Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Angry Brigade—Third Rail Repertory Theatre—SE Portland


This dark comedy is written by James Graham and directed by Rebecca Lingafelter and Isaac Lamb.  It is playing at the Imago space, 17 SE 8th Ave. (just off Burnside), through April 15th.  (Parking in this area is difficult, so plan your time accordingly.)  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-546-6558.

Either definition of the above word is appropriate—ugly/disgusting or new change.  You assume when people consider a violent revolt, they have tried more peaceful, diplomatic means of solving differences.  Not always so, of course.  Teens go through a rebellious stage in which authority (parents, teachers, et. al.) are the “old ways” of thinking and thus, the new guard, progressive ways of looking at things, is preferred by the Young.

We, in America, went through a revolution when we broke away from England.  Also, the Civil War can be considered such a revolution, too.  In the States, during the 60’s & 70’s we had the Sexual revolution, protests against the Viet Nam war and Civil Rights marches, etc.  “We shall overcome….”  America survived it all and came out changed in many ways because of them.  Europe had its share of conflicts, too, over the last several years.

But the year of this story is the early 1970’s in London, as a group of bombings occurred from a group only known as the “Angry Brigade.”  They seemed out to destroy anything that even smelled of wealth, conservative politics and the government, big business, religious groups, the military and Scotland Yard, any kind of authority.  They also taunted the police and its special, secret force that was bent on capturing them.

The fastidious Smith (Nick Ferrucci) was in charge of the operation, which consisted of the straight-laced, Henderson (Kerry Ryan), the free-spirited, Morris (Ben Tissell), and the newbie, Parker (Quinlan Fitzgerald).  Their strategy to catch the culprits was…to get inside their heads, think like them, read the same books, listen to the same music, interview witnesses/informants, find the patterns they had that woven into the established society, etc.  Meanwhile these terrorists were taunting the police with letters and phone calls (not unlike the infamous, Jack the Ripper).  Eventually these policing methods would succeed and lead to the gang’s downfall.

But the second half of the story, covering the same time period, is told from the Brigades’ POV.  There is the leader of the group, John (Ferrucci, again), and his main squeeze, Hilary (Fitzferald, again) and two recruits, Anna (Ryan, again) and her main guy, Jim (Tissell, again).  Not surprisingly, they have had troubled childhoods with stern/abusive parents, being sent away to schools with strict discipline and felt they hadn’t had a chance to “sow their wild oats.” (One restrictive religion here encourages their Youth to spend the time to let off steam in the big cities, then, if convinced that is for them, they follow it.  If not, they return home and become part of the religious way of life.  Smart move.)

Why did they use the methods they did, bombings, to get their message across, is unclear.  But they wanted their message to be noticed and felt a loud bang would awaken the world, as it had in other countries.  Unfortunately, it’s true, “the squeaky wheel gets the grease,” and so, the only way they felt they would get noticed was…to make noise.  Can’t tell you more without revealing discoveries the audience should make.  And so, it’s in your lap, now.

The remarkable thing about this production is the style.  The first act, with the police, resembles a Monty Python skit, or the silent films’ Keystone Kops.  It is definitely played for laughs and, although a serious subject, it works, as the ingenuity of this motley crew eventually tracks down the culprits (perhaps, not unlike, Inspector Clouseau –Peter Sellers, as inept as he was, he usually got his man).  To offset this, the second half, although having its imaginary moments, is mostly serious, perhaps pointing out the enormous gap between generations, perspectives and ways of thinking and getting things accomplished.

These attitudes seem to be prevalent throughout the world and history.  It is said that if we haven’t solved the mistakes of the Past, we are bound to repeat them.  If we continue to judge others by our own views, we are doomed to be similarly judged by future generations.  Best choice of all, perhaps, don’t judge, just listen.

The cast of four is amazing, playing over a dozen characters.  It must have been a nightmare offstage as to, “who am I this time.”  All of them are pros and it’s evident in the approach they make in adopting other characters, usually with only bits of costumes to represent physically the other roles.  Kudos to them, and the directors, for keeping this on track and making sure the story comes through all the antics.  Also, great job by Peter Ksander, as the scenic designer.  His collapsible set is unique and is relevant to the themes of the play.

I recommend this play but, keep in mind, it is adult subject matter.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Monday, March 20, 2017

God of Carnage—Lakewood Theatre Company—Lake Oswego, OR

“Oh, What Webs We Weave!”

This dark “comedy of manners without the manners!” is written by Yasmina Reza and directed by Antonio Sonera.  It is playing at their space, 368 S. State St. in Lake Oswego, through April 9th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-635-3901.

“Are we ever interested in anything but ourselves?” one of the characters asks in this play.  And it seems to sum up, not only their state of being, but also trends that seem to be permeating our society at present:  Case in point, Selfie’s, the act of taking a picture of yourself and sending it on to others, could anything be more self-indulgent?!  Texting:  The act of typing a message to someone, instead of actually calling them on the phone, or visiting them, and speaking to them in person.  Video Games:  Playing on them for hours on end, instead of enjoying Nature or live human beings in the outside world.  The so-called progressive electronic age, instead of bringing people together, is actually pulling people apart.

And so it is in this story, in part, as Alan (Don Alder), the head of a pharmaceutical company, which seems to be on the shady side, is constantly on his cell phone, as a crisis is brewing all around him.   He, and his wife, Annette (Sarah Lucht), are at another couple’s home, Michael (David Sikking) and his wife, Veronica (Marilyn Stacey), trying to iron out a dispute regarding their sons.  It seems that Alan and Annette’s son, Ben, has knocked out a couple of teeth of Michael and Veronica’s son, Henry, for reasons not terribly complicated for kids but balloons into a major incident with the parents.

Some of the contributing factors in this pow-wow are, one of the characters gets sick on possibly some homemade food she had been served; a hamster, of one of the children, has been released in the wild, possibly to certain death; a drug that has been taken by Michael’s mother, might be tainted; some collectable items become soiled; and, the aforementioned cell phone of Alan’s, disrupt the proceedings.  What kids might consider part of growing up, is blown out of proportion by grown-ups to the point that they are tending to revert back to child-like behavior themselves.

But you need to see this for yourselves in order to appreciate/identify with (or not) those that should be our mentors/models and teachers of children, on how to behave as human beings.  “Lord of the Flies,” a book and movies of some years ago, traces a group of boys marooned on a desert island and, as time passes, how they emulate what they have observed of adult behavior, which is deadly and frightening.  “What you sow, so shall you reap,” might apply to both these stories.

This is an exceptionally professional cast, as all four of these actors have been active in the theatre arts for some years.  Like a roller-coaster, they traverse the bumping up and downs of marriage, parenting and relationships, railing against the gods for the fate life has dealt them but unable to lift one finger to help themselves.  These pros find the right balance of rage and silence to effectively play the scenes.  Alder, the self-absorbed businessman, having an affair with his phone (I’ve know many like him) is spot-on.  Lucht, as his luckless wife, a step way from despair, plays well the sadness in her life.  Sikking, as the seething volcano on the point of explosion, is super in his depiction of an unhappy man, possibly longing for a new start in life.  And Stacey, as his long-suffering wife, breaks your heart, as she sees the light in this darkness, amidst chaos, but has no way of reaching it on her own.

