Eugene Art Talk

Bob Keefer on art and music around Eugene, Oregon

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Snow Queen 4: Jonna Hayden on costuming a fairy tale ballet

Jonna Hayden in her costume shop while woking on Snow Queen for Eugene Ballet.

“‘The Snow Queen’ is the ultimate challenge,” says Eugene costume designer Jonna Hayden. “Every costumer out there wants to do ‘Snow Queen.’”

And now, after nearly a lifetime of designing and stitching, Hayden is at last creating some 60 original costumes for Eugene Ballet’s all-new production of “The Snow Queen,” based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale. The show will make its world premiere at the Hult Center for the Performing Arts in Eugene on April 8 and 9.

Funded by grants from the Richard P. Haugland Foundation and the Hult Endowment, the show will also use newly commissioned music from Portland composer Kenji Bunch, new sets by Eugene designer Nadya Geras-Carson and new choreography by Eugene Ballet artistic director Toni Pimble.

For Hayden, her career really began one night when she was a little girl watching “The King and I” on television.

“It was the ball scene,” she recalls. “Yul Brynner and Deborah Kerr. I had never seen anything so magical!”

Jonna was six or seven years old then, growing up in a Navy family. Her mother was a tailor who made ball gowns for the officers’ wives. Inspired by the movie, Jonna began to collect scraps of fabric and made little outfits for her troll dolls. She was dazzled by Deborah Kerr’s gown.

Cut ahead a few years. When she was 15, she attended OryCon, the science fiction/fantasy convention that still runs each year in Portland. She discovered the Society for Creative Anachronism. She started making her own costumes, and has never looked back.

“I wasn’t really sure I could make it my life,” she says. “But I knew when I got out of high school that this was what I wanted to do.” She headed for the University of Oregon, where she studied theater, business and art history, but was too busy with life and work to graduate.

She’s honed her skills over decades of designing and sewing everything – she loves to stitch – from costumes for stage shows to bridal gowns for elaborate weddings.

“I made wedding dresses for 10 years,” she says. “I got the reputation for telling the mothers, are you the one wearing the dress?”

Hayden takes a similarly no-nonsense approach to design for the stage. However much a costume might flash or dazzle from the point of view of the audience, it has to work flawlessly for the performer inside it.

“I am all about fit,” she says. “If the performer is thinking about her costume, she’s not able to perform.”

Hayden began working with Eugene Opera 10 years ago when it mounted its game-changing production – the show bailed the opera out of a difficult financial situation – of “The Pirates of Penzance,” directed by Mark Beudert.

“Mary Mikkelsen called me one day for help,” she said. “‘Can you come in and just make the policemen?’”

She later designed “Faust” and “La Boheme,” and she designed the opera’s splendid “Nixon in China,” giving Pat Nixon a mint green coat instead of a red one, as the actual first lady wore. That interpretation upset some purists.

“I will not do Life magazine,” Hayden says. “People think they know Pat Nixon. You wouldn’t believe the pushback I got from some people. But I was dressing the character, not copying the coat.”

Opera has its own requirements for costumes.

“Everything is bigger in opera,” she says. “It’s 40 feet to the front row. Colors are brighter. Patterns are bigger. And, the big thing is, they have to be able to sing. So a corset has to be tight at certain points and not at others.”

Ballet is different. “Ballet is all about movement,” she says. “I can’t really make a costume unless I know what they’re going to be doing in it. Doing a ballet costume requires understanding of skeletal structure.” It also requires close consultation with dancers, she says. “I want the dancers to come to me with any problems. Any problems at all.”

Jonna Hayden in her costume shop while woking on Snow Queen for Eugene Ballet.

Hayden got her introduction as a designer for Eugene Ballet working on “Mowgli,” the ballet’s 2013 adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s “The Jungle Book,” also supported by Richard Haugland.

“That was a radical departure for me in terms of how I work with color, shape and texture,” she says.

After “Mowgli,” Haugland told the ballet he’d like to fund another new show. That was the beginning of “Snow Queen.”

“A year and a half ago, Toni sent me an email with an outline of ‘Snow Queen.’ ‘You in?’ it said.”

Hayden thought about it for a couple days, and said yes.

