Monday, July 9, 2018

Chess—Lakewood Theatre Company—Lake Oswego


              Rules of the Game


    This musical with music by the performers/writers for ABBA, Bjorn Ulvaeus & Benny Andersson, lyrics by Tim Rice and book by Richard Nelson, is being directed by John Oules, with music direction by Darcy White and choreography by Laura Hiszczynskyj, is playing at their space, 368 S. State St. in Lake Oswego, through August 12th.  For more information, go to their site at www.lakewood-center.org or call 503-635-3901.

    It’s amazing, after all these centuries, countries have still not learned that to co-exist peacefully for everybody’s benefit, is the best of all possible worlds.  Instead, we have, even today, leaders that feel that one-upmanship, saber-rattling and bragging about who’s got the “biggest button,” are admiral traits in our leaders.  I thought that kind of childish behavior was something we grow out of but, I guess, I was wrong…oops, sorry, that is an insult…to children!

    The Cold War of the 50’s, chiefly between the U.S. and Russia, has been expanded now to include North Korea, as well as the Middle East, and has heated up considerably.  But in 1980, a “gentleman’s match” was to take place in which the two chess champions of both the USSR and the United States were to take place.  In this incarnation of that period, these adversaries across a game board, could not be more different.

    Freddie (Norman Wilson), from the U.S., is a bit of a playboy and has little respect for his opponent.  He has let fame go to this head. His agent or, better yet, “handler”, is Walter (Joey Cóté), who works behind the scenes to make sure all goes smoothly.  Anatoly (Kurt Raimer), a gentleman, is a family man with his wife, Svetlana (Megan Misslin).  His “handler” is Molokov (Bobby Jackson), who has the interests of his county to contend with, as well as his client. 

    The wild card in all of this is Florence (Courtney Freed), who was born in Hungary (behind the “Iron Curtain,” at the time), but is now Freddie’s coach (and ex-lover).  Her father, Gregor (Doug Zimmerman), who taught her chess, has disappeared.  So, one might say she has a type of allegiance to both countries.  And one should not forget the Arbiter/referee (Matt Brown), who has a god-like complex and takes his job very seriously.

    If you haven’t yet surmised, the actual focus of the game is not on the board these two compete on, but the much larger stakes between two opposing powers, as to who will have the upper hand in that after the match has been completed.  Can’t tell you more without spoiling the story.
The direction and cast are super, but the story is dated, as the “chess match” has reached more dangerous levels at this point, and added other “gamesters” to the mix.  There are some powerful moments in songs, especially “Anthem” (Raimer), “Pity the Child” (Wilson), all of Freed’s songs, with her amazing voice, and the famous, “One Night in Bangkok,” for its dances.

    I recommend this play, mainly for the terrific job the cast does.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.
--DJS

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Adroit Maneuvers—Lighthouse Arts—SE Portland



           The Revolutionists


    The World Premiere of this searing drama is written, directed and produced by Michael Bertish.  It is playing at the Imago space, 17 SE 8th Ave. (off Burnside) through July 22nd.  For more information, go to their site at www.adroitpdx.com

    We all have, I believe, moments in our lives when things just don’t click for us.  We may feel out of step with the rest of the world, or it with us.  Some are small issues and we just adapted to whatever.  Others are pretty monumental and their paths could affect the course of the world in a negative way.  And so, it is up to those few, those precious few, to step up to the plate and say, “No More!” and a revolution is born.  Such was the case in a certain time period in the 1700’s in America.  Also, currently, the MeToo Movement.  And between that earlier era and now, there was something called WWII, the Nazis and a band of brave souls who stood up to them. 

Tilde (Diane Kondrat) is an elderly Jewish lady, now living in a flat in NYC in the mid-90’s.  She is a survivor of this Evil Empire and their ugly plan to wipe them out.  But, possibly more important, she was a member of the Resistance in Austria, where her home was.  But age is catching up with her, and her grandson, Micky (Morgan Lee) is curious about her past and, so now, may be the time to tell her story….  (It gets tricky at this point, since so few actors were playing many roles, that I may have gotten character names mixed up, so I apologized if I did).

Tilde claims she knew and became friends with Freud (Chris Porter) and his wife, Martha (Jody McCoy) and Einstein (Gary R. Powell), and even knew Hitler (Leif Norby), before he came to power, as a street painter in a café where she and her mother, Amalia (Amy Joy Allahdadi) would frequent. 

    But things were changing very quickly in Austria in the thirties, with the takeover of many countries by the Nazis, and so café life, the hub of social and political activity, was disintegrating.  People had to leave, including the Pianist (Jeffrey Michael Kauffman) of the café and his finance, Edith (Sumi Wu), a violinist.  Even the café owner, Max (no program credit for this role but assume it’s Gerry Birnbach) is degraded but he, with Tilde, join the Resistance.

    Her arduous journey from there to 1996 is compelling, with many more characters adding to the story, played by Ethan Sloan, Joey Kelly, Matthew Ostrowski, and Emily Nash.  Can’t tell you more without being a spoiler, but it is a fascinating story.  Know that struggles are not yet over in this world and, as pointed out in this tale, Monsters are not born but are created by a mob, and they give the Beast a credibility and importance.  If this situation echoes with certain leaders of our current international conflicts, we can only hope that change is in the wind, in which a world will work together for a more compassionate and prosperous future for all.

