Friday, March 13, 2020

Blood Brothers—Triangle Productions!—NE Portland


“…Thicker Than Water”

     This popular, dramatic musical is written by Willy Russell and directed and designed by Donald Horn.  It is playing at their space, 1785 NE Sandy Blvd. (free parking lot to the W. of the bldg.) through March 21st.  For more information, go to their site at www.trianglepro.org or call 503-239-5919.
    “Growing up is hard to do.”  And family dynamics ain’t so easy, either.  Sibling rivalry, in the early stages of maturity, can often be a bitch, but one gets over it, as we continue life’s journey…or do we?  Do the same rules hold for twins…and, how about twins separated at birth…and not knowing they had a twin brother?  This is the case with the Johnstone boys from England during the early 70’s.

    It seems Mrs. Johnstone (Caitlin Brooke), barely able to make ends meet as a cleaning lady, happens to have an overabundance of babies, as she, “went dancing,” as she puts it.  But the newest addition will be two--twins.  But her employer, Mrs. Lyons (Lisamarie Harrison) and her husband (Jeremey Southard), are childless, well -off, and she offers to take one of them off her hands, with the proviso that the boys never know it.

    Inevitably, of course, Mickey (Tyler Hendrix), with his birth mother, and Edward (Richie Stone), with the adopted mother, grow to be friends, although they are raised in very different class structures.  Mickey has his older brother, Sammy (Michael Castillo), who is a bit of a hoodlum, and has a girlfriend, Linda (Hannah Wilson), but Edward is a bit of a loner, thus the need for a friend.  The plot thickens as they grow older, and jealousy and envy raise their ugly heads, both with the mothers and their boys.  You must see it to discover the struggles, and how it all turns out.

     Also, in the cast, are Lindsay Reed and Jason Coffey, filling-out various roles.  And the omnipotent Narrator (Shawn Rogers), who also takes on many different guises, not unlike the Stage Manager of Our Town, or the Bandit in The Fantasticks.  There are songs along the way, very much a part of the plot (music direction by Colin Alexsei Evans Shepard and choreography by Sara Mishler Martins), but no songs were listed, so can’t tell you the names, only to say the singers are all very accomplished in their renditions.

    This is a powerful story, and the friend I was with, Dave, who had seen it before, was even more moved by this production.  It plays like a Greek tragedy, knowing that these characters are fated to their destinies, which cannot be changed.

    All the cast turn in exemplar performances.  Both the mothers, Brooke and Harrison, are equally convincing in their portrayals of women, trapped by circumstances, to rail against the Fates till the end.  And the sons, Hendrix and Stone, are perfect in their roles and have voices to match.  Rogers is in excellent voice, too, as the multi-complex Chorus, commenting on the action but unable to interfere.  And Wilson, as the girlfriend, has already shown her terrific talents as a singer in other shows (chiefly, as the young Liza in a production here), but now is unrecognizable as the awkward, gangly young woman…and a real compliment to her gifts as an actor here, as she is, in reality, a lovely, young lady, and assume (and hope) we will see much more of her onstage.

    Horn may have his best production to date yet in this play!  He always puts on exceptional productions and this is no exception…may he, and Triangle, Live Long and Prosper!

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

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

The Copper Children—Oregon Shakespeare Festival—Ashland, OR


                                                “Journey of Tears”

    This searing, dramatic, true story is written by Karen Zacarias and directed by Shariffa Ali.  It is a world premiere at the Bowmer Theatre, playing, in repertory, through October 31st.  For more information, go to their site at www.osfashland.org or call 1-800-219-8161.

    Intrigue, mystery, intolerance, hatred, lies, family dynamics, religious prejudice, poverty, children torn from homes, disasters, alienation, class struggles, loss of innocence…all ingredients for a soap opera?  No, a true story of another ugly time in our history, where minorities were discriminated against (continuing through to this day).

    In our country’s infancy, this intolerance for other cultures, was present even then, by our treatment of the Native Americans, African Americans, Japanese Americans (being the most glaring example) et. al., and now with Hispanics and Latinos, seeking a better life.  If we haven’t solved the problems of the Past, we are bound to repeat them…and so we do, ad nauseum.  “When will [we] ever learn…”  It seems, never.
 
    And yet, there is a glimmer of hope…a rainbow in the distance…with our young folks, who seem to be wiser than the adults leading them.  Those young men and women, who are speaking out for environmental change, ending violence against women, advocating for stricter gun laws, et. al.…those people I applaud…for maybe they can make a difference for the future of this planet…maybe, just maybe….  Our very existence depends on it!

    This complex story takes place over several years, from the 1800’s to the present day, chiefly in New York and Arizona.  To give a thumb-nail sketch of it, it seems that an abundance of Irish folks, because of the famine in their country many years ago, were coming in droves to America, leaving many orphans to be cared for by the Catholic orphanages, but they were soon overwhelmed.  So, a caring businessman, Mr. Swayne (Armando Duran), sought to place them in good, Catholic homes, primarily out West in Arizona.

    He was assured by Father Mandin (Eddie Lopez) there, and the Sisters, Francis (Sarita Ocon) and Anna (Carla Pantoja), that they would indeed go to good Catholic homes, and did, in the Mexican-American community, primarily Catholic, who worked in the Copper mines.  One such family, Margarita (Caro Zeller) and her husband Cornelio (Christopher Salazar), and their cousin, Gloria (Gabriela Fernandez-Coffey), were without children and happily took in a red-headed baby named Katie.  But the white, primarily Protestant, families were having none of this mixing of the races.  One such family, also childless, was the supervisor of the mines, Charles (Rex Young), and his wife, Lottie (Kate Hurster).  Many painful episodes would occur and finally, a trial was held to determine custody of the children.  You’ll just have to see it for yourselves the many conflicts, and the conclusion to the story.

