Sunday, March 18, 2018

The White Hound of the North—The Steep and Thorny Way to Heaven—SE Portland

A Land Beyond…Beyond

     This imaginative tale of folklore is devised and directed by Megan Skye Hale with music supervision and lighting design by Myrrh Larsen.  It is playing at their space at SE 2nd and Hawthorne through March 24th.  For more information, go to their site at

     This is a fairy tale for adults or, better yet, the child still inside the adult.  It draws it’s magic and charm from legends passed down for generations, of a world that once was…or is yet to be.  It, like all fairy tales, is immersed in lessons for behavior, coated liberally with the magic and music of the spheres.  And does such a place really exist?  John Ford famously said that when Facts and Legend conflict, believe the Legend, as it’s so much more interesting.  I pity those who can only see with their eyes.  A writer once said to a student, who was struggling with creating a story, to dip his pen into his heart and write with blood, as that is where imagination lies.

     This story has a fluidity, an organic feel, that floats in and out of your consciousness, like the final wisps of a dream, just before you awaken.  It is told with no dialogue, leaving the innards of the tale for you to muse on.  Dance-like movements flutter all about you, as if wild birds were seeking your attention and then whoosh, they are gone again.  It is a story of transformation, of a place beyond…beyond and yet, as close as your reach.

     The story, as such, seems to be of a fairyland where anything is possible.  But, as it often happens, our heroine, the Princess (Peyton McCandless), feels there is something more out there, a longing for…what.  She encounters a White Hound (Zed Jones), seemingly out of place in her known world.  They connect but his homeland is in another realm and so he must leave.  Will she follow?

     Some chance meetings, and kindness from her toward the Crow Witch (Wynee Hu), and she is rewarded with three gifts that she will take on her journey.  She is given a comb, a pair of scissors, and a horn and, although not informed on how they will help her, she senses she will know when the time comes.  His world is strange to her but her love for him drives her forward.  His mother, the Queen (Elizabeth Neal), keeps them at bay until the Princess realizes how to use her gifts.  More I cannot tell you without divulging secrets.

     The rest of the cast playing various creatures, are Kirsten Webb, Emily Hyde and Rega Lupo.  And the music, which I loved, musical curation by Myrrh Larsen, reminded me very much of Irish and American folk music and was an intricate part of the story.  The actors, all very concentrated in their portrayals, added to the believability of the tale.  Hale has another success on her hands, as she delicately leads us into another world and, with gentle persuasion, we are transported for an hour or so away from the turmoil of imposing reality and gentled into a semi-slumber to recharge our batteries.

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

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Scarlet—Portland Playhouse—NE Portland

Sunlight and Shadows

     This musical is adapted from the classic novel, “The Scarlet Letter,” for the stage by Michelle Horgen, directed by Brian Weaver and Jessica Wallenfels and musical direction by Eric Nordin.  It is playing at their newly renovated space, 602 NE Prescott St. (free parking lot 2 blocks North on 6th), through April 1st.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-488-5822.

     The smothering atmosphere of 1600’s, Puritan New England, before the actual birthing of the USA, has changed considerably since then…or has it?  Women’s rights were virtually non-existent at that time, religion was the guiding force in public and private lives (note the infamous Salem Witch Trials came from this period), and adultery was a crime of the highest order.

     Jump ahead almost 400 years and women are still struggling for their rightful place in society; religion is still a continuous issue in many parts of this country, as well as the world, as wars have been fought over it there; and, although promiscuity seems to be widely acknowledged as a life style, having a child out of wedlock is still frowned upon.  In other words, we still have “a long way [to go], baby!”

