Saturday, December 14, 2019

The Miracle Worker—Twilight Theater Company—N. Portland

         The Miracle of Communication

    This powerful drama, based on a true story, is written by William Gibson and directed by Doreen Lundberg.  It is playing at their space, 7515 N. Brandon Ave. (upstairs), just of Lombard (small church parking lot across the street), through December 22nd.  For more information, go to their site at

    Helen Keller (Olivia Holmstedt) , a deaf and blind child from birth, living in the Deep South during the late 1800’s, is truly one of those stories for the Ages.  Having her intelligence locked up for her early childhood years and then suddenly, for some inexplicable reason, was able to become aware of the outside world through the extreme patience of Annie Sullivan (Valeria Asbell), an Irish student with low vision herself, and was able to connect with her and open both their worlds to a whole new level.  Truly, a Miracle!

    Annie did not, at the outset, seem the sort to create miracles.  She and her brother had been sent to an Asylum as children because they were both infirmed.  She had numerous operations on her eyes and still had somewhat restricted vision.  But she pulled herself up by her bootstraps and chose to learn sign language, with the help of Dr. Anagnos (Arun Kumar), and became a teacher at the school she attended.  But her first professional job was to be with the Keller family.

    Capt. Keller (Rick Barr), was an authoritarian head of a family, an ex-Civil War officer in the Confederate army, and Editor of the town’s newspaper, and was no one to cross.  His seemingly meek wife, Kate (Nina Monique Kelley), usually bowed to his wishes.  His sister, Ev (Lisa Pauley Grab), dutifully backed him at every turn.  His rebellious son, James (Blain Vincent III), feared him.  But he was at his wits end as to what to do with his young daughter, Helen, who was unable to speak or hear from birth, as diagnosed by their Doctor (Brent McMorris).

    Helen’s only contact with the outside world was playing with the servant’s, Viney’s (Tony Domingue) children, Percy (Emily Blacker) and Martha (Adale Beckwith-Foster).  But with Annie’s arrival, her world and the family’s would be turned upside down.  Annie insisted on complete control of the child.  She would not be content to simply have Helen imitate her, like a trained pet, but actually understand the meaning of objects in the world and how they all related to each other. 

    And she wanted to have Helen communicate back to her, as to her thoughts and feelings.  The journey would be hard, both physically and emotionally for everyone but the rewards, if successful, would be immeasurable.  This trek must be experienced by the audience, and so, this is where my description ends.  But try to imagine, if you will though, entering a world of noiseless darkness and encountering all sorts of objects, completely unaware of their meanings and, not only that, having your mind, thoughts, and feelings trapped inside you with no way of expressing yourself.  That is the challenge Annie and Helen must overcome…and you will a witness to it.

    The script itself is a bit of an obstacle, as it is written more like a screenplay, with scenes jumping back and forth, between place and time, in quick successions.  This production does a good job of overcoming an engrossing but episodic script.  Also, the fan from the heating elements does create some distractions at times in hearing the play.  But it is still a powerful show and Lundberg has chosen well her cast and managed to keep the story straight for an audience, despite the difficulties in the script.

    The emotional and physical high points of any production of this show, are the exhausting performances of the two key roles, Annie and Helen.  In this case, they have been extremely blessed.  Except for grunts and screaming, Holmstedt only has one line at the end but the physicality of this young lady is marvelous.  She is a credit to the role.  And Asbell, as her teacher, is amazing.  She and her young student compliment each other at every twist and turn in their relationship.  One feels strongly for Annie as she, too, has been through hell and Asbell rides this emotional roller-coaster perfectly.  The almost silent, lengthy scene, as she tussles with her in using utensils and folding her napkin, is priceless, thanks to two fine actors (and the director)!

    A side note, Asbell also has her own company, Clever Enough, and is a fine director herself, having produced two of the most difficult plays of all time, Rhinoceros and Hamlet and both very well done!  Her company is worth checking out to see what’s next for them.

