Xenophobadelica Is Part Feminist Poetry Slam, Part Prince Tribute

Even before Trump began mulling wallpaper for the Oval Office, DawN Crandell’s Xenophobadelica was designed to bring humor and solidarity to minorities. Now, Crandell intends to keep stirring the pot with her part-burlesque, part-poetry slam one-woman show.

“As I’ve grown up, I’ve been less concerned about fitting into one community and more confident that if one community is not accepting of all of me, then just no,” says Crandell, who is a half-white POC queer artist.

The jack-of-all-trades solo show is personal for Crandell. Xenophobadelica is designed to illuminate the hypocrisy of those who overlook the sensitivities of intersectionality. Her show is rooted in her own experience, but it’s also inspired by an unfriendly tweet.

“I get really frustrated with having to compartmentalize myself because a certain group likes this part of me but not that part,” explains Crandell, who also answers to her burlesque stage name, AuroraBoobRealis. “I happened to notice this woman I follow on Twitter—an inspiring black burlesque dancer who is also a holistic educator about women’s sexuality—posting a transphobic, misogynistic tweet. All the people on her feed were blindly agreeing with her, and that kind of thing really frustrates me. She might accept my blackness, but not other parts of me?”

Much like its target audience, Xenophobadelica submits to a variety of identities, and rallies many of Crandell’s collective talents and passions. As a teen, she was a slam poet, and later in life she became a solo-show artist and a burlesque dancer.

“At 18, I started stripping at clubs, and with stripping, you need to convince a customer that they’re the only one who matters so they’ll tip you more,” explains Crandell. “I wasn’t interested in theater where people just applaud at the end and there’s no eye contact with the audience. Here, I’m really talking to them.”

The show itself was born in 2011 in Manchester, England, where Crandell was asked to design a short for an event called Queer Contact, which would later become a piece of the Xenophobadelica we see today. The show also serves as a tribute to Prince, whose song “Shockadelica” inspired its title.
“There are stories about what [Prince] meant to me in the show, and definitely as a performer, you’ll see the influence he’s had on me,” says Crandell.
But is Xenophobadelica really chicken noodle soup for the souls of the social groups most fearful of conservative tyranny?

“We need more love in this world, more standing tall in our truths and embracing the totality of ourselves,” explains Crandell. “The people who are scared or saddened about the fact that [Trump] is our president-elect collectively need joy in their lives right now, and stories of inspiration and growth and moving through challenges. We need to laugh together. I feel Xenophobadelica can be that, for just over an hour.”

SEE IT: Xenophobadelica plays at the Headwaters Theatre, 55 NE Farragut St., pinkhanky.org. 7:30 pm Friday, Nov. 18. $15 advance, $20 day of show.

The Oregon Trail’s Views On Depression Are Old World

Portland Center Stage’s attempt to appeal to millennials isn’t exactly sly. The plot of the new comedy, The Oregon Trail, relies on nostalgic association with the floppy-disc computer game of the same name that was a staple of middle-school computer labs. Not only does The Oregon Trail feature an HBO-style lack of censorship (including a bare-vagina, bare-butt doggy style sex scene), but there’s also a photo booth outside the theater that suggests the play’s title for your hashtag.

Given the title of local playwright Bekah Brunstetter’s work, it could be easily mistaken for a period drama. And in the loosest sense possible, half of it is. Oscillating between 1848 and 2009, it’s a tale of two Janes: one a hopelessly depressed modern-day Oregonian (Sarah Baskin) and Jane’s great-great grandmother (Alex Leigh Ramirez), forced to follow the grueling Oregon Trail.

Propelled through time by a narrator (Leif Norby), Now Jane is a broke college grad kicked out of her parents’ house, unable to find a job and paralyzed with fear at even having to choose one. In a depressive stupor on the couch of her well-adjusted sister (Emily Yetter), Now Jane sits at her laptop and plays The Oregon Trail, craving distraction but instead gaining insights into her family’s history of depression.

