Monday, January 14, 2019

Teenage Dick—Artists Rep—SW Portland


Season of our Discontent
This topical play is written by Mike Lew and directed by Josh Hecht.  It is playing at their space, 1515 SW Morrison St., through February 3rd.  For more information, go to their site at www.artistsrep.org


Our “salad days,” or our teen years, are meant to be the course in which we discover ourselves and have the youth to enjoy it.  At one time, that may have been true.  But, no more.  Electronics have invaded this sacred space and now we are subject to its bidding.  It is said that “Youth is wasted on the young” and nowadays that may be all too true.  To be fair, though, there are many, like those Youth that openly oppose misuse of weapons, and those that are fighting for the right for a cleaner environment.  To those chosen few, I salute!

But we have become slaves to technology and it has run/ruined our lives.  We have become a product of others views of us and, if continuing unchecked, it will devour our souls, our essence “and leave not a wit behind.”  In this case, a “mis-shapened” being, cast as an outcast, and then villain, only because he doesn’t look like the majority.  And so, Richard (Christopher Imbrosciano), like his Shakespearean counter-part, if he cannot be the hero of his story, then will play its nemesis to the hilt.

Richard is a sly dog, not content to fade into the woodwork, but chooses instead to run for President of the school council, but on the quiet.  He has a cohort, of sorts, in a wheel-chair bound lady, “Buck,” (Tess Raunig), who encourages him to run against the popular jock, Eddie (Nick Ferrucci), who has skated by on his looks, popularity and being the star quarterback.  It may be that when the gods made him, brains were only an option, not chosen. 

He also discovers an odd ally in the “bible-thumping,” Clarissa (Alex Ramirez de Cruz), who takes her hatred of sinners way too far.  And his teacher/mentor, Elizabeth (Ayanna Berkshire), knows he has a brain and so encourages his thrust into the limelight.    Only one bridge left to cross, Eddie’s old girlfriend, Anne (Kailey Rhodes), Ms. Popularity.  If he could only win her over and achieve the presidency, then his revenge will be complete on those that had ridiculed him.

But circumstances may have another Fate in store for our…man-of-the-hour.  And, as the Bard also noted, revenge is a plate best served cold.  And the outcomes of all these maneuvers…well, you’ll just have to see for yourselves, won’t you?!  This would be the point that I should warn you of the story’s adult nature, which it has, but I believe it should be seen by teens and any discerning adults, as there are lessons here to be learned and truths to be discovered.

The story skirts Shakespeare’s Richard III but mostly in names, some similar situations and the monologues of Richard.  The important connection is how relevant it is to today’s Youth, with all its gossip, bullying, prejudices, identity conflicts, etc. and its effect on others, often with tragic results.  If we are ever to break out of the molds others have created for us, then we must rise to the occasion, and find a safe environment, like the Arts, where we can explore the unique gifts we have been given to share with the world.

Hecht has chosen well a cast for some difficult roles and allowed them and the script to reveal the powerful stories underneath. Imbrosciano achieves just the right kind of balance between dark humor and outright evil, and yet also manages to wring more than a little sympathy for his character.  Rhodes is also excellent as the seeming airhead who does have some very real dreams beneath her attractive exterior, and secrets that would try any soul.  She is also a very accomplished dancer.  Kudos to both of them.

