Monday, June 17, 2013

Antony & Cleopatra—HumanBeingCurious Productions—NE Portland

"…Infinite Variety”
The play is by William Shakespeare but is adapted for the stage in this production by its Director (and co-Founder of the group), Cassandra Schwanke, and Rowan Morrison.  It is playing at the Post5 Theatre location, 900 NE 81st Ave. in Portland.  It runs through June 30th at 7 pm.  For more information go to .

When Shakespeare did his plays, the women’s roles were played by young men, as females were not allowed on the stage as actors.  In this production, more than half the cast play at least three roles, changing genders, and Cleopatra is enacted by a young man.  And, if that is not enough to confuse you, the plays starts with Cleo, and her entourage, dancing to a modern rock song. 

But does all of this interfere with the basic enjoyment of, perhaps, the greatest playwright of all time?  Actually, no, because one of the definitions of a classic is that it is universal.  Meaning, to me, that it can still be interpreted and assimilated into the current culture, hundreds of years later.  Note, West Side Story, is completely modernized from his Romeo & Juliet (as is Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet), but with the basic message and story intact. 

This production is a marriage of the two styles.  It would take daring and talented writers to attempt this transition and so we introduce Ms. Schwanke & Mr. Morrison, who do an admirable job of it.  A&C is not one of the Bard’s better plays.  It is long-winded and episodic.  So the adapters simply trimmed the time, stream-lined the story, kept what is understandable and used modern lingo to fill in the gaps.  I studied Conversational Shakespeare back in New York, approaching the Bard’s speech as a foreign language, and then speaking it onstage in a conversational manner.  This is a kissing cousin to that method.

The tale tells of Antony (Orion J. Bradshaw), a Roman General, coming to Egypt to parlay with or conquer them, whichever is necessary.  The Roman society was highly political and interested in nothing less than world domination.  Jockeying for a favorable position was probably regarded as a sport.  Caesar (Phillip J. Berns) was in charge and Antony, his trusted ally.  But instead of quelling the tides of mistrust in Egypt, Antony rode them instead, by coupling with its Queen, Cleopatra (Chip Sherman).

This did not sit well with Antony’s boss, so he decides to marry him off to his sister, Octavia (Mariel Sierra), to cement their alliance.  But the enchantment of Cleo was overpowering and he hurried back to her arms and bed.  Caesar felt betrayed and vented his flaming fury toward this betrayal.  Cleo, sensing a defeat of Antony, and wanting to be on the winning side for her country’s sake, allied herself with Caesar.  This led to Antony taking his own life, feeling betrayed himself and sensing that it was the only honorable way out.  Cleo, realizing her mistake, also follows suit, as her only other choice was to be a slave of Rome.

This is the basic story in a nutshell but it is the marvelous performances, the intrigue of the relationships, and the updating of the language that is compelling in this production.  The script (Scwanke & Morrison), albeit a bit jarring at times, traversing between the Bard’s effusive poetic prose and the modern idiom, works very well in telling the tale and exposing the soul of the piece.  And Schwanke’s direction keeps the story flowing forward and yet never loses or confuses focus as to who these characters are or their agendas.

Sherman is terrific as Cleopatra.  After, perhaps, the initial shock of knowing it’s a male playing the part, you are completely captivated by his immersion into the role and his conviction of her purpose.  It is also gratifying to note that it is played by a brown-skin person, as that (or black) undoubtedly is what she was (as was probably Christ…but that’s another discussion).  Anyway, his delicate movements and erratic mood changes fit the role perfectly.

And Bradshaw is all fight, fury and frustration as the paranoid Antony.  He, too, is moody and flies off the handle at the least provocation.  It is to the actor’s credit that he is able to flit from one emotion to another in a split-second, giving us the impression that he could explode and self-destruct at any moment which, eventually, he does.  His command of his physical movements is perfectly in step with the character’s emotional ups and downs.

Ty Boice as Enobarbus, Antony’s trusted friend, is also exceptional.  Since we see this story from his POV, his narration provides valuable insights into the proceedings.  Boice’s command of the language and his precise diction is the best in the show.  He is truly watchable as he moves about the stage, his face revealing all the many emotions the character must feel and, as mentioned, his comfort with the words.  This is only one of many roles I’ve seen him excel in.

