Monday, December 21, 2015

ZooZoo—Imago Theatre—SE Portland


The final Portland run of this imaginative, legendary show, which ran on Broadway in 2010, will end on January 3rd, 2016, at their space at 17 SE 8th.  It was created by Jerry Mouawad and Carol Triffle.  It is not to be missed!  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-231-9581.

This show, quite simply, is not to be missed!  There is no story in the traditional sense.  The skits seem unrelated and yet…there are connecting tissues.  Most of the scenes involve an outsider, a nonconformist, a rebel trying to break free of the conventions of the “normal” world in which he/she exists.  Also there is usually an outside ambience/atmosphere of sound (often, crickets or wind), music (Katie Griesar) and lights (Jeff Forbes) to enhance their environment.  And the stage is essentially bare, leaving room for one’s imagination to fill in the blanks.

But, perhaps, the most amazing thing of all, is that all these creations are masked in some way and have only one expression and yet the stories are full of emotions, humor and relationships…meaning, that as an audience, you are supplying the imagination needed to fill in the blanks.  Certainly the timing of movements is “suggesting” things but you are actually filling in the gaps (unlike C/G effects in movies that underestimate a viewer and feel they must create, in a “realistic” fashion, the imaginary world and beings.  Ray Bradbury alluded that the truest horror or magic comes from within individuals…that they can create, from their own imagination, terror and beauty much more powerful than anything you can put on screen).  Amen to that.

One must interact with this show, be a participant, not from just the outward senses, but from the perspective of the heart…a child’s heart…and imagination.  It is a journey back in time to those innocent days of giggles and discovery and fairy dust and a belief in magic with enchanted spells.  The children in the audience were totally immersed and captivated, and projected themselves whole-heartedly into that world.  As an adult, I could only visit it as a tourist.  And my young friend, Haley (a fine Artist herself), is tipping between two worlds, still holding onto the Wonderment of Youth but slowly being exposed to that world of the sharks and “blue meanies” of the concrete jungle.

The “stories” have to do with hippos (asserting themselves); and frogs (breaking out of the mold); and anteaters (rediscovering possibilities); and a paper bag (pushing the limits of his world); and windbags/accordions (testing the limits of their environment); and larvae and bugeyes, just trying to exist with some meaning; and cats (being cats); and polar bears finding warmth in the cold; and penguins playing musical chairs; and, finally, breaking out of paper frames to become…humans/individuals(?).  All snippets of moments in their worlds.

In some ways it resembles Disney’s amazing, animated feature, Fantasia, with its blending of music and images.  Also, you may note, that many of the scenes presented include things that a child will instinctively find fascinating, such as bags, zoo animals, pets, bugs, paper, colorful objects and music.  All those elements are present here.  And there is also the marvelous interaction with the audience, especially children, which I shall remain mute on, lest it spoil the fun.

The creation of the costumes, masks and stories are all the product of Mouawad and Triffle and they are true artists, creating a unique world that even our imaginations could not conceive.  Genius is a word that could easily apply to them and their Art!  They are ably supported by Griesar and Forbes.  And the ensembles of performers, Jonathan Godsey, Pratik Motwani, Kaician Jade Kitko and Mark Mullaney are exceptional, having to be acrobats, dancers and able to evoke emotion by the twist of a head or the blink of an eye.  Bravo, troop!

It is sad to note that in this “new and improved” electronic age, the Arts have taken a backseat to just about everything.  Locally, in the Media, sports gets top billing and the Arts are rarely mentioned on television and only OPB gives it any real coverage at all.  Newspapers and the educational system are very haphazard about how they treat or include the Arts and Artists.  But Mouawad is able to express my feelings better and poetically, so below are some of his muses.

In his blog Mouawad hits on some very important points regarding Art vs. the digital age, which I happen to agree whole-heartedly with.  Here is a part of his thoughts, beautifully rendered:

“…Despite the fact that we have at our disposal a torrent of video games, social media, and unlimited movies and TV shows– we have become a Youtube culture always hungry for more.  We as humans, since our cognitive awareness began, have been transfixed by the magic of a sorcery, the incantations of the shaman and the magic of a secular performance. Each exhibited their presentation in the light of cave fire with a prop, a doll, a puppet or a mask. The only thing at their disposal was the play of light in the darkness or maybe a hidden string. It is this desire to enter a transformational world that cannot easily be explained by knowledge (some would say not easily explained by science) that is one of our strongest cultural desires. We seek a transformation created by a human hand, and by a human hand alone. Despite the fact that we may be in the age of decadence, we hunger for the true heart of wonder. Over the last decade or more, film goers quickly became acclimated to the effects of the digital age, and now any special effect that Hollywood pumps out is primarily welcomed with a yawn (with some exceptions of course. ) I am sure the boundaries will continue to be pushed of what is possible with film effects, but I don’t think that particular industry will ever overcome the awe created by the human hand alone.

