Monday, December 11, 2017

Cinderella—NW Children’s Theater—NW Portland

Cindy’s Fella

This classic tale is put to music, as well as lyrics, book and music direction by Ezra Weiss and directed and choreographed by Sarah Jane Hardy (NWCT’s Artistic Director).  And, as always, the set & props (John Ellingson) and costumes (Mary Eggers) are something special to behold!  It is playing at the NW Cultural Center, 1819 NW Everett St. (parking is a real challenge in this area, so plan you time accordingly), through January 1st.  For more information, go to their site at www.nwcts.org or call 503-222-2190.

Some of you parents out there might remember, from the days of yesteryear, the familiar phrase from the film musicals of the 30’s & 40’s that would go something like this:  “Mickey:  ‘Hey, Judy, let’s get all the kids together and put on a show!’  Judy:  ‘You bet, Mickey.’”  And this rousing show, with dances and singing and loads of energy, would appear, as if by magic, out of nowhere.  Well, combine that genre of yesteryear with an even older time period, bygone lore, the fairy tales, and you have this rousing salute to this Edenistic era of a Neverland that will never grow old.  It’s a Tapapoluza of the highest order!

This delightful homage to those forgotten times is beautifully brought to life by Weiss and Hardy.  It recalls the days of Rooney and Garland, and their resoundingly tapping into our psyches, or the days of Fred and Ginger and their more sophisticated turns into our hearts.  Or, “Bojangles” and Shirley Temple, with their stair dance, or Ann Miller, the fastest tapper in the world.  “And the beat goes on….” But that was then and this is now.  This is a lovely Christmas card, a reminder, of what once was, and now is revived for us again, as a relief, for a while, from these troubled times. 

I think all of us know the basic story, as a poor step-daughter, Cinderella (Camille Trinka), to her rather well-to-do family consisting of the vicious, Puruline (Ithica Tell), the mother of the brood, who is unable to utter the word “please,” and her two worthless daughters, Pustula (Kelly Sina) and Putrice (Ashley Coates)—notice how the names seem to fit their dispositions.  This lost lady is looking for a partner (no, not a mate), a dance partner, specifically tap-dancing.

And it just so happens, on the other side of this caste system, the royal Prince (not “Charming”) Bobby (John Ellingson), is also looking for the ideal connection in dance “to trip the light fantastic” with.  His parents, the blundering King (Erik James) and his pushy mama, the Queen (Patty Price-Yates), humor him in this quest and agree to a Holiday Ball, hoping that primal urges will induce him to find a more permanent union, a wife that will, of course, eventually produce an heir.  The Prince’s younger sister, Sid (Crea Sisco), with her alter-ego, her pet-puppet, a man-eating dinosaur, has threatened to gobble up anyone not to her liking.  But he has one friend who understands him (and is actually more articulate, too) the charming, Vincent (Kimo Camat)—also the narrator of the play.

And so it came to pass, a fairy godmother, Madame Bernadette (Signe Larsen), in the form of a dance instructor appears, not to pander to Cindy’s wishes, but to teach her to become a better tapper.  She does get the full treatment in clothing for the Ball, at last, taps her way into the Prince’s heart (but in a rather unusual way) and, of course, promptly loses one shoe, as she rushes off at the stroke of midnight.  Of course, we all know he eventually will discover her after going through hundreds of young women including, her step-sisters, as well as some other maidens, including Abigail (Annika Cutler) and Tammy (Maggie Stanton).  They do put on their magical show but one should not assume that the inevitable match will happen, as in this day of female empowerment, the lady takes a stand and…well, you’ll just have to see it for yourself, won’t you, to find out how it turns out….

This is, as indicated at the beginning, Hardy and Weiss’s show.  The plot is a clever re-telling of a classic fairy tale with some very pleasant tunes to add to the mix.  Trinka and Ellingson have grand voices and are super dancers.  And they get fine support from the rest of the cast, all pros.  But the real treat is the dancing, and the Ensemble of dancers is a huge reason for its success.  They are fabulous!  “May they live long and prosper.”  Hardy is in her element here and it shows in her choreography, as the dance numbers are so reminiscent of that era one thinks they may have gone back in time.  Hardy is a treasure and this is an example of her at her best!

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

Every Christmas Story Ever Told...—Twilight Theater—N. Portland

A Not So…Silent Night

 “Every Christmas Story Ever Told (and then some)” was written by Carleton, Alvarez & Knapp and directed by Dorinda Toner (Twilight’s Artistic Director).  It is playing at their space, 7515 N. Brandon Ave. (just off Lombard--upstairs), through December 17th.  Free parking is in a church lot directly across the street.  For more information, go to their site at www.twilighttheatercompany.org

When you think of Christmas, what do you envision?  I mean, after you’ve gotten though all the material crap, there has to be a little magic left over for all the beings that inhabit this Land of Imagination.  Depending on your age, memories of a childhood in Wonderland might encompass a parent reading a story to you, or radio songs and tales of Christmas, or a religious center that focuses on the Nativity, but my guess is that TV and movies had a lot to do with your impressions of this Yuletide season.

This is what these three gentlemen, Jim (Craig Fitzpatrick), John (Greg Shilling) and Michael (Rob Harris) want to share with an audience.  Jim wants to re-tell Dickens’s famous tale of “A Christmas Carol” but the other two fellows have a somewhat broader idea of what it’s all about.  It not only includes Santa and his little people, but also the legends of the anti-Santa characters from the lore of other countries.  Also reality raises its ugly head at times, such as how does this jolly, ole fat man visit billions of homes in just one night?  And are not the elves really slave labor and Santa is discriminating against little people?  And what about flying reindeers…really?!

