Saturday, December 14, 2019

The Miracle Worker—Twilight Theater Company—N. Portland


         The Miracle of Communication


    This powerful drama, based on a true story, is written by William Gibson and directed by Doreen Lundberg.  It is playing at their space, 7515 N. Brandon Ave. (upstairs), just of Lombard (small church parking lot across the street), through December 22nd.  For more information, go to their site at www.twilighttheatercompany.org

    Helen Keller (Olivia Holmstedt) , a deaf and blind child from birth, living in the Deep South during the late 1800’s, is truly one of those stories for the Ages.  Having her intelligence locked up for her early childhood years and then suddenly, for some inexplicable reason, was able to become aware of the outside world through the extreme patience of Annie Sullivan (Valeria Asbell), an Irish student with low vision herself, and was able to connect with her and open both their worlds to a whole new level.  Truly, a Miracle!

    Annie did not, at the outset, seem the sort to create miracles.  She and her brother had been sent to an Asylum as children because they were both infirmed.  She had numerous operations on her eyes and still had somewhat restricted vision.  But she pulled herself up by her bootstraps and chose to learn sign language, with the help of Dr. Anagnos (Arun Kumar), and became a teacher at the school she attended.  But her first professional job was to be with the Keller family.

    Capt. Keller (Rick Barr), was an authoritarian head of a family, an ex-Civil War officer in the Confederate army, and Editor of the town’s newspaper, and was no one to cross.  His seemingly meek wife, Kate (Nina Monique Kelley), usually bowed to his wishes.  His sister, Ev (Lisa Pauley Grab), dutifully backed him at every turn.  His rebellious son, James (Blain Vincent III), feared him.  But he was at his wits end as to what to do with his young daughter, Helen, who was unable to speak or hear from birth, as diagnosed by their Doctor (Brent McMorris).

    Helen’s only contact with the outside world was playing with the servant’s, Viney’s (Tony Domingue) children, Percy (Emily Blacker) and Martha (Adale Beckwith-Foster).  But with Annie’s arrival, her world and the family’s would be turned upside down.  Annie insisted on complete control of the child.  She would not be content to simply have Helen imitate her, like a trained pet, but actually understand the meaning of objects in the world and how they all related to each other. 

    And she wanted to have Helen communicate back to her, as to her thoughts and feelings.  The journey would be hard, both physically and emotionally for everyone but the rewards, if successful, would be immeasurable.  This trek must be experienced by the audience, and so, this is where my description ends.  But try to imagine, if you will though, entering a world of noiseless darkness and encountering all sorts of objects, completely unaware of their meanings and, not only that, having your mind, thoughts, and feelings trapped inside you with no way of expressing yourself.  That is the challenge Annie and Helen must overcome…and you will a witness to it.

    The script itself is a bit of an obstacle, as it is written more like a screenplay, with scenes jumping back and forth, between place and time, in quick successions.  This production does a good job of overcoming an engrossing but episodic script.  Also, the fan from the heating elements does create some distractions at times in hearing the play.  But it is still a powerful show and Lundberg has chosen well her cast and managed to keep the story straight for an audience, despite the difficulties in the script.

    The emotional and physical high points of any production of this show, are the exhausting performances of the two key roles, Annie and Helen.  In this case, they have been extremely blessed.  Except for grunts and screaming, Holmstedt only has one line at the end but the physicality of this young lady is marvelous.  She is a credit to the role.  And Asbell, as her teacher, is amazing.  She and her young student compliment each other at every twist and turn in their relationship.  One feels strongly for Annie as she, too, has been through hell and Asbell rides this emotional roller-coaster perfectly.  The almost silent, lengthy scene, as she tussles with her in using utensils and folding her napkin, is priceless, thanks to two fine actors (and the director)!

    A side note, Asbell also has her own company, Clever Enough, and is a fine director herself, having produced two of the most difficult plays of all time, Rhinoceros and Hamlet and both very well done!  Her company is worth checking out to see what’s next for them.

    I recommend this production, especially for the acting of the two key players.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.
--DJS


Friday, December 13, 2019

A Christmas Carol—Portland Playhouse—NE Portland


         The Immortal Visionary


     This annual event of Dickens’s immortal classic is adapted and lyrics by Rick Lombardo, music by Anna Lackaff and Lombardo, arranged by Lackoff and directed by Brian Weaver.  It is playing at their space, 602 NE Prescott St. (parking lot 2 blocks N. of the theatre, on 6th), through December 29th.  For more information, go to their site at www.portlandplayhouse.org or call 503-488-5822.

     This is undoubtably one of the most produced stories of all time.  Dickens, himself, enjoyed reading from it to audiences in his time; there was a one-man show with Phillip J. Berns; animated films with voices of Mel Blanc, and Jim Backus (Magoo)—even a C/G version with Jim Carey; musicals; Reader’s Theatre (I even directed one with Russ Fast); futuristic, from Rod Serling, Carol For Another Christmas; and countless Scrooge’s, (with the best being Alastair Sim), including Albert Finney, George C. Scott, Henry Winkler, Sterling Hayden, Michael Caine, Bill Murray…and countless others.

     For the one or two of you that don’t know the story, here is a thumbnail sketch of it:  Scrooge (Michael Mendelson) is a miser, a money-lender by trade, who treats everyone around him like dog-do, even his jolly nephew, Fred (Melissa Mahoney), and his poor clerk, Cratchit (Ben Tissell).  But redemption may be on its way, as the ghost of his old business partner, Marley (Cycerli Ash), warns him of the consequences of continuing in this fashion.  He is to be visited by three spirits (also, all played by Ash) from his Past, the Present, and a time Yet-To-Come, so that he gets a clearer understanding of the world around him and its creatures.  And so, he is transformed, not because he was an evil man but because he is a good man that has just gone astray for a long while.

