Monday, June 26, 2017

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.  For more information, go to their site at www.ensotheatre.com

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 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.

Frankenstein—Modern Prometheans—E. Portland


“What a Piece of Work is Man…”

This new adaptation of the classic horror tale by Mary Shelley is adapted for the stage and directed by Paul Cosca.  It is playing at The Mister Theater, 1847 E. Burnside St., through July 2nd.  For more information, go to their site at www.modernprometheans.org or call 406-214-0695.

This famous tale from Shelley’s episodic novel has been adapted, spoofed and re-imagined many times for the screen.  Among the earliest is a silent one with Charles Ogle, as a crossed-eyed monster; then there is the famous (and still best) ones with Karloff as the creature; then a radio adaptation; Lee in Hammer’s take on it; a rather poor TV remake with Sarrazan as the creation; Corman’s cheapie; Gothic; Branagh’s with De Niro (great actor but can’t top Karloff in this); Burton’s animated, Frankenweenie, as well as Depp as Edward Scissorhands; The Bride, with Sting as the Doctor; the spoofs of Brooks,’ Young Frankenstein; the musical of Rocky Horror; and lately, the two Sherlock Holmes,’ of the American series and BBC’s mini-series, with the two actors alternating leads in a stage presentation, et. al.  Whew!

And now we have 5 actors (playing about 10 characters) on a mostly bare stage, spreading the story over several locations, with only minimum costumes changes and some clever lighting, to create the atmosphere.  Not only that, but the director and adaptor (Paul Cosca), also plays the title character of Dr. Victor Frankenstein!  I admit that when I agreed to see this, I was skeptical of this being successful as a stage presentation.  But I was pleasantly surprised.  The acting is quite good, the adaptation, although condensed somewhat, does capture the essence of the story, and Cosca manages the three major jobs very well.  It told in a story-telling fashion, which I like, in which the audience is employed to contribute their imagination to the process (something sadly lacking in today’s computerized landscape).

The tale should be familiar to anyone that has viewed any of the above films of the story.  But to give you a flavor of it, it has to do with a young boy, witnessing the death of his beloved mother, wishing he could forestall death and the degeneration process, so he becomes a doctor.  Somewhere along the line he loses his original focus and become obsessed with creating life itself.  He spurns those who love him including the love-of-his-life, the enchanting, Elizabeth (Nicole Rayner), his supportive father, Alphonse (Kraig Williams) and his gentle, best friend, Henry (Kyle Urban), as well as the blessings of the university.

And so he stitches together cadavers, and extracts a brain from a dying youth.  The Creature (Thomas Zalutko) does indeed live but doesn’t seem too happy to be existing in such an alien environment and so goes on a rampage.  Eventually he learns language and friendship from a blind man in the forest but his hideous looks frighten the rest of the household, so he must fend for himself, withdrawing to remote regions.  Victor traces his creation to have a showdown.  The Creature demands that Victor now create a mate for him, in exchange they will disappear forever.  If Victor fails, then he will wreck havoc on all of Victor’s loved ones.  I will stop there, as not to give away the climax, but know that it isn’t pleasant.

As I said, the cast is quite good with special kudos going to Cosca as the creator of Victor, as well as the script and production.  Probably the most difficult character to create, though, is the Creature, as one has to decide whether he is mad, or sad, or just terribly misunderstood.  It is never fully explained in the original story why the Creature chooses to kill (although in the Karloff depiction, it is because he has the brains from a madman).

Zalutko does a credible job of picturing him as a “stranger in a strange land,” who has no moral scope or training to give him direction.  And so, like a child, he has temper tantrums whenever he doesn’t get his own way.  The question then becomes, who is really the monster/villain of the piece, the parent/creator who produces a child, then abandons him to the elements to forge his own way, or the child/creature, who is forced to flounder in a primeval soup of conflicting conducts of behavior?!  It is a dilemma that you should decide.
I recommend this production.  If you choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

26 Miles—Profile Theatre—SW Portland

Road Trip

This powerful drama of relationships is written by Quiara Alegría Hudes and directed by Rebecca Martínez.  It is playing at the Artists Rep. space, 1515 SW Morrison, through June 25th.  For more information, go to their site at www.profiletheatre.org or call 503-242-0080.

Sometimes the best way to find your way home is…to get lost.  Already, when you are a teen, there may be a sense of fearlessness and indestructibility but there can also be the sense of isolation, frustration and desperation, especially if you are a child of a mixed marriage and your parents are separated.  And, faced with that realization, of not being fully aware of your roots, it is difficult to move forward.


Olivia (Alex Ramirez de Cruz) is just such a teen.  She is an editor of a news magazine, in which she chronicles her thoughts in a journal, and is the basis for this narrative.  Her white father, Aaron (Chris Harder), after being married for a few years to her Cuban mother, Beatriz (Julana Torres), and having a daughter by her, eventually falls in love with another woman, Deb, who he marries, and gets custody of Olivia because her mother is not yet a citizen.  But all is not at peace at her home, as her step-mother resents her, probably because she is of a Latino origin.  This fifteen-year-old then seeks out her, mostly absent, birth mother, who is now with another man, Manuel (Jimmy Garcia).

