Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Last 5 Years—Portland Center Stage—NW Portland

Ships Passing in the Night

This two-character musical is by Jason Robert Brown and directed by Nancy Keystone.  It is playing in the Ellyn Bye Studio at PCS at 128 NW 11th Ave. through June 22nd.  For more information, go to their site at www.pcs.org or call 503-445-3700.

It is said the most common story in the world is boy meets girl (or, in this day and age, person meets person)….  True, but how that is presented, the intricacies of the individual unions, and the outcomes, can be as unique as snowflakes.  There really is no secret ingredient that will make it work, or a roadmap to tell you how to do it, or any guarantees.  But, from my perspective, keep it simple.  In others words, just be nice to each other, don’t let your ego get in the way and simply…love them.

The unique presentation of this show is that one person’s story, Jamie’s (Drew Harper) starts at the beginning of their relationship, and Cathy’s (Merideth Kaye Clark), starts at the end.  And because of this perspective, they only meet in the middle, when they get married.  The rest of it is, he says, she says.  So they are like two ships passing in the night in the playing of the scenes.

There is no way to give a linear view of it except to let you know the overall picture.  Jamie is an up and coming writer, a novelist, when they meet.  Cathy is a struggling actor.  To begin with, being an artist alone is a difficult row to hoe.  But when two artists try to merge, their individual passions/obsessions for their craft/art can supersede a successful union between two people.  I can speak from personal experience on this.

While Jamie is climbing the ladder to success, Cathy has yet to make her mark.  He must attend endless book signings and promotional tours to keep his name in the public eye.  She is forced to do summer stock and regional theatre just to keep working.  Her goal, The Big Apple where, if she makes it there, she can, as the song goes, “make it anywhere.”  But temptations are too great and Fame is a cruel mistress, so Jamie is sliding down that slippery slope called Success.  Meanwhile, Cathy is being weighed down by her frustrations.  The conclusion seems inevitable.

This is presented like an opera, where almost the whole story is sung and the songs are the story.  My favorite songs were Cathy’s lamenting summer stock in “A Summer in Ohio,” her audition attempts in “Climbing Uphill” and her “I Can Do Better Than That.”  Jamie had his comic moments in “The Schmuel Song” and then the sad lament of “Nobody Needs to Know.”  And, like I said, their whole story is in the songs and well done, too.

Both Clark and Harper have amazing voices.  They shone also earlier this year in Portland Playhouse’s Light in the Piazza.  It is difficult playing mostly to empty space on an essentially bare stage but they show they have “the right stuff” for it.  They both have terrific voices and are darn good in the acting area, too.

Keystone has used the bare space very well and is inventive about not letting the play slow down because of the confined environment, and never confusing the audience as to where they are.  The space (Daniel Meeker) is cleverly laid out, allowing for its maximum use.  The script (Brown), at times, is a bit confusing, because you are always trying to remember which way each of the characters is heading in their relationship but it is a clever concept.

And, Eric Little, the third member of the team, is the lone, musical confidant for the group.  He is wonderful and, like the actors, is probably exhausted at the end of the non-stop, 90 minutes of the show.  I would recommend this show.  If you do go, tell them Dennis sent you.

Monday, May 26, 2014

The Playboy of the Western World—Artists Repertory Theatre—SW Portland

The Fighting Irish

This classic comedy from the Irish writer, J. M. Synge, is directed by Dámaso Rodriguez (Artist Rep.’s Artistic Director) and runs through June 22nd.  It plays at their space at SW Alder St. & 16th Ave.  For more information, go to their site at www.artistsrep.org or call 503-241-1278.

It seems, from Synge’s point of view, the Irish are always up for a good drink, a dirty fight, or a tumble in the hay.  Gone, from this story, is the magic inherent in fairies and the “little people” of Irish lore.  This play, at the time it was staged around 1900, purportedly caused riots in Erin’s Isle, probably because of the promiscuity it promoted.  It has a kinship with the book/film Tom Jones.  Now these kind of stories would be rated PG.  Oh, how times and attitudes have changed.

