Friday, November 15, 2019

Soul’d—Vanport Mosaic—N. Portland



                 Soul Credit

    This engaging piece of American History is conceived and directed by Damaris Webb and written by Webb and The Project, also a co-producer.  The ensemble cast consists of La’Tevin Alexander, Catherine Braxton, Tyharra Cozier, Sydney Jackson, Shareen Jacobs and Salim Sanchez.  A companion piece to this presentation is the short documentary, Root Shocked, produced by Cecilia Brown.  It is playing at the IFCC space, 5340 N. Interstate Ave., through November 24th. For more information, go to their site at www.vanportmosaic.org

    We, the People…Perfect Union…Freedom for all…Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness…words of our Founders.  Are any of them present nowadays in their purest form?  To be honest—No.  Changes that have evolved since then, “We, the People,” are now the servants of the President, not he of us.  Freedom for all has actually never been fully instituted.  Our “Union” is scattered, shattered and split, at best.  And Pursuits of any kind for All People have long since flown out the window.  In short, we are a nation of Immigrants (except Native Americans) who have never learned to get along!

    And so, now we are faced with a unique example of this in the “white-bred” Oregon, especially Portland.  We here seem to be repeating and echoing the treatment of a race that were kidnapped from their native countries and had to perform as forced laborers for the white, landowners’ pleasure.  With great restrain, African-Americans have had to endure over hundreds of years the insults, lynching’s, mis-carriages of justice, lack of human rights, etc.  But now it is time for the tide to change and, although we may not be able to completely right the wrongs of the Past, at least we can listen, with open hearts and minds, with a resolve to not repeat those mistakes.  “If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.”

    This ensemble traces some of the humiliations that they and their ancestry faced, much of the facts are brought out in their version of a game show, mouthing in no uncertain terms, how they feel, based on true examples from our Past.  I won’t go into details because some of it is quite startling and should be witnessed by an audience first-hand.  The short documentary that follows does give one some hope for, perhaps, a better tomorrow.  But, as said, all this really needs to be witnessed on an individual basis and then translated to our everyday lives.  Our Founders sensed a Hope for this American experiment.  Let us not let ourselves down.

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

Monday, November 11, 2019

Disney’s Frozen, Jr.—Eastside Theater Company—Gresham, OR


           Cold Hands/Warm Heart


    This Young folks version of the classic animated Disney musical has book by Jennifer Lee and music and lyrics by Kristen Anderson-Lopez & Robert Lopez, is directed by Josh Johnson, choreographed by Sarah Rose and musical direction by Kelsey Hoeffel.  It is playing at the Springwater Church space, 3445 SE Hillyard Rd. in Gresham, through November 17th.  For more information, go to their site at www.EastsideTheater.com or call 971-231-5032.

    This is based on one of Disney’s best animated films, which is based on Hans Christen Anderson’s, The Snow Queen.  It also has more than a passing nod to C. S. Lewis’s classic books of Narnia, both concerning a White Witch trying to prevent summer from occurring.  If you’re not familiar with these stories, shame on you!

    In the current situation of global warming and the MeToo Movement, this is very relevant material in three ways.  The first being, in this case, a land that is warming too fast according to scientists (who should know).  The second being the emergence of two strong female characters, who had no need of men trying to control them.  And the third being, the almost lost art of utilizing the imagination, where anything is possible. 

    And, in this case, a fourth element could be added, the Young (1st thru 12th grade exclusively) who portrayed all the roles.  This is probably the most important, as recent incidents have the Youth of our world speaking out against gun violence, environmental concerns and human rights, as opposed to most whining government leaders sitting on their hands on these important issues.    But, maybe, that’s important, too, as it is said that, “a child shall lead them!”

    The story concerns two sisters, Elsa (Ana Grayce Krachinski) and Anna (Ava Marie Horton), who grew up together as friends but had to be separated at a young age because of an accident caused by Elsa, using her magic powers indiscriminately and causing harm to Anna.  (The youngest Elsa is performed by Abby Levy and Ava Grant and the youngest Anna is Claire Horton and Evie Bertsch—the middle Elsa is Lilly Anderson and Anna is Ellen Horton and Sidra Cohen-Mallon…it’s not indicated who played these roles on Sunday night but I assume the Hortons, since the adult Anna was played by a Horton, too.)