Sensing the desperation in her daughter’s voice, Beatriz chooses to rescue her and go on a road trip, not so much to see the sights of a cross-country journey, but to map out their own destinies.  Having lost about ten crucial years in their relationship, they discover some serious things have been lost in translation, as well, both figuratively and emotionally.  Along the path to an attempted reconciliation they find they not only have a language barrier, but differ in likes of music, food, ideas of sex, love, religious beliefs, and temperament.  What is lost can be found again.  But sometimes you need to cross a wide expanse to discover the closeness that was within all the time.  More I cannot tell you without giving away secrets so will leave it at that.

Martínez has done a masterful job of staging this show.  It’s amazing what wonders can be produced with just two chairs to represent different locations in the story.  There is also a beautiful panorama of the scenic part of the journey (Daniel Meeker) and some simple but specific lighting (Kristeen Willis Crosser), both pros in their fields, which add to narrative.  Both Garcia and Harder have graced the stage a lot and are both very good in the connecting roles they play to support the major story of the two women.  Torres and Cruz are excellent as the mother and daughter and are equally effective when they are explosive, as well as in the tender moments, and everything in between.  Without a doubt anyone can identify with the relationship of these four people, as Hudes has skirted the seams of ordinary people in extraordinary situations.

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

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Reunion—Imago Theatre—SE Portland

Letting Go

This avant-garde, dark comedy is written and directed by Carol Triffle (co-founder of Imago w/Jerry Mouawad, “John” in this production).  It is playing at their space, 17 SE 8th Ave. (just off Burnside, parking is a challenge in this area, so plan your time accordingly), through June 24th.  For more information, go to their site at www.imagotheatre.com or call 503-231-9581.

In the time of your Life, when were you the happiest?  Often folks will reflect on their childhood and youth.  And when you know it is time to “shuffle off this mortal coil,” what actions would you take to re-capture that period, perhaps that age of innocence, when you had all the time in the world (or so you thought) and were fearless and indestructible and free?  For me, those precious days were always associated with dogs, my eternal buddies.  But, on the other hand, reminiscence on the “good ole days,” can bring regrets of things that we should have done during those intervening years, and didn’t.  Hold every moment dear, and they will do the same for you.  But, do we?!

In Dolores’s (Danielle Vermette) case, this alluring time seems to be a “Reunion.”  And high school is a magical time for many, when the future lay at your feet, open to all possibilities.  In her case, she comes with her husband, John (Jerry Mouawad), who doesn’t seem at all happy with this intrusion to their lives.  Of course, the fact that she has a terminal illness isn’t such a hot idea, either.  The hall for this event is decorated with the appropriate razzle-dazzle but it seems that they are unfashionable too early (or too late), as only the band is left and what a motley crew they are.

Duke (Kyle Delamarter) seems to be the leader of the pack and he, with his fellow band-mate, Floyd (Sean Bowie), neither being any great shakes as singers, seem to have another agenda, like flirting with Delores, whom they have shaky, if any, memories of, and vice versa.  Tek (Jon Farley), the mostly silent drummer, seems to be in a world of his own.  The arrival of the hostess, the only other guest, Brittany (Megan Skye Hale), doesn’t seem to clear things up at all, as she keeps calling Delores by another name.  Granted, memories get fuzzy at reunions, thus nametags and old photos for recollections, but this gathering seems even more remote, until you discover the secret…

Obviously, I can go any further without being a spoiler, but I will say this really is a love story, of sorts, albeit out in left field, perhaps.  And maybe one should not take things too literally, as in many Imago shows.  There are layers upon layers, and stories within stories, and like a fine painting or piece of music, or play, what the observer contemplates of the proceedings is part of the purpose of the piece in the first place.  Not to say that this, or any artistic work, doesn’t have a meaning to the creator, but part of that magic is what the audience gleans from it, as it is meant to be an inclusive work of art.

For instance, does this event take place in a traditional setting and time, or is it set somewhere in the “windmills of [one’s] mind?”  Is the world only what we can touch and feel, or does imagination and wonderment play a part in our existence?  Are we a person dreaming we are a “butterfly,” or a “butterfly” dreaming we are a person?  What you take home from this story is just as valid as what the person next to you takes home, although it can be vastly different understandings.  “We are such stuff as dreams are made on and our little life is rounded with a sleep.”

This eclectic work by Triffle, both as writer and director, is something you will talk about afterwards…and disagree on…and that is as intended, I believe.  I liked it very much.  It is good to see Mouawad on stage, as he normally directs many of the works here.  He is just as vibrant and mesmerizing onstage as I imagine he is behind the scenes.  Vermette, the focus of the story, invites us along with her on this unusual journey, as we experience the twists and turns and doubts, as she does, so we are co-explorers with her.  Very good job.  The rest of the cast adds to the bizarre nature of the story by always keeping us guessing as to the reality/sanity of them, which is as it should be.

I recommend this show, but know that it is not the “traditional” theatre you might be accustomed to seeing.  If you do choose to esperience it, please tell them that Dennis sent you.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Rumors—Twilight Theater Company—N. Portland

"What Webs We Weave”

This early comedy, by the master comedic playwright, Neil Simon, is directed by Maury Evans.  It is playing at Twilight’s space, just off Lombard (upstairs), 7515 N. Brandon Ave. (free, small parking lot across from the theater), through June 25th.  For more information, go to their site at www.twilighttheatercompany.org or call 503-847-9838.

