Sunday, October 20, 2019

The Baltimore Waltz—Profile Theatre—SE Portland


         “Dream Within a Dream”


    This off-beat, dark comedy is written by award-winning playwright, Paula Vogel and is directed by Josh Hecht.  It is playing at the Imago space, 17 SE 8th Ave. (off Burnside), until November 3rd (parking is a challenge in this area, so plan your time accordingly).  For more information, go to their site at www.profiletheatre.org or call 503- 242-0080.

    Tennessee Williams may have said it best about theatre (and, possibly, Life, too) that it is not reality that is being created, but the illusion of reality.  We all see Life through our own perceptions and it may not be as others see it.  We fill our world with our dreams, experiences, hopes, regrets…as we navigate through this Journey, this brief flame, called Life.  And, so it is, too, with Anna, in this flicker of an adventure in her normally mundane existence.

    Anna (Jen Rowe) is a schoolteacher and leads a pretty drab life.  Her best friend all her life is her gay brother, Carl (Dan Kitrosser), a librarian in the children’s section.  One day he is summarily fired for being a little too “pink” for the Board’s liking.  And so, he invites his sister to travel the world with him, now that he has some time to explore.

    Well, it just so happened that Anna has gotten some bad news from her doctor (Joshua J. Weinstein), that she has a deadly disease and only has a short time to live, so she opens her eyes to the possibilities of a life not realized and decides to take the plunge.  There is also a slim chance that a certain European scientist might have a magic solution to cure what ails her.  And so, they depart.

    It is a whirlwind adventure and she eats and screws her way across Europe with her faithful brother along as a companion.  But he seems engaged in some sort of mysterious plot that involves, perhaps smuggling, with his favorite stuffed bunny, Jo-Jo.  Intrigue and suspicion are now included in their adventure.  The conclusion will rock your world and so, ‘nuf said.

    Rowe is amazing in her multi-faceted character of Anna and she squeezes every last nuisance out of it.  She is always a delight to watch onstage.  Kitrosser is fun to observe in his complicated relationship with his sister.  And Weinstein is excellent in his many incarnations he presents onstage, from a shy bellhop, to a mad doctor, to a slimly security agent, to a mysterious spy, et. al.  He is quite the chameleon.  And Hecht is a marvel at keeping up the pace and taking us through multiple locations without losing the thread of the story.

    I do have one nit to pick with the story itself.  The ending, as I said, is a bit of a shocker, but I don’t think it fits the premise of the tale that Anna presents.  Without giving anything away, if one’s dreams of a final journey with a lifelong best friend, then it should have been more inclusive of that friendship as the basis, which does not happen here.  So, I think you should see it and judge for yourself.  Also, there is full male nudity (I feel unnecessary) in this production.

    I recommend the production for the terrific acting and set but the story, I feel, falls short of its expectations.  If you do see it, please let them know you heard it from me.
--DJS

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Smokefall—Defunkt Theatre—SE Portland



          “Past Saving”

    This dark chronicle, of a family history, is written by Noah Haidle and directed by Patrick Walsh.  It is playing at their space, 4319 SE Hawthorne Blvd. (in back of the Common Ground Coffee Shop) through November 16th.  (Parking is a challenge in this area, so plan your time accordingly.)  For more information, go to their site at www.defunkttheatre.com

    Relationships are never easy and family dynamics can be a bitch to handle.  But, from “womb to tomb,” you have no choice but to just deal with it.  This odd story, part dark fairy tale set in an alternate reality, and part romance (of sorts), gives us a glimpse into the psyche of one family over several years.  It has a lot in common with Tennessee Williams and his play, The Glass Menagerie as, in both stories, there is the father who “fell in love with long distance…trying to find in motion what was lost in space.”  And there is the shy or, in this case, mainly silent sister, and a narrator (Footnote) that has prior knowledge of the family and moves the story along, filling in the blanks as it goes, as well as some lovely poetic prose in the storytelling of both authors.

