Monday, October 24, 2016

El Muerto Vagabundo—Milagro—SE Portland

Candle in the Darkness

This Day of the Dead celebration is written and directed by Georgina Escobar and is playing at their space, 525 SE Stark St. (street parking only, so plan your time accordingly), through November 6th.  For more information, go to the site at or call 503-236-7253.

This is a Hispanic tradition and, in my opinion, a lovely one.  It celebrates lives lived and honors those who have passed on.  As the author puts it, “…what is remembered never dies.”  She has chosen to place her setting under a bridge and camping together with, as the play reports, not homeless people but rather houseless people or, perhaps, hopeless.  In short, it is folks that society has forgotten, or swept under the rug to reside in the underbelly of our civilization.

I admit that being a “gringo,” I’m at a disadvantage in understanding Spanish, and with the names of the characters being in that language, I could only identify a few, so will just have to generalize the character situations.  Also this play is written more as a lyrical essay, consisting of poetry, songs, dance, masks, puppets, drawings, mime, etc. to tell the story.  And it’s impressive in its presentation, in that a writer can conceive so many different ways of expressing thoughts and feelings and be so compelling.

The cast includes Giovanni Alva as El Manotas; Patrica Alvitez as La Catrina; Roberto Arce as El Vagabundo; Juliet Maya Burl as La Llorona; Diego Delascia as The Kid; Carrie Anne Huneycutt as The Pan; Carlos Manzano as El Mundo; Mariel Sierra as The Sister; and Julio César Velázquez as El Jornalero.

The story concerns a boy (Delascia) is search of his father, who was MIA during the war.  He believes that if he creates an altar to honor the dead he will hear from him.  His sister (Sierra), a social worker, is more practical and is just trying to make ends meet.  The boy keeps a miniature radio close to him, assuming his father might communicate through it to him.  In the meantime, he comes upon a conclave of “street” people living under a bridge that feel compelled to tell their stories.

All of the stories are poetic in their renditions.  Some use song or dance, costumes and make-up, silhouettes and sketches, et. al. to express their individual stories.  They often involve violence, PTSD, drugs, alienation, loneliness, but also love, family, friendship, dreams and desires.  In short, a bit of the microcosm of any Nation.  My personal favorite was the Mute (El Mudo, I assume) who through mime, dance and expressions “felt” his way through Life, finding poetry in motion, something that can be lost in only words.  Their tales, a visual feast that rely on a broad canvas to communicate their plight.

This is a production that has everything that encompasses the Arts and certainly is a compliment to the artist, Escobar, that created it but also to the multi-talented cast that performed it.  It is well worth the time to enjoy it and, from one culture to another, a beautiful tradition that could be adopted into any culture, to honor those who have gone before…lest we forget…!

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

Goosebumps, the musical, Phantom of the Auditorium—Oregon Children’s Theatre—downtown Portland

Scared Silly

This world premiere, fun, Halloween musical for school-age kids and their families is written by John Maclay and Danny Abosch and directed by Stan Foote (OCT’s Artistic Director).  It is playing at the Newmark Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway, through November 20th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-228-9571.

This is based on the Goosebumps books by R. L. Stein, which also fostered for awhile a Saturday morning TV series and a recent, so-so movie with Jack Black.  They all feature teens and pre-teens overcoming eerie/mysterious circumstances in their communities, not unlike the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew mysteries of yesteryear.  What is important about these tales is they empower young people to overcome adversity, regardless of circumstances, and usually without an adult coming to the rescue.

In this day and age, with all the bullying, drugs, alcohol, suicide, et al. that Youth must face, it is refreshing to see a message about the power of teamwork, self-confidence and a solid, moral compass that these stories engender (as well as being involved in some sort of Artistic classes, as OCT teaches).  And, not to forget, the Young Professionals Company of OCT, with their show opening this week for teens and adults, In the Forest She Grew Fangs, about the angst of youth, mirroring a familiar “fairy tale.”  I’ve reviewed this play at Defunkt and it is powerful.  Best reserve seats now at the above info, as there are limited seats and performances.

