Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Giver—Oregon Children’s Theatre (at Winningstad)—downtown Portland

Colors of the Mind

This grim tale is based on the highly acclaimed book by Lois Lowry and adapted for the stage by Eric Coble.  It is directed for OCT by Matthew B. Zrebski and plays though May 18th.  It is staged at the Winningstad Theatre at 1111 SW Broadway.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-228-9571.

Last season OCT performed another adaptation of a Lowry book, Gathering Blue.  The story takes place in the future and bears some resemblance to Huxley’s Brave New World, Orwell’s 1984 and Soylent Green.  They all have in common a future life for us that is less than desirable.  They picture an authoritarian world of submission, lacking emotion and a secret longing for a life left behind in the distant past.

Very few Sci-fi stories preview a world of hope.  Could it be these writers are reacting to our present situations of materialism, pollution, intolerance, warfare and an over-reliance on electronics and computerization?  Could they be seers, warning us of a fated, dismal future if we continue in this vain?  I wonder…

This world, as pictured from the outset, is a gray one, literally.  There is no color, all things are gray, a sameness for all people.  That way there can be no competition for who is better and, thus, no struggle, no dangers…no freedom!  Everything is decided for you by a Council of Elders, represented by its Chief (April Magnusson).  And, on a child’s 12th birthday, the Council will decide on your life’s career for this Society.

Some will become birth mothers (and then relegated to common laborers).  Asher (Nate Gardner) is to be the Director of Recreation, his friend, Fiona (Hannah Baggs), is to the Caretaker for the Old.  And Jonas (Tristan Comella) has been chosen for the exalted duty of being The Giver, a keeper of all the past memories of the world.  He is to leave his family of his Father (James Luster), his Mother (Cecily Overman) and his little sister, Lily (Steele Clevenger) to be trained by the current Giver (Andrés Alcalá).

The major part of the story concerns the relationship between the old Giver and his neophyte, Jonas.  It seems that all memories of the old world must be passed down to Jonas in small doses.  He will get to experience things like snow (his world is climate-controlled, for a uniformity of a pleasant temperature year-round).  He will also experience animals that are not allowed in this society, as being potentially dangerous.

But he will also experience war, hunger, pain and the “stirrings,” or feelings/emotions that have been suppressed in the “accepted” world by taking a daily pill.  Little by little, colors began to appear to him, as well as truths about what happens to undesirables and the old, those who are weak and no longer of use to society.  He sees the differences in the worlds of what was and what is.  The outcome I cannot write about without giving away much of the plot twists.  But the end is decidedly bittersweet.

I was especially impressed with the scenic design and lighting (Tal Sanders) and media images (Jeff Kurihara), as well as costuming (Emily Horton).  The subtlety of changes in the props, costumes and lighting as Jonas becomes aware of color are nicely done.  And the Director, Zrebski, has created an acting world in which most of the performers speak almost in monotones to reflect the emotions lacking in such a controlled society. And the actors all do a good job of performing in what probably seems like a very dry manner, but necessary for the story to be understood.  Alcalá, as the old Giver and Comella, as Jonas, the young giver are especially impressive, as about half the play concentrates on just these two performers.  They are both very convincing and adept in portraying some very complex characters with conflicted emotions.  My hats off to them.

It should be noted that this is not a story for younger children and should be viewed by more mature Youth.  The subject matter is pretty grim and (from what I’ve been told) even more explicit in the book.  Half the performers in it are Youth and do well with the mature material but I would be wary of allowing younger children to view it.  Parents should probably read the book first and then decide whether their child should see it.

I recommend this production but, with the warning noted above.  If you do see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

For another perspective, please click on the link to Greg’s theatre blog:

33 and 1/3—Portland Story Theater—East Portland

Soul Mates or, the “Hot “Lunch

The title of the story is the number of years these two founders of the theater, Lynne Duddy and Lawrence Howard, have been married.  They are speaking to the audience, in tandem (or ‘butt-inski,” one butting-in on the story of the other), of the ups and downs of those years together.  Their current home is at the Hipbone Studios, 1847 E. Burnside St.  Today is the last performance of the show at 8 pm.  Go to their space at for more information.