     Hester (Rebecca Teran) arrives fresh in the new world from England with high hopes and dreams of a life of freedom.  She has come ahead of her husband, Roger (Darius Pierce), who is to join her later.  This is somewhat disconcerting to the populace but they accepted it.  The Governor, Richard (Del Lewis), seems like a fair man and she is set up in a cottage in the forest by Samuel (“ranney”), best friends with the spiritual leader of the town, Rev. Dimmsdale (Isaac Lamb), both single men.
She easily makes friends with other women in the town, including some young ladies, Clara (Rachel Lewis) and Sarah (Dana Green) and her husband, Robert (Don Kenneth Mason), as well as a young man of courting age, Elias (John Kish).  But probably her best pal, both being outspoken, is Anne (Susannah Mars).  Others in the community are Mme.’s Shepard (Tina Mascaro), Dudley (Kayla Kelly), and Martin (Liza Jensen).  There is also the town Jailor (Maxwell Rochette), as well as the children, Abigail (Lauren Clark) and Zia Murphy.  And, finally, the beautiful outcome of the ugly, branded letter Hester must wear, Pearl (Rainbows, Eva Hudson Leoniak).

     The story follows much of the book but being told in song and music, it must be seen/heard to be fully appreciated.  The songs definitely accented the story, and all of them have merit, from the rousing, “Before You Fall…” by Samuel and the sailors, to the final hymn of life, “Breath,” by the ladies.  Some of my favorites, all in the second act, were the joyous, “Our Game of Two” (Hester and Pearl); the touching songs by Pearl, “O Papa” and “Sleep My Angel;” the sad, “A Life Most Ordinary,” by Roger; and the powerful, “Call Me a Witch,” by Anne, which only Mars could knock out of the park!

     This is one hell-of-a-show by Horgen!  It has Broadway-bound written all over it!  Weaver and Wallenfels have staged this complex show on a mostly bare stage with some fast set changes, inventive blocking, a sterling cast and some clever lighting (Daniel Meeker).  And many kudos go to Nordin, as music director and pianist, as well as his partners in the band, Alan Juza/Ann van Bever and Dale Tolliver.  All exceptional!

     The cast is led by veterans of the Portland stages, Lamb, Pierce and Mars, all at the top of their game.  And, boy, does Mars know how to belt, I’m surprised the roof held up.  The young ladies, Lewis and Green, were in fine voice, as were the fellows, Lewis and “ranney.”  Rainbows, as Pearl, was a true find in a difficult role but she was a charmer and perfect for the role!  And Teran, as the lead, was extraordinary!  She touched your heart both in acting and singing.  I couldn’t imagine anyone else in the role (Broadway, are you listening?).  This play should follow what should be the inevitable steps to The Great White Way, as it is sure to be a hit!

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

She Is Fierce—Enso Theatre—SE Portland

“Time’s Up!”

     The production is adapted from plays by Annemarie de Bruijn and Maaike Bergstra and directed by Joellen Sweeney.  It is playing at the Shoebox Theatre, 2110 SE 10th Ave., through March 31st.  For more information, go to their site at

     This play is very timely, especially with the Woman’s Movement of today, demanding respect and equality, among other things, which is long overdue.  Gender, as well as religion, cultural, sexual orientation, et. al., should never have been an issue at all.  But what it does prove is that a white, male-dominated society doesn’t work.  Those sorts of individuals can be abusive, at worst, and pedestrian, at best.  “Times, they are a-changin’.”

     A woman’s place in society, of those by-gone ages, was precarious at best.  It seemed she had two roles in life—as an amusement for men and to birth children (preferably males), and to care for them, of course.  She was not allowed to inherit, own property, have a meaningful job or have any role in governing of nothing except the household.  What she was expected to do was get married as soon as possible, with a large dowry, and to covet the highest position she could achieve in a man (arranged marriages were popular at the time, too).  Love really had nothing to do with it.

And so, in this play, we are faced with the dilemma of Lady Anne (Sam Bangs) in the realm of Richard III (voice of Tim Fodge), who ends up at her husband’s funeral, being wooed by this misshapen excuse for a man, who had already killed her husband, and his father.  Of course, she’ll scratch his eyes out.  Wrong.  Keep in mind, she is a woman without any rights or future now.  Add to the fact that she feels the best revenge might be to get him to love her, then break his heart.  But that is assuming, of course, that Richard, that silver-tongued devil, is sincere in his platitudes toward her.  “And, therein, lies the rub.”

