Sunday, June 14, 2020

Lost in Translation: Communications to Our Future Selves



“And a Child Shall Lead Them”

    A lot has, and will be said, on the state of affairs in this day and age.  But a Voice that may have been lost, or muted, is that of the Young.  “We are such stuff as dreams are made on…” and these far-reaching images can carry us into the Future, but “attention must be paid,” and that is where our Youth’s Voices come in!

    A young girl from the Scandinavian countries has voiced loudly her concerns for environmental changes; another young girl from Africa faced violence for standing up for women’s rights and education; a pre-school, African-American girl in the U.S., fearing for her life at encountering marching troops passing by, queried a policeman if they were here to kill them (the policeman wisely diffused the situation by assuring her they weren’t); and there are many more like them, oppressed and ignored, who have broadcast loudly the need for change.
But these observations, and many other situations like them, show the depth of concern (and rightfully so) of Young People, as to the Future they will inherit from us.  And not such a rosy one, either, as continuing strife, intolerance and ignorance indicates.  And so, we are faced with the dilemma, how do we improve the future for all living beings?!

    Open your eyes, ears and hearts to the Possibilities and educate a Public as to these, and proclaim loudly, “Not On My Watch!”  An avenue for this is the Arts, which builds character, and that just may be the secret ingredient to quell the rising storm.  This is my field of expertise.  I have seen/experienced/taught young people over the years in the Performing Arts. 

    In the Arts, young people are in a safe environment to explore different cultures, viewpoints, time periods, customs, and their own feelings about matters, past and present, etc., through plays and exercises, so that their own, evolving views are broadened to be all-inclusive of the people/characters that inhabit these realms.  And so, during this exploration, they cannot help but be influenced, and applaud these changes that are evolving within them, so that they will bring forward into an ever-changing landscape…a “brave, new world,” in which we may live…hopefully…ever after!

    We have many fine theatre-schools in the Portland area, including Northwest Children’s Theatre (NWCT), Eastside Theatre Company, Portland Musical Theater Company, Staged! and, especially, Oregon Children’s Theatre (OCT) and Dani Baldwin’s, Young Professionals (Y/P).  I have witnessed lives changed for the better because of these young folks’ involvements with the Arts.  I encourage you to investigate in these possibilities…as the Future is in their hands!

    And so then, it may be truly said, if an incident involving intolerance or hatred raises its ugly head, either on a small scale, or universally one, they will stand firm for Right over Might and Justice for All, because of their exposure to a wider range of philosophies.  And let us not forget, a young girl, who wanted to become a writer, scribing in her diary before she died in a concentration camp, that, despite all the horrors she had witnessed, said, “I still believe people are basically good.”  Are they?  We can only Hope she was right.  Time will tell…!

    Invest in our Future…our Youth…as our very lives just may depend on it!
--DJS

Friday, May 15, 2020

OSF & Artists’ Dilemma


“The Play’s the Thing…”



