Sunday, August 12, 2018

Title and Deed—Imago Theatre—SE Portland


“Stranger in a Strange Land”


    This avant-garde experience is a one-man show performed by the always amazing, Todd Van Voris and directed by the also, amazing Jerry Mouawad.  It is written by Will Eno and playing at Imago’s space, 17 SE 8th Ave (Off Burnside) through August 25th.  For more information, call them at 503-231-9581.
     What would it feel like to an alien from another world and, somehow, wind up on our shores?  (Nowadays, if he was smart, he turn tail and head back from whence he came!)  In this case, a being ends up trying to adapt/assimilate/study our way of life because it is evidently similar to his.  An alternate universe, perhaps? 

     
He is obviously lost, in more ways than one.  He is lured into an almost empty space, having only a “Ghost” light as a beacon into this chilly atmosphere.  His world seems sadder and he reflects this.  His world also seems less compassionate than ours (but I think we are slowly catching up with that concept).  He explains his world as an endless parade, only pausing long enough to let the ambulances through.  That says a lot.  It seems when they are birthed, at the first primal scream (of pain or joy?), they are already on the road to death.  A terrible awareness to be born with.

     It seems to be a matter-of-fact existence, a way of coping, perhaps, until they gaze into the Void, the Blackness and see…nothing.  “The rest is silence,” but no peace seems to ensue. They appear to go through the motions, gesturing and gyrating, wandering and wading, rising and failing, knowing “right from left,” as they were taught, but with no firm understanding of motivations, of aspirations, of what-ifs…only aware of sounds, discordant noises, how words are formed with no sense of their meanings.  An existence whose purpose…has no purpose.

     And what does such a being bring with him to this new word?  A satchel with a stick and a lunch box, empty (but has room to put something into it if one desires). My take on it…the old Jonathon Winters routine, where he’s challenged to find a use in a stick.  His solution?  It can be anything you want…a spyglass, a sword, a future tree, etc.  And the empty box?  Hitchcock explains that such devices were “MacGuffins,” they, unto themselves, were of no importance, they were only devices to move the plot along, as it could contain anything you wanted.  And so, is our alien friend onto creating his own worlds, if only he had the imagination?  Will he (we) ever know the purpose of his arrival?  Maybe at one time, he (we) did know the purpose, the end result, the connection of such a union but it seems to have all dissipated “…into thin air, leaving not a wisp behind!”  Are we the better for knowing him (or he, us)?  Or, does it even matter…?  A tale of hopelessness, maybe.

     As always, Mouawad and Van Voris are an unmovable force, an unstoppable team, a creative mountain plastered with seemingly disconnected thoughts, discarded ideas…fodder for the little used imaginations of the “unwashed masses.”  Van Voris is a delightful explorer, who has shared many a journey with us over the years and still amazes and satisfies.  He is royalty in the kingdom of Creative Arts!

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

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Spring Awakening—Staged!—SW Portland




Yearnings

     This dramatic musical, winner of 8 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, is written by Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik from a play by Frank Wedekind.  It is directed by Melissa Myers, choreographed by Sacred Kaltenthaler and musical direction by Andrew Bray.  It is playing for one more performance at the Artists Rep space, 1515 SW Morrison St., through August 11th (bless Artists Rep for giving them a home for this production).  For further information, go to their sites at

     Be warned from the outset, this is a very adult show.  “Growing up is hard to do,” as the old song goes and, in this, case, could be deadly (our current times mirror this somewhat).  This story has roots in other musicals like Hair and Rent.  And, like those powerful pieces, there are harsh lessons to be learned.

     This tale has a group of budding, young adults, being raised in a very authoritarian, private school, somewhere and sometime in Germany.  The teachers (as well as all adult roles, are played by Jessica Hirschhorn and Heath Hyun Houghton) concentrate on the classic artists of the time, such as Wagner, Nietzsche, Goethe and Luther and separate the classes by gender.  The teens’ parents are equally harsh.  No adult influence gives any instructions to the sexual awakenings the teens will experience, or even how babies are made.