    Princess Elsa is gloved for her young life because of her magic contained within her hands and, in time, this causes an estrangement between sisters.  Then their parents die and Elsa, the eldest, is crowned Queen but, feeling rejected, she escapes to form her own kingdom of ice.  Meanwhile, Princess Anna has met a young prince, Hans (Simeon Johnson), who she is smitten with.  But she chooses to go off and find her sister.  Also, along the way she befriends Olaf (puppet controlled by Joseph Kassing), a goofy snowman; Kristoff (Ethan Golden), an honest woodsman, and his trusty, reindeer companion, Sven (Anneliza Bates), who will aid her in her quest.  To see how it all turns out, you’ll just have to attend the play.

    The famous songs, For the First Time in Forever, Love is an Open Door, In Summer, and, of course, Let It Go, are all there and beautifully rendered, as are some pretty elaborate dance pieces, well executed, with the chorus, by Rose.  And Johnson has done an amazing job with a large cast of youth, blocking some pretty intricate scenes and keeping everything under control, as well as moving the show along at a brisk pace.  The music could be toned down a bit as it, on occasion, overpowers the singing.

    Also, the costumes by Liz Bertsch, Tracey Hugo and Jeannette VanOrsow were a huge asset, as were some neat video projections (Adam Bertsch) and set pieces (Chris Dick), which also aided in the production’s success.  It is not clear who did the designs for Olaf or Sven (his jaw needs a bit of WD-40, though) but they were very well done.

    And there was not a weak link in the entire cast, everyone pulling their weight and giving it their all.  I especially liked the youngest Horton (I believe), as Anna, as well as the Duke (Alex Hugo) and Oaken (Ezra Johnson), very animated.  Kassing was a gas, giving life to Olaf.  But the show rests mainly on Elsa & Anna and Krachinski & Horton were perfect.  Elsa’s key song, Let It Go, almost blew the roof off the building—terrific.  And Horton’s, Anna, was not only very vigorous in enacting the role but also managed to musically give depth to her songs.  Both young ladies have a future in musical theatre if that is their goal!

    This young troop is well worth watching (next up Willy Wonka… and Shrek), as this production proves that talent and heart go a long way in creating magic onstage.  This production ranks with any musical I’ve seen by more mature companies!  I highly recommend this show.  It only plays for one more weekend, so don’t miss it!.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.
--DJS


Saturday, November 9, 2019

La Ruta—Artists Rep—SE Portland


         The Invisibles


    This searing story is written by Isaac Gomez and directed by Da’maso Rodriguez.  It is playing at the Hampton Opera Center, 211 SE Caruthers St., through December 1st.  For more information, go to their site at www.artistsrep.org

“The long and lonely road
Creeps back upon us again,
Leaving their dead behind,
Under the shifting sands
Of time.”
 (anonymous traveler)

    And so, alien families are thwarted at our border from escaping poverty and abuse from their own countrymen and government.  Any reasonably intelligent person would tell you this does not stop the problem.  Human Rights would dictate that we help.  The solution would be to work within their borders to aid in stamping out evil and corruption so they can, once again, be proud of their native land and could live in peace.  Instead, our Ignorance trumps theirs and we stand around and watch as the world crumbles around us.  An old saying, “If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem!”

    This story is based on real people in a time not too long ago…and still continues today, but it is really an age-old story, universal tale of abuse of women by men, to put it simply.  The rise of the MeToo Movement and incidents of Youth standing up for their rights, gives hope for better Tomorrows.

    I can’t go into much detail of the story, as it would mute the shock value the audience should experience.  But, I will narrow in on one story, of a caring mother’s, Yolanda (Christi Miles), search for her naïve, teenage daughter, Brenda (Marissa Sanchez), in a world ruled by Men…on the streets, in factories, and in positions of authority.  These women, these mother’s,  including the harsh, Zaide (Patricia Alvitez) and the activist, Marisela (Diana Burbano), work in a garment factory with Brenda and her new best friend, Ivonne (Naiya Amilcar).  In a flash, on a social outing, Brenda disappears, and her mother peels layers away from the core, like an onion, tearing the eyes (and tearing the heart), to discover the truth of what happened to her dear child on one fateful day.  This tale is carefully modulated in Spanish songs by a narrator/singer, Desamaya (Fabi Reyna).  To be honest, this may not be for everyone, so you have been warned, but it will also open a lot of eyes and ears and hearts to the plights of the Forgotten, the Invisibles.

