Monday, January 28, 2013

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe—Oregon Children’s Theatre—downtown Portland.


Deep Magic

C.S. Lewis’s classic play, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is playing at the Newmark Theatre on Broadway in downtown Portland.  It is produced by OCT and directed by Matthew B. Zrebski.  This adaptation is written by Joseph Robinette and will play through February 17th.  For further information contact www.octc.org or call 503-228-9571.

There is no doubt that Lewis wrote some of the great classic literature for the young when he penned the stories of the world of Narnia.  He was great pals in college with J.R.R. Tolkien who, at the same time, was writing the Lord of the Rings books.  Both these classics have enjoyed stage, film, TV, animated, and audio book adaptations.  They not only speak to the young but also to people of all ages and cultures.

This presentation is a shortened and scaled-down version of the story, lasting a little more than an hour.  But it is, nonetheless, satisfying and gives a glimpse into the world of the make-believe.  In reality, many children in WWII England, were sent to the country to live with relatives or other friends to spare them the horrors of the bombing of the cities.  Lewis was part of this network and, thus, was born the transportation of “two daughters of Eve,” Lucy (Hannah Baggs) and Susan (Jesse Turner) and “two sons of Adam,” Edmund (Chase Klotter) and Peter (Sean Sele) to an estate in the country and, inadvertently, to Narnia.

Narnia is ruled by the wicked and feared White Witch (Cecily Overman), where the land is constantly Winter.  With her cohorts Ferris Ulf, a wolf (Ben Buckley) and the Dwarf (Melissa Kaiser) they hold the inhabitants in their icy grip.  But salvation is just around the corner with the advent of Aslan, the Lion (Matthew D. Pavik).  But before order can be restored and the land returned to Summer and the warmth of the sun, a sacrifice must be offered and battles and deaths will ensue.  Any references to religions and the politics of the day were probably intentional.

The four children were all good, carrying well the heavy line-load the parts demanded and having the right look for the roles.  But the British accents, although adequate, were all over the map.  Mr. Pavik, as Aslan, had the right voice and look for the role but seemed to be  missing, at times, the urgency and nobility the part demands.  London Bauman, in the key role of Tumnus, had the right feel and appearance in the role of the faun.

Particularly effective was Ms. Overman as the Witch/Queen.  She had the chilling power in body and voice to make one believe that she, indeed, did rule.  And Mr. Buckley, as her evil minion, oozed energy and nastiness with every move and inflection.  The death scene of the wolf in the Queen’s arms was the most touching in the show.  Impressive, also, was Ms. Kaiser in the contrasting roles of the naughty Dwarf and the jovial Elf (as well, in the silent role of the elusive, White Stag).  And she played all three roles with equal effectiveness.

Probably, overall, the best scene was the battle toward the end as a dance/movement piece.  It was beautifully choreographed by (I assume) the Director, Mr. Zrebski, who kept the whole play moving at a brisk pace.  The set (Tal Sanders) was well designed, allowing for easy movement of the actors.  And the costumes (Ashton Grace Hull) were also good, giving the impression of the character and yet allowing the performer to interpret the role in movement and facial expressions.

A side note, the play, Shadowlands, about the relationship between Lewis and the love of his life, will be presented at Magenta Theatre in downtown Vancouver in mid-April.  I would recommend L/W/W and, if you do go to either show, please tell them Dennis sent you.

The Huntsmen—Portland Playhouse—NE Portland


Extreme Angst

The Huntsmen by Quincy Long and directed by Kathleen Dimmick is playing at the Portland Playhouse until February 17th.  The theatre is housed in an old church at 602 NE Prescott St.  For further information on times and dates and their Season, contact them at www.portlandplayhouse.org and/or call 503-488-5822.

Oh, for the good ole days, we often say to ourselves.  Things were much simpler then, in our Youth.  The lead character, Devon (Dean Linnard) in this play, would sharply disagree, I’m sure, in a very cutting way.  We may be such “stuff as dreams are made on,” but when the lines between reality and fantasy blur, it’s time to…burst into song?!

The story of this misfit, alienated teenager does not easily follow a linear path.  This young fellow may simply be experiencing growing pains (at best) or be a sociopath with homicidal tendencies (at worst).  He kills a fellow classmate (or does he?) that laughs at his inability to perform sex; then his father (Michael O’Connell) for wanting to turn him in (or does he?); then a series of strangers, for either real or imagined wrongs, until he is a full-fledged serial killer (or is he?)  The dilemma is real, the truth may not be.

Through it all, this inarticulate boy, seems to find his true voice only in song.  Is he really bad (or mad) or just…misunderstood?  Is his relationship in this dysfunctional family with his father and mother (Sharonlee Mclean) and her authoritarian boyfriend (Gavin Gregory) the root of all this evil within him?  Will the music he hears really, eventually “soothe the savage beast?”  Questions asked but with no definitive answer forthcoming.