    The quote above is from that infamous Prince of Denmark by Mr. S.  Further into the speech, it espouses to capture the conscience/essence of the personage…and so it is, too, with all performing artists…to touch the heart, the guts and the very soul of its live audiences.  This is now absent and sorely missed, as “touching” and gathering is no longer allowed, and so that personal contact between artists and human beings, in order to rouse one’s spirits to action; to awaken new thoughts; to escape from the everyday; to inspire; to change behavior, et. al….is lost in the translation, and we all suffer from that loss of personal contact of mind and body, between one fellow being to another.
    The Performing Arts/Artists affect everyone.  In the case of OSF in Ashland, it affects the whole town.  The restaurants, pubs, book stores, galleries, retail shops, motel/hotels, et. al. (and the livelihood of their employees that work there), rely on their main attraction/draw to this burg for their very existence.  When the essence of this Art form dies, they die.  This is not only true of this vibrant village in Southern Oregon, but also of any performing arts communities in any town…for they truly are the “conscience” of Mankind.
    I don’t pretend to know the way out of this darkness, only that we cannot let “…these few, these chosen few…” that sustain our dreams, pass into non-existence.  We must support, and celebrate, in any way we can, that which sets us apart from the pack, as reasoning creatures with free wills.  We fall, we fail…but we should never let our dreams, and the dream-makers, fade away.  We Artists cannot be quantified, perhaps, but we can be qualified, as to our importance to growth of Spirit
    My bias, of course, because of my performing arts background, is personal.  Part of that is two years at, what was then, SOC, studying with Dr. Bowmer and spending two seasons as an actor at OSF in the late-60’s.  My brief time there taught me that we artists/dreamers, have a special place in this world, and know that our lives will not be easy, as acceptance by an industrial, technological world will be an uphill battle, but a battle that must be won, for all our sakes.
    “We are such stuff as dreams are made on…” and we need to keep that dream, those dreamers, alive, so that through this medium, we explore, via the stage world, other periods of time; other areas of imagination; other cultures; other ways of thinking and behaving; and are we are educated, enlightened and entertained by such folks as these.
     From the seeds of our imaginations, and the artists who foster them, we can be stronger and more united than before, rallying to fuse Nature, Progress and the Arts, into a “brave, new world.”  Dr. Hawking espoused, “be brave, be curious, be determined.”  “This, too, shall pass,” let us make sure that what is forthcoming supports a philosophy of “We the People…”--All People, and their dreams, so that we “shall not perish from the earth!”

--DJS

Friday, March 13, 2020

Blood Brothers—Triangle Productions!—NE Portland


“…Thicker Than Water”

     This popular, dramatic musical is written by Willy Russell and directed and designed by Donald Horn.  It is playing at their space, 1785 NE Sandy Blvd. (free parking lot to the W. of the bldg.) through March 21st.  For more information, go to their site at www.trianglepro.org or call 503-239-5919.
    “Growing up is hard to do.”  And family dynamics ain’t so easy, either.  Sibling rivalry, in the early stages of maturity, can often be a bitch, but one gets over it, as we continue life’s journey…or do we?  Do the same rules hold for twins…and, how about twins separated at birth…and not knowing they had a twin brother?  This is the case with the Johnstone boys from England during the early 70’s.

    It seems Mrs. Johnstone (Caitlin Brooke), barely able to make ends meet as a cleaning lady, happens to have an overabundance of babies, as she, “went dancing,” as she puts it.  But the newest addition will be two--twins.  But her employer, Mrs. Lyons (Lisamarie Harrison) and her husband (Jeremey Southard), are childless, well -off, and she offers to take one of them off her hands, with the proviso that the boys never know it.

    Inevitably, of course, Mickey (Tyler Hendrix), with his birth mother, and Edward (Richie Stone), with the adopted mother, grow to be friends, although they are raised in very different class structures.  Mickey has his older brother, Sammy (Michael Castillo), who is a bit of a hoodlum, and has a girlfriend, Linda (Hannah Wilson), but Edward is a bit of a loner, thus the need for a friend.  The plot thickens as they grow older, and jealousy and envy raise their ugly heads, both with the mothers and their boys.  You must see it to discover the struggles, and how it all turns out.

     Also, in the cast, are Lindsay Reed and Jason Coffey, filling-out various roles.  And the omnipotent Narrator (Shawn Rogers), who also takes on many different guises, not unlike the Stage Manager of Our Town, or the Bandit in The Fantasticks.  There are songs along the way, very much a part of the plot (music direction by Colin Alexsei Evans Shepard and choreography by Sara Mishler Martins), but no songs were listed, so can’t tell you the names, only to say the singers are all very accomplished in their renditions.

    This is a powerful story, and the friend I was with, Dave, who had seen it before, was even more moved by this production.  It plays like a Greek tragedy, knowing that these characters are fated to their destinies, which cannot be changed.