    The cast is first-rate, with Lee and Norby standing out, of the supporting players.  And Kondrat is amazing as Tilde, as she is rarely offstage in this almost three-hour production and her quick switches from one age to another are astounding.  She is in a class by herself and the best performance I’ve seen this year!  Bertish has quite an impressive story to tell and it holds you for the entire narrative.
Some suggestions I would make on the script, though, are that when the story veers from Tilde’s person tale, those scenes could be trimmed or cut.  Also, an easier way to list the cast/characters might be to do it as they appear in the play.  The character names of the actors playing Hitler, Max and the Violinist (Sumi Wu, who is terrific on her instrument) are not listed and it should be a clearer defining of these roles (similar problem happened with PCS’s “Astoria”).  Also, the title could be changed, as it doesn’t give any clear concept of the story.
I highly recommend this play.  

    If you do see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.
--DJS

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Mamma Mia!—Broadway Rose Theatre Company—Tigard, OR


Life at Full Throttle
This very popular musical is from music and lyrics by ABBA (Benny Andersson & Bjorn Ulvaeus) and some songs with Stig Anderson.
  The original concept for the story was conceived by Judy Craymer, with the book by Catherine Johnson, and additional material and arrangements by Martin Koch.  It is directed & choreographed by Lyn Cramer and musical direction by Alan D. Lytle.  It is playing at their space next to Tigard High School, Deb Fennell Auditorium, 9000 SW Durham Rd., through July 22nd. For more information, go to their site at www.broadwayrose.org or call 503-620-5262.
When you hit your sunset years, it finally occurs to you that Life is like a fleeting wisp of smoke, that settles for too brief a time on a distant land, then is blown away to its next journey, somewhere into the Netherlands, to provide a soul, once again, another “awfully, big adventure.”
  But, while here, in this too short space of time, we should make use of every moment to play, love, inspire and, by enriching this world with our unique talents, we have hopefully left it a better place for the next generation to settle in and build on.
Donna (Peggy Taphorn) has had her space in the sun, on her Greek Island, running an Inn for about 20 years, and raising, as a single mom, her daughter, Sophie (Sophie Moshofsky).
  But changes are in the wind and her daughter has found the man of her dreams, Sky (Aaron Stewart), and so a wedding is planned.  Which means, of course, a huge party, with Donna’s two best friends attending, the luscious, Tonya (Lisamarie Harrison) and the spunky, Rosie (Laura McCulloch).
And, of course, that means Sophie’s best friends must also attend, the sassy & exotic, Lisa (Jalena Montrond) and the fun-loving, Ali (Shanise Jordan).
  There are also some very available young studs arounds for any unattached females, helpers at the Inn, the sleek, Pepper (Charles Grant) and the energetic, Eddie (Colin Stephen Kane).   
Only one teeny-weeny little fly in the ointment, she wants her dad to walk her down the aisle, as per tradition.
  Only one small problem, she doesn’t know who her dad is, so she invites all three of the potential suitors, Sam (Andrew Maldarelli), the designer, Bill (Joey Klei), the writer, and Harry (Matthew H. Curl), the banker, of that fateful time period when she was conceived, to the ceremony, in the hopes of finding out who her real dad is (doesn’t occur to them, I guess, to get a blood test, but then again, there wouldn’t be any story if that happened…).  Can’t tell you the rest without spoiling the tale but, trust me, it’s a lively one.
All the popular songs are there, including the showstoppers, “Dancing Queen” and, of course, “Mamma Mia.”
  The songs and dances are a-plenty, all very well executed by an extremely talented troupe of performers, with nary a weak link in the bunch.  Harrison knocks ‘em dead with, “Does Your Mother Know,” and McCulloch explodes with, “Take a Chance on Me,” both show-stoppers.  The dancers excelled, especially in “Voulez-Vous.”  And Taphorn brought the house down with, “The Winner Takes It All”—exceptional!
This production is a winner all around.
  Not only the lead characters, but the singing ensemble and dancers, as well as flashy costumes, Allison Dawe, and a terrific set that revolved, Bryan Boyd.  Cramer has done a splendid production of this very popular show, and Lytle is at his best here as the music director.
I highly recommend this show.
  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.



Sunday, July 1, 2018

Manahatta—Oregon Shakespeare Festival—Ashland, OR


Heritage of Tears

    This eye-opening play is a World Premiere, written by Mary Kathryn Nagle and directed by Laurie Woolery.  It is playing at the Thomas Theatre in repertory through October 27th.  For more information, go to their site at www.osfashland.org

    Most things worth caring about often can come with pain and controversy.  This applies to birthing, obviously, even with a country.  Case in point, the European invasion of the Native American communities in the Americas, and their forced assimilation into our culture, even sans their Native language and customs.  History seems to prove that Man is cruel and greedy when it comes to having Power over others.  And so, in Manhattan, the Native American descendants must deal with the unfair, unwarranted and embarrassing mockery of justice and justification.  “Times, they are a-changin’.”

    It is a sad mark in our history and probably well-known that, according to the early years of our country, Manhattan was sold to the Dutch for a few trinkets, supplies and some wampum.  What was very mis-understood in this trade was that the Native Americans were not familiar with the concept of owning land, and so a war occurred and an ugly part of our history was forged.