She is basing much of her “Snow Queen” design on the work of the late British fashion designer Alexander McQueen, former head designer for Givenchy. His early fashion work established him as an enfant terrible for his use of dark, exotic and primitivist imagery. McQueen once described himself as a “romantic schizophrenic.”

McQueen, who committed suicide in 2010 at the age of 40, had also worked as a stitcher, Hayden says, giving them common ground.

“His technical skill for fit, for shape, for line, is mind boggling,” Hayden says. “He made wild, disturbing, amazing things. He has done more to push fashion than any other designer. His work always had a sharp edge and a philosophical side.”

The McQueen sensibility will be used for the Snow Queen characters in the ballet, inhabitants of the icy cold world of evil.

“The ice world all comes from Alexander McQueen,” Hayden says. “Everything from the warm world is all curvilinear, Pre-Raphaelite. Not angular and sharp.”

In Hayden’s west Eugene studio, she has racks and racks of costumes, with dancer’s names pinned to their shoulders, in the process of being tried on and fitted and adjusted. Some glitter with an icy look. Some are being built of butterfly images printed on silk, and painstakingly stitched together. Some are covered with black feathers. All have to be washable. Dancers sweat, a lot, on stage.

All need to be finished by her deadline of Jan. 30.

One of the first things Hayden did after taking on the job and establishing basic design ideas for the costumes was go for a wild shopping spree with Pimble in the fashion district of downtown Los Angeles. The trip, she says, was sheer delight.

“That’s like the Powell’s of fabric,” she says. “We were looking at fabric that was $175 a yard….”

Jonna Hayden in her costume shop while woking on Snow Queen for Eugene Ballet.

This is the fourth story in an occasional series, sponsored by Eugene Ballet, about the company’s creation of a new Snow Queen. The new work is funded by grants from the Richard P. Haugland Foundation and the Hult Endowment. See Part One, on artistic director Toni Pimble; Part Two, on scenic designer Nadya Geras-Carson; and Part Three, on composer Kenji Bunch.

“The Snow Queen” will have its world premiere at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 8, and at 2 p.m. Sunday, April 9, 2017, at the Hult Center for the Performing Arts in Eugene.

See more at

OCT opens its new season with a very meta ‘The Revolutionists’

Inga R. Wilson as Marie Antoinette

Inga R. Wilson as Marie Antoinette

Lauren Gunderson’s “The Revolutionists,” which made its West Coast premiere in Eugene this weekend to kick off Oregon Contemporary Theatre’s 25th season, is about as meta as theater gets. It’s so meta it even makes fun of meta theater, on its way to skewering theatrical conventions from the daffiness of musicals and the need for really good exit lines to the unbearable sound of people unwrapping cough drops in the audience.

Don’t let that put you off. Yes, it tends to be a bit precious and self absorbed, like so much theater about theater (or, for that matter, like so many novels about novels and novelists). But it also creates a fast, funny and sometimes moving universe of four sympathetic women, who one by one face the ultimate challenges of life amid chaos and death by the guillotine.

Guillotine? That’s because they are all but one historical characters from the Reign of Terror that followed the French Revolution: Olympe de Gouges, a writer, played by Erica Towe; Marianne Angelle, an imagined Haitian revolutionary, played by Janelle Rae Davis; Charlotte Corday, the killer of Jean-Paul Marat; and Marie Antoinette, the deposed queen, played by Inga R. Wilson.

The four are characters in Olympe’s play, the writing of which is stalled with writer’s block as the lights come up on a spare, serviceable set by Geno Franco. The zingers pile up quickly in Gunderson’s dialog, as Olympe meets first Marianne, the warm-hearted feminist who wants the idea of “egalite” to be extended to slaves in the colonies, and then Charlotte, who is determined to make history by putting a stop to Marat, the architect of so much of the post-revolution horror.

The show is deftly directed by Elizabeth Helman. All four actors are great in their roles, but Wilson’s Marie Antoinette is exquisite. Her Valley Girlish depiction of the author of “Let them eat cake!” (That was taken out of context, she complains) combines frothy femininity — she has a girly thing for ribbons — with moments of perfect self awareness. Nicely done.