Sonera has chosen well his cast and together they have created a deceptively dark but slyly amusing production on how not to be an adult.  And, have to mention John Gerth’s simple but cleaver set, as it explains much about the characters in the set props and yet allows them plenty of room to explore their play-ground.  He is one of the best set designers in the Portland area and I’m always pleased to view his onstage artistry.

Oh, one word of warning, you may not want to be wearing any expensive clothing if you sit in the front row, but it depends on how far the…venom spews.  I do recommend this show.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Playhouse Creatures—CoHo Productions—NW Portland

Age of Discovery

This journey to the Past, for women in the theatrical arts, is written by April De Angelis and directed by Alana Byington.  It is playing at their space, 2257 NW Raleigh St., through April 8th.  (Parking on weekend nights is a major challenge in this area, partly due to construction projects, so plan your time accordingly.)  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-220-2646.

It wasn’t so many years ago that women finally gained some rights, e.g., to vote, inherit property, and even be part of the working class of people (although salary differences between them and men is still in dispute and sexual abuse/harassment is still an issue).  But, a couple hundred years ago, these signs appeared on many barroom and rooming house doors in America—“no dogs or actors allowed!”  So women, choosing the acting profession, had a double whammy.

In Shakespeare’s time, and before, they weren’t even allowed onstage (young men, whose voice had not yet change by puberty, had to play female parts in plays).  Those that did break these social and legal codes were often considered “tarts.”  Men even felt compelled to treat them as such and even watch them undress in their dressing rooms.  Nowadays, many theatres engage in cross-gender (as well as cross-cultural and age) casting.  But there were a handful of women then who dared to cross that imaginary line and appear onstage, because with the amount of make-up and wigs and elaborate costumes the characters wore, who could tell the difference?

Into this world we are thrust.  Doll (Jacklyn Maddux) begins by reminiscing with us about the days of the old, disused theatre she occupies, which was a vibrant place of activity.  She herself was only a “spear-carrier” and scene-changer or dresser for the company but got to know the cast very well.  There was the grand dame of the theatre world, Mrs. Betterton (Lorraine Bahr), also married to the boss, playing the lead females, like Cleopatra and Lady Macbeth.  She was considered the expert on the acting styles, various gestures and expression relaying different emotions (the silent film from the early 1900’s reflected this style, too).  She is onstage for the sake of Art itself, the Muse that drives performers.  But she was not without a softer side, giving people chances and imparting her techniques to them for their benefit.

Also, part of this world, are Mrs. Farley (McKenna Twedt, also co-producer) a bit of a snob and doing the job to attract the attention of men, a springboard to more mercenary goals.  Mrs. Marshall (Brenan Dwyer, also co-producer) is a more seasoned actor but is doing it for the money.  She is outspoken, a hard outer shell, exposing little mercy for others.  Nell Gywn (Dainichia Noreault) does come from the streets, doing “the nasty” with men for money.  She has zero experience on the stage but has a street savvy that protects her from falling completely on her face.  In short, she’s a survivor and ultimately breaks all the stage rules to discover a new way of entertaining onstage.

Then there is the musician/actor (Samie Pfeifer) who plays many instruments (and some offstage parts) but having no lines.  She is integral to the show, especially for the music she has composed for it.  An unspoken bit of something that speaks to the soul.  They all have their moments in the spotlight and they do shine!  More I cannot tell you without being a “spoiler,” but the journey is far from smooth and the outcome, still to be decided by future generations.  Note that almost all the ensemble onstage and behind the scenes is female and, according to CoHo’s Artistic Director, Philip Cuomo, people we can learn from, as to their professional methods.  The set by Kaye Blankenship is well-imagined, costumes by Jessica Carr, beautifully authentic, and fights by Kristen Munn, well-executed.  And, of course, the director, Byington, who cleverly has pieced it all together into a coherent story.

Kudos to the ladies of the “boards” and those that support them, and I would be remiss in not mentioning two prime contributors, in monies, of the “fairer” sex, Ellen Bye and the amazing, Ronni Lacroute.  I recommend this show.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Lydia—Milagro—SE Portland

Borders With Shame

The Northwest Premiere of this drama is written by Octavio Solis and directed by Kinan Valdez.  It is playing at their space, 525 SE Stark St. (just off Grand Blvd.), through April 8th.  (Parking in this area is very difficult so would plan on ample time to find a space.).  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-236-7253.

In E. B. White’s terrific book about King Arthur and Camelot, “The Once and Future King,” Merlin changes young Wart (later, Arthur), into an Eagle so that he can soar above all the earth.  In his flying he notes that lands have a lovely, patchwork design, animals run free and mingle with each other, and that there are no borders from the sky-view.  Only people build borders.  And, if borders, or walls, between lands/people are built, then freedom is restricted and the opportunity to intermingle with neighbors is considerably hampered.  In our Constitution it states that all men are created free…and justice for all.  Somehow, in this day and age, that sentiment has been considerably muddied.

Pope Francis has said that we should be building bridges between peoples, not walls, so that we can better understand the world in which we live and those that dwell on it.  If we create barriers around our country, based on ethnicity and religion, are we not dishonoring our forefathers who escaped an oppressive regime for similar reasons and found America?!  If we create a barrier around a land, how long will it be before we build a wall around ourselves and our feelings of compassion and love, keeping others at bay…or has that already begun?

Into the beginnings of this world, in the 1970’s in Texas town bordering on Mexico, is thrust the Flores family, themselves immigrants from Mexico.  There is the Papa, Claudio (Tony Green), who is a drunk, abusive to his kids and has cornered himself off from their world.  There is Mama, Rosa (Nurys Herrera), who has been sequestered from her husband’s love for a long time and must, almost solely, tend to her family’s needs.  There is the older brother, Rene (Rega Lupo), who has “trouble” as his middle name, as his idea of a good time is “homo-bashing” and drinking.  And the younger boy, Misha (Matthew Sepeda), the sensitive one, who wants to be a writer, a poet and has a special fondness for his sister, Ceci (Maya Malán-Gonzáles), who has been brain-damaged from a mysterious accident, never fully explained.

Into this world are also a cousin, Alvaro (Ricardo Vazquez), who once was a soldier fighting in Nam, now a border guard returning illegal aliens to Mexico.  It is, at best, a dysfunctional family.  Into this world appears Lydia (Marian Mendez), who will become a sort of “spiritual catalyst,” catapulting this family into an awakening that will either drive them deeper into their pits they have dug for themselves and borders that have constructed, or free them, forcing the “dirty laundry” to be displayed for all to see.  The one wild card in this whole arrangement is that Ceci is able to expose her true thoughts and feelings to the audience many times throughout the story, in which she is no longer stifled because of her infirmary, but is able to soar above it all and in a language which only Lydia seems able to understand.

To tell you more would ruin discoveries that an audience should make but, be aware, it is a frank and gut-wrenching journey, in which one will be moved, perhaps disgusted, but ultimately exposed to a raw truth which had been festering like a boil for a long time.  This event forces an awaking, perhaps rude, but necessary for a family to move forward.  It does not mean, necessarily, that all will live “happily-ever-after” but, perhaps, hopefully…ever after.