But it’s never exactly called that. Now Jane is seen on the couch at all hours, promising to clean her space and never doing it, lying to her sister about spending the day searching for jobs, chugging whiskey from a bottle, sleeping all day, watching loud TV all night, neglecting personal hygiene, and talking to herself: “Get up. Get up right now. Now.

When Now Jane meets up for an ill-advised drink with her middle-school crush Billy (Chris Murray) and mentions she’s been “sort of depressed,” he says, “Like, clinically?” She denies it, panicked and embarrassed.

Other than this brief mention, Now Jane’s depression is only referred to as “sadness,” “melancholy” or an unnameable “weight” on her chest. Never is there mention of therapy or medication, despite several casual mentions of suicide.

The play’s fundamental concern with sadness makes its two central characters less dimensional. Then Jane’s rebellious negativity can be easily explained by the deaths of those she’s close to; Now Jane’s shoulder-slumped helplessness is the defining characteristic of her life. This feeling of flatness was in no way the fault of the actors, though: Baskin brings remarkable complexity to Now Jane’s character.

The Oregon Trail’s premise is fresh, and some parts are quite funny, but it misses the greatest opportunity it carves out for itself: a chance to really talk about depression. The play’s “somebody else had it worse” philosophy does not actually help depressed people—and neither does making light of hopelessness and poor life decisions, which The Oregon Trail does constantly. The play leaves its audience with the vague, unhelpful advice to just “continue on the trail.”

SEE IT: The Oregon Trail plays at Portland Center Stage, 128 NW 11th Ave., pcs.org. 7:30 pm Tuesday-Sunday, 2 pm Saturday-Sunday, noon Thursday, through Nov. 20. No 7:30 show Sunday, Nov. 13. $25-$70.

Speculative Drama’s Sparse Production of As You Like It Feels Abundant.

Basically every Shakespeare play has been set in basically every time period for no apparent reason. But with its production of As You Like It, Speculative Drama does pretty much the opposite—the time period seems intentionally nondescript. Some of the costumes are vaguely Victorian, others are explicitly modern. The set, too, is practically blank: just a crate in the middle of the stage and a plain black-curtain backdrop.

The bare-bones production suits the subject matter: exiled courtiers soaking up the freedom of their banishment to the Forest of Arden. Rosalind (Caitlin Lushington) dresses as a man for her voyage to the forest, accompanied by her cousin Celia (Megan Skye Hale) and the court jester Touchstone (Sean Bowie). When Rosalind’s crush, Orlando (Tim Fodge), shows up in Arden too, a gender-bending love triangle ensues.

Lushington’s performance is wide-eyed and emphatic; she makes all kinds of strange, expressive noises, and at one point literally cartwheels out of Orlando’s arms. The goofiness might seem over the top if she didn’t have such a charismatic character to play. The unabashed, giddily feminine orchestrator of much of the plot, Rosalind is one of Shakespeare’s most enthralling characters, and Lushington does her justice.

The biggest creative license the production takes is with Jaques (Zed Jones), who’s typically Arden’s grumbly killjoy. In this production, he turns most of his lines into double entendres and wears a constant flirty smile. There are times when it feels like some of Jaques’ depth is lost (like during his “all the world’s a stage” speech), but it’s entertaining and, in general, makes sense. Adam (Chris Porter) laughs at Orlando’s jokes when he’s starving to the point of collapse, Celia and Rosalind gleefully plan their banishment, and Jaques gets off on misery.

The actors in this production exude the play’s free-for-all ethos without the help of overly arty production. That ethos is perhaps best summed up by the epilogue Rosalind delivers, which loosely paraphrased and translated from Elizabethan English, can be summed up as this: Everybody go make out.

SEE It: As You Like It plays at the Steep and Thorny Way to Heaven, Southeast 2nd Avenue and Hawthorne Boulevard, thesteepandthornywaytoheaven.com. 7:30 pm Thursday-Saturday, through Nov. 26. $10-$22.

