Monday, May 27, 2013

Crooked—CoHo Productions—NW Portland

Exploring Boundaries . . .

Crooked is written by Catherine Trieschmann and directed by Philip Cuomo.  It is playing at their location at 2257 NW Raleigh St. in NW Portland until June 8th.  For further information go to

We all go through the angst, anxiety, and anticipation in our teens of life after childhood.  Who will we be, or want to be?  It is a time of trial and error in searching for our sexual identity, moral compass, intellectual stimuli, causes and careers, and happiness.  The toughest part of this journey may be our teens, as we are constantly pushing the envelope, testing our boundaries and breaking out of the little boxes we have been placed in by parents.  It is not an easy time for teens, or their parents.

Laney (Kayla Lian) is just such a girl.  She is newly fatherless, as her mother, Elsie (Maureen Porter), has had him committed to an institution, as he, among other things, had physically threatened his daughter.  At the beginning, Elsie is out of a job and learning to deal with being a single Mom.  She also has a rather abrasive sense of humor, “I joke, therefore, I cope,” she says.

Laney is a fledgling writer and is constantly expounding her very short stories to her Mom, as she has no other friends having been just transplanted to a new town in the South from one in the North.  Also, she has a spastic muscle in her shoulder, which makes her appear to have a hump and so, like most teens who don’t appear or act “normal,” is ostracized by her peers at school.

But, like most “misfits” (I was one, too), they tend to band together and form their own tribe.  And so Laney meets Maribel (Meghan Chambers), who is the daughter of an Evangelist preacher.  Her opening phrase to everyone seems to be, “Do you know Jesus?”  Also she is definitely unschooled in the “ways of the world.”  And so, an unlikely friendship develops, in which Laney will educate her in the finer points of her sex education and Maribel will “introduce” her to Jesus.

Obviously this will not go well with Mom, who foresees a different path for her daughter.  “Religion keeps women from realizing their full potential,” spouts Elsie.  Laney lives in a world of fiction; Maribel in a world of faith; and Elsie in a world of frustration.  Laney floats about the world; Maribel seeks the unseen world; and Elsie has to deal with the real world.  These lives do conflict and, thus, we have a not-so-uncommon story of finding a balance that will satisfy everyone.

Ms. Trieschmann script has the ring of authenticity to it.  It is a powerful and realistic story of the struggle for identity and sanity, not only of teens, but parents as well.  It is an emotional roller-coaster with no one person being the heroine or villain.  They are all just very human and very identifiable in the natural world.  Mr. Cuomo has brought out all the little nuances of the characters with his cast.  They are all in character throughout, even in scene changes, and they move like they would in the un-staged world, especially Laney and Maribel.  I loved they way they sit, climb over furniture, even eating, that captures the flavor of Youth.

I would argue that there are teen actors that could have handled these roles and should have been given the chance (as I have worked with these types of young people many times).  But, that being said, these two youthful adults are terrific and convincing.

Ms. Lian, as Laney, is perfect for the role.  Her voice, movement, expressions and rhythm are totally in sync with the character.  Ms. Chambers is, likewise, equally good, giving us a character not only somewhat backward and fanatical, but also sympathetic, as well.  And, Ms. Porter, as the Mom, could have been the villain of the piece, but because of her skill as an actress, we came off understanding her plight and even siding with her at times.  This trio of talent is a complement to fine acting!

I recommend this play but it does involve adult subject matter, so might not be acceptable to some people.  If you do go, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Cloud Nine—Rose Center for the Arts—Longview, WA

Identity Crisis

This comedy-drama is written by Caryl Churchill and directed by Donald A. Correll is playing at Lower Columbia College at their Center Stage location through June 7th.

This play is labeled as “a hilarious look at sex and gender.”  I found it neither funny, nor a serious, nor comedic look, at sexual identity (especially Act I).  There is no story as such in the first Act.  It takes place in the 1880’s of South Africa when the British ruled it.  It is a scenario (and possibly comment) on the repressed society during the Victorian Age in Act I.

