Monday, October 16, 2017

Caught—Artists Rep—SW Portland

Down the Rabbit Hole

This event features the dissident, activist, Chinese artist, Lin Bo.
  It should be noted that there a great many people responsible for bringing Lin Bo and his  artistic concepts here, including Artists Rep, Dmae Roberts, Chris Harder, Sara Hennessy, Greg Watanabe, Shawn Lee, Christopher Chen, Horatio Law, the Geezer Gallery, et. al.  It is playing at their space, SW Alder St. and 16th Ave., through October 29th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-241-1278.

The meaning of “Caught (Qin),” one of his most famous pieces is, in part, according to Bo, “…represents the tension between the West—where there is a willing participation in compelling rapacity—and China, where there is a compulsory nullification of the individual.”  His Art and presentation focuses on this seeming disappearance of individuality, which is highly sought after in our country, but seems to have been stifled in his country.  I was particularly moved by the Zen garden, interactive piece, of white sand, representing the Tiananmen Square massacre, in which one can rake over it but never erase the blood stains of what happened there.

Bo presents his story of captivity for two years, complete with beatings, torture, minimal living conditions, etc., all for creating a piece of art.  Or so we are told.  With the weaving in and out of truth with this show, we can justifiably complain, I believe, that we may be slipping down the “rabbit hole,” in which “We, the People…”concept of our world is disappearing and the country is being ruled by an elite few.  Shame of Us!  Bo could (and does) present his reflections of this kind of era under Mao’s rule.  And, of course, propaganda, a conspiracy of lies to convince one the “truth” of a government policy/law that may or may not actually exist, plays a large part in our perceptions of our limited world, let alone others…another “rabbit hole.”

Yes, I’m spending some time on intellectual/psychological/philosophical stuff because a lot of what Bo is proposing/exposing is the layers within layers of Truth and our human understanding of it.  Are we like lemmings and simply follow over a cliff others that jump?  Or, are we an individual that steadfastly will stand by his precepts no matter what?  And, if that is true, what about the individual next to you, or across the seas, that have different viewpoints?  Are they wrong and we right, or vice-versa?  And, if so, do we/they have the right to impose our will on others?  And, to make it even more complicated, do we really know who we are in our hearts of hearts?  We behave differently with friends, with our co-workers, with our special someone, with strangers, etc., so which one of those many choices is the real…Me?!

The Bard may have hinted at this in his own way, which goes something like this, all the world’s a stage, and men and women, merely players, who have their exits and entrances, and each person, in his time, plays many parts.  Another thought, the late Lee Marvin, told me on the movie set of “Paint Your Wagon” (I was a featured extra in it), when I remarked to him of how authentic he seemed as a villain on screen.  He told me, you never play a character as a bad guy, you always play him as if he’s right and the rest of the world is wrong.  Something to think about.

This is an event that must be seen, experienced, rather than giving a blow by blow description of the “story.”  It is something to view, listen to and think about.  It is a peeling away, like an onion, at the layers of the “windmills of your mind.”  It is about specific lies we may hold dear and the elusive truths that may be in our grasp.  It is a journey, and the destination will be different for each of us.  See it, awaken, and explore the possibilities.

I marvel at Bo and all those mentioned above that help bring his concepts to life.  I highly recommend this show but be prepared to be amazed…and ponder afterwards your own avenues of coping with a very complicated world.  I highly recommend this show, and if you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Every Brilliant Thing—Portland Center Stage—Pearl District

Life’s Pleasures!

This one-man (Isaac Lamb) serio-comedy is written by Duncan Macmillian with Jonny Donahoe and is directed by Rose Riordan.  It is playing in the Ellyn Bye Studio at PCS’s, the Armory, 128 NW 11th Ave., through November 5th (parking can be a challenge in this area, so plan your time accordingly).  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-445-3700.

Into every life some rain must fall, it is said, but that doesn’t in the least mean, that life is not worth living.  When in doubt, consider Marie’s advice in her song and calculate “some of my favorite things.”  And to shake your fist and rail at the heavens because of some misfortune doesn’t mean the cards are stacked against you forever.  Like an enduring Grandfather clock, when the pendulum swings one way, it always has to swing back the other way as well.  Plus, consider an old adage that seems to ring true, “whenever God closes a door, somewhere a window is opened.”  Or, “every cloud has a silver lining.”