The story concerns Christopher, or Christy-man (Chris Murray), the title character of the play.  He arrives at a Public House in County Mayo, a stranger in this part of the Green Isle, looking for refuge.  The House is run by Pegeen (Amy Newman) and her father, Michael (Allen Nause).  She offers him ale, a bit of food, a warm fire to sleep by, and a sympathetic ear.  It seems he has killed his own father and fears the law is after him.  And since the village folk seem to have no love for the local force, she agrees to give him shelter.  He also seems to be a bit of a flirt and, being unmarried herself, Pegeen takes an instant liking to him.

But it seems that she is unofficially betrothed to the lumbering Shawn (Isaac Lamb) and he is willing to go so far as to bribe Christy-man to leave.  Her father and his cronies, Philly (Michael Mendelson) and Jimmy (Jeb Berrier) have always assumed, too, that this big ox would be her beau, since he may be the only eligible game in town for her.  And the flighty, single girls of the village, Susan (Rebecca Ridenour), Honor (Lissie Huff) and Sara (Brenan Dwyer) might also have other ideas for this newcomer to their fair village.

But the only other serious contender for his affections is the Widow Quin (Jill Van Velzer), who had purportedly been responsible for the death of her own husband.  All is up in the air as to who will win this prize specimen.  That is, until a mysterious old man, another stranger, appears in the village, hunting Christy-man.  All bets are off, as the plot takes a dangerous turn now.  Can’t tell you any more or it would ruin a few surprises in the story.

The set (Jack O’Brien) is absolutely stunning.  The recreation of the Public House from that place and time period is very intricate and yet lends ample space for action/movement.  Well done.  And the lighting (Kristeen Willis Crosser) adds some lovely colors to the background, as well as depicting the moods of the play.  And Nancy Hill’s costumes are terrific, capturing the poverty of the times.

Rodriguez has put his cast through some difficult paces in creating this story and it shows in the use of the space and the fine performances.  And the fight at the end is amazing, choreographed by Jonathan Cole.  It was grand to again see Nause and Mendelson, icons in Portland theatre, onstage.  As always, they ramp the professionalism of the production up a notch by their very presence.

The entire cast is very believable.  Murray is clever in the way he is slyly manipulates the many women in the village.  A solid performance.  Newman is wonderful as the strong-willed daughter.  Easily holding her own in this township but needing that extra comfort of a mate, a complex performance, well-done.  Lamb is fine as the good-hearted but none-too-bright suitor.

And Van Velzer as the conniving and not-too-subtle Widow, would make a good politician.  She knows what she wants and knows how to get it.  Well played.  But Geisslinger is a dynamo!  Once onstage, he never lets go of the audience’s attentions.  He growls his fierce vocals, gyrates his stocky body and powers through this performance with the weight and determination of a steamroller.  A stunning portrayal!

The only caution I would give, is that the accents (Mary McDonald-Lewis, Dialect Director), although very accurate, I’m sure, are so thick at times, that individual lines get lost.  “The Play’s the thing…” that is important, so I would sacrifice a wee bit of the accent and phraseology at times, for clarity.  Bless the actors, though, they are so good and believable at presenting the play, with their specific gestures and emotions, that the general story is understood.  This hard work by all has not gone unnoticed.  But, honestly, I would have liked to understand more of the dialogue.

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

Maple & Vine—CoHo Productions—NW Portland

Waxing Nostalgic

This production ends this weekend.  This strange fantasy is written by Jordan Harrison and directed by Megan Kate Ward.  It is playing at the CoHo theatre site at 2257 NW Raleigh St.  (Best get there early as finding street parking is dicey.)  For more information on this show and next season, check their site at www.cohoproductions.org.

So, answer me this, if you could go back to any other era to live, when would it be?  Of course the grass always appears greener on the other side.  Some films have broached this subject like Westworld, Pleasantville, The Truman Show, even the scarier, Seconds or Steppford Wives, and even a couple episodes from the terrific Twilight Zone TV series.  Well, this show has touches of all of those films.