    Rodriguez and Gomez have presented us, in an artistic way, with a message for the Future, that if we don’t correct the systemic problems of the Past, we are bound to repeat them.  The music (Rodolfo Ortega) and songs (Fabi Reyna) add much to the intense feeling of the tale.  And the actors are super, especially Miles and Amilcar in one heart-rendering, gut-wrenching scene toward the end, when the truth finally comes to light.

    I highly recommend this play but, as suggested, it’s pretty brutal in the telling.  One hint, plan your time well because, if you don’t get there before the train crosses the rails, you are in for at least a 20-minute delay.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.
--DJS


Sunday, October 27, 2019

DNA—OCT’s Young Professionals Company—NE Portland


      Lost & Found…and Lost Again


    DNA is a mystery/thriller by Brit author, Dennis Kelly, directed by Zoe Rudman and performed by Dani Baldwin’s teen ensemble.  For more information on her and the company, check this link out:  https://www.orartswatch.org/dani-baldwin-forges-her-own-path/
It is playing at Oregon Children’s Theatre’s studio space, 1939 NE Sandy Blvd., through November 10th.  For more information on the show, go to their site at www.octc.org/yp-company

    This has shades of Lord of the Flies and Picnic at Hanging Rock, as they both concern students from a private, uniformed academy, just at the point of losing their childhood innocence and walking on the darker side of maturity.  These lads and lasses are use to playing games and having fun…until it become deadly.  It’s a grand story but doesn’t reflect the Youth I now see emerging, as the current breed is more mature than the crop of whiny politicians that are running this world…as the young make their voices heard for human rights, gun control and environmental concerns and so, I salute them.  But, again, this is just great spooky storytelling in a genre I love.

    These ten teens embark on a dangerous journey in which no one who survives will emerge unscathed (I may get names and faces mixed up, as they all wear uniforms and seem to blur together at times, which may be part of the point of the story).  At the beginning, Lea (Sylvia Grosvold), an animated lady, has a running monologue with her friend, Phil (Jasper Warhus), a bit of a loner, who all but ignores her.

    Jan (Aleena Yee), a serious sort, and her best bud, Mark (London Mahaley), also a serious dude, discover their schoolmate, Addie (Tessa Lignore), a bit of a social misfit, has fallen, or was pushed, into a deep hole and, I suppose, they fear they might be suspected.  So, they decide to manufacture DNA evidence that will implicate someone else, perhaps a transient.  And so, Cathy (Makenna Markman), a silly but dangerous girl, goes about doing the dirty work that must be done, and the entire group, consisting of Reggie (Claire Voilleque’), Danny (Josh Bransford), John (Kieran Gettel-Gilmartin), and Brian (Sam Majors), all conspire to create a false crime and criminal, and it works better than expected until…well, you’ll just have to see for yourselves, won’t you?!

    This is rather an ingenious plot that even Christie would be proud of.  And Rudman has chosen her cast well and keeps the setting simple (just some crates that are moved around to create different settings).  This way the acting and script are the center of the action.  This is a mature subject so be advised, it may not be for everybody.

    These roles are not typical “kids” roles, as they are all very complex characters.  And the casting of these specific actors is uncanny, as I couldn’t see anyone else in these roles.  And, I seriously doubt, any other group could do justice to the characters, as these ten young folks do.  The silent on, the frightened one, the misfit one, the silly one, the chatty one, the serious one, the lonely one, the crying one, the bossy one and the aware one…all form a dangerous liaison.  All were excellent but my eyes/ears kept wandering back to Grosvold, as her character had to bounce from one extreme to another, again and again, and not be predictable, and she did this admirably.

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

Saturday, October 26, 2019

The Brothers Paranormal—Mediarites’ Theatre Diaspora—NW Portland


                                          Smoke & Mirrors?


    This compelling ghost story is written by Prince Gomolvilas and directed by Catherine Ming T’ien Duffly.  It is playing at the CoHo Productions space, 2257 NW Raleigh St., through November 16th  (parking is a challenge in this area, so plan your time accordingly).  For more information, go to their site at www.cohoproductions.org

    Storytelling is a unique art.  It certainly can entertain and be an expression of feelings.  And there are many mediums for storytelling, not only books, but films as well.  And they sometimes can educate, too, on the sly, if necessary.  Rod Serling (Twilight Zone) and Gene Roddenberry (Star Trek) found a way through Fantasy/Sci-Fi to address sensitive, social issues, too, like prejudice, abuse, gender concerns, et. al., face-on in these areas, without being censored, and the public at large was being educated, as well as entertained.  Such sly dogs they were.  (Not unlike W. C. Fields favorite expression of irritation on the screen, “Godfrey Daniels!,” which was slipped smoothly by the censors, since it really meant…well, you figure it out.)