The style of the play is somewhat reminiscent of the 50’s avant-garde writers such as Pinter, Beckett and even, early Albee.  They only barely touched on plot-driven stories and, only then, for the audience’s convenience.  Their tales took place in the mind.  A “no man’s land,” a kaleidoscope of kinetic energy, signifying…nothing (or everything) depending on the viewer’s interpretation.  Is Hamlet (a teenager, too) mad, or is his convenient “madness” just a good excuse for acting out his growing pains.  The same question might be asked here, also.

The arc of the story does seem to follow an odd sort of logical line.  Most of Mr. Jones’s chronology of events, albeit chaotic at times, flows reasonably smoothly.  The only bump in the road is his connection with a music mogul and his blind daughter (Crystal Munoz).  Although a well-acted bit, it seems to come out of nowhere and, thus, has nowhere to go.  The music, (possibly a throw-back to the 50’s) is sung acappella by the cast.  The meaning is muddy at times but many people do define their Youth by the music that was popular at the time.  But, overall, it’s a riveting story, well-played by an excellent cast, doing multiple roles.

Mr. Linnard is extraordinary as the teenager who is the focus of the story.  His hesitant delivery of lines, his inarticulateness, his snapshot view of events, all lend to an awareness of obvious frustration with himself and his environment.  He is truly a joy to watch.  And Mr. O’Connell as the father and the music mogul, et. al., lends a sense of scary reality of recognizable characters from life.  He makes it look easy as he slips from one role to another.

The rest of the cast is equally as good, playing all the other roles, as well as a singing “Greek Chorus,” commentators of the action.  Add Jared Miller, (very good as the Detective), perhaps the one voice of reason (and possibly the audience’s viewpoint) who tries to make sense of the proceedings.  The direction by Ms. Dimmick keeps the play moving at a brisk pace, much like a stream of consciousness, attempting to put us inside the head of storyteller.

Portland Playhouse consistently does innovative productions, never failing to engage, engross and entertain an audience.  They are definitely one of the five best theatres in the Portland area!  I recommend this play.  If you do go, please tell them that Dennis sent you.

Monday, January 14, 2013

I Love To Eat—Portland Center Stage—Portland, OR

A Epicurean Delight


This one-man show about chef, James Beard (Rob Nagle), is written by James Still and directed by Jessica Kubzansky.  It plays at PCS through February 3rd.  PCS is located in the Pearl district at 128 NW 11th Ave.  For more information on this show and their season, go to www.pcs.org or call 503-445-3700.

Take a large dose of laughter, sprinkle in dreams of being Chinese, add two tablespoons of classical opera, pepper generously with being openly gay and what do  you  get?!  A wonderful concoction called James Beard, chef extraordinaire.  This Portland native went onto become one of the best-known chefs in the world and the first to have his own  televised cooking shows, back in the mid-1940’s, and the creator of over 20 cook books.

This one-man show about Beard (Rob Nagle) consists of this eccentric, rotund, personage telling us, in short snippets, the story of his life.  He re-creates his cooking show for Borden’s, with his co-host, a hand-held puppet of their symbol, Elsie, the cow.  He explains about his humble beginnings in his parents’ boarding house in Portland and his first fascination with cooking from their Chinese cook (and his Godfather).  He brags that he never had a cooking lesson in his life and that making good meals need not be just for the rich and fancy of our world.

His orations are constantly interrupted by phone calls from various friends, lovers and strangers, as he insists that his phone number be listed and that he enjoys being able to salvage mealtime accidents.  He occasionally slips into a semi-coma when he hears classical  opera and concedes that his real calling was to be a great singer of it.  Then he whips up a tasty, simple, homemade sandwich that he shares with some of the audience.  But, through all the joy, he confesses to never really being loved.  Being content is not the same as being happy, he surmises.

The set (Tom Buderwitz) is Beard’s kitchen in his home.  It is colorfully decorated and  allows for an easy flow of movement.  The direction (Ms. Kubzansky) lets the actor explore the space and keeps the action moving at all times.  When needed, she allows the pace to slow for his more poignant memories and then clips along, when necessary, for his more joyous escapades.

But the script, although good, could easily sink, if the Beard role was not in capable  hands.  In PSC’s case, Mr. Nagle is not only capable but exceeds all expectations!  He truly inhabits the role.  He has the physical look, the mannerisms and voice and, most of all, portrays the heart and soul of Mr. Beard.  He literally has the audience in the palm of his  hand, to mold whatever feast he chooses.  He plays the quiet moments with as much passion and meaning as the more bombastic ones.  I couldn’t imagine this journey without Mr. Nagle at the helm.  Or, perhaps to summarize it in Mr. Beard’s own words:  “Goody, Goody!

