Monday, July 18, 2016

Nine—Lakewood Theatre Company—Lake Oswego, OR

“Thanks for the Memories”

This adult musical is written by Arthur Kopit (from the Italian, by Mario Fratti) with music and lyrics by Maury Yeston.  It is directed by Ron Daum, musical direction by Beth Noelle and choreography by Laura Hiszczynskyj.  It is based on Fellini’s film, 8 ½.  It is playing the Lakewood Theatre, 368 S. State St. in Lake Oswego, through August 14th.  For more information, go to their site at www.lakewood-center.org or call 503-635-3901.

Memories are tricky things.  Whole portions of time are wiped out and only “relevant” and/or traumatic  incidents can come to mind and usually only in snippets, like taking a photo.  Some people remember back to being an infant.  Others (like myself) only have memories starting in the “tween” years.  And, add to that, dreams or fantasies, and you have a cornucopia of possibilities of the life that you’re leading (and have lead).

Lillian Hellman, I believe, wanted to write a story on some early memories of her and then discovered that some of them were false, either mis-remembered or concocted by her.  She wrote the story anyway, including that extra element to it.  Also, one’s own perspective adds a personal and somewhat egotistical faction to the mix (as in the case of this story).

Fellini, or in the case his stage alter-ego, Guido (Matthew Hayward), creates for us his world on a stage.  In his case, it is made up of all women, except his excursions into childhood, himself as a boy of nine (Karsten George), or as a young man (Matthew Sepeda).  The two closest women to him are, of course, his tolerant mother (Debbie Hunter) and his wife, the ever-patient, Luisa (Chrissy Kelly-Pettit).  But he has orchestrated for himself (and us) a world of glamorous, adoring women, all clamoring for his attentions.

There is the exotic dancer, the insatiable, Carla (Ecaterina Lynn); his Producer, Liliane (Terra Lynn Hill) and her two trusting and unforgiving aides, the staunch, Stephanie (Megan Misslin) and her “hatchetman,” Lina (Josie Seid); the sultry, movie star, Claudia (Sarah Maines); the flamboyant procurer of the Spa (Libby Clow); the resourceful, Mama Maddelena (Lisamarie Harrison); an early teacher in the “art” of love, Sarraghina (Rachelle Riehl); and a bevy of other models, starlets, and assorted flings.  Not unlike the musical bio of Fosse, All That Jazz.

But he always feels incomplete because he is a creator without any real ideas of what to create.  Fellini himself did tend to wander at times in his films, like 8 ½, but others, like La Strada and Juliet of the Spirits (both with his wife), did have stories and were quite good.  But in this incarnation, the songs seem to express the inner demons, hopes, dreams and fears of some very creative souls.  To discover them, you’ll have to experience it for yourselves.

Daum has done a first-rate job of assembling this very talented cast and kept the complicated plot on track so that we understand the story.  It’s a memory play and, like memories, wanders and changes directions, but he has managed the unenviable task of keeping it understandable.  And the set by Charles Ketter is terrific, both for expressing the moods of the show and for the actors to play on.  The costumes by Jessica Carr, likewise are very exotic and expressive of Italy during the 60’s.  And I loved the aerial arts number of Carla’s by Hiszczynskyj.  But I was blown away by Noelle and her musicians and especially her on piano.  It is a difficult score but they managed to connect with the performers (and audience) without drowning them out.  And Noelle was a powerhouse on piano as she burned up the stage on the finales.

Many of the singers were of operatic quality and I applaud the fact that not only can they have the singing power to raise the roof but have wonderful acting chops as well.  And Hayward, as the lead player, is amazing.  Not only does he have some resemblance to the lead romantic Italian stars of his day but also the bravado that was needed.  His voice is extraordinary.  He enacts one those romantic cavaliers that, although unsavory in their morals, you just can’t help but like anyway.