Valdez has pulled no punches when telling this story and his actors, all well cast, also seem up to the challenge of pulling out all the emotional stops when relating this painful saga of family angst.  Mendez does well in portraying the enigmatic, Lydia, always keep us guessing as to her motives and background.  Green, a frequent and welcome actor on the boards of theatre, is very effective as a volcano with a soft spot.  The rest of the family, consisting of Vazquez, Herrera, Lupo and Sepeda are spot-on as they present a roller coaster of emotions in their characters.

And special kudos to Malán-González in the dual roles of the severely injured, Ceci, and her more verbal counterpart.  She is extraordinary as an actor, as both incarnations are equally exceptional!  Hope to see more of her on the stage.  Also, it is quite a difficult lighting challenge but Katelan Braymer, the designer, is up to the test and does quite an amazing job of keeping everything straight for us, as the story frequently jumps from reality, to dream world, to the past and back to the present.  Kudos to her, as well.

Also, many theatres across the Nation are involved with the Ghostlight Project, letting them be a beacon for all those wishing a safe haven, a sanctuary:

I do recommend this show but be aware it is very adult and frank in presentation.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Bronte—Bag & Baggage Productions—Hillsboro, OR

Three Classic Sisters

This tale of the Bronte family is written by Polly Teale and directed by Michelle Milne.  It is playing at the Brookwood Library, 2850 NE Brookwood Parkway in Hillsboro, through March 19th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-345-9590.

I admit I knew very little about the Bronte’s before I saw the show and barely knew the novels they wrote, or anything about their history.  A friend of mine, Christine, who hails from Yorkshire and had been to the house, also didn’t know a lot about them.  It seems their stories and histories may still be as reclusive as they were as a family.  I now know, from seeing this play, a lot more about them, their family and how they created their stories.

A personal note:  The sisters talk often about the drive, the need to create, write, as if it were a type of obsession.  It is.  I can attest, having written some plays and stories myself, the Muse of Artists is a very demanding being.  An Artist often lives vicariously, always observing, as if looking at Life from the outside.  When they create, it is a kind of validation that they were indeed upon this Earth.  It represents a sort of legacy, perhaps, for a life not really lived in the “normal” sense of the word.  They are loners and their world/reality is inside them.

Such is the existence of the three Bronte sisters.  There is the somewhat bossy, Charlotte (Cassie Greer), the eldest and most well-known of them.  Her book, “Jane Eyre,” is considered one of the great, gothic novels.  The polite, Anne’s (Jessi Walters) writings were not as well known and she traveled outside their home more, often with their roguish brother, Branwell (Joey Copsey).  And Emily (Morgan Cox), the author of “Wuthering Heights,” considered a classic romance, was the most reclusive of the three, very private, and would be considered a pessimist.  Their mother died when they were very young.  And they lived most of their lives with their father, Patrick (Peter Schuyler), a man of the cloth and rather strict.

They also grew up in a society where they were required to wear very uncomfortable undergarments and hoop skirts, making movement and sitting rather awkward.  Emily, though, to her credit, refused such trappings and so wore more comfortable attire, without these restrictions.  Relationships with the opposite sex was also very restrictive and had to be chaperoned.  “Passion” was not a word that was casually used, but their writing certainly exposed those yearnings, e.g., Cathy (Jenny Newbry) for Heathcliff (Copsey, again) or Eyre (Greer, again) for Rochester (Schuyler, again).

Also, for the times, published writings were not considered appropriate for females, so they had to adopt male counter-parts initially before their books could be published.  The only accepted professions for women were servants, nannies, nurses, tutors/teachers or governesses.  Anne and Charlotte tried some of these and so their novels reflect them.  They were also poets in which they could freely express themselves.  Their brother, possibly because of living in their shadows his whole life, eventually turned to drugs, alcohol, whoring and gambling as his solace.  Their father had encouraged them all their lives to read, in which they discovered faraway places and a larger world and people that they then incorporated into their writings.

They all died before they were forty and it is rumored that Charlotte altered and/or destroyed some of her sisters’ writings after they had passed on.  Only one of them, Charlotte, was married briefly for a time toward the end of her life.  Most of what they knew of their world and passions were from their imaginations and so, to this day, modern readers are still captivated by these musing of theirs.

This production was originally to be staged in a larger venue but, because of circumstances beyond their control, was re-imagined as a promenade-style (the audience travels with the actors to various locations within the library, as they tell their story) type of theatre in a library.  This may have been a blessing in disguise, as it works beautifully.  Milne takes us on a tour of books as backgrounds and allows our imaginations, as well, to soar with the actors, to this olden time in history and to classic literature.  Bravo to her and her cast!

This could not have been easy for the cast as they are mingling with the audience, sometimes only a breath away, but they are all pros and it shows.  All of them play multiple roles and/or time periods in their upbringing and so add to the complexity of their performances.  Again, Greer, cements my estimation in her as one of the best actors in the area, as she is super in playing this multi-faceted character of Charlotte.  Walters, another regular with this company, does her usual fine job as the peacemaker of the bunch.  Cox is intriguing as the most secretive of the sisters, letting you feel her disappointment with the world at large.

Copsey is full of bravado, playing with gusto the most animated of the family, as well as other characters.  Likewise, for Schuyler, with his myriad of creations, all well done.  And Newbvry, as the fictional women in their lives, lets you feel the freedom from reality and sanity that gives vent to the sisters’ Imaginings.  And, not to forget, Tylor Neist, as the background violinist, playing music from this period.  It’s a welcome addition to the success of this show.  Also Melissa Heller, with her appropriate period costumes, adds to the atmosphere of the piece.

I recommend this play but you should get your tickets soon, as they are almost sold out for the run.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Feathers and Teeth—Artists Repertory Company—SW Portland

“Here There Be Monsters!”

This dark comedy in the horror genre is written by Charise Castro Smith and directed by Dámaso Rodriguez (Artists Rep.’s Artistic Director).  It is playing at their space, SW Alder St. & 16th Ave., through April 2nd.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-241-1278.

Well, now one is stepping into one of my favorite genres to read and watch, the horror/fantasy genre.  The story has some relationship to one of the short segments in Stephen King/George Romero’s film, “Creepshow,” in which there is a mysterious trunk in the basement, which just might have something unholy living in it.  Also, it reminds me of the Jodie Foster film of some years ago, “The Little Girl Who Lived Down the Lane,” in which she wasn’t just the sweet little thing you thought her to be.  Good references to make if you are seeing this play.

As far as people’s seeming fascinating with this genre and the best way to present it, Ray Bradbury (my favorite author), may have said it best in a magazine article some years ago entitled, “Death Warmed Over,” in which he postulates that, the best way to scare people is to never fully reveal the horror in a story or film, because what a reader/audience can imagine is far worse than anything a writer/filmmaker can show.  It is simply, the Fear of the Unknown.  Also, when, or if, it is conquered, an audience/reader can then translate that to their battles in overcoming their own demons.

Val Lewton, from the 40’s & 50’s filmmaking, was one of the best apostles of this method, using only sounds and shadows to convey terror.  And Hitchcock thought throwing in humor at times into suspense films gave the audience a needed time to recharge their batteries for the next scare.  The original film of Carpenter’s, “Halloween,” is a great example Bradbury’s theory, as when it was first shown on television, Portland opted to ban the film from their stations because it was too bloody.  In reality, there is only a small trace of blood at the beginning and never used again.  Also, the villain is masked in most of the film, again relying on an audience’s imagination to fill in the horror, as well as the blood.  This play has almost all of those classic elements.

