Friday, May 29, 2015

The Winter’s Tale—Anon It Moves—SE Portland

“A Tale of Two Cities”

This production is by Mr. Shakespeare and adapted and directed for the stage by Caitlin Fisher-Draeger (Founding member and Co-Artistic Director of this company).  It plays at the Shaking Tree space, 823 SE Grant St., through June 13th.  For more information, go to their site at

This is by no means the Bard’s best play so is seldom done.  It is assumed that the title, as mentioned by the director, is because it is a sad story.  But she has chosen to look at it as a play on words, that it could be justifiably called “Tail,” assumedly because the first Act could take place at the “tail” of a devastating Winter, giving rise to a redeeming Spring in Act II.  I like that concept.

It does seems like two separate plays, as one takes place in Sicilia, ruled by a tyrannical hereditary and the other country, Bohemia, governed by a type of benign democracy.  And, like all of his comedies, there are clowns/servants (who are usually wiser than their masters) and disguises galore (which, in reality, would probably fool no one).

But my argument with the play (not the production, mind you) is that the King’s evil side manifests itself with little or no motive (as does Iago’s in Othello and for similar reasons).  Yet these machinations form the whole reason for the plot to move forward.  He seems to need a contrivance in some of his plays (as in this one) to get the ball rolling.  And both of these plays have an (unfounded) jealousy to spur them forward to some amazing adventures.

But, that being said, the plot is (at least what I can tell you of it without being a spoiler) that that King of Sicilia, Leontes (Glenn McCumber) suspects his wife, Hermione (Erica Terpening-Romeo) of having an affair with Polixenes (Brian Demar Jones), the visiting King of Bohemia.  He relays his suspicions to his trusted adviser, Camillo (Paul Susi) and other close friends, Antigonus (Michael C. Jordan) and his wife, Paulina (Victoria Blake), but they will have none of it and Camillo actually flees with Polixenes back to Bohemia.

Herminone, who is with child, is actually brought to trial for theses supposed offenses and there are some tragic consequences to these actions.  By Act II, we are in Bohemia, where 16 years have passed.  Polixenes is concerned about his own daughter, Florizel (Isabella Buckner), who seems to be disappearing for odd periods of time.  So he and Camillo disguise themselves to go in search of her.  Princess Florizel, meanwhile, is well and happy and has found a new love in Perdita (Corey Maier), a shepherdess.  I cannot tell you more without spoiling the discoveries an audience should make.

The performers are all first-rate.  Among the stand-outs are Jones, who has a terrific presence onstage in such vehicles as this.  Terpening-Romeo plays her tragic figure well, being especially moving in her trial speech to the court.  Susi is also a powerful character onstage, having the courage to follow his convictions.  And Buckner, as the princess, also asserts herself well on the boards, letting a woman’s voice be heard and not letting status stand in the way of her true feelings.

And where the play veers into the magical and imaginative is in Fisher-Draeger’s choice to have clowns and circus performers become entrenched in the proceedings.  Although not technically as Shakespeare envisioned, perhaps, Players were an important part of his society at the time.  Note the key scenes in Hamlet, where the troupe helps uncover a mystery in the story.  To me, this points out the inventive nature of this theatre company, as they had done in their Hamlet, R&G Are Dead and The Fifth (next up for them is Cymbeline in mid-July at the Milagro space).

The Circus Project,  needs to be applauded, as well as the musicians (composer, Devan Wardrop-Saxton) also including John Bruner, Ethan LaFrance, Hayley McCurdy and Shanan Wolfe).  The clowns/actors were also an asset to the production (Adam Thompson, Winston Bischof, Chris Daniels, and LaFrance, McCurdy and Wolfe, too).  This group always raises the bar a notch when they do these productions.  I look forward to the next one.

It was a very hot night when I saw this, and no A/C at this point, as well as the space having a tin roof, which only added to the temp inside, so be prepared to dress accordingly and be well hydrated for the approximately three-hour production.  Also, probably because of the fans and the cavernous building, sometimes the actors’ lines could not be distinguished at times.

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

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Three Days of Rain—Portland Center Stage—Pearl District

“Random Happiness”

This comedy-drama is written by Richard Greenberg and directed by Chris Coleman (PCS’s Artistic Director).  It is playing at their space, 128 NW 11th Ave., through June 21st.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-445-3700.

Life is something that happens when you’re not paying attention.  It exists in the small, silent moments…in between the big, noisy events…that Happiness can raise its lovely head.  It can happen when nothing more needs to be said.

That will give you a hint of the quiet simplicity of Greenberg’s play.  It involves randomness, artistic drives…dreams…the need to be free…commitment…strong ties…loose ends…rich in mind…poor in spirit…love, laughter, death and life.  And memory, which may be the strongest ingredient of these people’s senses, might be the least reliable.  For what we see and hear may not be what actually happened, you can only know the facts by actually being in the other person’s shoes.  And that, in short, may be, in part, what this play is about.

The first act takes place in the mid-90’s.  Walker (Silas Weir Mitchell) is living in squalor in a run-down building in Manhattan.  He has been running, either toward something or away from something, for years, living here, living there, but never settling for long.  A random life.  Into the scene appears his married sister, Nan (Lisa Datz), needing to see him to settle their father’s, a famous architect, who has recently died, will.  Their mother has been in an institution for the mentally ill for years and is unable to handle things, so that task is inherited by their children, and his partner’s son, Pip (Sasha Roiz), a well-known TV actor, best friends to these two, also.

It turns out that, besides leaving millions in his will, there is also a famous home, the Janeway House, almost priceless, ownership to be determined.  Pip is single and well-off, Nan is settled down and has a family, and Walker is the wild card.  But Walker also has an ace-in-the-hole, as he has discovered a journal from their father, which may explain some mysterious incidents from their past, including a passage that reads “three days of rain” with no explanation.  Can’t tell you more without revealing plot devices you should discover.

In Act II we jump backward 35 years and see life from their father’s points of view, as this seedy building was actually their office.  Pips father, Theo (Roiz) seems to be the brains of the duo, and his less well-known partner, Ned (Mitchell), seems to know taste when it comes to drawings.  They may definitely be the original, odd couple.  Both totally different people but dependant on each other to make it all work, each one half of the whole.

Lina (Datz) has been Theo’s main squeeze for some time but doesn’t look like marriage is in the offering.  Theo decides he needs to be alone for awhile to create, so he’s off to his parent’s summer cottage.  Meanwhile, Lina and Ned meet randomly and chat about each other’s dreams and about Theo, revealing insights from Ned, this normally taciturn man.  Again, can’t tell you more with being a spoiler.

