It’s time again for the Portland Area Theatre Alliance’s grand annual experiment, the Fertile Ground Festival. This longstanding, citywide festival of new works provides space for a wide variety of performers—from established theater companies working the kinks out of a concept to health care professionals with something to say! The festival isn’t curated so there will be fluctuations in the quality and kinds of work on stage. And the fest raised the price of its pass this year: $70 gets you into any and every show (pace yourself, or don’t!), but many of the single tickets are still affordable (most are below $20, and many are free or pay-what-you-can). Sifting through the possibilities, here are a few that stick out as potentially fruitful.
Slumber Party to Dismantle the Patriarchy
More of an installation than a play, Hand2Mouth’s Slumber Party to Dismantle the Patriarchy promises face masks, patriarchal ghost stories, and dances performed in sleeping bags. When we spoke at a pre-festival press event, Liz Hayden, Erin Leddy, Maesie Speer, and Faith Helma all told me to “get in the bed” with them, which didn’t feel that special because the whole audience is invited. Slumber Party sounds intensely interactive and Hand2Mouth hopes to use the experience to gather material for a longer work which will be staged in May. (Tues Feb 4 & Wed Feb 5, 6:30 pm, Hand2Mouth/Shout House, pay what you can)
I know there are a bunch of people out there going positively wild for end-of-life planning—the spike in traffic we receive every time we write about Caitlin Doughty’s death acceptance organization the Order of the Good Death confirms it. And I also know from experience: Do the sad stuff when life isn’t sad because, when it’s sad, it’s so sad AND you’re doing sad stuff. Lumos Group’s Sitting Shiva is a 90-minute play about three brothers—a very promising cast of Michael Teufel, Doug Dean, and Dirk Foley—reconciling their different visions of their father as they mourn him. After the Sat February 8 & Sun February 9 shows, a medical ethicist will conduct a talkback about the work and end-of-life planning. (Sat Feb 1 & Sat Feb 8, 7:30 pm; Sun Feb 2 & Sun Feb 9, 2 pm, Shoebox Theater, $15-20)
There are two weekends of Echo Theater’s Interplay, with different 90-minute performances respectively. But Noelle Simone’s description of her piece, which will be part of the first weekend, engaged my empathy and curiosity most. Her Heavy Is the Head that Wears the Crown: Mental Health Memoirs of the Black Woman will seek to explore the compounding fatigue Black women navigate against the threat of an oppressive society, cruel messages from the media, and even their own lovers. Simone’s 20-minute dance piece will incorporate moments where she responds to these pressures, sometimes moving to music and sometimes to the words of men she’s recorded. (Fri Jan 31, Sat Feb 1, Fri Feb 7, Sat Feb 8, 8 pm; Sun Feb 2 & Sun Feb 9, 3 pm, Echo Theater, $15-28)
8-24-9 (Secret Asian Man)
During the Vietnam War, the US dropped more than two million tons of bombs on the country of Laos, which works out to the equivalent of being bombed every eight minutes, 24 hours a day, for nine years. Laotian American actor, director, and Theatre Diaspora co-founder Samson Syharath learned this history and these horrifying figures from his Airbnb host in Laos, who also owned a prosthetics shop. 8-24-9 is Syharath’s response to the conflict he feels over his dual identity, with one identity having perpetuated such damage to the other. The 40-minute script reading and following talkback will inform Syharath’s future collaboration with Reed College professor and choreographer Minh Tran on an associated movement piece, slated for performance in the summer. (Fri Jan 31, Sun Feb 2, Sat Feb 8, Sun Feb 9, 7:30 pm, Orchards of 82nd, $5-20)
When Ajai Tripathi told me he was writing a play about Osho (AKA Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh), my first thought was: “It must be a farce, right? Everyone was momentarily obsessed with that Wild Wild Country documentary on Netflix, so this must be a comedy about the charismatic cult leader.” But Tripathi surprised me with an earnest admission that he’s read all the Bhagwan’s written works and has been working on a play where—in less than an hour—he hopes to channel the sex guru Osho’s voice into his body. Tripathi’s playwriting is probably best recognized from his work with the Milagro Theatre Company, where he writes plays that the company tours for young audiences, like Mijita Fridita, and ¡Corre! ¡Corre! I still don’t really know if he’s putting me on, but, either way, this seems too bizarre to miss. (Sun Feb 2, 5 pm, Hipbone Studio, $10)