Another prize is the versatility of the supporting players.  Berns has never disappointed me in the shows I’ve seen him in, but this is probably his best.  He goes from playing a flighty eunuch, in dress and high heels; to donning Caesar’s guise, all male and calculating; to a nerdy messenger.  What an amazing performer!

Sierra as a mannish servant of Cleo’s and then as the meek Octavia is also quite an accomplishment.  And Morrison, as well, in a variety of roles, all nicely and separately defined.  Amanda Lee as Charmian, her handmaiden, plays the role aptly as the stereotypic,  dumb blonde.  Winstron Bishof and John Bruner are also good in the composite characters they portray.

This is well worth seeing and I recommend it.  But it does deal with adult situations and language so may not suit everyone’s tastes.  And, if you’re a purist about Shakespeare, this may not be your cup of tea, either.  But, obviously, I think it is worthwhile.  If you do choose to go, please tell them Dennis sent you.

The Screwtape Letters—Newmark Theatre—downtown Portland, OR

The World, the Flesh and the Devil”

This production is produced by The Fellowship for the Performing Arts and is currently on tour through the U.S.  It is by C.S. Lewis and adapted for the stage by Max McLean and Jeffrey Fiske and directed by McLean.  For further information on this show and its tour, go to or call 212-582-2920.

C.S. Lewis was a prolific writer and the author of, perhaps, his most famous stories,  the fantasy world of Narnia.  He was great friends with another famous fantasy writer, J.R.R. Tolkien, author of the Lord of the Rings series.  He was a great intellectual and a confirmed skeptic as to the existence of God, early in his life.  But he later became one of the devout  champions of the Christian religion.  Part of his life was told in the novel, stage and eventually, film of Shadowlands, with Anthony Hopkins as the author and Edward Hardwick as his brother.

This production is essentially a 90 minute monologue.  It concerns the efforts of one of Satan’s chief supporters, Screwtape (Brent Harris) instructing his nephew, Wormwood, through a series of letters, the fine art of corrupting these “hairless bipeds,” called humans.  On board to do his bidding is his faithful minion, Toadpipe (Tamala Bakkensen), who skulks about the stage with guttural grunts as communication.

It seems that his nephew, being only a young demon, is missing the finer points of manipulating the food on his plate.  It is a feast better digested, if it is played with a bit.  In a way, Man must be the architect of his own demise into the hell fires, but not be aware of it.  One must nudge them away from the Light.  Man must be massaged gently into a state of “contented worldliness,” and, thus, ripe for picking in Satan’s orchard.

The person who is a seeker is a better candidate for the brimstone highway than to a blind pupil.  This individual will take things in moderation, including religion, and thus be somewhat a critic of all things and a sincere believer in none.  Reality is the Devil’s companion because it exposes the corruption in the world.  Faith is the enemy because it espouses a belief in something without questioning or asking for proof.  Fanatics in leaders, especially in churches, politics and media stars are a great source of inspiration for corruption.  Look at Hitler or Jim Jones and see the converts to the Darkness they created.

Man’s own vanity and self-love are the best weapons the devil has, as they are the tools of his own destruction.  The challenge is, not so much to led souls astray, but have them get on the broken path of their own choosing.  Even God’s gift of Free Will can work in Satan’s favor.  As I said, best to play with your food before you devour it. 

But Wormwood seems to be failing in his mission, which leads to a sort of nervous breakdown of Screwtape.  In the end, the strains of “Amazing Grace” can be heard and uncle and nephew might have to admit to the loss of a battle.  But the war is yet to be decided, as Screwtape and Toadpipe look hungrily toward the audience.

This is a play of words and pretty high-brow words, at that.  It would be best to read these intellectual thoughts and ponder them.  By having them recited, and beautifully, too, there is probably a lot you will miss, because there are so many aspects to his logic, that one’s mind can only process so much at a viewing.  The above paragraphs of mine are what I gleaned, but there was so much more besides.  If the purpose was just to get you thinking, it accomplished that goal with me. 