It supposes that there is an organization called SDO (Society of Dynamic Obsolescence), which operates in the mid-west of good ole U.S.A.  There, the time is always 1955.  If you want to join their community, you must relinquish all devices, clothing, attitudes and language from this so-called progressive world we live in now.  Ah, the 50’s, easy to wax nostalgic about them, quieter, simpler life style, slower pace, et. al.  But, also, little rights for women in the work world or people-of-color and no electronic toys.

It is a place where the little woman is at her place in the home, doing housework and cooking meals for her husband, the breadwinner.  Operators still direct long-distance calls, the milk-man brings your dairy products every morning to your door, the library is the main source for any information outside your little burg and everybody knows everything about their neighbors.  And you are actually forced to talk to one another face-to-face.  “A place for everything and everything in its place.”

So, to escape the frazzles of this modern rat race, a couple Ryu (Heath Hyun Houghton) and his wife, Katha (Melissa Schenter) decide to join the SDO.  Their sponsors, Ellen (Jill Westerby) and Dean (Sean McGrath) fill them in on all the rules they’ll have to abide by.

Being that this is 1955, mixed marriages were frowned upon, so Ryu, a Japanese-American, will have to put up with earning lesser wages, and slurs by other workers.  He will have to take a less demanding job, too.  In the modern world he was a plastic surgeon, now he must work as a laborer in a box factory, managed by Roger (Spencer Conway), a closet bigot.

And his wife, a powerhouse manager in the fashion industry in the other world, must now content herself to be a lowly housewife, learn to cook her husband’s favorite foods, abstain from more inventive sex practices and go to women’s committee meetings.  There is only B&W TV shows, no internet or cable or cell phones, foods with lots of MSG and salt, Tupperware, and, of course, in a pinch, TV dinners.

There is also no Gay, women, or people-of-color rights.  Everything, on the surface, at least, must look spic-and-span.  Call it role-playing, pretending, or play-acting, you must abide by the customs and norms of this Edenistic-like world.  Obviously, not everything will go according to Hoyle, but to tell you much more about the plot, would spoil the surprises.

The script, by Harrison, is very clever and raises some important questions and issues.  We are all in the pursuit for happiness.  And, when we dream, we may imagine a simpler world and time to escape to.  But, in reality, I believe, the secret to happiness lies not “out there” somewhere, it lies within.  The trick  is to expand that inner peace of mind to our busy, outward world.  I think that is the theme of this piece.  Well done, I say, as it does give much food for thought.

Ward has done a wonderful job of using the small space to create such a large world, as well as the scenic designer, Sarah Lydecker.  And her cast is up to the challenge of jumping back and forth in time periods.  Conway must leap from being an outwardly gay man in one world, to a rough-and-tough he-man of another time.  Westerby, too, must balance her character’s personal frustrations with the calm exterior she is supposed to exhibit.

McGrath must balance at least three personas and does them all well.  Houghton is very convincing as a frantic husband trying to salvage his marriage and dealing with the degradation of a past era.  And Schenter is a marvel, as she tries to hold onto sanity and yet appear to conform.  The whole cast and the director must be commended for presenting such challenging material so well.

I recommend this show.  As mentioned, this is the last weekend, but if you do go, please tell them Dennis sent you.

The Cocoanuts—Oregon Shakespeare Festival—Ashland, OR

“…loving you, always.”

This classic comedy/musical by the Marx Bros. is now onstage in all its madcap glory at the Bowmer Theatre at OSF.  It is written by Irving Berlin and George S. Kaufman and adapted for the stage by Mark Bedard (the Groucho character in the show).  Direction is by David Ivers, choreography by Jaclyn Miller and musical direction by Gregg Coffin.  It is playing through November 2nd.  For more information, go to their site at www.osfashland.org or call 541-482-4331.

