Sunday, May 20, 2018

Crossing—Crave Theatre—SE Portland

Sarah McGregor and Jessica Tidd
Photo by Russell J. Young
Shadow Creatures
 This haunting drama is written by Reza de Wet and directed by Sarah Andrews.  It is playing at the Shoebox theatre, 2110 SE 10TH Ave., through June 3rd.  For more information, go to their site at

     On the surface, this is a story about two, weird sisters, Hermien (Sarah McGregor), the boss of the family, and her timid, sheltered, hunchback sibling, Sussie (Jessica Tidd), who live in an ancient house on the banks of a river.

     On one night they are visited by a mezmerizing showman, Maestro (David Mitchum Brown), who claims to be a hypnotist, who proclaims he can transport you to other times and places.  With him is Ezmerelda (Kylie Jennifer Rose), his “assistant,” who cowers at his feet and appears to have been psychologically and physically abused.  The sisters offer refuge to this couple and hear the strange tale of their travels.

But the house and all these people hold secrets.  There are unearthly factors at work here.  Old houses, night terrors, thunder and lightning, noises in the dark and some unholy magic are a perfect combination for nightmares.  As I said, the above is only the surface story, for you must see it, if you dare, and not alone, to discover the mystery that it holds!

     This is a very creepy story that will keep you spellbound from beginning to end.  Max Ward has created a set that keeps the audience feeling as if they are in the framework of the house, peeping in on things that are better left unsaid.  The creators of the lighting effects, Nia Fillo and sound, Andrew Bray, are to be commended, too, for this is as much an atmospheric  production as it is about story and dialogue.  Kudos also to the Stage Manager, Michael Cavazos and Technical Director, Iain Chester, for blending all these elements to maximum effect.

     And the cast of four, especially the ladies, are some of the best actors in this area.  McGregor is sinister, stern and strangely compelling as she attempts to hold her family together. Tidd is always excellent in all she performs and is equally good here as the sister whose soul and sanity seem to be in peril.  Rose is at her best here as a woman/child torn between, perhaps, “the devil and the deep blue sea.”  A tormented spirit who will not be quieted.  And Brown, very effective as the master manipulator, who may have met his match in these ladies. Bravos to all!

     And the best for last, Andrews, who must combine all these elements into a worthy stew for digestion and she does it masterfully!  She and Rose have created a young company, Crave, and they are certainly on firm footing with this outing.  It is original in its concept and they prove they can handle the technical and acting aspects to the nth degree as well.  Much power and success to them, they deserve it!

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

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Cabaret—FUSE Theatre Ensemble—SE Portland

“…It was the Worst of Times”

     This classic musical has tunes by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Ebb and book by Joe Masteroff, and is based on Christopher Isherwood’s short novel, “Berlin Diaries,” and the play, “I Am A Camera,” by John Van Druten.  It is directed and designed by Rusty Tennant, musical direction by Matt Insley (also keyboard), and choreography by Kate Mura.  

     It is playing at the Funhouse Lounge, 2432 SE 11th Ave. (street parking only), through June 2nd.  This is part of the OUTwright Theatre Festival.  For more information, go to their site at or

     When down and out, what do you do, “put on a happy face.”  There was a definite glumness to Germany in the 1930’s, as their world was about to change forever.  And when the sense of Doom seemed eminent, there is only one thing to do, pretend everything is all right and dance, sing and be merry.  But can you really make “a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.”  Of course not.  But, until you’re discovered to be a fraud, might as well put on airs and treat Life like a giant Masquerade Ball, where everybody pretends to be something they’re not and you put your best mask on, and soar….

     The main body of action follows Cliff (Alec Cameron Lugo), a very naive American, wanting to write the great American novel, who lands in Berlin at the inopportune time that Hitler is moving into politics and the Nazis are beginning to strong-arm the German people, especially the Jewish population, into their own obscene brand of a totalitarian government.  But, being an innocent, a lamb in a wolf’s den, he is vulnerable which, for a budding writer, may be a good thing.
He connects with a young German “salesman,” Ernst (Michael J. Teufel), who desires to learn English, befriends him and introduces Cliff to life at the Kit Kat Club, a type of underground amusement parlor, where anything, and anyone, can be available, for a price.  The oily owner of the Club, Max, is bedding down with his star attraction, the alluring, Sally Bowles (Gwendolyn Duffy), a popular belter of racy tunes and maudlin lyrics.  But the one who runs the show, is the Emcee (Ernie Lijoi), the musical narrator/commentator of the Cabaret lifestyle, in which everyone has their roles to play.