    Like I said, a hugely complex story over several years, told in a rather short playing time.  But Ali has managed to pull it together, with a small cast playing several roles, and yet they do manage to make it understandable.  Bravo!  The story, too, is topical, with all the strife going on with undocumented people in our country and more at the borders seeking asylum...and no clear solution in sight… “when will it ever end….”

    Kudos to the actors, as they have a monumental task in playing at least three roles each.  Zeller and Hurster standing out as the chief adversaries in this battle for the children’s future (and souls?).  Both very convincing and powerful in the characters they portray.  And the set, by Mariana Sanchez, and Lighting, by Stacey Derosier, made to resemble (to me) like a giant Erector set of old, or a jigsaw puzzle, with pieces missing…under construction…waiting for the creator’s hand to smooth it out and make sense of it all.

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

LITHIA PARK:  You can’t leave Ashland without visiting the beauty of the natural wonders contained here.  Next to OSF and going on for a couple of miles of trees, trails and creeks, is a tribute to Nature.  There are picnic grounds, a duck pond, a playground and, as I said, plenty of trails for hiking and jogging.  Do not leave Ashland without experiencing it!

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Peter and the Starcatcher—Oregon Shakespeare Festival—Ashland, OR


                                              “Pure Imagination”



    This fantasy is adapted for the stage by Rick Elice, with music by Wayne Barker, from a novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson.  It is directed by Lavina Jadhwani, music direction by Jesse Sanchez and choreography by Tanya Birl.  It is playing in repertory at the Bowmer Theatre in downtown Ashland, through November 1st.  For more information, go to their site at www.osfashland.org or call 1-800-219-8161.

    “We are such stuff as dreams are made on…” and so, it is with all stories of the never-worlds of our imaginations.  But, like all tales, they have backstories, prologues and epilogues the authors may not have included.  In the case of Barrie’s classic, Peter Pan, many questions arise as to how it all began.  Such as, who are the models for these characters…how did they become who they are in literature…and what happened to them after the author has proclaimed, “The End.”

    Of course, the same can be said of our lives and the people we come in contact with, as we all have stories…and there are stories within stories…and parts of our stories inner-connect with others stories, too (Six Degrees of Separation theory).  And, with that in mind, don’t you think we should be treating each other better?!

    The tale is an imagined prequel to J.M. Barrie’s, Peter Pan…, in which we discover the origins of his name; how Hook got his…hook; where fairy dust comes from; how the Darling family fits into the Big Picture; and introducing us to the mermaids and the crock of this wonderful story, as well as the pirates, the lost boys and the beginnings of Neverland and Tinkerbelle.  There have been several versions of Peter Pan from the animated (Disney), to musicals; from early films to TV; to stage, live action movies, and a musical.

    This incarnation is set in the late 1800’s, with the regal, Lord Aster (Erica Sullivan), sailing on a ship called The Wasp, on business of Queen Victoria, led by the business-like, Captain Scott (Michael J. Hume).  Aster’s precocious daughter, Molly, (Grace Chan Ng), and her nanny, the fiesty, Mrs. Bumbrake (Regina Fernandez), who has an admirer in the kindly, but not-too-bright sailor, Alf (K. T. Vogt), sailing on a ship called, Neverland, captained by the devious, Slank (Cristofer Jean). He is also carrying illegal orphans aboard his vessel by the names of Ted (Cyndii Johnson), who is fascinated by food; Prentiss (Dan Lin), the unofficial leader of the pack; and a petulant Boy (Preston Mead), who was never given a name (soon to become the famous boy who never grew up).

    And, of course, to be a true pirate story, you must, by design, have, of course…pirates.  There is the wicked but inept, Black Stache (James Ryen), and his trusty sidekick, Smee (Brent Hinkley).  Then there are shipwrecked, treasure chests, mermaids, the great Crock god, a mysterious island, complete with natives, who’s Chief (Jeremy Gallardo) is a bit loco.  And when stardust is added to the mix, anything can happen, from floating in the air, to realizing your dreams, good or bad.  To tell more would be cheating, so I’ll leave you with this thought:  If you’ve ever wanted to “go home again,” to a place called Childhood, where your imaginations ran rampant, with no perceived boundaries, or hard edges, this is the place.  You’ll find it at the “second star to the right and straight on till morning!”

    This is a wondrous and very satisfying journey through the “windmills of your mind.”  The set (Regina Garcia) is very versatile, with little pockets everywhere, containing scraps and bits of the stored memory for this tale.  There are two musical production numbers…one with Mermaids, resembling a Busby Berkley musical, complete with elaborate costumes (Melissa Torchia) and dance routines (Birl).  And another resembling a Les Miz musical number (neither really having anything much to do with the story but fun to watch).  Jadhwani is a master at tying the pieces together and offering us an “awfully big adventure!”

    Fernandez has an amazing singing voice and puts it to good use here.  Vogt and Hinkley, thrill us with their comic antics.  And Ryen, as the prototype for Hook, is a marvel, as he chews his way through the scenery and has us in stitches at almost every line of his.  A marvelous time will be had by one and all so, gather round and let your imaginations soar!

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

ASHLAND SPRINGS:  My friends and I always stay at this establishment, as it’s right next to OSF, has secured parking, and a healthy breakfast include in the price.  The staff is always friendly, open to any of your needs and full of information as to events going on in the vicinity.  I highly recommend this hotel, located in the center of town (212 E. Main St., 541-631-2010).  If you rather have something not so close to the action, try their sister resort, the Ashland Hills, about three miles, South of town.
As always, if you choose to stay there, please tell them Dennis sent you.
--DJS
 


A Midsummer Night’s Dream—Oregon Shakespeare Festival—Ashland, OR




                            “Lord, What Fools These Mortals Be!”