In this story, there is this high school that has a haunted past.  It seems that many years ago, the legend says, there was an attempt to produce a musical call The Phantom.  But, because of some mysterious and eerie circumstances, concerning disappearances and accidents, it never went on.  But now, the drama teacher, Mrs. Walker (Laurie Campbell-Leslie), has decided to mount this show.  She casts two of her most talented students in the leads (also best friends), the boisterous, Zeke (Skylar Derthick) and the ever-confident, Brooke (Katie McClanan), as the Phantom and his lady-love.

But this does not sit well with the snobbish, Tina (Sophia Takla), who feels she deserves the role, instead of being relegated to being the understudy and Tech. Director.  The other classmates, Cami (Josephine McGehee), Steve (Gabe Porath), Anna (Emma Steward), and Corey (Xavier Warner) feel equally left out playing ensemble members and working behind the scenes.  But then mysterious messages begin to appear, as well as some unexplainable incidents.

Is it Zeke just “getting into character?”  Or maybe the grumpy night janitor, Emile (Andy Haftkowycz), has something to hide in the creepy sub-basement?  Of course, there is also the new kid in school to suspect, the handsome, Brian (Brendan Long), who seems smitten with Brooke (and she with him)?  Or is it their teacher who has relatives that were here during the original time period?  Or jealous Tina, or one of the other ensemble members?  Or the least suspicious one, Brooke, as traditional mysteries usually point to that character as being the culprit?  As you can see, I can only give you a thumbnail sketch because, being a mystery, it is up for you to solve for yourself.  And, being a mystery buff myself, I have to admit there are a couple of twists and turns that would have even made Dame Agatha proud.

Some of the musical parts of the script play more like an opera, as much of the dialogue is sung, rather than like many musicals, where the songs express inner feelings.  The whole cast is well-voiced in their chorus parts.  Campbell-Leslie is a seasoned pro from many years of major roles in musicals and it shows in her performance.  The highlight of the music was Takla’s (as Tina), rendition of “Understudy Buddy.”  She was very animated, in her expressions and has a powerful voice.  It was a show-stopper!  And she has talent that will blossom even more as time goes on, I predict.  Bravo!

Foote is always a pro in everything he does and it shows with his casting of the young people, especially, and his clever staging of the show, being magical, at times, itself.  As far as the script, I felt the supporting characters could have been fleshed out a bit more.  The talent was there in the actors but their parts seemed to have little definition or purpose other than to fill in chorus parts.  The roles of Cami, Steve, Anna and Corey need to have their own “voices,” too, as meaningful characters in the plot.

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

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Terror by Gaslight—Twilight Theater—N. Portland

A Grave Man

This very dark comedy, appropriate for Halloween, is written by Tim Kelly and directed by Doug Jacobs.  It is playing at their space, 7515 N. Brandon Ave. (just off Lombard), through November 5th.  There is limited parking in a church lot directly across from the theatre.  For more information, go to their site at

The time is the early 19th Century in Philadelphia…an era ripe for changes.  Although the story is a mix Frankenstein, Jekyll & Hyde, R. L. Stevenson’s, The Body Snatchers, and a bit of Sweeny Todd thrown in for good measure, it borders on a couple of serious issues back then.  One, in order for doctors to learn about how to best perform surgery, they needed bodies to dissect and examine.  Hiring grave robbers or “night crawlers” were doctors only source of cadavers but it was illegal.  Also it was considered not feminine for a woman to be interested in this profession.  Their only purpose, according to the accepted times, was to get married and propagate the race.  But, as I intimated, times, they were a-changin’!