    The story very smoothly travels back and forth in time in Manahatta/Manhattan, from the 17th century to the 21st century, with a cast of seven playing all the roles.  We explore the lives of these Lenape people of both ages.  There is present-day Jane (Tanis Parenteau), who is a whiz with numbers, lands a job on Wall Street (in a small way, reclaiming her heritage).  Her older sister, Debra (Rainbow Dickerson), has stayed at home in Oklahoma to care for their ailing Mother, Bobbie (Sheila Tousey), who has mortgage their home to the hilt and may be in danger of losing it.  They also are part of the Lenape tribe when the Dutch invaded their territory.

    The fourth Native American that travels in time, is Luke (Steven Flores), who has been adopted by the local choir director, Michael (David Kelly), and now works in his bank, as well, as a loan officer, friend of Jane’s but also a servant of the bank.  Michael also floats in time and is a pastor of the church, Jonas, in the Dutch community.  There are also two executives in the Wall Street firm, Joe (Danforth Comins), somewhat sympathetic to Jane, and Dick (Jeffrey King), a tiger when crossed in business.  They both are leaders in the Dutch colony.

    Their story swings back and forth, also, between parallel worlds and how they often intersect with each.  It is a complicated process, so won’t go into any more details, as it might just confuse you, but it is smoothly rendered on the stage.  One world is fortified in unyielding concrete and the other, a type of Garden of Eden, in which the Devil(s) raises its ugly head and they are forced to leave.
The actors are all excellent, with special kudos going to Tousey, as the wise mother of the clan.  Her calm demeanor and wise counsel are the heart of the story.  Woolery has a solid hold on this play, as she has kept the settings simple to let the tale speak for itself.

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

 
Dennis (reviewer), Laura (bar-keep), Greg (bar mgr.)
Dave (patron)
The Black Sheep

    As you might know, this is my favorite eating/imbibing place in town.  It features Brit food, in honor of the Bard’s time, and is even open late to indulge OSF patrons.  The food is exceptionally good and the company even better.  Greg, the bar manager, treats you like old friends and Laura is a delight as the elfin sprite of the pack.  Taylor is always jolly in her bearing and Dedra is the expert to ask on desserts.  You must try their homemade ice cream, something I believe they could package and sell on their own if they chose.  Many good dishes, drinks, staff and atmosphere.  I give it an A+, as I highly recommend it, and tell them if you go that Dennis sent you.  

See part of their joyous bunch in the enclosed pic. and go to their site at
www.theblacksheep.com and look for the Red Door on the Plaza for a visit. 
“The place where you belong!”

Saturday, June 30, 2018

The Book of Will—Oregon Shakespeare Festival—Ashland, OR


Kate Hurster, David Kelly, Kevin Kenerly, Jefferey King.
Photo by Jenny Graham

A Legacy of Loyalty

     This revealing look at Shakespeare’s times is a West Coast Premiere by Lauren Gunderson and directed by Christopher Liam Moore.  It is playing at the outdoor Allen Elizabethan Theatre in repertory, through October 13th.  For more information, go to their site at           www.osfashland.org

    Fame may be fleeting but friends are forever!  When the Final Judgement is rendered, who will stand by our sides and attest for us?  It will be, I believe, our actions and deeds, our own words and thoughts, and our friends.  “We are such stuff as dreams are made on…” and so, this life, too, will pass into obscurity…save this, the words we writ and utter as to the human condition, preserved by those who believed in us, are the most precious gifts we can offer future generations, and thus, such as it is with this tale….

    It seems that several months after the Bard’s death, his plays have been scattered as so much seed being blown about randomly by the wind.  His words misconstrued, scenes missing and whole sections rewritten.  And so, it is up to a few of his most loyal companions, Heminges (Jeffrey King), and his wife Rebecca (Kate Mulligan) and daughter, Alice (Kate Hurster), Condell (David Kelly) and his wife, Elizabeth (Catherine Castellanos) and, for a time, Richard Burbage (Kevin Kenerly), the lead actor of this acting troupe, The King’s Men, to put right what is being torn asunder.  And so, amongst much drink and little money, they attempt the impossible.

    How to assemble such a feat, with bits and pieces strewn here and there.  But, where there’s a “Will,” there’s a way.  They find Crane (Cristofer Jean), a lover of his words, who has his own secret stash.  Then there is the matter of printing it all, which involves, perhaps, hiring the self-same printer, the blind, William (Kenerly, again) and his son, Isaac (Jordan Barbour), who had pirated much of the Bard’s work in the first place.  And then financing must be secured to finish such a massive undertaking, and so they seek out the “Dark Lady (Castellanos, again),” now a published poet, the Muse of Will’s Sonnets, and his admirer and rival, Ben Jonson (Daniel T. Parker), a rather famous author in his own right.

    After some false starts, a couple of deaths of important members, doubts and bitter conflicts, they trudge ahead to preserve, perhaps the greatest writer the world has known.  It is a trek, inspired by love and loyalty, which will raise high the flag of friendship and will forever seal beauty on the written page and stage.
This is an epic story by Gunderson and one little known to the general public.  And so, bringing it to light, is a monumental task and one that deserves being extended into two or three parts, rather than trying to condense it into a couple hour show.  What is there is terrific but I feel it needs to be expanded to show the full force of this tale and Gunderson’s loving treatment of it and its characters.