Well, it seems obvious, Christmas is a lot of things to all sorts of people.  Even to the point of over-lapping and contradicting each other.  And so this play, with some help from the audience, explores every possible pathway, and even some not so possible.  (I myself have even written one on the Krampus legend from Europe for radio, which will be repeated nationally for the fourth time this year.)  I do not want to give away the gags in the show so will just feature my favorite parts.

I loved the Game Show in which the host (Harris) asks loaded questions of his panel about Christmas.  He obviously favors contestant #1 (Schilling), giving him easy questions and, even when he’s vague as to his answers, he re-interprets them so that he gets a point.  The Host doesn’t appreciate contestant #2 (Fitzpatrick), so he ignores him or gives him impossible questions to answer.  And contestant #3 (audience member) he obviously likes, so through gestures or voice inflections he gives them the right answer.  A very funny bit.
My other favorite moment is Act Two, as Jim finally gets his wish and they do an abbreviated version of “A Christmas Carol” with him playing Scrooge.  But it’s not all that simple, as John gets his stories mixed up and, as Scrooge visits the various visions from his past, present and future, John comes up with all the characters from “It’s A Wonderful Life” (amazing how these two stories blend together).  But you’ll have to see it to find out how it all comes out.

Fitzpatrick has always been a favorite of mine in the all-too-few plays I’ve seen him in.  His Scrooge is spot on, as is his George Bailey, and his slow burn at times over the proceedings is priceless.  Schilling’s plethora of supporting personages from Capra’s film is excellent.  And his rendition of Linus’s Navitity story from, “A Charlie Brown Christmas” is perfect, nary a snicker in sight.  And the rubber-faced Harris is exceptional as the Host of the Game Show with an agenda.  He has been in many shows with this company and always a stand-out, as he is here.  Toner has cast this play very well and has kept it low-tech so that it retains the story-telling qualities, which are keys to the success of such a production.

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

Friday, December 8, 2017

A Christmas Carol—Portland Playhouse—SE Portland

A Song For All Seasons
This classic story by Charles Dickens is adapted and has original music and lyrics by Rick Lombardo and original music and arrangements by Anna Lackaff, too, as well as music direction by Eric Little.
  It is directed by Brain Weaver (Artistic Director for the company) and Cristi Miles.  It is playing at the Hampton Opera Center in the Hinckley Studio Theatre, 211 SE Caruthers St. (there is limited parking on the street and also a parking lot—but it is somewhat confusing as to what spaces are available to park in), through December 30th. 
For more information, go to their site at
www.portlandplayhouse.org or call 503-488-5822.
The original Christmas story, of course, is The Nativity.  But jockeying for second place would be Dickens’s ultimate tale of redemption.  And the main character, Scrooge, has had many incarnations, from the early 30’s with Seymour Hicks to the present-day one with Christopher Plummer (the best being Alastair Sim from the early 50’s).  This season in the Greater Portland area is one which includes Dickens himself at Bag & Baggage (excellent) in Hillsboro; a musical version from Stumptown Players at the Brunish theatre in downtown Portland and a staged radio version by Sam Mowry at the Kiggins Theater in Vancouver, WA.
The reason, in part, this story is so often repeated, is because it is universal and speaks a deeper language that all cultures can identify with.
  It is also because most people would like to think, flawed as we all are, that we can be given a second chance…that wayward ways can be redeemed.  It would be comforting to know, in these tumultuous times, that Goodness and Right will win over Evil and Might.  “And the beat goes on….”
The tale, for the one or two that might not know it, is this:
  As the original story goes, when we first visit Ebenezer Scrooge (the great, Todd Van Voris) in his counting house (he’s a money-lender), he has spurned some very animated charity collectors (Eric Little & Rachel Lewis), his own nephew, the joyous, Fred (Charles Grant) and even his sole clerk, the always hopeful, Bob Cratchit (Julian Remulla).  His place in society seems locked, until a visit from his old partner, the ghastly, Jacob Marley (Sarah Smith), now a ghost, who warns him of dire consequences in the afterlife if he doesn’t change his miserly ways. 
He then is visited by three spirits, the chiding, Ghost of Christmas Past (Lewis, again), the flamboyant, Spirit of the Present (Grant, again) and the ominous shadow of the specter of Yet-To-Come.
  The first one gives him a peek at his past as a Young Man (Little, again) with his loving sister, Fan (Kayla Kelly), mother of his nephew, Fred, now deceased, and a rather jolly, old Fezziwig (Remulla, again), a generous employer and his best friend, Dick (Kristopher Adams).  And, of course, there is his true love, dear sweet, Belle (Lewis, again), who cast him aside because of his single-minded pursuit of wealth. 
The second spirit shows him the present, with the joy of the Cratchit family, Bob’s outspoken wife (Claire Rigsby), their children, Peter (Phillip Wells), Martha (Tina Mascaro), Willie (Chiara Rothenberg), Alice (Serelle Strickland), Belinda (Maeve Z. O’Connor) and the ailing, Tiny Tim (Margot Weaver). Then he visits the gay atmosphere of his nephew and endearing wife and friends at this very festive season of the year.
 
