Sunday, April 14, 2019

How To Keep An Alien—Corrib Theatre—SE Portland



               Love Without A Visa


    This clever piece, about love and bureaucracy, is written by Sonya Kelly and directed by Gemma Whelan.  It is playing at the New Expressive Works space, 810 SE Belmont St., through May 5th.  For more information, go to their site at www.corribtheatre.org or call 503-389-0579.

    It is said that Love is the most potent element in the universe.  But, like all Positive forces, it needs an antithesis, otherwise we would not recognize the importance of the Positive.  I would vote for Bureaucracy as a good candidate for that position, as that force sucks all the emotional and humanity out of anything Good (look at the mess on our Southern border, as an example).  This personal journey from the author “must give us pause,” as it will restore your faith in the warmth and dignity the human spirit can have, when faced with seemingly impossible odds.  Heaven is all the sweeter, if one has to have trod through Hell to get there!

    This is a very cleverly constructed sojourn, as it is presented, “on the fly,” so to speak.  The Irish author, Sonya, in the guise of the very accomplished actor, Sara Hennessy, will take us on her personal journey to find love.  But this trip is without adornments, as she speaks directly to the audience and only uses a bulletin board and minimal props to chart her progress. 

    She is also more than ably assisted by the Stage Manager (Amy Katrina Bryan), who appears onstage with her, playing other characters and providing crucial props when necessary.  Quite frankly, I was pleased with this approach to this story-telling style, as I have always been impressed with a “black box” theatrical setting.

    As for the tale, Sonya is an actor and is in a terrible play/dance production at an Irish castle, where she meets Kate, another actor in the company.  But Kate, being an Aussie, must return home once her Visa runs out.  Needless to say, they fall hopelessly in love and the remaining story is all the trials and tribulations of staying together on a permanent basis.  Such efforts, including sending a letter, via a paper sandwich sack, through the mail; getting stuck with a grumpy, by-the-book immigration officer; trying to reconcile with in-laws, who may not be as pleased with this union as the pair are; et. al.

    I certainly am not going to reveal the outcome, but I think the story will touch anyone who has been in love…puppy or otherwise.  But, as mention, the style was as compelling as the story for me.  Whelan always gives a fresh approach to story-telling, as with this tale, and constantly invites the audience, through their imagination, to participate in creating, filling out, this world.

    Hennessy is a pro and it shows.  As she flits about the stage, changing from one, seemingly random, thought to another, she builds beautifully toward the fairy tale ending.  Also, I was equally impressed with Bryan, in her many incarnations.  I have often been a believer that, “there are no small parts, only small actors,” and this, once again, proves the point.  Bryan is fully vested in providing the support for Hennessy, concentrating on the tasks at hand, even when having no dialogue.  I especially liked her droll immigration officer, and the song that provided a short interlude in the proceedings.  She is a gem and I hope to see more of her onstage.

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

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Good Kids—OCT’s Young Professionals Company—NE Portland




       “My World & Welcome To It”

    This searing, topical drama is written by Naomi lizuka and directed by Tamara Carroll.  It is playing at the Y/P Studio, 1939 NE Sandy Blvd., through April 28th.  For more information, go to their site at www.octc.org/yp-company

    As I was talking to my friend, Dave, afterwards, as we were high schooled in the early 60’s, the worst trouble we could get into then was to be busted for drinking beer at a private party.  Now, we have…well, you’ll see as you view this play.  And the one major element missing from our world of yesteryear, to theirs of today—Social Media…it is the new god in town.  One dares not make an independent move without being blessed by the electronic hordes out there on Facebook and its many minions.

    But there is hope for the Future, as groups of students are vocally protesting gun violence and the corruption of our atmosphere.  Now, if they can just short-circuit the electronic conduits that control society and re-embrace a flesh & blood world, we may have found a path forward through this maze of cyber worlds, to the real one made up of human beings.

    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 female 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 (Allyson Giard), 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 (Armita Azizi), mother-bitch of the in-crowd.  The affable quarterback of the team, Connor (Jasper Warhus), surrounded by his cronies, Ty (Emmett Ruthermich), who has a rocket in his pocket; Landon (Josh Bransford), the media perpetrator; and Tanner (Django Boletus), the too-late hero.

    Other friends and enablers consist of Kylie (Kayia Shivers), Skyler (Morgan Demetre), Madison (Makenna Markman), Brianna (Kate Daley) and Daphne (Zyla Zody).  There is also a mysterious narrator, Dierdre (Allison Parker), of these events, in a wheelchair, but to tell you about her, or the interactions in the story, would spoil discoveries an audience should make.  I will say that part of Dierdre purpose is to make sure the facts are straight, as one person’s perceptions of events may be another person’s lies.  Perhaps, Truth is in the eye of the beholder.

    Because of the sensitive issues involved, this would be a difficult play to cast and direct but Carroll has a sure hand in framing the events and has an amazing cast, every one totally convincing!  This story has the ring of truth, so the author certainly knows from whence she speaks.  This play is not for those easily offended, nor for very young children but definitely should be seen by Junior High and High School Youth, as well as parents. 

    One final note, much of the success of this program is due to the Education Director and head of the Y/P program, Dani Baldwin.  Also, she allows the plays that are presented to be chosen by the class, as was this one, so know that this is what Youth feel is important to be communicated to the world at large.  Kudos to all involved!

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

Friday, April 12, 2019

Church and State—Lyon Theatre—Triangle Productions!



        Twitter Hymn of the Republic

    This topical drama is written by Jason Odell Williams and directed by Devon Lyon.  It is playing at the Triangle theatre space, 1785 NE Sandy Blvd. (free parking lot to the West of the bldg.), through April 27th.  For more information, go to their site at www.LyonTheatrePDX.com

    “We the People…Perfect Union…right to bear arms…created equal…separation of Church & State…pursuit of Happiness…” those Founding Father (and Mothers) sure said a mouthful and had some noble ideas/ideals, didn’t they?!  But they couldn’t have foresaw the world of today, by any stretch of the imagination.  Personally, I think they would be sorely disappointed in what they wrought…brought forth…unleashed onto this once beautiful environment!

