Monday, June 18, 2018

The Secretaries—Profile Theatre—SW Portland


Photo Credit: David Kinder
The Avenging Angels

This very dark comedy is written by Maureen Angelos, Babs Davy, Dominique Dibbell, Peg Healey and Lisa Kron (The Five Lesbian Brothers) and is directed by Dawn Monique Williams.  It is playing at the Artists Rep’s space, 1515 SW Morrison St., through July 1st.  For more information, go to their site at www.profiletheatre.org or call 503-242-0080.

It is amazing to think that this was written about 25 years before the current Me, Too, movement but it does give you an idea of how far back (and much further) the abuse and disrespect and inequality of women has been going on.  This genre of expression could be ranked with the darkly comic horror films of the 90’s era, such as Motel Hell, The Stepford Wives and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  And, as demented as you think they are in this story, you root for them all the same (I did).  Go figure….

As the tale goes, there is this lumber camp in Big Bone, OR, where the secretarial staff is totally populated by women.  And the head honcho of them is Susan (Andrea White), a martinet-type of leader on the outside, who runs a tight ship, but does have her odd quirks that you’ll get to know after she cozy’s up to you.  Ands she has her followers among the rabble. 

Her minions consist of the ditzy, Ashley (Kelly Godell), who has the record among the pool of the most “boyfriends,” and is the current secretary of the month, for several weeks running (and she has her prize, a cashmere sweater, to prove it).  Then there is Peaches (Jen Rowe), the effusive, boisterous and over-weight (a no-no, according to club rules) of the pack.  And Dawn (Jamie M. Rea), the outspoken, avowed lesbians of the mob, who takes no prisoners.

Into this motley crew appears the “new-kid-on-the-block,” Patty (Claire Rigsby), who is fresh out of school, naïve, and more than a little susceptible to any outrageous influences, in which there are aplenty in this outfit.  Of course, she must immediately be taken under their wings (or, in this case, maybe talons) and educated as to what’s important in this Life-style, such as to garner a lumberman’s jacket, to control your weight through a rigid diet, to abstain from sex, obey the rules of the club and have an accident-free environment…well, not so much, perhaps, in this category.

How this all comes together, I cannot tell you without giving away secrets, but it’s a dozy, trust me.  And, keep in mind, this is definitely not for everyone.  If you enjoyed the films mentions early in this review, then this may be your “type of shake.”  If not, well, consider this a warning.  Williams has garnered a top-notch group of ladies for this whirlwind experience (I can only imagine the rehearsals) and she has kept it moving, with rapid set changes and explosive performances.

This cast is exceptional in the portraying of the complexities of these characters and keeping them within the bounds of believability, just enough so you are sucked into their world, too.  Kudos to all, as these are some of the strongest performances I’ve seen onstage!

I recommend this play but beware that it involves some very adult and explicit material.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

The Maltese Bodkin—Twilight Theater Company—N. Portland


“What Dreams Are Made On”
This mystery spoof is written by David Belke and directed by Sarah Fuller.
  It is playing at their space, 7515 N. Brandon Ave. (off Lombard, parking lot across the street)., through June 24th.  For more information, go to their site at www.twilighttheatercompany.org