    Moore has done a first-rate job of keeping the story coherent and staging it in a sparse setting so that the plot and characters take center stage.  The cast is quite impressive in this show (as they always are at OSF) “…and each [person], in [their] time, plays many parts.”  It is truly an amazing story.

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

--DJS

Romeo and Juliet—Oregon Shakespeare Festival—Ashland, OR


William Thomas Hodgson and Emily Ota
Photo by Jenny Graham
The Death of Innocence

    This classic, romantic tragedy by Shakespeare, is directed by Dámaso Rodriguez (Artistic Director of Artists Rep in Portland, OR).  It is playing, in repertory, at the outdoor Allen Elizabethan Theatre through October 12th.  For more information, go to their site at www.osfashland.org

    Our teen years are a tricky period.  We are unaware that we are not the center of the universe, nor do other people in our secluded realm have any importance, nor do we sense they believe differently than we do.  We do not connect, yet, older people with us at a later age.  We believe we are fearless and will live forever, this we surmise in our Youth.  Not yet aware of the shackles of adulthood, nor have we completely shed the feathers of our innocent childhoods.  We, as teens, are at a vulnerable and dangerous age.

    Such was the plight of Romeo (William Thomas Hodgson) and Juliet (Emily Ota), barely into their teens in Verona in the 1600’s.  Their two wealthy families, the Capulet’s and Montague’s, have been warring for many years, although neither can recall when it all got started, nor why.  Dad (Greg Watanabe) & Mom (Amy Newman) Capulet, keep a tether on their headstrong daughter, relying on her Nurse (Robin Goodrin Nordli), to keep a trained eye on her, as they have her promised to Paris (Armando McClain), a noble, as a future husband.

    Likewise, Dad (Richard Elmore) & Mom (Monique Holt) Montague have an equally rebellious son, as he runs around with a pretty rough crowd, mostly consisting of his cousin, Benvolio (Julian Remulla) and his best friend, Mercutio (Sara Bruner), who always seem to be getting in scrapes with Tybalt (Derek Garza), the mean-tempered cousin of Juliet, and his mates.  Not even the potent power of the Prince (Christiana Clark) of the region, nor the calming influence of Friar Laurence (Michael J. Hume), can sooth these savage beasts.
I doubt that there are more than two people left in the world that have not read or seen the story and outcome of this tale of “star-crossed lovers,” as it does not end happily.  The world is full of tales of stubborn parents and mis-guided youth, but this is probably the most pronounced, as the Bard is justly considered the greatest of playwrights because of the universal and timeless appeal of his tales.  From poetic prose, to rap, to ballet, to a full-blow, award-winning musical, proves the power of that statement. 

    And why is this incarnation, of this oft-produced play, special?  Rodriguez, of course, at the helm, who has proven himself a worthy director many times over at Artists Rep and has provided us with a more “traditional” view of this story, with a fuller script of the play, I believe, than often seen, and a keen eye for casting the best person for the role, regardless of gender or ethnicity, the much-preferred way of casting a play, as far as I’m concerned.  The costumes by Leah Piehl are quite amazing, too.

    Both Hume and Nordli, in two of the best characters roles of any of his plays, can wear proudly the mantel of doing these parts proud.  But the stunner of the evening is Bruner, unforgettable as Mercutio, as she owns the stage whenever she is on it!  Her bravado and swagger give us the view of a Youth, doomed almost from the beginning…a character out of place and step with her times.  A person thwarted before she has begun to show her metal.  Her Queen Mab speech is the best I’ve seen and her death scene is remarkable, as she fights to preserve her life’s blood from draining and yet has her wits about her to rail against the fading of the light.  Bravo!

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



Ashland Springs/Hills

    As always, we again stayed at one of these two places, this time the Ashland Hills, their resort location about three miles South of the downtown area.  It has a number of varieties of rooms and suites, as well as a swimming pool, hot tub, deli, et. al. amenities.  They also have a super buffet breakfast, including sausage patties, waffles, cereals (hot & cold), bagels, toast, juices, fresh fruit, coffee/tea, milk, etc., that is included in the price of the room.  The Springs, the downtown location, next to OSF, also has secured parking.  I highly recommend both of these places, both having reasonably prices, very comfortable rooms and a friendly staff.  For more information on both these locations, go to their sites at www.NeumanHotelGroup.com  

    If you do stay there, tell them Dennis sent you.

--DJS

Monday, June 18, 2018

The Secretaries—Profile Theatre—SW Portland


Photo Credit: David Kinder
The Avenging Angels

This very dark comedy is written by Maureen Angelos, Babs Davy, Dominique Dibbell, Peg Healey and Lisa Kron (The Five Lesbian Brothers) and is directed by Dawn Monique Williams.  It is playing at the Artists Rep’s space, 1515 SW Morrison St., through July 1st.  For more information, go to their site at www.profiletheatre.org or call 503-242-0080.

It is amazing to think that this was written about 25 years before the current Me, Too, movement but it does give you an idea of how far back (and much further) the abuse and disrespect and inequality of women has been going on.  This genre of expression could be ranked with the darkly comic horror films of the 90’s era, such as Motel Hell, The Stepford Wives and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  And, as demented as you think they are in this story, you root for them all the same (I did).  Go figure….