The third visions, from a supposed time in the future, has his spoils being divided up by the “street” people (Rigsby, Smith and Lewis, again), and points to doom and gloom for Tiny Tim.
  He also sees his own gravestone, which has a profound effect on the aging man.  These messages rest heavily on the old man’s heart as he vows then to keep Christmas in his heart all year round and make use of his wealth for the good of others.  As it should be said for each and every one of us.
The production is done is a story-telling fashion, with all the characters narrating bits and pieces of the tale as it moves forward.
  It is also low-tech and is in the round, which gives the story a certain accessibility for the audience.  In this setting, Weaver and Miles have kept the scenes moving quickly and their casting is spot-on.  Van Voris is in top form, playing the essence of the man, not as a withered ole poop on the brink of death, but as a vibrant power of change, waiting to break loose his own chains, which his ghosts/muses happily provide the means.  Always a plus to have this gentleman as part of the cast.  And the rest of the actors are in fine form, too.  Little and Grant standing out in various supporting roles.  And this has to be the smallest Tiny Tim I’ve ever seen and Margot Weaver fits the role to a tee.
I recommend this production.
  If you do choose to go, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Charles Dickens Writes A Christmas Carol—Bag & Baggage Productions—Hillsboro, OR

Spirits of the Season

The adaptation of this classic Christmas story is by Scott Palmer (B&B’s Artistic Director), which he also directed.  It is playing at their new space in The Vault Theater, 350 E. Main St., in downtown Hillsboro (parking lot in back), through December 23rd.  For more information, go to their site at www.bagnbaggage.org or call 503-345-9590.

The above title can be taken in more than one way, as Dickens meant the story to cause, not only reflection, but humor, as well as some jolly imbibing.  This is probably the most adapted of all Christmas stories and the title character has been played by numerous fine actors, the best of which was Alaister Sim in the British, 1950’s version.  Since then, Scrooge has been immortalized by, most recently, Christopher Plummer, but also by Albert Finney, in a rather good musical version, George C. Scott, Sterling Hayden, et. al., and voiced by Jim Backus in the animated, “Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol” (also rather good).
With this incarnation we have, in this day and age of cross-gender casting, a woman, Kymberli Colbourne (who also played Captain Ahab in their “Moby Dick”), as the rascal, Scrooge.  We also have the author, Mr. Dickens (Peter Schuyler), making an appearance, giving us examples of how he wrote this immortal tale.  The rest of the ensemble, consisting of part of his regular company (Jessi Walters, Joey Copsey, Andrew Beck, Jessica Geffen and Morgan Cox), play all the supporting characters, as well as a clock, the wind, some animals and a very animated door-knocker.

This tale should be known by one and all but, in case you are one of the few that is not familiar with it, here is contained a brief summary:  As the original story goes, when we first visit Ebenezer Scrooge (Colbourne), he has spurned some very chatty charity seekers (Cox & Geffen), his own nephew, the joyous, Fred (Andrew Beck) and even his sole clerk, the always hopeful, Bob Cratchit (Copsey).  His place in society seems locked, until a visit from his equally miserly, old partner, Jacob Marley (Copsey, again), now a ghost, who warns him of dire consequences in the afterlife if he doesn’t change his ways. 

He then is visited by three spirits, the chiding, Ghost of Christmas Past (Walters), a rather tipsy, Spirit of the Present (Geffen, again) and the ominous shadow of the specter of Yet-To-Come.  The first one gives him a peek at his past as a Young Man (also, Colbourne) with his somewhat incoherent sister, Fan (Cox, again), mother of his nephew, Fred, now deceased, and a rather dotty, old Fezziwig (Beck, again), a generous employer.  And, of course, there is his true love, dear sweet, Belle (Geffen, again), who she cast him aside because of his single-minded pursuit of wealth.  This episode concludes with a dire warning, which still is relevant in today’s world, to watch out for the products of such a murky climate, as they breed Ignorance and Want and will spell doom for all if they are given free rein. 

The second spirit shows him the present, with the joy of the Cratchit family, Bob’s outspoken wife (Walters, again), their children, Peter (Beck, again), Martha (Cox, again), and the ailing, Tiny Tim (Schuyler, again), and visits the gay atmosphere of his nephew and endearing wife (Cox, again), and friends, (Walters, again) as well as the outrageous, Topper (Copsey, again),  at this very festive season of the year. 

The third visions, from a supposed time in the future, has his spoils being divided up by the “street” people (Geffen & Walters, again), and points to doom and gloom for Tiny Tim.  These messages rest heavily on the old man’s heart as he vows then to keep Christmas in his heart all year round and make use of his wealth for the good of others.  Of course, one wonders what has happened to Belle (although there is a glimpse in this version) after all these years and why his hatred of Fred, his nephew, who is, after all, his beloved Fan’s son (explained very satisfactorily in the Sim film version).  But, perhaps, these are stories for another time.

This is presented in a story-telling style, as Dickens often agues with his Muses (and they with him) as to various outcomes, names and dialogue within the story (being a writer myself, I can attest to these mock battles), which only endears us more to the magic of the written word.  There are some marvelous costumes created by Melissa Heller (especially the charity seekers hats, very lively and colorful) and the terrific lighting effects, designed by Jim Ricks-White, which are a bit mind-boggling and quite effective for the mood of the scenes.

Palmer has done another amazing job in adapting/directing a literary classic.  He has accomplished this extremely well in the past with “The Great Gatsby,” “The Graduate,” Bronte & Austin stories, Shakespeare, et. al. and, the aforementioned, “Moby Dick.”  Their mission, in part, is to animate in the flesh, literary classics, which they have been very successful doing.  And he also has a multi-talented company to help him accomplish this mission, one of the best being the very fine actor, Cassie Greer, who was the assistant director on this production (and is the Associate Artistic Director for the company).  She will be directing a full-scale show this March, “Death and the Maiden,” and, if it in any way matches her acting prowess, it will be quite a production!

The actors are super in this show (and I would expect nothing less from them).  Some standouts were Walters as the mouthy, Mrs. Cratchit; Copsey as the eerie Marley and fussy, Topper; Beck as the forgetful, Fezziwig; Geffen with her elfin smile and laugh, as the tipsy Spirit; and Cox as the babbling, Fan.  Schuyler was perfect as the mouthpiece for this opus and Colbourne, as the cranky, old fuss-budget, was absolutely convincing, playing the many moods of Scrooge!

