Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Illustrated Bradbury—Arena Stage at Theatre/Theatre—SE Portland

Echoes of Bradbury…Running
Rob Cannon,
Graphic Artist

This one-man show, starring theatre veteran, Tobias Andersen, is written by Ray Bradbury (based on selections from his novels and short stories) and directed by David Smith-English.  It will play at 7:30 pm through April 7th at the theatre’s location at 3430 SE Belmont St.  For more information and reservations call 503-593-1295.

All stories start with an idea.  But it cannot be browbeaten into existence.  “Under such treatment, of course, any decent idea folds up its paws, turns on its back, fixes its eyes on eternity, and dies” (Just this side of Byzantium by Bradbury).  Technically, most people can write, but not everybody is a storyteller.  In this regard then, Bradbury is a storyteller extraordinaire’.

If you have not partaken of the feast that is Bradbury—shame on you.  You are missing something important in your diet.  The most recognizable of his writings (mostly because films or plays have been made of them) are The Illustrated Man, The Martian Chronicles, Fahrenheit 451, Something Wicked Comes This Way and my favorite, Dandelion Wine.  And now we have Mr. Andersen, waxing poetic upon the boards, lovingly re-creating the digestible words of this prolific, poetic, progenitor of the written word.

Like Rod Serling and his Twilight Zone, most of his stories have a moral or message at the heart of them.  They exist in the world of Fantasy, as it alone allows a sense of freedom to explore all possibilities of existence.  But, as far-out as his stories seem, he has dipped his pen into his heart and writes with blood.  We can all identify, if not agree, on his views of life.  His writing is universal, as was Shakespeare’s, and that’s what will make him immortal.

A play, to do justice to all the thousand of stories/characters he created, would take weeks to portray on the stage.  But this selection does give a good cross-section of his works.  The tales seem to emanate from a tattooed man that a stranger meets on the road.  His body, seeming to write prophetic stories on its flesh, of those who stare too long at it.  And, thus, these few tales take life.

The Murderer concerns a man who has committed a great crime, he has murdered all the…electronic gadgets that seem to be controlling his life.  This was written in the 50’s, about a future world of constant noise, interruptions into one’s normal life, of electronics that are continually giving information, intrusion and interruption of the natural rhythm of living.  Any resemblance to current affairs is entirely…intentional.

The Foghorn is concerned with the lonely keeper of a lighthouse that, when activating the foghorn, discovers an eerie answering cry out of the depths of the ocean…from the age of dinosaurs.  A love-struck animal looking for its mate?  The Inspired Chicken Motel is based partly on a true story of his family moving around during the Depression, looking for work.  Instead they find a hen that lays an egg with a prophetic message on it for them:  Rest in Peace; Prosperity is Near. 

Other stories include an Irishman who finds sport in sprinting from a movie theatre before the national anthem is played; an old woman who refuses to die and promises to wreck havoc on her keepers if she isn’t returned post-haste to her body; and Hemingway’s parrot, who just might hold an unpublished novel of his in its brain.

More include the Fire Captain (from Fahrenheit 451, a role Andersen originated onstage) declaring that people themselves have rid us of our books because of the MTV mentality of switching ideas so quickly it doesn’t allow us time to think about anyone of them in any depth.  A world in which facts give us data, but no meaning behind it.  A world where Intellectual is a swear word.  A world, perhaps, not of Fantasy anymore, but of reality?!

Also included is a story about a man who invents a time machine which goes into the future…or does it?  And the final conclusion, a religious earthling who, building a Temple on Mars, discovers that the old race has found peace, harmony and happiness by divesting themselves of material connections, so has no need any more of such trappings.

The relater/portrayer/inhibiter of this menagerie of Bradbury writings is a theatre icon himself, Tobias Andersen.  He engulfs the 15 or so characters he enacts.  He slips easily from an Irishman, to an old lady, to a Florida detective, to a futurist scientist, et. al. with such ease that you don’t even notice that it is only one actor creating this smorgasbord of delightful, tempting creations.  It is a show, a performance, for the ages.  Look, Listen and Learn from the Masters, Mr. Bradbury and Mr. Andersen.

