Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Davita’s Harp—Page2Stage—SE Portland

“Sacred Discontent”

This World Premiere, family drama, based on the book by Chaim Potok, is adapted for the stage by Sacha Reich and Jamie M. Rea and directed by Reich.  It is playing at the Milagro space, 525 SE Stark St., through April 9th.  (Note that it is only street parking, so plan your time accordingly.)  For more information, go to their site at www.jewishtheatrecollaborative.org or call 800-838-3006.

Family Dynamics are never an easy road to tread.  And when you throw in immigrants fleeing from Europe; the solidly established Jewish faith; passionate politics from the 1930’s; and NYC as their stomping grounds, you have a powder keg waiting to explode.  I grew up during the turbulent 60’s, with the Vietnam War looming at our back door; the idealism of the Kennedy, “Camelot” years; the rise of folk and protest songs and the Civil Right marches of King.  “Times they are a–changin’?!”

We have similar problems brewing now with terrorists, immigrants, issues with freedom of religion and an explosive political scene.  Have we learned anything from those days of the 1930’s till now?  Doesn’t appear so, does it?  Different day, same ole crap.  But, looking in on the Chandal family, we may spot some of the signs of how we got from there to here.  The father, Michael (Heath Koerschgen), is a Christian and a newspaper reporter, who happens to fall in love with a (non-practicing) Jewish girl, Annie (Danielle Weathers), and so they get married.  The result of that union is Ilana Davita (Kayla Lian), the teller of this tale/memory.

Ilana grows up with wondrous fables of magic and castles and little birds and witches--Baba Yaga (Anthony Green), who seems to haunt her growing-up years.  Into this extended family are also the fervent, Ezra (Jason Glick), an erudite member of the Jewish faith, and his son, David (Illya Torres-Garner), who becomes a bit sweet on Ilana.  There is also Jacob (JJ Johnston), an obsessed and troubled writer and an immigrant from Europe, a childhood friend of Annie’s.  And Sarah (Kate Mura), Michael’s sister, a passionate missionary, who is often going off to foreign lands to bring Christ to the natives.  Ilana also befriends Ruthie (Sara Fay Goldman), a girl from the Temple, who is attracted and appalled by Ilana’s lack of being a traditional Jew, especially when she questions the role of women in the Jewish religion.

Into this already potent mixture are the advent of Unions into the labor force; the wars in Europe, particularly Spain; Fascism in Italy and other countries; brutal strikes among workers; the Depression; Marxism and Communism; conflicts of religious beliefs and the rise of Nazism in Germany.  Such are the times of the 1930’s in this “land of opportunity.”  To say the least, for a young girl growing up with these elements, it’s amazing she can be as objective and positive on her outlook on Life.  But, of course, there was one, young girl who would come after her, that wrote in her diary, one of her last entries while in a concentration camp, mind you, something to the effect that she still believed people were basically good.  Her name, of course, was Anne Frank.  “Out of the mouth of babes….”  Amazing!

Of course, I could have told you more but so much of the power of this story is for one to experience, sense, and you can only do that by being here.  Another aspect is that is it told in a storytelling style (which, if you’ve read previous missives by me, you’ll know I am fond of this style of theatre) and done on an essentially bare stage with only a few props/furniture pieces to tell the story.  In one’s mind, then, the set can becomes various apartment houses, Africa, Maine, Spain, a beach, et. al.  Wonderful!  This, of course, forces one’s imagination to engage (something that is ill-used in this age of technology, but don’t get me started on that…) to fill in the blanks.  Also, although it is Ilana’s story, all of the characters do some of their own narrating, just as if you were reading a book and discovering it for yourself.  All in all, a very satisfy experience!

Reich and Rea have done a remarkable job of putting all the pieces together, like a giant jigsaw puzzle, deciding what to leave in, leave out and explain in this epic story.  And Reich has cast it very well, all of the actors lending to the whole and, yet, having their own moments in the sun.  I admit to having a tear in my eye at the end, whether of joy or sadness, it is hard to tell, possibly both.

Lian has done good stage work in the past and is quite convincing playing a nine-year-old girl in this saga.  You sense her discontent in her plight and yet respect for others, a thin line to walk.  Weathers is a power-house, as the mother, as she charges from one set of beliefs/attitudes to another, all with sincere conviction.  A roller-coaster of a performance that explodes on the stage.  Glick, Mura and Johnston are all very distinct in the separate entities they bring to this tale.  And Koerschgen, as the father, always seems to have some sort of magic in the characters he plays.  He exudes a type of simplicity, a naturalism, in which you automatically believe who he is and what he says.  A style of creating to be envied.

In case you haven’t already guessed it, I recommend this production.  Their PR says, “…you will remember Davita long after you leave the theatre.”  Their right, I did.  If you do see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Monday, March 28, 2016

The Language Archive - MediaRites's Theatre Diaspora - SE Portland

The Language of Love

This readers theatre production by Julia Cho and directed by Dmae Roberts is having its final performance at Milagro, 525 SE Start St., On Saturaday, April 2 at 2pm (Warning, itis only street parking, so plan your time accordingly.)  For more information, go to their site at www.theatrediaspora.org You can also learn more about their company an overview I wrote on them by going to:


Communication, a key ingredient in language, is essential to understanding a person, a population and a heritage.  If a language of a culture dies, than so does an entire race of people.  It is happening all the time, especially in the more remote regions of our world.  That is part of the subject of Cho’s play but it also belies exposing deeper roots, a “deeper magic,” when it comes to Love.  Do we say what we mean, and mean what we say.  In Love, often not, for there are things…feelings that words cannot describe, or that there are simply no words for.  And so we come to Cho’s touching play.

George (Leo Lin) works with languages, trying to preserve what are considered the last remnants of cultures that may be dying out.  He may be a communication expert at this but is less successful when it comes to his home life and his wife, Mary (Tonya Jone Miller), who seems to be depressed and crying all the time.  She is may also be leaving odd notes that seem to make no sense.  She is unlike rigid George, who supports the adage, everything in its proper place and has no time for tears.  A match probably not made in Heaven.

But he does have a loyal assistant, Emma (Wynee Hu), who understands his drive, and is willing to comfort him and be his pal when needed.  May we also say that she is totally smitten by him.  But does he notice, of course not (so typical…he probably wouldn’t even ask for directions, either, if lost).  No hope, you say?  But wait, the home front may be breaking apart and some sunshine might filter through to those who suffer from unrequited love.

But first to work and then to…whatever.  They have an Eastern European couple, Alta (Sofia May-Cuxim) and Resten (Enrique Eduardo Andrade), in their tests, products of one of those dying languages, who are constantly arguing…but in English (!) which, of course, defeats the whole purpose of the experiment.  They explain, quite convincingly, that English is the language of strife, of war, and their language is for romance.  Wonderful concept and maybe even true.

To go further down these paths would be telling, so you just have to see it for yourself, to observe if a German instructor will put Emma on the road to happiness; whether an old man will inspire love again through baking; and will an odd couple be an inspiration for true love.  See a common theme in all of this?  After all, it is Spring and a time when heads and hearts should be full of Hope.

The play is a, not so simple, love story.  But it is fresh, and original, and gives one pause to ponder.  Roberts know when to allow laughs to reign or let gentle tears flow.  And she has chosen her cast very well.  Lin does wonderfully, portraying the mask of subtlety, betraying outwardly little emotion but inwardly, anguished and confused.  Miller is appropriately awash with emotion, searching for her true self.  Hu, always worth watching, nicely balances her feelings with her duties, straddling that thin line, careful not to fall over one way or the other.  Andrade is convincing in more than one role, giving each a special trait that resonates with the story.  And May-Cuxim is especially fine in her roles, enacting bombastic but allowing us to see, not only the humor, but the truth underneath.