“Always” is probably the most recognizable song in this Berlin musical.  And the blend of Berlin’s music, Kaufman’s script and, most of all, the Marx Bros. antics, makes this a classic.  It was an early show of “the boys” onstage during the twenties and finally made into a film in the thirties.  Fun as they were, this adaptation (Bedard) surpasses even them, as it is brilliant!

The story?  As Groucho explains, who needs a story with everything else going on onstage.  He’s right, of course.  One can quite satisfyingly simply hang your hat onto the antics and adlibs and the terrific songs/music from a by-gone era and be content as a…duck.  Why a duck, you may ask?  Well, that’s another story, as Groucho might say.  But, to stick with convention, for all it’s worth, here are the plots….or lots, in this case, as they story hinges partly around some Florida swamp land, Cocoanuts Manor, and the con artist (Hammer) trying to sell it.

It is also about a failing hotel, The Cocoanuts Beach Hotel, and the quest by the owner/manager, Mr. Hammer, aka, Groucho (Mark Bedard), trying to find investors for it and the associated aforementioned swampland.  Arriving in the nick of time is a rich widow, Mrs. Potter (K. T. Vogt) and her daughter, Polly (Jennie Greenberry), who is actually secretly in love with Jamison, a hotel clerk, aka Zeppo (Eduardo Placer).

Mrs. P. is trying to marrying off her daughter to another rich gentleman (or so she thinks) Harvey Yates (Robert Vincent Frank) of the Boston Yates.  But he has his eyes also on a very expensive pearl necklace Potter has.  And so does his cohort, Penenlope (Kate Mulligan).  Unbeknownst to them, Chico (John Tufts), and Harpo (Brent Hinkley) are petty thieves, also willing to steal anything not nailed down, or eat them, like the phone, inkwell, etc.

But, as the saying goes, the plot…thins.  There is a Detective Hennessey (David Kelly) that seems to be wise to the thieving shenanigans but is so inept himself that they get a leg up on him.  But it seems an innocent guy is blamed for the burglary of the necklace and it is up to our intrepid trio to trounce on the tricky thieves.  Touché, right?!  The outcome is no big surprise, but I won’t tell you it, anyway.

Everything works in this production!  Only one sour note I would make in the whole Marx Bros. experience but I won’t mention that until the end of this review.  The music and band (Darcy Danielson) is super.  The dances (Miller) are terrific.  And the duck is…ducky, as is Superman…er, boy (later on those.)  This is a play for all ages (and all sizes).  If you like Berlin (the composer, not the town), you’ll love this show.  And the set (OSF veteran, Richard L. Hay) is superb, as are the costumes (Meg Neville).

The director, Ivers, has said he has been a fan of the Marx Bros. all his life and it shows.  He has not only lovingly put together a tribute to their zaniness but has allowed it to blossom and take on a life of its own (a complement to Bedard’s contribution, too).  This show is one of the best productions I have ever seen!  The audience literally roared at the end, with a standing ovation.  And if you don’t see it, you’re a ducky’s uncle…er, monkey’s (see how one can be affected by the silliness of the show, long after it’s over).

The rendition of the songs and dances are very exciting and nostalgic, too.  My special favorites are “Lucky Boy” by “the boys;” “Always” by Placer and Greenberry; the “Shirt” song by Kelly; and “Why do you want to know Why?” by Tufts.  And the ad libs and audience participation never stopped.  There is a young lady out there named, Comet, I think, first name, Haley, who may be a star now because of her involvement with the play.  And a wee lad that will grow up thinking he can fly…and, hopefully, save the world, as well (it could use a little saving right now…for that matter, so could my account at the bank).