The play’s title is a bit of a misnomer as, although there are a couple of rumors characters bat about early on, the bulk of the play involves the deep holes we dig for ourselves when we try to avoid or cover up the truth of a situation.  But, that being said, these party guests take the cake for fabrication, as they spin and weave as no clothier ever could and, in the end, is an absolute masterpiece of misdirection.  Even then, though, they seem to lose the thread of the tale as it grows.

It starts out innocently enough, as eight upper-class friends arrive at the house of the deputy mayor to help celebrate his and his wife’s 10th anniversary.  But, as it turns out, we discover from the first arrivals, the high-strung, Ken (Rob Harris), and his determined wife, Chris (Alicia Turvin), both lawyers, that there has been an “accident” in their host’s home, that he has been shot, and his wife and servants are AWOL.  Their legal minds begin to churn, not wanting publicity for political reasons, and decide to disguise the truth, as other guests arrive.  (This could easily be a play-book for a current administration, I believe).

And, right on cue, a very upset, Lenny (Richard Barr), a CPA, and his more subdued wife, Clair (Laura Myers), manage to creep in, disheveled, as they have been in an accident.  Not long after them, a neurotic, Cookie (Greg Saum), a television, gourmet cook with a bad back, and her analyst husband, Ernie (Andy Roberts), make an entrance.  Then the final party guests appear on the scene, a State Senator wannabe, Glenn (Ian Leiner), and his sexy but ditzy wife, Cassie (Amanda Anderson), battling with each other.  All there true colors come out, as they discover the facts of the situation, but do they know the real story.

Of course, the one thing you don’t want to happen at his juncture, is for the police to arrive and, guess what, they do, in the form of Officer Welch (Tony Domingue), a take-charge kind of guy and his quiet partner, Officer Pudney (Rebecca Ovall).  Finally the truth must come out…but does it?!  Most of the exchanges you must experience for yourselves, as Simon is a master at comic writing, and I can’t give you any more of the plot without being a spoiler.

Evans has done a terrific job of staging this show, as well as finding all the subtle nuances and overt overtures that add immensely to the fun of the production.  He also has a very good cast.  They all have their shining moments.  Harris, a familiar and welcome actor in Twilight’s shows, as the ultimate example of fingernails on a chalkboard in human form, is amazing.  Barr as the concluding concoctor of the long-winded plot, truly deserved the applause he received after delivering the final blow.  Myers is a gem of under-playing, having a dry humor that is a perfect addition to the mad-cap mania occurring around her. Saum, as the suffering chef, chaffing for attention, is hilarious (eat your heart out, Harvey Firestein).  And Domingue, as the lone voice of reason, is a steadfast, solidifying force amongst the chaos.  But, as mentioned, they are all spot on.

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

Avenue Q—Triangle Productions!—NE Portland

Puppets Rule


This Triple-Crown, 2004, Tony-award winning musical is back again for the third time by special demand, and is again directed and designed by the one and only, Donald Horn (Triangle’s driving force).  It has music and lyrics by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, book by Jeff Whitty and musical direction by the one and only, Jonathan Quesenberry.  It is playing at their space in The Sanctuary at Sandy Plaza, 1785 NE Sandy Blvd. (free parking lot to the West of the bldg.), through July 1st.  For more information, go to their site at www.trianglepro.org or call 503-239-5919.

The above title may not only refer to Avenue Q (think about it)!  This show has been referred to as the dark side of “Sesame Street,” since it is about a neighborhood incorporating puppets and humans.  But, know this for sure, it is not for children!  That being said, I would call it more of a realistic and honest look at what makes humans who they are, all colors of the rainbow but having shades of gray.  “To err is human…” and so do all the inhabitants of Avenue Q.  First, recognize flaws in oneself, then learn to adapt and embrace new ways of thinking and behaving.  When accomplished, it will be a far, far better world, I believe.

The story involves a newbie to the ‘hood, Princeton (Isaiah Rosales), fresh out of college and now graduated to the city of hard knocks to find his fame and fortune…or, just his Purpose in Life would be sufficient.  The Super for the apartments is Gary Coleman (Raphael Likes), yes, that Gary Coleman.  Princeton eventually meets his neighbors.  There is Kate Monster (Hannah Wilson), a teacher who wants to start a School for Monsters and, although of the Monster clan, there seems to be an attraction.  Then there is Brain, (Dave Cole), a rather lame comedian, and his betrothed, Christmas Eve (Justine Davis), a counselor.

There is Rod (Matthew Brown), a rather meticulous sort and Nicki (James Sharinghousen), a bit of a slob, who are roommates.  The elusive, upstairs neighbor is Trekkie Monster (Sharinghousen, again), who’s pastime is indulging in porn.  Also, although not a neighbor, there is the vampish, Lucy, the Slut (Kelsey Bentz), who’s talents seem to be in keeping a good man down, or up, depending on the circumstances.  And I haven’t even mentioned the singing Moving Boxes or the Bad Idea Bears, the “looser” side of one’s alter-ego.   These characters, and more, will come together and attempt to create a community in which dreams are found, secrets revealed, purposes discovered, lives changed and friendships formed.  Sounds pretty much like the world we already live in and people we know so, if you dare, take “a walk on the wild side” with the incomparable residents of “Avenue Q.”