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

Monday, January 7, 2019

Dial M For Murder—Lakewood Theatre Company—Lake Oswego, OR


The Key To A Mystery
This ole-time, murder mystery is by Fredrick Knott and directed by David Sikking.
  It plays at their space, 368 S. State St. in Lake Oswego, through February 10th.  For more information, go to their site at www.lakewood-center.org or call 503-635-3901.
The semi-classic film of this play was made in the 50’s by Alfred Hitchcock…in 3D, no less.
  And it had an A-list cast with Grace Kelly as the wife, Ray Milland as the husband, Bob Cummings as the writer and John Williams (a frequent supporting actor in many of his TV shows and movies) as the Inspector.  The film is a lot less talky than the play, as Hitchcock was famous for reducing dialogue to their bare minimum, being a visual medium.  But plays, for the most part, are a verbal medium, and thus, more of a story-telling format in style.
One unique thing about the plot is that you know almost from the beginning who the villain is, and then it becomes a cat-and-mouse game as to how, or if, he will slip up in some way to reveal himself (much like the old TV series,
Columbo).  The husband, Tony (Jacob Lee Smith), is a tennis pro and has married for money.  His wife, Margot (Clara-Liis Hillier), is having an affair with a screenwriter, Max (Heath Koerschgen), an old boyfriend.  So, Tony, in his tormented/demented sense of retribution, feels justified in doing away with his wife.
He enlists the aid of an ole school chum, Lesgate (Tom Mounsey), into doing the dastardly deed for him, so that he will have an iron-clad alibi on the day of the murder.
  Tony has some incriminating evidence on Lesgate’s past and present history and, coupled with a thousand-pound incentive, Lesgate agrees.  But the plot does not go as planned.  Someone does end up dead but not the wife and so the police are called in.   It is then up to the Inspector (Don Alder) and his trusty aide, Thompson (Marcus Storey), to unlock the door to the mystery and expose the husband, in a plot that wryly goes…awry.  I can’t tell you more or it would ruin the discoveries made.
The set by John Gerth, an amazing designer in all he does, again gives us a stunningly visual playground, complete with eerie backlighting (Jeff Forbes), and a wide expanse to play this game of death and deceit.
    And Sikking has a delicious cast and uses them and the space to its suspenseful conclusion.
Overall, the cast here is, I believe, more authentic than the film cast, as they portray the characters, not a glorified image of a person, which I think is crucial in a mystery, especially a somewhat plodding script, like this one.
  Hillier is always good at everything I’ve seen her in and equals that here, too.  Koerschgen, also always worth watching onstage, is compelling here, too.  Mounsey, also a familiar actor of the boards, is just fine as the oily sneak, who actually gets what he deserves.  Smith is a treasure, as the smarmy operator of this well-greased machine, and it’s maliciously fun to see him ooze himself about the stage. And Alder is great as the Inspector, who’s trained eye and instinct, notices things not obvious to an untrained eye, again, reminding one of a Columbo-type (albeit better dressed) detective.  All in all, a perfect addition to a rainy night/day.
It is interesting to note that Justice in the hands of Christie, Doyle, Serling, Bradbury, et. al. all seem to be fitting to the occasion of the nefarious deeds, unlike the results of crime nowadays.
  In their stories, the “bad guys” rarely get away without some kind of retribution on equal with their acts.  But in real life, people often get away with just a slap on the wrist, or go scot-free of murder or rape, if they feel “their life was in danger,” or that intimate acts may have been consensual, or no witnesses. Holmes and Poirot would have not tolerated such nonsense.  In their world, wrongs must be righted and, like the code of knights of old, “might for right” would prevail and Truth would have been ferreted out.  Not such a world we live in now, is it?!
I recommend this play.
  If you do choose to see it, please tell them that Dennis sent you.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Bell, Book & Candle—Bag & Baggage Productions—Hillsboro, OR


“Bewitched, Bothered & Bewildered”

This sly comedy from the 50’s, is written by John Van Druten and directed by Scott Palmer (B&B’s Founding Artistic Director).
  It is playing at their space in The Vault Theatre, 350 E. Main St., in downtown Hillsboro, through December 23rd.  For more information, go to their site at www.bagnbaggage.org