    The matriarch of the family is Violet (Brooke Calcagno), who is pregnant with twin boys as the story opens, with Footnote (Matthew Kern) giving us the lowdown on their history.  She lives in her father’s house, the Colonel (Chris Porter), who’s memory is failing him, and her daughter, Beauty (Jessica Hillenbrand), who chooses to eat paper, paint, dirt, etc., anything but food, and has chosen not to speak because she decided she simply had no more to say.  And, finally, there is Dan (Joe Von Appen), the husband, who will soon be a bleep in the family tree, due to his absence…this is the first Act.

    The second act is a wee more bizarre, as we get the perspective of the twins (Kern & Von Appen, again) in the womb, as they discuss the pros and cons of actually being born and facing an uncertain future.  The third act presents Beauty, now speaking, and eating normal food, connecting with one of the twins, John (Porter, again), her brother, on his birthday and meeting his son, Samuel (Kern, again).  Yes, a bit confusing but also very compelling and they do manage to tie up the ends together.  It is one family’s journey but there are elements within it that seem familiar to me, as it will, I’m sure, to others.

    The story grows on you, as does the style, and being an intimate setting, it feels even more personal.  Walsh has taken on what must have seemed like an impossible task at the beginning and molded it into quite an engaging piece of theatre.  And his cast pick is amazing, as I couldn’t image anyone else in these roles.  Porter is a stalwart of local theatre and is at his best here.  Von Appen does well, especially as the reluctant twin.  Calcagno has been too long absent from the stage and it’s good to see her back and just as strong.  Hilllenbrand is excellent as the young girl who blossoms before your eyes and becomes a determined woman.  And Kern, again, brandishes his acting chops and is powerful in more than one demanding role here.  Kudos to all!

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

Friday, October 18, 2019

Amor Anejo—Milagro—SE Portland



             “A Tale as Old as Time”

    This original play, concerning the classic stories surrounding the traditional Mexican Day of the Dead, is conceived and directed by Elizabeth Huffman at their space, 525 SE Stark St., through November 10th  (parking is a challenge in this area, so plan your time accordingly.)  For more information, go to their site at www.milagro.org or call 503-236-7253.

    This story, and its many incarnations, truly does go back in time to the Aztecs.  Most notably, the Greeks picked up on it with their stories of everlasting love of a man who was compelled to go across the river Styx to the Underworld to find his beloved.  Even recent films have reflected this theme, with Robin Williams in What Dreams May Come and the recent, animated musical, the excellent, Coco.

    Enduring Love comes in many forms and definitions.  As one poet describes it, Do not see out Love, for Love, if it finds you worth, will guide your course.  Tis true, but my favorite expression is Love is in the Eye of the Beholder.  This is the appropriate time for this story, as the Day of the Dead is fast approaching, which is remembering our loved ones by creating a personal shrine of some sort so that they can visit the earth and be honored by family and friends.

    In this tale, Hector (Richardo Vazquez) and his true love from childhood, Rosalita (Yolanda Porter) spend many happy years together when, at 84, Rosalita dies.  She was a scientist and, therefore, did not believe in the afterlife.  He, on the other hand, is an artist, painting only portraits of her which he refuses to sell, and does believe in another world after death.  But, in order to honor his dead wife’s beliefs, he discards his own notions and pretends that she is still alive and just gone for a while.

    In the after life she is visited by various spirits, all stressing that for them to be together in this afterlife, he must except the fact that she is dead and in this existence after mortal death.  So, the ensemble of spirits, Bombons (Laura DiMare, Yesenia Lopez, Carlos Manzano and Johnnie Torres) go about playing out characters in his memory to convince him that she is dead but present in the after world.  And they must do all this by the Feast of the Day of the Dead or the door between his world and hers will be closed forever.  Can Love conquer?  You’ll just have to see it to find out, won’t you?!

    This ia a lovely re-telling and re-imagining of this “tale as old as time.”  The set is very versatile and the ensemble cast even more so.  They are excellent in re-creating various family member and friends from their lives, as well as the various incarnations of the spirits themselves.  Huffman has done an amazing job of finding just the right cast, as well as simplifying the settings so that the story and characters take center stage.  There are moments of dance, humor, song, music, tragedy…all aspects of a person’s life, so easily identifiable to everyone.  (One omission, though, I would have liked to know in the credits, the artist of the paintings, as they are quite good.)