As the tale goes, there is this lumber camp in Big Bone, OR, where the secretarial staff is totally populated by women.  And the head honcho of them is Susan (Andrea White), a martinet-type of leader on the outside, who runs a tight ship, but does have her odd quirks that you’ll get to know after she cozy’s up to you.  Ands she has her followers among the rabble. 

Her minions consist of the ditzy, Ashley (Kelly Godell), who has the record among the pool of the most “boyfriends,” and is the current secretary of the month, for several weeks running (and she has her prize, a cashmere sweater, to prove it).  Then there is Peaches (Jen Rowe), the effusive, boisterous and over-weight (a no-no, according to club rules) of the pack.  And Dawn (Jamie M. Rea), the outspoken, avowed lesbians of the mob, who takes no prisoners.

Into this motley crew appears the “new-kid-on-the-block,” Patty (Claire Rigsby), who is fresh out of school, naïve, and more than a little susceptible to any outrageous influences, in which there are aplenty in this outfit.  Of course, she must immediately be taken under their wings (or, in this case, maybe talons) and educated as to what’s important in this Life-style, such as to garner a lumberman’s jacket, to control your weight through a rigid diet, to abstain from sex, obey the rules of the club and have an accident-free environment…well, not so much, perhaps, in this category.

How this all comes together, I cannot tell you without giving away secrets, but it’s a dozy, trust me.  And, keep in mind, this is definitely not for everyone.  If you enjoyed the films mentions early in this review, then this may be your “type of shake.”  If not, well, consider this a warning.  Williams has garnered a top-notch group of ladies for this whirlwind experience (I can only imagine the rehearsals) and she has kept it moving, with rapid set changes and explosive performances.

This cast is exceptional in the portraying of the complexities of these characters and keeping them within the bounds of believability, just enough so you are sucked into their world, too.  Kudos to all, as these are some of the strongest performances I’ve seen onstage!

I recommend this play but beware that it involves some very adult and explicit material.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

The Maltese Bodkin—Twilight Theater Company—N. Portland


“What Dreams Are Made On”
This mystery spoof is written by David Belke and directed by Sarah Fuller.
  It is playing at their space, 7515 N. Brandon Ave. (off Lombard, parking lot across the street)., through June 24th.  For more information, go to their site at www.twilighttheatercompany.org

In all our lives, there is probably that one elusive, impossible dream we want to achieve, which will make all our desires come true.
  For some, it is that secret place, buried in our imaginations, where all is tranquil…our Shangra-La, El Dorado, Glocamora, Neverland, Brigadoon, et. al.  For others, it is an object that will bring us wealth and power.  Such is the case with the Falcon from Maltese or, in this case, a jeweled dagger, or bodkin, that may hold the self-same power.
The story follows somewhat closely the same one as the classic, film-noir movie, “The Maltese Falcon.”
  And the style is the same with a hard-boiled shamus, Birnam Wood (Paul Roder), who also discovers his partner, Archie, has been killed while working on a case.  The plot is steeped in that genre with narration by the lead character, garbed in the traditional crumpled trench coat (like Columbo), and sloppy hat, who is a hard-drinker, down-on-his-luck, and smokes too much.
But he has his ever-faithful Girl-Friday, Charlotte (Chelsea Read), over-eager, a bit ditzy and smitten over her boss.
  And this is the part where a whole array of femme fatales, mysterious strangers, and nasty critters crawl out of the woodwork.  And, ‘tis true, but these role models step out of the scenery from 1600 Shakespearean England (no explanations as to how these two genres come to be together, so just go with the flow).
But, being that times are hard, he takes on a case that may solve the death of his partner, as well as retrieving the fabled jeweled bodkin/dagger.
  And, of course, an alluring woman, Viola (Lura Longmire) turns his head, as he finds out that Archie was working for her and she is also searching for her long-lost brother, Sebastian (Skye McLaren Walton).  But he will need help with this quest, so he searches the slums, via his sotted buddy, Falstaff (Stan Yeend), with his main squeeze, Mistress Quickly (Christina Taft), and also scours royal society, through his good friend, Donalbain (Chris Murphy).
Meanwhile, to muddy the waters even more, he is stalked by a sneaky villain, Iago (Samuel Alexander Hawkins), and approached by the helpful, Mercutio (Blaine Vincent III), both desirous of the famed dagger.
  But Wood knows there is someone more powerful behind all this and that the disappearance of the brother, and the jeweled dagger, are somehow connected with his friend’s death.  Really can’t tell you more without spoiling the mystery but know that the author does know his film noir, as well as Shakespeare, and blends the two genres successfully for the most part.
The cast of nine really does quite a good job of portraying, in some cases, as many as three characters.
  There is a very amusing Monty Python type of repartee between R&G (from “Hamlet”) from Vincent & Hawkins, a deliciously droll Richard III from Murph and a super incarnation of the ‘40s sleuth from Roder.  Fuller has done well with her casting and manages to keep the play moving at a very brisk pace.  All in all, a complicated thriller with a huge nod to Willy S. and pot-boiler mysteries, presented by a very talented cast.
I recommend this play.
  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Broken Bone Bathtub—N. Portland area


“The Kindness of Strangers”
This one-woman show, written by and featuring Siobhan O’Loughlin and produced locally by Jesse Braeuninger.
  It is playing in various homes of local individuals in their bathrooms for an audience of 4-8 people through June 18th.  For more information, go to their site at www.brokenbonebathtub.com

This is more of a group therapy session than a “traditional” play but, all directors/producers /actors know that creating a play with actors often results in psychological aspects of the character being examined, as well as one’s own psyche, so this process is just being extended, in a way, to present company, the audience, an intimate gathering, in an intimate atmosphere.
 
