Sunday, April 21, 2019

A Dark Sky Full of Stars—Theatre Vertigo—SE Portland



        Nature of the Beast


    The world premiere of this stark drama is written by Don Zolidis and directed by Jocelyn Seid.    It is playing at the Shoebox Theatre, 2110 SE 10th Ave., through May 11th.  For more information, go to their site at www.theatrevertigo.org or call 503-482-8655.

    The Human Spirit is a tricky thing.  It can raise you to the heights of Joy or drop you to the depths of Despair.  But the choices of where we land to forge our paths is not up to us and so, where we alight, is guided by both Nature and Nurture.  And sometimes the cards seemed stacked against us and we must fight an unwinnable battle just to survive, “The fault…is not in our stars but in ourselves.”  We can, in the end, only do our best with what we’ve got.

    A phrase that can be applied to this dysfunctional family might be, “Well, what family doesn’t have its ups and downs.”  In the program, the actors are not identified with names of characters, so I couldn’t tell you who played whom, but the ensemble is McKenna Twedt, Julet Lindo, Theresa Park, Dre Slaman, Adriana Gantzer and Kayla Hanson.  The main characters they play are a family, consisting of a father, mother, older son, younger son, girlfriend, and friend.  They also play assorted roles throughout.

    It is set in an impoverished neighborhood in a big city, where those that live there must deal with alcohol, drugs, abuse, gangs, et. al. and never really have a fair shot at grabbing the brass ring.  They must fend for themselves and there is a sort of code among them, “honor among thieves,” which seems to insulate them from the world outside, which seems to have pretty much given up on them anyway.  Finishing school is rarely accomplished, going into the military is an option, only to be still warring withy the human condition, only on the other side of the planet.  Prison is an end to some and, of course, there is death, always beckoning. Their ends are mostly a graveyard of shattered hopes and dreams, blanketed across an endless sky.

    It’s better that you see for yourselves this all-too-familiar saga of the forgotten, but know that you can’t help but identify with their plight, even if it is to say, “There, but for the Grace of God, go I.”  It is a stylized production, a beautifully done death scene is very moving, and the actors are very much in your face with their confrontations.  It is definitely worth experiencing.

    The cast is amazingly natural and totally vested in their characters and the story.  Kudos to all of them!  And the director certainly has explored, exploded and exploited the small space in which this drama plays out.  I hope to see all of them again involved with a play, as they are exceptional.

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

Sunday, April 14, 2019

How To Keep An Alien—Corrib Theatre—SE Portland



               Love Without A Visa


    This clever piece, about love and bureaucracy, is written by Sonya Kelly and directed by Gemma Whelan.  It is playing at the New Expressive Works space, 810 SE Belmont St., through May 5th.  For more information, go to their site at www.corribtheatre.org or call 503-389-0579.

    It is said that Love is the most potent element in the universe.  But, like all Positive forces, it needs an antithesis, otherwise we would not recognize the importance of the Positive.  I would vote for Bureaucracy as a good candidate for that position, as that force sucks all the emotional and humanity out of anything Good (look at the mess on our Southern border, as an example).  This personal journey from the author “must give us pause,” as it will restore your faith in the warmth and dignity the human spirit can have, when faced with seemingly impossible odds.  Heaven is all the sweeter, if one has to have trod through Hell to get there!

    This is a very cleverly constructed sojourn, as it is presented, “on the fly,” so to speak.  The Irish author, Sonya, in the guise of the very accomplished actor, Sara Hennessy, will take us on her personal journey to find love.  But this trip is without adornments, as she speaks directly to the audience and only uses a bulletin board and minimal props to chart her progress. 

    She is also more than ably assisted by the Stage Manager (Amy Katrina Bryan), who appears onstage with her, playing other characters and providing crucial props when necessary.  Quite frankly, I was pleased with this approach to this story-telling style, as I have always been impressed with a “black box” theatrical setting.

    As for the tale, Sonya is an actor and is in a terrible play/dance production at an Irish castle, where she meets Kate, another actor in the company.  But Kate, being an Aussie, must return home once her Visa runs out.  Needless to say, they fall hopelessly in love and the remaining story is all the trials and tribulations of staying together on a permanent basis.  Such efforts, including sending a letter, via a paper sandwich sack, through the mail; getting stuck with a grumpy, by-the-book immigration officer; trying to reconcile with in-laws, who may not be as pleased with this union as the pair are; et. al.