    But that was Then, this is Now.  We now have a new god and it’s electronic, replacing the human/spiritual conduits.  An old joke has all the scientists of the world connecting all the computer systems together and asking this ultra-brain, “Is there a God?”  After a slight pause, It answers, “There is Now!”  Is this our Future?!

    But in the Deep South, in the present, a Conservative politician, running for re-election as a Senator, Charles Whitmore (Jeff Gorham), is facing a crisis.  He has just witnessed the aftermath of a school shooting and he is at a crossroads of Faith, as well as Duty.  His wife, Sara (Morgan Cox), is a devoutly, Christian woman (although not the sharpest knife in the drawer), and has always followed the well-worn path of rhetoric in both Church & State, never questioning the veracity or validity of either.

    Whitmore’s devoted campaign manager, Alex (Jaime Langton), a Jewish liberal, goes by the book when generating his speeches.  That is, until a slip-of-the-tongue to Marshall (Jared Mack), a reporter, that because of the recent bloody incident, he now questions the very existence of God and, along those lines, his future stance on gun-control.  A revelation/revolution of sorts that awakens his commitment to his conscience, the Truth, instead of his Party…and that causes all sorts of dilemmas for everyone involved.  To see the stirring outcome, you’ll have to check it out for yourselves, won’t you?!

    I saw this company last Season at this space in a play called, “Of Good Stock,” with some of the same cast, and it was very well done, as is this one.  They have some seasoned players in a new company that deserves to be seen.  The director, Lyon, has a great eye for casting and choosing good and potent material.  Their shows are character-driven and tell stories about important social issues.

    Gorham is a recognizable face on the PDX stages and excels here.  In his character’s political speech, I heard one audience member suggest that if he were running, he’d vote for him.  Very convincing performance.  And Cox is his equal, giving a great deal of depth to her changeable character.  Langton is always good in everything I’ve seen her involved in.  She also plays a person who must evolve or disappear from the arena.  And Mack does well in three smaller roles.

    A couple of personal notes to add to the topics of the story.  Jesus, is reported to have said some very wise things, but was also was a rebel in his time.  Change needs people, if it is to succeed, that are willing to follow their conscience and not the crowd.  Also, when the “bearing arms” rule was written, only single shot pistols and rifles were around and everyone had one.  It was pretty much a non-issue.  Nowadays, the field of arms is blown to ridiculous extremes and I doubt they would have supported a system that has little checks and balances.

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

Friday, March 15, 2019

Straight—Triangle Productions!—NE Portland


         3 Into 2 Won’t Go

    This drama is written by Scott Elmegreen & Drew Fornarola and directed by Donald Horn.  It is playing at their space, 1785 NE Sandy Blvd. (free parking lot to the West of the building), through March 23rd.  For more information, go to their site at www.trianglepro.org or call 503-239-5919.

    Love is definitely a Centerpiece in our Society.  But a definition of it will probably vary with every individual.  A common misconception of it in films, is that Love is confused with Lust, and that has complicated many a relationship.  Also, it seems to be a forgone conclusion that getting married and having kids is the only purpose we have in life.  Human Beings are a lot more complex than that, believe me.  And so, in this case, we have a man, who loves a woman, but who also love another man.  What do do…what to do…?

    Ben (Zachary Taylor Warner), a stock broker, living in the Boston area, has a long-standing relationship with a cancer research scientist, Emily (Jennie Spector), who only lives a couple miles away.  He’s a bit uptight in the social arena and she is bit of a workaholic.  But, both being in their mid-twenties, after five years they have seemed to have created a comfortable pattern of existence for themselves.

    That is until Ben starts having some doubts as to his sexual identity.  It seems that in his teens he had a couple of attractions to the same sex but shrugged them off.  And so, he meets Chris (Colin Kane), a twenty-year-old college student, majoring in history, who seems pretty sure of who he is and what he wants. And so, it becomes a sort of reverse of the Svengali relationship as, in this case, the student must teach the master. 

    Of course, a confrontation will occur at some point between the three of them and decisions will have to be made.  Who will end up with whom, well, I won’t be a spoiler so, you’ll just have to see it for yourselves.  The bulk of the story does concern some pretty heady discussions regarding sex, science, nature vs nurture, emotions, philosophy and history, as well as the obvious stigmas attached.  It is quite a fascinating dialogue but the play ends quite suddenly and abruptly with no real conclusion in sight.  But, until then, it is quite compelling.

    The actors are all first-rate and quite convincing.  One does feel their pain, frustrations and doubts, as they travel through this journey of self-discovery.  It should also bode discussions with the audience as to parallels in their own lives.  Horn, as always, has given us much fodder for thought in this very complex and changing social environment.

    I do recommend this play but, be aware, the discussions and situation are quite frank.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.
--DJS

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Hairspray—Oregon Shakespeare Festival—Ashland, OR

“…and the beat goes on…!”

this outrageously charming musical is based on the John Waters film.  It is directed by Christopher Liam Moore, book by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan, music by Marc Shaiman and lyrics by Scott Wittman & Shaiman.  Also, choreography by Jaclyn Miller and music direction by Gregg Coffin.  It is playing at the Bowmer Theatre, in repertory, through October 27th.  osfashland.org. 

The Rainbow is a many-splendored thing, made up of varied layers, colors and depths, which all contribute to the whole Beauty of this result of working together.  We, too, are Rainbows, all of us, dependent on each other to foster a harmonious environment.  And so, toiling as one, each with their own unique gifts to offer, we survive.  Without doing this, we perish.  The choice is ours…for our own sakes, we need to succeed in being inclusive and embracing the Whole.

