Saturday, February 16, 2019

Pontypool—CoHo Productions—NW Portland


       Night of the Dead…Living

    This horrorific tale is written by Tony Burgess and directed by Gavin Hoffman.  Based on a novel and rather good Indie film, it is playing at their space, 2257 NW Raleigh St. (parking is a major challenge in this area, so plan your time accordingly), through March 2nd.  For more information, go to their site at www.cohoproductions.org or call 503-220-2646.

    There is purportedly, a small rural town in NW Oregon that has an infestation, of sorts, in which people are found blathering nonsense and, like lemmings, seeming to follow each other to a type of self-destruction (no, not Congress).  At least, that’s what the local radio station (KPPL, 660 on your listening dial) is posing.  Nestled in the basement of a church, they do have a rather unorthodox shock jock, Grant Mazzy (rhymes with crazy).  The station is virtually the only real entertainment these farming folks have in this quiet (usually) little village.

    But now Grant (Todd Van Voris) has gone too far, as his type of reporting has ranged from searching for a lost cat to insisting there are hordes of people out there rioting and actually (can you believe this) eating each other!  His no-nonsense producer, Sydney (Christy Bigelow), insists his imagination and thirst for recognition is getting the best of him.  Even a co-work, the much-respected, war-veteran, Laurel Ann (Paige McKinney), can’t seem to rein him in.

    But, at least, they can always switch to the ever-reliable, weather-copter reporter, Ken (Pat Moran) to fill us in on the amazing cold snap we seem to be having.  Although lately, he also seems to be losing it, as he has just recently begun to report unusual numbers of individuals ravaging the countryside.  I think this cold must have infected his brain, as he seems now to be a few flakes short of a snowball.  It is only when Grant has the town’s very respected medical expert, Dr. Mendez (Jimmy Garcia), on the air live, as a guest, that people began to sit up and take notice.

    As best as I can make out, the town-folk are infected by some type of virus and, evidently (now get this), it is passed on by sound, certain words or, maybe, language, that triggers this bug.  So, if your loved ones start slurring their words…talking nonsense, repeating themselves…repeating themselves…and fixating on a certain word over and over again, then head for the open range, buckaroo, for your in for a bumbling tide.  The Invasion has begun, so weaze needs to building a wall to keep out this pirate…er, virus.  It be spewing…spreading, so witch out, u could be text!  Silence is Gordon, reminder….be daft and bilge that wall…wall…wall…wall…wall…wall……..AHHHHHH…….!

    This report was found at the front desk at CoHo.  He added a note to it that remarked that Van Voris, a master at any role, was a marvel as the shock jock.  The rest of the cast was also quite convincing and Hoffman, not only a fine actor himself, has managed to keep this production at a heightened suspenseful level.  And kudos, too, to the lighting designer, Jennifer Lin, who was kept very busy, and to the Violence Designer, the award-winning, Kirsten Mun.

    This may not be for everybody but I recommend it.  Please tell them Dennis sent you, if you do choose to see it.
--DJS

Friday, February 8, 2019

Jesus Christ Superstar—Stumptown Stages—downtown Portland


    “Look What They’ve Done to my Song?!”


    This classic rock opera has lyrics by Tim rice and music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and is directed by James Charles, with choreography by Christopher George Patterson and music direction by Adam Young (Producing Artistic Director, Kirk Mouser).  It is playing in the Brunish Theatre (4th floor) at the Portland Center for the Performing Arts, 1111 SW Broadway, through March 3rd.  For more information, go to their site at www.stumptownstages.org

    There are many, often conflicting, stories of Jesus over the years and no real historical references to him.  The New Testament is probably the most widely read account but it was written after He lived on earth.  And some books were suppressed by the Vatican, supposedly because their “authenticity” couldn’t be verified, but they also point to women (Mary) having a strong voice; mysticism (Thomas); and the betrayer, Judas, all having their say.  Novels such as, “The DaVinci Code,” “I, Judas” and “The Last Temptation of Christ,” attempted also to flesh out the Jesus story, as well as this opera and the musical, “Godspell.”

    This rock opera skirts on many of these issues, giving us a sketchy but powerful rendition of His final days on earth.  It seems that Judas (Gabriel Lawson), has seen the handwriting on the wall for all those opposing Rome and has mistakenly thought that Jesus (Morgan Mallory), the leader of the pack, means overthrowing Rome when talking about a new kingdom, not a heavenly one, which is really Jesus’s mission, after we have “shuffled off this mortal coil.”  Needless to say, this political, militant, hot-headed Judas will butt heads with the more passive, more charismatic leader, Jesus.  And, thus, you have the traditional conflicts necessary for any good story.