And the cast, you may ask (even if you didn’t ask, I’d still tell you)?  Outstanding, from the superb Bedard to the bellhops (Katie Bradley, Miles Fletcher, and Erin O’Connor)!  Bedard, as probably hinted at, is a genius.  No one else, in my opinion, can do justice to this part.
His timing is perfect and, the mannerisms of Groucho, he has down to a tee.  And flexible, too (you try that strut of his for any length of time and see how you feel).  He is what they call on Broadway, a triple threat, he can sing, dance, act and do comedy (okay, that’s four, but you get the idea).  I’m anxiously awaiting his next venture as Groucho, as wild horses couldn’t keep me away (okay, maybe they could, but a sickly pony couldn’t).

Greenberry has a lovely voice, (operatic, I would say), as does Placer, and both do justice to their numbers. Vogt is a perfect double for Margaret Dumont, who played the dowager role in many of their films, and is a perfect foil for the gang.  Mulligan and Frank do nice turns as the would-be thieves.  Kelly is a wonderful stooge for the boys and holds his own against them as a comic.  Tufts, as Chico, is terrific as Groucho’s chief sparring partner.  And Hinkley, as Harpo, is a wonderful mime and captures the mischievousness marvelously of the beloved stage/screen clown.

And the answer to the age old question, “why a duck?”  It’s simple, you may get hit in the head if you don’t.  And the one sour note, I mentioned?  CAN YOU BELIEVE THAT ANOTHER MARX BROS. PROUCTION IS NOT ON THE SCHEDULE FOR NEXT YEAR’S SEASON?!  I protest (or, at least, will whine loudly)!  There may not have been many of their plays, but some of their films could be adapted for the stage.  As well as doing a musical called Minnie’s Boys that appeared on Broadway some years ago.  Anyway, I sincerely hope that we will see more of this talented troupe at some point in the future.

I highly recommend this show.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

For another perspective, please read Greg’s review:

The Ashland Experience (Part IV)

This is the last in a series of places to visit while in Ashland.  Louie’s Bar & Restaurant, on the plaza, has a nice atmosphere and allows young people into it.  Oberon’s Three-Penny Tavern, on the plaza, has a medieval flavor, with food and drink to match www.oberonstavern.com.  The Lithia Theater on Main St. shows films and has an upstairs, smaller theater that shows Indie and Foreign-language films.  Greenleaf Restaurant www.greenleafrestaurant.com , on the Plaza, features “healthy” foods for those discriminating tastes.  Our server, Meadow, was very helpful and friendly.  And historic Jacksonville is only a few miles away and definitely has some worthwhile antique shops, restaurants, the Britt Music Festival, and a cemetery that goes back a couple hundred years.  Worth the extra time for a day visit.

The Oregon Cabaret Theatre, 1st and Hargadine (a block from OSF), offers musical revues and meals.  For more information, go to their site at www.oregoncabaret.com or call 541-488-2902.  Lithia Park (just below OSF) offers picnicking and parking sites, a duck pond, a creek, a playground and a 1.5 jogging trail.  A beautiful park.  And, of course, OSF has two other theatres beside the Bowmer, the Thomas and the original, outdoor theatre, the Elizabethan Theatre (Summer & Fall shows only).  And, last but not least, is the Tutor Guild Gift Shop which is chocked full of souvenirs and memorabilia from the Festival.  Proceeds from purchases also go to help OSF.

And for the other reviews of the shows I’ve seen:

Tempest - http://dennissparksreviews.blogspot.com/2014/05/the-tempestoregon-shakespeare.html

A Wrinkle In Time - http://dennissparksreviews.blogspot.com/2014/05/a-wrinkle-in-timeoregon-shakespeare.html

The Sign In Sidney Brusteins - http://dennissparksreviews.blogspot.com/2014/05/the-sign-in-sidney-brusteins.html

The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window—Oregon Shakespeare Festival—Ashland, OR

“…times, they are a changin’”

This very heavy drama is by Lorraine Hansberry and directed by Juliette Carrillo.  It plays at OSF’s Bowmer Theatre, in repertory, through July 6th.  For more information, go to their site at www.osfashland.org or call 541-482-4331.

