Friday, February 28, 2014

The Glass Menagerie—Portland Actors Conservatory—SW Portland

"A Shattered Rainbow”

This early classic from Tennessee Williams is directed by Brenda Hubbard and is playing at their space at  1436 SW Montgomery St. through March 2nd.  For further information go to their site at

This was the first important play of Williams’ and put him on the map as an important playwright, becoming, in time, one of our greatest American writers.  It is semi-autobiographical and began as a one-act play called The Gentleman Caller.  It soon blossomed into a coming-of-age story about his early years in St. Louis during the 1930’s.  By the time of his death, in the early 80’s, he had become an icon of American theatre.

Like many great artists, his personal life was less than idyllic, battling with addictions and the reality of being gay.  But the depicting of his characters, especially women, in his plays, was a goldmine for an actor.  Blanche, Maggie the Cat, Stella, et. al. are all actors’ dream roles.  But the beginnings were Amanda and Laura from The Glass Menagerie.

The story is a memory play, where fact and fantasy are mixed, to create an illusion of reality.  It begins with the older Tom, as the Narrator (Tim Stapleton), describing and commenting on the events of his early life, when he worked in a shoe warehouse, just as his writing juices were beginning to flow.  We then meet his dysfunctional family in his younger self (Jonathan Ladd), his overbearing mother, Amanda (Beth Harper, Producing Artistic Director of the school) and his painfully, shy sister, Laura (J’ena SanCartier).

Young Tom is the bread winner, aspiring to be a writer, but in a dead-end job.  He yearns to be gone, like his father, a salesman “who fell in love with long-distance.”  His mother is demanding, overpowering and insufferable.  She adds to their meager income by selling subscriptions over the phone for a woman’s magazine.  His sister, has a game leg, purported to be taking typing lessons, listens to old records and is absorbed with her glass animal collection.  This is the main reason he stays around.

But Tom has his outlets, as his frequents bars and gets drunk, has dalliances with other men (Otniel Henig) and goes often to the movies, being transported to worlds of adventure, which he yearns for.  Finally an opening presents itself, as Amanda tells him he can leave as soon as Laura is married.  So, he soon finds a “gentleman caller” for her in his best friend at work, Jim (Matthew Ostrowski), who he invites to dinner.

Jim has an abundance of self-confidence and, during a private meeting with Laura, tries to encourage her to follow his example.  He does seem to win her over as, unbeknownst to him, she had a crush on his when they were in school.  He teaches her to dance, shares gum with her and even gives her first kiss.  But he has a secret which will destroy the whole family’s illusions of what could be.  I won’t be a spoiler and give the ending away, though.

The reality of Williams’ life is that he did run off to greener pastures and did reconcile with his mother, whom he took to the opening of the play.  Legend has it that his mother enjoyed the production but never saw the connection between herself and Amanda.  The fate with his real-life, older sister, Rose, is not as upbeat.  She was more than just “painfully shy” but had a mental disease and was confine to a institution for the rest of her life.  Tennessee was haunted by this aspect of his decision to desert her in his early life and, thus, this beautiful, heart-wrenching, poetic play.

Hubbard, an icon herself in theatre, has expertly laid the groundwork for this moving drama.  With simplicity, she has transported us back to another era of our history.  It feels like we are intruding by watching them emote, which adds a misty bond between them and us.  The Scenic Design (Tim Stapleton) and Lighting (Jeff Forbes) and Costumes (Jessica Bobillot) all add immensely to this “magic” show of disguises and illusions.

Harper was born to play Amanda.  She, herself, is also an icon in Portland theatre and more than proves herself worthy of giving us a view of what acting is all about.  That, blended with her teaching methods in her school, are an example of damn good theatre.  Stapleton, also a pro, as the Narrator, gives us a view of a thinly disguised, Williams himself.  Much of the poetry of this piece is in his speeches and he delivers them beautifully.  The fact that they choose to divide the character of Tom and the Narrator into two separate roles, I think, is a marvelous touch.

