Sunday, June 18, 2017

26 Miles—Profile Theatre—SW Portland

Road Trip

This powerful drama of relationships is written by Quiara Alegría Hudes and directed by Rebecca Martínez.  It is playing at the Artists Rep. space, 1515 SW Morrison, through June 25th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-242-0080.

Sometimes the best way to find your way home is…to get lost.  Already, when you are a teen, there may be a sense of fearlessness and indestructibility but there can also be the sense of isolation, frustration and desperation, especially if you are a child of a mixed marriage and your parents are separated.  And, faced with that realization, of not being fully aware of your roots, it is difficult to move forward.

Olivia (Alex Ramirez de Cruz) is just such a teen.  She is an editor of a news magazine, in which she chronicles her thoughts in a journal, and is the basis for this narrative.  Her white father, Aaron (Chris Harder), after being married for a few years to her Cuban mother, Beatriz (Julana Torres), and having a daughter by her, eventually falls in love with another woman, Deb, who he marries, and gets custody of Olivia because her mother is not yet a citizen.  But all is not at peace at her home, as her step-mother resents her, probably because she is of a Latino origin.  This fifteen-year-old then seeks out her, mostly absent, birth mother, who is now with another man, Manuel (Jimmy Garcia).

Sensing the desperation in her daughter’s voice, Beatriz chooses to rescue her and go on a road trip, not so much to see the sights of a cross-country journey, but to map out their own destinies.  Having lost about ten crucial years in their relationship, they discover some serious things have been lost in translation, as well, both figuratively and emotionally.  Along the path to an attempted reconciliation they find they not only have a language barrier, but differ in likes of music, food, ideas of sex, love, religious beliefs, and temperament.  What is lost can be found again.  But sometimes you need to cross a wide expanse to discover the closeness that was within all the time.  More I cannot tell you without giving away secrets so will leave it at that.

Martínez has done a masterful job of staging this show.  It’s amazing what wonders can be produced with just two chairs to represent different locations in the story.  There is also a beautiful panorama of the scenic part of the journey (Daniel Meeker) and some simple but specific lighting (Kristeen Willis Crosser), both pros in their fields, which add to narrative.  Both Garcia and Harder have graced the stage a lot and are both very good in the connecting roles they play to support the major story of the two women.  Torres and Cruz are excellent as the mother and daughter and are equally effective when they are explosive, as well as in the tender moments, and everything in between.  Without a doubt anyone can identify with the relationship of these four people, as Hudes has skirted the seams of ordinary people in extraordinary situations.

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

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Reunion—Imago Theatre—SE Portland

Letting Go

This avant-garde, dark comedy is written and directed by Carol Triffle (co-founder of Imago w/Jerry Mouawad, “John” in this production).  It is playing at their space, 17 SE 8th Ave. (just off Burnside, parking is a challenge in this area, so plan your time accordingly), through June 24th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-231-9581.

In the time of your Life, when were you the happiest?  Often folks will reflect on their childhood and youth.  And when you know it is time to “shuffle off this mortal coil,” what actions would you take to re-capture that period, perhaps that age of innocence, when you had all the time in the world (or so you thought) and were fearless and indestructible and free?  For me, those precious days were always associated with dogs, my eternal buddies.  But, on the other hand, reminiscence on the “good ole days,” can bring regrets of things that we should have done during those intervening years, and didn’t.  Hold every moment dear, and they will do the same for you.  But, do we?!

In Dolores’s (Danielle Vermette) case, this alluring time seems to be a “Reunion.”  And high school is a magical time for many, when the future lay at your feet, open to all possibilities.  In her case, she comes with her husband, John (Jerry Mouawad), who doesn’t seem at all happy with this intrusion to their lives.  Of course, the fact that she has a terminal illness isn’t such a hot idea, either.  The hall for this event is decorated with the appropriate razzle-dazzle but it seems that they are unfashionable too early (or too late), as only the band is left and what a motley crew they are.

Duke (Kyle Delamarter) seems to be the leader of the pack and he, with his fellow band-mate, Floyd (Sean Bowie), neither being any great shakes as singers, seem to have another agenda, like flirting with Delores, whom they have shaky, if any, memories of, and vice versa.  Tek (Jon Farley), the mostly silent drummer, seems to be in a world of his own.  The arrival of the hostess, the only other guest, Brittany (Megan Skye Hale), doesn’t seem to clear things up at all, as she keeps calling Delores by another name.  Granted, memories get fuzzy at reunions, thus nametags and old photos for recollections, but this gathering seems even more remote, until you discover the secret…

Obviously, I can go any further without being a spoiler, but I will say this really is a love story, of sorts, albeit out in left field, perhaps.  And maybe one should not take things too literally, as in many Imago shows.  There are layers upon layers, and stories within stories, and like a fine painting or piece of music, or play, what the observer contemplates of the proceedings is part of the purpose of the piece in the first place.  Not to say that this, or any artistic work, doesn’t have a meaning to the creator, but part of that magic is what the audience gleans from it, as it is meant to be an inclusive work of art.