I recommend this show but know that it is adult in nature.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Coriolanus, or the Roman Matron—Bag & Baggage—Hillsboro, OR

The “Amazon” Solution
This production is based on Thomas Sheridan’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s play, freely adapted for the stage and directed by Scott Palmer (B&B’s Artistic Director).
  It is playing outdoors at the Tom Hughes Civic Plaza, 150 E. Main St., in Hillboro (bring your own chairs), through July 23rd.  For more, information on the show and next season, check out their website at www.bagnbaggage.org

This interpretation of the Bard’s work reminded me of the legend of the race of all-female, Amazon warriors, who ruled their own land with an iron fist.
  Men were used either as slaves and menial workers or as studs and, once those “duties” with the warriors was performed, were often killed, as when their only use, to propagate the race, was completed, they were of no use.  Love did not seem to enter the picture.It is said that this feline military was so dedicated to warfare that many bowman would cut off a breast so that they could shoot arrows better.  This production does not go to that extreme but it is no doubt that they are a force of nature to be reckoned with. 
It seems that Caius Marcius (Cassie Greer) later, Coriolanus, is an important Roman general and has led her army to victory over the dreaded Volscians, their enemy, led by Aufidius (Bethany Mason).
  His wife, the timid, Virgilia (Lindsay Partain), his mother, the outspoken, Volumnia (MaryAnne Glazebrook) and their friend, the lady, Valeria (Arianne Jacques) highly approve of him and tout his victories to the people.
But it seems the Senate, consisting of the peacemaker, Menenius (Adrienne Southard) and two tough opponents of the military, the Tribunes, Sicinius (Morgan Cox) and Brutus (Lindsay Valencia-Reed) are not so easily appeased.
  Before they are willing to bestow the laurels of Consul (he already has been re-named, Coriolanus, after the city he captured) upon him, they want him to make a speech to the people, declaring his love for the masses and ensuring their support of him.
But he, and his troops, the Generals, Lartius (Signe Larsen) and Cominius (Autumn Buck) and a soldier (Zoe Flach), despise the lowly masses and will not flatter the Senate, nor the people, and so he quits the Roman army and chooses to offer his support to the enemy, who he has just defeated.
  This is, to say the least, an awkward situation for his family and friends and dire consequences lie ahead for his actions.  To give out any more details would spoil the plot so you’ll just have to see it to discover the ending.
This is a very low-tech production with essentially no scenery and done on a bare stage area.
  But with some clever costuming and doubling of roles, the play forges ahead with no real confusion as to who’s who or where they are.  This is a fine example of the “black box” style of doing theatre (where all that is needed is just a place to do the show, letting the actors’ talent, the author’s words and the audience’s imagination fill in the blanks).  The look of a concrete jungle and barren rocks are just the right flavor for such a bleak story.  The only annoying distraction was the Max trains coming through every few minutes, but the actors trained voices and the close proximity of the audience to them, pretty much overcame this.
I’m always impressed with Palmer’s choice of shows and adaptation of them (definitely not the mainstream) as well his talented troupe of actors.
  And tackling Shakespearean speech is no easy feat, but this group of eleven women is up to the task.  From the title character, Greer (always a marvel) to a high school student, Flach, they all are articulate and have command of the necessary bravado necessary to convince us of their plight.  And any resemblance to current events or people in today’s world is, I’m sure, purely…intentional! 
Just look around at the military coups in other countries, the treatment of the downtrodden in all countries, the religious and cultural factions everywhere and the political circus currently happening with our Congress and the elections, and you can see that the story being told from about 400 years ago is really not so strange.  Wouldn’t you have thought that we would have learned from past mistakes and attempted to change them?  Instead, it seems we are proverbially doomed to repeat them!
The cast is all first-rate and, as mentioned, Greer is special…always!
  Her roles have ranged from Daisy in The Great Gatsby, to a singing gallant in one of Shakespeare’s comedies, to an cabin boy in Moby Dick, Rehearsed, to an austere Austin character, et. al., and all with perfect conviction.  The talent she has goes deep to her roots and not all actors have it.  She has the ability to inhabit a role and make it totally her own.  Guinness and Sellers had that ability, as does Streep.  I always look forward to seeing her in a play and know that she will always shine!
I recommend this play.
  If you do see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Friday, July 15, 2016

