Monday, July 9, 2018

Chess—Lakewood Theatre Company—Lake Oswego


              Rules of the Game


    This musical with music by the performers/writers for ABBA, Bjorn Ulvaeus & Benny Andersson, lyrics by Tim Rice and book by Richard Nelson, is being directed by John Oules, with music direction by Darcy White and choreography by Laura Hiszczynskyj, is playing at their space, 368 S. State St. in Lake Oswego, through August 12th.  For more information, go to their site at www.lakewood-center.org or call 503-635-3901.

    It’s amazing, after all these centuries, countries have still not learned that to co-exist peacefully for everybody’s benefit, is the best of all possible worlds.  Instead, we have, even today, leaders that feel that one-upmanship, saber-rattling and bragging about who’s got the “biggest button,” are admiral traits in our leaders.  I thought that kind of childish behavior was something we grow out of but, I guess, I was wrong…oops, sorry, that is an insult…to children!

    The Cold War of the 50’s, chiefly between the U.S. and Russia, has been expanded now to include North Korea, as well as the Middle East, and has heated up considerably.  But in 1980, a “gentleman’s match” was to take place in which the two chess champions of both the USSR and the United States were to take place.  In this incarnation of that period, these adversaries across a game board, could not be more different.

    Freddie (Norman Wilson), from the U.S., is a bit of a playboy and has little respect for his opponent.  He has let fame go to this head. His agent or, better yet, “handler”, is Walter (Joey Cóté), who works behind the scenes to make sure all goes smoothly.  Anatoly (Kurt Raimer), a gentleman, is a family man with his wife, Svetlana (Megan Misslin).  His “handler” is Molokov (Bobby Jackson), who has the interests of his county to contend with, as well as his client. 

    The wild card in all of this is Florence (Courtney Freed), who was born in Hungary (behind the “Iron Curtain,” at the time), but is now Freddie’s coach (and ex-lover).  Her father, Gregor (Doug Zimmerman), who taught her chess, has disappeared.  So, one might say she has a type of allegiance to both countries.  And one should not forget the Arbiter/referee (Matt Brown), who has a god-like complex and takes his job very seriously.

    If you haven’t yet surmised, the actual focus of the game is not on the board these two compete on, but the much larger stakes between two opposing powers, as to who will have the upper hand in that after the match has been completed.  Can’t tell you more without spoiling the story.
The direction and cast are super, but the story is dated, as the “chess match” has reached more dangerous levels at this point, and added other “gamesters” to the mix.  There are some powerful moments in songs, especially “Anthem” (Raimer), “Pity the Child” (Wilson), all of Freed’s songs, with her amazing voice, and the famous, “One Night in Bangkok,” for its dances.

    I recommend this play, mainly for the terrific job the cast does.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.
--DJS

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Adroit Maneuvers—Lighthouse Arts—SE Portland



           The Revolutionists


    The World Premiere of this searing drama is written, directed and produced by Michael Bertish.  It is playing at the Imago space, 17 SE 8th Ave. (off Burnside) through July 22nd.  For more information, go to their site at www.adroitpdx.com

    We all have, I believe, moments in our lives when things just don’t click for us.  We may feel out of step with the rest of the world, or it with us.  Some are small issues and we just adapted to whatever.  Others are pretty monumental and their paths could affect the course of the world in a negative way.  And so, it is up to those few, those precious few, to step up to the plate and say, “No More!” and a revolution is born.  Such was the case in a certain time period in the 1700’s in America.  Also, currently, the MeToo Movement.  And between that earlier era and now, there was something called WWII, the Nazis and a band of brave souls who stood up to them. 

Tilde (Diane Kondrat) is an elderly Jewish lady, now living in a flat in NYC in the mid-90’s.  She is a survivor of this Evil Empire and their ugly plan to wipe them out.  But, possibly more important, she was a member of the Resistance in Austria, where her home was.  But age is catching up with her, and her grandson, Micky (Morgan Lee) is curious about her past and, so now, may be the time to tell her story….  (It gets tricky at this point, since so few actors were playing many roles, that I may have gotten character names mixed up, so I apologized if I did).

Tilde claims she knew and became friends with Freud (Chris Porter) and his wife, Martha (Jody McCoy) and Einstein (Gary R. Powell), and even knew Hitler (Leif Norby), before he came to power, as a street painter in a café where she and her mother, Amalia (Amy Joy Allahdadi) would frequent. 

    But things were changing very quickly in Austria in the thirties, with the takeover of many countries by the Nazis, and so café life, the hub of social and political activity, was disintegrating.  People had to leave, including the Pianist (Jeffrey Michael Kauffman) of the café and his finance, Edith (Sumi Wu), a violinist.  Even the café owner, Max (no program credit for this role but assume it’s Gerry Birnbach) is degraded but he, with Tilde, join the Resistance.