    This classic fantasy, by William Shakespeare, is directed by Joseph Haj.  It is playing at the Bowmer Theatre, in downtown Ashland, in repertory, through November 1st.  For more information, go to their site at www.osfashland.org or call 1-800-219-8161.

    “The course of true love never did run smooth.”  We may be our own worst enemies in this regard.  Miscalculation, misdirection, and misadventure, all play a role, too, in this journey.  “The best laid plans of mice and men,” can easily go awry when forecasting Love.  But an old adage proclaims, “Do not seek out Love, for Love, if it finds you worthy, will guide your course.”  Tis true.
 
    But a needed element, not often discussed, is magic, which this production has plenty of.  It is that something special in the air when encountering Mr. or Ms. Right.  It decides for you, even “across a crowded room…you know even then…and never let [them] go.”  I did…and am all the more Fool for it!   
Shakespeare’s “…Dream” is one of the loveliest fantasies ever written.  It stirs in romance, adventure, comedy, status, politics, mistaken intentions, merry mix-ups and magic in a veritable quandary of a delicious feast.
 
    The story, in short, is the mixing of oil and water and the ensuing results.  It takes place in and around the nuptial eve of the local royalty, the Duke of Athens, Theseus (Al Espinosa) and his lady, Hippolyta (Lauren Modica).  They have invited to their celebration, Lysander (Jonathan Luke Stevens) and Demetrius (William Thomas Hodgson), who both happened to be in love with the same woman, Hermia (Nubia Monks).  This leaves Helena (Royer Bockus) as the odd wo-man out, and who happens to have the hots for Demetrius.
Meanwhile, on the home front, Nick Bottom (Daniel T. Parker) and a motley crew of tradesmen, led by Peter Quince (Tyrone Wilson), including Snout (Michele Mais), Starveling (K. T. Vogt), Snug (Jeremy Gallardo) and Flute (Cristofer Jean) have decided to put on a play, a mixture of romance and tragedy and (unintended) comedy, for the nobility of their fair town, on their nuptial eve.
 
    But the local Fairies have their own set of problems, with the King, Oberon (Espinosa, again), getting jealous because his wife, Titania (Modica, again), is showering so much attention on her new changeling-boy, that he feels she’s ignoring him.  (“Ah, Vanity, I knew you would get me in the end.”—Cyrano).  So, he has his trusted minion, Puck (Jimmy Kieffer), spread some fairy juice on his wife’s eyes, as well as the two young, Athenian men, so that the next being they see, they will lust after.  This gets twisted around so that all the male hormones are directed toward Helena, and Oberon’s wife falls in lust with an ass…but to get the rest of that story, you’ll just have to see it.  Needless to say, all turns out as it should, and every Jack will have his Jill (and vice versa).

    When the curtain call came, only 15 folks came out for a bow and I thought, where is the rest of them?  That is how versatile this company is, that most of them plat 2 or 3 roles…and do them all well!  Especially good are Bockus with her disarming tomboy image; Modica with her no-nonsense queens; Kieffer with his impish delight and marvelous singing voice; and Parker, as an amusing but touching, as the lead player in the Rude Mechanicals.  Haj has served us with a familiar tale of foppish fools, naive lovers and vain royals, and added spice and magic into the ingredients, to celebrate that long lost art--Romance.  A world-weary, European Count once said, “In a world without Romance, it is better to be dead!”  Amen.

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

Ashland Cuisene
THE BLACK SHEEP:  This place has long been my favorite establishment to eat authentic Brit food, imbibe in the local brews, indulge in unique entertainment, and to just hang out.  Clarinda has assembled a winning team of servers, but my very favorites are Greg, one of the friendliest people in the place, who always treats you like a long, lost friend and, Lorah, the lovely, lavender lady, who has the warmest eyes, smiles and hugs and, who I look forward to seeing every time I come down.  Long may they all Live and Prosper! 
On the Plaza, upstairs, look for the red door.

ELEVEN ON THE CREEK:  A newbie on the block (in The Loft’s old spot).  Haven’t tried the food there yet but it brags of one of the best chefs in the area, serving unique meals.  But the charm of the place works behind the bar, Carli, who exudes taste, warmth and is a master mixologist of mirth, merriment and makes a mean, Smokey the Pear, her own concoction.  Worth checking out but, admittedly, a hard place to find.  
Off the Plaza, down an alley, near the creek and upstairs.
www.elevenonthecreek.net  541-625-3589.

As always, if you choose to frequent either place, tell them Dennis sent you.
--DJS



Monday, March 2, 2020

Willy Wonka—Eastside Theater Company—Gresham, OR


                   Sugar High


    This classic children’s tale by Roland Dahl is adapted for the stage by Leslie Bricusse and Timothy Allen McDonald, with music and lyrics by Bricusse and Anthony Newley, directed by Liz Bertsch, choreographed by Sarah Rose and musical direction by Josh Johnson.  It is playing at the Springwater Church of the Nazarene, 3445 SE Hillyard Rd. in Gresham and runs through March 8th.  For more information, go to their site at www.eastsidetheater.com

    This is based on Dahl’s book and on the very good film, with Gene Wilder as Willy (ignore the awful Tim Burton translation).  It is a darker story of Youth (as were most of the original fairy tales), as they were meant to teach children lessons in behavior, that if we were not good, something bad would happen to us.  But most have been Disneyfied now for easy consumption.  This cautionary tale still retains some of the original darkness, with a media freak, a glutton, a spoiled whinner and a self-centered brat taking the stage.  And, yes, a hero, too, who proves that compassion and honestly are still the best policies (a lesson world governments need to learn).

