Friday, August 18, 2017

A Symphony For Portland—Kiggins Theater—Vancouver, WA

Cold City For Warm Hearts

This was a staged reading of a new musical play, “trying to prevent homelessness among Teens and Young Adults,” (many thanks to Dan Wyatt, General Manager) on Thursday, August 17th, 2017.  The composer of the book and score is Christina Hemphill, arranged by Cameron Jones and pianist is Angela Sun-Hong Yang.  This reading was for only this one night but she has high hopes for the future of this production and the anticipation that it will actually do some real good in the community as well.  Art is a universal conduit in which can flow the milk of human talent and compassion. (Contact information follows the interview below.)

The Journey:

I was fortunate enough to meet her and talk with her a bit about her involvement with this project.  It began when she was going to school in Indianapolis, “…a lack of vocal training kept me out of musicals in high school, my pipe organ lessons gave me enough skills to play the piano for them…I even wrote a few skits and directed musical events at church. But the moment I decided to become a playwright, was unexpected and sad.”  It was a chance meeting of a “young homeless person” that connected with her, “…I initially responded to by writing a three part symphonic piece for string orchestra, titled "A Symphony for Portland." But it wasn't enough.”

She entered a contest which was looking for a choral piece akin to “A Christmas Carol.”  So she, “…wrote the text about a young homeless girl giving birth and comparing it to Jesus' birth.”  She was writing the text for the music when a call from her daughter announced the sad news that her unborn grand-child was dead.  “So instead of celebrating a birth, we had a funeral.”  As often happens with writers, a tragic event can spurn creativity, so she continued to finish the choral piece.

Jump now in time to downtown Portland one winter night.  She met a homeless young man and was deeply troubled, “I did research on the prevalence of homeless youth in Portland. I had suspected from my old paramedic days that mental illness, addictions and domestic abuse accounted for a large part of it. I also knew that LGBT issues were part of it, but was filled with sorrow with this next fact.  While young people who identify as "not-straight" made up only 35% of the homeless youth population, they accounted for 65% of the suicides.”  And so was born a Cause, a Mission, perhaps, a reason for being.

This begs the question, then, how can she help with the Art form that she has chosen to speak for her.  As she says, “…something in a memory of my grandson, that painful loss of possible dreams, I knew I could try and prevent homelessness before it began. Yes, don't preach, but adopt the theatrical form almost as ancient as theater itself, the morality play and own it.”  And so the plan is to continue with this Dream by creating “a professional acting group who will take the musical on the road.”  Of course Broadway would be nice and, who knows, maybe even a Tony.  But, “…even a Tony will pale in comparison to the ultimate reward when someone's possible dream is wonderfully found.”

But a larger issue is at stake and that is the homeless Youth themselves and how to prevent such a loss in the first place.  If “…a parent or older sibling, is touched by the musical, maybe they'll pick up their phone right there and then, call that young person they're worried about and remind that child that they love them and aren't giving up on them. And maybe that young adult child will change their mind about running away, maybe they won't commit suicide that night and one less parent will be saved from feeling the pain of a dream painfully lost.  An outcome devoutly to be wished!

If, indeed this is something that reaches the depths of you and you can help in any way, here is some vital contact information:

“Here are two ways to donate to a full production.

1. Write a check, made payable to "Fractured Atlas." A receipt will be issued from Fractured Atlas in approximately 60 days.               

Mail this check to:

Christina Hemphill

4247 NW 12th Loop

Camas, WA 98607

2. To donate via Credit Card. This can be done by going to the play’s page with Fractured Atlas, which is found here.

https://www.fracturedatlas.org/site/fiscal/profile?id=14549
(Or go to www.fracturedatlas.org and search for "A Symphony for Portland.")
Thank you so much for being here and for your support.


A Symphony for Portland is a sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization. Contributions for the charitable purposes of A Symphony for Portland must be made payable to Fractured Atlas only and are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law.”

The Result:

I witnessed last night what I hope is a birth of another movement, this one of an artistic nature, to help combat homelessness in the cities, Portland being her focus for this show.  Since it was a staged reading and not a full production I can only give you the sense of the story and characters.  It is more of an opera in style with some of the dialogue/thoughts/ideas of the characters sung, but there is also spoken conversations, too.

There are some beautiful voices, also, that I only hope will someday make it to a full production of this play, mostly notably, Amelia Segler, playing the lead role of Starr and Agar, the head of the choir (actor’s name not given).  Another thing that is unique about presenting such a serious subject, is that there is some humor mixed in with it, which makes them all the more human and, thus, accessible.

The story follows Starr (Segler) a young girl just entering college.  And like many young people, this new-found freedom can sweep you off your feet, especially if you have an open and giving heart, like Starr does.  Her absorbed Dad (Gary Kissel) is all business and notices little the activities of his daughter.  She on the other hand is open to all sorts of new feelings and friends, even the homeless youth, Sarah (Becca Weinberg), Brianna (Nika Nagy), Jordan (Jack Lundy) and Aaron (Dylan Hyland) that live in the park near her college.  She befriends them but also another character that hangs out there, too, as Jesse (Janos Nagy), has taken a shine to her but he is less than forthcoming about his nefarious dealings on the side.  But Starr is too trusting, and her farther too distant, and so an affair strikes up.

The story follows the unfortunate plight of these characters, as we see the darkest of this “walk on the wild side,” but also the goodness of some of the people involved.  The story twists and turns and does, for the author, partly come back home to rest, as in an early skit she alludes, in her interview, to some years before.  The songs also tell the story of early disappointments, “It’s Not Fair;” the blindness of love, “Love in the Rain;” faith, “Only in this Moment;” letting things pass, “When We Let go;” and my favorite, the ugly duckling evolving, “Swan Song.”

The whole cast needs to be commended for presenting this piece, including the ones already mentioned as well as the pianist, Yang, for her accompaniment.  The rest of the ensemble consists of Anne Kissel, Edel Verzosa, Joseph Tardio, Mary Sutter, Jeff Weston, Taylor Hudson, Francis Guevara and Deborah Redman as the Narrator.  This is a show I would recommend and hope that it will be charged with a full production at some point.  If you can contribute in any way, there is information as to how after the above interview.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Twisted—Funhouse Lounge—SE Portland

Persian Parody

This slick, musical parody of the Disney musical, “Aladdin,” is written by Kahn Gale, Nick & Matt Lang, Music by A. J. Holmes and Lyrics by Kaley McMahon.  It is produced by Andy Barrett, directed by David Sikking, music direction by James Liptak and choreography by Haley Ward.  It is playing at their space (street parking only), 2432 SE 11th Ave, through August 19th.  For more information, go to their site at www.funhouselounge.com

The reason for this comic retake on “Aladdin” is to retell the tale from the villain’s point of view.  This is not unusual, as it was down with “Wicked,”, “Shrek,” and “Monster’s Inc.,” to name a few, in which the villains and monsters were allowed their time in the sun.  It’s true, it depends on your perspective as to who the bad guy really is.  Or, as Lee Marvin (an expert at playing villains) told me one time, while working on “Paint Your Wagon,” the villain never sees himself as the bad guy and so to be successful at playing that, the character should be approached as if he is the hero of the piece and, thus, you create the alternate perspective.  Because of this, perhaps, the anti-hero character was born.

