Rehearsals of ‘Buried Child’ begin at Profile Theatre

Last evening, cast and crew gathered in a back room for the first read-through of Sam Shepard’s Pulitzer Prize winning play.

The very first production of Buried Child was directed by Robert Woodruff who, many years later, would have Profile’s Artistic Director, Adriana Baer, under his tutelage at Columbia University. Last night, Adriana addressed her actors, crew, and guild members, speaking of her excitement to step into her chapter in this particular lineage.

The Pulitzer was awarded to Shepard based solely on the merits of the written page (performance/production is usually taken into account by the Drama jury) and the actors were encouraged to read through the play naturally. Often Shepard’s plays are read and staged ‘heightened’ because of the surreal and crazy situations his characters find themselves in.

For now, it was okay to just have the words—“we’ll find the situation later,” said Baer who encouraged us to embrace the play’s contradictions without judgement. For the characters in Buried Child, everything is true in the moment, and the truth changes, while remaining true, from moment to moment. The play only seeks to ask questions and the audience is to find their own answers to whatever they feel, think, believe, those questions are.

Before the read-through, we also heard a little from those lovely folks behind the scenes who are busy with costumes, music, props, and lighting. I particularly liked this little model that holds true to Shepard’s sparse stage conception. It’s a visceral as opposed to a literal architecture. The designer imagined the home as a contorted place that is reacting to and rejecting the people who exist there, poisoning their own lives, perpetually stuck inside their story.

Bleak stuff.

And yet, not—or not always.

Typical of Shepard, humor cut through horror, levity grappling with loneliness and longing, and the reading elicited many laughs and wry smiles from those of us who were lucky enough to sit in on it last night.

The actors are already so good—particularly those playing Dodge and Shelly. It’s fascinating to attend these first readings and I’m excited to see where they go with it in the next six weeks.

If you’re living in the Portland area, Buried Child plays May 29th through June 15th and I think it will be one to watch.

Buried Child at Profile Theatre Portland

 

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For now, Portland Oregon

A short essay I wrote is up on Orion Magazine’s website.

“My husband wants land. He digs through websites, hoping to uncover a patch we could afford. I want it too but it hurts to see him look at places someone else will live on, or subdivide. It’s not our time, yet. We plant pennies in our bank account and watch them grow too slowly. In the meantime, we live in a condo in the city….”     [continue reading at Orion]

The Big Pink in a Portland Mist.

I love The Place Where You Live feature; I’m glad they brought it back.

And I do love Portland, Oregon—even on days like this one.

To the Theatre, and Beyond.

I somehow find myself on the guild of Profile Theatre.

This surprises me.

I have had little previous exposure to theatre and have typically failed to connect with the live performances that I have seen. I preferred the slickness and distance of cinema, needing, oddly, an element of detachment in order to immerse myself fully. The intimacy of theatre was distracting to me. I pictured the actors applying their make-up, waiting in the wings, and was unable–I thought–to take the imaginative leap required.

I felt that I lacked a certain kind of intelligence or discernment. I didn’t feel badly about this. I figured it just wasn’t my medium.

I rarely dismiss a thing entirely. When my friend Stephanie asked me to see a play with her about two women in 1970s South Africa, I was interested. She and I did the same Gender and Women’s Studies Masters program in Ireland (though we were only introduced and met once I moved to Portland) and it’s been nice to have someone to share and foster my feminist leanings with here.

So I gladly accepted her invitation to see Athol Fulgard’s The Road to Mecca but my hopes were hardly high. I expected to be intellectually interested in the play’s subject matter and its themes. I thought I might learn something new about race and ethnicity and gender relations. What I did not expect was to openly weep. I did not expect to see myself so painfully in an elderly Afrikaner widow. I did not expect that I would be touched on an emotional level that night and haunted for days to come.

In short, it was one of the most transformative and affecting ‘artistic’ experiences I’ve ever had. I’m not sure if it can be replicated but I’m going to go and find out.

The Road to Mecca

I was planning to keep an eye on upcoming plays at Profile but it is just happenstance that I heard about the Guild at a fundraising event last month. I still feel like as though I’m yet to really find a place for myself in Portland. I’m sort of stretching my arms out in all directions, figuring out who I am here, where I will belong and develop and thrive. I’m excited about this new thing in my world. I think it will help my writing, particularly the revelation of character through dialogue. And it feels good to participate in Portland life and hopefully help some.

The aim of the guild is to promote the theatre and greater community participation. I am a quiet person and not one to proselytize, but I hope that I can convey to folks how thankful I am for the experience I had through Profile, and how glad I am that I didn’t dismiss the theatre entirely. I just needed that one breakthrough moment, and I encourage anyone who has felt a similar disconnect to remain open. Accept all invitations.

Here’s a couple to start with:

On November 13th, Portland’s Hollywood Theater is showing a special screening of Fool For Love, written by and starring Sam Shepard and directed by Robert Altman. Profile Theatre will host a beer and popcorn reception in the upstairs lobby from 6-7pm and  Artistic Director, Adriana Baer, will talk briefly before the film about Profile’s upcoming season of Sam Shepard.