     So, left to their own devices, they must content themselves with pictures from books, stories from their comrades or relieving the itch with private, sexual fantasies.  One young couple, Melchior (Isaiah Rosales) and Wendla (Sofia Vilches), begin to experience each other in the “biblical sense” and discover the responsibilities and consequences of such actions.

     Another hyper, young man, Moritz (Paul Harestad) seems unusually disturbed by these feelings and is both repulsed and attracted to them.  Even his childhood friend, Ilse (Ronni Lee), who has run off to join an artists’ colony, gives him a glimpse of the freedom and depravities of giving into these desires.  And his father is of no help in understanding these strange new urges and longings, it was just something you didn’t talk about.

     Some, like Martha (Lauren Steele), even associate pain and abuse, from her father, with love.  And there is even the exploration of gay love between two young boys.  All their friends are going through similar “awakenings” but with no engine to guide this runaway train.  Without any adult mentorship, all this dawning of new days in their lives will come to naught, and even, in some cases, lead to tragic results.

     Much like the above musicals I mentioned, there are no easy answers, just lots of hard questions.  But, in this case it seems, without positive adult role models and mentorships, some questioning teens will have rocky adult lives.

     And the music/lyrics (Musical Director, Bray) shadows the story nicely and yet do not overpower it.  The choreography (Kaltenthaler), too, in such expressive number as, “Mama Who Bore Me,” and “Totally Fucked,” is explosive.  Houghton and Hirschhorn are powerful in demanding, multiple roles, oozing a Machiavellian mood everywhere they stepped.  The already mentioned leads, as well as the other students (Celie Straub, Annie Eldridge, Jon Matter, Jerod Packard, Jacob Skidmore and Isaac O’Farrell) composed an exceptional singing and acting ensemble, a tribute to the group’s training.  And Myers has done an outstanding job of staging it with the bare essentials so that the story, characters and music stand out.

     I recommend this show but, as I said, it is very adult in subject matter, so may not be for everyone.  It is reported that the final show, as was this one, is sold out but sometimes folks don’t show up so you might give it a try.  If you do choose to go, tell them Dennis sent you.
But, perhaps, the most important part of this organization, is its purpose.  From a personal perspective of a father on the fruits of its (and OCT’s Young Professionals Company) merits (his daughter, Haley, a much-touted actor as a teen in Portland) is currently playing Mercutio in a play at her college and will graduate this year with a theatre degree).  Anyway, here is his honest take on the company, from a personal letter to me:

“…wonderful alum opportunity Staged! offers its students/graduates. I know Paul Angelo and our new managing director, Paige Rogers, are already excitedly planning next year's shows based on the extremely positive feedback the cast and crew have given them about this experience.  Honestly, I'm just happy to have the chance to share the fruits of this program that was so important in Haley's trajectory, with you.”

     As most people may know by now, I am a fierce advocate for young people and promoting the advance of theatre training for them to build confidence, promote teamwork, build character and awareness, have a safe atmosphere to explore conflicting feelings and to have the opportunity to step into another person’s shoes and walk around in them, to see other perspectives on cultures, the world and life, itself.  Staged! is a 10-year-old company which “…continues to delight audiences by exploring those things that make us burst into song, focusing on musicals & actors telling stories together onstage.”
Their mission:  “Staged! exists to tell compelling human stories through song, and to nurture talent both onstage and off.  With musical theatre pared down to its to its essential musical elements—music, story and song—Staged! produces stellar musical theatre and provides pre-professional training to young people.”

     In this extremely explosive and negative atmosphere that we are currenting existing in, we need future generations that will have the character and courage to stand up to the strife and stress of this charged atmosphere and make changes that will help build a more compassionate society worldwide.  The sidebars are present now, with women forging the path for equality and respect, and Youth are standing up to the NRA and Congress to curb violence on the young.  What they seek, in part, is discovering Truth and Honesty and Compromise in building inroads and relationships, all of which true theatre folk must possess to be Artists.  The reason for our existence lies more in the writings of poets and dreamers, than they do in science and math.  Our Essence cannot be quantified.  Theatre training (full of explorers of this sort) is of use, both onstage and in the outside world, make no mistake about it!

