Two Great Ideas For Thanksgiving Weekend: Oregon Contemporary Theatre And A Song Series At Tsunami Books

By Suzi Steffen

On Friday, when you’re full of floats, football, food and family, you might be thinking about hiking (following REI’s #OptOutside and California and Oregon’s #GreenFriday campaigns), shopping or heading to the movie theater (we’d recommend anything at the Broadway Metro right now and Loving at the Bijou, by the way).

But you might also be considering getting into the spirit of the holidays. We offer you two options that are wildly, wonderfully opposite in that vein: A sarcastic, hilarious play about working as a mildly drug-addicted elf in Santaland in Macy’s in Manhattan (on the one hand); and, on a different note, a late afternoon of gorgeous art songs at one of Eugene’s excellent independent bookstores.

The first is The Santaland Diaries at Oregon Contemporary Theatre, which opens at 7:30 pm Friday, Nov. 24, at the theater in downtown Eugene.

If you (like the person writing this story) were present during the first incarnation of “Santaland Diaries,” when David Sedaris read the essay aloud on NPR’s Morning Edition in December of 1992*, you will remember the frisson of delight at hearing Sedaris’ decidedly un-dulcet tones on, you know, NPR.

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If you were not alive or listening to Morning Edition (or either) in 1992, and have avoided a. the reruns of it on NPR every year since; b. the book Holidays on Ice; or c. the play, then this is your year. It’s also your year if you have a sneaking sympathy for the dry, unsentimental, amusing (and accurate, as anyone working retail at the holidays knows) Sedaris and his description of working as an elf in Santaland.

Oregon Contemporary Theatre has presented Santaland Diaries before, but it’s been a few years since actor and UO alum Colin Lawrence was available to play Crumpet the Elf.

Lawrence still knows the part, however. “It feels like a misnomer to say ‘Directed by,'” said director (and OCT Artistic Director) Craig Willis. “He already knew the show; there was little I could add.”

In the past, with a different director, OCT’s Santaland included a couple of other nonspeaking elves who moved pieces of the set around or lightly interacted with Lawrence. This year. it’s all on Lawrence’s shoulders. “Colin can carry the show,” Willis said.

The website notes that it’s for people who are 16 and older, so if you’re planning to take the family, make sure they’re prepared (perhaps by reading or listening to the Sedaris essay). “There are some people who adore Sedaris and enjoy him in all sorts of forms,” Willis said, “and many people come because they’ve heard it on NPR.”

I asked Willis if something holiday-cheer-oriented would be available at OCT’s pre-show bar, and he said, “We usually offer spiced cider in addition to our other libations.”

Santaland Diaries continues through December 11, before Lawrence pops off for other engagements and OCT gets another wonderful PG-13 winter holiday presentation with the Kinsey Sicks (“America’s only Dragapella Beauty Shop Quartet”) and their Oy Vey in a Manger on Dec. 16 and 18.

Tickets run $20-$31 ($15 for students with ID) and are available online or by calling the box office at 541-465-1506.

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But back to this weekend: After you’ve seen Santaland, what next? Cleanup and present wrapping, hiking and board games, yes, but also, Eugene’s Laura Wayte – author and singer – has organized a series of art songs at South Eugene’s Tsunami Books. The next one is at 5 pm Saturday, Nov. 26, with UO alum and mezzo soprano Rebecca Sacks (pictured above).

Wayte, who has sung with the Eugene Vocal Arts Ensemble, the Eugene Opera, in her own recitals and much more, decided that it was time to make sure art song – we’ll talk about what that is in a minute – came down from its hills at the Hult Center and Beall Hall to the venerable stage, famed for poetry slams and folk concerts, at Tsunami.

Her Songs@Tsunami series is intended to take some of what Wayte feels while she sings and thinks about music – the intellectual, philosophical, researched information she has but also the relationship of the songs to the natural world – and bring it to a wider public. It’s a natural fit for Tsunami, she says.

“Art song is perceived as elite,” Wayte said in an interview last week, “but wait a second: This acoustic music is poetry written by artists lamenting the state of the world in radical ways. They’re not upholding the norms. They may be supported by rich people but they’re not speaking for them.”

Wayte’s site has a great post about what art song is that sets out more of her ideas, and she took those ideas to Scott Landfield at Tsunami.

“He said, sure, come on in, you can use my piano,” Wayte said. That ancient piano, to put it mildly, was not quite up for the task. So Wayte started talking about the idea to other people, and when she sang at a private house concert in July, a man came up to her and talked about donating a piano. “I was afraid to think it was real,” she said. “Like, do I even talk about this?” But it was utterly real, and he donated a piano to Tsunami – and a “Fourth Saturday Chamber Concert Series” began in October.

Wayte said that the setting was perfect for her concert in October: “The mood in that place, to be surrounded by books, comfortable and warm, in a community location!”

Sacks, who’s currently singing with Portland Opera in their education wing and is about to leave the state to pursue a master’s degree in opera performance at the University of Georgia, said in an email that this concert is replete with some of her favorite composers and songs. There’s Brahms; there’s contemporary composer Libby Larsen’s Songs from Letters: Calamity Jane to her Daughter Janey; there’s a song cycle by French composer Claude Debussy, which Sacks said is her favorite of the entire recital.

Tickets are $10 minimum donation, at the door before the concert.

Suzi Steffen

Suzi has been writing about the arts in Eugene, Ashland and Portland for about 10 years. She loves riding her Torker Trike, Momo; going to performances; reading and writing books; gardening; and watching as many films as possible in between everything else. Email her at suzi at theeugenereview dot com.

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