Monday, January 22, 2018

Heaven or Helen—Late Bloomers Inc.—SE Portland

God’s Channel


     This was part of the Fertile Ground events and was playing at The Shout House, 210 SE Madison.  It is a one-woman, multimedia show written, designed and performed by Vanessa Hopkins, with technical expertise by David Chandler and Kelly Rauer.  It is based on the life of Dr. Helen Schucman who, with Dr. William Thetford, wrote the very popular, “self-help” book, “A Course in Miracles,” in which she has a roadmap to self-discovery, as channeled by her guide and teacher, she claims, was none other than Jesus himself.

     This production is a work in progress to be developed in the future to a full-scale production in a larger space and cast.  The monologue I saw sketched out the early years of Schucman’s life in which she was informed, at an early age by her father, that she was not pretty, and carried that burden with her for the rest of her life.  She probably decided then that she would not be desirable to men and needed to forge for herself and, thus, became a clinical psychologist, immersing herself in this field.  But she did end up marrying her best friend from school, Louie, although not in love with him.
Another experience that occurred at an early age in the crib was a sense of being able to remove herself from her body and experience a sense of something warm and unseen that she was capable of connecting with.  Later in years she believed that it was Mary, the mother of Jesus (although she was born into the Jewish faith and later became an atheist), as her guide, sometimes stern and sometimes compassionate (as she was).  She teamed up with, what was to be the love of her life, perhaps, her soul-mate, Thetford, and together they would write a pretty audacious book/text.

     Another thing, they certainly made an odd couple:  He was gay, she straight (and married); he was a Westerner, a rather laid-back style, she was a stern Easterner; she was rather a “plain-Jane” type, he was handsome; and she was older than he by a number of years.  But together they made magic.  They say that often opposites attract and so they proved that point.  Another interesting idea, even though her profession was about humans, she didn’t particularly like them.  Or, as Charlie Brown would put it that, Humanity was fine, it was just people he didn’t like.

     This play stops at just the point she is beginning to sense a “higher purpose,” and beginning her spiritual journey.  Hearing voices is not unique with her, as Joan of Arc was reported to have heard them from some saints, as they guided her path (I even wrote a play on it).  And channeling a book from another time or realm is also not unique, either, as Taylor Caldwell, a well-known author, claimed to have done this for her book, “I, Judas” in which he was her guide.  Are these claims a type of madness (as she feared) or a dimensional journey?  As in many things of this type, one has to take it on Faith, or not?!

     Putting aside that she is an interesting subject for a play, the strength of this production rests on two factors:  The visual imaginary that was projected, and the talent of the acting of Hopkins.  The feature of her growing from inside as an fuller human being, as if emerging from a cocoon, was stunning, and the fire that engulfed her was also quite effective.  And, I met Hopkins at Fertile Ground pitching event and was greeted by a young, attractive, vibrant personality.  When I viewed this play, she had transformed herself into a rather severe, aging, plain-looking character with a clipped accent, and had done this all from the inside, only changing her hair and donning a pair of glasses.  That’s good acting, folks!

     Also, the play, in this black-box atmosphere, works extremely well because there is an intimacy involved and, I would hope, a full production doesn’t lose that.  Of course, Hopkins must embody the role for this kind of showing, as she is perfect for it.
There was not any contact information as to a website for her or this company, so you might try Googling the name of the company (or her) and/or the play title listed at the beginning of this review and see what pops up.  I highly recommend seeing a full production of this story when it is presented and, if you do, please tell them Dennis sent you.

--DJS

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Rosa Red—The Broken Planetarium—SE Portland


Friendship

     This staged reading is written, staged and music by Laura Christiania Dunn, based on a true story.  It will be given a full production in May at the Clinton Street Theater.  For more information, go to their site at www.brokenplanetarium.org 

     Love may be the strongest word, on the positive side of the spectrum, to express a feeling for another.  But Friendship certainly should run a close second.  And, being a friend, does not always mean you agree on everything, but that you can at least “agree to disagree.”  It means, in part, appreciating and respecting the other person for who they are.  But when there is turmoil all around you and it may mean death to walk a certain path, that kind of friendship is strained to the max.
Such was the case with Rosa Luxemburg (Melia Tichenor) and her best friend, Sophie Liebknecht (Laura Dunn).  Germany and Russia were not friendly places to be during the early to mid 1900’s, especially if you were of Jewish heritage and a political outspoken Marxist.  Decisions must be made and friendship could not stand in the way of what one truly believed, regardless of the consequences.  Add to the cast Rebekah Stiles reading the stage directions.