The songs and music are a hoot and pretty much tell the story of what you might discover in this neighborhood.  There is “If You Were Gay,” “Everybody’s a Little Bit Racist,” “The Internet is For Porn,” “Fantasies Come True,” and “Schadenfreude” (you’ll have to see it to discover the meaning).  All the songs/lyrics are part of the story and all quite compelling.  My favorites are the show-stopping (both song and singer, Wilson), “There’s a Fine, Fine Line” as well as the touching, “The More You Ruv Someone” (Wilson & Davis).  All these songs need strong singers and Horn has the cream of the crop for this production!

Wilson is a stand-out (as she was as the young Liza in a show earlier this season).  She has a dynamite voice and is a fine actor, too.  A career awaits her in this field, I believe, if she so chooses.  Sharinghousen is always a favorite onstage, not only as a singer, but actor as well.  He shines again here, too.  Davis and Bentz have powerful voices for the characters they portray.  And Rosales is perfect as the innocent to this big, bad world.  Horn, as always, is an unstoppable force when creating a show.  As I once mentioned, some friends and I saw this in the Big Apple and honestly liked Horn’s vision better!

Quesenberry and his band of musicians are always an asset to Horn’s shows and they don’t overpower the actors, either, which often happens in a musical.  I loved the set and puppet.  The set was built by Demetri Pavlatos, puppets (some) by Steven Overton and Marty Richmond over at Portland Puppet Museum/Olde World Puppet Theatre (Trekkie, Kate and Lucy only) and James Sharinghousen helped with the assistance of working with the puppets.  It should be noted that there is full frontal, puppet nudity with a sex scene in this production and some partial back-al exposure by one of the humans, as well as raunchy situations and language.

This show created one of the biggest upsets in Tony history in 2004, as this little show won all the top prizes for a musical, beating out the heavily favored, “Wicked.”  I highly recommend this production.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

The Language Archive—Portland Playhouse at CoHo—NW Portland

A Language For All Ages

This insightful play by Julie Cho is directed by Adriana Baer.  It is playing at the CoHo space, 2257 NW Raleigh St. (finding parking is a bear in this neighborhood, so please plan your time accordingly), through June 11th.  For more information, go to their site at www.portlandplayhouse.org or call 503-488-5822.

The above Language, of course, is Love.  But as to how to communicate in that verbage is the tricky part, as each feeling creature has its own interpretation of how to express him or herself.  What one may be feeling does not necessarily translate easily into words.  There is an Art to that.

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

But he does have a loyal assistant, Emma (Foss Curtis), who understands his drive, and is willing to comfort him and be his pal when needed.  May we also say that she is totally smitten by him.  But does he notice, of course not.  No hope, you say?  But wait, the home front may be breaking apart and some sunshine might filter through to those who suffer from unrequited love.

But, first to work, and then to…whatever.  They have the River People, Alta (Sharonlee Mclean) and Resten (Victor Mack), in their tests, products of one of those dying languages/civilizations, who are constantly arguing…but in English (!) which, of course, defeats the whole purpose of the experiment.  They explain, quite convincingly, that English is the language of strife, of war, and their language is for romance.  Of course, in this day and age, it seems that all languages are tinged with hatred now.

But, according to one famous poem, it may all be for naught.  An Emperor of yore had written across a monument, for all to view his fearsome glory he had created and yet, looking around the statue, was only an endless sea of sand!  Will we be like that, an empty cipher in someone’s book?  They proclaim in the play, it is not the language that dies off first, but the world for which it was created.  Will we eventually be those creatures, looking upon a barren landscape on the ruins of abandoned hopes and promises?!

To go further down the path of the story would be telling, so you just have to see it for yourself, to observe if a German instructor will put Emma on the road to happiness; whether an old man will inspire love again through baking; and will an odd couple be an inspiration for true love.  See a common theme in all of this?  Hope springs eternal, they say, and that Hope rests in our Youth.  May it be truly said that we have inspired them toward tolerance and compassion, away from being lemmings, and simply following others over the cliff into the abyss.

This play is thoughtful and inspirational on many fronts and Baer is exactly the right leader to nudge it forward.  Having been the driving force behind Profile Theatre, she has shown her artistic chops here in just as bold a way.  Her use of space and choice of cast is spot on.  I have reviewed all these actors before and they all came out shining examples of their Art, as they do here.  And they have the added burden of dealing with speaking other languages, too.  Mack and Mclean are both pros and it shows.  They have multiple roles in the show and their characters all come alive with only changes in their gestures, speech and postures, that’s great acting.  Curtis is just fine as the recognizable person who may not have loved wisely, but too well.  Weaver sheds light on the complex role of a woman trying to break out of her conventional role and find herself, her true calling.  And Watanabe is terrific as a martinet, discovering he is human after all.

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

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Constellations—Portland Center Stage—Pearl District

“Star-Crossed Lovers”

This existential, dark comedy is written by Nick Payne and directed by Chris Coleman (PCS’s Artistic Director).  It is playing at their space at The Armory, 128 NW 11th Ave., through June 11th (parking can be a challenge in this area, so plan your time accordingly).  For more information, go to their site at www.pcs.org or call 503-445-3700.

