Friday, January 30, 2015

The Sexual Neuroses of our Parents—theatrevertigo—SE Portland


This intense drama is playing at the Shoebox Theatre space at 2110 SE 10th Ave.  It is written by Swiss playwright, Lukas Barfuss and translated by Neil Blackadder.  It is directed by Bobby Bermea and plays through February 14th.  For more information, go to their site at

The book and movie of the same name as above comes to mind as I watched the play.  Also the stage version of The Elephant Man, as well as a recent news story of a man trapped in his own body, fully aware of the world without but having no means of communication.  These individuals all have one thing in common, they are innocents being thrust into the “civilized” world, with no experience on how to deal with it, but having their own sense of personal identity and dancing as fast as they can to keep up.

Dora (Shawna Nordman) who was born with “a screw loose” and has been kept under sedation for most of her life.  Although easy to deal with, she is kept in a semi-catatonic state most of the time by her Doctor (Mario Calcagno).  But her Mother (Lisamarie Harrison) and father (Gary Powell) feel differently and sense there is a real human being locked inside.  And so they allow Dora to go off her meds.

Dora also works in a produce market where her Boss (R. David Wyllie) is sweet on her.  And his Mom (Jane Bement Geesman) is the only real sensible person Dora knows.  All this “education” by these individuals in her limited world goes along smoothly enough, with Dora actually aping the people she knows when she is unclear as to how to react.  But her world will be shattered by a Gentleman (Nathan Dunkin) who takes a fancy to her, and she discovers Sex.

Because of this, it is not long before she starts asserting her own personality into situations, as she becomes aware that she has herself choices, power and then responsibility for her own actions.  The path from then on is of her own making but deeply steeped in the environment from which she came.  The age old question of Nurture vs. Nature, as to the making of a human, comes to bear.

To tell more would be giving away discoveries an audience should make.  But the power of this play does not lie solely in the story, but the style in which it’s told.  This is related on an essentially bear stage with minimal props.  And it is stylized in the movements of the actors and performed beautifully as a type of interpretive dance at some points.  It is absolutely amazing what Bermea, the director, can do is such a confined area.  He has transported the story out of the ordinary into something quite extraordinary.

And his choice of cast seems perfectly in tune with his vision.  Harrison as the caring mother, who has a darker side, is wonderfully complex.  Powell as the distant father is a class act in any production he’s in and carries his part off well.  Wyllie is the simple little storeman, who you want to feel sorry for, but not quite.  Geesman, as his mother, is a delight, and her “street smarts,” may be the best friend Dora has.

Calcagno (a terrific Dr. Jekyll last season) is able to weave in and out of the complexities of this character with convincing ease.  And Dunkin, also always worth watching onstage, as the oily boyfriend, portrays a man you love to hate.  A couple of other things about these roles:  You’ll note, except for Dora, none of them have actual names to their characters.  Deliberate, I’m sure, by the author, but are they to represent the world of Dora, where she is the main focus, and all the others simply parts of the web that have been woven around her?  Maybe.  And none of these characters are totally black and white but shades of gray.  For all the things that are disagreeable about them, they do also have their agreeable sides, too.  Products themselves of a world gone…sideways?  Perhaps.

But the biggest kudos of all, are reserved for Nordman as Dora.  She is absolutely astounding!  The complexities and emotional and physical strains of the role would be shied away from by many actors, but not her.  I couldn’t imagine anyone else in the part.  She wrings every nuance out of the character and truly makes you feel for her. Bravo!   I hope to see more of her onstage.

I recommend this play but it is definitely R rated for adult situations and language, so be warned.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Gender Tree—Post 5 Theatre—SE Portland

“What a Piece of Work is Man”

This play is also part of the Fertile Ground Festival and is presented at their space at 1666 SE Lambert St.  It is written by Cassandra Boice and directed by her husband, Ty (co-founder and Artistic Director of Post 5).  FYI…into this “Fertile” atmosphere will be a new addition, any day now, for another budding artistic talent, I’m sure.  A wee thing but their own.  Congrats!  The play performs through February 14th.  For more information, go to their site at

This play would be hard to summarize in any coherent form, so I’ll do it in an incoherent way (which might match the play’s intent, anyway).  In a few words, it’s about how one identifies themselves, or perhaps, is identified by others.  One person might look at you and see a specific race or culture as your identity and, because of that, assume certain things.  Another might see you in your chosen career or economic field and make certain assumptions based on that.  Some might define you as to your religious or political beliefs.  Others, as to your sexual preference…

You see the pattern, don’t you?  It really is not the other person you’re analyzing, but yourself!  How you perceive things may not be how they see them.  As Atticus Fitch (To Kill A Mockingbird) observed, to truly understand another person, you have to get into their skin and walk around in their shoes for awhile.  That really can’t be done so, the next best thing might be to try and understand the species of life in general and how we involved into humankind.