Hailey Henderson, as the crazy assassin, manages to pull out a  moving depiction of the sudden terror she feels once she’s been sentenced to death by decapitation.

Period costumes are by Jeanette deJong, sound design is by Bradley Branam, and lighting is by Kat Matthews.

All in all, the play is a bit long, but not by much. It may try to pack in a few too many themes, from the relationship of art, history and politics to feminism and anti-colonialism, but at least it tries to do all this without ever taking itself too seriously. Even with its new-play glitches, “The Revolutionists” makes for a good, quick, entertaining evening.The French revolution has never been this funny.


It’s official: Randi Bjornstad has been fired by the Register-Guard

Randi Bjornstad, the Register-Guard features writer who’s been covering the arts for the newspaper since I left in 2013, was fired Wednesday from her job.


Randi Bjornstad from her Facebook page

The reasons given were “dishonesty, insubordination and destroying company property,” she told me over a cup of coffee this morning.  Those reasons, of course, closely reflect the grounds given for the firing in 2014 of entertainment writer Serena Markstrom, whose pregnancy discrimination lawsuit against the paper was thrown out by a judge’s ruling  August 31.

Bjornstad supported Markstrom’s claim against the newspaper and testified extensively at last month’s trial.

She said she plans to challenge her firing through the Newspaper Guild, the union representing most newsroom employees. She is the co-president of the Guild local, and says she was clearly fired for engaging in protected union activity. Bjornstad , a 28-year veteran of the newsroom, was suspended from her job right after the judge’s ruling in favor of the newspaper.

Meanwhile, two other RG employees who were suspended at the same time in connection with the case have been brought back to work with no discipline, Bjornstad said.

I’ve been holding back on writing a longer piece about Serena’s case against the RG because I do not, for the life of me, understand the judge’s ruling. I don’t simply mean that I don’t agree with it, which I don’t, but that I don’t have a clue what she actually ruled on.

As of a couple days ago, court papers that might explain the judge’s ruling were still not in the public file.  When I get my hands on them, I’ll write more.



Brian Lanker photojournalism at Karin Clarke Gallery

Muhammad Ali, 1984

Muhammad Ali, 1984

If you missed the big exhibition of Brian Lanker photographs earlier this year at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art — I did, too — Karin Clarke Gallery is giving you a second chance.

Clarke has mounted a show of 15 of the late photographer’s journalistic photos that were on display in the JSMA’s exhibition From the Heart.

Lanker, of course, was photo editor at The Register-Guard back in the day — far enough back, in fact, that he and I never met on the job there, though I got to know him as a photographer in town when I began covering the arts here. It’s hard for me to separate Lanker’s work, which is splendid, from his outsized personality, which could be both charming and trying.

He was one of a number of disciples of Rich Clarkson at the Topeka Capital-Journal. Other photographers Clarkson brought along there include Chris Johns, who would go on to become chief content officer for National Geographic; David Alan Harvey, of Magnum and Nat Geo; Susan Biddle, a White House photographer and staff photographer at the Washington Post; and Susan Ford, daughter of President Gerald Ford.

Lanker won a Pulitzer Prize for photography while still at the Capital-Journal for a series of photos he did on childbirth. Soon after, he came to Eugene to run the photo department in the days when newspapering was flush with money, and The Register-Guard decided it would be interesting to bring in a nationally recognized photographer to redesign the paper from bottom to top.

With his characteristic bluster and charm, Lanker did just that, and the RG quickly became know around the country for its extraordinary, at the time, use of color photography. Under Lanker’s guidance, photos ran big on the page — sometimes causing more-traditional word-oriented editors to complain that the tail had begun to wag the dog — and photographers came to be recognized in the newsroom as journalists in their own right, rather than mere adjuncts to reporters.

After leaving the RG, Lanker shot for numerous national publications, including Life and Sports Illustrated, while still living in Eugene with his wife, painter Lynda Lanker.

This small show at the Clarke gallery has some of Lanker’s best work over the years, most of it familiar. He got access to such celebrities as Muhammad Ali and Willie Nelson, James Beard and Mick Jagger. In Eugene, he photographed Ken Kesey and Steve Prefontaine.

Horse Logger, 1975

Horse Logger, 1975

My favorite work in the show is his older black and white images, such as this anonymous horse logger he shot in the Oregon woods.