“If we are Here, then we’re not There.  And, if There, then we are not Here” (anonymous).  If you understood that statement, then you have a clue as to the complexity of the subject matter this play is dealing with.  It is, in an odd way, really a love story, since those are proverbially, “…stories as old as time.”  But it is related in such as way, with just two characters, Marianne (Dana Green) and Roland (Silas Weir Mitchell), with minimal set and props, that it is very identifiable to many romances.

It is also told in such way as it encompasses, not only many years, but many dimensions, and so the outcomes of the story are multilayered.  Theories do exist that there are multiple, perhaps, infinite, alternate universes out there and there would be just as many outcomes for relationships, as well.  And so, the style of the story has many hiccups, starts and stops, as some of them are explored, but in bits and pieces.

Two strangers meet, such as Marianne and Roland, but in some scenarios they never consummate the relationship.  After a few false starts, they do connect and move in together, with varying results.  Some possible outcomes, have them getting married, or splitting up, finding other mates, becoming friends later on, and even dealing with tragedy together.  The possibilities are endless.  And the style of this play, in a sort of stream-of-consciousness way, provides peeks into many of them and, if told in a linear way, following only one of the possible plots, would takes only a few minutes.

Another way of looking at it is to picture those moments when you knew you were at a crossroads in your life, and made a decision that would carve a path in another direction.  I know I can think of a few instances and have always wondered what would have been alternate outcomes for me if I had chosen a different direction.  Now, multiply that curiosity a hundred times to other possible outcomes, and you will have an inkling of what this play is postulating.  So, without being a spoiler, I can’t reveal any more of the plot because, for one reason, I have already given you a thumbnail sketch of it in the above paragraph and, for another, the story is not the point, the style is, and you will have to view that for yourself.

Coleman has done an excellent job of keeping the audience engaged by subtle movements of the characters, pauses and employing bits of business that keep one’s attention.  His casting of the two actors is spot on, as both Green and Mitchell are perfect in these parts.  How the devil they memorized all the stops and starts this piece has, and not gotten confused, is beyond me.  They are amazing!  The clever set design by Jason Sherwood and lighting by William C. Kirkham, to connect the passages of time and space, greatly help with the success of this production, too.

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

Vanport Mosaic Festival—Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center—N. Portland

Phoenix Rising

“Staged readings of two new one-act plays about the American Dream, displacement & Hurricane Katrina from the African American perspective.”  This is part of the Vanport Mosaic Festival.  The plays are “Hercules Don’t Wade in the Water” by Michael A. Jones and directed by Damaris Webb and “American Summer Squash” by Don W. Glenn and directed by Jocelyn Seid.  They are playing at the IFCC space, 5340 N. Interstate Ave., through June 4th.  For more information, go to their site at www.vanportmosaic.org or call 971-319-0156.

I’m going to go out on a limb (as I often do) and give my own personal impressions/take/flavor of the stories.  I’m sure everyone’s aware from recent news pieces that prejudice and racism have, like an ostrich, raised its ugly head from the sand and is again creating havoc.  But my perspective is that a Cause, a People, if it is truly just, will prevail against all odds and, like the fabled Phoenix, rise from the ashes of ignorance and hate, and have its day in the sun.  No doubt, probably naïve on my part, that the forces of Light will always defeat the forces of Evil and, if you persist long enough on this Field of American Dreams, it will come to pass.  “If you build it, they will come.”

The first offering, “Hercules…,” is about two couples at crossroads in their lives.  Tupelo (La’Tevin Alexander) and Charmaine (Anya Pearson) both very hard working individuals, are barely keeping their heads above water, trying to put food on the table and pay the skyrocketing rent in their “modest” apartment in Chicago.  Their best friends, Maxine (Andrea Vernae) and Eugene (Seth Rule), are also diligent workers but have had a tragedy in their family that seems to be pulling them apart.  The sacrifice they make for honest labor is that they have no time for growing as couples.  Tupelo is eventually sent, with his friend, Youngblood (Eric Island), to New Orleans for work and they get caught up in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

The second play, “…Squash,” has a family dealing with the aftermath of the storm in Texas, near the border, close to New Orleans.  The righteous, Rev. Ratcliff (Anthony P. Armstrong) is living with his son, the lazy, Slidell (Jasper Howard), in a truck, sitting on the property of their elder, Lucille (Arlena Barnes), who owns a trailer.  There is much discussion as to accepting God’s Will or railing against this fate.  Into their already turbulent lives appear the brassy, bouncy, belligerent, Sweet 16 (Damaris Webb) and her new-found friend, the young Catfish (Rickey Junior).  She is the long-time mate of Slidell and is out to just have fun.  Sparks fly when all these spicy elements are dumped into an already bubbling stew.  Can’t tell you too much about both these plays without giving away plot devices.

What these plays have in common, besides the obvious thread of the storm, is that they both involve the storms that are already brewing within these individuals and the hurricane seems to be the tipping spot in which climaxes are reached.  They are all also about flawed, but very human people that, when the cards are stacked against them, rally and will rise again.  Their “once upon a time” story might end with “…and the lived [hopefully] ever after.”