The above song title pretty well summarizes the play’s plot, but only scratches the surface of the cauldron from which it emerges.
  The title of the play is a euphemism for the exorcism of demons and witches.  But, have no fear, this is not a horror story of the white (Wicca) or dark (Black Magic) arts, but a love story.  But the underlying whiff of this brew does speak of prejudice, as Van Druten was a gay author, in a world that shunned such folks.  And so, when seeing this, reflect on any kind of group that has been ostracized by our society because of color, religion, race, mental/physical challenges, gender and sextual preferences, et. al….and we still have a long road ahead of us on these issues.
If you see some similarities to a certain popular TV show back when, called “Bewitched,” they are from the same batter.
  In this incarnation, we have a somewhat lonely, young witch, Gillian (Jessi Walters), who, although able to summon just about anything, has never really felt…Love (according to some unwritten rules, if a witch did feel that, she would lose her powers, crying has the same effect).  But she does have a yen for a certain young publisher, Shep (Peter Schuyler), and her eccentric aunt (Kymberli Colbourme), has discovered some papers of his that reveals his personal history, which only draws Gillian more toward him, initially as more of an amusement than anything serious.
And so, witchcraft weaves its spell on them.
  She even helps him in his business by enticing a famous writer, Sidney (Joey Copsey), into this web.  Her fey brother, Nicky (Norman Wilson), also gets into the act with some unintended consequences.  A showdown is inevitable (wands at twenty paces?) and the ensuing result…well, you’ll just have to see it, won’t you?!
I was particularly interested in Palmer’s stylized approach to this play, as it sounds much like a Noel Coward style, with quick retorts, animated gestures and expressions and clipped dialogue, which works very well with this script and cast.
  Also, it is done in the round (meaning that the audience surrounds the set), which means sweeping, circular blocking for the actors, which also lends itself nicely to the style of the play.  In other words, it all blends smoothly into a perfect pate’ of delightful delicacies.
Palmer knows exactly what he’s doing (as he always does) and has the cast with just the right stuff.
  Colbourme is wonderful, as always, and Wilson is marvelous as the unscrupulous brother.  All is well and good with this splendid group in this entertaining showcase.
I recommend this play.
  If you do see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Zoozoo—Imago Theatre—SE Portland


Let a Smile be your Umbrella…

This family-friendly production is created by Jerry Mouawad & Carol Triffle (co-founders of Imago).  It is playing at their space, 17 SE 8th Ave. (off Burnside), through January 6th.  For more information, go to their site at www.imagotheatre.com or for tickets, call 503-231-9581.

…to shield against the dimming background of a dreary world.  And what a better space to spend a couple of hours, than with the imagination of Imago.  No language barrier here (as there is essentially no dialogue), or a barrier on your imagination, either.  From the Poles of North and South, with a Polar Bear family bracing against winter’s wrath, or Penguins playing musical chairs (where even the audience isn’t immune in this game); to the smallest of the small of bug-eyed insects, butterflies and the enigmatic Larvabatic; to hefty hippos fighting over covers in their too tiny bed; to even the delights of what amusements can be found in sheets of paper, or the mysteries inside a paper bag; and more…they are unique, jaw-dropping, bamboozling and will take you on a journey that you will never forget!

And not only will you visit these wonders of the imagination, along with curious cats, active accordions, floundering frogs, and avid anteaters, but you’ll be taken on a mysterious ride with a Magic Cloth (Michael Curry & Co.) that will awaken a girl and boy and a dog’s imagination to the wonders of believing that  if a red piece of cloth can fly, what other possibilities are there hidden within the heart and mind, if one just…believes!

I couldn’t possibly describe the events that will transpire for an audience, as you really do have to see it to believe it.  But the masks are as creative as any C/G or animated film; the costumes lush as any from a Royal setting; the sound effects uncannily convincing; the lighting (Jeff Forbes), from spots, to mood, to washes, enlighten the atmosphere; and original music (Katie Griesar) completes the illusions, carrying a being gently from one destination easily to another.  And the cast is exemplar (Kaician Jade Kitko, Mark Mullaney, Bryan Smith, Laura Loy, Fiely Matias and Stephanie Woods)!

And what can you say about the directors and creators, Mouawad & Triffle, as words are so inadequate.  You can be assured that whatever they do, will be nothing like you’ve ever seen before, and it will be done professionally.  I don’t pretend to understand some of the concepts often but it doesn’t matter, because images will come (right or wrong) as my imagination has been awakened and exercised.  We seem to exist in an electronic vacuum now, in which the humanity in us is being sucked out.  This show, and others they do, seeks to put that humaneness back into the world by imploring us to expand our horizons.  I applaud them!

