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Review: Art Examines Power and Privilege in Shaking the Tree's SALT, a Multimedia Act of Resistance

Review: Art Examines Power and Privilege in Shaking the Tree's SALT, a Multimedia Act of Resistance

When you walk into the Shaking the Tree warehouse, one of the first installations you encounter is Chris Ringkamp's "The Lottery of Birth." This simple piece brilliantly illustrates the reigning structure of power and privilege in the United States. Here's how it works: you get a coin and a scratch-off ticket with four sections to scratch. To win, you need to match all four attributes: white, straight, male, and rich. If you're a winner, you place your ticket on a small gold pedestal that sits atop a tower. If you lose, your ticket goes into the tower. The night I took my chances, there were only one or two tickets on the winner's pedestal, while hundreds of tickets (including mine) formed a growing pile of losers underneath.

"The Lottery of Birth" is one of the eight pieces that make up SALT, which is a collection of installations about civil disobedience inspired by Mahatma Gandhi's Salt March speech. Although there is no particular order to the installations, the lottery provides a fitting framework for them -- the other pieces all explore the real-world consequences of not matching all four winning criteria.

So, what exactly is SALT? It's not a play. Shaking the Tree describes it as "more like an exhibition, although there are performance pieces within the exhibition itself." It's a gallery that you wander around, interacting with and experiencing the different works, which include short (12-ish minute) performance pieces, a short film, art installations, and video projections. In short, there's something for everybody.

Since this is a theatre review, I'll focus on the performance pieces, most of which grapple with what it means to be a woman in our country. Beth Thompson, who brings an intense vulnerability to all of her roles, outdoes herself in "Container/Contained," a powerful piece about reproductive choice and female identity. I watched it twice. Anya Pearson's "Above a Whisper" combines spoken word, dance, and visual art into a haunting work on sexual harassment and abuse, while "Jane Cleaver's Bitch in Kitchen" bitingly blasts Mario Batali for his ill-conceived sexual misconduct apology letter, complete with cinnamon roll recipe. They were all excellent.

SALT is one of those unique events that makes the Portland theatre scene so dynamic. I highly recommend you check it out. The Warehouse is open for 3 hours at a time -- you can arrive and leave anytime you like, but plan to spend about 1½ to 2 hours taking it all in.

SALT runs this weekend only. Details and tickets here.

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