    Charlie (Noah Feldmann-Parks) comes from a poor but loving family.  But Charlie is determined to better their situation by winning one of five golden tickets hidden in Wonka Chocolate bars and winning a year’s supply of free chocolate (not really a great message today with our overweight population problem), plus a tour of the mysterious factory in which they are made.  The first four are quickly found by a snooty little girl who always gets her own way, Veruca (Bethany Bjorklund); an equally obnoxious, gum-chewing brat, Violet (Amanda Bjorklund); a glutinous boy, who lives to eat, Augustus (Lucas Buren); and a TV/digital freak, Mike (Ezra Johnson).

    So, Willy Wonka (Simeon Johnson) has his work cut out for him when he leads them on a tour of his factory, run by his workers, the squirrels and Oompa Loompas.  Needless to say, they all get their respective just deserves in the end.  Don’t want to ruin it for you, so will have to leave it at that.  You’ll have to see for yourselves how it all comes out.

    The marvelous songs are still there, including Pure Imagination and The Candyman, both sung by the amazing Johnson, who plays Willy.  They all have their moments to shine with solos, especially the little dynamo, Bjorklund as Veruca, and Buren, as Augustus, with his I Eat More rendition.  Featured players, Anderson Green as Charlie’s father and Ethan Golden as Grandpa Joe, do nice turns in character roles.  And Feldmann-Parks as Charlie is a dream, in both his vocals and acting.  He has a career ahead of him in this field, if he so desires.  And Johnson, as Willy, is a marvel!  I can’t say enough good things about him.  He is so perfect as the character, that you want to join him in his world.

    The choreography by Rose, having to deal with so many bodies, in so many dances, is a miracle, as she does wonders with these young folks.  Johnson keeps the music from overpowering the actors and does well with a difficult score and dealing with young people following it.  Bertsch has done an outstanding job of making the impossible, possible!

    I highly recommend this production.  Trust me, It’s well worth your time to make the trip to see these amazing young folks wow you…and they will!  If you do see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.
--DJS

Sunday, March 1, 2020

The Journal of Ben Uchida: Citizen 13559—Oregon Children’s Theatre—downtown Portland


          “…Times That Try Men’s Souls”

    This searing drama, of a shameful time in our history, is written by Naomi IIizuka, adapted by Barry Denenberg and directed by Dmae Roberts.  It is playing at the Winningstad Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway, through March 22nd.  For more information, go to their site at www.octc.org

    We have many events in our Nation’s history that we can be proud of.  But there is also the downside to that, when we have discriminated against others because of their color or race (which still continues today), et. al.  Cases in point:  Robbing the land from its original inhabitants, the Native Americans, and forcing them onto reservations and into poverty; enslaving African-Americans and treating them as if they were property or animals, all for the sake of Greed; and forcing Japanese-Americans into Internment Camps during the 40’s, because they were the same color/race as an enemy (we also were at war with Germany & Italy, too, but they could not be easily identified, as they were White, and so escaped such degradation).  A similar discrimination is going on with Hispanics and Latinos today.  Guess the old adage is true, that if we haven’t solved the problems of the Past, we are bound to repeat them…and so we do!

    The story is true and taken from the journal of one young boy, growing up in that era, Ben Uchida (Ken Yoshikawa) who, with his wise father, Masao (David J. Loftus), his proud mother, Lily (Sumi Wu), and active sister, Naomi (Jenna Yokoyama), were living a rather peaceful and happy life in San Francisco, until the war, then their world changed forever.

    First, came the ridicule from neighbors and in classrooms, then the orders to sell or dispose of belongings, taking only necessary items, and report to trains that would take them to camps, in the middle of the desert, surrounded by barb wire and gun towers…pointed inward, for their own protection!?  Life would be hard for them but, even harder, perhaps, feeling the humiliation that they were American citizens, wrongfully accused of being the enemy, and imprisoned, simply because of their color…and no other reason!

    There was the occasional friendly face, such as the young Soldier (Jonathan Miles), who befriends Ben and plays a game of catch with him, reviving for him the world outside the fence.  And there was Miss Kroll (Paige Rogers), the schoolteacher, who reached out to Ben and, with a gentle but firm hand, led him back into the world of education.

    But it is for you, the audience and witnesses, to decipher the story for yourselves and maybe, just maybe, this time the citizens of the world that oppose this kind of injustice, will take heed, so that it never happens again.  “Attention must be paid!” “When will [we] ever learn…” It seems that it will not happen in my lifetime but there is hope in our Youth, as their examples of standing up for environment changes and gun control and against prejudice, are hopeful signs.  So, maybe, just maybe, in time…!

    Roberts, who has her own production company, focusing on Asian issues and Arts, MediaRites, is perfect for leading this effort.  She is acquainted intimately with the subject matter and has assembled the perfect cast for it.  Miles and Rogers have their moments in the sun, as an understanding soldier and a teacher.  And Loftus, Wu, Yokoyama and especially, Yoshikawa, as the family, were so convincing that, at moments, I felt I was transported back to those times and places.  Bravo!