It is, then, a story of relationships.  Now let’s see if I can keep this straight.  In the first Act, Clive (Nathan Clark) and Betty (a male, played by Robert Loren) are married…but Clive is having an affair with Mrs. Saunders (Wendy Howard-Benhem), a widowed neighbor…meanwhile Uncle Harry (Timothy R. Laughlin), who has been out in the wild too long, is having secret dalliances with Clive’s young son, Edward (a female, played by Shae Coleman), as well as Betty, Clive’s wife, but eventually marries the governess, Ellen (Susan Foytack), who also has a thing for Betty…and Betty’s mother, Maud (Diane Krane) doesn’t seem to like anyone…and a black tribesman (played by a white male, Dante Huffines), a servant, seems to have the hots for everyone.  There, I think I’ve covered everyone.  Confused?, join the crowd. 

Read more at SW WA Stage & Theater Arts Review,

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The People’s Republic of Portland—Portland Center Stage—downtown Portland

The White Butterfly Affect

This one-woman, world premiere, comedy is written and performed by Lauren Weedman.  It is directed by Rose Riordan and is playing at their location at 128 SW 11th Ave. through June 16th.  For further information go to or call 503-445-3700.

Talk about your storms in Texas.  Well, last night, we had a whirlwind from LA blow into Portland.  Her name is Lauren Weedman.  And she devastated PCS’s Ellyn Bye performance space.  And, so what happens when an unmovable, unpredictable, urban force from “down there” meets an equally stubborn force from “up here?”  Simple answer, Chaos (but in a good way)!

Lauren expounds on her visit to Portland, hitting the highlights and the lowlifes.  Her short stay includes the coffee house culture; the Kennedy school and Geek trivia night (sampling bong in a bottle); an encounter group right out of the 60’s/70’s (if you remember that era, you weren’t there); rapturous adventures in a black church with its oh, so charismatic, minister; helpful townies; strip clubs; teenagers’ views on themselves and life; the Pearl and its relationship with animals (yea!) and kids (boo!); the PDX Zoo; rain (seemingly a NW exclusive invention); the Farmer’s Market; Laurie Joe’s parties (yikes!); and her family.

She seems quite candid about her family, too.  Leo, is her young son, the “career-killer,” she calls him.  And then, there’s Jeff, her husband, who spends part of the time in Alaska, salmon-fishing.  She talks about the three stages of separating as they both have sometimes separate agendas.  1.) They fight before they proceed in other directions; 2.) feeling freedom, as she can just be herself; 3.) and, after a short while, she misses him like crazy.  Go figure.

Her rapid-fire style of delivery is a cross between the Road Runner and Pee Wee Herman on speed.  And her style of writing/performing is somewhere around David Mamet and his unfinished sentences and interrupted speeches, and Virginia Woolf’s, with her stream-of-consciousness approach.  Often, she might not relate a complete thought but you always know what she means.  Now, that’s an Art.

Her observations are so intrinsic, instinctive and intriguing that you are drawn to her views on subjects.  Not because she is right or preaching but because she provokes thought.  And isn’t that a sound bases for learning?  In her little corner of the universe rests, perhaps, a microcosm of us all.  And maybe we should proclaim that land, The People’s Republic of…Lauren.

Ms. Riordan does an amazing job of breaking up the speeches just enough, with lighting effects, music and video clips, that it doesn’t overwhelm us completely.  The show can’t be summarized in the traditional sense, as it has to be seen to be fully appreciated.  It is not a belly-laugh type of comedy but more of a humorist’s approach to life, like Twain or Cosby or Will Rogers.  And may we all experience the white butterfly affect once in our lives.  What does it mean?  Sorry, no spoiler here, you’ll have to see the show.

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

Monday, May 13, 2013

A Year With Frog & Toad—Oregon Children’s Theatre—Newmark Theatre—downtown Portland

A Froggy Day!