But, in this tale, Ja’far (Aidan Nolan) starts out as a lowly assistant Vizier with dreams of creating a democratic government in Arabia, but this does not sit well with the dotty, old Sultan (Greg Shilling) and the chief Visier, who support a more “lucrative” form of government, in which the Golden Rule is following their version of it, stating that, “He who has the Gold, makes the rules.”  But not all is so bleak for Ja’far, as he meets, falls in love with and marries, Sheherazade (Kylie Rose), the teller of tales.  Unfortunately, the Sultan desires her, too, and takes her for his harem which, to say the least, creates some tension in the Palace.

Meanwhile, Aladdin (Rhansen Mars, a last minute replacement for the ailing Sean Ryan Lamb), a common thief and con man, is busy on the streets, wooing women indiscriminately.  His most recent sights are set on the Princess (Cassandra Pangelinan) of the kingdom and there is also a rumor of a cave of gold with riches beyond imaging, as well as a lamp with a Genie (Andy Barrett) able to fulfill three wishes.  Into this mix, add a Prince Ahmed (Shilling, again) that desires both the Princess and the kingdom.  Needless to say the story begins to take one down several, bumping paths to a somewhat bittersweet conclusion.

The songs in this play are really quite inventive.  Some of my favorites were “Follow the Golden Rule (Nolan & Co.)” (with some clever, dancing [Ward], to enhance the song), “Remember Prince Ahmed (Shilling, at his best),” and “Make a Story with No End (the lovely, Rose in a touching rendition).”  Nolan is perfect for the lead, both vulnerable and strong, as needed, and quite a singer.  Other very strong singers were the alluring and exotic, Pangelinan, with an amazing voice, and Mars, also a terrific singer, absolutely astounding at filling in for a major role (I wouldn’t have known he was a replacement had I not been told beforehand), and the rest of the cast, playing various roles, as well as puppets, including Johnnie Torres, Kristin Barrett, Haley Ward and Jade Tate.

Sikking, a very good actor, too, has chosen his cast well and it’s quite a feat to have such an epic story and characters confined to such a small place and make it work, but he does.  Liptak is always an asset to a show and his talent shines through in this one, too.  Ward also accomplishes magic, as she has some pretty complicated dance numbers created within a confining area.  She is also great doing several character bits in this production, as well.

A personal note, I have followed Ward’s career for a few years now and she is an actor to be reckoned with.  As a singer and dancer in OCT’s shows she always stood out in a production, even if playing a small role.  She said she was attracted to this “non-traditional piece” because she was intrigued by the “parody factor.”  She is away in college now, working on her BFA.  After that, some traveling, she said, but hopes to settle again in the NW “to make a living working in theatre, any position.”  With an attitude like that and her amazing talent, she could write her own ticket in anything she does in the Arts!  A co-worker with her one time told me, “she is so humble…she has no idea how good she really is.”  Amen to that and God Speed on your journey, Haley!

I recommend this production.  Because of rough language and adult situations, this would probably be rated R.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

hot ‘n’ throbbing—Twilight Theater Company—N. Portland

“…Lives of Quiet Desperation”

This very explicit drama about abuse and obsession is written by Paula Vogel and directed by Matt Gibson.  It is playing at their space, 7515 N. Brandon Ave. (just off Lombard…parking across the street in a church parking lot), through August 20th.  For more information, go to their site at www.twilighttheatercompany.org

According to Thoreau, the above title is what most people lead.  Which begs the question, why is this possible.  The easy answer is that we are conditioned, from birth onward, through heredity and nurturing, to eventually becoming the people we are.  In reality, the idea of Free Will may be only a vague memory.  Some of us are, in actuality, closer in kin to the lower order of animals and puppets than we are to an intellectual being that has the ability to make choices/changes in our lives.  The question then becomes, how do we break out of an oppressive/abusive cycle to being a compassionate, reasoning being.  That, folks, is the ultimate query and one in which “easy answers” are not forthcoming.

Control and Power over people and objects (or do people then become objects?) seems to be a quest by some—Master and Slave.  In this story, Charlene (Jaime Langton) is a writer of “erotic literature for women” in a noir style, or a type of pulp fiction.  She is even part of a film company that explores these issues.  Beware of saying she does porn or you’ll have a fight on your hands.  She even has a couple of “Muses” in the Voice Over (Adriana Gantzer), an alter-ego, a combination of adult, exotic dancer and sometimes Lisa, best friend to her daughter.  Then there is The Voice (Benjamin Philip), Director of her scenes in life, as well as a Noir-type of detective.  They will attempt to guide her.

She also has two children, teens, in various states of development.  Calvin (Chloe Duckart) is sexually repressed, a voyeur, seemingly unable to be part of the social crowd of his age and trying to be the “man of the house.”  Leslie Anne (Tabitha Ebert) desperately wants to take “a walk on the wild side,” but is unable to do that except in her imagination.  Both kids are at odds with their Mom, who they live with, and their estranged Dad, Clyde (Jason A. England), who is an abusive, alcoholic, unemployed ex-husband/father who pops in now and again, probably just to exert power over his charges.

And one, explosive night, everything comes to a head and it doesn’t really end well for anyone.  Obviously, I’m not going to tell you the outcome but know that this would be R-rated and the scenes of violence, although stylized, and language, are explicit!  Definitely not for Youth, although in today’s atmosphere, some mature young people might be able to glean from this story and, perhaps, see behavior in their friends/family that might mirror, in some ways, the situations portrayed here.  But this play is certainly not for the squeamish or those easily offended.

The actors are all first-rate and I applaud their courage for exposing such a difficult subject.  As “entertainment” I would not recommend this play.  But as a learning experience or as educational material, it is a must.  Vogel is a brutally honest playwright and I don’t doubt that she has had experience first-hand, in life, of the behaviors she writes about and so I applaud, too, her bravery.

Gibson is a classy director and I admire his choices.  The power in any scene is not what you see/hear, but what you imagine you see and hear.  For example, the original film of “Halloween” was criticized for being too bloody (even banned in Portland when it was released for TV) and yet there is virtually no blood evident in it (just some great music, writing, photography, acting and directing, all by Carpenter).  He did not create a reality, only the illusion of a reality.  And, so to, has Gibson, and done it very well!