     There is a famous poem by Robert Frost about a person having to choose between two paths that led through a forest and having to choose which one to take—the one much used, or the one “less traveled by.”  And that crossroad, and your choice of which path to take, can make all the difference in your life.  These two ladies had that same kind of choice to make.

     Rosa and her husband, Leo (Kyle Huth, also Music Director), were revolutionaries and would spend much of their lives in prison. Sophie believed that being a mother and bringing another generation into this world was her role in life, but she did question what sort of world would it be then.  Also her husband, Karl (Eli Ronick), was of the same mind as her friends, so her choice to stand her ground was made even more difficult.
 
     I can’t tell you more without revealing plot devices but what raises this concept a couple notches above the norm, is how the friendship between these two women endured, mainly through letters, and the humor that still existed in their lives, giving atmosphere of these harsh times a lighter note on occasion.  Also, the original music and songs by Dunn, and the plethora of instruments the cast played, really does give it an edge, as they are quite impressive.
I recommend seeing the full production in May, as they are going to add dancers to the show and will probably expand the script and cast.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.


--DJS

Saturday, January 20, 2018

The Brothers Paranormal—MediaRites’ Theatre Diaspora—SW Portland



Beyond the Norm

     This staged reading of the play by Prince Gomolvilas and directed by Catherine Ming T’ien Duffly is playing at PSU’s Lincoln Hall in the Boiler Room (#55), 1620 SW Park Ave., through this weekend.  For more information, go to their site at www.TheatreDiaspora.org

     What is the Nature of Reality?  As a child one thinks that everyone sees the world in the same way that we do (I know I did).  As we grow more mature, we find out just how wrong we are.  It comes as something of a shock to the system, forcing us to find our own reality/truth.  Some simply accept what they see before them, never questioning the validity of it, following blinding, like lemmings, over the cliff, if the crowd chooses to take that route.

     Others delve deep within, finding that elusive Truth in religion, perhaps, or materialism, or politics.  But, for some, the journey becomes very personal and they find solace in a secret world, only of their knowing, a tortured sojourn, which can take extreme patience by others to understand.  And some simply see a world of a dimensional difference to ours, a world which we call, the paranormal.
This is one of my favorite genres, so I was eager to discover how the author was going to relate it and I was very pleased.  Once upon a time…there were two brothers, Max (Samson Syharath), a professed non-believer, or debunker of such nonsense, and Visarut (Savira Khambhu), somewhat more compassionate in the search for a stable reality.  As you may have surmised, they investigate paranormal activities.

     Enter Delia (Josie Seid), a woman who insists she has been visited by an invisible, malevolent spirit, Jai (Melissa L. Magaña, also the Narrator) who wishes her evil for some reason.  Her flamboyant husband, Felix (Jasper Howard), has other ideas as to the haunting.  Max, who believes there is something seriously amiss, consults his sensitive mother, Tasanee (Elaine Low), for aid in understanding and, hopefully, ridding this house of the evil entity.  More I cannot tell you, as the plot has many twists and turns which an audience should discover.  But, just know, that not everything is as it appears.

     This may be only a reading but know that it goes far beyond that in very effective lighting effects (Xander Atwood), as well as live sound and music effects (Joe Kye).  And the authentic, live screams by Seid and Magaña are enough to chill you to the bone.  The descriptions in the narrations of the action are perfect for someone to write a screen adaptation for this story, which I predict, would be very successful.
 
     Duffly has successfully brought all these elements together, blending in a pretty amazing production, noting the fact that they have only chairs, and scripts in their hands, which does not in any way, hamper the power of this story.  And, like I said, I am a fan of this genre, finding that, like many filmmakers (having written/produced a couple myself), a good story is paramount to the key for their success.  Corman with his Poe/Price collaborations was a student of this, as well as Val Lewton and writers, Rod Serling and Ray Bradbury, Matheson and Beaumont, as well as King, among the best.  “The Haunting (of Hill House)” by Shirley Jackson and directed by Robert Wise, is probably the best of the filmed ghost stories.  Gomolvilas, in my opinion, has certainly joined the ranks of this elite group!