    I highly recommend this production and, yes, bring the kids, as it is a great learning and illuminating experience about our past, never to be repeated.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.
--DJS


Saturday, February 29, 2020

Everything You Touch—Theatre Vertigo—SE Portland


          “Eye of the Beholder”


    This gutsy drama is written by Sheila Callaghan and directed by Jessie Hirschhorn.  It is playing at the Shoebox Theatre, 2110 SE 10th Ave., through March 28th.  For more information, go to their site at www.theatrevertigo.org

    Body image…self-image…what the public expects/perceives…they are Not one and the same.  There are some rather good films from the past on this subject…Looker, Perfect (w/John Travolta & Jaime Lee Curtis) and the excellent thriller, by John Frankenheimer, Seconds (w/Rock Hudson).  Even Jerry Lewis’s excellent performance in, The Nutty Professor, about an inept, goofy teacher trying to impress a girl, by changing into a romantic hunk, but the inner man changes as well, and not for the better.  And who can forget Serling’s masterpiece on, The Twilight Zone, from which my title is taken.  All cautionary tales about preserving/enhancing the “Body Beautiful.”
 
    When, in reality, we are all equal in the end…just dust-huggers.  But one wouldn’t know that by the amount of attention and money we spend on trying to be someone we’re not.  Nothing will ever match natural beauty, or the glow from the beauty within…and that costs you nothing!

    Jess (Kaia Maarja Hillier) is an unhappy, young woman.  She is overweight, her mother, who she’s estranged from, is slowly dying and her career world of computers, gives her little pleasure.  She does have a pseudo-boyfriend, Lewis (R. David Wyllie), who is devoted to her and accepts her just the way she is.  But she lacks self-respect and so she remakes her world over with a boyfriend (Aaron Cooper Swor) that will remake her over, with his minions/models (Wimberley Marshall, Jess Perry & Justin Charles) into the image of herself that she wants.

    Meanwhile, a struggling, arrogant designer, Victor (Swor, again), is trying to make a name for himself in the fashion world.  His muse/girlfriend, Esme (Adriana Gantzer), has come up with topical ideas for wear, with a military theme, or even disco (as this is the age for that) but he rejects them in favor of a country girl, Louella (Shandi Muff), who he’s taken a shine to.  The look is to be a plain, dept. store image of a person, with no frills.  Both Victor’s and Jess’s worlds are strangely connected, but are on a collision course with reality.  To witness the outcome, see it for yourself.

    Hillier expertly presents a roller-coaster of emotions as Jess.  Swor is his oily best as Victor, a man who you love to hate.  Wyllie breaks your heart, as a good man, “who loves, not wisely, [perhaps], but too well.”  Muff is all innocence and fun, until she becomes aware of the price it takes to be popular.  And Gantzer is alluring, a good blend between beauty on the outside and a good soul on the inside.  And Hirschhorn assembles it all together smoothly, like fitting pieces into a giant, jigsaw puzzle.

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

Friday, February 28, 2020

Pipeline—Portland Playhouse—NE Portland



          “All the Colors of the Rainbow”

    This topical drama is written by Dominique Morisseau and directed by Damaris Webb, and co-production with Confrontation Theatre.  It is playing at their space, 602 NE Prescott St. (parking lot two blocks North on 6th Ave.), through March 15th.  For more information, go to their site at portlandplayhouse.org

    A pipeline is a connection between one point of origin and another.  It is a conduit, in the strictest sense, for fossil fuels but, if you broaden the definition, it is any connection between sources of power, such as the Internet or Education or Heritage, that fuels one’s mind and soul, and permits growth.  But, like all growths, it must be properly nurtured for a mature product to emerge.  And, like all things exposed to the elements, there are multiple outcomes possible for this seed, and what, or who, will be the dominant force to determine that direction?  “Ah, there’s the rub…!”

    Nya (Ramona Lisa Alexander) is a teacher in a high school and a single mom raising a teenage boy, Omari (La’ Tevin Alexander), who is suffering from the angst of being a Youth in today’s alien culture, and being a product of divorced parents, which adds to the burden, making him feel like, perhaps, “a stranger in a strange land.”  He loves his mother but feels stifled by her.  He is estranged from his father (Xavier (Reggie Lee Wilson) and, to top it off, he feels his teacher is provoking him by comparing him, perhaps, to the angry character in Richard Wright’s, “Native Son,” and so he lashes out physically against the instructor and is suspended.

    But his “saving grace” is his girlfriend, Jasmine (Tyharra Cozier), who loves him but feels he has a “rocket in his pocket” and is about to explode.  Violence seems to be a pre-requisite for this school, as another teacher, the feisty, Laurie (Alissa Jessup), Nya’s friend, has confrontations more than once and herself may loose it one day.  Dun (Jasper Howard), a security guard, stresses that following protocol is necessary to maintain order but, in a war, protocol seems to go out the window.  This is a surface sketch of the plot and to get to the heart of the matter, to see how it turns out, you’ll just have to observe it for yourself.

    This is all too familiar territory in the lives of our teens nowadays, especially our African-American Youth, having to fight prejudice and intolerance, too.  This is a gripping assessment of what our future may hold for us, with how our Youth are being “educated” today.  Not a pretty picture.  This story is a slice of reality from an author who has, I believe, experienced it.  “Attention must be paid,” or we will sink into chaos and disharmony.  The solution for this story is very touching and a good first step in that journey toward redemption.

    The cast is excellent and well chosen by Webb, who is also the director of Vanport Mosaic out of IFCC, another powerful, artistic voice in the community.  The staging is simple, so that we can concentrate on the story.  And the play is designed to not take sides but gives us viewpoints from all the different factions, a smart idea.