And, with that, we arrive in Baltimore in the early 60’s.  And, after experiencing this explosion in the status quo, the world will never be the same again!  The Turnblad family seems pretty typical of the times.  Edna (Daniel T. Parker), the mom, takes in laundry for a living; Wilbur (David Kelly), the dad, runs a magic shop and is a self-styled inventor; and Tracy (Katy Geraghty), the daughter, is… well, let’s just say for now, she is a pretty normal teen except, inside, there’s a revolution brewing, which will soon erupt into the whole, wide world.

She, and her best friend, Penny (Jenna Bainbridge), dream of appearing as dancers on the Corny Collins (Eddie Lopez) Show (a stand-in for the real “American Bandstand”).  Her parents forbid it, which only spurs her forward.  But the manager of the station, Velma (Kate Mulligan), a snob of the first order, laughs at her antics, as her daughter, Amber (Leanne Smith), is the darling of the show.  But the resident hunk, Link (Jonathan Luke Stevens), takes a shine to her and so she is accepted into this dance pack.

But her revolutionary ideas do not stop there.  She also has befriended some of the African-American population, including Motormouth (Greta Oglesby), owner of a neighborhood record store, Seaweed (Christian Bufford), an accomplished dancer, and others to defy tradition, and sees no reason why they should not be dancing as equals on the show, too.  Needless to say, this idea does not bode well with the powers that be, nor the prevailing winds against any such equality movement for them.  To reveal how it all turns out would make me a spoiler, so mums the word which means you just have to see it.

The cast of this show is truly amazing as singers, dancers and actors!  There were cheers throughout the sold-out, opening night performance and more than one standing ovation, well deserved.  The songs and dance numbers are terrific.  My personal favorites are “You’re Timeless To Me” (Edna & Wilbur), a touching ballad to love; “I Know Where I’ve Been” (Motormouth), a haunting, powerful tribute to a woman standing up for herself; and the finale, “You Can’t Stop The Beat (ensemble), a rousing number that vows such changes to charge forward.  All the songs not only fit the story but were powerfully delivered!

Oglesby was a powerhouse, a belter of the first class!  Geraghty, equally almost blew the house down with her songs and dances, as well as the determined, iron-clad maiden that wanted to change the world.  Parker and Kelly were delightful as the parents which, to be honest, should be icons for ideals of parenthood for any family; and I do admit, I have a soft spot for Bainbridge, as she exemplified, in acting and song, what a faithful, best friend should be like.

Moore has a winner on his hands, as he has chosen the perfect cast and led them through an amazing production.  Like-wise, Miller (dances) and Coffin (music) are in top form, adding immeasurably to the power of this show.  This play also included an added inclusiveness, as some of the cast were physically challenged in some way. But, you know, I didn’t notice those “differences,” as they were all just terrific artists to me…and isn’t that the way it should be in Life, too?!  One final note, there is a magical moment at the end of the play, which brought a tear to my eye, but I won’t reveal it, so you just have to experience it for yourself.

I highly recommend this show—it’s a must-see!  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

The Black Sheep

Some of you may know by now, my favorite spot to eat, while in Ashland, is the above pub:  A place “Where You Belong!”  They have authentic English Pub food, as my Brit friend concurs, and ales and home-made desserts and soups.  They also have darts, neighborhood events, music, storytelling and a real fireplace for cool evenings.  They often stay open late for the theatre crowd, too.  And two of the staff members I’ve gotten to know and like over a few visits are Greg, who makes you feel welcome, whoever you are, and Lorah, a friendly, elfin lady, who will make you smile just to talk with her.  And you might even meet the owner, who is also a charmer.  Just look for the bright, red door on the Plaza, 51 N. Main St.  www.theblacksheep.com  or call 541-482-6414.  If you do stop in, please tell them Dennis sent you

Monday, March 11, 2019

As You Like It—Oregon Shakespeare Festival—Ashland, OR


“Send in the Clowns…”

This classic comedy from Shakespeare is directed by Rosa Joshi.  It is playing at the Bowmer Theatre, in repertory, through October 26th,  For more information, go to their site at www.osfashland.org or call 1-800-219-8161.

Remember when you were a kid—the circus?  I mean a real circus, with the Big Top, Trapeze artists, lions & tigers and elephants, and those pesky clowns.  I always marveled, as a child, at that little car traveling around the center ring, then stopping, and out of it “a thousand clowns” would emerge, of all colors, shapes and sizes.  Now, how did all those clowns fit into that little car?!

Then picture, if you will, our finite bodies, and all the varying “clowns” within.  You see, we are a different personality (“clown”) with our family, our close friends, our co-workers, a loved one and our acquaintances.  And so, as we enter different aspects of our lives, we discover that, indeed, “all the world’s a stage” and we, merely players upon it, as the Bard has suggested.  And so, I believe, we must make the most of our fragile time upon the “boards.”  And, on that note, let the games begin….
Common elements arise in most of the Bard’s comedies:  gender-switching, love manipulations, estranged relatives, wise clowns/fools/servants, caste systems, conflicts of purpose and redemption.  And, in the end, “every Jack must have his Jill (and vice versa),” and so it is here, too.

The plot centers around a disposed Duke (Rachel Crowl) and her melancholy companion, Jacques (Erica Sullivan), by her villainous brother, Fredrick (Kevin Kenerly), and Orlando’s conniving brother, Oliver (Shaun Taylor-Corbett), as well as the deposed brother of royalty, Orlando (Rom├ín Zaragoza) and his faithful servant, Adam (Tyrone Wilson), as well as Rosalind (Jessica Ko) and her cousin, Cecil (Kate Hurster), as well as their servant, the Fool, Touchstone (Rex Young), all threats to the throne, in one way or another, and so end up in the Forest of Arden in France, an Edenistic sort of encampment.  Whew!

Wait, there’s more.  Also, some shepherds share the forest with this band of misfits.  There is Sylvius (MacGregor Arney) and Corin (Caroline Shaffer), watching their flocks and inhaling some of the local merriment, also.  Of course, there are also a couple of shepherdesses, one of which, Audrey (Will Wilhelm), garners the interest of Touchstone, and the other herder, Phoebe (Lilia Houshmand), falls for Gannymede (forgot to tell you, Rosalind has disguised herself as this man so that she/he can investigate the wooing methods of Orlando).  Although the plot is obviously complicated, the fun is following the various factions throughout the story.  Can’t tell you who will end up with whom but, after all, it is a comedy.