Defunkt Theatre’s Former Director Pleads No Contest To Theft Charges

Defunkt Theatre’s case against former executive director Lori Sue Hoffman was settled last Friday when Hoffman plead no contest to two charges of theft from the all volunteer theater.

RELATED: Former executive director of Defunkt Theatre arrested 

This past May, Hoffman was indicted with 10 counts of theft (eight of which were felony charges) to which she initially plead not guilty. The theater’s board members removed Hoffman from her position because of the thefts, which occurred between 2010 and 2015. Hoffman worked for the nonprofit theater since it was founded in 2000, first as its costume designer before becoming executive director in 2009.

According to Defunkt’s co-artistic director Andrew Klaus-Vineyard, Hoffman stole around $50,000 for personal rent, massages, vacations and dinners. “This was a friend who took advantage of us in a very predatory way,” says Klaus-Vineyard. “We’re just really glad that this all over and that she can’t do this to anyone else.”

RELATED: In the rubble of the American Dream, Hir looks toward the future 

Defunkt Theatre, which runs out of a back room in Common Grounds coffee shop, is currently in its 17th season. The company just wrapped up their production of Taylor Mac’s Hir, and have productions of That Pretty Pretty; Or, The Rape Play and a double bill of Trifles and Dutchmen slated for 2017.   

A Play About Women Scientists Still Brings Up Boy Problems

The How and the Why sparks to life midway through the first scene. It’s there that Sarah Treem’s play, directed by Philip Cuomo for CoHo Productions, arrives at its central subject: the possibly contradictory theories of two evolutionary biologists. One of these biologists is Zelda (Karen Trumbo), a 50-something professor who made herself famous with an award-winning theory 30 years before, and the other is young graduate student Rachel (Gwendolyn Duffy), who has a radical new hypothesis to propose. Through the lens of their science, the two women—whose exact relationship is only explicitly revealed late in the first act, but is fairly immediately obvious—end up debating their contrasting positions on feminism, careers, love and life.

Zelda is a woman who chose her career over everything. But she is neither shamed for it, nor brought to a state of teary regret over her apparently loveless past. Roles like Zelda are lacking for women in theater, and Trumbo proves what a loss this lack is with her powerful but sensitive performance.

However, Treem’s two halves are almost fatally lopsided. Wise, circumspect Zelda is always right, while the arrogant, uptight Rachel is always wrong, and this lack of genuine moral or intellectual grappling (with the exception of the scientific discussions) makes the second act drag. While it’s thrilling to see two female characters pursuing serious scientific careers, it’s disappointing they aren’t allowed to do so from more equal positions; disappointing, too, that though the debates about their theories and careers are by far the most compelling sections, the play can’t resist returning to questions about men and romance.

Despite that lagging feeling, and the fact that the play is just two long scenes separated by an intermission, Cuomo keeps things moving at a brisk pace. Trumbo’s performance should not be missed, and there is much to admire in Treem’s interest in scientific women. But admiration for Treem’s intent ultimately makes it all the more frustrating that she does not build a more balanced, messy conflict for her characters to inhabit.

SEE IT: The How and the Why plays at Coho Productions, 2257 NW Raleigh St., cohoproductions.org. 7:30 pm Thursday-Saturday, 2 pm Sunday, through Nov. 19. $20-$28. 

A New Theater Company Makes Their Debut With A Play That Features Dead Babies and Dildos

For its first production, the Beirut Wedding World Theatre Project chose a setup that’s promisingly weird. In Reborning, Kelly (Tiffany Groben) designs lifelike baby dolls for parents whose children died in infancy. But when Kelly reveals her backstory early in the play (directed by company co-artistic director and co-founder Bobby Bermea), things get weird in a less compelling way.

As a baby, Kelly was thrown into a dumpster. Her fingerprints were Dranoed off and she was stabbed multiple times. It’s a backstory that’s so over the top, it almost feels like it’s intentionally too much. What’s strange about Reborning, though, is the tone feels incredibly serious even when you’d suspect a sense of irreverent irony.

