Sunday, April 22, 2018

Peter Pan—NW Children’s Theatre—NW Portland


“An Awfully Big Adventure”


     This children’s classic by James M. Barrie is adapted for the stage as a musical by Milo Mowery, Rodolfo Ortega, Jeff Sanders and Sarah Jane hardy, who also choreographed it, and directed by John Ellingson, (who is also set, props and puppet designer).  The show will be playing through May 20th, at their location in the Cultural Center at 1819 NW Everett St. in Portland (parking is a challenge in this area, so plan your time accordingly).  For further information, go to their site at www.nwcts.org or call 503-222-4480.

     This is, perhaps, the ultimate children’s story and my personal favorite.  And, for children, it exercises their “little gray cells,” their imaginations, to the max.  After all, it has pirates, fairies, mermaids, a dog, a crocodile, a Neverbird, flying, adventures, puppets and, perhaps, best of all, escape from the everyday world.  It taps into innocence at its core, both for kids and adults, and gives it a good shaking, reminding us that we can still be empowered to take charge of our worlds and change things, as necessary!  Many adaptations of it have been presented over the last 100+ years.  Some with music, some without, some animated, some with females playing Pan, but all with a sense of wonderment and the abilities to conquer our own fears.  And all things considered, a tribute to Barrie’s lasting legacy, with profits going to a Home for Orphans.

Maud Adams may have started the tradition of females playing Pan, when she did it in the 1920’s.  It is unclear why a woman (not a girl) has claimed this role much of the time.  It could be because Barrie had a great deal of respect for Women, Mothers and Girls (Wendy is definitely the female/mother-figure in the Lost Boys and Peter’s life).  Barrie also didn’t seem to have much use for adulthood in men.  Mr. Darling is a bit of a whiner and the other adult males are pirates.  Doesn’t bode well for us guys, does it?

     Some of the names associated over the years with the role are Mary Martin, Mia Farrow, Sandy Duncan, Cathy Rigby and, of the male variety, Robin Williams (Hook) and Bobby Driscoll (Disney’s animated version).  There was even a 5-act version, encompassing the whole story, by the Royal Shakespeare Company of England.  The best of the filmed ones was, in my opinion, a little-known, non-musical with no big stars from Australia, made a few years back.  And now we have, once again, a Portland-bred one.

     The story should be familiar to everyone.  Peter Pan (Ryder Thompson) lives in Neverland (looking at the night sky it’s “the second star to the right and straight on till morning”).  He, as well as the Lost Boys, were orphaned at an early age because they fell out of their prams.  There are no girls in this group because “they’re too smart to fall out of their prams.”  But the pirates, led by Hook (Andrés Alcalá), who has a nemesis in Tick-Tock, the crocodile (aptly named, as he swallowed an alarm clock along with one of Hook’s hands).  The rest of his motley crew are the inept Smee (Kevin-Michael Moore) and three other cohorts, Noodler (Clara-Liis Hillier), Cecco (Sam Burns) and Starkey (Stefano Laboni).

     Although quite content in their own ways, Peter and the Lost Boys, Nibbs (Justine Beall), Curly (Maya Hawks), Slightly (Elo Paulorinne) and Tootles (Charlotte Sanders),  do feel the need for a “mother” for bed-time stories.  So, Peter comes to earth to “borrow” Wendy (Grace Malloy)) and her two brothers, John (Sam Majors) and Michael (Phillip Wells), so they can sample a proper family.  But through a series of adventures and mis-adventures…Tinkerbelle almost dies, they battle pirates, deal with wily mermaids (puppets, voiced by Della Cosloy, Gabriela Giraldo, Clara King, Tia Lempert, Izzy Trujillo, and Sinead Mooney), a hungry crock (a puppet), an over-protective dog, Nana (Max O’Hare) and a clever Neverbird (king, again).   But, defiant to the end, Peter flies off, vowing to never grow up. 

     The music is pleasant and my favorite numbers were A House For Wendy (voiced by the strongest singing ensemble in the cast, the Lost Boys), the lovely duet I’ll Not Leave You by two strong singers in Wendy and Peter and Boys Are Mean To Birds, especially the show-stopping performance/singing by King, as the Neverbird.  This adaptation is quite good but I do miss the Jane segment of the Mary Martin one, which has a bitter-sweet ring to it.  Also miss the “Indians” and Tiger Lily. who are gone but assume, although they are the “good guys” and the princess, a strong role model, the political correctness of today won’t allow for it.  But the interplay between Smee, Hook and the pirates during the set changes is priceless, as the kids ate it up.  The puppets (designer, John Ellingson) are a great addition to the show, very colorful, and the Flying By Foy (they’ve been doing it since the Martin production in the 50’s) is still the best, as kids are smitten by it.

