Monday, August 12, 2019

Hair—Staged!—downtown Portland


“Let the Sunshine In”

This iconic, rock opera from the 60’s is written by Gerome Ragni & James Rado and music by Galt MacDermot.  It is directed by Katie McLoughlin, choreographed by Diana Schultz and music direction by Andrew Bray.  It is playing at the Brunish Theatre (4th floor), 1111 SW Broadway, in downtown Portland, through August 17th.  For more information, go to their site at www.stagedpdx.org

In the beginning, there was a Garden.  And in this Garden, there were all sorts of beautiful, diverse creatures, who lived in harmony with Nature, and like the proverbial, “lilies of the field,” partook of the gifts and flavors of this wondrous land and were free and happy.  But then, a snake in the grass disrupted their games and “let loose the dogs of war,” and this land, and its inhabitants, would never be the same again!

And so, through all the incarnations and incantations of humankind, we are deposited unceremoniously in the late 60’s in Central Park, in which another “dirty little war” is brewing, called Nam.  And the children of flowers and peace are, once again, forced to goose-step with the greed-mongers and political lemmings who rule our country.  And so, we will peek in at the lovefest of words and songs that were once the Garden’s anthem.

Berger (Jessica Tidd) seems to be the leader of this assembly of misfits.  And into it comes a newbie, a transplant from England, no less, Claude (Blake Stone) and we seem to be viewing these unfoldings of history through the eyes of this innocent, this virgin in a crumbling environment, this “babe in the woods.” 

And he embraces fully his new companions, such as Wolf (Jacob Skidmore), a loving spirit of all genders; Hud (Charles Grant), a sizzling rocket for the rights of all races; “Margaret Mead” (Kimo Camat), giving us a taste of the establishment when needed; Dionne (Gabie Mbenza-Ngoma), a woman with a mission; Sheila (Annie Eldridge), wanting to stamp out all the “heartless people;” Jeannie (Aubrey Slaughter), ready to bring a new life into this chaotic world; Crissy (Kealani Petito), mooning over a lost love and others of the pack, Averyl Hartje, Sydney Heim, Moe Lewis, Hallie August, and Ben Sherman.

And all the familiar songs are here:  Let the Sunshine In, Age of Aquarius, Manchester England, Sodomy…, I Got Life, White Boys, the sweet ballad, Frank Mills (stupidly cut from the movie, which, also unwisely, changed the ending)  and the haunting, Dirty Little War, et. al. (sorry, can’t tell you actual titles, as they weren’t listed in the program).

Playing this on a small stage was a very smart choice, as it brings the action and issues into your lap.  The long hallucination scene is even more powerful because of that.  The mobile fencing is a grand idea, as it not only helps the flow of the scenes but indicates that settings are not really that important to this story.  It is a here-and-now situation.  McLoughlin has chosen her cast well, as they all are terrific singers.  Schultz does amazing movement work on such a small area.  And Bray, thankfully doesn’t overpower the actors/singers with the music and does re-usher in a nostalgic sound for me.

One issue that doesn’t work for me was the use of cell phones in the production.  I realize they want to make this relevant for today but the story is still about the 60’s and Nam and is no place for those devices.  Also, a personal note, I lived through this era, so it becomes personal for me and some of the audience, too, I’m sure.  But, this event in history cannot really, fully be re-created—it was a Happening (like Woodstock), as we would call it. 

And so (no offense), production companies/casts of younger generations can only copy those moments, not re-create them.  An updated version from the authors, I’ve heard, is in the works for Broadway, so we’ll see what the future holds for this classic story…that is still being duplicated…and must be stopped, this inhumanity to others, if we are to survive as a relevant world order!

I highly recommend this production (keeping in mind, it does contain adult situations and language).  If you choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Monday, July 29, 2019

How I Learned To Drive—Twilight Theater Company—N. Portland



                       Growing Pains
    This compelling and timely drama by Paula Vogel (Profile Theatre is doing their next season’s shows by this author) and is directed & produced by Dorinda Toner.  It is playing at their space, 7515 N. Brandon Ave. (just off Lombard, upstairs, free parking lot East of the building) through August 11th.  For more information, go to their site at www.twilighttheatercompany.org

    When I was in school, mid-50’s to mid-60’s, it was pretty dull on the social front.  Plus, I went nine years of that time to a Catholic school, so even more predictable, and lived a pretty normal, middle-class life…in other words, nothing really earth-shattering happened in my world.  No social media or cell phones, pretty much dullsville in comparison to today’s Youth.  But one thing that was never broached around family and friends was Sex and how to deal with those mounting feelings of desire.  We, quite simply, were in a dark hole in that regard, with no mentors to guide us.

    But, according to Vogel, rural Maryland during that time period, was a whole different story, at least for these characters.  The whole family seemed to be obsessed with Sex, in one way or another, even to the older generation.  So, a young girl, just blooming into her teens was hearing a lot of stories, but no real guidance of how to handle herself in that regard.  Li’l Bit (Adria Malcolm) seemed to have the cards stacked against her from the beginning.  And when her Uncle Peck (Michael J. Teufel) takes a “special” interest in the budding young life, then the whole world is going to change around her.

    It all begins with secret conversations, slightly naughty, cheesecake photos, touching and feeling and, driving lessons.  Peck has been “damaged” somehow in the War so, like our returning Warriors of today, brings these problems into civilian life, and even drinking does little to quell the pain.  And Li’l Bit is in the unenviable position of being a buffer between his tortured world and her emerging one.  The results are not pretty and her family and friends, played by a Chorus (Noelle Guest, Kaylee Hawkins, Chris Murphy, Sarah Nolte Fuller and Mark Turvin) do little to help.  The results you’ll just have to see for yourselves, but this is very adult material, so be warned.