SanCartier as Laura is quite impressive.  This is a difficult role, as you must ride that fine line between shyness and “disturbed,” but she does it very effectively.  And Ostrowski, as her gentleman caller, is terrific and his rich, deep voice is a real asset to this role.  Between the two of them, and their obvious talent, their scene together is one of the highlights of the show.

Ladd, as the younger Tom, fares less well.  Although he seemed to be going through the motions of the character, I usually didn’t believe he was fully vested in the role.  His rages seemed to be a bit empty and his body language lack the urgency the character should have.  But, being a student, he still has plenty of time to improve which, in this educational atmosphere, I’m sure he will succeed.

I recommend this show but it only has this weekend to run, and last night was almost full, so best get your tickets soon.  And, being a school, I’m sure they would appreciate any donations you could afford.  If you do go, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Let a Hundred Flowers Bloom—Defunkt Theatre at the Backdoor Theatre—SE Portland

Life In A Death Sentence

This production is written by David Zellnik and directed by Paul Angelo.  It plays at the Backdoor space, at the back of Common Grounds coffee house, at 4319 SE Hawthorne Blvd. through March 22nd.  For more information, go to  It should be noted, this show is done in conjunction with the Cascade AIDS Project and they could both use your tax-deductable support to continue their important work.

This is labeled a love story, a love of life and living, as well as people.  The war with Aids is a battle on many fronts.  The struggle to fight the disease; the conflicts within society for equal recognition in marriage, if you are Gay; heated dealings with society because of your sexual preference; obstacles with religious factions; et. al.  And, in this offering, the choice to live and be happy, even with the threat of a death sentence.

Puppy (Matthew Kern), a writer of porn and confined to a wheelchair, is seeking recognition…and love.  He is lonely and has a secret which, considering his profession, would seem to be an obstacle in his career.  But he soldiers on bravely in spite of this.  His main source of income is working in a nuclear facility, where he frequently, sometimes deliberately, gets exposed to radiation, so that he can be scrubbed down by a stud named Rod (Chip Sherman).

His best friend, Jake (Andrew Bray), at the opening, has been hospitalized, as he withdrew from taking his medications for the disease.  His lover, Samson (Steve Vanderzee), is away a lot on business trips, researching a drug to deal with erectile dysfunction, some samples of which he sends to Jake, who promptly shares them with Puppy.  He also moves in with him, since Samson is so often away.

Puppy, needing more material for his new porn novel, talks Jake into experimenting with the outside world of Gay life and then relating back his experiences.  Being in a wheelchair, Puppy feels that it somewhat limits his sexual encounters, so Jake is a perfect conduit for them.  But he, himself, is also falling for him.

Jake meets a Latino shoe salesman, Addison (again, Chip Sherman), who is married and insists he’s not Gay, but does like to play around.  A relationship blooms, Puppy’s love for Jake grows stronger, and, of course, Samson finally comes home.  I won’t give away the conclusion but the thought one should take away might be that, even if death is all around you, and within you, one need not scrimp on life, living and loving.  To steal from Chip Sherman’s astute observation, from a quote from Lincoln:  “It’s not the years in your life that count.  It’s the life in your years.”  That’s not a Gay thing…it’s a human thing.

Zellnik’s script is strong and powerful.  From whatever observations or personal experiences he has drawn his story, it creates not only a specific view of a slice of life in a Gay world, but a universal lesson as to the preciousness of Life itself.  The direction by Angelo (next project directing Hamlet at Post5, opening March 27th) has the play moving along smoothly and easily, transitioning from one scene to another with minimal set changes.  And the set itself, by Max Ward, is very versatile.

Kern was terrific in The Submission last Fall and is equally good here.  The expressions on his face reveal as much of the story as the dialogue does.  And Sherman, in a variety of roles, always shines in the half dozen plays I’ve seen him in over the last several months.  His body language speaks volumes for him, which highlights the flexibility and depth of the creation of his characters.

Bray is exacting in portraying the complexity of his role.  You seem to discover, as he does, the multiple changes that occur, as he explores new avenues in a wider world that is opening up to him.  And Vanderzee gives a solid performance.  You understand the conflicted feelings that he goes through, in loving his mate but distancing himself at the same time.