And so, to begin this dark fairy tale, my clever children, as you are all nestled in your favorite chair or in bed:  Once Upon a Time there was a fair maiden, named, Chris (Agatha Day Olson)…well, to be honest, she may have been a “maiden” but she was anything but fair, as she was a bratty little teen.  And she lived in a giant castle…really a simple, suburban home in the Mid-west of the 70’s…where she lived with her rigid father, Arthur (Darius Pierce)…actually a bit of a milk-toast…and her beauteous mother, Carol (Sara Hennessy)…semi-step-mom, really, as they weren’t married and her real mother, Ellie (Sarah Taylor) died of cancer.

Anyway, they all lived peacefully…Not…in their abode until the day, daddy dearest, ran over a dragon…well, anyway, something nasty in their driveway, an animal, presumably, with feathers and teeth!  A  knight was soon to the rescue…actually, a neighbor boy, a cub scout, Hugo (Dámaso J. Rodriguez), with a thick, Germanic accent…and together they plotted to rid themselves of the evil—that is, until the creature (Nelda Reyes) seemed to be communicating with them.  A warning, though, if you are out to slay dragons, best be sure of who/what they are.  And, as most fairy tales end, they all lived happily ever after…and if you believe that, I got a bridge I can sell ya!

Well, obviously I can’t tell you much about the plot, as it has many twists and turns, and just when you thought you had it figured out, it twists again once more.  This is a grand story, fitting for a place in horror history.  And Rodriguez has a sterling cast for it that rides that thin balance between fright and frivolity.  Also, the visuals/graphics (designer, Andrés Alcalá) are super and added to the success of the production.

Olson has certainly grown up considerably, both physically and in character development, since her time as Helen Keller in their “The Miracle Worker.”  She certainly takes charge of the scenes here and relishes in them.  Hennessy, too, traverses a whole range of emotions and is equally convincing in portraying these horrific developments.  Pierce does a grand job of finding just the right balance of dark humor, coupled with genuine terror and playing a rather ineffectual, father image.  Young Rodriguez does a fine job of playing this oddly, heroic character but with a sense of befuddlement, and it works.

One comment about the script is that this is such a complicated story with many twists, as mentioned, the actors need to be sure that all the plot elements are clear.  At times, enunciation was a bit muddy, so best be aware of concentrating on the clarity of the story at all times.

I recommend this show but, be aware, that it does have horror as a theme and, although well offset with humor, still might be not suitable for everyone.  If you do choose to see the play, please tell them Dennis sent you.

The Normal Heart—Twilight Theater Company—N. Portland

“Love is Love is Love is Love…”

This classic drama about the AIDS crisis of the 80’s is written by Larry Kramer and directed by Jason A. England.  It is playing at their space, 7515 N. Brandon Ave., just off Lombard (limited parking in the Church lot across the street), through March 26th.  For more information, go to their site at

The AIDS epidemic could have been greatly reduced when it became apparent that we had a crisis on our hands in the early 80’s.  But since it only seemed to be spread in the Gay community, then it was swept under the carpet like so much dust.  It was also a life style that much of society was not prepared to recognize, lest they be deemed a “closet” Gay.  The same held true for politicians and the government when trying to find monies and support.  I suppose they figured if you just closed your eyes to it, it would go away.

Also, there were those that felt that being Gay was a disease and could be cured by prayer and pain (just recently a “camp” leader was sentenced to prison for running such a place).  Some in high government offices still believe this is true.  And there were the extreme “Bible-thumpers” that believed this was a punishment by God toward Gays for sinning against him.  These holier-than-thou personages picked and chose passages from the Good Book that fit their own belief system and then tailored that toward their own personal agenda.  They must have forgotten the passages that read, “Judge not, lest ye be judged!” or “Love thy neighbor!”

But, back again to the 80’s.  It seems that Ned (Marvin Gray), an outspoken writer with the NY Times, has noticed that many of his friends are getting ill with a disease that the medical profession, including Dr. Brookner (Jennifer Clevenger), is unidentified and, therefore, cannot be treated by conventional methods.  He also notices that it seems to be hitting just those that lead a Gay lifestyle, like his friend Bruce (Michael J. Teufel), a V.P. of a bank and Mickey (Ronald A. Jorgensen), a Health writer for the Times.  All Gay but only Ned is “out.”

Ned enlists the aid of his straight brother, Ben (David Alan Morrison), a lawyer, to work on the legal end of things but he won’t commit to putting his name as a supporter of their cause.  Ned also forms a committee with his friends, Tommy (Greg Shilling) and Grady (Josiah Green), to solicit funds and spread the word.  The furthest they can get with the mayor’s office is a basement-room meeting with one of his assistants, Hiram (Kris Wallsmith), also a “closet” Gay, but with only minor success.  Meanwhile, Ned has also met the love-of-his-life in Felix (Johnnie Torres), who may become part of the statistics in the long run.  The story is an emotional roller-coaster and a gut-wrenching experience and should be seen/heard to get the full picture.

It should be noted that the Theatre Arts have created a sanctuary in their ongoing Ghostlight Project for all those who seek a safe haven from persecution:   Also there is the Cascade Aids Project for those wanting to volunteer, just talk, get tested and/or donate to the Cause:

The performances of all these actors are searing and leave one with no refuge to hide from the experience and responsibility that is presented.  “Attention must be paid!”  The director has created a first-rate cast and left “no stone unturned” in reaching for one’s very essence, and then pulling it forward so that the dilemma is fully realized.  Every one of these actors is fully vested in the message of getting the word out and it shows in their “performances.”  I believe we all have the God-given right to Live as we choose and be Happy.  In this day and age, those rights seem to be diminishing, and so we should be vigilant to any restrictions placed on us that are simply prejudicial because of our beliefs, cultures, sexual orientations, et. al.  We are all human but we should also try to be humane, as well.

I recommend this show but, be aware, it is much more than entertainment, as the subject matter is heart-breaking and deeply personal.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Golda’s Balcony—Triangle Productions!—NE Portland

A Force of Nature

This one-woman show, starring Wendy Westerwelle as Golda Meir, is written by William Gibson and directed and designed by Donald Horn (Triangle’s Artistic Director).  It is playing at their space in The Sanctuary (appropriate name nowadays), 1785 NE Sandy Blvd., through April 2nd.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-239-5919.

That above phrase not only goes for the focus character in this production, Golda, but also for the actor behind it, Wendy (note, I usually use the term actor to describe either the male or female performer because I am a purist, as there is, in actuality, no such word as “actress.”  An actor is simply “a theatrical performer,” no gender connected, or disrespect intended).  Meir ranks up there with other “forces of nature” such as Eleanor Roosevelt, Teddy Roosevelt, Mother Teresa, Dr. Martin Luther King, Winston Churchill, Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln, et. al.  Not because these people always were popular or did the “right thing,” but because they always searched for the Truth and then followed through on their convictions to promote it.

It is, perhaps, timely in this day and age, that we are honoring theatrically a Jewish leader, with such destruction and disrespect that there is going on around us, against those of the Jewish Faith.  Likewise, of course, for those of the Moslem religion, people of Latino heritage, those who are Gay, the violence against Afro-Americans, et. al.  It seems to be a sign of the times and, in my opinion, a giant step backward.  But, thank God, we, in the artistic community, are supporters of the Ghostlight Project.  If not familiar with this, Google it.