But, that being said, this was quite an extraordinary production!  The acting by Harris of Screwtape was exceptional.  His use of modulating his voice, his calculated movements, his outrageous rages and affective humor were all brilliantly conceived and executed.  And his build toward madness himself was like a slow boil in a pressure cooker.  You knew it was going to explode and let the collateral damage be damned (preferably, by their accounts).

And my eyes were consistently on Bakkensen as Toadpipe.  Granted her make-up and costuming (beautifully rendered by Michael Bevins) was mesmerizing, but she also embodied that character to the nth degree.  Her Gollum-like movements, somewhere between a lizard and a vulture, were something out of a nightmare.  And with her guttural grunts, groans and beasty mutterings, as well as her engaging expressions, one knew exactly what she was feeling.  Also, an exceptional performance and a great addition to the production.

And one cannot help but notice the superb Set (Cameron Anderson) and Lighting (Jesse Klug) and Sound (John Gromada) that added greatly to the effectiveness of the show.  The background of skulls and bones piled upon each other, the raked stage, the ladder to their “mailbox,” the way the lights played on these elements, setting the mood and the beautiful make-up/costuming by Bevins, et. al., created a superior stage atmosphere.  And, McLean, the creator of the show, is to be applauded for his visceral vision.

I recommend this show but it might be too intense for young children.  I would seek out their website and see it at some point on their tour.  If you do choose to attend it, tell them Dennis sent you.

For another perspective, go to Greg’s blog at

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Avenue Q, the Musical—Triangle Productions—The Sanctuary at Sandy Plaza, NE Portland

Proud to be Them

The revival of their hit musical from the Fall, Avenue Q, is playing through June 29th at their site at 1785 NE Sandy Blvd.  It is written by Robert Lopez, Jeff Marx and Jeff Whitty and  directed and designed by Donald Horn (Triangle’s Artistic Director) and Vocal Director is Jonathan Quesenberry.  For further information, go to or call 503-239-5919.

I reviewed this musical last Fall when they did it (and loved it) and now I’m taking a second look, as 50% of the cast is new to this production.  I won’t fall into the trap in comparing the two shows but, will say this, overall, this production is slightly better, mainly because of the replacement of two of the cast members.  Can you believe that this is the play that caused the biggest upset in Tony Award history, by beating out Wicked (considered a shoe-in) for Best Musical of 2004?!  And it’s done by puppets, mainly, and explores the very, dark side of a Sesame Street.  That, alone, should be reasons to see it.

I’ve always thought that in a really good musical, the music/lyrics of a show should be an intricate part of a play, so that you could tell the story through its songs.  Let’s test that theory.  The heart of the story begins with the arrival of Princeton (Matthew Brown), just recently out of college and wondering what to do with his B.A in English.  He moves into the housing of Avenue Q and discovers that they all are in similar ruts and it sucks to be them. 

They are all struggling with identity and their purpose in life.  Roommates, Nicky (James Sharinghousen) and Rod (Jeremy Garfinkel) aren’t willing to admit that they are closet Gays.  And the entire ensemble admits that everyone’s is a little bit racist sometimes.  Not only that, but they are forced to admit that their secret Internet lives include Porn, as voiced by the Trekkie Monster (James Sharinghousen).

Love blossoms between Princeton and Kate Monster (Elizabeth Fritsch) when he makes her a tape of mixed songs, expressing his feelings.  On another front, Brian (Jonathan Quesenberry) tries his hand at being a stand-up, Blue comic by admitting he’s not wearing any underwear.  And, at the same club, Lucy (Katey Bridge) vamps her way into men’s desires by being special for them.  And Princeton and Kate can be as loud as they want in a night of wild sex.  And Rod and Nicky discover, in dreams, that sexual fantasies can come true.  But, in the light of day, Rod still admits that he is straight and that he has a girlfriend in Canada.

