This year's Fertile Ground Festival is an exhilarating blizzard of new plays and performance art. With dozens of works by local artists premiering in every quadrant of the city, it's a festival where you might weep as you watch a woman recall her cancer diagnosis one day, then cackle when a clown bulldozes through the fourth wall the next.
That's what made the first weekend of Fertile Ground such an intoxicating experience. Many of the shows are still being developed, so they may have rough edges, but that only adds to their power. If there's one thing the works all have in common, it's a spirit of reckless and fearless experimentation.
Here are our favorite shows from the first half of Fertile Ground, plus the shows we're most looking forward to in the last days of the festival.
The High Captain
In the fascism-skewering satire, a crew from a petroleum barge ends up stranded on an island. There, they struggle to uphold Democratic ideals while guzzling gas fumes from paper bags. The contemporary parallels of the story are obvious—especially in a subplot about the ostracization of Jacob (Myles Lawrence)—but The High Captain is also a blissfully goofy escape to a bizarro land of skeleton worshippers, party-hat wearing pirates and purely absurd, over-the-top political battles.
True Love and Other Noncommunicable Diseases
There are no costumes or sets in Brianna Barrett's transcendent and autobiographical one-woman show about surviving love and cancer. Dressed in a gray, sleeveless coat, she simply stands before a computer and a television, using personal video footage and photos to usher us through her life moment by moment: hearing her diagnosis over the telephone, lying in bed, shopping for a wig. It's accompanied by Barrett's brazen and self-deprecating narration, which leaves you in awe of her boundless wit, strength, candor and lust for life.
Philip's Glass Menagerie
The story—about two siblings languishing under the thumb of a monstrous Southern matriarch—may be familiar. But with minimal dialogue and maximum silliness, director Philip Cuomo's riff on The Glass Menagerie uses an unlikely and delightful blend of clowning and Philip Glass music to create a tour de force of good-natured nonsense. The entire cast is a joy to watch, but the flighty Laura, Sascha Blocker steals the show by mining comedic gold from the likes of bubble blowing and plastic-unicorn hugging.
What to see during the second half of Fertile Ground:
Three Sisters, a witty and sweeping feminist adaptation of Chekhov's play. 7:30 pm Jan. 24-27, 2 pm Jan. 28.
The Doctor and the Devil, Mac Kimmerle's experimental voyage through outer space, psychedelic dreamscapes and the myth of Doctor Faustus. 7:30 pm Jan. 25-27.
The Jade Decanter, an improvised ode to film noir that solves the murder of a different cast member in each performance. 7:30 pm Jan. 27.
SEE IT: Fertile Ground runs until Jan. 28. For the full schedule, see fertilegroundpdx.org. Festival passes $50, individual tickets available.