For instance, does this event take place in a traditional setting and time, or is it set somewhere in the “windmills of [one’s] mind?”  Is the world only what we can touch and feel, or does imagination and wonderment play a part in our existence?  Are we a person dreaming we are a “butterfly,” or a “butterfly” dreaming we are a person?  What you take home from this story is just as valid as what the person next to you takes home, although it can be vastly different understandings.  “We are such stuff as dreams are made on and our little life is rounded with a sleep.”

This eclectic work by Triffle, both as writer and director, is something you will talk about afterwards…and disagree on…and that is as intended, I believe.  I liked it very much.  It is good to see Mouawad on stage, as he normally directs many of the works here.  He is just as vibrant and mesmerizing onstage as I imagine he is behind the scenes.  Vermette, the focus of the story, invites us along with her on this unusual journey, as we experience the twists and turns and doubts, as she does, so we are co-explorers with her.  Very good job.  The rest of the cast adds to the bizarre nature of the story by always keeping us guessing as to the reality/sanity of them, which is as it should be.

I recommend this show, but know that it is not the “traditional” theatre you might be accustomed to seeing.  If you do choose to esperience it, please tell them that Dennis sent you.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Rumors—Twilight Theater Company—N. Portland

"What Webs We Weave”

This early comedy, by the master comedic playwright, Neil Simon, is directed by Maury Evans.  It is playing at Twilight’s space, just off Lombard (upstairs), 7515 N. Brandon Ave. (free, small parking lot across from the theater), through June 25th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-847-9838.

The play’s title is a bit of a misnomer as, although there are a couple of rumors characters bat about early on, the bulk of the play involves the deep holes we dig for ourselves when we try to avoid or cover up the truth of a situation.  But, that being said, these party guests take the cake for fabrication, as they spin and weave as no clothier ever could and, in the end, is an absolute masterpiece of misdirection.  Even then, though, they seem to lose the thread of the tale as it grows.

It starts out innocently enough, as eight upper-class friends arrive at the house of the deputy mayor to help celebrate his and his wife’s 10th anniversary.  But, as it turns out, we discover from the first arrivals, the high-strung, Ken (Rob Harris), and his determined wife, Chris (Alicia Turvin), both lawyers, that there has been an “accident” in their host’s home, that he has been shot, and his wife and servants are AWOL.  Their legal minds begin to churn, not wanting publicity for political reasons, and decide to disguise the truth, as other guests arrive.  (This could easily be a play-book for a current administration, I believe).

And, right on cue, a very upset, Lenny (Richard Barr), a CPA, and his more subdued wife, Clair (Laura Myers), manage to creep in, disheveled, as they have been in an accident.  Not long after them, a neurotic, Cookie (Greg Saum), a television, gourmet cook with a bad back, and her analyst husband, Ernie (Andy Roberts), make an entrance.  Then the final party guests appear on the scene, a State Senator wannabe, Glenn (Ian Leiner), and his sexy but ditzy wife, Cassie (Amanda Anderson), battling with each other.  All there true colors come out, as they discover the facts of the situation, but do they know the real story.

Of course, the one thing you don’t want to happen at his juncture, is for the police to arrive and, guess what, they do, in the form of Officer Welch (Tony Domingue), a take-charge kind of guy and his quiet partner, Officer Pudney (Rebecca Ovall).  Finally the truth must come out…but does it?!  Most of the exchanges you must experience for yourselves, as Simon is a master at comic writing, and I can’t give you any more of the plot without being a spoiler.

Evans has done a terrific job of staging this show, as well as finding all the subtle nuances and overt overtures that add immensely to the fun of the production.  He also has a very good cast.  They all have their shining moments.  Harris, a familiar and welcome actor in Twilight’s shows, as the ultimate example of fingernails on a chalkboard in human form, is amazing.  Barr as the concluding concoctor of the long-winded plot, truly deserved the applause he received after delivering the final blow.  Myers is a gem of under-playing, having a dry humor that is a perfect addition to the mad-cap mania occurring around her. Saum, as the suffering chef, chaffing for attention, is hilarious (eat your heart out, Harvey Firestein).  And Domingue, as the lone voice of reason, is a steadfast, solidifying force amongst the chaos.  But, as mentioned, they are all spot on.