If a single performer with the ancient tools of stagecraft can transform our world to something other than what we think it to be, then we have been transformed. When I watch a good movie, I am changed, but when I watch a great live performance, my soul has been nourished and I feel something more than a simple change, I feel I’ve been rejuvenated.

It is this experience of theatre that will never be challenged by technology. We know that it is art not science that is the soul’s transformational force. It is our imaginations, and not our eyes, that are the true windows into our hearts. It is something so common - this innate understanding of the true wonder of things – that you can have this discussion with a seven year old and both the adult and the child will ultimately agree – true magic does not live in a device but perhaps in the corner of the room where a seemingly inanimate object is waiting to take on life…”

To read the rest of his musings, go to
Farewell to Imago’s Fame

I highly recommend this show but tickets are selling fast so best get them soon.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Miracle Worker—Artists Rep.—SW Portland

In God’s Good Time

This classic drama is written by William Gibson and directed by Dámaso Rodriguez.  It is playing at their space, SW Alder St. & 16th Ave., through January 10th, 2016 (but get tickets soon, as it has already been extended, and is selling fast).  For more information, go to their site at

In every country, there are seasons…and within each of them, times when to sow, grow and reap.  And when the time is ripe, God’s Time, things blossom.  Within Helen Keller, the seed of an important being had been planted and was just biding its time until the right gardener appeared, Annie Sullivan.  And, thus, it came to pass, a Miracle was created.  (My humble reflection on this play, for this Season of Joy and Miracles.)

Some fun observations:  Both actors who appeared in the Broadway production of this story, Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke, both won Tony’s for it.  They then made the movie with them and they both won Oscars.  Melissa Gilbert played Helen, then a few years later, played Annie.  There is a sequel to it called Monday After the Miracle.  Bancroft appeared in another Gibson play about a strong woman, Anne Hathaway, about the early years of Shakespeare called, A Cry of Players.  And, it so happens, back in the 90’s, I played Capt. Keller in a production by the NW Children’s Theatre.

Annie Sullivan (Val Landrum) did not at the outset seem the sort to create miracles.  She and her brother, Jimmy (Harper Lea), had been sent to an Asylum because they were both infirmed.  She had numerous operations on her eyes and still had somewhat restricted vision.  But she pulled herself up by her bootstraps and chose to learn sign language, with the help of Dr. Anagnos (Michael Mendelson), and became a teacher at the school she attended.  But her first professional job was to be with the Keller family.

Capt. Keller (Don Alder), an authoritarian head of a family in the South, an ex-Civil War officer and Editor of the town’s newspaper, was no one to cross.  His seemingly meek wife, Kate (Amy Newman), usually bowed to his wishes.  His sister, Ev (Susannah Mars), dutifully backed him at every turn.  His rebellious  son, James (Joshua J. Weinstein), feared him.  But he was at his wits end as to what to do with his young daughter, Helen (Agatha Olson), who was unable to speak or hear from birth.

Helen’s only contact with the outside world was playing with the servant’s, Viney’s (Josie Seid) children, Percy (Saorsa Seid) and Martha (Josephine McGehee).  But with Annie’s arrival, her world and the family’s would be turned upside down.  Annie’s insisted on complete control of the child.  She would not be content to simply have Helen imitate her, like a trained pet, but actually understand the meaning of objects in the world and how they all related to each other.

And she wanted to have Helen communicate back to her, as to her thoughts and feelings.  The journey would be hard, both physically and emotionally for everyone, but the rewards, if successful, would be immeasurable.  This trek must be experienced by the audience, and so, this is where my description ends.  Try to imagine, if you will, though, entering a world of noiseless darkness and encountering all sorts of objects, completely unaware of their meanings and, not only that, having your mind, thoughts, and feelings trapped inside you with no way of expressing yourself.  That is the challenge Annie and Helen must overcome.

Rodriguez has done an amazing job of staging this…Miracle.  He nurtures it slowly, has beautifully massaged the wordless confrontation scene between Helen and Annie, and then lets the climax burst forth, revealing its fruit.  And his actors complement his vision, especially Alder, Newman and Weinstein, in very capable support.