But the character in this play probably says it best, “things will get better.”  And if you sense a common theme in these comments, you’re right, suicide and depression are major topics in this play (as in the other, very good show at PCS, “Fun Home.”) but the character in this memory play does have a very simple solution to suicide:  “Don’t do it!”  In his case he got into a therapy group and was able to talk about it.  Of course, he did have a little help from “Mr. Pickle” (but to hear the rest of that story from him, or is ilk, you’ll have to see the show, won’t you?!).

If this sounds like it’s going to be a depressing, maudlin story, you’d be very wrong.  In his case, he had a mother that was suicidal and at 7 years old decided to begin a list of things he liked.  Over the years he will accumulate about a million things, some of which he would share with his Mom.  He meets a girl in college, Sam, and they marry.  But there are still some unanswered questions in his life.  Why is it he can’t seem to have fun, or be really happy?  One way to get out of the doldrums is to share his list with others and, better yet, have others add to his list of their favorite things.  And that is where the real magic of this production comes into play.

It is interactive and is an audience participation event.  Members of the audience are ask to play various characters in his biography, like the vet, who had to silence his beloved childhood pet, Sherlock Bones; or his Dad, and sometimes himself; or the school counselor; or the love of his life, Sam (strangely, he never asks anyone to play his Mom); and, of course, the know-it-all, “Mr. Pickles;” et. al.  He also has assigned various audience members to call out items from his list when he recites the numbers.  And, by the end, he will ask audience members to share items in their list on stick-um sheets and paste them on the lobby walls.  This is a play that benefits from being shared, not explained.

Of course that begs the question, what are some of my favorite things or memories, so here are five:  favorite food that is bad for you--Bacon-Cheeseburgers; favorite tear-jerker--Robert Downey’s film, “Hearts and Souls;” favorite being(s)—my best friends through life, all six of my dogs; favorite icon--Walt Disney, he created magic; and favorite place(s)—a tie between Ashland, OR (OSF) and Cannon Beach, OR, a place where my soul breathes.  And if you get down in the dumps, why not make a list for yourself.

Lamb is a treasure, both on the stage as a performer (who could forget his terrific creation in Portland Playhouse’s, “Peter and the Starcatcher.”) and as a director.  He is perfectly at ease as he breathes life into this character and as he handles the audience.  It’s as if you are sitting in a comfortable atmosphere with him and just reminiscing about life.  He puts you that much at ease.  Well done by him and Riordan, the director who had to modulate the performance and have him weave in and out of the audience area, aiding in the energy flow.

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

And, if you need help with depression or suicidal tendencies, or know someone who is in need of this kind of help, here are some aids:  Crisis Line at 503-988-4888 and/or

Sunday, October 8, 2017

You Can’t Take It With You—Beaverton Civic Theatre—Beaverton, OR

“Those Were The Days…”

This classic comedy from the 30’s by (George S.) Kaufman & (Moss) Hart is directed by Kraig Williams.  It is playing at their space, 12375 SW 5th St. (plenty of free parking in their lot), through October 14th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-754-9866.

Yes, nostalgia rings sweet nowadays, especially with all the turmoil in this present age, with everybody hating and threatening to kill anyone who doesn’t believe or look like them.  But, keep in mind, when this was written, we had just come out of a Depression and Prohibition, and WWII was looming on the horizon.  But somehow, those distant relatives of ours knew how to laugh at themselves and the government.  We didn’t take ourselves so seriously.  We knew how to have fun, in spite of controversy, and we laughed with each other, not at each other, regardless of differences.  And money and electronic technology were not the gods they seem to be now.  As the play reports, “you can’t take it with you,” so be happy in the here and now.

The microcosm of this sort of world rests on an unlikely clan of misfits.  Grandpa (Gary Anderson), collects stamps and snakes, goes to the zoo whenever he likes and refuses to pay taxes because he hasn’t figured out what he’s getting personally for the money he’d pay to them.  His philosophy being, I assume, that tax money should be spent on things he/we think(s) are important.  Wouldn’t that be a hoot if the money, our money, was only put toward what we thought was worthwhile like, maybe, education, or medical care, or fighting animal and child abuse, or the Arts…what a different world it might be.  I think Grandpa may be on to something.  But, I digress….