    All the cast turn in exemplar performances.  Both the mothers, Brooke and Harrison, are equally convincing in their portrayals of women, trapped by circumstances, to rail against the Fates till the end.  And the sons, Hendrix and Stone, are perfect in their roles and have voices to match.  Rogers is in excellent voice, too, as the multi-complex Chorus, commenting on the action but unable to interfere.  And Wilson, as the girlfriend, has already shown her terrific talents as a singer in other shows (chiefly, as the young Liza in a production here), but now is unrecognizable as the awkward, gangly young woman…and a real compliment to her gifts as an actor here, as she is, in reality, a lovely, young lady, and assume (and hope) we will see much more of her onstage.

    Horn may have his best production to date yet in this play!  He always puts on exceptional productions and this is no exception…may he, and Triangle, Live Long and Prosper!

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

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

The Copper Children—Oregon Shakespeare Festival—Ashland, OR


                                                “Journey of Tears”

    This searing, dramatic, true story is written by Karen Zacarias and directed by Shariffa Ali.  It is a world premiere at the Bowmer Theatre, playing, in repertory, through October 31st.  For more information, go to their site at www.osfashland.org or call 1-800-219-8161.

    Intrigue, mystery, intolerance, hatred, lies, family dynamics, religious prejudice, poverty, children torn from homes, disasters, alienation, class struggles, loss of innocence…all ingredients for a soap opera?  No, a true story of another ugly time in our history, where minorities were discriminated against (continuing through to this day).

    In our country’s infancy, this intolerance for other cultures, was present even then, by our treatment of the Native Americans, African Americans, Japanese Americans (being the most glaring example) et. al., and now with Hispanics and Latinos, seeking a better life.  If we haven’t solved the problems of the Past, we are bound to repeat them…and so we do, ad nauseum.  “When will [we] ever learn…”  It seems, never.
 
    And yet, there is a glimmer of hope…a rainbow in the distance…with our young folks, who seem to be wiser than the adults leading them.  Those young men and women, who are speaking out for environmental change, ending violence against women, advocating for stricter gun laws, et. al.…those people I applaud…for maybe they can make a difference for the future of this planet…maybe, just maybe….  Our very existence depends on it!

    This complex story takes place over several years, from the 1800’s to the present day, chiefly in New York and Arizona.  To give a thumb-nail sketch of it, it seems that an abundance of Irish folks, because of the famine in their country many years ago, were coming in droves to America, leaving many orphans to be cared for by the Catholic orphanages, but they were soon overwhelmed.  So, a caring businessman, Mr. Swayne (Armando Duran), sought to place them in good, Catholic homes, primarily out West in Arizona.

    He was assured by Father Mandin (Eddie Lopez) there, and the Sisters, Francis (Sarita Ocon) and Anna (Carla Pantoja), that they would indeed go to good Catholic homes, and did, in the Mexican-American community, primarily Catholic, who worked in the Copper mines.  One such family, Margarita (Caro Zeller) and her husband Cornelio (Christopher Salazar), and their cousin, Gloria (Gabriela Fernandez-Coffey), were without children and happily took in a red-headed baby named Katie.  But the white, primarily Protestant, families were having none of this mixing of the races.  One such family, also childless, was the supervisor of the mines, Charles (Rex Young), and his wife, Lottie (Kate Hurster).  Many painful episodes would occur and finally, a trial was held to determine custody of the children.  You’ll just have to see it for yourselves the many conflicts, and the conclusion to the story.

    Like I said, a hugely complex story over several years, told in a rather short playing time.  But Ali has managed to pull it together, with a small cast playing several roles, and yet they do manage to make it understandable.  Bravo!  The story, too, is topical, with all the strife going on with undocumented people in our country and more at the borders seeking asylum...and no clear solution in sight… “when will it ever end….”

    Kudos to the actors, as they have a monumental task in playing at least three roles each.  Zeller and Hurster standing out as the chief adversaries in this battle for the children’s future (and souls?).  Both very convincing and powerful in the characters they portray.  And the set, by Mariana Sanchez, and Lighting, by Stacey Derosier, made to resemble (to me) like a giant Erector set of old, or a jigsaw puzzle, with pieces missing…under construction…waiting for the creator’s hand to smooth it out and make sense of it all.