Ms. Boice has chosen to relate this epic tale through the eyes of two individuals, a man (Philip J. Berns) and a woman (Rebecca Ridgeour).  The two of them go through many costume changes to define their roles and relationships in life.  There are the young children, discovering sex for the first time; a bondage relationship; exclusivity vs. open-ended connections; a “coming-out” period; educational forums; breadwinner role-reversals; pregnancy, continuation of the species vs. career choices; et. al.  This is certainly simplifying her issues but the discoveries should lie with the viewer.

The second act is done in gibberish and mime and quickly goes through the origin of life from the amoeba stage to our modern day, presented, again, mainly through the quick-changes of clothing and an absolutely astounding two actors.  There is also the addition of a slide show, with quotes from various historical icons, music from various periods of time as they evolve and video of the present-day common man expressing his views on gender and identity.

Ms. Boice has covered a difficult and complex subject in about an hour’s timeframe.  An amazing feat to be attempted and, even through not conclusive, certainly thought and dialogue provoking.  Amazingly, even though it would have been easy to fall into the trap of thrusting her own viewpoints of this into her work, she avoids that and doesn’t make any judgments on the lifestyles of the beings concerned.  Thankfully she allows us to glean what we will from what she weans.

Only two suggestions I would make.  The voices on the videos are very uneven and unintelligible sometimes.  Also a couple of minutes could be trimmed from the second act as it becomes a bit repetitious at times, although the actors are marvelous.  Mr. Boice has done a super job of keeping the story moving and the scenes clean for intent amid the rapid-fire chaos of the storytelling style.  And I can’t say enough good things about the actors.  They must be physically and emotionally exhausted by the end of the show.  Being an actor himself, Boice is familiar with the rigors of performing and can easily be called “an actor’s director.”

Berns is always an asset to every production he’s involved with, regardless of doing a one-man performance (A Christmas Carol) or only a small part in a play.  This performance is a true highlight in his career and, I’m sure, more will gladly be seen of him in the future.  Ridgeour is equally extraordinary.  She, like Berns, gives a clear definition to all the various incarnations she portrays.  She is also someone to watch for in future shows and would be an asset to any production.

I recommend this production but it is definitely adult in nature.  If you do choose to see it, please tell then Dennis sent you.

Woman on the Scarlet Beast—Post 5 Theatre—SE Portland

“Devil or Angel”

This intense drama is written by a local playwright, Caroline Miller, and directed by Cassandra Boice.  It is playing at their space at 1666 SE Lambert St. through February 8th.  For more information, go to their site at  This production is also part of the Fertile Ground Festival.

This is Portland in the 60’s, folks, and “the times, they were a’changin’.”  The influence of the Catholic Church on this family at that time (and the era before, the 50’s) was pretty significant, as it was for many families.  I know.  I, too, grew up in Portland and went to Catholic school (Holy Redeemer, St. Cecilia’s and North Catholic) during that period.  Looking back, for a child, growing up in that atmosphere, it felt very confining and restrictive.  It wasn’t yet the era of the amazing Pope Francis.

Guilt, then, was a major part of the diet of these families.  In this specific case, the family consists of a mother, Ruby (Adrienne Flag), a prostitute, confined to a wheelchair by a drunk driver, living on charity and what her johns can fork out; her mother, Dulce (Jane Fellows), living separately, but caring for her, a woman of infinite understanding; and Ruby’s daughter, Jenny (Olivia Weiss), having just recently been kicked out of the convent for “conduct unbecoming a lady of her station.”  A dysfunctional family, to say the least.

Into this arena are added an oily beast of a neighbor, Earl (Aaron Kissinger), an occasional john of Ruby’s.  And there is their parish, spiritual advisor, Father Benedict (Stan Brown), who has some cardinal feelings of his own.  Needless to say, this is not a match made in Heaven.  The play, as mentioned, has the main vein running through it, a series of guilt trips accented, for better or worse, by their Faith, or lack of.

It seems that Jenny’s father, whose parentage is in question, was a no-show in her life and her mother was too busy “working” to be of any solace to her daughter, so she is mainly raised by her grandmother.  And, being sent to a convent at an early age, because of her mother’s urgings, becomes a point of contention and brings things to a head when she moves back into their lives.  To tell more would give away some secrets so I will not do that.