Both plays are very well written and, it is not long into them, that you forget that the cast actually has scripts in their hands.  They are so adept as actors, that the pages disappear, and they become the characters they are portraying, thanks to some excellent casting and also narration by Kenneth Dembo.  Both directors have kept the movement fluid and, although in the first play, by Jones, they are different settings over several months of time, you never get lost.  And the second play, by Glenn, has shades of the great writer, August Wilson, as a few of the characters have interesting monologues that reveal their back-stories.

I recommend these plays.  You might check their website, too, as to other events that are connecting to them.  If you do choose to see them, please tell them that Dennis sent you.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Thom Paine (based on nothing)—Crave Theatre—SE Portland

A Creator’s Raffle

This one-man play by Will Eno, starring the one and only, Todd Van Voris, and directed by its co-founder, Sarah Andrews, is an opening act for a new theatre in town.  Crave is playing this production at the Shoe Box Theater, 210 SE 10th Ave., through June 11th.  For more information, go to their site at www.artful.ly/store/events/10321 or call 360-931-5664.

This play, like many theatre pieces now, is not so much what it’s about but how it’s presented, a sort of realistic expressionism, if you like.  The story, as such, is about a little boy, “Thom” (Van Voris), who has grown up but has never forgotten when tragedy struck his life and his innocence was lost.  He had more sad experiences throughout his existence and has learned that to survive pain one must embrace it as not so much a part of Life but, perhaps, as Life itself.

His story is related in a haphazard, stream-of-consciousness way, as if trying to avoid the issue, the pain, so he distracts himself with whatever occurs to him at the time, a lame joke, a raffle, making a patron disappear, flirting with the audience…any kind of babble that bubbles up in his brain at the time.  As if avoiding Life/Pain (really living, in other words), will somehow deaden it.  There is no doubt that when Innocence/Paradise is lost, there is a fierce need to vainly try to reclaim it.

Is that what the author is trying to tell us?  Possibly, but maybe not.  What is more important is what effect it has on the listener, the viewer.  What does it mean to you?  The above is my synopsis of the story but, as just mentioned, it is more than that.  And, with that in mind, I will give you the flavor of the presentation, as experienced through my eyes and ears.  The writing, the style of story-telling, by the way, has much in common with Vonnegut, such as “Slaughterhouse Five” or “From Time to Timbuktu” and Pinter, such as “Krapp’s Last Tape,” if you need a point of comparison.

Anyway, my take of his perspective:  Child connecting with reality/death through lightning…fear of love…higher aspirations dashed…instant gratification…awareness…lost in the universe…a grain upon a grain…blind spots all around…repetition vs. originality…personality forms at night, in the darkness…mystery of the breeding years…inner life…what speaks to me…be stable, said the trainer to the horse…body vs. mind vs. memories…images of self…intermingling…stories within others’ stories…trying….  -All colors of the rainbow, all gears of the windmills of the mind.

But, another perspective, and one I like, from the Director/Co-Founder, Andrews, her reflection of the play, “…challenges us to consider what happen if we, as humanity, in particular, as a country, all cared about each other a little bit more…it would be a start.”    This hits home especially with the turmoil in our country, the world, is in now.  Like I said, all sorts of interpretations here and all valid, I believe.

The play is done in a cabaret, black-box style, which I’ve always liked, because it forces attention on the story, the artists and the audience’s imagination with nothing getting in the way of the artistic experience.  Andrews has done a wonderful job of keeping the story just out of balance enough that you feel yourself scooting closer to the action to make sure you’re not missing anything.

And her choice of an actor for the lead, Van Voris…well, let me put it this way, his talent is so far-reaching that he could be reading the phone book and you’d marvel at it!  He really is so good that, as disjointed as the piece appears, you still feel a symbiotic relationship with him, as you accept what he is saying and believe in his plight.  A rare gift that all actors strive for.  His careful phrasing, his subtle nuances, his improvisational style, his pregnant pauses full of meaning…all perfect for this character.  He is one of a few actors that I’d go see the show simply knowing that he was going to be part of it!  May he live long and prosper.

This is the first outing for this company and, on the quality they have exhibited here, I don’t think it will be their last.  There are nearly a hundred groups, I believe now, in the greater Portland area.  So one might ask themselves, why another?  The answer is simple.  Artistic quality, vision and passion know no bounds, except those you put on yourself.  Art will out!

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

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Importance of Being Earnest—Artists Repertory Theatre—SW Portland

“What a Web We Weave”

This classic comedy of manners by Oscar Wilde is directed by Michael Mendelson.  It is playing at their space, SW Alder St. & 16th Ave., through June 11th.  For more information, go to their site at www.artistsrep.org  or call 503-241-1278.

In this time of great turmoil, one might ask themselves, is this piece of fluff even appropriate to be staged at this particular time.  My answer would be, it is imperative that we have just such a distraction, so that we can better deal with the strife and stress going on around us in this country and the world.  In the time of the Great Depression of the early thirties, the most popular films were the Busby Berkley musicals, full of fluff and frolic.  It was just what the world needed then, and what the country needs now.  A little perspective, please, so that we can get on with our lives!

Wilde, and Noel Coward, too, wrote about worlds in which the idle rich had nothing better to do than loll around and tend gardens, drink tea, go to parties and the theatre, write diaries, change clothes constantly and gossip.  And, of course, talking about the opposite sex was of paramount importance.  Love was simply a word without a foundation.  To these two writers credit, though, they were not without their serious side, Coward having written, “Brief Encounter,” and Wilde, “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” both excellent stories but the Public wanted the fluff and nonsense back.