I believe if Tobias peered very closely at a patch of bare skin on the Illustrated Man, he would not only see a reflection of his visage appear, but a blended one with Ray.  Bravo!  I would highly recommend this show.  If you do choose to go, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Mother Teresa Is Dead—Portland Playhouse—NE Portland

The Quality Of Mercy

This British drama is written by Helen Edmundson and directed by Isaac Lamb.  It plays through April 7th at their location at 602 NE Prescott St.  For further information go to

This is a deep and provocative subject.  Are we our brother’s keeper?  A seemingly simple question, with a very complicated and, perhaps, un-definable answer.  And the reason for this complexity is that we approach the query from a subjective point of view.  In other words, we all have our own perspectives and, if we wish to attain a universal viewpoint, our own subjectivity clouds the issue considerably.

The story begins with a woman, Jane (Nikki Weaver), who has been missing from her home in England for seven weeks.  She shows up in India, working for a charity for the homeless, overseen by Srinivas (Luke Bartholomew).  She is living and being taken care of by Francis (Gretchen Corbett), the occasional lover of Srinivas.  Francis has discovered that Jane has a husband, Mark (Chris Harder) and little boy, living in England and has sent for him.

Jane seems less than pleased at Mark’s arrival and insists she is staying in India to help all the homeless people and starving children.  She also seems mentally and emotionally unsettled.  The rest of the story concerns the differing viewpoints of these four people on love, marriage, tradition, expectations, dreams and the above mentioned question, the nature of responsibility for those unable to care for themselves.

Jane wants to reach out with open arms and open pocketbook to the whole world’s poverty situation, ignoring her own responsibility of a husband and child back home.  Mark, at the outset, sees nothing further than his own hand, willing to shrug off any complications that don’t include his immediate family.  Srinivas sees Jane as an angel, embracing her generosity and energy, and sees Mark as a bigoted, ignorant bully.  He also may have designs of his own on Jane.  And Francis seems the only level-headed one of the bunch, being able to see both sides of the question, yet struggling with her own biases.

Ms. Edmundson’s story is, indeed, an eye-opener and will have audiences delving into the questions she raises long after the play is over (my friend and I did).  Her characters arrive at a truce by the end, each at least, acknowledging the other’s perspective.  And her characters are not stereo-types, as they seemed at the beginning of the play. 

Mark’s bullying nature softens as you discover a man truly in love with his wife and who just wants his world back to “normal.”  And Srinivas’s altruism is darkened a bit, as you see his own personal agenda and reliance on tradition.  And Jane discovers the need for a balance.  But Francis might have the best answer, to pause and just think about the journey taken and to be taken.  Good advice for us all, perhaps.

The performances are all exceptional.  And the direction by Mr. Lamb easily transports us from one setting to another, with a minimum of props and furniture.  He also has the good sense to know not to rush the story and to let the actors’ pauses speak for themselves, within the context of who they are.

Ms. Corbett is exceptionally fine.  The way she smoothly glides from one thought/feeling to another, letting us see the character think, and consider her choices.  She is so natural onstage that one would feel she is that way in real life, a mark of a true professional.  Ms. Weaver really does show us clearly the dilemma of a woman who cares, perhaps not wisely, but too well.  Her acting weaves between imbalance and sanity with nary a false note.

You feel the power of Mr. Harder onstage as he tries to force his way onto these people’s lives.  He shows us convincingly the ingrained prejudice of this man that slowly melts, as another world is opened up for him.  And Mr. Bartholomew is equally realistic, as you see his slide from savior, to a person with feet of clay.  None of these characters are representatives of pure light or dark, but all shades of gray and, like all of us, just very human.

