Wednesday, June 29, 2016

When Thoughts Attack—CoHo Productions—NW Portland

“Inside Out” Redux

Kelly Kinsella wrote and performs her one-woman show as part of the SummerFest at CoHo, 2257 NW Raleigh St. (note:  finding parking in this area can be a challenge, so plan your time accordingly), from Thursday, July 14th through Sunday, July 17th at 7:30 pm.  Tickets are $20.  More information on her show and SummerFest can be found on their site at

If you’ve ever seen the excellent animated movie of the above title, you might get some idea of what Kinsella’s show will involve.  I saw a brief clip of it and it seems to embody also a stream-of-conscientious type of approach, too.  The author, Virginia Woolf, was also a big advocate of this style of writing in some of her stories, once using an entire short novel based on all the thoughts that went through a person’s head in the space of a few minutes.  Unfortunately, Woolf came to a tragic end by taking her own life, so the “attacks,” in her case, were fatal in the long run.

But, I believe, Kinsella is made of “sterner stuff,” and when you include humor in her material, it probably has a way of letting the “demons” out and diffusing or diluting such anxieties.  I recently had the pleasure of interviewing this lady from NYC and she sounded amazingly sane.  In fact some of her stories reminded me of when I was a child and wanted to become a writer.  And so I asked her how it all began:  I have been performing skits since I can remember!  As a child I was obsessed with playing make- believe…far beyond the capacity of most of my friends. I had a cousin, Johnny, who could keep up with me and, once on a family trip to his summer camp, we were able to extend a James Bond-esque scene--where he kidnapped my teddy bear--that took us from our bikes, to row-boats, to climbing trees, for an entire week.  We didn’t break character.  It’s still one of the greatest memories of my life….”

A personal note, it is important for our children to have “Johnny’s” and supportive families in our lives, as she did.  The public educational system seems, for the most part, hell-bent-on-leather to exorcise the Arts from their programs for budget reasons because they don’t feel it’s important.  Playtime and the Arts build character, teamwork and confidence in a child and if they don’t feel that’s important to becoming an adult, shame on them!  (Okay, I’m getting down off my soapbox now.)

She was a musician and, as a child, wrote songs “…and sang them to my dogs.  She also kept a diary and uses some of that material in her shows.  I, too, wrote and performed in backyard dramas but they were actually just recaps of things I’d seen in the movies or on TV.  But playtime morphs into school, which involved plays and Improvs.  Eventually she became “…an interactive street performer at Walt Disney World and various Renaissance Festivals.  Those experiences are all about working well with others and--like with my playtime with cousin, Johnny--they are my fondest memories.”

But somehow, someway, something emerges from all the artistic, primeval ooze we wallow through to become who we are today.  In my case, it was the discovery of my Muse, who guided me in my writing.  In Kelly’s case, when she wrote her first solo show, “…while working full time as an actor at Walt Disney World in Orlando FL.  I had already been doing sketch comedy along with the improv so that first show was very sketch-like--like Saturday Night Live--all big broad characters from my imagination…It took me another ten years to write my next play!  But then I wrote three pretty much one after the other and they all were based on people in my life, my career as a dresser, my family...and eventually with WHEN THOUGHTS ATTACK--my own struggle with anxiety.  My most recent show, HOW TO DO A ONE PERSON SHOW uses all these elements, storytelling, stand up, sketch, and original character work.”

But Success can be a “cruel mistress,” as it can alienate you from the so-called, “normal” world and people.  Performing and writing can be a lonely business, as there can be a chasm of sorts between the artistic and…well, everyone else.  The upside, of course, is connecting with other talented, creative people.  It’s an interesting, lively environment full of love.  But outside that safe, loving environment is the “real” world and that can have its challenges.  “…it’s difficult to identify as anything else!  We all know the life of an artist has no guarantees of success--financially or otherwise…yet it’s almost impossible to swallow that fact and move on to something else as time goes by…I often feel I may have missed out on some other opportunities--to have a family, or a fulfilling career….”  I know, only too well, that feeling.

But there are memorable times when performing.  I remember getting so psyched up during a show one night that, when I ran offstage, I burst through the stage door…the fire exit to the building…and then over the railing.  Kinsella has some interesting memories from her audiences.  The most memorable comment was from a woman who looked like she had just rolled out of bed, who exclaimed after she saw the show--‘Oh my God! You’re crazier than I am!’  Another time she had some religious critics, where she…“was doused with holy water by a bunch of middle aged Catholic women…that was strangely comforting.”  And, in a talk-back session after one of her shows, she had a 75 year old man proclaim, “’That’s me up there on that stage…that’s me!’"  Even though you may think you’re writing for yourself, it’s amazing how many people connect with what you say.

Currently she is writing a family drama which is inspired by her own family.  Also she has completed a pilot for the web.  And another one-woman show is in the works about, “…a woman who takes a trip to India in search of meaning and everything that can go wrong goes wrong...”  But to me, what is most interesting about writers/performers is the take-away they expect from an audience.  She has an absolutely amazing reply to that:  I want them to be entertained.  To laugh.  To understand and be understood.  I want them to feel a part of something that they should celebrate and not be ashamed of. To accept their humanity in all it’s great and grotesque-ness!  To be brave and honest with themselves for an hour.”  Amen to that.