It should be noted that, until recently, there is no permanent tribute in Portland to this native son.  The oversight has been rectified recently, as there will be a James Beard Public Market near the Morrison Bridge, sometime in the near future.  If you choose to experience this exciting performance, tell them Dennis sent you.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Lost Boy—Artists Repertory Theatre—Portland, OR


A Double-Edge Sword
 
The Lost Boy by local playwright, Susan Mach and directed by ART’s Artistic Director, Allan Nause, will play through February 10th.  The theatre is located on SW 16th and Alder.  For more information on the show and/or season contact them at www.artistisrep.org or call 503-241-1278 for tickets.

The story is set in the late 1800’s.  It concerns the kidnapping of a young boy, Charley Ross (Logan Martin & Agatha Day Olson), from a prominent family in Philadelphia.  Two drifters, Bill (Duffy Epstein) and Joe (Sean Doran), looking to get rich quick, lure the boy with promises of candies and fireworks, if he comes with them.  Needless to say, the sweet enticements are a ruse and the boy disappears from view.

A ransom note for $20,000 is sent to his father, Christian (Michael Fisher-Welsh).  But all is not as it seems on the home front.  The family, far from being rich, is actually deep in debt.  In an attempt to stave off the kidnappers, a bevy of characters get involved, including a detective, Heins (Doren Elias), the newspapers and even P.T. Barnum (Gray Eubank) himself and his circus.  (This may be where the term “media circus” came from).

During this ordeal, it is revealed that the family has had its own demons to deal with.  The father, from a lack of  funds; the mother, Sarah (Dana Millican), dealing with a ghost from the past; and the older son, Walter (Harper Lea), feeling guilt for letting his brother go with them.  And the Media factions, more interested in looking out for their own publicity, muddy the already turbulent waters even more.  To reveal anything else of the plot would spoil the  mystery, which I’m not prepared to do.

But it is a fascinating story, mirroring somewhat, the sensational Lindbergh kidnapping of the early 1900’s, the early 2000 Gaddis/Pond kidnapping and murders, and the more recent abduction of Kyron Horman from his school.  But, as intriguing as the story is, Ms. Mach’s setting of it, as a background for Barnum’s side-show, is downright brilliant.  The fa├žade of a circus arena, reflecting the real life events, gives the story its edge.  Perhaps, “The play’s the thing, wherein I’ll capture the conscience of the king” (Hamlet).

Mr. Eubanks (Barnum) is appropriately bombastic and his minions (San Dinkowitz, Luisa Sermol, Elizabeth Houghton, and Geoff Kanick) are all very good at creating this surreal atmosphere, needing to be proficient in tumbling, singing, and juggling.  Bravo, troupe!  And  the recreations of the Barnum banners/portraits of his characters (Jeff Seats) are quite stunning, as well as the period costumes (Sarah Gahagan).

Mr. Fisher-Welsh, as the father, begins the show with a lack of urgency in his performance, which should have been there.  But by the second act he acquires the necessary desperation needed for the character.  Perhaps the most riveting scene (both in acting, by Ms. Millican and writing, by Ms.  Mach) in the show is the monologue in the second act, in which she describes another demon that haunts her.  It is a spell-binding moment.

But veteran actor, Mr. Epstein, as the lead kidnapper, is absolutely wonderful to watch.  You can actually observe him thinking onstage, as he controls his partner to his bidding; deceives the golden goose, Mr. Ross (through letters); and weaves sweet nothings out of the air to entice children.  A masterly performance of a thoroughly evil man.

Mr. Nause, the Director, is always a pleasure to watch, as he creates the little, quiet moments, in contrast with the rough ‘n tumble of the more gregarious conflicts—an actor’s director.  I’ve never been disappointed in his directing of a show (or his performing).  Hopefully, we’ll continue to see his genius upon the stage, as his tenure of Artistic Director culminates this year.

Ms. Mach’s terrific script carefully balances her characters, never really taking sides as to her views but, instead, letting the audience make up their own minds as to who may be the villains or heroes of the piece.  And all the traits of these characters can easily be translated into our modern world.  A world, perhaps, not of color, but all shades of gray.

This production is well worth seeing and, hopefully, will prompt discussions of “stranger danger” with your children.  A side note, Ms. Mach also has another production premiering at the same time at the Third Rail (503-235-1101 or
www.ThirdRailRep.org ) at the Winningstad Theatre, A Noble Failure, about our education system.  This should be engrossing, also, as she is a teacher herself.   If you choose to see this fine production of The Lost Boy, tell them Dennis sent you.