And where would an individual be the most intimate and vulnerable?
 Probably in a bathroom or bedroom, stripped of all perceived perceptions.  And, under what circumstances?  Sex, of course, but also after an injury or during an illness, as one’s guards are often down.  And, so we have the bathtub, complete with water, and only suds between us, and a and a lady with a broken hand.
She will, in part, during the next hour, relate to you how this came to be and how she felt it changed her life and led her to this venue.
  But her purpose is far more astute than that.  She tells of her early friendships with other girls/friends and the experiences with group events, such as a type of whip-cream melee.  Obviously, the fun, freedom and intimacy during those times generated a peace within the “savage beast” of a human…and inhibitions be damned.
As she got older and grew up in the NYC area, she felt that biking was the most convenient mode of transportation, and thus, a part of this accident, with her now sporting an injured hand, was a result.
  But the story is only the catalyst for the real purpose of this exercise.  She discovered, while infirmed, that she needed the help of others to some of the simplest, daily routines, like bathing.  And, through this quest for a solution, she embarked on a remarkable journey that has had far-reaching effects, albeit in just small groups at a time, in over 5 countries and 300 performances!
I don’t want to give too much away, as that might be considered a spoiler, but will say that only about half the time you are there, are you listening to her story.
  As she relates her experience, she discovered the fact that she needed others to help her. So, she asks the small gathering assembled, of their experiences with such things as crying in public, being compassionate, giving hugs, relating unpleasant news to a loved one, etc., as she found out, through her own, personal experiences, that we need each other to survive.  “No Man is an Island.”
And what she encouraged the audience to relate is quite amazing.
  They all related very personal accounts of their experiences.  And why is that?  Because you are in an intimate setting with someone more vulnerable than you and with strangers that you’ll probably never see again.  And the secret ingredient for this studious mix of mis-matched spices?  Ms. O’Loughlin herself, as she gently stirs the pot for the most unique taste ever, an excellent chef is she!
Make no mistake about it, this is an event, an experience, possibly a new wave of the first order, which will merge people into dialogues, like she does, and we will come out with a better understanding of others.
  As the song goes, “what the World needs now, is Love, sweet Love, something there’s just too little of.”  And it starts with a small band of brothers and sisters, like this, and hopefully will spread like a tidal wave over the face of the Earth!
O’Loughlin is onto something.
  She comes across as personable, candid, understanding, and able to deal, through dialogue, with any “blue meanies” that invade her/our space.  I wanted to reach out by the end and give her a hug and say she touched me.  You can’t help but fall in love with her and lovable is a good trait to have in this unsettled day and age.  (By the way, Siobhan, the tear-jerker I love with Robert Downey, Jr. is called “Heart and Soul,” worth seeing.

I highly recommend this show but it will only seat, depending on the location, a maximum of 8 people, so best get your tickets now.
  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill—The Armory at PCS—Pearl District


‘Round Midnight
This musical tribute & history of the great Blues/Jazz singer, Billie Holiday (Deidrie Henry), is written by Lanie Robertson and directed by Bill Fennelly.
  It is playing at their space, 128 NW 11th Ave, through July 1st.  For more information, go to their site at www.pcs.org.
The magic hour when shadows invade the senses, memories recur in full, fierce force and music & song is in the hands of royalty—Billie Holiday (Henry)!
  It is unclear as to why such icons of the entertainment/creative worlds feel the need of a “boost” to guide them along.  Many of the greats were involved with drugs, alcohol, battled with insanity and had less than stellar childhoods.  Such was Holiday, a jazzy blues singer whose candle burnt out some 60 years ago.  But this, perhaps, her last appearance, is in South Philly, a town who she has a love/hate relationship with.
She tells of her childhood and her beloved Mom, the “Duchess;” her sexual abuse at the age of 10; of her first real love, the abusive, Sonny; her addictions; her love of music and performing; her relationship with the understanding Artie Shaw and his band of white musicians; and one special occasion when she encountered a club with no toilets for black females and how she remedied that situation (priceless).

Most of Holiday’s favorites are here (but not listed in the program).
  Some of them that I got were “Crazy,” “Baby Doll,” “Easy Livin,’” “Strange Fruit,” and “God Bless the Children.”  Her vocal range slides easily from ballads, to brassy, to mournful and to the upbeat.  One thing you knew for sure, she lived all these songs…and her stories.
And she’s not alone up there.
  She brought along her special guest, Pepe, who helps her through the darkness.  And, of course, there was her ever-lovin’, Jimmy (Abdul Hamid Royal), the piano-man; on drums, Charles Neal and on Bass, James H. Leary (replacing the recently departed, well-known Bass player, Andre St. James).  And they were all terrific!
Fennelly has assembled the perfect cast for this!
  And kudos to Scenic Designer, Michael Schweikardt, it is amazing.  And Henry is following in the shoes of Audra MacDonald (Broadway) and Diana Ross (film, “Lady Sings the Blues”).  But she matches them every step of the way for this is not just someone doing her songs but who embodies the role in her monologues, as she relates her horrific past both in acting and singing.  She does justice to Holiday, who would have been impressed, too, I believe!