It should be noted that Alex Haslett did well reading the stage directions and the musicians for the pre-shows, Gerardo Calderon and Gauri Rajbaidya (on the 2nd), adding a nice flavor for the evening.  I recommend this show.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

The Few—CoHo Productions—NW Portland

“All the Lonely People…”

This drama is written by Samuel D. Hunter and directed by Brandon Woolley (and co-produced, with CoHo, by Woolley and Val Landrum).  It is playing their space, 2257 NW Raleigh St., through April 16th (parking can be a challenge in this part of town, so plan your time accordingly).  For more information, go to their site at www.cohoproductions.org or call 503-220-2646.

One of my sisters spent many years working and living in a small logging town in Idaho, so I’m sure she can identify with the characters in this show.  I had visited her often and can testify that these individuals are, indeed, real people.  There is something to be said for living in a small, isolated community, away from the hub-bub of the “neon jungles,” but it can be lonely, too, feeling that you might be missing out on something.  Often these townships breed truckers and that is how they are exposed to the wide, wide world.

But, even then, these people feel disconnected, isolated…lonely.  And so, in this case, a newspaper was born called, “The Few,” to reach out to those long-haul drivers, to let them know they have a lifeline, a safe haven, a place of refuge when needed.  At least that was the idea when Bryan (Michael O’Connell) began the paper in a run-down trailer in Northern Idaho.  But, at the onset of this play, he has deserted the pack to places unknown and left his then girlfriend, QZ (Val Landrum), to shoulder the burden.

She has turned the paper into a somewhat profitable enterprise by hiring an extra body, a young kid named, Matthew (Caleb Sohigian), to help out and is mostly a personal-ad rag now.  But, low and behold, the prodigal producer returns, somewhat the worse for wear.  And then the fireworks really begin.  The cynical lady, the fresh upstart and the old soldier are a mismatch from the beginning.  Bryan and QZ have some old baggage to sort out, involving the death of a very dear friend; a seeming insatiable wanderlust; a mysterious writer named Rick and dreams unfulfilled.

They will rail at fate, defy the gods and may find out that Life has just passed them by, or has only turned a corner to new adventures.  To see the outcome, you’ll have to view the play.  Hunter has quite the ear for realistic dialogue and characters, as you feel a bit like a voyeur, being absorbed into the framework of their rudimentary trailer, a haven for lost souls, perhaps.  Also, the addition of constant  interruptions from the outside world, in the guises of voices placing personal ads on the phone, are both disconcerting and purposeful, like a lifeline being randomly tossed out to see what it will snag.

Woolley has chosen his cast very well.  And he has managed to keep a contained environment highly charged with some outstanding performances.  Landrum’s, QZ, is a tough, cynical gal who barely sees any light at the end of the tunnel.  (I swear she resembles my sister’s neighbor in Idaho.)  O’Connell’s, Bryan, is a weary man at the end of his rope but has delayed taking that leap into the abyss in the hopes of one more chance.  And Sohigian’s, Matthew, is an idealist, a young man on the brink of…possibilities, discoveries, possibly a whole new world.  This is certainly one of the best acting cores I’ve seen!

It is said that “no man is an island,” but that is not exactly true.  We are all islands within ourselves.  The trick is to navigate uncharted waters, knowing that there are dangerous sharks in them, but having faith that there may be something good waiting for us just beyond the horizon.  These characters face that dilemma, as we all do, at some stage of our existence.

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

Monday, March 21, 2016

UPCOMING: The Language Archive at Theatre Diaspora

Crossing Borders

For all you theatre and cultural aficionados out there, here are a couple of important dates to remember.  At 2 pm on Saturday, March 26th at Portland Center Stage and the same time on April 2nd at Milagro, Theatre Diaspora will present The Language Archive by Julia Cho, directed by Dmae Roberts (Executive Producer of MediaRites).  It is about the importance of language as a communication tool.   And, my take on it is, if a language dies out, then it ceases to exist and so may the heritage.  Many Native American and African languages are facing that same kind of “extinction.”  For more information, go to their site at www.theatrediaspora.org a project of MediaRites, for more information on the play.

But, hold on, partner, you may say.  Who are these people and what are their plans?  My bad.  I guess I put the cart before the horse.  Well, to begin with, MediaRites ( www.mediarites.org ) is an award-winning, non-profit organization based in Portland and dedicated to telling stories of diverse cultures by providing voices to the unheard, through the arts, education and media projects since 1984.

Theatre Diaspora is Oregon’s only professional Asian American/Pacific Islander theatre company committed to portraying authentic AAPI cultural, historical and social perspectives to reach broad audiences.  They do this by producing staged readings on AAPI identity and cultural issues, by providing visibility and dialogue for its audiences.  But, as Syharath puts it, “It’s not just being seen as an actor, it’s about being seen as a person….it’s encouraging to have my stories told, by people like me.”

As Roberts said, when “plays being done…were Asian or Asian-inspired…with white actors….I realized it was far too long for Portland not to have an Asian American theatre company….”  Hu concurs, “…even when the source material is Asian, the cast may not  necessarily be Asian or Asian American; and the material is rarely if ever selected and presented from an Asian American perspective and political consciousness.”

They’re right, of course, they have been poorly represented on stage and in films, e.g., David Wayne (stage) and Marlon Brando (film), of a Japanese person in Teahouse of the August Moon, or Richardo Montobaln as a Noh performer in Sayanora.  Dmae goes on to say, “Portland Center Stage…offered us their theatre for future readings.  We found great support from other theatres as well such as Artists Rep, Milagro, Triangle Productions and Portland Actors Conservatory.”

Since one of the reasons for their existence was a response to the lack of visibility of Asian American actors, stories and playwrights on the stage, they felt they needed an outlet for their talents, as well as educating and making the Public aware of Asian American culture and their place in history and Art.  Samson adds, “But the skill I think is most important is to listen and be heard in return.”

But what I, as a reviewer, have seen recently in Portland theatres, is a lot of cross-gender/age/cultural casting in plays, which is as it should be!  Of course, that does not necessarily mean that Asian American experiences are being fully explored but it’s a step in the right direction, I believe.  But if Asian Americans are hired for ethnically specific parts, a company, Hu adds, “…does not always consider or hire them for non-ethnically specific roles.”  It looks like there is still much work left to be done.

But that doesn’t solve the problem of specific and distinctive ethnic voices being heard that might get lost in the artistic shuffle.  And so, a theatre was formed for just that purpose, for Asian Americans.  Wynee applauds the decision, as she puts it, “…has brought back my sense of safety and my voice, especially when it comes to speaking about race, equity, inclusion and social justice.”  Another plus, from Samson, “Getting in touch with our individual cultures and sharing them with each other will bring us together.”

They have no permanent home at present for their performing.  Being able to only afford to do staged readings (although still powerful and beautifully done), with valuable talk-backs with the cast and writers at various locations, is their only option at present.  Dmae adds, “…so far has enabled us to keep the budgets low and raise funds to pay for artists and productions costs.”

It has been said before, “the Pen is mightier than the Sword,” for one simple reason, you may kill a person but you can never destroy an idea, a dream…for they are everlasting.  And so it is with plays (Director/Producer), the spoken word (Playwright), a conduit for them (Cast/Crew) and willing ears (Audiences/Donors) to heed the stories.

The Artists who lead this group are Roberts, creator of the Peabody-winning documentary, Mei Mei, a Daughter’s Song, as well as the eight-hour, first-ever, Asian American history series on public radio, Crossing East.  She is also a two-time Drammy winner, one for acting and one for her play, Picasso In The Back SeatWynee Hu has a BA in theatre from USC and has studied at the Brody Theatre.  She appeared in this company’s Breaking the Silence, Red, Never Give Up and The Theory of Everything.  She also appeared in Women of Troy, presented at PSU and in a staged reading of Tea with Readers Theatre Repertory.