This musical production, from the children’s books by Arnold Lobel, is adapted to the stage by Willie Reale and music by Robert Reale.  It is directed by Dani Baldwin (OCT’s Educational Director) and will play through June 2nd at the Newmark Theatre at 1111 SW Broadway.  For further information go to or call 503-228-9571

This is simply, as stated, a year in the life of two friends, Frog (Joshua Stenseth) & Toad (James Sharinghousen).  In their lives, which seems pretty routine, they make cookies together, rake leaves for each other, go swimming, get lost in the woods, tell scary stories, go sledding, have spats, and enjoy Christmas.  Joining them in their escapades’ are squirrels, moles, birds, a turtle and a mouse.  A carefree life, brought exuberantly to the forefront with some super songs, lively dances, colorful costumes, imaginative sets and props, and a very animated cast!

The style of the music and songs harkens back to the 1920’s vaudeville era.  It waxes nostalgic with the black bottom, vamping, soft shoe, ragtime, et. al. from that period.  It is a marvelous choice to relate this tale.  And the songs enhance the story, revealing character traits, feelings, and are part of the storytelling make-up of the production, as well. 

For instance, Toad is a `fraidy cat and lacks confidence.  His friend, Frog, on the other hand, is extremely confident and will brave almost any adventure.  Together, they are like Holmes and Watson, each making up a part of a whole.  And, an important lesson in friendship, they accept each other, unconditionally. 

These two actors are exceptional in bringing the characters to life.  Mr. Sharinghousen (Toad) is a joy to watch.  Last Fall he was director of OCT’s Dracula and was/is in Triangle’s Avenue Q.  And Mr. Stenseth (Frog) is his equal, giving the pitter to his patter.  I couldn’t imagine anyone else in these roles.  They are the heart of the show and it beats explosively to life in their capable hands.

And if you think that’s good, “you ain’t heard nuthin’ yet.”  The supporting cast equals them at every turn.  Haley Ward (also exceptional in OCT’s Duck For President) shines again in her dual roles as Lady Bird and Mouse.  Rebecca Teran is exciting to watch, especially as Turtle, and adds power to every number she’s in.  Hannah Lauren Wilson and Gracie Jacobson are wonderful as they introduce the acts and become an entertaining show themselves.

But specials kudos must go to Eric Little, especially as Snail, who almost steals the show.  His attempts at speed in his movement are hilarious and his number I’m Coming Out of my Shell is a showstopper.  Also his Letter interludes are special, too.  Other grand numbers are Getta Loada Toad
(Turtle & Mouse) and the dancing of the two leads in Leaves….  But all the numbers work and are delightful to watch.

Special recognition must go to the Choreographer, Sara Mishler Martins, who livens up an already living show with those terrific period dances.  And Musical Director, Jeffery Childs, who understands this era and it’s reflected in the production.  Wonderful, adaptable set by Tal Sanders, especially the umbrellas on the snow snow-scape.  And lovely, colorful and expressive costumes by Sarah Gahagan.

But, the Queen of the Ball, is Dani!  She brilliantly holds it all together, blending expertly the dance, music, tech. and acting into one cohesive whole.  Nothing goes awry in her expert hands.  And, having experience teaching young people, it certainly shows, as she gets the most from this cast.

I highly recommend this show, as it will transport you back to another era in music/dance and expose the best in talent of the Young.  If you do go, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Lord of the Flies—Union Theatre Players—Union High School—Camas, WA

The Devil Made Us Do It!

This classic, 1950’s novel by William Golding has been adapted for the stage by Nigel Williams.  It is performed by high school students under the direction of Katie Stevenson.  It is unique, in that it has an all-female cast and an all-male cast, performing on alternate nights.  The play runs through May 18th at 7 pm.

The novel was written post-WWII and during the Cold War/Red Scare era of the 50’s.  Needless to say, the message it delivers is ironic, and not a pleasant one.  Two rather good films have been made from it, about 30 years apart.  What would a group do if stranded on an island in the middle of an ocean for an extended period of time?  The very good TV series, Lost, offered one possible scenario and, I suppose, you’d have to consider the very silly, Gillian’s Island, too.  And, also, the family values inherent in Disney’s Swiss Family Robinson, is another consideration.