    Her arduous journey from there to 1996 is compelling, with many more characters adding to the story, played by Ethan Sloan, Joey Kelly, Matthew Ostrowski, and Emily Nash.  Can’t tell you more without being a spoiler, but it is a fascinating story.  Know that struggles are not yet over in this world and, as pointed out in this tale, Monsters are not born but are created by a mob, and they give the Beast a credibility and importance.  If this situation echoes with certain leaders of our current international conflicts, we can only hope that change is in the wind, in which a world will work together for a more compassionate and prosperous future for all.

    The cast is first-rate, with Lee and Norby standing out, of the supporting players.  And Kondrat is amazing as Tilde, as she is rarely offstage in this almost three-hour production and her quick switches from one age to another are astounding.  She is in a class by herself and the best performance I’ve seen this year!  Bertish has quite an impressive story to tell and it holds you for the entire narrative.
Some suggestions I would make on the script, though, are that when the story veers from Tilde’s person tale, those scenes could be trimmed or cut.  Also, an easier way to list the cast/characters might be to do it as they appear in the play.  The character names of the actors playing Hitler, Max and the Violinist (Sumi Wu, who is terrific on her instrument) are not listed and it should be a clearer defining of these roles (similar problem happened with PCS’s “Astoria”).  Also, the title could be changed, as it doesn’t give any clear concept of the story.
I highly recommend this play.  

    If you do see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.
--DJS

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Mamma Mia!—Broadway Rose Theatre Company—Tigard, OR


Life at Full Throttle
This very popular musical is from music and lyrics by ABBA (Benny Andersson & Bjorn Ulvaeus) and some songs with Stig Anderson.
  The original concept for the story was conceived by Judy Craymer, with the book by Catherine Johnson, and additional material and arrangements by Martin Koch.  It is directed & choreographed by Lyn Cramer and musical direction by Alan D. Lytle.  It is playing at their space next to Tigard High School, Deb Fennell Auditorium, 9000 SW Durham Rd., through July 22nd. For more information, go to their site at www.broadwayrose.org or call 503-620-5262.
When you hit your sunset years, it finally occurs to you that Life is like a fleeting wisp of smoke, that settles for too brief a time on a distant land, then is blown away to its next journey, somewhere into the Netherlands, to provide a soul, once again, another “awfully, big adventure.”
  But, while here, in this too short space of time, we should make use of every moment to play, love, inspire and, by enriching this world with our unique talents, we have hopefully left it a better place for the next generation to settle in and build on.
Donna (Peggy Taphorn) has had her space in the sun, on her Greek Island, running an Inn for about 20 years, and raising, as a single mom, her daughter, Sophie (Sophie Moshofsky).
  But changes are in the wind and her daughter has found the man of her dreams, Sky (Aaron Stewart), and so a wedding is planned.  Which means, of course, a huge party, with Donna’s two best friends attending, the luscious, Tonya (Lisamarie Harrison) and the spunky, Rosie (Laura McCulloch).
And, of course, that means Sophie’s best friends must also attend, the sassy & exotic, Lisa (Jalena Montrond) and the fun-loving, Ali (Shanise Jordan).
  There are also some very available young studs arounds for any unattached females, helpers at the Inn, the sleek, Pepper (Charles Grant) and the energetic, Eddie (Colin Stephen Kane).   
Only one teeny-weeny little fly in the ointment, she wants her dad to walk her down the aisle, as per tradition.
  Only one small problem, she doesn’t know who her dad is, so she invites all three of the potential suitors, Sam (Andrew Maldarelli), the designer, Bill (Joey Klei), the writer, and Harry (Matthew H. Curl), the banker, of that fateful time period when she was conceived, to the ceremony, in the hopes of finding out who her real dad is (doesn’t occur to them, I guess, to get a blood test, but then again, there wouldn’t be any story if that happened…).  Can’t tell you the rest without spoiling the tale but, trust me, it’s a lively one.
All the popular songs are there, including the showstoppers, “Dancing Queen” and, of course, “Mamma Mia.”
  The songs and dances are a-plenty, all very well executed by an extremely talented troupe of performers, with nary a weak link in the bunch.  Harrison knocks ‘em dead with, “Does Your Mother Know,” and McCulloch explodes with, “Take a Chance on Me,” both show-stoppers.  The dancers excelled, especially in “Voulez-Vous.”  And Taphorn brought the house down with, “The Winner Takes It All”—exceptional!
This production is a winner all around.
  Not only the lead characters, but the singing ensemble and dancers, as well as flashy costumes, Allison Dawe, and a terrific set that revolved, Bryan Boyd.  Cramer has done a splendid production of this very popular show, and Lytle is at his best here as the music director.
I highly recommend this show.
  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.