Coleman has let the dialogue and story evolve in a simple, loving manner.  Wisely done.  The set (Scott Fyfe) is amazing, both expressionistic and realistic, in its depiction of the central room and its surrounding environment.  And the actors are perfect for these roles.  I have not seen the films they are in, nor the Portland-made TV series, Grimm, in which the two male actors play roles in.  So my evaluation is based solely on their rendition of these onstage characters.

Datz is terrific in playing the dual roles of a no-nonsense woman in the first Act, then portraying a ditzy, Southern lady in Act II.  The two characters are worlds apart in their make-up but she is totally convincing in bother incarnations.  Roiz is the perfect, assured gentleman in Act I, then, as his father, the troubled genius, who has a reputation to uphold but may not have the actual talent for it.  He is wonderful in giving us the subtle variations of the two men.  And Mitchell is terrific as the scatter-brained vagabond in the first act, who runs at the mouth and says exactly when he feels.  And then changes gears in the second act as his father, the silent type who is uncomfortable with the outside world but totally at ease with his inner one.  Both roles are exacting in their demeanor, completely different, and brilliantly performed.  It would be hard to find a better trio onstage!

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

Sunday, May 24, 2015

The Lion—Portland Center Stage—Pearl District

Weathering the Storm

This one-man musical journey is written and performed by Benjamin Scheuer and directed by Sean Daniels.  It is playing in the Ellyn Bye Studio at PCS, 128 NW 11th Ave., through June 14th.  (Please be aware that it is only street parking, or a lot, or public transportation, in a very busy area of Portland, so plan your time accordingly.)  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-445-3700.

Journeys through the mind can be a tough row to hoe.  It can be painful, cathartic, joyful, sad and regretful, all at the same time.  Memories are not the way things happened, necessarily, but they are the way we think they happened.  Once we insert our own bias, ego, imagination, moods and temperament into the mix, we come up with a conglomeration of our own making…a world within a world.  And putting it to music creates its own rhythm.

Scheuer’s journey was not easy but something good came out of it--this show.  “Every cloud has a silver lining” and this is his.  But his story is not his alone, not just because there are other characters introduced into it but because it relates to all of us and our own stories.  We are all made up of stories…and stories within stories…and part of other people’s stories.  As this is told in a story-telling style it becomes accessible to everyone.

Claudie Jean Fisher, PR Manager for PCS, quotes the director, Daniels, “We want it to feel like it’s your friend coming over to your house and telling you this story….baring his soul to you……..It’s this art form’s competitive advantage.”  His adventure begins with growing up in a household in NYC with younger brothers.  At an early age he had an interest in music and he and his brothers formed a band.  His father, a guitarist and singer, and a math teacher, made him a banjo out of a cookie tin but never seemed to fully approve of his interest in music and would often have fits of temper.  Later he would understand why.

Some songs Ben sings concern lessons he learned from his father.  It’s not how hard you are hit in life that is important but how you weather the storm.  And, also, what makes a Lion, a Lion?  Is it his roar?  Later in life Ben learns the answer.  He also meets the girl of his dreams, Julia, and expresses in song why he loves her and he explains, “she makes me laugh” and “loving her will be easy.”  But Life doesn’t give you all sunshine, as he finds out the hard way.  And then tragedy strikes even closer to home and he discovers what is really important in Life and who he is.  “I learned to play like me.”

Can’t tell you all the details because they are for an audience to discover.  But Scheuer does convince us that he is just an old friend stopping by to visit and, oh, by the way, listen to my story, if you will.  And we do…and we applaud…and we identify with him.  We, too, have learned something today.  We and he are not too different after all.

Daniels has kept the show simple so not to intrude on the homey atmosphere.  The set (Neil Patel) also adds to that homey feeling but the wallpaper may take us a step deeper into Ben’s world, as it has the appearance of a golden jungle, or possibly, the “golden castle town,” as Scheuer refers to NYC.  And the lighting (Ben Stanton) is rarely static, giving us the feel that Ben is always moving in his journey, never really settling anywhere, physically or emotionally, for long.  They all lend their parts wonderfully to complete the whole.  (A side note, I noticed Katie Watkins is the Assistant to the Director, and I’m sure she is as fine at this job, as she was in the marketing area and my contact for Portland Playhouse.  Best to you, young lady!)

I recommend this show.  Saturday night’s show was full to overflowing and he received a much-deserved standing ovation.  If you do see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play—Portland Playhouse—NE Portland

Endless Night…Dawning Light?

This post-apocalyptic comedy-drama was written by Anne Washburn and directed by Brian Weaver (P/P’s Artistic Director).  It is playing at their space, 602 NE Prescott St. (parking lot, 2 blocks North on 6th Ave.) through June 7th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-488-5822.

Question:  Where were you when the lights went out?  Answer:  In the dark.  Some say the final days of this earth, as we know it, will end in Fire.  And with all the recent technology in bomb-making and nuclear facilities, it seems very likely.  But, for the survivors, will our world be one of darkness…endless night…or a new beginning…dawning light.  And what memories will we carry of…the old world?

According to Washburn, it may be that we will carry images of our pop culture, in this case, The Simpsons.  She may be right, as we would likely hang on to “comfort food” to get us through the night.  (In my case, my comfort food would be the old TV series, Perry Mason.)  And, like a night-light or our favorite childhood toy (mine was a stuffed Panda bear) or blankie, it would soothe the “savage beast” within us, so that we could negotiate our way through a “brave, new world.”

I really can’t tell you too much about the plot, as that would be giving away discoveries a viewer should make.  But I can give you the flavor of it (which is what I prefer to do, anyway) so that you can make up your own mind if it suits your tastes.  And if it doesn’t, take a leap of faith, go ahead and see it anyway, as it may just open up new avenues of your understanding of things.

Act I begins outside, around a campfire with some survivors of what appears to be an explosion of a nuclear facility on the East Coast.  (Yes, the audience will actually be outside for this part of the show, and then move elsewhere, as well.)  One participant, Matt (Brian Adrian Koch), relishes in reciting, pretty much verbatim, an episode of that cartoon show called, Cape Fear (based on two movies of that title, one with Mitchum & Peck, the other with DeNiro & Nolte).

What is interesting is that it’s important to get the lines, characters and sequence of events exactly right.  It is as if they are, perhaps, like our ancestors at the dawning of civilization, passing down an oral tradition to future generations.  Into their midst comes an intruder, Gibson (Isaac Lamb), who is able to fill in some of the story.  They also go through a ritualistic reviewing of names of past people they knew, again, perhaps, so they won’t be forgotten and, if there is news, the list can be updated.