“Create the kind of self that you’d be happy to live with all your life.” Words she lived by but that does not mean it will agree with the kind of life she was thrust into.  Coming from a poor family and being raised in Milwaukee, you’d think she’d try to pull herself up there and search for the elusive “American Dream.”  She also married a man who had a “good soul” and had two children by him.  All the more reason to stay and claim her rightful place in this “brave, new world,” I would think, but it was not to be.

She was inspired by fire of Zion and the writings of David Ben-Gurion and sojourned to Palestine to be part of the movement to create a permanent, Jewish identity, a place to call Home.  After all, they had been a wandering tribe since the days of Moses and were still looking for their Promised Land.  They had always had enemies, even more so during the 30’s & 40’s with the Nazis.  But, since then, it had been with the Arabs, Turks, Soviets, Brits, and most of the countries in the Middle East.  Even America seemed reluctant to support their cause at first.

But, as I’ve said, she was a force of nature and her involvement in these battles was crucial for the victories that were created during the 50’s-70’s.  She did see Israel become an independent nation in the late 40’s and become a nuclear power thereafter.  But she also lost her husband and became a distant parent to her two children.  To simply sit and relax on her laurels was not an option.  She because Prime Minister in 1969 and was active in political affairs until her death of cancer in 1978.  It is interesting to reflect on the title of the play, as Golda’s balconies in her life consisted of one overlooking the calming waters and the other viewing the nuclear facility in her country.  Those contrasts in life are always there, it just depends on one’s perspective as to how one deals with them.  For the complete story, see Westerwelle’s performance, as she relates it a lot better than I could.

The desire of playing this character has long been a dream of Westerwelle’s and now it has come to fruition.  She just doesn’t speak Meir’s words, she becomes them!  Ingrid Bergman did justice to the character for a Bio-Pic of her for a TV audience, but it is something else entirely when you are face-to-face with her, feeling that you are sitting in the same room, as then you can then absorb some her passion and know that you are not only observing a great personage (and actor) but getting inside her skin and seeing what makes her tick.  It is not only a rewarding “entertainment” experience but also an educational one!  (This is one of the trademarks, also, of Horn and his Triangle Productions!)  I’m never disappointed in Horn or his ability to move an audience.  I always feel somehow smarter after one of his productions.  To Westerwelle—May You Live Long and Prosper.  Shalom!

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

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Barefoot in the Park—Beaverton Civic Theatre—Beaverton, OR

Letting the Hair Down

This early Neil Simon comedy is directed by Doreen Lundberg.  It is playing at the Beaverton City Library, 12375 SW 5th St., through March 11th.  For more information, please go to their site at or call 503-764-9866.

The 50’s in America, post-war era, could be considered the complacent, stuffed-shirt age in suburbia, a growing part of the U. S., as  lawns were neatly trimmed, women wore wide-dresses with hooped skirts and pearls, stayed at home and took care of the household and kids, while daddies dutifully went to work in tie and starched, white shirt, briefcase in hand, to an unexciting, nameless job in the city, joining forever the evolution of the rat race.  Well, then the 60’s came along and thrust a wedge into the convenient maze that people were running around in and out popped the sexual revolution, Viet Nam, protesters, Civil Right marches, the drug culture and the age of letting your hair down!  Rock, on!

For those living in the big city, the coming-of-age era was barely noticeable.  Paul (Conner Brown), an up-and-coming, young lawyer and a newlywed, seemed firmly stuck in the conservative 50’s.  His fastidious, mother-in-law, Mrs. Banks (Susan Giberson), also seemed rooted in the trenches of the same time period.  But their counter-parts, Corie (Amanda Clark), a perky, free-spirited sprite (with killer doe-eyes) is content to live their lives on love along.  Equally Bohemian is Victor, their upstairs neighbor (who lives in an attic), roughish, ribald, riotous, but with not a sou to his name.  When these opposing elements are mixed, like oil and water, the results could be explosive (with laughter).

They have just moved into an unfinished, Brownstone apartment in The Big Apple, top floor (not including the attic), several flights up (if you include the stoop…they do) and no elevator.  That alone would be a source of comedy, too, as discovered by an almost mute, panting, delivery man (Mark Milner) and a very chatty, telephone man (Dwayne Thurnau), not including the effects on the aforementioned characters, who also have some trepidations and palpitations with the stairway scalings.

In other words, something’s got to give for these people to survive, and lifestyles need to be altered, changed completely or forever parted, as long as they all shall live.  That is the crux of the story.  As to how they deal with it and the outcome are up to an audience to discover.  This is one of the early works of Simon, as mentioned, and is pretty thin material to cover a full-length play.  Later plays, like “The Gingerbread Lady,”  “The Good Doctor,” (have directed both myself) et. al., have more substantial material involving both comedy and drama.  But, in this instance, it is not the words that enhance, it is the actors themselves, all of which are very good and rise above the slight fodder of the tale.

Clark I have reviewed before and credited her with just about stealing the show.  She is equally good here and definitely has a knack for comedy.  Her timing of lines and gestures on the funny parts is priceless and she is equally good with the more dramatic moments, especially in the fight scene.  Hope to see more of her onstage.  Brown is good as the stuffy hubby and is a fitting foil for Clark.  Both the Giberson’s are perfect in their character roles and their talent and experience for stage work shows in their performances.  They also worked very well together as director and actor in one of the best shows of the Season, in BCT’s, “Around the World in 80 Days.”  And Thurnau and Milner round out the cast in their brief but effective roles.  Lundberg has done well with her great eye for casting and then directing this talented ensemble.

I recommend this show, especially for the performances.  If you do see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Flora & Ulysses—Oregon Children’s Theatre—downtown Portland

“To Thine Own Self Be True…”

This family entertainment, based on the book by famed children’s author, Kate DiCamillo (no credit for who adapted it to the stage, unless it was the author herself) is directed by Marcella Crowson.  It is playing at the Winningstad Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway, through March 26th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-228-9571.

In this time of strife, it cannot be easy for the Youth to completely comprehend how derisive and unsettling our country is at this stage of development.  Just when they are trying to navigate the precarious paths to adulthood, they are now also faced with a nebulous future, not of their own making, that they may have to clean up.  And, added to this, they still have to deal with bullying, the dictates of social media, sex, gender questions and acceptance and, in the case of this story, divorce.

Where are your super heroes when you need them?  Well, fear not, for Ulysses (Bryce Duncan), the all-powerful, flying squirrel is on the way to save the day for Flora (Aida Valentine), a ten-year-old from a broken home.  It seems that her mother, the eccentric, Phyllis (Claire Rigsby), is a writer of romance novels, who doesn’t seem to have time for her daughter.  And she can’t seem to connect with that aspect of her writing in her own life, as she is estranged from Flora’s father, George (Heath Koerschgen), a bit of a milk-toast in his own world.