One of the highlights of the show is the introduction of about a half dozen songs (composer, Palmer Hefferan) by the merry band of followers of the banished Duke.  They are quite entertaining and add to the fun of the production.  (A personal note, I disagree with the choice to place Jacques famous monologue at the curtain call, as it is originally meant as a contradiction to his speech as, afterwards, a compassionate Orlando carries the ailing Adam into the forest—this interpretation from Dr. Bowmer himself).

Joshi has kept the show moving at a brisk pace and, despite the confusing plot, she does manage to keep things straight.  The cast, all very talented as actors and singers, present a rousing production.  I recommend this play.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Ashland Springs Hotel
I always mange to stay at this hotel (downtown, 212 E. Main St.), or it’s sister, Ashland Hills, (about 3 miles South of downtown), every time I come here to review shows (twice a year).  They have an amazingly healthy breakfast buffet (that is include in your stay).  It consists of hot and cold cereals, red potatoes, scrambled eggs, fruit, muffins & toast, coffee & tea & juices, et. al.  Also, it has secured parking (next door to OSF), comfortable rooms and a very friendly and efficient wait staff.  And the price is very reasonable, too.  For more information, go to their site at www.ashlandspringshotel.com or call 1-888-795-4545.

I highly recommend this, or the Hills location, for your stay.  If you do choose to stay here, please tell them Dennis sent you.


Monday, March 4, 2019

Tiny Beautiful Things—Portland Center Stage—Pearl District



       The Facts of Life

    This touching slice of life is adapted for the stage by Nia Vardalos (“My Big Fat Greek Wedding”) from the book by Cheryl Strayed (“Wild”) and directed by Rose Riordan.  It is playing at the Armory, 128 NW 11th Ave. (parking is a challenge in this part of town, so plan your time accordingly), through March 31st.  For more information, go to their site at www.pcs.org

    To re-imagine a quote from a comedian on his deathbed:  “Dying is easy, [Life] is hard.”  Simple, but to the point.  As soon as we’re born, we begin to die, everything in-between one should make the most of, but rarely do.  It is said that Youth is wasted on the Young meaning, to me, that once we realize what it’s all about, it’s over.  I mean, come on, “what the fuck…!”

    The story is about a woman, “Sugar” (Dana Green), having already been to Hell and back, writing an advice column from letters received from various individuals (Leif Norby, Lisa Renee Pitts and Brian Michael Smith).  The stories are a true microcosm of Life.  But they evolved even more, as the dynamics change over time, into a dialogue, and that makes all the difference.

    The subjects range from dealing with sexual identity, frustrations of Life…and Death, the Nature of Love…and Lust, loneliness, dealing with abuse (sexual, emotional, physical), the Meaning of it all…and everything in-between.  Some of the more dramatic moments include the young person dealing with being a Trans and the riff it causes with his parents; the young girl that is forced to perform sexual acts with a relative; the man who must deal with the death of his young son and how it has destroyed his world; the young woman who was not present at her Mom’s deathbed; et. al.

    And what is the take-way from all this angst?  Love is a major healing factor that is emphasized.  But, Walt Whitman said, that before one should expect love from another, they should love themselves first…for, without that, how can you expect others to love you?  Another learning point is to just be yourself and, when that’s accomplished, if others cannot accept you for who you are, then consider it their loss, not yours! 

    And, if in trying to understand other perspectives that may be alien to you then, as Harper Lee suggested, you might try to get inside their skin and walk around in it for a while…it might open your eyes to other possibilities.  But, perhaps, the most important of lessons from these tales, is that we are all made up of stories…and stories within stories, and interconnected to other people’s stories, and so we are ultimately all united within this cosmic community.  We really should be making the most of it and building bridges with each other, not walls!

    Riordan has an amazing cast and, being that three actors play a majority of the roles, it is crucial that you have just the right artists…and she does!  And Green, as the focal individual, is very touching as she struggles with her own demons, as well as trying to help others do the same.  She is a fine actor in all the plays I’ve seen her in.  And the director has them all interacting natural with the spaces, rather than having them deliver their parts as separate monologues, which works perfectly.

    I recommend this show but, be aware, it has very adult language and situations.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.
--DJS

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Leonard Cohen Is Dead—Imago Theatre—SE Portland



          The Edge of Reality
   
This original, imaginative production is written, directed and designed by Jerry Mouawad and produced by Carol Triffle (co-founders of Imago).  It is playing at their space, 17 SE 8th Ave. (off Burnside), through March 16th.  (Parking is a challenge in this area, so plan your time accordingly.)  For more information, go to their site at www.imagotheatre.com or call 503-231-9581.

Do we actually know where we are…what we are…or when we are, in this space/time continuum?  Are we “…such stuff as dreams are made on?”  Or, is our existence just a fluke of Nature…a Cosmic joke…a semi-colon in the Great Book of Life?  All manner of religions purport to have answers…the One True Path to Salvation (as long as you have money for the toll fees).  But, in lieu of any specific conclusion, just being good to yourself and your neighbors, and then see what happens in the long run, might be as good a formula as any to follow.

    And what does this have to do with the play?  Everything…and Nothing.  Or, to put it another way, if you can blend the artistry of violance and dark humor of Tarantino (“Reservoir Dogs”); the balancing act of Sartre (“No Exit”); the mind games of Pinter (“The Dumbwaiter”); a daub of Keystone Kops; Kafka’s ambiguities; and couple them with an intricate ballet, you might begin to understand the depth and breadth of this presentation of an exercise in futility.