    Jesus’s followers are faithful to Him, up to a point, and consist of the common folk, mainly fishermen and tradesmen, as well as women, one of which, Mary Magdalene (Hannah Sapitan), falls in love with Him.  Jesus is abandoned by his own religion’s priests, led by the worldly, Calaphas (Gregory Brumfield), because they have an uneasy but profitable relationship with the Romans.  One of his own followers, Judas, betrays him in order to persuade Him to get His head “out of the clouds,” perhaps.  But the acting head of the local government, Pilate (Bruce R. Kyte), can find no fault in this “innocent puppet” and Herod (Steve Coker) actually makes fun of him.  But His mission must be fulfilled and Jesus dies on the cross for it.

    Because of this, a whole new movement was begun, one of the most powerful in the world today and, justifiably, we can say, has created a “Superstar!”  The entire story is told in song, dance and music.  His followers reminded me of the hippie movement during the 60’s and, in Jesus’s day, probably might have had a similar kinship with Him.  The tricky part, in such interpretations, is to marry the human and the spiritual Jesus in this role and here it is done well.

    The famous songs are all there.  My personal favorite being, “I Don’t Know How To Love Him,” beautifully sung by Sapitan.  Also, the showstopper, “King Herod’s Song,” mockingly rendered by Coker, who is super, and his dancing delights.  The familiar, “Everything’s Alright,” “What’s the Buzz…” and, of course, “Superstar,” are also given their full glory here.  I was also especially moved by Lawson in “Heaven on their Minds” and “Judas’s Death,” powerful.  And Mallory in “Gethsemane.”  And the band, Young and company, was outstanding, as well as the dance numbers, Patterson, equally amazing.  Charles has cast it perfectly and has woven all the intricate story details and songs into a moving production.

    Acting was also top notch.  Hope to see more of Sapitan on stage, as a singer and actor, as she is worth watching as the conflicted Mary; Coker is always a scream in a comedic role; Kyte is a standout as the quirky Pilate; and hope to hear more from the basso tones of Brumfield.  The entire cast is a marvel!

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

Sunday, February 3, 2019

A Doll’s House, Part 2—Artists Rep—SW Portland

        The Glass House

     This proposed sequel to Ibsen’s classic of about 100 years ago, is written by Lucas Hnath and directed by Luan Schooler.  It is playing at their space, 1515 SW Morrison St., through March 3rd.  For more information, go to their site at www.artistsrep.org

     When Nora slammed that door, at the end of Ibsen’s, A Doll’s House, it not only ushered in a new wave of theatre expression, Naturalism, but began a woman’s movement that echoes into the present day, MeToo Movement.  That gesture espoused, quite simply, that a woman had rights, and if her present circumstances were hampering that, she had every right to slam the door on that situation and chart her own course!

     And so, here we are in this story, 15 years later and Nora (Linda Alper) returns to her old residence.  She is appalled by the fact that all of her old furniture and keepsakes have disappeared.  But she is greeted by her ole nanny and maid, Anne Marie (Vana O’Brien).  She explains some of the many changes that have taken place since Nora abandoned her husband and three children some years before.  Likewise, Nora fills her in on the new life that she has fostered

     What is not anticipated is that Torvald (Michael Mendelson), unexpectedly comes home early.  The reason for her visit is that he has forgotten to file some legal papers when she left and she wishes to clear that up.  In this era of history, women were completely under the control of men and had no rights themselves.  But there are still some old wounds to heal and, perhaps, flames to extinguish, or fan.  They seem to have reached an impasse.  But there is another hurdle to overcome, her daughter, Emmy (Barbie Wu), now a young woman, has her own perspective on the situation and so, the diatribes rage on toward, hopefully, a satisfying conclusion.  And all the arguments from the many perspectives have a certain validity.  To discover the outcome, see it for yourself….

     The results of this play by Hnath are used as a springboard for forecasting the future, possibly, of women, family dynamics and relationships.  A solid truth that runs through it, is that people mature, change and evolve over time.  So, individually, how does that reconcile with relationships that one has committed to?  How to sustain Love in a modern era is no easy task and has no definitive solution.  We are who we are today Because of circumstances, not In Spite of them.  “…and the beat goes on….”

     Schooler has chosen a well-honed cast and they tear up the stage, all totally convincing in their portrayals.  Alper gives us a Nora in which “the world is too much with her.”  She may be weary but has an iron will and that works very well for the character.  O’Brien is a treasure as the old retainer, who radiates a life of sacrifice beyond her humble “station.”  Mendelson always is a joy to watch onstage.  He gives the husband such a vulnerability with his power, that you, indeed, feel a certain sympathy for his plight.  And Wu, as the daughter, thrusts a life and spirit, and even a wisdom beyond her years, into Emmy.  She is exciting to watch, as they all are!

