Monday, November 13, 2017

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

Childhood Interrupted

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 11, 2017

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

The Art In Murder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

The Events—Third Rail—SE Portland

“Look What They've Done To My Song”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Happiness Song Plays Last—Profile Theatre—SW Portland

Dots Connected

This drama is written by Quiara Alegría Hudes and directed by Josh Hecht (Profile’s Artistic Director).  It is playing at the Artists Rep. space, SW Alder St. & 16th Ave., through November 19th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-242-0080.

In this, the final dot in connecting the dots in the Elliot trilogy, life has come full circle for him.  These plays, like life, are about birth & death, despair & joy, hate & love and finding one’s place in the world.  It also is about discovering and celebrating your roots and respecting your heritage.  It is not about building walls between cultures (as some in this country seem hell-bent to do) but constructing bridges, so that we can all live out our dreams in peace.  But we are, indeed, a strange species, for happiness always seems just out of reach.  It’s time we realized that happiness is not “out there” somewhere but deep inside us.  We may be our own worst enemies, at times, but we can also be our own best friends, as well.

Elliot (Anthony Lam) is now in show biz and has garnered a role in a docudrama about Marines fighting in the Middle East, a subject Elliot knows all too well, having been there himself and killed a man, which still haunts him.  His new best friend on location is Ali (Wasim No’Mani), a native of this area and a consultant on the film.  He also has met Shar (Dre Slaman), an actress in the film, and they seem to have taken a liking to each other.  Meanwhile while real war rages all about them, especially the Egyptian protests.
Also, back at the ole homestead in Philly, his cousin, Yaz (Crystal Ann Muñoz), has found her activist roots and a new hero in a protest singer and neighbor, Agustin (Jimmy Garcia). 

Together they will not only awaken civil protest in each other but also something more basic.  She has also befriended a simple soul from the street, Lefty (Duffy Epstein), who helps with odd chores around the property.  All their stories will merge, as we dig deeper into their Pasts, and the outcome may not be living “happily” ever after but, at least, “hopefully,” ever after.

Once again, Hecht and Hudes have done an amazing job of navigating the troubled waters of a journey through these peoples’ lives and, at the same time, shown the relevance to our own situations.  Lam soldiers proudly on in a very naturalist performance.  Muñoz delves deeper into the psyche of her character and her talent shows, as she pulls out all the little nuances of Yaz’s make-up.  Garcia portrays convincingly a protest entertainer who literally puts his life into his work.  Slaman shows the power of a woman in a war-torn country.  No’mani is great, portraying the many conflicting emotions that such a countryman would be going through.  And Epstein is a marvel, letting us view a troubled soul, not with abhorrence, but with sympathy, as he struggles to find his dream, too.

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

Water by the Spoonful—Profile Theatre—SW Portland

Connecting the Dots

This drama is written by Quiara Alegría Hudes and directed by Josh Hecht (Profile’s Artistic Director).  It is playing at the Artists Rep. space, SW Alder St. & 16th Ave., through November 19th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-242-0080.

This Electronic Age we live in now, purports to be one in which we humans are drawn closer together.  Nothing could be further from the truth!  We reside in an Age in which we have created chasms between our fellow beings, not bridges.  We are connected by wires and airwaves, and we trust Truth to be in those god-like machines we call computers, and on the Internet.  I believe it has been proven, with the Russian meddling in our elections and presenting “fake news” which was accepted by millions, that this is not the way to make inroads to human warmth and understanding.  Those connections, those dots, need flesh and blood as their byways, not airways.

The story we have before us is two-fold but will blend together by the end.  Elliot (Anthony Lam) is a wounded veteran of the Middle East wars, now working in a fast food restaurant.  He has come home to Philly to find his mother gravely ill and his cousin, Yaz (Crystal Ann Muñoz), a music teacher and composer, his only friend.  He meets a professor (Wasim No’Mani), who has some connections to the film business, and so he explores that path.

A seemingly separate story has Odessa (Julana Torres) in charge of an on-line chat room for crack addicts, she having been one herself.  She works at a dead-end job as a custodian.  Some of her on-line companions, who use handles to disguise their real identities, consist of Orangutan (Akari Anderson), a lost young soul, aching to find her roots, left adrift now in Japan.  Another is Chutes and Ladders (Bobby Bermea), a former surfer, now a paper-pusher at the IRS.  And our final restless soul is Fountainhead (Duffy Epstein), a self-made millionaire who has lost it all, and is now struggling with admitting that he has a problem and revealing this to his family. 