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

Fallout—Imago Theatre—SE Portland


“Tomorrow Is Another Day (?)”
This original production is written, directed and designed by Carol Triffle.
  It is playing at their space, 17 SE 8th Ave. (off Burnside), through June 9th.  For more information, go to their site at www.imagotheatre.com or call 503-231-9581.
Where will you be when (not if, according to today’s international climate) the Big One hits?
  When I was but a young lad in the 50’s, this was a very real possibility then and so some families and public buildings and schools were busy building bomb shelters.  It was a strange new world that a youngster was being reared in then, as it is again today.  “When will we ever learn?”
And, in the case of this event, we have a young man, Bobby (Kyle Delamarter), who has evidently decided to jump the gun and simply live in a shelter now, so that he is always prepared.
  He greets his morning light, at the beginning of the day, like a new-borne reaching for the sun.
The down-side is that he can never go top-side, as it just might be the last day.
  And he has no friends that he has invited down here, so he’s a bit of a recluse, playing songs for a audience of one, keeping holy his drawings of his long-dead idols from the entertainment media of years past, creating imaginary situations and dialogues with an invisible lady, sleeping a lot and keeping a diary…and “lets the world slide.”
But a loner for himself is not to be.
  For suddenly the outside world intrudes itself upon him, as two women discover the hatch, by accident, to his domain, as he scuttles away under his bed.  Jackie (Anne Sorce) is the leader of this intrepid duo and wants to explore.  Nadine (Danielle Vermette) is the more skittish of the two and seems afraid of her own shadow.  More discoveries will abound as secret longings and relationships will be revealed, as the three of them must grapple with Fate.  More I cannot tell you without being a spoiler.
But the exciting part of Imago’s shows are not so much the stories but the presentations and execution, as they are replete with dance-like movements, music, and language interpretations and imagery that appear like it might come from an alternate universe.
  This hour-long production also explores the real life problems we are faced with and becomes a sign-post of things to come if we do learn to get along. Triffle has done a fine job of blending these worlds together. 
I also like the original music/songs that were conceived for this show by Triffle and Delamarter.
  And the performances by all three were quirky, unpredictable and totally consistent with the framework for the story.
I recommend this play.
  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

I and You—Artists Rep.—SW Portland


Celebrate Yourself

   This compelling story of love is written by Lauren Gunderson and directed by JoAnn Johnson.  It is playing at Artists Rep., 1515 SW Morrison St., through June 17th.  For more information, go to their site at www.artistsrep.org  

     What are the components for Love?  Poets, writers, philosophers and religions have been grappling with that question for ages.  No definitive answer, of course.  But Walt Whitman, with his long poetic essay on Life, “Leaves of Grass,” with his songs to himself, does contend that, before loving someone else, a person must first love themselves then, I assume, they are capable of giving and receiving love to/from others.  This is a love story then, focusing on Whitman and his words and, in the end result, they connect with these novice lovers in a most unique way.

     Caroline (Emily Eisele) is a solitary teen, living much of her life trapped in her bedroom, as she has always been a sickly child and had to content herself with her own world of arts and crafts, and music and the internet.  She does have friends, of sorts, in her cat, Bitter, her photographs, and her pet turtle, whose shell glows in the dark, like the distant stars.  She, like her turtle, has formed a hard shell to keep out the trappings of the outside world, but is very vulnerable underneath. 
  
     Caroline relies on the electronic world to keep her informed, is in love with rock and roll, especially Jerry Lewis Lewis and Elvis and even texts her Mom downstairs when she wants something, rather than risking a trip into the outer, darker chambers beneath, preferring her familiar, more colorful, world at the top of the stairs.  But this world is about to be shattered with the arrival of another young student, Anthony (Blake Stone), who says he is her project partner on creating a display and speech on the writer, Walt Whitman, for their American Lit. class, even though she does her assignments via the electronic medium.

     Anthony is a bit more subdued than she, likes sports and is a lover of Jazz, especially Coltrane and plays the Sax.  Their worlds tear at each other but seem to reach an uneasy truce when delving into Whitman’s words.  They are truly opposites in so many ways…and yet….?  The interplay between them is priceless and the conclusion is something you won’t see coming.  In short, you’ll have to experience it for yourselves and, I guarantee, you won’t be disappointed.

     Gunderson is an amazing writer, as she teases you along what you think might be a familiar path, then turns the tables on you, as to where it ends up, but realizing that it really does all connect, like a giant, jig-saw puzzle.  Johnson has carefully chosen and modulated the cast and their performances, so that both humor and tears are brought out, letting us know that this is untested territory.  She is also a fine actor in her own right, so knows the journey that creators must travel to master a character.

     The set, by Tim Stapleton, is a wonder, all bright, Spring-like colors, mish-mashed across the walls, “like bits of a shattered rainbow.”  And the actors, Stone and Eisele, are perfect for their parts.  They go through many changes in moods through the story and are very believable in each of these incarnations.  I couldn’t imagine anyone else in these roles.