And so we have two very rich and eligible bachelors, good friends to the end, Algernon (Ayanna Berkshire), sometimes known as Bunberry, and Jack (Jamie M. Rea), sometimes known as Earnest, both gallivanting Town and Country, to keep from getting bored and, of course, the quest to find true love.  But Jack has his eye on Gwendolyn (Kailey Rhodes), a cousin of Algy’s.  And Algy has his eye on Cecily (Crystal Ann Muñoz), Jack’s ward.  But, in those days, no marriages would dare take place without the approval of the parent, and so we have Algy’s mother, Lady Bracknell (Linda Alper), applying the third degree to Jack, if he is to marry Algy’s cousin, Gwendolyn.

It seems the important aspects that a gentleman should have are that they smoke, are of an appropriate age, have titled parentage, are ignorant, have fashionable homes and properties, and, of course, have money.  You’ll notice nothing is mentioned of love or a job.  To add to these complications, we have the serving class, which like in Shakespeare’s plays, sometimes hold the key to various mysteries.  In this case there is Miss Prism (Vana O’Brien), Cecily’s tutor, who is sweet on Rev. Chasuble (JoAnn Johnson), the local clergyman.  And then there are the butlers for the two houses, Lane and Merriman (Sarah Lucht), who have their own perspective of this vain, vapid and vacant world of the idle rich.

And if you think that is complicated, believe me, “you ain’t seen nuthin’ yet.”  Really can’t tell you any more, as all these, games, masks, deceptions and mysteries should be sorted out and discovered by the audience.  But, know that, in the end, there is an “earnest” effort to set things right!

This is an outstanding cast, as I am familiar with all of them, sans one, and they have all been an asset to past productions in which they have graced the stage, this one being no exception.  Lucht is a scream as the “servant of two masters.”  Berkshire and Rea are perfect as the young men, battling wits, to find love.  Rhodes and Muñoz are enchanting and lovely as the femme fatales of a bygone era.  Alper, as the epitome of Wilde’s voice of social satire, is terrific.  O’Brien is a treasure and, in my opinion, is always a highlight in every show she does, including this one.  And Johnson is wonderful as the slightly naughty representation of the religious aspect of Wilde’s wit.  The costumes are marvelous, in the hands of the designer, Bobby Brewer Wallin, colorful and fitting the period, as is the art deco, black and white, sparse set by Megan Wilkerson.

This show depends on its success from Wilde’s clever language and a very inventive director.  The sight gags and timing are crucial to the production’s success, and Mendelson, an actor’s director, is perfect for the job.  He has chosen a super cast and has pulled out all the stops to get the needed humor out of the situation.  It was a full house and the show got a well-deserved standing ovation, so Mendelson should be proud of what he has wrought!

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

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Anatomy of Gray—Mask & Mirror Community Theatre—Tigard, OR

The Age of Discovery

This comedy-drama is written by Jim Leonard, Jr. and directed by Sarah Ominski.  It is playing at the Calvin Church, 10445 SW Canterbury Lane in Tigard, through May 21st.  For more information, go to their site at www.maskandmirror.com or call 503-333-1139.

As Dickens famously wrote, in his opening to a classic novel, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” and so it is, too, with any age of discovery.  The years just after the end of the Civil War for America, through the thirties, were times of monumental changes and profound revelations.  Moving pictures, the end of slavery, women’s voting right, prohibition, the stock market crash, not to mention another War in Europe, electricity and the telephone, industrialization, et. al.  Medicine/health was not to be dismissed either, as they, too, were at the vanguard of change.  Leeches and home remedies were out and blood typing, pasteurization, quarantines, autopsies, sterilization from germs, etc. was in, or soon would be.

The time of this story is the mid-West of the 1880’s, the infancy of these changes.  But this is not just a history lesson but sprinkled with odds bits of parallels to other stories and characters, such as Professor Marvel from the Oz tales; a salute to Wilder’s, “Our Town,” both in story-telling style and personas; and, by the end, homage to, perhaps the most famous birth in history.  Ominski, the director, has the unenviable job of keeping it all together with just a few props, some authentic-looking period clothing by Viola Pruitt, nicely rendered, and some effective lighting by Brian Ollom.  And this cornucopia of oddities and tributes works surprisingly well and gives us a sample of a microcosm of human behavior having to deal, sometimes harshly, with change.

I really can’t tell you a whole lot about the plot, as much of it concerns devices which the audience should discover.  But the story has to do with a rural community, consisting of June (Caitriona Johnston), a teenager, and her mother, Rebekah (Renae Iversen), having just buried the patriarch of the family at the beginning of the play.  Pastor Winfield (Ted Schroeder) and his maiden sister, Tiny (Donna Haub), seem to be the head of a rather religious township.  Other prominent citizens seem to be a dedicated farmer, Crutch (John Knowles), and his wife, Belva (Pat Romans); Maggie (Emily Smith), a bit of a gossip, who runs the town eatery and watering hole; and Homer (Linh Nguyen), although a friendly chap, a bit of a ne’er-do-well when it comes to actually working.  As well as a host of town-folk that, go with the flow.