Samson Syharath earned his BA in Theatre at the University of Arkansas (Fort Smith) and a certificate from Portland Actors Conservatory, where is currently on their staff.  With this company he has appeared in The Dance and the Railroad, Breaking the Silence, The Theory of Everything and Breaking Glass.  Larry Toda earned his BA in journalism and communications.  With this company he has performed in Breaking the Silence, The Theory of Everything and The Sound of a Voice.  He is a Corporate Marketing Manager for Mentor Graphics Corporation in Wilsonville.  Chisao Hata is an associate member and a founding member of the ensemble.  Toni Taboar-Roberts is an administrative consultant.

And what does the immediate future hold for them?  During the first week in June they will be presenting After the War Blues by Philip Kan Gotanda, about an African and Japanese boarding house in San Francisco after the close of WWII.  Roberts, again, “The themes of cross-relations, gentrification and displacement are pertinent to Portlanders now.”  Gotanda is also doing a master class in playwrighting at PCS.  For more information, check their website.

Down the road apiece, according to Dmae, “The ensemble really wants to do a full production…it would also be important for TD to be its own entity.”  She is saddened by the fact that AAPI playwrights are not better known in the community, as they have produced some very remarkable work (and I, as a reviewer, can attest to).  Other than the theatres already mentioned, she notes, “There isn’t a strong connection between theatre and the AAPI community.  We hope to change that.”  It is said that “it takes a whole village to raise a child.”  The same adage might apply to a theatre community of Asian American Artists.  What say you, village (Portland)?!

Hu may have expressed it best, as to what the Public should know, “For the nation to move forward toward a more just and equitable society, we need to learn the untold stories of marginalized people that many of us did not receive in school.  These stories include stories by people of color about people of color.”  She concludes, “…AAPI history is especially important for empowering AAPI youth.  This history explains present circumstances, exposes injustice, and provides role models and inspiration.”  One final important thought from Syharath, we want “…to hold a mirror up to nature.  And with enough eyes, hands, and mirrors, we could see it all.”  Amen!

If you concur with statements made here, there are ways of improving situations for all concerned.  Some solutions have been mentioned.  And, an all-encompassing direction will be, who we pick as our next leaders of our land.  Of course leaders almost never focus on the Arts or Artists but ethnic diversity is a big issue for politicians.  So consider some of the above thoughts when going to the polls, too.  Who do we think best represents us and how we want to see this country eventually look like?!

When all is said and done, we should not be building walls, but bridges, between cultures, as Pope Francis has suggested, and opening our minds to celebrating differences in all its glorious colors.  We must also consider one’s perspective, because it is unique, as presented in Artists Rep.’s newest, powerful production of, We are Proud to Present…, which deals, among other things, with that very issue.  As much as we’d like to, for understandings sake, we actually cannot walk in other person’s skin to know how they feel, as we have not experienced what they have from birth (as well as carrying our own baggage with us).  We have much to learn from each other and, personally, I find delving into different ways of thinking, living and believing, fascinating.  They say “variety is the spice of life,” so I say to Diversity, bring it on…!

Sunday, March 20, 2016

The Lady Aoi—Imago Theatre—SE Portland


This mysterious story is of Japanese origin by Yukio Mishima and translated by Donald Keene.  It is directed and scenic/sound designed by Jerry Mouawad (co-sound designer, Kyle Delamarter) and produced by Carol Triffle (Imago’s Founders).  Music Composers are Greg Ives, John Berendzen and Blade Rogers (also onstage percussionist), Lights by Jeff Forbes and Costumes by Sarah Mansfield.  It is playing at their space, 17 SE 8th Ave. (off Burnside), through March 27th.  It is street parking, so plan your time accordingly.  For more information, go to their site at www.imagotheatre.com or call 503-231-9581.

This is not unlike the “Grudge” horror films from Japan, where a vengeful ghost seeks revenge on the living.  And it does have a dose of “Fatal Attraction” thrown in for good measure.  Revenge is the mainstay of Shakespeare’s plays, as were many plays of that era.  And, along with Revenge, its sisters, Envy, Jealousy and Vanity, also reside.  After all, where would the plots of Hamlet, Macbeth or Othello, his Histories and even his Comedies, Tempest and …Dream et. al., be without those elements.  It is “a dish best served cold” propelled by icy blood from a heart so bold.

This is a tale woven from the nether regions of the mind…an alternate universe(s), perhaps…dimensions of sight and sound, where nothing is real and everything is possible.  It is as close as one’s snapshots of relevant memories and as far away as misty, musty dreams of what could-have-been.  This is, in my opinion, the style…setting…flavor of the piece we saw the other night.  I, and my artistic friend, Deanna, were both somewhat speechless after the performance, choosing to revel in our own thoughts than opining clumsy words about it, as if that might break its spell.

If you need a plot to hang your hat on, then it takes place in a hospital, where a young woman, Lady Aoi (Gwendolyn Duffy), seemingly lies in a semi-comatose state.  She is evidently there to be treated for some unspecified sexual repression or anxiety.  The Nurse (Emily Welch) explains the sanatorium is cut off from the outside world so that patients can heal without intrusion (of reality?).  But the Lady’s  husband, Hikaru (Matt DiBiasio), seems to feel responsible for her condition.

But there is also another nightly visitor that comes calling, Mrs. Yasuko Rokujo (Jeannie Rogers), who seems to have had a past relationship with the husband.  Images/memories of a lake and a sailboat (puppeteers, Kay Webster and Fiona Toland) appear to overpower this current situation at times.  Were they lovers?  Is she haunting/tormenting them as a way of getting some sort of retribution?  Or, are we inside the paranoid mind of the patient, as she conjures up recurring, haunting images of a tortured past, imagined or real, that has kept her confined physically and/or mentally?  It’s up to you to decide.

The mind is a labyrinth of possibilities and each one different in how it responds to stimuli.  In this production, the stimuli is not just the story, but the beats and rhythm within it; the music (Rogers) seems to direct or confound the characters; the set just shows us a snapshot of a physical place, missing any unnecessary elements to the immediate vision, like memories or dreams do; lighting that flows from one “reality” to another, depending on the circumstances; and the modulation of the voices, changing in a similar way.  All totaled, it is an organic, visceral experience.

Mouawad’s plays are always stimulating and invade the senses in very unique ways.  I guarantee you will not walk away from one of his productions, this one especially, without being touched in some way.  His actors also seem to be on the same page.  They all move voices and bodies to a secret rhythm.  The environment, likewise, has a life of its own, pulsating with primal chants and images from deep within.  And, perhaps oddly, there is something vaguely recognizable in the ebb and flow of the piece, as if it has always been waiting for us but just out of reach.  “…and the beat goes on….”

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

We Are Proud To Present…--Artists Repertory Theatre—SW Portland

“When Will We Ever Learn…”

The full title to this engaging cultural lesson by Jackie Sibblies Drury and directed by Kevin Jones is, We are proud to present a presentation about the Herero of Namibia, formerly known as South West Africa, from the German Sudwestafrika, between the years 1884-1915.  It is playing at their space, SW Alder St. and 16th Ave., through April 10th.  For more information, go to their site at www.artistsrep.org or call 503-241-1278.