     Cliff is housed into one of the boarding houses near the club, in which Sally Bowles is also a resident.  The owner of the establishment is the fastidious, Fraulein Schneider (Dmae Roberts), who has a romantic relationship with one of her boarders, a Jewish fruit vendor, the kindly, Herr Schultz (Glenn Williams).  Also, in residence, is the naughty, Fraulein Kost (Sara Fay Goldman), who has hot-and-cold running sailors in and out of her room.  Love will make its mark with the golden-agers, as well as with Cliff and Sally and, under normal circumstances, there would be happy endings. 

     But this is not the time nor place for that.  Smuggling, corruption, decadence, prejudice and cruelty are the orders of the day here.  Their world is held up to a mirror, broken several times in many places.  This mock world will trample the good, make demi-gods of the bad, and reflect the ugliness of a not-too-distant time and place of yesteryear.  And, perhaps, we should heed this warning nowadays, if we haven’t solved the mistakes of the past, we are bound to repeat them.  If we can’t work together, we are then doomed to fall separately.

     Although the play could be considered a bit of a downer story-wise, it does reflect well of a by-gone era.  And the songs from this musical are outstanding, both in writing and delivery.  The chorus numbers with the gals and guys are expertly delivered and well thought out by Mura. The Emcee (Lijoi) is a chameleon and is always outstanding in his numbers.  Duffy, as Sally, is amazing, as she is both very sexy and very sad at the same time.  And her final solo, “Cabaret,” is as chilling as it is heart-breaking, it raised the hairs on the back of my neck.  Hope to see more of her onstage. 

     Some top numbers were, “Don’t Tell Mama,” “Two Ladies,” “Sitting Pretty,” “If You Could See Her (the ape acrobatics are stunning)” and, of course, “Cabaret,” are painfully exciting.  The frightening but beautiful, “Tomorrow Belongs to Me,” by Goldman, is always a show-stopper.  And Roberts and Williams are touching as the doomed, old couple with their hopeful ballads in a forlorn setting.   Also, Lugo, as our hero, has the right, wide-eyed stare, like a deer caught in someone’s headlights, who will have his eyes opened but his heart broken.  Well done.

     Tennant has wisely set this story in a real-life bar and it works wonderfully in creating the proper mood for the story.  He has also, with Mura, used the tiny stage to great advantage, even bringing the action into the house at time.  And Insley and his band (Cameron Poehner and Andy Schanz) do justice to the rousing score without overpowering the actors. This is a raw show and does have some nudity in it.  I highly recommend it.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Blithe Spirit—Bag & Baggage—Hillsboro, OR

Spirit of the Idle Rich

     This classic comedy by Noel Coward is directed by Scott Palmer (B&B’s Artistic Director).  It is playing at their space in The Vault Theatre, 350 E. Main St., in Hillsboro, through May 27th.  For more information, go to their site at  or call 503-345-9590.

     If you’ve ever wondered whether the grass was greener on the other side of the fence, this play may give you a glimpse, in a farcical sort of way.  Suggestion of a job, with these sort of people, is only mentioned in passing and then only as a sort of necessary evil.  If one is forced to pursue such a “hobby” such as, in this case, a doctor or writer, it is only because of the high fees they can collect among their clients…er, patients, and the gossip that can be attained.  And, of course, in these worlds, the woman’s job was simply to look pretty, be seen at swanky affairs and be at the beck-and-call of their husbands.  A patriarchal society, to say the least.  Far removed from that now, aren’t we?!

     A note about the presentation.  This is a highly-stylized show that in Coward’s day would have been the “cat’s meow.”  It is more in the line of Moliere than Simon, in that it is a series of repartees and one-liners that are not meant to reflect the “real” world, but one in which satire rules supreme.  The emphasis then is not so much on story or naturalistic style, but on witty verbal exchanges.  But, in this case, there is also a pretty cool plot underneath, which is why Coward rises to the top of his class.