I recommend this show but, be warned, it is very adult in nature.  If you do choose to go, tell them Dennis sent you.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Tartuffe—Post Five Theatre—NE Portland

“What a Piece of Work…”

This classic satirical farce by Moliére is directed by Tobias Andersen and is playing at Post5’s space at 850 NE 81st Ave. through March 16th.  This version is translated and adapted for the stage by Contance Congon.  For more information, go to

If you think you have viewed this play before…well, I got news for you…”ya ain’t seen nuthin’ yet!”  This version takes place in Texas, ripe with costuming from our modern times, with accents to boot, but uttered in iambic pentameter.  Wow!  A cattle-drive, which is just itching to cause a stampede, or destined to sink mid-stream in its own self-indulgence.  Luckily, the former is true, due entirely to Congon’s deft hand at writing in meter, Andersen’s marvelous sense of comedy, and a very talented cast.

The theme seems to take a poke at religion but is really a slap in the face to con-men everywhere, including religious fanatics, who take unscrupulous advantage of those truly seeking answers to universal questions, in which faith is a deciding factor.  If you blindly believe, you could be a sucker, if you don’t, you could be damned.  You see the dilemma.

In this story, Orgon (Keith Cable) is a very rich land-owner in Texas.  He rules it with his attractive wife, Elmire (Christy Drogosch) and cranky Mom (Tori Padellford).  The inheritors of said property are his rebellious son, Damis (Phillip J. Berns) and his obedient daughter, Marianne (Chelsie Kinney), who is engaged to Valere (Dennis Kelly).  They also have a rather outspoken, sassy maid called, Dorine (Sarah Peters), who keeps poking her nose into family business.  And there is also the practical brother-in-law, Cleante (Jim Davis), who also is a friend of Orgon’s.

Into their lives arrives the devious Tartuffe (Garland Lyons).  Taken in as a homeless creature, who seems to just need the basics in life, he quickly proclaims himself a prophet and feels it’s his duty to save this unfortunate family.  Orgon falls for his ploy hook, line and sinker and willingly gives Tartuffe anything he desires.  He even offers his daughter in marriage to this goodly man.  But his roving eye seems to fall onto Orgon’s wife, who spurns his advances, until she realizes it may be the way to revive her husband from his religious stupor.

To reveal more would spoil the ending.  But, let’s just say the Courts, via Loyal (Dan Robertson), and the Law, care of the Sheriff (Erik James), are heavily involved in the climax.  And, very fittingly, there is a Greek Chorus, in the guise of three authentic, Western singers, Davis, Peters and Larry Wilder, who provide musical commentaries on the proceedings.  Add it all up and you have not only an entertaining story, boldly presented, but something of a “Happening” (to use a 60’s phrase), in which you feel you have participated in an artistic event that uniquely transformed your perception of Art.

The Master’s touch, Andersen, is fully responsible for this marvelous evening.  He has always shown himself as one of the best local actors in the business and now he has garnered directing kudos, with this show, to his reputation.  His sense of comedy and timing works on all fronts in this difficult, poetic way of presenting a show.  And Congon’s script, writing in meter, is exceptional.  The set by Rachel Finn is very effective, giving the actors lots of room to play.  And the costumes, by Rusty Terwelp, add the necessary authenticity to the production.

The cast has uniformly seemed to have mastered the art of speaking in rhyme, and yet being able to present it as if they were carrying on a normal conversation.  My friend who was with me, having seen a traditional presentation of this show, said this was the first time he had actually understood the story.  And all three of the singers/musicians were top-notch, bringing easy applause from the audience every time they performed.  Bravo to them!

Lyons, as Tartuffe, was exceptional.  He plays the con so sincerely that you actually want to believe him.  Such is the secret touch of a real con artist, and a brilliant acting performance.  Cable, as Orgon, is equally good, presenting the authoritarian, bombastic patriarch like a steam-roller, akin to a Trump-type character.  Berns is always a pleasure to watch as the slightly screwy son.  And, in the pivotal role of the brash maid, Dorine, Peters is super traversing the tricky road of minding her station in the household but yet able to use common sense to question motives.