The style of this play speaks to me personally, as when I was doing theatre in Ashland and Buffalo, Improv was a large part of some rehearsal processes, in which to get in touch with your character, you had to first get in touch with yourself.  The ultimate aim was to find the Truth in the piece and, thus, your character (and yourself).  In searching for the Reality of the situation, though, meant interacting with other characters/actors and, thereby, posed a corundum, because you are only experiencing that Reality from your perspective.  The true Reality may lie in the combined point of view of the group, or it may not truly ever be found in its entirety.  So, it begs the question, from whose perspective do we view this Reality or Truth (as this play questions).  Ah, “there’s the rub….”

This is an ensemble piece with all the actors (Chantal DeGroat, Joshua J. Weinstein, Vin Shambry, Chris Harder, Joseph Gibson and Rebecca Ridenour) playing a variety of roles.  The parts range from a German soldier with letters to his wife; his wife; an angry Afro-American searching for his roots; a German General without a heart; native tribal members; various animals, et. al.  The most consistent character is DeGroat, as the director of this improv piece, attempting to discover what really happened between the years 1884 to the beginning of WWI in South Africa.

In short, it was a genocide committed by Germany (not unlike the Holocaust leading through WWII), who ruled this area during that time period.  It started out peaceful enough (although one country taking over another bodes trouble any way you slice it).  Railroads were built, tribal leaders were appeased and it seemed, for awhile, all would prosper.  But Greed is a powerful motivating force in any government and, it is said, Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely.  And, like all dictatorships, Germany not only wanted a piece of the action but all of the action.   And so many Africans were enslaved, put into camps and, finally, eliminated.

Being the style of the play starts with the actors playing “themselves,” it begins with an overview of the events.  Not content with that, though, the director (DeGroat) wants the cast to really feel the roles and become part of the events in order to discover the reason for such an atrocity.  But, as the search for Truth continues, lines between the actors and the roles get blurred, they become personal and the play takes on an eerie, darker flavor, not unlike the boys in Lord of the Flies, where a collective mentality threatens to overrun the process.  To see how it all plays out, you’ll have to see the show.

All the actors are perfectly suited for their various roles.  And the cast and mostly bare stage seem to spill out into the audience, as if to say, this is your story, your reality, too.  Jones and his group know how to mesmerize an audience so, be warned, you will not leave the theatre without learning something about the human condition and psyche.  It builds to a riveting conclusion, an unsettling crescendo, in which we seem to be looking at things through a glass darkly, until it rotates and becomes a mirror for us.  “When will we ever learn…!”

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

Monday, March 14, 2016

Stupid Fucking Bird—Portland Center Stage—Pearl District

“…on and on…”

This comedy-drama is freely adapted for the stage, from Chekhov’s The Seagull, by Aaron Posner and directed by Howard Shalwitz.  It is playing at their space, 128 NW 11th Ave., through March 27th.  For more information, go to their site at www.pcs.org or call 503-445-3700.

The above sentiment seems to be a recurring theme in Chekhov’s writings, suggesting that Life just seems to be continuing on, like a treadmill we can’t seem to get off (except by Death) for no particular Purpose.  His stories seem peppered with doom and gloom, and death, and despair and deception.  And it seems that everybody only wants is to be loved but, Love is elusive…a trickster…seeking those that it deems worthy of its attention…and finding that mere mortals sorely lack the credentials to entice it to stay for very long.

And, so it is with the melancholy, Conrad (Ian Holcomb), a struggling writer, pining for his alluring leading lady, Nina (Katie deBuys), who is looking to be a big star someday.  Conrad’s mother, the petulant, Emma (Kate Eastwood Norris), was a famous actress on the stage.  Her newest conquest is the egocentric, Trigorin (Cody Nickell), a writer of some renown.  And Conrad is not without his admirers, too, for there is the brooding, Mash (Kimberly Gilbert), a cook, who is hopelessly in love with him, (unrequited, of course).

But it just so happens that Conrad’s best friend, the ever-faithful, Dev (Darius Pierce), a teacher, is crazy about Mash (again, unrequited).  And Emma’s brother, the kindly but perceptive, Eugene (Charles Leggett), a doctor, who just seems to be watching the proceedings from the sidelines, observing the permanent but unchanging Spirit of humankind, floundering forward toward…?  But throw a wrench or two into this “infernal machine” and watch the fireworks, as partners change, and so this Dance of Life is hardly over but has just begun.  How they all play out is the subject of the story, and so it is for you to partake, to see the results of these proceedings.

Are we possibly, as has been said, our own worst enemies?  Chekhov referred to his plays as comedies, although very dramatic and tragic, perhaps, from our perspective.  But he saw the human condition as a comedy and, if you agree with the observation that comedy and tragedy are just two different sides of the same coin, then he is correct.  Example:  If a comedian onstage slips on a banana peel and falls, then bounces up with a funny quip, it is amusing, a comedy.  But if, in real life, someone does that and is injured, it is sad, a tragedy, you see, different sides of the same coin.

But what is interesting about this production, is that the actors break that “fourth wall” for us and talk directly with the audience, the ultimate in audience participation, perhaps.  And, by doing that, we experience with them the dilemma, the “inner dialogue” of the characters (not unlike Wilder’s, Our Town or Master’s, Spoon River Anthology) in order to get a fuller understand of how and why they interact the way they do.  Very effective.

Shalwitz has kept the stage and actors open and free-wheeling most of the time, so that they are not trapped by the normal conventions of society, such as specific places and times.  They interact within a bubble or, like a snapshot, where only certain, crucial aspects of encounters are focused on.  He and Posner’s vision, along with scenic designer, Misha Kachman, offer us a portal between what “really exists,” us, and what is “imagined,” actors, and we discover that even an imaginary existence is still an existence and that we are free to float from one to another as it may benefit us.

All the actors handle their parts very well and have the added difficult task of improvising, when necessary, to encompass the audience’s suggestions.  Sometimes you want to give the characters a good shaking and, at other times, hug them, but all those feelings are because of some very talented actors on the stage who are not only willing to bare their souls for you, but enable you, perhaps, to see reflections of your own lives.  Bravo to all concerned!

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

Bullshot Crummond...—Lakewood Theatre Company—Lake Oswego, OR

“Stay Tuned…”

A wonderful throw-back to the old serials/cliffhangers of yesteryear, the World Premiere of Bullshot Crummond:  The Evil Eye of Jabar and the Invisible Bride of Death, by Ron House and directed by Alan Shearman, is playing at Lakewood, 368 S. State St. in Lake Oswego (parking lot at the rear of the building), through April 10th.  For more information, go to their site at www.lakewood-center.org or call 503-635-3901.

The above phrase would continue with, something like, “…for the next exciting episode next week of….”  And if you don’t know what I’m talking about, then you either were not alive then, or slept through the 30’s-50’s.  These were the unforgettable days of the Saturday afternoon movie matinees, where you would sometimes get a triple feature, a newsreel, a cartoon and the inevitable serial or cliffhanger (about 15 minutes long), all for about a quarter, where they would invite you back, week after week, to see the further adventures of…?

The modern translation of them in recent years of the adventure serials are the Indiana Jones, Alan Quartermaine, the Bond series, Star Wars or any of the Marvel superhero films.  This play is definitely a homage to them with the dashing, handsome hero; the ravishing, virginal beauty; the dastardly, evil-beyond-words, scientist; the bumbling, comic sidekick; and the (non-virginal), ravished femme-fatale.  They also included a variety of expendable henchmen and some very hokey, not-so-special effects.

Well, folks, fear not, they are all here in this production.  Our hero is none other than the British secret agent, Bullshot Crummond (Spencer Conway).  The maiden heroine, apple of Bullshot’s eye, and core of his existence, is the lovely, Rosemary (Kelly Stewart).  His war buddy, Algy (Andrew Harris), is his faithful friend.  The very bad man is Otto (Rick Warren), a master criminal trying to…wait for it…take over the world (no surprise there, I suppose).  His niece…er, mistress (maybe both in these new age incarnations) is Lenya (Stephanie Heuston), who actually has a couple of good points going for her.  And one of the expendables is Rosemary’s Aunt Charlotte (Burl Ross) and he, and Harris, play all the other assorted slaves, servants, soldiers and silly oddballs.

