Saturday, February 16, 2019

Pontypool—CoHo Productions—NW Portland


       Night of the Dead…Living

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, February 8, 2019

Jesus Christ Superstar—Stumptown Stages—downtown Portland


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, February 3, 2019

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

        The Glass House

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Four Last Things—Corrib Theatre—SE Portland



      “Silent Snow, Secret Snow”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




        The Terror of Tinseltown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, January 28, 2019

Sense & Sensibility—Portland Center Stage—Pearl District


     “All the World’s a Stage…”


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Saturday, January 26, 2019

Equus—Twilight Theater Company—N. Portland



            The Price of Passion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, January 25, 2019

Here On This Bridge—MediaRites—Boiler Room



     The Collective Good

    This World Premiere is part of the Ism Project of Theatre Diaspora and will go on tour later this year:  Six monologues based on real experiences by six authors, and all directed by Catherine Ming T’ien Duffly.  It is playing at the Boiler Room in Lincoln Hall at PSU (1620 SW Park Ave.) through February 10th.  For more information, go to their site at www.mediarites.org/the-ism-project

    We are all here, for better or worse, together.  No one is going anywhere.  No waters, or deserts, or mountains…or Walls, will stem the tide of Progress and Diversity.  We are all part of the Collective Good…for better or worse…together…We are not going anywhere…!

    I’m reminded of the song from South Pacific which, in part goes something like this…we have to be taught to hate and to fear…we have to be carefully taught…meaning that it is not the natural, innocent state of Mankind to be prejudiced.  Evil will always be with us but it doesn’t mean we have to embrace it or spread it around.

    These six short stories are from real life experiences, which resonates, I believe, universally with all of us.  I won’t go into the actual stories, as they should be experienced rather than related by a third party:  The first one, Being Me in the Current America is written by Josie Seid and performed by Shareen Jacobs.  It deals with an African-American woman in a suburb of Portland, which houses wealthy, white people primarily.  It reflects her very real fear of feeling like a stranger in a strange land.  *A personal, true story of mine, that is a companion to this one will, follow these six.

    The second one is See Her Strength written and performed by Samson Syharath.  It tells of a young boy, uprooted from Laos and moving to the alien world of America.  Coming out as a Gay man defied all tradition of his parents but it is revealing of motherhood as to  how they eventually dealt with it.  The third one is Carmelita by Yasmin Ruvalcaba and performed by Sofia Molina.  It reflects on how such simple things, like moonlight and the cadence across endless sands, can be the surging powers and illumination for one to carry on an arduous and fateful journey.

    The fourth is Lockdown Drills by Heather Raffo and performed by Dre Slaman.  All to real are the shootings and abductions of children in what should be protected environments.  What is it that a parent needs to do to teach/protect their child, while trying to allow them to…just be children.  The fifth is The Diversity Thing written by Bonnie Ratner & Roberta Hunte and performed by Shelley B. Shelley.  This focuses on that constant question, why can’t people/organizations treat individuals as humans, rather than separating them into gender, religion, caste, orientation, color, etc. and use only the skills which they have and can offer to society, as their contributions.

    And, last story, “…that ends this strange, eventful history…” is Harvest by Dmae Roberts (Executive Producer of MediaRites' Theatre Diaspora) and performed by Jane Vogel and Larry Toda.  It tells of the value of land and of growing and nurturing things and not letting unfair and senseless acts deter or define one from their goals.  *And the addition I would add to the first story is, some years ago I was dating an African-American lady and we went into a chain-restaurant late at night, in the same suburbs as mentioned in the first monologue.  A strange hush quieted the room when we sat down and, although not busy, service was not forthcoming.  It fast became obvious that we were the objects of that uneasy hush.  We got up to leave and, at the door, I kissed my lady friend before we went out into the friendlier night.  I can only imagine the conversations that began after we left.

    The stories were all eye-opening, startling and quite amazing and poignant.  Immediate reactions were being struck by the mother in Syharath’s story; the frustrations felt in the Diversity Thing; and Molina’s moving performance in Carmelita.  All performances and tales naturally delivered and kudos to Duffly, the director, for keeping things so simple but so clear.