The exhibit runs through September 24. A reception will be held from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, September 10.

Eugene Symphony announces three finalists to replace music director Danail Rachev

The Eugene Symphony has released the names of three finalists to replace Danail Rachev as music director. Each will conduct a regular subscription concert in the coming season, which kicks off September 22 with a concert under the baton of Rachev himself.

They include two men and a woman — and two U.S. conductors and a Canadian.

Here are the three, with information from the symphony’s announcement.


Dina Gilbert_01

Dina Gilbert

Dina Gilbert
Concert date: December 8, 2016
Concert program:
Mozart: Overture to The Magic Flute
Korngold: Violin Concerto (Elena Urioste, violin)
Stravinsky: Petrouchka (1947 version)
Dukas: The Sorceror’s Apprentice

Recognized for her energy, precision and versatility, Dina Gilbert brings great passion to the orchestral repertoire, and is also dedicated to conducting new commissions and works by Canadian composers. A native of Québec, she is the assistant conductor at the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal since April 2013. In addition to frequently conducting rehearsals with the OSM, Gilbert leads the orchestra in many concerts, including main series subscription events, youth concerts and the annual OSM in the Parks concerts. Gilbert is also the founder and artistic director of Ensemble Arkea, a Montreal-based professional chamber orchestra that presents innovative interpretations of orchestral music. In 2012 she made her debut with the National Arts Centre Orchestra in Ottawa. In February 2014, she conducted the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra (Germany) as one of the selected participants in the prestigious Sir Georg Solti International Conductors’ Competition. She has collaborated many times with young Canadian composers, premiering more than 30 works and has also conducted many studio recordings for films and video games soundtracks. More at


Ryan McAdams

Ryan McAdams

Ryan McAdams
Concert date: January 26, 2017
Concert program:
Mozart: Overture to Don Giovanni
Barber: Piano Concerto (Andrew von Oeyen, piano)
Brahms: Symphony No. 1

Artist bio: Ryan McAdams, a resident of Brooklyn, New York, received his M.M. in Orchestral Conducting from The Juilliard School in 2006, and a B.M. in Piano Performance from Indiana University in 2004. He is quickly establishing himself as a prized symphonic, operatic, and contemporary music conductor. In February 2010, he made a highly successful subscription European debut with the orchestra of the Maggio Musicale in Florence and led the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, with soloists Julian Rachlin and Mischa Maisky, in September 2010. His subscription debut with the Israel Philharmonic, replacing an indisposed Raphael Frühbeck de Burgos, was hailed as “extraordinary,” “masterful,” and “immense[ly] dramatic” by the Jerusalem Post; a live recording of the concert was released by the IPO on the Helicon Classics label. He has returned to the Israel Philharmonic twice since, most recently in a run of performances featuring concerti with cellist Alisa Weilerstein and Orff’s Carmina Burana. A Fulbright scholar, he previously served as Apprentice Conductor of the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic, assisting then-Chief Conductor Alan Gilbert. McAdams is the first-ever recipient of the Sir Georg Solti Emerging Conductor Award. More at


Francesco Lecce-Chong

Francesco Lecce-Chong

Francesco Lecce-Chong
Concert date: March 16, 2017
Concert program:
Liszt: Mephisto Waltz No. 1
Bartók: Piano Concerto No. 3 with Kuok-Wai Lio
Mozart: Overture to The Abduction from the Seraglio
R. Strauss: Suite from Der Rosenkavalier (1945 version)

American conductor Francesco Lecce-Chong, a native of Boulder, Colorado, has worked with orchestras around the world including engagements with the National Symphony Orchestra, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Toronto Symphony Orchestra, St. Louis Symphony, Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, San Diego Symphony, and Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra. He currently holds the positions of Assistant Conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and Music Director of the Pittsburgh Youth Symphony Orchestra. Previously, Lecce-Chong served as Associate Conductor of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and Grand Teton Music Festival. Lecce-Chong holds a Bachelor of Music degree with honors in piano and orchestral conducting graduate from the Mannes College of Music, and a diploma from the Curtis Institute of Music, where he studied as a Martin and Sarah Taylor Fellow with Otto-Werner Mueller. More at

A new Snow Queen 3: Composer Kenji Bunch takes on the biggest project of his musical career


Kenji Bunch

When Eugene Ballet premieres its new full-length interpretation of “The Snow Queen” at the Hult Center next spring, its dancers will perform to all-new music by Portland composer Kenji Bunch.