Kate discovers there is a fine line “between love and a waste of time.”  And she and Christmas Eve (Sarah Kim), Brian’s main squeeze, agree that the more you ruv someone, the crazier it gets.  They all have to admit that there is life outside of Avenue Q and they wish they could go back to college and possibly start over.  Gary Coleman (Salim Sanchez), the Manager of the complex, expresses his point of view as Schadenfreude, being happy about the misfortunes of others, because you can count yourself lucky not to be them.  They all complain about not having enough money but when it’s revealed that Kate wants to start a school for Monsters, they all pitch in to help.  In the end, some will move on and up, but everyone has been changed by their experiences on Avenue Q…for now.  The audience should be, too.

Donald has never failed to Entice the best from his cast…Enchant an audience with his own form of magic…or Educate the public to a profound awareness of who we really are.  Bravo!  No doubt there will be more of this next season.  The lighting (Jeff Woods) is also effective in creating the moods of the scenes.  And the band is super, never overpowering the actors, a common fault in many other musicals.

And there is not a bad performance in this show!  They are all masters of their craft.  Shareinghousen (a Drammy winner this year) is wonderful as Trekkie, the guttural, Porn Monster, and Nicky, the sensitive roommate.  And who wouldn’t fall in love with Fritsch’s Kate, someone you want to wrap your arms around and keep from harm.  Quesenberry is lovable as the clumsy Brian.  And, Kim, equally good, as his savvy partner, Eve.  Bridge, a wonderful sleaze, can seduce me anytime.  Garfinkel is effective as the conflicted Rod.  Sanchez is a good fit for the street-wise, Gary.  And Brown is perfect for the Everyman of the piece.

I highly recommend this show but, be advised, it is not for everyone because of the strong adult situations and language.  If you choose to go, tell them Dennis send you.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Somewhere In Time—Portland Center Stage—Pearl District, Portland, OR

A Love for the Ages

This world premiere musical is based on the novel and film written by the terrific writer, Richard Matheson.  It is directed by Scott Schwartz and written by Ken Davenport, Doug Katsaros and Amanda Yesnowitz.  Choreography by John Carrafa and Musical Direction is by Patrick Vaccariello.  It is playing through June 30th at PCS, 128 NW 11th Ave.  For more information, go to their website at or call 503-445-3700.

Matheson was a super writer of novels, screenplays and short stories in the Sci-fi, Horror and Fantasy genres.  His non-musical film of this play starred Christopher Reeve, Jane Seymour and Christopher Plummer.  Time travel has always been a favorite subject of such genre writers.  There was the not-so-successful stage musical/movie of On a Clear Day You Can See Forever.  Ray Bradbury wrote a short piece called The Swan from his novel, Dandelion Wine (my favorite book).  In a more humorous vain, Mark Twain wrote of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.  And there is, of course, H.G. Wells’s, The Time Machine and its award-winning film by George Pal. 

Now we have this pleasant musical that traverses that popular ground.  The story centers around a writer, Richard (Andrew Samonsky) who, as a young man, discovers he has only months to live.  He is also given a pocket watch by a mysterious old woman (Leslie Becker) and is told to “remember.”  Shortly, thereafter, she dies.  A wake-up call, perhaps.  So he chooses not to just rest and take his meds, as his brother, Robert (Jared Q. Miller), suggests, but to go on vacation at a historic place called, The Grand Hotel, which he feels an eerie kinship toward.

There he meets an aging bellhop, Arthur (David Cryer), who befriends him.  He tells Richard of a famous actress, Elsie McKenna (Hannah Elless)) that resided there, and where he played as a boy (Brady James) in the lobby.  He investigates her past through books at the library and by speaking with her companion, Laura (Sharonlee McLean).  Then a doctor (Tad Wilson) tells him of a way to time travel by just focusing his mind and having things around him speak of that period, 1912.  This is exactly what he does and succeeds.

Richard and Hannah do meet and fall in love but a rather large obstacle confronts them, her controlling manager of many years, Robinson (Marc Kudisch), who also has designs on Elise.  Needless to say, a conflict arises and…no, I won’t be a spoiler and give away the ending.  Suffice to say, it is bittersweet.  The message seems to be that True Love does transcend Time and if you are meant to be together, Love will find a way.