Landrum, a veteran performer, is spot on as the savior, Annie Sullivan.  You can see the many layers, sometimes contradictory, that she traverses, giving us a full-rounded portrayal.  The loneliness she must have felt herself is palpable but her courage to rise above it all to save Helen is admirable.  And Olson is a treasure.  This has got to be one of the hardest roles for child actors in all the canons of plays.  And she ranks up there with the best of them.  She never broke character and was totally convincing as an individual, completely unaware of her surroundings.  She has a career on these well-worn boards if she chooses it.  Bravo to both!

I highly recommend this show.  It was a full house when I saw it and got an immediate and well-deserved standing ovation at the end.  If you choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

The Great American Trailer Park Christmas Musical—Brunish Theatre—downtown Portland

“Heart Full of Christmas”

This naughty musical is playing at the Stumptown Stages (upstairs from the Newmark & Winningstad theatres), 1111 SW Broadway, through December 27th.  It is written by David Nehls (music & lyrics) and Betsy Kelso (book) and directed by Kirk Mouser, with choreography by Cherie Price and music direction by Mak Kastelic.  For more information, go to their site at

Yes, this show is about some of the most irreverent, irascible, illiterate, irritable characters that every fell off of Santa’s sleigh.  But, at its heart, it’s just about some very human folk, with their own private demons and desires, who want to spread joy in their little neck (albeit, a bit reddish) of the woods.  In fact, if you look real close, you just might see your own reflection.

The story takes place in a trailer park in Florida called Armadillo Acres and they celebrate Christmas in their own special way.  They have a brew called KegNog and make wreaths out of PBR beer cans.  Their manger scene consists of the usual first Christmas family with Frosty, the Snowman and a Storm Trooper to guard this flock by night.  They also have an assortment of pink flamingos, garden gnomes, golden plaster monkeys and paper Christmas balls for their plastic tree.

The décor may seem a bit twisted but, you have to admit, they are original and don’t follow traditional conventions.  They are, after all, trying to win the $10,000 grand prize from Mobile Homes & Gardens for the most decorative trailer park.  The heart-of-gold, unofficial manager, Betty (Sherrie Van Hine), is determined to whip her tenants into shape to garner the much-need monies for her lower-income residents.

They consist of a tom-boyish, biker girl, Linoleum (Sheila Donahue Bruhn), named because that is where she was birthed on the kitchen floor; the scattered-brained, flighty, Pickles (Kelly Stewart), not the sharpest knife in the drawer; and the big-hearted Rufus (Steve Coker), looking for a down-home, home-made Christmas, as he remembered as a child.  The only fly in the ointment is the petulant, petty Darlene (Elizabeth Hadley), who hates Christmas because of a tragedy that happened when she was a young girl around that time.  And her boyfriend, Jackson (Andy Mangels), a contrary cuss, owner of the diner where the Girls work, has some nefarious plans of his own for the trailer park.

When an accident shocks Darlene in an amnesiac state, her demeanor changes and she becomes a lover of the Holiday.  But, like Scrooge, she must face her demons by means of visitations of the Ghosts of Past & Present memories.  Can’t tell you much more but know that there will be a “Heart Full of Christmas” before the show is over.  And, if you haven’t figured it out yet, this is a show for adults because of language and adult situations.

The music and songs are a selling point to this show and what terrific singers he has.  Mouser always seems to get some of the best voices onstage that I’ve ever heard!  The touching ballads, “Christmas Memories” (Coker & Hadley) and “My Christmas Tin Boy Soldier” (Hadley) were my personal two favorite numbers from the show (yes, call me a romantic, but genuine sentiment gets me every time).  And Coker’s “Black and Blue on Christmas Eve” was a show-stopper.  Both these performers were highlights in the show and have amazing voices.

“The Girls” (Bruhn, Stewart & Van Hine) were great in their chorus and dance numbers.  Van Hine was funny and lovable as the “boss” of the group.  I especially liked Stewart who was extremely animated as her character and has an outstanding voice.  Hope to see more of her onstage as she’s a real asset to a show.  Bruhn, I can vouch for personally, as being an outstanding singer, as I produced three musicals, Sweet Charity, A Chorus Line and West Side Story in which she played major roles.  Good to see her back onstage.  And Mangels has a rich voice, as the “bad guy” of the piece.

Mouser has again worked wonders in such a small space and chosen well his cast.  It’s good to see Price still in action.  And the orchestra (Kastelic, Ben Finley, Dave Muldoon and Amy Roesler) did well, too.  The set (designer, Coker) was perfect for the space and lighting (designer, Vanessa Janson) helped create the transitions of time and space.  Overall, a fun show with lots of heart and talent!