     Of course, along this journey, he has many visions of his life on its downhill spiral.  He sees himself as a young man (Dan Tracy), before his fall from grace with his former boss, Fezziwig (Tissell, again) and his slipping into materialism with his true love, Belle (Mahoney, again).  In the Present, he’s sees the joy in both his nephew’s family and the Cratchit’s during this festive time of year.  And, in the possibly prophetic future, sees the results of his own plight and also of the sad fate of the Cratchit’s youngest, Tiny Tim (not credited), and so vows to change his wayward ways.

     This collective ensemble in an open staging arena and story-telling style, with music, dancing and song, brings to life, with the energetic leadership of the director, Weaver, this beaming story of Redemption and Love, fit for the whole family.  Mendelson is especially good playing a somewhat more approachable vision of Scrooge.  Also, Ash excels at playing all the ghosts, including Marley.

    And I liked Mahoney, too, as she stood out in all her varied incarnations.  I recommend this production, suited for the whole family, but it’s selling out fast, so get your tickets soon.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

     But, something to think about, as this story does inspire you to do that, there is a more somber/sober side that is relevant, too, as observed by my astute friend, Dave, and his wife, Christine (a Brit by birth), that Dickens’s life and times and writings were also reflecting on the poverty and pain of the 1800’s in England:   “…To portray the often grim world of A Christmas Carol as a jolly holiday post card is well meaning, but sadly misguided, especially when considering the poverty and suffering of the lower working class in Victorian England….”

     Definitely some excellent food for thought and true.  But here is my response to that note which he sent me: “Think about this:  During the Great Depression of the 30's, the one industry that thrived was...The Movies!  Why...because of the same reason we have upbeat Christmas classics at this time of our lives...because it boosts morale and gives people Hope and takes them out of their depressing situations for a while, in hopes of it rubbing off into real life.

     True, it doesn't reflect current situations of reality but it's hoping to create a New Reality with this (which is probably unrealistic) and, if not, at least takes people out of the Dismal situations for a short time and to view other possibilities, especially for the youngest citizens of our (once) Good Earth and let them see, at least, for a while, a Light at the end of a dark tunnel.

     Remember a quote from the play:  Scrooge, to Fred---"Why are you happy, you're poor enough?"  Fred's response, "Because I fell in Love."  Somehow, in Dickens's mind as well, Goodness/Love transforms the Darkness/Poverty into Light, if not forever, at least to give us the power, the vision, that there truly is something better out there, maybe just out of reach, but possible all the same!  "And, as Tiny Tim observed, "God Bless us Every One!"

     The next phase in our development is, honestly, in the hands of the Youth and they will change things, I believe....  “And a child shall lead them."  After all, look who's on the cover of Time as the Person of the Year!  And so, "attention must be paid"--and it is noted now for all to see.”

Happy Holidays!
--DJS

Sunday, December 8, 2019

The Christmas Case—Battleground Productions—SE Portland


             Whodunit?!
    This original, Christie-est script is written and directed by the author, John Longenbaugh.  It is playing at the Chapel Theatre, 4107 SE Harrison St., in Milwaukee, through December 21st.  For more information, go to their site at www.battlegroundproductions.org

    This follows very much in the Agatha Christie vein of British mysteries…the snow-bound suspects, a theft of an expensive item, the long, complex reveal at the end of the crime and a visit by a mysterious stranger.  It’s a classic setting and the author is obviously a fan of this genre (as am I).

    The Brits and the BBC are probably the crown jewels in this genre, in my opinion.  Both Doyle (with his Holmes & Watson) and Christie (with her Poirot and Marple), all try to manipulate a tale in such a manner that the reader/viewer will be unable to discover the culprit(s) by the end.  But “in the meantime…in between times…ain’t we got fun.”  And that is just the ticket for a cozy ride on a crisp winter’s night, as it is here!

    It seems that the upper crust of the Ashford family is sorely lacking in bread and are in need of some fresh blood to revitalize the family’s coffers.  Lady Constance (Rebecca Morse), at her wits ends, is down on her luck, so it might be up to her daughter, the wiley, Cynthia (Caralynn Shields), to come to the rescue by marrying the aristocratic, Wayne Coverley (Riley Parham), who is coming to visit with his well-to-do but not-too-bright classmate, Percy Wentworth (Hunter O’Harrow).

    Also visiting, on this snowy winter’s eve, is the other side of the family, Lady Madelyn Brass (Allison Anderson), her clever sister, and her daughter, the astute, Gwendolyn (Katherine Grant-Suttie).  Only problem being is that they are both in disguise as Germans, as they had been presumed dead from a bombing incident and are afraid they are being stalked by spies out to finish the job.

    And, added to this motley crew, are the ever-faithful butler, Tomkins (Rick Warren)—there always seems to be a butler in these cases.  And the mysterious stranger, the understanding, Father Christmas (Andy Mangels), who may have other conjuring tricks up his sleeve.  And the crime—the theft of a jewel!  And who is the perpetrator, “ah, there’s the rub.”  See if you can discover the secrets, which are held by all, before the last reveal is discovered…!