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

The Fantasticks—Metro Performing Arts—NE Portland

The “Salad” Years

This classic, long-running, Broadway musical has book and lyrics by Tom Jones and music by Harvey Schmidt, and is directed by Paul Angelo, music direction by Valery Saul and choreography by Shannon Jung.  It is playing at the Triangle space, 1785 NE Sandy Blvd., through August 20th.  For more information, go to their site at www.metropaa.org

If “Life is a Banquet...,” a meal, then your teens are your “salad” years.  Too old for a spanking, when mistakes are made, old enough to know better in your heart of hearts.  Twain said of these formative years that, at that age, he surmised his father knew very little.  But when Twain reached his 20’s, he was amazed at how much wiser his dad become!  “Ah, Youth is wasted on the Young.”

The story is “as old as time:” Boy meets girl, they split up, they reconcile, they “live happily ever after.”  But the variations within that are endless.  In this case it is presented in a story-telling style on a mostly bare stage, with a Mute (Natalie Stromberg), a Narrator (Pip Kennedy), an old steamer truck with endless props, and a couple of third-rate actors, Henry (John Matthews) and Mortimer (Tristan James) to fill in the blanks.

As the story goes, a couple of star-struck teens, neighbors, the poetic, Matt (Isaiah Rosales) and the romantic, Luisa (Jessica Caldwell) have “discovered” each other and have decided to follow that winding road called Life together, wherever it may lead.  Only roadblock is a Wall, purposely built by their two fathers, Luisa’s, Bellomy (Doug Zimmerman), a button salesman, and the boy’s, Hucklebee (Sean Kelly), a fastidious gardener.  Of course, a Wall is no match for some determined Youth.

But the fathers are not as dense as first thought, as they know that if they approved of such a union, their kids would run in the opposite direction, so they pretend to feud.  They also decide to hire a small company of actors, including one, El Gallo (Kennedy, again), and his cohorts, Henry and Mortimer, to pose as bandits and pretend to abduct the girl, in which, they conclude, the boy will fight them off, he rescues the girl and they all live happily ever after, but that all happens in the soothing moonlight.  In the blazing sun, the world looks a whole lot different.

And so the story takes an ugly turn, as the boy seeks his fortune outside this protective circle and the girl must accept the world as it is.  Both will be hurt but wiser, too.  Not unlike Dorothy, they will seek their happiness “over the rainbow,” only to find it was in their own backyards all the time.  But, sometimes, “the world is too much with us,” and so we are forced to look within for what’s really important.  “The world is nowhere…no one, you are the world!”

It should be noted that a couple of criticisms have been leveled at the play over the years.  One is that “Rape Ballet,” which actually is a misnomer because it is, in actuality, a kidnapping with a pre-determined ending, and so this number is either cut or modified (as in this case).  I think the authors were simply trying to be daring for the Big City audiences, as rape is nothing to make light of.  Also some have remarked that having the Bandit pictured as a Latin American is stereotyping but El Gallo is simply a role that the Narrator is donning for the play within a play and, in reality, turns out to be a teacher of tough love rather than a villain.

A couple of film versions have flopped, for this is not a filmable story, as it needs the intimacy of a small, live audience to be successful.  On TV, many moons ago, it had Richardo Montoban (sp?), Lesley Ann Warren, and John Davidson., censored and rather flat, and the movie version with Joel Grey, set in the Old West, gawd-awful.  The music and songs are great so, take my word for it, see it in a theatre.

The score is pretty complicated but these performers seem up to the task.  The famous, “Try To Remember,” a beautiful ballad, well sung by Kennedy, comes from this.  Also the lovely, “Soon It’s Gonna Rain,” and “They Were You,” both love songs, well voiced by Rosales and Caldwell.  And the fathers, Zimmerman and Kelly, are a hoot in their numbers, “Never Say No” and “Plant a Radish.”  There are a number of dance numbers accompanying these songs, very well choreographed by Jung in such a limited space.  The misfit players were fun and especially good was Stromberg as the Mute, filling in for missing elements in the story, as well as dancing in various scenes.

Saul and her band of renown, David Saffert (piano), Eli Graf (Double Bass) and, my favorite, Kate Petak on Harp, were spot on and did not overpower the actors, which often happens in a small space.  Angelo, a seasoned director, has done well with casting the play and keeping the show intimate and personal, as it should be for the audience.

A couple of side notes, it is reported that the idea for Henry, the old actor, comes from their former drama teacher, B. Iden Payne, who also was a friend of Dr. Angus Bowmer, Founder of OSF in Ashland.  Also, I have played Henry five times over about 20 years both in the NY area as well as the NW.  I even voiced for the NW theatre of the Deaf, El Gallo, Henry and Mortimer, which is a real trick because a couple of times I was having a three-way conversation with myself, as the actors onstage signed the roles.  Whew.

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

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Lungs—Third Rail—NW Portland

“From Womb to Tomb”

This two-actor, intense drama is written by Duncan Macmillan and directed by Rebecca Lingafelter.  It is playing at the CoHo space, 2257 NW Raleigh St., through August 26th (parking is a real challenge in this area, due to construction in the area and a slew of bars, so plan your time accordingly).  For more information, go to their site at www.thirdrailrep.org or call 503-235-1101.

Life is something that happens when you wake up…and then you die.  The life span of a house fly is around a week but some exotic tortoises live over a thousand years.  We are definitely closer in time on this earth to the fly and, according to some government officials who poo-poo the idea of “global warming,” our time might be just as limited as that fly if we’re not careful.  It is unfortunate that we, as “reasoning” creatures, caretakers of this once naturally, rich planet, have chosen to let greed and power rule our intellect and heart, and “let the world slide.”  Shame on us!

This play is about two “good people” (Darius Pierce and Cristi Miles) who are considering bringing a new life into this world.  But there are responsibilities and consequences that must be considered when making this decision.  Are you willing to give up any hopes of extended travel, high-powered careers, individual dreams of exciting adventures?  Willing to give up personal, alone-time with each other and being able to follow whims whenever you choose?  And what about the actual realities of the birthing process, the anxiety, physical pain, emotional tolls on both people, et. al.?  And what kind of world are we bringing new life into, anyway?  Considerations not to be taking lightly, to say the least.

The production of this play strips away all the trappings of actual realities, such as traditional set pieces and props, even the passing of time and miming of objects is non-existent, throwing the story fully into the viewers/listeners laps, seeming to dare us to accept the mantel of their plight, so that we can absorb their tears, joys, fears and anger.  The intensity is palpable, as both Pierce and Miles tear at each other in a type of stream-of-consciousness approach, in which one can experience the immediacy and urgency of their thought processes.  This story is not for the timid of heart, as it will linger with you long after the play is over.

