Friday, November 16, 2018

Care of Trees—Enso theatre ensemble—SE Portland


                      Root of it All

    This two-character drama is written by E. Hunter Spreen and directed by Caitlin Lushington.  It is playing at the Shaking-the-Tree space, 823 SE Grant St., through December 2nd.  For more information, go to their site at www.ensotheatre.com

    What is it all about?  Why are we here?  Expansive questions…no simple answers.  But, to approach it All—Life “…be brave, be curious, be determined…” (Stephen Hawking).  In other words, perhaps, take a chance on Life and live it to the fullest, as if there are no tomorrows.  And consider, we, indeed, may only “…be such things as dreams are made on…” so make this one the grandest dream of all!

    As in the case of Georgia (Megan Gotz) and Travis (Jon Gennari), they meet (accidentally or pre-determined?) at a cocktail party.  They banter, stalk each other, explore the sexual possibilities and, finally, throw their hats into the ring called Love.  They probe each other, test the waters, grow together, evolve and explore the highs and lows…ebbing and flowing with whatever the tides…the Game of Life…may bring.  Tears and laughter cancel each other out, no points one way or the other for that, but the goal is scored when they complete the match together, a bit more worn, perhaps, but resolves in tact.  Both winners.

    This is a complicated and intricate plot of two souls finding their purpose.  Can’t really give you details without giving away aspects that an audience should discover.  And it is simply done, with a couple of chairs, a bed, some incidental props and visuals…but it will cover a lifetime for them.  I admire greatly these two actors, as they had to exposed their souls to reach the Truths embedded in this trek of two lives enmeshed.  Kudos to them!

    And, Lushington, has amazingly worked out a roadmap for their journey that, as sweeping as it is, doesn’t leave you floundering as to when and where they are.  She also seems to have a knack for guiding, not only the audience, but specific details of the emotional paths the actors should take.  This is a show for adults but it’s obvious it’s also a very personal exploration, a catharsis, perhaps, for the author and, possibly, viewers as well.

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

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Stories of Hope—Playback Theater—SW Portland




“Hope Springs Eternal”

    This theater company only plays for one performance, about four times a year.  The space they use is called Resound NW, 1532 SW Jefferson St.  It’s a large room and was standing-room only for last night’s show, so I would advise getting there early.  Their next event is January 26th.  For more information, go to their site at http://www.playbacktheaterpdx.com

    In these troubled times, we truly do need that “H” word in our vocabulary.  And how to accomplish that?  Try, in essence, what this troupe does…as Harper Lee would exclaim, through Atticus Fitch, you need to put on another’s shoes and walk around in them a bit to understand other points of view.  This group is part Improv team and story-tellers, part cathartic and part therapeutic, in approach.  Their main thrust is to take stories from the audience, usually around a specific theme (in this case, Hope) and act out, or playback, your story.  Intriguing idea.

    A side note, I myself, in my early days of theatre at, at what was then called Southern Oregon College in Ashland, had a space on campus, run by a minister, in which a band of actors did Improv comedy in his “church,” a coffee house called, The Key (as he felt the key to harmony was dialogue).  It was a great training ground for an actor, as we collected ideas or words from the audience and then performed skits around them (such as they do here, in essence).  Afterwards, we would mingle with the audience and had some pretty healthy discussions about all sorts of topics.  What we all came away with, I believe, was a better understanding of ourselves and our neighbors.

    In this incarnation, a very talented troupe of 3 women and 1 male, an emcee/host and a guitarist, were able to successfully entertain, enlighten and educate a group of relative strangers to awaken to a world out there, that is better when shared with others, and then concerns we personally have might not seem so overwhelming.  I wish I could give you the names of the people involved but there was no printed material passed out so you’ll just have to go to their sits for that information.

   I, myself, have mentored young girls in theatre by trying to give them motivation and direction, since the educational system, at large, seems to de-emphasize the Arts in schools.  (The best program around this area to train youth in the performing arts, I believe, is Oregon Children’s Theatre and its classes, overseen by Dani Baldwin, Education Director).  “Attention must be paid…” if our Youth are expected to make things better, in this battered world we are leaving them.  And events, like Playback produces, are seeking out artistic avenues for expressions of ourselves and the young, might just tip the scale from behaving like lemmings, to leading the charge to positive possibilities for all.