Hansberry is the author of the award-winning, The Raison in the Sun.  The time period for this story is the mid-1960’s in New York’s, Greenwich Village.  It is the era of folk-music, hippies, Viet-Nam, black rights, free love, protests, and drugs.  The sterile 50’s were gone.  Now is the time of the revolution in social mores and politics.  It is said, if you remember the 60’s, you weren’t there.

But, Sidney (Ron Menzel), a newspaper editor/owner, is there with his wife, Iris (Sofia Jean Gomez), a hash slinger in a diner, and their gaggle of friends.  In fact, most of them have been friends since childhood.  There is Alton (Armando McClain), a writer on his paper; Max (Jack Willis), a pop artist/hippie; Wally (Danforth Comins), a rising, local politician; and David (Benjamin Pelteson), a gay playwright and upstairs neighbor.

There are also Iris’ two sisters.  Her older one, Mavis (Erica Sullivan), the conforming one, who has a steady marriage.  And, then, there’s Gloria (Vivia Font), the younger one, who’s a high-priced call girl.  At the outset, there is humor, love and friendship just oozing from the pores of these with-it people.  But underneath all that pleasant surface is a volcano waiting to explode, like the 60’s era, itself.

Can’t really tell you too much about the plot, as there are discoveries at every turn that the audience must ferret out.  But I can give you a bit of the flavor of the characters.  Sidney is looking for his place in the sun.  After a failed attempt at a folk-singing club, he buys a small newspaper, with money he hasn’t got.  He also has a very insulting manner at times and a sharp tongue.

Iris hates her job and also is looking for her purpose, too.  She finds it in acting but must start in degrading commercials first.  Her husband does not support this.  Alton is in love with Gloria but doesn’t realize she’s a hooker.  Mavis’ marriage is not what it seems and she objects to the liaison between her younger sister and Alton, simply because he’s black.

David, as mentioned, is gay and is trying to make his name in theatre as a writer.  Wally is a novice in the political field and wants to wipe out corruption and crime, but finds that to reside in this arena, the lamb must lie down with the lion.  And Max is a communist and an avant-garde artist, trying to make his name in his field.  They are all seekers and what they will find will turn their world and their relationships upside-down.

The play, I believe, not the production, has a couple of problems.  Hansberry is trying to tackle too many issues at once.  I think they need to be honed down somewhat and concentrate on juggling a lesser number of balls.  Also the character of Max only comes in once during an early part of the play and is never seen again.  He, too, could have been fleshed out more or just written out.  Although he represents a point of view, it is never fully explored.

The performances by the whole cast are exceptional, although they must be emotionally exhausted by the end of the story.  Menzel and Gomez are especially outstanding as the central characters.  They certainly explore every avenue of the peaks and depths of these people.  I especially liked the flashback scene between them, as it was very poignant.

Carrillo has put her actors through the paces and wrung every emotional moment from her cast.  And the set by Mikiko Suzuki MacAdams was very well laid out, giving us the clutter of a cramped flat and yet allowing plenty of space for the actors to expound.  (By the way, the “Sign” of the title says “Fight Bossism.)

I would recommend this show but know that it is very intense and adult in nature.  If you do go, please tell them Dennis sent you.

For another perspective, read Greg’s review:



The Ashland Experience (Part III)

Caldera Brewing Co. & Pub is located along the creek at 31 Water St. (across Main St. from the Plaza)  Just the place to stop in for a cool one on their patio during the hot stretches of weather.  They have traditional pub food, indoor seating, too, and a small stage for live entertainment.  They also have their own brand of micro-brews.  Alana was our very efficient server.  For more information, go to their site at www.calderabrewing.com or call 541-482-7468.  I recommend this place.  If you go, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Friday, May 23, 2014

The Tempest—Oregon Shakespeare Festival—Ashland, OR

“…substantial vision…”

This classic Shakespearean fantasy is playing at the Bowmer Theatre at OSF in repertory through November 2nd.  It is directed by Tony Taccone.  For more information, contact their site at www.osfashland.org or call 541-482-4331.