A side note, I have never seen a bad production from this company.  Their plays are always worth seeing.  Portland Playhouse can be ranked among the best of Portland companies.  They walk tall alongside Giants!

I recommend this show and look forward to their next project.  If you do go, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Monday, March 11, 2013

The Stinky Cheese Man…—Oregon Children’s Theatre—Winningstad Theatre, Portland

Re-imagined Fairy Tales

OCT’s The Stinky Cheese Man and other fairly stupid tales is adapted for the stage by John Glore from the book by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith.  It is directed by Marcella Crowson, musical direction by Darcy White and choreography by Sara Mishler Martins.  The show plays through March 24th at the Winningstad on Broadway in downtown Portland.  For further information check or call 503-228-9571.

Most children grew up being told, or reading, fairy tales, nursery rhymes and fables.  All of them traditional folk lore from various countries, chronicled mainly by the Grimm Brothers and Hans Christian Anderson.  They are sacred, endearing and stepping stones from childhood to adulthood.  But like all such “holy” works, isn’t it fun sometimes to mix them all together and see what emerges?  That is what this adaptation does in a very, abbreviated form and with song and dance.

Who would have thought to combine The Gingerbread Man and cheese, or Cinderella and Rumpelstiltskin?  What about the story of the Ugly Duckling who, when it grows up, doesn’t become a swan but, just stays…ugly.  Or, the Little Red Hen, who is right about the sky falling, as it squashes people.  Or to update a tale about the Wolf and Little Red…Running Shorts(?).  I think you get the idea of the flavor of the afternoon.  There’s at least a dozen of these tales, combined with music and dancing and completed in an hour.  Whew!

Yes, this kind of transformations has been done before for the stage, as in Sondheim’s terrific musical, Into The Woods, or television’s locally made, Grimm, or the many, mostly CG films, at the movie theaters.  Some are memorable, some are not.  But this is done for the MTV generation with quick takes, slightly naughty dialogue/lyrics and paying homage to a “sacred cow” of children’s literature.  And it’s presented very well by an exceptional cast.

The strength of the show lies in the energy of its cast, especially in the song ‘n dance numbers.  They all play multiple roles and all deserve to be mentioned:  Joe Bolenbaugh, Drew Dannhorn, Heath Hyun Houghton, Elizabeth Klinger, Avish Menon, Dre’ Slaman, and Jill Westerby.  It’s gratifying, too, seeing a mixed cast of nationalities.  Particularly appealing is Mr. Houghton as the title character, et. al.  And the one that carries much of the story on his back is the Narrator, well-rendered by Mr. Menon, a six-grader (although I do wish he’d slow down a tad in his speaking).

And, as mentioned, the songs and dances are a terrific asset to the production.  Thanks for this success to a talented cast and Ms. White and Ms. Martins.  The costumes by Lindsay Kleinman were colorful and fun.  And the Director, Ms. Crowson, has kept the play whizzing by at a breakneck pace and has chosen a very talented group of people to present these re-imagined tales.  And tales all began from one imagining and, if classic, become universal for all time and countries.  A tale well-told is worth re-telling and, in this case, adapting for a new generation.

As a side note, I have never been disappointed in an OCT production.  Their shows, their Youth Company and their classes are a safe and fertile environment for the Young.  Their next shows are Gathering Blue, in April, a Native American story (directed by Stan Foote, OCT’s Artistic Director), and A Year With Frog and Toad, in May, a classic British children’s tale (and directed by OCT’s Education Director, Dani Baldwin).  And check out their website for their Youth Company shows presented at their Sandy Blvd. location. 

I would recommend this show.  If you do go, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

In The Next Room…—Triangle Productions!—The Sanctuary/Sandy Plaza, NE Portland

Playing With Fire

This production is playing through March 31st and is written by Sarah Ruhl and directed by Triangle’s co-founder, Donald Horn.  The theatre is located at 1785 NE Sandy Blvd.  For further information go to or call 503-239-5919.