The plot (and here’s where I may get into trouble, as I can’t tell too much of it without spoiling surprises) has to do with a jewel and crown that are needed to fit into an ancient machine located in the Invisible City of Jabar, in the tomb of Nefertiti in the desert that, when activated, will destroy the world (or, at least, England).  In the meantime, we have to also deal with the allure of slender ankles, invisible beings, quicksand, hypnotic trances, the disappearance of Scotland (no great loss there, according to Crummond), flying carpets, trains, planes and automobiles (and ships), puppets, sheep and a tenacious dog, Buttercup (I have it on good authority that no animals were injured during this production).  And, since I have, by now, completely confused you, then you’ll just have to see it and sort it out for yourself, won’t you?

Believe me, it is all great fun!  And, what I found most enjoyable, was the low-tech approach to the production, thanks to a very inventive designer, John Gerth.  He has the imagination, inventiveness and determination to make it all work, and it does, smashingly.  With all the C/G and high tech effects in films and plays now, it is good to see that one can still just enjoy the simpler ways of observing things (don’t get me started on high-tech vs. the human touch).  The script, and Shearman’s directing of it, has its tongue rooted to its cheek and is very well cast.  Also, the set changes are amazingly smooth and quick.  Spot-on, on all fronts!

Conway is the daring hero in all his glory (ala, Ronald Coleman, Stewart Granger, et. al.) with the impeccable good looks and dashing manner, a cut above.  Stewart is his adorable companion with flashing smile and…delectable, slender ankles.  Warren is the nemeses with a premise to demise the whole silly lot of us.  And Heuston is the ultimate in naughty girls and has a couple of secret weapons in her arsenal that, when pointed out to you, could cause explosions in some of us.

But, as good as they are, the most versatile is yet to come.  Ross, playing the Aunt and many other guises, is adoringly funny, capturing both the essence and inanity of varying good and bad guys/gals.  And Harris has a treasure trove of secret disguises, from muttering uncles, to a soldier with some imitative comrades, to a wily Arab, a drinking buddy, et. al.  He is a master of comedy and it is all exposed here.  All in all, a fun experience, well worth your time!

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

Sunday, March 13, 2016

The Revenger’s Tragedy—The Elizabethan Revenge Society—N. Portland

“…Something Wicked This Way Comes”

This Elizabethan play is by Thomas Middleleton and directed by Ravyn Jazper-Hawke, with background music by KJ McElrath.  It is in performance at The Twilight Theater Company’s space, 7515 N. Brandon Ave. (limited parking in the church lot across the street), through the 13th.  For more information visit their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/ElizabethanRevengeSociety/

During Shakespeare’s times and in his plays, revenge was a hot topic for shows.  It’s unclear why, but it seems that people just like having grudges against other family members, neighbors, the ruling party, etc.  Most have the Bard’s plays have revenge as a chief ingredient to his stories.  If it was missing from his tales, then not much of a story is left.  And, of course, most of them end badly.

This play seems to be a bit of a takeoff on the melancholy Dane himself, Hamlet, the poster boy for Revenge (served hot or cold).  In this guise, though, he is Vindici (Alastair Morley Jaques), whose true love was poisoned by the nasty Duke (Phillip A. Rudolph) because she would not submit to his lecherous advances.  In return, he carries around the skull of his beloved and swears vengeance on the old fart.

But the Duke does have a fair amount of fire power on his side, including his equally horny son, the smooth-speaking, Lussurioso (Laurence Cox), who is fixated on deflowering Vindici’s maiden sister, Castiza (Jessica Joy).  Their mother, Gratiana (Athena McElrath), might be persuaded, too, for the right price, in turning her daughter over to this family.  But Vindici’s loyal brother, Hippolita (Amy Gray), feels his brother’s pain and together they hatch a plan to avenge themselves on the evil Duke and kin.

And nasty they are, too.  The scheming Duchess (Kevin Newland Scott) is having an adulterous affair with the Duke’s bastard son, Spurio (Chris Murphy).  Their youngest son, Junior (Sean Christopher Franson) is a convicted rapist.  And the two other sons, Ambitioso (Joy, again) and Supervacuo (Tom Abbott) are concocting plans to do away with both parents.  But, in defense of both houses, “what family doesn’t have its ups and downs.”  To witness how it all comes out in the end, you’ll just have to see it, won’t you?

As you might have guessed, this is a “deadly” play, but its saving grace is that it is performed with its tongue firmly embedded in its cheek (whether it was originally intended that way is unclear but it works).  And the addition of occasional, appropriate to the period, musical accompaniment by KJ McElrath on harpsichord and accordion, does lighten the somber mood as well.  Jazper-Hawke has kept the set sparse to enhance the actors and script.  And she has cast it well, too, as most of the actors handle the Elizabethan verse without a problem.

And I give them top marks for a program that describes character relationships so succinctly.  In a large cast show this is very helpful in clarifying roles and something other theatres should take heed of.  Their performances are having low attendance, so it would be ideal to give them a shot, as the story may not be everybody’s cup of tea but it certainly does have merit in the production of it.

Some of the stand-out performances are Rudolph, with his noble bearing and Scott (ala, Quentin Crisp from some years ago, who played women in drag, see the film, Orlando), who is very accomplished in portraying a female.  Gray is also very good at enacting the epitome of faithfulness and Cox as the “my shit doesn’t stink” sort of son is someone you love to hate.  But the finest of the evening was Jaques as the title character.  He captivates your attention every time he’s on and has just the right inflections, humor and expressions to keep you enthralled.  An actor who has a future on the stage if he continues in this field.

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

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Heathers, the Musical—Triangle Productions!—NE Portland

Damaged Goods

This Northwest Premiere musical, based on the cult film from the late 80’s by Daniel Walters, was written for the stage by Kevin Murphy and Laurence O’Keefe and directed by Diane Englert, co-production with Staged!, musical direction by Jonathan Quesenberry, and choreographed by Erin Shannon.  It is playing at their space at the Sanctuary (parking lot to the West of the bldg.), 1785 NE Sandy Blvd., through March 2nd.  For more information, go to their site at www.trianglepro.org or call 503-239-5919.

This has many things in common with Carrie, Bonnie and Clyde, Rebel Without a Cause, Badlands and Rent, et. al., in that it deals with people, dissatisfied with the current state of affairs (in their family, school, town, et. al.) are willing to take things, in a violent way, into their own hands.  Observe the current events with Youth in school shootings, bombings, Gay issues, abuse, bullying, date rape, suicides, sexing, drinking & drugs…and this story all takes place in the mid-80’s, before there was even the social media and cell phones!  Was this story ahead of its time and a prophetic warning of days to come?  Hell, yes!  So view at your own risk.

My first thought was to warn an audience of a certain age, teens, to stay away but I think those are exactly the ones that should see it!  It holds a mirror to their own generation and says, look at what the world of Youth has come to in some instances.  Hopefully the viewing will spurn revelations, discussions and, perhaps, changes in the way we look at things and the world.  OCT’s Young Professionals Company (just down the street from here) has been asking many of the same questions with their excellent shows around similar topics, Columbinus, Wrestling Season in the past and, next up, Chrysalis in mid-April.  It is said, “the pen is mightier than the sword,” and these examples just might hone these issues to a positive point.

