Tuesday, March 7, 2017

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 www.octc.org 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:  http://dennissparksreviews.blogspot.com/2017/01/ghostlight-projectportland.html
https://www.facebook.com/TheatreReviewsByDennisSparks/

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.