In her case, it all started with the need to entertain people as a child.  It helps if you have a cohort or two, in her case her cousin, Johnny…and an audience, her family and especially important, was to make her sister, Shannon laugh.  It was a challenge; if I could achieve that, I knew I was on the right track.”  All Kelly needs now is another audience, older, perhaps and maybe, more diverse, but still smart enough to know that laughter is the best medicine, if not to change the world then, at least, to let “the world slide” for a couple of hours, so that we can recharge our batteries for another taxing day.

I think she deserves our attention.  What say, you?!

Monday, June 27, 2016

A Midsummer Night’s Dream—Experience Theatre Project—Beaverton, OR

“…life is rounded with a sleep”

One of the Bards best plays, which is adapted, directed and original music by Alisa Stewart, is playing (outdoors) at The Round at Beaverton Central, 12600 SW Crescent St., through July 10th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 844-387-7469.

Shakespeare’s “…Dream” is one of the loveliest fantasies every written.  It stirs in romance, adventure, comedy, status, politics, mistaken intentions, merry mix-ups and magic in a veritable quandary of a delicious feast.

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, the Duke of Athens, Theseus (Shaun Hennessy) and his lady, Hippolyta (Valerie Asbell).  They have invited to their celebration, Lysander (Matthew Sunderland) and Demetrius (John Corr), who both happened to be in love with the same woman, Hermia (Mamie Wilhelm).  This leaves Helena (Lexie Quandt) as the odd wo-man out, who happens to have the hots for Demetrius.

Meanwhile, on the home front, Nick Bottom (Michael C. Jordan) and a motley crew of tradesmen, led by Peter Quince (Shaye Eller), including Snout (Caleb Sohigian), Starveling (Meredith Ott), Snug (Elyse Hartman) and Flute (Steven Grawrock) have decided to put on a play, Romeo & Juliet, for the nobility of their fair town, on their nuptial day.

But the local Fairies (doubling from the tradesmen, and Jack Wells as Cobweb) have their own set of problems with the King, Oberon (Murren Kennedy), getting jealous because his wife, Titania (Sara Fay Goldman, also the choreographer), is showering so much attention on her new changeling-boy, that he feels she’s ignoring him.  (“Ah, Vanity, I knew you would get me in the end.”—Cyrano).

So, he has his trusted minion, Puck (Catherine Olson), spread some fairy juice on his wife’s eyes, as well as the two young, Athenian men, so that the next being they see, they will lust after.  This gets twisted around so that all the male hormones are directed toward Helena, and Oberon’s wife falls in lust with an ass…but to get the rest of that story, you’ll just have to see it.  Needless to say, all turns out as it should, and every Jack will have his Jill (and vice versa).

Shakespearean language is never easy to articulate, even for the most trained actors and, even then, open to debate as to meanings and inflections.  Do you do it in the traditional iambic pentameter, or olde English, or “conversational” style (as I learned)?  This troupe has wisely stuck to being understood and thus keeping it simple.

And, quite honestly, they do pretty well.  Goldman and Kennedy, as the royal fairies, seem to be the most proficient in speech and volume.  The lovers are also quite good as they are articulate and have captured the “fire and spirit and dew” of these lovers.  Jordan, as the ego-centric (not unlike Oberon) Bottom, was actually interacting with the audience which will endear them even more to the play.

Olson, as Puck, is a marvel!  She is absolutely the right size, look, understanding of the language and feisty spirit that the role calls for (she also has a pretty impressive background, too, in the Arts).  The tom-boy/Peter Pan (hope to see her do that one sometime) appearance is perfect for the role.  Her only drawback (mostly not her fault) is the volume.  She really needs to be amplified in some way, as she is too good not to be heard.  She is a find and I hope to see (and hear) more of her onstage.

The costumes (Carrie Anne Huneycutt) are super and really add to the success of the show.  They are simple, colorful and evoke another period.  And the original music by Stewart is beautiful and really enhances the period, feel and look of the show (unfortunately, not her fault, too, it needs amplification).  She cast the play well, kept it moving and, doing it outdoors, is a good idea for this play.  I’m not sure why she chose to have Romeo & Juliet as the tradesmen’s play instead of Pyramus and Thisbey, as I believe that would worked better, but director’s prerogative.  Also I want to give a shout-out to another pixie-looking lady, a girl named Jack, as the fairy, Cobweb, as she also has the right look and feel for this type of role, being impish, mischievous and slightly dangerous.  You, go, girl!

The biggest drawback is the fact that the designers of this space, which imitates a small Greek theatre, was obviously designed to be a performing space.  So why the hell did the planners decide to put a Max rail/train a few feet away, with the bells, whistles and hissing that go along with such a vehicle, and coming and going every few minutes!  They couldn’t build a curved wall at the back of this space that would have reflected the sound back into the performance area?!  That being said, my advice to the theatre company is that they might pull the show/actors/musicians closer to the lawn area.  Also they might try miking at least, Puck, and maybe some of the others.  And they might want to look for another space in the future where they don’t have the Max noise, patrons from near-by restaurants, planes, cars, horns, A/C in near-by building going off, etc. to disturb the production.