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

Avenue Q—Triangle Productions!—NE Portland

Puppets Rule

This Triple-Crown, 2004, Tony-award winning musical is back again for the third time by special demand, and is again directed and designed by the one and only, Donald Horn (Triangle’s driving force).  It has music and lyrics by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, book by Jeff Whitty and musical direction by the one and only, Jonathan Quesenberry.  It is playing at their space in The Sanctuary at Sandy Plaza, 1785 NE Sandy Blvd. (free parking lot to the West of the bldg.), through July 1st.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-239-5919.

The above title may not only refer to Avenue Q (think about it)!  This show has been referred to as the dark side of “Sesame Street,” since it is about a neighborhood incorporating puppets and humans.  But, know this for sure, it is not for children!  That being said, I would call it more of a realistic and honest look at what makes humans who they are, all colors of the rainbow but having shades of gray.  “To err is human…” and so do all the inhabitants of Avenue Q.  First, recognize flaws in oneself, then learn to adapt and embrace new ways of thinking and behaving.  When accomplished, it will be a far, far better world, I believe.

The story involves a newbie to the ‘hood, Princeton (Isaiah Rosales), fresh out of college and now graduated to the city of hard knocks to find his fame and fortune…or, just his Purpose in Life would be sufficient.  The Super for the apartments is Gary Coleman (Raphael Likes), yes, that Gary Coleman.  Princeton eventually meets his neighbors.  There is Kate Monster (Hannah Wilson), a teacher who wants to start a School for Monsters and, although of the Monster clan, there seems to be an attraction.  Then there is Brain, (Dave Cole), a rather lame comedian, and his betrothed, Christmas Eve (Justine Davis), a counselor.

There is Rod (Matthew Brown), a rather meticulous sort and Nicki (James Sharinghousen), a bit of a slob, who are roommates.  The elusive, upstairs neighbor is Trekkie Monster (Sharinghousen, again), who’s pastime is indulging in porn.  Also, although not a neighbor, there is the vampish, Lucy, the Slut (Kelsey Bentz), who’s talents seem to be in keeping a good man down, or up, depending on the circumstances.  And I haven’t even mentioned the singing Moving Boxes or the Bad Idea Bears, the “looser” side of one’s alter-ego.   These characters, and more, will come together and attempt to create a community in which dreams are found, secrets revealed, purposes discovered, lives changed and friendships formed.  Sounds pretty much like the world we already live in and people we know so, if you dare, take “a walk on the wild side” with the incomparable residents of “Avenue Q.”

The songs and music are a hoot and pretty much tell the story of what you might discover in this neighborhood.  There is “If You Were Gay,” “Everybody’s a Little Bit Racist,” “The Internet is For Porn,” “Fantasies Come True,” and “Schadenfreude” (you’ll have to see it to discover the meaning).  All the songs/lyrics are part of the story and all quite compelling.  My favorites are the show-stopping (both song and singer, Wilson), “There’s a Fine, Fine Line” as well as the touching, “The More You Ruv Someone” (Wilson & Davis).  All these songs need strong singers and Horn has the cream of the crop for this production!

Wilson is a stand-out (as she was as the young Liza in a show earlier this season).  She has a dynamite voice and is a fine actor, too.  A career awaits her in this field, I believe, if she so chooses.  Sharinghousen is always a favorite onstage, not only as a singer, but actor as well.  He shines again here, too.  Davis and Bentz have powerful voices for the characters they portray.  And Rosales is perfect as the innocent to this big, bad world.  Horn, as always, is an unstoppable force when creating a show.  As I once mentioned, some friends and I saw this in the Big Apple and honestly liked Horn’s vision better!

Quesenberry and his band of musicians are always an asset to Horn’s shows and they don’t overpower the actors, either, which often happens in a musical.  I loved the set and puppet.  The set was built by Demetri Pavlatos, puppets (some) by Steven Overton and Marty Richmond over at Portland Puppet Museum/Olde World Puppet Theatre (Trekkie, Kate and Lucy only) and James Sharinghousen helped with the assistance of working with the puppets.  It should be noted that there is full frontal, puppet nudity with a sex scene in this production and some partial back-al exposure by one of the humans, as well as raunchy situations and language.

This show created one of the biggest upsets in Tony history in 2004, as this little show won all the top prizes for a musical, beating out the heavily favored, “Wicked.”  I highly recommend this production.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

The Language Archive—Portland Playhouse at CoHo—NW Portland

A Language For All Ages

This insightful play by Julie Cho is directed by Adriana Baer.  It is playing at the CoHo space, 2257 NW Raleigh St. (finding parking is a bear in this neighborhood, so please plan your time accordingly), through June 11th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-488-5822.