     Hardy’s has another high-flying treat for the audience, as she explores expertly the magic and mystery of childhood!  And those adults that wish to be taken on a journey back in time will appreciate it, too.  Ellingson has a winning cast and it is a poignant, romantic view of an era long past…and sorely missed.    Thompson and Malloy, as Pan and Wendy, deliver the right magic for the roles.  Alcalá is always a delight to watch in anything he does, and he is a delicious Hook here.  Moore, as Smee, is another old pro at comedy and he excels here.  And, once again, to explore that old adage, “there are no small parts…,” King as the Neverbird is terrific, both in voice and performance!  And Beall, as Nibbs, one of the Lost Boys, caught my eye more than once.  She is very animated and appears to be totally into her role.  I look for good things in the future for these two young ladies!  

    I recommend this show.  If you do go, please tell them Dennis sent you.
--DJS

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Good Kids—Portland Actors Conservatory—SE Portland



Restless Youth

     This topical drama is written by Naomi Iizuka and directed by Beth Harper (Artistic Director for PAC).  It is playing at the Shoebox space, 2110 SE 10th Ave, through April 29th.  For more information, go to their site at www.pac.edu or call 503-274-1717.

     This is a timely issue for more than one reason.  The Youth today have bravely set themselves up against the NRA and its ilk in voicing, in the strongest way, concern for the growing violence from users of guns to commit mass murders, especially against Youth and in the schools.  I applaud them in the strongest way!  Those are the “good kids.”  But there is a darker side to Youth in this era and it is perpetrated against each other and perpetuated by social media.  Happy bedmates they do not make (no pun intended).

     One should remember that the Youth of today are the Adults of tomorrow and this world will then be in their hands.  We haven’t given them a very good example to follow, that’s true, but they must know that they are Not their parents and they have a right, a duty, to forge new pathways to a more compassionate society/world.

     This story is an ugly one, no doubt about it.  But one thing should be made very clear from the outset.  Having sexual relations with a girl without their expressed permission/consent is wrong, is a crime, and is rape!  No, wearing provocative clothing is not a Yes, or permission, and anyone who takes advantage of a drunken or doped-up lady, is the worst kind of villain and coward!  And what of those who stand by and do nothing, or watch from the sidelines, as they pass on electronically and verbally such an act?  Aren’t they equally at fault?!  I wonder how they justify such actions to themselves?!

     In this compelling story by Iizuka, we have the victim, Chloe (Melissa Reeves), who has a major alcohol problem and doing all the right (or wrong) things to not only attract the jocks of a rival high school football team, but also gains the wrath of the mean girls, headed by Amber (Amethyst Stone), mother-bitch of the in crowd.  The affable quarterback of the team, Connor (James Savannah), surrounded by his cronies,  Ty (Samson Syharath), who has a rocket in his pocket; Landon (Alex Albrecht), the media perpetrator; and Tanner (Ricky Junior), the too-late hero.

     Other friends and enablers consist of Kylie (Colleen Socha), Skylar (Trishelle Love), Madison (Bianca Murillo), Brianna (Jessica Kohl) and Daphne (Hannah Quigg).  There is also a mysterious narrator, Deirdre (Megan Haynes), of these events, in a wheelchair, but to tell you more would spoil discoveries an audience should make.  I will say that part of her purpose is to make sure the facts are straight, as one person’s perception of events may be another person’s lies.  The action takes place on an essentially bare stage but we are always aware of the locations because of Harper’s deft handling of the space and her exceptional cast, who she leads.

     The cast, as alluded to, is quite amazing, with Reeves standing out in a most complex and difficult role as the victim.  Kudos to her, and all her cohorts!  There are some excellent films of the past that address these issues, too:  Frank Perry’s, “Last Summer” (hard to find), Jodie Foster’s award-winning performance in “The Accused,” and Kurosawa’s award-winning film, “Rashomon.”