Act II takes place in the basement (a type of fall-out shelter?) in which the troop is rehearsing a play, which they will tour to other provinces, similar in style to story-telling but larger in scope of passing on oral traditions.  It is now seven years later.  Again, the focus is still the Simpsons but with music, song and dance now added.  And buying and selling of dialogue from the Simpsons has now become a business enterprise.

Act III takes place 75 years later and they are now on a stage and have resorted to a primitive (in look and presentation) of the same characters but now all a ritualistic, musical interpretation (a crude type of a Survivor episode and, maybe, Lord of the Flies).  Mr. Burns (Koch) has become the villain of the piece.  And Itchy (Laura Faye Smith) and Scratchy (Tobias Andersen) continue their antics.  Homer (Lamb) is still the dunce, and Lisa (Cristi Miles) the brain and Marge (Kemba Shannon), the faithful wife with the rascal, Bart (Jennifer Rowe), being the one obstacle in Burns’s way.  You’ll have to see for yourselves if the world survives and, if so, in what state.

This is clever in the execution, with the idea of traveling to different locations, as would the cast in both time and place, anyway.  This must have taken an enormous amount of rehearsal, as the actors must not only enact characters but dance, sing and play musical instruments.  Weaver has done a masterful job of tying it all together.  And Ashton Hull’s costumes in Act III are amazing, creating a possible whole new look to a futuristic world.

The actors are just fine, all having their moments to shine.  I especially liked Rowe’s interpretive way of presenting Bart in song and dance.  And Koch is riveting as the villain of the piece, Burns.  And, of course, you have the ole pros, Andersen, an icon of Portland theatre as an actor and director, and Smith and Lamb, both accomplished in musical theatre.  And add the talents of Miles and Shannon and you have an exceptional cast.

I recommend this show but know that it is not what you might have seen in a “traditional” play.  If you do see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

(A side note:  P/P’s Apprentice Company is staging Inhale, 9 Auditions on June 9th and 10th at 7 pm.  Tickets are $10.  This is a chance to see young actors at work and what talents they will bring to future productions.  I believe they need a chance to be seen and experienced.)

Friday, May 22, 2015

The Undiscovered Country—Defunkt Theatre—SE Portland

Down the Rabbit Hole

This intense, adult drama about addiction is playing at their space in the back room of the Common Grounds Coffee House, 4319 SE Hawthorne Blvd. (it is street parking only, so plan your time accordingly) through June 20th.  The play is written by Portland’s DC Copeland and directed by Paul Angelo.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-481-2960.

This is a serious story about addiction, suicide, drugs, insanity and death (the “undiscovered country,” as per Hamlet, in which no man returns), make no mistake about it.  And the body count of the major characters at the end of this play is about the same as in Hamlet.  (No, I’m not being a spoiler, as the opening narrative tells us as much.)  The opening narration by Terry (Matthew Kern, Defunkt’s Artistic Director) also warns that the meek might, indeed, “inherit the earth,” but probably should make a quick exit now to avoid seeing the wrath of Life on the streets, as portrayed in these stories.

The four actors each play two characters in inner-related stories.  Terry (Kern) is on the lookout for true love and finds it in the body of Richie (Spencer Conway), who is, coincidently, playing Hamlet in the theatre.  Terry is also a supplier of drugs (as is his alter-ego, Bear).  He meets this delicious performer via his good friend Becca (Lynn Sher), also into drugs, who is in a loving relationship with Jess (Lauren Modica), that is, until she takes a walk one night and never comes back.

And then we have a rock star wannabe, Angie (Sher) and her abusive boyfriend, Tony (Conway).  Their whole lives are tied up with sex, drugs and rock & roll.  As mentioned, most of these people die by the end of that story but the dead don’t stay buried, it seems, as their ghosts come back to haunt the living.  As a warning, perhaps, not to enter that “undiscovered country,” or as an omen that they, too, will be crossing that river Styx soon.  Can’t really reveal any more, as that would be giving away some plot devices.

There seems to be no saving grace in this play, except as a caution to not go down this “road less traveled by.”  The story is relentless, raging, repetitious, and pulsating with the seemingly purposeless point to Life (much like the music/sound, Andrew Klaus-Vineyard, at the beginning of the play, and the lights, Peter West, during the show).  Angelo’s direction is much that way, too, driving mercilessly forward to the inevitable conclusion.

The actors must be emotionally and physically exhausted by the end of this explosion.  I have seen them all before and they are well chosen for these roles.  I was impressed by Conway’s Jekyll & Hyde transformations in character.  Kern plays well the sleazebag supplier, who just may have a heart, as well.  Sher is over the top as the rock star druggie, and appropriately subdued as Jess’s girlfriend, a fine performance.  And Modica is electrifying in her speech over the grave of her lost love, displaying all the bitterness and hurt one must feel in such a circumstance.

I can recommend this play for the powerful performances but the story is not for everybody.  Hopefully, though, it will speak to those who are involved with, or know someone who is involved with, an addiction or contemplating suicide.  This might be the jolt that they need to pull them back from the pit.  It is said that, if you stare too long over the edge, beware, for something evil might be staring at back at you, too, daring you to take that last step.
Check with for more information or call 1-800-273-8255 for suicide prevention, or 1-800-923-4355 for addiction problems.

If you do choose to see this show, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Our Country’s Good—Bag & Baggage—Hillsboro, OR

Dream Time

This adult drama was written by Timberlake Wertenbaker and adapted and directed for the stage by Scott Palmer (B&B’s Artistic Director).  It is playing at their space at the Venetian Theatre, 253 E. Main St. through May 31st.  For more information, go to their site at

The “Dream Time” in Aboriginal (native Australians) lore is a type of alternate reality or universe.  It is alluded to in a couple of good films from that country such as Walkabout and The Last Wave.  But another type of reality existed in England over two hundred years ago in which they chose to export their undesirables, such as convicts, the poor, prostitutes, the mentally or physically challenged, Jews, et. al. to the “uncivilized” Australia.

The trip over by ships was no treat for the prisoners or jailers alike.  Beatings and hangings took place on a whim.  But one officer, Lieutenant Ralph Clark (Andrew Beck), decided that performing a play with the prisoners was a diversion that would be beneficial to all concerned.  It also occurred to him it might also give them a hint as to another sort of life or society that they could eventually create for themselves once on the Continent.  It represents a type of microcosm of the world.

The play to be performed was a comedy called The Recruiting Officer and some of the prisoners taking part were Duckling (Cassie Greer), a sullen, snippy gal who had a hang-dog sailor, part-cripple, Harry (Luke Armstrong) panting after her.  There was Liz (Clara-Liis Hillier) a head-strong, no-nonsense lady-of-the-night.  Also, Mary (Arianne Jacques) is a shy, quiet sort who turns out to be a good actress.  Then there is Meg (Jessi Walters), her friend and opposite, a very outspoken and pushy woman.  And, there was Black Caesar (Damaris Webb), whose only fault was the color of her skin.