And, in this day and age of troubled waters, this might be just the ticket to view the positive possibilities of what can happen if we choose to build bridges between cultures, instead of walls, and put back the constitutional phrase, “We, the people…,” into our vocabulary!  And so, may it be truly said of all, as Tiny time observed, “God Bless Us, Every One!”

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

Monday, November 27, 2017

A Christmas Memory/Winter Song—Portland Center Stage at The Armory—Pearl District

Sweet Songs of Yesteryear

This poignant duo is directed by Brandon Woolley, with music direction and pianist, Mont Chris Hubbard.  The first piece is a monologue by Truman Capote and delivered by Leif Norby and the second one is conceived by Woolley and Merideth Kaye Clark and performed by Clark and Norby.  It is playing at their space, 128 NW 11th Ave. (parking is a challenge in this area, so plan your time accordingly), through December 31st.  For more information, go to their site at www.pcs.org or call 503-445-3700.

Memories can be funny things…they are fleeting…and yet, some stick in your mind, like honey to Pooh’s tongue.  Holidays are an especially vulnerable time of year for such lingering moments.  Why reminisce nostalgic at these specific avenues of thought?  Possibly because they should evoke joyous segments that “dance in your head,” so that you can navigate through the more turbulent times we live in now.  They remind us of what was, and can be again, if we just try harder…if we believe…if we clap our hands together so that Tinkerbelle might live!  Those are the times of Hope.

Capote’s story reminds me so much of Dylan Thomas’ “A Child’s Christmas in Wales;” Earl Hammer Jr.’s of the 30’s & 40’s in the hill country of Virginia in “the Homecoming” stories; and of my favorite Ray Bradbury book, “Dandelion Wine,” of a magic summer of the 20’s in Greentown, Illinois.  It is interesting that they, like Capote’s story, wax nostalgic with me, although they have little semblance to my own actual memories.  Maybe because these are the times we wish we had experienced.  The only specific relationship to my own musings, from those forgotten fields of yore, are lying on a snowy hillside in back of my grand-parents house as a young child, and watching distant trains go by in the valley and contemplating of who these people might be, that I saw fleetingly through the compartmentalized windows, and imagining their lives.  I know then my writer’s Muse was born.

Did such a thing happen with Capote, too?  Perhaps.  His memory as a child of about seven, living with a female cousin in her sixties, in a rural house during the early parts of the 1900’s, spurned this bitter-sweet tale, all beautifully narrated by Norby.  It is a story of making fruitcakes, with real whiskey, and picking the pecans yourself, buried under dying leaves and frost, from a neighbor’s grove and sharing them with relative strangers.  It is musings about Queenie, her dog, who would have to sample all the morsels morals ate, and drank.  It is about a passion for kite-flying, with entities that reached up and kissed the accepting clouds.  It is about lying in the country grass at night, fresh with Nature’s smells, and gazing at the stars, and dreaming.  It is about a boy narrating the tales of recent movies to an old friend, who would rather hear this child tell about the films than see them for herself.  It is a story of…being alive!

The second half the show consists of songs around the holidays, full of jazz, ballads, pop, classical and folk selections.  I can’t tell you what songs, as the program didn’t have them listed for some reason, but they were all very well presented by Norby and specifically, Clark, who has a voice that could raise the roof on the theatre, especially when she belts one out, or could lull you into a pleasant slumber, both amply accompanied by Hubbard.  They also took requests for winter/holiday memories from the audience, which was a real crowd-pleaser, and they all deserved and got a standing ovation by the end.  Woolley, Clark, Hubbard and Norby have put together a real treat for you for the holidays and I recommend these productions.  If you do choose to see them, please tell them Dennis sent you.

An Act of God—Triangle Productions!—SE Portland

The God Factor

This irreverent comedy is written by David Javerbaum and directed and designed by Donald Horn (Triangle’s Artistic Director).  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 December 16th.  For more information, go to their site at www.trianglepro.org or call 503-239-5919.

For many years, scientists have been looking for that Missing Link in our evolution.  No, not just the one between Ape and Man (depending on whether you believe in Evolution, or Creation, as the Bible states it), but between the Big Bang theory and the moment just before that or, as it is sometimes called, The God Particle.  There is a place called CERN, deep underground, in which they are attempting to recreate this Bang.  (So, if you wake up someday and see just rubble all around you, you know they have succeeded.)  But, I digress….

In this incarnation, God has taken on the guise of a well-known local actor named, Norman Wilson, and has arrived in Portland to set the record straight on some things.  According to Him, His named has been invoked millions of times in order to justify mass murder and He, quite frankly, wants it stopped.  He is also very upset that people are damning things and people in His name, which should only be His prerogative.  And He wants to give us the real story on his purpose of creating Humans—you may not believe this, but there was also another character molded at the same time, called Steve.  According to Him, His secret weapon to get things accomplished are Panic and Awe.

He also wants us to know that the Ten Commandments needed revising so, although He has kept some of them, such as adoring only Him and not taking His name in vain He, in general, is tired of people mis-quoting from the Bible and using Him as an excuse to further their own, selfish agendas (He explains it much better but I didn’t want to ruin his unique delivery of these gems).  He also expounds on Abraham (his favorite); the Job story (a comedy); Noah & the pairing in the Ark (a zookeeper’s nightmare); Jesus (His middle child); and the beginnings of America (Puritans, misguided religious fanatics vs. Tobacco Farmers, expanded slavery & smoking), et. al.