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

Roe—Angus Bowmer Theatre (OSF)—Ashland, OR

“To Be or Not To Be…”

This World Premiere at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival is written by Lisa Loomer and directed by Bill Rauch (OSF’s Artistic Director).  The show is co-produced with Arena Stage and Berkeley Repertory Theatre and plays, in rotation, through October 29th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 800-219-8161.

…That is a Giant question, but a more complex one might be, when does a “to be” become a Being, a Life, a Person?!  This Tree of Existence has many branches, such as personal, medical, philosophical, ethical, religious, cultural, legal/constitutional, et. al. and one answer does not fit all.  But the real question boils down to, who should be the decider when a birth is not wanted/expected/desired, regardless of consequences/stigmas from many of the above mentioned “branches?”  And, the other dilemma, should means be available legally to end/abort such a pregnancy?

Part of the answer, as to constitutional rights, came from the Supreme Court in the 70’s, ruling that the unborn cannot be considered a person and that a woman, under the right of privacy, which is protected by the Constitution, has the right to make decisions regarding her body (this may be an oversimplification on my part, but I think it is the essence).  The medical community (as vocalized by an audience member sitting near me, a doctor) concluded that “Life does not actually begin till 20-24 weeks in the womb.”  The religious faction considers Life to have begun at conception, being that the Soul is also born.  Personal opinions range from murder (murderer) to a woman’s right to choose.  A corundum not easily solved.

This play examines all those issues and more, and it does it without being judgmental (thanks to the brilliant writing of Loomer!), which is quite a trick.  The only parts I found to have clearer paths are the fact that making abortion illegal does not prevent it, it simply drives it underground into unsafe conditions (just as Prohibition did Not prevent drinking).  And, except for cases of sexual abuse/rape, there is a way to prevent unwanted pregnancies—abstinence from sex and birth control, thereby making that question mute.

I’ve spent a lot of time on the core issues of Roe v. Wade because I believe the story is such a personal and emotional roller-coaster that it needs to be evidenced by a live audience, not diluted by me giving a summary of the plot.  In brief, it focuses on “Jane Roe” herself, Norma McCorvey (Sara Bruner) and her life.  She was a poor, uneducated girl from the South who already had a couple of kids.  She was chosen to be the “Roe” in question, I believe, because the lawyers, the main attorney being Sarah Weddington (Sarah Jane Agnew), herself young and untested, possibly felt that she could be easily manipulated.  It turned out nothing could be further from the truth.

The main voice from the Courts is Justice Blackmun (Richard Elmore).  The other very vocal faction is the religious Right in the guise of Flip (Jeffrey King), a preacher and his dedicated assistant, Ronda (Amy Newman).  Another driving force in Norma’s life is her lover, the ever-faithful, Connie (Catherine Castellanos), who sticks by her through thick and thin.  And finally, there is the voice from the “future,” Roxanne (Nemuna Ceesay), a student of today, trying to make out what it all means for her.  The ultimate flurry of activity, of course, because of electronic interactions, is the ever-present and ever-powerful Media, which is constantly looking for stories to boost their ratings, not necessarily the Truth and, in the end, all factions are being manipulated/used/abused by our beloved social and news media (not unlike the O.J. Simpson trial/”circus”).  “What Fools we Mortals be!”

The rest of the ensemble is also exceptional:  Gina Daniels, Susan Lynskey, Kate Mulligan, Barret O’Brien, and Zoe Bishop.  “These few, these precious few…” play all the other, couple dozen parts as well, and they are super, and Bruner, as “Roe” is amazing!  Rauch is a Master, as he moves from one issue/person to another without losing focus of the through-line of the story and yet keeping each incident/event clear for the audience, so that they are not confused as to who’s who and what’s what.  Throughout the play the audience was applauding, cheering or booing at various stages, as they were completely captivated and rapt by the proceedings and gave the cast a well-deserved standing ovation at the end.

This has Broadway-bound written all over it and, I hope, that at least, Rauch, as director and Bruner, as “Roe,” could be included in that package.  In case you haven’t guessed, I highly recommend this play—it’s not to be missed!  If you do see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

The Ashland Experience part III

It is always worthwhile on a sunny day to dine along the creek.  While there, my friend Dave and I ate at Louie’s ( ), 41 N. Main St. (dining inside or on the creek) 541-482-9701, which has an extensive menu, now including gluten-free, organic and vegetarian options.

We also always eat at Caldera Tap House (on the creek or inside), 31 Water St., 541-482-7468  They have traditional pub food and their own micro-brews, which are quite good.  Christian was our server and very informative and congenial.  Patrick Couchman is the Manager.

And no trip should be complete without a walk through the famous, Lithia Park, complete with jogging trails, playgrounds, picnic areas, a creek and the ever-popular, duck pond.  It’s located just North of OSF.  I very much recommend spending some time there.

The Wiz—Allen Elizabethan (Outdoor) Theatre (OSF)—Ashland, OR

Home is Where the Heart is

This Oregon Shakespeare Festival musical production is by William F. Brown (book) and Charlie Smalls (music and lyrics) from L. Frank Baum’s classic story, “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.” and directed for the stage by Robert O’Hara, musical direction by Darcy Danielson and choreographed by Byron Easley.  It plays at their outdoor theatre space, in rotation, through October 15th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 800-219-8161.

