Executing Fertile Ground properly demands a leap of faith.
Started by the Portland Area Theatre Alliance in 2009, the festival focuses entirely on new works and showcases established artistic brands, but its greatest wonders are often the ones you don't see coming. Take last year's Leaving Manzanita, a detective story by the young playwright Maeve Z, whose soulful writing put many of her adult contemporaries to shame.
Many of the same artists who lit up the 2019 edition of Fertile Ground made this year's list of the festival's most enticing offerings. But in the spirit of the whole affair's sublime unpredictability, some wild cards are also included—shows that might seem a gamble but could leave you thinking, "Thank goodness I didn't miss that."
A year after they rocked Fertile Ground with the riotous Men in Comfortable Pants at the Hi-Falutin' Pomegranate Hotel, playwright-performers Tobin Gollihar and Ian Paul Sieren return with this dark comedy about a family in free fall, set in 1974. The duo resurrects their signature storytelling style, which combines improvisation with a planned narrative. Expect Dearly Departed to be an epic of well-managed craziness.
Performance Works NW, 4625 SE 67th Ave. 7 pm Wednesday-Friday, Jan. 29-31 and Feb. 5-7. $10-$15.
Lunch with LineStorm
Readings get a bad rap from theater critics, but they can be a hot ticket when the right talent is involved. This series features the work of E.M. Lewis, who wrote the astounding five-hour Antarctic odyssey Magellanica, and Sara Jean Accuardi, whose airport-set drama The Delays was one of the highlights of last year's Fertile Ground.
Chapel Theatre, 4107 SE Harrison St., Milwaukie. Noon daily, Jan. 30-Feb.9. Free.
8-24-9 (Secret Asian Man)
The subtle charisma of Samson Syharath is always entrancing, whether he's playing a ghost hunter in The Brothers Paranormal or the victim of a surreal kidnapping in A Map of Virtue. 8-24-9—a one-person movement piece about the Lao American experience that he created in collaboration with choreographer and dancer Minh Tran—promises to push his talents into fascinating new realms.
Orchards of 82nd Community Space, 8188 SE Division St. 7:30 pm Friday and Sunday, Jan. 31 and Feb. 2; Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 8-9. $5-$20.
The Roosevelts' Women
Emphasis on the plural possessive. This staged reading of Thomas and Craig Mason's play, which they wrote with Annie Leonard, chronicles the extramarital affairs of Franklin D. and Eleanor Roosevelt, who historians believe had a romantic relationship with Lorena Hickok, a journalist who lived in the White House.
Hipbone Studio, 1847 E Burnside St., No. 104. Noon Sunday, Feb. 2. $10.
Itch, The Magic Fish, Terran's Aquarium
Many of Fertile Ground's rising stars have something in common: They're puppets! This year, multiple shows use puppetry in unique ways. Eve Johnstone's Itch, about three women and their experiences with self-harm, features sock and finger puppets; The Magic Fish revives Punch and Judy techniques and riffs on an Irish fairy tale; and Terran's Aquarium combines cuteness and environmentalism to illuminate the world's freshwater crisis.
Itch: The Siren Theater, 315 NW Davis St. 1 pm Sunday and Saturday, Feb. 2 and 8. $10.
The Magic Fish: Dining Room Event Stage at Taborspace, 5441 SE Belmont St. 5:30 pm Sunday, Feb. 2; 2 and 4 pm Sunday, Feb. 9. $5.
Terran's Aquarium: Portland Metro Arts, 9003 SE Stark St. 7 pm Friday, 2 and 7 pm Saturday and 2 pm Sunday, Feb. 7-9. $10-$15.
Recent Unsettling Events
A controversial Western civilization course destabilizes a liberal college campus in this staged reading of a play by Andrea Stolowitz, whose résumé includes masterpieces like The Berlin Diaries (a memoir in which she recounts the life of her great-grandfather, a Holocaust survivor) and Psychic Utopia (a devastatingly beautiful work about the history of communes in Oregon).
The Sanctuary at Sandy Plaza, 1785 NE Sandy Blvd. 10:30 am Tuesday, 7:30 pm Wednesday, Feb. 4-5. $10-$15.
The theater company Hand2Mouth knows how to craft a provocative play with kids in mind—last year, it unleashed the invigoratingly weird all-ages show Dream|Logic. Rough Riders, created with students from Roosevelt High School, plays to that strength, telling a story of gun violence and its relationship to a school that is "nowhere" and students and politicians who are "no one."
Roosevelt High School's Black Box Theatre, 6941 N Central St. 7:30 pm Saturday, Feb. 8. $10-$15.
Christmas With Truman
If you don't know why the words, "Oh my, it's fruitcake weather!" make many people weep, you haven't read A Christmas Memory, Truman Capote's short story about his relationship with his beloved cousin, Sook Faulk. Alisha Christiansen adapted that story and Capote's One Christmas to create Christmas With Truman, which is being presented as a staged reading featuring watercolor backdrops by Beth Peck.
Hipbone Studio, 1847 E Burnside St., No. 104. 9 pm Saturday, Feb. 8. $10.
SEE IT: The Fertile Ground Festival takes place at various venues, fertilegroundpdx.org. Showtimes vary noon-11 pm Thursday-Sunday, Jan. 30-Feb. 9. $70 for a festival pass, individual ticket prices vary.