But He is not without His detractors (both here and above).  Although Gabriel (James Sharinghousen), the arch-angel, who follows him around like a little puppy, His other side-kick, Michael (Leah Yorkston), is not quite so accepting of His missives and raises, at her own peril, questions and concerns that Humans might have.  But all is not predetermined, as He has a recent arrival (Universe 2.0 is the program, to give you a hint as to his identity) from Earth that may have a plan to make things better/fairer for us mortals.  Another revelation He make concerns why we, as Humans, have so many flaws and failings.  And His newest, Tenth Commandment, might just give us a new path to forge (you’ll have to hear it for yourself, though, as I won’t be a spoiler).

As always, Horn has given us something provocative, entertaining and insightful to dwell on.  And he has chosen his cast well, as Sharinghousen, a veteran of Triangle and OCT productions and Yorkston (an amazing Dusty Springfield from a previous show) are perfect as the opposing forces in God’s story.  And Wilson is also the perfect vessel for God to possess (a cross between Paul Lynde and Mel Brooks).  His comic delivery is spot on, a terrific choice for the role!  Be advised, though, this is definitely adult material and, for those sensitive to religious issues, this may not be for you.  But for all others, go see it, as I recommend it and thoroughly enjoyed it.  And, if you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

The Humans—Artists Rep—SW Portland

The Story of Us?!

This dark comedy is written by Stephen Karam and directed by Dámaso Rodriguez (Artists Rep’s Artistic Director).  It is playing at their space, SW Alder St. and 16th Ave., through December 17th.  For more information, go to their site at www.artistsrep.org or call 503-241-1278.

After seeing this show, I am reminded of the line in “The Lion in Winter,” when Eleanor states, after a family squabble, “…what family doesn’t have its ups and downs.”  Very appropriate sentiment for this production, too.  Two other things struck me as well:  The way it is written (w/overlapping dialogue) and staged (in real time), giving it a certain authenticity that other stories of its ilk don’t have, placing you squarely in the room with them.  Also, it had a number of reflections to my own family, being also from an Irish-Catholic background, with siblings.  Both elements are, I believe, part of the point of this story, which is to connect with people/families in a very real way.

In my case, my Dad’s family was from the hill country of Virginia and, Mom’s, a mid-West dairy farm.  Myself, the eldest, and my two sisters and one brother, went to Catholic grammar school but have since all veered away from the Church.  Broken marriages, gay offspring, “living in sin,” struggling to survive, health problems, etc., are all part of our make-up, as well as the characters in Karam’s play.  Its uncanny how he has managed to reveal, what I assume are real conflicts in his own family, and yet be able to relate to all of us as viewers, as well.  It says to me, we are all connected and not so alien to each other as we may think.

In the Blake’s case, it is Thanksgiving, modern day, and the father, Erik (Robert Pescovitz), who works at a school, has a bad back and probably drinks too much, has arrived at the apartment house of their youngest daughter, Brigid (Quinlan Fitzgerald), a composer at heart but working as a bartender to pay the bills, and her boyfriend, Richard (John San Nicolas), studying to be a social worker, for this holiday.  In tow are also the eldest sister, Aimee (Val Landrum), who works in a law office, is having trouble connecting with her newest love, as well as some more personal problems.  There is also the girls’ Mom, Deirdre (Luisa Sermol), who has a very strict view of life because of her Catholic beliefs.  And, to round out this family gathering, is Erik’s Mom, “Momo” (Vana O’Brien), who skirts reality in her wheelchair-bound world, grasping at an existence that only she can sense.

They will laugh and fight and cry together, and separately, longing to be understood, and accepted.  They will all have their moments in the sun but equal time will be given over to the grayer side of life.  We will see, through their eyes, a world all too familiar, in which we may keep at arm’s length but they must embrace.  Secrets will be exposed, lives changed, as they “rage against the dying of the light.”  Telling more would be unfair, as this is a story to be experienced, not related in the third person.

Another aspect of this presentation that might not be so obvious, is that the sounds (designer, Phil Johnson) from the outside world seem to be deliberately intrusive, as if invading this imperfect but cushioned world, trying to get their attention, for better or worse, to promote change, not unlike the obelisk in “2011:  A Space Odyssey.”  The ending, which I liked, does seem to support this hypothesis.  Anyway, I might be wrong, but you can decide for yourself when you see it.

The setting (designer, the prolific and amazing, Megan Wilkerson) is quite a feat, as it is two stories in which action takes place on both of them, sometimes at the same time.  And the upper story must be equipped to handle people jumping on it, so must be solid.  Only hesitant note I heard from a couple audience members was that the edge of this story looked very precarious and they worried for the actors safely (although I’m sure those scenes were carefully rehearsed).

Rodriguez, as always, has cast it well and used the wide space and both stories very effectively.  His cast, some of them veterans of the company and past shows, fit into their roles like hand to glove, quite a perfect ensemble.  This is an emotionally charged show so one can’t help but be caught up in the momentum as it builds.  I recommend this show.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Psychic Utopia—Hand2Mouth—SE Portland

Beyond the Rainbow

This “Happening” was developed by it performers and company members: Sascha Blocker, Jean-Luc Boucherot, Liz Hayden, Erin Leddy, Jenni GreenMiller, Heather Rose Pearson, Judson Williams and Andrea Stolowitz, Jess Drake & Maesie Speer.  It is directed by Jonathan Walters (H2M’s Artistic Director) with original music/sound created by Seth Nehil.  It is playing at the Expressive Works space, 810 SE Belmont St., through December 3rd.  For more information, go to their site at www.hand2mouththeatre.org

I would call this a “Happening,” because that is the word that folks of my generation would use when presented with a work that lives in the “here and now.”  I suppose it’s a Hippie terminology, which would also incorporate therapy or healing centers for the mind and spirit, also popular during this Age. Damn it, it was the 60’s, evolved from the Beats of the 50’s, as well as the European Bohemians from Europe of the same period, and nobody was going to tell us how to live and what to believe!

