Sunday, September 23, 2018

Rhinoceros—The Shout House—SE Portland


“The Lemmings Are Coming…!”


     This avant-garde, dark comedy was written by Eugene Ionesco (translated by Derek Prouse), produced by Cleaver Enough theatre and directed, as a staged reading, by Valerie Asbell (Founder of Cleaver Enough).  Because of many unforeseen circumstances, this two-three week run of a full production ended up as only one night as a staged reading.  For more information on future plans of the company, go to their site at www.cleverenough.org

     Imagine a circumstance where an incompetent, egomaniacal boob stands up in front of you, spewing out utter nonsense and promising to fulfill this blather if he were King.  Then imagine a circumstance where this nitwit is offered just such a position, and his herds of followers bow to his every whim, and blindly accept every blathering he utters.  Soon they are espousing his “holey” words as truth, even as the world they knew and loved collapses around them.  In the end, he leads them to a cliff and proclaims they should all jump.  In this setting, those beings are called lemmings, in this incarnation of them in this play, they are called Rhinos.

     And, even though, this play was written many years ago, it still has a prophetic ring nowadays, which is, in part, why Asbell chose this show.  In it, we see the beginning of a collapse of a society in which to survive, one must conform.  Berenger (Andrew Hallas) is a bit of a lazy, drunken no-good-nik.  His friend, Jean (Alex Albrecht), on the other hand, is a fastidious neat-nik.  But changes are about to occur.  An illness (snort) overtakes Jean and he begins to change into what the village has been recently over-run by, an ignorant beast.

     In time, the Jean he knew, has evaporated.  Only a co-worker, Dudard (Rian Turner) and Berenger’s girlfriend, Daisy (Emily Smith), seem uninfected, but soon the grunting (snort, snort) of these mindless minions sounds like a sweet lullaby to them.  In the end, he might be the last man standing against this onslaught of ignorance and blind conformity with no self-identity left.  If such a silly event should occur in real life, of course, we’d all be smart enough to see through such nonsense, wouldn’t we?!  (snort, grunt…!)

     It’s unfortunate that this difficult and timely show will not see the light of day at this point because the cast is quite good (others of the townspeople consist of KJ McElrath, Terry Lybecker, Leilani Oleari, Kate Belden, Brent McMorris, Katy Philip, Neil Wade Freer, John Bryant, Troy Sawyer, Athena McElrath, Shaun Patrick Hennessey, and Mark Milner).  This is not an easy show, even for a seasoned production company, to do, so it is daring for a novice theatre to tackle it.  But Ashbell has done a very fine job of casting it and has some clever touches in the interpretation and presentation of it.  They do deserve a chance to shine, so hope they continue to scour the town for an appropriate space to perform and backing for their shows.  Hope to see more of them in the future!
--DJS

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Whiskey Dixie & the Big Wet Country—Imago Theatre—SE Portland


Jest Lookin’ Fer Lovin’


     This original, “raunchy outlaw-country musical,” is written by and starring singer/actor, Amanda Richards and directed by Serah Pope, with music direction by Steve Moore and choreography by Jaime Langton.  It is playing at the Imago space, 17 SE 8th Ave. (off (Burnside) through October 13th.  Parking is a challenge in this area so plan your time accordingly.  For more information, go to their site at www.whiskeydixiemusical.com

     Dreams may come, and dreams may go…but a hard man is always good to find.  That might be the mantra of this show.  It is full of plays on words, double meanings, mime, some Rap, even a nod to the MeToo Movement and a whole lotta country music.  But, to be clear, here is their take on the play: “This is Rated R for graphic language, sexual content, graphic subject matter, mention of sexual assault, guns, violence, tasteless jokes, politically incorrect stuff and some other messed up shit.”  If you are still reading this at this point, “play on…and cursed be the coward that cries—enough!”

     We all have dreams, many of which will probably go unrealized, or be modified to such an extent that we hardly recognize them anymore.  But dreaming is a part of our nature and so we trudge onward, perhaps looking for Mr. Goodbar in all the wrong places.  Whiskey’s (Richards) dream is to be a big-time Country singer (“Country singers are for indoors, Western singers are for outdoors”) in Nashville and be on the Conan O’Brien show.  The latter part of that dream is realized as she gets an invite from him.