Reborning deals mostly with Kelly’s strained relationships with her boyfriend Daizy (a gifted dildo designer played by Murri Lazaroff-Babin) and Emily (Jana Lee Hamblin), one of Kelly’s clients. The characters’ backstories seem to definitively explain their interactions instead of giving them depth: Kelly’s adoptive parents were plastic surgeons, which seems like some rather heavy-handed foreshadowing of her future career creating fake babies. The play is filled with references to Freud, which seems like it could be a meta joke about the backstories that doesn’t totally land.

That’s mainly because it’s hard to tell exactly where the play is coming from. At times, it feels like it’s indiscriminately cramming in edgy subjects: dead babies, dildos, drug abuse, creepy baby dolls, jarring music during scene changes. But the edginess often feels like attempts to be progressive that have fallen short. Take Kelly, for instance. It’s admirable that the play gives a spotlight to a woman who’s been through some serious shit. Getting left in a dumpster as a baby spawned a life that’s not easy: crippling OCD, alcohol abuse, and a past heroin addiction. But the fact most of her character traits can be explained by her backstory make it seem like her troubled past is her only defining feature, and stunts her ability to be seen as a complex character.

It would be fine if the play wasn’t interested in challenging conventions, but it does seem like Reborning has conceptual questions it wants to raise. One of the play’s early scenes involves a Freudian discussion between Kelly and Daizy about Kelly’s strange occupation. But the thematic deliberation takes a back seat to Daizy clowning around the stage with an oversized dildo and miming getting head from one of the synthetic babies. However, as the play progresses, Kelly’s mental health and her relationships with the other two characters become more and more strained, which makes it hard to believe the play sees itself as any less than very serious.

Even so, the play implies plenty of hope for the new theater company’s future. It’s promising that Reborning seems like it really wants to push boundaries. It’s just confusing which boundaries it’s going for.

SEE IT: Reborning plays at Action/Adventure Theatre, 1050 SE Clinton St., beirutwedding.org. 7:30 pm Thursday-Sunday, through Nov. 20. $15-$20.

According To Its Director, Bright Half Life’s Script Is Seriously Daunting

Rebecca Lingafelter’s first response to Bright Half Life was confusion.

“I read it almost a year and a half ago, and at first I was like, ‘What’s happening? What’s happening?’” she says of Tanya Barfield’s play, which she’s directing at Profile Theatre.

Her reaction isn’t surprising. Like a VHS tape being rewound and fast-forwarded over the course of 46 turbulent years, Bright Half Life journeys restlessly through time, forging a seemingly disjointed path from 1985 to 2031. Yet ultimately Lingafelter realized that “the puzzle pieces of the narrative that Tanya’s written start to come together. By the end, I was weeping.”

She probably won’t be the only one. Bright Half Life—which opens at Profile on Saturday—is about the ecstasies and agonies of a romance between Erica (Chantal DeGroat) and Vicky (Maureen Porter) that endures through both marriage and parenthood, only to collapse in divorce. It’s a daunting narrative for a director to tackle. “The script is one of the most challenging I’ve ever worked on,” Lingafelter says. “It asks for a kind of virtuosity that’s physical, mental and emotional.”

That virtuosity is demanded by Barfield’s decision to move fluidly through time, shuffling non-chronologically through key moments in Vicky and Erica’s relationship, whether they’re skydiving or standing in an elevator. To make sense of it all, Lingafelter relied on a timeline of events that Barfield created, although Barfield’s production notes on the play may have added as many challenges as they alleviated.

“She puts in the production notes that there should be minimal sets and no props,” Lingafelter points out. Cue scenic designer Peter Ksander, who dreamt up a set that was minimalist but still served the emotional trajectory of Vicky and Erica’s lives. “The set is essentially a blue square in the middle of a void,” Lingafelter explains. “It’s as if a blue searchlight had just pinpointed this particular spot to find these two women and their story.”