This is not a remake, nor a sequel, to the immortal, “The Wizard of Oz,” but rather, a reimagining.  It is set in modern day and follows, like the classic tale, the journey of Dorothy (Ashley D. Kelley), a young girl from a farm in Kansas, to find her Destiny.  And, in so many stories of this kind, it is the Journey, not the Destination that is important.  Also, as often happens, what you are seeking has been right in front of you all the time.  But the Journey is necessary, as you must always go “over the rainbow” to be able to appreciate what you already have, not unlike the young lovers in The Fantasticks, where they learn that  Happiness must be Earned, not manufactured or taken for granted.

You probably know the story, but for the one or two who are not familiar with it, I’ll recap, as some changes are made.  For instance, Toto does not go to the Emerald City; the magic shoes are silver, not Ruby (although, in the book, they are silver slippers, changed to red for the film, because it was in color); there is the Good Witch of the South, Addaperle (Michele Mais), added to the cast; and the Professor Marvel character is reduced in size.  But the story remains, for the most part, in tack with, as mentioned, some marvelous reimagining.

Once the tornado thrusts Dorothy into the Land of Oz and her house crushes the Wicked Witch of the East, the Munchkins direct her to the Yellow Brick Road, which will lead her to the Emerald City, where she is to locate The Wiz (Jordan Barbour), who will get her back to Kansas.  Along the way she will meet the Scarecrow (J. Cameron Barnett), who is seeking brains, the Tinman (Rodney Gardiner), who wants a heart, and the Queen of the Lions (Christiana Clark), who is a coward and wants courage.

But, upon meeting The Wiz, he is willing to grant them their wishes for doing him just a teeny-weeny, little favor…killing the Wicked Witch of the West, Evillene (Yvette Monique Clark).  But, as it turns out, even after completing this task, The Wiz proves to be a bit of a charlatan and, although able to sweet talk his way through most of the favors requested, is unable to get Dorothy back home.  But it seems, she had the power all the time to get there, as Glinda (Britney Simpson), The Good Witch of the North, explains….and I think we all know what that is and how she eventually gets Home.

Some of the songs and dances are quite outstanding, such as the exciting, “Tornado Ballet;” the famous, “Ease on Down the Road;” the show-stopping songs (and dances) from the Tinman (Gardiner), “Slide Some Oil to Me,” and What Would I Do if I Could Feel;” the provocative, “Be a Lion” (Clark & Kelley); the outstanding, “No Bad News” (Y. Clark); the touching, “Believe in Yourself” (Barbour and Simpson); and the beautiful, “Home” (Kelley).  All the cast is exceptional but my favorites of the leads were Gardiner and Y. & C. Clark.

But, to me, the real “stars” of the shows was the ensemble, the gay gatekeeper, the chief monkey, the Munchkins, the trio, like a Greek chorus and those exceptional dancers.  The roles are not identified by name, so I will just list all the ensemble:  Tramell Tillman, Cedric Lamar, Jonathan Luke Stevens, Briawna Jackson, Tatiana Lofton, Jennie Greenberry, Desmond Nunn and Eean S. Cochran.  Anyone in the biz knows the importance of those doing supporting roles (and behind the scenes) but here is a chance to really see those individuals shine!

O’Hara has kept the special effects more low-key or simpler and it works, as it keeps the play moving at a brisker pace and forces the audiences to use their imaginations more.  Well done.  The costumes (Dede M. Ayite) are amazingly colorful and inventive.  And the choreography by Easley is extraordinary!  To me, this was the highlight of the show, along with all the chorus numbers (Danielson).

We are never too young to Dream, for it’s the Dreams that keep us sane.  And to prove that there may also still be such things as miracles, there is a popular story in Hollywood that there was a world-wide search for the colorful coat for Professor Marvel.  One day, one of the crew found such a jacket in a second-hand store, and it was used in the film.  It was discovered later that, along the collar, in faded letters, was the name of the original owner, L. Frank Baum!

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

The Ashland Experience, part II

Once again, my favorite places to stay are the Ashland Springs Hotel  212 E. Main St., in downtown Ashland (next door to OSF), or the Ashland Hills Hotel & Suites , 2525 Ashland St. (near the college, where I’ve stayed the last two times).  The Springs site has secured parking and is an easy walk to OSF and many of the restaurants and shops in downtown Ashland.  The Hills site, 541-482-8310, has an outdoor pool and Jacuzzi.  Both offer substantial breakfasts as part of the cost, consisting of yogurt, cereals, bagels/toast, hard-boiled eggs, fresh fruit, pancakes, juices, and coffee/tea.

The rooms are very comfortable and offer Internet connections and TV’s.  And the staff is really special, always willing to help and go the “extra mile” when necessary, to make your stay more comfortable.  I’ve experienced this generous nature with Karolina, Lisa and Darby, all class people, as far as I’m concerned.

I highly recommend these places.  If you do choose to stay there, please tell them Dennis sent you.