    Vogel has given us a compelling and intricate story on a very delicate subject.  Her characters are neither black nor white, but inhabit that gray area that engulfs us all.  But neither does she skirt around the matter, either, giving us a realistic look at the growing pains of a young, caring girl and the family in which she is saddled with.  Mentors are needed in such conditions and they are there, reaching out…all one needs to do is take their hand.  (An excellent film from last year, Eighth Grade, gives a realistic view of Youth of today.)

    Toner has done a fine job of casting and delicately nudging her cast in the right direction.  The Chorus is very powerful, a band of neighbors you hope never to meet.  Teufel, as the uncle, rides that thin line between being manipulative and genuine caring.  Very good performance.  And Malcolm, as Li’l Bit, is stunning!  She is totally convincing as this young girl/woman, from 11 to 45, and your heart both breaks for her and yet cheers for her.  She is an amazing and accomplished actor and I would love to see her again onstage.  She has some impressive credits already and I’m sure the future is bright for her to garner many more.

    I highly recommend this play for the discerning audience.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.
--DJS
The following is a review by a budding theatre reviewer I’m mentoring,
Martha Harris:

             The girl trudges through the trenches of adolescence, feeling invisible and hyper-visible to the rest of the world. A guy finally notices her, cares for her, sees all of her complexities, and is the first to tell her “I love you.”
             A classic story we’ve seen over again in its many variations, meant to warm your heart with the sweet innocence of young romance. But when that scene plays out in Paula Vogel’s “How I Learned to Drive”, the more common reaction is disgust. After all, what we’re watching doesn’t take place in the halls of high school, but between a middle-aged man and his 13-year-old niece.
            In “How I learned to Drive”, now middle-aged Li’l Bit (Adria Malcolm) takes us through a non-chronological series of memories, that occurred during the 1960s in rural Maryland, surrounding her driving lessons with her Uncle Peck (Michael J. Teufel). Uncle Peck wants to teach Li’l Bit lessons about life, driving, men, and entertains all of her naive musings on the world. But he’s also teaching her from the age of 11 about sex through flirtatious comments, giving her alcohol while she’s underage, private provocative photo sessions in his basement, fondling of her body, and counting down the days until her 18th birthday.
            In addition to their relationship, Li’l Bit also invites us into the conversations her family and classmates had growing up about sex and the nature of men and women. A Greek chorus of three performers (Kaylee Hawkins, Noelle Guest, and Chris Murphy), portray those remaining characters, helping us to see this culture of guilt, secrecy, and seeing men as children and sex as a duty, that formed Li’l Bit’s viewpoint and excused Uncle Peck’s behavior.
            The chorus members often add comedy to this disturbing and serious situation, making it harder for the audience to form black and white judgements on the situation. Vogel has no clear villain or heroine. She is not writing to cast blame, but telling a story where the audience has to exercise empathy and ask questions instead of receiving answers. For such a complex situation, Vogel shows us that we have to think a little harder.
            And this particular production by Twilight Theater Company, directed by Dorinda Toner, is as relevant today as it was over twenty years ago when it first premiered.
The nearly bare stage and basic lighting, allowed the focus to remain on the characters and their stories. Keeping only the essentials one might remember from a twenty-year-old memory.
Malcolm as Li’l Bit does a fantastic job maintaining that distinction between memory and reality, clearly switching between the hyper-vulnerability of her youth and raw edge she’s acquired as an adult retelling the story. She commits fully to the flirtatiousness, unaware of what she’s doing, but you slowly see her add layers of defense in her older years. Malcolm adds excitement and wonder to these first experiences, which the audience can’t help but understand and share in her joy of, while also wanting to reach out and stop her. Outside of Li’l Bit, the slow pacing of the show was an interesting juxtaposition to that excitement and the intensity of the content, but at times veered on the side of sleepy. 
This harrowing memory play, “How I Learned to Drive” by Paula Vogel, can be seen at Twilight Theater Company now until August 11th. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit https://www.twilighttheatercompany.org

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Tonight Nothing…--CoHo Productions—NW Portland

        “Two Roads Diverged…”


    This, one-weekend only show, is co-produced by From the Ground UP and created & performed by Merideth Kaye Clark and Katherine Murphy Lewis and directed by Courtney Freed.  Songs, music and sound composed and designed by Merideth Kaye Clark.  It is playing at the CoHo Theatre, 2257 NW Raleigh St. (parking can be a challenge in this area, so plan your time accordingly), through July 28th.  For more information, go to their site at www.cohoproductions.org   

    Life may be Fragile but True Friendships are Forever!  Our journeys through this maze we call Life, are like a series of paths through a dense forest.  Some are rocky; some filled with potholes; some muddy; and some smoothly downhill.  But one thing is for sure, it is much easier to navigate it if you have a friend by your side.  There can be arguments and separations; tears of joy and sadness and anger; moments of regret and longing; freedom and commitment; purging of demons and discovering hidden treasures; but, through it all, that one true friend will become like a misty, mirror-image of you (and you, her) for better or worse.  But together, you’ll roar!  It is said, “no man is an island.”  Tis true.