In The Next Room, or the vibrator play takes place in upstate New York in the 1880’s.  On the surface, it is about the invention of the vibrator.  But in its depths, it concerns the collision of personal expression, the electrical age, repression/oppression and love.  During the Victorian Age and before, women were to appear in society and at home as polite, pretty and perfect parents to the next generation.  But underneath this trussed exterior was a volcano waiting to erupt.

Couples were not permitted to even kiss before marriage, let alone have intercourse.  And after marriage, this was often accomplished in the dark with eyes closed.  Married couples sometimes had never seen each other naked.  It is not surprising then that this anxious feeling or moodiness of women, in particular, was soon diagnosed by the medical profession, as a type of hysteria.

The story takes place in the parlor and office of Dr. Givings (Peter Schuyler) and his wife (Jami Chatalas-Blanchard).  Mrs. Givings has given birth but cannot nurse her own child because she has “bad milk,” so a wet nurse is found, Elizabeth (Andrea White).  She is an Afro-American maid of one of the doctor’s patients, Sabrina (Louise Stinson) and her husband, Dick (Joe Healy).  Dr. Givings is treating Sabrina, with his nurse, Annie (Michelle Maida), for this hysteria with an invention of his, the electric vibrator.

Like many brilliant men, his obsession with his profession blinds him to the fact that he is neglecting his own wife and unaware that she is “suffering” from this same kind of “hysteria.”  So his wife and Sabrina take it on themselves to dip further into the workings and meanings of this mysterious vibrator and, subsequently, themselves. 

Into this mix enters Joe (Alex Fox), a free-spirited painter from Italy, also suffering from a type of block that prevents him from creating art anymore.  But with one “dose” of the doctor’s magical machine and he has an epiphany.  And not only is he able to paint again, but awakens bottled-up desires within the doctor’s wife and, himself, becomes smitten with Elizabeth.  The climax is bitter-sweet, with some of the desires being met but some, unrequited. 

A couple of underlying themes come to mind.  One, “there is no place like home.”  Like Dorothy, one can search over the rainbow for your heart’s desires, when all the time it was right under your nose.  But seeking and experimenting is part of the journey of discovering this.  Two, the invention of electricity (leading to, among other things, the vibrator) may have its downside as well.  As Joe, the artist, points out, there is something organic, natural and perhaps, romantic, about the flame, as in candles, and light, as in sunsets.  Have we sacrificed the natural for the artificial?

This thought can easily be translated into the computer age, as our reliance on electronics is bordering on an obsession with some people and businesses.  Can the artificial ever replace a hug, a touch, a caring voice or look from a friend beside you, when in need?  Happiness may not have to be plugged-in, it might already be within us, inborn, as the two main characters in this play discover.

The insightful direction by Mr. Horn gives careful examination to this complex play and leads his actors skillfully down the creative path.  Ms. Chatalas-Blanchard is amazing in the role of Mrs. Givings, wringing every ounce of truth from this multi-tiered character.  And Mr. Schuyler, as her equally repressed husband, shows us a man who truly loves his wife, but just doesn’t know how to show it.

Ms. Stinson, as Sabrina, pulls out all the stops in exploring the wide range of tightly-coiled feelings within her.  And Mr. Cox, as Joe, is spot-on in his interpretation of the hippie-like artist.  The rest of the cast is equally as good with not a false note in their portrayals. 

The costumes, designed by Ms. Chatalas-Blanchard, are very revealing in how even the clothing encased the natural movement and look of people.  And Mr. Horn’s set gives the feeling of being back in this age, as well as creating an easy space for the actors to emote and move.

I would recommend this play but, be warned, it is concerned about very adult matters and even has a nude scene.  All of this is very well handled and is necessary to telling the story.  If you do go, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Proof—Serendipity Players—Downtown, Vancouver, WA

The Math Path
Proof is written by David Auburn and directed by Alicia Maria Turvin.  It runs through March at Serendipity Playhouse, 500 Washington St. in downtown Vancouver.  Check out their web at for further information on this play and their Season.