     Charles (Andrew Beck) is a somewhat successful mystery writer.   He lives in only the poshest of neighborhoods in the most elegant of estates.  He is egotistical, smarmy and aloof.  His second wife, Ruth (Cassie Greer), is even more conceited and snippy and rules her exclusive domain with an iron paw.  Pity the maid, Edith (Arianne Jacques), who is so eager to please, she rushes about the homestead with bunny-steps in a precise, military fashion.

     On this particular evening, Charles has decided that he needs some more fodder for his novel involving the occult and has arranged a séance with his friends, the stoic, Dr. Bradman (Peter Schuyler) and his giddy wife (Jessica Geffen).  And the focal guest for this historic/hysteric evening is the eccentric, Madame Arcati (Kymberli Colbourne), with a voice like a foghorn and a appearance like a football fullback, a take-charge sort of lady.

     Well, they do have some laughs, imbibe in alcohol and do, in the long run, raise one hell-of-a-spirit, in the guise of Charles’ first wife, the ever-demanding, Elvira (Jessi Walters), who insists she has been summoned, presumably by Charles.   One can only imagine the sort of turmoil this will raise.  Complications arise, confrontations befall and confusion reigns, before all is resolved, sort of.  Can’t tell you more without spoiling the plot, so you’ll just have to indulge yourself.
 Palmer has done an outstanding job of casting this play and choreographed it like a dance, as well as keeping the dialogue coming fast and furious.  The clever lighting effects (Jim Ricks-White), the period costumes (Melissa Heller) and the lovely set (Tyler Buswell), all add to the success of the show.  (Interesting to note, the name of this company is uttered in this play).

     Beck is a good, slipping into Coward’s skin (who it was written for) in his never-flustered portrayal of Charles.  Greer has, perhaps, the most precise, clipped speech pattern of the cast, as the steel-backboned, Ruth.  Walters is an appropriately “flighty” Elvira, who is on a mission, not necessarily from God.  And Schuyler is properly stone-faced as the doctor.

     And some small gems exist in Geffen, who is always first-rate in a play, as the ditzy chameleon, who can change her colors, as needed, for a harridan of the first order.  She shines.  Also, Jacques, takes the spotlight, as needed, as the harassed maid, who has a secret.  Her movements are spot-on.  And Colbourne is the crowning glory, as the cigar-chomping, whip-crackin’ showman, who takes no prisoners.  She’s a firecracker who lights up the stage!

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

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Fences—Portland Playhouse—NE Portland

Ole Blue, Shadows and Substance

     This powerful August Wilson drama is directed by Lou Bellamy.  It is playing at their site, 602 NE Prescott St. (free parking lot two blocks North on 6th), through June 10th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-488-5822.

     Thoreau famously said that we lead lives of “quiet desperation,” and so it is here.  But we all don’t have a Walden Pond to escape to, as he did, where one can sort things out.  But, if inner demons eat at you and the Past haunts you, then no amount of solace will save you.  So, Troy, stifled by his dreams, the only way out is to keep swinging, lashing out until the final inning, when the horn is blown, and the game is over, and your score is tallied as to wins and losses.

     Troy (Lester Purry), a middle-aged man in Philly in about the mid-fifties, seems to have a tiger by its tail, but who is wagging whom.  He is a failed baseball player who earns a living by picking up garbage for the Sanitation Dept.  His best friend for many years, Bono (Bryant Bentley), works along beside him.  Their daily routine after work consists of having a snort, bragging about their prowess with women and heading down to the local dive for checkers or to watch “the game.”

     Rose (Erika LaVonn) is his ever-faithful, strong-willed wife, who tolerates his excesses and loves him all the more, all these many years.  Cory (La’ Tevin Alexander) is their teenage son on the verge of getting a football scholarship to college but shirks his duties at home.  One of which is to help his Dad build a fence around their house, which seems to be a never-ending project.