   You owe it to yourselves to experience their wares and “mine the unknown.” If you do choose to participate, tell them Dennis sent you.
--DJS

Friday, November 9, 2018

The Diary of Anne Frank—Battle Ground Drama Club—Battle Ground, WA

Growing Pains

    This classic true story is written for the stage by Francis Goodrich & Albert Hackett (from the diary of Anne Frank) and is directed by Stephan “Cash” Henry.  It is playing in The Lair in the high school, 300 W. Main St., in Battle Ground, at 7 pm through November 17th.  For more information, contact the director, henry.stephan@battlegroundps.org

    There are old adages that go something like this:  It’s my way or the highway and, if we don’t correct the mistakes of the past, we are doomed to repeat them.  Both proven true in this divided, derisive atmosphere we are now living in, as we adults, in our infantile behaviors, still have not learned to live in harmony with others and Nature.  And the losers in these decisions—our Youth…and their/our Future?  But there is a trickle of hope in this leaky faucet, with the MeToo Movement, and the Youth that openly oppose unregulated gun ownership, and those young folks suing the government over polluting the atmosphere for future generation.  You go, gang!

    This present production of a young teenage girl, who didn’t survive the Nazi regime, has taught us an enduring lesson, as one of the final entries in her diary proclaims that she still believed, in spite of all the horrors she witnessed, that people are basically good.  It should shame us all!  And it seems to be through the young that we see the world, from the eyes of the innocent, the real Truth of situations. 

    Such films/books as “The Summer of my German Soldier,” “Life is Beautiful,” “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” and this story, are some examples of the young observing that “Jungle” we have created for ourselves.  On a personal note, while teaching some K-5 students during the close call for the election of the President, between Bush and Gore, I asked them what would they do if they were faced with that situation.  One child said, they should share the Office… “out of the mouth of babes…!”

    For almost two years Anne Frank (Alyssa Carr), a precocious teen, her older but shier sister, Margot (Anabelle Melton), their wise Father, Otto (Killian Griffin) and stern mother, Edith (Maria Wetzbarger), are holed up in hiding in an attic area of her father’s business.  They are joined by some friends, the gluttonous Mr. Van Daan (Nathan Lenz), his snobby wife, Mrs. Van Daan (Mackenzie Linville) and their somewhat reclusive son, Peter (Luke Henrikson), who eventually strikes up a relationship with Anne.

    Added to this mix is the fussy dentist, Mr. Dussel (Chase Wrightson), and the go-betweens for them to the outside world, Mr. Kraler (Mason Gardner), Otto’s partner and Miep (Trinity Weaver), a special friend through all this conflict (only Otto and Miep will survive for some years after).  And there are briefly some Nazi soldiers that invade their space, Jerry Balch, Tanner Opdahl, Kenny Harmon and Jaden Denfeld.  The play consists of how these differing individuals manage to live together in tight quarters for these several months.  The sad irony is that this group was on one of the last trains sent to the death camps and Anne died of disease just days before the camps were liberated.

    This is a powerful story (made even more topical by the hate killings in a temple just recently).  Keep in mind that these students were just born this century, so have no personal connection to these events themselves, only pointing out, once again, the powerful tool theatre is to education the young as to past and present historic and cultural events.  Henry is a master at teaching/directing Youth and should be given every support in future endeavors of this kind!  His wife, Sundance Wilson Henry, as the scenic and costume designer, always enhances his productions, too, as she does here.

    The cast seems really invested in this production, as they all create specific characterizations for their roles.  As the two major players, Carr, as Anne, really seems to embody the spirit of the real diarist, and Griffin, as her father, touches us all with his strong presence in this ensemble, and especially in his closing speech…more than a few tears were shed from the audience, I’m sure.

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

Monday, November 5, 2018

Pageant—Triangles Productions!--NW Portland




         Glitz, Glamour & Glory

    This musical spoof of beauty pageants has book and lyrics by Bill Russell and Frank Kelly, music by Albert Evans, conceived by Robert Longbottom and directed by Donald Horn.  It is playing at Darcelle XV CLUB, 208 NW 3rd Ave., Sundays, Nov. 11th and 18th at 2 pm.  For more information, go to their site at www.trianglepro.org or call 503-239-5919.