The story, by itself, is beautiful and has its own rhythm of the heart.  The music nicely underlines the plot and, like an opera, becomes part of the expression of the dialogue through the lyrics.  Some of my favorite numbers were Something My Heart Never Felt Before (by the leads), Long, Long Way to Indiana (Robinson), A Trip To the Grand (the Company), Tick, Tick, Tick (Richard) and the show-stopper, The Grand Hotel (Arthur).

The set (Alexander Dodge) and lighting (Mike Baldassari) were delightfully simple and effective to convey the moods/settings of the periods and yet easy to change.  Likewise the costumes (Jeff Cone) were authentically reflective of the different time periods.  The orchestra, at times, especially in the beginning, overpowered the singers but that can be adjusted with more consistent miking.  And Schwartz’s directing kept the pace of the show smooth and flowing.

Samonsky has a nice singing voice and fits the character well.  I would like to have seen him show a bit stronger emotions in the more dramatic scenes, such as frustration, rage, etc.  And Elles has a terrific singing voice and enacts her character wonderfully, showing us the confusion and complexities of being drawn in two directions.  Kudisch, as the villain of the piece, is also in good voice, as well as a strong performer.  And he gives the play the needed power and urgency of the situation.  Although well-acted, the writing of this character could have been given more depth and dimension.  And Cryer almost steals the show with his rendition of The Grand Hotel.   He is totally believable in the part and adds immensely to the warmth of the show.

In smaller roles, Wilson as the eccentric doctor; McLean as the older Laura; Lizzie Klemperer as the lovelorn librarian; Becker, the older Hannah; and Miller, as his caring brother, Robert, all add to the power of the story.  One added thought, a writer once said, “Do not seek out Love, for Love, if it finds you worthy, will guide your course.”  Amen!

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

Saturday, June 8, 2013

The Unfortunates—Oregon Shakespeare Festival—Ashland, OR

Life is a Cabaret

This World Premiere of the Fantasy Musical, The Unfortunates, is written by Jon Beavers, Casey Hurt, Ian Merrigan and Kristoffer Diaz.  It is directed by Shana Cooper, musical direction by Casey Hurt and choreography by Tiffany Rachelle Stewart.  It plays at OSF through November 2nd at the Thomas Theatre.  For further information, go to their site at or call 541-482-4331.

“Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here.”  After all, this takes place in a prisoner-of-war camp.  But these Unfortunates are not ready to roll over and die yet.  They have a story to tell…of lives and loves lived and lost.  But this is Joe’s story and he has a lot to say and only a little time left to say it.  In his way of looking at things now, he might say, “Life is something that happens while you’re waiting to die.”

The production is presented in a cabaret style, something reminiscent of Marat/Sade, Cirque du Sol, and the Rocky Horror Show put together.  Big Joe (Ian Merrigan) and his Band of Brothers are in a war camp, just waiting their turn at the executioner’s table.  But while he’s waiting, he’s also musing of a land where his leader, King Jesse (Jon Beavers) has a cabaret bar filled with all sorts of oddities and end-games.

In this unusual mix are an armless girl, Rae (Kjerstine Rose Anderson), who Joe has a thing for, and a Preacher (Ken Robinson), spreading his own brand of salvation and the Madame (Chavez Ravine) of the establishment, making sure it flows with hot and cold running girls.  Then, there’s the entertaining Rooks (Rodney Gardiner and Barret O’Brien), waiting for any morsel, living or dead, to wet their appetites.  And, in such a setting, you also need a clown, a torch singer, Roxy (Christina Acosta Robinson) and a villain, a mad doctor (Ramiz Monsef), to add to the merriment.

But, like Poe’s, The Masque of Red Death, their fun ‘n games are threatened by the outside world and The Plague.  And Joe, a born fighter (his fists are, at least, three times one’s normal size) are no competition for this unseen adversary.  But if you’re going to die anyway, why not sing and dance along the way.  The tunes range from Rock, “I Want You…I Need You,” to C&W “If These Arms Could Hold You,” to Spiritual, “Old Time Glory.”  And they are all well performed by a very talented cast.