     I highly recommend this production but be aware of the sensitive subject matter.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.
--DJS

Monday, April 16, 2018

Quietly—Corrib Theatre—SE Portland



A Rage of Silence

     This drama is written by Owen McCafferty and directed by Gemma Whelan.  It is playing at the New Expressive Works, 810 SE Belmont St. (street parking only), through May 6th.  For more information, go to their site www.corribtheatre.org

     This seems like a familiar story throughout history and one that will continue ad nauisum, I’m afraid.  I wrote a piece on this subject of violence recently for a review and I believe it bears repeating, as circumstances are eerily familiar:
“Genocide has probably been around on this Earth, in one form or another, to wipe out and/or demean a race of people, since the beginning of Man.  Hitler and his boys were prime examples of that during the last century but they have had lots of imitators before and since then, e.g. the Crusades; our treatment of Native Americans and African-Americans; and continuous examples in the Middle-East, Africa, South America and Asia.  And the results of many of these efforts—cities reduced to rubble, death of many thousands of innocents, and resentment of other nations, as well as history.  What a prize!  As the folk song goes, “…when will they ever learn…?”
     
     And now we have the rift between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland.  The land of lore, of fairy creatures and leprechauns, seems to have dissolved “…into thin air.”  And what will continue is a game of one-upmanship in which there are no victors.  But, if we can’t have a definitive answer, then perhaps, taking one step at a time toward each other, quietly, on a small scale, will bring a harmony of sorts.

     And so, we have a meeting of opposing sides in a pub in Ireland in 2009.  One man, Jimmy (Ted Rooney), has come to his favorite pub in Belfast for a pint…or three.  The bar is run by an immigrant from Poland, Robert (Murri Lazaroff-Babin), which has its own set of conflicts, and which, he thought, he had escaped by coming here.  Interestingly, they are watching a football match on TV, between two countries in which a definitive victor will emerge…were it all that simple in the political/religious/social arena.

     Jimmy is waiting to meet someone, Ian (Tim Blough), from the opposing side, here and relive a painful memory of in their pasts of about 25 years earlier.  Will it heal old wounds?  Will a peace be accomplished?  We’ll see.    But a catharsis of sorts, possibly a redemption, might happen, but only if truth can be ousted and fists lulled into a coma.  Only when the infantile behaviors, such as sword-rattling and name-calling (which seems popular now with world leaders) is quelled, can there even be a beginning to a lasting peace.  Can’t tell you more or else I’d be a spoiler.

     All three of the performers are very powerful.  The quiet rage of Blough is palpable; the uneasiness of Lazaroff-Babin is quite evident; and the inward pain of Jimmy’s anguish speaks volumes.  Pain and hatred of these sorts are buried deep in one’s psyche and not easily rooted out.  But, unless people choose to live in fear their whole lives, someone has to start somewhere to heal the scars, to bridge the great divide.  Both the author and director seem to understand the subject, if not able to solve it, at least address it, which is a step in the right direction.

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

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Of Good Stock—Lyon Theatre—NE Portland




Life On the Edge

    This dark comedy is written by Melissa Ross and directed by Devon Lyon.  It is playing at the Triangle space, 1785 NE Sandy Blvd., through April 28th.  For more information, go to https://ofgoodstockpdx.bpt.me

    Eleanor’s line from “The Lion In Winter” seems appropriate to describe this play, when she’s talking about her clan, “well, what family doesn’t have its ups and downs.”  True enough for all families and this one seems to be laced with love, humor and a dose of spite.  It reminds me a lot of a play I directed some years ago, “Crimes of the Heart,” where you wanted to give them a good spanking sometimes but couldn’t help but love them.
    
    This family consists of Jess (Morgan Cox), the practical one and is the inheritor of their Cape Cod, family home, who has just gone through a serious operation.  Her husband of some years is Fred (Andy Sims), the ever-loving and ever-patient mate, a food critic.  They are to be joined soon by her sister, Amy (Kailey Rhodes), not the sharpest knife in the drawer, who is about to get married to her boyfriend, Josh (John Zoller), who seems more than a little nervous about this union.  Celia (Jamie Langton), is a bit of a tippler, who goes through men like water, will be arriving with her newest conquest, Hunter (Austin Hillebrecht), a down-home boy and a bit of a drifter.
There is another family member who hovers, unseen, over them, the specter of their Lear-like father, who was a famous writer, ruled his family with an iron fist and plowed through women like it was a sport.  During the course of the play secrets will be revealed, old wounds opened up, tears of regret and of joy shed, and new paths forged for a deeper understanding of friendship and love.  Family is never easy but having none is perhaps harder.  My favorite scene was the infamous F-bomb encounter with the girls—priceless and delivered perfectly by pros. 
    
