Sunday, December 9, 2018

It’s a Wonderful Life—Artists Rep—NW Portland




      Miracle at Bedford Falls 

    This live radio production is adapted for the stage, from the classic film, by Joe 
Landry and directed by Beth Harper.  It is playing at the NWCT space, 1819 NW Everett St. (parking is a real challenge in this area, so plan your time accordingly), through December 30th.  For more information, go to their site at www.artistsrep.org

    Miracles, Magic and Dreams coming true, seem to be in short supply these days.  At one time you could reach out your Imagination and find exotic creatures—unicorns, dragons, mermaids, etc., and magical places—Neverland, Shangra-La, Camelot, et. al., just around the corner, when in need of a safe place to store your dreams.  But we may have looked too far afield, when they could be found in our own Americana and Folklore.  We have here our own Grover’s Mills, Sleepy Hollow, Walton Mountain, and, yes, Bedford Falls, to rest our minds from the weary burden of that dreaded state called—Reality.

    Once Upon a Time…there was a sleepy, little town, of no real consequence, that was having their lives swallowed up by the twin beasts of Progress and Greed, in the guise of a demon named, Potter (David Bodin).  But one man stood in his way of total domination, George Bailey (Chris Harder).  He owned the Building and Loan Bank, in which many of the mortgages of the town-folk were stored.

    But early on, George really had no real plans of running a business.  He was going to earn a college degree, then travel the world.  But Reality raised its ugly head and he was forced, through several circumstances, to stay and run the family bank.  He married a school sweetheart named, Mary (Susannah Mars), had kids…but the loss of his dreams and the burden of everyday life was taking its toll on him and so he is faced with jumping from a bridge and ending it all.

    But miracles sometimes do happen and an angel named, Clarence (Jimmy Garcia), intercedes and gives him a glimpse of this town had he never been born.  The people and township have now changed, and good friends, like the town flirt, Violet (Alyssa Longoria), is no longer a proper lady, his mother (Victoria Schindler), runs a cheap, boarding house, his uncle and partner, Billy (Garcia, again), is not his old self anymore, and the old make-up of small town America has changed dramatically.  The outcome?  Well, I assume just about everybody has seen the movie at some point, which is why I revealed some plot points briefly, earlier, but still I won’t give the ending away.

    What is truly amazing and, perhaps, the real miracle, is the fact that about fifty characters (and voices) are played by six actors and one terrific Foley (sound effects) artist (Leslie North).  They also sing and play musical instruments—talk about talent!  This is presented as a live, radio play during the 40’s, complete with commercials, an announcer (Bodin, again), pre-show, Christmas songs and ourselves as the radio studio audience.  Harper has worked a small miracle herself in assembling this production in a short period of time.  And every one of the cast members is stellar!

    I know the story well, having seen other radio productions over the years, and the classic film more than once.  But, I admit, even now, I was still moved to tears by the end.  And, as far as the Fairy Tale beginning, it would end usually with “…and they lived happily ever after.”  But that was then, this is now.  And so, perhaps, the best one can say, is…they lived…hopefully…ever after!”  And don’t look “too high up or far away” for miracles, they have always been with us, within, inside our own hearts.  We just have to Believe…!

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

Saturday, December 8, 2018

In the Wake—Profile Theatre—SW Portland

           Blind Spots

    This drama is written by Lisa Kron and directed by Josh Hecht (Profile’s Artistic Director).  It is playing at the Artist Reps space, 1515 SW Morrison St., through December 16th.  For more information, go to their site at www.profiletheatre.org

    The above areas mentioned, cannot be seen by ourselves, but often by others.  A good way to relieve yourself of them, is to take Harper Lee’s advice, via Atticus Fitch, when faced with trying to see other perspectives, and that is to get inside another’s person’s shoes and walk around in them a bit.  That way your own, perhaps, narrow point of view, will be expanded.

    We currently have a world at large that is rampant with these “blind spots,” only seeing things from their own perceptions and insisting that everyone should see them the same way…either “my way or the highway,” as the saying goes.  Admittedly, compromising is not an easy road to traverse, but a necessary one for survival nowadays.