     Margaret (Sam Reiter), mother-in-law of Edward, Anne’s first husband, knows the conflict all too well.  After all, Richard killed Edward and then his own brothers and two male children, cousins, to secure his right to the throne, confounding even his own Mum, the Duchess of York (Paige Rogers), so what’s a mother to do but love him.  I’m reminded of another mother in literature that faced a similar problem.  Her name was Rosemary and when she was confronted with the fact that she had been raped by the devil to sire his offspring, she chose to embrace that position of motherhood.  Those instincts run deep in spite of everything.

     Even her younger self (Hannah Hogan) is aware of these restrictions, even when she marries her first husband, Edward, the King, that she needs to hang on to her position or be doomed.  And waiting in the wings is another of Richard’s fancies, his cousin, the Duchess (Paige Rogers).  This does not mean she doesn’t have a voice, it just means it must be muted, for now, but the time has arrived when this saga can be exposed as a warning to future generations now!

     The story is played out on sand and it is my observation that it could represent the sands of times as they cross the ages, or the sands of a primeval beach, as Mankind supposedly evolved from the ocean.  Anyway, interesting addition to the production.  Also, this is very movement/dance oriented, an organic experience, and uses a scrim to project various scenes from the tale, and there is some pre-show, lobby material to enhance one’s immersion in it.

     Sweeney has garnered a powerful cast that, indeed, is “Fierce” in their presentation!  It is timely, as mentioned, and definitely worth seeing.  I recommend this production.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Death and the Maiden—Bag & Baggage—Hillsboro, OR

                                                     The “Master” Race

     Genocide has probably been around on this Earth, in one form or another, to wipe out and/or demean a race of people, since the beginning of Man.  Certainly Hitler and his boys were prime examples of that during the last century but they have had lots of imitators before and since then, e.g. the Crusades; our treatment of Native Americans and African-Americans; and continuous examples in the Middle-East, Africa, South America and Asia.  And the results of many of these efforts—cities reduced to rubble, death of many thousands of innocents, and resentment of other nations, as well as history.  What a prize!  As the folk song goes, “…when will they ever learn…?”

     This play gives us a microcosm of a result of these two factions meeting some years later in the guise of just three characters.  There is the alleged victim, Paulina (Mandana Khoshnevisan), a woman, still living in Chile, who was caught up in such an action fifteen years earlier, and is still haunted by the memories, especially the Schubert piece, “Death and the Maiden,” the interrogator would play during her torturing.  Although, blind-folded, she swears she would know him by his music and his voice.

     Her husband, Gerardo (Nathan Dunkin), is currently a lawyer and on a commission to seek out victims of these atrocities and, perhaps, the perpetrators, as well, so that Justice can be served.  And the third member of this odd tribunal, is Dr. Miranda (Anthony Green), the alleged interrogator, who is now living a comfortable lifestyle by the seashore, with his family, who denies any involvement with the ruling party at the time.  When these three factions come together, explosions must follow, and they do, but it will be up to you to see it to discover the outcome.

     The interesting part of this play, although it does go into some descriptions of what happened, it raises a larger question—what to do about it and where does the Truth lie?  These participants represent, in a broad sense, a victim, a victimizer, and an arbitrator, of sorts.  Questions raised are, would the victim be so traumatized by her experiences that, after such a long passage of time, could she be accurate as to her memories?  Also, how would she feel if faced with this monster?  What kind of fate would she want to see him get?  Also, a loved one, how should/would they react if they came across such a beast?  And how does such a brute justify his actions?  What kind of impartial justice could there be in such a situation?  Ponder these when observing/experiencing this production.

     Greer, a very fine actor in her own right, is now on the other side of the “boards” and gets a chance to flex even more her artistic muscles.  So, when choosing a piece to direct, it is not surprising she would prefer one that concentrated on character studies.  She has chosen her cast very well and they are all completely convincing.  What is good to see is that they all play it with such sincerity, that one is left with doubts, at times, as to who is telling the truth and what possible outcomes could there be?  Tyler Buswell has a nice open set which gives the actors a lot of room to explore.