And the fellows were Sideway (Gary Strong), a corpulent, hearty fellow, the funnyman of the group who relished in the emoting of his role.  Wisehammar’s (Peter Schuyler) only fault was that he as a Jew, a minority and so shunned by “polite” society.  And, perhaps, the most undesirable of all, but a necessary fellow, was the hangman, Ketch (Colin Wood), who tries mightily just to be accepted as a human being.  All these characters and more, played by the same actors, will reveal the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortunes” as befell them, and experience the effect of Art on the human spirit.

Palmer’s adaptations are always fascinating and this production is no exception.  He shows what can be done on an essentially bare stage and then creates an entire world through the talents of his artists, the words of the creator and our imagination.  It doesn’t get any better than that.  He also exposes some forgotten bits of history and literature into a whole new light, as he does here.  I hope to see his creations prove fruitful and multiply for many Seasons to come.

The cast, most of them playing two or three roles, are exceptional.  Greer is always a stand-out in all the shows she does for them, always giving extra depth to the roles she plays.  Hillier has played on many stages, including NW Classical and Theatre Vertigo, too.  And the amount of diverse characters she has portrayed speaks volumes about her talent.  Strong has some of the best comic timing in the biz and it shines here, also, as a big man just trying to be noticed as a real person.  Armstrong is particularly moving as a misfit wanting so desperately to be loved.  And Beck handles the focal character very well, giving us a decent man but conflicted between his duty and personal connections with his cast.  They all have their shining moments in this play and, as always, a powerful ensemble.

I recommend this play but it is for mature audiences only because of the subject matter.  If you do see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Ramona Quimby—Oregon Children’s Theatre—downtown Portland

Growing Pains

This family production is written by Northwest native, Beverly Cleary and based on her “Ramona” series of books.  It is adapted for the stage by Len Jenkin and directed by Elizabeth Richard (sign interpreted for this show by Don Coates).  It is playing through May 31st at the Newmark theatre, 1111 SW Broadway.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-228-9571.

The above statement might explain why Ramona is commonly considered a pest.  Time passes so s-l-o-w-l-y when you’re a child and then goes too >> when you’re an adult.  Go figure.  So time in the 3rd grade must feel like a prison and your parents and teachers, the jailers.  But, somehow, things work out in the end.  As Ramona’s older sister, Beezus says, “People live here and sometimes they’re happy, and sometimes sad, with all their small everyday adventures—and their life goes on—in a kind of miraculous way.”  So true, so true.

Cleary herself spent some time as a child on Klickitat Street in Portland and so these memories are based on that neighborhood and her time as a child.  The play is narrated by the elder sister, Beezus (Annabel Cantor), who definitely has a biased view of Ramona (Steele Clevenger).  It seems that Ramona is always getting in trouble at home, like putting toys in the oven, fighting with her sister and generally trying to rule the roost.

Her mother, Dorothy (Kymberli Colbourne), seems a decent sort, trying to keep the home in order for her children and her husband, Bob (Rick Huddle), who works in a frozen food warehouse run by Mr. Frost (Darrell Salk).  But Ramona seems more at ease with her Aunt Bee (Tiffany Groben) and longs to live with her.  But this is not to be, as Bee becomes attached to the next door neighbor’s son, Hobart (James Sharinghousen), and so she has less time for Ramona.

School doesn’t seem to cut her any breaks, either.  Granted, she does have her best friend, Howie (Iain Campbell Demarest) in the same classes but the teacher, Mrs. Griggs (Paige Jones) seems to hate her and the teacher’s pet, Susan (Bella Freeman-Moule), gets all the attention.  Life just doesn’t seem fair and it isn’t fair, according to Ramona.  But Time has a way of making things better, as she discovers.

The story may seem slight to adults but I’m sure it rings true for young people.  Of course, nowadays, childhood is a much more complicated place with social media, bullying, drugs, gangs, school shootings, et. al.  But a couple things this play points out that are still relevant, is the fact that losing one’s job and having to deal with a reduced income can still have a devastating effect on a family.  And smoking is still a major problem with parents and youth.  I remember when my sister asked my Dad to quit smoking and he promised he would if she would never start.  And it worked.

The performers are all very competent, with Jones and Sharinghousen having appeared in many other productions around the area and always being good, as they are here, also.  Clevenger as the “brat” is, quite appropriately, annoying to the point of being like long fingernails on a chalkboard.  Impressive little actor.  And Cantor has an assurance in her role that is very much adult in application.  Especially in the narrative parts, which are never easy to make interesting.  But she does engage the audience quite nicely and makes you want to listen to her.  I look forward to seeing both of these young ladies again onstage.  Richard has done a good job of keeping things moving and making the scenes interesting.

I recommend this show.  (A side note, it’s never easy to find parking downtown, so plan your time accordingly.)  If you do see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Storefront Revue: The Babes Are Back!!—Triangle Productions!—NE Portland

“…When Will They Ever Learn…?
This musical revue is written by Donnie and directed by Donald Horn with music direction by Jonathan Quesenberry.  It plays at their space at The Sanctuary on Sandy Plaza at 1785 NE Sandy Blvd. through May 30th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-239-5919.

The importance of theatre for a community is that it expands the mind and imagination to “boldly go” to places beyond pedestrian understanding.  The importance of theatre to a performer is that it breeds self-confidence and builds character.  And so why is it always such a struggle to keep it alive?!  When will we ever learn that what we make of this world on the outside depends on who we are inside, and The Arts are a cornerstone to that.

Art and communication go hand in hand all the way back to the Stone Age, if you will, and cave paintings.  We have a need to express ourselves.  The Northwest has a long history of theatre.  Seattle has been a thriving community of the Arts.  And the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, now it is 80th year, is still going stronger than ever!  Portland, too, has a long history and a pretty impressive array of theatres in the larger Portland area now, maybe as many as 100.  But that did not happen without some major overhauls over the years…an evolution and revolution of the theatre scene.

Storefront, as I remember it, was in the Paris theatre near W. Burnside, their “real” home, as I see it.  But it started from Tom Hill (Kurt Raimer) at Portland State and the American Conservatory Theatre, doing Guerrilla theatre on the streets, consisting of political themes, then expanded to North Portland with Anne Gerety (Lisamarie Harrison) with skits and songs (and drugs and booze and sex) into a Rent Party in a house.  Ric Young (David Swadis) became one of the key designers and directors at this point.