     We also need more organizations that will support places for theatre companies to work, instead of developers/building owners only being concerned about the almighty buck.  Theatre companies are becoming orphans all the time for this reason but, even as nomads, they will not be ignored.  
     Invest in the Future, in the Arts and our Artists!

--DJS

Monday, August 6, 2018

Guys and Dolls—Broadway Rose—Tigard, OR



The Thorny Path To Salvation

    This classic, fun musical is based on the stories and characters by Damon Runyon, music and lyrics by Frank Loesser and book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows.  This production is directed by Sharon Maroney, music direction by Jeffery Childs and choreography by Maria Tucker.  It is playing at their summer location (Deb Fennell Auditorium), 9000 SW Durham Rd., in Tigard, through August 19th.  For more information, go to their site at www.broadwayrose.org

    In this climate of the MeToo movement, nowadays, this musical might be considered “politically incorrect.”  Civilization in this country during the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s was still in their infancy, as far as equal and respectful treatment of women (as well as ethnics).  And so, this story reflects those times.  Consider it a history lesson of an evolving culture.  That being said, the characters do reflect, in all its sometimes silliness, women who are equal, if not superior, to their male counterparts and, in the end, win the day.

    The plot is drawn from real characters Runyon knew in his time on the streets of NYC.  Other familiar films of his stories from that era were Little Miss Marker (Shirley Temple) and The Lemon-Drop Kid (Bob Hope), all fun but drawn from the underbelly of the big city.  In this incarnation, there are the gamblers/gangsters, their molls and the religious shakings of the Salvation Army.  A test of Good versus Evil, perhaps, when feet of clay will be molded into firmer footings.

    It seems that Sarah (Dru Rutledge) is out to save the derelicts and street hustlers from the seeds of evil.  But she meets her match in Sky (Ryan Reilly), a gambling, man of the first order, with no female strings on him.  And there is also Nathan (Joe Theissen) who runs the largest floating crap game in New York.  His main squeeze is Adelaide (Emily Sahler), the lead dancer of the Hot Box Club, who has been engaged to Nathan for 14 years.  Needles to say, much of the plot revolves around the uniting of these mismatched characters.

    Others, pulling them one way or the other, are the gamblers, Nicely-Nicely (Brandon B. Weaver), Harry (Richard Cohn-Lee) and Benny (Jesse Cromer), with the mob boss, Big Jule (Ethan LeFrance), making them “offers they can’t refuse.”  (a side note—I played Big Jule at SOC in the 60’s under the direction of
Dr. Angus Bowmer and the film actor, Sam Elliot, played him at Clark College during the same era).

    Others in this tug-of-war are the army of the righteous side with Sarah, and headed by the General (Margo Schembre) and Sarah’s mentor, Arvide (Dan Murphy, managing director of B/R).  Who will win in this battle for souls.  Need to see it to find out, don’t you?!

    Some marvelous songs are here, including the title number, “Sit Down Your Rockin’ The Boat” (led by the powerful voice of Weaver) and “Luck Be A Lady” (well sung by Reilly and company).  But the scene-stealing numbers are Adelaide’s Laments (Sahler, who has a belting voice that shakes the rafters).  Rutledge (an operatic voice) and Sahler have a touching number in “Marry the Man Today,” and Sahler and Theissen with the humorous, “Sue Me.”  And one of my favorites, the sentimental ballad, “More I Cannot Wish You,” nicely rendered by Murphy (oddly, the only number cut from the movie).

    Maroney has assembled a top-notch cast and keeps the play moving at a brisk pace.  The well-respected Childs delivers the rousing score well, without over running the singers.  Tucker has a great moment with the Crapshooters’ Ballet.  Ryan J. Moller sparks up the show with colorful, period costumes and The Music And Theatre Company provide the traditional scenery, which aids the play greatly.

