Fertile Ground 2019 is literally ending on a high note with an array of plays that includes several striking musicals. The Broken Planetarium's Sirens of Coos Bay is a rock-and-roll revamp of The Little Mermaid, Holly Yurth Harmon's Welcome to Zion uses song to take us inside the mind of a tormented gay Mormon and Lily Valentine Productions' disconnected: a frankenstein musical is exactly what it sounds like—except when it isn't.
You can see a reading of Sirens at 7:00 pm tonight at Mother Foucault's Bookshop. Set during the '90s in and around—where else?—Coos Bay, the play chronicles the romantic tribulations of L.M., a mermaid who falls for a kindly, miserable musician. The real highlight of the show, however, are the scenes featuring L.M.'s fellow mermaids, which include some gleefully ribald dialogue (during a conversation about interspecies love affairs, one of the mermaids declares that crab pincers make "excellent nipple clamps").
The dialogue of Welcome to Zion is more restrained, but no less clever. With clear-eyed compassion, the play explores the pain of simultaneously being a believer and being in the closet, most effectively in a scene where the protagonist alternates between saying blessings and singing about the anguish of keeping his sexuality a secret. Only one act of Welcome to Zion was ready for Fertile Ground, but what I saw was moving and insightful enough to make me want more.
I also want more of disconnected, which has another reading coming up 2:00 pm Sunday at Resound NW. Featuring music and lyrics by Chris Rentzel and a book by Gayle Towell, the play is a remarkably progressive take on Mary Shelley's tale of a man who unleashes a monster. For the most part, disconnected isn't about men it all—it's about Vicky (Lydia Fleming), who revives her comatose friend Heather (Trishelle Love) using futuristic technology and pays a grisly price.
As with Welcome to Zion, only one act of disconnected is being presented at the festival. Yet Rentzel's rousing music and the compelling cast make for a riveting performance—one that will continue at next year's Fertile Ground, when the rest of the play will be unveiled.
There are plenty of promising Fertile Ground shows to savor this weekend, including Anne Zander's JUICEBOX (which was inspired by diary entries Zander wrote as a teenager), Stephanie Alison Walker's Friends With Guns (about two liberal couples and a garage filled with firearms), Warren McPherson's You Were Supposed to Be This Great Thing (an autobiographical one-man show about, among other things, growing up Catholic) and Rogue Pack's Creating Life Inside (which was written by kids ages 15-17 at the Donald E. Long Juvenile Detention Center).
So get out there and seem some performances—and then start getting pumped up for Fertile Ground 2020.
SEE IT: Fertile Ground runs through Feb. 3 at multiple venues. Visit fertilegroundpdx.org for a complete schedule.