Enter the cranky, cantankerous Dr. Norton (Gary Romans) who is a surgeon but has a dissecting room and hopes for a museum to focus on the human anatomy.  Although prominent in his field, he has colleagues, including the by-the-book, Dr. Winters (Redmond Reams), who keep a watchful on his “procedures.”  He also has an ex-student, a scumbag, Dr. Daniels (Breon McMullin), who is only interested in the profession for how it can profit him, including blackmail, if necessary.

But Norton has taken in a new student, Dover (Rob Kimmelman), who seems bright and willing to learn and eventually takes a shine to his daughter, Marilyn (Katherine Kyte), a very determined young lady who wants to learn the profession, too.  Another in his household is his stubborn sister, Constance (Debra Blake), who is devoted to the fact that a woman’s place is in the home with family and keeping house.  And Opal (Rachel Thomas) is the skittish and somewhat dim maid.  As you can see, heads are bound to clash when corpses begin to be a little “too fresh.”

It doesn’t help either that Norton has two nefarious “night crawlers” supplying him with bodies.  Scrubbs (Marty Winborne) is an apish, lowlife and is the brawn of the duo.  Gin Hester (Aje Summerly) is the other partner and is a mouthy drunk, the Burke and Hare of their day, which means that things will slide downhill from here.  Add a jilted “bride” by the name of Kitty (Kaitlynn Baugh), a pretty barmaid; a suspicious and a bit loony, grieving wife, Mrs. Culp (Katy Philp), of a corpse that disappeared; and a nosy detective, Harrison (Gary Sandelin) who, like a bulldog, will not let go of his hunches.  Can’t tell you more without revealing more of the plot but, know this, “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree!”

This is a fun show for a dark and stormy night (which it was) around Halloween.  Not necessarily for young kiddies but reasonably tastefully done, considering the subject matter.  Jacobs has cast it well and, being a community theatre, it is good to see a mix of newbies getting their feet wet and doing well and some seasoned actors treading the boards.

Romans turns Norton into a somewhat sympathetic character, who you condemn for his methods but also know he was a trailblazer.  Blake seems the most professional of the troop in her approach and, although you might see that she is trying to maintain a status quo, you also see a very determined woman who will not be silenced.  Kyte is an early example of a woman’s libber and plays it forcibly.  Baugh, in a small role, does shine, showing some talent.  And Winbrone and Summerly almost steal the show as the nefarious, dynamic, digging duo.  All and all, an entertaining evening and even a lesson or two woven into the fabric.

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

Friday, October 21, 2016

The Drowning Girls—Bag & Baggage Theatre—Hillsboro, OR

“Nearer My God To Thee”

his cautionary, true story is written by Beth Graham, Charlie Tomlinson and Daniela Vlaskalic.  It is directed by Scott Palmer (B&B’s Founding Artistic Director) and is playing in their space at the Venetian Theatre, 253 E. Main St., through October 31st.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-345-9590.

This is an appropriate but sobering tale for Halloween.  It is interesting to note the title of the hymn above, something the killer hummed often, was also reportedly the song the band was playing on the Titanic before she went under.  Prophetic, you might say.  The facts of the case are pretty straight-forward.  It seems that George Joseph Smith (under aliases) drowned three separate wives in their bathtubs, one per year, from 1912-14.  He was hanged for his crimes in 1915.  But the message here is larger than that.

It seems that Smith, also known as Henry Williams and John Lloyd, was a charismatic man of no means, who bilked wealthy young women out of their monies and then disappeared.  But, not content for some reason with just robbery, he resorted to marrying and then murdering them, I assume, because there was more money in confiscating their inheritances and life insurance policies, then simply taking their savings.  There was no doubt he was the culprit but the groundwork for his crimes had been laid down for many years before.

Women through this period of time were deliberately kept in the dark as to how the world worked.  Education for young girls was not encouraged, women did not have the right to vote or own property and even getting a job, other than as a servant or as a teacher, seamstress, laundress, et. al., was not desired by this patriarchal society.  Even law enforcement, juries, business heads, etc. were all men.  In short, women were to get married (to as wealthy a man as possible), have kids and run the household, nothing else.  Love should have no real bearing on this union and it was still customary in having parents arranging marriages for their daughters.