Upcoming shows for them with Urban Storytellers will be on Saturdays, May 10th, June 14th and July 12th.  As of September, their new home will be at the Alberta Abbey, 126 NE Alberta Ave.  It should be noted that the move was prompted by the fact that they have been garnering audiences and have simply outgrown their current performing site.  Last night’s show was sold out and was climaxed by a well-deserved, standing ovation.

It is not too often one can be entertained by just two talking heads for an hour.  But then you probably haven’t met Lynne and Lawrence.  And I emphasize “met” because once you hear these two, it’s as if you are simply sitting with old friends and listening to stories of what was…what is…and what could be, in their lives.  The only thing missing, perhaps, is you sharing your stories with them and how their stories connect with yours.  For we all made up of stories, aren’t we, and also part of other people’s stories, and so on, till we merge with what we could call the History of People on this Planet.

Many cultures simply rely on oral history to tell their stories to the next generations and have never seen the need for written language.  Does give you a hint, doesn’t it, of this computer age, and how far we are moving away from that personal contact or touch with one another.  But stories, in this medium, celebrate those old values, and may we never abandon them.

Soul mates these two are.  And the old adage that “opposites attract,” seems very appropriate in their stories.  He was a hippie during the 80’s and she a straight-lace business lady.  Living not too far from each other, they connected at a party at some friends’ house, strewn with hanging mistletoe.  She took advantage of the succulent greenery and promptly kissed him.  Fireworks ensued, like in any good fairy tale, and they were smitten by cupid’s arrow then and there.  A year later they were married.

But then, the test and trials would begin.  He was a “No” kind of guy, always seeing the pitfalls of an idea.  She was a “Yes” kind of gal, always willing to try anything.  He was Jewish, not terribly orthodox, though.  She was Catholic lass, Irish Catholic, no less.  She was adventurous/improvisational, he, more traditional/by-the-book.  He was raised appreciating Gilbert and Sullivan on outings, she, family BBQ’s in Denver or boxing on TV.  She, adopted, he, large family background.

But there could be no denying the chemistry, then or now, of that bond between them.  Perhaps, best expressed by poets as that attraction you sense when “you see a stranger across a crowded room and somehow you know, you know even then…” that your fates will be joined.  But “the beat goes on.”  They had two boys and their lives were encompassed by them.  Meanwhile, the two of them were drifting apart.  And finally they reached the point of the ugly “seven-“teen year itch and the word “Divorce” entered their vocabulary.

I can’t tell you the outcome but, suffice to say, they are still together.  And it might have something to do with reciting the alphabet, 20 second kisses, “Hot” lunches (no, you have to see the show to discover those secrets) and, of course, their wonderful stories.  I wish them well and may we all have such exciting and illuminating stories.  And, also, may we never stop verbalizing/humanizing the connective tissue that unites all, the Story of Us. 

I recommend this show and the group.  Catch a show if you can and, if you do, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Othello—Portland Center Stage—NW Portland

The Green-Eyed Monster

This classic tragedy by Shakespeare is directed by Chris Coleman (PCS’s Artistic Director) and plays at their space at 128 NW 11th Ave. through May 11th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-445-3700.

Revenge is a dish best served cold, as the saying goes.  And the cause of much revenge is unassuming, undiluted, unadulterated jealousy (the green-eyed monster).  In this case, Iago (Gavin Hoffman) is jealous of Cassio (Timothy Sekk), for getting a position he felt he deserved.  He is also jealous of Othello (Daver Morrison) for purportedly sleeping with his wife, Emilia (Dana Green).

And Roderigo (Leif Norby) is jealous of Othello for marrying the girl he was interested in, Desdemona (Nikki Coble).  And Bianca (Marianna McClellan) is jealous of Desdemona for the attention her man, Cassio, is paying to her.  And, in the end, Othello is jealous of his wife for purportedly sleeping with Cassio.  What a web we do weave for ourselves sometimes.

The story has Othello returning from the wars, a much-praised hero and marrying a senator’s daughter.  He has promoted the young Cassio to his second in command, over his trusted old friend, Iago, a seasoned veteran.  And, from that moment on, it all goes downhill.  Iago devises a plot, in which he consorts with Roderigo, his not-too-bright pal, to win back the affections of Desdemona, who he’s been pining over.  And, when Cassio falls out of favor with Othello, he conspires with him to regain his position, by having him plead with Othello’s wife to intercede for him.