    In a way, Gomolvilas does the same thing here, as did Serling & Roddenberry.  On the surface, it is a grand ghost story.  But, underneath the clever mystery, the play addressed such issues as mental illness, severe cultural shock, suicide, gambling addictions, alcoholism, etc.  In essence, it is not unlike a bedtime story you might read to your child at night, in which are fun images presented but with an underlying moral message to be gleaned, too.  So, sit back, relax (but not too much) and be entertained and educated by an expert storyteller.

    I can only give you a thumb-nail sketch of the plot because of the unique twists in the story.  Enter Delia (Andrea White), a woman who insists she has been visited by an invisible, malevolent spirit (in appearance, think The Grudge or The Ring films from Japan), Jai (Melissa Magaña), who wishes Delia harm for some reason.  Her flamboyant husband, Felix (Jasper Howard), has other ideas as to the haunting. 

    Max (Samson Syharath, also co-producer with Dmae Roberts), a ghost-hunter, with his brother, Visarut (Lidet Viravong), who believe there is something seriously amiss.  They also consult their sensitive mother, Tasanee (Elaine Low), for aid in understanding and, hopefully, ridding this house of the evil entity.  More I cannot tell you, as the plot has many twists and turns which an audience should discover.  But, just know, that not everything is as it appears.

    This has all the earmarks to someday be a film.  There are also some very clever “special effects” concerning the spirit’s antics.  Duffly has chosen her cast well and successfully brings out all the subplots of these characters that the author has created.  In other words, it’s just not another spooky thriller, but has a lot of depth underlying it.

    Magaña certainly must have some dance and movement training, as she is very agile and effective.  White and Howard work well together, showing the love between them and applauding the differences.  Low is very powerful as the representative of the old-world values and the conflicts of trying to adapt to new ones.  Viravong, as the older, more technically savvy of the brothers, is appropriately restrained, as he also tries to navigate this complex world.  And Syharath is always a joy to watch onstage.  In this incarnation, he grapples with the many complex issues that confront his  ever-changing and challenging ideas and beliefs.

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


Monday, October 21, 2019

Me…Jane—Oregon Children’s Theatre—Downtown Portland


         Mistress of the Jungle


    This lively, informative musical is adapted for the stage by Patrick McDonnell and Aaron Posner, with music and lyrics by Andy Mitton, based on a book by McDonnell, and directed by Marcella Crowson, choreographed by Megan Smith and with music direction by Mak Kastelic.  It is playing at the Newmark Space, 1111 SW Broadway, through November 17th.  For more information, go to their site at www.octc.org or call 503-228-9571.

    My only exposure to exotic animals is with the Tarzan movies of the 40’s and 50’s, and the TV show Disneyland, with his Nature documentaries.  But I do understand dogs through my own recognizance, as I had a pet one at an early age and, being somewhat a misfit kid, I felt he was the only one who understood me…he was my best friend!  Since then I’ve had about a half dozen dogs in my adult life…and they were always by best buds.

    As reflected in this play, too, I was always told not to get too attached to them, as they were simply “dumb animals and had no real feelings.”  But let me tell you of an incident with my dog when I was a young man.  A friend of mine was a heavy smoker and, as a joke one day, let my pet sniff a cigarette, unlit…unlit, mind you….  He sniffed at it for a moment, then with one quick swipe of his paw, broke it in two.  Now, who’s the dumb one?!

    In this tale of the young life of Jane Goodall (Aida Valentine) in England, her favorite toy was a stuffed chimp named, Jubilee and her friend, her dog, Rusty (Breydon Little *, acting & Mak Kastelic, singing).  She tells her understanding Mum (Hillary Hoover), of her desires to go to Africa and live among the wild animals.  But their strait-laced neighbors, Mr. Crouch (Heath Hyun Houghton) and his wife (Paige Rogers), try to convince young Jane that climbing trees, talking to animals and dressing in jeans, with dreams of living in Africa, are not becoming what a young lady should be aiming for.  But her Mum, who has seen her drawings and journals, supports her all the way.