Of course, like many of Barfield’s plays, Bright Half Life is also a politicized story that reaches beyond the inner lives of its characters. For Lingafelter and her team, that meant conducting research, “particularly on the gay rights movement.” Lingafelter also thinks Bright Half Life is political because it’s being performed during a volcanic election season. “In this time of divisiveness and vitriol…to spend an evening with two people who are doing everything they can to live in communion with another person is pretty special—and kind of radical right now,” she believes.

Bright Half Life also marks the beginning of the end of a journey for Profile—it’s the last full play of the theater’s season devoted to the work of Barfield, who grew up in Portland. But despite its focus on the withering of Erica and Vicky’s marriage, Bright Half Life is not a downbeat note, as the title’s reference to particle decay suggests. As Lingafelter puts it, with a metaphorical flourish that sums up Vicky and Erica’s compassion for each other: “The beautiful thing about particle decay is that as particles decay, they give off light.”

SEE IT: Bright Half Life plays at Profile Theatre, 1507 SW Morrison St., profiletheatre.org. 7:30 pm Wednesday-Saturday, 2 pm Sunday, Oct. 29-Nov. 13. Additional show 11 am Wednesday, Nov. 2. $20-$36.

Get to Know the Subjects of Decades Old Suicide Obituaries In This One Man Show

In some ways, From the Envelope of Suicides feels like a Sunday sermon without God. In his investigation of suicide obituaries, storyteller and showrunner Ben Moorad attempts to challenge the apathy of a readership who saw the deaths as little more than tragic headlines. Moorad humanizes the dead, but he stops short of honoring, or disapproving of, their exit route.

This six-show performance series explores suicide attempts from the point of view of archaic obituaries and news clippings from Connecticut newspapers collected between 1941 and 1948. Moorad reads a few of the clippings aloud while a couple of men dressed for a funeral play light, melancholic beats at his side, occasionally reading articles themselves. A projector screen resurrects the stories, accompanied by photos of the deceased, their houses, businesses and neighborhoods.

In the series’ second show, Moorad mainly invests his time in getting to know these strangers, having extensively researched their lives and subsequent rationales for death. In one story, a woman named Anna, depicted as an unstable housewife, attempts to swallow poison in her husband’s bar, and reactionary local police prescribe her a “milk chaser” in order to calm her system. In another article, Anna makes a different attempt on her life, slashing her arms, and police chalk it up to a “relationship squabble.” It’s hinted that this relationship was abusive, yet the town insists on seeing her as an overly emotional laughingstock, unfit for domesticity. Touches of misogyny ensue, in a way lending support for her actions.

Not all the highlighted suicide attempts were successful. Moorad ends episode two with the story of a woman whose unsuccessful suicide attempt allowed her another 40 years of life. The failure is portrayed as a happy ending, which complicates Moorad’s attempts earlier in the show to legitimize what led the obituaries’ subjects to suicide. It creates a challenging dichotomy between the sanctity of life and the sanctity of the will to take it. Envelopes of Suicides seem to ask: Can suicide be both right and wrong? Since Moorad doesn’t provide an answer, the audience is left to answer this question for themselves.

SEE IT: From the Envelopes of Suicides plays at Shout House, 210 SE Madison St., envelopeofsuicides.com. 7 pm Thursday, Oct. 27-Nov. 17. $10.

LineStorm Playwright’s First Event Featured Ten Minute Plays Set In Ten Portland Locations

If Portland In Play hoped to create a patchwork portrait of Portland, this is what it looks like: debates about being PC at food carts, spacey new age therapists, Bernie Sanders tramp stamps, homeless sages, hikers tripping on shrooms, cycling nurses, and illegal immigrant workers replacing the carpet at PDX.