The play is set in a high school during the 80’s in the Mid-West. Veronica (Malia Tibbets) is a newbie to the school and so, according to the social system, is an outsider.  But she wants to be part of the Popular Crowd like the snobby Heathers (Kelsey Bentz, Hannah Lauren Wilson, and Kaitlyn Sage).  So she agrees to do their bidding, just so she can fit in.  She does have some valuable attributes for them, like being able to forge handwriting, fetch items when called on and, generally, be a glorified gofer.  Of course this means she may have to shun her friendship with her best pal, Martha (Amanda Pred), who would definitely be considered a freak with this “In” crowd.

And this also allows her to associate with the Jocks, especially the ever-popular, not so bright, Kurt (Michel Castillo) and Ram (Blake Stone).  A double-edged sword, as she gains popularity, true, but they see her as nothing more than a sex toy.  Even her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Sawyer (Lisamarie Harrison) and (Joe Theissen) try to help by throwing a party for all of them but it’s a dud (what to parents know anyway, they were never young, right?!).

But then appears the new kid in town, J. D. (Ethan Crystal), a definite outsider, wearing black, with a flowing black coat (images of a Gunslinger or, perhaps, the Grim Reaper) and this world changes.  His abusive father (Colin Wood), too, is unable to cope with the Youth of his day.  Veronica feels a definite connection with him and together they will…but that would be telling, wouldn’t it?  So, guess you’ll just have to risk a trip and witness for yourself, the outcome.

Being a musical actually adds power to the story, as music for Youth is a great communicator to and for them.  My lovely friend, Deanna, who is much more musically inclined than I am (and an artist in that area in her own right) and identifies more closely with that era, was totally blown away by the songs, singers and musicians.  The songs are engrained in and enhance the plot, and powerful they are.  One of my favorites was a sad ballad by Martha, seeing the world through a misfit’s eyes.  The band is top-notch and Quesenberry’s lead is always a treat.
Englert and Horn are willing to tackle social issues head-on and this is perhaps one of his most engaging, as it spews the issues directly into our laps, almost daring us to dispute them and definitely challenging us to change them.  Her casting is excellent and this is a must-see if you are a believer in the power of the “mighty pen.”

Tibbets is terrific, as you’re never really sure as to which way her loyalties will eventually lie and her voice is unbeatable.  Crystal, as J. D., plays the character as an enigma, as it should be and is very convincing in his role.  The three Heathers Bentz, Wilson, and Sage are girls you love to hate and have voices that would raise the roof.  And I especially liked Pred as the misfit, Martha, as her type is so identifiable in any school or business (like myself in my teen years, unable to fit into any group, being an artist).

This production should take the town by storm!  It’s an earthquake, disguised as a tremor, but beware of the aftershocks!  Obviously, I highly recommend this production and I applaud the lady sitting in front of us, who came with her school-age daughter, as they reacted to the play and were holding each other.  May we all be as wise.

If you choose to see, tell them that Dennis sent you.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Moby-Dick, Rehearsed—Bag & Baggage—Hillsboro, OR

“Something [Fishy] This Way Comes…”

This little done narrative play was adapted for the stage by Orson Welles from the classic book by Herman Melville.  It is directed by Scott Palmer (B&B’s Artistic Director) and will run at their space at the Venetian Theatre, 253 E. Main St., through March 20th.  For more information, go to their site at www.bagnbaggage.org

This must be the year for narrative or storytelling theatre-type plays, as there’ve been two versions of Dickens’, Great Expectations (PCS & OSF), one on Shackleton by Portland Story Theatre and even Bad Kitty (OCT) has a narrator.  And now, this massive, imperfectly-adapted, whale-tale of a 1,000 page book is little more than two hours on the boards.  Imperfect because some characters, minor in the book, like Pip (Cassie Greer), the cabin-boy, are major players in the stage play, and others like Starbuck (Peter Schuyler) and Queequeg (Eric St. Cyr), major in the book, are merely supporting cogs in Welles’s version.  (By the way, this is also acknowledged by Palmer).

Outside of Welles playing Ahab, there was also Gregory Peck in a fair movie adaptation of the book and Patrick Stewart in a broader version of the story.  (There is also a new film version out now which I haven’t seen).  Things that came to mind when seeing this production were (oddly, perhaps) the legend of The Flying Dutchman, a cursed, doomed ghost ship that must forever roam the seven seas.  It also put me in mind of old Greek tragedies, where there was a sense of doom from the beginning and a Chorus commenting on and partaking in the story.  And Capt. Hook from Peter Pan, comes to mind, with his strange affinity to Tick-Tock, the alligator, who severed his hand.  And, of course, King Lear, where vanity and storms and vengeance run amuck.

The bulk of the story falls on possibly one of the toughest roles in the show, Ishmael (Jessi Walters), who has the lion’s share of narrating/storytelling of the play (as well as portraying a character in it) and so the delivery of this rests squarely on her shoulders and must she keep the audience engaged throughout with just narrative.  Luckily this role is in a pro’s hands.  The other crucial character, of course, is the possessed, Ahab (Kymberli Colbourne), who is tracking the white whale for vengeance, as he took his leg.  But, from the Bible (which weaves into the story very strongly), you know whose hands that trait should lie and, ignoring it by Ahab, is maybe why he and his ship are doomed from the beginning.

Welles’ version begins as a group of actors rehearsing the Lear play and then abruptly, for no apparent reason, change course mid-stream and decide to relate the tale of the Great White Whale.  The basic storyline is relatively straight-forward.  The owner of a whaling ship, Peleg (David Heath) has hired Ahab who, although eccentric, he feels is the best man for leading the pack.  But Ahab has other ideas and wants vengeance, as mention, on the fish who took his leg.  And so, the main crew is the practical, Starbuck, First-mate, the seasoned Stubb (Gary Strong), Second-mate and the rascal, Flask, (Heidi Kay Hunter), Third-mate, to lead his band of sailors to hell...

Also on board are the newbie, Ishmael, and a frightened cabin boy, Pip.  And there is outspoken, Elijah (Arianne Jacques), a dedicated Carpenter (Joey Copsey), and the young members of the crew, Tashtego (Mia Duckark) and Daggoo (Dawson Oliver).  Many of these roles are played by women but I (as well as Palmer) are firm believers that plays should have “blind” casting, meaning that roles should be cast according to their talent, not gender, age or culture.

This all works beautifully in Palmer’s artistic hands.  Sea shanties, ladders, movement (coach, Clara Hillier), flags, crates and terrific lighting (designer, Molly Stowe) create the atmosphere to transport you to another time and world.  I am never disappointed in Palmer’s shows and this one is no exception.  He has possibly one of the five best ensemble theatre groups in the greater Portland area, I believe.  And his choice of women in key roles is spot on.

Colbourne succeeds as Ahab in one specific way, she makes him more human.  And, by doing that, we are able to identify with the torture he must be going through.  We all have our demons and she succeeds in holding his up to the mirror, fatefully acknowledging that it is a death’s head.  Very well played.  Walters, as the storyteller, does an amazing job with the words, keeping us fully in tune with the ebb and flow of the tale.  She is always worth watching in their productions.  And Greer is a jewel, one of the ten best actors, in my opinion, in the greater Portland area.  Her monologue as a young, black boy, mind you, slipping into possible madness, is totally believable and mesmerizing.  Her voice and the way she controls her body are strong assets to her success.  I’m sure she will play many more captivating roles (as she has in the past) in the future.  Again, bravo, Greer!

A couple shout-outs I wish to make, to Hillier, a fine actor in her own right with many companies, and Beth Lewis, B&B’s Managing Director, with helping me with transportation to and from the theatre, going above and beyond the call of duty, I believe.  They are angels in my eyes!