    This story is such a journey.  Em (Merideth Kaye Clark) is the responsible, practical one of the duo.  Kaye (Katherine Murphy Lewis) is the traveler, the one who has to keep moving (running toward something, or away from something?).  She has a “rocket in her pocket” and feels the need to “gather no moss,” as her searching continues.  Seemingly, she and Em are like two sides of the same coin but, like coins, when rubbed together, they can cause friction.

     Both of them carry their past in a little basket, not wanting to let go of baubles and trinkets, representing memories of the Past.  Perhaps it’s a stuffed toy, or a red, electric wok, or a scrapbook of pictures and letters, especially of Em’s great-grandmother, Lela Hall Frank (Clark, again), who was a champion trapshooter of the 1930’s and a woman that forged her own trail (ala, perhaps, Annie Oakley).  And then, one day, it happens.  All these elements, the distant past, the recent past, the present and even a probable future, all converge on one another and decisions must be made as to…where do we go from here?!

    Lewis & Clark (historic and present-day explorers) have many things going for them in this original material.  It is certainly a tale of bonding between two women.  It is a story of heritage and its DNA’s effect on our personas.  It is a saga of loneliness and aloneness.  But, most of all, it is a diary of changing and evolving.  In this regard, then, it is a journey of all of us through this misty, murky, and mysterious creature we regard as human who, to live up to that heritage, must also, ultimately, be humane!

    This is planned for a revival into a fuller production some time in the future, so if you can’t catch this short run, definitely watch for it in the coming months.  I highly recommend it.  The two actors play off each other brilliantly and the story, with simple setting, and some lovely songs/music by Clark, are worth your time.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.
--DJS

Monday, July 22, 2019

Much Ado About Nothing—Bag & Baggage Productions—Hillsboro, OR



       Masks, Merriment & Mischief

    This semi-classic comedy by Shakespeare, adapted for the stage by Gordon Barr and directed by Cassie Greer, is playing at their space at The Vault Theatre, 253 E. Main St., in downtown Hillsboro.  It is playing through July 28th.  For more information, go to their site at www.bagnbaggage.org or call 503-345-9590.

    At one time, one could say the world of the Bard was almost like an alien environment, as far as the behavior of individuals.  But nowadays it seems it may have come full circle.  In Shakespeare’s day, in his plays, there were gender-switching of identities/genders all the time…now, we have the same.  The “fools” of society, the masses, in his day, were often the wisest of the ensemble on stage…now, we have the masses, the “we the people” of the Constitution, proving more in touch with reality than the ruling class.  They say Mr. S.’s themes are universal and Time just might prove him right!

    The plot is complicated, with essentially two families, Don Pedro’s (Tara Hershberger), with his errant brother, Don John (Julet Lindo) coming in conflict with the other prominent family in the area, headed by Leonato (Diana Trotter).  It seems their offspring and cousins have formed unions with each other (sort of a Romeo & Juliet thing, but tamer).  Benedick (Norman Wilson) has been sparring good-naturedly with Bertram (Phillip J. Berns) for years.  Meanwhile, Hero (Christian Mitchell) and Claudio (Arianna Jacques) have shyly been pacing around the May Pole for some time, too.

    But all is not as pretty as it seems.  Don John has decided to throw the proverbial wrench into the mix (motive unclear) and, with the help of some servants, gives a false impression of some indiscretions of the two young lovers, thus preventing their marriage and upsetting the normal tranquil atmosphere of these families.  But, as usual, leave it up to the “fools,” the constables, Dogberry (Mandana Khoshnevisan), Verges (Justin Charles) and Seacole (Lindo, again) to upset the apple cart (more accidental than by design) and direct them to a “happily ever after” type of conclusion with the Friar (Peter Schuyler).

    This is by no means Shakespeare’s best comedy.  It’s almost like two plays, with the first act being silly and frivolous and the second act being (except for the comic interludes by Dogberry & Co.) being fairly serious (and this act being, in my opinion, the better of the two).  But the first act, as adapted, is so outrageous that the concluding elements in Act II don’t seem to have anything in common, and so a real disconnect story-wise.  Also, I believe, that the reference to the military background of these men is important to the plot, suggesting a professional rivalry, as well as pointing out, perhaps, the adverse effects of war on soldiers.

    Also, the gender-bending is so rampant that only 3 roles play the actual gender they are in the script.  Switching genders is a common practice onstage nowadays but it is usually only in a couple of roles and it is obvious as to whether the roles are being played as a male or female.  In this case, I overheard one audience member wonder out-loud whether a certain role was a man, who just like to dress up in women’s clothes, or was the man supposed to be playing it as a woman?  Good question.  (It should be noted that in the Bard’s day, all actors onstage were male, with clean-shaven men playing the female roles as women.)  Not that clear in this adaptation.

    The actors were all very adept at playing the language.  Greer has chosen her cast well, Hershberger, Trotter and Khoshnevisan being particularly good.  And the set by Tyler Buswell, lighting by Gabriel Costales and costumes by Melissa Heller were exceptional.  (A side note, I directed Trotter, before she headed off to Berkley, as Babe in Crimes of the Heart and Cheri in Bus Stop, as well as her directing for me, The Diary of Anne Frank.  She was a fine artist then, as now, and it is gratifying to know that she is still “treading the boards!”).