Getting into the school system and receiving Grants was key to their evolving.  They moved to The Old Church and finally to their permanent home near W. Burnside.  Here they had their longest-running and lasting success in Angry Housewives.  Eventually they got in over their heads when they jointly decided to expand to the Winningstad Theatre to get more exposure, but this spelled the beginning of the end for them, too.

This Revue not only brushes over the history of the group but includes some skits and songs that made them famous.  They were outrageous, politically incorrect, and damned talented!  They took on issues of the Kent State murders, the political leaders and the Viet-Nam war.  Then Aids raised its ugly head and took away one of their talented leaders, Ric Young.  Some correlations could be made in the type of theatre they did with SNL, Monty Python, Darcelle’s and the play, Hair.

Theatre is an Art that is obsessive and possessive; passionate and compassionate; all-consuming and all-absorbing.  You are born with it but Art is a cruel mistress and, if it finds you worthy, will guide your course.  Storefront had these attributes in its members.  Donnie’s recollections of that brave new world is spot-on.  And his cast and orchestra are mostly too young to remember that era but they are dynamite when performing it.  Kudos, as always, to the incomparable Quesenberry and his band of renown—atta-Jonnie!  The ladies are a standout in “Eat Your Fucking Corn Flakes” from Angry Housewives.  And the black-light striptease is genius.

The cast is made up of some wonderful performers, some I’ve given kudos to in the past, such as Danielle Purdy, heartbreakingly funny is her solo of waiting for 18 years for her boyfriend to call.  She is one of the best performers in this area (and looks just fine in a black slip).  Also, Lindsay Nicole Schramm is a hoot in character roles, as she was in Rocky Horror….  Harrison and Raimer are good at playing the leaders of the pack who are dismayed as the troop evolves into a different realm of discovery.  Joey Cote’, Matthew Belles and Leah Seligman fill out the ensemble and give extra relish to an already satisfying meal.  And Swadis is terrific as Young, giving full flavor to this delicious artist, too soon taken from us.

As my friend, Mr. Paull, pointed out, Storefront was like a Petri dish in a lab, waiting to be nourished to survive... to see a germ of an idea, blossom.  And for awhile, it did.  But now others have taken up the reins, such as Triangle and Defunkt and Post 5, et. al. to carry on the traditions as set down by Storefront.  From the ashes, a Phoenix will rise, but it is good to be carried back to a moment in time when it all began.  “Lest we forget…!”

I recommend this play as a must for all theatre lovers.  If you do see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Friday, May 15, 2015

The 1940’s Radio Hour—Battle Ground High School—Battle Ground, WA

Gone Are The Days…

This nostalgic musical is presented in The Lair at BGHS, 300 W. Main St.  It was written by Walton Jones and is directed by Stephan “Cash” Henry, music direction by Darcy Schmitt and set/costume designs by Sundance Wilson Henry.  It is playing through May 16th.

The “good ole days,” how often have we heard that expression?  But, depending on what age you were, those “days” may be different eras for each of us.  In this case, it is a time before TV’s and personal computers and cell phones.  And why take a trip back in time?  Because, as the Director (Henry), has so eloquently said, “…it is important to just turn it all off and listen to life around you, to reconnect with the world outside of a three foot bubble that exists when we lose ourselves in the grip of social media.”  Amen!

The radio play takes place in a studio in New York City on Christmas Eve, 1942.  The story is a broadcast of one of their shows, complete with PSA’s, commercials, songs, dances (there is a live audience present), a play (“A Christmas Carol,” naturally) and the usual backstage dramas that occur when a close-knit family gathers.  In this case, the host and founder of the six-year old program, “The Mutual Manhattan Variety Cavalcade,” is the amiable, Clifton (Reagan Joner) with his second-in-command, the ever-patient, Lou (Andre Roy), his  able soundman, Stanley (Marcus Perry) and his cranky, security fellow, Pops Bailey (Cade Hansen), also a bookie on the side.

Into this network of radio waves are the performers.  There is the playboy-star, Johnny Cantone (Cody Bronkhorst), a bit of a lush, with eyes for very talented, Ann (Brianna Sievers), a top vocalist.  There is the flirty, flighty, Ginger (Cassidy MacAdam) who is sweet on Lou, and the newbie, Connie (Desiree Roy), the innocent ingenue, who has a thing for B. J. (Nic Manuel), an up-and-coming, young singer.  Then there is the comic and character actor, Neal (Skyler Denfeld), looking for romantic parts, and persistent Wally (Brendan Groat), eager for his big break into show biz.  And the diva, the sultry, Geneva (Francesca Dixson), who has eyes for the playful pianist, Zoot (Cade O’Haver).

And there is the Quartet (Emily Christensen, Jordan Ledbetter, Elijah Ortez and Tristan Decker), a trumpeter and soldier, Biff (Levi Schenk) and the rest of the orchestra.  Although there was no list of the songs or the singers, I did recognize some familiar tunes.  There was “Boogie, Woogie, Bugle Boy,” “Blue Moon,” “How About You,” “I’ll Never Smile Again…,” “That Old Black Magic,” “My Mama Done Told Me…,” “You Go To My Head,” and some Christmas favorites, of course.

You’ll have to “tune in” for yourself to see how all these little intrigues turn out but the pleasure in the play is recreating an actual broadcast situation from long ago.  And the crowning glory for me was the silent, little inter-plays between characters as the story progressed.  The actors were always in character and you understood all the muted signals they gave.  This, I’m sure, was from some very concentrated efforts of a talented cast and an even more studious Director (Henry).  And the set, costumes and wigs were spot on for the period, thanks to Mrs. Henry, et. al.  Well done, all!

My favorite moments in the plays were Ginger’s (MacAdam) slyly, sexy ad-libbing of a commercial; the melt-downs of Johnny (Bronkhorst) and Neal (Denfeld); and the simply, super vocalization of Ann (Sievers), who easily has a career as a singer if she chooses.  Also the orchestra was good but did overpower some of the singers at times.  And one more note, these young people were not even alive when this period in history took place and to see them so convincingly recreate that era is absolutely amazing!  This company always does worthwhile material and they have a fine cast of young actors, as well as a very talented director/teacher in Henry.

I recommend this show but hurry, it ends Saturday.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Breaking Glass—Theatre Diaspora at Artists Rep—SW Portland

A Glass House of Broken People

This is a MediaRites Project as an introduction to a new Asian-American theatre company.  The next production takes place at Portland Center Stage on Sunday, May 17th at 2 pm, for tickets visit It is written and directed by Dmae Roberts.  For more information, go to their site at

Glass is fragile, it is transparent, it can be colored and it is easily broken.  It suggests the end of something…but, perhaps, the beginning of something new, too.  It suggests change or evolution.  Beauty can be made from broken glass. 

