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BWW Preview: 9 Shows I'm Excited About at Fertile Ground 2017


The past few weeks have been tough for theatre. A series of winter storms have effectively shut down the city. I've had three shows canceled, and as I write this we're under a sheet of ice! Fortunately, that's all about to change, and with the warmer temperatures will come one of my favorite PDX festivals: Fertile Ground. A full 11 days of brand new works by artists both veteran and new on the scene.

Coordinating your Fertile Ground schedule isn't easy. Unless you have a time-turner, there's no way to see them all. And, this year, everything sounds pretty great. Here are 9 shows at the top of my list.

1980's Teen Musical (Staged reading)

A musical set in 1989 at John Hughes High, where Samantha, a social outcast, has to make friends with all of the "Teen Supermodels, Vision-Questing Jocks, Fame Dancers, Rising Pop Singers, Real Genius Nerds and Rebellious Idealists." Sounds awesome, right? Even more awesome is that this musical is put on by Staged!, a training program for aspiring young musical actors. I've seen these students in action before, and they're amazing.

Festival Dates: January 27, 28 @ 7pm

Atlantis (Fully staged world premiere)

One of the highlights of last year's festival for me was Broken Planetarium's feminist musicAl Frankenstein: A Cabaret. Now, they're back with a new folk opera based on the myth of Atlantis. The shows this creative team puts on are completely original, thought-provoking, and fun to watch. I'm game for anything they do.

Festival Dates: Jan 19, 22 @ 8pm; Jan 20 @ 10pm; Jan 21 @ 1:30pm

Additional Run Dates: Jan 18 @ 8pm

Badge of Honor (Reading)

This play by Tim Blough just won the 2017 Portland Civic Theatre Guild New Play Award. In it, two friends who haven't seen each other for years meet again to discuss an event that happened years ago, but which they remember differently. Blough said the play is "the result of my being bombarded with the different forms of media, from reality TV to biased news and various platforms of social media." Certainly one of the biggest issues of the day.

Festival Dates: Jan 23 @ 7:30pm; Jan 24 at 10:30am

Blind (Staged reading)

I missed Bonnie Ratner's play at Fertile Ground last year, and I'm not going to make that mistake again! This play, set in 1960s Brooklyn, tells the story of a Jewish merchant (based on Ratner's father) who operates his store behind a locked door and won't let black males in alone. When Millie sees the merchant deny entrance to a young man just interested in some slippers for his mom, she decides to intervene in the best way possible -- through human connection.

Festival Dates: Jan 28 @ 1pm; Jan 29 @ 7:30pm

Carnivora (Fully staged world premiere)

Theatre Vertigo is one of my favorites for putting on unique, edgy productions, and this one promises not to disappoint. From the press release: "A woman awakes, screaming inside a burlap sack. She crawls out, bloody and battered to find she's in a clearing in the Ozarks. She believes the world has ended, but remembers little. And so begins a nightmarish journey of discovery....A savage, suspenseful and moving exploration, Carnivora exposes the desperation of the 21st Century as madness and beauty intertwine in this new era of uncharted territory for humanity..."

Festival Dates: Jan 20, 21, 22, 25, 26, 27, 28 @ 7:30pm; Jan 29 @ 2pm

Additional Run Dates: Feb 2, 3, 4, 5, 9, 10, 11, 12, 16, 17, 18 @ 7:30pm; Feb 5, 12 @ 2pm

DB (Fully staged world premiere)

This was my favorite play at JAW a few years ago, and I am very excited that CoHo Productions is producing it! D.B. is based on the story of D.B. Cooper, a "nondescript" man who hijacked a plane in 1971 and then parachuted into a snow storm over Mount Rainier. It's one of the greatest unsolved mysteries in the United States (which the FBI recently stopped investigating). The show speculates about who D.B. really was and the effects of what he did.

Festival Dates: Jan 19, 20, 21, 26, 27, 28 @ 7:30pm; Jan 22, 29 @ 2pm

Additional Run Dates: Jan 13, 14 @ 7:30pm; Jan 15 @ 2pm; Feb 2, 3, 4 @ 7:30pm

Left Hook (Staged reading)

Portland has a long history of displacing its African American communities. Left Hook, a play by Rich Rubin presented by the Vanport Mosaic combines four real events (including the Emanuel Hospital expansion that razed 300 homes and businesses, but never actually happened) in Portland's history into a fictionalized account centering around a local boxing club. As we deal with gentrification that's pricing a lot of people out of their neighborhoods today, the perspective this play provides will be important.

Festival Dates: Jan 20, 21 @ 7:30pm; Jan 21, 22 @ 2pm

Men Run Amok (or It Takes Balls)

Many recent events (i.e., President-elect Donald Trump's pussy-grabbing statements, Rep. Mark Meadows's attempts to get rid of campus sexual assault rules) have shown that it remains a man's world. Written by Steve Perkins and Jim Menges, Men Run Amok (or It Takes Balls) is a series of three plays that look at the entitlement bestowed upon men and what they've done with it.

Festival Dates: Jan 22, 23, 24 @ 7:30pm

Stories from Maclaren Correctional Facility (Workshop)

For the past 6 years, Francesca Piantadosi has been conducting a playwriting workshop for incarcerated boys ages 12 to 24 at the Maclaren Youth Correctional Facility. (The recidivism rate for the boys who take her class? 0%.) They have eight weeks of classes, and then professional actors go into the facility to perform the original works. This is the first time any of these works will be performed outside of the facility walls.

Festival Dates: Jan 20, 21, 27, 28 @ 7:30pm

Get tickets for all of these and more on the Fertile Ground website. See you there!

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