When Thoughts Attack—CoHo Productions—NW Portland

”…What a Web We Weave”

Kelly Kinsella wrote and performs her one-woman show, directed by Padraic Lillis, as part of the SummerFest at CoHo, 2257 NW Raleigh St. (note:  finding parking in this area can be a challenge, so plan your time accordingly), from Thursday, July 14th through Sunday, July 17th at 7:30 pm.  Tickets are $20.  More information on her show can be found on their site at www.cohoproductions.org

We all have demons, of one sort or another, and anxieties are a way of manifesting these pests.  But, perhaps, the most powerful enemy of demons/evil, according to Mel Brooks, is laughter.  It exposes them to the outside air and sunlight, which they hate, for they succeed best in the dark recesses of the “windmills of our minds.”  In reality, anxieties are a serious matter but Kinsella has the courage to bring them into the open for all to see, not only as a catharses for herself, but to say to the world/audience, you are not alone in these fears, foibles and frustrations and I can help you lighten the load.  Bravo, Kelly!

She is also in a Medium, the Arts, which is a very safe environment to reveal her inner characters/clowns, for that is her craft and talent.  Remember a time when you were a child and saw the circus?  Remember the act in which a small car circles the ring, then stopped, and a large variety of clowns came from that little auto?  Well, picture yourself as that car and those clowns as parts of yourself, manifesting different faces as needed for different situations and gatherings.  That, in a nutshell, in part, is how an actor creates.  Put this together with the act that Kelly has embodied, and all those unattractive type of clowns of her nature now have a noble cause, which is to give them a name and, if you can’t actually exorcise them, at least you can bring them out of the darkness and “let it all hang out.”

I’ve spent time on how an artist builds a foundation on which they create because that will give you a large clue as to the nature of the show.  She begins by allowing us to envision the process she goes through, coupled with her anxieties, as a stream-of-conscientiousness approach to ordering lunch.  It’s a perfect example of the kinds of thoughts that might “attack” you when you are in any kind of similar situation.  But in her case it’s magnified a hundred-fold because of her anxieties.  She traces some of the frustrations back to her childhood and whether she might have inherited these traits.  As she got older she traveled extensively, never seeming to be rooted to any one spot or individual.  Running away from something, or toward something?!

Many of her fears are real, as she envisions seriously hurting someone (or herself), if she lashes out in anger.  Therapy and medications do not seem to bring any permanent resolve.  But the acting and writing do.  Acting with, and in a strange way, embracing these “clowns” and giving them voice, does seem to be the “music that soothes the savage beast.”  And since she does seem to be a loner, writing is a perfect tool for exposing her demons, as writing is a solitary type of commitment.  And the result is this show.  If you really want to know more about this amazing lady, read my article/interview with her:

http://dennissparksreviews.blogspot.com/2016/06/when-thoughts-attackcoho-productionsnw.html

To tell too much of the details of her show would ruin it for you.  Also, some of it is interactive with the audience and she does modify her material to connect with places and things unique to the Northwest.  Humor is a powerful weapon and medicine.  She has chosen to embrace those “clowns” within her, as they have steadfastly stood by her side, proving she is not alone in facing this “brave, new world” she has created.  My we all be so lucky…and courageous!