    This is a must-see for all, as there are lessons to be learned.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.
--DJS

Monday, January 21, 2019

The Picture of Dorian Gray--Experience Theatre Project—Beaverton, OR


        The Nature of Evil

    This classic thriller is by Oscar Wilde, adapted for the stage and directed by Alisa Stewart.  It is playing at the Masonic Temple in Beaverton, 4690 SW Watson Ave., through February 10th.  It is “an immersive live theater experience,” which means that a limited number of people are in the same space as the actors onstage.  For more information, go to their site at www.experiencetheatreproject.org

    Perhaps Evil, like Beauty, is in the Eye of the Beholder, but when you combine the two, the results can be deadly!  In the Biblical sense, God and Satan are the representatives of Good and Evil.  On Earth, most of us would agree that Hitler was, perhaps, the best example of pure evil.  But in writers’ imaginations, it is more complicated.  Faust made a pact with the devil for power and wealth; R.L. Stevenson had his Dr. Jekyll separate good from evil, in the guise of Mr. Hyde; and Wilde has his youthful and beautiful, Dorian Gray.

    It seems that the youthful, handsome and innocent, Dorian Gray (Katherine Grant-Suttie) has been set loose in the world untethered and untutored, to face it on its own terms.  He falls into the clutches of Lord Henry (Walter Petryk), a thoroughly unscrupulous and amoral being, who takes a fancy to the young fellow.  He is so entranced that he persuades his artist buddy, Basil (Amber Bogdewiecz) to paint a portrait of him, in which his beauty is preserved forever on canvas.  “And, therein, lies a tale.”

    Gray’s vanity is so great that he confesses that he’d sell his soul, if only the picture would age and absorb his sins, if only he would stay young and beautiful forever.  And so, the pact is sealed.  Gray romances and embraces illusions rather than realities. Sybil (Leslie Renee), an actress, loses her charm when bathed in sunlight instead of spotlights and so he discards her, but her brother Jimmy (Jeremy Gardels), is not so forgetful or forgiving.  Dr. Elaine (Emma Whiteside) has her uses as a scientist, but once her usefulness is complete, he abandons her, too.  Even his faithful servant, Parker (Ryan Pfeiffer) is maltreated, as well as well-to-do friends (Diana Loverso & Steve Marshall).

    His life descends into opium dens, blackmail and even murder until, at last, he must confront…but that would be telling, wouldn’t it?!  The labyrinths of twists and turns, both of the mind and set, is engrossing, as you follow along with the story/characters and are immersed in it.  Stewart has done an amazing job of adapting this material into a two-hour plus show, as well as mapping out (w/designer, Tyler Buswell) the intricate scenic routes. The authentic costumes (Alana Wight) and choice of cast are also assets to this wonderful theatrical experience.  I did miss, though, that the artist of the paintings was not given credit, as they were quite good.  This is pure story-telling style at its best, as well as some great portrait artistry by Raziah Roushan

    But, as thrilling as it all was, the honors of the day must go to Grant-Suttie as Gray.  She is extraordinary, one of the best performances I’ve ever seen in all my years in theatre (40+)!  The way she weaves in and out of various moods, like a snake, from manipulative, to charming, to vulnerable, to explosive, is mind-boggling.  In the end, which Gray survives, the innocent or the profane?  She is a powerhouse on the stage and yet never overpowers the other actors, except when part of the character, a beautifully, modulated performance!  She has quite a pedigree, according to her bio, and this is her Portland debut.  Let us hope we can keep her around for a while. Check her out at www.katherinegrantsuttie.com

    Limited tickets for the remaining shows are available, so best get them now.  Don’t miss this!  I highly recommend this production.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.
--DJS
   

Sunday, January 20, 2019

No Candy—Portland Playhouse—NE Portland


          Resilience
    This World Premiere, topical drama is written by Emma Stanton and directed by Tea Alagic.  It is playing at their space, 602 NE Prescott St. (free parking lot 2 blocks North on 6th), through February 10th).  For more information, go to their site at www.portlandplayhouse.org or call 503-488-5822.

    The Human Spirit is amazing, as it can take an enormous beating and can still endure…and even thrive, in time.  We are who we are today because of our life experiences, not in spite of them.  In short, we will survive, albeit changed, evolved.  We learn, and in leaning, survive.