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

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Four Last Things—Corrib Theatre—SE Portland



      “Silent Snow, Secret Snow”

    This powerful drama is written by Lisa Tierney Keogh and directed by Gemma Whelan (Founding Artistic Director of Corrib).  It is playing at the New Expressive Works space, 810 SE Belmont St., through February 24th.  For more information, go to their site at www.corribtheatre.org

    The above title is borrowed from a short story (and one-act play) by Conrad Akien, in which a young boy gradually slips into his own private world, surrounded by the peace and quite of snow.  I was reminded of this story while watching the play.  The world now is a much more complex place, brought about, in part, by the electronic jungle we so highly treasured.  Young people, in particular, are highly susceptible to this alternate universe, in which one encounters cyber-bullying, sex traffickers, gossip, “fake news,” deceptive advertising, et. al., aimed to lead some young, maturing minds to slip into an abyss that, without professional help, one may drown in.  This cyber-jungle is, I believe, a contributing factor in drawing people into a “manufactured” world.

    The causes of mental illness are as numerous as there are people who have it.  It is a disease which can be treated.  People dealing with it should never be afraid to reach out to professionals.  They should also never be stigmatized because they are ill, admitting there may be a problem and communication it unashamedly to loved ones is a key to recovery.  “What we have here is a failure to communicate!” should never be one’s mantra.  Sinking beneath the “snow,” one may freeze, so look for the warming sunlight.

    Jane (Alexandria Casteele) is a young girl who grew up on a farm.  Her best friend is Bob, the farm dog (Jacklyn Maddux), who seems to understand her best.  Bob is always there to comfort her, play games, be told secrets to, and just hang around with.  She has a brother but, in time, they grow apart.  She has a boyfriend but she also distances herself from that relationship, too.  Even her father, Brendan (Ted Rooney), dearly loves her but is unable to show it.  The silence, “snow,” seems to be closing in on her.  How is this isolation to end?!

    I’ve only given you a snippet of this story because you really need to see/hear it for yourselves.  The characters all talk past each other, narrating their tales but never actually talking directly to each other, which shows the isolation of Jane and her world.  The setting is sparse, which also gives the sense of being removed from the world which surrounds her.  This sad tale builds slowly, overtaking the senses, and graduates to an intensity which is gut-wrenching.  You will also find yourself crying out to her, “Stay!” 

    It is a tale the author obviously is invested in, and in which director Whelan has thoroughly and accurately presented.  The cast is perfect for their roles and Casteele is powerful in the lead.  She is eerily believable as a young girl trapped in unfamiliar surroundings, perhaps, “a stranger in a strange land.”

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

I’ll Eat You Last—Triangle Productions!—NE Portland




        The Terror of Tinseltown

    This one-woman show about the notorious, Hollywood agent, Sue Mengers, starring Helen Raptis, popular, local TV hostess for AM Northwest at 9 am weekdays on KATU, is written by John Logan and directed by Donald Horn.  It is playing at their space, 1785 NE Sandy Blvd. (free parking lot, West of the bldg.), through February 16th.  For more information, go to their site at www.trianglepro.org or call 503-239-5919.

    The almighty majesty of the movies, or Broadway, has little to do with what an audience observes.  It is all about what goes on behind the scenes.  Note, such films about these industries, such as the classics, All About Eve and Sunset Boulevard, or Altman’s clever, The Player.  They hint at more complex and seedy sides to these entertainment avenues.  Dare we mention Harvey Weinstein, as a recent example, as proof as how far it has slipped into the abyss.  “All that glitters is not gold,” perhaps.

    What goes into show biz that creates magic is more smoke and mirrors than substance.  In a way, success is more accidently than planned, but everyone is willing to take credit if it hits big, and the same ilk are willing to point the fingers of blame/shame if it bombs (an attitude Congress/White House seems to have adopted).  But, because of it all, we have a wealth of stories, that themselves, make headlines.

    Mengers (Raptis) was a Hollywood agent of some 50 years ago.  As many famous names of renown nowadays, she did not grow up with “a silver spoon in her mouth.”  She and her family were Jewish immigrants fleeing Nazi Germany.  They landed in the New York area and she learned English from watching movies and, perhaps, in part, as an homage to that industry, became enamored with it.  She learned the ropes in agencies on Broadway and even “discovered” Streisand at a seedy bar (later she was to become, perhaps, her most famous client).  Soon she migrated to Hollywood and worked for a couple of agencies there before she branched out on her own.

