Saturday, October 20, 2018

¡alebrijes! dia de muertos—Milagro—SE Portland



  Raising Spirits

    This original production, for the Day of the Dead celebrations, is written and directed by Georgina Escobar and is playing at their space, 525 SE Stark St., through November 11th.  For more information, go to their site at www.milagro.org

    All cultures have their own ways of respecting those that have passed on.  Some believe they pass on to a type of Heaven; others hold onto the thought that we will be reincarnated into another life; some feel their presence is always around us, et. al.  The American Halloween is an off-shoot of that, as we disguise ourselves with costumes and masks to fool evil spirits that roam the night.  As a kid, the most potent image I had was the classical piece, “Night on Bald Mountain,” that was animated by Disney in “Fantasia.”  Very scary.

    But now, to this story, presented as an adult fairy tale, and so we begin:  Once Upon a Time…there were three guardian spirits (or, perhaps, Muses, in the artistic vernacular) that were searching for their master, Pedro (Robi Arce), an artist, who was in love with the elusive, Lillian (Yesenia Lopez), who was betrothed to another. 

    But, back to his totems, or spirit guides…they consisted of Florinda (Tara Hershberger), a dedicated duck, whose duty was to keep him grounded; Bartolome (Matthew Sepeda), a crafty cat, a symbol of his mortality; and Felipe (Giovanni Alva), a restless rooster, reminding him that another day will always dawn.  Just one little hitch in their plans—Pedro is trapped in the world between life and death, and Le Muerte (Patrica Alvitez), Death, has her own plans on keeping him in her domain.

    How this all turns out, of course, you’ll have to discover for yourselves when you see it.  But, like all good fairy tales, they lived…hopefully…ever after.  “We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep.”  Passion, Hope, Imagination, Love, Artistry…all important aspects of a well-realized Life.  You notice that Fame and Fortune never appeared in this missive, so take that to heart.

    This is truly an enlightening show, considering the elements going on in our present world situations.  And, although the language and situations may seem different from this fellow’s “gringo” culture, it is good to know there is much to learn about this wide world, in which one should embrace other perspectives.  Or, as my friend, Dave, who came with me to see this show said, “I’m not sure I understand it, but I’m enjoying the heck out of it, anyway  And so say I.
The production is a whirlwind of excitement in song, music, puppets, masks, stylized movement, dance…a magical embrace that goes beyond cultures to reach the heart and soul of the dreamers still left in this chaotic atmosphere.  “There is nothing to fear, but Fear itself.”

    There is many to thank for this imaginative piece, beginning with the director and writer, Escobar, flinging ideas, like stardust, onto an unsuspecting crowd to add to their lives.  The cast is all first-rate, having to be versatile in many mediums but up to the task in all their glory.  Original music by Luis Guerra, scenic design by Emily Wilken, Lighting by Trevor Sargent, costumes by Jessica Bobillot, Props by Sarah Andrews, Puppets by Mindy Escobar-Leanse, et. al., all pros in their fields, who added greatly to the success of this production.
I recommend this show.  

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

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Small Mouth Sounds—Artists Rep—SW Portland


“Silence is Golden”


     This rather unusual premise for a story is written by Bess Wohl and directed by Shawn Lee.  It is playing at their space, 1515 SW Morrison St., through November 4th.  For more information, go to their site at www.artistsrep.org

     “Noises compete, grasshopper, as silence retreats.”  Sometimes silence can be deafening, as it is in this story.  We are so wrapped up in our worlds of computers, texting, and artificial noises, that we fail to communicate through a simple hug or smile, or a knowing look of encouragement.  Our world may have been created with a (Big) Bang and it’s likely it will end the same way.  What we have wrought, so shall we reap…unless we find that Quiet Place, not only on the outer crusts of this planet, but in the inner stillness of our being.

     This play explores Silence in unusual ways.  The one who expounds the most, the Teacher (Mary McDonald-Lewis), really may have the least to impart to her students at this retreat, all there to take a break from the world and/or find some sort of peace.  The main element to be adhered to is silence in this EST-type of surroundings. 

     The verbose, Joan (Susannah Mars) and her lover, the more refined, Judy (Ayanna Berkshire), seem to be there to work out some personal issue.  The gregarious, Alicia (Kelly Godell), is a product of words but seems intent on translating them into some forgotten knowledge that has escaped her to this point.  Ned (Darius Pierce) is a socially awkward individual, trying to find inroads to adapting socially to an unfamiliar world to him.

     Rodney (John San Nicolas) is a video guru of finding one’s path through yoga, but senses there is something important he has yet to learn.  And Jan (Michael Mendelson), a quiet person to begin with, but is reaching out to try and encompass a larger world he is not familiar with.  All searchers, and their journeys will conflict, connect and invade their very psyches before this trip is completed.  More I cannot tell you without spoiling the discoveries.