Others in this eccentric, extended family consist of his daughter, Penny (Patti Speight), a playwright and understanding mother and her inventor husband (Michael Allen), who makes fireworks in their basement, with his goofy partner, Mr. De Pinna (Neil Wade Freer).  Their children are the free-spirited Essie (Ciera Gregg), who has dreams of being a ballet dancer and her loopy husband, Ed (Jordan Fugitt), who accompanies her by playing Beethoven on his xylophone.  The other daughter, Alice (Nicole Rayner), is more straight-laced and actually has a real job in a company as a secretary.  And she seems to have joined “the establishment” and as she is dating the son of the owner, Tony (Benjamin Philip), a bit of a rebel himself.

Then there is Rheba (Valerie Vorderlandwehr), the outspoken maid/cook of the family and her ditzy mate, Donald (Les Ico), who seems to be the gofer for the family.  Adding to the confusion are Boris (Kyle Urban), Essie’s ballet instructor and outspoken Russian revolutionist and his compatriot, the Grand Duchess (Patricia Alston) who, after fleeing the USSR, is now a waitress in a diner.  Also a drunken actress, Gay (Diana LoVerso) appears on the scene, who is to read for Penny’s play. 
And a most unwelcome guest, an IRS flunky agent, Henderson (Glenn Russell), is attempting to collect back taxes.  There is also Mr. (Dennis Proulx) & Mrs. Kirby (Jeanine Stassens), the very straight-laced parents of Tony.  And, in a moment of even more chaos, four G-men (Linh Nguyen, Charles Wilson, Levi King and Dwayne Thurnau) raid the house.  If you haven’t been able to glean the humor and mischief of this madcap mix-up by now, then you’ll just have to see it for yourself as to how it all comes out.

This play was considered a classic of its time, as it had two of the most respected comedy writers of the time at the helm.  Now it is a bit dated but some of the character types created in this play can be seen in typical sit-coms of this age.  By the third act the message is clear and is relevant to today’s situations.  What we should treasure most is not in what’s in the bank or our pocketbooks but in the good company of friends and the right to live and pursue happiness.  “If you can’t laugh…what good are ya!”

The cast seems amazingly right for their parts, thanks to Williams, and to his clever blocking of the play.  They all have the right look and feel for the characters they enact.  In particular, Proulx and Stassens are perfect as the stiff-necked parents of their emerging son to manhood.  And Anderson plays it to the hilt as the grass-roots philosopher, who has the wisdom of Solomon, but the bearing of a shepherd who herds this flock of nomads.  Grandpa is the anchor and voice of the authors in the story and Anderson handles it very astutely.

I recommend this show.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.
And if you like what this company does, here is another play you might want to check out, based on one of my personal favorite stories and very appropriate for all ages by their Youth company:

A comical and family-friendly retelling of the classic tale of bumbling schoolmaster Ichabod Crane, after he moves to Sleepy Hollow, a town haunted by a headless horseman.
Sunday October 15th from 1pm-2pm, join us at the Beaverton City Library to meet the characters from Sleepy Hollow and make some fun crafts together! Ages 2-10 with family.

Based on the book by Washington Irving
Adapted for the stage by Frederick Gaines
Directed by Sarah Omniski
October 21st & 28th, 2017
Performance times at 11am, 1pm & 3pm

LOCATION NAME: Beaverton Civic Theatre 12375 SW 5th St, Beaverton, OR 97005
CONTACT INFO: Contact the Beaverton Civic Theatre at or 503-754-9866 with any questions.

Friday, October 6, 2017

You In Midair—New Expressive Works—SE Belmont

“Death Be Not Proud…”

This one-woman show, based on her true experiences, is written by and features, Danna Schaeffer, and is directed by Julie Akers.  It is playing at the above location, 810 SE Belmont, through October 15th.  For more information and tickets visit 800-838-3006 or

“You in midair and me on the ground…what a sight we must make…:” (a little rearranging of lyrics from a musical).  This seems appropriate when a separation occurs.  Schaeffer is talking about the ultimate separation for a parent, of course, the death of a child, her daughter, Rebecca, murdered by a stalker in July of 1989.  It seems tragic for another reason, too, as she was just on the point of being discovered and could have had a wonderful career. 