     Troy also has a son, Lyons (Seth Rue), from a former marriage, who is a jazz musician at nights in clubs which, according to Troy, is not a “real” job but a distraction.  And then there is Gabriel (Bobby Bermea), Troy’s mentally-challenged brother, having a steel plate in his head from a war injury.  Gab has his own unique way of dealing with the world and has his horn at the ready to announce the end of the world, when his buddy, St. Peter, gives him the signal.

     This is the cast, shy one character, Raynell (Imani Hill or Serelle Strickland, alternating the role) a little girl who will appear near the end.  The stage is set, the spring wound tight for the conflicts, confrontations and confessions of these struggling, wounded souls in their mini-America.  Here there be roars from this Pride and echoes from it that may spell a better tomorrows.  Really can’t tell you more, as Wilson’s masterful storytelling style and explosive dialogue does it so much better.

     Bellamy is the perfect choice for director, having known Wilson himself and having played Troy, too.  His use and balance of the characters on the stage, as well as his intimate understanding of the material, shows to powerful advantage in this production, as it teeters between all out rages then, when the storm is quelled, lulls you in the quieter moments.  A master directing a masterpiece!

     The set (designer, Daniel Meeker, a veteran of many productions) is so realistic, you feel you could walk upon it and be transported back in time.  The cast is the best I’ve seen in the many Wilson plays I have witnessed.  Standing out among the best is Bermea, always exceptional in any theatre project he undertakes, as the troubled brother, balancing beautifully humor with sadness; LaVonn, as the dutiful wife, who matches Troy expertly in power when maligned; and Purry, as the focus character, who is a true anti-hero, that you despise, feel sorry for and empathized with, often at the same time.  A crowning performance among many Royalty!

I highly recommend this production, it’s not to be missed, as it’s one of the finest in the NW.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Monday, May 7, 2018

The Sensational Sixties—Portland Musical Theater Company—N. Portland

Remembering the 60’s

     This Broadway revue of musicals from the 60’s is conceived and directed by Deanna Maio (PMTC’s Artistic Director and Founder) and choreographed by Kayla Banks, Megan Ruth Smith and Maio.  It is playing at the Peninsula Odd Fellows Lodge, 4834 N. Lombard St. (St. John’s area), through May 20th (street parking only).  For more information, go to their site at

     It is said that “if you remember the sixties, you weren’t there!”  But, get serious, music was so much a part of that era that, really, who could forget the folk and protest songs which have been ingrained into the American persona ever since then.  And Broadway, with its plethora of great musicals, is no exception.  It was “a very good [decade],” as evidenced by these 35 songs, by 8 people in about 2 hours.  Wow!

     So, turn off those damn electronic devices for a short time (believe me, you’ll survive) and let your memory be your guide into the sounds of a neverland of by-gone lore and new-found dreams, which reflect, not only the Age, but the soul of a Nation, searching for the shining American Dream (somewhat tarnished in recent months), but still there in our Youth.

     And so, it was, with Russian Jews in, “Fiddler on the Roof,” looking for that better world; also, with the “Man of La Mancha,” who fought windmills in order to make a land free and a woman restored to her true self; or, “The Fantasticks,” where young love is taught a harsh lesson about Love; and “Camelot,” an attempt to join all kingdoms into ruling equally around a Round Table, treat women with respect and use “Might For Right.”  It seems we are still fighting those battles.

     And who could forget the great characters from that era, all based, in part, on true people or incidents:  The waif, “Oliver,” from the pen of Dickens, a lad who sees a better world for himself; also, “Sweet Charity,” another discarded soul, who loves too often but not wisely, and will live “hopefully ever after;” or the crazy teens from “Bye Bye Birdie,” who experience the angst of growing up; and the disillusioned and despairing folks of “Cabaret,” who found their world collapsing around them, with nowhere to go.  Change is not easy but necessary in many cases.

     And who could forget Auntie “Mame,” the lady who fought the system to be herself but at a price; and, of course, we have the irascible, incorrigible Dolly Levi from “Hello Dolly,” another unstoppable Force of Nature.  And then we are given a tour of comedy, going back thousands of years in, perhaps, the non-stop, funniest musical ever on Broadway, “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.”  And then we are given a dose of thoughtful, frightening reality of the Viet-Nam era, “Hair,” notions that still haunt us even today.

     Then we are treated to such show-stopping numbers as, “Brother of Man,” from “How to Succeed…;” “What Kind of Fool Am I?” (Aidan Nolan, I believe) and “Who Can I Turn To?” (John D’Aversa, I believe) expertly sung, both from Anthony Newley’s haunting, “Stop the World…;” and the best of the best, the crowning glory, Deanna Maio’s, “Don’t Rain On My Parade” from “Funny Girl” (it gave me chills).  Watch for her to perform as Rosemary Clooney next year in “Tenderly.”  Also, another showstopper was Rebecca Raccanelli playing the violin solo from “Fiddler….”  She also is frequently in these revues and always a treat to watch.

     Ehren Schwiebert was also very accomplished in his singing and very expressive as an actor.  I don’t mean to slight the last three ladies but they looked so similar onstage and in their photos, which didn’t seem current, that I really couldn’t tell with any certainty who was who, but they were excellent (Ashley Moore, Becca McDonell and Caitriona Johnston).  Also, high praise should go to Smith with her choreography of the “Rhythm of Life” number.  This blend of voices is some of the best I’ve heard and do add high merit to this Revue!

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

Sunday, May 6, 2018

A Year With Frog & Toad—Oregon’s Children’s Theatre—downtown Portland

photo by Owen Carey
Best Friends Are Forever

     This delightful musical is based on books by Arnold Lobel, music by Robert Reale and book and lyrics by Willie Reale.  It is directed by Dani Baldwin (OCT’s Education Director), musical direction by Jeffery Childs and choreography by Sara Mishler Martins and is playing at the Newmark Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway, through May 27th.  For more information, go to their site at

     This was a winner of 7 Drammy’s when first presented, well deserved, too.  At it’s heart, it’s about friendship, compassion, and the importance of working together to solve things (a lesson the world should heed now).  But it’s also about giving to another person unconditionally, never expecting anything in return.  And, if you’ve experienced this, isn’t it amazing how good it makes you feel!

     The story is deceptively simple, it follows the pretty routine lives of Frog (Charles Grant) and Toad (James Sharinghousen, reprising his role from the original production) through the four seasons.  Of course, everybody knows that many animals hibernate during the long, cold Winter months, so when they arise, they are full of life and fun.  The squirrels (Lauren Burton & Katie McClanan), in particular, like to keep things moving along in this forest primeval.

     We follow these two intrepid travelers through the seasons, as they rake leaves, go sledding together, bake cookies and in, perhaps, their longest segment, tell scary stories on a stormy night (not recommended if you spook easily).  Frog tells of when he was a child (Sophia Takla) and how he and his parents (Megan Carver & Colin Kane) got lost in the woods and how he overcame the Large and Terrible Frog that haunted the forest.  It is a good lesson in overcoming one’s fears.

     There are other creatures that inhabit this acreage, too, such as birds, moles, a turtle, a lizard, and a snail (Kane, again) in the longest running gag in the show, as he attempts to deliver a letter at at “snail’s pace.”.  The songs are plentiful and very catchy.  And the music/dance/song genres are all over the map, including ballet, soft-shoe, jazz, opera, country, ballads, et. al. and very well executed by an exceptionally, versatile cast!  Also, interesting to note that at curtain call, when only seven actors came out to take their well-deserved kudos, I wondered where the rest of the cast was.  They were so good in playing separate characters that they fooled me into thinking it was a larger ensemble!  Bravo!

     Everyone of them deserves mentioning:  Carver has an operatic voice and it shows to good advantage as Mother Frog; Takla is great as Young Frog, both in acting and singing; Burton & McClanan are terrific as the duo who keep the story moving and are a vaudeville team in themselves; Kane is a delight with his songs of a snail mailman, wanting to “come out of his shell;” and Sharinghousen & Grant are an amazing team, as they dance and sing their ways into your heart!

     Everything works, as the costumes by Sarah Gahagan enhances but doesn’t hide the actors talents; the set by Tal Sanders is very versatile and effective; Childs music is very progressive, as he traverses the various genres; Martins dance numbers are stunning; and Baldwin is a powerhouse as the director for all of this.  She always shines when working with students and directing a play.  If you have her at the helm, it automatically spells success!

     And that brings me to another related point.  It may “take a village to raise a child,” but there is still a chief of that village to maneuver things around.  A play starts with a story from a writer, then is adapted for another medium; then a producing team must raise the finances and market the show; a cast is assembled, which showcases the whole experience to the public; talents are procured to create the atmosphere for the play (and, in the case of a musical--songs, music and dances are conceived for the show; and finally a Director (the “Chief”) must blend all these elements into a cohesive production (in this case, Baldwin).  So, when it comes time for kudos, although behind the scenes, the Director will rise or fall on their contribution and leadership and, if successful, they are “chiefly” responsible for the outcome, and so should be recognized for that!

     I highly recommend this show as it is a gem, as it was a few seasons back.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

To Fly Again—Imago Theatre—SE Portland

A New World [Dis]order

    This original production is written, designed, choreographed and directed by Jerry Mouawad and is playing at their space, 17 SE 8th Ave. (just off Burnside) through May 12th.  (Parking is a challenge in this area, so plan your time accordingly.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-231-9581.

     “In Dreams, [she flies]…in Dreams, [she flies]…but only in her Dreams.”  It is a place and setting in an alternate universe, a place out of time…and space…disjointed…at the apex of the Alpha and the Omega, not unlike, perhaps Beckett’s “…Godot” world.  It is inhabited by Stink-Bomb (Mark Mullaney), one of the “unwashed masses;” Tater (Stephanie Woods), a virgin bud; Bob Jake Ottosen), a stick-in-the-mud; and Togo (Nathaniel Holder), the maestro of the tunes that “soothe the savage beasts.”   Together, these Clowns, form a coven, of sorts, in a desert, from which, in time, will spring an Oasis, or so we hope.

     But, for now, they are on the verge of…well, they do have memories, which are fleeting, of another existence, but now that existence has disappeared and they are left with…???  A do-over, perhaps, or maybe, like a broken record, or squeaky wheel, someone will come (again?), to silence the whining, like the shining black man in the white beard, who will get tired of the repetition and rhetoric and will rewind the toys, these fish out of water…perhaps.  Otherwise, left to their own devices, what will they do…what can they do…what possible…impossible…conclusions?  Ah, but “to sleep, perchance to dream”…of…???  A fragment of a song occurs to me…

     “Send in the clowns, there have to be clowns…don’t bother, they’re here!”  (think about it). 
     Just one problem, there are those pesky dancers/floaters, the non-thinkers, the mutes, the lemmings, who dance, dare I say, fly.  What to make of them?  Left over from the Old World Order who ruled at one time, maybe with the Clowns?  But everybody should march to their own beat, their own drummer, and when those drummers/dreamers meet, connect, merge…then a new day may evolve!

     Is this a review?  Yes, it is, in the sense that any true artist worth his metal, will spill his talent across a broad canvas and induce/dare, perhaps, seekers and let them glean what they choose, as does Mouawad.  He dips his pen into his heart and writes in blood, not ink….and, as it flows outward, other views may come into focus.  Beckett famously said, when asked who Godot was, he replied that he had forgotten, and said to the questioner, who is he to you?  And so it is with this piece of Art.  What does it mean to you…no right or wrong answers, really, just absorb it.

     As always, he has created something entirely unique and thought(soul)-provoking.  And I loved the tree and his choice of music for the production.  Wish I could accurately credit the actors, but no names were attributed to the main ensemble of actors, via characters.   But the two ladies that stood out for me are Stephanie Woods, who was “Tater” and she is wonderful.  She really connected with the audience (and with me, my heart went out to her character’s plight).  Hope to see more of her onstage.  Also, her counter-part , the drummer of the dancers, Amy Katrina Bryan (I believe), was also invested in her role and was notable in her performance.

     The rest of the cast of Dancers were Nathan HG, Kaician Kitko, Andrea Larreta and Emma Holland.  All excellent and I apologize if I got names confused.  A really fine show by all concerned.  I recommend this play.  Please tell them Dennis sent you if you choose to see it.