Monday, July 29, 2013

The Tamer Tamed—Artists Rep—SW Portland

"Battle of the Sexes"
This Shakespearean-type comedy is written by John Fletcher and directed by Michael Nehring.  The production is under the umbrella of the Portland Shakespeare Project, Artistic Director, Michael Mendelson.  It is playing in repertory with Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew through August 4th at the Artists Rep’s space on SW Alder and 16th.  For more information and/or tickets, go to their web at or call 503-241-1278.

Fletcher was a contemporary of Shakespeare’s and wrote this play as a sequel to “…Shrew.”  It may be the first feminist play, as women, at this time, weren’t even allowed on the stage as actors.  It is rarely performed but is a good reaction to Shrew, where the wife becomes subservient to her husband.  In this case, the tables are reversed and Petruchio (Peter Platt) must submit to his new wife’s demands before he they can consummate their marriage.  And his new lady, Maria (Kayla Lian), has demanded clothes and liberty, as well as respect for a woman’s rights.

Other characters from Shrew reappear, such as the trickster, Tranio (Nathan Dunkin), and Kate (now deceased) younger sister, Bianca (Ashley Nicole Williams).  And there is a similar sub-plot to Shrew in which Roland (Steve Vanderzee) is trying to woo Livia (Britt Harris).  But, of course, her father, Petronius (David Bodin) prefers that she marries a rich, much older man, Moroso (Gary Powell).  If this all sounds familiar, it’s very similar to Shrew, only with the tables turned.

They both try to outwit each other with feigning illness, faking death, traveling, flirting, spending large sums of money, betting on one or the other to triumph and, of course, the servants get involved in the fray, too.  We know it will come out all right but it is pleasant to see the woman on top, especially in that repressive age.  And Fletcher is a decent writer, emulating, rather successfully, the style of his friend, William.  This is done as a Reader’s Theatre but with a great deal of activity throw in.

For all those wanting to see the playing field of wooers and wooees balanced, this does the trick.  It is interesting to note that sex seems to be the driving force in these types of contests.  Not values or personality or goodness, etc. but just the base contents of sex and money.  Such simple folks we are.  Evidently, though, universal enough to have it repeated in plots for many years to come.

All the actors are successful in portraying their roles and do very well translating the story to modern dress and, essentially, no set.  Lian is particularly good portraying the new wife.  She does well articulating the Shakespearean language and is clear in gestures and movement as to her feelings.  Platt is equally as good, showing the frustration of a man losing control of what is suppose to be a man’s world.  And Harris and Vanderzee, as the young lovers, are also fun to watch.  They battle prettily on the warring grounds.  Nehring has done well in allowing for a lot of movement and encouraging his actors to employ the actual script as little as possible.  And he evokes an accessible and conversational style to the story.

I recommend this play and it should be seen in conjunction with their “…Shrew,” to get the full scope of the dueling plots.  If you do see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

The Laramie Project - Serendipity Players - Vancouver, WA

The Laramie Project is being presented by Serendipity Players in downtown

Vancouver. This Obie award-winning play is written by Moises Kaufman and directed by Tony Broom and Kate Flanagan at the Serendipity Players location on Washington and 5th. It runs through August 17th. For more information go to their website at or call 360-834-3588 for tickets.

This is event is part of the Gay Pride month in Vancouver. The horrific incident happened in Laramie, Wyoming in the Fall of 1998. The author and the Tectonic Theater Project descended for 18 months on this small town conducting over 200 interviews. This play is the result of that endeavor.

Read more . . . 

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Taming of the Shrew—Artists Repertory Theatre—SW Portland

"Thereby Hangs a Tale”

This comedy by Shakespeare is actually part of the Portland Shakespeare Project and is performed at Artist Rep’s space at SW Alder St. & 16th Ave.  It is directed by Michael Mendelson, a member of their company and Artistic Director of the group.  It plays in repertory with a stage reading of The Tamer Tamed by John Fletcher and directed by Michael Nehring through August 4th.  For more information, go to their site at

This story is familiar turf in Shakespearean comedies, as it employs his much-used device of double/triple identities and guises to mask true feelings/motives of individuals.  And this tale is rampant with them.  It all involves two daughters, Kate (Maureen Porter) and Bianca (Foss Curtis), of Baptista (Gary Powell), a wealthy merchant.  Bianca, the “pretty” one, has suitors abounding, including Lucentio (Peter Platt), Gremio (David Heath) and Hortensio (Sam Dinkowitz).  But Baptista is firm that she will not be wed until the eldest, Kate the cursed, the Shrew, is mated.