Pierce and Miles are excellent and must be emotionally drained by the end of the show!  Lingafelter is a fine actor herself and certainly understands what an actor goes through to create a character.  Also her blocking, simple as it is, does give you a sense of changes in mood, space and time.  All in all, a very disturbing but oddly satisfying production.  (A side note, doubt anyone can tell me where the quote comes from in which I titled this review or, for that matter, the quote at end of the first paragraph).

I recommend this production, especially for the explosive performances of these two pros.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Monday, July 31, 2017

…Match Girl…&…Crossing a Field—Portland Opera—Downtown Portland

“The World is Too Much With Us”

The Little Match Girl Passion (from a story by Hans Christian Anderson) and The Difficulty of Crossing a Field (from a story by Ambrose Bierce) are composed for the stage by David Lang and directed by Jerry Mouawad (co-Artistic Director/Founder of Imago) and orchestra conducted by Hal France.  It is playing at the Newmark Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway, July 30th, August 3rd & 5th.  For more information, go to their site at www.portlandopera.org or call 503-241-1802 for tickets.

I asked myself, what do these two stories have in common, that a marriage of a production would be appropriate?  For one thing both the original tales, on which they are based, are from fantasy/fiction writers.  Anderson, a writer of classic children’s stories, and Bierce a writer, in part, of ghost stories (also a newspaper reporter, who disappeared also when doing a story on Poncho Villa).  Both episodes also deal with alienation, change, “holes” in our dimensions, evolution, and a passing over or on, into another realm.  “We are such stuff as dreams are made on and our little life is rounded with a sleep.”

“…Crossing a Field” deals with a plantation owner, Mr. Williamson (Michael Streeter) in the Deep South (Selma) during the Civil War era.  As the story goes, it seems that he and a neighbor, Mr. Wren (Allen Nause), who he was to buy some horses from, were crossing one of his fields one sunny day, when he simply disappeared into thin air.

It also seems some slaves (Lisa Williamson, Martin Bakari, Nicole Mitchell, Laila Murphy, Ernest C. Jackson, Jr., and Damien Geter), who were working the fields, under his brother, the overseer, Andrew (Christian Zaremba), also witnessed this event but, because they were slaves, were not considered credible observers.  It is brought to trial to the Magistrate (Todd Van Voris), who must decide, not what happened to him specifically, but whether he is living or dead.

If dead, then his inheritors would divide the Will.  There is his wife, Mrs. Williamson (Hannah S. Penn), who over a course of time, slowly loses her reason, divesting herself of the way of life she’s known.   There is his daughter (Cree Carrico), who seems to have an uncanny connection with other forces in the atmosphere, that might have driven her father to this fate.  Then there is his brother, who would also get a nice piece of the pie.  Did all these people conspire to murder him?  Or did the slaves revolt?  Or did he simply escape to another town, another life, to get away?

There is, of course, the possibility, that he walked through a hole into another dimension.  There are a few recorded cases where similar things have happened.  But, in this case, a world was turned upside down and, although a people, a Nation, were evolving, there is “no gain, without pain.”  For this conclusion, you have to witness it for yourself.

The cast of singers is exceptional, no surprise there as Portland Opera gets the best of the best.  I was especially impressed with Penn, Bakari and Mitchell, as they added an extra dash of depth to their characters, I thought.  The voice actors, Van Voris, Nause and Streeter are also among the best, also, as I have reviewed them favorably in the past many times.  This blend of voice actors with singers is a real asset to this show.  And Mouawad adds stylized movement, as an extra touch, and a simple setting, which focuses us more on the story, acting and singing.


Crossing Over


The second selection is from one of my favorite stories by Anderson, but definitely a tragic one.  It’s about a little waif, a match girl (Max Young), during the 1800’s, who is forced during the winter months to sell matches on the street, her only source for food, to strangers.  She discovers that every time she lights a match, a scene of warmth and friendliness appears, as does her grandmother, who has passed over.  But when she does this, she is also wasting any chance of an income.  It’s a bittersweet ending so I won’t reveal it, but I think you can guess which world she chooses to be a part of.

It would be nice to think that a stranger passing by would take pity on her but when you turn on the news today and see the abject poverty world-wide that children/families must deal with all the time, one should feel ashamed that such things could happen.  This is our future that we are letting die, so take heed!

Young, as the girl, in a wordless performance, speaks volumes with her silence!  You sincerely feel for her and all that she is experiencing.  A wonderful, touching performance!  The singers (again, Williamson, Penn, Bakari, Carrico, Mitchell, Zaremba, Geter and Jackson, Jr.) also act as a sort of Greek Chorus, commenting on the proceedings, and they are super.  Some Movement Artists (Gwendolyn Duffy, Kaician Jade Kitko, Carla Grant, Nathan H. G., Fiely Matias, Sumi Wu and Carol Triffle (co-Artistic Director/Founder of Imago) are added for an additional blow to the emotions.

Mouawad also has used shadows/silhouettes for his movement people, a touch of magic that transforms a bare stage into a bustling metropolis, or ghostly presences, or scenes of gladness whenever he chooses.  An exceptional director for both these pieces!

Lang has really transformed both these stories into a nether-world of emotional and artistic pleasure/sadness/wonderment.  I recommend these productions.  If you do choose to see them, please say that Dennis sent you.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

PREVIEW: Urinetown —Anonymous Theatre Company—Pearl District

“…Love, Greed and Revolution”

This multiple, award-winning musical of 2001, has book and lyrics by Greg Kotis and music and lyrics by Mark Hollman.  This production is directed by Darius Pierce (co founder of the group), music direction by Mont Chris Hubbard and choreography by Elizabeth Young.  It is playing, one-time only, at Portland Center Stage’s, Gerding Theatre, 128 NW 11th Ave., on Monday, August 7th at 7 pm.  Tickets are $25.  For more information and tickets, go to their site at www.anonymoustheatre.org
The above quote sounds like an anthem for many countries of the world at this point, but it’s actually the theme of this play.  I’ve never seen this musical but all reports I’ve heard from those who have, say it a real pisser (sorry, had to get that out of my system…damn, did it again).  This blurb is meant to be a Preview of the show since, being that’s it’s only performed once, a review would be anti-climatic, to say the least.

If you’ve never experienced one of Anonymous’ shows, then some explanation may be in order.  Auditions are held in secret, with no actor knowing who the other cast members may be.  They then rehearse separately with the director (and, in this case, also with a choreographer and musical director, too—whew!).  Once the show is performed, they mingle with the audience and when the time comes for their entrance, they say the first line from the audience and ascend the stage, seeing their fellow cast members for the first time.  For more information, check out my previous article on them from a previous season:  https://dennissparksreviews.blogspot.com/2015/07/preview-real-inspector-houndanonymous.html

It’s quite an adrenaline rush for the actors, I’m sure, and the audience as well.  I have seen a couple of their once-a-year shows in the past and it is amazing how well the cast blends together, as if they’ve been doing this for weeks.  But that is partly because of the actor’s dream (and nightmare) that, no matter what, the show must go on and they will forge ahead with confidence to rally their talents and give the best shows possible under any trying circumstances.  Actors are truly amazing and unique creatures!