Read more at SW WA Stage & Theater Arts Review,

Monday, May 6, 2013

The Left Hand of Darkness—Portland Playhouse—NE Portland

Who Are We, Anyway?
Ursula K. Le Guin’s Sci-fi novel is adapted for the stage by John Schmor and Jonathan Walters (who also directs, and is Hand2Mouth’s Artistic Director, a co-producer of this production).  It plays at the theatre’s location, 602 NE Prescott St., through June 2nd.  For more information go to or or call 503-488-5822 (P/P) or 503-235-5284 (H2M).

This story brings up so many possible questions that it boggles the mind.  It touches on such issues as the nature of Love, gender identity, causes of war/violence, tolerance vs. prejudice, inherent traits as opposed to learned ones, et. al.  No definitive answers, of course, but for writers/readers/viewers of Sci-fi/Fantasy, anything is possible.  The fact that these questions are even being asked is a good thing.  It means that we, as a race, are still curious and, so far, no laws against that.

The views of the future, by most writers of this genre, are pretty bleak, with large doses of gloom and doom.  But also, in most of those kinds of stories, there is always a hopeful quality and character(s).  It means, I suppose, that there will always be some measure of kindness/goodness/compassion/tolerance within the human spirit and that we will endure.

To get the full impact of her story, it’s best to read the book, as it has lots of rituals, rules and history that can’t be presented on a stage in a couple plus hours.  But Mr. Waters and Schmor do an amazing job of getting to the essence of the story.  It takes place in the far distance future when we have inhabited other worlds.  One such planet s called Winter and the atmosphere lives up to its name.  They have no war but the populace seems to be struggling with identity, as the people can change from one gender to another and are only engaged in sexual practices a few days each month, when it seems to become an orgy.

They don’t seem to be specifically happy or focused and rules/laws can change in an instant.  Their philosophy seems to be, “life is tolerable because of uncertainty, not knowing what’s coming next.”  Into this mix comes Genly (Damian Thompson), a “pervert,” as he is specifically male and is not androgynous.  He is an envoy/messenger from another planet, trying to generate interest in a type of United Nations among planets.

He encounters a sympathetic ear in the Prime Minister, Estraven (Allison Tigard), who introduces him to the King (Lorraine Bahr).  But the King is quite mad and ends up exiling his/her P/M and throwing Genly into prison.  A rescue by Estraven forces them to both flee the country.  The second act is mostly the trip by the two of them through the mountains, to reach a place where Genly can signal his ship to rescue him.  On this journey they depend on each other for strength, hope and companionship.  One can assume that a new order will emerge from this fated encounter.

This is only a thumbnail sketch of the plot of the play, which is fuller and, in return, is a condensation of the actual novel.  But the questions it raises are fodder for dialogue far into the night.  Who are we, really, is at the heart of it.  Do ones’ prejudices, as a song reflects, have to be “carefully taught…to hate and to fear,” or are they inherent?  Is violence/war inbred or learned, a question asked by Golding’s, Lord of the Flies, too?  Are we born of sin or innocence, and have to be educated in the other?  And how will relationships change if there is no gender issue/identity?  Monumental and fascinating questions from Ms. Le Guin’s fertile imagination.

Mr. Thompson, as Genly, is articulate, moving and totally believable in his portrayal of one of the centerpieces of this show.  We identify with his frustration in trying to comprehend an un-comprehensible society.  Ms. Tigard is excellent in creating a role that is not gender specific.  A difficult assignment, as she transverses the delicate barrier between two worlds, showing beautifully the struggle of her birthright, and a brave new way of looking at Life.  And Ms. Bahr as the mad king is excitingly explicit in portraying the eccentricities of this erratic character.  A joy to watch.

The rest of the small cast, playing multiple roles, deserves to be mentioned, too:  Matt Dieckman, Julie Hammond, Liz Hayden, Jeb Pearson, and Jason Rouse.  The movement, chanting, voicing of their various incarnations is terrific.  And Maeve Z. O’Connor as the Child has a wonderful stage presence but is unable to be heard, mainly because of the whirring of the fan to cool the theatre.  In fact, it also interfered with hearing some of the dialogue of the adult actors, too.