They also have a rather nutty neighbor lady, Tootie (Danielle Valentine) who, although well-meaning, also has a rather cock-eyed view of the world, as does her nephew (or grand-nephew, depending on who you believe), William Spiver (Darren Sze), who is a super intellect but a bit of a social misfit, and also believes he’s blind.  This malady may be due to an incident with his step-father, in which he is now estranged from his own mother.  In their journey, with Ulysses, to find “…truth, justice, and the American way,” they must deal with a mean cat, Mr. Klaus (Matt Sunderland), a kidnapping, an attempted murder and a sympathetic Doctor (of Philosophy), Dr. Meescham (Diane Kondrat).  How it all pans, out, you’ll just have to see for yourselves.

I’ve enjoyed the renditions of DiCamillo’s books.  “…Edward Tulane” was done as an excellent stage adaptation of her book by OCT; “…Desperaux” was a well-done, animated feature; and “…Winn-Dixie,” a good film about a dog and his people in the South.  This isn’t quite up to par with them but it still addresses some serious issues of separation and alienation felt by Youth, the effects on them and the need for “super-heroes” to compensate for their very real fears.  The drawings are very clever and if you ever wanted to see a squirrel fly, I mean, almost in your face, this is the play for you.

Crowson has done a good job of switching from one setting to another very quickly and choosing a good, animated cast.  The cues seemed a bit slow in parts, though, and could be picked up.  But her cast is on the ball with my favorites being Koerschgen (an asset to any production), arms, legs and gestures all akimbo; Kondrat, very good in the contrasting roles of an earthy waitress and a kindly, matronly doctor; and Sze, as the nerdy, neighbor boy, a social misfit who, by the end, has found a place in your heart.

Stan Foote, the Artistic Director of OCT, has some potent comments about the Ghostlight Project, and I know Dani Baldwin, Education Director for OCT, and the rest of the staff there support and which I also happen to support:

What I found most poignant about his remarks in the program were, “…As human beings, we are all different, but when we gather together as a community to tell and listen to stories, we illuminate our similarities.  At OCT, we believe in and nurture the human potential of the youth we serve.”  That has always been evident from my perspective in the productions I’ve seen there and the students and staff I’ve gotten to know.  May the Ghostlight be a beacon, for all in need, to find a safe harbor!

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

Savage/Love—Imago Theatre—SE Portland

Where Love Has Gone

This abstract presentation on the many of the aspects of Love, is conceived from writings by Sam Shepard and Joseph Chaikin and directed, choreographed and designed by Jerry Mouawad (co-artistic director with Carol Triffle, producer).  It is playing at their space, 17 SE 8th Ave. (just off Burnside), for one more performance at 7:30 pm, Friday, March 10th.  Note, it is only street parking and this performance was sold out, so plan your time accordingly.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-231-9581.

For all its ballyhoo and bravado, Love, in actuality, (to bastardize the old song title) is a “many-splintered” thing.  It is a Story of contradictions.  “I love you just the way you are—now change!”  It is a Story of contrasts.  To be in Love, one needs to be committed (using both definitions of the word, meaning institutionalized or dedicated).  People evolve and, in evolving, change, possibly growing apart.  No blame, no gain, just part of Life’s process.

But there are still the old romantics (like myself) who still believe that it is magic…that “when you see someone across a crowded room you know, you know even then…” that they are the one for you—no introduction or second thoughts needed.  But the rules of engagement now, with the electronic gods and social media, pretty much prevent that from happening.  It is no longer up to the Fates to ensure Love, but to mechanisms.  Bottom line, we are entrusting the wrong gods to direct our course.  A saying I trust:  “Do not seek out Love, for Love, if it finds you worthy, will guide your course.”

But now, the play:  It is abstract, with sign language, mime, pantomime, dance, stylized movement and music to tell their tales of wins and woes and so there is no traditional storyline to follow.  Mouawad has done his usual exceptional job of creating a totally unique piece that soars!  So, with abstraction in mind, I will attempt to do the same with this review—to express it in similar abstract forms, as when I was observing it, and afterwards:

A ballet of the senses…interpretive movements betray deception and despair, and lust and longing…mis-steps in time…forever love, until the next one…open doorways and windows, trading fears and dreams…tangled, complicated, killing love…invented personalities to please…empty words to connect to barren people…”music soothes the savage beast”…discordant sounds/music lead to dances of insecurity…universal search for intelligent life, if you love me, you’ll find me…clarity of meaning…body language shouts in opposition…Joplin screams, “take a little piece of my heart…!”

If this resonates with you, as to what you might experience if you see it, then this play’s for you.  The cast is remarkable in all aspects of the language mentioned above.  The ensemble consists of Gwendolyn Duffy, Fiely Matias, Emma Holland, Shannon Mastel, Emily Welch, Ed Alletto, Byran Smith, Haden Cadiz, Hayden Orr, and Anashkusha Beauchamp.  All amazing!  Sometimes my eyes would constantly fall on certain people (no names associated with parts so can only give you descriptions), not because they were better than anyone else, but just, since we are dealing with abstraction, in an instinctive sense:  The very pretty, young lady, in the powder blue dress; the man who looked like a young Orson Welles; and the older gentleman who had a sort of hang-dog look, all caught my eye.

And, as I’m always looking for ways to give shout-outs to specific jobbers behind the scenes that rarely get the credit they deserve, these kudos go to Stage Managers everywhere. They may be, after the director, the most important person behind the scenes, as they essentially run the show through its performances.  I know theatres/casts recognize how important they are but, from the Public’s perspective, they are the unsung heroes.  In this production it is Michael Cavazos, as I know him personally and know what a dedicated artist he is.  And so to him, and all the others, I salute you!

I do recommend this show but with only one performance left, best get tickets soon.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Friday, March 3, 2017

The Skin Coat--The Steep and Thorny Way to Heaven—SE Portland

The Art of Storytelling

This theatrical event is based on the old German fairy tale called, “Allerleirauh (thousandfurs) and is devised and directed by Megan Skye Hale.  “This is a private club:  Advance tickets or RSVP required.”  It is located on SE 2nd and Hawthorne and runs through March 11th.  For more information, reservations and directions please go to their website at

The art of storytelling and theatre could be said to be around from the beginning of Man, from cave paintings up through the latest escapades in the political arenas.  People always have stories, and stories within stories, as we are all interwoven into that giant story of Mankind.  But if you are relating a story to another in a theatrical fashion, you want to capture his/her attention and, if possible, touch them in an emotional way.  “Ay, there’s the rub,” as to what sparks one’s imagination, or gets in your crawl, or moves you to tears or laughter.

Fairy Tales have long been one way to tell firm truths disguised as harmless stories.  I really don’t want to give too much away about this event except to say that it is an Experience, a Happening.  It is a pleasant assault on the senses combining music, movement and mime.  It has some connections to Beauty and the Beast, as to loving what’s inside, not outside.  It has relationships to the frozen lands of the North, ala Snow Queen and Narnia, or Icelandic, Germanic and Nordic folktales.  A warm heart betrays a cold wind.

The story involves a broken-hearted King (Nathan H. G.), at the death of his wife, who must raise their daughter, Thousandfurs (Peyton McCandless) by himself.  There is also a Witch Woman (Megan Skye Hale, the director), who has a magic skin coat, which she imparts to the Princess.  And, far off in another Kingdom, there is a Queen (Kirsten Webb) who must teach her son, the Prince (Zed Jones), also by herself, to rule a Kingdom and find a bride.  More I cannot tell you without revealing important plot points in the story, keeping in mind this is all successfully done without words!