    If you need to hang your hat on a storyline (which is always dangerous with an Imago production), then it’s about five gangsters (Danny Gray, Stephanie Woods, Emily Welch, Kyle Delamarter, and Jonah Kersey) holed up in a motel room, surrounded by cops.  It seems they have kidnapped a trillionaire’s daughter for ransom but the caper has gone terribly wrong.  And, to add to the confusion, one of the cops (Sawyer Shipman) has chosen to defect from the law & order assembly, to join the gang.  But, a mysterious radio in the room seems to have echoing voices from the Past and weasels its way into the psyches of this motley crew.  What to do…what to do?!

    Mouawad has, once again, created a thought-provoking, mind-bending, time-warping piece, in which the Soul of the matter is firmly entrenched in the Eye of the Beholder.  As always, a unique exercise in pushing the envelope beyond the beyond.  His cast, mostly regulars from other productions of theirs, are first-rate.  Did favor Woods, as she was most engaging to watch, as was Shipman.  And the lighting (Jon Farley) and sound (Mouawad & Delamarter) were intricate parts of the production and added greatly to it success.

    I do recommend this piece, as it takes you out of your comfort zone and transports you to the Twilight Zone.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.
--DJS

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Pontypool—CoHo Productions—NW Portland


       Night of the Dead…Living

    This horrorific tale is written by Tony Burgess and directed by Gavin Hoffman.  Based on a novel and rather good Indie film, it is playing at their space, 2257 NW Raleigh St. (parking is a major challenge in this area, so plan your time accordingly), through March 2nd.  For more information, go to their site at www.cohoproductions.org or call 503-220-2646.

    There is purportedly, a small rural town in NW Oregon that has an infestation, of sorts, in which people are found blathering nonsense and, like lemmings, seeming to follow each other to a type of self-destruction (no, not Congress).  At least, that’s what the local radio station (KPPL, 660 on your listening dial) is posing.  Nestled in the basement of a church, they do have a rather unorthodox shock jock, Grant Mazzy (rhymes with crazy).  The station is virtually the only real entertainment these farming folks have in this quiet (usually) little village.

    But now Grant (Todd Van Voris) has gone too far, as his type of reporting has ranged from searching for a lost cat to insisting there are hordes of people out there rioting and actually (can you believe this) eating each other!  His no-nonsense producer, Sydney (Christy Bigelow), insists his imagination and thirst for recognition is getting the best of him.  Even a co-work, the much-respected, war-veteran, Laurel Ann (Paige McKinney), can’t seem to rein him in.

    But, at least, they can always switch to the ever-reliable, weather-copter reporter, Ken (Pat Moran) to fill us in on the amazing cold snap we seem to be having.  Although lately, he also seems to be losing it, as he has just recently begun to report unusual numbers of individuals ravaging the countryside.  I think this cold must have infected his brain, as he seems now to be a few flakes short of a snowball.  It is only when Grant has the town’s very respected medical expert, Dr. Mendez (Jimmy Garcia), on the air live, as a guest, that people began to sit up and take notice.

    As best as I can make out, the town-folk are infected by some type of virus and, evidently (now get this), it is passed on by sound, certain words or, maybe, language, that triggers this bug.  So, if your loved ones start slurring their words…talking nonsense, repeating themselves…repeating themselves…and fixating on a certain word over and over again, then head for the open range, buckaroo, for your in for a bumbling tide.  The Invasion has begun, so weaze needs to building a wall to keep out this pirate…er, virus.  It be spewing…spreading, so witch out, u could be text!  Silence is Gordon, reminder….be daft and bilge that wall…wall…wall…wall…wall…wall……..AHHHHHH…….!

    This report was found at the front desk at CoHo.  He added a note to it that remarked that Van Voris, a master at any role, was a marvel as the shock jock.  The rest of the cast was also quite convincing and Hoffman, not only a fine actor himself, has managed to keep this production at a heightened suspenseful level.  And kudos, too, to the lighting designer, Jennifer Lin, who was kept very busy, and to the Violence Designer, the award-winning, Kirsten Mun.

    This may not be for everybody but I recommend it.  Please tell them Dennis sent you, if you do choose to see it.
--DJS

Friday, February 8, 2019

Jesus Christ Superstar—Stumptown Stages—downtown Portland


    “Look What They’ve Done to my Song?!”


    This classic rock opera has lyrics by Tim rice and music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and is directed by James Charles, with choreography by Christopher George Patterson and music direction by Adam Young (Producing Artistic Director, Kirk Mouser).  It is playing in the Brunish Theatre (4th floor) at the Portland Center for the Performing Arts, 1111 SW Broadway, through March 3rd.  For more information, go to their site at www.stumptownstages.org

    There are many, often conflicting, stories of Jesus over the years and no real historical references to him.  The New Testament is probably the most widely read account but it was written after He lived on earth.  And some books were suppressed by the Vatican, supposedly because their “authenticity” couldn’t be verified, but they also point to women (Mary) having a strong voice; mysticism (Thomas); and the betrayer, Judas, all having their say.  Novels such as, “The DaVinci Code,” “I, Judas” and “The Last Temptation of Christ,” attempted also to flesh out the Jesus story, as well as this opera and the musical, “Godspell.”

    This rock opera skirts on many of these issues, giving us a sketchy but powerful rendition of His final days on earth.  It seems that Judas (Gabriel Lawson), has seen the handwriting on the wall for all those opposing Rome and has mistakenly thought that Jesus (Morgan Mallory), the leader of the pack, means overthrowing Rome when talking about a new kingdom, not a heavenly one, which is really Jesus’s mission, after we have “shuffled off this mortal coil.”  Needless to say, this political, militant, hot-headed Judas will butt heads with the more passive, more charismatic leader, Jesus.  And, thus, you have the traditional conflicts necessary for any good story.