Sunday, July 1, 2018

Manahatta—Oregon Shakespeare Festival—Ashland, OR


Heritage of Tears

    This eye-opening play is a World Premiere, written by Mary Kathryn Nagle and directed by Laurie Woolery.  It is playing at the Thomas Theatre in repertory through October 27th.  For more information, go to their site at www.osfashland.org

    Most things worth caring about often can come with pain and controversy.  This applies to birthing, obviously, even with a country.  Case in point, the European invasion of the Native American communities in the Americas, and their forced assimilation into our culture, even sans their Native language and customs.  History seems to prove that Man is cruel and greedy when it comes to having Power over others.  And so, in Manhattan, the Native American descendants must deal with the unfair, unwarranted and embarrassing mockery of justice and justification.  “Times, they are a-changin’.”

    It is a sad mark in our history and probably well-known that, according to the early years of our country, Manhattan was sold to the Dutch for a few trinkets, supplies and some wampum.  What was very mis-understood in this trade was that the Native Americans were not familiar with the concept of owning land, and so a war occurred and an ugly part of our history was forged.

    The story very smoothly travels back and forth in time in Manahatta/Manhattan, from the 17th century to the 21st century, with a cast of seven playing all the roles.  We explore the lives of these Lenape people of both ages.  There is present-day Jane (Tanis Parenteau), who is a whiz with numbers, lands a job on Wall Street (in a small way, reclaiming her heritage).  Her older sister, Debra (Rainbow Dickerson), has stayed at home in Oklahoma to care for their ailing Mother, Bobbie (Sheila Tousey), who has mortgage their home to the hilt and may be in danger of losing it.  They also are part of the Lenape tribe when the Dutch invaded their territory.

    The fourth Native American that travels in time, is Luke (Steven Flores), who has been adopted by the local choir director, Michael (David Kelly), and now works in his bank, as well, as a loan officer, friend of Jane’s but also a servant of the bank.  Michael also floats in time and is a pastor of the church, Jonas, in the Dutch community.  There are also two executives in the Wall Street firm, Joe (Danforth Comins), somewhat sympathetic to Jane, and Dick (Jeffrey King), a tiger when crossed in business.  They both are leaders in the Dutch colony.

    Their story swings back and forth, also, between parallel worlds and how they often intersect with each.  It is a complicated process, so won’t go into any more details, as it might just confuse you, but it is smoothly rendered on the stage.  One world is fortified in unyielding concrete and the other, a type of Garden of Eden, in which the Devil(s) raises its ugly head and they are forced to leave.
The actors are all excellent, with special kudos going to Tousey, as the wise mother of the clan.  Her calm demeanor and wise counsel are the heart of the story.  Woolery has a solid hold on this play, as she has kept the settings simple to let the tale speak for itself.

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

 
Dennis (reviewer), Laura (bar-keep), Greg (bar mgr.)
Dave (patron)
The Black Sheep

    As you might know, this is my favorite eating/imbibing place in town.  It features Brit food, in honor of the Bard’s time, and is even open late to indulge OSF patrons.  The food is exceptionally good and the company even better.  Greg, the bar manager, treats you like old friends and Laura is a delight as the elfin sprite of the pack.  Taylor is always jolly in her bearing and Dedra is the expert to ask on desserts.  You must try their homemade ice cream, something I believe they could package and sell on their own if they chose.  Many good dishes, drinks, staff and atmosphere.  I give it an A+, as I highly recommend it, and tell them if you go that Dennis sent you.  

See part of their joyous bunch in the enclosed pic. and go to their site at
www.theblacksheep.com and look for the Red Door on the Plaza for a visit. 
“The place where you belong!”

Saturday, June 30, 2018

The Book of Will—Oregon Shakespeare Festival—Ashland, OR


Kate Hurster, David Kelly, Kevin Kenerly, Jefferey King.
Photo by Jenny Graham

A Legacy of Loyalty

     This revealing look at Shakespeare’s times is a West Coast Premiere by Lauren Gunderson and directed by Christopher Liam Moore.  It is playing at the outdoor Allen Elizabethan Theatre in repertory, through October 13th.  For more information, go to their site at           www.osfashland.org

    Fame may be fleeting but friends are forever!  When the Final Judgement is rendered, who will stand by our sides and attest for us?  It will be, I believe, our actions and deeds, our own words and thoughts, and our friends.  “We are such stuff as dreams are made on…” and so, this life, too, will pass into obscurity…save this, the words we writ and utter as to the human condition, preserved by those who believed in us, are the most precious gifts we can offer future generations, and thus, such as it is with this tale….