    Agents, like editors and writers, et. al., are instrumental in getting a film made, but it is not unusual that you wouldn’t know their names, as they are the “unsung heroes” behind the scenes.  They are patiently, strip by strip, draping the glitter that others will take credit for.  It is simply the nature of the business and, as Ray Walston once told me (I worked as a featured extra on the film, Paint Your Wagon), getting your name above the title is not the ultimate for me.  It is just to work a lot with some remarkable artists and be comforted that the film does not rest on my shoulders.  And, so it is with the above “heroes.”

She had many famous clients over the years and has some amazing stories to tell about some of them including, Ms. S., as well as Faye Dunaway, Gene Hackman, Ali McGraw, Steve McQueen, Sissy Spacek, et. al., but I’ll let her go into those stories and her philosophy about what makes a good agent (or star).  It is really all quite engaging.

    Raptis is wonderful and you quite forget she is an actor playing a part, so convincing is she.  Horn, as usual, has given us a slice of life that would have gone “unsung” had it not been for his intervention, not only of social issues that should be discussed but also personalities that may have otherwise been forgotten.  It is an evening of two, very talented icons of the media themselves, but also of some nuggets of years gone by.  Bravo.

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

Monday, January 28, 2019

Sense & Sensibility—Portland Center Stage—Pearl District


     “All the World’s a Stage…”


    Sense & Sensibility—Portland Center Stage—Pearl District
This stage adaptation by Kate Hamill of the classic novel by Jane Austen is directed by Eric Tucker.  It is playing at their space at The Armory, 128 NW 11th Ave., through February 10th.  For more information, go to their site at www.pcs.org

    Although the sexes still may not be equally balanced, I think women and, to some extent, men, would never survive in the atmosphere of Ms. Austen.  Women, back then, could not inherit or own property, they really had no money of their own, they could not be seen with men without a female companion along, and they certainly couldn’t have a responsible job, and no voting rights or political positions, either.  They were simply to look pretty at all times and hope that some rich man would consent to marry them, in order to gain a certain respectability and position in society.

    Men were somewhat better off materially but no upper crust gentleman could actually hold a job or be seen with a young woman unaccompanied by her companion.  They also had to be aware of their position and only go to the “right” parties and be seen with only the “right” people.  And, with both sexes, Love had little or nothing to do with marriage.  How times have changed…or have they?!

    At the beginning of the play, the Dashwood’s are faced with a rather disagreeable set of circumstances.  Their father has been placed in the unfortunate position of dying on them and leaving, as is customary, his property and fortunes to his rather, easily manipulated, son, John (Chris Murray), with his conniving wife, Fanny (Kelly Godell).  She insists that his father’s faithful wife (Lisa Birnbaum) and three daughters, Elinor (Danea C. Osseni), the eldest and more studious one; the middle child, Marianne (Quinlan Fitzgerald), the man-attractor; and Margaret (Violeta Picayo), the youngest and most vulnerable, be ousted from the family estate with little resources.

    They do find help and some solace with Sir John Middleton (Darius Pierce), a distant relative to the Dashwood’s, and his wife, Lady Middleton (Godell, again) and his mother-in-law, Mrs. Jennings (Lauren Modica).  Not only is it humiliating to be thrown to the wolves but the town gossips of the idle rich have nothing better to do than fuel the fires by constantly stirring the ashes.  There is only one out for them and that is to find a sympathetic man who would take a woman who has no dowry.

    And there are plenty of these dandies around.  There is the more mature, but dashing, Colonel Brandon (Ryan Quinn); a gentleman caller, Edward Ferrars (Jamie Smithson); and John Willoughby (Murray, again), a rather pleasant man, but they all seem attracted to the “pretty” one, Marianne.  Such seems to be the nature of a man, more interested in the turn of the ankle, than the contents of the head and heart.  To discover the outcome, you’ll have to see it for yourself.
The production is directed at a very brisk pace with furniture and actors being shuttled around seemingly willy-nilly, especially in the first act.  Although the audience seemed to quite enjoy these antics, it does cloud any story or character development.  It must have been a nightmare for the director/cast to deal with.  But, by the second act, the comedy is less pronounced and the set/prop manipulations kept to a minimum and this make for a stronger show.

    The cast is quite amazing, as they change roles and genders often, too, with sometimes only a split-second turn-around.  Smithson has a wonderful few moments as brothers, one of which is a comic marvel.  But the star of the evening was Modica, as a sort of Queen Bee for the young ladies.  She has a long monologue in the second act, tracing her frisky exploits as a young woman, which is so funny I was reduced to tears laughing.  She got a well-deserved round of applause for it.  It was so well-delivered, it could be used a stand-up comedy routine, and she is marvelous in this stand-out scene especially.  Kudos to her!