    This is a delightful romp on a winter’s eve and it’s clear the cast is having a jolly good time of taxing one’s “little gray cells” into action.  The cast is quite a treat, with Anderson and Grant-Suttie as the Poirot/Holmes team of investigators, quite inspiring in their multi-faceted roles of aristocratic Brit family, beleaguered “Germans” and detectives.  The college buds, Parham and O’Harrow, are charming as inept, pseudo-suiters—I especially liked O’Harrow’s quirky movements, awkward pauses and totally, mindless remarks—bravo. 

    Morse and Shields, as the more conniving side of the failing family fortunes, were fun to observe.  Warren as the trusted servant, who has more on his mind than servitude, is good.  And Mangels is very well-suited to his role as a man who may hold the biggest secret of all.  All actors are very well cast in their roles.  And the set (Tyler Buswell—a very well-respected designer for his work, also, with Bag & Baggage Productions) and costumes (Christine Richardson), are a real asset to the authenticity of the production.

    It is obvious that Longenbaugh is familiar with the Brit mystery genre, as all the typical elements are here.  But with complicated plots, such as this, it is important to keep a clear through-line in the story, that all the scenes are relevant in some way to the overall concept.  The scene with Father Christmas and Lady Madelyn is fascinating and well-acted as written, and may be a good subject for a play in itself, but the dialogue has almot nothing to do with the basic plot.  Outside of that, this is a pleasant evening’s diversion and is certainly worth one’s time to see a wonderful, fun homage to a very popular style of literature.

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

Saturday, December 7, 2019

The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart—Artists Rep—SW Portland



         
 








                                                                                 A Mid-Winter, Mis-Adventure’s Dream    

    This interactive, cabaret-style show is written by David Greig and directed by Da’maso Rodriguez and Luan Schooler.  It is playing at the Tiffany Center, 1410 SW Morrison St. (4th floor), through January 5th.  For more information, go to their site at www.artistsrep.org

    Love may be the tale “as old as time,” but this morality story ranks up there with it.  Writers from the ole Greek and Roman days have told and re-told their fables of “gods and monsters” up to the present-day incarnations.  One of their favorite subjects seems to be of the Underworld (Hell/Hades) and the main proprietor of it, the cloven-hoofed fellow himself, Old Nick/Satan/the Devil.

    Writers such as Stephen Vincent Benet, Rod Serling, Ira Levin, Ray Bradbury, et. al. and films such as The Omen, The Devil and Daniel Webster, et. al. and even Disney’s Fantasia (Night on Bald Mountain) and the recent Tony-awarding winning musical, Hadesville, speak of an unholy entity and his gyrations to seduce folks into visiting his realm—for all eternity!  This play is such a tale.

    According to Scottish legend, in ballads and folklore, there is one night of the year, Mid-Winter’s Eve, at the border or crossroads of a country, where Hell is opened up and unwary souls are sucked into the vacuum created (as well as souls possibly escaping) to/from the abysmal pit.  But outwitting ole Nick is not all that easy, as he’s had eons to perfect his craft.

    Prudencia (Amy Newman) seems to be a likely candidate for such a “visit,” as she is a naïve young girl, an innocent, a sort of Every-Woman type of character.  And, better yet, she is a believer in the old-world ballads, folk tales and lore and somewhat of an earthly authority on it, too.  Her chief opponent is a modernist, Colin (Eric Little) who doesn’t believe such dusty nonsense but instead, favors only what can be touched, or seen with the naked eye. 

    And so, the die is cast with only one more character to be added, the ole fellow himself, Nick (Darius Pierce) who, posing as a mild-mannered B&B owner on this snow-bound night, awaits with open claws, er, arms, his victim and, like a spider with his web, draws her into his ever-lasting den.  Too easy, you might say…and you’d be right.  What if this lonely, ole fellow, who never lets down his guard, finds he may not know, or have experienced, everything?  What if she finds a strange allure, a fascination, with him and his realm?  What if there is a way back to her home turf and even to turn the tides on the Master Trickster himself?  Guess you’ll just have to see it, to find out how it all turns out, won’t you?!

    I’ve simplified the story a great deal and have just given you the core of it.  But, at well over two hours, there is an ensemble cast (Susannah Mars, Luisa Sermol, Rachel Bentzen, Kerie Darner, Corey Silver, Haley Novasio, and Alicia Hueni, that play many supporting roles, as well as a very fine duo, The Katie Jane Band (Katie Lubiens & Adam Easley) to liven things up even more.  This is a mischievous, bawdy, naughty play that interacts with the audience and it is a rollicking, good time!  It’s also highlighted with a no-host bar.

    The music, songs, performances and direction are very energetic and cleverly distributed throughout the audience area.  But the script is ponderous, overwritten and repetitious and could be pared down by a third, I believe.  What saves it, is the immensely talented presenters!  As noted, this is an adult affair and may not be suitable for everyone.

    I recommend this play, as it is a fun romp on a cold, winter’s night.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.
--DJS

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Scrooge In Rouge—Triangle Productions!—NE Portland



          “What the Dickens…?!”

    This English Music Hall version of Dickens’s immortal classic of A Christmas Carol, has book and lyrics by Ricky Graham, original music composed by Jefferson Turner and additional material by Jeffery Robertson and Yvette Hargis.  The music direction and pianist is Beth Noelle and design and direction by producer, Donald Horn.  It is playing at their space in The Sanctuary, 1785 NE Sandy Blvd. (free parking lot to the West of the bldg..), through December 14th.  For more information, go to their site at www.trianglepro.org or call 503-239-5919.