That’s a giant leap forward, both for the ballet – which has never before commissioned a full-length musical score – and for Bunch, who has never before composed such a long piece of music.

“I have never done a full-fledged, evening-length orchestral ballet score,” he said in a recent visit to his home studio. “That is definitely a bucket-list item for a composer.”

Bunch, 43, grew up in Portland, where he played viola for five years in the Portland Youth Symphony and attended Wilson High School. From there he went to the Juilliard School in New York, where he majored in viola and composition. He stayed on in New York for two decades after graduation, performing and teaching and working as a composer, steadily making himself a name in the classical music world.

It was while Bunch was at Juilliard that he became friends with Brian McWhorter, a high-energy trumpet player who was also studying composition there.

“We were both students at Juilliard and we shared an interest in breaking out of the conventional composer/performer dynamic,” says McWhorter. “We were both composers and performers – and we were enamored with bringing some semblance of improvisation to classical music. I think that shared interest naturally brought us together, and we explored a lot of music from the experimental art music scene.”

A Kenji Bunch sampler on YouTube

McWhorter, who is now a professor of trumpet at the University of Oregon School of Music and Dance, is also co-founder and conductor of Orchestra Next, the student/professional orchestra that has played for Eugene Ballet performances since 2012. And it was McWhorter who suggested to EBC artistic director Toni Pimble that Bunch would be a great choice to compose the “Snow Queen” score.

“Kenji has a playful sensibility with his music that I enjoy a lot,” McWhorter says. “And I’m not alone. His music is very colorful, rhythmic, and he finds creative ways to set moods that are perfect for a narrative. He seemed a perfect fit for this project and I knew that Toni would like what he came up with.”

While students in New York, the two musicians began performing around the city, sometimes doing work so aggressively experimental that they left their audiences behind. This bland 1999 review from the Village Voice was about their performance as part of the Non-Sequitur Festival there:

Kenji Bunch and Brian McWhorter showed found film footage of a ’50s-era man dressed in an apron and making eggnog, while playing a desultory modal improv on viola, trumpet, and electronics that didn’t seem to have anything to do with anything.

These days, Bunch’s reviews are more enthusiastic. The New York Times has called him “a composer to watch,” and Alex Ross, music critic for The New Yorker, included Bunch’s 2006 chamber opera “Confessions of the Woman in the Dunes” in his list of significant contemporary works in his book “The Rest is Noise.”

In a world that is largely hostile or indifferent to contemporary orchestral music, Bunch has managed to woo audiences without pandering. His work is richly complex without being off-putting. He works with pop influences without making his work sound cheap and easy.


Bunch likes to cook, and when we first began discussing “The Snow Queen” he immediately brought up food as a metaphor for his music.

“I think a lot about food,” he said. “I like to cook, and I like eating and just thinking about food. And I see a lot of parallels with cooking. I get my best ideas in the kitchen.”

Much of his music, he said, is like new American cuisine.

“Chefs with classical training apply those techniques to regional dishes – and comfort food dishes – and revitalize it with their own unique approach,” he said. “I am drawn to the music of my surroundings. I listen to a lot of popular American music. Folk music. I like to play fiddle. I have written a lot of things with inspiration from fiddle and folk music.”

Except for this: None of that is happening in his score for “Snow Queen.”

“In this case, that didn’t seem to fit the project,” he said. “‘The Snow Queen’ is based on a Hans Christian Andersen fable, and is set in a time and place that, while somewhat vague, is clearly far removed from present day America. I wanted to capture an Old World aesthetic that both supported the story and honored the long tradition of evening-length orchestral narrative ballet scores, so my influences here are closer to Prokofiev and Stravinsky than American folk or jazz idioms. I’ve spent most of my life performing and listening to this music, so it feels very comfortable to find a personal vocabulary in that tradition.”

The Snow Queen project is a challenge even for an accomplished composer. Turning out two hours of fresh, inspired music takes a lot of work.