I highly recommend this show.  If you do choose to see it (and you only have this weekend to do that), please tell them Dennis sent you.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

West Side Story—Broadway Rose Theatre Company—Tigard, OR

A World Gone Awry

This classic musical is loosely based on Shakespeare’s, Romeo and Juliet.  The book is by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.  It was directed and choreographed on Broadway by Jerome Robbins.  This production is directed by Peggy Taphorn, choreographed by Jacob Toth and musical direction by Alan D. Lytle.  It is playing at the Deb Fennell auditorium at the Tigard High School, 9000 SW Durham Rd. in Tigard, through July 24th.  For more information, go to their site at www.broadwayrose.org

This world may have started out as a Garden but it has deteriorated hugely since then.  And what may express the theme of this play in a few words:  Doc, to a gang member, “You make this world lousy!”  Reply, from a gang member, “That’s the way we found it, Doc!”  Sad, but true.  Our children are going to pick up where we left off and, in the sorry state that it is in today, it may signal the beginning of the end.  I certainly hope not, though, as I think our Youth are smarter than that and that they will overcome the “sins of the fathers.”

But this basic story goes back to the immortal Bard.  Interesting thought, the parents are missing from  the tale and the only adult role models are weak or are sorry excuses for adults.  So the Youth are pretty much on their own and the story told from their perspective. Tony (Andrew Wade) is trying to go “legit,” has a job at Doc’s (Mark Pierce) drug store and is no longer an active member of the street gang of Jets, now led by Riff (Drew Shafranek).  But his old pal has explained that they are finally going to have it out with the rival gang, the Sharks (the “P.R.’s,” Puerto Ricans), led by Bernardo (Austin Arizpe), and he needs Tony to come to the dance at the gym tonight, as moral support.  He agrees.

But, as Fate would have it, Maria (Mia Pinero), Bernardo’s sister, is also at the dance and these two “star-crossed lovers” are immediately smitten with each other.  Of course, in their euphoric state, they do not see any color barriers that can’t be overcome.  But it seems the world is “too much with them,” as Anita (Kayla Dixon), Benardo’s main squeeze, tries to emphasize.  Also the police, under the command of Lt. Shrank (Garland Lyons) and his trusty puppet, Officer Krupke (Jeremy Southard), have it in for all these punks, especially the P.R.’s.  Suffice to say, the cards are stacked against them.  A turf war does break out with tragic results.  I can’t tell you the rest without spoiling it for some, but it does follow reasonably closely the Bard’s play.

This is my favorite musical!  It is almost perfectly constructed as a story and has an outstanding score, (with Shakespeare, Sondheim, Bernstein and Laurents as a team and Robbins at the helm, how could you go wrong?!).  I also had the honor of producing this show a number of years back and it won many awards.  So, to say the least, I am an unabashed fan.  And this production is absolutely amazing!  Taphorn has managed to do so much with a limited space and changing settings and yet keep the play moving at a brisk pace.  Also, her choice of cast is spot on.  And Lytle, steering the orchestra, is a perfect complement to this difficult score.

But, despite all the great music and acting, it is a dancer’s show (as that was Robbins forte in life) and with Toth in charge of that complex realm, it is in the hands of a master!  The opening of the show, the gym dance, “America,” The Rumble, and the dream ballet are some of the highlights of the show, due to the dancing.  It is beautifully staged and executed by Toth.  And the complimentary lights (Phil McBeth) and sparse but expressive set (Robert Andrew Kovach), add greatly to the success of the show.

Pinero and Wade, as the two major characters, have almost operatic voices and, at times, the theatre seemed almost too small to contain them.  Dixon was the perfect match for her counterparts on stage (Rivera) and screen (Moreno).  She is an astounding singer, dancer and actor (the acclaimed triple threat) and is perfect in this role.  I wish all of them, and the rest of the cast, who are very accomplished in all those areas as well, success, and not to forget, the beautiful rendition of “Somewhere” by Amber Kiara Mitchell.

Still powerful and topical after all these years, this will be one of the hallmark productions of this show.  Besides the above mentioned dance sequences, I was also impressed with the “Tonight” ensemble, Wade’s singing of “Maria,” both he and Pinero warbling of “One Hand, One Heart,” the Jet’s mocking, “Gee, Officer Krupke,” and the haunting duet by Pinero & Dixon of “A Boy Like That….”  All unforgettable!