This event recreates much of that atmosphere, both good and bad.  It also created cults, like Manson’s, that went on killing sprees, and the Jonestown mass murders, and that local fellow that got high on Rolls Royce’s, as well as the Big Sur groupies (for a great parody of this, see the film, “The Howling”) et. al.  It is an all-inclusive, audience-participation show.  Early on, one of the questions they ask of the audience was to recall your earliest memory.  Almost to a person, all the remembrances involved water and, being that we may have, as a species, evolved from the Sea, are we having a type of collective memory?!

The cast all individually shared some of their “personal” experiences from their past, especially with a utopian group called, “The Center,” how it formed and how it disintegrated.  So, in that spirit, and since part of the purpose of this experiment/experience involves getting in touch with yourself, I decided to write down some random thoughts/words that occurred to me while engaged with this “play:”

Chanting & intoning mantras…Song of David…a higher purpose…journey to wisdom/self…energy…childhood & memories of a bygone era…meditation…self-healing…re-capturing childlike wonder…being welcoming/open…Native American pathways…tribal connections…mind-control/brain-washing…disillusionment…transformation/evolution…obelisk…group dynamics/behavior…”gone, long-time passing”…surrender…finding quietness…climbing…Life’s Journey…discovering one’s “saving grace….”  And the beat goes on!

If you go, you will no doubt experience/sense different feelings and, with this, a sort of cathartic experience, awaking thoughts, sensations that may have been long buried.  The atmosphere is charged and the conduit is You, so go with the flow.  We may be a strange breed and some of us can go “south” when evolving, like in the very good book and films of it, “Lord of the Flies,” but for every Ying, there is a Yang.  And there is always Free Will and Reasoning Powers, when sensibly applied, so all is not lost.  I am reminded of one of Anne Frank’s final entries in her diary, after spending weeks in a concentration camp, “I still believe people are basically good .”  “Out of the mouth of babes….”  Beside, we’re all we’ve got!  Might want to make the best of it.

The cast, composer and director have created a very authentic atmosphere for this event and its impressive how it’s conducted.  I recommend this “Happening.”  If you do choose to experience it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Belfast Girls—Corrib Theatre—SE Portland

Voyage of Discovery

This drama, inspired by true events, is written by Jaki McCarrick and directed by Gemma Whelan (Artistic Director of Corrib).  It is playing at Shaking the Tree Theatre, 823 SE Grant St., through December 10th.  For more information, go to their site at www.corribtheatre.org or call 503-389-0579.

Over the years many countries, when facing a crisis either because of overpopulation, war, caste systems, internal turmoil, etc. will try to eliminated the “undesirables” from their countries, that group being based on who the ruling body is, of course.  Some simply exterminated them or exiled them from the country.  Others build walls to keep these sorts out.  In Ireland, during the mid-1800’s, those types of individuals were prisoners, the poor and “public women,” among others.

The focus of the play is on five women on board a ship, the Inchinnan, bound for the “male-heavy” country of Australia.  Faced with starvation in their own country and deplorable living conditions, many jumped at the opportunity of a second chance at the good life.  We all take journeys in our lives, a few seeking that Garden of Eden or a Brave, New World.  This sojourn is directed toward the Unknown, and so…In the Beginning, there were…the Belfast Girls!

The action takes place in the living quarters--consisting of a few bunks, some storage space for suitcases, a desk, some candles and a chair--for five women.  Four of the ladies have had pretty rough lives and could be considered “public women,” as a means to earn their living.  Judith (Anya Pearson), of Jamaican descent, seems to be the leader of the pack.  Her aspirations seem a bit higher than the others, as she can read and write and enjoys books.  She is an activist and wants women to organize to get better conditions in their jobs.  Her goal is someday to be a teacher.

Hannah (Summer Olsson) is a bit more basic, she just wants to get married to some rich guy and live in the lap of luxury.  Her bud, Ellen (Brenan Dwyer), is just as coarse a person, even content to be involved in a little rough-housing to pass the time.  Sarah (Hannah Edelson) is a bit of a loner and is satisfied to focus on making a pretty hat to be worn on her arrival.  Into this odd mix comes a newbie, Molly (Tiffany Groben) and it’s obvious from the outset she doesn’t fit.  She loves culture and has a raft of books and plays.  Her desire is to be a stage actress.  She claims to have been a servant in an affluent household and thus her love of culture.

But this arrival seems to throw the group into a bit of a turmoil, as we find out that not all is as it seems on the surface.  Alliances are formed, secrets are revealed and violence erupts as the long journey and close quarters takes its toll on the individuals.  Can’t tell you more without giving away plot devices that an audience should discover.  But the end result, in the long term, is that Australia is a thriving country now, so what was to be an act of “genocide” has bore fruit in a new setting, proving the indomitable spirit of a human being, in this case, women that became empowered and made the best of a bad situation for the future betterment of all.

McCarrick has written a powerful play of the endurance of the human spirit.  For all these people’s failings a greater good would emerge.  Whelan has beautifully balanced the wide stage in her blocking of the actors and has modulated the emotions of them to get the best impact of their situation.  Likewise, the set, stark with a long playing area (Lara Klingeman) and lighting (Anthony Arnista), as well as music, does much to compliment that action and story.  And the whole cast is first-rate, one of the best ensembles I’ve seen!

I recommend this play but, be warned, it does have adult situations and rough language so may not be for everyone.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Monday, November 13, 2017

To Kill A Mockingbird—Lakewood Theatre Company—Lake Oswego, OR

Childhood Interrupted

One of the greatest novels of all time, “To Kill A Mockingbird,” by Harper Lee, adapted for the stage by Christopher Sergel and directed by Brenda Hubbard, is playing now at the Lakewood space, 368 S. State St., through December 10th.  For more information, go to their site at www.lakewood-center.org or call 503-635-3901.