    The story told here is of the aftermath of the war in Bosnia, when 8,000 Muslim men were killed and the women sexually assaulted and tortured.  This small band of sisters in this slice of an afterlife, are adjusting to a new world built out of the rubble of what used to be home.  They have started a gift shop in which to sell trinkets to the tourists…coasters, jewelry, t-shirts, etc. to make a living for themselves but perhaps, more importantly, to gather and recall….

    This play is designed in such a way that, to try and give it a storyline, would sound pedestrian.  This is a lyrical telling, a poetry, of lives lost…and found.  It is told in dance-like movements, song, intermingled with half-truths, revelations, harsh memories, tender moments, dreams, desires and of a new wave evolving from the ashes, like the fabled Phoenix.

    The women are Zlata (Mia Zara), Uma (Sharonlee McLean), Olena (Nikki Weaver), and Fazila (Val Landrum).  The child is Asja (Agatha Olson).  The husband/father woven in and out of the story is Oric (Ben Wright).  And the new wave, perhaps, of a Muslim woman, is Maja (Jessica Hillenbrand).  Together these few, these chosen few, make a rhythmic bond of lives forever altered by monsters among us.  Beware, they are still lurking in the shadows!

    As suggested, this is an experience to be felt, not dissected.  The cast is as powerful as you can get, all seasoned performers.  And Alagic has captured the lyricism perfectly.  The set by Peter Ksander is just the right fit for this story, open and airy, allowing the magic to flow.

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

Monday, January 14, 2019

Teenage Dick—Artists Rep—SW Portland


Season of our Discontent
This topical play is written by Mike Lew and directed by Josh Hecht.  It is playing at their space, 1515 SW Morrison St., through February 3rd.  For more information, go to their site at www.artistsrep.org


Our “salad days,” or our teen years, are meant to be the course in which we discover ourselves and have the youth to enjoy it.  At one time, that may have been true.  But, no more.  Electronics have invaded this sacred space and now we are subject to its bidding.  It is said that “Youth is wasted on the young” and nowadays that may be all too true.  To be fair, though, there are many, like those Youth that openly oppose misuse of weapons, and those that are fighting for the right for a cleaner environment.  To those chosen few, I salute!

But we have become slaves to technology and it has run/ruined our lives.  We have become a product of others views of us and, if continuing unchecked, it will devour our souls, our essence “and leave not a wit behind.”  In this case, a “mis-shapened” being, cast as an outcast, and then villain, only because he doesn’t look like the majority.  And so, Richard (Christopher Imbrosciano), like his Shakespearean counter-part, if he cannot be the hero of his story, then will play its nemesis to the hilt.

Richard is a sly dog, not content to fade into the woodwork, but chooses instead to run for President of the school council, but on the quiet.  He has a cohort, of sorts, in a wheel-chair bound lady, “Buck,” (Tess Raunig), who encourages him to run against the popular jock, Eddie (Nick Ferrucci), who has skated by on his looks, popularity and being the star quarterback.  It may be that when the gods made him, brains were only an option, not chosen. 

He also discovers an odd ally in the “bible-thumping,” Clarissa (Alex Ramirez de Cruz), who takes her hatred of sinners way too far.  And his teacher/mentor, Elizabeth (Ayanna Berkshire), knows he has a brain and so encourages his thrust into the limelight.    Only one bridge left to cross, Eddie’s old girlfriend, Anne (Kailey Rhodes), Ms. Popularity.  If he could only win her over and achieve the presidency, then his revenge will be complete on those that had ridiculed him.

But circumstances may have another Fate in store for our…man-of-the-hour.  And, as the Bard also noted, revenge is a plate best served cold.  And the outcomes of all these maneuvers…well, you’ll just have to see for yourselves, won’t you?!  This would be the point that I should warn you of the story’s adult nature, which it has, but I believe it should be seen by teens and any discerning adults, as there are lessons here to be learned and truths to be discovered.

The story skirts Shakespeare’s Richard III but mostly in names, some similar situations and the monologues of Richard.  The important connection is how relevant it is to today’s Youth, with all its gossip, bullying, prejudices, identity conflicts, etc. and its effect on others, often with tragic results.  If we are ever to break out of the molds others have created for us, then we must rise to the occasion, and find a safe environment, like the Arts, where we can explore the unique gifts we have been given to share with the world.