The above Language, of course, is Love.  But as to how to communicate in that verbage is the tricky part, as each feeling creature has its own interpretation of how to express him or herself.  What one may be feeling does not necessarily translate easily into words.  There is an Art to that.

George (Greg Watanabe) works with languages, trying to preserve what are considered the last remnants of cultures that may be dying out.  He may be a communication expert at this but is less successful when it comes to his home life and his wife, Mary (Nikki Weaver), who seems to be depressed and crying all the time.  She may also be leaving odd notes that seem to make no sense.  She is unlike rigid George, who supports the adage, everything in its proper place, and has no time for tears.  A match probably not made in Heaven.

But he does have a loyal assistant, Emma (Foss Curtis), who understands his drive, and is willing to comfort him and be his pal when needed.  May we also say that she is totally smitten by him.  But does he notice, of course not.  No hope, you say?  But wait, the home front may be breaking apart and some sunshine might filter through to those who suffer from unrequited love.

But, first to work, and then to…whatever.  They have the River People, Alta (Sharonlee Mclean) and Resten (Victor Mack), in their tests, products of one of those dying languages/civilizations, who are constantly arguing…but in English (!) which, of course, defeats the whole purpose of the experiment.  They explain, quite convincingly, that English is the language of strife, of war, and their language is for romance.  Of course, in this day and age, it seems that all languages are tinged with hatred now.

But, according to one famous poem, it may all be for naught.  An Emperor of yore had written across a monument, for all to view his fearsome glory he had created and yet, looking around the statue, was only an endless sea of sand!  Will we be like that, an empty cipher in someone’s book?  They proclaim in the play, it is not the language that dies off first, but the world for which it was created.  Will we eventually be those creatures, looking upon a barren landscape on the ruins of abandoned hopes and promises?!

To go further down the path of the story would be telling, so you just have to see it for yourself, to observe if a German instructor will put Emma on the road to happiness; whether an old man will inspire love again through baking; and will an odd couple be an inspiration for true love.  See a common theme in all of this?  Hope springs eternal, they say, and that Hope rests in our Youth.  May it be truly said that we have inspired them toward tolerance and compassion, away from being lemmings, and simply following others over the cliff into the abyss.

This play is thoughtful and inspirational on many fronts and Baer is exactly the right leader to nudge it forward.  Having been the driving force behind Profile Theatre, she has shown her artistic chops here in just as bold a way.  Her use of space and choice of cast is spot on.  I have reviewed all these actors before and they all came out shining examples of their Art, as they do here.  And they have the added burden of dealing with speaking other languages, too.  Mack and Mclean are both pros and it shows.  They have multiple roles in the show and their characters all come alive with only changes in their gestures, speech and postures, that’s great acting.  Curtis is just fine as the recognizable person who may not have loved wisely, but too well.  Weaver sheds light on the complex role of a woman trying to break out of her conventional role and find herself, her true calling.  And Watanabe is terrific as a martinet, discovering he is human after all.

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

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Constellations—Portland Center Stage—Pearl District

“Star-Crossed Lovers”

This existential, dark comedy is written by Nick Payne and directed by Chris Coleman (PCS’s Artistic Director).  It is playing at their space at The Armory, 128 NW 11th Ave., through June 11th (parking can be a challenge in this area, so plan your time accordingly).  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-445-3700.

“If we are Here, then we’re not There.  And, if There, then we are not Here” (anonymous).  If you understood that statement, then you have a clue as to the complexity of the subject matter this play is dealing with.  It is, in an odd way, really a love story, since those are proverbially, “…stories as old as time.”  But it is related in such as way, with just two characters, Marianne (Dana Green) and Roland (Silas Weir Mitchell), with minimal set and props, that it is very identifiable to many romances.

It is also told in such way as it encompasses, not only many years, but many dimensions, and so the outcomes of the story are multilayered.  Theories do exist that there are multiple, perhaps, infinite, alternate universes out there and there would be just as many outcomes for relationships, as well.  And so, the style of the story has many hiccups, starts and stops, as some of them are explored, but in bits and pieces.

Two strangers meet, such as Marianne and Roland, but in some scenarios they never consummate the relationship.  After a few false starts, they do connect and move in together, with varying results.  Some possible outcomes, have them getting married, or splitting up, finding other mates, becoming friends later on, and even dealing with tragedy together.  The possibilities are endless.  And the style of this play, in a sort of stream-of-consciousness way, provides peeks into many of them and, if told in a linear way, following only one of the possible plots, would takes only a few minutes.