And the restaurant,   www.venetiantheatre.com in the same building, is worth taking notice of, as their food is very reasonable and well prepared (their Hungarian Mushroom soup is to die-for) and the service is very friendly.  Well worth taking the extra time for lunch or dinner there before or after a show.

I highly recommend this play.  If you do choose to see it and/or eat at the restaurant, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Bad Kitty—Winningstad Theatre---downtown Portland

Katty Remarks

This production by the Oregon Children’s Theatre is written by Min Kahng, adapted from a book by Nick Bruel and directed by Dani Baldwin (OCT’s Education Director).  It is playing at the Winningstad, 1111 SW Broadway, through March 27th.  For more information, go to their site at www.octc.org or call 503-228-9571.

Pets are an important part of most peoples’ lives.  My own personal preference is dogs, as I have had about a half dozen over half my lifetime.  They often become “friends” and are integrated into the substance of our existence.  What is the fascination between the relationship of pets and humans?  Unconditional love from them, for one, and a creature that is dependent on us, and that makes us feel that we have a purpose, a reason for being, for another.  An unbeatable combination, I would say.

But this is a tale about the feline breed, cats, or a Kitty, to be more specific (and a puppy, mouse, bunny, baby, super heroes and those pesky, hairless animals called humans).  Once upon a time there was a Kitty (Katie Michels) who was all alone in her universe except for her occasional caretaker Human (James Sharinghousen).  She was quite content to live out her nine lives scratching, sleeping and eating all by her lone.  But Fate had a different scenario in mind for her.

One day, into her life, appeared a drooling, noisy, obnoxious thing called, Puppy (Lucas Welsh).  And from then on, things proceeded to go downhill.  It seemed that she had a birthday coming up and the whole house was invaded with “friends,” including a Chatty Cat (Allie Menzimer), who would just not shut up, and lots of useless presents.  And, when a Baby (Jill Westerby) appeared one day, that was the last straw.  She really blew her cool and, because of her bad behavior, was sent to an obedience school.

But in the school she met a curious dog, Petunia (Alan H. King), who hated cats and some cool “super hero” wannabes, Fantasticat (Alex Lankford), Power Mouse (Westerby, again) and a super villain, Dr. Lagomorph (Sharinghousen, again).  But here, I have to stop, for it is up to you to see how it all turns out.  Will the evil bunny take over the world?  Is Baby here to stay?  Will Kitty and Puppy ever make peace?  Will Kitty ever hear the words, “good kitty” from her owner?  Stay tuned….

This is play-time for the mind, which is important for children but also for adults, too.  Of course, through it all, there are gentle messages to be gleaned such as, don’t put tags on people.  Just because they don’t fall in step with our personal world doesn’t mean they don’t have value.  They are just listening to a different drummer.  When we rid ourselves of political, gender, cultural, et. al. labels, we may find we are really looking into a mirror and should explore the common ground we all share…and maybe, we too, will hear the phrase from others of…“good human.”

This play, on the surface, could have just been an ordinary, fun little romp, but in Baldwin’s hands, nothing is “ordinary” when it comes to children’s theatre.  She has chosen her cast carefully and they are fully engaged and electric when performing the show.  She knows how to get the most out of lines, reactions and subtle nuisances.  She keeps the show alive and flowing and, most of all, fun, as the Youth in the audience (and some adults, too) were fully enthralled with the proceedings.  Dani is a treasure as a teacher, director and performer herself and her Young Professionals program is amazing.  May she live long and prosper!

Sharinghousen is always a treat onstage.  I especially liked his villainous bunny, every twitch and quirk got a laugh.  Westerby, too, is a pro of the stage and, again, well worth watching in any show she does.  In this one, her Baby incarnation was priceless, getting just the right expressions and movements to convince us she was that infant.  King’s Petunia was as a goofy but slightly dangerous classmate.  Welsh was the typical puppy, all licks and drools and cuddly.  Menzimer was all too familiar as the one who was constantly running at the mouth with trivial banalities.  And Lankford was typically heroic as the mysterious, handsome, cape crusader vying to save the world.

And one should not forget the deep-voiced narrator (Joe Bolenbaugh), who kept the action moving along and the pianist (Stephen Thompson) who added some appropriate background music.  But the gem of the night was Michels as Kitty.  I’ve never seen this before onstage but she did not have one word of spoken English onstage but, by her expressions, inflexions and gestures, you always knew what she was saying and what she meant.  (I’m sure they had a special cat-translator on hand to make sure every feline word and gesture was accurate).  That alone is worthy of notice, but her appearance as Kitty was, to say the least, homely and I noticed in the program that she is actually a very attractive young lady.  Again, another very specific transformation and it all works, thanks to this talented actor.

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

Sunday, March 6, 2016

King Lear—Post 5 Theatre—Sellwood area

The Proud and the Profane

This classic tragedy by Shakespeare is directed by Rusty Tennant.  It is playing at their space, 1666 SE Lambert St., through March 19th.  For more information, go to their site at www.post5theatre.org

This story contains generous amounts of pride, greed, vanity, deception, treachery, selfishness and downright stupidity.  Most of the characters get exactly what they deserve.  But a couple, like Kent and Edgar, do manage eventually to rise above the primordial muck and gain a certain measure of satisfaction by the end.  Such is the nature of royalty and knaves…“of cabbages and kings.”

The tale concerns a rather vain and aged King, Lear (Tobias Andersen), dividing up his kingdom among his three daughters, the elder, the spiteful, Goneril (Ithica Tell), the wicked Regan (Jessica Tidd) and his favorite, the youngest, Cordelia (Dainichia Noireault).  The two elder siblings have equally ambitious husbands, the Duke of Albany (Keith Cable) and the Duke of Cornwall (Sam Holloway).

But, in a royal fit of egotism, Lear first wants his daughters to pledge their love for him, before he bestows these gifts.  The two eldest emit banal trivialities, which he seems pleased with.  But the youngest, not willing to play this stupid game, spouts that her love goes only as far as a child’s duty to honor the ones who gave her birth.  In a blink of an eye, everything is changed, and the proud King disinherits his youngest and banishes her from his kingdom.  She flees out of the country with the King of France (Brian Burger).  And, like dominoes, this event has a chain reaction, in which everything that was, is no more.

The Earl of Gloucester (Jim Butterfield) and the Earl of Kent (Todd Van Voris) remain loyal to Lear, as does his Fool (Philip J. Berns).  But Gloucester’s sons are divided on their allegiances.  Edmund (Heath Hyun), the bastard son, goes whichever way will benefit him the most, playing one faction against the other, as does Oswald (Stan Brown), the fey and duplicitous servant of the ladies.   Edgar (Jim Vadala), via some deception from Edmund, his brother, flees for his life, going under the guise of a beggar named, Poor Tom.  Kent also disguises his identity and becomes a messenger to Lear so that he can somehow protect his friend.

Once the dust has settled, many are dead, either by hanging, stabbing or poisoning; one blinded; true identities revealed; and an uneasy peace restore.  Such is life in the big city.  And questions still linger for from the author.  Does the Fool represent Lear’s conscience?  Is the King suffering from dementia, or is he truly mad?  Can’t tell you more as it would spoil the plot.  Suffice to say, it all is hinges on an aging monarch and a teenage child not being willing to swallow their pride (like father, like daughter?).  But, then, there wouldn’t have been such an intriguing story, would there?  Contrivances are necessary to moving the plot forward.  Such is the nature of tragedies, especially in Shakespeare:  “…for the want of a nail, a kingdom was lost.”

