1. Alela Diane
Dec 9, The Old Church
The Portland singer-songwriter places motherhood, in all its depth and danger, at the center of this year’s Cusp. Her textured, dreamy vocals will deliver an emotional gut punch in this intimate setting.
Dec 20–22, Helium Comedy Club
The married comedians—she’s arch and cutting, he’s a neurotic motormouth—bring their act to Helium, promising live relationship advice alongside the stand-up sets. In other words, the perfect antidote to all that saccharine Christmas cheer.
Dec 6–8, Lincoln Hall
A jubilant highlight of Portland’s dance calendar, this annual holiday show features new work choreographed by the company’s own members. Up this year: world-premiere pieces, all inspired by fables and fairy tales, by Andrea Parson, Franco Nieto, Kody Jauron, and Anthony Pucci.
Dec 10, The Old Church
Fear No Music, the Portland ensemble known for eclectic programs of 20th- and 21st-century work, devotes an evening to heavy topics: think homophobia, suicide, gun violence, and grief. It’s also your only chance to hear Sandcastle no. 6, from artistic director Kenji Bunch.
Dec 5, Powell’s City of Books
In Retablos, the acclaimed El Paso–raised playwright recounts growing up as “a skinny brown kid on the border.” The title refers to Mexican devotional paintings, which also influence the memoir’s structure: flash recollections of racism, sexual awakening, and artistic inspiration.
Dec 4–Jan 19, Froelick Gallery
A cheetah moves through the night; a gaunt man stands naked and alone; a mermaid turns her back. In Chasing Sophia, the Georgia-based painter (and PNCA grad) showcases moody reflections on the rural South, folklore, and family.
Dec 4, Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall
When Tara Westover got to college, she’d never heard of the Holocaust, and never seen a doctor. Westover, who turned 32 in September—she doesn’t know her exact birthday—was raised by Mormon survivalist parents in rural Idaho. She went on to earn a PhD from Cambridge University and publish a 2018 memoir, Educated, that chronicles her dizzying journey.
Nov 30–Dec 22, CoHo Theater
Annie Baker is one of the sharpest, most empathetic playwrights working today, and Third Rail Rep has chewed into the Pulitzer winner’s work with aplomb. The gothic-tinged John is set in a B&B in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, where a tchotchke-obsessed proprietor watches over a young couple as they navigate a rift in their relationship.
Dec 7–9, Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall
Praise be! It’s time for the annual foot-stomping, hand-clapping, spirit-raising joy of Gospel Christmas. For the 20th year, the best gospel singers from churches all over the Northwest join with the Oregon Symphony to raise their voices, and the roof.
Nov 30–Dec 23, Shoebox Theatre
With a mission to present “world-renowned plays in an intimate performance space,” Asylum Theatre returns after a 17-year hiatus with David Mamet’s 1988 satire on Hollywood, a tale of commercialism versus art, and the misogyny that plagues the LA industry.
11. Summer Cannibals
Dec 31, Doug Fir Lounge
Bring your angry self to see out 2018 with local rage masters Summer Cannibals, who add fierce, fuzzy riffs to lead singer Jessica Boudreaux’s lyrical sting and might just be the burn-it-down live act you need right now. They’re joined on stage by new Sub Pop darlings Jo Passed.
Portlander Erica Trabold digs into the layers of landscape and legacy to mine personal and environmental history in the lyrically arresting Five Plots, winner of the inaugural Deborah Tall Lyric Essay Book Prize.
Local singer Laura Gibson’s sweet, sharp vocals swoop and sting with fresh potency in new record Goners, drawing on fable and wild fauna to tackle deeply personal questions around grief and identity.