     And the cast is extremely powerful in creating the tension, as well as humor, in the story.  Hitchcock had always said in order to have a successful, suspenseful story, you need humor at times to break it up, to give the audience a chance to relax before the next shocker, which will then be all the more terrifying because the audience has momentarily has been lulled into a sense of safety.  Gomlovilas understands this well, as well as having a serious message underlying it.
Howard has a great voice and presence as the devoted husband and Sied is equally good as the troubled wife.  Low is always fine in their productions, as she is here, and Syharath, another mainstay of their shows, as the chief investigator, is at his best here.  Khambhu does a good job as a contrast to his brother.  And Magaña conveys very well the storytelling parts of the script, creating the necessary tension necessary, by just her voice.  And her transformation (as she is a lovely, young lady) into the ugly spirit, Jai, with nothing but her acting ability, is amazing (appearing very much like the evil entity in the Japanese “Grudge” films). 

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

--DJS

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Weaving Women Together—Portland Playhouse—SE Portland


Fabric of One’s Life

This production, a play in progress, is written, composed and performed by Nikki Weaver and directed by Gretchen Corbett with choreography by Jessica Wallenfels.  It is performing at the Hampton Opera Center, 211 SE Caruthers St., through January 28th.  For more information, go to their site at www.portlandplayhouse.org

This, as mentioned, is a development piece (but full performance), a work in progress, that will be added to and subtracted from over a period of time.  So this is not really a review, since it’s not in its “completed stage” yet, but more of an overview or preview.

From my perspective, when I saw this, I was reminded of the old African adage, “it takes a whole village to raise a child.”  This phrase seems to fit her theme, as she lost her mother when she was 10 and was “raised” in a sense by a whole series of people ever after, all of which she plays, with only a change of a prop or costume piece to suggest character, relying almost totally on her acting ability, which is rich.

She also moved around a bit living in different parts of the U.S. and even Australia, adding to her character and, one might say, giving her previews of different life styles, so she was able to live, in a sense, “different lives” or selves, a rich heritage for one who has ambitions to become an actor.  The woman/mother/actor that she has become is a culmination of those periods.

Her teachers, step-mother, coaches, friends and, of course, her own family, mother, father and grandmother, are all parts of that “fabric” she now calls, Nikki Weaver.  The dress she wears is made up of the rag pieces from the various individuals, which influenced her life.  She also reached out to many other women and asked them to share their stories and pieces of fabric from their lives, as well.  And, if you’re so inclined, you’re invited to bring a piece of cloth and a story when you see the show and add it to their collection in the lobby area.  My story/rag was added, too, and is included at the end of this preview.

One other note, she has written songs and sings, as well as plays on the piano for this story (and dances, too) and they are all quite good additions.  The songs could stand alone as performance pieces.  There are also visual “essays” to compliment her tales.  Her performance is outstanding, in my opinion, at this stage of the development piece.  And Corbett and Wallenfels have enhanced her saga beautifully with their unique gifts.  We are all, I believe, made up of stories, and stories within stories of others, to form who we are today.  
And so, here is mine to share with her:

“The Patchwork People
Recollections of my Aunt and Grandma, as seen through the eyes of a young child:
It must have been in the 50’s when I remember going over to my Aunt’s house, and Grandma was there, too, and if they hadn’t been baking in the kitchen, wondrous smells of now-forgotten recipes wafting into the room, then they’d be sitting by an old Franklin stove, with a wooden apple crate full of bits and pieces of old dresses, aprons, shirts, socks, etc., a cornucopia of rainbows, from a time of forgotten lore.  And they’d be busy connecting these mini-memories, with needles and thread, into a larger memento, a quilt, to do homage to those souls that had passed onto other areas of existence.
They would pay no never-mind to me, as I was only a child and what could I possibly have to say at this stage of my life.  But they would chatter on about the lives of those individual patches and, for a moment, they seemed to come alive for me, too, these patch-work people, although I had never known them.  And so, this weaving of memories was, in a way, responsible for me becoming an artist, a writer, as I have added imagination into their mix of rags, and through it all, another generation of stories, and storytellers, was born.