Another way of looking at it is to picture those moments when you knew you were at a crossroads in your life, and made a decision that would carve a path in another direction.  I know I can think of a few instances and have always wondered what would have been alternate outcomes for me if I had chosen a different direction.  Now, multiply that curiosity a hundred times to other possible outcomes, and you will have an inkling of what this play is postulating.  So, without being a spoiler, I can’t reveal any more of the plot because, for one reason, I have already given you a thumbnail sketch of it in the above paragraph and, for another, the story is not the point, the style is, and you will have to view that for yourself.

Coleman has done an excellent job of keeping the audience engaged by subtle movements of the characters, pauses and employing bits of business that keep one’s attention.  His casting of the two actors is spot on, as both Green and Mitchell are perfect in these parts.  How the devil they memorized all the stops and starts this piece has, and not gotten confused, is beyond me.  They are amazing!  The clever set design by Jason Sherwood and lighting by William C. Kirkham, to connect the passages of time and space, greatly help with the success of this production, too.

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

Vanport Mosaic Festival—Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center—N. Portland

Phoenix Rising

“Staged readings of two new one-act plays about the American Dream, displacement & Hurricane Katrina from the African American perspective.”  This is part of the Vanport Mosaic Festival.  The plays are “Hercules Don’t Wade in the Water” by Michael A. Jones and directed by Damaris Webb and “American Summer Squash” by Don W. Glenn and directed by Jocelyn Seid.  They are playing at the IFCC space, 5340 N. Interstate Ave., through June 4th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 971-319-0156.

I’m going to go out on a limb (as I often do) and give my own personal impressions/take/flavor of the stories.  I’m sure everyone’s aware from recent news pieces that prejudice and racism have, like an ostrich, raised its ugly head from the sand and is again creating havoc.  But my perspective is that a Cause, a People, if it is truly just, will prevail against all odds and, like the fabled Phoenix, rise from the ashes of ignorance and hate, and have its day in the sun.  No doubt, probably naïve on my part, that the forces of Light will always defeat the forces of Evil and, if you persist long enough on this Field of American Dreams, it will come to pass.  “If you build it, they will come.”

The first offering, “Hercules…,” is about two couples at crossroads in their lives.  Tupelo (La’Tevin Alexander) and Charmaine (Anya Pearson) both very hard working individuals, are barely keeping their heads above water, trying to put food on the table and pay the skyrocketing rent in their “modest” apartment in Chicago.  Their best friends, Maxine (Andrea Vernae) and Eugene (Seth Rule), are also diligent workers but have had a tragedy in their family that seems to be pulling them apart.  The sacrifice they make for honest labor is that they have no time for growing as couples.  Tupelo is eventually sent, with his friend, Youngblood (Eric Island), to New Orleans for work and they get caught up in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

The second play, “…Squash,” has a family dealing with the aftermath of the storm in Texas, near the border, close to New Orleans.  The righteous, Rev. Ratcliff (Anthony P. Armstrong) is living with his son, the lazy, Slidell (Jasper Howard), in a truck, sitting on the property of their elder, Lucille (Arlena Barnes), who owns a trailer.  There is much discussion as to accepting God’s Will or railing against this fate.  Into their already turbulent lives appear the brassy, bouncy, belligerent, Sweet 16 (Damaris Webb) and her new-found friend, the young Catfish (Rickey Junior).  She is the long-time mate of Slidell and is out to just have fun.  Sparks fly when all these spicy elements are dumped into an already bubbling stew.  Can’t tell you too much about both these plays without giving away plot devices.

What these plays have in common, besides the obvious thread of the storm, is that they both involve the storms that are already brewing within these individuals and the hurricane seems to be the tipping spot in which climaxes are reached.  They are all also about flawed, but very human people that, when the cards are stacked against them, rally and will rise again.  Their “once upon a time” story might end with “…and the lived [hopefully] ever after.”

Both plays are very well written and, it is not long into them, that you forget that the cast actually has scripts in their hands.  They are so adept as actors, that the pages disappear, and they become the characters they are portraying, thanks to some excellent casting and also narration by Kenneth Dembo.  Both directors have kept the movement fluid and, although in the first play, by Jones, they are different settings over several months of time, you never get lost.  And the second play, by Glenn, has shades of the great writer, August Wilson, as a few of the characters have interesting monologues that reveal their back-stories.

I recommend these plays.  You might check their website, too, as to other events that are connecting to them.  If you do choose to see them, please tell them that Dennis sent you.