     But that means leaving her friends, who are like family, and her favorite, small-town bar.  They may not be the cream of the crop of society but they are her buds.  There is the braggart and womanizer, Jerry (Tyler Shilstone), who is the King of Tit Hill and lets everyone know it.  He even takes a greenhorn lover, Paul (Mac Kimmerle), under his wing to teach him some of the finer points in satisfying a lady.  Roger (Dennis Fitzpatrick) is essentially the town drunk, who says and does all the wrong things.

     Other folks of this watering hole are Barbara (Anita Clark) who is always up for a good time.  Then there is the newbie in town, Gladys (Diana Marie), who will soon be introduced to the rules of the game.  Also, there is the indispensable, Trish (Brandie Sylfae), the bartender, who quietly sees it all but, like a simmering volcano, does have her erupting point.  And, finally, near the winding down of her departure, the owner’s grandson, Dick (John Brunner), becomes the new owner and, with his mother, Mary Ann (Michele Brouse-Peoples) may upset the familiar surroundings of this haven for societal misfits.  Will Whiskey follow her dreams, or stay and face some of the hard facts of life?  Come see it for yourself, if you dare?!

     Richards has done an outstanding job of wearing several hats (lead actor, writer and producer) of this show, so it must be a labor of love and it shows.  The songs, although R-rated, are musically quite engaging and very well performed by a talented cast.  (I can’t tell you the names of any of them because there was no listing in the program.)  Both Richards and Brunner take honors as the most accomplished of the bunch of singers.  My personal favorite, though, in acting, was Sylfae, as the bartender, and her explosive monologue at the end was terrifically delivered.  Pope has done a good job of casting the show and keeping the action moving on a very clever set.  And Langton (a fine performer and actor in her own right) has captured the dancing of the country bar to a tee.  Also, Moore, with his band (Chad McAllister, Christine McAllister and Joey Harmon) gave an authenticity to the setting and never overpowered the actors.

     It is curious, though, although Richards is targeting a specific audience by making it raunchy (the enthusiastic crowd proved that with their cheers and applause), underneath it all, there is a very good and human story that, even without all the blatant, sexual overtones, was quite compelling.  This is obviously not a play for everyone but I thought the whole production deserves a thumbs up.

     On a personal note, though, I was somewhat handicapped by being in the last row—H, and, although it is tiered seating for the audience, G & H rows are on the same level.  And I was sitting behind a large man wearing a hat and the spotlight was directly behind me, so anything that took place center stage, I had to crane my neck to one side or the other to see the action.  When you have a reviewer, its usually customary to assign them a favorable seat for the best view of the show.  As I said, a personal note and advice as to not let them seat you in Row H.

     I recommend this show.  If you do see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.
--DJS

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Cozy Christmas in Concert



     As a Christmas memory, I remember my Grams, when I was a kid, baking home made biscuits in an old, wrought-iron, wood-burning stove.  And in a black iron skillet on top of it, she was making white, sausage gravy to smother those little, white clouds for our breakfast.  Outside was the sounds of my sibs sledding down an impossibly long hill, as snowflakes canvassed the yard.  Soon I would be joining them outside but for now the aroma of baking goods and my dog, Bandit, asleep in my lap, would hold me captive for a time.  Later, there would be stories from these ancient folks, most of them true, of other forgotten eras.  Then gramps would turn on the Victrola and the crooning sounds of Bing Crosby trilling, “White Christmas,” would lull me into a magical slumber where anything was possible….
     I’m sure we all have memories of holiday gatherings, and sounds and smells of them seem to rule the roost when it comes to creating those long-ago, buried treasure of a seemingly calmer time.  “Those were the days, my friends, we thought they’d never end….”  But they did and now there is a chance to recreate those times vicariously through the following endeavor from Merideth, Leif, Mont Chris and Brandon, some very cool folks who will warm your hearts…as a concert piece of their show is in the works.  Here is their story and a link as to how you can help:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1852527669/winter-song-concept-album-recording


