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Theater fest banishes winter blahs with events Jan. 18-28 at venues throughout the metro area

COURTESY: RUSSELL YOUNG - As part of Fertile Ground Festival, 'Bi-' is a fully staged world premiere about gender identity at Milagro Theatre, featuring the likes of Justin Charles and Sierra Brambila.One of the highlights of dreary January in Portland is the Fertile Ground Festival of New Work, Jan. 18-28, at venues throughout the metro area.

Some of the fest previews out-of-towners — for example the play "Bi-" by New Yorker Georgina Escobar. Most of it is small shows, works-in-progress and readings by local playwrights, such as the LineStorm Playwrights' 12 different lunchtime readings at Artists Repertory Theatre.

It's not just straight play thespians. The Portland Area Theatre Alliance, which puts on the festival, promises fully staged world premieres in theater, ensemble and collaborative driven work, dance, comedy, visual art and film.

Actors work around other people's sets or cram themselves into backroom spaces. This is a chance for the audience to get in on the ground floor at a next big thing production — think of yourself as the next Brisa Trinchero — or just get a taste of raw creativity.

Everyone — particularly in public life — who talks about Portland needing to keep its economy competitive should get a festival pass and take in some of these gems, however rough-hewn.

A festival pass is $50, and single show prices vary. See www.fertilegroundpdx.org.

Here are some highlights:

'An Unqualified Genius'

A theater troupe comes to terms with the realization that their late guru was a pretentious lightweight, and his works, which they have been performing for 15 years, amount to "avant garbage." Self-hating theater nerds will be curious about this one. By Duck and former Boston ad agency man Richard Herstek. Read by eight actors with sound effects like a BBC radio play.

Details: Table reading, 7 p.m. Jan. 18 and 21, 9 p.m. Jan. 19 and 20, Headwaters Theater, 55 N.E. Farragut St., $15/ pay what you like

'Death of a Cranky Philosopher'

Crazy philosophy play alert! High school philosophy teacher Vaughan Miracle is a grumpy Ludwig Wittgenstein wannbe, falls into a coma and experiences a taste of the afterlife with Wittgenstein, his hero, whom he ends up leg wrestling. The nefarious characters of the netherworld include a Venus fly trap, a tree and a fallen angel. This is Popper-meets-Pagliacci, by Don Teeters and the Masque Alfesco troupe, who like their commedia dell'arte.

Details: Theater workshop, 7:30 p.m. Jan. 25-28, HART Theatre, 185 S.E. Washington St., Hillsboro, $12-$16

JT STUDIOS - Young girls tell personal stories and perform in 'Truth AND Dare' as part of Fertile Ground.'Truth AND Dare'

If you like it raw, this is it: Girls age 10-17 read and perform their own personal stories. One is about having a father with cancer. Another is about chicken nuggets. Some will have scripts in hand, some will move around as they speak. They have worked with [email protected], which usually teaches improv in businesses. Yes, and they are all asking "What is truth?" Directed by Danielle Pecoff and Kara Moore.

Details: Staged reading, 7:30 p.m. Jan. 26-27, Sellwood Playhouse, 901 S.E. Spokane St., $10

'1ne Off'

Pronounced "One-Off," this is more improvised and interactive storytelling and comedy, coming from West Linn High School's improv team Infinite Improv. The school's Science and Theatre teacher Eric Nepom guides his charges in telling real love stories and alternative histories that touch on the uncanny, that category beloved of such romantic writers as Shelley, Poe and Lovecraft. And all this as they work around the big wagon on the set of the play "Parnassus on Wheels," which is put on by the Lakewood Theatre Company.

Details: Theater workshop, 7 p.m. Jan. 23 and 28, Lakewood Center for the Performing Arts, 368 S. State St., Lake Oswego, $10

'Bi-'

"What's your bi-dentity?" asks Georgina Escobar in "Bi-," a "sci-fi" play that questions everything from bisexuality to bilingualism to bipedalism, according to Janelle Sutton, costume designer at Milagro Theatre. The year is 2089 (100 years since the Berlin Wall came down) and the snappily named young adults Fog, Noir, Isa and Hex run off into the desert rather than take the Determinus test and get their official identity bracelets. Look out for math and Flatland influences.

Details: Fully staged world premiere, 7:30 p.m. Jan. 11-13, 2 p.m. Jan. 14, 7:30 p.m. Jan. 19-20, Milagro Theatre, 425 S.E. Sixth Ave., $25-$32

COURTESY: JANELL DENK - 'Just This One' at Fertile Ground stars Saeeda Wright, Lisa Mann and LaRhonda Steele.'Just This One'

Wayne Harrel has written a narrative musical using the songs of Portland bluesman Paul DeLay, who died 10 years ago. Between songs, the DeLay character, Moe Dupree, interacts with his three types of woman as noted in one lyric — a good woman, a bad woman, and no woman — as he performs his last show the night before entering the federal pen at Sheridan for a cocaine bust. This would be a jukebox musical if Paul DeLay's music were on any jukeboxes, but at least he's on Spotify.

Details: Fully staged world premiere, 7:30 p.m. Jan. 27, 4 and 7:30 p.m. Jan. 28, Michelle's Piano Company, 600 S.E. Stark St., $25

LineStorm Playwrights

The dirty dozen LineStorm Playwrights meet on the second Tuesday of the month to compare their work. At Fertile Ground, they will give mostly lunchtime readings at Artists Rep, ranging from a dating/cancer rom-com by Brianna Barrett to a take on the feminist favorite story of 1892, "The Yellow Wallpaper." There'll be hurt feelings, if you don't catch them all.

Details: Readings, noon Jan. 18-27, 6 p.m. Jan 19, Artists Repertory Theatre, 1515 S.W. Morrison St., free

'That Midsummer'

Like backstage shenanigans meta-theater? Tony Bump's "That Midsummer" follows a small company putting on that old chestnut "A Midsummer Night's Dream." From the composer and author of "Mrs. Rank's Boarding House."

Details: Staged reading, 8 p.m. Jan 19-20, Twilight Theatre, 7515 N. Brandon Ave., $10

'I Love You/Who Are You'

It's six actors and three acts, as two characters age together and dementia sets in and what they make of each other changes radically. Author Matthew Miller likes Neil Simon. If "The Humans" wasn't enough madness for you, try this.

Details: Staged reading, 7:30 p.m. Jan 22, 10:30 a.m. Jan. 23, The Sanctuary, 1785 N.E. Sandy Blvd., $10-155

COURTESY: ALEXANDER DONES - The dance shows of Groovin' Greenhouse are a constant at Fertile Ground, including performances by NW Fusion Dance Company.FERTILE GROUND INFO

What: More than 70 events and 44 producers in theater, dance, circus, sketch comedy, music, animation and multidisciplinary arts

Where: 32 venues around the Portland area

When: Jan. 18-28

Tickets: $50 festival passes, individual show prices vary, www.fertilegroundpdx.org

More: Festival guides are available in lobbies at Artists Repertory Theatre, Portland Center Stage, Lakewood Theatre, Bag & Baggage and others, or digitally at www.fertilegroundpdx.org.

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