Hecht has chosen well a cast for some difficult roles and allowed them and the script to reveal the powerful stories underneath. Imbrosciano achieves just the right kind of balance between dark humor and outright evil, and yet also manages to wring more than a little sympathy for his character.  Rhodes is also excellent as the seeming airhead who does have some very real dreams beneath her attractive exterior, and secrets that would try any soul.  She is also a very accomplished dancer.  Kudos to both of them.

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

Monday, January 7, 2019

Dial M For Murder—Lakewood Theatre Company—Lake Oswego, OR


The Key To A Mystery
This ole-time, murder mystery is by Fredrick Knott and directed by David Sikking.
  It plays at their space, 368 S. State St. in Lake Oswego, through February 10th.  For more information, go to their site at www.lakewood-center.org or call 503-635-3901.
The semi-classic film of this play was made in the 50’s by Alfred Hitchcock…in 3D, no less.
  And it had an A-list cast with Grace Kelly as the wife, Ray Milland as the husband, Bob Cummings as the writer and John Williams (a frequent supporting actor in many of his TV shows and movies) as the Inspector.  The film is a lot less talky than the play, as Hitchcock was famous for reducing dialogue to their bare minimum, being a visual medium.  But plays, for the most part, are a verbal medium, and thus, more of a story-telling format in style.
One unique thing about the plot is that you know almost from the beginning who the villain is, and then it becomes a cat-and-mouse game as to how, or if, he will slip up in some way to reveal himself (much like the old TV series,
Columbo).  The husband, Tony (Jacob Lee Smith), is a tennis pro and has married for money.  His wife, Margot (Clara-Liis Hillier), is having an affair with a screenwriter, Max (Heath Koerschgen), an old boyfriend.  So, Tony, in his tormented/demented sense of retribution, feels justified in doing away with his wife.
He enlists the aid of an ole school chum, Lesgate (Tom Mounsey), into doing the dastardly deed for him, so that he will have an iron-clad alibi on the day of the murder.
  Tony has some incriminating evidence on Lesgate’s past and present history and, coupled with a thousand-pound incentive, Lesgate agrees.  But the plot does not go as planned.  Someone does end up dead but not the wife and so the police are called in.   It is then up to the Inspector (Don Alder) and his trusty aide, Thompson (Marcus Storey), to unlock the door to the mystery and expose the husband, in a plot that wryly goes…awry.  I can’t tell you more or it would ruin the discoveries made.
The set by John Gerth, an amazing designer in all he does, again gives us a stunningly visual playground, complete with eerie backlighting (Jeff Forbes), and a wide expanse to play this game of death and deceit.
    And Sikking has a delicious cast and uses them and the space to its suspenseful conclusion.
Overall, the cast here is, I believe, more authentic than the film cast, as they portray the characters, not a glorified image of a person, which I think is crucial in a mystery, especially a somewhat plodding script, like this one.
  Hillier is always good at everything I’ve seen her in and equals that here, too.  Koerschgen, also always worth watching onstage, is compelling here, too.  Mounsey, also a familiar actor of the boards, is just fine as the oily sneak, who actually gets what he deserves.  Smith is a treasure, as the smarmy operator of this well-greased machine, and it’s maliciously fun to see him ooze himself about the stage. And Alder is great as the Inspector, who’s trained eye and instinct, notices things not obvious to an untrained eye, again, reminding one of a Columbo-type (albeit better dressed) detective.  All in all, a perfect addition to a rainy night/day.
It is interesting to note that Justice in the hands of Christie, Doyle, Serling, Bradbury, et. al. all seem to be fitting to the occasion of the nefarious deeds, unlike the results of crime nowadays.
  In their stories, the “bad guys” rarely get away without some kind of retribution on equal with their acts.  But in real life, people often get away with just a slap on the wrist, or go scot-free of murder or rape, if they feel “their life was in danger,” or that intimate acts may have been consensual, or no witnesses. Holmes and Poirot would have not tolerated such nonsense.  In their world, wrongs must be righted and, like the code of knights of old, “might for right” would prevail and Truth would have been ferreted out.  Not such a world we live in now, is it?!
I recommend this play.
  If you do choose to see it, please tell them that Dennis sent you.