In this case, the three women in question, Bessie (Jessi Walters), Alice (Autumn Buck) and Margaret (Jessica Geffen) were all vulnerable and under this hypnotic air of indifference by the Society at large, to be led like sheep and, in these cases, to the slaughter.  Smith may have been the hand of the executioner but Society had already laid the foundation for these pre-ordained sacrifices.

In my opinion, women may have come a long way in altering that groundwork but it is still inherent in some instances.  Just the other day I overheard a mother saying to her young daughter, “and when are you going to give us grand-babies?”  Is there any choice involved for this young lady, or even Love as a factor?  Also, the male judge, that sentenced a young rapist to only a few months in jail, is appalling.  Shades of a different century still prevalent?!

What is remarkable about this production is the fact that it is up to the three women in question to tell their tale from their perspective.  The sodden voices are allowed to speak and their stories are even sadder than their fates because they, from the outset, had the cards stacked against them.  Also remarkable are the fact that the three actors involved play all the various characters throughout the story, including servants, family, lawyers, doctors, business owners and even the killer himself.  Walters, Buck and Geffen deserve a standing ovation for traversing this difficult territory and being able to keep the story straight and flowing!

Palmer has, once again, dipped into an unknown stream and been able to snag a beauty as a showcase for him and some amazing actors.  Also, the set by the very talented Megan Wilkerson and sound and lighting by Palmer and Jim Ricks-White are an absolute must in the success of this show!  There season of shows are never disappointing and always breaking new, artistic grounds.  And now they will have a new home in the Spring to develop even more their dreams.  I salute them!

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

Monday, October 10, 2016

Hold These Truths—Portland Center Stage—Pearl District

“Carefully Taught” Truths

This one-man show on real-life figure, Gordon Hirabayashi, was written by Jeanne Sakata, stars Ryun Yu (who originated the role) and is directed by Jessica Kubzansky.  It is playing in the Ellyn Bye studio at PCS, 128 NW 11th Ave. (finding parking can be a challenge in this area, so plan your time accordingly), through November 13th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-445-3700.

Part of my title above comes from a song to the musical, South Pacific.  It refers to a love affair between a white American soldier and a Pacific Islander girl.  It is particularly relevant here as it refers to the fact that children have to be taught to have prejudice, it doesn’t come naturally.  Shame on us!  Another point, some of the rest of the phrase from the title of the play refers to “these truths…to be self-evident…” meaning obvious.  So the rights of American citizens should be obvious, something evidently, in this case, that was not obvious to a President, the military, Congress and the Supreme Court at the time of these incarcerations!

It is probably well known by now that Japanese Americans had their businesses boycotted, lost property and belongings and were eventually transported to camps after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, as possibility being a threat to the country.  Of course, we were also at war with Germany and Italy but citizens that came from those countries were not.  Why?  The color of their skin, being white, would make it difficult to distinguish from other white Americans.  Of course that also meant that anyone of Asian extract, even if from China, Korea, a Pacific Islander, or from another Asian country, was suspect, even if not Japanese, simply because of the color of their skin.  Double shame on us!

Hirabayashi had grown up on the West Coast of the U.S. and went to college here.  But when he and his family were given curfews and then ordered to report to camps (for their own protection, of course, except the guns at these outposts were aimed toward the inside of the camp, not the outside), which were less than appealing quarters for families.  Gordon felt there was something terribly wrong about these restrictions to American citizens and chose to ignore the curfew.  He was arrested and decided to fight in court, contending that these rules/laws were unjust and he demanded due process of law.