“Times, they are a-changin,’” but this is a small town in the Deep South of the 1930’s, and “it ain’t necessarily so,” here.  On the surface it appears to be the story of injustice, as depicted in the trial of a black man, Tom, being falsely accused of raping a white girl, Mayella (Mamie Colombero).  But, at its heart, it is a coming-of-age tale of a young girl, Scout (in reality, Lee, herself) and her brother, Jem, as well as their friend, Dill (Brock Woolworth), growing up, perhaps too quickly, and experiencing things that could make you or break you.  In her case, her writing was her saving grace.

But she only had one story to tell, winning numerous accolades, and never wrote another, but it’s one for the ages!  It was quickly snatched up and made into a movie, with Gregory Peck, which is also considered a classic.  Another interesting note is that she also was a major researcher for Truman Capote’s (the inspiration for the character of “Dill,” who she knew as a child) classic novel, “In Cold Blood.”  Also of note is that Margaret Mitchell, also from the Deep South, only wrote one story as well, the classic, “Gone With The Wind.”

The precocious, Scout (Kate McLellan) and her older brother, Jem’s (Bram Allahdadi), father, Atticus Finch (Tim Blough), a respected lawyer, has been assigned the unpopular job of defending the young black man, Tom Robinson (Aries Annitya).  He knows it’s a no-win situation, even though his friend, the sheriff, Heck Tate (Hank Cartwright), knows he’s right, there is still the D.A., Mr. Gilmore (Rob Harrison), Judge (David Heath), as well as an all-white, male jury to convince.  But he believes in the rights and dignity of all men, so is willing to withstand the prevailing winds of deep-seated tradition.  He attempts to prove that Tom could not have committed the crime. 

But, again, this is the Deep South of the 1930’s, and Lady Justice is not blindfolded to the color of one’s skin.  Into this mix, his children are catapulted.  And, through their father’s homilies on life and justice, the children discover a basic human truth, that one should not judge another until they have walked in their shoes.  Again, that is the plot device to hang the story on but the reason it is so universal in its appeal, is that it goes way beyond that through the many supporting characters/sub-plots that exist.

Some of the lingering elements like this in the story are of the importance of the Afro-American in the white communities of the time, in the character of Calpurnia (Monica Fleetwood), the surrogate Mother, to Atticus’ children; the devastating effects of gossip, in the guise of Miss Stephanie (Rhonda Klein); the effects of drugs and alcohol on an individual; how we treat the mentally challenged; the result of mob violence, until you strip away the mask and expose the person underneath; the importance of law and order; the fact that Justice can prevail sometimes in the oddest of ways; how family abuse can go unchallenged; and how compassion can warm even the coldest of hearts.

Those involved in these transitions are the cranky, Mrs. Dubose (Jane Fellows); the faithful wife of Tom, Mrs. Robinson (Janelle Rae Davis); their pastor, Reverend Sykes (Eric Island); the conflicted, Walter Cunningham (Jeremy Southard); the abusive drunkard, Bob Ewell (Tony Green); the understanding neighbor, and sometimes narrator, Miss Maudie (Caren Graham); and the unforgettable, Boo Radley, (Matthew Sunderland).

This may be a hard play to watch and maybe, even harder, to digest but the truths of it are still self-evident and ever–present.  The key to understanding, perhaps, is simply, as Atticus espouses, in order to understand another’s situation and/or a person’s viewpoint, you have to get inside their skin and walk around in their shoes a bit.  I still contend that our fore-bearers begin our country’s anthem with “We, the people…” and we still have not yet achieved that goal.  It is also interesting to note that one of the final homilies that Atticus relates, is that people are not so bad once you get to really know them.  Also Anne Frank, victim in a concentration camp during WWII, in one of her last entries in her diary, said that she still felt people are basically good.  Again, universal perspectives. 

Hubbard, a well-respected, long-time theatre veteran, has managed to highlight all these various aspects of the story into a unified vision and done it very well.  The set, by long-time designer, John Gerth, is extraordinary, as it manages to maintain an authenticity all its own, as well as being the setting for a variety of locations of this tale.  Likewise, the costumes of the period by Sue Bonde, are spot-on.

The performances all had a ring of authenticity about them, as it was a bit un-nerving walking down a not-so-pretty aspect of our past.  Some of the acting that stood out for me was the explosive performances of Mamie Colombero as Mayella, the victim in the trail, and Tony Green as her abusive father, Bob Ewell.  They set the stage on fire, presenting us with characters to be despised, perhaps, but pitied at the same time, a burning intensity that was both compelling and hard to watch.

But, as I feel I must defend Lee’s book here, this is Scout’s story, flashing back on those troubled times, and it is her, as an adult, that should be narrating/reflecting on this tale, not a neighbor.  I, myself, directed this same version of the script some years ago at The Old Church and related my concerns to the adapter.  As it turned out, a few years ago another version of her novel that he adapted was presented at OSF, with Scout, as an adult, as the narrator, and it was superior to this version of the script.  In my opinion, that is the version that rings true to Lee’s original story and should be produced.


I recommend this production but, be warned, it does contain graphic language and situations true to this period and story.  If you do go, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

The Game’s Afoot—Battle Ground Drama Club—Battle Ground, WA

The Art In Murder

This comedy-mystery, “The Game’s Afoot:  or, Holmes for the Holidays,” is written by Ken Ludwig and directed by Stephan “Cash” Henry.  It is playing in The Lair at Battle Ground High School, 300 W. Main St., through November 18th.  For more information, go to their site for tickets www.payments.battlegroundps.org or contact the director for more information, henry.stephan@battlegroundps.org

The stage actor, William Gillette, was synonymous with Sherlock Holmes during the early part of the 1900’s.  He adapted Doyle’s character/stories for the stage, approved by Doyle himself, and played that character for more than twenty years.  Later, the screen saw Basil Rathbone (the best), Peter Cushing, Christopher Plummer, Charlton Heston (not good), and others don the mantle.  This play is about that real life actor and a fictional account of what would happen if he, himself, were involved in a murder case, or at least his alter ego.