     “On a cold night by the fire or an icy drive to visit friends or family what music will you listen to this winter?  Winter Song is a collection of songs and stories about the coldest and darkest season that will warm your heart and spark conversation. We need your help to make the album!
With a lush piano and guitar score, songs will include hits by Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Gordon Lightfoot and Paul Simon and will be interspersed with stories and memories of winter. The concert album is inspired by the live performance originated in the Ellyn Bye Studio at the Armory and will feature acclaimed pianist Mont Chris Hubbard, Merideth Kaye Clark and Leif Norby on acoustic guitars and vocals.
     Pre order Winter Song or back the project via Kickstarter at other levels that include tickets to the show at The Armory, VIP backstage tours and much more!
Support the creation now of Winter Song as a holiday gift to yourself, friends and family. Your future self will thank you.”


Sunday, September 16, 2018

The Tempest—The Steep and Thorny Way to Heaven—SE Portland

       “Rough Magic”


     One of Shakespeare’s classic fantasies is directed by Mary McDonald-Lewis.  It is playing at their space, SE 2nd between Madison & Hawthorne, through October 6th.  For more information, go to their site at www.thesteepandthornywaytoheaven.com

     Like many of Shakespeare’s plays, revenge seems always to creep into the story.  It was a popular plot device of that time period.  And another item that is predominant to his plays, including this one, is the art of disguise, one person pretending to be another.  In that vain, one possible aspect about the character of Prospero that is barely hinted at but, in the rather good Sci-Fi flick, “Forbidden Planet” (based on this story), it is fairly blatant.  And this is that Ariel, represents the more spiritual, or feminine, side of Man, while Caliban represents the baser, or more macho, side of Man…and they are both created from within Prospero, not outside of him!  Interesting thought, I surmise, but it would be difficult to enact.

     Prospero (Chris Porter) is Lord and Master of his own private isle, with his daughter, Miranda (Katie Mortemore), having been exiled from his own kingdom by his duplicitous brother, Antonio (Wendy Wilcox) and his friend, Sebastian (Peyton McCandless).  And it just happens that they, and a former friend of Prospero’s, Alonso (Lance Woolen) and his son, Ferdinand (Rega Lupo), are aboard this ship at sea as well.  His magic causes a storm to ensure and they are all cast onto his isle.  Others onboard this ill-fated ship are a couple of sots, Trinculo (Zed E. Jones) and his rummy pal, Stephano (Elizabeth Neal).

     The purpose of this abduction is simply revenge, on Prospero’s part, of his kingdom being usurped.  And he has a couple of confederates of his own to help him.  There is the petulant, shiftless slave, Caliban (Nikolas Horaites), part-man, part-beast, it seems, and the engaging sprite, Ariel (Megan Skye Hale, Artistic Director of the company), who are to aid him in his plot.  Ariel is then to be released from servitude when all is done.  And the rest of the story (which I cannot tell you without being a spoiler) is something “…that dreams are made on.”

     The setting and directing, by McDonald-Lewis, in such a confined space is magical in itself.  Every inch of the theatre is used, plus the audience area at times, which makes it truly an “immersive” experience. Porter has the look and bearing of the instigator of the proceedings and Horaites, as the beast, plays him more of a bratty kid just wanting to be naughty and that works for the character.  Jones and Neal are fine comic foils and Woolen is believable as a good but conflicted nobleman.  And Hale is terrific as the fairy spirit, as her attentive manner and methodical movements are of an actor immersed in her character.

     The play, at times, did lack a certain consistency of energy and urgency that the story should have.  I felt it needed more drive at times.  But the space is well-used and the actors do “speak the speech…trippingly on the tongue.”  And Hale is not only a good actor but their shows also reveal her talents as a costume designer, always inventive.  And the sound and lighting, by Myrrh Larsen (creative director of the company), in such a small space, is very clever.