    Really can’t tell you more without giving away discoveries an audience should make.  But, trust me on this, the Author certainly knows Family Gatherings, so you just might catch yourself identifying with parts of it and them.  And Lyon is an actor’s director, pacing the show at a break-neck speed at times with over-lapping dialogue, then lets a lull settle in for quieter moments.  And what a cast he has delivered to us!  They are priceless, especially the ladies, and so convincing I thought I was intruding at times on a real family’s outing.
    
    The fellows are also good in their roles, letting us in on those man-cave mentalities of guys when they are bonding.  But it’s really the ladies, show, folks, and they are outstanding!  Jess is the obvious choice for the “head” of the family but “uneasy lies the crown” on her head.  Cox plays the role like a coil wound up tight waiting to burst at any time.  Rhodes is a marvel as the sister not to be underestimated, because just as soon as you think she’s easy to read, she lashes out in another direction altogether.  And Langton is super as the sister who laughs and loves too easily on the outside but is a deeply unhappy person within.  All three first-rate!
    
    I highly recommend this show as it’s not to be missed.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.
--DJS

Friday, April 13, 2018

White Rabbit Red Rabbit—Artists Rep—SW Portland




All the Stage is a World

     This unusual production is written by Nassim Soleimanpour and curated by Jerry Tischleder, as part of the Frontier series.  It is playing at their space, 1515 SW Morrison St., through April 15th.  For more information, go to their site at www.artistsrep.org

     Can anyone guess when the moment of death begins?  That’s easy, when we’re born.  So, the question should be, not so much when we are going to die, but how we live our life up to that moment.  At what age were you when you realized that those alien people we called parents, were actually young like us at some point, meaning we would be like them someday?  At what age were you when you realized that not everybody thought and believed as you did, and that the world did not revolve around you?  And when did the specter of the thought of our own demise enter our brains?  Why is it, when we are Young, we are in such a hurry to be older and, when older, life is passing too quickly?  We certainly are strange creatures, aren’t we?!
     
But there is a way of living “forever.”  Also, of living different places and at different times and be different people.  How, you say?  Become a writer, of course.  Do not Dickens and Shakespeare continue living through their works and, as those works/characters inspire us as humans, to carry on that legacy for them?  “We are such stuff as dreams are made on…” and those fantasies can carry us anywhere we desire—the ultimate freedom.
     
And now to the play.  Oops, really can’t tell you anything about it (except that the above thoughts of mine do interact, I believe, with part of his purpose).  The reason being…well, I’ll just let the media release speak for itself:
“The play you’re about to see is sealed inside an envelope.  The actor about to perform will never have seen it.  In fact, there is a new actor every performance and they’ve only been told what is absolutely necessary.  Join the actors and LEAP!”
     
And so, for an hour+, you will be taken on a journey of heart, mind and soul. The performers are all stellar, having seen them many times before onstage.  They are:  Susannah Mars, John San Nicolas, Ayanna Berkshire and Darius Pierce.  The night I saw it, the actor was Mars.  She did extremely well in holding the audience captive and her experience as a singer and entertainer in intimate, as well as stage settings, was an asset for her.  She just recently knocked them dead in the musical, Scarlet, at Portland Playhouse and will, I’m sure, continue to Wow audiences!
     
If you have different impressions/thoughts/ideas after seeing this show, that’s as it should be.  A really good artist, like Soleimanpour, is always willing to share their works and allow it to speak through others as to its merits.  I recommend this show.  If you do choose to see it, please tell then Dennis sent you.
--DJS

Sunday, April 8, 2018

The Thanksgiving Play—Artists Rep—SW Portland


Journey From There To Here


     This World Premiere of Larissa FastHorse’s (Sicangu Lakota) revealing comedy is directed by Luan Schooler.  It is playing at their space, 1515 SW Morrison St., through April 29TH.  For more information, go to their site at www.artistsrep.org and check out their dynamic next season, as well.

     I wish I could say with some confidence that we’ve come a long way from that purported first Thanksgiving with the Pilgrims and Native Americans to this point, but I’d be lying if I did.  What should have been great strides are, instead, at best, baby steps.  Maybe that’s why any intelligent life in the universe has passed us by, as they observed our current “growth” and decided that we were still too infantile in our behavior and weren’t worth contacting!

     The author surprised me, pleasantly, in the way she handled the subject of the Rockwell-like image we have of the First Thanksgiving, as grappled with by some well-meaning educators onstage and some earnest children on video (those images are precious and, oh, so true, as I have witnessed such displays).  The four educators represent a microcosm of White America trying mightily to represent Native Americans in this complex dance but tripping over each other along the way.