This show is not to be missed and, regardless of your background or language, this a delight for the whole family.  Obviously, I highly recommend this show.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

It’s a Wonderful Life—Artists Rep—NW Portland




      Miracle at Bedford Falls 

    This live radio production is adapted for the stage, from the classic film, by Joe 
Landry and directed by Beth Harper.  It is playing at the NWCT space, 1819 NW Everett St. (parking is a real challenge in this area, so plan your time accordingly), through December 30th.  For more information, go to their site at www.artistsrep.org

    Miracles, Magic and Dreams coming true, seem to be in short supply these days.  At one time you could reach out your Imagination and find exotic creatures—unicorns, dragons, mermaids, etc., and magical places—Neverland, Shangra-La, Camelot, et. al., just around the corner, when in need of a safe place to store your dreams.  But we may have looked too far afield, when they could be found in our own Americana and Folklore.  We have here our own Grover’s Mills, Sleepy Hollow, Walton Mountain, and, yes, Bedford Falls, to rest our minds from the weary burden of that dreaded state called—Reality.

    Once Upon a Time…there was a sleepy, little town, of no real consequence, that was having their lives swallowed up by the twin beasts of Progress and Greed, in the guise of a demon named, Potter (David Bodin).  But one man stood in his way of total domination, George Bailey (Chris Harder).  He owned the Building and Loan Bank, in which many of the mortgages of the town-folk were stored.

    But early on, George really had no real plans of running a business.  He was going to earn a college degree, then travel the world.  But Reality raised its ugly head and he was forced, through several circumstances, to stay and run the family bank.  He married a school sweetheart named, Mary (Susannah Mars), had kids…but the loss of his dreams and the burden of everyday life was taking its toll on him and so he is faced with jumping from a bridge and ending it all.

    But miracles sometimes do happen and an angel named, Clarence (Jimmy Garcia), intercedes and gives him a glimpse of this town had he never been born.  The people and township have now changed, and good friends, like the town flirt, Violet (Alyssa Longoria), is no longer a proper lady, his mother (Victoria Schindler), runs a cheap, boarding house, his uncle and partner, Billy (Garcia, again), is not his old self anymore, and the old make-up of small town America has changed dramatically.  The outcome?  Well, I assume just about everybody has seen the movie at some point, which is why I revealed some plot points briefly, earlier, but still I won’t give the ending away.

    What is truly amazing and, perhaps, the real miracle, is the fact that about fifty characters (and voices) are played by six actors and one terrific Foley (sound effects) artist (Leslie North).  They also sing and play musical instruments—talk about talent!  This is presented as a live, radio play during the 40’s, complete with commercials, an announcer (Bodin, again), pre-show, Christmas songs and ourselves as the radio studio audience.  Harper has worked a small miracle herself in assembling this production in a short period of time.  And every one of the cast members is stellar!

    I know the story well, having seen other radio productions over the years, and the classic film more than once.  But, I admit, even now, I was still moved to tears by the end.  And, as far as the Fairy Tale beginning, it would end usually with “…and they lived happily ever after.”  But that was then, this is now.  And so, perhaps, the best one can say, is…they lived…hopefully…ever after!”  And don’t look “too high up or far away” for miracles, they have always been with us, within, inside our own hearts.  We just have to Believe…!

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

Saturday, December 8, 2018

In the Wake—Profile Theatre—SW Portland

           Blind Spots

    This drama is written by Lisa Kron and directed by Josh Hecht (Profile’s Artistic Director).  It is playing at the Artist Reps space, 1515 SW Morrison St., through December 16th.  For more information, go to their site at www.profiletheatre.org

    The above areas mentioned, cannot be seen by ourselves, but often by others.  A good way to relieve yourself of them, is to take Harper Lee’s advice, via Atticus Fitch, when faced with trying to see other perspectives, and that is to get inside another’s person’s shoes and walk around in them a bit.  That way your own, perhaps, narrow point of view, will be expanded.

    We currently have a world at large that is rampant with these “blind spots,” only seeing things from their own perceptions and insisting that everyone should see them the same way…either “my way or the highway,” as the saying goes.  Admittedly, compromising is not an easy road to traverse, but a necessary one for survival nowadays.