His own family wanted him to give up the struggle because it might bring shame on the Japanese people and make them look guilty.  Our Government preferred not to make these restrictions too public and offered to settle with Gordon.  But he held out, eventually getting the support of the ACLU and took his case to the Supreme Court.  He lost the first round and was eventually ordered to spend a short time in prison.  His friends stuck by him, white and Asian, and he eventually married his college sweetheart, Esther, a Quaker lady, and they had a family.  To discover the outcome of his suit, you’ll have to see the play.

Yu does manage to hold your attention for the whole 90 minutes on an essentially bare stage.  I especially liked his portraying many other characters within the story as it showed his terrific versatility.  Sakata tells a powerful and complicated story of this man well, one which is probably not well known to the majority of people.  Kubzansky has kept the set simple with only three chairs, allowing the actor’s talent, the author’s words and the audience’s imagination to fill in the blanks.

One suggestion, though, that both my friend, Chris and I came up with at the same time after the play, is that they have this large white screen stretched across the back of the stage.  Wouldn’t it be even more effective if scenes from various incidents he was talking about, and possibly he and his family and friends, be projected on this during the play, to heighten the story points?

One more thought about “teaching” prejudice.  A close friend of mine, half-Japanese, when just a child, went to the ice cream shop one day with her white cousins, who she played with all the time, and her white uncle bought cones for them all…except her.  The point stuck with her all her life, she was excluded because she was of a different color, different nationally.  As mentioned, prejudiced has to be “taught.”  Our future depends on what kind of things we impart to our children.  I’ve said it before in my blog, and I’ll say it again, as Pope Francis stressed, should we be building Walls or Bridges between peoples/nations?!  Future Generations cry out for an answer….

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

American Hero—Artists Repertory—SW Portland

Sub Species

This touching comedy is written by Bess Wohl and directed by Shawn Lee.  It is playing at their space, SW Alder St. and 16th Ave., through October 30th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-241-1278.

This sandwich shop could be anywhere, USA, in one of the many Malls springing up, ad nausea.  I must confess when I arrived I expected not to see only some humorous tales of sub shop experiences, but this story is about much more than that.  It is about a growing population that is earning minimum wage in thankless retail jobs in our in our increasing suburban, concrete jungles.

Guaranteed these occupations are not the “dream” jobs for any of these individuals, unless they mistakenly (as we find out in the play) think that it is a way to become an executive with loads of money and perks.  It is, at best, a stopping off place, a momentary oasis amongst a harsh environment, so that one can get their bearings, catch their breath, for future Life struggles.  But, most of all, they are real people who just want to be given a chance to shine.

Bob (Mueen Jahan), from the Middle-East, is trying to find for himself those “streets paved with gold” that are often referred to.  He has a franchise in a sub shop and is hiring a staff.  He plays by the rules and adheres closely to the corporate handbook.  Among the staff he has hired is a young, rather shy, girl name Sheri (Emily Eisele), who is already working at a taco place, too, just to make ends meet.

He also hires Ted (Gavin Hoffman), nearing middle age with a business degree, but had been downsized from a management bank job.  But he also has a slew of other problems in his personal life that are hounding him.  He is very practical and likes to stick to the rules.  And the last employee is Jamie (Val Landrum), a rather sexy, free-wheeling lady that doesn’t seem bound by anybody’s rules of behavior.  But she also has a trunk-load of personal problems that haunt her.  In other words, these are just plain folks that are trying to get from one day to another, like the rest of the world.

It soon becomes apparent that things are not as they seem.  Their boss hasn’t been seen for awhile and their supplies are running low.  This means they will have to bond together, become a Family, for the common good and come up with a plan.  This also means they will have to put their egos aside and attempt to make the best of an increasingly dire situation.  Can’t tell you more without ruining the solutions they come up with.  But, the beauty of this story is that the human spirit will endure, in spite of odds against it, and the “little men,” in all of us, from kings to knaves, will have their say.