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

Monday, February 24, 2020

Indecent—Artists Rep/Profile Theatre—SW Portland



    “The Family That [Plays] Together…”


    This provocative play, by Paula Vogel, is directed by Josh Hecht, choreographed by Adin Walker and produced by Artists Rep and Profile Theatre, in association with Portland State University at their site at Lincoln Hall, 1620 SW Park Ave. (parking is a challenge in this area, so plan your time accordingly).  It plays through March 8th.  For more information, go to their site at www.artistsrep.org

     This is the epic story of an acting troupe from the early 1900’s through the 50’s.  But it is universal in many ways, as far as the struggles of artists/writer/theatre to be accepted and recognized on their own merits.  It is also the struggle of a heritage, in this case Jews, to be accepted and recognized as a part of human existence.  And so it is with other professions and Faiths, just to be allowed to practice their calling, to be appreciated and to appreciate “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

    The play begins much like Thorton Wilder’s, Our Town, with a Stage Manager/Narrator/Host (Michael Mendelson), introducing the troupe/ensemble (Miriam Schwartz, Joshua J. Weinstein, Jamie M. Rea, Gavin Hoffman, Linda Alper, and David Meyers), who will play a variety of roles over the years.  He also introduces us to three fine musicians, Andrew Alikhanov (Clarinet), Nelly Friedman (Violin) and Moriz Godowsky (Accordion), who will provide musical accompaniment throughout the show.

    The story opens with this group of individuals in Poland in the early 1900’s, desiring to put on a play, with the able assistance, and insistence, of an eager, young playwright, who has written a rather daring and explosive piece of theatre.  It is about a Jewish family, in order to make ends meet, decide to open a brothel in their basement defying, as some see it, the scriptures, and making themselves look bad in the eyes of the public.  It also includes scenes of a lesbian love affair, as well, a big taboo at the time, when even the mention of a woman’s breast, in polite society, was unfashionable.

But, despite this, they do go forward with great acclaim in Eastern Europe.  Then they migrate to America (land of opportunity), where reality raises its ugly head.  The USA may have been the “melting pot” for many beliefs but there are rules to be followed and laws to be obeyed.  Not only were people of the Jewish faith to be scrutinized, but lesbianism and prostitution were against the law (or just swept under the carpet).
 
    Not only that, but theatre and actors were akin to pond-scum.  On a sign, in many barrooms in the West, hung on their doors, proclaimed, “No Dogs or Actors Allowed!”  Such was the fate in store for them.  And so, it goes downhill from there.  A schism exists from within, too, when they oblige the force of the courts, to cut the play because of censorship concerns.    The old adage, “the play’s the thing,” is diluted and is becoming a distant memory.  The American Dream is soiled, when freedom of speech is hampered.  “And so it goes,” down this slippery slope, through the ages….

    To discover their individual outcomes, you’ll just have to see it for yourselves.  But this is a grand story, with some of the finest actors in the Portland area contributing their talents to some important issues, still current today.  And the three troubadours are an important asset to the success of the whole.  Hecht and Walker have created, with this cast/crew, a masterpiece!  And, to add to this marvel, is Peter Ksander, who’s set is a work of art in itself.

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

Sunday, February 23, 2020

The Found Dog Ribbon Dance—CoHo Productions—NW Portland



                                      “All the Lonely People…”

    This dark comedy is written by Dominic Finocchiaro and directed by Connery MacRae, being co-produced by MacRae and Tom Mounsey.  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 7th.  For more information, go to their site at www.cohoproductions.org

    “…Where do they all come from?”  The answer—from every walk of Life.  The lack of communication, compassion and tolerance in this world nowadays is on the rise, compounded by governments and administrations that should be seeking and encouraging to “try a little kindness.”  And this story points to the results of alienation and isolation, leading to loneliness and depression.

    And so, we take a journey with Norma (Beth Thompson), a professional cuddler, who believes that by doing this, she will aid in making the world and its people, more productive by doing this.  So, we encounter some men, some women, a teenager and a dog…all with their own personal stories to reveal.

    There is Dave (Heath Koerschgen), whose marriage is rocky and needs someone to listen to him; Norm (Tom Mounsey), owner of a coffee shop and very awkward socially; Colt (Conor J. Nolan), very insecure; Harrison (Nolan, again), very negative and suspicious; Xeno (Marty Beaudet), a quiet, middle-aged man until he finds his voice; Trista (Deborah Jensen), a neurotic teen; Miranda (Jensen, again), a paranoid housewife; and, of course, Dog (Clifton Holznagel) just looking for his “forever home.”

    It would be amiss of me to go into their stories, as that is something for the audience to discover.  But I can tell you that Dog looks very human and communicates primarily through signs and looks, as most pets do.  And the ribbon dance of the title happens twice and is brilliantly performed by Mounsey and, I assume, choreographed by the director and Mounsey.  It is well worth seeing the intricacies of it.

    MacRae has cast it very well and has endeavored to slow the pacing down when the script calls for it, allowing the audience to experience some breathing space, in conjunction with the characters.  Nolan and Jensen, playing dual roles, excel in creating quite opposite characters for each of them.  Beaudet speaks volumes, as an aging man with a big burden, then beautifully delivers a monologue that goes to the heart of the play.  Koerschgen is always an asset to a play, as he is here, playing the complexities of a lonely and frustrated man.
 
    Holznagel underplays the Dog nicely, always able to communicate the emotions underneath.  Mounsey’s dancing, as mentioned, is a highlight in the show.  And Thompson holds the play together, as she’s onstage the majority of the story.  She is one of the better actors in the Portland area and it is always a pleasure to attend a show in which she’s in.  Another powerful performance by her.

    This play is an actors’ tour-de-force, as they all have their moments in the sun.  I highly recommend this play, as it is very moving and timely.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.
--DJS


Friday, February 21, 2020

Bliss--Defunkt Theatre—SE Portland


          “It’s All Greek To Me!”