Then he goes to Othello and drops hints of a possible illicit bond between his wife and Cassio.  But Othello, wanting physical proof of such a tryst, Iago enlists his wife, unaware of her husband’s devious dealings, to supply him with such an item.  In the end, almost none of them survive Iago’s clever contrivances and, as a result, they all pretty much make fools of themselves, fatal in many cases.

What is amazing is that Iago seems to be the smartest of the bunch and the original relationships of these characters to each other, seem shallow, to say the least.  And, for all of this to work, the pieces of the puzzle need to fall in place exactly as they do or it won’t be successful.  This is not the fault of the production but of the Bard’s plot.  But, even with these obvious contrivances, the plot is intriguing, as it flows forward.

I must say, from the outset, I found the set and the costumes, by the director, Coleman, and his designers, Scott Fyfe (set) and Susan E. Mickey (costumes) absolutely spectacular!  This is a classical production of the show (meaning that it is produced with the look of the original times).  The main set, on a revolve, is amazing, and easily and quickly transports you from one scene to another.  And the costumes are gorgeous to behold!

All the actors handle the language well and are convincing in their parts.  Morrison is a fine Othello, building his character slowly so that we see the rather easy-going fellow in the beginning and then the mighty wrath of a man betrayed.  Coble, as his wife, is lovely to look at and gives the character a trusting but naïve demeanor.  (Trivia note:  Two well-know Portland actors played this role at OSF—Gretchen Corbett in the late 60’s and Joyce Harris-Wood in the 80’s.)  Green stands out as the well-meaning, Emilia, and Norby is always good, this time as the thick-headed dupe of Iago.

But much of my praise for the acting goes to Hoffman as the “honest” Iago.  He has the look and sound of a Patrick Stewart.  His oily insinuations and smooth demeanor give the character a chilling countenance.  As he plays it, one almost has to admire his manipulations, as he leads people around by the nose.  It’s as if he saying to us, they deserve it for being so stupid and shallow.  He may be right.

The one piece of advice I would give the show, as a whole, is they need to ratchet it up a bit.  The whole tone seems a bit subdued and needed an added boost of energy at times.  But, in fairness, the mostly full-house gave it a standing ovation at the end.  I would recommend this show, especially for the set and costumes.  If you do go, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Opus 3 After Strindberg—PAC & PETE—SW Portland

A Dream Within a Dream

This production is a showcase from the second year students at Portland Actors Conservatory in conjunction with Portland Experimental Theatre Ensemble and directed by Jacob Coleman.  It plays through April 27th at their space at 1436 SW Montgomery St.  For more information, go to their sites at or

As the Bard might say, “We are such stuff as dreams are made on…” (The Tempest) or, “…Life’s but a walking shadow, that struts and frets his time upon the stage and then is heard no more…” (Macbeth).  Both analogies would be pertinent for some explanations of this production.  You might also throw in a dash of Alice in Wonderland, Six Characters in Search of an Author, Twilight Zone, No Exit and Everyman for good measure, too.  In short, this is not your traditional play.

One of the jobs of an actor or writer is to explore, expose, expand the Truth of their Artistry and for the viewer/reader to discover that nugget and filter it through themselves to arrive at their own revelations.  If that sounds pretty heady, it is.  And in perusing these concepts in their naked form, a “traveler” can easily become pretentious, preachy and pompous.  This is not the case with this show but it does butt its head against these pitfalls on occasion.  But it’s also loosely interpreted from Strindberg’s, Ghost Sonata, which gives it the anchor from going too far afield.

There is no conventional plot as such.  What we are greeted with at the opening of the play is a lot of oddly dressed characters talking past one another, seemingly in some negative, isolated hell of their own making, perhaps.  One seems to be a teapot/servant type (Alwynn Accuardi), always spouting about things she hates; two others (Emily Welch and Matthew Ostrowski), dressed in military regalia, seemingly masters of the house, constantly battling each other verbally; a gardener (Sarah Yeakel), a tender of the earth, very properly dressed in Victorian-like garb, with a song in her heart; and a forlorn maiden (J’ena SanCartier), looking for love.