In all our lives, there is probably that one elusive, impossible dream we want to achieve, which will make all our desires come true.
  For some, it is that secret place, buried in our imaginations, where all is tranquil…our Shangra-La, El Dorado, Glocamora, Neverland, Brigadoon, et. al.  For others, it is an object that will bring us wealth and power.  Such is the case with the Falcon from Maltese or, in this case, a jeweled dagger, or bodkin, that may hold the self-same power.
The story follows somewhat closely the same one as the classic, film-noir movie, “The Maltese Falcon.”
  And the style is the same with a hard-boiled shamus, Birnam Wood (Paul Roder), who also discovers his partner, Archie, has been killed while working on a case.  The plot is steeped in that genre with narration by the lead character, garbed in the traditional crumpled trench coat (like Columbo), and sloppy hat, who is a hard-drinker, down-on-his-luck, and smokes too much.
But he has his ever-faithful Girl-Friday, Charlotte (Chelsea Read), over-eager, a bit ditzy and smitten over her boss.
  And this is the part where a whole array of femme fatales, mysterious strangers, and nasty critters crawl out of the woodwork.  And, ‘tis true, but these role models step out of the scenery from 1600 Shakespearean England (no explanations as to how these two genres come to be together, so just go with the flow).
But, being that times are hard, he takes on a case that may solve the death of his partner, as well as retrieving the fabled jeweled bodkin/dagger.
  And, of course, an alluring woman, Viola (Lura Longmire) turns his head, as he finds out that Archie was working for her and she is also searching for her long-lost brother, Sebastian (Skye McLaren Walton).  But he will need help with this quest, so he searches the slums, via his sotted buddy, Falstaff (Stan Yeend), with his main squeeze, Mistress Quickly (Christina Taft), and also scours royal society, through his good friend, Donalbain (Chris Murphy).
Meanwhile, to muddy the waters even more, he is stalked by a sneaky villain, Iago (Samuel Alexander Hawkins), and approached by the helpful, Mercutio (Blaine Vincent III), both desirous of the famed dagger.
  But Wood knows there is someone more powerful behind all this and that the disappearance of the brother, and the jeweled dagger, are somehow connected with his friend’s death.  Really can’t tell you more without spoiling the mystery but know that the author does know his film noir, as well as Shakespeare, and blends the two genres successfully for the most part.
The cast of nine really does quite a good job of portraying, in some cases, as many as three characters.
  There is a very amusing Monty Python type of repartee between R&G (from “Hamlet”) from Vincent & Hawkins, a deliciously droll Richard III from Murph and a super incarnation of the ‘40s sleuth from Roder.  Fuller has done well with her casting and manages to keep the play moving at a very brisk pace.  All in all, a complicated thriller with a huge nod to Willy S. and pot-boiler mysteries, presented by a very talented cast.
I recommend this play.
  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Broken Bone Bathtub—N. Portland area


“The Kindness of Strangers”
This one-woman show, written by and featuring Siobhan O’Loughlin and produced locally by Jesse Braeuninger.
  It is playing in various homes of local individuals in their bathrooms for an audience of 4-8 people through June 18th.  For more information, go to their site at www.brokenbonebathtub.com

This is more of a group therapy session than a “traditional” play but, all directors/producers /actors know that creating a play with actors often results in psychological aspects of the character being examined, as well as one’s own psyche, so this process is just being extended, in a way, to present company, the audience, an intimate gathering, in an intimate atmosphere.
 