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

LITHIA PARK:  You can’t leave Ashland without visiting the beauty of the natural wonders contained here.  Next to OSF and going on for a couple of miles of trees, trails and creeks, is a tribute to Nature.  There are picnic grounds, a duck pond, a playground and, as I said, plenty of trails for hiking and jogging.  Do not leave Ashland without experiencing it!

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Peter and the Starcatcher—Oregon Shakespeare Festival—Ashland, OR


                                              “Pure Imagination”



    This fantasy is adapted for the stage by Rick Elice, with music by Wayne Barker, from a novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson.  It is directed by Lavina Jadhwani, music direction by Jesse Sanchez and choreography by Tanya Birl.  It is playing in repertory at the Bowmer Theatre in downtown Ashland, through November 1st.  For more information, go to their site at www.osfashland.org or call 1-800-219-8161.

    “We are such stuff as dreams are made on…” and so, it is with all stories of the never-worlds of our imaginations.  But, like all tales, they have backstories, prologues and epilogues the authors may not have included.  In the case of Barrie’s classic, Peter Pan, many questions arise as to how it all began.  Such as, who are the models for these characters…how did they become who they are in literature…and what happened to them after the author has proclaimed, “The End.”

    Of course, the same can be said of our lives and the people we come in contact with, as we all have stories…and there are stories within stories…and parts of our stories inner-connect with others stories, too (Six Degrees of Separation theory).  And, with that in mind, don’t you think we should be treating each other better?!

    The tale is an imagined prequel to J.M. Barrie’s, Peter Pan…, in which we discover the origins of his name; how Hook got his…hook; where fairy dust comes from; how the Darling family fits into the Big Picture; and introducing us to the mermaids and the crock of this wonderful story, as well as the pirates, the lost boys and the beginnings of Neverland and Tinkerbelle.  There have been several versions of Peter Pan from the animated (Disney), to musicals; from early films to TV; to stage, live action movies, and a musical.

    This incarnation is set in the late 1800’s, with the regal, Lord Aster (Erica Sullivan), sailing on a ship called The Wasp, on business of Queen Victoria, led by the business-like, Captain Scott (Michael J. Hume).  Aster’s precocious daughter, Molly, (Grace Chan Ng), and her nanny, the fiesty, Mrs. Bumbrake (Regina Fernandez), who has an admirer in the kindly, but not-too-bright sailor, Alf (K. T. Vogt), sailing on a ship called, Neverland, captained by the devious, Slank (Cristofer Jean). He is also carrying illegal orphans aboard his vessel by the names of Ted (Cyndii Johnson), who is fascinated by food; Prentiss (Dan Lin), the unofficial leader of the pack; and a petulant Boy (Preston Mead), who was never given a name (soon to become the famous boy who never grew up).

    And, of course, to be a true pirate story, you must, by design, have, of course…pirates.  There is the wicked but inept, Black Stache (James Ryen), and his trusty sidekick, Smee (Brent Hinkley).  Then there are shipwrecked, treasure chests, mermaids, the great Crock god, a mysterious island, complete with natives, who’s Chief (Jeremy Gallardo) is a bit loco.  And when stardust is added to the mix, anything can happen, from floating in the air, to realizing your dreams, good or bad.  To tell more would be cheating, so I’ll leave you with this thought:  If you’ve ever wanted to “go home again,” to a place called Childhood, where your imaginations ran rampant, with no perceived boundaries, or hard edges, this is the place.  You’ll find it at the “second star to the right and straight on till morning!”

    This is a wondrous and very satisfying journey through the “windmills of your mind.”  The set (Regina Garcia) is very versatile, with little pockets everywhere, containing scraps and bits of the stored memory for this tale.  There are two musical production numbers…one with Mermaids, resembling a Busby Berkley musical, complete with elaborate costumes (Melissa Torchia) and dance routines (Birl).  And another resembling a Les Miz musical number (neither really having anything much to do with the story but fun to watch).  Jadhwani is a master at tying the pieces together and offering us an “awfully big adventure!”

