Friday, August 18, 2017

A Symphony For Portland—Kiggins Theater—Vancouver, WA

Cold City For Warm Hearts

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

The Journey:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mail this check to:

Christina Hemphill

4247 NW 12th Loop

Camas, WA 98607

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

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


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

The Result:

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Twisted—Funhouse Lounge—SE Portland

Persian Parody

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“…Lives of Quiet Desperation”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Fantasticks—Metro Performing Arts—NE Portland

The “Salad” Years

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Lungs—Third Rail—NW Portland

“From Womb to Tomb”

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

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

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

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

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

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