    Ellen (Beth Thompson) seems trapped in the Bush Jr. era of this political spectrum.  She is so focused as to what makes sense, and doesn’t, she may be losing focus on what really matters in life.  She has a very accommodating boyfriend, Danny (Chris Murray), who worships the ground she walks on.  His sister, Kayla (Danielle Weathers), and her wife, (Laurie (Alissa Jessup), live in the same tenement building and are good friends.  Danny and Laurie, in particular, have a unique, sparring relationship, to be envied.

    They have a visit over Thanksgiving from Ellen’s best friend, Judy (Jane Bement Geesman), who has been doing missionary work in Africa and has a very different view of the world than Ellen’s.  Soon, Judy’s niece, Tessa (Tamera Lyn), will be staying with Judy, which only makes the relationships among all more tense.  And finally, there is Amy (Jamie M. Rea), a gay former classmate of Ellen’s, and they become lovers.  “Now, the spring is wound up tight…,” perhaps too tight, as things began to unravel…and dramatic changes are inevitable.  And, as one character queries, when does falling feel like flying (or, perhaps, vice versa)?

    Can’t really tell you more, as the dynamics of the roles and dialogue say it so much better.  The acting by the whole team is exceptional, as well Hecht’s direction.  The characters are so well-developed that you feel you are eavesdropping on some intimate conversations.  Rea and Geesman were particular favorites of mine.  But the script, I feel, needs some cutting and updating, as some of the issues of that time are still with us, and could be pulled forward in time, rather than being stuck as a dramatic piece in just one era.

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

Friday, December 7, 2018

Speed-the-Plow--Asylum Theatre—SE Portland



      Souls For Sale!

    This dark comedy of David Mamet’s play is directed by Don Alder.  It is playing at the Shoebox space, 2110 SE 10th Ave., through December 23rd.  For more information, go to their site at www.asylumpdx.org.

    This has all the earmarks of a Faustian fable, in which you sell your soul for fame and wealth and power.  The place—Tinseltown; The Time—Forever and a Day; The Main Characters—Gould (Jason Maniccia, Artistic Director for the company), a promising, mid-executive, production head of a movie company; Fox (Danny Bruno), an aggressive, oily little man with dreams of grandeur; And Karen (Briana Ratterman), an attractive, ambitious secretary, who just wants to carve out a little piece of the American Dream for herself.

    The dilemma—producing an artistic work vs. a commercial piece.  The price—one’s Soul (Integrity, Worth, Morality, etc.,) all the good things that make up a Man.  “What profit a Man if he gains the World, but loses his Soul.”  These three individuals, are a microcosm, perhaps, of this Industry (and the business world, too).  As they step to the edge of the Abyss, and look down into its depths, they may have been surprised to find that something was looking back at them, also!  And, as they teetered there, to take the plunge, or not, they chose…ah, but you’ll just have to see it for yourselves, won’t you, to discover the outcome?!

    I’ve given you a nutshell, as to the story, but Mamet is a writer that needs to be heard to be savored.  His rapid-fire, over-lapping dialogue (in which he is manic as to an actor uttering every single stutter, pause and hic-cup in his phrasing) and, thus, one needs to see/hear it to appreciate this master.  And, as for authenticity in his story, he, himself, has been on the inside tract as to his material getting produced, so he knows from whence he speaks.

    Also, a personal note, I have written plays/screenplays, too, and one time was lucky enough to know someone who knew a reader at a studio, so I sent her my script.  She thoroughly enjoyed it, she said, but told me the secret to getting a screenplay optioned was to mirror the format of what was financially successful the year before.  That last thought is reiterated in his script, too.  The moral is then, I suppose, to be a copycat (or lemming) and follow the like-minded over the precipice.

    Alder and his cast certainly understand Mamet’s format and, I’m sure, he would be impressed with this production.  The cast is outstanding and I don’t envy them in learning his lines.  This is an intimate setting and I felt that I was intruding on their space, as the characters were so immersed and believable in their roles.  Each one of their characters has a hidden self, which will be revealed by the end of the play.  Maniccia, a man in charge and sure of his direction, or….  Bruno, a loyal friend, who has an “offer you cannot refuse” for his buddy, but….  And Ratterman, the newbie, who champions for the artist, until….  All excellent!