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

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Please Underestimate Me—Portland Playhouse—NE Portland

Photo by Andy Barr
                Duality Times Three


     This introspective play is adapted for the stage from Jay Flewelling’s book of personal essays, by Jason Rouse & Jessica Dart and directed by Rouse.  It is playing at the Portland Playhouse space, 602 NE Prescott St. (parking lot two blocks North of the theatre), through August 12th.  For more information, go to their site at www.pleaseunderestimateme.com

     I assume you realize that we mere mortals are more than one person?!  For example, you are a different character when around close friends; around family; around a loved one; around co-worker and/or schoolmates, etc.  This is well shown in the excellent animated film from Pixar, “Inside Out” or the very good film, “Being John Malcovich,” (or the extreme case of Jekyll & Hyde, if you will) as they all show different aspects of being the same person.

     In this case, the author, Jay Flewelling (an actor on stage, as well), is also played   by himself and five other actors (Rose Bonomo, Stephanie Cordell, Scott Engdahl, Shareen Jacobs and Savira Kambhu) are different stages of his life, as well as other characters in it.  And he certainly has had a varied life and learning experiences up to this point.

     Consider being raised in a Fundamentalist, Christian household, even speaking in tongues at their local place of worship; discovering his love of horses at an early age when his parents rented out their field to a group for their use, only to find out they were part of a radical organization; being a bully to those he felt were “deviates,” until he discovered the reason for his “hatred;” dealing with being fat as a child; and finding a certain peace when working for a group that consisted of military people, gays and the “riff-raff.”  Finding, ultimately, that we all are united under the skin and can all work together for a common good (a lesson not yet learned on a universal scale!).

     But what is probably most remarkable, is that much of his progress as a human being, was because people underestimated him.  When that happened, he found he could rise to the occasion and prove them wrong.  And so, when someone tells you, you can’t climb trees or play football or be a politician because you’re a girl, prove them wrong!  When you are jeered or laughed at because of your ethnic origin or color of your skin and thought inferior, prove then wrong!  When you (or someone else) are bullied or made fun of because of different beliefs, and that you don’t conform to the crowd, stand taller than them and be a leader, not a lemming…and pretty soon all those “thems” will be gone!

     This show will take up about an hour of your time but it will be well spent, I assure you.  The dividing of a person’s character into different segments is a clever device and well presented by Rouse and Flewelling and a talented cast.

     I recommend this show.  The book on which it’s based is also on sale at the box office.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.
--DJS

Monday, July 9, 2018

Chess—Lakewood Theatre Company—Lake Oswego


              Rules of the Game


    This musical with music by the performers/writers for ABBA, Bjorn Ulvaeus & Benny Andersson, lyrics by Tim Rice and book by Richard Nelson, is being directed by John Oules, with music direction by Darcy White and choreography by Laura Hiszczynskyj, is playing at their space, 368 S. State St. in Lake Oswego, through August 12th.  For more information, go to their site at www.lakewood-center.org or call 503-635-3901.

    It’s amazing, after all these centuries, countries have still not learned that to co-exist peacefully for everybody’s benefit, is the best of all possible worlds.  Instead, we have, even today, leaders that feel that one-upmanship, saber-rattling and bragging about who’s got the “biggest button,” are admiral traits in our leaders.  I thought that kind of childish behavior was something we grow out of but, I guess, I was wrong…oops, sorry, that is an insult…to children!

    The Cold War of the 50’s, chiefly between the U.S. and Russia, has been expanded now to include North Korea, as well as the Middle East, and has heated up considerably.  But in 1980, a “gentleman’s match” was to take place in which the two chess champions of both the USSR and the United States were to take place.  In this incarnation of that period, these adversaries across a game board, could not be more different.