The Winter’s Tale—Allen Elizabethan (Outdoor) Theatre (OSF)—Ashland, OR

“A Tale of Two Cities”

This Oregon Shakespeare Festival production is by Mr. Shakespeare and directed for the stage by Desdemona  Chiang.  It plays at their outdoor theatre space, in rotation, through October 16th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 800-219-8161.

This is by no means the Bard’s best play, so is seldom done.  It is assumed that the title is because it is a depressing story.  But it could be a play on words, as it could be justifiably called “Tail,” assumedly because the first Act could take place at the “tail” of a devastating Winter, giving rise to a redeeming Spring in Act II.  And the residents of Sicilia are of the “old world,” being steeped in tradition.  The Bohemians are of the “new age,” evidenced by the 60’s.  Bohemians were also the title given to the pre-hippie era of the 30’s-50’s, of coffee houses, beatniks and folk music, probably of European/French origin, that led to cultural revolutions of the 60’s.

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

But my argument with the play (not the production, mind you) is that the King’s evil side manifests itself with little or no motive.  Yet these machinations form the whole reason for the plot to move forward.  The Bard seems to need a contrivance in some of his plays (as in this one) to get the ball rolling.  And many of these plays have an (unfounded or weak) jealousy and/or vanity, to spur them forward to some amazing adventures (see my follow up piece after the review, for further explanations).

But, that being said, the plot is (at least what I can tell you of it without being a spoiler) that that King of Sicilia (an Asian kingdom), Leontes (Eric Steinberg) suspects his wife, Hermione (Amy Kim Waschke) of having an affair with Polixenes (James Ryen), his childhood friend, the visiting King of Bohemia.  He relays his suspicions to his trusted adviser, Camillo (Cristofer Jean) and other close friends, Antigonus (Paul Juhn) and his wife, Paulina (Christiana Clark), but they will have none of it, and Camillo actually flees with Polixenes back to Bohemia.

Herminone, who is with child, is actually brought to trial for these supposed offenses and there are some tragic consequences to these actions.  Leontes banishes his condemned wife’s newborn to the netherlands, where she, too, ends up in Bohemia, under the care of a kind, old shepherd (Jonathan Haugen) and his not-too-bright son, (Paco Tolson).

By Act II, we are in Bohemia, where 16 years have passed.  Polixenes is concerned about his own son, Florizel (Moses Villarama), who seems to be disappearing for odd periods of time.  So he and Camillo disguise themselves to go in search of him.  Prince Florizel, meanwhile, is well and happy and has found a new love in Perdita (Cindy Im), a shepherdess, of sorts, and her band of her very merry, Hippie friends, led by Autolycus (Stephen Michael Spencer).  I cannot tell you more without spoiling the discoveries an audience should make.

I love Chiang’s view of the two worlds colliding, as it makes perfect sense with the traditional vs. the new age.  And the costumes by Helen Q. Huang are fanciful, expressive of these periods and a visual feast between the conservative, non-threatening muted look of the old age, and the revolutionary, in-your-face explosion of color for the new one.  The actors are all believable with, as often happens, the comic characters, Haugen, Tolson and Spencer, having the edge for demanding our attention in the entertainment field.

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

The Nature of Contrivance

Most stories, in one way or another, as conceived by their creator/author, are contrived.  This means that the story has been arranged in such a fashion that it can only lead inevitably to one conclusion, meaning that everything must be manipulated toward that end.  But Life is usually not Contrived, but Random (although some might justifiably argue that point), meaning that your choices at various crossroads, with endless possibilities, can/will be changed.

Shakespeare’s plays are full on contrivances/manipulations to make them work, which is as it should be, due, as mentioned above, to knowing how the creator wishes the story to turn out.  Where Mr. S. seems to fall on his face, is in his creation of motives (or, more specifically, lack of) for his villains/antagonists, which are crucial in directing a tale toward its conflicts and conclusions.

Most these characters, although juicy roles for actors, have little or no motivation for their actions.  For instance, Shylock, a money-lender, would rather have a pound of flesh to pay a dept; Lear, a popular King, allows his vanity to get the best of him, thus ruining a kingdom; Iago, a faithful soldier, would allow his hurt for not getting a promotion, put in motion actions that would lead to the death or ruin of many people, including his wife; Oberon would allow his wife’s fawning attention to a boy-child over him, propel him to set in motion a series of misadventures toward innocents; and, in this tale, Leontes allows the “green-eyed monster,” jealousy, to get the best of him, when he imagines his wife having an affair with his best friend (who he has pushed together), causing misfortunes for all of them, including his own children….  REALLY!!!  Is anybody watching these contrivances take place actually buying any of it?!  I doubt it.

On the other hand, a villain, like Richard III, that comes out at the beginning of the play and tells you for personal reasons he is going to cause havoc on all those who cross his path, I can believe, because he’s not conning you as to “contrived” motivations.  When a troubled youth, such as Hamlet, through circumstances he may not fully understand, is responsible for the deaths of others, he can be believed because he is a victim lashing out, not a perpetrator contriving phony reasons.  In other words, let the motivations be part of the character, not in spite, or separate from, the character.