    Spoofs of this sort on beauty pageants are not new, there was a film some years ago with Bruce Dern called, “Smile,” and, unintentionally, perhaps, the actual contests themselves have become a sort of self-mockery, with charges of corruption, sexual abuse and, with the current MeToo Movement, perhaps, will fade into the sunset.  But these folks take another slant on it with music, songs (vocal direction, Kristi Foster), and dance (choreographer, Sara Mishler Martins), as well as liberal doses of salty humor.

    I hate to go into too much detail, as so much of the fun is how the audience and judges (chosen from the audience), respond to the outrageous antics.  There is, of course, the Emcee (James Sharinghousen)—eat your heart out, Bert Parks, he’s twice the entertainer that you pretended to be.  And, of course, there’s the stars of the show, the beauties, the finalist in a contest for Queen, it’s sponsored by a beauty products company (so liberal endorsements are freely given…er, demanded). 

    The Beauties, in this case are, Miss West Coast (Collin Carver), not the sharpest knife in the drawer; Mis Industrial NE (Pepe Raphael), a very animated, Hispanic-American, who is the live wire of this grouping; Miss Deep South (Shaun Hennessy), spouting Dixie at every opportunity; Miss Bible Belt (Joe Healy), conducting herself as if an old world, fire & brimstone revivalist;  Miss Great Plains (Jeremy Sloan), the lone model for rural America; and Miss Texas (Kevin Cook), the unabashedly, All-American ambassador.

    And like all good contests of this sort, the contestants had to exhibit certain winning traits to rise to the top and become its Queen.  The categories are:  formal dress (evening gowns); swimsuit; talent (watch for the puppet act, they are a scream); physical fitness (a very active dance number); and a musical chairs activity around a phone, in which the answerer of the hot-line must solve the problem of the caller—probably the most inventive of all the selections.  Really can’t tell you more without being a spoiler.

    This is a fun evening brought to you by the very creative, Don Horn and the perfect setting for this event, generously provided by Darcelle.  And kudos must also go to the clever lighting and sound man, Jason Coffey; terrific wig designs by Jane Holmes/See Jane and costumes (no credit given); and a special shout-out to the wait staff (Leo & Co.), who was a favorite with the audience.  Sharinghousen is always worth seeing in everything he does; Raphael was a hoot; the puppet act by Hennessy almost stole the show; but my over-all favorite was Carver, as the dimmest light bulb in the chandelier who, also, is very notable in every production he’s a part of!

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

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Inherit the Wind—Lakewood Theatre Company—Lake Oswego, OR



Planet of the Apes?

    The classic trial drama about the famous Scopes’ Monkey Trial of about 100 years ago in the Deep South, is written by Jerome Lawrence & Robert E. Lee and directed by Antonio Sonera.  It is playing at their space, 368 S. State St., in Lake Oswego.  For more information, go to their site at www.lakewood-center.org

    It’s amazing how many issues are broached in this story.  It addresses religion vs. science, separation of church and state, Evolutionists/Darwinists vs. Creationists, and the freedom of Man to think for himself and to speak his mind.  We are still in some of those struggles even today.

    The story of the proceedings up to the trial are as engaging as the trial itself.  Reportedly, it was all a publicity stunt to garner some revue for this small, Southern town, so they arranged to prosecute an educator for teaching Darwin’s theory of evolution to school kids, then informing the two giants of the law world, Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan, who were to duke it out verbally in court, which means that tourists from all over the country, as well as the news media, including the famous critic, H. L Menken, would swamp this burg and give its economy a much-needed boost.  And the stunt worked beautifully.

    The movie of it starred Spencer Tracy, Fredric March and Gene Kelly, as the three above-mention personas, and a TV adaption had Jason Robards, Kirk Douglas and Tony Randall portraying the same, both quite good.  (I even directed a production of it myself some years back at the Columbia Arts Center.)  And now we have this production, with two giants of the local theatre scene, Allen Nause as the Darrow in carnation, Henry Drummond and Todd Van Voris as the Bryan substitute, Matthew Harrison Brady, a match made in theatre heaven!

    The story has these two titans vying for the constitutional soul, perhaps, of Cates [Scopes] (Jim Vadala), who has dared to teach Darwin to young children in the Bible-belt part of the world.  His only real local support, his girlfriend, Rachel (Olivia Weiss), also happens to be the daughter of the town’s religious leader, Rev. Brown (David Sikking).  On the sidelines, reporting all this, is the newspaper critic, the cynical, Hornbeck (Ian Goodrich).