    Freddie (Norman Wilson), from the U.S., is a bit of a playboy and has little respect for his opponent.  He has let fame go to this head. His agent or, better yet, “handler”, is Walter (Joey Cóté), who works behind the scenes to make sure all goes smoothly.  Anatoly (Kurt Raimer), a gentleman, is a family man with his wife, Svetlana (Megan Misslin).  His “handler” is Molokov (Bobby Jackson), who has the interests of his county to contend with, as well as his client. 

    The wild card in all of this is Florence (Courtney Freed), who was born in Hungary (behind the “Iron Curtain,” at the time), but is now Freddie’s coach (and ex-lover).  Her father, Gregor (Doug Zimmerman), who taught her chess, has disappeared.  So, one might say she has a type of allegiance to both countries.  And one should not forget the Arbiter/referee (Matt Brown), who has a god-like complex and takes his job very seriously.

    If you haven’t yet surmised, the actual focus of the game is not on the board these two compete on, but the much larger stakes between two opposing powers, as to who will have the upper hand in that after the match has been completed.  Can’t tell you more without spoiling the story.
The direction and cast are super, but the story is dated, as the “chess match” has reached more dangerous levels at this point, and added other “gamesters” to the mix.  There are some powerful moments in songs, especially “Anthem” (Raimer), “Pity the Child” (Wilson), all of Freed’s songs, with her amazing voice, and the famous, “One Night in Bangkok,” for its dances.

    I recommend this play, mainly for the terrific job the cast does.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.
--DJS

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Adroit Maneuvers—Lighthouse Arts—SE Portland



           The Revolutionists


    The World Premiere of this searing drama is written, directed and produced by Michael Bertish.  It is playing at the Imago space, 17 SE 8th Ave. (off Burnside) through July 22nd.  For more information, go to their site at www.adroitpdx.com

    We all have, I believe, moments in our lives when things just don’t click for us.  We may feel out of step with the rest of the world, or it with us.  Some are small issues and we just adapted to whatever.  Others are pretty monumental and their paths could affect the course of the world in a negative way.  And so, it is up to those few, those precious few, to step up to the plate and say, “No More!” and a revolution is born.  Such was the case in a certain time period in the 1700’s in America.  Also, currently, the MeToo Movement.  And between that earlier era and now, there was something called WWII, the Nazis and a band of brave souls who stood up to them. 

Tilde (Diane Kondrat) is an elderly Jewish lady, now living in a flat in NYC in the mid-90’s.  She is a survivor of this Evil Empire and their ugly plan to wipe them out.  But, possibly more important, she was a member of the Resistance in Austria, where her home was.  But age is catching up with her, and her grandson, Micky (Morgan Lee) is curious about her past and, so now, may be the time to tell her story….  (It gets tricky at this point, since so few actors were playing many roles, that I may have gotten character names mixed up, so I apologized if I did).

Tilde claims she knew and became friends with Freud (Chris Porter) and his wife, Martha (Jody McCoy) and Einstein (Gary R. Powell), and even knew Hitler (Leif Norby), before he came to power, as a street painter in a café where she and her mother, Amalia (Amy Joy Allahdadi) would frequent. 

    But things were changing very quickly in Austria in the thirties, with the takeover of many countries by the Nazis, and so café life, the hub of social and political activity, was disintegrating.  People had to leave, including the Pianist (Jeffrey Michael Kauffman) of the café and his finance, Edith (Sumi Wu), a violinist.  Even the café owner, Max (no program credit for this role but assume it’s Gerry Birnbach) is degraded but he, with Tilde, join the Resistance.

    Her arduous journey from there to 1996 is compelling, with many more characters adding to the story, played by Ethan Sloan, Joey Kelly, Matthew Ostrowski, and Emily Nash.  Can’t tell you more without being a spoiler, but it is a fascinating story.  Know that struggles are not yet over in this world and, as pointed out in this tale, Monsters are not born but are created by a mob, and they give the Beast a credibility and importance.  If this situation echoes with certain leaders of our current international conflicts, we can only hope that change is in the wind, in which a world will work together for a more compassionate and prosperous future for all.