The story, in brief, has a town that experiences an extreme water shortage and so private toilets are banned and the citizens are forces to us public facilities run, of course, by a malevolent corporation, looking to make a killing on profits, since it would be a monopoly for them.  Of course, when such evil entities raise their ugly heads, it is just the needed fodder for a revolution and so…see the show.

I’m impressed with the quality of their productions but it does prove that talent will out in the end.  And they do mange to garner an amazing array of seasoned performers for their shows, as well as directors.  Pierce himself is quite a marvel onstage, as you may have seen him in one or more incarnations of the dept. store elf on Christmas Eve at PCS.  And he will be in an upcoming production of Third Rail (at CoHo) in August, too.  And both Hubbard and Young are very talented individuals in their fields, so I can say, from this outpouring of talent and having seen past productions, this is definitely going to be worth your time to attend.  It is truly an once-in-a-lifetime experience!

Obviously, I do recommend this production—sight unseen.  And, as always, if you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Tartuffe—Masque Alfresco—Greater Portland Parks

Feathers & Fluff

This classic Commedia dell’arte satire from the 1600’s by Moliere, updated, adapted and directed by Fayra Teeters.  It is playing at various outdoor settings in Beaverton, Hillsboro and Lake Oswego through August 27th.  For more information, go to their site at www.masquealfresco.com

This era in American political history will undoubtedly go down as the lowest point (to date) in our existence.  It is full of bullies, con-men, hoodwinkers, egotists and out-and-out, liars.  The Good News is that there is nowhere to go but Up.  And so, as we swim in the dregs, with the sharks, in the bottom of the barrel, we choose to absorb the vino and laugh at the whole proceedings.  After all, In Vino est Gigglas!

This play, done in sort-of period costuming (Nan Frederick), has been adapted in language (Fayra Teeters) to fit the above-mentioned era, not an easy task but it seems to fit into our palms like a well-greased glove.  To bastardize the Bard, “We are such stuff as [Nightmares] are made on, and our little life is rounded with a [deep coma].”

In this story, Orgon (Jonas D. Israel) is a very rich land-owner in Paris.  He rules it with his attractive, trophy-wife, Elmire (Athena McElrath) and his cranky Mom (Karen Kalensky).  The inheritors of said property, besides wife and Mom, are his rebellious son, Damis (KJ McElrath) and Orgon’s defiant daughter, Mariane (Sami Pfeifer), who is engaged to Valere (Erik Montague), a troubadour, of sorts.  They also have a rather outspoken, sassy maid, Dorine (Jessica Reed), who keeps poking her nose into family business.  And there is also the practical brother-in-law, Cleante (Rian Turner), who is also faithful to Orgon.

Into their lives arrives the unscrupulous, Tartuffe (Kenneth Dembo).  Taken in as a homeless creature, who had seemed to just need the basics in life, quickly proclaims himself a prophet and feels it’s his duty to save this unfortunate family (with the bulk of the change going to him).  Orgon falls for his ploy hook, line and sinker and willingly gives Tartuffe anything he desires.  He even offers his daughter in marriage to this “goodly” man.  But Tartuffe’s roving eye seems to fall onto Orgon’s wife, who spurns his advances, until she realizes it may be the way to revive her husband from his religious stupor.

To reveal more would spoil the ending.  But, let’s just say the Courts, via Loyal (KJ McElrath, again)), and the Law, care of an officer (Montague, again), are heavily involved in the climax.  Any resemblance to current affairs and personas is purely…intentional.  This is outrageous, physical comedy, akin to our own Vaudeville at times, and with audience participation throw in for good measure.  A side note, check out the McElrath’s other enterprise, along similar lines at http://mcelrathcabaret.com as they are a talented duo in their other, artistic life, as well.  

Teeters certainly knows her politics and the barbs come fast and furious and keep the audience a-titter.  Also kudos must be given to her for the use of a small, outdoor space and still keeping the story intact.  The costumes (Frederick), especially the women, are quite lovely and add to the success of the show.  The entire cast is obviously having fun.  I especially liked Reed as the saucy maid (who has an operatic voice, as well) and, as in the Bard’s plays as well, the servants (or “domestic engineers”) are usually the wise clowns of the piece.  And Dembo, as the title character, leaves no scene “un-chewed,” which is entirely appropriate with this character.  He’s a scream, as well as the rest of the cast, as this type of material is not easy to do but they pull it off with glee.

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

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Visit to a Small Planet—Lakewood Theatre Company—Lake Oswego, OR

Alien Perspective

The comedy by the famous political/historical writer, Gore Vidal, is directed by the equally famous, local actor/director, Tobias Andersen.  It is playing at their space, 368 S. State St., in Lake Oswego, through August 13th.  For more information, go to their site at www.lakewood-center.org or call 503-635-3901.

What would we look like now to an alien being from a totally foreign environment?  My guess he would take one view of our situations on Earth and conclude we weren’t worth bothering about, because we seemed hell-bent on self destruction, and would deduce that they found no intelligent life here!  In the late 1950’s, the time-frame of this story, it might look slightly more subdued than that.  But, nevertheless, we would still spell doom.

This play was made into a silly, worthless film many years ago starring Jerry Lewis and most of the political edge was removed for his antics.  The actual stage version had the brilliant Cyril Richard (remember Captain Hook from the Mary Martin, “Peter Pan”) in the lead role.  This time out, we have Jeremy Southard as Kreton, the alien from a faraway galaxy (or dimension).  He seems a cross between Dick Shawn, Paul Lynde and Jonathan Winters.  He is more subtle than Lewis and that is probably more the way Vidal saw it.

Anyway, as to the story, we have him landing in a typical, middle-class home of the era, ala an Ozzie & Harriet-type of family.  There is the hubby, a TV commentator, Roger (Todd Hermanson), and his sanitized wife, bedecked with pearl necklace and hoop skirt, Reba (Julie Elizabeth Knell).  Of course they have a perky daughter, just ripe for the 60’s rebellion era, Ellen (Melissa Sondergeld), and her country, farm-boy sweetie, Conrad (Paul Harestad).  And let us not forget the feisty, family cat, Rosemary (Dusty), who has some uncanny abilities of her own.

Of course, we also have to have the political connection, as their best friend is a General in the Army, the puffy, Tom Powers (Erik James), and his trusty, meek Aide (Kaleb Hood).  And also, to round out things, we have a mysterious stranger, Delton 4 (Ethan LaFrance), adding to the confusion.  Mix them all together and you have the beginnings of a scary new world.  But how to set things right again is the question.