As always, Profile’s season of plays is devoted to a single playwright and 2014 will be the year of the often strange but compelling Shepard.

Sam Shepard

The season will showcase three large-scale but rarely-performed productions, as well as a festival of one-act plays, and a series of lectures, dialogues and further explorations of the playwright’s work.

Consider checking out one or all of what’s to come. You’ll be hearing me talk about it a lot; I’m curious and excited and still have no idea what theatre is really all about but, like everything in life, I guess we learn by going.

Profile Theatre

Sometimes a Great Notion.

When I first moved to Oregon, I asked around about local literature and everyone’s first response was invariably Geek Love. If a novel has any relation to the place where it comes from, Katherine Dunn’s story of a family of circus freaks is pure Portland. Bizarre, irreverent and bewitching, Geek Love keeps it weird.

But Portland doesn’t define Oregon. There’s impenetrable forest, ravenous rivers and mighty mountain beyond the strange city limits and it stretches all the way to the wild Pacific Ocean.

Along the western slopes of the Oregon Coastal Range… come look: the hysterical crashing of tributaries as they merge into the Wakonda Auga River…

The first little washes flashing like thick rushing winds through sheep sorrel and clover, ghost fern and nettle, sheering, cutting… forming branches. Then, through bearberry and salmonberry, blueberry and blackberry, the branches crashing into creeks, into streams. Finally, in the foothills, through tamarack and sugar pine, shittin bark and silver spruce – the the green and blue mosaic of Douglas fir – the actual river falls five hundred feet… and look: opens out upon the fields.

The opening lines of Sometimes a Great Notion pulled me into its pages like ivy curling round a tree stump. Ken Kesey’s words – his story and his characters – wrapped around and through me, utterly compelling and savage and sorrowful.

Sometimes a Great Notion is about a logging family on the Oregon coast who refuse to heed a union strike against a lumber company and continue cutting down trees, incensing the rest of the town. It’s peculiar to this State but it’s also about America and freedom and a man’s right to do whatever he goddamn pleases. It’s about memory and the interpretation of past events. It’s about festering resentment and loyalty and revenge. It’s about finding some space to be in the world.

It was a long read at over seven hundred pages. Fragmented and meandering, with sudden shifts and slow slides in narrating voices, it wasn’t always easy. Nor was it laborious or wearisome. Rather, I felt like I was on an epic but necessary journey into the heart of a very complex, divisive and painful point in Oregon’s history. It often made me gasp and cry and hang my head and sigh.

I loved it.

If I did such things as top tens then this novel would be towering somewhere in that list.

Home and Away & Just Around the Corner.

I was born indolent and never grew out of it in the way my sister was eventually able to drink cow’s milk. Which is to say, I love living in Old Town because I would likely never make it to First Thursdays in The Pearl district if we didn’t live right on the bottom lip of it.

Some things I liked this Thursday were:

Art inspired by authors at Benjamin Benjamin, a teeny tiny  gallery space on 17th & Lovejoy. The ‘muses’ were Kurt Vonnegut, Haruki Murakami, Roald Dahl, Charles Bukowski, Raymond Chandler, Willa Cather, Edgar Allan Poe and Austin Osman Spare.

My knowledge and understanding of art is… meager. I’m not fluent in its vocabulary and am self-conscious and tongue-tied when someone asks me what I think or I ask someone what seems to be – from the look on their face – a stupid question. I did overhear the gallery owner tell someone that she had to frantically brush up on authors and literature before the show which made me feel less dumb. Slightly less dumb…

'Got to be Kind' by Tim Doyle.

'Philip Marlowe's Telephone' by Casey Burns.

'Dahl' by Bennet Slater.

Original pieces of art (frankly, a postcard at a museum) is way out of my budget these days but I did pick up a copy of Faesthetic – a curious and thoughtful art zine curated by Dustin Amery Hostetler – while I was there. I actually chose a back-issue though the current issue looks swell. Faesthetic #12 takes the concept of Home as its theme which has been a preoccupation of mine long before I ever left Ireland. Like most art, it doesn’t provide any answers but provokes yet more questions. I like it.

I also liked – loved! – some wooden furniture, vases and bowls at the street-fair up on 13th. And I rather enjoyed a wine-tasting with my man at Corkscru (where we scoffed pretzels and paté and mispronounced the names of German rieslings and rosés). The things I love most in this world are made from plants and trees, it seems…

'The Search Undertaken' by Graham Kahler.

Finally, this drawing by Graham Kahler at the Pony Club Gallery on Everett was so adorable. We stopped by on our way home from the wine-tasting. Pony Club showcases young illustrators and printmakers and have some of the most beautiful zines. It makes me think of September and India and the sweetness of the word Away. And suitcase-packing and warm, lazy, plodding days. Which is to say, loafing and indolence: home or away.