    It seems that several months after the Bard’s death, his plays have been scattered as so much seed being blown about randomly by the wind.  His words misconstrued, scenes missing and whole sections rewritten.  And so, it is up to a few of his most loyal companions, Heminges (Jeffrey King), and his wife Rebecca (Kate Mulligan) and daughter, Alice (Kate Hurster), Condell (David Kelly) and his wife, Elizabeth (Catherine Castellanos) and, for a time, Richard Burbage (Kevin Kenerly), the lead actor of this acting troupe, The King’s Men, to put right what is being torn asunder.  And so, amongst much drink and little money, they attempt the impossible.

    How to assemble such a feat, with bits and pieces strewn here and there.  But, where there’s a “Will,” there’s a way.  They find Crane (Cristofer Jean), a lover of his words, who has his own secret stash.  Then there is the matter of printing it all, which involves, perhaps, hiring the self-same printer, the blind, William (Kenerly, again) and his son, Isaac (Jordan Barbour), who had pirated much of the Bard’s work in the first place.  And then financing must be secured to finish such a massive undertaking, and so they seek out the “Dark Lady (Castellanos, again),” now a published poet, the Muse of Will’s Sonnets, and his admirer and rival, Ben Jonson (Daniel T. Parker), a rather famous author in his own right.

    After some false starts, a couple of deaths of important members, doubts and bitter conflicts, they trudge ahead to preserve, perhaps the greatest writer the world has known.  It is a trek, inspired by love and loyalty, which will raise high the flag of friendship and will forever seal beauty on the written page and stage.
This is an epic story by Gunderson and one little known to the general public.  And so, bringing it to light, is a monumental task and one that deserves being extended into two or three parts, rather than trying to condense it into a couple hour show.  What is there is terrific but I feel it needs to be expanded to show the full force of this tale and Gunderson’s loving treatment of it and its characters.

    Moore has done a first-rate job of keeping the story coherent and staging it in a sparse setting so that the plot and characters take center stage.  The cast is quite impressive in this show (as they always are at OSF) “…and each [person], in [their] time, plays many parts.”  It is truly an amazing story.

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

--DJS

Romeo and Juliet—Oregon Shakespeare Festival—Ashland, OR


William Thomas Hodgson and Emily Ota
Photo by Jenny Graham
The Death of Innocence

    This classic, romantic tragedy by Shakespeare, is directed by Dámaso Rodriguez (Artistic Director of Artists Rep in Portland, OR).  It is playing, in repertory, at the outdoor Allen Elizabethan Theatre through October 12th.  For more information, go to their site at www.osfashland.org

    Our teen years are a tricky period.  We are unaware that we are not the center of the universe, nor do other people in our secluded realm have any importance, nor do we sense they believe differently than we do.  We do not connect, yet, older people with us at a later age.  We believe we are fearless and will live forever, this we surmise in our Youth.  Not yet aware of the shackles of adulthood, nor have we completely shed the feathers of our innocent childhoods.  We, as teens, are at a vulnerable and dangerous age.

    Such was the plight of Romeo (William Thomas Hodgson) and Juliet (Emily Ota), barely into their teens in Verona in the 1600’s.  Their two wealthy families, the Capulet’s and Montague’s, have been warring for many years, although neither can recall when it all got started, nor why.  Dad (Greg Watanabe) & Mom (Amy Newman) Capulet, keep a tether on their headstrong daughter, relying on her Nurse (Robin Goodrin Nordli), to keep a trained eye on her, as they have her promised to Paris (Armando McClain), a noble, as a future husband.

    Likewise, Dad (Richard Elmore) & Mom (Monique Holt) Montague have an equally rebellious son, as he runs around with a pretty rough crowd, mostly consisting of his cousin, Benvolio (Julian Remulla) and his best friend, Mercutio (Sara Bruner), who always seem to be getting in scrapes with Tybalt (Derek Garza), the mean-tempered cousin of Juliet, and his mates.  Not even the potent power of the Prince (Christiana Clark) of the region, nor the calming influence of Friar Laurence (Michael J. Hume), can sooth these savage beasts.
I doubt that there are more than two people left in the world that have not read or seen the story and outcome of this tale of “star-crossed lovers,” as it does not end happily.  The world is full of tales of stubborn parents and mis-guided youth, but this is probably the most pronounced, as the Bard is justly considered the greatest of playwrights because of the universal and timeless appeal of his tales.  From poetic prose, to rap, to ballet, to a full-blow, award-winning musical, proves the power of that statement. 