“It’s just a ton of music,” he said. “It’s about two hours of orchestral music. The longest thing I’ve written up until now – my third symphony – is just about 35 minutes. And writing fast music is incredibly hard.”

Bunch works when he can, fitting in composition time around his jobs teaching viola and composition and being the parent of two girls.

One of his favorite times to compose music is in the early morning.

As early as 5 a.m. some days, Bunch heads with his dog Coffee, a sweet-natured rescued pit bull, to a small but tidy studio – it measures just eight by 12 feet – that he constructed just outside the family home, which sits in a beautiful forested section of southeast Portland near Tryon State Natural Area. On the back wall hangs a series of stringed instruments: a violin, an acoustic guitar, a mandolin, a five-string banjo, a Fender electric guitar, a ukelele.

“Once in a while I’ll grab one of those and use it in a recording,” he said. Like most composers these days, he does the bulk of his work on a computer, which can, at the press of a button, kick out a MIDI-controlled performance of his complex score. This is both good news and bad news: The composer gets to hear the music played without hiring dozens of musicians, but the MIDI instruments are so electronic sounding that you really can’t tell a violin from a flute, and Bunch apologizes before letting me hear a passage of his new “Snow Queen” score.

And for good reason. For my unpracticed ear, the music – while certainly interesting and moving – was a bit lost in the artificial sound quality of the MIDI performance. It’s like someone is playing the parts using random stops on a cheap electric organ.

Bunch’s deadline for the completed score is the end of this year. At that point, McWhorter’s Orchestra Next plans to play and record the entire two-hour composition; Pimble will use that recording as she begins to work with her dancers on the choreography.

There’s a lot riding on Bunch here. The ballet has had one previous bad experience with a commissioned work, whose composer didn’t deliver on time. Bunch, though, looks perfectly confident he can finish the new “Show Queen” on time for Pimble and her dancers to create a new ballet.

“I am closing in on the end of the first of two acts,” he said. “It started really slow, but the further I get into it, the more momentum there is.”


Bunch with Coffee

This is the third story in an occasional series, sponsored by Eugene Ballet, about the company’s creation of a new Snow Queen. The new work is funded by grants from the Richard P. Haugland Foundation and the Hult Endowment. See Part One, on artistic director Toni Pimble, and Part Two, on scenic designer Nadya Geras-Carson.

“The Snow Queen” will have its world premiere at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 8, and at 2 p.m. Sunday, April 9, 2017, at the Hult Center for the Performing Arts in Eugene.

See more at


So what exactly happened today at the media trial of the, er, century (Eugene version)?

Serena Markstrom after her 2014 firing by The Register-Guard

Serena Markstrom after her 2014 firing by The Register-Guard

I don’t know, either, and it’s nearly dinnertime.

One of the ironies of the superconnected age we live in is this: Getting news still comes down to having a reporter go to an event and report on it.

The courtroom trial of the case of Serena Markstrom v Guard Publishing Co. was scheduled to open today in Lane County Circuit Court, the Hon. Josephine Mooney presiding. And I assume it did.

And I likewise assume that Serena, my friend and former colleague at the Register-Guard, testified about her experience of being fired by the paper in 2014 soon after she notified her bosses that she was pregnant.

I also have it on reasonable authority that at least the RG and the Eugene Weekly had reporters assigned to cover the story. Maybe some others were there as well — KLCC? KVAL? KEZI? I don’t know.

I didn’t go to the trial today. I had other things to do. But I’ve also been subpoenaed as a witness, and while no one told me I couldn’t attend, it felt to me like it might be inappropriate to sit there and listen to testimony from others, even from Serena.

But I’ve gotten so used to getting news right now that I’m feeling like the whole internet/instant news thing turns out to be kind of a fraud. I mean, lots of people in town are interested in this story. But how to find out what happened today?

News only happens when there is a reporter there to witness it. And write it. And then have someone publish it.

Even today.

(Here’s a link to the original filing.)

Addendum, 6:45 p.m.:  KLCC’s Tiffany Eckert reported earlier today that jury selection would take up most of Tuesday. The radio station  plans to cover the beginning of the actual trial on Wednesday, according to Rachael McDonald on Facebook.