    Fernandez has an amazing singing voice and puts it to good use here.  Vogt and Hinkley, thrill us with their comic antics.  And Ryen, as the prototype for Hook, is a marvel, as he chews his way through the scenery and has us in stitches at almost every line of his.  A marvelous time will be had by one and all so, gather round and let your imaginations soar!

    I highly recommend this production.  If you do see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

ASHLAND SPRINGS:  My friends and I always stay at this establishment, as it’s right next to OSF, has secured parking, and a healthy breakfast include in the price.  The staff is always friendly, open to any of your needs and full of information as to events going on in the vicinity.  I highly recommend this hotel, located in the center of town (212 E. Main St., 541-631-2010).  If you rather have something not so close to the action, try their sister resort, the Ashland Hills, about three miles, South of town.
As always, if you choose to stay there, please tell them Dennis sent you.
--DJS
 


A Midsummer Night’s Dream—Oregon Shakespeare Festival—Ashland, OR




                            “Lord, What Fools These Mortals Be!”

    This classic fantasy, by William Shakespeare, is directed by Joseph Haj.  It is playing at the Bowmer Theatre, in downtown Ashland, in repertory, through November 1st.  For more information, go to their site at www.osfashland.org or call 1-800-219-8161.

    “The course of true love never did run smooth.”  We may be our own worst enemies in this regard.  Miscalculation, misdirection, and misadventure, all play a role, too, in this journey.  “The best laid plans of mice and men,” can easily go awry when forecasting Love.  But an old adage proclaims, “Do not seek out Love, for Love, if it finds you worthy, will guide your course.”  Tis true.
 
    But a needed element, not often discussed, is magic, which this production has plenty of.  It is that something special in the air when encountering Mr. or Ms. Right.  It decides for you, even “across a crowded room…you know even then…and never let [them] go.”  I did…and am all the more Fool for it!   
Shakespeare’s “…Dream” is one of the loveliest fantasies ever 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 (Al Espinosa) and his lady, Hippolyta (Lauren Modica).  They have invited to their celebration, Lysander (Jonathan Luke Stevens) and Demetrius (William Thomas Hodgson), who both happened to be in love with the same woman, Hermia (Nubia Monks).  This leaves Helena (Royer Bockus) as the odd wo-man out, and who happens to have the hots for Demetrius.
Meanwhile, on the home front, Nick Bottom (Daniel T. Parker) and a motley crew of tradesmen, led by Peter Quince (Tyrone Wilson), including Snout (Michele Mais), Starveling (K. T. Vogt), Snug (Jeremy Gallardo) and Flute (Cristofer Jean) have decided to put on a play, a mixture of romance and tragedy and (unintended) comedy, for the nobility of their fair town, on their nuptial eve.
 
    But the local Fairies have their own set of problems, with the King, Oberon (Espinosa, again), getting jealous because his wife, Titania (Modica, again), 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 (Jimmy Kieffer), 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).

    When the curtain call came, only 15 folks came out for a bow and I thought, where is the rest of them?  That is how versatile this company is, that most of them plat 2 or 3 roles…and do them all well!  Especially good are Bockus with her disarming tomboy image; Modica with her no-nonsense queens; Kieffer with his impish delight and marvelous singing voice; and Parker, as an amusing but touching, as the lead player in the Rude Mechanicals.  Haj has served us with a familiar tale of foppish fools, naive lovers and vain royals, and added spice and magic into the ingredients, to celebrate that long lost art--Romance.  A world-weary, European Count once said, “In a world without Romance, it is better to be dead!”  Amen.

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

Ashland Cuisene
THE BLACK SHEEP:  This place has long been my favorite establishment to eat authentic Brit food, imbibe in the local brews, indulge in unique entertainment, and to just hang out.  Clarinda has assembled a winning team of servers, but my very favorites are Greg, one of the friendliest people in the place, who always treats you like a long, lost friend and, Lorah, the lovely, lavender lady, who has the warmest eyes, smiles and hugs and, who I look forward to seeing every time I come down.  Long may they all Live and Prosper! 
On the Plaza, upstairs, look for the red door.