I was especially taken with the music, although it’s unclear as to whether it’s original or not.  The credit for Music Supervisor is given to Myrrh Larsen and it’s quite effective, fitting the story to a tee.  The coat itself is quite a work of art and is credited to the director/actor, Megan Skye Hale.  I loved it.  And the actors were all quite good, not overacting or re-acting to circumstances, but allowing the audience to contribute much of the emotions/feelings of the moments.

What questions should we come away with:  Is beauty only skin deep?  Should Position in Society (or age, religion, cultural, etc.) be a barrier to acknowledging love for another?  Can we really learn from past mistakes and make changes, accordingly, for the better?  All questions I gleaned from experiencing this production.  Right or Wrong, I don’t know.  But I believe you will do some soul-searching as well if you attend this show.  The measure of a stalwart person may be in ferreting out the Truth, wherever it may be hidden.  And, when discovering that Truth, being able to bravely thrust it forward into one’s own Kingdom…and beyond.

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

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Mojada: A Medea in Los Angeles—Ashland Shakespeare Festival—Ashland, OR

What Price Freedom?

This timely play about Mexican immigrants in Southern California is written by Luis Alfaro and directed by Juliette Carrillo.  It is playing at the Angus Bowmer Theatre in repertory through July 6th.  For more information, go to their site or call 1-800-219-8161.

Just around the corner…over the next hill…down the yellow-brick road…Go West, young man!...all oft-used phrases to describe finding that elusive (American) Dream, that will lead to a better life, a better tomorrow, whatever it may be.  Happiness, Freedom , Wealth, Power, et. al. are all elements of those dreams.  But when all is said and done, it really involves being satisfied with who you are.  It is trying to go back to that Innocence and Wonder you had in childhood.  To put it simply, it’s Home.  And home is where the Heart is, coupled with Hope (the lone survivor in Pandora’s Box).

But if you have a mate, children, relatives, friends, etc., that have different ideas of what is, and where to find that ideal state, as in this story’s premise, America, then it can lead to conflict within the home team.  In this case Medea (Sabina Zuniga Varela), when she crosses over to that magic country, with her boyfriend, Jason (Lakin Valdez), their son, Acan (Jahnangel Jimenez) and housekeeper/healer/narrator, Tita (VIVIS), these conflicts will try this family unit to their very core.

Medea can make a modest living, in their rented house in the outskirts of L.A., as a seamstress, and her boy-friend, Jason, as a construction worker getting odd jobs.  Their son, Acan, is having trouble in school because kids are making fun of his looks and accent. There new neighbor, Josefinia (Nancy Rodriguez), a boisterous sort, who has dreams of having her own bakery, is doing her best to have a child in this country and trying to Americanize herself, even changing her name to, Josie.  Their son’s adaptation is learning to speak English, like his father, at all times.  And Tita is busy apply magic and healing remedies from the old ways to ease this transition.

But Medea wishes to still hold onto her heritage because, if you lose that, a part of yourself is lost, too, perhaps dishonoring those who have gone before.  But then, into their lives appears a distorted example of conforming to America’s ways, Armida (Vilma Silva), a transplant herself but now rich, into real estate, and more than willing to teach these newbies how to adapt, and the “cost” of this Freedom for, in America, nothing is “free.”  The way into this country for them had a price, both monetary and emotional, as a border guard (Connor Chaney) exposed them to it, but Armida is an even more vicious instructor.  But Medea is not without her power, too, and the result will change all their lives forever.

More I cannot tell you without giving away story elements you should discover.  But, if you are familiar with the Greek legend of Medea and Jason, then you will have some idea of the riveting climax.  I especially like the set (Christopher Acebo).  The house, precariously perched in mid-air, seemed particularly appropriate with the state of immigrants presently in this country.  Carrillo has chosen her cast well and has allowed plenty of open space for them to play in.  They all seemed to be on the same page with the author as to interpretation.  Varela, VIVIS and Silva were especially powerful in their presentations.

It should be noted that theatres nation-wide have taken a stand, as far as Sanctuaries for people who seek it (OSF being a member).  For more information, go to

As for as my own thoughts, Churchill once said, when faced with seemingly overwhelming odds:  “Never give in—Never, never, never, never, never!”  Amen!

I recommend this play but, be aware, it is adult in nature.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Ashland Springs/Hills

These are still my favorite places to stay when attending the Festival.  The Springs location is in the center of town, right next door to OSF and has secured parking for those staying there.  The Hills location is located about three miles South of OSF, and has spacious rooms/suites, a pool and hot tub, as well as a deli now, called Luna, which also has gifts.  Their food is very good, serving breakfast through dinner and even having picnic basket foods if you are up for outings.

Both these locations have their famous, generous breakfasts, included with the price of the room, including bagels, pancakes, cereals, yogurt, fresh fruit, juices, et. al. and, of course, hot coffee and tea.  Their staff is wonderful and always willing to help with directions, things to do, and any concerns you might have.  I highly recommend these places to stay.  And, as always, if you choose to do so, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Shakespeare In Love—Oregon Shakespeare Festival—Ashland, OR

“Ah, Sweet Mystery of…” Love

This U.S. Premiere, comedy/romance was adapted for the stage by Lee Hall from the screenplay by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard and is directed by Christopher Liam Moore.  It is playing at their Angus Bowmer Theatre through October 29th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 1-800-219-8161.

“Love” is an oft-misleading word.  It usually means “lust” in films, as two people admire the other’s physical attributes.  It means their baser instincts have kicked in and they are looking for some “companionship,” at least for one night.  Nothing wrong with that, it’s human.  But don’t call it Love.  Love is often a deep caring for another, too, sans the physical yearnings.  But I would like to believe that, like the old song goes, “when you see a stranger, across a crowded room, and you know, you know even then…,” that there will be something special between you.

It is something that often happens when you least expect it.  But one thing seems certain, don’t force it…let it flow naturally:  “Do not seek out Love, for Love, if it finds you worthy, will guide your course!”  For an artist, like Mr. Shakespeare, it is not unlike trusting one’s Muse, that mysterious force that guides an artist.  If you put full faith in it, unfettered, and trust it unconditionally, it will be true to you.  And our Bard, in this tale, has both True Love and a Muse in his “little corner of the world.”

It seems that Will Shakespeare (William DeMeritt) has reached an impasse called, “writer’s block,” in his latest outing.  This is not terribly unusual for an artist.  Often they have other, like-minded friends who spur them on and inspire them.  His is Kit (Christopher) Marlowe (Ted Deasy) who is a rival but a damn good playwright (Faust, e.g.) in his own right.  It was well known, in the early 1900’s that Tolkien (Lord of the Rings, et. al.) and Lewis (Narnia, et. al.) were friends and often critiqued each other’s works.  So it is with these two famous writers.

Currently, Will is being badgered by mangers, producers and agents, Henslowe (Brent Hinkley), Fennyman (Tony DeBruno), et. al. to write another show but he seems stuck with something he’s writing called, Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate’s Daughter, as it’s just not gelling.  Also, although he has a leading lady (Will Dao)—it was against the law for women to appear onstage—he has yet to find a leading man…and an ending to his play.