     I recommend this production.  If you do see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.
--DJS

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Private Eyes—Twilight Theater Company—N. Portland


            “Eye of the Beholder”

     This avant-garde play is written by Stephen Dietz and directed by Paul Roder.  It is playing at their space, 7515 N. Brandon Ave. (upstairs) at the corner of Lombard (small, free, parking lot across the street from the theater entrance), through September 23rd.  For more information, go to their site at www.twilighttheatercompany.org

     As the ole, short story goes...once there was a man who dreamed he was a butterfly…or was he a butterfly dreaming he was a man?!  The point being, what do we really know of Reality, or Truth.  It depends on your own perception of such things.  I heard recently that the ole adage that politicians constantly lie is not true.  They just have their own version/perception of what is true/real and what is not…but that’s true of all of us, isn’t it?  Police have often said that eyewitnesses are the most unreliable form of evidence because of, again, different perceptions of the same scene.

     And so, in this story, we have a man, perhaps by the name of Matthew (Conor J. Nolan), who is auditioning an actress, perhaps by the name of Lisa (Danyelle Tinker), for the part of a waitress in a play.  But are they who they seem, as a man has just stepped out of the audience suddenly, perhaps a director named Adrian (Jay Hash), and insists that the scene be redone!

     And maybe Lisa and Matthew are married, and in a play together, directed by Adrian.  And possibly Adrian and Lisa are having an affair (or are they?) and wanting to confess.  And maybe their sloppy server, Cory (Rachel Roscoe), in the restaurant they go to for lunch, is not who she seems…maybe she’s tailing them…or even familiar with them.  And, perhaps, that other voice from the darkness, Frank (Alicia Turvin), that keeps stopping the action to discuss the mental state of Matthew, is not who she seems, either….

     And did I just reveal some spoilers…or not?  Confused?  It’s deliberate, such is the style of this play.  “All the world’s a stage and men and women merely players….” Like a good mystery, with dozens of plot twists and turns, it is for the “eye of the beholder,” we, the audience, to decide what is real and what is not.  A very clever story and worth experiencing, if you like puzzles.

     This would be a difficult story to tell and act by any troupe, but the cast here is all first-rate and they, and their very accomplished director, have done a first-rate job with it, too.  Nolan, Tinker and Hash, as the main culprits, keep you guessing throughout, and Roder has a firm hand on keeping things in control, but just slightly askew, as it should be.

     This is definitely worth seeing for the mystery buffs among you.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

--DJS

Monday, September 10, 2018

There’s No Business Like Show Business—Portland Musical Theater Company—N. Portland


“To Soothe the Savage Beast”

     This musical revue, of staged musicals from the 40’s and 50’s, is created and directed by Deanna Maio.  It is playing at the Peninsula Odd Fellows Lodge, 4834 N. Lombard St., through October 7th.  For more information, go to their site at www.portlandmusicaltheater.org

     Most music, it is said, has a calming effect on people/animals, in which they can deal better with conflicts in the outside world.  So, what better way to chill out than to have some outstanding singers, fabulous songs and rousing/lulling tunes to fly you away on a magic carpet ride to lands where things work out, eventually, for the better, and knowing that your brief time in this magical state will enable you to recharge your batteries for any adversity that lies ahead.  “If music be the food of love [and peace], play on!”

     The 40’s & 50’s had a multitude of musicals, which was sorely needed during the War and Post-War eras, to pull us back to a more understanding stance on issues.  They had Kiss Me Kate, Guys & Dolls, Carousel, South Pacific, Damn Yankees, The Music Man, My Fair Lady, The Sound of Music, West Side Story, Annie Get Your Gun, et. al.  It was a wonderous time in which, if we could not destroy Evil, at least we could push it aside for a spell, as Good regained its footing…and music certainly was the elixir for that nasty bug that had prevailed for a time.

     All the familiar songs are here, from sweet/haunting ballads, Goodnight My Someone, Maria and If I Loved You…to the inspiring You’ll Never Walk Alone, the rousing 76 Trombones…and more.  And the singers (Amanda Mehl, Cody Meadows, Bronwyn Jones, Carissa Zubricky, Lydia Ellis-Curry, Nathan Willbanks, Tristan James Stewart, Teriyaki Jefferson and Thomas McAulay) mainly in chorus for most songs, nailed them all!

     There are some of them that had solos and I wanted to tout them as raising the bar even higher because of their special qualities.  Jones, Jefferson and Mehl, all gave that something extra when they trod the stage in solo moments.  Their voices and characterizations are exceptional.  I see good things for them coming…as well as all the cast, having something special that would rival any of the big cast musical players in town!

