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Chris Coleman On Building A Fun Home At Portland Center Stage


L-R: Aida Valentine as Small Alison, Karsten George as Christian Bechdel and Theo Curl as John Bechdel in "Fun Home" at The Armory.

L-R: Aida Valentine as Small Alison, Karsten George as Christian Bechdel and Theo Curl as John Bechdel in “Fun Home” at The Armory.

Patrick Weishampel/blankeye.tv./Courtesy of Portland Center Stage

Portland Center Stage, the city’s biggest theater company, opened its 30th season this month with a most unlikely musical.

“Fun Home” is the Tony-award-winning coming-of-age story based on the graphic novel of the same name by cartoonist Alison Bechdel. The title refers to a nickname she and her siblings gave the family funeral home; it’s also a nod to the decidedly un-fun household atmosphere of her family’s secrets.

PCS Artistic Director Chris Coleman has, until very recently, overseen all administrative and artistic work at PCS. (The company just announced Chief Operating Officer Cynthia Fuhrman had been promoted to managing director. She’ll handle operations, fundraising, and marketing, while Coleman continues to steer creative decision-making.)

"My mantra is a healthy balance sheet means creative freedom." Chris Coleman, artistic director of Portland Center Stage.

“My mantra is a healthy balance sheet means creative freedom.” Chris Coleman, artistic director of Portland Center Stage.

Jenna Saint Martin/Courtesy of Portland Center Stage

We invited Chris Coleman in to talk about “Fun Home,” and other highlights of the season.

Onstage Now: “Fun Home”
Cartoonist Alison Bechdel looks back at the utterly weird world of her childhood, growing up gay, the daughter of a painfully closeted gay man in small-town Pennsylvania.
“I saw it at the Public [Theater in New York City], which is where it originated. I remember thinking, ‘Gosh I hope this wins the Tony award, so that I can bring it to Portland.’ Because it’s hard to bring a new musicals — they’re expensive. Unless they’ve got enough marquee value it’s hard to generate the revenue to pay for them.”

Onstage Now: “Every Brilliant Thing”
Isaac Lamb stars in this one-man show about a kid listing reasons to live, trying to walk his mother back from the edge of suicidal depression.
“I just loved the story. It starts very small and very humbly. By the time you get to the end of the play he’s reached a million reasons. It’s so joyous and funny. And there’s a ton of engagement with the audience. It’s less about the mother’s struggle than about the son’s journey toward life.”

Opening Nov. 4: “Mojada: A Medea in Los Angeles”
A powerhouse re-telling of Euripides’ tragedy, recasting the Colchian princess as a woman from Oaxaca. Having sacrificed everything for love, she commits an unspeakable act of vengeance.
“When it premiered in Chicago I read about it. The playwright, Luis Alfaro, is somebody I’ve admired for a long time. We saw Bill Rausch [the artistic director of Oregon Shakespeare Festival] was interested, I reached out and said, ‘Hey, would you have any interest in doing a co-production and bringing it here?’ It was resonant when we first chose it. It has only become more so.”

Opening Jan. 13 and 20: Astoria, Parts 1 and 2
An original adaptation of Peter Stark’s historical retelling of the Astor expeditions to establish trade routes to the Pacific Northwest, as seen through many eyes.
“When you are running a theater like this, one thing you hope to do is bring great classics, and the best contemporary plays. But you also hope to be a generator of new work. It is a uniquely fraught, interesting chapter of this region’s history. It’s probably the most exciting thing we get to do.”

Opening Feb. 3: “Kodachrome”
A work that premiered at the 2015 JAW Festival. A small-town as seen through the eyes of a photographer.
“It’s about finding love in unlikely places, at unlikely moments in life.

Opening March 3: “The Magic Play”
Andrew Hindraker’s tour-de-force, starring magician and actor Brett Schneider, this one-man show chronicles a stage magician whose emotional life is falling apart before his eyes.
“I got to see the premiere. It was written for [Brett Schneider], and he’s a world-class magician. He and the playwright are friends. The play is really about the relationship between truth and illusion, in this guy’s life, and the acts he’s doing in the course of the play.”

Coleman recently taped a podcast conversation with Artists Repertory Theatre artistic director Damaso Rodriguez and Laura Penn, executive director of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society.

Watch this space for the release of the podcast.

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