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

Monday, October 14, 2019

A Clockwork Orange—Bag & Baggage—Hillsboro, OR



        “To Be or Not to Be…” Free


    This classic novel from yesteryear by Anthony Burgess has been adapted by the author for the stage and is directed by the Artistic Director of B&B, Cassie Greer and choreographed by Mandana Khoshnevisan.  It is playing at their own space, The Vault Theatre, 350 E. Main St. in downtown Hillsboro, through October 27th.  For more information, go to their site at www.bagnbaggage.org or call 503-345-9590.

    What to do…what to do…when faced with the above dilemma?  Sounds easy, doesn’t it?  But with choosing Freedom, that comes with responsibility, and not just for yourself but for others, as well and Nature.  Or, to live in a world where everything is decided for you, even what you believe or think, or what is good or what is evil (via Orwell’s 1984).  But, whatever you decide, it involves…Choice.  Ah, “there’s the rub.”

    Alex (Aaron Cooper Swor), in this futuristic society (or alternate universe) in London, is the leader of a gang, the Droog’s, consisting of George (Ty Hendrix), Pete (Abrar Haque) and Dim (Eric St. Cyr), who terrorize the city streets and its citizens, including one F. Alexander (Robert Durante), the future author of this novel.  Alex has been warned by his teacher, Mr. Deltoid (TS McCormick), that he must chang his ways or risk going to prison, if his antics turn deadly.  And, sure enough, one night on a home invasion, an old lady dies, and so it is reform time for ole Alex.

    In prison, he comes across a holier-than-thou Chaplin (Joey Copsey), who tries his best to “save Brother Alex,” who plays along for a while, as he’s heard of a program where, if he resorts to certain tests by the powers-that-be, he can gain his freedom.  And so, with the permission of the chameleon, Minister of the Interior (James Luster), and the administrator of the tests, Dr. Brodsky (Andrew Beck), they proceed.  In essence, the tests consist of brainwashing, so that he is revolted by thoughts of violence (as well as any kind of passion, as well).  But society (and the author) are not so easily appeased and so we are faced with, perhaps, being safe but stupid, or being free but uncertain.  The Choice is Ours!

    This is a highly inventive production by Greer and her choreographer, as many stylized dances and movements, as well as music are present, and songs.  The innovative lighting (Jim Ricks-White), versatile set (Tyler Buswell) and bland costumes (Melissa Heller), all add to the dark magic of the production.  And many kudos to the cast, who play a variety of roles, as they are quite marvelous!  And Swor, as the lead character, is amazing in a difficult role.

    Greer has tackled what would have appeared to be an impossible dream and has created rainbows for us to enjoy and ponder.  She is a tremendous actor in her own right, as well as the artistic creator of literary classics.  “May she live long and prosper!”

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

Sunday, October 13, 2019

West Side Story—Stumptown Stages—downtown Portland



         The Story of Color…a Study in Black & White

    This classic musical reworking of Shakespeare’s Romer & Juliet, West Side Story, book by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, is directed by Patrick Nims, choreographed by Christopher George Patterson and music direction by Adam Joseph Young, is playing at the Winningstad Theatre, 1111 Broadway, through October 27th.  For more information, go to their site at www.stumptownstages.org

    Although written over 50 years ago, the source material is a few hundred years older and yet, it seems, nothing much has changed.  Prejudice, Intolerance, and Discrimination raises their ugly heads wherever differences are noticed…whether in religion, sexual orientation, politics views, gender, cultural, color, etc.  “When will we ever learn…”  It is interesting to note that the few adults in the story are either fops or fools…the parents are never seen…leaving the POV and mechanics of the tale solely in the hands of the Youth.

    As the plot goes, the time is in the slums of NYC in the ‘50’s and is pretty much ruled by gangs, in this case the Sharks (the Puerto Ricans) and the Jets (Whites). Tony (Alexander Trull), one of the original founders of the Jets, 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, now led by Riff (Jacob Robert).  But his old pal has explained that they are finally going to have it out with the rival gang, the Sharks, led by Bernardo (Jordon Waters), and he needs Tony to come to the dance at the gym tonight, as moral support.  Tony agrees.