It just so happens that there is a young lady Viola (Jamie Ann Romero), from a prominent family, that is just itching to get into the theatre, so she disguises herself as a boy, Thomas Kent, tries out for the part and gets it.  And, it just so happens, that this young lady is engaged to a Lord Wessex (Al Espinosa) but it is a marriage of convenience, not love (common in those days).  Also, it happens that Will has been smitten by the female visage of Kent and they become an item, although secretly, for obvious reasons.

Will is now inspired and so his play takes a turn for the better and becomes the traditional, Romeo & Juliet.  He hires a famous actor, Ned Alleyn (James Ryen), to get even more coverage for the play. Even Queen Elizabeth (Kate Mulligan) gets in on the act, as she is anxious to see his newest opus.  But then reality raises its ugly head, as his Juliet’s voice changes from puberty to adulthood and so he is forced…I think you can see where this is going, so I will leave it, “…and thereby hangs a tale.”  Suffice to say, the ending is bittersweet.

The director does a wonderful job of keep the play moving with a turntable bed/playing-stage and his casting is spot on.  Also to be commended are the scenic designer, Rachel Hauck and, especially, the costume designer, Susan Tsu, for all those marvelous, period clothing the actors wear.  As always, the cast is first-rate and, to make the point again of, “there are no small parts…,” the young actor playing the disgruntled, John Webster (Preston Mead), even though the part is small, he stands out, pouting his way through the play.


A couple of footnotes:  Taverns and boarding houses in America, through the early 1900’s, had signs hanging on their doors, “No actors or dogs allowed” (it just so happens, I treasure both).  The Public Education System in schools seem to still mirror this sentiment, as they don’t seem to be able to find any real value for Youth being educated in the Arts (guess instilling confidence, teamwork, and a safe haven to explore their feelings and other aspects of life, don’t count) and so those programs are usually the first ones cut from budget.

Also, I once had a copy of a script called, “The First Actress,” which follows somewhat closely the plot of this story.  It does not have the love story, but Will is writing a play, in this case, I believe, called, “The Merchant of Venice,” instead of “Romeo & Juliet,” and the Queen sends an agent to check on the progress of his play, not the Queen herself.  Anyway, the plots are similar enough that I’m surprised that credit is not given to it, as it’s a rather good play, and the fact that it concentrates on the rights of women and not the love story, in my opinion, gives it a stronger base.

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

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

“A House Divided…”

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

War is a tricky business.  Just when you thought you had mastered the task, some damn fool comes along and changes the rules.  Preserving what you have is important, of course.  And having superior weapons and shaking your fist at your opponent also helps your cause.  Drawing lines in the sand and making complicated and usually insufficient treaties is another rule of warfare, too.  Or, you could simply build a wall and keep the riff-raff out (of course that doesn’t address the problem of the riff-raff within your own peoples).

A great measuring device of who is acceptable and who isn’t, can be reasonably easy to discern…those not believing as you do, or looking like you, are obviously undesirable.  Of course there is the question of what is moral or ethical but…you see how it can get pretty complicated, don’t you.  Simply said, the majority or victors make the rules.

How this all applies to this play is that, in order to be the Big Cheese, you just may have to get tough and have your clan put their foot down and make the decisions for everyone, even the “unwashed masses” that disagree with you, for their own good.

The Romans, when in Northern England, many years before King Henry, built Hadrian’s Wall, to keep out undesirables.  China also had their Great Wall for the same purpose.  And now, it seems, that America is following suit, doing the same with Mexico, even claiming they will be paying for it.  Perhaps Canada will follow suit someday, too, and build one, trying to keep up with their neighbors.  Wow, do we learn fast.  Look how far we have advanced since those ancient times.  Or not?!

As to Henry’s dilemma, “what we have here is a failure to communicate.” It seems that King Henry (Jeffery King) may be in charge of his own clan, the English (Tyrone Wilson, Jeremy Gallardo, and Moses Villarama), but the Scot’s and Welsh clans have their own ideas of who should be in charge.  Even Henry’s son, Hal (Daniel José Molina) is, in actuality, the Prince of Wales. But since all those clans are inter-related by marriage and birth, in some way, it makes for some sticky situations…like I said, War is a tricky business.

Besides, Hal seems to have no particular interest in politics or soldiering, as he’s more interested in hanging out with pals and carousing in taverns.  His favorite haunt is the bars in the slums of Eastcheap, one especially, run by Mistress Quickly (Michele Mais), where their favorite citizen Sir John Falstaff (G. Valmont Thomas) holds his own court, with the likes of Poins (Michael Gabriel Goodfriend), Bardolph (Robert Vincent Frank), Peto (Lauren Modica) and, of course, the financer of the debaucheries, his influential buddy, Hal.  The scenes with these mischievous merrymakers comprise a great bulk of the show and are hilarious.  An especially funny bit is what happens when Falstaff mishandles a taser.

When attempting to describe the opposing foes, it gets really muddy.  Suffice to say that the most active personage is Henry “Hotspur” Percy (Alejandra Escalante) and his equally, mean-spirited wife (Nemuna Ceesay).  There are other factions of this clan include Glendower (Modica, again), Worcester (Kimberly Scott), Mortimer (Goodfriend, again) and Lady Moritmer (Rachel Kostrna), among others.  All these varying elements will eventually clash, some will die or be captured, and some to survive for the next installment in Henry IV, Part II.

This is all done on a very small, mostly bare stage, sans the bar scenes, and is remarkable that it stays, for the most part, so clear as to where they are and who’s who.  Really can’t tell you more as it would be giving away plot devices and I wouldn’t do that.  But I’m impressed with Blain-Cruz who had a monumental job on her hands of keeping everything straight.  Also, her cast is first-rate, Molina having the unenviable task of riding the thin line of playing a debaucher on one hand, then a savior.  Escalante is equally good enacting his hot-headed foe.  And Thomas is exceptional, as the scene-stealing clown, Falstaff, a rogue “by any other name” would be as funny.

I’d also like to give a shout-out to Modica, a Portland actor I have reviewed a few times and she is always an asset to the shows she’s done there.  It good to see her expanding her wings, as she is equally effective in the roles she performs here, too.  Good at ya, lady!

I recommend this play and am anxious to see the conclusion this summer.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

The Black Sheep

This is my favorite watering hole and place for meals when I’m in town.  Usually stop in three or four times for food, or imbibing after the show, as it’s one of the few places open that late.  It features food and beers from the British Isles and all are excellent.  It also has all manner of paraphernalia on the walls and throughout the bar (and even an authentic phone booth) from the same region.  Also their lighting fixture above the bar is, quite literally, a work of art.  One of my friends that comes with me usually, Christine, is a native Brit and vouches for the authenticity and loves the food.

Also, important to note, all their concoctions are made “in-house,” meaning they make them themselves, like the desserts, sauces and all manner of inventive dishes at reasonable prices.  Their tartar sauce is the best I’ve ever had.  I promise myself to try different dishes each time but always go back to my favorites, the traditional fish & chips or Shepherd’s Pie.  And they usually have an original dessert each time.  This outing, it was a generous helping of chocolate bread pudding—“to die for.”

Also, Greg is back as bartender and he’s the best.  He had been away for awhile and the place lacked his winning personality but now, according to him, he and his girlfriend are back for good.  When he has time, he loves to chat with people and find out their stories.  If you do pop in there, tell him, as always, Dennis sent you.  Highly recommend this place.  Look for the red door on the Plaza, just below OSF.