    I certainly am not going to reveal the outcome, but I think the story will touch anyone who has been in love…puppy or otherwise.  But, as mention, the style was as compelling as the story for me.  Whelan always gives a fresh approach to story-telling, as with this tale, and constantly invites the audience, through their imagination, to participate in creating, filling out, this world.

    Hennessy is a pro and it shows.  As she flits about the stage, changing from one, seemingly random, thought to another, she builds beautifully toward the fairy tale ending.  Also, I was equally impressed with Bryan, in her many incarnations.  I have often been a believer that, “there are no small parts, only small actors,” and this, once again, proves the point.  Bryan is fully vested in providing the support for Hennessy, concentrating on the tasks at hand, even when having no dialogue.  I especially liked her droll immigration officer, and the song that provided a short interlude in the proceedings.  She is a gem and I hope to see more of her onstage.

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

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Good Kids—OCT’s Young Professionals Company—NE Portland




       “My World & Welcome To It”

    This searing, topical drama is written by Naomi lizuka and directed by Tamara Carroll.  It is playing at the Y/P Studio, 1939 NE Sandy Blvd., through April 28th.  For more information, go to their site at www.octc.org/yp-company

    As I was talking to my friend, Dave, afterwards, as we were high schooled in the early 60’s, the worst trouble we could get into then was to be busted for drinking beer at a private party.  Now, we have…well, you’ll see as you view this play.  And the one major element missing from our world of yesteryear, to theirs of today—Social Media…it is the new god in town.  One dares not make an independent move without being blessed by the electronic hordes out there on Facebook and its many minions.

    But there is hope for the Future, as groups of students are vocally protesting gun violence and the corruption of our atmosphere.  Now, if they can just short-circuit the electronic conduits that control society and re-embrace a flesh & blood world, we may have found a path forward through this maze of cyber worlds, to the real one made up of human beings.

    This story is an ugly one, no doubt about it.  But one thing should be made very clear from the outset.  Having sexual relations with a female without their expressed permission/consent is wrong, is a crime, and is rape!  No, wearing provocative clothing is not a Yes, or permission, and anyone who takes advantage of a drunken or doped-up lady, is the worst kind of villain and coward!  And what of those who stand by and do nothing, or watch from the sidelines, as they pass on electronically and verbally, such an act?  Aren’t they equally at fault?!  I wonder how they justify such actions to themselves?!

    In this compelling story by Iizuka, we have the victim, Chloe (Allyson Giard), who has a major alcohol problem and doing all the right (or wrong) things to not only attract the jocks of a rival high school football team, but also gains the wrath of the “mean girls,” headed by Amber (Armita Azizi), mother-bitch of the in-crowd.  The affable quarterback of the team, Connor (Jasper Warhus), surrounded by his cronies, Ty (Emmett Ruthermich), who has a rocket in his pocket; Landon (Josh Bransford), the media perpetrator; and Tanner (Django Boletus), the too-late hero.

    Other friends and enablers consist of Kylie (Kayia Shivers), Skyler (Morgan Demetre), Madison (Makenna Markman), Brianna (Kate Daley) and Daphne (Zyla Zody).  There is also a mysterious narrator, Dierdre (Allison Parker), of these events, in a wheelchair, but to tell you about her, or the interactions in the story, would spoil discoveries an audience should make.  I will say that part of Dierdre purpose is to make sure the facts are straight, as one person’s perceptions of events may be another person’s lies.  Perhaps, Truth is in the eye of the beholder.

    Because of the sensitive issues involved, this would be a difficult play to cast and direct but Carroll has a sure hand in framing the events and has an amazing cast, every one totally convincing!  This story has the ring of truth, so the author certainly knows from whence she speaks.  This play is not for those easily offended, nor for very young children but definitely should be seen by Junior High and High School Youth, as well as parents. 

    One final note, much of the success of this program is due to the Education Director and head of the Y/P program, Dani Baldwin.  Also, she allows the plays that are presented to be chosen by the class, as was this one, so know that this is what Youth feel is important to be communicated to the world at large.  Kudos to all involved!

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

Friday, April 12, 2019

Church and State—Lyon Theatre—Triangle Productions!



        Twitter Hymn of the Republic

    This topical drama is written by Jason Odell Williams and directed by Devon Lyon.  It is playing at the Triangle theatre space, 1785 NE Sandy Blvd. (free parking lot to the West of the bldg.), through April 27th.  For more information, go to their site at www.LyonTheatrePDX.com

    “We the People…Perfect Union…right to bear arms…created equal…separation of Church & State…pursuit of Happiness…” those Founding Father (and Mothers) sure said a mouthful and had some noble ideas/ideals, didn’t they?!  But they couldn’t have foresaw the world of today, by any stretch of the imagination.  Personally, I think they would be sorely disappointed in what they wrought…brought forth…unleashed onto this once beautiful environment!