This is not really a coherent story but a man’s personal odyssey, his journey, in the final moments of his life.  A nightmare of bizarre proportions to encapsulate a mind going mad.  A return to Ithaka, as his demons are finally exposed and he accepts the inevitable.  A final attempt to quell the beast inside…loosen the angry fists…and allow yourself to hold and be held…to sleep...and to dream, again….  These are the thoughts I considered after experiencing this production.  Yours may be different and that’s okay, too.  Art speaks with many varied voices.  Interpretation is up to the beholder.

The whole cast is amazing.  The Rooks (Obrien, Gardiner & Beavers) are both fun and scary.  Anderson has a lovely voice and certainly sells her songs.  And Beavers as the Rook and King Jesse is terrific to watch.  Merrigan as the lead, Joe, has the right look and sound but his constant expression of befuddlement was somewhat tiring to watch.  I would have expected more variety of reactions to his plight.  And the whole production team and writers should be complemented in bringing a difficult and complex story to the stage is such an entertaining manner.

The show might be summed up simply by an audience member I overheard after the presentation.  “I don’t think I understood it, but I enjoyed it anyway.”  I do recommend this show but it does deal with nightmarish, adult situations.  If you do go, please tell them Dennis sent you.  For another perspective, check out Greg’s review at: 
A side note to compliment a couple of establishments that stick to the Shakespearean tradition.  The Black Sheep (upstairs) on the Plaza serves traditional English food and ales and is open late  And a new tavern, just a couple doors down, Oberon’s Three-Penny Tavern, serves libations straight from the “fairy forest.”  There is Mead, Cider, an IPA with a hint of Jasmine and a Stout that has no bitter aftertaste.  And the bar itself and surroundings are all in wood, the staff is dressed in medieval costumes and they promise to have traditional music from that period, too.  If you see Ivy, tell her Dennis sent you.  Enjoy! 

Friday, June 7, 2013

Two Trains Running—Oregon Shakespeare Festival—Ashland, OR

Everyone Has A Story
This famous, August Wilson drama is directed by Lou Bellamy and playing at OSF,
Bowmer Theatre  through July 7th.  For further information, contact their site at or call 541-482-4331.

The period is the late 60’s in the infamous Hill District of Pittsburg, PA.  It is, for seven individuals, at least, an insulated, safe haven from the terrors of the world.  Here, in Memphis’s restaurant, they can seek sanctuary for awhile and have an outlet for their stories (and everybody has a story).  The play is not just one story but seven, all connected by poverty, seeking justice and trying to carve out their own niche in the world.  And each should have their own Handle, like an Action Hero in their own story.  And each has their own walk/dance, as well as song, in expressing themselves.

There is Memphis (Terry Bellamy), the restaurant’s owner, A Black Avenger, in danger of losing his establishment in the name of progress, white man’s progress.  He learned, early on, the ways to succeed in the white world.  He inherits the mantle of his ole mule who was murdered by just such folks.  And now, like a mule, he is just as stubborn, holding out for his price for the world he laid here.  Bombastic, charges about the place.

Risa (Bakesta King), The Shadow, is his only employee and moves about the place at her own pace, which is one step slower than slow.  She voluntarily removed herself from contention and consideration as an object of romance, by becoming as distant as possible, even scarring her legs so men wouldn’t be looking at them.  She floats like a ghost through the real world.  Deathly slow of pace with minimal words.

Holloway (Josiah Phillips), The Philosopher, who sits and observes those passing by, giving out advice as needed, absorbing their stories but not judging.  He is likable, non-committal and has his own perch and ritual like everyone else.  His years alone give him the street smarts he needs to survive.  Soft-spoken with a rambling gait.

Wolf (Kenajuan Bentley), The Hustler, playing the numbers, always looking for an easy and fast buck.  Women drip off him like warm butter, or so he says.  A self-made man who shows no mercy for the pigeons he plucks.  Sneaky movements guised with boastful tones.

West (Jerome Preston Bates), an undertaker, The Vulture, a very rich man in that he will always have customers.  He fleeces as much as he can from the living, so that their loved ones will have comfort underground.  “Death got room for everyone.  Love picks and chooses.”  He is a kissing cousin to Wolf.  Fast-talking and deliberate pacing.

Sterling (Kevin Kenerly), The Revolutionary, a newcomer to this motley crew, who will shake things up for them all.  He is broke and just out of prison but he represents the new order for the Afro-American race.  Walks and talks like he’s got a rocket in his pocket. 