    I highly recommend this play.  There were only three people in the house the night I saw it and they deserve full houses for this!  Don’t miss this one.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.
--DJS

Monday, December 3, 2018

Not Another Christmas Letter!—Portland Musical Theater Company—N. Portland



          Reflections
    These true-to-life musical snippets, from Christmas moments, are written and arranged by Paul Cozby and Laura Bergquist and directed and produced by Deanna Maio.  It is playing at the Peninsula Odd Fellows Lodge (upstairs), 4834 N. Lombard St., through December 23rd.  For more information, go to their site at www.portlandmusicaltheater.org

    The authors have certainly peeked in on my, and some friends, Christmas memories, over the years, as they are about as true as you can get.  They encompass the entire range of feelings, I believe, from sending (and getting) those impersonal, typed Christmas letters to, losing a loved one, to buying for a loved one and kids being too-informed in this day and age.

    But, personally, I miss the Christmas’s that never were for me, those of my grand-parent’s days, as pictured in Capote’s, “A Christmas Memory,” or “The Walton’s Christmas.”  Somehow, the simpler times, those that just relied on home-made dinners and decorations and presents, and family and neighbors.  But, gone are the days, I suppose, but also missing, I believe, is the True Spirit of Giving from the Heart.  A Christmas memory I never realized, perhaps, but oddly missed.

    Here, an ensemble cast of four (Chris Bartell, Bronwyn Baz, Jeff Donaldson-Forbes and Carissa Zubricky), playing about 40 roles, recreate short scenes of Christmas preparations across the Nation.  The scenes and songs encompass putting a positive spins on one’s impersonal Christmas letters; dealing with Black Friday, long lines and sold-out items; a clever duet by the men, trying to find just “the right present” for that special lady; and a hauntingly delivered moment by Zubricky about being single on such a holiday.

    Also, of course, there are those agonizing, infamous Christmas Family Portraits that we all had to sit through; memories of Christmas’s Past, touching song by Donaldson-Forbes, after a loved one has recently passed; an amusing duet-duel by the ladies, of dealing with in-laws during this family season; and a not-so-friendly competitions with the neighbors over outside Christmas decorations.

    And, who can forget the 12 days of Christmas, with a modern twist; what would happen if Christmas trees could talk about their experiences over the years; when kids become so educated that such classics as “Twas the Night…” comes under scrutiny; and those horrible assemblies of toys with thousands of parts; and reflecting on Christmas Eves, as the ending of the Season.  And then it begins all over again for the next year…. 

    All of which performed by some very talented singers/actors.  And Maio has, as always, a keen ear and eye in choosing material and casts, as she does here.  She has deliberately not picked a traditional Christmas story that has been done to death, so see this one, as it’s a West Coast Premiere, and expand your Christmas tradition a bit, it’ll be worth it!

    A side note, this might spur you to reflect yourself on your own memories and habits during this Season.  It did make me think, as mine are of Christmas’s that never were (long story…but I don’t remember the first 10 years of my life) and so I live my Christmas memories vicariously…and so, became a writer (of sorts) in which one can create their own realities as a storyteller.  Not a bad trade-off, I believe.  What’s your story(ies)…?!

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

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Everybody—Artists Rep—SW Portland


The Meaning of Life…a Life of Meaning

    This imaginative play is written by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins and directed by D├ímaso Rodriguez and Jessica Wallenfels.  It is playing at their space, 1515 SW Morrison St., through December 30th.  For more information, go to their site at www.artistsrep.org

    This is a reworking of a morality tale, “Everyman,” from a few thousand years ago, by an anonymous source.  There is also a film from the 30’s or 40’s called, “The Story of Mankind,” which was a semi-comic take covering some of the same territory, in which God (Ralph Richardson) is disappointed in Mankind and calls for a representative of it (Ronald Coleman) to defend its history, and which the Devil (Vincent Price) takes the opposing stance.

    Also, a side note, which may relate, is when Dr. Stephen Hawking was asked whether there was other intelligent life in the universe, his insightful answer was, what makes you think any has been found here?!  And, to carry that a step further, what if those visitors have been here and found earthling so backward in their development, they just passed us by.  I think both theories should give us pause.