    But that was Then, this is Now.  We now have a new god and it’s electronic, replacing the human/spiritual conduits.  An old joke has all the scientists of the world connecting all the computer systems together and asking this ultra-brain, “Is there a God?”  After a slight pause, It answers, “There is Now!”  Is this our Future?!

    But in the Deep South, in the present, a Conservative politician, running for re-election as a Senator, Charles Whitmore (Jeff Gorham), is facing a crisis.  He has just witnessed the aftermath of a school shooting and he is at a crossroads of Faith, as well as Duty.  His wife, Sara (Morgan Cox), is a devoutly, Christian woman (although not the sharpest knife in the drawer), and has always followed the well-worn path of rhetoric in both Church & State, never questioning the veracity or validity of either.

    Whitmore’s devoted campaign manager, Alex (Jaime Langton), a Jewish liberal, goes by the book when generating his speeches.  That is, until a slip-of-the-tongue to Marshall (Jared Mack), a reporter, that because of the recent bloody incident, he now questions the very existence of God and, along those lines, his future stance on gun-control.  A revelation/revolution of sorts that awakens his commitment to his conscience, the Truth, instead of his Party…and that causes all sorts of dilemmas for everyone involved.  To see the stirring outcome, you’ll have to check it out for yourselves, won’t you?!

    I saw this company last Season at this space in a play called, “Of Good Stock,” with some of the same cast, and it was very well done, as is this one.  They have some seasoned players in a new company that deserves to be seen.  The director, Lyon, has a great eye for casting and choosing good and potent material.  Their shows are character-driven and tell stories about important social issues.

    Gorham is a recognizable face on the PDX stages and excels here.  In his character’s political speech, I heard one audience member suggest that if he were running, he’d vote for him.  Very convincing performance.  And Cox is his equal, giving a great deal of depth to her changeable character.  Langton is always good in everything I’ve seen her involved in.  She also plays a person who must evolve or disappear from the arena.  And Mack does well in three smaller roles.

    A couple of personal notes to add to the topics of the story.  Jesus, is reported to have said some very wise things, but was also was a rebel in his time.  Change needs people, if it is to succeed, that are willing to follow their conscience and not the crowd.  Also, when the “bearing arms” rule was written, only single shot pistols and rifles were around and everyone had one.  It was pretty much a non-issue.  Nowadays, the field of arms is blown to ridiculous extremes and I doubt they would have supported a system that has little checks and balances.

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

Friday, March 15, 2019

Straight—Triangle Productions!—NE Portland


         3 Into 2 Won’t Go

    This drama is written by Scott Elmegreen & Drew Fornarola and directed by Donald Horn.  It is playing at their space, 1785 NE Sandy Blvd. (free parking lot to the West of the building), through March 23rd.  For more information, go to their site at www.trianglepro.org or call 503-239-5919.

    Love is definitely a Centerpiece in our Society.  But a definition of it will probably vary with every individual.  A common misconception of it in films, is that Love is confused with Lust, and that has complicated many a relationship.  Also, it seems to be a forgone conclusion that getting married and having kids is the only purpose we have in life.  Human Beings are a lot more complex than that, believe me.  And so, in this case, we have a man, who loves a woman, but who also love another man.  What do do…what to do…?

    Ben (Zachary Taylor Warner), a stock broker, living in the Boston area, has a long-standing relationship with a cancer research scientist, Emily (Jennie Spector), who only lives a couple miles away.  He’s a bit uptight in the social arena and she is bit of a workaholic.  But, both being in their mid-twenties, after five years they have seemed to have created a comfortable pattern of existence for themselves.

    That is until Ben starts having some doubts as to his sexual identity.  It seems that in his teens he had a couple of attractions to the same sex but shrugged them off.  And so, he meets Chris (Colin Kane), a twenty-year-old college student, majoring in history, who seems pretty sure of who he is and what he wants. And so, it becomes a sort of reverse of the Svengali relationship as, in this case, the student must teach the master. 

    Of course, a confrontation will occur at some point between the three of them and decisions will have to be made.  Who will end up with whom, well, I won’t be a spoiler so, you’ll just have to see it for yourselves.  The bulk of the story does concern some pretty heady discussions regarding sex, science, nature vs nurture, emotions, philosophy and history, as well as the obvious stigmas attached.  It is quite a fascinating dialogue but the play ends quite suddenly and abruptly with no real conclusion in sight.  But, until then, it is quite compelling.