A side note, the next show for Stumptown, The Adventures of Dex Dixon, Paranormal Dick, later in January, was written by Coker and he plays Dex.  This is a show not to be missed, as I saw his original version last year and it is amazing both in script and songs/music.

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

Monday, December 7, 2015

Shrek, the Musical—NW Children’s Theatre—NW Portland

Fractured Fairy Tales

This family musical, based on the animated Shrek movie, is by William Steig, David Lindsay-Abaire and Jeanine Tesori, directed by Corey Brunish choreographed by Sarah Jane Hardy and musical direction by Tracy Ross.  It is playing at their space, 1819 NW Everett St., through January 3rd.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-222-4480.

This is…Stunning…Simply Shrektacular!  The animated movie was very well done and the play version is equally as good.  It is about a journey, as many films are in actuality, to find oneself, their love and their place in the world…purpose in Life.  And so, once upon a time, there was an ugly, green monster, an Ogre, named Shrek (Andrés Alcalá) who lived all alone is his smelly, slimy, primeval swamp in a forest.  But one day, he’s invaded by all sorts of fairy tale and nursery rhyme characters, who inform him that they have been evicted from their home in Duloc by the evil, Lord Farquaad (Matthew Brown), and so they are to live in his swamp.

Well, Shrek does not appreciate the invasion to his homeland, so he agrees to meet with the Lord and get their town back.  Along the way he encounters another undesirable misfit, Donkey (Sam Burns), who’s a few straws short of a stack in the head.  But, being they are both lonely, they head out together.  On arrival in Duloc, they sense the Lord is a little short on humor but he agrees to give Shrek the deed to the swamp if he rescues a fair maiden, trapped in a castle by a dragon.  In short, the Lord must be wedded to a princess before he can claim the kingship.  And so, the adventure begins…

They do rescue Princess Fiona (Camille Trinka).  But it seems Fate has a couple of unforeseen complications in this encounter.  Shrek and Fiona have taken a shine to each other and the Dragon (puppet by Stewart Low, voiced and sung by Signe Larsen) is all starry-eyed about Donkey.  Also Fiona has a secret that might give decidedly mixed signals to both Shrek and the Lord, who she is to marry.  Obviously, I can’t tell you the outcome but, trust me, as in all fairy tales, there is a “…happily ever after” for all (sans one).

The music and songs are all quite good, contributing to the story line as well as the thoughts of the characters.  There is one that is slightly off-color, recalling the “Bean” number in Blazing Saddles (if you get my drift).  “What’s Up Duloc” and the Tap-dancing Rats in “Morning Person,” both show-stoppers, expose to great advantage the choreography skills of Hardy.  The Dragon (Larsen) has a terrific voice in her songs.  Alcalá is very moving in his numbers, “Build a Wall,” “Beautiful Ain’t always Pretty” and “When Words Fail.”

Burns is not only very funny but quite an accomplished singer in his numbers.  Trinka has a lovely voice and acting chops to match.  Her number, “I Know It’s Today,” with her two younger selves (Charlotte Sanders and Sophia Takla), is one of the highlights of the shows. Brown has an extraordinary voice and the gimmick of his stature is priceless.  And the storybook characters are terrific.  I’ve always noticed in a NWCT production, the Chorus is at the forefront as much as the main characters.  Particularly engaging is an accomplished actor from other productions, too, Jill Westerby as Pinocchio, et. al., is always an asset to any show.  Also, welcome back Madeleine Delaplane (in the stage crew), but an accomplished actor/singer/dancer, too, and hope to see her onstage again soon.

Brunish certainly had his work cut out for him, as he had to use his talents not only as a director of actors, but a traffic cop as well.  Bravo to him for pulling it off.  The numerous complicated scene (Ellingson, designer) and costume (Mary Rochon, designer) changes went off smoothly (although, I’m sure, it was maddening backstage).  And the Dragon puppet (Stewart Low) is terrific.  I’m a big fan of  puppets for their shows and look forward to seeing them, as they’re always enchanting.

And there are even lessons to be learned in this story.  Be careful not to judge a person by their looks, as their might just be a gem underneath.  Also, let your “Freak Flag” fly (a similar sentiment in “Be a Merman” at Triangle’s show) in which you must not be afraid to show who you are.  And, of course, believe in yourself and others will believe in you, too.  Not bad elements to be teaching children, is it?!

One thing, this is a long show so might not be suitable for very young children.  Also, as I’ve mention before, parking is always a problem in this area, so plan your time and transportation accordingly.

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

A Midsummer Night’s Dream—Portland Actors Conservatory—SW Portland

“Course of True Love…”

This Shakespearean Fantasy at PAC is directed by Elizabeth Rothan and is playing at their space, 1436 SW Montgomery St., through December 20th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-274-1717.

