what happens when a writer’s tales of fantasy mayhem seem to be playing themselves out in real life. Like a lot of male playwrights (David Mamet and Neil LaBute come to mind) he’s fascinated with the nature and character of aggression, and his plays can slice both ways, reveling in the stuff as they dissect it. That makes the audience … not complicit, exactly, but responsible for sorting out its own attitudes on the subject.

Then again, that’s a good deal of what theater, or literature, or any art form is about: the beginning of a conversation. In the aggressive male metaphor, the first shot. It’s not just a conversation. The artist sets the terms, and to a significant degree is in charge of the show. But a willing and perceptive audience completes the connection and sets off ripples of meaning, each meaning a little bit different for every individual involved in the encounter.

McDonagh is a terrific storyteller, and he has some fascinating things to say about aggression, which if he’s wary about he also frankly enjoys. He’s got swagger and a bit of a bad-boy reputation, as this year-old story by Foster Kamer in the Village Voice suggests. It relates, among other things, McDonagh’s obscenity-laced threat to beat up fellow Irish playwright Conor McPherson (whose play The Seafarer was a hit for Artists Rep last season) for a perceived insult.

Just so long as he leaves McPherson’s cat alone.

Watching paint dry? Taking my Foote out of my mouth

From left: Val Landrum, Jane Fellows and Jacklyn Maddux in "The Carpetbagger's Children" at Profile Theater. Photo: Jamie Bosworth

Here’s a story about the playwright Horton Foote, told by his daughter Daisy Foote and reprinted in the program for Profile Theatre‘s new production of his play The Carpetbagger’s Children, which opened Saturday night:

A few years ago a playwright friend and I were having dinner with my father. My friend had just seen “The Carpetbagger’s Children” at Lincoln Center Theater, and he casually asked my dad how long it took him to write the play. My father, even more casually, answered that it took him all of ten days. At that point, my friend looked like he might throw up all over the table and I might start crying, so my father took pity on us and added, “But I had been thinking about it for a very long time.”

Well, of course.

Stories take time — a lifetime, sometimes — and the actual setting down of them can be simply the culmination of a very long process, the plucking of the fruit from a tree that took years to mature and finally produce. It’s a little like the oft-told story of the “overnight success” that took twenty years to achieve.

But in Foote’s case (he died last March, 10 days shy of his 93rd birthday) it’s not just a matter of long experience bringing forth a story. It’s a matter of long experience in learning how flexible the theater can be, too. The Carpetbagger’s Children, for all its apparent traditionalism, breaks all sorts of rules about the stage — and it breaks them exceptionally because it’s learned the exceptions to the rules.

This is a memory play, and it’s told by three actresses, and “told” is the correct word: They take turns delivering long, carefully wrought soliloquies, speeches that overlap in theme and content (told by each sister from a slightly different point of view) but never overlapping in delivery. There is no dialogue, no pretension of ordinary conversational speech patterns, no give and take, except in the incidental clashes in the way the stories are told.

How could something so “undramatic” be so gripping? Because Foote knew story, and he knew the surprising elasticity of the theater, and he trusted that good performers would know how to bring life into the words that he put down. Remember, this is the guy who wrote the screenplays for To Kill a Mockingbird and Tender Mercies. Not ordinary tales. But that’s the beauty of the things.

I once commented in exasperation that watching a Horton Foote play was like watching paint dry. I don’t think I ever actually wrote those words for print, which is a good thing. I don’t even remember what particular incident inspired them. It must have been, I can only hope, a particularly ham-fisted production of one of his plays. Because although nothing much “happens” in a Foote play, at least in the sense of slam-bang Hollywood action, worlds turn, as they do in Chekhov.

The director of Profile’s production, Jon Kretzu, has a longtime affinity for Chekhov, and it shows in the way these three able actresses turn softly (and sometimes harshly) on a dime. If the journeys they take are largely internal, they have external effects. This is the story, in a way, of a Southern empire crumbling, more quietly than the crumbling empire of Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (which opens in revival later this month at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival) but crumbling nonetheless. And that’s a fascinating, troubling, sometimes even exciting thing to see.

Briefly: A young Union soldier, fighting against the Confederates in Texas during the Civil War, likes what he sees and comes back, after the war, as a reconstructionist. Through shrewd business dealings and the aid of the triumphant Republican apparatus, he amasses a fortune in money and land, which he considers his offsprings’ duty to hold together. It’s up to sisters Cornelia (Jane Fellows), Grace Anne (Jacklyn Maddux) and Sissie (Val Landrum) to achieve that as the decades roll on.

Well, they can’t. Surprised? But the effort shapes each, and several other characters alluded to, in intense and often warping ways. That’s the way of the world. And without going into more detail, the plain old brutal way of the world is what the play’s about.

With Tim Stapleton’s simple but familiarly domestic in-the-round setting and DeeDee Remington’s spot-on costumes, it’s a handsome production. The three stars settle with warm fury into their characters. Nothing much “happens” except life and death themselves.  And paint does not dry.


PICTURED: Val Landrum (left), Jane Fellows (center) and Jacklyn Maddux: the carpetbagger’s daughters. Photo: Jamie Bosworth