    The actors are all first-rate and quite convincing.  One does feel their pain, frustrations and doubts, as they travel through this journey of self-discovery.  It should also bode discussions with the audience as to parallels in their own lives.  Horn, as always, has given us much fodder for thought in this very complex and changing social environment.

    I do recommend this play but, be aware, the discussions and situation are quite frank.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.
--DJS

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Hairspray—Oregon Shakespeare Festival—Ashland, OR

“…and the beat goes on…!”

this outrageously charming musical is based on the John Waters film.  It is directed by Christopher Liam Moore, book by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan, music by Marc Shaiman and lyrics by Scott Wittman & Shaiman.  Also, choreography by Jaclyn Miller and music direction by Gregg Coffin.  It is playing at the Bowmer Theatre, in repertory, through October 27th.  osfashland.org. 

The Rainbow is a many-splendored thing, made up of varied layers, colors and depths, which all contribute to the whole Beauty of this result of working together.  We, too, are Rainbows, all of us, dependent on each other to foster a harmonious environment.  And so, toiling as one, each with their own unique gifts to offer, we survive.  Without doing this, we perish.  The choice is ours…for our own sakes, we need to succeed in being inclusive and embracing the Whole.

And, with that, we arrive in Baltimore in the early 60’s.  And, after experiencing this explosion in the status quo, the world will never be the same again!  The Turnblad family seems pretty typical of the times.  Edna (Daniel T. Parker), the mom, takes in laundry for a living; Wilbur (David Kelly), the dad, runs a magic shop and is a self-styled inventor; and Tracy (Katy Geraghty), the daughter, is… well, let’s just say for now, she is a pretty normal teen except, inside, there’s a revolution brewing, which will soon erupt into the whole, wide world.

She, and her best friend, Penny (Jenna Bainbridge), dream of appearing as dancers on the Corny Collins (Eddie Lopez) Show (a stand-in for the real “American Bandstand”).  Her parents forbid it, which only spurs her forward.  But the manager of the station, Velma (Kate Mulligan), a snob of the first order, laughs at her antics, as her daughter, Amber (Leanne Smith), is the darling of the show.  But the resident hunk, Link (Jonathan Luke Stevens), takes a shine to her and so she is accepted into this dance pack.

But her revolutionary ideas do not stop there.  She also has befriended some of the African-American population, including Motormouth (Greta Oglesby), owner of a neighborhood record store, Seaweed (Christian Bufford), an accomplished dancer, and others to defy tradition, and sees no reason why they should not be dancing as equals on the show, too.  Needless to say, this idea does not bode well with the powers that be, nor the prevailing winds against any such equality movement for them.  To reveal how it all turns out would make me a spoiler, so mums the word which means you just have to see it.

The cast of this show is truly amazing as singers, dancers and actors!  There were cheers throughout the sold-out, opening night performance and more than one standing ovation, well deserved.  The songs and dance numbers are terrific.  My personal favorites are “You’re Timeless To Me” (Edna & Wilbur), a touching ballad to love; “I Know Where I’ve Been” (Motormouth), a haunting, powerful tribute to a woman standing up for herself; and the finale, “You Can’t Stop The Beat (ensemble), a rousing number that vows such changes to charge forward.  All the songs not only fit the story but were powerfully delivered!

Oglesby was a powerhouse, a belter of the first class!  Geraghty, equally almost blew the house down with her songs and dances, as well as the determined, iron-clad maiden that wanted to change the world.  Parker and Kelly were delightful as the parents which, to be honest, should be icons for ideals of parenthood for any family; and I do admit, I have a soft spot for Bainbridge, as she exemplified, in acting and song, what a faithful, best friend should be like.

Moore has a winner on his hands, as he has chosen the perfect cast and led them through an amazing production.  Like-wise, Miller (dances) and Coffin (music) are in top form, adding immeasurably to the power of this show.  This play also included an added inclusiveness, as some of the cast were physically challenged in some way. But, you know, I didn’t notice those “differences,” as they were all just terrific artists to me…and isn’t that the way it should be in Life, too?!  One final note, there is a magical moment at the end of the play, which brought a tear to my eye, but I won’t reveal it, so you just have to experience it for yourself.