And another update, 8:45 p.m.:  The Register-Guard story by Ed Russo is now posted. It’s pretty complete looking, and covers the two sides’ opening statements in the case.





A smart ‘Hamlet’ on a spare stage at Cottage Theatre


Timothy McIntosh and Martha Benson as Hamlet and Ophelia

A quiet, reflective and very smart new production of Hamlet that opened this weekend at Cottage Theatre strips this well known Shakespeare tragedy down to bare visual essentials — and makes it fun to watch in the process.

Directed by Tony Rust, who is a force of nature on the local theater scene, the show stars an actor I’ve never before seen here — Timothy Mcintosh, a professor at New Hope Christian College and Gutenberg College. McIntosh is also a playwright; his Søn of Abraham (about the last three years of Søren Kierkegaard’s life), received a Best New Play award in 2008 from the Chattanooga Theatre Centre, and his screenplay Mandi was produced and released by Kalon Media in 2009. He also had a short play, High School How I Hated Thee, produced by the Northwest 10  new plays contest in Eugene in 2010.

McIntosh’s Hamlet is quirky and dynamic. It took me a while to warm up to his performance, as he seemed a little too odd at first, even for my bizarre tastes. But soon I realized I couldn’t take my eyes off of him on stage. As Hamlet descends into madness, McIntosh is in constant motion, and his expressive face seems at times to be made of rubber.

Other very strong performances came from Martha Benson, as Ophelia, and Mark Anderson, as Horatio. Benson has a strong background doing Shakespeare in New York, and Anderson is a familiar face around Eugene theater, having played Sir Belvedere in Very Little Theatre’s Spamalot and Andrew Ague in Cottage Theatre’s (and Tony Rust’s) wonderful Twelfth Night. Patrick Torelle is a perfectly platitudinous Polonius, Tracy Nygard is Gertrude, and Davis Smith is Claudius (and the ghost of the dead king). 

Rust is a director to watch. He’s got a strong sense of story telling and entertainment and is himself a consummate comic actor. He also designs his own sets, and the set for this Hamlet — a stark, simple abstraction in middle gray — focused our attention wonderfully on the play, which was presented in more or less period costume without making the characters look like they belonged in a museum.

I last saw Hamlet two months ago, at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland. The show, directed by Lisa Peterson, featured heavy metal music by a big deal California guitarist on the big outdoor Elizabethan Stage, and a splendidly subtle rendition of the young Hamlet by Danforth Comins.

Cottage Theatre’s Hamlet was at least as much fun to watch as the one running in Ashland, and it actually had a scarier ghost. Tonight’s show easily held my attention for the entire three hour run time, and wrapped up in a skillful and exciting sword fight.

Hamlet runs through August 28. Go see it.





Actually, Jerry, Eugene needs even more elite art — not less

Last year's final Mayor's Art Show at the Jacobs Gallery.

Last year’s final Mayor’s Art Show at the Jacobs Gallery.

In a cranky letter to the editor published earlier this week in The Register-Guard, painter Jerry Ross complains about the Eugene Biennial exhibition being shown this month at the Karin Clarke Gallery downtown.

The new Biennial, which opened to a packed reception on First Friday, was created by Karin Clarke to replace the Mayor’s Art Show. That long-favorite event died when its host, the non-profit Jacobs Gallery, having lost a city subsidy, closed its doors earlier this year.

The new Biennial, Ross seems to say, is just one more symptom of the crushing repression of good art by the “snob elite” that control art in Eugene. “I don’t expect the Clarke Biennale to be anything other than a boring assemblage of art objects sans the energy and iconoclasm of our city,” he wrote.

Oh, would that the snob elite had such power, Jerry. Then we’d have dozens of great commercial art galleries downtown (instead of two). And we’d have a municipal visual arts center, with a gallery and museum, alongside the Hult Center for the Performing Arts.

I like Ross. I’ve known him a long time. One of his paintings I bought years ago is hanging on my wall at home. He is one of the founders of the Salon des Refusés, a slightly tongue-in-cheek alternative exhibition that ran for years alongside the official Mayor’s Art Show. The only qualification for admission was, your work had to have been rejected by the mayor’s show jury.