    But, as Fate would have it, Maria (Tina Mascaro), 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 (Kayah Alexander Franklin), Bernardo’s main squeeze, tries to emphasize.  Also, the police, under the command of Lt. Shrank (Jeremy Southard) and his trusty puppet, Officer Krupke (Darin MacLeod), have it in for all these punks, especially the P.R.’s.  Suffice to say, the cards are stacked against them and the timeclock ticking toward the inevitable showdown.  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.  One note, though, who is it at the end, who puts a shawl around the shoulders of Maria (an innocent, Latino)?  It’s Baby John (Jackson Wells), also an innocent (a White).  Can this be a sign of a more hopeful Future.  Let’s hope so.

    This is one of those plays where an actor needs not only their acting chops but also great singing voices, some super dance skills and even acrobatics to succeed.  And Nims has them in great multitudes here, as he leads them, along with Patterson, down the yellow-brick road over the rainbow.  And the difficult score, led by Young, is amazing.  The Designers, too, Costume (Margaret Louise Chapman), Scenic (Demetri Pavlatos), Sound (Rory Breshears) and Lighting (Harrison Moye), all should hare in this musical’s terrific success.

    And, wow, are there some outstanding dancers in the Gym scene, the Rumble, the opening and many more, blending Jazz, Ballet and Modern styles to the mix.  And the songs from operatic to ballad-like, demanding special voices.  Both Trull & Mascaro were perfect in rendering of Maria and Tonight, especially.  And one final kudo, to Allison Parker, as Anybody’s, the tomboy of the Jets, as she has some pipes on her that were thrilling when she sang, Somewhere, during the Dream Ballet number.  Wow!  She’s also a product of OCT’s Young Professionals Company, so am not surprised as to how good an actor and singer she is becoming.  She has quite a future on stage if she desires it.

    A couple of final observations:  The movie version (a multiple-award winner), swapped a couple of numbers from the play version, added males to the America number and cut some sequences which, I believe, is a better version overall of the play itself. 

    Also, my friend Dave and I were chatting after the play and trying to decide why/how kids go wrong as they mature.  Are they “hard-wired” for hatred and violence?  I don’t believe so.  There is a song in South Pacific called, Carefully Taught, where it espouses that children are “…carefully taught to hate and to fear” because, as children, they are pure Innocence, wanting to believe in Tolerance, Magic and Kindness but are slowly, expertly brainwashed by adult behaviors to a darker side of Life.  But it seems that the Youth are finally voicing their concerns, as they rise up against gun violence, global warming and hatred and inequities against minorities and women.  They put adult politicians to shame and, in our Young’s actions, there appears to be a silver lining into our current cloudy atmosphere.  “Somewhere a Place for Us…”  Go For It!

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

Saturday, October 12, 2019

A View from the Bridge—Fuse Theatre Ensemble—NW Portland


              A World Apart

     This classic Arthur Miller drama is directed, choreographed and designed by Rusty Newton Tennant and Sara Fay Goldman.  It is playing at 2516 NW 29th Ave. (in the heart of the Industrial area of NW Portland) through October 27th. (Note, this is not an easy place to find, so plan your time accordingly.  Also, wear warm clothes, as the theatre area is not heated, except for a few portable heaters.)  For more information, go to their site at www.boxofficetickets.com or contact Rusty at rusty.fuse@gmail.com or call 214-504-6350.

    Although this was written many years ago, it has a scary timeliness for today’s world.  It touches on issues of immigration, relationships, family dynamics, cultural differences, human values, and the nature of love.  It skirts issues also found in Come Back, Little Sheba; West Side Story; On the Waterfront and even ancient Greek tragedies.  It is the tale of two worlds colliding and the cost of when one entity will not change or evolve.

    Many cultures, when they immigrate to this country, take with them the burden/responsibility of an extended family.  And so it is with Eddie (Ernie Lijoi), from Italy but now an American Longshoreman, working on the docks & warehouses in NYC.  He lives in the slums in Brooklyn, with a teenage girl, his “daughter,” Catherine (Jacquelle Davis), who he has an unnatural jealousy of, and her “Aunt,” Beatrice (Adriana Gantzer), who has an interest in him, as the lines of true relations are blurred.

