There’s a running joke in Portland that, instead of six degrees of separation, our art scene has a mere one and a half. Bands collaborate with dance companies whose video installations are made by visual artists who design album art for other bands—until the city resembles some creative primordial soup in which inspiration is swapped like snippets of DNA. It’s little surprise then that many of this fall’s arts events involve dynamic partnerships. Here are six notable collaborative pairs, along with our top picks for the season, to guide you in your fall arts adventures.
PAUL WATSON | THE WAR JOURNALIST
DAN O'BRIEN | The PLAYWRIGHT
The Body of an American
Portland Center Stage
Oct 2–Nov 11
In the electric heat of violence, photographing a decisive millisecond demands journalistic courage. But to circle back for another try because the first shots didn’t work requires a particularly thick rebar in the spine. Canadian photojournalist Paul Watson mustered such will in 1993 when he realized the pictures he had just taken of a dead US soldier being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu showed the man’s genitals—something no American newspaper would publish.
His second shot won a Pulitzer Prize, unleashed a public backlash that pushed the Clinton administration to pull out of Somalia, and sent Watson into post-traumatic stress, addiction, breakdown, and, finally, redemption with the book Where War Lives.
Playwright Dan O’Brien heard Watson speak on NPR and was so moved by the conversation that he e-mailed the photographer. For the next two years the men corresponded earnestly, finally meeting face-to-face at Watson’s new journalistic post: the Arctic. Now the story of their transcontinental dialogue, in the form of a play, will have its world premiere at Portland Center Stage under the direction of Bill Rauch, artistic director of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. The play has already won the prestigious Weissberger Award from the Williamstown Theatre Festival.
More than just a portrait of a troubled war correspondent, O’Brien explains, his play is “about two people who feel pretty haunted, making a connection.”
For Watson, the dialogue became another release. “I truly believe,” he writes from his home near Vancouver, BC, “that poets and playwrights can get at the crucial truths that obsess me with much more visceral clarity than I can as a journalist.”
The two-act play weaves together the men’s lives, with the second act turning to the first 10 days they spent together in the Arctic—the bleak, incongruous landscape of which, O’Brien says, proved to be the perfect setting for a play.
“Paul’s book is the book of a reporter: very externally focused on events,” O’Brien says. “I’m almost too internal.”
“We are all waging our own internal wars,” Watson adds, “and much of the noise of organized religion, the news, entertainment, social networks, and other things that consume most people’s time in the 21st century are efforts to avoid confronting what frightens us most: ourselves.” —Randy Gragg
Shows to Know: THEATER
And so it goes
Sept 4–Oct 7 With this world premiere adapted from Kurt Vonnegut’s Welcome to the Monkey House, Aaron Posner is again serving as both playwright and director à la his recent adaptation of Sometimes a Great Notion at PCS. This time he leads a local star-studded cast through three intertwining stories embedded in a mythological 1962 small-town New England, channeling Vonnegut’s quirky style into a lyrical case study of raw human love. —John Murray $25–50. Artists Repertory Theatre, 1515 SW Morrison St. 503-241-1278. artistsrep.org
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Sept 18–Oct 21 It seems sacrilegious that PCS got through a quarter century without a single Sondheim play. To make amends, the theater is kicking off its 25th season with the musical maestro’s murderous masterpiece. This story of an olde English barber’s quest for revenge—aided by his neighbor’s grisly pie business—reached a whole new generation thanks to Tim Burton’s adaptation starring Johnny Depp, but that version lacked a certain pizzazz. We hope PCS can restore it. Have a little priest? —AS $39–70. Gerding Theater at the Armory, 128 NW 11th Ave. 503-445-3700. pcs.org
Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson
Oct 11–Nov 11 Portland Playhouse’s first musical is an emo rock coming-of-age tale for both the first populist president and his nation. If you always thought that colonial America needed fewer pantaloons and more skinny jeans, then be prepared to see your wildest eyeliner dreams brought to the stage in what the New York Times called “... the most entertaining and most perceptive political theater of the season.” —JM $12–35. Portland Playhouse, 602 NE Prescott St. 503-488-5822. portlandplayhouse.org
Oct 12–Nov 4 Northwest Classical Theatre Company may have pulled the theater coup of the season by coaxing Bill Alexander to our little theater hamlet. Perhaps best known for directing the iconic 1984 Antony Sher “bottled spider” version of Richard III, Alexander brings a titanic Shakespearean résumé, including an Olivier Award, 10 years as associate director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, and another 10 as artistic director of famed Birmingham Rep. But his lengthy credits include only three jobs in the States—all at major theaters—making this trip not only a historic one for NWCTC, but for the entire Pacific Northwest. —JM $18–20. Shoebox Theater, 2110 SE 10th Ave. 971-244-3740. nwctc.org