The script is very intense, as it should be considering the subject matter.  But much of the second act is one, long diatribe among all concerned.  Being a sustained, emotional level, this does not give these very good actors anywhere to go once the build has peaked.  Hitchcock, a master of suspense and intensity, once said, that an audience, regardless of the harrowing situation, must be allowed a space to breathe.  So he would often allow a little diversion in the action, sometimes comic (darkly, perhaps), to let the viewer come down for a moment (to breathe) and then, like a roller-coaster, take you back up to the top of the hill to begin the assault on your senses anew.  This script needs that in the second act.

That being said, Boice has assembled some very fine actors for this emotional journey.  Flag, at the center of the storm, takes you from one intense emotion to another, showing you a desperately, unhappy person.  A heart-wrenching performance.  Fellows, as her Mom, is always a treat to watch onstage.  The focus she has in the characters she creates is very specific and moving.  Weiss, as the daughter, conveys this deeply troubled soul, who is yearning just to be love and accepted.  A touching performance.  Kissinger plays this creep to the nth degree, a man you love to hate.  And Brown, as the advisor, shows what is perhaps an honest portrait of a human being, deprived of a way to make physical contact to another only because of his vows.  Conflicting elements, well played.

Boice, a fine actor and writer in her own right, certainly is a godsend to actors and a script, as she understands these important attributes personally.  She has chosen her cast well and they are at the top of their game, I’m sure, because of her involvement.  Now, if she were only allowed a little leeway in influencing the writer…

I recommend this show but it is very intense and adult in nature.  If you do go to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike—Portland Center Stage—Pearl District

God Bless Stamp-Lickers!

This comedy by Christopher Durang is directed by Rose Riordan.  It plays at the PCS space at 128 NW 11th Ave. through February 8th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-443-3700.

Durang is known for his offbeat comedies, his keen eye into the human psyche and keen ear for dialogue.  This latest is a Tony-Award winner.  It concerns an acting family who live at their childhood home near a pond in the Northeastern part of the U. S.  And, being from artistic roots, the children have been named after Chekovian characters.  There is Vanya (Andrew Sellon), a struggling playwright; Sonia Sharonlee Mclean, his adopted sister; and the owner of the house, another sister, Masha (Carol Halstead), a famous movie and stage star.

There is another namesake from Chekov, a neighbor, Nina (Eden Malyn), an aspiring young actress.  And to round out the household is Cassandra (Olivia Negron), a sometimes maid and sometimes seeress.  And Spike (Nick Ballard), Mr. Body-beautiful, Masha’s latest main squeeze.  At the outset there seems to be no love lost between any of these characters.  Vanya and Sonia snipe at each other.  Marsha seems an unwelcome guest and Spike seems more interested in Vanya than his meal-ticket (and vice versa).  Cassandra is just annoying at times.  And Nina seems totally lost in this world of the idle rich and famous.

But invitations to a costume party seem to bring out the true nature of these people.  And Masha, micro-managing, as always, wants their costumes to be around a theme, in which she will be the main character, Snow White.  But, after the party, Vanya gets talked into presenting a section of his play for them all, so he becomes the center of attention.  And when an unpopular decision is reached by the owner, Cassandra has her own way of dealing with it.  To tell more would be spoiling the plot, so you must see for yourselves.

The surface story, although entertaining, is not where the richness of the production lies.  It lies in the snappy dialogue of Durang and the presentation of it by such fine actors.  All these characters are multi-layered and just when you get to disliking one, they do something quite nice.

Sellon is wonderful as the dour Vanya.  And his “stamp-licking” monologue is terrific.  Not only is it well-delivered but I agree with it whole-heartedly!  Part of the point being is what have we lost when we entered this modern, electronic age.  For us “stamp-lickers” there is something inherently wrong if you can’t still appreciate the beauty of sunsets, classical music, and in-person dialogues with one another.  A true example might be when I went to the beach with a friend to view the sunset, I noticed she was engrossed with her cell phone.  I told her she was missing something quite unique in the setting sun.  Her response was that she’d looked one up later on u-tube.  I rest my case.

Mclean is also wonderful as the misfit sister, feeling that she has lost something by being alone all her life.  Her “Maggie Smith” was terrific.  Halstead as the cranky sister is a gem of contradictions and she makes them all work for her.  Negron, playing the eccentric maid, is a little like Madame Arcati, lots of fascinating bluster with a good heart.  Malyn plays the wide-eyed innocent to perfection.  And, speaking of perfection, Ballard certainly has the right physique for the part and plays the gold-digger to the hilt.  All of them are spot on in their portrayals!

The set design (Daniel Meeker) was so convincing that you were inclined to just be able to walk onto it and possibly enter a whole new world.  I especially like the way the lights and music introduced each scene, very cute.  The costumes by Mike Floyd of Snow White and her entourage were very clever.  And Riordan has done a super job of dealing with comic timing and choosing a dynamite cast for this production.