    I recommend this production, especially for the acting of the two key players.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Friday, December 13, 2019

A Christmas Carol—Portland Playhouse—NE Portland

         The Immortal Visionary

     This annual event of Dickens’s immortal classic is adapted and lyrics by Rick Lombardo, music by Anna Lackaff and Lombardo, arranged by Lackoff and directed by Brian Weaver.  It is playing at their space, 602 NE Prescott St. (parking lot 2 blocks N. of the theatre, on 6th), through December 29th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-488-5822.

     This is undoubtably one of the most produced stories of all time.  Dickens, himself, enjoyed reading from it to audiences in his time; there was a one-man show with Phillip J. Berns; animated films with voices of Mel Blanc, and Jim Backus (Magoo)—even a C/G version with Jim Carey; musicals; Reader’s Theatre (I even directed one with Russ Fast); futuristic, from Rod Serling, Carol For Another Christmas; and countless Scrooge’s, (with the best being Alastair Sim), including Albert Finney, George C. Scott, Henry Winkler, Sterling Hayden, Michael Caine, Bill Murray…and countless others.

     For the one or two of you that don’t know the story, here is a thumbnail sketch of it:  Scrooge (Michael Mendelson) is a miser, a money-lender by trade, who treats everyone around him like dog-do, even his jolly nephew, Fred (Melissa Mahoney), and his poor clerk, Cratchit (Ben Tissell).  But redemption may be on its way, as the ghost of his old business partner, Marley (Cycerli Ash), warns him of the consequences of continuing in this fashion.  He is to be visited by three spirits (also, all played by Ash) 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.

     Of course, along this journey, he has many visions of his life on its downhill spiral.  He sees himself as a young man (Dan Tracy), before his fall from grace with his former boss, Fezziwig (Tissell, again) and his slipping into materialism with his true love, Belle (Mahoney, again).  In the Present, he’s sees the joy in both his nephew’s family and the Cratchit’s during this festive time of year.  And, in the possibly prophetic future, sees the results of his own plight and also of the sad fate of the Cratchit’s youngest, Tiny Tim (not credited), and so vows to change his wayward ways.

     This collective ensemble in an open staging arena and story-telling style, with music, dancing and song, brings to life, with the energetic leadership of the director, Weaver, this beaming story of Redemption and Love, fit for the whole family.  Mendelson is especially good playing a somewhat more approachable vision of Scrooge.  Also, Ash excels at playing all the ghosts, including Marley.

    And I liked Mahoney, too, as she stood out in all her varied incarnations.  I recommend this production, suited for the whole family, but it’s selling out fast, so get your tickets soon.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

     But, something to think about, as this story does inspire you to do that, there is a more somber/sober side that is relevant, too, as observed by my astute friend, Dave, and his wife, Christine (a Brit by birth), that Dickens’s life and times and writings were also reflecting on the poverty and pain of the 1800’s in England:   “…To portray the often grim world of A Christmas Carol as a jolly holiday post card is well meaning, but sadly misguided, especially when considering the poverty and suffering of the lower working class in Victorian England….”

     Definitely some excellent food for thought and true.  But here is my response to that note which he sent me: “Think about this:  During the Great Depression of the 30's, the one industry that thrived was...The Movies!  Why...because of the same reason we have upbeat Christmas classics at this time of our lives...because it boosts morale and gives people Hope and takes them out of their depressing situations for a while, in hopes of it rubbing off into real life.

     True, it doesn't reflect current situations of reality but it's hoping to create a New Reality with this (which is probably unrealistic) and, if not, at least takes people out of the Dismal situations for a short time and to view other possibilities, especially for the youngest citizens of our (once) Good Earth and let them see, at least, for a while, a Light at the end of a dark tunnel.