It seems that Kreton is not unlike some of the aliens Star Trek envisioned, like the enigmatic “Q,” having no concept of human emotions or purpose.  Once the alien perspective is added to this concoction, then weaknesses, prejudices, and strengths are revealed and lessons can be gleaned, that is, if all survive.  For more information, tune in to this episode.  And you’ve probably never seen anything funnier that a military man with laundry and his future vision for it.

The story may be a bit dated but it does truly reflect that era, as it should be.  Andersen is an actor’s director and it shows in the cast he has chosen, they all epitomize the artificial roles that were pictured on the boob tube of what we were supposed to be like.  And his handling of the comic bits, rather than being zany, as Lewis portrayed them, are subtler and eerily more creepy that way, as if they were skirting around the truth.

Southard does well in keeping his character in check, as it could have been over-blown but works much better this way.  James, a season veteran, is perfect as the General and his comic bits with the washing machine are priceless.  This is a show for the whole family.  And, although a comedy, it does have some serious digs as to how we view things, as seen through an outsider’s eyes.

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

Monday, July 17, 2017

Homer’s, The Odyssey—Oregon Shakespeare Festival—Ashland, OR

Home is Where the Heart is

This classic Greek tale of the aftermath of the Trojan Wars from Homer is translated by Robert Fitzgerald and adapted & directed by Mary Zimmerman  It is playing at the Allen Elizabethan outdoor Theatre, downtown Ashland, through October 14 (in repertory).  For more information, go to their site at www.osfashland.org or call 800-219-8161.

The author, Thomas Wolfe, has famously said, “You can’t go home again.”  A bit of a misnomer, as you can find the “place” but not the “spirit” that it represents.  What is so important about finding home is that you are searching for your roots, your innocence, childhood in all its glory, no responsibilities.  It represents more than a place but a state of mind.  So when Odysseus (Ulysses) begin his search, after winning the Trojan Wars, nothing will stop him from getting back to his family, not even the gods, or a trip through the Underworld (Hades/Hell).  And so this journey will take us all from the depths of despair to the summit of joy, to rekindle, recreate, revive this long dormant sense of one’s true purpose.

It seems that on his home soil of Ithaca, his patient wife, Penelope (Kate Hurster) and her reactive son, Telemachus (Benjamin Bonenfant), are still awaiting his return after many years.  But certain laws and customs must be followed, one of which is that a woman can’t inherit property & goods of her husband so must re-marry in order to regain her status (shades of “Beauty and the Beast”).  So several suitors, (akin to Aussie tribesmen or Samurai warriors) are anxiously awaiting her answer to their proposals, chief among them is Etenous (Jon Cates).

Meanwhile Odysseus (Christopher Donahue) has found a patron in the goddess, Athena (Christiana Clark), who takes on several guises throughout the story to aid in his journey.  But other goddesse,s like Calypso (Amy Newman) and Circe (Miriam A. Laube), have more than a passing interest in him and want to keep this traveler all for their own.  Other gods, chiefly, the petulant Poseidon (Danforth Comins), have grudges against him and attempt to thwart his attempt to reach home.  And proud Zeus (Daniel T. Parker), the chief god, seems ambivalent to the whole proceedings.

He will have friends like Menelaus (Howie Seago), Alcinous (Armando McClain) and his daughter, Nausicaa (Britney Simpson), an old friend, Eumaeus (Richard Howard), et al. that will aid him on his sojourn.  Others, like the Cyclops (Parker, again), the Sirens, the suitors, et. al., will try to distract him from his mission.  Like all fables, lessons will be learned but at a cost.  And the old adage, “there’s no place like home,” will ring true.

The is a very complex tale but, being that it is told in a story-telling fashion, the simplest of settings can be the most elaborate of surroundings because of the some very talented people in creating the atmosphere for us and allowing us to participate, by filling in the blanks by the use of our imagination (for those of us who still employ that element, instead of relying on artificial means of forcing images into our head).  Zimmerman has a monumental task of both adapting for the stage and directing this extremely complex story for us and has done an outstanding job of both!

Another major artist to be touted is the choreographer of the Suitors’ and Naucicaa’s dances, Kirstin Hara.  They are a show in themselves and add much to the success of this production!  Another small but touching scene is when Odysseus reunites with his old dog Argos.  Although amusing, at first, as it is a puppet, it soon becomes very touching (for me because dogs have been my best friends throughout my life) and so this one hits that teary note for me.

The actors are all very strong.  Donahue, as the lead character, is unique in his portrayal because he underplays much of it, which is very convincing and compelling.  It allows the audience to infuse their own feelings into his plight and therefore becomes more personal for us.  Clark plays many guises of mortal beings and, with essentially no change in appearance except her own talent, transforms before your eyes into another persona.  And, Howard, the pro, always shines in any show he does here and is very moving as the old retainer of the hero.

I highly recommend this show but know that it is over 3 hours long so be patient (and comfortable) as it is worth the time.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.



The Ashland Experience:  OSF


I have experienced this unique company since the late 60’s, when I became a member of the acting company for two years.  Bill Patton and the Founder, Dr. Angus Bowmer, were prominent then.  I came back over the years then as an audience member.  And, over the last five years, as a reviewer.  Of course, it went through some growing pains, evolved and now is a first-class company (and Tony winner for regional theatre).  The OSF family has grown by leaps and bounds over these years.  One thing this company has (that some professional companies do not) is Warmth.  It is a feeling that, whether an actor, backstage artist, usher or audience, you feel as though you belong…they’re family.

The experience you have is not only that you are you seeing first-rate productions but, through tours of the facilities, backstage talks, green shows, et. al., you are participating in an unforgettable event.  And when you observe the talent involved of designers, administration, Tutor Guild and actors, you have to be impressed.  Just consider that a relatively small ensemble (compared to the number of roles demanded in these productions) not only have to be fine actors to play any age, but also have to sing, dance, play musical instruments, fence, do acrobatics, and many other skills, so you can be assured that these folks are the best of the best and this company can rival any in the world—bar none!  Amen.

Henry IV, Part Two—Ashland Shakespeare Festival—Ashland, OR

“What Price Glory?”

This is part of the history canon of the Bard’s plays, directed by Carl Cofield.  It is playing at the Thomas Theatre in repertory through October 28th.  For more information, go their site at www.osfashland.org or call 1-800-219-8161.

The above title could easily reflect on the price of fame, in today’s market, as well, when one is catapulted into another frame of reference, another perspective, asking what sacrifices must be made in order to inhabit this world?  If left to our own devices, what existence would we choose and if, in a position of Power, what mantles must be shed in order to cope, to maintain, that “brave, new world?”  In Hal/Harry/Henry’s worlds, civic duty must take precedence over individual pleasure.  But we are such fragile creatures, do we not lose part of our humanity, our soul, in that transformation?  “Must give us pause.”