--Dennis J. Sparks (January, 2018)”
I recommend this show.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

--DJS

Monday, January 15, 2018

BI- “Milagro” SE Portland

Containment

This production is written and directed by Georgina Escobar with choreography by Gabriela Portuguez.  It is playing at their site, 525 SE Stark St., through January 20th.  For more information, go to their site at www.milagro.org

What is your vision of the Future for our planet (assuming we have one)?  At present we have countries gnashing their teeth and rattling sabers at each other…too many Powers having nuclear capabilities…floods, fire, famine in all parts of the world…and so that future looks pretty bleak.  But Escobar’s vision cuts even deeper into the human psyche, just who the hell are we anyway?!

If you watch many films or TV shows, they picture people in a very stero-typic way so that an audience can easily identify the heroic types, the losers, the villains, etc. but humans, in reality, are not quite so simply identified.  They are many-faceted, many-layered possibly even multi-dimensional.  But, in order to discover ourselves, we have to start at a beginning in which we question and wonder. 

And so we enter a desert community made up of squares, as these four individuals, Hex (Kenyon Acton), Isa (Sierra Brambila), Noir (Justin Charles) and Fig (Ajai Terrazas) lock-step a straight and narrow path laid out for them behind a Great Wall in the year 2089 (as I was reminded, 100 years after the Berlin Wall fell).  They each have their own squares to deal with and don’t dare vary from the prescribed predictability of their patterned lives.  They are a product of a regimented, regulated and regurgitated society that needed these “huddled masses” to be complacent and easily identified…and contained.

But they hear of an underground club that varies from this order, in which they can release all these pent-up abilities and just…be.  As to the outcome of their journey, that will be something you will have to experience first-hand.  Know that it has been said that music can sooth the savage beast, but it can also release the inner self.

These actors play a variety of roles and movement/dance is a large part of that expression, which is very well choreographed by Portuguez.  Escobar has written and directed a story that seeks to touch all the bi-levels of our being and she has chosen a very eclectic and talented cast to mold her vision around.  And when you depart the theatre, you may have more questions than answers but that is a good thing.  As long as we can question, we are!

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

Three Sisters—Northwest Classical Theatre Collaborative—SE Portland

The State of Affairs
This major classic tale is written by Anton Chekhov and adapted for the stage and directed by Patrick Walsh.
  It is playing at the Shoebox Theater space, 2110 SE 10th Ave., through January 28th.  For more information, go to their site at www.nwctc.org

An interesting thing about Chekhov, although his plays seem like dramas or tragedies, from our modern perspective, he always insisted that they we comedies (as did the American author, William Saroyan, with his “The Time of Your Life” and “The Human Comedy”).  He looked upon the idle and “noveau riche,” which he based many of his stories on, as exemplifying the humor or human comedy in these people, who had never actually labored a day in their life.  So, to him, their life was without purpose and, thus, they were constantly in a state of boredom or depression.

He also looked upon the working class, the servants, although slave-like in the treatment from others, as having a certain rough-hewn dignity, noble caretakers of the earth, of the past as so with Nature, so when the trees are being butchered (as at the end of this show and “The Cherry Orchard”) to make way for the future or a more urban, industrialized life, it is a sad day, indeed.  A parallel could be made here as to the present day ignoring of global warming and the putting down of cultures that have been denied the opportunities of education, decent jobs and equality.

But, I digress, now back to those days of yore, of over 100 years ago in Russia.  Once upon a time, there were three sisters, Olga (Christy Bigelow), the eldest and head of the family, level-headed, unmarried; then Masha (Liz Jackson), the middle daughter, a loner, unhappily married to a teacher, Kulygin (Heath Koerschgen), a reliable fellow; and the youngest, Irina (Dainichia Noreault), the dreamer, being pursued by any number of young men/soldiers.  And, lest we forget, Andrey (Mickey Jordan), the brother, an intellectual but rather naïve in the ways of the world, like women and gambling.  He eventually marries, Natasha (Isabella Buckner), who becomes a thorn in everyone’s side, a harridan of the first order.

Others in the household are Chebutykin (Chris Porter), a doctor and border, steeped in the old ways and a bit of a tippler.  And, Anfisa (Jane Vogel), a servant and probably a nanny to the three sisters at one time, a retainer from the old world order.  Another “lower class” citizen is Ferepont (Dan Robertson), a member of the Council but also a bit feeble-minded and partly deaf.  And then there are the soldiers, chief among them is Vershinin (Tom Mounsey), an unhappily married man who has taken a shine to Masha.  Solyony (Paul Susi) is a disgusting sort, loud, a braggart and drunk, forcing his way into their lives. 