    I recommend this production for all the talent involved that presented it.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.
--DJS

Stars of Tomorrow—Portland Musical Theater Company—N. Portland



   Artists are a Many-Splendid Persona

    This Showcase for young talent, ages 10-13, just concluded their revue last night to a full house.  Next Showcases, ages 14-18, will be on Saturday, August 17th at 7:30 and Sunday, August 18th at 2 pm.  These are directed by Deanna Maio, Founder of PMTC and Master Teacher of Confident Voice Studio:    www.ConfidentVoiceStudio.com  
    These cabarets are held at the Peninsula Odd Fellows Lodge, 4834 N. Lombard St. (upstairs).  For more information, go to their site at www.PortlandMusicalTheater.org

    “We are such things as dreams are made on…” and it often begins that way, as a dream, to be a star.  But that, in some ways, is demeaning to the nature of an emerging artist.  An artist, I believe, is born, not made.  They have a uniqueness, and drive and obsession to expand, expose and explore that Muse that demands so much from them and, no matter what, that inner voice will never be quelled, regardless of practical circumstances.  My best advice to an emerging, artistic soul, is to always look for Your Truth in this quest, never give up, and do the best with what you’ve got:  And “…Art, if it finds you worthy, will guide your course!”

    This Showcase, and these young artists, have one outstanding thing going for them…Maio!  She is a Trouper…a Pro…and stands for everything I’ve just espoused.  These Youth are lucky that she has taken them under her wing.  She also hosted the evening and brought down the house with a few songs herself.  I’ve had the pleasure to have watched her grow, in a very short time, from doing musical revues in Newberg, to having her own theater company.  “May she live long and prosper!”  And, perhaps, this note for her charges, when you walk with Giants, you can’t help but grow a little yourself.

    I have worked, as a director/teacher, with young folk myself in, To Kill a Mockingbird, the musical, Oliver and Anne of Green Gables, et. al. and I loved every minute of working with them, as they have a naturalness and honesty as artists that often slips from our grasp as Time marches on.  These few, these chosen few, do, indeed, have the solid inklings of future, professional performers:  Abigail Dixon, Addyson Finley, Braylin Soon, Ellen Horton, Fiona Garrett, Mira Herman and Henry Findtner.  Coming Soon, watch for their names in lights!

    They all had similar attributes in common.  They had stage presence, showed confidence in themselves and their material, very animated, put their “best foot forward,” and all, with these audition-like pieces, could have gotten cast in a show based on what they produced in this cabaret.  I would have to say that two artists/numbers stood out, among an already outstanding array of talents.  They were Horton, with her uke, and her sad rendition of “Over the Rainbow,” which was a tear-jerker.  Also, Finley’s honky-tonk, jazz song (unidentified), out of a bygone era of bands, which proved her a belter.  Kudos to both of them and the rest of the ensemble.  The Arts are in good hands if this is an example of our future Artists!

    I recommend their next show, which will be just as exciting and entertaining, I believe, as this one.  If you do go, please tell them Dennis sent you.
--DJS

The following is by Martha Harris, a reviewer I’m mentoring:

            Director Deanna Maio, of the “Stars of Tomorrow” youth cabaret, put it perfectly while introducing the next performer, “don’t you just feel hopeful for the future?”
            It feels like a daily battle to remain optimistic in the face of uncertainty, change, regrets, and a world we can’t seem to make sense of with our limited perspectives. But it is opportunities like this one, seeing such talent in the rising generation and getting to watch the joy on someone’s face as they take their first steps into the theater world, that help to tip the balance.
            “Stars of Tomorrow” youth cabaret is put on by Portland Musical Theater Company, showcasing some of the best middle school-aged performers in the Portland, OR. In a makeshift cabaret cafe setting, each performer sang one to two songs, displaying their musicality, dancing, and acting abilities. On a whole, I was blown away with the poise, talent, and depth that all of the performers showed at such a young age.
            Addyson Finley brought the house down with her mature voice. Adding her own style to classic songs. Fiona Garrett shared with the audience a great level of emotional vulnerability, bringing to life the character she was portraying with just one song. Mira Herman’s style of acting is very imaginative and charismatic, painting a clear picture for the audience and taking them along for the ride. Abigail Dixon has a dynamic presence that takes charge of the stage with a dance-like, fluid physicality. Braylin Soon has confidence and maturity, that adds a layer of depth to her pieces. Ellen Horton dazzles with her cheeky wit and a powerful, rooted voice. Henry Findtner has a beautiful, clear voice and range that I’d expect from a high schooler. He also has a subtle emotional intensity that is reminiscent of Ben Platt in Dear Evan Hansen.
            Overall, all of the performers did an outstanding job. All they need to do is trust their instincts, keep making bold choices, and they are on the right path.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Matilda—Lakewood Theatre Company—Lake Oswego, OR



               “Gods and Monsters”

    This musical, based on the book by the classic children’s story writer, Roald Dahl, is adapted for the stage by Dennis Kelly, with music and lyrics by Tim Minchin and directed by Paul Angelo, Choreographed by Jorie Jones and musical direction by Andrew Bray.  It is playing at their space, 368 S. State St., in Lake Oswego, through August 18th.  For more information, go to their site at www.lakewood-center.org or call 503-635-3901.

    The world of Childhood is a pretty black & white place.  Some of what we glean then is inherent from our parents, and some adapted from our environmental influences.  But, early on, it is populated by the “white hats,” the heroes, or gods, and the “black hats,” the villains, or monsters.  The “gray” areas of behavior are added as we mature.