I do recommend this show and, if you do go, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Skippyjon Jones—Oregon Children’s Theatre—downtown Portland

An Expansive Universe

This musical is based on the book by Judy Schachner and adapted for the stage by Linda Daugherty and Nick Martin.  It is directed by Stan Foote (OCT’s Artistic Director), choreographed by Sara Mishler Martins and musical direction by Jeffrey Childs.  The show is playing at the Newmark Theatre at 1111 SW Broadway through February 15th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-228-9571.

If you are a fan of Spiderman, Superman or Batman, then you should be a fan of Skippyjon Jones, an ordinary Siamese cat who, after donning a mask and cape, becomes the super-hero, El Skippito, an extraordinary Chihuahua, seeking a more purrfect life for all animal-kind.  Besides that, all it takes for the transformation to be complete is to escape to Closet-land where all sorts of adventures await a young, imaginative mind.

In my day, our super-heroes were much more down to earth in the guises of Tarzan or the Lone Ranger.  And my closet hid a monster (who sometimes lurked under my bed, too).  Also, the adventures we had were in the form of games, such as Cowboys and Indians (politically incorrect now, I’m sure) or War.  Games were much simpler then, as it was easy to identify the good guys, as they wore the white hats and rode off into the sunset with the gal.  Not so simple now, is it?

In this adventure, Skippyjon (Martin Tebo) is content to be anything other than a cat.  For awhile he fancies himself to be a bird, until he’s frightened out of the nest by the mama and besides, worms don’t taste so good anyway.  So he’s sent to his room by his mother (Danielle Valentine) to consider his plight.  Mom only wants poor Skippyjon to be more like his little sisters, Jezebel (Stephanie Roessler), Ju-Ju Bee (Hailey Tollner) and Jilly Boo (Haley Ward).  They are content to watch games shows all day, such as The Quiz Kitties Show, hosted by the Emcee (Gilberto Martin Del Campo).

But Skippyjon, confined to his room, is confronted by his Mirror alter-ego (Gilbert Feliciano), confiding to him that through his imagination, he can be anyone he chooses.  And so he enters his Closet-land where a pack of Chihuahuas rule (sort of).  But it seems, whenever they’re confronted with an obstacle, such as the supper-villain, El Buzzito (James Sharinghousen), a bee, who is set on stealing their beans, they run.  How it all turns out, you’ll have to see for yourselves.  But, suffice to say, first you must be comfortable with yourself, then you can let your imagination roam free.

There are some wonderful moments in this production, chief among them is Sharinghousen as all three guests on the Quiz Show, such as the street-smart, Scar, and the prissy Princess and Sir Mew-Mew, the audacious feline star of stage and screen.  He is also the chief villain in Closet-land and his outfit you have to see to believe.  All in all, he pretty much lights up the stage even more when he’s on.  Another highlight is Valentine’s remarkable singing voice, quite a treat.  And Tebo, as the main attraction, is very pleasant to watch and does nicely in the musical numbers.  He was exceptional a couple seasons back as Peter Pan at NW Children’s Theatre.

Feliciano has one of the better numbers with his roaring rendition of “You’re a Chihuahua” and Del Campo is appropriately snarly as the leader of the misfit dogs.  And, much to the show’s (and my) delight, three of the best young actors on the local stage, Ward, Roessler and Tollner, graced the boards together with their amazing talent and it becomes a magical place when they’re onstage.  I’ve touted them all before in my reviews (Tollner as the Neverbird in Peter Pan, Roessler as the cranky sister in Fancy Nancy and Ward in numerous productions).  Loved Tollner’s sleeping noises and the voice of the mouse, Ward’s very animated dog and cat, and Rossler’s lithe movements.  Only objection is that these young ladies need additional stage time to shine even more.  I’m sure we’ll be seeing all of them in future productions!

The set (Mark Haack) was fine in the depiction of two separate worlds and the lighting (Kristeen Willis Crosser) complimented it greatly with the beautiful, almost surreal colors, setting the mood for both worlds.  The costumes (Emily Horton) were very colorful and quite inventive, especially the Bee’s walking apparatus.  The music (Childs) and choreography (Martins) gave life to the musical numbers.  And Foote managed to pull out all the little nuances from the script to compliment a very talented cast.

Although the production was worth seeing, for all the above reasons mentioned, the script became a little tedious and repetitious at times, especially during the Quiz Show, which was overlong as written, and the opening, which didn’t grab you as it should.  But once the story arrived in Closet-land, it moved along nicely.  Again, not the fault of the talented cast and crew but of the script.

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