All the familiar pawns are here as in Part One but evolution/revolution is spreading. It seems that King Henry (Jeffery King) may be in charge of his own clan, the English, Warwick (Tyrone Wilson), Westmorland (Robert Vincent Frank), Prince John (Jeremy Gallardo), and Clarence (Alejandra Escalante).  But the Scot’s and Welsh families have their own ideas of who should be in charge.  Even Henry’s son, Hal (Daniel José Molina) is, in actuality, the Prince of Wales. But since all those clans are inter-related by marriage and birth, in some way, it makes for some sticky situations.

His opposers, including Hastings (Michael Gabriel Goodfriend), Mowbray (Lauren Modica), Bardolph (Richard Elmore), and Northumberland are equally adamant as to their cause.  Then we have the Boar’s Head Tavern crowd of misfits, miscreants and motley, mischief-makers.  Mistress Quickly (Michele Mais), being the major domo there and her fellow imbibers (including Hal), are Sir John Falstaff (Ted Lange, the understudy) holding his own court, with the likes of Poins (Goodfriend, again), Bardolph (Frank, again), Peto (Modica, again), Doll Tearsheet (Escalante, again) and a Page (Yi Shostrom).  The scenes with these scene-stealers comprise the humor in the show.

The warring factions of both comedy and tragedy are too complicated to get into in any detail but know that this is the middle play/act and, like all trilogies, is not quite as interesting, like the Lord of the Rings or Star Wars series, but there are some gems within this.  My favorite and the show-stopper, as far as I’m concerned, is when Falstaff attempts to hire recruits for his army.  By their names alone you can deduce how desperate he is in garnering troops.  Shallow (Elmore, again) and Silence (Modica, again), country justices, along with Falstaff find the lowest of the low, including the repulsive, Mouldy (Kimberly Scott), the dumb ox, Bullcalf (King, again), the disgusting, Wart (Gallardo, again), the elusive, Shadow (Nemuna Ceesay) and the dimwit, Feeble (Robin Goodrin Nordli).  Comedy at its best!  

All these varying elements will eventually clash, some will die or be captured, and some to survive for the next installment in Henry V (next season).  Perhaps the saddest, cruelest and oddest of happenings is the breaking down of the relationship between Falstaff and Hal.  Can’t tell you more without revealing character devices.  As always, they are all super in playing multiple roles but Elmore, a very seasoned professional, as Shallow, truly shines!  And a positive boost to Lange, as he had to, at the last minute, fill in for one of the lead characters, Falstaff.  He may have had book in hand but he never wavered in his confidence when playing the character and this speaks volumes about the talent this actor possesses!  He got a well-deserved, rousing hand at curtain call, a tribute to his tenacity.

It is amazing the creative use of a small, essentially bare stage can belie in the hands of a clever craftsman, the director, Cofield.  Not only does he manage to keep things moving but also embraces the hundreds of small factions of characters and places into an understandable pattern.  A monumental task, extremely well done.

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



The Ashland Experience:  Ashland Hills/Springs


If you are looking for a comfortable place to stay while visiting the Bard’s stories, I highly recommend the Ashland Springs rooms, (downtown Ashland, just feet away from OSF) with their secured parking lot.  There is also their Ashland Hills suites, about 3 miles South of the downtown area, which also has a pool and hot tub.  Both these establishments offer a complimentary breakfast buffet, including bagels, muffins, yogurt, fresh fruit, waffles, sausage patties, hot & cold cereals, coffee and juices, et. al.  It certainly will enhance your experience in this great little town.  For more information, go to their site at www.ashlandhillshotel.com or call 855-482-8310.  And, as always, if you do choose to stay at one of their fine places, tell them Dennis sent you.

Disney’s Beauty and the Beast—Oregon Shakespeare Festival—Ashland, OR

“Tale as Old as Time”

This classic musical has music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman & Tim Rice and book by Linda Woolverton, is directed by Eric Tucker, music direction and arrangements by J. Oconer Navarro and choreography by Erika Shong Shuch.  It is playing at the Allen Elizabethan outdoor Theatre, downtown Ashland, through October 15 (in repertory).  For more information, go to their site at www.osfashland.org or call 800-219-8161.

As in all fairy tales, there is a moral to be learned, and this one is no exception:  To seek out Truth, wherever it is hidden, and the Beauty of an individual, by looking deeper than the surface.  As a Reward, Love will out in the end, if your course is True, and you speak from the Heart.  Such is the lesson to be gleaned here.

A few versions of this tale have been presented.  There is the very good musical, stage version by Disney based on his Oscar-nominated, animated movie.  There was also a TV, non-musical version of it some years back starring Klaus Kinski and Susan Sarandon.  But the best by far was the 1940’s, French version by Jean Cocteau.  And it is the only one to reflect the true message.  At the end (spoiler alert) when the Beast is transformed into the handsome Prince, Beauty is aghast and cries out, “Where is my Beast?!”  Folks, she fell in love with the Beast, as he was, therefore, no need to alter his appearance!

The musical is a lot more complicated than the original, short tale or any of its versions.  Belle (Jennie Greenberry), an eligible young lady of a village is being pursued by the biggest braggart in town, Gaston (James Ryen).  He and his faithful stooge, Le Fou (Kate Hurster) pretty well have the town under their thumbs.  That is except for Maurice (Michael J. Hume), an eccentric inventor and his lovely daughter, Belle.  But one day, on his way to the Fair, to sell his contraptions, Maurice gets lost and is trapped in a castle by the Beast (Jordan Barbour), who was once a Prince but has been turned into an animal because he lacked compassion toward a wandering traveler.  The only way to break the spell is to find someone who will love him just as he is.

If not, the transformation will be irreversible and he and his staff will fully become the objects they resemble.  There is the rotund clock, Cogsworth (Daniel T. Parker); his love interest, the operatic Mme. de la Grande Bouche (Britney Simpson), now a Wardrobe; the flighty, Lumiére (David Kelly), candle sticks; and his main squeeze, the sexy, Babette (Robin Goodrin Nordli), a feather duster; the matronly, Mrs. Potts (Kate Mulligan), a teapot; and her precocious son, Chip (Cayo Sharma), now a teacup.  When Beauty tracks her father down, she offers herself in exchange for him.

Now a prisoner herself, she must deal with the Beast and, with the help of his staff, she slowly changes his animalistic ways.  And he realizes, a caged bird does not sing, or love, so he must set her free.  In the end, Love wins out and the lesson may be, not to judge others by their outward appearance but look at what’s beneath.  The lyrics of the music enhance the story to an enormous degree, giving all the characters a full view of their feelings.