    The theme of the story, in part, champions reading and education, as ways of growing and learning.  One key monologue and song, “All I Know,” by Mr. Wormwood (Danielle Valentine), Matilda’s dad, pooh-pooh’s reading in favor of the telly.  Translated, bring that sentiment into our modern world and we can see the same conflicts, in this time, with the cyber-sphere engulfing and smothering our imaginations and our sense of self.  But it’s not too late to be as these “Revolting Children” (ala, “Les Miz”), and turn the tides on the monsters of the Internet (as these children do, circa, over 50 years ago)!

    The story, not simply told (needs a bit of editing), but beautifully produced onstage, is about a 5-year-old, precocious little girl, Matilda (Cora Craver)—note, this role is also played by Jorja Reed on alternate performances—who is just enters first grade.  She can already read, write and reason quite nicely for herself.  Her parents, Mr. Wormwood (Valentine), an oily car salesman, whose chief clients are the Russian mafia, and his dingy wife (Stephanie Heuston-Willing), a failed dancer, as well as their numbskull son, Michael (Jackson Wells) are less than enthusiastic about the accomplishments of this strange child.

    But she basically gets along well with her fellow schoolmates, mainly with Lavender (Josie Overstreet) and Bruce (Brock Woolworth).  She also has a couple of champions in the adult world, such as her teacher, Miss Honey (Brooke Moltrum), and the librarian, Mrs. Phelps (Trishelle Love)—the “gods.”  But the Queen of the “monsters” is the headmistress, Miss Trunchbull (Andy Lindberg), who would make Frankenstein’s creation look like a puppy dog, in comparison.

    These elements all battle for the souls of Matilda and her mates but…well, you’ll just have to see it, won’t you, to find out how it all turns out.  The stand-out number for me was “Revolting Children,” a dance and musical ensemble by the children, that is amazing.  This is, by far, one the best chorus production group of young people that I’ve ever seen!  Kudos to all of them...and their choreographer, Jones.

    Outstanding performances go to Lindberg as the martinet head of the institution.  He was absolutely amazing, and more than a little scary, as this creature from the underbelly of society.  Equally good was Valentine, as the father.  She was a Vaudeville-act, par expellant.  Both actors brilliant in their gender-bending roles.  And Craver, as Matilda…oh my gawd!  What a talent, voice and stage presence this young lady has!  She will blow you away…and has a long road ahead of her if she chooses the Arts as her career.

    Angelo has assembled an amazing cast and has kept the pace moving along for an uplifting show.  Jones and Bray add their talents to bring this production full circle for a highly recommended experience.  And, as mention, the youthful chorus nearly steals the show, as all those young people are truly a tribute to their Art.

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

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Tonight Nothing—CoHo Productions—NW Portland


        Finding “Little Boy Blue”


    Tonight Nothing—CoHo Productions—NW Portland
This is a preview of a musical play, written by Merideth Kaye Clark and featuring she and co-creator, Katherine Murphy Lewis and directed by Courtney Freed and co-produced by CoHo Productions.  It is playing one weekend only at the CoHo Space, 2257 NW Raleigh St., July 26-28.  For more information, go to their site at www.cohoproductions.org

    We have all lost something…something important…when we took that giant leap from Childhood to Adulthood.  Innocence is the biggie, of course, but other things, too, are locked away in that secret space of our brain…those “windmills of our minds,” that keep the precious memories/hopes/dreams of what makes us uniquely who we are.

    Along Life’s journey we make decisions and friends that will influence us the rest of our lives in the search for self.  The endgame is a legacy of what we want our slate to convey to our dear ones and the world at large.  But, in order to forge forward, we may have to backtrack to that attic, that secret space of so long ago, to re-discover self.  What has become of “Little Boy Blue” since he was confined to the cobwebs of our playful years?  Trust me, it is within one’s reach….

    As to Clark, I have witnessed her fine performances and voice on a number of occasions and so this will be a real treat for anyone lucky enough to see her and Murphy in action.  But, with only 3 performances, best get your tickets Now!  As to the story, read on from her words:

    "Tonight Nothing is new work created and performed by Merideth Kaye Clark and Katherine Murphy Lewis that follows the paths of two long-term friends, Kaye and Em, who must find their way back to themselves and each other. From garage sales to magical encounters in an attic this journey asks us to unpack the many ’things' that make up a legacy. What we leave, or don’t leave behind? and How on earth do we let go?"

--DJS

Friday, June 28, 2019

Alice in Wonderland—Oregon Shakespeare Festival—Ashland, OR



                                                                     A Wondrous State

    This fantasy classic by Lewis Carroll is adapted for the stage by Eva La Gallienne & Florida Friebus and directed by Sara Bruner.  It is playing at their outdoor Elizabethan Theatre through October 12th.  For more information, go to their site at www.osfashland.org

Childhood is a wondrous state
And a happy place to be.
But when all is done
In this land of sun
And we see the world of Man,
A sorrowful cast
Will blinds our eyes,
As down the face
The tears will run!
    Growing into adulthood is a difficult transition for a child, as they leave behind innocence, a safe haven called home and trade it for _____ (fill in the blanks for yourself).  Look for yourself at what lies ahead when the curtain has parted: “Lions and Tigers and Bears, oh, my!”

    One’s dreams, in their jumbled state, try to mirror this land, so that we can cope with the big, bad world outside.  Fairy tales and fantasy stories from Carroll, Barrie, Bahm, Tolkien, Lewis, et. al. can ease the pain a bit but can never duplicate that assurance that, when all is said and done, we may live, at least, Hopefully, ever after!

    A film version of this famous tale was made by MGM in the 30’s with an all-star cast.  Disney then animated one in the 50’s, which was pretty good.  And Steve Allen wrote the music for another version of both the Wonderland and Looking Glass stories in the 60’s, with an all-star cast, too, which was very good and broadcast over two nights on television.