Most families have a certain amount of dysfunction within the unit, simply by the fact that each person is different, having different dreams and needs.  In this case Mei Jen (Elaine Low), the mother of the clan, is Taiwanese and has her own views of how children should be raised.  But Buddy (Bruce Burkhartsmeier), her husband, is a white American, and is not necessarily of the same mind.  The clashing of two cultures is passed on to their children.

Jimmy (Samson Syharath), the son, is a quiet soul, made fun of by his schoolmates because of his race.  A reclusive sort who finds solace in making art out of broken glass (not unlike Laura in The Glass Menagerie).  But he finds a friend in Monica (Zoe Anderson), a special needs student, who sees the sensitive soul he really is and can appreciate that.  But the main character, Ricki (Tonya Jone Miller), finds the turmoil to be too much.  She must work in the mill to earn money, with her mother and Monica, but her heart is drawn to the big city and a college education.

And they all have their dream life where they are the heroes.  Mei Jen has a very successful restaurant with her family in supportive roles.  Jimmy is in deep space with his fearless crew fighting off invaders.  But dreams and reality don’t often mesh.  And when something traumatic happens in this family, it comes to a head and lives are changed forever.  I can’t tell you more for fear of revealing discoveries an audience must make.

This play (Roberts) resonates with the ring of truth, meaning that it must be personal for the author on some levels.  Also the dialogue has a natural rhythm to it, a sense of authenticity and reality, much like Shephard’s and Mamet’s dialogue.  And the story is universal.  (I loved the dream sequences.)  Although many families may not be of mixed heritage, they all have the angst of growing up and growing outward into the bigger world.  This is definitely a play that will be thought-provoking and worth seeing.

The cast is well chosen and very good.  Low (having been in the play 20 years ago) is wonderfully dynamic as the mother, showing us the conflicted sides of how she was raised, but now dealing with the reality of raising her own children in a totally different environment.  She gives a well-rounded portrayal.  Burkhartsmeier is an old pro in theatre around here and he shows he’s still got the chops for it.  Again, a conflicted man, trying his best to keep his wife happy, but understanding the need for his children to spread their wings.  A heart-breaking performance.

Syharath, as the brother, reveals what can happen to a sensitive soul trapped in an insensitive world.  His gentle portrayal is touching.  Anderson (borrowed from the PHAME Company) is totally convincing as compassionate soul who has no way of hiding her feelings.  She is just fine and your heart goes out to her character.  And Miller, as the focus point of the story, is excellent as the daughter, trying to make both worlds work, but seeing it may be a futile effort.  She definitely has some talent and I hope to see her again onstage.

I recommend this show and you should check out the company for future productions of plays.  If you do go to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Fingersmith—Oregon Shakespeare Festival—Ashland, OR

Weaver of Webs

This thriller will be playing at the Bowmer Theatre through July 9th.  It was written by Sarah Walters and adapted for the stage by Alexa Junge and directed by Bill Rauch (OSF’s Artistic Director).  For more information, go to their site at or call 541-482-4331.

Conception, deception, perception…just everyday occurrences in the life of a Fingersmith.  A touch of Dickens (Oliver Twist and A Tale of Two Cities), a dose of The Bad Seed, a pinch of The Collector and a plot that would make Christie proud.  These are the ingredients of a gothic-thriller stew of about 150 years ago.  “Oh, what a web we weave.”

Being that there are so many twists and turns to this story, it begs one to pay very close attention or you may lose track of the plot.  It is also told in a story-telling theatre style, meaning that the characters also narrate the story as it proceeds, which is a device I like.  But, that being said, since the element of surprise is crucial by the end of the first act, there is very little of the story I can tell you without being a “spoiler.”

It starts in a type of orphanage for unwanted babies run by Mrs. Sucksby (Kate Mulligan).  The babies are either sold off or raised to be petty thieves and pickpockets.  Sue (Sara Bruner) is one of those children and becomes a fingersmith (or, expert pickpocket).  But Richard, a senior member of this den of thieves (Elijah Alexander), has other ideas for Sue, as she is almost a double for a rich, reclusive young lady, Maud (Erica Sullivan), who lives in a house with her uncle (Peter Frechette), a writer and bookseller.

And since he is in employment with this uncle, it would be no trouble for him to have Sue hired on as Maud’s maid, then Richard would marry Maud, so he would be heir to her fortune, and then they would dispose of her in some way and Sue, as the fake Maud, would inherit all (sound complicated to this point…oh, you have no idea…).  Anyway, that is the initial plan on the surface.  But like all good mysteries, people may not be as they seem and things have a way of going awry.  At this point, I will have to beg off the rest of the story and say…you’ll just have to see it for the even more complex conclusion.

The set (designer, Christopher Acebo) is magical.  OSF always has such a marvelous way of presenting staging for their shows.  This one is basically one giant set that becomes many places by just quickly changing pieces of furniture and lighting (designer, Alan C. Edwards).  And Rauch has an equally magical touch in fitting pieces of the jigsaw puzzle together.  He has chosen his small cast well, assuming many different characters throughout, and still has managed to keep the story coherent.

The cast is uniformly excellent, as in all of OSF’s shows.  Bruner and Sullivan stand out as the two leads, giving us some very complex characters and their execution of these portrayals is spot on.  The rest of the cast is also exceptional, playing as many as four roles, each of them a distinctive character.  OSF is known for its professionalism and this is a good example of getting the very best people, both onstage and behind the scenes.

The only exception I would take is not with the production itself, but with the script.  The writer becomes somewhat self-indulgent in the latter part of the story, showing us how clever she is in fooling the viewer.  Although the twists may flesh out the story and characters a bit more, it becomes somewhat repetitious for an audience.  As a young astute friend of mine pointed out, “we get it, already, you don’t have to hammer us over the head with it.”  Couldn’t have said it better myself.  But, even with that being said, the production itself is first class!

I recommend this show.  If you do see if, please tell them Dennis sent you.

The Ashland Experience (Part III)

No trip to Ashland should be complete until you have taking a stroll (or run) through Lithia Park.  There is a duck pond to muse by, picnic tables for lunches, a playground for the young ones and the Beauty of Nature surrounding you.  It doesn’t get any better than that, folks.  You also might partake of the Greenleaf Restaurant (on the Plaza), for the healthy-food minded, or one of the pubs near the creek with outdoor seating.  The Varsity movie theatre has not only first run films but Indie and foreign films as well.  And the Cabaret Theatre has musical revues for your enjoyment.  Enjoy!