And where would an individual be the most intimate and vulnerable?
 Probably in a bathroom or bedroom, stripped of all perceived perceptions.  And, under what circumstances?  Sex, of course, but also after an injury or during an illness, as one’s guards are often down.  And, so we have the bathtub, complete with water, and only suds between us, and a and a lady with a broken hand.
She will, in part, during the next hour, relate to you how this came to be and how she felt it changed her life and led her to this venue.
  But her purpose is far more astute than that.  She tells of her early friendships with other girls/friends and the experiences with group events, such as a type of whip-cream melee.  Obviously, the fun, freedom and intimacy during those times generated a peace within the “savage beast” of a human…and inhibitions be damned.
As she got older and grew up in the NYC area, she felt that biking was the most convenient mode of transportation, and thus, a part of this accident, with her now sporting an injured hand, was a result.
  But the story is only the catalyst for the real purpose of this exercise.  She discovered, while infirmed, that she needed the help of others to some of the simplest, daily routines, like bathing.  And, through this quest for a solution, she embarked on a remarkable journey that has had far-reaching effects, albeit in just small groups at a time, in over 5 countries and 300 performances!
I don’t want to give too much away, as that might be considered a spoiler, but will say that only about half the time you are there, are you listening to her story.
  As she relates her experience, she discovered the fact that she needed others to help her. So, she asks the small gathering assembled, of their experiences with such things as crying in public, being compassionate, giving hugs, relating unpleasant news to a loved one, etc., as she found out, through her own, personal experiences, that we need each other to survive.  “No Man is an Island.”
And what she encouraged the audience to relate is quite amazing.
  They all related very personal accounts of their experiences.  And why is that?  Because you are in an intimate setting with someone more vulnerable than you and with strangers that you’ll probably never see again.  And the secret ingredient for this studious mix of mis-matched spices?  Ms. O’Loughlin herself, as she gently stirs the pot for the most unique taste ever, an excellent chef is she!
Make no mistake about it, this is an event, an experience, possibly a new wave of the first order, which will merge people into dialogues, like she does, and we will come out with a better understanding of others.
  As the song goes, “what the World needs now, is Love, sweet Love, something there’s just too little of.”  And it starts with a small band of brothers and sisters, like this, and hopefully will spread like a tidal wave over the face of the Earth!
O’Loughlin is onto something.
  She comes across as personable, candid, understanding, and able to deal, through dialogue, with any “blue meanies” that invade her/our space.  I wanted to reach out by the end and give her a hug and say she touched me.  You can’t help but fall in love with her and lovable is a good trait to have in this unsettled day and age.  (By the way, Siobhan, the tear-jerker I love with Robert Downey, Jr. is called “Heart and Soul,” worth seeing.

I highly recommend this show but it will only seat, depending on the location, a maximum of 8 people, so best get your tickets now.
  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill—The Armory at PCS—Pearl District


‘Round Midnight
This musical tribute & history of the great Blues/Jazz singer, Billie Holiday (Deidrie Henry), is written by Lanie Robertson and directed by Bill Fennelly.
  It is playing at their space, 128 NW 11th Ave, through July 1st.  For more information, go to their site at www.pcs.org.
The magic hour when shadows invade the senses, memories recur in full, fierce force and music & song is in the hands of royalty—Billie Holiday (Henry)!
  It is unclear as to why such icons of the entertainment/creative worlds feel the need of a “boost” to guide them along.  Many of the greats were involved with drugs, alcohol, battled with insanity and had less than stellar childhoods.  Such was Holiday, a jazzy blues singer whose candle burnt out some 60 years ago.  But this, perhaps, her last appearance, is in South Philly, a town who she has a love/hate relationship with.
She tells of her childhood and her beloved Mom, the “Duchess;” her sexual abuse at the age of 10; of her first real love, the abusive, Sonny; her addictions; her love of music and performing; her relationship with the understanding Artie Shaw and his band of white musicians; and one special occasion when she encountered a club with no toilets for black females and how she remedied that situation (priceless).

Most of Holiday’s favorites are here (but not listed in the program).
  Some of them that I got were “Crazy,” “Baby Doll,” “Easy Livin,’” “Strange Fruit,” and “God Bless the Children.”  Her vocal range slides easily from ballads, to brassy, to mournful and to the upbeat.  One thing you knew for sure, she lived all these songs…and her stories.
And she’s not alone up there.
  She brought along her special guest, Pepe, who helps her through the darkness.  And, of course, there was her ever-lovin’, Jimmy (Abdul Hamid Royal), the piano-man; on drums, Charles Neal and on Bass, James H. Leary (replacing the recently departed, well-known Bass player, Andre St. James).  And they were all terrific!
Fennelly has assembled the perfect cast for this!
  And kudos to Scenic Designer, Michael Schweikardt, it is amazing.  And Henry is following in the shoes of Audra MacDonald (Broadway) and Diana Ross (film, “Lady Sings the Blues”).  But she matches them every step of the way for this is not just someone doing her songs but who embodies the role in her monologues, as she relates her horrific past both in acting and singing.  She does justice to Holiday, who would have been impressed, too, I believe!