    I have probably seen almost every type of film version of this classic story, plus many different types of stage versions, plus having adapted a stage version myself and written a modern radio version (The Last Christmas), directed a readers theatre version (w/Russ Fast as Scrooge) and even played Bob Cratchit myself early in my career, so you might say I’m fairly familiar with the material.

    But this is the first time I’ve seen a “camp” version of it done in vaudevillian-style with only three (very accomplished) actors, Dave Cole, (Scrooge, et. al.), Cassi Q. Kohl (Christmas Past, et. al.), and Jeremy Anderson-Sloan (Christmas Present, et. al.) playing (almost) all the roles, with the ample assistance of Noelle and an unnamed audience member filling the roster.

    And how do they do it, playing at least two dozen roles (with as many costume changes) and keeping it all “straight?”  The answer is…they don’t…and that is the magic and joy of it (and, perhaps, the Season), to work together, to have fun, to complement each other, and make this dreary world a little brighter, perhaps, for us for a couple of hours!

    I’m assuming all of you must know the basic story by now.  But, to give a thumbnail sketch, Scrooge is a miser, a money-lender by trade, who treats everyone around him like dog-do, even his jolly nephew, Fred, and his poor clerk, Cratchit.  But redemption may be on its way, as the ghost of his old business partner, Marley, warns him of the consequences of continuing in this fashion.  He is to be visited by three spirits from his Past, the Present, and a time Yet-To-Come, so that he gets a clearer understanding of the world around him and its creatures.  And so, he is transformed, not because he was an evil man but because he is a good man that has just gone astray for a long while.

    The music and lyrics are quite engaging and the costumes, a work of art.  Horn can do it all and do it brilliantly.  Noelle is a marvel as a musician, as well as adding to the merriment (also a very accomplished performer herself!).  And the Cast—WOW!  It must have been a nightmare in rehearsals, keeping everything on track.  Cole gives us a more mellow Scrooge and it works wonderfully in this atmosphere.  He sings, acts and jokes with glee and it all works in this setting, where the fourth wall is broken constantly.

    Anderson-Sloan gives us all the camp one can endure, especially in the female incarnations of Mrs. Fezziwig, Fred’s wife and the naughty Christmas Present.  His musical renditions are quite clever.  And Kohl almost steal the show with her very animated antics, vocal variations, and madcap dances and movements.  She is a pixie that flits around the stage, as if she owns it and is a real pleasure to watch every time she’s onstage (which is most of the time).  I would see her in anything and hope this is not the last time she’ll be performing here.

    I recommend this show but it does have some rude humor, if that offends you.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.
--DJS

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Burn This—Asylum Theatre—SE Portland


           Birds With Broken Wings


    This intense drama is written by Lanford Wilson and directed by Don Alder.  It is playing at the Shoebox Theatre space, 2110 SE 10th Ave., through December 15th.  For more information, go to their site at www.asylumpdx.org

    Love is a many-splendored thing…until it isn’t.  “If this be the [music] of love, play on”—even if it’s out of tune.  “Love is never having to say you’re sorry”--until you are sorry.  These are some of the many guises of Love.  The type in this show is of the primeval sort…a ritual of primitive passion in an urban jungle.  The best explanation for it is that…it defies explanation.  It just is what it is.

    The seed for this story has been sown before.  It is the Kowalski’s of A Streetcar Named Desire…The Hairy Ape of O’Neill’s classic tale…the coupling in Beauty and the Beast.  It truly is “a tale as old as time.”

    The story is set some years back in a Manhattan apartment of a dancer/choreographer, Anna (Briana Ratterman) and her gay roommate, Larry (Michael J. Teufel), an adman.  At one time there was a third roommate, who has just died recently in a boating accident.  They attended the funeral with another friend, Burton (Jason Maniccia), a screenwriter, who has a bit of a crush on Anna.  Into this intrepid trio’s lives, bursts Pale (Heath Koerschgen), the deceased roommate’s brother, who is the manager of a fine restaurant.

    Pale is the unruly child, the misbehaving pet, of this dysfunctional family…a bull in a china shop.  He is insulting, incorrigible and thoroughly indecent among this group of misfits, all looking to fly from their nests, if only they knew where to fly to.  Anna, of course, is smitten by this crude, brutish fellow, who seems hell-bent on creating havoc into this clockwork of tightly-wound, discordant rhythms.  The pack will never be the same again after his entrance.  To discover the results, you’ll have to see the play but, be warned, they pull no punches as to the raw subject matter.

    Alder is certainly an actor’s director, as he proved last season with some of this group’s same folks in Mamet’s, exceptionally good production of Speed-the-Plow.  The story has moments of physical & verbal violence, clever humor and even tenderness.  It is, thus, a micro-view of civilization and Alder and his cast do a super job of mirroring it.

    This is the second time I’ve seen Ratterman onstage and she is sexy, vulnerable and just as complex as the last character she played.  She is totally immersed in her part and very effective.  I hope to see more of her.  Maniccia as the disillusioned, creative writer (being one myself) plays this sort of being to a T.  Teufel is extremely humorous as the jaded friend, who is possibly the wisest of this crew, as he is empathetic to all, but loyal to Anna.  He is also quite an accomplished actor, as I’ve seen him more than once and always fascinating to watch.  And Koerschgen is always a marvel onstage, from a few years ago, as Mr. Hyde, to his present incarnation.  He never ceases to amaze me, as he does here, in this explosive role.  He is always an asset to a production.

    I highly recommend this play, especially for the acting.  But get your tickets soon, as there is very limited seating.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.
--DJS

Monday, November 18, 2019

Tenderly—Portland Musical Theater Company—SE Portland



          What Price Success?!

