Monday, November 19, 2012

A Midsummer Night’s Dream - Portland Center Stage, Portland, OR

"The Stuff of Dreams"

Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream plays through December 23rd at PSC.  It is directed by OSF veteran, Penny Metropulos.  Information on times and prices are at or call 503-445-3700.

This is the second time I’ve reviewed “…Dream” in the past few months.  Check out  my review on this blog for MilePost5’s production last July.  A third production of this classic play is looming next year at OSF in Ashland.

Shakespeare’s “…Dream” is one of the loveliest fantasies every written.  It stirs in romance, adventure, comedy, status, politics, mistaken intentions, merry mix-ups and magic in a veritable quandary of a delicious feast.  Most of these elements are wonderfully realized in PCS’s production.

The story involves two sets of lovers but, both men, Demetrius (Joel Gelman) and Lysander (Ty Boice) love the same woman, Hermia (Kayla Lian), leaving Helena (Jenni Putney) on the outside looking in.  They escape to the forest to sort out their troubles and are beset by the Fairies, who have their own share of problems.  The merry prankster, Puck (Daisuke Tsuji) manages to screw things up even more for the lovers, by putting a love potion onto the wrong people, turning the triangle in favor of Helena.

Meanwhile, on the home front, Nick Bottom (James Newcomb) and a motley crew of tradesmen, have decided to put on a play for the nobility of their fair town, Theseus (Richard Baird) and Hippolyta (Dana Green), on their nuptial day.  But, again thanks to Puck, Bottom ends up making a perfect ass of himself.  Needless to say, all turns out as it should, and every Jack will have his Jill.

Most of the cast play dual roles and this transition makes for some acting challenges, which the actors are well-suited for.  And the Bard’s text is conversationally spoken, which makes it easier for the audience to understand.  Especially clear and concise are Mr. Baird and Ms. Green (also playing the Fairy King and Queen, Oberon and Titania).

Much of the success of the show is due to the physical antics of the characters, little nuances that make them so endearing, such as Demetrius constantly tripping over the  same  step, or Pyramus’s sword that has a mind of  its own, or the Changling Boy (Dylan Earhart) as Puck’s  assistant, et. al.  Kudos to the Director, Ms. Metropulos, for these additions.  And thanks also to some top local professionals in smaller roles, such as Linda Apler, a veteran of  OSF  (Quince, et.  al.), Todd Van Voris (Starveling, et. al.), a member of ART’s acting company, and Tim True (Snug, et. al.), founding member of Third Rail Theatre.

Mr. Newcomb is a fine Bottom, especially effective in his revelation speech near the end.  And the lovers are good with Mr. Boice and Ms. Lian being particularly notable.   Mr. Tsuji is a little too subdued in his presentation of Puck.  The role calls for a mischievous energy which isn’t there some of the time.

A couple things seem to be missing in this production.  The setting, although having a couple of terrific trees and a backdrop with images of the moon phases and dawn, don’t have the magic that is needed for such a  cavernous space.  It’s okay to do a stripped-down model of the play but it would need a smaller space for that.  This stage has the space to fulfill the fantasy but is not as well realized as it could be.

The costuming, except for the Fairy King and Queen and the tradesmen, do not suggest any time period the play may be set in.  And the Fairies’ garbs seem to be more silly than magical.  Also the Pyramus and Thisbe scene could use a dose of drama like, as mentioned, Bottom’s revelation speech.  The humor comes from the fact that these tradesmen are trying to be serious but are inept as actors.  They are not trying to be funny.  Some grasped this concept, some did not.

Overall, the show was enjoyable.  It is good to see a clear and clean interpretation of the dialogue.  If you go, tell them Dennis sent you.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Mother Courage and Her Children - Theatre Vertigo - Portland, Oregon

"Mercenary Madness"

Mother Courage… by Bertolt Brecht and translated by Tony Kushner (Angels In  America) plays at theatre vertigo through November 17th.  It is directed by John Steinkamp with original music by Joseph Appel.  Contact them for more info at or call 503-306-0870.

Brecht, a German Expressionist writer during the early 1900’s, was disillusioned by many things:  War, Religion, the Military, and Society, in general.  What he seemed to be in favor of was—survival.  Survival at any cost.  His Mother Courage seems to be the epitome of that philosophy.

The story is about a mercenary, Mother Courage (Paige Jones), and her wagon of  wares, that is her survival kit, during the religious wars that swept across Europe during the 1600’s.  With her are her three children, Eilif (Mario Calcagno), the eldest and cleverest, Swiss Cheese (Robert Wyllie), the youngest and a little simple, and her daughter, Kattrin (Brooke Fletcher), a  mute.

They encounter the various opposing forces during the war and she sells to each, after all, she is an equal-opportunity-mercenary.  She befriends a few, like the Cook (Jason Glick) to one of the Generals, a man with an agenda of his own; a Chaplin (Matt Kerrigan), who  changes allegiances as it suits his purpose; and Yvette (Karen Wennstrom), a prostitute, playing with both sides of the  fence.  In short, they all know how to survive.

The War takes a tragic toll on Mother Courage’s family.  But she, undaunted, traverses the shell-shocked countryside in search of the next meal, monies, more goods for her wagon, sometimes even just for a decent conversation.  The brief respites of Peace seem to breed no real change in her world.  But she, like Mother Earth, will endure.  She does not fight the climate of change but embraces it, as just another challenge in an ever-changing map.  She  will survive and we are glad of it.

The most striking thing to me about this production is the use of space.  Mr. Steinkamp has, with very few set and props pieces, takes us on a trek across time and space, that is totally believable.  He has, with the swinging of a gate, changing the position of the wagon, or putting up a curtain, taken our imagination of a roller-coaster journey.  And the wagon, which is as much of a character in the show as any of the actors, is a marvel, thanks to Scenic Designer, Ryan Nicolai.

Except for the main characters already mentioned, the cast is an ensemble piece, and they are all very good at changing gears when necessary.  But at the heart of it is Mother  Courage, who must  be the driving  force in the production.  And Ms. Jones is just such a whirlwind!  As good as the other actors are, she commands the stage, as the character should.  She embodies Courage and is unwavering in the choices she makes, and gives us a view of a person that will overcome every obstacle and survive all tragedies.

Equally as good is Ms. Fletcher as her mute daughter.  She has an amazing ability to give complete focus to all the situations onstage.  And she can successfully communicate, with no real dialogue, what she is feeling, just through her expressions.  A talent any actor can envy.

The original music (Joseph Appel) and musicians are good and is a backdrop for spoken dialogue.  It underscores it well and is part of the storytelling atmosphere of the show.  One should be warned that there are adult situations and harsh language in the show and the running time is about three hours.  But the time is well spent.  If you see it, tell them Dennis sent you.

Who is Afraid of Virginia Wolf? - review by SW WA Stage & Theater Arts Review - Clark College, Vancouver, WA

Who is Afraid of Virginia Wolf?

Edward Albee’s classic play, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, opened Friday night, November 2 at Clark College in the Decker Theatre.  It is directed by Mark Owsley and runs through November 17th.  Tickets are at the door or at the Clark College Bookstore, 360-992-2815 or

Check out the wonderful review of Who is Afraid of Virginia Wolf? by SW WA Stage & Theater Arts Review.