Portland In Play is the first event held by the writers collective LineStorm Playwrights (formerly P-Town Playwrights). Ten playwrights wrote one ten-minute play, each located in a different part of Portland. Weaving a complete narrative in such a short time isn’t easy, and most of the playwrights seemed to answer the challenge with emotional topics: suicide, dementia, homelessness, or coming out as transgender in a seemingly heterosexual relationship. But there was a pervasive sense of humor—often in the form of Portland stereotypes—even in the plays that deal with the heaviest topics. 

The most distinct part of Portland In Play was its stripped-down production value. A narrator read stage directions; the actors glanced down at scripts on podiums, and there were no lighting changes or sound effects. The actors who weren’t performing sat in a row of chairs at the back of the stage and laughed and cried at the plays along with the rest of the audience. The stripped-down style allowed the emphasis to be on the playwriting, as well as allowed the actors to play with the dissonance between what was written and what you actually saw. The actors could choose to stretch their miming abilities or setup a kind of deadpan punchline (like Michael Teufel and Enrique Eduardo do when they portrayed participants in the Naked Bike Ride despite clearly being clothed).

Even though all the plays were at the very least funny or intriguing, the quality of the individual plays seems almost irrelevant. Ultimately, it’s just awesome that Portland In Play exists: New work from local playwrights in an interesting and creatively challenging format.

SEE IT: LineStorm Playwrights will hold Short & Sweet  at Hipbone Studios as part of Fertile Ground in January. Check out their website for updates on events.

Kristina Wong’s One-Woman Show Takes On Internet Activists And White Privilege

Kristina Wong didn’t know what it was like to be white until she spent a month in Uganda. The Wong Street Journal is part standup, part TED Talk and part hip-hop show, and centers on her Uganda visit. Wong, who is Chinese American, claims she was treated “like a white woman for three weeks,” and suddenly found herself “the beneficiary of American colonialism and privilege.”

WW: What was your background with encountering white privilege in the States before visiting Uganda?
Kristina Wong: Right before I left, I wrote these xoJane articles about white guys and Asian fetishes. I had briefly dated this white guy who argued that Trayvon Martin was as likely to be shot for being black as he was for having tattoos. I tagged this guy in the post of the article—because he was an idiot. He still doesn’t understand how he shouldn’t have equated his situation to a black kid getting shot. So, I outed him as a fetishist. But, with this show, I don’t want to stand onstage and yell at white people for what they’ve done wrong.

What was this privilege like in Uganda?
My second day in Gulu in Northern Uganda, I made a rap album. I met these boys in the street, and they invited me back to their music studio. I got pegged for a music career because they saw me as somebody who could give them publicity as a “mzungu,” or white person. One of the boys told me that he thought he deserved a mzungu wife due to his music. I had many experiences where children would gather around me and sit on my lap just so others could see.

How did Twitter play a role in your visit?
People unfriended me while I was there by telling me that my visit was “problematic.” The character I’m setting up in the show is Kristina Wong before she leaves for Uganda, but she’s this activist who’s always fighting people on her iPad. I don’t want to create a show where everybody comes after me; I want to be honest about how naive I was. I thought the best way to confront this would be by becoming the person who would protest it before it would even go up.

You recently said in an xoJane article that you thought life was supposed to be miserable as a Chinese American via Wong Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Do you find being a comedian depressing?
I don’t want to belittle people who are actually bipolar, but doing theater is like giving birth. When women describe postpartum…that’s what it’s like. Everybody leaves the theater, and you’re kind of alone. The nature of survival in this profession can come with a lot of lows.

What’s your best coping mechanism for dealing with online hate?
You need to exercise being your biggest critic. In some countries, we’ve seen revolutions enacted by Twitter. It’s not a completely useless thing. I’ve seen a lot of activists hate themselves. That’s why I do theater—you are allowed to see the whole process of how you keep getting it wrong, and then sometimes you get it right. I think that’s what we’re missing with online activism.

SEE IT: The Wong Street Journal plays at the Headwaters Theatre, 55 NE Farragut St., boomarts.org. 7:30 pm Thursday-Sunday, Oct. 20-23. $20.