I highly recommend this show—it’s a must-see!  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

The Black Sheep

Some of you may know by now, my favorite spot to eat, while in Ashland, is the above pub:  A place “Where You Belong!”  They have authentic English Pub food, as my Brit friend concurs, and ales and home-made desserts and soups.  They also have darts, neighborhood events, music, storytelling and a real fireplace for cool evenings.  They often stay open late for the theatre crowd, too.  And two of the staff members I’ve gotten to know and like over a few visits are Greg, who makes you feel welcome, whoever you are, and Lorah, a friendly, elfin lady, who will make you smile just to talk with her.  And you might even meet the owner, who is also a charmer.  Just look for the bright, red door on the Plaza, 51 N. Main St.  www.theblacksheep.com  or call 541-482-6414.  If you do stop in, please tell them Dennis sent you

Monday, March 11, 2019

As You Like It—Oregon Shakespeare Festival—Ashland, OR


“Send in the Clowns…”

This classic comedy from Shakespeare is directed by Rosa Joshi.  It is playing at the Bowmer Theatre, in repertory, through October 26th,  For more information, go to their site at www.osfashland.org or call 1-800-219-8161.

Remember when you were a kid—the circus?  I mean a real circus, with the Big Top, Trapeze artists, lions & tigers and elephants, and those pesky clowns.  I always marveled, as a child, at that little car traveling around the center ring, then stopping, and out of it “a thousand clowns” would emerge, of all colors, shapes and sizes.  Now, how did all those clowns fit into that little car?!

Then picture, if you will, our finite bodies, and all the varying “clowns” within.  You see, we are a different personality (“clown”) with our family, our close friends, our co-workers, a loved one and our acquaintances.  And so, as we enter different aspects of our lives, we discover that, indeed, “all the world’s a stage” and we, merely players upon it, as the Bard has suggested.  And so, I believe, we must make the most of our fragile time upon the “boards.”  And, on that note, let the games begin….
Common elements arise in most of the Bard’s comedies:  gender-switching, love manipulations, estranged relatives, wise clowns/fools/servants, caste systems, conflicts of purpose and redemption.  And, in the end, “every Jack must have his Jill (and vice versa),” and so it is here, too.

The plot centers around a disposed Duke (Rachel Crowl) and her melancholy companion, Jacques (Erica Sullivan), by her villainous brother, Fredrick (Kevin Kenerly), and Orlando’s conniving brother, Oliver (Shaun Taylor-Corbett), as well as the deposed brother of royalty, Orlando (Rom├ín Zaragoza) and his faithful servant, Adam (Tyrone Wilson), as well as Rosalind (Jessica Ko) and her cousin, Cecil (Kate Hurster), as well as their servant, the Fool, Touchstone (Rex Young), all threats to the throne, in one way or another, and so end up in the Forest of Arden in France, an Edenistic sort of encampment.  Whew!

Wait, there’s more.  Also, some shepherds share the forest with this band of misfits.  There is Sylvius (MacGregor Arney) and Corin (Caroline Shaffer), watching their flocks and inhaling some of the local merriment, also.  Of course, there are also a couple of shepherdesses, one of which, Audrey (Will Wilhelm), garners the interest of Touchstone, and the other herder, Phoebe (Lilia Houshmand), falls for Gannymede (forgot to tell you, Rosalind has disguised herself as this man so that she/he can investigate the wooing methods of Orlando).  Although the plot is obviously complicated, the fun is following the various factions throughout the story.  Can’t tell you who will end up with whom but, after all, it is a comedy.

One of the highlights of the show is the introduction of about a half dozen songs (composer, Palmer Hefferan) by the merry band of followers of the banished Duke.  They are quite entertaining and add to the fun of the production.  (A personal note, I disagree with the choice to place Jacques famous monologue at the curtain call, as it is originally meant as a contradiction to his speech as, afterwards, a compassionate Orlando carries the ailing Adam into the forest—this interpretation from Dr. Bowmer himself).

Joshi has kept the show moving at a brisk pace and, despite the confusing plot, she does manage to keep things straight.  The cast, all very talented as actors and singers, present a rousing production.  I recommend this play.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Ashland Springs Hotel
I always mange to stay at this hotel (downtown, 212 E. Main St.), or it’s sister, Ashland Hills, (about 3 miles South of downtown), every time I come here to review shows (twice a year).  They have an amazingly healthy breakfast buffet (that is include in your stay).  It consists of hot and cold cereals, red potatoes, scrambled eggs, fruit, muffins & toast, coffee & tea & juices, et. al.  Also, it has secured parking (next door to OSF), comfortable rooms and a very friendly and efficient wait staff.  And the price is very reasonable, too.  For more information, go to their site at www.ashlandspringshotel.com or call 1-888-795-4545.

I highly recommend this, or the Hills location, for your stay.  If you do choose to stay here, please tell them Dennis sent you.