The only flaws come from the source material in the plot, as it is never explained as to who Tartuffe really is or why he does what he does.  And the ending is pretty flimsy, having no real discovery as to why the plot is thwarted, except that the powers that be simply didn’t believe him.  But those are only incidental in the enjoyment of this outstanding production!

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

Friday, February 21, 2014

Much Ado About Nothing—Battle Ground Drama Club—Battle Ground, WA

“The Play’s the Thing…”

This Shakespearean comedy is directed by Stephan “Cash” Henry at the Battle Ground High School.  It runs through March 1st.  For more information, e-mail henry.stephan@battlegroundps.orgThe Bard’s comedies all have the same recipe:  Strong female characters, usually masked or mistaken identities at some point, farcical character(s) to broaden the wit, striving to find a husband/wife, and complications with the parents.  And, of course, the marriageable ladies must be maidens (virgins) but not necessarily the fellows.  Going to war or having been a soldier is a plus for the men.  And having wealth and a spotless family heritage is also desirable.

So we find the Prince, Don Pedro (Cody Bronkhorst), coming back from the wars with two of his most eligible bachelors, Benedick (Tullee Stanford) and Claudio (Brendan Groat), looking for mates.  They find them in Beatrice (Sarah Russell), daughter of Antonio (Clifford Armstrong), and the Governor, Leonato (Dalton Hidden), in his daughter, Hero (Desiree Roy).  Hero is easily won over by Claudio, but Beatrice is a kissing cousin to Kate, the shrew, from another of the Bards’ works.  And he, Benedick, is equally stubborn and pig-headed.
So family and friends, Ursula (Bailey Baxter) and Margaret (Kira Wirt), servants to the ladies, conspire to get these two lovers together.  Meanwhile, back at the manor, we have a disgruntled Don John (Jake Gailey), brother to Don Pedro, desiring Hero for himself.  So he, and his mates, Borachio (Jeremy Syron) and Conrade (Cade Hansen), devise a method of smearing Hero’s reputation, giving the inference that she is not a maiden.

When Claudio is informed of this event, he vows to shame her on their wedding day.  He does and she swoons, presumed dead.  Don John skips town to let his cohorts face the music.  Dogberry (Sky Ring), the constable, has captured Don John’s underlings and they confess to concocting the whole plot.  Claudio is ashamed for his actions but, this being a comedy, he is forgiven and reunited with Hero, who is very much alive.  A wedding ensues and Benedick and Beatrice also join matrimonial hands.

The amazing and wonderful thing about this show, is that it is performed by high school students, in a make-shift stage in the school’s cavernous cafeteria, after school hours, with minimum budget for lighting, set, props and costumes and, considering these limitations, it is an admirable production!  The masks are quite effective and the set design, by Sundance Wilson Henry, is sparse but serviceable, as are the costumes.

Much of that success is due to the director, Henry.  It would be no small feat to guide any actor through the Shakespearean dialogue, but to have such young talent, eagerly attempting to grasp such difficult material, is a truly an applaudable endeavor.  May he live long and prosper!

Russell again shines as Beatrice, as she did as Mayella in their …Mockingbird.  She is probably the most precise in her use of the dialogue, and her rendition of the character is spot on.  She has a career in this field if she wants it.  Stanford, as Benedick, is also good and, for the most part, masters the speech.  Groat as Claudio shows promise, as he glides through his part.  And Roy is lovely and convincing as the naïve, Hero.

But the one to watch in this production is Ring, as Dogberry, the irascible but dim-witted, constable.  She is an amazing find!  Her speech, movements, timing, sight gags are true comic genius.  She pretty much dominates the scenes she’s in.  Again, a solid career in this field, I predict.  All the rest of the cast do good work and there is not really a weak link in such difficult prose and poetry.  Bravo.

One warning, being such a cavernous space, and with language unfamiliar to most audience members, it is important to be understood.  This space is not conducive to lines that are yelled, or voices rendered at a high pitch.  Work on slowing the cadence a bit and, especially, enunciation.