Into their lives appears a doctor out of the blue (literally), Galen Gray (Aaron Morrow), who is a god-send to some, for other than medical reasons in some cases, and a curse to others,  as home remedies for ailments seem to be a thing of the past.  As he roots himself into the town, some radical changes must be made in their lives, which are not always welcome because, as a harbinger of progress, he alienates tried and accepted ways of dealing with health concerns and introduces, what some would consider, invasive ways of dealing with sickness.  And here is where I have to leave off, as the rest is for an audience’s eyes and ears only.  But a major medical issue will manifest itself and all their lives will change forever.

I’ve always liked the story-telling approach to plays, as it rests solely on an actor’s talent, the author’s words and an audience’s imagination to relate the story.  This production lends well to that philosophy.  Morrow, as the key character, does very well with the role, having to waver back and forth between being understanding with folks and yet needing to introduce new ways of dealing with things.  Smith and Knowles do very well in giving us a sample of rural mentality of over a hundred years ago.  And, Johnston, as another focal character, is extremely good, revealing the angst of a youth, not entrenched yet with the old ways but curious and eager to be exposed to the new.  A difficult role but she does it well.  It would be good to see more of her onstage.

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

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Godspell—Lakewood Theatre Company—Lake Oswego

“…And a Child Shall Lead Them”

This rock musical from the early 70’s is written by John-Michael Tebelak, music by Stephen Schwartz, directed and choreographed by Michael Snider, with music direction by Cyndy Ramsey-Rier.  It is playing at their space, 368 S. State St. in Lake Oswego (plenty of parking at the rear of the building), through June 11th.  For more information, go to their site at www.lakewood-center.org or call 503-635-3901.

This was the era of “Hair” and “Jesus Christ, Superstar,” too.  It was a time of protest, both against the war in Nam and also for the Civil Rights of individuals in this country.  The time was ripe for revolution, as it was some 2,000 years ago.  And the setting (designed by the, always marvelous, John Gerth) is a playground, also appropriate, as they (and possibly us) will, through a child’s eyes at the dawning of curiosity, (re)discover possibly, through games, the Purpose of Life.

The stories, parables, are not unlike Aesop’s fables, where a lesson is taught in the pleasant guise of a children’s tale.  And the teachings are straight out of the New Testaments of Matthew and Luke.  Mind you, I never thought I was being preached to, as I hate that, but being gently exposed to other possibilities.  In these turbulent times, with the World on pins and needles, it might heed the warning in one of the songs offered here:  “Turn back, O man, and mend thy foolish ways!”  Amen.

The stories are presented in all manner of ways, assumedly so that they are easily understood by even a child.  The tales are exposed in short shifts and range from Improv to Vaudevillian, from a Circus atmosphere to child’s games, from Game shows to finger puppets, and everything in-between.  The parallel story that is also told is that of Christ’s final days, touching on his Baptism, the Sermon on the Mount, the confrontation with the Pharisees, conflicts with the Roman lords, the Last Supper, and, of course, the Crucifixion.

The music, songs and dances run the gamut, too, from ballads to Rap, from Rock & Roll to hard rock, from soft shoe to synchronized dances.  And it all works beautifully.  My own personal favorite number is, “All For the Best,” lead by Jesus (Benjamin Tissell), and Judas (Brock Bivens), who do a super job with the catchy lyrics and soft shoe.  (Note, Alec Cameron Lugo’s strong voice is in the Chorus and played Jesus in four productions of this show.)  There is also the haunting, and probably the most recognizable song from the show, “Day By Day,” sung touchingly by Kelly Sina.  And Tasha Danner is movingly expressive with, “Learn Your Lessons Well.”

Jorie Jones and Joey Cóté both lead well rousing numbers, she with, “O, Bless the Lord, My Soul” and he with, “We Beseech Thee.”  Another quiet moment, led softly by Amanda Pred was, “Side By Side.”  Also, Jeremy Sloane and Colin Stephen Kane lead them nicely in the moody, “On the Willows.”  “All Good Gifts” had the powerful voice of Alexander Salazar to lead the chorus.    And Clara-Liis Hillier, always a welcome addition to any cast, gave us the vampish vixen in her sexy rendition of, “Turn Back, O Man.”

Snider has done an amazing job of casting the show and creating all the intricate details, as well as the dances, that lend to much of the success of this production.  And Lakewood always manages to get some of the best singers and dancers in the area, as the cast is extraordinary on all counts!  The band, too, led by Ramsey-Rier, is spot on with the various types of music (as well as sound effects) and does not overpower the actors (which many bands of musicals often tend to do).

I did overhear one audience member asking her friend whether she thought this show would be appropriate for children.  Personally, I think it is (depending, of course, on parental religious viewpoints), as the stories really focus on compassion, tolerance, and acceptance for all individuals, something future generations should embrace in their education, as the current generation seems to have “misplaced” or lost track of them.  Also, the tales are told in entertaining ways, both for Youth and Adults.

A special shout-out, also, to Steve Knox, the current producer, who is one of those many unsung heroes behind the scenes of shows.  He, himself, has a long history of involvement with the performing arts and is a fine director, as I can attest to, as he directed a reading of one of my plays at Lakewood with Youth and did a super job of it.  Would like to see more of his directing efforts at some point, hint-hint.

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