Lear is one of those classic roles and, outside of Hamlet for the younger set, possibly the most desired role for any mature actor of Shakespeare.  And so, it is time for Andersen to ascend that throne and accept his place among theatre royalty.  His Lear is one for the Ages!  He well deserves all the accolades set before him but know that he really deserves it.  Art is not something that comes without a lot of hard work (note in my interview last month on my blog with Tobias), sacrifice and dogged determination.  Art is not something you choose to do but seeks you out and, once it finds you, is like a cruel mistress, it will test you, bless you and, like a pit bull, once it latches onto you, will never let you go.  And so, I say, may Andersen have many more days in the sun…he has earned it!

Tennant has done an outstanding job of keeping the stage essentially bare and letting the actors create the setting for us.  And what a cast he has chosen, every one a trooper.  The two “weird” sisters, Tell and Tidd, are deliciously evil, ones you would want to spank…then chop off their heads.  Noireault plays the youngest as very headstrong and determined and it works well for the role.  Hyun, Holloway and Brown are gut-wrenchingly, nasty vermin.  And Butterfield, Cable and Vadala are sad but admirable men, caught up in a world that is not of their making.

And special kudos go to Van Voris as the loyal friend to Lear.  He is an actor that is always an asset to a production and he is in fine form here, too.  He has a naturalism in his approach to acting that makes every word he says very believable.  And Berns, a long-time member of this ensemble, is a special treat as the Fool, riding that thin line between wisdom and inanity, a balancing act that he treads beautifully, another sure asset to any production.

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

Thursday, March 3, 2016

The Yeomen of the Guard—Oregon Shakespeare Festival—Ashland, OR

“May the Farce Be With You”

This comic-musical by the ever-popular, Gilbert & Sullivan, is a World Premiere adaptation by Sean Graney, Andra Velis Simon and Matt Kahler and directed by Graney, music direction by Simon and choreographed by Jaclyn Miller, at the Thomas in downtown Ashland, in repertory, through October 30th.  For more information, go to their site at www.osfashland.org or call 800-219-8161.

Would G&S recognize this C&W adaptation of their merry, melodramatic musical if they were alive today?  Probably not.  Next question, does it matter?  Again, probably not.  The test of any great author(s) is whether they can stand the rigors of time and, thus, become immortal.  Case in point, three of this year’s opening plays…Shakespeare’s, Twelfth Night, via a 1930’s Hollywood movie musical;  Dickens’s, Great Expectations, via storytelling theatre; and, as mentioned, G&S’s, The Yeomen of the Guard, via C&W style music.  It works for me.

And the reason it works is that they are universal, can be transposed and transformed into any language, genre and time and it is still relevant and effective.  It speaks to us in a words we understand, even though they have been written a few hundred years ago.  From cave paintings of early Man, to oral traditions of clans and tribes, to the written word from different countries, we have been exposed to common truths that resonate for all Ages.

I am almost reluctant to try to give a brief summary of the plot, as that is not the selling point of this production, but for those of you who need that, here it be.  It seems that a young man named Fairfax (Jeremy Peter Johnson) has been arrested and condemned to be executed for having relations with the devil.  But his pure-as-the-driven-snow sweetheart, Phoebe (Britney Simpson), and her pappy, Major Meryll (Joseph Anthony Foronda), believe that the scheming Warden Carruthers (K. T. Vogt), may have her own reasons for doing away with Fairfax.

So, it is up to father and daughter and an old soldier pal of Fairfax’s, Deputy Dick (Anthony Heald), to spring him and clear his name.  But things may not be quite that easy, as the dastardly Shadbolt, the jailer (Michael Sharon), has designs on Phoebe, too.  But help seems to arrive in the guise of the Point singing group consisting of Elsie (Kate Hurster), Jan (Leah Anderson) and Krazy Kate (Simpson, again).  And so the plot…thins…you see, if they could just disguise Fairfax, then somehow get him…ah, but that would be telling wouldn’t it.  Guess you just have to see it to find out how this melodrama works out.

As mentioned, the plot is not the heart of this amazing production, it is the style.  Not only successfully transposing G&S’s music to the Old West but staging it as the ultimate in an audience-participation play.  Picture, if you will, some of the audience being allowed to sit on the stage (horseshoe shaped) and the actors moving amongst them.  Well, it would seem you’d have a nightmare on your hands for the director, lighting designer (Heather Gilbert), the ensemble, not to mention an unpredictable (and unrehearsed) audience.  But, you know something, it works beautifully!

The musical numbers are rousing (sorry I can’t mention any of them, as they weren’t listed in the program).  The singing and dancing in gold ole western style, including yodeling, country twang and sweet ballads was authentic.  And even the plot, slight as it was, gave one a bit of a nostalgic feel for those old oaters and serials some of us grew up on, Sgt. Preston of the Yukon (or Dudley Dooright, for a future audience), Nelson & Eddy musicals, and, going even further back, Buffalo Bill and his Wild West Show.  This production has elements of all of those and yet remains distinctly original.

Graney and Simon and their team of adapters has done a terrific job of adding another feather is OSF’s cap of something entirely unique.  And the audience, rather than being put off by this experience, seem to embrace it wholeheartedly.  OSF rarely falters in my eyes in the productions they present and when they do it is, of course, only my opinion.  You always should see and judge a show for yourself. 

And, here seems a good place to insert a few words about the unique companies of artists that OSF has forged over the years.  It becomes apparent in this production (as well as Twelfth Night) that the company of performers not only has to act and sing and dance but they also must play musical instruments, be acrobatic, good stage combaters (fencing, etc.), and must keep straight the many differing roles (from large to small) that they must inhabit over the Season.  And this goes for the astounding work of a team of artists, unseen, who labor tirelessly backstage to create, change and grease these underworlds of marvel so that it looks effortless and seamless to an audience.  My hat is off to you all!  BRAVO!

The cast is spot on in all the points mentioned above.  But I especially liked Simpson in her dual roles.  She was perfectly lovely as the heroine and then made an about-face when she played kooky, kinky, krazy Kate.  I wouldn’t have known it was the same actor had not the program mentioned it.  She’s a gem.  But I applaud them all, including the two background Yeomen (guards), Michael Caruso and Jesse Baldwin.  You’ll be sorry if you miss this play!

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

The Ashland Experience (part IV)

“AS I REMEMBER [BOWMER]:” I think it only fair to tell you a little bit of my history with the Festival and its Founder, Dr. Angus Bowmer.  I was accepted as an acting intern with OSF in the mid-1960’s, when there was only the outdoor theatre, and was in seven plays over two seasons.  But my real joy was when I enrolled in (what was then) Southern Oregon College and was taught and directed by this amazing visionary (perhaps akin to Walt Disney) who created an empire.  An acorn was planted by Bowmer some 80 years ago and a mighty oak has grown into OSF today.  But, remember, without the acorn, no oak.

Some things I remember:  He loved the supporting characters in Shakespeare, such as the ones he often played, Peter Quince in “…Dream,” Adam in “As You Like It,” and Shylock In “Merchant…” (yes, it is considered a “supporting” role in terms of stage time and amount of lines).  He was also not in favor of miking a show, feeling that actors should be trained to project their voices.

And he was a purist, feeling that Shakespeare’s shows should keep within his age.  But Time favors Evolution and, in evolving, change.  I think Disney, if he were alive today, would be astounded at what his dream had wrought, but also a little sad for what may have been left behind.  So, too, with Dr. Bowmer, I believe.  One memory that sticks with me, is watching him during a class, perform Hamlet’s monologue, “Oh, that this too, too solid flesh should melt….”  He enacted it as a spoiled, petulant teenager, scuffing his feet as he whined on, and I knew then that he had an insight into the mind of Shakespeare and the Truth he was trying to achieve with this character.  A unique soul who will be sorely missed.  One for the Ages!  But, “the beat goes on….”