The new artistic director of Portland Center Stage moved through the season fundraiser casually. The sea of donators, actors and friends around him sipped their wine and marveled at the festive, loose and fun atmosphere. Clusters of balloons winked with hidden lights as they competed for space against the vast skylights of the building. Tables strained under small mountains of cheese, fruit and bread.
The artistic director found himself near a young man he didn’t know and tapped him on the shoulder, “You know how to do that?” he asked, referring to a man tap dancing while playing the saxophone. His eyes sparkled with mirth. “Nope,” I answered, “you?” Chris Coleman smiled and was gone as quickly as he had come, making even the poorest guest feel welcome.
I wasn’t the only one with a warm feeling, judging from the volume of wine glasses left behind as the crowd moved into the impressive Newmark Theater. The guests found their seats and applauded board member Julie Vigeland at the podium. She quickly voiced what the Portland community has been thinking all year; Chris Coleman is the best thing that has happened to Portland theater since the advent of actors. “He came here and eagerly learned about the community and in his first year Chris turned Portland Center Stage into a world class theater.”
James DePriest articulated it best from his wood-paneled perch on the balcony, “I would clearly be here every night … if I wasn’t somewhere else.” The crowd responded with a mirth-filled roar, knowing that DePriest is the Oregon Symphony director.
Chris Coleman made his entrance and grabbed the audience immediately with his quick humor and relentless wit. Looking around, I saw the crowd shared a goofy grin with Chris as he unveiled his plans for Portland Center Stage.
“This year was about expanding our communication. Next year we will continue to move forward!” He smiled again as if each member of the crowd was an old friend and they beamed back, enchanted with his vision.
Next, Coleman explained that theater lovers have a lot to look forward to. Opening the season will be “Gypsy” by Julie Styne, Arthur Laurents and Stephen Sondheim. “I had a dream, a wonderful dream, poppa.” A low whistle passed through the Newmark as they pondered the enduring musical.
Next comes the world premier of “Flesh and Blood” as adapted from the novel by Michael Cunningham. Goose bumps prickled across my arms as two actors introduced a story spanning from 1935 to 2035. “Wow,” is the only word describing the impression it left on me. With more eloquence, Coleman said, “Cunningham can bring you into the internal life of a story in a very poetic way.”
“A Christmas Carol” will once again grace Portland with its classic Christmas message. This time the story has been adapted by Peter Gaitan. “I came into “A Christmas Carol” thinking “Oh God!” When I saw this version … I fell in love.”
Coleman is very excited about January and the arrival of “The Seagull.” The first of four masterpieces by Anton Chekhov, this play is about a lot more than sea birds. He throws different generations of artists into a lavish country estate and lets the audience witness the lusts, dreams and ambitions that unfold.
Next comes, “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow Is ENUF.” Say that five times in a row. Written by Ntozake Shange, this tongue twister captures the world from a black female perspective.
The season will finish on a strong note with “Dirty Blonde” by Claudia Shear. This story revolves around Mae West, an entertainer who made a living by being obsessed with sex. Shear in turn was fixated with West and the story details two characters, Jo and Charlie, who share her interest. Light returned to the Newmark with a roar of satisfied chatter. The stately congregation moved back into the reception area and oriented themselves to Chris Coleman, waiting for a chance to express their pride in what he has created here in Portland.
“Great cities have great theater,” Board member Marilyn Jenson said. “Some people find oil, others don’t. Some theaters find Chris Coleman, others don’t!”