     Remember a quote from the play:  Scrooge, to Fred---"Why are you happy, you're poor enough?"  Fred's response, "Because I fell in Love."  Somehow, in Dickens's mind as well, Goodness/Love transforms the Darkness/Poverty into Light, if not forever, at least to give us the power, the vision, that there truly is something better out there, maybe just out of reach, but possible all the same!  "And, as Tiny Tim observed, "God Bless us Every One!"

     The next phase in our development is, honestly, in the hands of the Youth and they will change things, I believe....  “And a child shall lead them."  After all, look who's on the cover of Time as the Person of the Year!  And so, "attention must be paid"--and it is noted now for all to see.”

Happy Holidays!

Sunday, December 8, 2019

The Christmas Case—Battleground Productions—SE Portland

    This original, Christie-est script is written and directed by the author, John Longenbaugh.  It is playing at the Chapel Theatre, 4107 SE Harrison St., in Milwaukee, through December 21st.  For more information, go to their site at

    This follows very much in the Agatha Christie vein of British mysteries…the snow-bound suspects, a theft of an expensive item, the long, complex reveal at the end of the crime and a visit by a mysterious stranger.  It’s a classic setting and the author is obviously a fan of this genre (as am I).

    The Brits and the BBC are probably the crown jewels in this genre, in my opinion.  Both Doyle (with his Holmes & Watson) and Christie (with her Poirot and Marple), all try to manipulate a tale in such a manner that the reader/viewer will be unable to discover the culprit(s) by the end.  But “in the meantime…in between times…ain’t we got fun.”  And that is just the ticket for a cozy ride on a crisp winter’s night, as it is here!

    It seems that the upper crust of the Ashford family is sorely lacking in bread and are in need of some fresh blood to revitalize the family’s coffers.  Lady Constance (Rebecca Morse), at her wits ends, is down on her luck, so it might be up to her daughter, the wiley, Cynthia (Caralynn Shields), to come to the rescue by marrying the aristocratic, Wayne Coverley (Riley Parham), who is coming to visit with his well-to-do but not-too-bright classmate, Percy Wentworth (Hunter O’Harrow).

    Also visiting, on this snowy winter’s eve, is the other side of the family, Lady Madelyn Brass (Allison Anderson), her clever sister, and her daughter, the astute, Gwendolyn (Katherine Grant-Suttie).  Only problem being is that they are both in disguise as Germans, as they had been presumed dead from a bombing incident and are afraid they are being stalked by spies out to finish the job.

    And, added to this motley crew, are the ever-faithful butler, Tomkins (Rick Warren)—there always seems to be a butler in these cases.  And the mysterious stranger, the understanding, Father Christmas (Andy Mangels), who may have other conjuring tricks up his sleeve.  And the crime—the theft of a jewel!  And who is the perpetrator, “ah, there’s the rub.”  See if you can discover the secrets, which are held by all, before the last reveal is discovered…!

    This is a delightful romp on a winter’s eve and it’s clear the cast is having a jolly good time of taxing one’s “little gray cells” into action.  The cast is quite a treat, with Anderson and Grant-Suttie as the Poirot/Holmes team of investigators, quite inspiring in their multi-faceted roles of aristocratic Brit family, beleaguered “Germans” and detectives.  The college buds, Parham and O’Harrow, are charming as inept, pseudo-suiters—I especially liked O’Harrow’s quirky movements, awkward pauses and totally, mindless remarks—bravo. 

    Morse and Shields, as the more conniving side of the failing family fortunes, were fun to observe.  Warren as the trusted servant, who has more on his mind than servitude, is good.  And Mangels is very well-suited to his role as a man who may hold the biggest secret of all.  All actors are very well cast in their roles.  And the set (Tyler Buswell—a very well-respected designer for his work, also, with Bag & Baggage Productions) and costumes (Christine Richardson), are a real asset to the authenticity of the production.