    And now we have the most precise version of his story, taken directly from his book.  All the familiar characters and incidents are here, such as, the Mad Hatter (Danforth Comins) and his balmy cohorts, the March Hare (Eddie Lopez) and the Dormouse (Cristofer Jean); the trippy Caterpillar (Brent Hinkley); the always grinning, Cheshire Cat (Lauren Modica); the contrary bros, Tweedledum (Daniel T. Parker) and Tweedledee (Kate Mulligan); the ineffectual King of Hearts (Anthony Heald) and his very, blood-thirsty wife, the Queen of Hearts (Amy Kim Waschke); the rotund, Humpty Dumpty (David Kelly); the bumbling, White Knight (Jean, again); the busy, White Rabbit (Shyla Lefner); and, of course, our new-age, tougher, Alice (Emily Ota)…plus many others.

    And all their individual stories are here, too, with the connecting tissue being Alice, as it is, of course, her dream/fantasy, as she is trying to merge the complex world of adulthood into her limited world of childhood (and vice versa).  This is a good play for children, as the colorful characters keep the story alive and moving.  This would be considered a low-tech production, as the ensemble creates much of the special effects themselves, which I loved.  They are the smoke rings of the caterpillar’s pipe; the many doors of Alice’s search for a way into Wonderland; and, especially, the balls (silver balloons) generated from the Queen’s lawn game, which spills out into the audience: and other little marvels of cleverness and inventiveness.

    There is also a very touching scene with the Knight and his song, as well as a very heated debate with Alice, with the Red Queen (Miriam A. Laube) and the White Queen (Robin Goodrin Nordli) on the merits/duties of Queendom.  The cast is marvelous!  The costumes are terrific (Helen Q. Huang), as well as Richard L. Hay’s set.  And Bruner, a fine actor herself, manages to fuse all this together into a very entertaining production!

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

The Ashland Experience

    As past readers of this blog will probably know, my favorite eatery in Ashland is, The Black Sheep (look for the red door on the Plaza, upstairs).  It’s not only a British-style pub, with authentic food, as well as libations, but also a place to house entertainment.  The food, as always, is exceptional.  My friend, Dave, has always bragged about their beef pasties (in fact, I think, he’s become addicted to them as, I believe, he was trying to convince them to send some to his home in Portland).  And so, in keeping abreast of things, I finally tried one and they are very good.  His wife, Christine, favors the fish, and is also a Brit, so she gives this place a thumbs-up, too.  And they make all their own desserts, which are rich and tasty. 

    My favorite barkeeps are Greg (not there this time) and Lorah.  She was a marvel one night when we were there…one patron described her as a “whirlwind” (true enough), as she not only serviced the bar, but was constantly checking on customers on the floor, as well as checking on orders in the kitchen!  And her elfin charm and smile is contagious.   I highly recommend this place.  If you do go, please tell them Dennis sent you. 

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Between Two Knees—Oregon Shakespeare Festival—Ashland, OR


        Humor as a Weapon


Between Two Knees—Oregon Shakespeare Festival—Ashland, OR
This World Premiere is written by the 1491s and is directed by Eric Ting.  It is playing at the Thomas Theatre at OSF in Ashland, OR, through October 27th.  For more information, go to their site at www.osfashland.org or call 1-800-219-8161.

    It has been said that a good defense is a good offense.  In this case, if you pepper the “enemy” with humor, you might come out on top.  For example, Mel Brooks, a Jew, produced/directed both “The Producers” and “To Be or Not To Be,” and reduced the Nazis to blathering idiots and humiliated them (Chaplin did much the same thing with his powerful film, “The Great Dictator.”)  Brooks’ opinion was that the one thing Evil hates the most is to be laughed at.

    Not quite the same premise in this case of the “white man” vs. the Native Americans, but it does skirt this issue.  Many times us white folks in the Past, stole and lied to these native inhabitants:  They overwhelmed the population and took their lands; broke treaties; kidnapped Indian children and forced them into schools to educate them as to the customs and language of the “superior” white race; slaughtered them; forced them onto reservations; and humiliated them at every turn.  So, in this case, they retaliate with biting humor.

    The loose storyline, as such, traces two Native Americans, young Irma (Shyla Lefner) and young Isiah (Derek Garza) between the original Wounded Knee slaughter of the late 1800’s to the second Wounded Knee engagement of the mid-1900’s, older Irma (Sheila Tousey) and Isaiah (Wotko Long), and their offspring, their son, William (Shaun Taylor-Corbett) and grandson, Eddie (Garza, again).  During these years, they encounter many trials and tribulations and eventually the Viet-Nam War and aftermath.  This whole history is related by a narrator, Larry (Justin Gauthier).

    The idea for this tale is very clever and the actors and production values on this production are high (as they always are with OSF shows), but the actual story itself is unfocused; rambling; wanders down many rabbit holes, tarrying too long on these, only slightly related, incidents and characters; and lacks staying focused on a through-line, which should be the basis for the story.  There are many funny moments and some biting satire sprinkled throughout…my favorite bit, the Guru (performer not billed), who marries the couple, very funny moment but, again, has little connection to the whole.  So, in conclusion, this script needs to be condensed, streamlined to focus on a central theme and then not wander off from that.  Again, idea, actors and production values are high, but not the script, as it is currently.