The costumes (Emily Horton) are simple but effective.  The songs, well conceived by Jana Losey Crenshaw, are also an important part of the atmosphere of the show.  And the set designer, Peter Ksander, is ingenious in creating the second-act mountains.  Again, simple but very effective.  The director, Mr. Walters, seems to have a clear understanding of the text and has created a harmonious connection between it, the actors and the environment.

I recommend this show but it is essentially for adults.  If you do go, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Cinderella—NW Children’s Theatre—NW Portland

Busby Berkley Meets Cinderella

This is a new musical production of Cinderella with book, music, lyrics and conducting by Ezra Weiss.  It is directed and choreographed by Sarah Jane Hardy (NWCT’s Artistic Director).  It will play through May 26th at their site 1819 NW Everett St.  For more information, go to

The lead-in above should tell you all.  If you are expecting to see a traditional interpretation of this classic fairy tale, perish the thought.  This production owes more to Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Busby Berkley and Pixar, than it does to the old masters of children’s tales.  The musical numbers could be right out of those Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney films of the 40’s, or a series of tap-dancing Berkley musicals from the 30’s, like GoldDiggers….  And the marriage of these two art forms works surprisingly well.

I think everyone knows the traditional story of the wicked step-mother (Phyllis Lang) and the two step-sisters (Annie Eldridge & Mary Cosart) who keep Cinderella (Sophie MacKay) as a virtual slave in their house.  And then comes the Big Ball, where all fair maidens of the country are invited.  The King (Erik James) and Queen (Melody Bridges) are anxious to have their son, the Prince, Bobby (Martin Tebo) married off and do his princely duties, mainly, having an heir to the throne.

But this version is being told by the Prince’s page, the Narrator, Armando (John Ellingson).  And Cindy’s fairy-godmother, Madame Tatyana (Elizabeth Gibbs) is actually a dance instructor.  And the Prince is really looking for a leading lady for a musical he wants to produce and star in and…you guessed it…“hey, kids, let’s put on a show.”  If this all sounds familiar, it’s meant to.  Mixing of genres is a risky business, as you have to have an in-depth knowledge of both, then, find the similarities, and magically blend them seamlessly together, so that they create their own genre.  Luckily, Mr. Weiss is a whiz at this, as it is all splendid.

And, since this is essentially a dancing show, you need a very simple and open set (designer, Jeff Seats), to encompass sometimes as many as 20 tap-dancers.  You also have to re-create the costumes (designer, Shana Targosz) for the musicals of those eras (20’s to 40’s).  And you need a youthful cast that can tap and tap and tap…and still have breath for singing and acting.  A large order, well rendered by the above mentioned people.

And to keep this whole ensemble together and in sync is Sarah Jane Hardy, both director and choreographer.  It is a monumental task and she does it seemingly effortlessly.  As far as I’m concerned, she can rank herself easily with the likes of Berkley and Kelly and Astaire.  She is my hero.  As one of her chorus members, Madeleine, put it, she is amazing to work with.  And it shows.

Mr. Ellingson, as the Narrator, is a cross between the crab in Little Mermaid and Luminere’ in Beauty and the Beast.  His singing and acting carry the show forward and keep it moving.  He fits the character to a tee.  And Ms. Mackay, as the title character, is cute as a button and her singing and acting talents are spot on.  Her role is not the meek person usually pictured but is representative of a strong female.  A welcome addition to this modern world.

Mr. Tebo as the Prince plays him as a rather meek misfit looking for a partner in life, not just a lover.  Again, a welcome update.  Ms. Gibbs, as the god-mother, lends a sense of reality to the proceedings, professing one must work hard to get what one needs in life.  And the dancing chorus, especially the look-alike blondes, is right out of the 30’s and they are wonderful tappers.  My favorite numbers are I Don’t Need Lights, I Just Wanna Dance, and The Show Must Go On.

Ninety minutes, well spent, in a time machine that will transport you from the childish tales of hundreds of years ago, through the blindly uplifting era of the musicals of yesteryear, to the empowered view of today’s modern world.  Obviously, I highly recommend this show.  If you do go, please tell them Dennis sent you.  (For another perspective on this production, go to