    Jesus’s followers are faithful to Him, up to a point, and consist of the common folk, mainly fishermen and tradesmen, as well as women, one of which, Mary Magdalene (Hannah Sapitan), falls in love with Him.  Jesus is abandoned by his own religion’s priests, led by the worldly, Calaphas (Gregory Brumfield), because they have an uneasy but profitable relationship with the Romans.  One of his own followers, Judas, betrays him in order to persuade Him to get His head “out of the clouds,” perhaps.  But the acting head of the local government, Pilate (Bruce R. Kyte), can find no fault in this “innocent puppet” and Herod (Steve Coker) actually makes fun of him.  But His mission must be fulfilled and Jesus dies on the cross for it.

    Because of this, a whole new movement was begun, one of the most powerful in the world today and, justifiably, we can say, has created a “Superstar!”  The entire story is told in song, dance and music.  His followers reminded me of the hippie movement during the 60’s and, in Jesus’s day, probably might have had a similar kinship with Him.  The tricky part, in such interpretations, is to marry the human and the spiritual Jesus in this role and here it is done well.

    The famous songs are all there.  My personal favorite being, “I Don’t Know How To Love Him,” beautifully sung by Sapitan.  Also, the showstopper, “King Herod’s Song,” mockingly rendered by Coker, who is super, and his dancing delights.  The familiar, “Everything’s Alright,” “What’s the Buzz…” and, of course, “Superstar,” are also given their full glory here.  I was also especially moved by Lawson in “Heaven on their Minds” and “Judas’s Death,” powerful.  And Mallory in “Gethsemane.”  And the band, Young and company, was outstanding, as well as the dance numbers, Patterson, equally amazing.  Charles has cast it perfectly and has woven all the intricate story details and songs into a moving production.

    Acting was also top notch.  Hope to see more of Sapitan on stage, as a singer and actor, as she is worth watching as the conflicted Mary; Coker is always a scream in a comedic role; Kyte is a standout as the quirky Pilate; and hope to hear more from the basso tones of Brumfield.  The entire cast is a marvel!

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

Sunday, February 3, 2019

A Doll’s House, Part 2—Artists Rep—SW Portland

        The Glass House

     This proposed sequel to Ibsen’s classic of about 100 years ago, is written by Lucas Hnath and directed by Luan Schooler.  It is playing at their space, 1515 SW Morrison St., through March 3rd.  For more information, go to their site at www.artistsrep.org

     When Nora slammed that door, at the end of Ibsen’s, A Doll’s House, it not only ushered in a new wave of theatre expression, Naturalism, but began a woman’s movement that echoes into the present day, MeToo Movement.  That gesture espoused, quite simply, that a woman had rights, and if her present circumstances were hampering that, she had every right to slam the door on that situation and chart her own course!

     And so, here we are in this story, 15 years later and Nora (Linda Alper) returns to her old residence.  She is appalled by the fact that all of her old furniture and keepsakes have disappeared.  But she is greeted by her ole nanny and maid, Anne Marie (Vana O’Brien).  She explains some of the many changes that have taken place since Nora abandoned her husband and three children some years before.  Likewise, Nora fills her in on the new life that she has fostered

     What is not anticipated is that Torvald (Michael Mendelson), unexpectedly comes home early.  The reason for her visit is that he has forgotten to file some legal papers when she left and she wishes to clear that up.  In this era of history, women were completely under the control of men and had no rights themselves.  But there are still some old wounds to heal and, perhaps, flames to extinguish, or fan.  They seem to have reached an impasse.  But there is another hurdle to overcome, her daughter, Emmy (Barbie Wu), now a young woman, has her own perspective on the situation and so, the diatribes rage on toward, hopefully, a satisfying conclusion.  And all the arguments from the many perspectives have a certain validity.  To discover the outcome, see it for yourself….

     The results of this play by Hnath are used as a springboard for forecasting the future, possibly, of women, family dynamics and relationships.  A solid truth that runs through it, is that people mature, change and evolve over time.  So, individually, how does that reconcile with relationships that one has committed to?  How to sustain Love in a modern era is no easy task and has no definitive solution.  We are who we are today Because of circumstances, not In Spite of them.  “…and the beat goes on….”

     Schooler has chosen a well-honed cast and they tear up the stage, all totally convincing in their portrayals.  Alper gives us a Nora in which “the world is too much with her.”  She may be weary but has an iron will and that works very well for the character.  O’Brien is a treasure as the old retainer, who radiates a life of sacrifice beyond her humble “station.”  Mendelson always is a joy to watch onstage.  He gives the husband such a vulnerability with his power, that you, indeed, feel a certain sympathy for his plight.  And Wu, as the daughter, thrusts a life and spirit, and even a wisdom beyond her years, into Emmy.  She is exciting to watch, as they all are!

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

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Four Last Things—Corrib Theatre—SE Portland



      “Silent Snow, Secret Snow”

    This powerful drama is written by Lisa Tierney Keogh and directed by Gemma Whelan (Founding Artistic Director of Corrib).  It is playing at the New Expressive Works space, 810 SE Belmont St., through February 24th.  For more information, go to their site at www.corribtheatre.org

    The above title is borrowed from a short story (and one-act play) by Conrad Akien, in which a young boy gradually slips into his own private world, surrounded by the peace and quite of snow.  I was reminded of this story while watching the play.  The world now is a much more complex place, brought about, in part, by the electronic jungle we so highly treasured.  Young people, in particular, are highly susceptible to this alternate universe, in which one encounters cyber-bullying, sex traffickers, gossip, “fake news,” deceptive advertising, et. al., aimed to lead some young, maturing minds to slip into an abyss that, without professional help, one may drown in.  This cyber-jungle is, I believe, a contributing factor in drawing people into a “manufactured” world.

    The causes of mental illness are as numerous as there are people who have it.  It is a disease which can be treated.  People dealing with it should never be afraid to reach out to professionals.  They should also never be stigmatized because they are ill, admitting there may be a problem and communication it unashamedly to loved ones is a key to recovery.  “What we have here is a failure to communicate!” should never be one’s mantra.  Sinking beneath the “snow,” one may freeze, so look for the warming sunlight.