     This is almost completely a who’s who of the Artists Rep’s family and a talented ensemble they are as a cast.  Godell, as a bit of a flake, is perfect in her utter unawareness (I know people like her).  Mars is wonderful as a well-meaning friend who acts before she thinks about it.  Berkshire has a noble stillness to her being, pent up inside but wanting to expand.  San Nicolas is perfect as the smirking know-it-all until the mask begins to fall.  Mendelson is a gem as his character displays a quiet intensity as the newbie who yearns for understanding and acceptance.  McDonald-Lewis is a great voice actor who is so good you can almost see her, as she muddles through the “lessons.”  And Pierce is amazing in his naturalness in his monologue, as he exposes himself, and you truly feel for all the pained people in this world who are struggling to just be heard and understood.  It is an insightful trek for all of us and Lee has carefully led us successfully on this safari.

I recommend this play (nudity in one scene) and if you choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.
--DJS

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Marat/Sade—Twilight Theater Company—N. Portland



Tiptoe Through the Crazies

     This psycho-drama/dark comedy/musical is written by Peter Weiss and directed by Dorinda Toner (Twilight’s Artistic Director).  It is playing at their space, 7515 N. Brandon Ave. (corner of Lombard, small parking lot across the street), through October 28th.  For more information, go to their site at www.twilighttheatercompany.org

     There should be a disclaimer (of sorts) in the program to the fact that “any resemblance to real life situations or people is purely…intentional!”  To say this is topical is truly an understatement.  Of course, this story is set in the late 1700’s to the early 1800’s in Paris, the time of the guillotine, French Revolution (Jean-Paul Marat, dissenter), the Inquisition, the Marquis de Sade (and his unique take on pleasure and pain) and Napoleon. 

     As you can see, it was not the romantic era of the 1920’s, when Paris was the hub of such artists/writers as Hemingway, Dali, Fitzgerald, Toklas, et. al.  These were revolutionaries of a different ilk…or were they?!  The most lasting kind of change comes with evolution over time, such as the young folks now opposing gun violence and pollution, and the MeToo Movement demanding respect and equality for women.  “Times, they are a-changin’.”

     This story, though, takes place in an asylum, where the new regime, Coulmier (Stan Yeend) and company, believe that play therapy will make inroads to understanding the mentally disturbed.  De Sade (Randy Patterson) being an inmate and writer, takes on the task of directing this band of misfits into an important saga of Marat (Greg Prosser) and the French Revolution, before he is stabbed to death in his bathtub by Charlotte Corday (Eva Andrews).  Among Marat’s followers are an ex-priest, Roux (Samuel Alexander Hawkins), his nurse Simonne (Jennifer Madison Logan), as well as, at one time, Corday and her horny boyfriend, Duperret (Skye McLaren Walton).

     To enable things to blaze along, there is a type of Greek Chorus (Kaitlynn Baugh, Maddy Gourlay, Jeremy Abe and Blaine Vincent III), singing ditties to enlighten us to the guts of the tale.  And to keep us all on track, (in verse, no less), is the Herald (Jeff Gibberson), a type of Host/Narrator/Jester.  Put this all together with ribald songs, stylized dance/movement, grizzly humor, lusty situations, murder, a touch of depravity, a dose of despair…shake it all about and you have this…Marat/Sade.  If this sounds like a show for discriminating adults only, you’d be dead right!

     This is not an easy production to produce, even for the most seasoned of troupes, but Toner and cast have done a pretty amazing job with it.  The set is simple but effective, as is the mood lighting, and the 20 plus roles, all are quite well handled.  The major roles mentioned, give a chilling account of incidents in history that echo even today in our current situations.  This is a timeless piece and is given a very good showing by a talented group, especially Toner.  Standing a notch higher in acting, is Gibberson, as our guide.  His use of timing, pauses, and subtle nuances are quite remarkable.  I’ve touted him in the past and he is certainly a talent to be reckoned with.

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

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Hurl—Corrib Theatre—New Expressive Works


Photo by Adam Liberman
“The Game’s Afoot”


     The U. S. Premiere of this serio-comedy is written by Charlie O’Neill and directed by Tracy Cameron Francis.  It is playing at their current space, 810 SE Belmont, through October 28th.  For more information, go to their site at www.corribtheatre.org or call 503-389-0579.

     We are all our brother’s keepers and the earth is jointly our home.  With all the controversy now as to immigrant issues, not only here but world-wide, this is a very timely story.  Why a government would choose to foster violence and poverty in their own country, and have their own people fleeing from their homeland, is beyond me.  But it seems to be a growing epidemic on this good earth.  The solution should be to stamp out the root causes of such disruption but, until then, we need to be a comfort and refuge to those seeking asylum.