    It is obvious that Longenbaugh is familiar with the Brit mystery genre, as all the typical elements are here.  But with complicated plots, such as this, it is important to keep a clear through-line in the story, that all the scenes are relevant in some way to the overall concept.  The scene with Father Christmas and Lady Madelyn is fascinating and well-acted as written, and may be a good subject for a play in itself, but the dialogue has almot nothing to do with the basic plot.  Outside of that, this is a pleasant evening’s diversion and is certainly worth one’s time to see a wonderful, fun homage to a very popular style of literature.

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

Saturday, December 7, 2019

The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart—Artists Rep—SW Portland


                                                                                 A Mid-Winter, Mis-Adventure’s Dream    

    This interactive, cabaret-style show is written by David Greig and directed by Da’maso Rodriguez and Luan Schooler.  It is playing at the Tiffany Center, 1410 SW Morrison St. (4th floor), through January 5th.  For more information, go to their site at

    Love may be the tale “as old as time,” but this morality story ranks up there with it.  Writers from the ole Greek and Roman days have told and re-told their fables of “gods and monsters” up to the present-day incarnations.  One of their favorite subjects seems to be of the Underworld (Hell/Hades) and the main proprietor of it, the cloven-hoofed fellow himself, Old Nick/Satan/the Devil.

    Writers such as Stephen Vincent Benet, Rod Serling, Ira Levin, Ray Bradbury, et. al. and films such as The Omen, The Devil and Daniel Webster, et. al. and even Disney’s Fantasia (Night on Bald Mountain) and the recent Tony-awarding winning musical, Hadesville, speak of an unholy entity and his gyrations to seduce folks into visiting his realm—for all eternity!  This play is such a tale.

    According to Scottish legend, in ballads and folklore, there is one night of the year, Mid-Winter’s Eve, at the border or crossroads of a country, where Hell is opened up and unwary souls are sucked into the vacuum created (as well as souls possibly escaping) to/from the abysmal pit.  But outwitting ole Nick is not all that easy, as he’s had eons to perfect his craft.

    Prudencia (Amy Newman) seems to be a likely candidate for such a “visit,” as she is a na├»ve young girl, an innocent, a sort of Every-Woman type of character.  And, better yet, she is a believer in the old-world ballads, folk tales and lore and somewhat of an earthly authority on it, too.  Her chief opponent is a modernist, Colin (Eric Little) who doesn’t believe such dusty nonsense but instead, favors only what can be touched, or seen with the naked eye. 

    And so, the die is cast with only one more character to be added, the ole fellow himself, Nick (Darius Pierce) who, posing as a mild-mannered B&B owner on this snow-bound night, awaits with open claws, er, arms, his victim and, like a spider with his web, draws her into his ever-lasting den.  Too easy, you might say…and you’d be right.  What if this lonely, ole fellow, who never lets down his guard, finds he may not know, or have experienced, everything?  What if she finds a strange allure, a fascination, with him and his realm?  What if there is a way back to her home turf and even to turn the tides on the Master Trickster himself?  Guess you’ll just have to see it, to find out how it all turns out, won’t you?!

    I’ve simplified the story a great deal and have just given you the core of it.  But, at well over two hours, there is an ensemble cast (Susannah Mars, Luisa Sermol, Rachel Bentzen, Kerie Darner, Corey Silver, Haley Novasio, and Alicia Hueni, that play many supporting roles, as well as a very fine duo, The Katie Jane Band (Katie Lubiens & Adam Easley) to liven things up even more.  This is a mischievous, bawdy, naughty play that interacts with the audience and it is a rollicking, good time!  It’s also highlighted with a no-host bar.

    The music, songs, performances and direction are very energetic and cleverly distributed throughout the audience area.  But the script is ponderous, overwritten and repetitious and could be pared down by a third, I believe.  What saves it, is the immensely talented presenters!  As noted, this is an adult affair and may not be suitable for everyone.

    I recommend this play, as it is a fun romp on a cold, winter’s night.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

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 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.

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

    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.

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

    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.