I recommend this show, especially for Henry.
  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Fallout—Imago Theatre—SE Portland


“Tomorrow Is Another Day (?)”
This original production is written, directed and designed by Carol Triffle.
  It is playing at their space, 17 SE 8th Ave. (off Burnside), through June 9th.  For more information, go to their site at www.imagotheatre.com or call 503-231-9581.
Where will you be when (not if, according to today’s international climate) the Big One hits?
  When I was but a young lad in the 50’s, this was a very real possibility then and so some families and public buildings and schools were busy building bomb shelters.  It was a strange new world that a youngster was being reared in then, as it is again today.  “When will we ever learn?”
And, in the case of this event, we have a young man, Bobby (Kyle Delamarter), who has evidently decided to jump the gun and simply live in a shelter now, so that he is always prepared.
  He greets his morning light, at the beginning of the day, like a new-borne reaching for the sun.
The down-side is that he can never go top-side, as it just might be the last day.
  And he has no friends that he has invited down here, so he’s a bit of a recluse, playing songs for a audience of one, keeping holy his drawings of his long-dead idols from the entertainment media of years past, creating imaginary situations and dialogues with an invisible lady, sleeping a lot and keeping a diary…and “lets the world slide.”
But a loner for himself is not to be.
  For suddenly the outside world intrudes itself upon him, as two women discover the hatch, by accident, to his domain, as he scuttles away under his bed.  Jackie (Anne Sorce) is the leader of this intrepid duo and wants to explore.  Nadine (Danielle Vermette) is the more skittish of the two and seems afraid of her own shadow.  More discoveries will abound as secret longings and relationships will be revealed, as the three of them must grapple with Fate.  More I cannot tell you without being a spoiler.
But the exciting part of Imago’s shows are not so much the stories but the presentations and execution, as they are replete with dance-like movements, music, and language interpretations and imagery that appear like it might come from an alternate universe.
  This hour-long production also explores the real life problems we are faced with and becomes a sign-post of things to come if we do learn to get along. Triffle has done a fine job of blending these worlds together. 
I also like the original music/songs that were conceived for this show by Triffle and Delamarter.
  And the performances by all three were quirky, unpredictable and totally consistent with the framework for the story.
I recommend this play.
  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

I and You—Artists Rep.—SW Portland


Celebrate Yourself

   This compelling story of love is written by Lauren Gunderson and directed by JoAnn Johnson.  It is playing at Artists Rep., 1515 SW Morrison St., through June 17th.  For more information, go to their site at www.artistsrep.org  

     What are the components for Love?  Poets, writers, philosophers and religions have been grappling with that question for ages.  No definitive answer, of course.  But Walt Whitman, with his long poetic essay on Life, “Leaves of Grass,” with his songs to himself, does contend that, before loving someone else, a person must first love themselves then, I assume, they are capable of giving and receiving love to/from others.  This is a love story then, focusing on Whitman and his words and, in the end result, they connect with these novice lovers in a most unique way.

     Caroline (Emily Eisele) is a solitary teen, living much of her life trapped in her bedroom, as she has always been a sickly child and had to content herself with her own world of arts and crafts, and music and the internet.  She does have friends, of sorts, in her cat, Bitter, her photographs, and her pet turtle, whose shell glows in the dark, like the distant stars.  She, like her turtle, has formed a hard shell to keep out the trappings of the outside world, but is very vulnerable underneath. 
  
     Caroline relies on the electronic world to keep her informed, is in love with rock and roll, especially Jerry Lewis Lewis and Elvis and even texts her Mom downstairs when she wants something, rather than risking a trip into the outer, darker chambers beneath, preferring her familiar, more colorful, world at the top of the stairs.  But this world is about to be shattered with the arrival of another young student, Anthony (Blake Stone), who says he is her project partner on creating a display and speech on the writer, Walt Whitman, for their American Lit. class, even though she does her assignments via the electronic medium.