    But, in this case, God (Sarah Lucht), is also disappointed in Mankind’s lack of progress and misuse of the Gifts of Reasoning Power and Free Will they were granted.  So, he/she calls Death (Ted Rooney), to gather Everybody (Michael Mendelson), for a Day of Reckoning, in which he/she must explain their justification for their actions.  Everybody is allowed to bring forth supporters of its actions and so the search is on for them.

    There is Family, of course, and Friendship and Good Times and Material Things, et. al., as well as Understanding and Strength, etc. (all played by different actors on different performances including:  Sara Hennessy, John San Nicolas, Andrea Vernae, and Barbie Wu).  Everybody feels that they would be good companions to accompany him/her on this journey with Death, but will that be so?

Everybody also encounters Love (Falynn Burton), as perhaps an ally, as well as Time (Eva Rodriguez) and an oddity called, All the Shitty Evil Things (Alex Blesi), that one has done, too.  A motley crew, to say the least, and you’ll just have to see it to discover the outcome for Everybody (Us)….

    This story is all played out on a type of game board with masks, puppetry, some clever lighting and an erratic Dance of Death (akin to Bergman’s one at the end of his film, “The Seventh Seal”), arms and legs all akimbo, reaching out spasmodically for ? in this fateful journey.

    High marks for this company, and especially its two directors, in what must have been (and will continue to be) a roller-coaster ride like none most actors have, or will, encounter in actually having to learn the whole script and play each night a different part, depending on the luck of the draw (possibly like Life itself?). 
    And Mendelson, as the title character this time out, is tremendous!  He is a consummate artist anyway, whether directing or acting, and this a crowning achievement for him.  As good as everyone else is onstage, he is impossible not to focus on much of the time.  Kudos to all!

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

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Who’s Holiday!—Triangle Productions!—NE Portland

“It’s Getting to Look a Lot Like [#&!*^%!] Christmas”


    This adult comedy is written by Matthew Lombardo and directed by 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 15th.  For more information, go to their site at www.trianglepro.com or call 503-239-5919.

    It’s time for a little rhyme with Christmastime upon us.  In this case, the most innocent of all creatures to represent it---Cindy Lou Who (Daria Eliuk), now all grown up, from Dr. Seuss’s Grinch stories.  In case you don’t know, The Grinch is a type of green goblin creature that steals Christmas from Whoville but, being captivated by a little blonde girl named, Cindy Lou, his heart increases in size and he returns all the goodies he has stolen. 

    Well, if you think you’ve heard the whole story, folks, hold on to your hats, ‘cause you ain’t heard nuthin’ yet!  It seems that little girl is now an adult and has been living in a trailer park for some time.  She, at this point, is expecting some folks for a Christmas party, so chooses to entertain us with the tale of her life until they arrive.  And what a life it has been!  Closer in content to black lagoons than Disney castles.

    Really can’t tell you too much without spoiling the plot, but it seems that she and the Grinch became friends…until they weren’t.  And her close relationship with her parents, and other citizens of Whoville was solid…until it wasn’t.  And Mr. G’s faithful dog, Max, became a thing of the (re)past.  And her only solace in recent years has become a distant memory.  And so, in short, she is alone at Christmastime, with only her bitter-sweet memories for company…that is until she discovers…but that would be telling, wouldn’t it?!

    These holidays are, as even Dickens concluded, as well, with his classic tale of redemption, something that science can’t measure, something from the heart.  And it is true what is said, that giving raises the spirit much more than receiving.  And sometimes, that Giving, doesn’t involve riches of the pocketbook, but just being there and having a sympathetic ear for a troubled soul.  So, with all the turmoil that surrounds us now, we might look to the innocent for guidance.  It is said that, a child shall lead us, and so, as young, Anne Frank, surmised, when immersed in the horrors of the Nazi regime, “…I still believe that people are basically good.”  Out of the mouth of babes…!