    A final word on a serious subject:  We are what we breed, perhaps, but in order to evolve to a higher level, and not stagnate, we need to change/expand our viewpoints to embrace other possibilities.  Simply said, we need to walk in another person’s shoes for a while and look at the world the way they do!
Although this production has some real possibilities, I cannot recommend it.  But, please, don’t necessarily let me deter you from seeing it, as you can do so and make up your own mind as to its value.
--DJS


The Ashland Experience

    And, as always, my friends (the Paull’s) and I stayed at the Ashland Springs Hotel, 212 Main St. (541-631-2010, www.AshlandSpringsHotel.com ), next door to OSF (or at their sister resort, The Ashland Hills), for our stay.  They have a secured parking lot for their guests, as well as a complimentary excellent breakfast, not just sweet rolls and fruit, as others might, but a full buffet with muffins, eggs, cereal (hot and cold), fruits, juices, coffee and tea, et. al.  They also have some extras, like afternoon teas, as well as late-night snacks.  Rooms are very comfortable and they have a great staff.  All in all, a very satisfying experience which I highly recommend.  Tell them Dennis sent you if you do choose to stay there.


Neigh Saver

    A very worthwhile place we visited was this Sanctuary for hungry, neglected and abused horses and a tour you might want to take.  It’s only a few minutes from Ashland.  This organization does some great work with these animals.  They have about 35 acres altogether and they care for these valuable animals in a very humane and loving way.  The tour is free (our guide was the Board President, Ruth, a very knowledge individual) but you need to call for reservations for this hour-long tour from the Equamore Sanctuary, 4723 Hwy. 66 (541-482-5550).  For more information on this worthwhile cause, go to their site at www.equamore.org 


  

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Dealing With Clair—Public Citizen Theatre—N. Portland



        The Ugly Ones

    This British thriller is written by Martin Crimp and directed by Aaron Filyaw.  It is playing at the Cathedral Park Place in the St. John’s area of Portland, 6635 N. Baltimore Ave., upstairs in Suite 270, through June 30th.  For more information, go to their site at www.publiccitizentheatre.org

    There are certain people in life (and I’m sure we all know them) that are simply out to do harm, to create chaos, to make our lives more difficult—that are purely Evil Incarnate.  These people were not born, but simply crawled out from under a rock somewhere, or from the gutter, and are on earth to challenge, like the snake in the proverbial Garden of Eden, the Goodness inherent in Mankind.
But that Evil does prove one thing, the existence of a God (according to a Mexican fable) because, if there were no Evil in the world, there would be no need for a God.  It’s a balancing act of contrasts, you can’t have one, without the existence/presence of the other.
    Crimp reminds me very much of another popular Brit author, Patrica Highsmith (Strangers on a Train, The Talented Mr. Ripley, et. al.), who has these slow, very slow, build-ups to the heart of the Evil that oozes through every pore of these characters’ existence, sneaking up on you and whispering “boo” in your ear, as a chill runs down your spine.  (Even the title has a double-meaning.)
Being a mystery means I can only give you a thumb-nail sketch of the proceedings.  We open with a real-estate agent, Clair (Amanda Mehl), living near the train tracks in London and we discover how isolated her world is from others.  Her clients, in this story, are the social–climbing, Mike (Joseph Workman) and his wife Liz (Taylor Jean Grady), as well as their baby and her slovenly Italian nanny, Anna (Katherine Rose), who wish to move up in the world and want to sell their flat for a princely fee.
    They get a fair offer from one family but then enter, James (Gerry Birnbach), an American businessman, an Art dealer, with a roving eye for the ladies, and willing to up the ante and pay cash.  Some repairs need to be done first, so they hire Ashley (Ben Lawrence), a tradesman, to do the work.  But there is something decidedly wrong in these social and financial exchanges.  A sinister air permeates the atmosphere and soon we realize that all is not as it seems.  Somebody, if not all, is/are being duped and the trail will linger on to the very last line.  And so, you need to see it to discover the outcome.
    This Brit-style of mystery always seems to have a droll humor to it, an array of colorful and slightly off-balanced characters and usually more than one twist in its many turns.  This is a struggling, new company and certainly deserves some attention.  The sparse setting is not ideals for this sort of story but the actors more than make up for it.  They all fit their characters nicely with a stand-out performance by Birnbach, as the mysterious stranger.  And the director, Filyaw, working on an essentially bare stage, is a good storyteller and has assembled a very astute cast to present it.
    I recommend this play, it’s worth your time.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.
--DJS

The following is a review by Martha Harris, a young lady I’m mentoring in the art of reviewing:

As a current college student, I’ve worked a continuous string of customer service jobs since I was 16 and would cry if a customer was angry. It seems in every job, I have customers who push my boundaries—asking me to do something outside of being a customer, but instead as a person who wants something from another person. I want to do my job, help them have a positive experience with the company that is paying, but some people take advantage of that.

Maybe they misread my friendly smile as something flirtatious, only for them. Maybe they are just seeing what they want to see because even though I put on this front of being genuine and kind to every customer, we are after all just strangers. And it’s a lot easier to manipulate your idea of who someone is when you know nothing about them. I think we all do that to some extent. We see a stranger walking down the street and try to create a narrative for them, thinking we know something about who they are. While often harmless, what happens when our assumptions go too far and we start acting on them?