It is a sad note that this type of story is still relevant today.  And it will continue to be so until we remove hate from out language and replace it with, as was so simply but eloquently put on the Tony Awards, “Love is love is love is love….”  And it’s not so difficult to get to that place.  All one has to do is just put one foot in front of the other…and continue on until the task is completed.

In case you haven’t guessed, I highly recommend this production.  And if you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

When Thoughts Attack—CoHo Productions—NW Portland


“Inside Out” Redux

Kelly Kinsella wrote and performs her one-woman show as part of the SummerFest at CoHo, 2257 NW Raleigh St. (note:  finding parking in this area can be a challenge, so plan your time accordingly), from Thursday, July 14th through Sunday, July 17th at 7:30 pm.  Tickets are $20.  More information on her show and SummerFest can be found on their site at www.cohoproductions.org

If you’ve ever seen the excellent animated movie of the above title, you might get some idea of what Kinsella’s show will involve.  I saw a brief clip of it and it seems to embody also a stream-of-conscientious type of approach, too.  The author, Virginia Woolf, was also a big advocate of this style of writing in some of her stories, once using an entire short novel based on all the thoughts that went through a person’s head in the space of a few minutes.  Unfortunately, Woolf came to a tragic end by taking her own life, so the “attacks,” in her case, were fatal in the long run.

But, I believe, Kinsella is made of “sterner stuff,” and when you include humor in her material, it probably has a way of letting the “demons” out and diffusing or diluting such anxieties.  I recently had the pleasure of interviewing this lady from NYC and she sounded amazingly sane.  In fact some of her stories reminded me of when I was a child and wanted to become a writer.  And so I asked her how it all began:  I have been performing skits since I can remember!  As a child I was obsessed with playing make- believe…far beyond the capacity of most of my friends. I had a cousin, Johnny, who could keep up with me and, once on a family trip to his summer camp, we were able to extend a James Bond-esque scene--where he kidnapped my teddy bear--that took us from our bikes, to row-boats, to climbing trees, for an entire week.  We didn’t break character.  It’s still one of the greatest memories of my life….”



A personal note, it is important for our children to have “Johnny’s” and supportive families in our lives, as she did.  The public educational system seems, for the most part, hell-bent-on-leather to exorcise the Arts from their programs for budget reasons because they don’t feel it’s important.  Playtime and the Arts build character, teamwork and confidence in a child and if they don’t feel that’s important to becoming an adult, shame on them!  (Okay, I’m getting down off my soapbox now.)



She was a musician and, as a child, wrote songs “…and sang them to my dogs.  She also kept a diary and uses some of that material in her shows.  I, too, wrote and performed in backyard dramas but they were actually just recaps of things I’d seen in the movies or on TV.  But playtime morphs into school, which involved plays and Improvs.  Eventually she became “…an interactive street performer at Walt Disney World and various Renaissance Festivals.  Those experiences are all about working well with others and--like with my playtime with cousin, Johnny--they are my fondest memories.”



But somehow, someway, something emerges from all the artistic, primeval ooze we wallow through to become who we are today.  In my case, it was the discovery of my Muse, who guided me in my writing.  In Kelly’s case, when she wrote her first solo show, “…while working full time as an actor at Walt Disney World in Orlando FL.  I had already been doing sketch comedy along with the improv so that first show was very sketch-like--like Saturday Night Live--all big broad characters from my imagination…It took me another ten years to write my next play!  But then I wrote three pretty much one after the other and they all were based on people in my life, my career as a dresser, my family...and eventually with WHEN THOUGHTS ATTACK--my own struggle with anxiety.  My most recent show, HOW TO DO A ONE PERSON SHOW uses all these elements, storytelling, stand up, sketch, and original character work.”



But Success can be a “cruel mistress,” as it can alienate you from the so-called, “normal” world and people.  Performing and writing can be a lonely business, as there can be a chasm of sorts between the artistic and…well, everyone else.  The upside, of course, is connecting with other talented, creative people.  It’s an interesting, lively environment full of love.  But outside that safe, loving environment is the “real” world and that can have its challenges.  “…it’s difficult to identify as anything else!  We all know the life of an artist has no guarantees of success--financially or otherwise…yet it’s almost impossible to swallow that fact and move on to something else as time goes by…I often feel I may have missed out on some other opportunities--to have a family, or a fulfilling career….”  I know, only too well, that feeling.