     This story takes place in the present day in the west of Ireland.  It seems that immigrants from Eastern Europe, South America, Asia, Africa, etc. have also arrived on the shores of Ireland.  Besides being driven out of their own countries, they all feel the need to make themselves indispensable to their adopted homeland.  Enter a one-time priest, a bit of a tippler, Lofty (Clara-Liis Hillier), who may have lost his way in God’s Eyes, but still has the love of a game called Hurling (a type of hockey on a field).

     And so, it seems his destiny may be to lead this band of misfits into the arena, in which they might be able to show their mettle and determination.  In this motley crew is Musa (James Dixon), Fatmata (Falynn Burton) and an assorted ensemble of rainbow-colored individuals (Kenneth Dembo, Heath Hyun Houghton, Wynee Hu and Alec Cameron Lugo) that may create history and be allowed to shine their true hues on the turf.

But not everybody is happy with such an explosion of color in this country, mainly Rusty (Cynthia Shur Petts), who does everything possible to block their progress.  But when these noble vagabonds begin to make some headway at the games, he is willing to try any sort of devious methods to stop their progress.  The story has elements from the films, Hoop Dreams, Rocky, Hoosiers, et al.  But it also embraces the more universal issues of self-worth, humane behavior and respect for the individual, regardless of background, color or beliefs.

     The show has been located on an essentially bare stage, a playing field, with only some benches and hurling sticks as props, which had to have been a nightmare to choreograph for the cast, and director, Francis, who shines as well.  The cast also plays multiple characters, as well as their own team and the opposing side!  Quite a feat but these actors are all pros, as I have seen them in other incarnations before, always successful. 

     Also, kudos to the lighting designer, Sarah Hughey, who had to create mood and setting with a handful of lights and did it very well.  An exciting show, boosted a notch upward by cross-gender and cross-cultural casting, which is as it should be.  
     I highly recommend this ensemble work and, if you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.
--DJS


Sunday, September 30, 2018

Wakey Wakey—Portland Playhouse—NE Portland




     “Rise & Shine”

     This exploratory story of the human psyche is written by Will Eno and directed by Gretchen Corbett.  It is playing at their space, 602 NE Prescott St. (parkin lot 2 blocks North on 6th), through October 21st.  For more information, go to their site at www.portlandplayhouse.org or call 503-488-5822.

     Since this seems to be a “sensory” story, involving all the senses of a man on the verge of something, perhaps, extraordinary.  Using, maybe, the same path the main character of Guy (Michael O’Connell) does, I am confronted/invaded by possibly like memories of past events, such as the last few moments of Kubrick’s, “2001:  A Space Odyssey;” or the old man’s recurring vision of his family across an uncrossable stream in Bergman’s classic, “Wild Strawberries;” or my own visions of laying, as a child, on a hillside, and watching trains in the valley rushing by and imaging stories in my head of the people on them and knowing that someday I would be a writer.

     Guy is a man in a wheelchair (that he appears not to need) and sharing with us memories of a lifetime through visuals, sounds, music, a type of cue cards, as triggers of memories, perhaps, and inviting us to likewise notice and embrace our world around us before Time, The Great Equalizer, catches up with us.  Looking for meanings in lost phrases, ruing over regrets…letting go, seems to be the key advice for those wishing to move forward.

     Then, into his world appears Lisa (Nikki Weaver), a type of nurse/guardian, perhaps, or possibly more to the point, a gatekeeper.  She is a comforter for him…patiently watching, soothing, picking up pieces of lost thoughts.  Guy seems to be enveloped in little things, strains of familiar tunes, sounds and sights of nature, but always in the act of waiting…waiting for what?  The next act in a drama that is just out of reach; another stab at a life lived and…misplaced; peace at the end of the tunnel?  Or is his purpose, perhaps, to pass the torch on to us, with full understanding that endings are never final, nor beginnings, pre-determined.

     Corbett is definitely an actor’s director, as she has managed to infuse little nuances into all the little nooks and crannies of Guy’s moments.  And O’Connell is a perfect choice for the role, as he is so natural (as is Weaver) that you feel you are sitting right there in the room with him, as he shares his thoughts with you.  Eno has written an introspective story, and yet it seems to resonate with everyone…a rare gift as a writer
.  
     I recommend this play.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.
--DJS

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Ordinary Days—Broadway Rose—Tigard, OR




       “The Big Picture”

     This charming musical has music and lyrics by Adam Gwon, is directed by Isaac Lamb and music direction and piano by Eric Nordin.  It is playing at their space, 12850 SW Grant Ave. in Tigard.  For more information, go to their site at www.broadwayrose.org or call 503-620-5262.