Wohl has given us a smorgasbord of delights to choose from, to concoct our own “Heroes” to digest.  What we choose to include in those will result in how we/they turn out, so choose ingredients carefully, for the fault is truly in us, not in our stars, as the Bard might surmise.  Wohl has a gem of a story that is reflective of all of us, a true microcosm of America.  And Lee has chosen a jewel of a cast to mirror her vision.  He also has the ability to create (with designer, Megan Wilkerson) an uncanny reality with the shop itself, giving actors plenty of playing room, but also making you feel like you want to step up on the set after the show and order a sub.

The cast is delicious.  Hoffman plays well the steely exterior whose inner world is collapsing.  Landrum is fine as she splays her sensuous bravado to hide the inner pain.  Eisele is a true find, riding that delicate line between being the scared mouse in the corner but able to display the roar of a Lioness when necessary.  And Jahan, in his many incarnations, gives a good variety to his characters and is powerful in his final monologue as Greg.

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

Hir—Defunkt Theatre—SE Portland

A “Hir-Raising” Event
This very dark comedy is written by Taylor Mac and directed by Andrew Klaus-Vineyard.  It is playing at the Backdoor Theatre (in the rear of Common Grounds coffee house), 4319 SE Hawthorne Blvd., through November 12th.  For more information, go to their site at

One way to describe this show is to quote from Eleanor in The Lion In Winter, “What family doesn’t have its ups and downs.”  But this group is even darker than her family, something akin to the skin-loving family in The Texas Chain-Saw Massacre.  In other words, a pretty dysfunctional gathering.

It seems that Isaac (Jim Vadala) has come home after three years from the wars overseas, after being dishonorably discharged for taking drugs.  What he is expecting to find on arrival is the home he left behind.  But, as Thomas Wolfe observed, “You can’t go home again.” 

Isaac is in for a rude awaking.  His “home” is in total chaos—literally.  The entire living area is covered in clothes, clean and dirty.  His mother, Paige (Paige McKinney) has become a cross between a martinet and Big Nurse from Kesey’s story.  She rules the roost with an iron fist and is taking no prisoners.  Conventional ways of doing things are out, including electronics, modernization and is concerned with turning the land back to the way Nature originally intended it to be.

His father, Arnold (Anthony Green), is pretty much a basket case.  He is dressed up in women’s clothes, wears diapers and is face is made up in clown make-up.  He has recently had a stroke, which has inhibited part of his body and slurred his speech.  He also may be taking female hormone pills.  He is kept sedated much of the time and prefers to sleep under a cardboard box.  It turns out he was a very abusive father and husband.

And his sister, now brother, (because of male hormone pills), Max (Ruth Nardecchia), seems to be still adjusting to “hir” (a word that encompasses both the “his” and “her” pronouns) place in life.  It seems that being in a commune with some anarchists is “hir” dream.  And Isaac realizes that something’s gotta give so he chooses to take charge and attempts to turn their world upside-down.

Will he be successful and turn his family into Ozzie and Harriet or will he change?  And just what is “home” anyway—four walls and a roof, or something deep in one’s psyche?  You’ll just have to see it for yourselves to find out.  The journey will be painful for all involved but change and evolution are inevitable…but at what price?!  It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Klaus-Vineyard has painted a vivid, albeit explosive, landscape on which this creation exists.

His has cast well the parts.  Vadala is always an asset to a show and in this psycho world, he takes us on a roller-coaster ride where the ending is to be determined.  McKinney is downright scary in her cold, calculated version of the world.  Green enacts the confused patriarch is such a way that is unsettling, as you know there is still a human being beneath all the rubble.  And Nardecchia plays beautifully the struggle with gender identity that makes you understand the plight of many people like “hir” in this world, simply to find themselves and be accepted.

If you want a good Halloween story this may be it.  It’s scary, not from beasts in the woods but beasts in side of us.  I do recommend this play but, as you might have guessed, it’s not for everyone, so be warned.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.