In a small corner room of Lidia Yuknavitch’s Milwaukie home—walls and ceiling painted navy, windows draped—the author sits barefoot at her computer with a glass of white wine. A baffling assortment of knickknacks adorns the desktop: a small rubber chicken, a bottle of Balvenie Scotch, a box full of glass eyes.
“I’m deeply connected to ritual and talismans and smells and trinkets, and I have to have it like this,” Yuknavitch says. “I’ve built it, this ritualized or over-ritualized pleasure zone. I have to have my creatures and my people near me or I literally can’t do it. I’m hoping that’s normal.”
Yuknavitch’s revealing memoir, The Chronology of Water, brought her a new level of fame, which she followed with the novel Dora: A Headcase. She’s working on two more novels based on Joan of Arc and Mary Shelley. “I think it took writing the memoir to make me want to tell stories about women who free themselves from their own story,” Yuknavitch says. “It felt like I freed a girl trapped in her own past.” And with that, she takes a sip of wine and returns to her ritual. PENELOPE BASS.
In a leafy garden on Northeast Prescott Street, a tuneful rendition of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” rings out. It’s a strange song for an unusually muggy summer day, but these 16 actors—mostly young, some barefoot, a few smoking cigarettes—are at callbacks for Portland Playhouse’s winter production of A Christmas Carol. It’s the first time the 6-year-old company has produced a holiday show, and based on the auditions, it’s unlikely to be a traditional affair.
“I’m reading for Scrooge,” says Jennifer Rowe, who’d first expressed interest in the role of Belle—Scrooge’s spurned girlfriend. Also reading for Scrooge is Jason Rouse, a big-bellied actor with sideburns just a notch slimmer than Elvis’. Inside, Rouse runs a scene, conveying Scrooge’s frustration with theatrical bombast. Director Cristi Miles, a petite woman with an intense gaze and kind voice, cuts off Rouse. “Sit down,” she says softly. “Keep your voice in the lower register. Don’t yell until you have to yell. You’re only allowed to yell three times. Three times!” REBECCA JACOBSON.
To say the corner of Southwest 3rd Avenue and Ankeny Street is a hot spot for busking would be an understatement: the line at Voodoo Doughnut means there’s nearly always an audience.
Armed with a guitar and saw, two road-worn 20-somethings set up a piece of cardboard advertising their name—Itchy On the Fence—and writhe their way through a gypsy-folk rendition of Tom Waits’ “Tango Till They’re Sore.” A young dad in Ray-Bans and a Michigan Law T-shirt chuckles as his toddler bursts into an erratic dance routine you might see at a Lady Gaga concert. He tosses a crumpled $5 bill into the open guitar case.
“Busking in Portland can be very lucrative,” says Nicole, the 28-year-old saw player. “It’s very competitive, but we’ve been fortunate enough to grab a lot of attention.” PETE COTTELL.
Geahk Burchill’s St. Johns studio is a mere six blocks from his apartment, but this windowless space might as well be his home. “I spend most of my waking time here,” says the self-described introvert. Burchill is a perfectionist maker of marionettes, gorgeously macabre wooden puppets that he carefully carves, paints and costumes. His Castiron Carousel Marionette Troupe makes puppet theater that is, in Burchill’s words, “dark, creepy, haunting, beautiful and surreal.” It is, he adds, “definitely not for kids.”
His marionettes are remarkable. A female puppet looks like a scarier Tim Burton illustration sprung to life, with a dour face, frighteningly long neck and ruffled black skirt that lifts to reveal four articulated, spiderlike legs. A hare, each bit of fur represented by a precise notch, has had one haunch replaced by a cold mechanical limb. A little girl with pink ballet slippers and purple Princess Leia-style buns has a greenish, knobby lobster claw in place of her left arm.
Tonight, Burchill, who has white-blond eyebrows and eyelashes, works on the puppets for an upcoming play called The Doom That Came to Fiddle Creak, a supernatural tale that H.P. Lovecraft might have written had he been reared on Appalachian folklore. Burchill sharpens his blade against a leather strop and picks up the head of a marionette, a young man named Jack Thursbane. With confident flicks, Burchill gives Jack ears, eye sockets and cheekbones. “There’s lots and lots of hours of this, but it’s incredibly meditative,” he says. “There’s a reason you always see old folks whittlin’ on porches.” REBECCA JACOBSON.
A warehouse is shaking in a remote corner of Northeast Portland. It starts with a rumble. Beats reverberate. The floor trembles. Drummers spin and dance. Cymbals clang as a man lurches through the ensemble like a drunken jester. In the back, a duo hammers on the same large drum. With a loud “Ha!” drumsticks are raised and everything falls quiet: all in praise of Amaterasu, goddess of the sun.
Tonight, Portland Taiko prepares for its 19th season, which begins Oct. 12 with a show titled Making Waves. “It’s one of the most empowering experiences because it’s a full-body experience,” says artistic director Michelle Fujii. “It can take you on so many different spiritual paths.” RICHARD GRUNERT.
Floyd’s Coffee Shop in Old Town is filled with bearded
guys in skirts and women with neon-dyed, Hitler Youth haircuts. The
walls are hung with glittery latch-hook portraits of the Golden Girls.
Tonight’s variety show is almost over.
Burlesque performer Baby Le’Strange (aka Megan Buday) slinks onstage wearing a huge hot-dog bun as if it’s a floor-length parka. Ratty fuschia hair askew, she looks drunk and ready to ride someone. As the Stooges’ “I Wanna Be Your Dog” plays, she removes the bun to reveal a sparkling red gown, and seconds later, a similarly sparkling G-string. She gyrates her hips and gives her best O-face to the audience. Then she prepares for her raunchiest magic trick: From between her legs, she pulls long, glittery strands—mustard, relish and ketchup.
“I have no couth,” Buday says afterwards. “One of these days I want to be a squirting cream Twinkie. I need to figure out a way to put a pastry bag in my vagina and squirt.” AARON SPENCER.