In Play Reviews

Eleven days. More than 45 producers. Forty-four Portland-area venues.

Portland, are you ready for the 9th annual Fertile Ground Festival 2017, a city-wide festival of theatrical works? Running January 19-29, Fertile Ground

Randy Karczmar and Marquis Domingue in Tim Blough’s new play, Badge of Honor. Photo by Tim Blough.

features new projects in theatre, dance, animation, clowns, circus, music, and multidisciplinary arts–more than 100 creations in all. They will be happening throughout the city in every nook and cranny.

In a “speed-dating” event at Artists Repertory Theatre last week, the creators of these new productions pitched to the media. The artists were allowed five minutes per one-on-one session, which meant a lot of us got to hear about the exciting new projects.

“This uncurated festival is like none other,” said Nicole Lane, Fertile Ground Festival Director. “It offers artists and audiences the opportunity to explore the wilds of art-making in a plethora of genres….”

I talked to Tim Blough, playwright and director of Badge of Honor, a story of two old friends, policemen, who have not communicated for years. Their meeting brings up an event that has haunted one of them over time, and explores issues of perception, race, ethics, loyalty and trust, and shared history.

Mary Rose and Nathaniel Holder will perform Free Box. Inspired by the Portland phenomenon of “free boxing”, performers invite audience members to donate an item for the free box. The performers then improvise a show utilizing its contents, thus no two

YOCTOtheatre presents Mary Rose and Nathaniel Holder, are creators of Free Box. Photo/design by Sarah Galbraith.

shows will be the same. Rose and Holder are practitioners of Action Theatre–a practice of improvisation that has its roots in physical theatre, dance, and meditation.

Master Clown Michael O’Neill has created a show called Shakespeare’s Fools–four monologues and four scenes from some of The Bard’s seminal plays. O’Neill started out as a serious actor, became a clown, worked with Ringling Bros. Circus, and more recently performed in Clowns Without Borders, bringing entertainment and humor to troubled parts of the world such as Haiti, South Sudan, The Philippines, and Colombia.

Among shows with a decidedly Portland theme is Homeless, the Musical, which debuts as a staged workshop during Fertile Ground. In the story, a woman escapes an abusive marriage only to find herself living on the street. She finds temporary shelter in a homeless camp, and then comes the inevitable sweep. Alan Alexander III wrote the book, with music and lyrics him and Kathryn Grimm.

Left Hook by Rich Rubin, directed by Damaris Webb, is the story of Portland’s Albina neighborhood during the early 1970s, where a once-thriving African-American community finds itself disrupted by urban renewal and serial displacement. The center of action is the local boxing club owned by ex-Army sergeant Ty King, who tries to find opportunity amid the chaos of change.

Beverly Frentress’s new work, Dust on my Shoes, a musical six years in the making, involves a couple taking a close look at their relationship and how to save their blended family through ballads, pop songs, R&B and electronica.

Smaller and solo shows abound. I talked with Sarah E. Shively, playwright and performer of The Baby Projectwhich chronicles the trials of delayed motherhood and a butt-load of unforeseen circumstances; Men Run Amok  playwright Steve Perkins, who with Jim Menges created three short plays of “humor and the collateral damage of testosterone”; Sherry Lane, whose Literary Theory deals with literary purpose, history, and a celebration of all things Portland; and Jane Comer, author/performer of the autobiographical I Am An Actress…A Passion Play, a journey from a rural Oregon farm to  finding one’s true self.

Family-oriented shows abound as well, including Prismagic’s Bunny, a show of magic, illusions, and kindness written and directed by Petra Delarocha with shy magician Frango il Magnifico; Northwest Children’s Theater’s new The Tail of Sleeping Beauty with Puppets! featuring an all-bird cast;and The Tall Tales of Paul Bunyan by Paul Amico and Keziah Peterson–exploring creation myths of the American landscape and spirit, with hand-crafted puppets and tons of tall talk.

This is but the tip of the iceberg. There is a Young Playwrights Festival at Lakewood Theatre; word.voice, an evening of plays, poetry and song by youth on the edge; and Stories from Maclaren Correctional Facility. So many plays, so little time, as the saying goes.

So, now I get to figure out how to fit as many of these performances as possible into my schedule. If you have that problem, consider the Fertile Ground Festival Pass. Fertile Ground admissions start at $5-$10 or pay-what-you-can to full-price play tickets in the larger venues, and include fully staged world premieres, workshops, staged readings and readings, plus dance, film/animation, and festival enrichment events. You can get all the details at Nicole Lane is Festival Director; the festival is sponsored by Artslandia and Portland Area Theatre Alliance, and supported by theatres large and small throughout the greater Portland area.





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