    Once again, Horn has given us something to ponder, as well as entertaining us.  It may be irreverent, and through the backdoor, so to speak, but there are lessons to be learned here, too.  And Daria is amazing as the title character.  She is witty, biting, thoughtful, vulnerable and, quite simply, seems an awfully lot like us and people we know.  She is a treasure!  www.dariaeliuk.com 

    In tribute to the verse script, perhaps, a parting thought:
Cindy Lou!  Cindy Lou!
How blue!  How blue!
Does the Past define you,
Or the Future,
As to the Who you want to be?!
Or, if rhyming is not your timing,
And Facts more your tact…heed these words:
“Be brave.  Be curious.  Be determined.”  (Dr. Stephen Hawking)

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

Saturday, November 24, 2018

A Christmas Carol, the Musical—Stumptown Stages—downtown Portland


“What the Dickens…!”

     

 




 


    This classic tale by Dickens, is adapted as a musical for the stage by Alan Menken (music), Lynn Ahrens (lyrics) and Mike Ockrent & Ahrens (book).  It is directed by Stumptown’s Founding Artistic Director, Kirk Mouser, choreographed by Sara Parker and musical direction by Adam Young.  It is playing at the Brunish Theatre (4th floor), 1111 SW Broadway, through December 23rd.  For more information, go to their site at www.stumptownstages.org

    This may be the most faithful adaption of this oft-done story of redemption.  Many of Dicken’s original dialogue is included and it stays pretty close to his tale.  There have been many other animated, musical and non-musicals versions of this moving story.  And many Scrooges, including Bill Murray, Michael Caine, George C. Scott, Henry Winkler, Sterling Hayden, Albert Finney, Jim Backus, Jim Carrey, et. al. but the best by far is Alaister Sim in the 1950’s British version.  Perhaps the strangest, but excellent one, was Hayden in the Hallmark Hall of Fame incarnation in the 60’s called, “Carol For Another Christmas,” produced by the United Nations, in part.

    The story should be familiar by now, that of an aging, lonely miser, Ebenezer Scrooge (Gary Wayne Cash), a money-lender, who has been steadily slipping into the abyss of self-pity and loathing, for several years, much to the dismay of his ill-used clerk, Bob Cratchit (Austin Peters), who has a crippled son, Tiny Tim (Carter Christianson).

     But on this fateful Christmas Eve, he is visited by his old, equally-miserly, now deceased partner, Jacob Marley (Mark Pierce), who warns him of dire consequences in the after-life if he doesn’t change his evil ways.  And so, he is offered to view his life in the Past (Kelly Stewart), the Present (Pip Kennedy) and a possible Future (Hannah Sapitan), as his spirit guides, who will lead him.

    He discovers his younger, greedy self (Zachary Johnsen), divesting himself of his lady love, Emily (Josephine McGehee) and sliding toward darkness.  Then he views the outside world of the present, seeing both joy with his well-to-do nephew Fred (Evan Tait) & friends, and Cratchit’s family, poor in dollars, perhaps, but rich in spirit.  Then his future is revealed as pretty dismal if he doesn’t repent…any guesses as to what happens?!

    Much of the dialogues is sung.  Some of the stand-out numbers are “Link by Link” (Pierce), “Lights of Long Ago” (by the amazing, Stewart), the haunting, “A Place Called Home” (Cash, Johnsen, McGehee and Lana Sage), the rousing, “Abundance and Charity” (Kennedy), and the touching, “God Bless Us Everyone” (Company).  And major kudos to Mouser, as this could have been (and probably was) a nightmare to coordinate with the many scene changes but, as always, he has a masterful eye for staging, as well as the casting, as his company is super here.

    Cash is always good in everything I’ve seen him in and an asset to every production.  His Scrooge is more middle-aged than most interpretations, which I liked, as it gives the impression he still has many more years to contribute in a positive way to those around him.  And I was blown away by Stewart, as the Spirit of the Past.  She has an amazing voice and her character was downright charming and someone who, when in her presence, you’d be forced to smile.  She has already accumulated a pretty impressive history on the stage and I predict even more success will come her way!

    Clever set & lighting (Demetri Pavlatos), authentic costumes (Margaret Louise Chapman), top music (Young & Co.), dazzling dance numbers (Parker), spirited direction (Mouser) and a terrific cast, all add up to a perfect holiday show for the whole family.  
    I recommend this play.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.
--DJS