    And why is this incarnation, of this oft-produced play, special?  Rodriguez, of course, at the helm, who has proven himself a worthy director many times over at Artists Rep and has provided us with a more “traditional” view of this story, with a fuller script of the play, I believe, than often seen, and a keen eye for casting the best person for the role, regardless of gender or ethnicity, the much-preferred way of casting a play, as far as I’m concerned.  The costumes by Leah Piehl are quite amazing, too.

    Both Hume and Nordli, in two of the best characters roles of any of his plays, can wear proudly the mantel of doing these parts proud.  But the stunner of the evening is Bruner, unforgettable as Mercutio, as she owns the stage whenever she is on it!  Her bravado and swagger give us the view of a Youth, doomed almost from the beginning…a character out of place and step with her times.  A person thwarted before she has begun to show her metal.  Her Queen Mab speech is the best I’ve seen and her death scene is remarkable, as she fights to preserve her life’s blood from draining and yet has her wits about her to rail against the fading of the light.  Bravo!

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



Ashland Springs/Hills

    As always, we again stayed at one of these two places, this time the Ashland Hills, their resort location about three miles South of the downtown area.  It has a number of varieties of rooms and suites, as well as a swimming pool, hot tub, deli, et. al. amenities.  They also have a super buffet breakfast, including sausage patties, waffles, cereals (hot & cold), bagels, toast, juices, fresh fruit, coffee/tea, milk, etc., that is included in the price of the room.  The Springs, the downtown location, next to OSF, also has secured parking.  I highly recommend both of these places, both having reasonably prices, very comfortable rooms and a friendly staff.  For more information on both these locations, go to their sites at www.NeumanHotelGroup.com  

    If you do stay there, tell them Dennis sent you.

--DJS

Monday, June 18, 2018

The Secretaries—Profile Theatre—SW Portland


Photo Credit: David Kinder
The Avenging Angels

This very dark comedy is written by Maureen Angelos, Babs Davy, Dominique Dibbell, Peg Healey and Lisa Kron (The Five Lesbian Brothers) and is directed by Dawn Monique Williams.  It is playing at the Artists Rep’s space, 1515 SW Morrison St., through July 1st.  For more information, go to their site at www.profiletheatre.org or call 503-242-0080.

It is amazing to think that this was written about 25 years before the current Me, Too, movement but it does give you an idea of how far back (and much further) the abuse and disrespect and inequality of women has been going on.  This genre of expression could be ranked with the darkly comic horror films of the 90’s era, such as Motel Hell, The Stepford Wives and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  And, as demented as you think they are in this story, you root for them all the same (I did).  Go figure….

As the tale goes, there is this lumber camp in Big Bone, OR, where the secretarial staff is totally populated by women.  And the head honcho of them is Susan (Andrea White), a martinet-type of leader on the outside, who runs a tight ship, but does have her odd quirks that you’ll get to know after she cozy’s up to you.  Ands she has her followers among the rabble. 

Her minions consist of the ditzy, Ashley (Kelly Godell), who has the record among the pool of the most “boyfriends,” and is the current secretary of the month, for several weeks running (and she has her prize, a cashmere sweater, to prove it).  Then there is Peaches (Jen Rowe), the effusive, boisterous and over-weight (a no-no, according to club rules) of the pack.  And Dawn (Jamie M. Rea), the outspoken, avowed lesbians of the mob, who takes no prisoners.

Into this motley crew appears the “new-kid-on-the-block,” Patty (Claire Rigsby), who is fresh out of school, naïve, and more than a little susceptible to any outrageous influences, in which there are aplenty in this outfit.  Of course, she must immediately be taken under their wings (or, in this case, maybe talons) and educated as to what’s important in this Life-style, such as to garner a lumberman’s jacket, to control your weight through a rigid diet, to abstain from sex, obey the rules of the club and have an accident-free environment…well, not so much, perhaps, in this category.

How this all comes together, I cannot tell you without giving away secrets, but it’s a dozy, trust me.  And, keep in mind, this is definitely not for everyone.  If you enjoyed the films mentions early in this review, then this may be your “type of shake.”  If not, well, consider this a warning.  Williams has garnered a top-notch group of ladies for this whirlwind experience (I can only imagine the rehearsals) and she has kept it moving, with rapid set changes and explosive performances.

This cast is exceptional in the portraying of the complexities of these characters and keeping them within the bounds of believability, just enough so you are sucked into their world, too.  Kudos to all, as these are some of the strongest performances I’ve seen onstage!

I recommend this play but beware that it involves some very adult and explicit material.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.