    Eddie’s good friend is Alfieri (Michael J. Teuffel ), a lawyer, who advises Eddie on legal rights.  But Eddie has been known to harbor illegals from the “old country” in his flat, as he is doing now with Marco (Eric Viale), who is married with family back home, and his brother, Rodolpho (Justin Charles), a single man looking to see what this new world has to offer.  A Chorus (akin to old Greek plays), Alexander Buckner and John Mulholland, play various other roles, as needed.

    The shifting of identities or roles from a male-dominated world to one in which women have more freedom and choices, is part of the dilemma Eddie faces.  His confusion, anger, frustration and unbending macho persona may be his downfall.  You’ll just have to see it to witness how these many layers unfold.  Through it all, though, one may glean for themselves the message as to the need for tolerance and kindness in a a global society, seemingly hell-bent on destroying itself.  But Hope, as in this story, “springs eternal,” and it’s embedded with our Youth, which seems to be up the task of evolving us toward a better Tomorrow.

    Tennant and Goldman have done an amazing job of creating a moving and memorable play in simple surroundings, so that the emphasis is on the story and characters.  And they have chosen their cast very well, as they are all suited perfectly for their roles, especially, Lijoi, as his character lumbers uncertainly in a strange, new world.

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

Monday, October 7, 2019

Macbeth—Portland Center Stage at The Armory—Pearl District


         “Toil and Trouble”


   This classic horror story by Shakespeare, with edited script for the stage by Lee Sunday Evans and original music by Heather Christian, is directed by Adriana Baer.  It is playing in PCS’s “black box” theatre, at 128 NW 11th Ave., through November 24th.  For more information, go to their site at www.pcs.org or call 503-445-3700.

    This is an appropriate tale for the Halloween Season by the Bard of Avon.  It is a ghost story, a tale of revenge (served hot, not cold, in this case) and reflects the early times when nations were being forged, in this case, Scotland.  And they say, if we don’t learn from our mistakes, we are bound to repeat them.  But, in today’s world climate, it looks like repetition is the rage of the day, as lying, conquering nations, murder, suppression, etc. is still rampant in most countries.

    In this case, the story is not as unique as the style in which it’s presented.  It is played on an essentially bare stage by three female actors:  Lauren Bloom Hanover (Macbeth, Witch, et. al.), Dana Green (Banquo, MacDuff, Witch, et. al.) and Chantal DeGroat (Lady Macbeth, Witch, et. al.), all quite amazing.  (If I got the names with the wrong characters, forgive me, as their bio photos look nothing like the actual characters).

    The story starts out with two noblemen, Banque and Macbeth encountering the “three weird sisters” (witches) who give them some startling prophesies, disguised in sing-song rhyme, which proves to be deadly accurate.  Macbeth is to eventually reach kingship but at the cost of many bloody deeds and some dear friends and family.  And it seems his wife is even more determined than he.  It all boils down to the fact that the Macbeth’s have no heir to rule the kingdom after them and so all other possible usurpers, who do, must be eliminated.  “Absolute Power Corrupts—Absolutely!”  (We seem to be seeing plenty of those same roadmaps being forged, both here and abroad, now.)

    This is a slimmed-down but very powerful account of one of the Bard’s best plays.  Being that it gets to the heart of the play, “the fault…is not in our stars but in ourselves” and so we, not the fates or gods, create our own undoing.  If the world fails, it is not Nature’s fault, as their mandate is to live in harmony for the benefit of all.  But Greed, Ego and Ambition (the play seems to be saying) are our downfall…and so it seems to haunt even our current state.

    These ladies had to, in essence, memorize the entire play, as quick changes of character and important cues were dependent on these talents.  DeGroat’s mad scene as his wife was pitiful and powerful; Green’s heartfelt horror at hearing the news of her family’s slaughter, was gut-retching; and Hanover’s steadfast resolve in the face of impossible odds, was strangely captivating.  And Baer as the champion of this whole apocalypse was admirable.

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