This play has some resemblance to the award-winning film, A Beautiful Mind.  The tortured souls of people with extraordinary minds, unable to deal with the everyday, common world and, in this case, trapped in their own obsessive world of numbers.  Is it life, if  only lived in the mind?  Or, is it madness?


Monday, March 4, 2013

Bill W. and Dr. Bob—CoHo Theatre—NW Portland

Nowhere To Go But Up

This production will be playing through March 31st at their theatre space at 2257 NW Raleigh St.  It was written by Samuel Shem and Janet Surrey and directed by Robert Holden (one of the Founders of CoHo).  For further information check out their website at

The play is about the founding members of Alcoholics Anonymous, Bill Wilson and Dr. Robert Smith.  There have been some rather good film and theatre projects about the effects of alcoholism, notably Days of Wine & Roses, The Lost Weekend, The Morning After and even on the founders, with James Woods and James Garner.

The entire play, covering several years and different locations, takes place on an essentially bare stage with only a cast of six.  Hats off to Robert Holden and his creative team for creating this miracle, as it is rarely confusing.  With this type of setting, it forces the actors to dig deep to explore their characters and allows the audience to become part of that creative process, by filling in the blanks with their imagination.

Both of these men were relatively successful at times in their careers.  One, Bill (Kevin Martin) as a stockbroker and the other, Dr. Bob (Gary Powell), as a surgeon.  They struggled in their own ways with the demons of alcoholism.  Both went through various cures in hospitals and through churches but always falling back on their old ways.  They explain that booze made them feel alive, that they fit in.

It was thought at the time that drinking to excess was a choice.  They embarrassed themselves, their friends, and it was especially hard on their loved ones.  Anne (Sarah Dresser), Bob’s wife, felt that Church and God were the answer.  There was even an organization, The Oxford Club, through one of the churches, holding meetings for such individuals and praying with them.  Bill’s wife, Lois (Kay Ethen), was equally humiliated by his being out of work and taking monies from her, meant for food and the mortgage, to finance his drinking binges.

They both knew that there was something wrong and wanted desperately to do right by their family and friends but there was some important ingredients missing from these “cures.”  It wasn’t until they met face to face that they jointly discovered the missing pieces to the puzzle.  This is the most powerful scene in the play, as they talk through their pains and discover the magic formula to truly break them free of the “demon rum.”

Once they discover that it is a disease that one is born with, a plan begins to take shape.  They also know that they have to divorce themselves from a specific church or God and put their faith in simply, “a higher power.”  And another very important aspect is that they need another drunk to talk with, when the temptation to drink becomes too powerful.  It is only another drunk that can truly understand the torment that they are feeling.  Eventually, Alcoholics Anonymous is born.  And this play is a journey toward that end.

The performances are all outstanding.  The highlight is Mr. Powell as Dr. Bob.  The expressions on his face and the body language, coupled with his amazing acting, all give birth to a powerful and moving performance.  His scene with the first meeting with Bill W. is an acting tour-de-force for both of them.  And Mr. Martin, as Bill, gives a highly charged performance, especially in his attempts to reconcile his life with his wife.

Matching this two individuals are the long suffering wives.  Ms. Dresser lets the part simmer within here until she finally explodes and tells her husband exactly what she is going through.  And Ms. Ethen is all anguish and tears, which you truly feel, as she attempts to hold her relationship and life together.  Both stellar performances.  And Melanie Moseley and Alan Hakim do very well in playing the various other characters.  They would have been even better had there been more distinction in costumes pieces/props to define their roles.