 Photo by Dave Paull

Friday, May 8, 2015

Guys and Dolls—Oregon Shakespeare Festival—Ashland, OR

A Sure Bet

This classic musical from the 50’s is playing at the Bowmer theatre through November 1st.  It is directed by Mary Zimmerman, with musical direction by Doug Peck and choreography by Daniel Pelzig.  It was based on characters by Damon Runyon, with music and lyrics by Frank Loesser and book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows.  For more information, go to their site at or call 541-482-4331.

The play takes place in the (Damon) Runyon-ese New York City of the 1930’s, when bootleggers, strippers and gangsters ruled the downtown.  But through Runyon’s eyes, he saw them as marvelous characters, more naughty children waiting to be tamed by a good man or woman.  The stage version had Robert Alda (Alan’s father) and Sam Levine as the male leads with Vivian Blaine (reprising her role for the film) as Adelaide.  The film had Brando and Sinatra in it.

The musical is pretty typical of those plays of the 50’s, with two people of different backgrounds merging together in the end, as servants of Cupid’s arrows.  And, of course, there are the supporting, usually comic or humorous characters, best buddies, who are usually wiser then the young lovers.  And, of course, there must be obstacles to overcome before the love birds can nest.  Actually much like Shakespeare’s comedies, which is probably why he is considered a universal writer.

In this incarnation, Sky (Jeremy Peter Johnson) is a roving, good-natured gambler of horses, Crap games and just about anything that moves, he’ll bet on.  His counter-part in this love game is the straight-laced, Sarah (Kate Hurster), a Salvation Army leader, out to reform the city, seemingly singlehandedly.  Then, there is the veteran hustler, Nathan (Rodney Gardiner), running a floating crap game, able to appear in any part of the City.  And his main squeeze is a burlesque dancer named, Adelaide (Robin Goodrin Nordli), not the sharpest knife in the drawer, who he’s been engaged to for 14 years.

An important mobster from Chicago, Big Jule (Richard Elmore), has arrived in town to attend this infamous game.  But Nathan and his henchmen, Nicely-Nicely (Daniel T. Parker), Benny (David Kelly) and Rusty (Joe Wegner) are having trouble finding a spot for the big game.  And it doesn’t help that Lt. Brannigan (Robert Vincent Frank) is breathing down their necks, hoping to round up the whole gang.  Will the elusive Sky win over the strict schoolmarm?  Will Adelaide get her wish of a diamond ring on her finger to cement their relationship?  Will Nathan find a spot for his infamous game?  Well, you just have to see the show, won’t you, to find out.

This show is so full of pep that even the Energizing Bunny would find it hard to keep up.  It has loads of popular songs, and the dance numbers (Pelzig) are absolutely astounding!  Nordli wows you with her “Adelaide’s Lament,” and Parker knocks your socks off with “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat.”  And Zimmerman has done such a super job of keeping things moving that the set changes become part of the show.  All in all, a rowdy, rollicking, romp seen through rose-colored glasses of a by-gone era.

The performers are all amazing being, not only good singers and dancers but good actors as well, a triple-threat as Broadway would say.  Gardiner and Johnson are wonderfully adept at playing the smooth but not always bright, conmen.  Hurster has a good voice and is very funny when she finally lets her hair down.  And Parker really knocks’ em dead with his voice.  As well as does Nordli, who is a powerful belter and shows it.  But, for me, the dance numbers (Pelzig) knock this show out of the park!

A side note, back in ‘67 or ’68, I performed Big Jule in SOC’s (now SOU) musical of this show.  And the director of it was, none other than Dr. Angus Bowmer, the Founder of OSF.  I greatly appreciated taking classes from him and being directed by his artistic hand.  What he started some 80 years ago will truly echo loudly for generations to come!

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

The Ashland Experience (Part II)

My favorite place to stay when in Ashland, is the Ashland Springs Hotel.  It is right in the middle of town, next door to the OSF theatres.  It also has secured parking so you can easily walk to anything downtown during your stay and never have to use the car.  It also has a very fine complimentary breakfast which is both nutritious and filling.  And the rooms and the staff are very pleasant. Check it out at or call 1-888-795-4545. I highly recommend this place.  If you do stay there, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Photos by Dave Paull

Much Ado About Nothing—Oregon Shakespeare Festival—Ashland, OR

“The Food of Love”

This popular comedy by the Bard is playing at the Bowmer theatre through November 1st.  It is directed by Lileana Blain-Cruz.  For more information, go to their site at or call 541-482-4331.

The 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.

There are also one or more comedic clowns, usually servants or civil service individuals, that seem to have all the answers via observations of the upper crust.  And there always has to be an opposing force or villainous sort of person who, for often flimsy or unknown reasons (as in this case) simply wants to do harm to love’s machinations.
So we find the Prince, Don Pedro (Cristofer Jean), coming back from the wars with two of his most eligible bachelors, Benedick (Danforth Comins) and Claudio (Carlo Albán), looking for mates.  They find them in Beatrice (Christiana Clark), and the Governor’s, Leonato (Jack Willis), daughter, Hero (Leah Anderson).  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, as well as Ursula (Robin Waisanen) and Margaret (Allison Buck), servants to the ladies, conspire to get these two lovers together.  Meanwhile, back at the manor, we have a disgruntled war vet in a wheel-chair, Don John (Regan Linton), sister to Don Pedro, conspiring with her henchmen, Borachio (Barret O’Brien) and Conrade (Armando McClain), to devise a method of smearing Hero’s reputation, giving the inference that she is not a maiden.

But all does not go quite as planned, as a vigilant police force under the ever-mobile, Dogberry (Rex Young), the constable, and his underlings, Verges (Eileen DeSandre), his mother, and George (Lucas Lee Caldwell) and Hugh (Cesar Perez Rosas) have overheard the details of the plot and strive in their own inept way, to bring justice to all.  To tell more would be spoiling the plot but, after all, this is a comedy, folks and, as the Bard has cited before, “all’s well that ends well.”

Most of the fun in Shakespearean comedies is not so much in the wit and dialogue but in the execution of the show, the staging.  This one has just a series of chairs onstage for any kind of furniture but the flowering pink tree (cherry blossoms?) and the huge chandeliers (scenic design, Scott Bradley) light up the stage with magic.  And the staging by the director (Blain-Cruz) of Benedict and subsequently, Beatrice, overhearing the conspirers planting verbal love tokens from one to the other, is brilliant.  Physical comedy is rampant in this production and these scenes are wonderful examples of it.  She definitely has a knack for comedy and even manages to touch you during the more dramatic moments.