I recommend this production.  Note that it is produced by the High School’s Drama Club, so any monetary or backstage help would be, I’m sure, greatly appreciated.  They deserve your support!  If you do go to see it, tell them Dennis send you. 

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Bo-Nita—Portland Center Stage—NW Portland


This one-woman show features Kate Eastwood Norris and is written by Elizabeth Heffron and directed by Gretchen Corbett.  It is playing at PCS at 128 NW 11th Ave. through March 16th.  For more information, go to their site at  or call 503-445-3700.

Growing up in America is not easy anymore.  In fact, growing up anywhere is not easy.  But when you’re a 13 year old girl who grows up with a mother who is in and out of prison, a series of “uncles,” where drugs and alcohol are considered “staples” in their home, you’re sexual active (not necessarily by choice) and one typical weekend activity involves disposing of a purported dead body, would not be considered “growing up,” but surviving.  In a nutshell, that’s her life, up to this point.

At the opening, we see this young lady in a playground, surrounded by a typical childhood-type environment, appropriate for a mini-biography of a life she never had.  She is waiting for her Mom to pick her up from school.  And, while waiting, she chooses to share her story with us.  Her Mom is Mona, whose life is a series of dead-end jobs, uppers and downers, and lots of booze, which is occasionally shared with Bo-Nita.

She has a Gramma, called Tiny and her Gramps is referred to as, The Colonel.  Her father is possibly unknown to her, but her most recent ex-step-father, Gerard, seems to be a frequent visitor.  Then there is Jacques, Gerard’s French uncle and a new “uncle” called Leon (or LeRoy, depending on who’s talking).  And, oh, yes, didn’t I tell you, they are all voiced by Norris.  Not that she’s crazy (necessarily), on the contrary, these incarnations seems to give her perspective and are necessary in maintaining her sanity.

The major plot of this monologue (dialogue, perhaps) is that Gerard has had a heart attack while possibly attempting to sexually abuse Bo-Nita.  Having gained the upper hand, momentarily, she proceeds to pummel Gerard’s face to a consistency akin to cherry jell-o.  Meanwhile Mona is in the next room with her newest beau and, when discovering the mess on the floor, they devise an ingenious plot of disposing of this blubbery, bulky mass of bile.  To tell you anymore more of this outrageous escapade’ would give away too much.  Suffice to say, Gerard has not yet had the last word and there is such a thing as a “re-do,” or a second chance, in life.

To say that Bo-Nita has learned some important lessons about life in this exercise, might be an overstatement.  She learns that, like a fly in a bowl of warm milk, you may not like being trapped in it, but you do have to learn how to make the best of it.  And, another Bo-Nita-ism, “naked, white guys look just like uncooked dinner rolls.”  Or, how about this one, “what if life turned out just to be a mean joke.”  But, what she has really learned, is not to approach life as if you are a victim, but a survivor.  And, another discovery, you need to find “your own, personal beat.”  In the end, I believe she has.
Heffron’s story is quite remarkable and scary, too.  Even if it is only partly based on her life experiences, it is a brutal but, darkly humorous, at times, tale.  It would be interesting to see how other 13 years olds respond to this story, or have a gifted young actress portray it.  Corbett has done an amazing job of pacing the story to get the full impact out of it.  She gives the tale plenty of “breathing” space, letting it sneak up on an audience, giving the illusion that maybe the character herself is only just now being able to put her thoughts into words, a type of stream-of-consciousness, and we, as the audience, are discoverers, or voyeurs, ourselves.

And, to put it simply and bluntly, Norris is extraordinary!  Not only is she able to portray at least a half dozen other characters, with only minimal changes in her voice or posture, but we never lose track of the story.  She is so good, I simply can imagine anyone else doing the role.  In over 40 years in the business myself, I have rarely seen a performance to equal this!  In other words, even though the story might be off-putting to some, trust that Kate (and Elizabeth and Gretchen) will lead you through it with such a deft hand, you will feel transported by the experience.
To say the least, I highly recommend this show.  If you do go, please tell them Dennis sent you.