The Ashland Experience (part I)

My favorite spot to eat and imbibe, The Black Sheep, pub and restaurant (upstairs), 51 N. Main St., is still there.  Look for the red door On The Plaza ( 541-482-6414 ).  Their main fair is traditional food and drink from the British Isles: England, Wales, Ireland and Scotland.  I had the blackened and blue burger on one night, but my favorite the next evening was their Shepherd’s Pie, to die for (and just a hint of horseradish), which livens up the bowl.  My friend, Dave, also had a dessert of the Bread Pudding, which he thought was tops.

What is especially nice about the place is the friendliness of the staff, Karen and Lee being there when we visited for meals, as they want to make you feel like family and chat with you.  They are also open late every night after the plays for snacks, drinks or desserts.  And they have a great interior look, complete with an English phone booth, and a chandelier over the bar that has to be seen to be believed.  I look forward to my next visit!

I highly recommend this spot.  If you do stop in, please tell them Dennis sent you. 

Friday, June 17, 2016

Green Day’s American Idiot—Triangle Productions!—NE Portland

This is Not the Life I Ordered

This musical is written by Billie Joe Armstrong and Michael Mayer, with lyrics by Armstrong, music by Green Day, directed by Donald Horn (Triangle’s Artistic Director), Musical Director & Conductor/Keyboard, Jonathan Quesenberry and choreography by Sara Mishler Martins.  It is playing at their space, 1785 NE Sandy Blvd. (parking lot to the West of the bldg.), through July 2nd.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-239-5919.

As one gets older (more mature?), it is not unusual to look back and wonder what happened to all those plans one had for their Life.  This musical is about that.  It has elements in common with The Rocky Horror Show, Hair, Rent and even, The Wizard of Oz (yes, you heard me right, Dorothy must go over the Rainbow before she can discover “there is no place like home.”).  It is the Journey, not necessarily the Destination that is important.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Johnny (David Cole) is growing up in Nowheresville, with his two best friends, Will (Ethan Crystal) and Tunny (Kimo Camat).  It’s not long before they discover that Greyhound can take them to Somewheresville, namely, the Big City.  But Will has done “the spider with two backs” one too many times and gets a girl, Heather (Kelsey Bentz), pregnant, so it’s a domesticated homebody he must become.  Then it’s up to Johnny and Tunny to ride the grey dog and “search for Intelligent Life in the Universe”…or, at least, to find out their place in it.

But Tunny discovers a cheaper way to see the world, the military, and so he goes off to war.  Instead, in a roundabout way, he finds love with an Extraordinary Girl (Jimmie Herrod).  Meanwhile, back at in the concrete jungle, Johnny discovers the Nowhere Man, St. Jimmy (Dale Johannes), who has all sorts of trips Johnny can go on without even leaving his bed.  And to make it even more attractive, he is partnered with Alysha (Carrie Morgan), who joins him on his mini-trips to the Land of Nod.  And, poor Will, finds that drink numbs the pain of domesticated life and it soon becomes history.

To say the least, this is just not the Life they bargained for.  And there are many people along the way that seem to be in the same boat (Lauren Steele, Michel Castillo and Peter Liptak).  To find out the results of their Journey, you’ll just have to see it.  The songs (not listed) and dancing do carry, along with the actors and musicians, the bulk of the weight of the story.  It almost like an opera, as most of it is sung with little dialogue.

And powerful it is, too, as my frequent companion to musicals, Deanna (soon to be debuting her own musical company on the East Side) said it took her back to her growing up years and had quite an impact on her then, as this production did for both of us, now.  This story does have a timeless quality about it, as it can relate to any time period that mixes the vicious cocktail of war, drugs, love and the price of human life, together.

This production is loud, unrelenting, and in-your-face.  It gives you no place to run and hide.  It will not be quieted and, if successful, it will follow you home and invade your dreams, because it is not a story of out there, where others live.  It is a story inside you, where you reside.

Horn, Quesenberry and Martins have thrust a cast front and center with the mandate that “attention must be paid.”  They are all exceptional, so are the Lighting (Jeff Woods) and videos (Ian Anderson-Priddy.  Cole, Crystal and Camat, as the masters of ceremony for these proceedings, are all at the top of their game.  They, and the rest of the cast, have powerful voices that can barely be contained within these fragile walls.  And Johannes, as the devil incarnate, is about as creepy as it gets, as he simply oozes Evil from every pore, as he grins and seems to be saying, suggestively, “thank you for flying with us.”

I highly recommend this show but, be very aware of the subject matter and the intensity in which it’s presented, and make your choice accordingly.  If you do choose, to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Stupid Kids—Post5 Theatre—SE Sellwood area

The Invisibles

This dramatic comedy is written by John C. Russell and co-directed by Rusty Tennant (co-Artistic Director of the Company) and Stan Brown (Company member).  This play is produced in conjunction with Fuse Theatre Ensemble and the OUTwright Festival.   It is playing at their space, 1666 SE Lambert St. in Sellwood, through June 25th.  For more information, go to their site at

Sheriff:  “Hey, whatta you kids rebelling against, anyway?”  Biker:  “Whatta ya got?!”  Lines from The Wild One with Brando, a biker movie of the 50’s, which seems to fit this play, too.  It also has resemblances to the films, The Outsiders, Rumble Fish, Disturbing Behavior, Fried Green Tomatoes, West Side Story, Grease, Footloose…but especially, Rebel Without a Cause, with James Dean.  In fact one of the main roles is called Jim Stark (Dean’s character) and even the classic line from that film is uttered, “you’re tearing me apart!”  Also Sal Mineo’s character is nicknamed Plato, from the philosopher, as is Neechee from this play and the four characters comment on needing a family unit to feel whole/accepted, as in the film.  My point is, if you want to see the geneses of the story, see the film, it’s great.