In this incarnation, Gillette (Jack Harvison) is at home with his mother, Martha (Sabrina Scribner), and a few actors from his company on Christmas Eve in the mid-1930’s.  A couple weeks earlier he had been wounded during a curtain call from a shot from the audience.  It would not be unlike any sleuth, especially a Christie character, to gather a few of the “usual suspects” together to discover the identity of the murderer, oh, did I say murder, as a stage doorman at the theatre had his throat slit a short time ago and Gillette thinks there might have been a connection between that and his would-be killer.

The others at this gathering are his best friend, the flamboyant, Felix (Reagan Joner) and his dutiful wife, Madge (Sammy Carroll).  Also attending are the somewhat shy, Simon (Andre Roy) and his girlfriend, now bride, Aggie (Ceili O’Donnell).  But there are some unexpected occurrences that will happen that will move the plot along nicely, besides another murder, of course.  One is the gadgetry of the newly acquired house itself.  There are the bugging devices hidden about the rooms, a remote control, and the hidden, revolving room.  Also, an uninvited guest appears, the sexy but nasty critic, Daria (Samantha Erickson), who has dirt on all of them.  She is there, at Gillett’s request, as a Medium, so that they can conduct a Séance, to get in touch with the dead doorman’s spirit to find out who murdered him.

And so, before the evening is over, we will have one attempted murder, three actual murders, a jilted ex-girlfriend, an attempted poisoning and a sick dog.  They will all, of course, once Gillette has donned his Holmes persona, ferret out the killer.  He will be aided, too, by one of the first female detectives, Inspector Goring (Darian Dyer).  Of course, this being a mystery, I cannot reveal any more without being a spoiler.  But know that there are so many twists and turns by the end, you may be scratching your head wondering who’s who and what’s what.

The set and costumes (w/Julie Donaldson) by Sundance Wilson Henry are spot-on, as usual, as it shows her keen eye for detail, her creative talent and a knowledge of the period.  The director, Henry, always does well with Youth and this play is just another in a long line of successes with them.  I would hope someday they find a space of their own to perform, as they deserve it!  This works both as a pretty darn good mystery, as well as producing some very amusing gags to enhance it.

I have seen most of the cast before and they do fit their respective roles very well.  They all seem to have a duel character life, which only adds to the fun and suspense of the proceedings.  Aggie (O’Donnell), Simon (Roy) and both Gillette’s (Harvison& Scribner) are not necessarily outwardly what they appear to be and the actors do a good job of hiding this aspect of their personas.  Joner & Carroll seem the happy couple until we see’s what’s beneath, well done.  Dyer, as an empowering woman character, is a real treat, doing justice to the role.  And, Erickson, as the gal you love to hate, is both very alluring and very evil, quite a feat for this good actor.

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

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

The Events—Third Rail—SE Portland

“Look What They've Done To My Song”

This timely production is written by David Greig and directed by Scott Yarbrough.  It is playing at the Imago space, 17 SE 8th Ave., near Burnside (street parking, so plan your time accordingly), through November 18th.  For more information, go to their site at www.thirdrailrep.org or call 503-235-1101.

Boy, is this a timely piece, or what?!  As we got out of the matinee for this show on Sunday, the news was on the air about another mass killing in Texas in a church.  It seems there are two things that are constant on a daily basis in the news—what dumb things did our “fake” president say/do today and where was the last mass killing.  Sad state of affairs we’re going through now.

In this scenario, it concerns a dedicated choir director/pastor of a small church, Claire (Maureen Porter), who may be losing her faith.  But she sees music, her choir (in this case, The Sunnyside Community Choir), acting, too, as a sort of Greek Chorus (commenting on and participating in the action, at times), as her solace in a troubled world.  Into this contained community enters The Boy (Joseph Gibson), who is a lost soul, wanting to make his mark on this earth, to be of worth to his “Tribe.”  But, it seems, his idea of “his mark,” will disrupt the lives of many.

These two actors will play many roles throughout the production, a counselor; Claire’s lover, Katrina; a psychiatrist; a killer; a friend; a journalist; a native boy; et. al., and as they interact, a full spectrum of the psyche of the incident/event emerges.  Killings are not just one thing, nor are people.  We all are made up of thousands of variables, with equally as many outcomes, and our fates rest in what choices we make at the crossroads for these events. 

And, moreover, is it Nature (pre-destiny) or Nurture (upbringing) that drives our passions?  But a simple rule might be, regardless, “First, do no harm…” to oneself or others.
Of course, I can’t tell you the full story, or I would be a spoiler, but know there are no easy answers.  A brilliant addition to this scenario is the introduction of a choir (also, unfortunately, very timey, too).  They sing hymns/songs periodically throughout that will fit with the action taking place, as well as playing supporting characters in this production.  Pure genius, as it adds so much to the emotional impact of the story!  And their Song continues…!

Yarbrough has his work cut out for him, as the scenes only consist of a few chairs and minimal costumes changes to fulfill the narrative.  But it works exceedingly well as it concentrates our attention to “The Events,” the author’s words and the actors’ talents to paint the disturbing, disjointed but very real world that’s gone awash with a type of madness.  Porter and Gibson are excellent and totally convincing in the many varied characters they present.  It would, indeed, take a high caliber of talent to present this story and they (actors, Choir, crew & author) are them!

I highly recommend this show but know that it is emotionally charged material and not for the very sensitive.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.