All seven of them have demons, whether it’s a war in a foreign country that haunts them, fear of failure, a mindless future ahead of them, scared of intimate relationships, etc.  In other words, a microcosm of America.  And their drug of choice for the most part, to make things seem rosier, crack.  The solution, a chat room for recovering addicts, which lessens the pain a bit.  But the real connection that needs to be made in the long run is not cyber-chatter but real, honest-to-God human contact with another flesh-and-blood being.  More I cannot reveal without being a spoiler but know that all these stories do connect, not only with each other but also with the audience.

Hudes, a heritage from Puerto Rico and current resident of West Philly, has written a powerful play about the need for unified communities, human contact, and the importance of family, whether by blood or by friendship, those are healthy addictions to have!  Hecht has taken a complicated play and circumstances and simplified it by simply streamlining the settings and relying on the writer’s words, the actor’s talent and the audience’s imagination to cement the story.

And the actors are all in top form!  Muñoz is always a pleasure to watch, whether in a musical (“…Spider Woman”), Shakespeare (“Ophelia”) or this play, all show her versatility.  It’s always worthwhile to see a show that Bermea is involved with, either as an actor or director.  Epstein has been around for some time now in the Portland scene (I’ve even shared the stage with him some years ago) and he’s always a treat to see onstage.  Anderson is a young talent and quite impressive here.  She should go far in this profession.  Torres is very good in a heavily dramatic role.  No’Mani does a nice turn in a couple of supporting roles.  And Lam, as the continuing character in some of her plays, is so natural in his approach to the character, it doesn’t even look like he’s acting.  Bravo to all!

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

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Éxodo—Milagro—SE Portland

Time of Reckoning

This World Premiere, movement-oriented event is inspired by the “Egyptian Book of the Dead” and directed by Tracy Cameron Francis and Roy Antonio Arauz.  It is playing at their space, 525 SE Stark St. (limit free street parking), through November 12th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-236-7253.

“Home is where the heart is,” it is said (and within this play, that has an eerie double meaning).  We all seek a refuge, a place to call home, somewhere we are safe.  Today we have many escaping from their homelands because of war, a drug culture and/or terrorists, et. al., seeking their “forever” spot to call Home.  Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Mexico, Central and South America, et. al., all looking for a place of solace.   Even the U. S. was founded by individuals seeking a better life.  Possibly, we are all still seeking that proverbial, “Garden of Eden,” where wonders will be many and opportunities endless.

My sense is that this production had some of those elements influencing them.  And, in this case, even the dead need their refuge.  A large part of existing, in whatever form, is that people not forget you.  We may be, as the Bard said, “such stuff that dreams are made on…” but we still need a base of operation, whether the sky or the earth, or another dimension altogether, to flourish.  This story is told mainly through dance and movement on an essentially bare stage with minimal dialogue.  It is a work of Art, a painting, a tabloid that moves, undulates, weaves into your conscious and sub-conscious.  And so the work must be experienced visually, through one’s senses, to fully absorb the impact.

The ensemble consists of Patricia Alvitez, Robi Arce, Kushi Beauchamp, Jean-Luc Boucherot, Tonea Lolin and Samson Syharath.  They slide in and out through the worlds of the living and the dead, all seeking that elusive…”Home.”  Curiously, the night before I saw a rock musical based on a Greek tragedy, “Jasper in Deadland,” by OCT’s Young Professionals Co. (excellent production, too), in which a young man visits Hades in order to find his true love and take her back to the living.  Many of the elements in that story ring true in this one, too, crossing water as part of the journey, losing one’s heart, tying memories to one’s existence, etc. 

And not only influences of Mexican culture are evident but, obviously, Egyptian, Japanese, Greek (as mentioned) and even, Native American.  We have our own Halloween, of course, but it pales in comparison to older cultures that have, in my opinion, surpassed us as to discovering the origins of their Past and the respect due to it.  Many white American egos seem to concentrate on the practical, the material and the here and now.  Others do not stand still, but embrace the Past as part of who they were, and then, acknowledging it as still within them, they evolve forward as part of a natural progression.

As mentioned, this is not something that can be described in words but must be felt, as it is important to glean for oneself the meaning.  The actors all seemed very vested in this project and the directors have done a noble and daring job of presenting an abstract event to a seemingly practical public.  The scenic design (Emily Wilken), original music/sound (Ryan Francis), costumes (Carrie Anne Huneycutt), props (Sarah Andrews), lighting (design—Kim Williams, operator, Michael Cavazos) all added to the success of this production, too.

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