Hambone (Tyrone Wilson), Everyman, is a transient, a man set in his ways but has a dream just out of reach, a ham, and he relentlessly pursues that vision.  He will not take chicken, nor stop short of his ultimate goal, to get what is due him.  And, in a strange way, he does, giving us direction as to never give up, nor compromise.  Loud with shuffling steps.

And there is the unseen Oracle, Aunt Ester, the wise lady who may have lived more than 300 years.  She dispenses what is needed to all souls who ask for help.  All requests are answered but only if you throw $20 into the river.  She is of this world and yet not.  She is the jewel in a wounded land.  A survivor for all times.

Dreams and Reality can be different sides of the same coin.  The trick may be to know which is which.  Another question proposed might be, how far Down must you go before Up is an option.  Revenge…Retribution…Redemption—all key ingredients to this savory stew.

I choose not to give away their stories, as they are so unique and beautifully delivered by each and every one of the cast, that they must be heard to be appreciated.  The cast is first-rate and Mr. Bellamy has a keen grasp of the play and has chosen his cast wisely.  Every cast member is a stand-out, making this one of the strongest ensemble casts I’ve ever seen.

And the set and props (Vicki Smith) are equally impressive, giving the flavor to the audience of being in the action.  An impressive production by an impressive theatre.  I recommend this show.  If you do go, please tell them Dennis sent you.  And, for another perspective, go to Greg’s blog site:

A Streetcar Named Desire—Oregon Shakespeare Festival—Ashland, OR

The Kindness of Strangers

This classic play from Tennessee Williams is playing at OSF,
Bowmer Theatre  through October.  It is directed by Christopher Liam Moore.  For more information, go to their website at or call 541-482-4331.

Streetcar… was a terrific hit on Broadway and was the vehicle that catapulted Brando to stardom.  It was equally successful as a film, having all four leads nominated for Oscars and Leigh (Blanche), Malden (Mitch) and Stanley (Stella), winning.  It also has had a London version directed by Olivier, a ballet version in Canada, an opera by Previn and a television production.

The story concerns Stanley (Danforth Comins) and his wife Stella (Nell Geisslinger) living reasonably happily in a run-down section of New Orleans during the late 1940’s.  Intruding upon their insulated world is a remnant from the Old South, in the form of Stella’s sister, Blanche (Kate Mulligan).  She is about as compatible to this atmosphere as oil would be to water.  Posey vs. beastie, it just won’t mesh.

Stanley almost immediately takes a dislike to Blanche, especially after seeing her expensive finery and discovering that she has lost their family estate under rather mysterious circumstances.  Meaning, of course, that his wife (and him) is also out some dough.  And since they are going to have a baby, this weighs doubly hard on them.  Blanche is also something of a boozer; is constantly berating them as “common;” and seems to have moved in, having nowhere else to go.

It becomes clear, early on, that Blanche is either terribly naïve about the real world, or may be short a few flowers in her bouquet.  She brags about how pure she is in her views of romance, yet it is discovered that she was staying at a hotel known for solicitation of men by its clientele.  She is a tea-tipper in public and whiskey wallowing in private.  Her airs whisk her up to Posey peaks, but the webs she weaves, expose her fragile threads in society and sanity to scrutiny.  A moth flying too close to the flame will be consumed.

But her world may yet be balanced, as she meets Mitch (Jeffery King), a friend of Stanley’s, who seems more refined and sensitive than the rest of the rabble.  She chooses to hang her delicate hat onto the crux of this blossoming relationship, in the hopes that it will repair the unrelenting unraveling of the tenuous tapestry of her life.  But not allowing sleeping dogs to lie, Stanley spills the beans to Mitch about the truth of Blanche.

And, add one more fatal thrust by Stanley, and Blanche’s world is totally destroyed.  Her scene now will become one of drugged dreams and padded pathways to the land of bygone beaus and measured manners.  And Stanley and Stella’s world will give birth to a new, but probably no wiser, generation.  Survival of the fittest has been proven.  The King still rules the Castle.  And the beat goes on…

This is probably the finest production of this play I have ever seen, out of about a dozen I’ve witnessed.  The stumbling block in the script is that it seems to condone abuse.  In the last moment of the play, Stella’s reaction is crucial.  Stanley has not been above slapping her around, as he feels it’s a man’s prerogative to do that.  But now, at the end, with a new life in the home, will things just return to “normal?”