Back in the days when there were hundreds of entries in the mayor’s show each year (that was in the days of no or low application fees), that meant the Salon exhibited hundreds of rejected works when the two shows opened, and held their receptions, on the Thursday night of Eugene Celebration weekend.

And, yes, the Salon threw a bigger party. After all, it had a lot more artists, and their friends, to highlight.

The end of the Salon came when the Mayor’s show went from jurying actual physical works of art, delivered to the Hult Center by hopeful artists, to jurying by looking at digital images. It was no longer simple to grab rejected artists as they picked up their works on judgment day, so Steve LaRiccia, director of the New Zone Gallery, which hosted the Salon, changed over to an all-comers show that ran at the same time as the Mayor’s show. That was nicely inclusive, but lacked the pizazz of an exhibition made up entirely of rejects.

Ross likes to imagine that there actually is an arts elite running Eugene, one that’s determined to hold back the throbbing masses of dangerously interesting and subversive art and make sure that no one gets to see it.

That’s a lovely idea, and I wish that it were so. But over the years of covering the two competing/complementary art shows, I was rarely struck by any work in the Salon that seemed to have been excluded because of some interesting or provocative message. I always enjoyed the Salon, as it gave a clearer picture of the broad swath of art being produced around Lane County. But I liked seeing what the official Mayor’s Show jury did with all that raw material over at the Jacobs.

The city seems to be pulling back from community art, on a number of levels, high or low. The Eugene Celebration, which was privatized several years ago, went on to fail. The Jacobs, as noted, has shut down – though months later, no one has gotten around to removing any of the signs outside the Hult Center inviting people to see a now non-existent art gallery. To its credit, the city threw some financial support to Clarke’s biennial, sponsoring an award, but that’s a small fraction of what it used to provide to the Jacobs.

As a businesswoman, Clarke did a bold thing when she decided to hold a juried show – her first since starting the gallery in 2002. She has rent and bills to pay, and it’s yet to be seen what kind of sales this show will generate.

Meanwhile, if anyone in town thinks the “snob elite” has too firm a grip on the arts world here, let them step up and produce their own art exhibit, juried or otherwise. I’ll be first in line to go see it.

‘Shrimp & Gritts’ a must-see at Oregon Contemporary Theatre

Bary Shaw and Rebecca Nachison as Gritts and Shrimp / OCT photo

Bary Shaw and Rebecca Nachison as Gritts and Shrimp / OCT photo

“Shrimp & Gritts: She’s Gone,” which opened last night at Oregon Contemporary Theatre, is as charming and engaging a new play as I’ve seen in years – a sensitive, funny love story of contemporary life, mostly set in a cheesy bar on the Oregon coast.

The full-length drama by Eugene’s own Paul Calandrino explores the complicated relationship of Gritts, a retired merchant seaman played by Bary Shaw, and Shrimp, his lesbian best friend, played by Rebecca Nachison. Both are charmingly alcoholic and sardonically witty and both miss Serena, Gritts’ partner of 15 years, who has walked out of their lives and left them to find their own ways alone and together.

Shaw and Nachison play the two old barflies as though they were born to the roles. Shaw’s Gritts is a bit aloof and grandiose, riffing at one point about being God, while Nachison’s Shrimp is alternately sweet and dry.

Providing a counterpoint to this AARP-age pair are the younger couple Ruud (Cloud Pemble) and Clementine (Tara Wibrew), a folky duo who perform in the bar and whose relationship has its own bumps along the way. Their music – Wibrew and Pemble are actually better than a lot of bar acts you’ll ever encounter – offers a perfect series of interludes to the main story.

The play is performed on a realistic set by Amy Dunn — you can just about smell the beer and seaweed — and is directed by Brian Haimbach, head of the theater program at Lane Community College.

In the program, he notes that – unlike many new plays these days – “Shrimp & Gritts” has not been workshopped, a process that polishes scripts but also homogenizes them.

Instead, he writes, it is “just a really (really) strong first draft.” This could well explain the script’s sparkling freshness and drive. Calandrino, who runs the Northwest Festival of Ten-Minute Plays here, also wrote “The Final Leg,” produced by OCT in 2005.

“Shrimp & Gritts” runs at OCT through August 20. This is one not to miss.

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