So Hortensio entreats his best buddy, Petruchio (James Farmer), a brazen, bravado of manhood to woo and win the aforementioned Kate.  He does so by matching his boldness and wit to hers and thereby conquers her heart.  But he feels he must bend her will to his and, through some elaborate ruses, manages this as well.  Meanwhile, the youngest daughter’s suitors are busy plying their skills to enticing Bianca to be their bride.  And, oh yes, this is all a play within a play, which confuses things even more with assumed identities.  Believe me, you have to actually see it to sort it all out.

I have seen a number of stage and film production of this show and even been in one myself.  Overall, this is the best productions I’ve seen.  Others have had individual scenes, which I’ve liked better, but the overall concept and presentation of this production is superior, as far as I’m concerned, for a couple of reasons.  First, the cast is uniformly first-rate, not a sour note in the acting.  Second, it is presented simply, in modern dress and with minimal sets and props, so that the audience is not overwhelmed by pomp and circumstance, which could clutter an already confusing story.

And third, and most important, is it is presented in “Conversational” Shakespeare, a method in which his words are approached as if it were a foreign language, thus having to make it conversational in presentation, in order that it is understood by today’s modern audiences.  This is not a history lesson.  Yes, the language is poetic and rhythmic, but if you don’t know what they’re talking about, it doesn’t work.  And you don’t have to change the words to succeed at this.  Period.

The wooing scene between the main lovers is priceless.  And Farmer has all the necessary dash and flair to make his Petruchio a standard.  Porter is his equal as Kate.  She matches his antics at every turn.  My personal favorites, though, were Dinkowitz as Hortensio.  His every gesture, whimper and hound-dog looks were in perfect harmony with one of the Bard’s clowns.  Grant Turner as Tranio, Lucentio’s servant, has the look of a young Don Johnson and his comic timing and flimsy bravado are in sync with this complicated character.  And Nathan Dunkin as Sly, the “audience” for this play, underplays this role beautifully.  All the right touches in all the right places.

But credit must ultimately be given to the master of this madcap marvel, Mr. Mendelson, the director.  He certainly understands Shakespeare and pulls ever nuance out of this script and his actors, wherever it may be hiding.  And his set, designed by John Ellingson, is easily manipulated and flexible for the many settings.

The only thing that doesn’t work, in my opinion, is the final speech.  Although well-delivered by Porter, the “wink-wink, nudge-nudge” (Monty Python) aside really doesn’t cut it.  Women’s groups and others have justifiably been outraged with the subservient tone of the speech, bowing to the “superior” male.  Unfortunately those were the times in which the Bard was writing, as women weren’t even allowed to perform on the stage, and men had to play the female roles.

But, one presentation I witnessed had both the lead characters as mild individuals, but had to put on the mantle of the outrageous because that was what was expected of them within the circumstances.  So the final speech of Kate’s becomes an “enacted” piece and, thus, we know that she is just “playing the role” of the shrew, tamed.  Anyway, that worked.

I recommend this show.  And I’m sure the “sequel” will be equally worthwhile to watch.  It does involve some adult gestures but they are pretty tame.  If you do go, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Monday, July 8, 2013

The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged)—Post5 Theatre—NE Portland

“The Play’s the Thing…”

This production will be in the outdoor courtyard at their location at 850 NE 81st Ave.  It is directed by the company’s co-founder and Artistic Director, Ty Boice and written by Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield.  It stars Adam J. Thompson, Phillip J. Berns and Brett Wilson.  The show begins at 7:30 pm (“Bard” Garden for refreshments opens at 6:30 pm) and runs weekends through August 4th.  Sunday is pay-what-you-can night. 