     Khoshnevisan is great at giving us a person who appears both conflicted at times, bordering sanity, and being driven with a purpose in mind, leaving you to wonder as to her state.  Dunkin and Green I have reviewed many times before and are always an asset to a production, both excellent here.  They also show that these characters are not just black and white but various shades of gray, keeping one guessing as to their possible actions, a tribute to their acting, as well as the directing.

     I recommend this production, especially for the acting and directing but, keep in mind, it involves very adult situation.  If you do choose to see it, please tell the Dennis sent you.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Between Riverside and Crazy—Artists Rep—SW Portland

“Windmills of Your Mind”

    This searing drama is written by Stephen Adly Guirgis and directed by Adriana Baer.  It is playing at their space, 1515 SW Morrison St., through April 1st.  For more information, go to their site at                                                                                                          

     It is said that a person has three secrets.  There is the one that you share only with your best friend; the second one you keep to yourself; and the third one is hidden even from you.  What we have in this story, in part, are secrets within secrets, and stories within stories and we discover, as the characters do, that we are forced to peel back the layers, like an onion (tears included), until we find the core of ourselves and then we are set free.

     At the outset this is a normal, dysfunctional “family” (yes, I realize that is an oxymoron but it does seem to fit this grouping).  There is “Pops” (Kevin Jones), the head of the clan, a retired ex-cop and a bit of a constant tippler and a junk food addict, who rules with an iron fist, occasionally encased in a velvet glove.  Then there is the flighty son, Junior (Bobby Bermea), who has a short temper and doesn’t seem to have any solid job.  There is also living in the household, Junior’s girlfriend, Lulu (Julana Torres), who loves him (and “Pops”) unconditionally, but isn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer.  And the final relative of the house is the cheerful, Oswaldo (Illya Torres-Garner), a relative, who is on a bit of a fitness kick.

     Other members that weave into this extended fabric of a family are his old friend and co-worker, a detective, Audrey (Val Landrum), who appears to have been trained by “Pops” as a rookie cop and has great affection for him.  Also, there is Dave (Ben Newman), also a co-worker of his, now rising in the ranks to a Lieutenant and has ambitions to soar even higher.  And, finally, there is the Church Lady (Ayanna Berkshire), whose congregation ministered to his deceased wife and now appears to be trying to save him, but her methods are a bit unorthodox, to say the least.  And so, as the story progresses, the masks are stripped away and they are exposed to the elements to see if they can adapt to changes, evolve with them, or perish.

     Really can’t tell you any more, as revelations come fast and furious and it’s up to an audience to discover them.  Baer has cast this play perfectly and her pacing is spot on, as she hits you hard and fast at times, and then relaxes a bit for some of the more subtle moments.  And Jones is a master at performing (and directing) and this is a dynamite role for him.  He is a powerhouse that can’t be tamed.  The rest of the cast, too, all seasoned professionals, have their time in the sun onstage and they burst with energy when they command the boards.

     I recommend this production, especially for the powerful performances.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Stage Kiss—Twilight Theater Company—N. Portland

“All the World’s a Stage…”

     This rather odd comedy is written by Sarah Ruhl and directed by Matt Gibson.  It is playing at their space, 7515 N. Brandon Ave., (just off Lombard), through March 25th.  (There is a free church parking lot across the street that can be used.)  For more information, go to their site at

     The above caption is more than fitting for the premise of this play.  We are all truly different people depending on circumstances.  In this case “Life imitates Art…,” or is it the other way around?!  We are the sum total of a soul, genes, rearing and contacts as we mature.  But when you add the layer of a performing artist to this mix, you’ve just opened a whole other can of worms, as the characters they portray onstage add another layer of reality to an already complicated life, as in this case.

     As to who’s who and what’s what in the plot, if put in writing, would just add more confusion.  So, I will try to give a short sketch of the basics.  It seems that He (Rob Kimmelman) and She (Kristen Paige) are former lovers from Youth and are now trying out to play lovers in a play with a respected Director (Christopher Ruggles) and his trusty sidekick, Kevin (Jason Fox).  She has a husband, Harrison (Tony Domingue), and a daughter, Angela (Jayne Ruppert), now.  He has a lover living with him, Laurie (Amanda Clark), so those factors complicate things a bit as to any rekindling of a romance between He and She.  But then, there is the play, albeit a campy soap opera, in which they can go beyond, perhaps, that “stage kiss.”