    She has studied the chickens in their yard and the squirrels in the woods and discovers, with patient watching, that one can learn a great deal from animals, “if you have eyes to see and ears to hear.”  She knows that the predominant theory from scientists is to observe animals in laboratory settings and make determinations about them.  But she is of no such mind.  She is made of “stardust,” as Carl Sagan might say, and follows, like Dr. Hawkins would propose, to “be brave, be curious and be determined.”  And so, her destiny is forged for her.  And today she has changed the face of natural history…may she “live long and prosper!”

    This is all so well and simply presented that it is suitable for all ages to understand, including us dense adults, who choose to watch Mother Nature and the wonderful creations of her labors, be slowly destroyed by our greed and stupidity, and fail, unlike animals, to live in harmony with each other! 
Crowson has chosen well her cast, as most play many roles, and she presents this nostalgic world with simplicity.  (I wish I could tell you the songs, but they were not listed in the programs.  Suffice to say, they all fit the story nicely with a talented group to present them.)  Houghton & Rogers were very animated, and I loved the tap-dancing number of the chickens.  Hoover has a terrific voice.  And Valentine is a very charming young performer doing justice to an outstanding individual.

    But the man of the hour was * Little, as he was a last minute replace for a sick actor and he was amazing!  I, myself, have been in such a position as an actor and it’s nerve-racking to say the least.  But he is a trooper and is quite good onstage, so hope he is given more opportunities to do so in the future.

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

Sunday, October 20, 2019

The Baltimore Waltz—Profile Theatre—SE Portland


         “Dream Within a Dream”


    This off-beat, dark comedy is written by award-winning playwright, Paula Vogel and is directed by Josh Hecht.  It is playing at the Imago space, 17 SE 8th Ave. (off Burnside), until November 3rd (parking is a challenge in this area, so plan your time accordingly).  For more information, go to their site at www.profiletheatre.org or call 503- 242-0080.

    Tennessee Williams may have said it best about theatre (and, possibly, Life, too) that it is not reality that is being created, but the illusion of reality.  We all see Life through our own perceptions and it may not be as others see it.  We fill our world with our dreams, experiences, hopes, regrets…as we navigate through this Journey, this brief flame, called Life.  And, so it is, too, with Anna, in this flicker of an adventure in her normally mundane existence.

    Anna (Jen Rowe) is a schoolteacher and leads a pretty drab life.  Her best friend all her life is her gay brother, Carl (Dan Kitrosser), a librarian in the children’s section.  One day he is summarily fired for being a little too “pink” for the Board’s liking.  And so, he invites his sister to travel the world with him, now that he has some time to explore.

    Well, it just so happened that Anna has gotten some bad news from her doctor (Joshua J. Weinstein), that she has a deadly disease and only has a short time to live, so she opens her eyes to the possibilities of a life not realized and decides to take the plunge.  There is also a slim chance that a certain European scientist might have a magic solution to cure what ails her.  And so, they depart.

    It is a whirlwind adventure and she eats and screws her way across Europe with her faithful brother along as a companion.  But he seems engaged in some sort of mysterious plot that involves, perhaps smuggling, with his favorite stuffed bunny, Jo-Jo.  Intrigue and suspicion are now included in their adventure.  The conclusion will rock your world and so, ‘nuf said.

    Rowe is amazing in her multi-faceted character of Anna and she squeezes every last nuisance out of it.  She is always a delight to watch onstage.  Kitrosser is fun to observe in his complicated relationship with his sister.  And Weinstein is excellent in his many incarnations he presents onstage, from a shy bellhop, to a mad doctor, to a slimly security agent, to a mysterious spy, et. al.  He is quite the chameleon.  And Hecht is a marvel at keeping up the pace and taking us through multiple locations without losing the thread of the story.

    I do have one nit to pick with the story itself.  The ending, as I said, is a bit of a shocker, but I don’t think it fits the premise of the tale that Anna presents.  Without giving anything away, if one’s dreams of a final journey with a lifelong best friend, then it should have been more inclusive of that friendship as the basis, which does not happen here.  So, I think you should see it and judge for yourself.  Also, there is full male nudity (I feel unnecessary) in this production.

    I recommend the production for the terrific acting and set but the story, I feel, falls short of its expectations.  If you do see it, please let them know you heard it from me.
--DJS