ELEVEN ON THE CREEK:  A newbie on the block (in The Loft’s old spot).  Haven’t tried the food there yet but it brags of one of the best chefs in the area, serving unique meals.  But the charm of the place works behind the bar, Carli, who exudes taste, warmth and is a master mixologist of mirth, merriment and makes a mean, Smokey the Pear, her own concoction.  Worth checking out but, admittedly, a hard place to find.  
Off the Plaza, down an alley, near the creek and upstairs.
www.elevenonthecreek.net  541-625-3589.

As always, if you choose to frequent either place, tell them Dennis sent you.
--DJS



Monday, March 2, 2020

Willy Wonka—Eastside Theater Company—Gresham, OR


                   Sugar High


    This classic children’s tale by Roland Dahl is adapted for the stage by Leslie Bricusse and Timothy Allen McDonald, with music and lyrics by Bricusse and Anthony Newley, directed by Liz Bertsch, choreographed by Sarah Rose and musical direction by Josh Johnson.  It is playing at the Springwater Church of the Nazarene, 3445 SE Hillyard Rd. in Gresham and runs through March 8th.  For more information, go to their site at www.eastsidetheater.com

    This is based on Dahl’s book and on the very good film, with Gene Wilder as Willy (ignore the awful Tim Burton translation).  It is a darker story of Youth (as were most of the original fairy tales), as they were meant to teach children lessons in behavior, that if we were not good, something bad would happen to us.  But most have been Disneyfied now for easy consumption.  This cautionary tale still retains some of the original darkness, with a media freak, a glutton, a spoiled whinner and a self-centered brat taking the stage.  And, yes, a hero, too, who proves that compassion and honestly are still the best policies (a lesson world governments need to learn).

    Charlie (Noah Feldmann-Parks) comes from a poor but loving family.  But Charlie is determined to better their situation by winning one of five golden tickets hidden in Wonka Chocolate bars and winning a year’s supply of free chocolate (not really a great message today with our overweight population problem), plus a tour of the mysterious factory in which they are made.  The first four are quickly found by a snooty little girl who always gets her own way, Veruca (Bethany Bjorklund); an equally obnoxious, gum-chewing brat, Violet (Amanda Bjorklund); a glutinous boy, who lives to eat, Augustus (Lucas Buren); and a TV/digital freak, Mike (Ezra Johnson).

    So, Willy Wonka (Simeon Johnson) has his work cut out for him when he leads them on a tour of his factory, run by his workers, the squirrels and Oompa Loompas.  Needless to say, they all get their respective just deserves in the end.  Don’t want to ruin it for you, so will have to leave it at that.  You’ll have to see for yourselves how it all comes out.

    The marvelous songs are still there, including Pure Imagination and The Candyman, both sung by the amazing Johnson, who plays Willy.  They all have their moments to shine with solos, especially the little dynamo, Bjorklund as Veruca, and Buren, as Augustus, with his I Eat More rendition.  Featured players, Anderson Green as Charlie’s father and Ethan Golden as Grandpa Joe, do nice turns in character roles.  And Feldmann-Parks as Charlie is a dream, in both his vocals and acting.  He has a career ahead of him in this field, if he so desires.  And Johnson, as Willy, is a marvel!  I can’t say enough good things about him.  He is so perfect as the character, that you want to join him in his world.

    The choreography by Rose, having to deal with so many bodies, in so many dances, is a miracle, as she does wonders with these young folks.  Johnson keeps the music from overpowering the actors and does well with a difficult score and dealing with young people following it.  Bertsch has done an outstanding job of making the impossible, possible!

    I highly recommend this production.  Trust me, It’s well worth your time to make the trip to see these amazing young folks wow you…and they will!  If you do see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.
--DJS