One can imagine this mindless mayhem going on forever, except that an “audience” member (Otniel Henig) is able to communicate with the maiden and she hears him.  And so, he joins their pack, leaving behind the viewer aspect of himself, and becoming a participant. Shortly, with his arrival, they began to divest themselves of their disguises/masks and become more “real” or natural, perhaps.  (Both Norse writers, Strindberg and Ibsen, espoused that plays needed to reflect more the reality, the natural state of Man and, thus, a new movement was born.)

These transformations are not without pain though, and even death, perhaps.  But there is rebirth and light, or hope, at the end of the tunnel.  This is only my interpretation, of course, and others will, hopefully, come away with different viewpoints.  But that is as it’s meant to be.  If you’re looking for answers, it is not from without, that they will come but, from within.

The whole cast should be commended, as they all show some real potential.  And the costuming by Jessica Bobillot, must have been quite a challenge but she does a good job of hinting at restrictions and then, freedoms, as the characters progress.  The director has orchestrated the play well, as he seems to be challenging both the actors and audience to push the envelope to the limit.  I would recommend this play but, as I said, it is not conventional in its storytelling.  If you do choose to go, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Monday, April 14, 2014

pool (no water)—theatrevertigo—SE Portland

The Gang’s All Here

This “event” takes place “inside the pool” at the shoebox theatre at 2110 SE 10th Ave.  It is written by Mark Ravenhill and directed by Samantha Van Der Merwe.  It runs through May 10th.  For more information, contact their site at  They also have a next season announcement party at Vie de Boheme on April 23rd, which might be worth checking out.

This might be more accurately described as an event or awaking, rather than a play, as the audience is seated within the set (an empty swimming pool) and the actors talk to the audience (like a Greek chorus in days of old) as much as they converse with each other.  The atmosphere/set (Ted Jonathan Gold) is chillingly realistic (all they needed was the scent of chlorine). 

Unfortunately, pools evoke bad memories for me, as I was a sinker, not a swimmer.  Swimming, to me, was keeping alive in water.  Which might not be a bad metaphor for the story, except that one may be drowning…without water, possibly one of the points of the play.  If you dive into a pool, and can swim, you have a reasonably good chance of surviving, maybe even enjoying the experience.  But, if you dive in, without water, there will be crippling, if not fatal, results.

The story seems to center around a star or model, who is famous for her photos.  She has a band of hangers-on that revel in her shadow, but will never be truly great on their own.  They are the typical yes-men, druggies, lapdogs, toy boys (girls), et. al. that hang out with such celebs, licking the crumbs from her table.  On the surface, they dote on her.  Underneath, they loathe her (and probably, themselves, for being so dependent on her).

One fateful day, she dives into her pool which has, unfortunately, been drained of water.  Her broken and scarred limbs are on display for weeks in a hospitable bed, as she is in a coma.  But, art will out, and her “friends” see this as a photo opt.  So, with faithful camera in hand, arrange her limbs in “artistic” ways and take pics of her.  Their time has finally come, they echo, and now they will be famous on their own.  But a tiger cannot change its stripes, nor a piranha, its bite.  To tell more would not be good form for a reviewer but it leads to a bittersweet ending.

I am not able to reveal actual actors as relation to characters, as they all (except the model) play numerous roles, and there are no photos of them in the program.  But they are equally good (Christy Bigelow, Stephanie Cordell, Nathan Dunkin, Joel Harmon, Tyler Ryan, Holly Wigmore and R. David Wyllie).  The lead of the piece is beautiful, as the role as a model calls for, and does good in the acting department, an attribute a star should have.  All the rest are quite inventive, too.
Van Der Merwe has no easy task in assembling this piece of art itself.  It does move, flow, like an artistic piece should and will leave its viewers as to their own reflections.  And the set (Gold), as mentioned, is really the star of the piece.  It is really quite original and very appropriate to the play.  And the choreography/movement, by Jessica Wallenfels, adds beautifully to the piece.

I recommend this play but it is adult in nature.  If you do choose to go, please tell them Dennis sent you.