A critical mass of quality, local theater at three venues happened July 27-29.
We’re up to a total of seven theater companies in force, and an eighth on the way, and the shows sometimes overlap to the point where an actor might be simultaneously involved in two and sometimes three productions at different stages.
For those keeping count, the troupes/venues in alphabetical order are Adult Center Theater; Columbia Center for the Arts (CCA); Judie Hanel Presents; Meyer Performing Arts Studios; Plays for Non-Profits; Stages/Columbia Gorge Orchestra Association; and The Dalles Theater Company. Add to that Big Britches, which starts up later this year. Then there are Hood River Valley High School drama department and the theater productions at Wy’east and Hood River middle schools.
(Full disclosure, I will personally appear in productions in August at CCA and September at ACT, on the order of my 15th or so shows since 2006. Somehow, they keep letting me get in on these things …)
Last weekend, I took in three performances at three locations, beginning with Friday’s matinee of teen-cast rendition of “Macbeth,” a feat one might think could never be pulled off: A coherent, moving, one-hour version done by an all-teen cast. The sexual overtones and all but hints of violence removed, it kept Shakespeare’s power while showcasing impressive talents, including Zora Richardson as Lady Macbeth and Audrey Fuentes as Macbeth. Both young women possess serious acting chops and stage presence to spare.
Director Sullivan Mackintosh kept the action moving with actors (in multiple roles, at that) striding on stage for one scene as the previous was ending. Costumes and set were simple but effective. The youngsters handled the rich language with aplomb, and the fight scenes and killings (depicted by characters jointly ripping long pieces of cloth) were deftly and discreetly handled. Mackintosh wrote the scaled-back script, which at times retained the brilliance of Shakespeare’s words while reducing certain pieces of dialogue to their essence.
The famed witches’ scenes around the cauldron were brief but pithy and some speeches’ meaning remained clear as the excisions served to highlight the ferocity and humor of certain moments. Witness Lady Macbeth’s perfectly-timed exit line when her husband’s display of remorse essentially puts an end to a party: She walks out saying, “You have displaced the mirth.”
Saturday night, I attended “Spoon River Anthology” at Stonehedge Gardens, an open yet intimate outdoor theater venue I’ve had the pleasure of performing in myself (“Much Ado About Nothing”) two years ago. Tay Camille Lynne pulled together 30 or so powerful and often funny vignettes about fictional Spoon River, Ill. (but based on actual lives of people buried there) in the elegiac series of connected monologues infused with a bit of dance and music, and a surprising bit of tumbling by Erik Lundby. (The earthen stage is mostly grass, but with a fair number of hard stones, and Lundby threw down his somersault that night on a whim.)
“Spoon River,” from Plays for Non-Profits to help Meals on Wheels, was lightly attended and the Sunday matinee was canceled because of predicted triple-digit weather. Heat wave aside, the often grim, stand-and-deliver tales of small-town divorce, disappointment, abuse and even murder might not have lent themselves to outdoor dinner theater experience; but in some ways they did, given the direct and personal nature of the script and the obvious care and passion the actors showed for the subject.
Between “Spoon River” and “Macbeth,” with a total of nearly 20 actors under 21 years, it is proof that the future of local theater is quite strong.
The theater tour ended Sunday afternoon with “Cell: An Immigration Story,” directed with a light touch by Gary Young, who let the work get done by playwright Cassandra Medley’s dialogue and the work of actors Kelly Ryan, Pam Tindall and Kathy Williams. Medley was on hand for post-show talkback sessions with the actors and Young, part of the current-event outreach perfectly suited to a drama about immigration.
This was Adult Center Theater’s second production (after “Senior Moments,” in Spring 2018) at its permanent home, Hood River Valley Adult Center, and the first staged with the new sound and lights system installed by Harold McBain and friends in late July, just before opening night.
The four-scene play “Cell” rapidly builds tension and conflict, and the performers helped us all see a bit of ourselves in the morally-torn pair of sisters and one daughter who work in an immigration facility that contracts with the federal government. A child dies in the center and despairingly the three women must come to painful terms with their part in a system that allows this to happen.
Ryan, a pastor who has made regular visits to NORCOR detainees, said of going to the facility, “It’s an empathetic shock, what that does to your spirit. I have seen some significant trauma at NORCOR. That must be so lonely to have your consciousness still alive and still have to do these things to other human beings, especially those who are really vulnerable.” She termed it “like having your conscience stuffed down into a tiny little box and you know you will deal with it sometime, maybe.”
Young said that Medley gives the play to him, after rehearsals are done he gives it to the actors, and they give it to those who come to see it.
“And it’s yours now,” Young said. “What you decide to do with the questions that have come up with up is your responsibility. I encourage you to carry that on and keep asking, what you doing with that responsibility?”
“This immigration complex thing is systemic, but it affects individuals really, really clearly,” said Medley, who pointed to “a wonderful surprise as a writer,” a favorite line that came to her:
“As long as there are foreigners caught without papers, we will always have job.”
Next up for Summer Theater Camp at CCA — Aug. 3 at 3 p.m., “The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood,” a free performance with actors ages 7-12, design and tech by students age 9-15.
The youth theater program’s next staged production is “Go, Dog, Go!” based on the book by P. D. Eastman, Sept. 8-9 and 15-16 at 1 p.m. and 4 p.m.; check columbiaarts.org for ticket information.
Next up for Plays for Non-Profits — the comedy “You Can’t Take It With You,” directed by Tom Burns at CCA, opening Aug. 17.
A small personal aside: A few years back, I had the pleasure of sharing the stage with both Tay and Sullivan as they shared the title role in “Diary of Anne Frank.” I played their father in that show, directed by Lynda Dallman, who produced “Spoon River” and is the brains behind Plays for Non Profits. (The brawn? That’s her husband, Peter.)
Next up for ACT — three baseball plays, opening Sept. 14: “Brick and Bertha,” “Judgment Call” and “Adam and Eve and the Chicago Cubs.”