     We are all interconnected and we all have our stories to tell.  Sometimes full of regrets…sometimes of joy, sometimes both…but we do matter because our stories are stories within other peoples’ stories.  And so, the big picture may not be for the big buck or the fame…but to make a lot of small, positive differences in other folks’ lives.  We all have our roles to play, as the Bard would say, so best make the best of it before “…our little lives are rounded with a sleep.”

     In this production, all four roles are sung throughout, virtually no spoken dialogue and so their songs are the story.  Essentially there are two stories of two pairs of people going on.  There is Deb (Quinland Fitzgerald), a small-town girl moving to the Big Apple to make a Big mark in life in a Big way.  But, instead, ends up in graduate school, still searching for that elusive…something out there. 

     Along the way she meets Warren (Seth M. Renne), who seems to live life vicariously.  He makes leaflets with witty sayings, which he passes out to people on the street, and fronts for an artist who’s in jail and who has a fab apartment that overlooks the whole of the city.  He also collects bits and pieces of people’s lives that have been discarded, like old photos, scraps of notes, and a fateful notebook that will lead him to Deb…and their relationship then evolves.

     Then, there is Jason (Benjamin Tissell), another newbie to the big city, who hooks up with Claire (Kailey Rhodes) and since they both seems to sense an attraction, they move in together.  But attraction alone is only going to last so long, as they both have past histories that will invade their personal spaces.  Also, living together shows up the little differences between people, as to their own personal stuff, as to what they like in entertainment, as to goals, even little things like choices in wine or type of foods they like and friends they have.  So, as they say, the honeymoon phase dwindles in face of cold, hard reality.

     All these lives will connect in a very odd but clever way.  I cannot tell you more without being a spoiler.  But what seems like chaos at first in staging (only a set of stairs building, tower-like, to a piano at the top of it, designer, Emily Wilken), becomes a whole world and because of the lyrics (Gwon), terrific voices (the cast), the amazing piano-man (Nordin), some subtle but clever lighting (Carl Faber) and a very talented director (Lamb), who blends it all, amazing well, into a lovely story of love, loss and life.  Reality is in the “…eye of the beholder” here, and so it is with this world, as simple elements, on the surface, magically become a whole world of connecting and conflicting events.

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

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Rhinoceros—The Shout House—SE Portland


“The Lemmings Are Coming…!”


     This avant-garde, dark comedy was written by Eugene Ionesco (translated by Derek Prouse), produced by Cleaver Enough theatre and directed, as a staged reading, by Valerie Asbell (Founder of Cleaver Enough).  Because of many unforeseen circumstances, this two-three week run of a full production ended up as only one night as a staged reading.  For more information on future plans of the company, go to their site at www.cleverenough.org

     Imagine a circumstance where an incompetent, egomaniacal boob stands up in front of you, spewing out utter nonsense and promising to fulfill this blather if he were King.  Then imagine a circumstance where this nitwit is offered just such a position, and his herds of followers bow to his every whim, and blindly accept every blathering he utters.  Soon they are espousing his “holey” words as truth, even as the world they knew and loved collapses around them.  In the end, he leads them to a cliff and proclaims they should all jump.  In this setting, those beings are called lemmings, in this incarnation of them in this play, they are called Rhinos.

     And, even though, this play was written many years ago, it still has a prophetic ring nowadays, which is, in part, why Asbell chose this show.  In it, we see the beginning of a collapse of a society in which to survive, one must conform.  Berenger (Andrew Hallas) is a bit of a lazy, drunken no-good-nik.  His friend, Jean (Alex Albrecht), on the other hand, is a fastidious neat-nik.  But changes are about to occur.  An illness (snort) overtakes Jean and he begins to change into what the village has been recently over-run by, an ignorant beast.

     In time, the Jean he knew, has evaporated.  Only a co-worker, Dudard (Rian Turner) and Berenger’s girlfriend, Daisy (Emily Smith), seem uninfected, but soon the grunting (snort, snort) of these mindless minions sounds like a sweet lullaby to them.  In the end, he might be the last man standing against this onslaught of ignorance and blind conformity with no self-identity left.  If such a silly event should occur in real life, of course, we’d all be smart enough to see through such nonsense, wouldn’t we?!  (snort, grunt…!)

     It’s unfortunate that this difficult and timely show will not see the light of day at this point because the cast is quite good (others of the townspeople consist of KJ McElrath, Terry Lybecker, Leilani Oleari, Kate Belden, Brent McMorris, Katy Philip, Neil Wade Freer, John Bryant, Troy Sawyer, Athena McElrath, Shaun Patrick Hennessey, and Mark Milner).  This is not an easy show, even for a seasoned production company, to do, so it is daring for a novice theatre to tackle it.  But Ashbell has done a very fine job of casting it and has some clever touches in the interpretation and presentation of it.  They do deserve a chance to shine, so hope they continue to scour the town for an appropriate space to perform and backing for their shows.  Hope to see more of them in the future!
--DJS