This is done in story-book fashion which allows the beautiful costumes (Ana Kuzmanic), the actors’ talents and, most importantly, the audience’s imagination, to participate in creating the tale.  Tucker manages to keep the play flowing by allowing the actors to illuminate the various settings in essentially the same physical atmosphere.  His vision of the Beast is also unique, as it is often played as a Lion but the story doesn’t say that, and so this beast has ram’s horns and resembles something out of Greek mythology.  And the show-stopping, “Be Our Guest,” is a delight in dance and music, as well as an outstanding cast of singers.

This is a happy experience for the whole family and to have it presented under the stars is an added bonus to the magic of the show.  As always, the cast is neigh-on perfect.  Greenberry is a lovely young lady, with a voice to match.  And her character is a proto-type to women’s rights, standing up to a male-dominated society, and putting a suitor in his place by commenting on who is the real beast here.  And, again, to tout that old adage, “there are no small parts…,” Jeremy Peter Johnson shines in the small role of, Monsieur D’Arque, the head of the asylum, as he struts and shakes his way about the stage, leaving no “scenery un-chewed.”

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



The Ashland Experience:  Black Sheep

I am so happy to say my favorite restaurant has survived, as Susan, the owner, is retiring and left it in the hands of the Fates if it would continue.  Susan writes: 


“It is with great pleasurer and gratitude that I announce I have secured buyers for The Black Sheep Pub & Restaurant!  I am honored to introduce the community to our new owners, Clarinda & John Merripen, who will be taking over management of the establishment at the end of July 2017 . . . so keep Flocking on . . .  here’s to another 25 years of The Black Sheep Pub & Restaurant!  Long live The Black Sheep – Where – Where you Belong!

Cheers,
Susan Chester, Proprietor”


I have always enjoyed their food & drinks from the British Isles, as they are reasonably priced, a friendly atmosphere, especially Greg, who converses with you as if you were an old friend and Raquel, as charming as she is lovely and with a very impressive background in the hospitality industry, and a past favorite, Prairie, who was the initial reason I was a returning customer.

Also, so far, they are endeavoring to be open late for play-going customers.  This time out I tried their specialty, a pulled-pork pasty, with homemade coleslaw and potato salad and, of course, a Guinness to top it off.  Their special dessert was sweet concoction made with Earl Grey tea.  All of it first-rate and a tasty delight.  I highly recommend this place, just steps away from OSF on the plaza, look for the bright red door!  As always, if you do choose to visit, tell them Dennis sent you (and say “Hi” from me to any of the above mentioned folks).

Monday, June 26, 2017

The Romeo and Juliet Project—Enso Theatre Ensemble—SE Portland

“Star-Crossed Lovers”
The Romeo and Juliet Project—Enso Theatre Ensemble—SE Portland
“Star-Crossed Lovers”
This production is adapted from the Bard by Madeline Shier and Caitlin Lushington and directed by Lushington.  It is playing at The Shaking the Tree space, 823 SE Grant St., through July 9th.  www.ensotheatre.comFor more information, go to their site at

This classic play has been adapted for the stage many times, as well as film.  Among the best was the 1930’s one with Leslie Howard and Norma Shearer as the loves, Zefferelli’s with Lenard Whitney and Olivia Hussey and then the re-imagined film by Baz Lurman with Leonardo DeCaprio and Clare Danes.  And one reason that Shakespeare is so popular is that his stories/messages are universal, fitting any culture or age.  As proof, look at the astounding, modern-day musical of it, West Side Story.

And now we have this adaptation, which thrusts it forward into an alternate universe in this electronic age.  The production is done with modern dress and a minimalist set.  It relies on dance-like movements to aid the story and some beautifully stylized fight scenes, choreographed by Alwynn Accuardi, aided and mentored by, the best in the biz, in my opinion, Kristen Mun.  This is a fast-paced, very animated show clocking in at just under two hours.   The diverse, cross-gender casting has most them all playing two or three roles.

The story, in brief, for those of you who don’t know it, is that two feuding, wealthy families, the Capulets (Juliet, Tybalt, Nurse, et. al.) and Montagues (Romeo, Mercutio, Benvolio, et. al.) have managed to keep an uneasy peace in their town of Verona.  That is until two of their young pups, Juliet (Amelia Hillery) and Romeo (Claire Aldridge) see, not an adversary across from them, but a human being.  And the fact that they both are in their teens and are fearless, they see nothing wrong in declaring their love.  But, unfortunately, the respective parents, Lady Capulet (Cyndi Rhoads) and Lord Montague (Ross Laguzza), are vigorously opposed to such a union, as is a rather violent cousin of the Capulets, Tybalt (Rhansen Mars), an expert swordsman, the Prince of Cats.

Friends of Romeo’s, Mercutio (Sky Nelson), a rather coarse, loud-mouth, semi-mentor of his and Benvolio (Peyton McCandless), a cousin, also see a problem in these star-crossed lovers’ union.  These  teens, with their raging hormones, are not without their supporters, though, as the worldly Nurse (McCandless, again) is Juliet’s confidant and go-between for them.  And there is Friar Laurence (Laguzza, again) a tutor of sorts to Romeo, who tries to help their plight which, instead, backfires.  But the Capulet’s have their own suitor in mind for their daughter, Paris (Mars, again), a rather vain young dandy. Needless to say this will not end well for anyone.  To witness the outcome, you must see it for yourself.  “What Fools these Mortals be!”

The staging, by Lushington, is particularly engaging.  The actors, at times, not only play different characters but also become part of the set and even a dream-like sequence.  The death scenes of Mercutio and Tybalt are not so much violent, as they reflect a surprise and even sadness in them, as to what they’ve caused because of their rashness and brashness.  It is a story of today’s age, as well, of intolerance and man’s continued inhumanity to his fellow man.  “When will they ever learn?”  A fitting coda to that query might be, in view of current situations, “Quote the Raven, ‘Nevermore!’”

Hillery, a high-schooler, does very well as Juliet and even is the right age for the part.  Aldridge, as Romeo, is equally good.  Both embodying expressively the angst of youth that leads to the tragic conclusion.  Nelson and Mars, as the explosive rivals, are both excellent, giving some fresh perspectives to these well-worn roles, showing that blind bravado can have painful conclusions.  And Laguzza shines in the role of the Friar, giving us a conflicted man who tries to lighten the path in a dark environment.  The whole cast does very well in making topical an ancient subject and doing justice to the poetic language, as well.

Only hiccup I see is that they are in a cavernous space and when the exchanges get loud, some of the lines are lost because of an echoing effect in a large, empty space.  Toning down those very vocal areas and being more articulate at those times might help.

A personal note, the art work on the walls this weekend, are original water-colors by Sarah Andrews, who has her own newly-minted theatre company, Crave Theatre.  Her works are haunting and a bit disturbing.  They suggest an influence of war, politics, pain and alienation and they are for sale.  Worth a deep look.  For more information on them, call 503-931-5664.

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