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Portland: Update on Portland Theatre Scene
Portland
Photo by Zach Savinar

I’m quite sure I echo all the Regional Representatives when I say that most theatres are dark across this country. It’s hard to believe that I was in New York in late February seeing Beetlejuice on Broadway. Now Broadway is just another street in New York.

     The Portland theatre scene is equally silent. Everyone has had to re-think budgets, rental income, Equity contracts and, most of all, seasons. All that carefully crafted theatre meant to fit into an overarching storyline never happened. And there was so much that I was looking forward to.

     Oregon Shakespeare Festival, with new Artistic Director, Nataki Garrett, had commissioned The Copper Children by KAREN ZACARÍAS. Based on the true history of “orphan trains” that transported immigrant children (mostly Irish) to homes in the West, this world-premiere play explores the events that led to the sensational (and now-forgotten) “Trial of the Century” custody case that stirred the nation into a frenzied debate about children, law, race, class and religion. Directed by Shariffa Ali, The Copper Children takes a sharp look at the collision of good intentions and despicable behavior, blending humor, tragedy, joy and unsentimental social commentary.

     Another play commissioned (along with Penumbra Theatre) as part of the American Revolution cycle of plays is Confederates by 2018 MacArthur Fellow, Dominique Morisseau.

     The play leaps through time as it traces the identities of two Black American women living over 150 years apart and explores the reins racial and gender bias still hold on American educational systems today.

     Portland Center Stage was able to open the world premiere of Redwood by Brittany K. Allen before the pandemic changed the world. It’s about a hip hop lovin’ uncle obsessed with Ancestry.com who starts digging into the past and an interracial couple who find that they have a lot more (and a lot less) in common than they thought. Filled with comedy, wit, and dance, this singular American story is about learning to live and love in a present that’s overpopulated with ghosts.

     Unfortunately, the world premiere of Howards End was canceled. Celebrated theater artists and Broadway stars, CAROLINE HEWITT and Autumn Dornfeld, created and star in this new take on Forster’s rich and subversive novel. When the indomitable, inseparable Schlegel sisters fall out over two very different men, the ghost of an old friend (and her ignored deathbed wish) brings them back to the one place where they can possibly heal. Last, the influences: think Fleabag, Little Women, or whatever ambitious, honest, irreverently feminist story you love most.

     This fresh take on a gorgeous classic wrestles with the questions of our time. What do we fight for? What do we owe each other? And how, in spite of it all, do we connect?

     Theatres may be dark but as playwrights I believe it’s our job to take these turbulent and bizarre times and spin them into a story that helps the world make sense of what we’re going through. I’m reminded of life during the AIDS crisis. I was certain then that there would be no words that could sum up the losses the theatre was sustaining. Then one night, I saw STEVEN DIETZ’s play Lonely Planet and realized I didn’t have to say anything because someone else had done it for me. Some dramatist somewhere will sum up these times in a way that lets the world know what this time has been to live through. It most probably is you.

portland@dramatistsguild.com

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