Fertile Ground Field Guide 2014

Portland’s theater and dance stages erupt in a rambunctious cornucopia of new works. Jan 23–Feb 2

By Portland Monthly Staff and Ally Bordas January 23, 2014

With the sun shining, it’s easy to hope spring comes early. When it comes to performance, though, spring always does by way of the Fertile Ground festival of new works.

Like a rambunctious garden erupting in dazzling colors, pungent smells, and more than a little allergenic pollen, the festival features new works of all shape, from the first public readings of scripts to fully mounted world premieres. Some of it is delicious. Some of it makes your sinuses clog up with frustration or befuddlement. But the combined total is an invigorating cornucopia that definitely deserves sampling.

The full schedule can be a bit overwhelming, so we’ve picked some of the shows we’re most excited about to guide your taste buds.

We’ll be updating this page with short reviews as we see shows, so please check back regularly.

Review End of Sex

Jan 14–Feb 1, Shoebox Theatre
It’s with no little irony that I’ll call Theatre Vertigo’s The End of Sex—about a drug that lets you simulate the sensation of sex without actually going to the trouble—an extremely efficient production. But I do mean it as a compliment: Craig Jessen’s script manages to address just about every intriguing or troubling circumstance you’d imagine might arise from such a drug without sacrificing his lively plot or fleshed-out characters. The dialogue mines the subject matter for plenty of laughs, some more awkward than others, and never feels clumsy or cheap, with the exception of some low-hanging closing lines.

Ultimately, The End of Sex is a uniformly well-acted romp through the quirks of intimacy and the flaws of pharmaceutical culture, and a surprisingly touching reminder of what we hopefully know: sex is best with a loving, consenting partner.

Review Hand2Mouth: Pep Talk
Thru Feb 16, Peninsula Park Community Center
"Like any good spirit squad, the Hand2Mouth team had me roped in from the get go for their joyous descent into that pillar of American culture: the motivational pep talk...The show teeters on a balance beam between gleeful parody—the coaches love to throw out motivational schlock like Wayne Gretsky’s motto: “You miss 100-percent of the shots you don’t take”—and homage of sorts. It lifts us up while simultaneously pillorying the absurdity of our competitively positive culture..." Read our full review.

The Monster Builder
Jan 28–Mar 2, Artists Repertory Theatre
Architecture at its roots and satire as its soul, this Faustian-inspired play by Pulitzer-finalist playwright Amy Freed is a modern twist on the themes of Ibsen’s The Master-Builder: “basically what happens when architecture goes mad.” What will unfold as two novice architects defy the infamous, mega-architect who manipulates both professionals and clients alike? Directed by nationally acclaimed director Art Manke and starring Oregon Shakespeare Festival actors Michael Elich and Robin Nordli, this is a power-packed production!

Read our Q&A with Freed to learn more about the inner-workings of this maniacal play and why she chose to premiere it at the relatively small regional theater Artists Rep.

American King Umps: A Midsummer Night’s Melodrama on the Tragedy of Slavery
Jan30–Feb 16, Ethos/IFCC
Teaming up with East Coast director Jaye Austin Williams and Damaris Webb, New York–veteran playwright Don Wilson Glenn creates “a unique twist on the American slave experience.” Named after Glenn’s great-great-grandfather, Umps is loosely based on Glenn’s personal family history of slavery in Texas. But it turns the narrative of a slave family wrestling with newfound freedom (we saw it last year in PCS’s The Whipping Man) on its head by twisting it into high comedy—a “parody of Gone With the Wind and Comedy of Errors meets Roots.” 

“Looking at the success of movies like 12 Years A Slave and Django Unchained, it shows that our county has matured a great deal,” says Glenn. “My team and I feel that audiences are ready to have a funny and raw conversation.”

4x4 = Musicals
Jan 17–25, The Sanctuary
Back for their third season of inviting local musical theater–types to create musicals on a four-by-four foot platform, producer Mark LaPierre decided that the space confines had become too easy. So he upped the ante: the musicals also have to include dancing. The result is seven new, undoubtedly zany shorts involving pirates, mad cows, sheep, claustrophobia, and more. The beauty of the 10-minute durations of the works is that, if you don’t like one, you can just hold your breath likely the next one will kick off before you turn blue.

Middle Names 
Jan 24–Feb 8, Action/Adventure Theatre
Recent Lewis and Clarke alums playwright Corey O’Hara (who played George in Liminal’s recent transformative production of Our Town) and director Nate Cohen team up for their fourth collaborative production. Brought together by the death of a friend, three strangers in a hotel search for who they are through pain, lust, drugs, and death. This “Shepardian wild ride” was a recent finalist for the Kennedy Center’s John Cauble Short Play Award.

My Walk Has Never Been Average
Feb 1, Portland Playhouse
Adapted for the stage from first-person interviews by Roberta S. Hunte with Black women who work in different sectors of construction, this multi-media presentation delves into issues of community, family, and finding strength and achievement in the face of oppression. Presented by Portland Playhouse and the August Wilson Red Door Project (Red Door director Binnie Ratner adapted the work for stage). We profile the Red Door Project and how Portland Playhouse and other local theater companies are confronting issues of race in our February issue.  

Groovin’ Greenhouse
Jan 23–Feb 1, Polaris Studio Theatre
Every year, Polaris Dance Theatre transforms its intimate studio into the Groovin’ Greenhouse, presenting a world premiere performed by its own dancers as well as original pieces from different guest companies each evening, including PDX Dance Collective (exploring emotional growth), A-WOL Dance (aerial and floor), Bridge City Dance Project (feminist progression through movement), TopShakeDance (duet), TriptheDark Dance Company (searching for the historical truth), and more.

The Temporary Man
Jan 26, Lakewood Theatre Company
In a drunken rage, an ex-employee of a classy, well to-do restaurant holds the staff hostage. Featuring Portland musical star Susannah Mars, music by Scott David Bradner and writer A. R. MacGregor. 

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