    Jane (Alexandria Casteele) is a young girl who grew up on a farm.  Her best friend is Bob, the farm dog (Jacklyn Maddux), who seems to understand her best.  Bob is always there to comfort her, play games, be told secrets to, and just hang around with.  She has a brother but, in time, they grow apart.  She has a boyfriend but she also distances herself from that relationship, too.  Even her father, Brendan (Ted Rooney), dearly loves her but is unable to show it.  The silence, “snow,” seems to be closing in on her.  How is this isolation to end?!

    I’ve only given you a snippet of this story because you really need to see/hear it for yourselves.  The characters all talk past each other, narrating their tales but never actually talking directly to each other, which shows the isolation of Jane and her world.  The setting is sparse, which also gives the sense of being removed from the world which surrounds her.  This sad tale builds slowly, overtaking the senses, and graduates to an intensity which is gut-wrenching.  You will also find yourself crying out to her, “Stay!” 

    It is a tale the author obviously is invested in, and in which director Whelan has thoroughly and accurately presented.  The cast is perfect for their roles and Casteele is powerful in the lead.  She is eerily believable as a young girl trapped in unfamiliar surroundings, perhaps, “a stranger in a strange land.”

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

I’ll Eat You Last—Triangle Productions!—NE Portland




        The Terror of Tinseltown

    This one-woman show about the notorious, Hollywood agent, Sue Mengers, starring Helen Raptis, popular, local TV hostess for AM Northwest at 9 am weekdays on KATU, is written by John Logan and directed by Donald Horn.  It is playing at their space, 1785 NE Sandy Blvd. (free parking lot, West of the bldg.), through February 16th.  For more information, go to their site at www.trianglepro.org or call 503-239-5919.

    The almighty majesty of the movies, or Broadway, has little to do with what an audience observes.  It is all about what goes on behind the scenes.  Note, such films about these industries, such as the classics, All About Eve and Sunset Boulevard, or Altman’s clever, The Player.  They hint at more complex and seedy sides to these entertainment avenues.  Dare we mention Harvey Weinstein, as a recent example, as proof as how far it has slipped into the abyss.  “All that glitters is not gold,” perhaps.

    What goes into show biz that creates magic is more smoke and mirrors than substance.  In a way, success is more accidently than planned, but everyone is willing to take credit if it hits big, and the same ilk are willing to point the fingers of blame/shame if it bombs (an attitude Congress/White House seems to have adopted).  But, because of it all, we have a wealth of stories, that themselves, make headlines.

    Mengers (Raptis) was a Hollywood agent of some 50 years ago.  As many famous names of renown nowadays, she did not grow up with “a silver spoon in her mouth.”  She and her family were Jewish immigrants fleeing Nazi Germany.  They landed in the New York area and she learned English from watching movies and, perhaps, in part, as an homage to that industry, became enamored with it.  She learned the ropes in agencies on Broadway and even “discovered” Streisand at a seedy bar (later she was to become, perhaps, her most famous client).  Soon she migrated to Hollywood and worked for a couple of agencies there before she branched out on her own.

    Agents, like editors and writers, et. al., are instrumental in getting a film made, but it is not unusual that you wouldn’t know their names, as they are the “unsung heroes” behind the scenes.  They are patiently, strip by strip, draping the glitter that others will take credit for.  It is simply the nature of the business and, as Ray Walston once told me (I worked as a featured extra on the film, Paint Your Wagon), getting your name above the title is not the ultimate for me.  It is just to work a lot with some remarkable artists and be comforted that the film does not rest on my shoulders.  And, so it is with the above “heroes.”

She had many famous clients over the years and has some amazing stories to tell about some of them including, Ms. S., as well as Faye Dunaway, Gene Hackman, Ali McGraw, Steve McQueen, Sissy Spacek, et. al., but I’ll let her go into those stories and her philosophy about what makes a good agent (or star).  It is really all quite engaging.

    Raptis is wonderful and you quite forget she is an actor playing a part, so convincing is she.  Horn, as usual, has given us a slice of life that would have gone “unsung” had it not been for his intervention, not only of social issues that should be discussed but also personalities that may have otherwise been forgotten.  It is an evening of two, very talented icons of the media themselves, but also of some nuggets of years gone by.  Bravo.

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

Monday, January 28, 2019

Sense & Sensibility—Portland Center Stage—Pearl District


     “All the World’s a Stage…”


    Sense & Sensibility—Portland Center Stage—Pearl District
This stage adaptation by Kate Hamill of the classic novel by Jane Austen is directed by Eric Tucker.  It is playing at their space at The Armory, 128 NW 11th Ave., through February 10th.  For more information, go to their site at www.pcs.org

    Although the sexes still may not be equally balanced, I think women and, to some extent, men, would never survive in the atmosphere of Ms. Austen.  Women, back then, could not inherit or own property, they really had no money of their own, they could not be seen with men without a female companion along, and they certainly couldn’t have a responsible job, and no voting rights or political positions, either.  They were simply to look pretty at all times and hope that some rich man would consent to marry them, in order to gain a certain respectability and position in society.

    Men were somewhat better off materially but no upper crust gentleman could actually hold a job or be seen with a young woman unaccompanied by her companion.  They also had to be aware of their position and only go to the “right” parties and be seen with only the “right” people.  And, with both sexes, Love had little or nothing to do with marriage.  How times have changed…or have they?!

    At the beginning of the play, the Dashwood’s are faced with a rather disagreeable set of circumstances.  Their father has been placed in the unfortunate position of dying on them and leaving, as is customary, his property and fortunes to his rather, easily manipulated, son, John (Chris Murray), with his conniving wife, Fanny (Kelly Godell).  She insists that his father’s faithful wife (Lisa Birnbaum) and three daughters, Elinor (Danea C. Osseni), the eldest and more studious one; the middle child, Marianne (Quinlan Fitzgerald), the man-attractor; and Margaret (Violeta Picayo), the youngest and most vulnerable, be ousted from the family estate with little resources.