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


Saturday, January 26, 2019

Equus—Twilight Theater Company—N. Portland



            The Price of Passion

    Equus—Twilight Theater Company—N. Portland
This intense, adult drama is written by Peter Shaffer and directed by Tobias Andersen.  It is playing at their space, upstairs at 7515 N. Brandon Ave. (just off Lombard, small, free parking lot across the street), through February 10th.  For more information, go to their site at www.twilighttheatercompany.org

    Oddly, I’m reminded now of a silly vampire flick, where the lead blood-sucker professes at his end, “In a world without Passion, it is better to be dead!”  But, from that unlikely source, it does connect to this serious story.  Those, as the sane and rational, do pay a price for that “privilege.”  In order to be accepted, to become part of the “Norm,” they may sacrifice their individuality…the essence of what makes them unique from others.  True Artists easily recognize that specialness and fully embrace it, knowing that much of Society may shun us.  But, one always has a choice, to stand apart and be proud, or to be one of the multitudes of lemmings and follow the masses into the abyss.  Which are you?!

    A doctor’s responsibility, to put it simplistically, is to take away pain and give a person as normal a life as possible.  But his job, according to his oath, is to “first, do no harm.”  Ah, “therein, lies the rub.”  How does one define, “normal” and what would be considered, doing “harm?”  Does “normal” mean going along with how the majority of people see the world and using that as a basis?  And if you take away pain, does that really mean you have done “no harm?”  These are the dilemmas that Dr. Martin Dysart (Christopher Massey) faces, as we all do through our journeys through Life.

    Alan Strang (Skye McLaren Walton) has been sent to him by Dysart’s caring friend, a magistrate, Hester (Crystal Lemons) who, rather than passing legal judgment on this teen, who has blinded six horses, wants Dysart to discover the reason for this bizarre behavior and “take away his pain.”  Dysart, overworked and dealing with a failed marriage himself, agrees, maybe feeling that more work will ease the numbness of his own personal life.  And so, Doctor and patient confront each other across a chasm, each dealing with their own fears.

    The doctor certainly has a bag of “tricks” to get the boy to talk, like playing games, using medical stimuli, interviewing the parents, his religious mother Dora (Rebecca Morse) and authoritarian father, Frank (Greg Prosser), his former boss at the stables, Harry (Jim Butterfield), and playing good cop/bad cop with Alan, etc…  He gets feedback from Alan’s nurse (Georgia Ketchmark) and discovers the last person Alan was with before the horrendous act, his possible girlfriend, the free-spirited, Jill (Lydia Ellis-Curry). 

    Through it all, there is the figure of Nugget (Jeff Giberson), Alan’s favorite horse, who seems to hover on the sidelines, like a ghostly figure, seeming to nudge/nuzzle the process of freedom/madness (?) onward, with his cohort equines (Jason Fox, Will Futterman, Christie Quinn & Maddie Gourlay).  He finally devises a way to get the truth of what happened that night from him but the results are not what he expected and may be more horrifying than what he imagined!  For more of the story, you must see it for yourself.

    The set (Jim Butterfield) and lighting (Robin Pair) are very effective in enhancing the show.  Also, the masks of the horses (no actual credit given) are exceptional.  It should be noted that there is full nudity in this play, as well as frank discussion about sex and violence, so be warned if that offends you.
Andersen is a marvel as an actor with the many shows he has enacted over the 50+ years in shows biz.  And he is easily, not only one of the best in the acting arena, also a master of direction, picking just the right cast and easily speaking their “language.”  The notable thing about this interpretation is that it is very natural, a signature of his directing/acting approach, I believe.  It works very well here as each of the characters has an easy flow of naturalism in their characters and it works beautifully.  Kudos to the Master!

    Massey has an effective way of underplaying the Doctor, which gives him an air of being on the road to discovery for himself as well.  Giberson & Equine company are appropriately menacing and eerie, as the mask marauders.  And Ellis-Curry is attractive and does a nice job of not playing up the tartness that is often found when approaching this character but allowing her just to be a regular girl, who is newly experience sex and discovering herself…again a natural approach.  Hope to see her again onstage.

    But special kudos to Walton as the boy, who is a real find and is explosive in the role of a young man teetering on madness.  His modulated performance, as he balances rage, wonder, vulnerability and pain, all very convincingly.  He is someone to watch for in future productions.

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