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


Monday, February 3, 2020

Mamma Mia!—Stumptown Stages—downtown Portland

       
          “Thanks for the Memories”

    This popular musical has music and lyrics by Benny Anderson, Bjorn Ulvaeus, with Stig Anderson, book by Catherine Johnson and directed and choreographed by Christopher George Patterson, and music direction by Adam Joseph Young.  It is playing at the Winningstad Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway, through February 16th.  For more information, go to their site at www.stumptownstages.org

    “If music be the food of love, play on!”  In truth, what passes for “love,” in most filmic and literary definitions of the word, is really just simply lust or animal attraction.  But our poetic natures refuse this baser explanation of a truly enigmatic feeling, which is both very personal and undefinable.

And so, we are left, in this story, with what can be best described as a love child, with the possibility of three fathers.  Of course, if “safe sex” had been practiced, or a paternity DNA test issued, there would be no such questions nor, of course, no story.  So, sit back, relax, and let the Magic of the Greek isles weave its spell on you.

    The story is woven around the music of ABBA and cleverly done, too, from an “Age of no regrets.”  (Julie Traymore, of Broadway’s Lion King fame, did a similar film with a story woven around Beatles music.)

    Donna (the incomparable, Margie Boule’) has had her space in the sun, on her little, Greek island, running an Inn, for about 20 years, and raising, as a single mom, her daughter, Sophie (Jacqueline Mallene).  But changes are in the wind and her daughter has found the man of her dreams, Sky (Michael Castillo), and so, a wedding is planned.  Which means, of course, a huge party, with Donna’s two best friends attending, the vivacious, Tonya (Lisamarie Harrison, reprising her role from the Broadway Rose production) and the spunky, Rosie (Elizabeth Hadley).

    And, of course, that means Sophie’s best friends must also attend, the sassy, Lisa (Tina Mascaro) and the fun-loving, Ali (Liz O’Donnell).  There are also some very available young studs around for any unattached females, helpers at the Inn, the winsome, Pepper (Xander Dean) and the energetic, Eddie (Jeff George).   
Only one, teeny-weeny, little fly-in-the-olive-oil, she wants her dad to walk her down the aisle, as per tradition.  Only one small problem, she doesn’t know who  he is, so she invites all three of the potential suitors (according to her Mom’s journal), the designer, Sam (Shawn Rogers), Bill (Steve Coker), the writer, and Harry (Doug Zimmerman), the banker…from that fateful time period, when she was conceived…to the ceremony, in the hopes of finding out who her real dad is.

    “In the meantime, in-between time, ain’t we got fun!” Can’t tell you the rest without spoiling the tale but, trust me, the music, dancing and songs transport one to the land of, if not “happy” endings, at least, “hopeful” ones.

    All the popular songs are there, including the popular, “Dancing Queen” and, of course, “Mamma Mia.”  The songs and dances are a-plenty, all very well executed by an extremely talented troupe of performers, with nary a weak link in the bunch.  Harrison knocks ‘em dead with, “Does Your Mother Know,” and Hadley explodes with, “Take a Chance on Me,” both show-stoppers.  The dancers excel, especially in “Voulez-Vous.”  And Boule’ raised the roof with the emotional, “The Winner Takes It All”—powerful in the extreme!

    The acting was top-flight, too, among the ladies and, after all, it is their show.  But the guys lend ample support, with the most natural being Coker, with his easy-going manner and charm, giving a natural feel for the role.  Patterson has infused it with a winning cast and fast-paced delivery.

    On a personal note, I was seated in a section of the theatre where my sightlines of S/R action were hampered and had a pole in front me…not good placement for a reviewer…nor any audience member…so best check on the layout of seats when reserving them.

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