    Ellen (Beth Thompson) seems trapped in the Bush Jr. era of this political spectrum.  She is so focused as to what makes sense, and doesn’t, she may be losing focus on what really matters in life.  She has a very accommodating boyfriend, Danny (Chris Murray), who worships the ground she walks on.  His sister, Kayla (Danielle Weathers), and her wife, (Laurie (Alissa Jessup), live in the same tenement building and are good friends.  Danny and Laurie, in particular, have a unique, sparring relationship, to be envied.

    They have a visit over Thanksgiving from Ellen’s best friend, Judy (Jane Bement Geesman), who has been doing missionary work in Africa and has a very different view of the world than Ellen’s.  Soon, Judy’s niece, Tessa (Tamera Lyn), will be staying with Judy, which only makes the relationships among all more tense.  And finally, there is Amy (Jamie M. Rea), a gay former classmate of Ellen’s, and they become lovers.  “Now, the spring is wound up tight…,” perhaps too tight, as things began to unravel…and dramatic changes are inevitable.  And, as one character queries, when does falling feel like flying (or, perhaps, vice versa)?

    Can’t really tell you more, as the dynamics of the roles and dialogue say it so much better.  The acting by the whole team is exceptional, as well Hecht’s direction.  The characters are so well-developed that you feel you are eavesdropping on some intimate conversations.  Rea and Geesman were particular favorites of mine.  But the script, I feel, needs some cutting and updating, as some of the issues of that time are still with us, and could be pulled forward in time, rather than being stuck as a dramatic piece in just one era.

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

Friday, December 7, 2018

Speed-the-Plow--Asylum Theatre—SE Portland



      Souls For Sale!

    This dark comedy of David Mamet’s play is directed by Don Alder.  It is playing at the Shoebox space, 2110 SE 10th Ave., through December 23rd.  For more information, go to their site at www.asylumpdx.org.

    This has all the earmarks of a Faustian fable, in which you sell your soul for fame and wealth and power.  The place—Tinseltown; The Time—Forever and a Day; The Main Characters—Gould (Jason Maniccia, Artistic Director for the company), a promising, mid-executive, production head of a movie company; Fox (Danny Bruno), an aggressive, oily little man with dreams of grandeur; And Karen (Briana Ratterman), an attractive, ambitious secretary, who just wants to carve out a little piece of the American Dream for herself.

    The dilemma—producing an artistic work vs. a commercial piece.  The price—one’s Soul (Integrity, Worth, Morality, etc.,) all the good things that make up a Man.  “What profit a Man if he gains the World, but loses his Soul.”  These three individuals, are a microcosm, perhaps, of this Industry (and the business world, too).  As they step to the edge of the Abyss, and look down into its depths, they may have been surprised to find that something was looking back at them, also!  And, as they teetered there, to take the plunge, or not, they chose…ah, but you’ll just have to see it for yourselves, won’t you, to discover the outcome?!

    I’ve given you a nutshell, as to the story, but Mamet is a writer that needs to be heard to be savored.  His rapid-fire, over-lapping dialogue (in which he is manic as to an actor uttering every single stutter, pause and hic-cup in his phrasing) and, thus, one needs to see/hear it to appreciate this master.  And, as for authenticity in his story, he, himself, has been on the inside tract as to his material getting produced, so he knows from whence he speaks.

    Also, a personal note, I have written plays/screenplays, too, and one time was lucky enough to know someone who knew a reader at a studio, so I sent her my script.  She thoroughly enjoyed it, she said, but told me the secret to getting a screenplay optioned was to mirror the format of what was financially successful the year before.  That last thought is reiterated in his script, too.  The moral is then, I suppose, to be a copycat (or lemming) and follow the like-minded over the precipice.

    Alder and his cast certainly understand Mamet’s format and, I’m sure, he would be impressed with this production.  The cast is outstanding and I don’t envy them in learning his lines.  This is an intimate setting and I felt that I was intruding on their space, as the characters were so immersed and believable in their roles.  Each one of their characters has a hidden self, which will be revealed by the end of the play.  Maniccia, a man in charge and sure of his direction, or….  Bruno, a loyal friend, who has an “offer you cannot refuse” for his buddy, but….  And Ratterman, the newbie, who champions for the artist, until….  All excellent!

    I highly recommend this play.  There were only three people in the house the night I saw it and they deserve full houses for this!  Don’t miss this one.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.
--DJS