Portland Center Stage at the Armory Coriolanus Portland Oregon

DramaWatch: Your no-show of shows

“The show must go on…unless it shouldn’t.” What's up and what's off in theater amid COVID-19.


“The show must go on…unless it shouldn’t.”

That’s the aphoristic take from American Theatre magazine in an assessment of the industry’s response to the current public health crisis. But then, the article headlined “Theatres Stay Open but Make Backup Plans Amid COVID-19 Concerns” was published on Tuesday, March 10. Since then, the NBA has suspended all its games, and the concert companies Live Nation and AEG have suspended tours nationwide. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will not hold any public gatherings around the world until further notice. Disneyland is being closed.

The situation is changing fast.

On Wednesday, Oregon governor Kate Brown  announced a temporary ban on gatherings of more than 250 people. Accordingly, Oregon Shakespeare Festival and Portland Center Stage have canceled all performances through April 8, and Artists Rep has canceled its fundraising gala, which had been scheduled for this Saturday. Also on Thursday, Hand2Mouth Theatre announced that director Stepan Simek’s production Danse Macabre: The Testament of Francois Villon — which was to have been the featured subject for this column — has been postponed, and tentatively is being rescheduled for June. 

The past grows more distant: Because of social distancing recommended to slow the coronavirus pandemic, theater fans will have to wait until June to see Jean-Luc Boucherot in Danse Macabre: The Testament of Francois Villon. Boucherot and director Štěpán Šimek collaborated on the show about the late-medieval French poet. Photo: Sarah Marguier.

In one of its announcements, the NBA described proceeding from “an abundance of caution.” Yet at this point we don’t know if there can be caution enough. And, conversely, we don’t know what the cost of abundant caution might be. A line from a T Bone Burnett song creeps across my mind, “which is worse, we will ask, the medicine or the disease?”

To put that in theater-business terms, there’s this, from the American Theatre article:

“With ACT’s season-opening production of Sweat set to start previews on March 20, there are already concerns over how much public worry may affect the bottom line.


Cascadia Composers May the Fourth be with you Bold new music for winds and piano Lincoln Recital Hall PSU Portland Oregon

‘Ticket sales are way off,’ Benzler admitted, looking at numbers she had recently received. ‘Right now, we’re averaging about $243 a day in ticket sales for Sweat. To keep pace with our sales goal, we should be averaging $1,460 a day. That kind of gives you an idea of what the real business impact has been on the theatre.’”

As of this writing, some theaters remain open. But if you choose to venture out for a show, check the company website for updates or call the venue to make sure performances will be held.

The flattened stage

Perhaps it’s time to distract ourselves with something a bit lighthearted.
“Shall we?”
“Let’s shall!”



Twilight Theater opens A Feminine Ending, a Sarah Treem play that was workshopped in Portland Center Stage’s JAW festival in 2006 before a full PCS staging two years later. The story concerns a young musician whose stalled career and “hot mess” of a fiance bring on an early-life crisis over sexism, love and art. I recall that I didn’t much like it, but that was then, and an altogether different production. Dorinda Toner directs this one. 

The Ten Fifteen Theater in Astoria will stage Conor McPherson’s The Weir, a story of true-life hauntings in Ireland, cited by the great British critic Michael Billington as one of the 101 greatest plays of all time.

Ireland’s also the setting for Elaine Murphy’s Little Gem, the latest jewel from Readers Theatre Rep, in which three generations of Dublin women each face an emotional crisis tied to frail and feckless men in their lives.


Chamber Music Northwest Imani Winds and BodyVox Beautiful Everything The Reser Beaverton Oregon


Dominique Morisseau’s Pipeline, about a black high school student facing disciplinary action after getting into an altercation with one of his teachers at a ritzy private school, is one of those productions that seem to carry themselves with a sort of hardscrabble grace. That is, it comes across as powerful and well put-together, but doesn’t try to pretend that any part of it has come easy.

La’ Tevin Alexander (front) and Ramona Lisa Alexander in Dominique Morisseau’s affecting Pipeline at Portland Playhouse. Photo: ShawnteSims.

“Damaris Webb’s deeply felt staging lets us see Omari—given aching, vulnerable life by La’ Tevin Alexander—not only through the condemning footage and disciplinary systems likely to dehumanize him, but through the eyes of people who love him,” wrote Daniel Pollack-Pelzner in his review for ArtsWatch. For my part, I was moved by the respect that Morisseau shows for her characters, especially black teenagers — allowed an intellectual and emotional fullness such characters don’t often get onstage — and by the deeply attuned performances from Alexander and from Ramona Lisa Alexander as Omari’s stressed out but fiercely loving mother. 

Also due to end performances this weekend: defunkt theatre’s Bliss (or Emily Post Is Dead), Enlightened Theatrics’ First Date in Salem, and Oregon Contemporary Theatre’s The Roommate in Eugene. 

Best line I read this week

“Following the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to then-US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in 1973, Lehrer commented: ‘Political satire became obsolete.’ And in 2002 he remarked, still less optimistically: ‘Things I once thought were funny are scary now. I often feel like a resident of Pompeii who has been asked for some humorous comments on lava.’”

— from an article at Nature.com about songwriter-satirist Tom Lehrer

That’s all I have for now. I’ll try to do better the next time.

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Photo Joe Cantrell


Marty Hughley is a Portland journalist who writes about theater, dance, music and culture. His honors have included a National Arts Journalism Program fellowship at the University of Georgia, a fellowship at the NEA Arts Journalism Institute in Theater and Musical Theater at the University of Southern California, and first-place awards for arts reporting in the Society of Professional Journalists Pacific Northwest Excellence in Journalism Competitions. In 2013 he was inducted into the Oregon Music Hall of Fame for his contributions to the industry. A Portland native, Hughley studied history at Portland State University, worked at the alternative newsweekly Willamette Week in the late 1980s as pop music critic and arts editor, then spent nearly a quarter century at The Oregonian as a reporter, feature writer and critic. His recent freelance work has appeared in Oregon ArtsWatch, Artslandia and the Oregon Humanities magazine. He lives with his cat, and dies a little with each new setback to the Trail Blazers.

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