    This two-character musical is based on the life of Rosemary Clooney.  It is written by Janet Yates and Mark Friedman and is directed and choreographed by Sharon Mann with musical direction and Producer, Deanna Maio.  It is playing at the Odd Fellows Lodge, 10282 SE Main St. in Milwaukee, OR, through November 24th.  For more information, go to their site at www.portlandmusicaltheater.org

    Wanna be a superstar?  Hope you’ve got your Will in order then, as the price often seems to be an untimely death, preceded by broken marriages, abuse of alcohol, and an unhealthy mixture of pills.  Clooney eventually did clean herself up but seems to be an exception, not the rule.  And, with opioids constantly in the news now, this is a very timely story to tell.

    To be honest, I knew very little about Clooney.  I knew she was a jazz singer, was married to Jose Ferrer, was the aunt of George Clooney and starred in the classic film, White Christmas…and that’s it.  But Maio and company has opened our eyes, not only to her talent but the uglier side of what it costs to get there.
The setting is very clever, as most of it takes place in a Doctor Monk’s (Mace Archer) office, a psychiatrist who was her therapist for many months after she was committed to a hospital after Clooney’s (Deanna Maio) nervous breakdown.  While there she recalls, in a flashback format of scenes and songs (all other roles are played by Archer), her years leading up to this junction.

    She enacts the painful times when her mother abandoned the family, and her father was absent most of the time, being raised essentially by her Grandmother.  But there were some happy memories with her sister, Betty, and how they broke into show biz together on the radio, and on tour in the Big Band era.  And then came a recording contract, but it was for just Rosie, not her sister, and so the rest of the entertainment journeys was hers to forge alone.

    She did meet and marry the fiery-tempered, great actor, Jose Ferrer and they had children, but his abuse of alcohol and flings with other women finally broke them up.  She did have some great buds in Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby but it was not enough to save her from the bouts of depression and self-doubt.  She finally adopted pills as her buffer and, before last stop before bottom, met Dr. monk and began the road to recovery.

    All her famous songs are here, too:  Hey, There; Sisters; Count Your Blessings; Paper Moon; Come on-A My House; Tenderly; and, one of my favorites, Have I Stayed Too Long at the Fair.  All these tunes well presented by Maio and often joined in by Archer.  Mann has done an amazing job of taking a simple stage and transforming it, with two perfect actors, into a tale of hope and warning of the price of success.

    Archer has an extremely difficult role of playing Clooney’s husbands, lovers, mother and sister, and some famous stars and he does it, transforming in a flash to these characters and yet not trying to imitate them but play their essence.  Great job!

    And with Maio, it also has been a long journey, being privy myself to the last four years, when her company began as a dream and now is a successful reality.  Not only is she an accomplished jazz singer herself, having also directed and performed in musical revues and directed youth in showcases, but can now add enacting a very juicy role, that of a star’s descent into madness, for her crowning glory.  She is magnificent and more then once I got choked up myself while watching her.  She is a star in the same magnitude of Clooney but has the smarts to avoid Clooney’s pitfalls.  “May She Live Long and Prosper!”

    I highly recommend this production, as the performances are not to be missed.  But get your tickets Now as the last weekend is selling out fast.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.
--DJS

Friday, November 15, 2019

Soul’d—Vanport Mosaic—N. Portland



                 Soul Credit

    This engaging piece of American History is conceived and directed by Damaris Webb and written by Webb and The Project, also a co-producer.  The ensemble cast consists of La’Tevin Alexander, Catherine Braxton, Tyharra Cozier, Sydney Jackson, Shareen Jacobs and Salim Sanchez.  A companion piece to this presentation is the short documentary, Root Shocked, produced by Cecilia Brown.  It is playing at the IFCC space, 5340 N. Interstate Ave., through November 24th. For more information, go to their site at www.vanportmosaic.org

    We, the People…Perfect Union…Freedom for all…Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness…words of our Founders.  Are any of them present nowadays in their purest form?  To be honest—No.  Changes that have evolved since then, “We, the People,” are now the servants of the President, not he of us.  Freedom for all has actually never been fully instituted.  Our “Union” is scattered, shattered and split, at best.  And Pursuits of any kind for All People have long since flown out the window.  In short, we are a nation of Immigrants (except Native Americans) who have never learned to get along!

    And so, now we are faced with a unique example of this in the “white-bred” Oregon, especially Portland.  We here seem to be repeating and echoing the treatment of a race that were kidnapped from their native countries and had to perform as forced laborers for the white, landowners’ pleasure.  With great restrain, African-Americans have had to endure over hundreds of years the insults, lynching’s, mis-carriages of justice, lack of human rights, etc.  But now it is time for the tide to change and, although we may not be able to completely right the wrongs of the Past, at least we can listen, with open hearts and minds, with a resolve to not repeat those mistakes.  “If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.”

    This ensemble traces some of the humiliations that they and their ancestry faced, much of the facts are brought out in their version of a game show, mouthing in no uncertain terms, how they feel, based on true examples from our Past.  I won’t go into details because some of it is quite startling and should be witnessed by an audience first-hand.  The short documentary that follows does give one some hope for, perhaps, a better tomorrow.  But, as said, all this really needs to be witnessed on an individual basis and then translated to our everyday lives.  Our Founders sensed a Hope for this American experiment.  Let us not let ourselves down.