The performances are all good, even unique in some instances, such as Don John being played by a woman and in a wheel-chair and the contraption that Dogberry rides around in, all very clever.  Comins and Clark play the proud lovers to a tee and are good in their verbal sparring.  Willis (a terrific LBJ from past seasons) is equally powerful here.  And Linton, as the dark, brooding war vet is quietly disturbing, giving an added depth to this character.

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

The Ashland Experience (Part I)

As always, I recommend my favorite restaurant and pub in town for authentic British cuisine, The Black Sheep.  After all, Shakespeare was a Brit, folks, so here’s a chance to sample dishes from his own country.  And Greg is a wonderful host for this establishment, making you feel right at home and part of the family.  My friend had the Norfolk Fish Pie and enjoyed it.  I had something Greg recommended, the Conundrum Sandwich, which can be made with chicken, fish or Tofu (for the vegetarian-minded) and is very good.  The selections are amazing, covering not only London-fare but Welsh, Irish and Scottish as well.  And the libations are quite extensive, too, as well as they stay open late for when shows at OSF let out.  I highly recommend this place, on the Plaza, 51 N. Main St. (look for the red door and go upstairs) 541-482-6414.

Amy Richard, OSF, Dave Paull, and Dennis Sparks

Monday, May 4, 2015

4000 Miles—Artists Rep.—SW Portland

“Times, They Are A-Changin’”

This drama is by Amy Herzog and directed by Alana Byington.  It is playing at their space at SW Alder St. and 16th Ave. through May 24th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-241-1278.

In part, this is one man’s journey of distance.  But it is also a journey of ideas of people through time.  And ideas and people change or, better yet, evolve.  In this incarnation, it is about some real people considered revolutionary in their time, the 30’s and 40’s (as was the Group Theatre).  They were considered leftist in their political beliefs at the time because they believed in the power of the common man and were not afraid to expound on it, even if it meant being jailed.

But, as suggested, things evolve, grow older and, perhaps, mellower.  By now Vera (Vana O’Brien) is in her golden years, hard of hearing, forgetful, but still feisty.  Into this somewhat serene setting, drops her grandson, Leo (Joshua J. Weinstein), having accomplished a cross-country bike trip, from the West coast to NYC.  The purpose of his trip, at first, is unclear.  Is he heading toward something or running away from something?  Or is it just to reunite with family and, maybe, his old girlfriend, Bec (Carolyn Marie Monroe)?  Life simply washes over him at this point.

It seems that Grandma Vera secretly likes having him there but she won’t admit it.  But he, still restless, feels smothered by urban life.  He even picks up a street-wise girl name Amanda (Danielle Ma) and knows this is not his world (nor is it Vera’s, for that matter).  Both Vera and Leo seem to live in alternate worlds, she in the past, he in a state of Limbo.  But blood and old memories hold tight.  And together this bond of Love grows stronger.  Sometimes Hope springs from the oddest places.  But to say more would give away plot devices, so you’ll just have to see it.

The wonderful thing about Herzog’s script and Byington’s direction is that they keep it simple.  There are no earth-shattering denouncements or inspired revelations.  These are just ordinary people, trying to get by in a world they don’t identify with.  Vera’s has past her by and Leo is an outsider to this world.  But the need for human comfort and understanding is universal, so this play speaks to everyone.  Byington has a keen insight into the human condition and has her actors communicating on a down-to-earth level to us.

Weinstein conveys this lost soul, who pretends to be insulated to “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,” but is very vulnerable underneath.  He does a wonderful job of conveying that balance and you believe him.  Monroe, as the girlfriend, is in a conflicted state of wanting to see the world and help people, or stay grounded and cement a relationship.  She portrays well that person, as we all have been, at a crossroads, not knowing which way to run.  And Ma is good as the kooky, street-wise lady with a haunted past.

And, O’Brien, what a treasure we have in her!  She always lights up the stage when she’s in a show.  And this character she portrays is a continuation of the same person in After the Revolution at Portland Playhouse, which happens some years earlier.  I swear she is so convincing that one time when the character stumbled, I wanted to get up and help her.  Vera is a curmudgeon…a wisp of musty air just to let you know she’s still there…a dimming torch on heart-held secrets that say, I still care.  Every move O’Brien makes, has a reason and every breath, a meaning.  Bravo!  May we see many more years of you.

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

Grounded—CoHo Productions—NW Portland

“When Worlds Collide”
This one-woman drama is written by George Brant, directed by Isaac Lamb and stars Rebecca Lingafelter.  It is playing at their space at 2257 NW Raleigh St. through May 23rd.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-220-2646.  It should be noted that it is only street parking, so plan your time accordingly.

After seeing this, I was reminded of the film, The Sniper, in which an autonomous individual must decide that fate of others, in essence, playing God.  I was also reminded of a short story I read called, Silent Snow, Secret Snow, in which a boy is being consumed by two worlds and must choose as to which one he belongs.  The story has those elements, in which a pilot (Lingafelter) is completely enveloped by the world she knows, which is as an aviator in the Big Blue.  She is at home…and at peace there.

But Fate has a different plan in store for her, a guy by the name of Eric.  Before you know it, she is in love and, not long after, pregnant.  Not so bad so far, as they get married, but not so good for her career.  Being pregnant, she is grounded, as the g-force would certainly kill her fetus, and must accept a desk job.  Now she enters other worlds not planned on.  She is now a wife and a mother but the Big Blue still calls her.  What to do…what to do…?

When she requests to be put back on her old job as a pilot, with her beloved plane, Tiger, she is told that is no longer the type of war they’re fighting.  Now they use drones, as they are more accurate and do not risk a pilot’s life.  She is skeptical at first, as she must now play on a team and the Big Blue is no longer in the picture.  Instead, it’s a just a gray, confined world.  And how do you content yourself with your passion, your duty and a family.  Not an easy decision to make…”and, thereby, hangs a tale.”  You’ll just have to see it to find out the outcome.

The story encompasses many issues, including guilt, choices, adapting, duty, morality, family, and love.  What we become, may not be what we, or the Powers that be, intended.  And how does one reconcile oneself with these choices?  What would have been at the end of …”the road not taken,” had we followed it?  She, and maybe we, must consider the answer.

This is done on a bare stage with one woman and a chair (and some very inventive lighting by Don Crossley).  And, it is enough.  Lamb’s directing is always worth watching and he has sprinkled this show with carefully placed movement so that it never becomes static.  And he has chosen just the right actress for the role.  I believe Anne Hathaway is now enacting it on Broadway but it would be hard to beat this performance.

Lingafelter absorbs us into her world so completely you believe you can see exactly which she is describing.  The emotional roller-coaster we enter with her is a journey of discovery…filled with peaks and valleys…never knowing what is around the next corner…or how we will deal with it.  She is totally in control and you believe her every step of the way.

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