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

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Left Hook—Vanport Mosaic—N. Portland


Fight Club
This powerful family drama is written by Rich Rubin and directed by Damaris Webb.
  It is playing at the Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center, 5340 N. Interstate Ave., through June 10th.  They also have a very interesting Surge of Social Change Gallery Exhibit upstairs, detailing a lot of history of this area.  For more information, go to their site at www.vanportmosaic.org

I welcome this “old-fashion” type of story-telling, which centers around social situations in a naturalistic way.
  It reminds me of the plays of the 30’s-50’s which usually had beginnings, middles and ends and resolved situations on a realistic level.  The setting is boxing training center and is in the North Portland area (with a very cool boxing ring supplied by Oregon Children’s Theatre).  Also, “left hook,” as I understand it, was the blow that downed Ali by Fraser, implying to always keep your guard up for the unexpected.
Ty (Jasper Howard) is the owner of this Club, inherited from his father, in North Portland during the 70’s.
  He is mostly a tough, no-nonsense sort of guy who only has one student at present, Donnie (James Bowen II), a nice kid but a bit naïve to the ways of the world.  Ty seems to be not only training him for a fight in the ring but the much bigger battle of Life in the Arena outside.
Ty’s friend is Bo (Anthony P. Armstrong), a garbage man, who has encountered more than just the refuse of the street, but Life/reality itself in this ever-changing City.
  Cal (Kenneth Dembo) is Ty’s uncle and keeps reminding him, when he gets too big for his britches, that he use to change his diapers, so not to get too pushy.  He is an outspoken activist of the changes going on in the community, not for the good of African-Americans, either, and seems much in favor of the Black  Movements coming into being in the 70’s.
Ty also has a daughter in high school, Ava (Tonea Lolin), who has taken a liking to Donnie, threatening the wrath of her father.
  But her mother, and Ty’s ex-wife, Mae (Shareen Jacobs), is not opposed to her “testing her wings.”  But it seems all their lives are going to be displaced, as the City has been expanding with a sports/entertainment center, then a freeway and now, a hospital growing outward, and it always seems to be the African-Americans that must deal with the brunt of these changes.  How the family turmoil all turns out, you’ll just have to see for yourself.  But people that have been oppressed all their lives, do have the ability to pick up the pieces and start anew with a greater resolve!
The author certainly has a way in his writing of making his story personal and yet universal as well.
  And the director has complimented his vision with her great eye for casting, as well as using the stage and the ring to the story’s advantage.  She also does a fine job of choreography of the boxing maneuvers, giving a sense of a rhythmic dance.  All very well done.
And each of the actors are very specific in their creations, all believable and natural.
  I especially liked Ty’s delivery of his “rage speech,” as he talks about war and killing.  I recommend this production.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Crossing—Crave Theatre—SE Portland




         
Sarah McGregor and Jessica Tidd
Photo by Russell J. Young
Shadow Creatures
    
 This haunting drama is written by Reza de Wet and directed by Sarah Andrews.  It is playing at the Shoebox theatre, 2110 SE 10TH Ave., through June 3rd.  For more information, go to their site at www.cravetheatre.com
   




     On the surface, this is a story about two, weird sisters, Hermien (Sarah McGregor), the boss of the family, and her timid, sheltered, hunchback sibling, Sussie (Jessica Tidd), who live in an ancient house on the banks of a river.

     On one night they are visited by a mezmerizing showman, Maestro (David Mitchum Brown), who claims to be a hypnotist, who proclaims he can transport you to other times and places.  With him is Ezmerelda (Kylie Jennifer Rose), his “assistant,” who cowers at his feet and appears to have been psychologically and physically abused.  The sisters offer refuge to this couple and hear the strange tale of their travels.

But the house and all these people hold secrets.  There are unearthly factors at work here.  Old houses, night terrors, thunder and lightning, noises in the dark and some unholy magic are a perfect combination for nightmares.  As I said, the above is only the surface story, for you must see it, if you dare, and not alone, to discover the mystery that it holds!

     This is a very creepy story that will keep you spellbound from beginning to end.  Max Ward has created a set that keeps the audience feeling as if they are in the framework of the house, peeping in on things that are better left unsaid.  The creators of the lighting effects, Nia Fillo and sound, Andrew Bray, are to be commended, too, for this is as much an atmospheric  production as it is about story and dialogue.  Kudos also to the Stage Manager, Michael Cavazos and Technical Director, Iain Chester, for blending all these elements to maximum effect.

     And the cast of four, especially the ladies, are some of the best actors in this area.  McGregor is sinister, stern and strangely compelling as she attempts to hold her family together. Tidd is always excellent in all she performs and is equally good here as the sister whose soul and sanity seem to be in peril.  Rose is at her best here as a woman/child torn between, perhaps, “the devil and the deep blue sea.”  A tormented spirit who will not be quieted.  And Brown, very effective as the master manipulator, who may have met his match in these ladies. Bravos to all!

     And the best for last, Andrews, who must combine all these elements into a worthy stew for digestion and she does it masterfully!  She and Rose have created a young company, Crave, and they are certainly on firm footing with this outing.  It is original in its concept and they prove they can handle the technical and acting aspects to the nth degree as well.  Much power and success to them, they deserve it!

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