Clair (Amanda Mehl) works in London as a real estate agent, providing customer service at the stressful time of buying and selling flats. Mike (Joseph Workman) and Liz (Taylor Jean Grady), a couple with a six-month-old baby and Italian nanny named Anna (Katherine Rose), are selling their suburban flat with the help of Clair and looking to move to a smaller flat. Mike and Liz decide to ditch a serious buyer when James (Gerry Birnbach), an American businessman, comes along willing to pay a high price all in cash. The couple is concerned that James might not be placing a serious offer after not bringing his wife to see the flat and taking his time in handing over the money, but they are willing to take the risk for a bigger payout. Even if it’s not the most “honorable” way.

Over his many visits to the flat, James takes a particular interest in Clair, diving, as far as he can, into her private life, which begs the question, who is this man and what is he really interested in, the flat or Clair?

Dealing with Clair, written by Martin Crimp and directed by Aaron Filyaw, is a suspenseful telling of how sinister buying/selling a flat can get, when each party has such strong objectives and are willing to cross moral lines for their end result. The story and writing style are reminiscent of such thriller novels as Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins and Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.

It also addresses the way that young women are often treated by men in professional settings, crossing a line with compliments, comments, and playful touches on the arm. Not understanding their position of power and that the professional relationship is not appropriate for those types of advances.
In this production by Public Citizen Theatre, the minimal space and set are magnified by the musical compositions by Gavin Knittle and sound design by Stephen Claypool and Aaron Filyaw. Their work helps to add dimension, texture, and flow to the various setting and scene changes. The lighting design by Robert Osterhout also enhances the work with red overtones that changes in intensity with the plot and scene, creating an ominous glow on the actors.

Gerry Birnbach’s portrayal of James, the businessman, reminds me of Stanley Tucci in The Lovely Bones (2009). In both performances, on the surface, you just see a pleasant middle-aged man, but there is an underlying edge that is unsettling and keeps the audience waiting for the other shoe to drop. Joseph Workman does a great job as Mike maintaining an air of subtle, confident power over all the women in his life, helping to add to the play’s themes. Amanda Mehl as Clair physically shows the drudgery of being in a profession she doesn’t particularly care for. Mehl also displays an interesting juxtaposition between her normal unassailable self and when she is belittled, particularly by men, and loses that confidence. I also applaud the entire cast in their handling of all of the dialects that come with this play.

Dealing with Clair is playing now until June 30th at Bridgetown Conservatory at Cathedral Park Place (6635 N Baltimore Ave. Suite 270 Portland, OR 97203). For more information visit publiccitizentheare.org.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Red—Crave Theatre—SE Portland













                                                     A Lack of “Fineness”

    This stunning production is written by John Logan and directed by Sarah Andrews.  It is playing at the Shaking-the-Tree space, 823 SE Grant St., through June 30th.  For more information, go to their site at www.cravetheatre.com

    Artists of all kinds are, indeed, a strange breed and do have their own language, which only another artist can fully understand.  They are moody; deep, in a shallow way (or vice-versa); talkative to those who can translate their babblings; have a love-hate relationship with others (and themselves); and a legend in their own minds.  Or, as Zorba the Greek might put it, “Everybody needs a little madness in their time.”  What artists cannot stand is mediocrity or, as the author puts it, a certain “fineness” in the world.

    Mark Rothko (Maia McCarthy) is a tortured soul.  She seeks to explain the unexplainable, to define the undefinable, to walk barefoot on hot coals and know that she will be scorched but survive and, perhaps, be transformed because of the experience.  She is obsessed with the color Red, the sign of Life but also tragedy.  She fears the color black, a sign of nothingness, perhaps, death.  But, most important of all, she must Paint and then poses the question to an invisible audience (and herself), “What do you see?” and then, “What do you feel?”  A sensory journey through a maze of conclusions, contrasts and contradictions.

    She hires an assistant, Ken (Kylie Jenifer Rose), a novice, a wannabe artist herself, to help her in the studio, a sort of Man-Friday, with benefits.  Through the two years they will spend together, they will fuss and fume, bellyache and banter on the rocky road to creating Art.  And, as one’s guide in these ventures, is their Muse, who will be with them through thick and thin, till death do they part.  Art is not something You seek out, but will seek you out if it finds you worthy.  It is also an all-consuming, cruel mistress, as it rules your life.

    The play is rich with dialogue about the nature of Art and Life itself, and so must be seen and heard to be appreciated.  And, if you think that’s worthy your attention, as the saying goes, “you ain’t seen nuthin’ yet!”  The dance/interpretive movement pieces (choreographer, Rachael Singer) are astounding, and Rose is sensational as an interpreter of those sometimes dreamy, sometimes savage, undulations!  The music choices, ranging from classical, to pop to jazz, compliment the dances and production.  And all the designers of the set area really have created a work of art in their own right.

    Andrews has a masterpiece on her hands in this production and it should not be missed!  The movements in a semi-circular space are beautiful to behold.  And her choice of actors for the roles is first-rate.  McCarthy as Mark is extraordinary!    She embodies the character, giving us the impression that she is thinking on her feet, as she forges forward (or backward), full-speed to an artistic fulfillment of some sort, a revelation transcending this corporal universe.  And Rose is equally as riveting, as the assistant, matching her mentor thought for thought.  She’s especially powerful in her dance moments.  Both actors mesmerizing!

    A side note, Haley Ward, Martha Harris (both notable artists in their own right) and myself, were chatting afterwards and all came up with the idea, what if Ken doesn’t really exist?  Is it possible that Mark is simply battling with his own conflicting ideas, as that would not be unusual in the creative process?  Anyway, just a thought….

    I highly recommend this production. It should not be missed!  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.
--DJS