But there are memorable times when performing.  I remember getting so psyched up during a show one night that, when I ran offstage, I burst through the stage door…the fire exit to the building…and then over the railing.  Kinsella has some interesting memories from her audiences.  The most memorable comment was from a woman who looked like she had just rolled out of bed, who exclaimed after she saw the show--‘Oh my God! You’re crazier than I am!’  Another time she had some religious critics, where she…“was doused with holy water by a bunch of middle aged Catholic women…that was strangely comforting.”  And, in a talk-back session after one of her shows, she had a 75 year old man proclaim, “’That’s me up there on that stage…that’s me!’"  Even though you may think you’re writing for yourself, it’s amazing how many people connect with what you say.



Currently she is writing a family drama which is inspired by her own family.  Also she has completed a pilot for the web.  And another one-woman show is in the works about, “…a woman who takes a trip to India in search of meaning and everything that can go wrong goes wrong...”  But to me, what is most interesting about writers/performers is the take-away they expect from an audience.  She has an absolutely amazing reply to that:  I want them to be entertained.  To laugh.  To understand and be understood.  I want them to feel a part of something that they should celebrate and not be ashamed of. To accept their humanity in all it’s great and grotesque-ness!  To be brave and honest with themselves for an hour.”  Amen to that.



In her case, it all started with the need to entertain people as a child.  It helps if you have a cohort or two, in her case her cousin, Johnny…and an audience, her family and especially important, was to make her sister, Shannon laugh.  It was a challenge; if I could achieve that, I knew I was on the right track.”  All Kelly needs now is another audience, older, perhaps and maybe, more diverse, but still smart enough to know that laughter is the best medicine, if not to change the world then, at least, to let “the world slide” for a couple of hours, so that we can recharge our batteries for another taxing day.



I think she deserves our attention.  What say, you?!

Monday, June 27, 2016

A Midsummer Night’s Dream—Experience Theatre Project—Beaverton, OR

“…life is rounded with a sleep”

One of the Bards best plays, which is adapted, directed and original music by Alisa Stewart, is playing (outdoors) at The Round at Beaverton Central, 12600 SW Crescent St., through July 10th.  For more information, go to their site at www.experiencetheatreproject.org or call 844-387-7469.

Shakespeare’s “…Dream” is one of the loveliest fantasies every written.  It stirs in romance, adventure, comedy, status, politics, mistaken intentions, merry mix-ups and magic in a veritable quandary of a delicious feast.

The story, in short, is the mixing of oil and water and the ensuing results.  It takes place in and around the nuptial eve of the local royalty, the Duke of Athens, Theseus (Shaun Hennessy) and his lady, Hippolyta (Valerie Asbell).  They have invited to their celebration, Lysander (Matthew Sunderland) and Demetrius (John Corr), who both happened to be in love with the same woman, Hermia (Mamie Wilhelm).  This leaves Helena (Lexie Quandt) as the odd wo-man out, who happens to have the hots for Demetrius.

Meanwhile, on the home front, Nick Bottom (Michael C. Jordan) and a motley crew of tradesmen, led by Peter Quince (Shaye Eller), including Snout (Caleb Sohigian), Starveling (Meredith Ott), Snug (Elyse Hartman) and Flute (Steven Grawrock) have decided to put on a play, Romeo & Juliet, for the nobility of their fair town, on their nuptial day.

But the local Fairies (doubling from the tradesmen, and Jack Wells as Cobweb) have their own set of problems with the King, Oberon (Murren Kennedy), getting jealous because his wife, Titania (Sara Fay Goldman, also the choreographer), is showering so much attention on her new changeling-boy, that he feels she’s ignoring him.  (“Ah, Vanity, I knew you would get me in the end.”—Cyrano).