She was up for the part of the daughter (I believe) in “The Godfather III” and was that day to receive the script.  As it turned out, when the film was made, the director’s daughter ended up playing the part and (although she is now a respected director) was weak in the role, as if the Fates were saying, it should have been Rebecca.  But now the trick is for the living to…keep living—without feeling guilty about moving on and being happy.  That may be the hardest part, as if you do, you feel you are somehow betraying your loved one who has passed.

All these points are in Schaeffer’s script.  She speaks of when her daughter was in the 6th grade and got a part in a play and others noted that she seemed born to the Art.  She went on to do theatre throughout school and, at 16, went to The Big Apple to give Broadway a try.  She paid her “dues” by doing Soaps and modeling and then to LA to give TV a try, in the series, “My Sister Sam.”  And then, to Italy, with Mom, to do a made-for-TV film.

Schaeffer spends some time on this aspect of her story, as it was just a short time after that she was killed.  The land of romance, with tours and night life and imagined poling down the canals in a gondola.  A Last Hurrah.  She then does an about face as she receives the tragic news a few weeks later and the alienation she feels when trying to get a hold of friends and family, and the emptiness of the hospital when she goes to view the body, all very surreal.  But, in the final report, an outpouring of tributes and testimonials from fans and friends stream in at the memorial and after.

And then the search for Why and What to do now.  She discovers that giving way to “anger is no match for her loss.”  It is true, as one friend told her, their “lives will never be the same again.”  But, to go on …Salinger said, as he talked about loss, was like “running back and forth between grief and high delights,” something she can identify with.  And so now this play, as a catharsis for herself, as well as a memorial to her daughter.  It was a full house last night and you could sense the power of support from the audience, as Schaeffer bravely traversed between humor and sadness in her difficult journey to this point.  Akers wisely directed enough variety in her performance so it’s never static but always relevant.

Schaeffer is a fine performer and writer and I recommend this play.  If you do see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Fun Home—Portland Center Stage—Pearl District

Mapping Out A Life

This intense musical is based on the graphic novel by Alison Bechdel, music by Jeanine Tesori, book and lyrics by Lisa Kron.  It is directed by Chris Coleman (PCS’s Artistic Director), music direction by Rick Lewis and conductor/pianist, Eric Little.  It is playing at their space in The Armory, 128 W. 11th Ave. (parking can be a problem in this area, so plan your time accordingly), through October 22nd.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-445-3700.

It comes in with a whimper and goes out with a roar.  Those were my immediate thoughts when the play had ended, as it starts out like it might be just another ordinary, forgettable musical about a dysfunctional family, but ends up packing more than a one-two punch to the solar plexus by the time it’s over.  I’m sure everyone looks back on their life at some point, but it seems to be up to the writers to express those experiences on paper.  It is cathartic to examine one’s life, of course, but a writer/artist goes one step further, as when spilling their guts onto a canvas, they are also opening up the veins of others, so that they can emphasize with those situations and know they are not alone.  “And so it goes…” as Vonnegut would say.

Alison (Allison Mickelson) is just such a writer, in actuality, a graphic writer/designer of a novel.  She chooses to write of her growing-up years in PA during the 70’s.  She looks at herself when she was a young, school girl (Aida Valentine), and when she was a college student (Sara Masterson) and those formative years, mostly with her family.  She has a rather conservative mom, Helen (Faith Sandberg) and a dad, Bruce (Robert Mammana), who was a rather “free spirit.”  She, of course, identified more with her dad because of this semi-rebellious nature (what child wouldn’t).  And she also had two brothers, Christian (Karsten George) and John (Theo Curl).

Alison notices, as she’s growing up, that she’s beginning to change in her feelings toward boys and especially, girls.  She does not care for dresses but prefers jeans, likes getting dirty over being clean and proper, prefers alone time than being social, etc.  Only her father seems to sympathize with her, and for good reason, as he has had friends (Joe Knispel) over the years and they seem to disappear for long periods of time together.  It is only when she gets to college and meets Joan (Kristen DiMercurio) that she discovers love and her true self.  But through a tragic end to one of the family, she discovers also the pain of hiding one’s true self to satisfy an unforgiving and ignorant society.

