Saturday, November 30, 2019

Scrooge In Rouge—Triangle Productions!—NE Portland



          “What the Dickens…?!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Burn This—Asylum Theatre—SE Portland


           Birds With Broken Wings


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 18, 2019

Tenderly—Portland Musical Theater Company—SE Portland



          What Price Success?!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 15, 2019

Soul’d—Vanport Mosaic—N. Portland



                 Soul Credit

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 11, 2019

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


           Cold Hands/Warm Heart


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Saturday, November 9, 2019

La Ruta—Artists Rep—SE Portland


         The Invisibles


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

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

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

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

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

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

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