So, he has his trusted minion, Puck (Catherine Olson), spread some fairy juice on his wife’s eyes, as well as the two young, Athenian men, so that the next being they see, they will lust after.  This gets twisted around so that all the male hormones are directed toward Helena, and Oberon’s wife falls in lust with an ass…but to get the rest of that story, you’ll just have to see it.  Needless to say, all turns out as it should, and every Jack will have his Jill (and vice versa).

Shakespearean language is never easy to articulate, even for the most trained actors and, even then, open to debate as to meanings and inflections.  Do you do it in the traditional iambic pentameter, or olde English, or “conversational” style (as I learned)?  This troupe has wisely stuck to being understood and thus keeping it simple.

And, quite honestly, they do pretty well.  Goldman and Kennedy, as the royal fairies, seem to be the most proficient in speech and volume.  The lovers are also quite good as they are articulate and have captured the “fire and spirit and dew” of these lovers.  Jordan, as the ego-centric (not unlike Oberon) Bottom, was actually interacting with the audience which will endear them even more to the play.

Olson, as Puck, is a marvel!  She is absolutely the right size, look, understanding of the language and feisty spirit that the role calls for (she also has a pretty impressive background, too, in the Arts).  The tom-boy/Peter Pan (hope to see her do that one sometime) appearance is perfect for the role.  Her only drawback (mostly not her fault) is the volume.  She really needs to be amplified in some way, as she is too good not to be heard.  She is a find and I hope to see (and hear) more of her onstage.

The costumes (Carrie Anne Huneycutt) are super and really add to the success of the show.  They are simple, colorful and evoke another period.  And the original music by Stewart is beautiful and really enhances the period, feel and look of the show (unfortunately, not her fault, too, it needs amplification).  She cast the play well, kept it moving and, doing it outdoors, is a good idea for this play.  I’m not sure why she chose to have Romeo & Juliet as the tradesmen’s play instead of Pyramus and Thisbey, as I believe that would worked better, but director’s prerogative.  Also I want to give a shout-out to another pixie-looking lady, a girl named Jack, as the fairy, Cobweb, as she also has the right look and feel for this type of role, being impish, mischievous and slightly dangerous.  You, go, girl!

The biggest drawback is the fact that the designers of this space, which imitates a small Greek theatre, was obviously designed to be a performing space.  So why the hell did the planners decide to put a Max rail/train a few feet away, with the bells, whistles and hissing that go along with such a vehicle, and coming and going every few minutes!  They couldn’t build a curved wall at the back of this space that would have reflected the sound back into the performance area?!  That being said, my advice to the theatre company is that they might pull the show/actors/musicians closer to the lawn area.  Also they might try miking at least, Puck, and maybe some of the others.  And they might want to look for another space in the future where they don’t have the Max noise, patrons from near-by restaurants, planes, cars, horns, A/C in near-by building going off, etc. to disturb the production.

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

Roe—Angus Bowmer Theatre (OSF)—Ashland, OR


“To Be or Not To Be…”

This World Premiere at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival is written by Lisa Loomer and directed by Bill Rauch (OSF’s Artistic Director).  The show is co-produced with Arena Stage and Berkeley Repertory Theatre and plays, in rotation, through October 29th.  For more information, go to their site at www.osfashland.org or call 800-219-8161.

…That is a Giant question, but a more complex one might be, when does a “to be” become a Being, a Life, a Person?!  This Tree of Existence has many branches, such as personal, medical, philosophical, ethical, religious, cultural, legal/constitutional, et. al. and one answer does not fit all.  But the real question boils down to, who should be the decider when a birth is not wanted/expected/desired, regardless of consequences/stigmas from many of the above mentioned “branches?”  And, the other dilemma, should means be available legally to end/abort such a pregnancy?