     Needless to say, it does get messy when stage roles mix with real life and can be hard to distinguish between the two.  (A side note—this really does often happen in the theatre/film world, as well, where intense relationships onstage can be intense off-stage, too.)  Also, these same seven actors portray other characters in the play(s) as well, probably deliberate, and that adds even more layers to the plot.  Really can’t tell you more without giving away plot devices and, perhaps, confusing you even more as to the interweaving in the stories.

     This is not Ruhl at her best.  The play needs editing, especially in the first act, as the repetition gets tiresome after a while.  And the blending of camp humor in the first act and some serious moments in the second act are an uneasy mix at best.  Also, the constant scenery changes got to be annoying, as if she was writing for TV or a film.  There is a rather nice ending, albeit a bit far-fetched, but the overall story needs some tightening, although a good idea.  The funniest bit being a silent, sight gag with Clark, who is a master of deadpan comedy.    I won’t give it away but you’ll know it when it happens.

Gibson is a terrific comedy director and he does his best with this material and a very able cast.  All the actors are right for the roles they play, especially the two leads.  And I particularly liked the musical interludes.  Domingue, with his commanding voice and Clark, with her big eyes and Keaton-like expressions, both having been in plays here before, stand out in the supporting cast.

     I marginally recommend this show because of a very talented cast and director.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Our Mother’s Brief Affair—Triangle Productions!—NE Portland

“To Thine Own Self Be True…”

     The NW Premiere of this production is written by Richard Greenberg and directed by Donald Horn.  It is playing at their space in The Sanctuary, 1785 NE Sandy Blvd., through March 31st.  (Free parking to the West of the building.)  For more information, go to their site, or call 503-239-5919.

     This above sentiment is uttered by a duplicitous character in “Hamlet.”  In essence, what you see is not always what you get.  A person can be of two natures, perhaps, or more.  And one of the Bard’s most famous speeches, “All the world’s a stage…” the person espousing those lines is a very morose character saying, perhaps, out of a weed-patch, sometimes a blossom flowers.

     Greenberg’s characters in “Three Days of Rain” are, likewise, all over the map in terms of who they really are and what really happened, as in this play, too.  True, we are, indeed, many different personas to many different people but you assume that somewhere the real you exists…or should we assume even that?!

     The play is simply staged, only two benches, but that works, as the story is all over the map in time and space and back again.  Also, the author’s words and narrative are not so apt to get lost in the trappings of fancy settings.  And so, we are placed in a netherworld, created by the characters, to explore, perhaps, the meaning of Truth and Reality.

     I can’t tell you much of the story because a great deal of it is up to an audience to discover, as it deals with, as mentioned, what is actual and not.  It seems that Anna (Michelle Maida) is in a NYC hospital, possibly on her last legs, and is being visited by her son, Seth (Alex Fuchs), who is an obit writer for a newspaper, and her somewhat, estranged daughter, Abby (Deanna Wells), who lives in CA.  Their mother seems prone to hallucinations of imagined or actual events in her life and with such meanderings, are subject to scrutiny as to fact or fiction.

     The major story of her shadows is of a brief, affair with a gentleman called Phil (Twig Webster), who seems to be good for her.  And like many budding relationships, they wish to unburden themselves to the other, in order to show sincerity, of buried secrets, akin to what her kids are discovering about their mother.  But Phil has a secret, too, that may be much more dangerous.  Through these exchanges, long hidden feelings are exposed, but we are still left with who are we really when all the veils have been whisked away?  Who is that Great and Powerful person behind the curtain?!

     You will have to see it for yourself to discover the answers…and even then, there might be even more questions.  Horn is at his best when digging into characters, and thus, the actors’ psyches, as he does here.  And he has a very smart cast to work with.  They are all in top form and keep you guessing, as it should be with any mystery.  All the actors fit their roles to a tee, and it is good to see Webster again on the stage after such a long absence.  Obvious to see that he still has the “right stuff” and hope to see more of him onstage in the future.
I recommend this show.  
     If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.