There have been a number of adaptations of this play, both on stage and in film, over the years.  An early MGM film from the 30’s had a lavish production with James Cagney as Bottom and Mickey Rooney as Puck.  Some good moments in this but too “Hollywoodish” to be taken seriously.  A more recent film had Kevin Kline as Bottom and had the best interpretation of the Pyramus & Thisby death scene, as they played it seriously and it worked beautifully.  Also, Woody Allen had a rather quirky but good modernization of it with A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy (and, after all, isn’t that what it’s really all about?)

In this case the story takes place in Alaska during the mid-1800’s.  Midsummer in Alaska, you might say?!  But it is the “Land of the Midnight Sun,” after all.  And the transition at the end from Winter’s chill to the warmth of Spring works very well to enhance the theme of the play.  The story is on three levels:  The lowly tradesmen who offer to entertain the Duke at his wedding; the Duke and his upper-class noblemen and women; and the wild card, the Fairies, laughing at and playing tricks on these foolish mortals.

The story, in short, is the mixing of oil and water and the ensuing results.  It takes place in and around the nuptial eve of the local royalty, Theseus (John Corr) and Hippolyta (Paige Rogers).  They have invited to their celebration, among others, prominent young men, Lysander (Jacob Camp) and Demetrius (Seth Witucki), and his mother, Egeus (Ahna Dunn-Wilder).  But, as so happens, both men are in love with the same woman, Hermia (Samie Pfeifer).  This leaves her friend, Helena (Tara Paulson-Spires), as the odd wo-man out, who also happens to have the hots for Demetrius.

The local Fairies, consisting of the King, Oberon (Corr, again) and Titania (Rogers, again) and the King’s main man, the merry prankster himself, Robin Goodfellow, or Puck (Hannah Quigg), delight in causing even more confusion to these silly simpletons.  But, they are not beyond problems themselves, as the Queen has taken a Changeling Boy (Alexander Casteele-Hart) under her wing and is all but ignoring the King.  But with a little magical love potion and some misdirection from Puck, the forest becomes a kaleidoscope of misadventures for all.

To further confuse the plot, some local tradesmen, the “rude mechanicals,” are attempting to entertain the royal court with a “tragical-comedy.”  Bottom (Robert Bell), Flute (Danny Diess), Snout (Quigg, again), Snug (Alexandria Castelle) and their leader, Peter Quince (Dunn-Wilder, again) are making a mess of the play, to say the least, and Bottom becomes a real ass.  There are some very funny moments with their antics, especially with the quiet Snout (looking a lot like Animal from The Muppets) playing a petulant Wall; a nervous Snug trying her best to be ferocious as a Lion without scaring the folks; the dinky dog (Casteele-Hart) upstaging everyone with his piping barks; and business-like, Quince, trying to be professional but slowly losing her cool.  Can’t reveal more as it would ruin the fun.

Rothan (also quite impressive as an actor in Profile’s, Orlando) has done an amazing job of staging everything in such a small area and it works wonderfully.  Tim Stapleton’s set is so authentic-looking, you could feel the cold.  And Jessica Bobillot’s costumes are a work of art.  The quick changes looking effortless onstage (but, I’m sure, chaotic backstage).  I felt I might have been watching the Winter scenes from Dr. Zhivago.  I’ve always been impressed with what this company can do with an essentially “black box” set and make it come alive with whatever period or setting you choose.

And the actors are quite impressive, too.  All of them, except the lovers, playing up to four other characters and making them all so unique that you thought you might be seeing a much larger cast.  Quigg, doing double duty as the flighty, animated Puck, and then as the much more subdued Snout, was a joy to watch.  She delivered the final speech in the show, simply, with a quiet sensitivity, which was exactly right.  The lovers were very energetic and Paulson-Spires stood out as the misfit of the group.  Corr and Rogers did well playing the elites from both worlds.  And Casteele-Hart is delightful in his dual roles.

But, I often pick a “diamond in the rough” from a show, someone who I feel has some unique talents that are worth watching in the future.  In this production it is Ahna Dunn-Wilder as the feisty Russian mother of Demetrius and then as the matter-of-fact, Quince (one of Dr. Bower’s, founder of OSF, favorite roles).  I actually had to look at my program to discover it was, in fact, the same actor playing both roles and totally convincing in both, too.  Now, that’s acting!  I look forward to seeing more of her onstage.

I recommend this show.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.  A word of warning, though, the theatre is located in a neighborhood with apartments and houses and has no parking lot, so plan your time accordingly.