     And Maio, as well as heading and founding the company, is amazing, creating and casting all these revues over the years.  My friend remarked, “she pretty well can do everything, can’t she?”  Yep, that pretty well sums her up…and well, too, I would add.  A tempest in the making, as she forges forward, I believe!  In the future, watch for the amusing Not Another Christmas Letter, in December and Tenderly in April, with Maio as Rosemary Clooney—you don’t want to miss this one!

     I highly recommend this show.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.
--DJS

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Skeleton Crew—Artists Rep—SW Portland



A Union of Misfit Souls

     This stirring production, playing to a full house on the opening night of their 36th successful season, is written by Dominique Morisseau and directed by William (Bill) Earl Ray.   It is playing at their space, 1515 SW Morrison St., through September 30th.  For more information, go to their site at www.artistsrep.org or call 503-241-1278.

     Morisseau is a worthy scribe, in the vain of many fine writers of their extended neighborhoods, including shades of Studs Turkel (Chicago), a wee dose of Damon Runyon (Brooklyn) and a worthy tribute to the late, great, August Wilson (Philly).  She exemplifies her town, Detroit, and the plight of its characters, as those other fine authors did.  And she does it very, very well!

     We all probably have had love/hate relationships with our jobs and the people who have worked beside us, much like the ups and downs in an extended (perhaps, somewhat dysfunctional) family.  And, in this case, they may be one of the last vestiges of a dying industry, the automobile factory.  Morisseau’s title, “Skeleton Crew,” seems to refer to a minimum group of trained individuals trying valiantly to keep up with the demands of a slowing economy.  Or, maybe, it also reflects the motley gathering of individuals, stripped to the bone emotionally, as they feel their lives being sucked out of them.

     The opening, and subsequent occasional scenes, are powerful, as you visualize silhouettes of individuals (Jeff George, Leslie North and McKensie Rummel) moving to the organic/orgasmic rhythms, in dance-like movements (choreographer, Kemba Shannon), reflecting the stresses and precision of working on an assembly line.  A direct homage to Charlie Chaplin’s terrific film of the 30’s, “Modern Times,” detailing artistically, the birth of the Industrial Revolution.

     The story is character-driven by four individuals representing, in a way, a microcosm of America.  It all takes place in the breakroom of an automobile factory in Detroit.  There is the Foreman of the group, Reggie (Bobby Bermea) a representative of the management of the company, a caring man who sometimes has a difficult job on his hands, when attempting to herd his flock.  He also has a personal connection to Faye (Shelley B. Shelley), an employee for almost 30 years and the union representative.  She is outspoken and fair, but has her own set of burdens on a personal level to deal with, too.

     Then, there are the younger members of the clan, Dez (Vin Shambry), who is a hard-worker but a rebel.  He has dreams of owning his own garage with his son but seems remote to the rest when dealing with his own personal feelings.  There is also Shanita (Tamera Lyn), who loves her job and has probably the most spotless record in the company of all the employees.  She has dreams of having a family and retiring from the company in years to come.  They all, like a mirror, reflect recognizable individuals in our own worlds.

     I can’t tell you more of the story because much of it is learned as you witness it unfold before your eyes.  But, trust me, it is quite illuminating and very engrossing, well directed by Ray, who has chosen an exemplar cast and seems to be in touch with an actor’s processes in developing a character, as well as precisely representing the voice of the author.  The same can be said for Shannon and her dancers.

     And what a cast!  Lyn is both heart-breaking and exasperating, at times, as she goes through changes in her own life, as well as the factory’s.  Shambry accurately reflect the restlessness of a man who seems to have “a rocket in his pocket” but also seems to enjoy his position of “putting it out there” when no one else will.  And Bermea, as the conflicted “Sargent” of the troop, is marvelous in his portrayal of a good man seeing wrong and at odds when trying to “toe the line.”  And Shelley is stunning as the “conscience” of the pack, a woman with her own baggage forced, because of her good-hearted nature, to shoulder burdens of others as well.  Very beautifully performed.

     I highly recommend this production.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.
--DJS