Part of the answer, as to constitutional rights, came from the Supreme Court in the 70’s, ruling that the unborn cannot be considered a person and that a woman, under the right of privacy, which is protected by the Constitution, has the right to make decisions regarding her body (this may be an oversimplification on my part, but I think it is the essence).  The medical community (as vocalized by an audience member sitting near me, a doctor) concluded that “Life does not actually begin till 20-24 weeks in the womb.”  The religious faction considers Life to have begun at conception, being that the Soul is also born.  Personal opinions range from murder (murderer) to a woman’s right to choose.  A corundum not easily solved.

This play examines all those issues and more, and it does it without being judgmental (thanks to the brilliant writing of Loomer!), which is quite a trick.  The only parts I found to have clearer paths are the fact that making abortion illegal does not prevent it, it simply drives it underground into unsafe conditions (just as Prohibition did Not prevent drinking).  And, except for cases of sexual abuse/rape, there is a way to prevent unwanted pregnancies—abstinence from sex and birth control, thereby making that question mute.

I’ve spent a lot of time on the core issues of Roe v. Wade because I believe the story is such a personal and emotional roller-coaster that it needs to be evidenced by a live audience, not diluted by me giving a summary of the plot.  In brief, it focuses on “Jane Roe” herself, Norma McCorvey (Sara Bruner) and her life.  She was a poor, uneducated girl from the South who already had a couple of kids.  She was chosen to be the “Roe” in question, I believe, because the lawyers, the main attorney being Sarah Weddington (Sarah Jane Agnew), herself young and untested, possibly felt that she could be easily manipulated.  It turned out nothing could be further from the truth.

The main voice from the Courts is Justice Blackmun (Richard Elmore).  The other very vocal faction is the religious Right in the guise of Flip (Jeffrey King), a preacher and his dedicated assistant, Ronda (Amy Newman).  Another driving force in Norma’s life is her lover, the ever-faithful, Connie (Catherine Castellanos), who sticks by her through thick and thin.  And finally, there is the voice from the “future,” Roxanne (Nemuna Ceesay), a student of today, trying to make out what it all means for her.  The ultimate flurry of activity, of course, because of electronic interactions, is the ever-present and ever-powerful Media, which is constantly looking for stories to boost their ratings, not necessarily the Truth and, in the end, all factions are being manipulated/used/abused by our beloved social and news media (not unlike the O.J. Simpson trial/”circus”).  “What Fools we Mortals be!”

The rest of the ensemble is also exceptional:  Gina Daniels, Susan Lynskey, Kate Mulligan, Barret O’Brien, and Zoe Bishop.  “These few, these precious few…” play all the other, couple dozen parts as well, and they are super, and Bruner, as “Roe” is amazing!  Rauch is a Master, as he moves from one issue/person to another without losing focus of the through-line of the story and yet keeping each incident/event clear for the audience, so that they are not confused as to who’s who and what’s what.  Throughout the play the audience was applauding, cheering or booing at various stages, as they were completely captivated and rapt by the proceedings and gave the cast a well-deserved standing ovation at the end.

This has Broadway-bound written all over it and, I hope, that at least, Rauch, as director and Bruner, as “Roe,” could be included in that package.  In case you haven’t guessed, I highly recommend this play—it’s not to be missed!  If you do see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.



The Ashland Experience part III


It is always worthwhile on a sunny day to dine along the creek.  While there, my friend Dave and I ate at Louie’s ( www.louiesofashland.com ), 41 N. Main St. (dining inside or on the creek) 541-482-9701, which has an extensive menu, now including gluten-free, organic and vegetarian options.

We also always eat at Caldera Tap House (on the creek or inside), 31 Water St., 541-482-7468 www.calderabrewing.com  They have traditional pub food and their own micro-brews, which are quite good.  Christian was our server and very informative and congenial.  Patrick Couchman is the Manager.

And no trip should be complete without a walk through the famous, Lithia Park, complete with jogging trails, playgrounds, picnic areas, a creek and the ever-popular, duck pond.  It’s located just North of OSF.  I very much recommend spending some time there.