I have seen a production where Stella’s reaction in the final moment, suggests she may leave him and that, to my way of thinking, is the correct interpretation, especially in the light of today’s world.  But, and my only argument with this production, is that it seems to indicate that Stanley will make her see “those colored lights” again and she will submit to his controlling influence.  If so, then the Beast has won and Society takes a giant step backward.

The set (design by Christopher Acebo) is quite extraordinary, presenting the iron-wrought, gothic, harsh world of this period, yet like a transparent skeleton, exposing the underbelly of civilization.  Furniture and props are only what is needed for the scenes, leaving the bulk of the story to be relayed by the powerful script and exceptional cast.  Lighting (Robert Wierzel) and costumes (Alex Jaeger) are equally effective in complimenting the talent presented.

Moore has assembled a perfect cast for this show.  The supporting players add to the reality of the surroundings and help extend, for the audience, the inner workings of this simplistic, yet complicated world we are experiencing.  And the seemingly effortless flowing from one scene to another, taking time to highlight the important passages, yet connecting all the dots of the intricate story, is amazing.  And I’m sure he can be credited with exploring all the nuances of each of the main characters, giving us the fullest and richest interpretation of each.  Bravo, Christopher.

Comins is the finest Stanley ever (since Brando), bar none.  Not only does he cover all the bases in having us understand the basis and basics of this role, but he does one thing that none of the actors I’ve seen playing this role have done.  He enacts Stanley, not Brando playing Stanley!  Thank you, Danforth.  And you see the reasoning of this character and why he does the things he does.  Not that you’re suppose to agree with him (you’re not).  But that you understand where he’s coming from…and it’s okay to disagree with his actions.  He’s not heroic and it’s not played that way.  Nor should it be.

Blanche has been played, running the gamut from naïve and misunderstood, to a raving lunatic.  The truth lies somewhere between.  Likewise, Laura, from Williams’s The Glass Menagerie, is often pictured as painfully shy.  She wasn’t.  His model was his real sister, Rose, who was committed.  Tennessee’s worlds, both real and staged, were touched by madness of one sort or another, the “walking wounded,” as one might say.  But they all had moments of poetry, as if to say, we all need a little madness at one time or another, to keep the sane ones on their toes, if for no other reason.  “Sometimes there’s a God, so quickly!”

Mulligan’s Blanche fulfills that needed balance to the role.  Sometimes you feel you want to rush upon the stage to rescue her and to keep her from falling deeper into her self-made abyss.  Although the role seems to be self-mocking, at times, you never feel unsympathetic toward Kate’s Blanche.  “A blinding light of something half in shadow.”  She, like Danforth’s Stanley, presents you with the bare facts as to who they are, without making any self-judgments.  An acting attribute, devoutly to be attained.

Geisslinger, as Stella, possibly has the most difficult role in the show.  Although not of the complexity, perhaps, as the two leads, she is the soul, or prize, they are playing for.  She represents the woman, born of one way of life, but fated for another.  A secondary role, one that might reach for the brass ring and obtain it, but, then what…?  Nell does a terrific job of letting us see her thoughts, of a woman in love and lust, but not necessarily willing to expose the audience to the results of those musings.

And King, as the lumbering, sympathetic Mitch, shows us the sad little boy trapped in big man’s body.  One feels like shaking him, waking the core of him, to see what he’s really made of.  But this man-child might only be a rag doll, with only sawdust keeping him upright.  Jeffery shows us exactly the right combination of the dichotomy between us desiring to hold him and protect him from the world and yet wanting to kick his butt for being so insensitive to Blanche.  Again, a balance well performed.

I highly recommend this show.  It does deal with adult subject matter but if it compels dialogue, then it has been worth the trip.  If you do go, please tell them Dennis sent you.  For another perspective, please check out Greg’s blog site: