Monday, December 10, 2012

A WWII Radio Christmas—OCT’s Young Professionals Company—Portland, OR


"Lest We Forget . . . "
 

This production will be presented through December 16th.  The school/theatre is located at 1939 NE Sandy Blvd.  It is directed by Dani Baldwin (OCT’s Education Director) and  written by Pat Kruis Tellinghusen.  Musical Director is Jeffery Childs.  For more information on the classes/season/production, contact their website at www.octc.org or call 503-228-9571.

This show was originally presented by the Tapestry Theatre in Portland a number of  years ago.   I saw it at the Old Church.  It was a part of a Christmas From Home series by a local writer.  It justifiably honors our veterans who are fighting on the battlefields in far-off countries. 

The play includes a true incident of a Christmas Truce that happened on the warring grounds in France during WWII.  Opposing sides simply put down their arms, exchanged gifts, sang Christmas Carols and buried their dead in peace.  Could not that sentiment be carried through on a global scale?  Only missing one ingredient.  Tolerance.

The story concerns a radio station in 1944 doing a show for the soldiers, fighting  overseas, and the loved ones left behind.  They sing familiar songs from that era, including Mr. In-between;  Shoo, Shoo, Shoo, Baby; White Christmas; I’ll Be Seeing You; Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas; and I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day (from a poem by Longfellow).  It also includes PSA announcements and commercials from that time, skits, and letters to and from home.

The show is only an hour long but it packs a wallop in those brief minutes and covers a lot of territory.  There are touching moments, such as the story of the Christmas Truce; returned letters, probably meaning a death of a soldier; and romances found, and lost.  There are moments of humor, such as the commercials, and those terrific songs, well-rendered by a very talented cast.  And a special nod to the Foley effects (“performed” by the cast), creating the sounds for the radio, adding immensely to the authenticity of the production.

The entire cast is exceptional and a fine example of an ensemble.  Each of them play many characters within a short period of time, complete with dialects, different ages, and individual gestures and mannerisms.  They all deserve to be mentioned, as there is not a weak link in the bunch:  Collin Carver, Madeleine Delaplane, Bryce Earhart, Jeremy Howard, Daniel Martin, Annie Parham, Jessica Skinner, and Celeste Spangler.

Many of the cast are alumni from the sold-out production of this show last year.  They are all students in their teens at OCT’s school.  Some have performed in other productions of Y/P, such as Dracula and/or the improve troupe, Impulse, as well as Main stage productions for OCT and other theatres.  Mr. Carver has the look and sound of a young John Cleese, especially in the opening monologue to the audience.  And Ms. Delaplane even had a featured role in a locally-made, full-length, Indie film (imdb.com under Nightbumpers).  But I applaud them all as probably the Best (yes, that would include the Equity companies, too) Ensemble show I’ve reviewed to date!

But one has to ask, how the heck can these young people identify with characters of their grand-parent ages?!  Individual soul-searching, I’m sure.  But to expose those attributes  take the two T’s—talent and training.  The talent (not skill or craft, which can be taught), I believe, is God-given.  The training is from a coach/instructor/director that has the ability to extract that talent from them and nudge it to embody a character/role, no matter what age, nationality or era the story takes place.  Proof of this can be seen now in this production, as products of their education at OCT!

The direction by Ms. Baldwin is first-rate.  Every nuance of these characters is carefully constructed and directed.  And being the head of the school and director of some of the main stage plays (and a pretty fine performer in her own right) she would have the added knowledge of knowing the strengths of her students.  Mr. Childs, and especially, Eric Nordin, as the Pianist, added greatly to the success of the music numbers of this show.

One suggestion would be to add pics of the cast, so that in such a multi-character show, one could identify who is who.  Also listing the songs would be an advantage, too.  I would highly praise the company and the school for producing such fine talent.  It’s highly recommended by me but I would hurry to get tickets, as they will surely sell out.  If you go, tell them Dennis sent you.