Can’t tell you more without revealing plot devices but would have spent more time on certain songs, as they were not only well written and revealing and also well performed but, for some reason, they weren’t listed!  The best I can do is flounder around a bit and tell you some of the situations.  There is a very upbeat song from the “kids” regarding a commercial for their Dad’s funeral home; Joan has a song about her feelings; there is a song about a “raincoat of love;” Helen has a insightful song about living on Maple Ave.; Alison and her Dad have a touching song regarding telephone wires; and Bruce has a searing solo toward the end.  All of these are powerfully delivered and should be credited!

Coleman has done a marvelous job of connecting stories and characters over the years in a limited space and doesn’t leave us confused as to where and when we are in the story.  And his cast is spot-on, too, as they all are perfect for their roles.  I especially liked the two Alison’s of her youth (Valentine and Masterson), who were both top-notch in singing and acting.  Lewis/Little, too, and their orchestra add to the show’s success.  And the set, by master designer, William Bloodgood, was not only functional for such a complicated story but artistic as well.  Great job!

One might be inclined to say this is not for the young but I would disagree, as that is exactly who should see it, with appropriate guidance from professionals, of course.  True, it is about sensitive issues but it is also about real experiences in Life, too.  This may not only open your eyes but could save lives as well.  A couple of phone numbers that might be helpful are:  a Crisis Line at 503-988-4888 and a Gender identity line at 503-872-9664.

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

Phantom—Brunish Theatre—downtown Portland

Music of the Night

This musical production has music and lyrics by Maury Yeston and book by Arthur Kopit, based on the very good novel, “Phantom of the Opera” by Gaston Leroux.  It is directed by Jon Kretzu, musical direction & conducting by Valery Saul and choreography by Sara Parker.  It is produced by Stumptown Stages at the above space, 1111 SW Broadway (4th Floor), through October 15th.  For more information, go to their site at

This story has been through a few incarnations, including the famous Tony-award winner of a few years back.  Of course there was the silent, very effective version, with Lon Chaney, Sr., in the 20’s, the 40’s one with Claude Rains, the 60’s with Herbert Lom and an awful one with Robert Englund later on.  Of course it is really a remixing of the Beauty and the Beast story, also by a Frenchman.  This one goes more into the back-story of Erik.  But the actual book has never been truly explored on stage or screen, as it includes a major character, cut from subsequent versions, called simply, the Persian.  I recommend reading it.

This musical is not as memorable as its big brother but does have some good songs, terrific singers and a great chorus.  It is also told in a bit of a lighter tone (although a couple of characters do actually get killed).  It seems the Paris Opera House has a ghost who dwells, they say, in the underground mazes of the theater.  If you appease him, then things will run fine.  The rules are simple, he has to have his own private box, approve the singers and selection of operas for the Season, and never enter his domain.  Pretty straightforward, I’d say.  If all is to his liking, then the Season will run smoothly.

But, at this juncture of the story, the old manger of the house, CarriĆ©re (Gregory Brumfield), is being forcibly retired by their demanding diva, Carlotta (Elizabeth Hadley), and her mousey husband, Cholet (Sean Dodder), now the new manager.  But on the horizon is a fresh, young street singer, Christine (Laura McCulloch), who catches the attention (and the eye) of Count Philippe (Jesse Studenberg), a wealthy benefactor of the Opera, and directs her to be hired by them, which she is but as a costumer, not a singer.

This does not please Philippe, nor Erik, the Phantom (Pip Kennedy), who has heard her sing and is also smitten with her.  And if Erik is displeased…well, look out.  A couple of murders happen, some disruption of the Opera operations, a kidnapping and finally Erik is forced to take matters into his own hands…and it will not be pretty.  More I cannot tell you without ruining the story but know that, as I said, some of Erik’s past is revealed.

The simple staging by scenic designer, Demetri Pavlatos, to turn such a small space into a variety of playing areas is quite clever.  And the beautiful costumes, especially for the ladies, by designer, Margaret Louise Chapman, are amazing.  Lighting designer, Mark LaPierre, has some very expressive lighting, both for mood and set areas.  Choreography in such a limited space, especially of the chorus numbers, by Parker, is very effective.  Saul and her orchestra do justice to the score and do not overwhelm the singers.  Kretzu has done a remarkable job of casting, and developing an expansive story into compact surroundings, allowing our imaginations to create the rest.

