2019’s Best Oregon-Born Culture, From Potent Whispers to Vivid Dances to Twitter Comedy

Plus, a play that melted our writer’s face off.

By Conner Reed and Fiona McCann November 26, 2019 Published in the December 2019 issue of Portland Monthly

TV Shrill

In its first season, Shrill (loosely adapted from a memoir by Seattle-raised Lindy West) dealt with territory we thought we’d seen before—young writer tries to keep it together, young woman learns to love herself—but consistently swerved for the unexpected choice. On her journey to self-love, Aidy Bryant’s Annie became selfish, and all the more interesting for it. SNL regular Bryant is career-best, grounded and funny and heartbreaking and frustrating, and the too-brief six episodes go down like fluff but linger in memory longer than you’d expect. —Conner Reed 

Next: Season two of the Portland-filmed show is scheduled to drop on Hulu this spring.

THEATER Portland Experimental Theatre Ensemble’s Our Ruined House 

When I saw PETE’s three-years-in-the-making rumination on everything from Pussy Riot to Donald Rumsfeld, I took some notes. “Oh my God.” “Octopus??” “Adam McKay could never.” Our Ruined House (whose title comes from a poem by Soviet writer Anna Akhmatova) is a hallucinatory, inventive romp with some of the most incredible scenic design I’ve ever seen, and for a show about global collapse, it’s a hell of a lot of fun. Simply put, it melted my face off. —CR

Next: In January, PETE puts up Beckett Women, a new piece that draws from the Irish master’s short plays.

DANCE NW Dance Project’s Summer Premieres

The loglines sound exhausting: German choreographer tackles climate change. OBT founder does Streetcar. A contemporary piece about ... relationships. Cheers, then, to NW Dance Project’s consistently incredible company for bringing each concept to dangerous, vivid life. In polar bear costumes and Louisiana sun hats, these dancers ignited Portland State’s Lincoln Hall with work that united classicists with renegades, and landed perhaps the first-ever moving use of Disturbed’s “Sounds of Silence” cover. —CR

Next: Camille A. Brown, the Tony nominated choreographer of Choir Boy, comes to the Newmark in April, courtesy of White Bird.

COMEDY Mohanad Elshieky

It was not an auspicious start to 2019 for Benghazi-born local comedian Mohanad Elshieky, who got pulled off a Greyhound bus in Spokane in January, was told his (legal) documents were illegal, and was interrogated for 20 minutes before being allowed to reboard. But the incident became a national springboard: Elshieky’s tweets on the ordeal went viral, his name was dropped everywhere from Salon to Sky News, and he eventually caught the eye of Full Frontal with Samantha Bee. Now he’s off to New York to tweet for the Emmy-winning TBS host as a member of her show’s digital team. Makes sense: While he’s delivered some solid stage moments, Elshieky shined brightest this year on Twitter. His “Donald Trump Jr. as trash cans” thread is the medium at its best. —Fiona McCann

Next: With a conversational delivery and some hot takes on vaginoplasty, Portland’s Corina Lucas makes the kinds of jokes you try to repeat at the water cooler and can’t quite pull off. No matter, they’re hella funny coming from her—more, please, in 2020!

BOOKS Mitchell Jackson’s Survival Math

In a bumper year for Portland lit—see the soiled and luminous tales of Kimberly King Parsons’s Black Light and the inventive magic of Karen Russell’s Orange World—Mitchell Jackson’s Survival Math broke new ground with feverish ambition. Yes, his ego pulses through it, and yes, that’s kinda the point, even if it occasionally trammels the tale. But for all of its scholarly density, this lyrical deep dive into contemporary black male experience is an urgent, erudite read. —FM

Next: Portlander Rebecca Clarren has inked a deal with Penguin for her new book, An American Inheritance, which examines her family's dissonant history—from fleeing Russian pogroms to ranching stolen Lakota land.

MUSIC Black Belt Eagle Scout: At the Party with My Brown Friends

“We will always sing,” intones Katherine Paul, a.k.a. Black Belt Eagle Scout, on the tender opening track of her sophomore album, At the Party with My Brown Friends—it’s a defiant vow delivered like a potent whisper. Over nine songs that range from the quiet build of “Run It to Ya” to “You’re Me and I’m You,” a touching ode to motherhood, Paul’s breathy, close vocals forge an intimacy that deepens over the course of several listens. In an album that vibrates with longing, Paul makes space for comfort. —FM

Next: The 23-year-old Portland rapper KayelaJ spits attitude and wit on her first album, D.Y.K.E. Big, brassy feels and straight-up musical chops—I can’t wait for more.

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