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

Monday, November 11, 2019

Disney’s Frozen, Jr.—Eastside Theater Company—Gresham, OR


           Cold Hands/Warm Heart


    This Young folks version of the classic animated Disney musical has book by Jennifer Lee and music and lyrics by Kristen Anderson-Lopez & Robert Lopez, is directed by Josh Johnson, choreographed by Sarah Rose and musical direction by Kelsey Hoeffel.  It is playing at the Springwater Church space, 3445 SE Hillyard Rd. in Gresham, through November 17th.  For more information, go to their site at www.EastsideTheater.com or call 971-231-5032.

    This is based on one of Disney’s best animated films, which is based on Hans Christen Anderson’s, The Snow Queen.  It also has more than a passing nod to C. S. Lewis’s classic books of Narnia, both concerning a White Witch trying to prevent summer from occurring.  If you’re not familiar with these stories, shame on you!

    In the current situation of global warming and the MeToo Movement, this is very relevant material in three ways.  The first being, in this case, a land that is warming too fast according to scientists (who should know).  The second being the emergence of two strong female characters, who had no need of men trying to control them.  And the third being, the almost lost art of utilizing the imagination, where anything is possible. 

    And, in this case, a fourth element could be added, the Young (1st thru 12th grade exclusively) who portrayed all the roles.  This is probably the most important, as recent incidents have the Youth of our world speaking out against gun violence, environmental concerns and human rights, as opposed to most whining government leaders sitting on their hands on these important issues.    But, maybe, that’s important, too, as it is said that, “a child shall lead them!”

    The story concerns two sisters, Elsa (Ana Grayce Krachinski) and Anna (Ava Marie Horton), who grew up together as friends but had to be separated at a young age because of an accident caused by Elsa, using her magic powers indiscriminately and causing harm to Anna.  (The youngest Elsa is performed by Abby Levy and Ava Grant and the youngest Anna is Claire Horton and Evie Bertsch—the middle Elsa is Lilly Anderson and Anna is Ellen Horton and Sidra Cohen-Mallon…it’s not indicated who played these roles on Sunday night but I assume the Hortons, since the adult Anna was played by a Horton, too.)

    Princess Elsa is gloved for her young life because of her magic contained within her hands and, in time, this causes an estrangement between sisters.  Then their parents die and Elsa, the eldest, is crowned Queen but, feeling rejected, she escapes to form her own kingdom of ice.  Meanwhile, Princess Anna has met a young prince, Hans (Simeon Johnson), who she is smitten with.  But she chooses to go off and find her sister.  Also, along the way she befriends Olaf (puppet controlled by Joseph Kassing), a goofy snowman; Kristoff (Ethan Golden), an honest woodsman, and his trusty, reindeer companion, Sven (Anneliza Bates), who will aid her in her quest.  To see how it all turns out, you’ll just have to attend the play.

    The famous songs, For the First Time in Forever, Love is an Open Door, In Summer, and, of course, Let It Go, are all there and beautifully rendered, as are some pretty elaborate dance pieces, well executed, with the chorus, by Rose.  And Johnson has done an amazing job with a large cast of youth, blocking some pretty intricate scenes and keeping everything under control, as well as moving the show along at a brisk pace.  The music could be toned down a bit as it, on occasion, overpowers the singing.

    Also, the costumes by Liz Bertsch, Tracey Hugo and Jeannette VanOrsow were a huge asset, as were some neat video projections (Adam Bertsch) and set pieces (Chris Dick), which also aided in the production’s success.  It is not clear who did the designs for Olaf or Sven (his jaw needs a bit of WD-40, though) but they were very well done.

    And there was not a weak link in the entire cast, everyone pulling their weight and giving it their all.  I especially liked the youngest Horton (I believe), as Anna, as well as the Duke (Alex Hugo) and Oaken (Ezra Johnson), very animated.  Kassing was a gas, giving life to Olaf.  But the show rests mainly on Elsa & Anna and Krachinski & Horton were perfect.  Elsa’s key song, Let It Go, almost blew the roof off the building—terrific.  And Horton’s, Anna, was not only very vigorous in enacting the role but also managed to musically give depth to her songs.  Both young ladies have a future in musical theatre if that is their goal!

    This young troop is well worth watching (next up Willy Wonka… and Shrek), as this production proves that talent and heart go a long way in creating magic onstage.  This production ranks with any musical I’ve seen by more mature companies!  I highly recommend this show.  It only plays for one more weekend, so don’t miss it!.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.
--DJS


Saturday, November 9, 2019

La Ruta—Artists Rep—SE Portland


         The Invisibles


    This searing story is written by Isaac Gomez and directed by Da’maso Rodriguez.  It is playing at the Hampton Opera Center, 211 SE Caruthers St., through December 1st.  For more information, go to their site at www.artistsrep.org

“The long and lonely road
Creeps back upon us again,
Leaving their dead behind,
Under the shifting sands
Of time.”
 (anonymous traveler)

    And so, alien families are thwarted at our border from escaping poverty and abuse from their own countrymen and government.  Any reasonably intelligent person would tell you this does not stop the problem.  Human Rights would dictate that we help.  The solution would be to work within their borders to aid in stamping out evil and corruption so they can, once again, be proud of their native land and could live in peace.  Instead, our Ignorance trumps theirs and we stand around and watch as the world crumbles around us.  An old saying, “If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem!”

    This story is based on real people in a time not too long ago…and still continues today, but it is really an age-old story, universal tale of abuse of women by men, to put it simply.  The rise of the MeToo Movement and incidents of Youth standing up for their rights, gives hope for better Tomorrows.