I don’t know how, Kirk Mouser (Managing Artistic Director), finds all these remarkable singers for his productions, but he does it well.  McCulloch as Christine has a voice that would blow the top off the stage.  “Home” and “You Are Music” (w/Kennedy) being her highlights.  Truly a gifted young lady.  Hadley also was quite impressive as her foil, being both sad and humorous, as well as an accomplished singer.  “This Place Is Mine” being a standout number for her.  And Brumfield, as the ex-manager, has one of the best numbers in the show, “You Are My Own,” great voice and a very touching song.  And, as mentioned, the chorus numbers are also very impressive.

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

A Midsummer Night’s Dream—The Steep and Thorny Way to Heaven—SE Portland

Immersed in Dreams

Speculative Drama and Susurrations present Shakespeare’s most famous comedy directed by Myrrh Larsen and Wendy Wilcox.  It is playing at the above space, on SE 2nd & Hawthorne (near Madison), through October 14th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 262-586-9774.

This famous fantasy has had many stage and screen incarnations, as well as taking place in all sorts of exotic places and time periods, such as Georgia, Alaska, the Hippie era of the 60’s, in a Circus and even a summer home in modern times, et. al.  Film has seen MGM in the 30’s have the story peppered with their stars including Dick Powell, Norma Shearer, James Cagney and Mickey Rooney, and company; the BBC of the 60’s had Diana Rigg, David Warner and Ian Holm, et al; the 90’s had Kevin Klein and Michele Phieffer and others; and Oregon has had stage presentations by Post 5, OSF, PAC, Beaverton, and PCS.  All quite good in their own ways.

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 (all three voiced performances), Theseus (Todd Van Voris), Hippolyta (Sarah McGregor) and their friend, Egeus (Matt Pavik), father of Hermia.  They have invited to their celebration a couple of potential suitors for Hermia (Peyton McCandless), Lysander (Katie Mortemore) and Demetrius (Rega Lupo), the latter being the one that Egeus favors, as well as Hermia’s best friend, Helena (Myia Johnson).  But, as it so happens, both men are in love with Hermia.  This leaves her friend, Helena, as the odd wo-man out, but who also happens to have the hots for Demetrius.  “What fools these mortals be!” 

The local Fairies (Elisha Goodwin, Emily Helliwell, Kirsten Webb, Tora Holmes and Telo Walden), consisting of the King, Oberon (Rhansen Mars) and Titania (Megan Skye Hale, also company’s Artistic Director) and the King’s main man, the merry prankster himself, Robin Goodfellow, or Puck (Zed Jones), delight in causing even more confusion to these silly simpletons.  But, they are not beyond problems themselves, as the Queen has taken a Changeling Boy under her wing and is all but ignoring the King, who wants the boy for his own purposes.  But with a little magical love potion and some misdirection from Puck, the forest becomes a kaleidoscope of misadventures for all.

To further confuse the plot, some local tradesmen, the “rude mechanicals,” are attempting to entertain the royal court with a “tragical-comedy.”  Bottom/Pyramus (Matt Ostrowski), Flute/Thisby (Emily Hyde),   Snug/Lion (Megan Haynes) and their leader, Peter Quince/Wall/Moonlight (Elizabeth Neal) are making a mess of the play, to say the least, and Bottom becomes a real ass in the process.  I don’t believe it would be a spoiler to say that things eventually turn out “happily ever after” but, like all good things to be gotten, obstacles must be overcome, evils put at bay and love won, not taken for granted, so perhaps a better summation might be, and they lived…“hopefully” ever after!

This expansive story is beautifully rendered, like an imaginative painting or fine wine, in a diminutive setting, so that is can be more personally enveloped/absorbed into one’s being, to be savored and enjoyed.  It is amazing how universal the Bard’s works are, which can be translated to panoramic backdrop or, what is even better in my opinion, told simply in a story-book fashion, like this production, as a parent might do for a child, so that they can imagine the wonders of the surroundings and bring that world into their own.  Larsen and Wilcox have done just that and very well, too.  Also, a small but important point, perhaps, but I totally agree with the interpretation of Thisby’s last speech being given seriously, as these trades-people are not trying to be funny in their presentation, and so the humor comes from laughing with them, not at them.