    But the real meat of the matter occurs in Act II, where Drummond is prevented from calling scientists to explain Darwin’s theories, so he’s forced to fight on the enemy’s own turf, and calls Brady himself to logically explain how things came about on this earth, using only the literal translation of the Bible.  Then the fireworks really begin.  And we, as a viewer/listener may have our own questions by the end of this confrontation.  At the crux of the matter is, perhaps, since God gave Man, Free Will and Reasoning Power, why should he be condemned for using them to think and speak as he chooses?

    This production is both powerful and touching and well-rendered onstage by Sonera.  All the supporting characters do well in filling in the landscape for this major battle.  Goodrich is convincing, as he paints for us the outsider’s perspective on these alarming events.  Vadala, a very talented actor in many productions, is appropriately baffled and at a loss for words, as the creator of this whirlwind of controversy.  And Weiss, as his love interest, is quite touching and believable as a woman caught between two worlds of thought and, although facing an awaking is, perhaps, the future product of a new way of thinking.
But the focus of this production is Nause and Van Voris and both are splendid! 

     They burn up the stage with their predictions of, perhaps, either biblical hellfire, or stoking the sparks of creativity.  It is a high mark in acting and should not be missed!  Van Voris, steadfast in his condemnation of even the thought of thinking “…those things he doesn’t think about.”  And Nause, using his wiles and wits, to expose hypocrisy and yet, willing to concede that there, indeed, may be “…more things in heaven and earth…than are dreampt of in [our] philosophy.”  Truly, it “must give us pause.”

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

Monday, October 29, 2018

Dreamgirls—Stumptown Stages—Downtown Portland


     Impossible Dreams?

    This dramatic musical has book and lyrics by Tom Eyen, music by Henry Krieger and directed and choreographed by Roger Welch, and musical direction by Adam Young.  It is playing at their space at The Brunish Theatre (4th floor), 1111 SW Broadway, through November 4th.  For more information go to their site at www.stumptownstages.org

    This is from a Tony award-winning play, which was made into quite an excellent movie.  What performer(s) hasn’t thought of making it to the top of their profession, with all the fame and fortune, glitter and glamour that seems to go with it.  It is a dream, devoutly to be desired.  Or is it just so much smoke and mirrors…an illusion for hungry artists?   Trappings all.  For all the glitz, there is the gutter, for all the peaks, there are the pits, always evident for those who slip.  And for all the gain, there is the pain.  It’s rarely ever easy and in the end, sacrifices must be made, which could include your friends, family, self-esteem, health and even, your Soul.  So, you must ask yourself the hard question, is it worth it?!

     In the case of the Dreams, Deena (Shahayla Ononalye), Lorrell (Kristin Robinson) and Effie (Julianne Johnson), they will take that journey down the “yellow-brick road” to find their great and powerful dream coming true, or is it just a silly, old man behind a curtain.  Time will tell.  And, perhaps, one should not forget the true treasures offered at the end of that rainbow:  Brains, Heart, Courage and no place like Home.  But to discover their importance, it is necessary to journey beyond and behind the rainbow, as the Dreamgirls do.

     These three, with their ever-faithful, but na├»ve composer, C. C. (Blake Stone), Effie’s brother, “ease on down” that road from humble beginnings to lofty expectations (and back again).  Their lowly desire is to win a contest at the famed Apollo Theatre and be booked for a week there.  The end result is they get is 10 weeks on the road as back-up singers with the huge star, Jimmy Early (Jarvis Sam).  The golden gates open a crack for them.

     They are welcomed with open arms by Jimmy and his sensible manager, Marty (Amber Cobb).  But into the fray struts the wicked, Curtis (John Devereaux).  His smooth talk and oily ways convince the ladies that he can make them stars.  All they have to do is submit to his control of their lives, both personal and financial, it turns out  In the beginning it is all an innocent Garden of Poppies but, with a snake loose, it will not last long.  Affairs, heartbreak, the replacement of one of the members by Michelle (Jalena Montrond) and betrayal, eventually leads this trio’s triumph into a spiral of sadness.  The end result will be for you to discover.

    The musical road they journey down goes through R&B, Pop, Soul and Disco…from easy listening tunes to hard dancing ones.  And some of the dialogue is sung, much like in an opera.  My favorite numbers were Cadillac Car, Steppin’ to the Bad Side, Dreamgirls and all of Effie’s solos, One Night Only, I Am Changing, and the show-stopping, …I’m Not Going.