     The purpose is this, that a schoolteacher has received a grant to present a play about the First Thanksgiving with elementary school kids.  The director of the piece is Logan (Sarah Lucht) who is sincere in her efforts, but may be over-intellectualizing them, to do the right thing, but is confronted, through the story, as to just what that would be.  Also, on hand, is her boyfriend, Jaxton (Michael O’Connell) a street-performer, probably ex-hippie, who senses he is in tune with the universe.  Logan hires a professional actress for the lead role (in a play yet to be written), Alicia (Claire Rigsby), who has practiced the art of simplicity to the nth degree.  And the final ingredient to this motley crew is Caden (Chris Harder), the researcher, who seems to see only the literal world of events and is extremely reluctant to forgo that position.

     These are the ingredients to the delicately seasoned stew, adding, of course, the video of school children, and a Native American female writer.  What could possibly happen when these elements are all mixed together.  But if I told you more, I would be a spoiler and so, suffice to say, the outcome is not expected but very satisfying, something to chew on.  A hint would be an old adage to be taken literally (which the character of Caden would appreciate), “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.”
I thought at first that the author may have painted herself into a corner, as identity, cultural equality, history, et. al. are such deep subjects that, how would you conclude such an exploration of this.  But she does a remarkable job and the director has enhanced this by letting us see ourselves in these four characters and lets us ruminate on it.  Also, something that may not be obvious to much of the audience, is that the acting styles of the four individuals are actual acting stances that are valid in the theatre in creating art.  Having spent over forty years in the performing arts myself, I do recognize these types of artists.

     The actors are all spot-on in their performances and are at the top of their form!  And the addition of the videos of young performers was a stroke of genius.  I recommend this production.  If you do choose to see it, please tell then Dennis sent you.
--DJS

Friday, April 6, 2018

Don’t Stop Me Now—Live On Stage—NW Portland


The Agony of Success


     Don’t Stop Me Now:  The Freddie Mercury Experience is a one-woman songfest created and performed by Courtney Freed and directed by Isaac Lamb.  It is playing at the CoHo space, 2257 NW Raleigh St. (parking is a challenge in this area so plan your time accordingly) through April 8th.  For more information, go ot their site at www.liveonstage.us

     As Mercury and Freed seem to be strongly influenced by their Muses, as am I as a writer.  So, I will allow my Muse to express herself through me:  As I ponder the aftermath of this cabaret-style journey of artists searching for Love, Peace, Acceptance, Freedom, I am reminded of a Jules Phiffer (sp.?) cartoon of many years ago which has the first panel,  a lonely little man staring out and saying, I live in a house… and, as the scenario continues on through several panels, growing in words to living in a neighborhood…in a city…on a planet…etc. until it is just a series of dots/stars filling up the panel and the last caption reads, “…and if you love me, you’ll find me!”  That cartoon seems to possibly fit a message in this play.  Your take-away may be entirely different, which is as it should be.

     The jazz/blues setting of a type of speak-easy, perhaps, is wholly fitting for the atmosphere of this remarkable tragic story to be shared.  And it is supported by an equally remarkable band consisting of musical director/conductor/piano by David Saffert, with able support from Tom Goicoechea on drums, Bernardo Gomez on bass and the multi-talented Josh Gilbert on sax, flute and ukulele.  Some pretty complicate light cues are a huge asset to this production by designer, Jennifer Lin.  And Lamb is no stranger to music, either, as he is a very accomplished performer himself, as just witnessed in Portland Playhouse’s musical, “Scarlet.” 

     But the main attraction is Freed herself, who is a whirlwind of excitement as she travels through more than a dozen songs of Mercury’s, lead singer of Queen, as he travels, through Freed’s extraordinary vocal range, the “road[s] not taken.”  He seemed to have experienced it all, drugs, booze, and sex with multiple partners of both genders.  And his musical talents never wavered but seemed to grow with these experiences.  The tragic end was from Aids but his legend and legacy only grew and Freed is an amazing translator of this.  But was he running toward something, or away, or both?  And, as any great artist would do, I’m sure Freed has reached deep within herself, her own story, and dipped her artistic pallet infused with her own blood, to enact the “…Mercury Experience.”  To do justice to her I would check out her websites www.courtneyfreed.com and www.courtneyfreedmusic.com to get the full range of her talents and, of course, see this show.

     Also, as an added bonus, I got the rose she threw to the audience which I will treasure, as a token for my Muse to keep on writing.  Obviously, I recommend this show.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.
--DJS