Jim (Jim Vadala) is the new kid at Joseph McCarthy High School and he intends on carving out his slice of the action by imposing himself on the most popular guy in school’s chick, Judy (Taylor Jean Grady).  She is impressed with this wayward wanderer so she makes herself available to him but that puts them both in jeopardy from the “ruling party” of the school.  The only safe haven for them seems to be with the geeks, the outsiders, who the gang pretty much ignores.

But these misfits also have feelings, too, and it just so happens, are gay, but not openly to others, and are best friends.  Neechee (Phillip Berns) has this dark philosopher for an idol and his pal, Kim (Jessica Hillenbrand) is in awe of the pessimistic singer, Patti Smith and the haunted poetry of Sylvia Plath.  In fact they are both poets and share their thoughts with each other through this medium.  It is inevitable that these two pairings would meet and find a certain solace in the fact that they are all on the outside, looking in at society through a glass, darkly.

Sexual identities will become confused and choices have to be made.  Does one join the establishment and become accepted, or continue to be an outsider, invisible, hunted and haunted?  For answers, you’ll have to see the play.  It is explicated in its language and sexual situations, so be aware.  In a very odd way, it is a love story of the truest kind, ultimately involving truth and sacrifice, two crucial ingredients for true love.  And it is the story of dealing with alienation, loneliness and the quest to be comfortable in one’s own skin in this big, wide (often un-accepting) world.

The directors have elected to use music from those periods, and lighting (Corey McCarey), as well as kinetic movement to enhance the story.  They have chosen well their cast, too, as they are first-rate!  Grady embodies well the difficult role of a girl wanting to be popular and desired, but coupled with the fact that she also really wants a friend and someone to confide in and understand her.  Vadala, a very good actor in all the shows I’ve seen him in, is able to make this role his own and he does it expertly, riding that thin line between needing to be bad but wanted to be understood.  Hillenbrand is spooky as she is able to express fire and pain, even in her more silent moments, as she truly knows how to project a character’s feelings to an audience.  And Berns is a treasure in every role he portrays.  He is an actor possessed by the characters he performs and his Neechee is all over the map with movement and expressions, suggesting an energy always at the point of explosion.  Kudos to all!

I recommend this play.  Also, there is ample parking in the lot behind the building, which is a God-send for a theatre in a neighborhood area.  If you do choose to see this show, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Psycho Beach Party—Twilight Theater Company—N. Portland

Seductive Sixties

This dark comedy is written by Charles Busch and directed by Ravyn Jazper-Hawke.  It is playing at their space at 7515 N. Brandon Ave. (off Lombard) through June 25th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-847-9838.

It is said that if you remember the 60’s, you weren’t there, referring, of course, to the amount of pills ingested, weed smoked, drugs injected and alcohol consumed, not to mention getting high on free love and rock music, thereby supposedly wiping out any memories of that era.  And Malibu Beach had its fair share of this forgotten generation.  Surfing and getting high were the big kicks there.  Any thought of becoming a responsible citizen and making a difference in the world was far-removed from these teens’ minds.

And this play’s title does reflect those times, as beach party movies were in vogue, as were the lesser known stories about “Three Faces of Eve” and “Sybil.”  In this case Chicklet (Rachel Jacques) does have her problems, as she is just at the point of being hatched into this mad world, only to discover that there is a deeper disturbance going on inside her as well.  Her mother (Bee Philip) would make “Mommie Dearest,” Joan Crawford, seem like Pollyanna.  And her best friend, Berdine (Amanda Anderson), is an intellectual whiz, striving to find her place in this disjointed world.

Of course, there must be a surfer dude, in this case Starcat (Sam Bennett), who has his roving eye on every chick on the beach.  Also, among her many friends, is the blonde Tab Hunter type, Yo-Yo (Ted Hartsook), not the sharpest knife in the drawer and his best buddy, Provoloney (Marty Winborne), the self-appointed organizer of the group.  Of course, we have to have the beach bunny, Marvel Ann (Eva Andrews), who will attack anyone in pants.  There is also the beach bum-philosopher, based on the Great Gonzo in real life, in this guise, Kanaka (Alastair Morley).  And, into their midst, appears the beautiful movie star, Bettina (Deone Jennings), escaping from her public, akin to a Marilyn Monroe type, who just wants to be appreciated for her acting talents and not just her looks.

Other beach-side attractions, adding to the populace, are Charles Michael Fox, Tabitha Ebert, Bobby Nove, Susan Westbo and Jeff Paulsen.  And such burning questions must be answered, such as will Chicklet’s split personalities wreck havoc on her friends…and why does she have these other selves anyway; will the Land Shark make a meal out of any of them; who will take whom to the Big Luau/Talent show; and will they all find True Happiness and Love, or will they separate and go in different directions?  You’ll just have to see it to find out the answers.