The last three soldiers, one of which is referred to as the Baron (but since that name is not listed in the credits, I would only be guessing as to which actor played him), is the most serious of the suitors to Irena.  These soldiers are Tuzenbach (Sam Levi), Fedotik (Christopher Beatty) and Rhode (John Bruner).  (The only drawback I see in this show, not really the company’s fault, is that the names of characters in the programs—and no photos of the actors-- are sometimes not the names they call each other during the show, so it can be confusing if trying to decipher who’s who on the playing field).  I will leave the story components to what I have described thus far, so that I don’t reveal plot devices that an audience should discover.

This is, without a doubt, one of the best ensembles I’ve seen in over 500 plays I’ve reviewed!  The cast, to a person, is very convincing in the roles they played and the three sisters themselves are etched in my psyche as setting the bar for acting a notch higher!  What could have been a very complicated set is artistically simplified by clever designs in setting (Kyra Bishop Sanford) and lighting (Molly Stowe).  Walsh has outdone himself with the casting, designing and adapting of this production.  I highly recommend it and if you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Lifeboat—Corrib Theatre—NW Portland

"Home is Where the Heart Is”

This play is written by Nicola McCartney, directed by Avital Shira and co-produced by Northwest Children’s Theatre, playing at their space, 1819 NW Everett St. (downstairs, entrance on 18th), through February 4th.  Although there is a very small parking lot, it fills up fast, and is mostly street parking, so plan your time accordingly. https://corribtheatre.org/

Based on a true story of two teens, Beth (Britt Harris) and Bess (Kayla Lian), who survived an ordeal at sea, spending 18 hours on an upturned lifeboat in 1940, after their ship ushering them from bombarded England, was torpedoed by a German sub.  There were programs during these war-torn years in England (as well as Europe) to send their children to rural areas, or other countries, to avoid being killed in the bombing of major cities.  Bess & Beth were on their way to Canada, as well as about 100 other children.  Of those, only about 10% survived!  This, then, is their tale.

Much of the hour plus play is presented in the imaginations of these two young ladies, as that was their saving grace for survival, and the charm of this production.  They survive on relating tales to each other of their past exploits in Liverpool.  They both loved the movies, especially musicals, and their favorite was “The Wizard Of Oz.”  They also manage to drag up stories and songs of the older folks’ experiences in WWI, as well as these mid-teen girls discovery of the opposite sex.  And they relate their current trials in fitting on gas masks, dealing with air raid shelters during bombing raids and feeling the pangs of being torn away from their families, but also the excitement of discovering a possible whole new world and way of life in Canada.  In other words, they had to grow up fast, having no real childhood.

Although their back stories are quite interesting, what is super about this production is the two actors, Lian and Harris, and how they, through their amazing talent, are able to transform themselves into the many characters they relate to each other throughout this story.  And they do it with usually just changing one article of clothing, like a hat, or apron, or a prop, etc., and the rest of the magic created is from the depths of their unique talent!  And they pull these items from the past from the trunks surrounding them, which would be appropriate if adrift at sea after being sunk.  The director, Shira, has certainly challenged these actors and created an intimate atmosphere for such an epic tale.  It is a well conceived presentation by the writer, as well as the cast, director and designers.

Now for the bad news.  Unless you’re sitting in the first couple of rows, you’ll visually miss or be visually hampered by much of the production.  They attempted to put the audience area on risers, but it is too little an elevation if you are in the back rows to see the action when they are laying or sitting on the floor or trunks, but you can follow the dialogue audibly.  I’m 6’3” and was sitting in the back row so as not to block sightlines of others, so I could sometimes see tops of heads of the actors, when not standing or on trunks, but felt sorry for those who were shorter and probably missed even that.  When it works best is when they stand on the trunks and expound.  I would suggest that they spend more time on the trunk tops and/or put the playing area on a raised platform.

I do recommend this production, especially for the outstanding acting and the inventive writing but, at this point, would recommend for an audience, either standing in the aisle areas to watch the show or make sure you get a seat in the first two rows or so.  If you do see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.