    I can’t go into much detail of the story, as it would mute the shock value the audience should experience.  But, I will narrow in on one story, of a caring mother’s, Yolanda (Christi Miles), search for her naïve, teenage daughter, Brenda (Marissa Sanchez), in a world ruled by Men…on the streets, in factories, and in positions of authority.  These women, these mother’s,  including the harsh, Zaide (Patricia Alvitez) and the activist, Marisela (Diana Burbano), work in a garment factory with Brenda and her new best friend, Ivonne (Naiya Amilcar).  In a flash, on a social outing, Brenda disappears, and her mother peels layers away from the core, like an onion, tearing the eyes (and tearing the heart), to discover the truth of what happened to her dear child on one fateful day.  This tale is carefully modulated in Spanish songs by a narrator/singer, Desamaya (Fabi Reyna).  To be honest, this may not be for everyone, so you have been warned, but it will also open a lot of eyes and ears and hearts to the plights of the Forgotten, the Invisibles.

    Rodriguez and Gomez have presented us, in an artistic way, with a message for the Future, that if we don’t correct the systemic problems of the Past, we are bound to repeat them.  The music (Rodolfo Ortega) and songs (Fabi Reyna) add much to the intense feeling of the tale.  And the actors are super, especially Miles and Amilcar in one heart-rendering, gut-wrenching scene toward the end, when the truth finally comes to light.

    I highly recommend this play but, as suggested, it’s pretty brutal in the telling.  One hint, plan your time well because, if you don’t get there before the train crosses the rails, you are in for at least a 20-minute delay.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.
--DJS


Sunday, October 27, 2019

DNA—OCT’s Young Professionals Company—NE Portland


      Lost & Found…and Lost Again


    DNA is a mystery/thriller by Brit author, Dennis Kelly, directed by Zoe Rudman and performed by Dani Baldwin’s teen ensemble.  For more information on her and the company, check this link out:  https://www.orartswatch.org/dani-baldwin-forges-her-own-path/
It is playing at Oregon Children’s Theatre’s studio space, 1939 NE Sandy Blvd., through November 10th.  For more information on the show, go to their site at www.octc.org/yp-company

    This has shades of Lord of the Flies and Picnic at Hanging Rock, as they both concern students from a private, uniformed academy, just at the point of losing their childhood innocence and walking on the darker side of maturity.  These lads and lasses are use to playing games and having fun…until it become deadly.  It’s a grand story but doesn’t reflect the Youth I now see emerging, as the current breed is more mature than the crop of whiny politicians that are running this world…as the young make their voices heard for human rights, gun control and environmental concerns and so, I salute them.  But, again, this is just great spooky storytelling in a genre I love.

    These ten teens embark on a dangerous journey in which no one who survives will emerge unscathed (I may get names and faces mixed up, as they all wear uniforms and seem to blur together at times, which may be part of the point of the story).  At the beginning, Lea (Sylvia Grosvold), an animated lady, has a running monologue with her friend, Phil (Jasper Warhus), a bit of a loner, who all but ignores her.

    Jan (Aleena Yee), a serious sort, and her best bud, Mark (London Mahaley), also a serious dude, discover their schoolmate, Addie (Tessa Lignore), a bit of a social misfit, has fallen, or was pushed, into a deep hole and, I suppose, they fear they might be suspected.  So, they decide to manufacture DNA evidence that will implicate someone else, perhaps a transient.  And so, Cathy (Makenna Markman), a silly but dangerous girl, goes about doing the dirty work that must be done, and the entire group, consisting of Reggie (Claire Voilleque’), Danny (Josh Bransford), John (Kieran Gettel-Gilmartin), and Brian (Sam Majors), all conspire to create a false crime and criminal, and it works better than expected until…well, you’ll just have to see for yourselves, won’t you?!

    This is rather an ingenious plot that even Christie would be proud of.  And Rudman has chosen her cast well and keeps the setting simple (just some crates that are moved around to create different settings).  This way the acting and script are the center of the action.  This is a mature subject so be advised, it may not be for everybody.

    These roles are not typical “kids” roles, as they are all very complex characters.  And the casting of these specific actors is uncanny, as I couldn’t see anyone else in these roles.  And, I seriously doubt, any other group could do justice to the characters, as these ten young folks do.  The silent on, the frightened one, the misfit one, the silly one, the chatty one, the serious one, the lonely one, the crying one, the bossy one and the aware one…all form a dangerous liaison.  All were excellent but my eyes/ears kept wandering back to Grosvold, as her character had to bounce from one extreme to another, again and again, and not be predictable, and she did this admirably.

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

Saturday, October 26, 2019

The Brothers Paranormal—Mediarites’ Theatre Diaspora—NW Portland


                                          Smoke & Mirrors?


    This compelling ghost story is written by Prince Gomolvilas and directed by Catherine Ming T’ien Duffly.  It is playing at the CoHo Productions space, 2257 NW Raleigh St., through November 16th  (parking is a challenge in this area, so plan your time accordingly).  For more information, go to their site at www.cohoproductions.org

    Storytelling is a unique art.  It certainly can entertain and be an expression of feelings.  And there are many mediums for storytelling, not only books, but films as well.  And they sometimes can educate, too, on the sly, if necessary.  Rod Serling (Twilight Zone) and Gene Roddenberry (Star Trek) found a way through Fantasy/Sci-Fi to address sensitive, social issues, too, like prejudice, abuse, gender concerns, et. al., face-on in these areas, without being censored, and the public at large was being educated, as well as entertained.  Such sly dogs they were.  (Not unlike W. C. Fields favorite expression of irritation on the screen, “Godfrey Daniels!,” which was slipped smoothly by the censors, since it really meant…well, you figure it out.)