    This dark comedy is written by Jami Brandli and directed by Sarah Armitage.  It is playing at their space (behind Coffee Grounds coffee shop), 4319 SW Hawthorne Blvd., through March 14th.  For more information, go to their site at www.defunkttheatre.com

    This compares in intent to a film, dark comedy of a few years ago called, Pleasantville, which pictured a small town in the era of the 50’s, where everybody lived according to the sit-coms of the time, in a B&W (carboard), blissful existence, until an outsider intrudes on their idyllic atmosphere and brings “color” (passion) to their world.  Also, reminds me of the very good musical, Hairspray, and the film and book, The Help.  As well, of course, as the Greek tragedies of yesteryear, which is an underlying shadow to this story.

    The timing is right for Bliss in the era of the MeToo Movement and the mini-revolutions that are happening with the Youth on Environmental changes and stricter gun control laws.  The time of the play is just before our own social revolution of the 60’s, in a small town in New Jersey.
 
    Our hostess is Maddy (Ashley Mellinger), who dresses appropriate for a rich (frustrated) housewife of that time period, and has a tea party in which only two people come, her friend and confidant, Clementine (Gwendolyn Duffey), who is a bit of a rebel, and having an affair with her physician, Doctor Smith (John Corr).  And Antonia (Roxanne Stathos), a young teen, who she is also tutoring, in how to behave as a young lady, ala Emily Post, the goddess of etiquette in this time frame.  But into their lives appears a newbie in their village, a young, African-American lady, Cassandra (Jasmine Cottrell), who will put in motion a chain of events which will turn their lives upside down and inside out.

    A dual story that occurs at the same time, reflects their possible former guises in the Greek era of “gods and monsters.”  The premises then, is that our lives are pre-destined, as the Greeks believed, or do we have freedom of choice, to do as we please, and then Life becomes random, based on that.  And are we reincarnated, regenerated and/or regurgitated from a previous existence, to move forward toward an ultimate Purpose.  Those questions still linger today (unanswered). 

    My answer is that our souls may have had past lives and we are gaining insight into the Purpose of Life with each passing shadow of our spirit.  So, simply do the best you can with what you’ve been given and leave the world in a better state than you found it.  And that is, in part, the challenge that the author leaves us with, I believe…to question, research, discover and be adventurous.  Better said by Dr. Stephen Hawking: “Be brave, be curious, be determined.”

    This author, the director and the cast are perfect in posing these questions.  Anything that allows our minds to esplore our present state of being, is a good thing.  The characters are brilliantly rendered.  These are not easy people to portray, as they do have complexities in their being and have successfully drawn us into their lives.  Duffey (amazing as Sally in Fuse’s Cabaret), Mellinger, Stathos, Cottrell, and Corr are well-engrained in my mind…I can’t imagine any other actors doing justice to the roles as they do!

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

Monday, February 17, 2020

James X—Corrib Theatre—SE Portland



                 Original Sin?!

    This one-man, searing drama, starring Darius Pierce, is written by Gerard Mannix Flynn and directed by Gemma Whelan.  It is playing at the New Expressive Works space, 810 SE Belmont St., through March 1st.  For more information, go to their site at www.corribtheatre.org

    Shakespeare espoused that fault lies within ourselves, not in our stars and, thus, is he in accordance with the Old Testament concept of Original Sin, that we are born with a burden to bear, before we have even taken our first breath.  That stain on our very being, from the outset, can pursue us for the rest of our days.  But, contrary to that belief, is one of Anne Frank’s final entries in her diary, before she died in a concentration camp, she wrote, “I still believe people are basically good.”  Despite proof to the opposite nowadays in world governments, I cling, perhaps naively, to this young girl’s view.

     But so much rides on how we are raised--nature/vs nurture views.  As James X (Darius Pierce) awaits his call to court, to offer his case, of being abused in government and religious institutions, he vomits out his story for us.  Seemingly aware of the horrors which await him in life, he struggles against being born into such a world.  As his childhood is cluttered with unwanted siblings, with a father away and drinking and a mother overburdened, life becomes increasingly unbearable and so, he lashes out to rail against these injustices…but who is listening?!

    Thus, his life is entrusted to religious and government institutions, reform schools, counseling, mental hospitals and prisons, enduring physical and sexual abuse and, during his brief respites at home, he is given to petty thefts and brawling.  Eventually finding his “calling” with a punk-rock band, but even that doesn’t slow his ultimate descent into hell, in which he finally discovers when you’re are at the bottom, there is nowhere to go but up.  And so, he gathers from public records, data on himself through them.  But that’s not the real story, which can be told in a “simpler” manner…and to find out, see it for yourself, if you dare!

    His story is, indeed, horrific but the manner in which Pierce delivers this intense monologue, is a marvel of acting and a highlight of any theatre season!  His rapid-fire spewing of this growing cancer, eating away at his soul, is awe-inspiring.  It is exactly the right interpretation by director, Whelan and actor, Pierce, to capture the degradation, humiliation and pure self-loathing and hatred this character must feel for himself…and we are entrusted with knowing that his is not an isolated case…and what are we to do about it?!

    This is very adult material, so be warned.  I highly recommend this production.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.
--DJS

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Special K—Imago Theatre—SE Portland


          The Enablers


    This original play, exploring the mystery of the creative process, perhaps, is written, designed and directed by Jerry Mouawad and produced by Carol Triffle.  It is playing at their space, 17 SE 8th Ave., off Burnside (parking is a challenge in this area, so plan your time accordingly), through February 22nd.  For more information, go to their site at www.imagotheatre.com

    This is probably the best expression of the extent of possibilities involved in the process of creating Art!  To most, it is a mysterious journey, made up of Muses, Madness and Magic.  I have been a part of that unique club since I was old enough to remember and continuing to the present day.  To give some connection for you from the existing world of artistic merits, it skirts the edges of Serling’s, The Twilight Zone; the French, cult-classic film of yesteryear, King of Hearts; Vonnegut and his outrageous worlds; Pirandello and his search for meaning; Dr. Leary and his exploration of the inner depths through Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds; and other sources.