This show deals with all sorts of adult language and situations, so be warned.  But it seems to be a rather accurate reflection of a certain ilk during those hazy, lazy, crazy days of the 60’s.  Jazper-Hawke keeps the play moving at a brisk pace and the simple set changes are done quickly.  I especially liked the low-tech scene of the surfers.  And, for the most part, she has chosen her cast well.  They all have the right look and attitudes for that period, even though many of them were not born yet.

I especially appreciated Anderson, as the heady friend of the lead; Andrews as the forceful sex pot; Philip as the eccentric (to say the least) mother of Chicklet; Jennings as the misunderstood movie star, having both the looks and acting chops for the role; and Morley, as the kinetic, space-out “daddy” of the team.  The most difficult role in the play is Chicklet, with the many personalities.  Jacques has the right look for the role but differences in the “other” selves needed to be more pronounced.  As it is, there are only slight changes in her body and voice, and those elements need to be a lot more specific.

I recommend this show but, as mentioned, it is very adult.  Also, mostly neighborhood parking but there is a small parking lot in the church across the street.  If you do see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

PREVIEW: After the War Blues—MediaRites’ Theatre Diaspora—SW Portland

Building Bridges

This Oregon Premiere, staged reading, is written by Philip Kan Gotanda, co-directed by Bobby Bermea and Jamie Rea and produced by Dmae Roberts, Samson Syharath and Alex Haslett.  It is playing at 1:30 pm at PSU’s Lincoln Hall Studio Theatre, 1620 SW Park Ave., on Saturday, June 4th and Sunday, June 5th.  For more information, go to their site at

This is not a review but a Preview of an upcoming, one-weekend only event.  It is about the aftermath of a shameful event in our history, the internment camps that Japanese American citizens were sent to during WWII.  The place is a boarding house in San Francisco, which houses, not only the above mentioned citizens, but also African Americans, white Southern migrants, and Russian Jews, all trying to claim their part of the “American Dream” with limited resources.  Their attempt to mend fences and build bridges to find a new harmony is the basis of his play.

Pope Francis has said that we should not be “building walls” between countries/cultures but seeking ways to “build bridges.”  Armed with all this information, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mr. Gotanda, who, I understand, will be in attendance at these performances and is also teaching a master class in playwriting.  So many playwrights have personal connections to the tales they weave and so I was interested in Gotanda’s background as it related to the internment camps.

His entire family and friends from his community in Stockton were put into these Camps.  Gotanda was born and raised in the post-Camps of the 50’s & 60’s.  A “normal” question among Nisei (2nd Generation) was to ask what camp they had been in.  Gotanda continues, “On the surface I sensed nothing extraordinary about what happened.  At that time.   Later, as the event was recalled, re-examined,  openly remembered, my awareness, consciousness about what it was, how it affected my parents, how it affected my entire community as well as myself, was developed.

This begs the questions, then, as to how he overcame something like this (if you ever completely do)?  He agrees that, because of this, his view of the “white, dominate culture…was skewed.”  But he admits, “The remembrance, study of and writing about it, was a way for me to understand, put it into perspective and realize who and what I was as an American in this American society.  And in the world.”  I, too, find that the Arts in general, and writing, specifically, can be cathartic.

Although he feels much has been learned about the events that led up to this, and the aftermath, that nothing can be done to “make things right.”  Another way might be, as he says, “Rather than, what to do to ‘make it right’, perhaps the important throughline should be, ‘How did it happen?’, and, ‘We must be vigilant that that violation of US Citizenry and rights not be repeated’.”  Amen to that, but perhaps easier said than done.

But he postulates that it can be addressed, if you speak out and…“take some intelligent, strategic course of action to address it.   In the immediate, be wary of Trump and his world view and respond to it.”  Couldn’t agree more with that statement, as you view the circus the political system has become, one might wonder and, perhaps, fear the current state of affairs.  Building barriers are not the answer…building inroads are.

He confesses that being an American in America, in this day and age, is an “extremely complicated…frighteningly difficult task.”  Everyone has a story and, “If this is all going to work, everyone must accept the responsibility of knowing the other bodies as well as one’s own.   You have to try.  You probably will fail in degrees but you also learn in degrees and that is something to build on in your next action of responsible, mindful living.

All in all, this is a timely piece.  In my mind, it not only speaks of our shameful behavior toward Japanese Americans but also to African Americans, Native Americans and any cultural or religious beliefs that don’t happen to agree with the majority.  It may be that you can’t teach an “old dog, new tricks” but there are generations after us (if we last that long) that could make a difference.  There is a song from the musical, South Pacific, called “Carefully Taught,” which, speaking about children, in part says, “You have to be carefully taught to hate and to fear…” as this is not something that comes naturally to the young.  So, the obvious conclusion is, let’s stop teaching that to our next generation!!!  Duh.

I recognize many of the cast of this play, all who are fine actors, and this, I’m sure, will be an eye-opening and thoughtful play, hopefully promoting lively discussions.  So go see it and tell them Dennis sent you.