    In a way, Gomolvilas does the same thing here, as did Serling & Roddenberry.  On the surface, it is a grand ghost story.  But, underneath the clever mystery, the play addressed such issues as mental illness, severe cultural shock, suicide, gambling addictions, alcoholism, etc.  In essence, it is not unlike a bedtime story you might read to your child at night, in which are fun images presented but with an underlying moral message to be gleaned, too.  So, sit back, relax (but not too much) and be entertained and educated by an expert storyteller.

    I can only give you a thumb-nail sketch of the plot because of the unique twists in the story.  Enter Delia (Andrea White), a woman who insists she has been visited by an invisible, malevolent spirit (in appearance, think The Grudge or The Ring films from Japan), Jai (Melissa Magaña), who wishes Delia harm for some reason.  Her flamboyant husband, Felix (Jasper Howard), has other ideas as to the haunting. 

    Max (Samson Syharath, also co-producer with Dmae Roberts), a ghost-hunter, with his brother, Visarut (Lidet Viravong), who believe there is something seriously amiss.  They also consult their sensitive mother, Tasanee (Elaine Low), for aid in understanding and, hopefully, ridding this house of the evil entity.  More I cannot tell you, as the plot has many twists and turns which an audience should discover.  But, just know, that not everything is as it appears.

    This has all the earmarks to someday be a film.  There are also some very clever “special effects” concerning the spirit’s antics.  Duffly has chosen her cast well and successfully brings out all the subplots of these characters that the author has created.  In other words, it’s just not another spooky thriller, but has a lot of depth underlying it.

    Magaña certainly must have some dance and movement training, as she is very agile and effective.  White and Howard work well together, showing the love between them and applauding the differences.  Low is very powerful as the representative of the old-world values and the conflicts of trying to adapt to new ones.  Viravong, as the older, more technically savvy of the brothers, is appropriately restrained, as he also tries to navigate this complex world.  And Syharath is always a joy to watch onstage.  In this incarnation, he grapples with the many complex issues that confront his  ever-changing and challenging ideas and beliefs.

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


Monday, October 21, 2019

Me…Jane—Oregon Children’s Theatre—Downtown Portland


         Mistress of the Jungle


    This lively, informative musical is adapted for the stage by Patrick McDonnell and Aaron Posner, with music and lyrics by Andy Mitton, based on a book by McDonnell, and directed by Marcella Crowson, choreographed by Megan Smith and with music direction by Mak Kastelic.  It is playing at the Newmark Space, 1111 SW Broadway, through November 17th.  For more information, go to their site at www.octc.org or call 503-228-9571.

    My only exposure to exotic animals is with the Tarzan movies of the 40’s and 50’s, and the TV show Disneyland, with his Nature documentaries.  But I do understand dogs through my own recognizance, as I had a pet one at an early age and, being somewhat a misfit kid, I felt he was the only one who understood me…he was my best friend!  Since then I’ve had about a half dozen dogs in my adult life…and they were always by best buds.

    As reflected in this play, too, I was always told not to get too attached to them, as they were simply “dumb animals and had no real feelings.”  But let me tell you of an incident with my dog when I was a young man.  A friend of mine was a heavy smoker and, as a joke one day, let my pet sniff a cigarette, unlit…unlit, mind you….  He sniffed at it for a moment, then with one quick swipe of his paw, broke it in two.  Now, who’s the dumb one?!

    In this tale of the young life of Jane Goodall (Aida Valentine) in England, her favorite toy was a stuffed chimp named, Jubilee and her friend, her dog, Rusty (Breydon Little *, acting & Mak Kastelic, singing).  She tells her understanding Mum (Hillary Hoover), of her desires to go to Africa and live among the wild animals.  But their strait-laced neighbors, Mr. Crouch (Heath Hyun Houghton) and his wife (Paige Rogers), try to convince young Jane that climbing trees, talking to animals and dressing in jeans, with dreams of living in Africa, are not becoming what a young lady should be aiming for.  But her Mum, who has seen her drawings and journals, supports her all the way.

    She has studied the chickens in their yard and the squirrels in the woods and discovers, with patient watching, that one can learn a great deal from animals, “if you have eyes to see and ears to hear.”  She knows that the predominant theory from scientists is to observe animals in laboratory settings and make determinations about them.  But she is of no such mind.  She is made of “stardust,” as Carl Sagan might say, and follows, like Dr. Hawkins would propose, to “be brave, be curious and be determined.”  And so, her destiny is forged for her.  And today she has changed the face of natural history…may she “live long and prosper!”

    This is all so well and simply presented that it is suitable for all ages to understand, including us dense adults, who choose to watch Mother Nature and the wonderful creations of her labors, be slowly destroyed by our greed and stupidity, and fail, unlike animals, to live in harmony with each other! 
Crowson has chosen well her cast, as most play many roles, and she presents this nostalgic world with simplicity.  (I wish I could tell you the songs, but they were not listed in the programs.  Suffice to say, they all fit the story nicely with a talented group to present them.)  Houghton & Rogers were very animated, and I loved the tap-dancing number of the chickens.  Hoover has a terrific voice.  And Valentine is a very charming young performer doing justice to an outstanding individual.

    But the man of the hour was * Little, as he was a last minute replace for a sick actor and he was amazing!  I, myself, have been in such a position as an actor and it’s nerve-racking to say the least.  But he is a trooper and is quite good onstage, so hope he is given more opportunities to do so in the future.

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