    The music (Young) was intense, without overpowering the actors.  And the costumes (designer, Margaret Louise Chapman) were especially exciting, reflecting the changes in color and styles through the years.  Welch was smart in letting the actors and songs carry the story without a lot of elaborate sets, and the dance numbers were reflective of the times.  Well done.

    The performers are all excellent as singers and actors.  But two that stood out for me were Sam as Jimmy, who was a dancer (acrobat?) beyond all expectations and a terrific singer and actor, as well.  A too true character in the fight for the brass ring, never realizing you have to hold onto to it forever, or risk being outshone.  A bravo performance! 

    And one must give a lion’s share of the praise to Johnson in the key role as Effie.  She is extraordinary!  An icon herself as a performer and director, and she shows you why, here.  Her singing in all her numbers was a standout and she’s a pretty damn good actor, too.  And she also does a nice job of layering her performance, so that one does feel sympathy for her but sees her tough side, as well.  She deserved the roar of the crowd after her show-stopping numbers.  She is the heart of this well-conceived production…long may she pulsate!

 I recommend this show, if you do go, please tell them Dennis sent you.
--DJS

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Shivers—Young Professionals Company—NE Portland




              Buried Secrets

    This World Premiere musical, ghost story is written, directed and choreographed by Matthew B. Zrebski.  It is playing at the Y/P Studio of Oregon Children’s Theatre, 1939 NE Sandy Blvd., through November 11th.  For more information, go to their site at www.octc.org/yp-company

    One’s “salad days” are full of discoveries and angst now, especially with the conventions of social media.  Personal relationships are done from afar, via texting, e-mails, cell phones, and the many other distracting ways of communicating, preventing us from actually touching another human being, or even the outside world, for that matter.  We are, perhaps, like the characters in this play, existing in a Hell of our own making.

    For those of you that might want to put this in some context with familiar surroundings, it does have some common elements to the musical, “Rent,” with a band of like-folks railing against their smothering atmosphere; or, the short story/play, “Silent Snow, Secret Snow,” with a child’s descent into madness, perhaps; or, the thriller, “I Know What You Did Last Summer,” about a group of teens that are hiding a tragic secret.  All relevant, in some ways, to this story.

    A girl, Vix (Averyl Hartje) is seemingly trapped in a closet in a school by an unknow intruder and her lifeline to the outside world is her cell phone, or is that the purpose of her calls?  An outcast student, Gailen (Isaac Ellingson), is seemingly trying to make contact with each member of this band of brothers/sisters but for what purpose?  And three sets of teens are trapped in a snowstorm and all getting mysterious messages and phone calls, revealing intimate secrets of their lives.  Who’s responsible…and why?

    The pairing of the students are Tala (Ella Carson), a very determined girl, who has a boyfriend, Lionel (David VanDyke), who wants to take their relationship to the “next level.”  Then, there is the gay drug dealer, Shea (Xavier Warner), who has a budding relationship with, Brock (Asher Ross), an emotionally, fragile individual.  And, finally, there is Ravyn (Julia Meyers), a popular girl in school who has formed a bond with Mindy (Kai Tomizawa), a girl going through more than one personal crisis in her life.

    In the end, they will all confront their fears, and secrets will be unearthed.  But, I cannot tell you more without being a spoiler.  Zrebski has written an extraordinary play with songs that give each person their moment to shine…and the do sparkle beautifully!  This is a story that could easily be sent to other educational institutes to be performed, as well as having a life as an Off-Broadway production.

    The set is simple but effective and the visuals (Lucas Welsh) add much to the production.  The acting and singing is first-rate (after all, they are Y/P students, who are always at the top of the class, in my book!).  The women, Carson, Meyers, Hartje and Tomizawa, especially, have powerful voices and nailed their songs.  This is a production with some very heavy material, zeroing in on the modern teens, so be aware of the frankness of these situations.

    And a special shout-out to Dani Baldwin, Education Director at OCT and Y/P, and her staff.  Her students, because of the learning they get here, are the most prepared, in my opinion, for not only a possible career in the Arts, but also Life itself.  They learn to work as a team and build self-confidence, all while groping and grasping for the Gold in a safe environment.  Even the far-off stars are not beyond their reach!

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