     Anthony is a bit more subdued than she, likes sports and is a lover of Jazz, especially Coltrane and plays the Sax.  Their worlds tear at each other but seem to reach an uneasy truce when delving into Whitman’s words.  They are truly opposites in so many ways…and yet….?  The interplay between them is priceless and the conclusion is something you won’t see coming.  In short, you’ll have to experience it for yourselves and, I guarantee, you won’t be disappointed.

     Gunderson is an amazing writer, as she teases you along what you think might be a familiar path, then turns the tables on you, as to where it ends up, but realizing that it really does all connect, like a giant, jig-saw puzzle.  Johnson has carefully chosen and modulated the cast and their performances, so that both humor and tears are brought out, letting us know that this is untested territory.  She is also a fine actor in her own right, so knows the journey that creators must travel to master a character.

     The set, by Tim Stapleton, is a wonder, all bright, Spring-like colors, mish-mashed across the walls, “like bits of a shattered rainbow.”  And the actors, Stone and Eisele, are perfect for their parts.  They go through many changes in moods through the story and are very believable in each of these incarnations.  I couldn’t imagine anyone else in these roles.

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

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Left Hook—Vanport Mosaic—N. Portland


Fight Club
This powerful family drama is written by Rich Rubin and directed by Damaris Webb.
  It is playing at the Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center, 5340 N. Interstate Ave., through June 10th.  They also have a very interesting Surge of Social Change Gallery Exhibit upstairs, detailing a lot of history of this area.  For more information, go to their site at www.vanportmosaic.org

I welcome this “old-fashion” type of story-telling, which centers around social situations in a naturalistic way.
  It reminds me of the plays of the 30’s-50’s which usually had beginnings, middles and ends and resolved situations on a realistic level.  The setting is boxing training center and is in the North Portland area (with a very cool boxing ring supplied by Oregon Children’s Theatre).  Also, “left hook,” as I understand it, was the blow that downed Ali by Fraser, implying to always keep your guard up for the unexpected.
Ty (Jasper Howard) is the owner of this Club, inherited from his father, in North Portland during the 70’s.
  He is mostly a tough, no-nonsense sort of guy who only has one student at present, Donnie (James Bowen II), a nice kid but a bit naïve to the ways of the world.  Ty seems to be not only training him for a fight in the ring but the much bigger battle of Life in the Arena outside.
Ty’s friend is Bo (Anthony P. Armstrong), a garbage man, who has encountered more than just the refuse of the street, but Life/reality itself in this ever-changing City.
  Cal (Kenneth Dembo) is Ty’s uncle and keeps reminding him, when he gets too big for his britches, that he use to change his diapers, so not to get too pushy.  He is an outspoken activist of the changes going on in the community, not for the good of African-Americans, either, and seems much in favor of the Black  Movements coming into being in the 70’s.
Ty also has a daughter in high school, Ava (Tonea Lolin), who has taken a liking to Donnie, threatening the wrath of her father.
  But her mother, and Ty’s ex-wife, Mae (Shareen Jacobs), is not opposed to her “testing her wings.”  But it seems all their lives are going to be displaced, as the City has been expanding with a sports/entertainment center, then a freeway and now, a hospital growing outward, and it always seems to be the African-Americans that must deal with the brunt of these changes.  How the family turmoil all turns out, you’ll just have to see for yourself.  But people that have been oppressed all their lives, do have the ability to pick up the pieces and start anew with a greater resolve!
The author certainly has a way in his writing of making his story personal and yet universal as well.
  And the director has complimented his vision with her great eye for casting, as well as using the stage and the ring to the story’s advantage.  She also does a fine job of choreography of the boxing maneuvers, giving a sense of a rhythmic dance.  All very well done.
And each of the actors are very specific in their creations, all believable and natural.
  I especially liked Ty’s delivery of his “rage speech,” as he talks about war and killing.  I recommend this production.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.