    The cast is first-rate, with Lee and Norby standing out, of the supporting players.  And Kondrat is amazing as Tilde, as she is rarely offstage in this almost three-hour production and her quick switches from one age to another are astounding.  She is in a class by herself and the best performance I’ve seen this year!  Bertish has quite an impressive story to tell and it holds you for the entire narrative.
Some suggestions I would make on the script, though, are that when the story veers from Tilde’s person tale, those scenes could be trimmed or cut.  Also, an easier way to list the cast/characters might be to do it as they appear in the play.  The character names of the actors playing Hitler, Max and the Violinist (Sumi Wu, who is terrific on her instrument) are not listed and it should be a clearer defining of these roles (similar problem happened with PCS’s “Astoria”).  Also, the title could be changed, as it doesn’t give any clear concept of the story.
I highly recommend this play.  

    If you do see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.
--DJS

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Mamma Mia!—Broadway Rose Theatre Company—Tigard, OR


Life at Full Throttle
This very popular musical is from music and lyrics by ABBA (Benny Andersson & Bjorn Ulvaeus) and some songs with Stig Anderson.
  The original concept for the story was conceived by Judy Craymer, with the book by Catherine Johnson, and additional material and arrangements by Martin Koch.  It is directed & choreographed by Lyn Cramer and musical direction by Alan D. Lytle.  It is playing at their space next to Tigard High School, Deb Fennell Auditorium, 9000 SW Durham Rd., through July 22nd. For more information, go to their site at www.broadwayrose.org or call 503-620-5262.
When you hit your sunset years, it finally occurs to you that Life is like a fleeting wisp of smoke, that settles for too brief a time on a distant land, then is blown away to its next journey, somewhere into the Netherlands, to provide a soul, once again, another “awfully, big adventure.”
  But, while here, in this too short space of time, we should make use of every moment to play, love, inspire and, by enriching this world with our unique talents, we have hopefully left it a better place for the next generation to settle in and build on.
Donna (Peggy Taphorn) has had her space in the sun, on her Greek Island, running an Inn for about 20 years, and raising, as a single mom, her daughter, Sophie (Sophie Moshofsky).
  But changes are in the wind and her daughter has found the man of her dreams, Sky (Aaron Stewart), and so a wedding is planned.  Which means, of course, a huge party, with Donna’s two best friends attending, the luscious, Tonya (Lisamarie Harrison) and the spunky, Rosie (Laura McCulloch).
And, of course, that means Sophie’s best friends must also attend, the sassy & exotic, Lisa (Jalena Montrond) and the fun-loving, Ali (Shanise Jordan).
  There are also some very available young studs arounds for any unattached females, helpers at the Inn, the sleek, Pepper (Charles Grant) and the energetic, Eddie (Colin Stephen Kane).   
Only one teeny-weeny little fly in the ointment, she wants her dad to walk her down the aisle, as per tradition.
  Only one small problem, she doesn’t know who her dad is, so she invites all three of the potential suitors, Sam (Andrew Maldarelli), the designer, Bill (Joey Klei), the writer, and Harry (Matthew H. Curl), the banker, of that fateful time period when she was conceived, to the ceremony, in the hopes of finding out who her real dad is (doesn’t occur to them, I guess, to get a blood test, but then again, there wouldn’t be any story if that happened…).  Can’t tell you the rest without spoiling the tale but, trust me, it’s a lively one.
All the popular songs are there, including the showstoppers, “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 McCulloch explodes with, “Take a Chance on Me,” both show-stoppers.  The dancers excelled, especially in “Voulez-Vous.”  And Taphorn brought the house down with, “The Winner Takes It All”—exceptional!
This production is a winner all around.
  Not only the lead characters, but the singing ensemble and dancers, as well as flashy costumes, Allison Dawe, and a terrific set that revolved, Bryan Boyd.  Cramer has done a splendid production of this very popular show, and Lytle is at his best here as the music director.
I highly recommend this show.
  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.