One should note that a long-time supporter of this theatre and others is Ronni Lacroute/Willakenzie Estate.  These “Angels” are few and far between and should be applauded for their efforts—Bravo to you!  Check Post5’s website for dates, prices and upcoming events at

This is the brassy, blistering Bard at his bawdy best.  If you are one of the two or three people in the world not familiar with Shakespeare’s works, this play will give you a highly stylized peek at his stories, albeit abbreviated, updated and totally skewed.  Actually, in the first act, they do touch on 36 of his 37-play canon (although a couple of them are only mentioned) and spend a lot of time on Romero & Juliet and…the Scottish Play.  His 154 Sonnets are only mentioned in passing.  And Act II is devoted almost entirely to Hamlet.

The play is offered at a breakneck speed and some of the humor is pretty low-brow (e.g. “butt love” from R&G) and the cast excels in wringing all that can be wrought from their interpretation of this writer.  Why Will S. is so universal is that he had that ability to go from such base humor to the heights of beauty (e.g. “a rose is a rose…”), to the depths of despair, e.g. Lear longing for his departed “fool” and then to the contemplative, e.g. “What a piece of work is man…” (beautifully delivered  by Wilson, in the play’s only serious moment).  In short, his genius is his ability to speak to all cultures and classes across the ages.  A talent much desired and admired.

The antics of these three actors are, to say the least, super-human.  Not only do they have a clear understanding of the Bard, but are agile enough physically, have a keen understanding of comic timing, able to change from one character/sex/age to another in a split second and keep the order of things straight in their heads.  Talent is key to the success of this show and these three actors have it in spades!

Adam seems to be the straight man, trying mightily to keep things in order and to perform his part with a modicum of seriousness (which only makes it all the more funny).  One of the secrets of good comedy, in my opinion, is to do it straight or seriously.  Lee Marvin told me once that, the secret to playing a good villain, is to play him as if he is the hero.  The same psychology can be applied to comedy.  And Adam seems to understand that, as he tackles old farts, young rascals and fair maidens with equal vigor.  And yet, left alone, without his team-mates, he seems to be at odds with the silence.  A touching portrait of a lonely man in a crowd of strangers.  In short, he needs his team to feel alive and useful.

Berns is the pseudo-scholar, the nerd who purports to knows everything.  He wraps himself in facts and figures to cloak himself from personal feelings and failures.  His ability to slip smoothly and quickly from one character to another is a marvel.  And the ways he has of transforming his agile body and voice successfully, from one persona to another, is also an asset.  I have seen Phillip in many incarnations over the past year and have never been disappointed in a performance of his, many in supporting roles, but he always stands out.

Wilson is the na├»ve clown, willing to do anything to get attention.  He plays the female roles with complete abandonment but, in a moment of clarity, speaks the speech, “what a piece of work is Man,” with quiet eloquence.  A layered clown without the make-up?  So it seems.  His explosions of energy, that would weary a normal person, seem to be the fodder to recharge his batteries.  All in all, he completes this trio of intrepid adventurers.  They are all part of a team, which creates a persona in itself.  Without each other, they might flounder and fall.  A fitting example of team-work at its best!

And Ty Boice, as the Master of this madcap marathon, must have a mind that is able to keep this maze of tunnels in an understandable order.  This production is not something that can be accomplished by just throwing some actors onstage and charging them to act silly.  There needs to be real people that are performing it, a sense of what they are trying to accomplish and a path to their destination.  Not only has Boice cast it well but he has made sure the balance of the frivolity has a sustained direction and that the characters interact, not only within their individual roles, but as people, too, noting their distinctions.  An expert mix of elements, well-calculated to keep one entertained. 

I highly recommend this show but it does have a fair amount of adult situations in the humor, so might keep that in mind if you are easily offended.  If you do go, tell them Dennis sent you.

Next Season

A couple of departures from Shakespeare promise a more, well-rounded season:

Bon Ton Roulette at the Shakespeare Cafe, written and directed by Elizabeth Huffman (a World Premiere);

Tartuffe by Moliere, directed by the one and only, Tobias Andersen and starring Sam Dinkowitz;

Hamlet, directed by Orion J. Bradshaw;

Titus Andronicus, directed by Sam Dinkowitz;

Love’s Labour’s Lost, directed by Avital Shira;

The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged)—touring production, directed by Cassandra Schwanke;

As You Like It, directed by Ty Boice;

The Last Days by Carlos Cisco.

Also, stayed-tuned for late night shows, Sound & Fury, via HumanBeingCurious Productions from Cassandra Schwanke.

And check out their website for their very reasonable season ticket prices.