    The setting is a stage, cluttered with four folks, the asexual, Thelma (Stephanie Woods); the promiscuous, Louise (Emily Welch); the sanctimonious, Narcissus (Danny Gray); and the newbie, Goldman (Matthew Sunderland), actors all.  Their purpose, as it has been for twenty years, is to entertain the fantasies of SHE (Anne Sorce), the be-all and end-all, the Empress or Queen, of this “castle” during the Black Plague era of Europe in the 14th Century.

     (A side note, showing the creative side of people during such dark times:  The disease started as a red spot on the body and, as it multiplied, a dark circle formed around it.  To stop the spread, victims who died of this were identified by flowers being placed in the pockets of them.  The bodies were then burned.  A famous children’s ditty came from this disaster…which I’ll name toward the end of this review.)

    The purpose for this deception, it seems, is a type of therapy to feed into her delusion until it wears off.  Her minions are actors hired to feed into this atmosphere and to do her bidding.  But wear and tear are emotionally draining the participants, until an elegant stranger arrives, Arnold (Sean Doran) and his quirky assistant, Jeanette (Colleen Socha).  More I cannot tell you without revealing elements an audience should discover.  But, suffice to say, it will turn their world upside down and sideways…and ours, too.  Keep in mind, not everything is as it seems.

    This is a brilliant piece of Art by Mouawad (with is co-conspirators/designers, Jon Farley, Lighting & Props and Myrrh Larsen, Sound), exploring the inner workings of a human and merging them with the outer complexities of the universe.  “What a Piece of Work is Man….”  It is destined for a run, I predict, in the Big Apple.  It will open your minds to what is possible—Everything!

    The actors and crew, many from former Imago shows, are exceptional! The illusion/delusion they create is perfectly understandable and realistic…until it isn’t.  “We are but a walking dream…” and this cast & crew and its creator make us believe in the unbelievable…the illusion of reality.  And when this is stripped away, what are we left with…the Void…an Eden…no, another Dream, perhaps.  Oh, and the little children’s rhyme:  “Ring around the rosy, pocketful of posies, ashes, ashes, all fall down!”

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

Sunday, February 9, 2020

The Jungle Book—NW Children’s Theatre—NW Portland


          Creatures of the Wild


    This dance movement-oriented version of Kipling’s classic book is adapted by Sarah Jane Hardy (NWCT’s Artistic Director), Anita Menon & Pat Moran, directed by Tamara Carroll, choreographed by Menon and music composed by Rodolfo Ortega.  
    It is playing at their space, 1819 NW Everett St., through March 1st (parking is an extreme challenge in this area, so plan your time accordingly).  For more information, go to their site at www.nwcts.org or call 503-222-2190.

    In this day and age, we have our own “jungle” to navigate through, made up of concrete and electronics, not the “warm fuzzies” of Nature’s forests and veldts.  We humans seem hell-bent on destroying all the natural wonders of God’s green Earth and making a mockery of the possibilities surrounding us from the natural order of things.  We have failed, in a big way, because of our greed and self-righteous, to live in Harmony with Nature.  But the creatures of the wild have learned that lesson and, in this instance, raised a human child in the ways of the animal, in hopes of creating a new union between beasts and humans.

    All these elements boil down to the transformation of a child, a boy named, Mowgli (Gowri Ganesh), a man-cub, abandoned at birth and raised by the animals of the jungle.  Chief among them are his tutors, a feisty black, panther named, Bagheera (Emma Sanders) and a blustering bear called, Baloo (Samson Syharath).  Mowgli is allowed to stay because the leader of the pack, a clever wolf, Akela (Alanna Fagan), has taken pity on him and believes he may be special in bridging the gap between “all creatures, great and small.”

    But Mowgli is cocky, impish and more interested in playing with his friends than learning lessons.  But there is a time, in every youth’s life, when it is necessary to put aside childish things and become an adult…and that time is closing in on Mowgli.   There are two dangers that face him.  The first is that he is a human and can make fire, which is a threat to the creatures of the jungle.  And the second is that a vicious tiger, Shere Khan (Andres Alcala’), an outcast from the ruling Council, as his style is too dictatorial for leadership, wants to steal Mowgli’s secret of fire for his own selfish ends.

    But, before Mowgli can be accepted, he has to pass certain tests, in order to prove his understanding of the jungle creatures’ way of life.  Along this journey he will face many obstacles, such as the foolish, mischievous monkeys (Arjun Pai & Maya Hawks); Shere Khan’s inept henchmen (Jason Nuesa & Kara Petrick); and the wily, Boa Constrictor, Kaa (Fagan, again).  Of course, a showdown is inevitable but you’ll have to see it for yourselves to discover the outcome…but the message is clear, if beings work together, anything is possible (unlike many governments of the world today).

    The charm of this production really lies with the amazing dancers and dances, as well as the captivating music.  It is a tale told mostly through stylized movement & interpretive, multi-styles of dance; very colorful and inventive costumes (Mary Eggers); and an extremely functional and sleek set (John Ellingson).  If you enjoy going to musical and dance concerts, you will really enjoy this.

    The chorus of dancers are the key to the success of this production and they are brilliant!  So, too, is Alcala’, who makes a delicious villain; Fagan in her aerial acrobatics, as the snake and, especially, Ganesh as Mowgli, she is amazing, having to learn all the different styles of dance in her journey, and is a pretty fine actor, as well.  One of the best and most energetic performances of the Season!  I predict she will go far in this profession.

    I highly recommend this production.  If you do go, please tell them Dennis sent you.
--DJS