    They do find help and some solace with Sir John Middleton (Darius Pierce), a distant relative to the Dashwood’s, and his wife, Lady Middleton (Godell, again) and his mother-in-law, Mrs. Jennings (Lauren Modica).  Not only is it humiliating to be thrown to the wolves but the town gossips of the idle rich have nothing better to do than fuel the fires by constantly stirring the ashes.  There is only one out for them and that is to find a sympathetic man who would take a woman who has no dowry.

    And there are plenty of these dandies around.  There is the more mature, but dashing, Colonel Brandon (Ryan Quinn); a gentleman caller, Edward Ferrars (Jamie Smithson); and John Willoughby (Murray, again), a rather pleasant man, but they all seem attracted to the “pretty” one, Marianne.  Such seems to be the nature of a man, more interested in the turn of the ankle, than the contents of the head and heart.  To discover the outcome, you’ll have to see it for yourself.
The production is directed at a very brisk pace with furniture and actors being shuttled around seemingly willy-nilly, especially in the first act.  Although the audience seemed to quite enjoy these antics, it does cloud any story or character development.  It must have been a nightmare for the director/cast to deal with.  But, by the second act, the comedy is less pronounced and the set/prop manipulations kept to a minimum and this make for a stronger show.

    The cast is quite amazing, as they change roles and genders often, too, with sometimes only a split-second turn-around.  Smithson has a wonderful few moments as brothers, one of which is a comic marvel.  But the star of the evening was Modica, as a sort of Queen Bee for the young ladies.  She has a long monologue in the second act, tracing her frisky exploits as a young woman, which is so funny I was reduced to tears laughing.  She got a well-deserved round of applause for it.  It was so well-delivered, it could be used a stand-up comedy routine, and she is marvelous in this stand-out scene especially.  Kudos to her!

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


Saturday, January 26, 2019

Equus—Twilight Theater Company—N. Portland



            The Price of Passion

    Equus—Twilight Theater Company—N. Portland
This intense, adult drama is written by Peter Shaffer and directed by Tobias Andersen.  It is playing at their space, upstairs at 7515 N. Brandon Ave. (just off Lombard, small, free parking lot across the street), through February 10th.  For more information, go to their site at www.twilighttheatercompany.org

    Oddly, I’m reminded now of a silly vampire flick, where the lead blood-sucker professes at his end, “In a world without Passion, it is better to be dead!”  But, from that unlikely source, it does connect to this serious story.  Those, as the sane and rational, do pay a price for that “privilege.”  In order to be accepted, to become part of the “Norm,” they may sacrifice their individuality…the essence of what makes them unique from others.  True Artists easily recognize that specialness and fully embrace it, knowing that much of Society may shun us.  But, one always has a choice, to stand apart and be proud, or to be one of the multitudes of lemmings and follow the masses into the abyss.  Which are you?!

    A doctor’s responsibility, to put it simplistically, is to take away pain and give a person as normal a life as possible.  But his job, according to his oath, is to “first, do no harm.”  Ah, “therein, lies the rub.”  How does one define, “normal” and what would be considered, doing “harm?”  Does “normal” mean going along with how the majority of people see the world and using that as a basis?  And if you take away pain, does that really mean you have done “no harm?”  These are the dilemmas that Dr. Martin Dysart (Christopher Massey) faces, as we all do through our journeys through Life.

    Alan Strang (Skye McLaren Walton) has been sent to him by Dysart’s caring friend, a magistrate, Hester (Crystal Lemons) who, rather than passing legal judgment on this teen, who has blinded six horses, wants Dysart to discover the reason for this bizarre behavior and “take away his pain.”  Dysart, overworked and dealing with a failed marriage himself, agrees, maybe feeling that more work will ease the numbness of his own personal life.  And so, Doctor and patient confront each other across a chasm, each dealing with their own fears.

    The doctor certainly has a bag of “tricks” to get the boy to talk, like playing games, using medical stimuli, interviewing the parents, his religious mother Dora (Rebecca Morse) and authoritarian father, Frank (Greg Prosser), his former boss at the stables, Harry (Jim Butterfield), and playing good cop/bad cop with Alan, etc…  He gets feedback from Alan’s nurse (Georgia Ketchmark) and discovers the last person Alan was with before the horrendous act, his possible girlfriend, the free-spirited, Jill (Lydia Ellis-Curry). 

    Through it all, there is the figure of Nugget (Jeff Giberson), Alan’s favorite horse, who seems to hover on the sidelines, like a ghostly figure, seeming to nudge/nuzzle the process of freedom/madness (?) onward, with his cohort equines (Jason Fox, Will Futterman, Christie Quinn & Maddie Gourlay).  He finally devises a way to get the truth of what happened that night from him but the results are not what he expected and may be more horrifying than what he imagined!  For more of the story, you must see it for yourself.

    The set (Jim Butterfield) and lighting (Robin Pair) are very effective in enhancing the show.  Also, the masks of the horses (no actual credit given) are exceptional.  It should be noted that there is full nudity in this play, as well as frank discussion about sex and violence, so be warned if that offends you.
Andersen is a marvel as an actor with the many shows he has enacted over the 50+ years in shows biz.  And he is easily, not only one of the best in the acting arena, also a master of direction, picking just the right cast and easily speaking their “language.”  The notable thing about this interpretation is that it is very natural, a signature of his directing/acting approach, I believe.  It works very well here as each of the characters has an easy flow of naturalism in their characters and it works beautifully.  Kudos to the Master!

    Massey has an effective way of underplaying the Doctor, which gives him an air of being on the road to discovery for himself as well.  Giberson & Equine company are appropriately menacing and eerie, as the mask marauders.  And Ellis-Curry is attractive and does a nice job of not playing up the tartness that is often found when approaching this character but allowing her just to be a regular girl, who is newly experience sex and discovering herself…again a natural approach.  Hope to see her again onstage.

    But special kudos to Walton as the boy, who is a real find and is explosive in the role of a young man teetering on madness.  His modulated performance, as he balances rage, wonder, vulnerability and pain, all very convincingly.  He is someone to watch for in future productions.

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