The cast is exceptionally good, all the characters having their own unique twists.  I especially liked Jones as the mischievous merry-maker, the Pan-like Puck, as he romped about the forest, care-free and devil-may-care.  Mars was quite articulate and matter-of-fact as the demanding King of the Fairies, and Hale, as his not-to-be-trifled with Queen, standing her ground for feminine rights.  And Ostrowski was the perfect example of the blue-collared, gravel-voiced ugly duckling among the swans but, in his case, “ne’er the twain shall meet.”

If the Bard’s lingo scares you, this might be the ticket to bring you home, as it is disarming and accessible to ears and eyes that are open to new ways of appreciating things.  I recommend this production.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Human Noise—Imago Theatre—SE Portland

Tortured Souls

This avant-garde rendering of staged stories by Raymond Carver is directed, choreographed and designed by Jerry Mouawad (co-founder of Imago) and produced by Carol Triffle (co-founder of Imago).  It is playing at their space, 17 SE 8th Ave., just off Burnside (street parking only, so plan your time accordingly), through September 30th.  For more information, go to their site, or call 503-231-9581.

The fleeting spaces between our ears/loins/veins

Is only so much fodder for the burning emptiness we call Life.

We cling to breath, wringing out the last vestiges

Of memories in the explosive strands of what once was,

And can never be again.

We disconnect in imaginative ways,

Passing others like ships on a foggy night, seeing figures,

But never really knowing which ones are the phantoms.

We grope/gripe/grovel


For the something we deserve, we demand,

Just out of reach of our understanding.

It is in this moment

We begin again.

To review many Imago shows in the conventional ways seems downright rude and unsatisfying.  I believe they never mean for us to pick through a production with inadequate words but to go with the flow of kinetic energy that dominates their works.  They mean for us to feel and, in doing so, connect with a deeper understanding of our worlds and what makes us tick.

But for the conventional sorts, there are four stories here, which all have similar connective tissues.  The first, “Neighbors,” involves one couple, Bill (Michael Streeter) and his wife, Arlene (Carol Triffle), who are to cat-sit for their neighbors, Jim (Nathan Wonder) and Harriet (Danielle Vermette), who will be out of town vacationing for an indeterminate length of time.  But Bill and Arlene’s lives somehow become strangely intertwined by the lives of these people, and they seem to become absorbed into the fabric of their neighbors’ existence.

The second story, “A Serious Talk,” involves two exes, Burt (Nathan Wonder) and Vera (Danielle Vermette) who seem drawn to each other during the holidays, in this case, Christmas.  They can’t seem to stay away from each other and yet are destructive toward one another. They cling to and tear at each other, often at the same time.

The third episode, “Gazebo,” a couple who manage a run-down motel, Holly (Emily Elizabeth Welch) and Duane (Bryan Smith), seem to be at the end of their ropes, as they have both become drunks and have a love/hate relationship.    Duane has had an affair with one of the maids, Juanita (Sara Fay Goldman) and although it seems to be over, he really can’t forget her.  The most telling moment of the union (and my favorite of all these stories) is when Holly recalls a time meeting an old couple on a farm and the tale of them and their Gazebo.  It is the missing piece of this jigsaw puzzle.

And, lastly is the poem, “Torture,” which again, has two lovers, Wonder and Goldman in South America, who are not good for each other, and they know it, but can’t seem to keep their hands off each other, either.  All these stories have broken people and relationships who seem to be trying to reinvent themselves and become something they aren’t.  The human condition is like that, it just doesn’t give up.

It should be mentioned, too, that Mouawad and Triffle both have movement/dance heavily involved with their shows, which simply adds to the depth and pleasure of experiencing them.  I don’t pretend to understand all the purposes of the motions but I sense that it works on a deeper level in appreciating the pieces and it succeeds in this production, too, thanks to Mouawad’s leadership.  Every one of the actors is fully vested in their portrayals and I believed the plight of every one of them.  The characters are all very human, flawed perhaps, but identifiable.

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