Monday, October 30, 2017

Jasper In Deadland—OCT’s Young Professionals Co.—NE Portland

"This Mortal Coil”

This rock opera, based on Greek tragedies, has book by Hunter Foster and Ryan Scott Oliver and music by Oliver.  It is directed by Dani Baldwin (OCT’s Education Director) with musical direction by Jeffrey Childs.  It is playing at their studio theater, 1939 NE Sandy Blvd. (street parking only), through November 12th.  For more information, go to their site at 

This musical is based on Greek the tragedies of gods and Hades/the Underworld and of one man who attempted to rescue his love from those elements, only this time it takes place in the modern age with teens and rock music.  There was a movie a few years ago based on this same idea called, “What Dreams May Come,” with Robin Williams.  This plot includes teenage angst, abuse, love, the drug culture, death and, perhaps, the meaning of life.

Jasper (Brendan Long) is a senior in high school and is the product of a very dysfunctional household.  His lady-love is Agnes (Ella Carson)—who morphs into other actors as well—comes from a more affluent home and he sees her as “perfect.”  They finally discover each other one fateful evening and then she is whisked off into the raging river of Deadland, or Hades.  Jasper vows to follow her there and bring her back…and thus the adventure begins.
One key individual he meets along his journey is the good-hearted, Gretchen (Morgan Demetre), a tour guide in this land, who takes a liking to him and agrees to help him find her.  Along the way they will encounter the wise-cracking, Ferryman, Virgil (Clayton Lukens), who takes them along the river Styx, the waters of forgetfulness.  They will also meet, the odious demi-god, Mr. Lethe (David VanDyke), with his ditzy secretary, Hathaway (Tirza Meuljic), who run this factory that bottles the water, in which the citizens are required to drink, becoming like zombies and forgetting their past lives.

They will also connect with voices of the past, such as the kooky pilot, Beatrice (Carson, again), muse of Dante’s, and a battle with the not-so-bright, Viking gods, Loki (Xavier B. Warner) and Hel (Kai Tomizawa); a three-headed monster; the haunting Persephone (Audrey Lipsey); the nutty Egyptian god, Ammut (Warner, again), Pluto, Eurydice and settings, such as the Wasteland, Ellysian Fields, et. al.  Along this fretful and fateful sojourn he will discover the benefits of life and living it to the fullest and the nature of Love, and the sacrifices one must make for it.

Really can’t go into all the plot elements, for that is for an audience to discover, but they are ripe with discoveries.  The setting and props are low-tech and in a black box space, so that the story and actors can illuminate, through their creativity, richer tones of the plot.  The songs, (not listed) add greatly to the success of the show.  Some of my favorites were Ammut’s lament in his “Hungry” song, a showstopper; the touching ballad between Agnes and Jasper, “Something For Real,” as they discover their love for each other; the “broken spirit” song by Lethe to his factory workers; and the haunting, “let there be love” song by Eurydice (Meuljic, again).  All well delivered.  And the chorus that supported these scenes, with props and songs, was amazing.

This must be an emotionally draining show, as most of the actors play a variety of roles, and they are in top form doing it.  Warner as Ammut is a scream; VanDyke puts a new spin on creepiness, as Mr. Lethe; Tomizawa squeezes a comic take on being bad, as a Viking god (she is also a Drammy winner for the title character in OCT’s “Junie B.” and played the title character in “Alice in Wonderland” at NWCT, an actor to watch in the future); Meuljic is a knockout in her solo as Eurydice; Lukens is very funny as the Ferryman, giving him a Hillbilly flavor; Carson crates some memorial moments as the quirky pilot, Beatrice; Lipsey is a very notable as Persephone; Demetre as the faithful, Gretchen, is a gal any guy would want as a friend or love; and Long as the suffering, confused hero of this tale, does justice to the many layers of emotion he must portray.  An outstanding cast!

And many kudos to the talented Baldwin, as this is a very demanding play with multiple settings in a restricted space.  She manages to keep the play moving at a brisk pace, as well as assembling some very talented young people for these difficult and varied roles.  I’ve always been a big fan of hers and there is nobody better as a director and teacher of young people.  Being involved in the Arts as a youth can be a life-changing experience.  It builds confidence, promotes teamwork, allows different perspectives on how people live and act, and is a safe environment to explore the conflicting emotions the young are going through. 
And her classes at OCT, and especially her Young Professionals Company, are the best training one’s children/teens can experience.  It doesn’t get any better than that, folks!

I highly recommend this play and yes, it does have some rough language and deals with controversial subjects and for that reason it is recommend also for Youth of their age, as it reflects truthfully things they are experiencing.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

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