And, as mentioned, Mr. Holden’s direction is first-rate, especially in his use of the space.  This is a play with a very serious subject at its roots.  It is an important and compelling story.  I would recommend it.  If you do go, please tell them that Dennis sent you.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

The Whipping Man—Portland Center Stage—Pearl District, Portland, OR

The Birth of a New Nation
This production is playing at PCS until March 23rd.  The theatre is location at 128 NW 11th Ave.  The show is written by Matthew Lopez and directed by Rose Riordan.  For further information go to or call 503-445-3700 for tickets.

The story of the Civil War has, indeed, been rehashed and retold many times.  But this interpretation does offer some different perspectives on the aftermath of it.  It looks at three human beings, two Afro-Americans, former slaves, and a Rebel soldier, returning home.  It explores the relationship of these three men in this new, but foreign, emancipated world.  The White man is no longer King or Master, and the Black man, no longer a slave or piece of property.  But, since they are not now on familiar ground, what is the new landscape to look like?  Where does one go and what does one do when vomited out of Hell?

And these gentlemen are not only in a type of role reversal but also self-declared Jews, as well.  For Caleb (Carter Hudson) it is a mantle he discards, declaring that no God would have allowed such devastation as this War produced.  For Simon (Gavin Gregory) it is a solemn duty, to be upheld even in the direst of circumstances.  And for John (Christopher Livingston) it is simply something to do until the next thing comes along.  They represent three viewpoints of this upheaval:  The disheartened, Caleb, the hopeful, Simon, and the schemer, John.

Their plight is not unlike the Jews, slaves of an Egyptian Pharaoh, who fled his oppression and into the Promised Land.  But, after that…what?!  The same dilemma faces these men.  What to do in this brave, new world?  How to co-exist in a civilized manner within these new structures?  Tread lightly or be trodden?  Questions asked then and, to this day, without any completely, satisfactory answers.  A world still evolving, perhaps.

The play opens with Caleb, a wounded Confederate soldier, returning to his home plantation, now in ruins from the war.  Simon, the Master’s, Caleb’s father, old retainer has stayed on, waiting for the return of his wife and daughter, who have fled with the owners.  Into this uneasy alliance appears John, an angry, younger former slave ready to take revenge on the old guard.  The enslaver is now dependant on his former charges for his survival.  Will this respite be plied with pity, vengeance or kindness?

They all have feet of clay.  Simon is longing for the return of his family, of restoring a world, forever changed, to his version of normalcy.  A man with a good heart in a world, gone bad.  Caleb, having lost faith in God, is seeking his status in the resurrected South.  And John, a thief and murderer, is desperately trying to avenge himself on wrongs committed against him, looking at this new horizon through blood-colored glasses.  Can such creatures exist peacefully, side by side in this impossible Eden?

As the play progresses, we discover the plight of Simon’s family, the real reason for Caleb’s homecoming, the fate of the Whipping Man (the Punisher of misdeeds by the slaves) and some new connections between these three, intrepid travelers.  The script by Mr. Lopez is unrelenting is its discovery of truth and, except for a couple of slow spots, is very well rendered by the director, Ms. Riordan, and its players.

The entire cast is excellent.  Mr. Gregory, as Simon, touchingly conveys the complexities of his character, trying to balance the reality of the situation with the ideal, which he seeks.  Mr. Hudson, as Caleb, is so convincing in portraying the physical pain his character is in, that the audience cringes at his every howl.  And Mr. Livingston, as John, is electrically charged as he explodes on the stage, ranting and railing at injustices.  All three  are dynamos with no stopping them!

And some special kudos must go to the scenic designer, Tony Cisek, for his fantastic and utterly realistic set!  It is displayed with such authenticity that one feels they can walk onto it and into another world.  And the rain effects were especially powerful.  My friend, who came with me, said she has grown cold and had to put on her coat.  It was not, I believe, the temperature in the theatre, but the chilling rain effects that cooled the air for her.

I would recommend this production.  But be warned of rough language and adult themes.  If you do go, please tell them Dennis sent you.