This play of the Bard’s is one of my favorite.  It was a later work of his and, some thought, it may have been his way of saying good-bye to the magic words he created for the stage.  Most of the great Shakespearean actors have played Prospero at one time or the other.  The latest film version is with Christopher Plummer.

Cassavettes directed a modern version some years ago called, Tempest.  Possibly the strangest one was when Walter Pidgeon played this type of character in the Sci-Fi film from the 60’s, Forbidden Planet.  Over the years I have seen a fair number of versions of this play.  And, truthfully, overall, this is the best interpretation of this play I’ve seen!  Later, in this review, I’ll get to the specifics of why.

But first, the story.  Prospero (Dennis Arndt) has had his own kingdom in Milan usurped by his brother.  So, he has escaped with his daughter, Miranda (Alejandra Escalante), to a remote island to contemplate his fate.  With him, he has brought a great number of his books on magic and his enchanted robe, supplied to him by his one true friend in his home country, Gonzalo (Bruce A. Young).

Also on the island is a sprite, named Ariel (Kate Hurster), who is rescued by him to do his bidding.  And there is Caliban (Wayne T. Carr), a man-beast who becomes his slave.  And, it just so happens, that his evil brother, Antonio (Jeffery King), and the King, Alonso (Al Espinosa) and some of their men are aboard a boat near his island.  And so he instructs Ariel to create a tempest (storm) at sea and all the men are washed ashore.

On board, too, are the King’s son, Ferdinand (Daniel Jose’ Molina) and a couple of rummy sailors, Stephano (Richard Elmore) and his buddy, Trinculo (Barzin Akhavan), the comic interludes for this story.  I really can’t say much more about this play without giving away some key plot devices.  But, needless to say, the accumulation of all these opposing forces will create a tempest of their own on this tight, little piece of terra firma.

So why is this production superior in many ways to others I’ve seen?  Arndt, for one, as Prospero.  His interpretation and, I’m sure, the Director’s, Taccone, are in sync, to create a more human-like character.  This role is often played in a very flamboyant manner with loads of bluster and pomposity.  But Prospero’s purpose is simple.  He is a very, wronged man and he wants his status back and vengeance on those who did this to him.  He is a man, not a god, nor does he particularly enjoy playing one.  He simply wants what was his in the first place and will get it by any means necessary.

Arndt’s manner of approaching the role is similar to the “Conversational Shakespeare” style of acting (which I learned).  In brief, this means an actor uses the Bard’s words, but not from a highly stylized stand-point but more in a simple, conversational manner.  This allows larger audience identification with such classical characters from a more modern approach.  This works in the show and, thus, makes Shakespeare more accessible to us, so that we can connect with the humanness of the characters and their plights.  Arndt’s quiet, simple rendition of the famous speech, “…We are such stuff…” is priceless.

Other pluses, the use of the Japanese-style dancers, as sprites, fleshing out elements to move the story forward, a welcome addition.  The simplicity of the set (Daniel Ostling) is a marvel.  The play then is forced to rely on the storytelling aspects of it then have us get so caught up in the special effects.  But, I have to admit, the shipwreck/storm scene at the beginning is amazing.  And the costumes (Anita Yavich) ranged from opulent to simple to eccentric, as did the make-up.  The lighting (Alexander V. Nichols) and sound (Andre J. Pluess) created the moods for the show, replacing any need for grandiose sets.

Elmore was brilliant, a veteran of many years at OSF.  His comic timing can’t be beat.  And Molina, as the young suitor, is surprisingly good.  Surprisingly, because this is often just a throw-away role.  But he plays it as a semi-comic character and it works wonderfully.  Hurster has a lovely singing voice; Escalante is appropriately naïve and yet naturally savvy; Carr is quite good, letting his acting (and make-up) create the character, instead of an outlandish costume.  And the rest of the supporting cast are very capable, too.  At the end I felt tears welling up in my eyes when they said their goodbyes, a tribute to the director and cast.  Bravo, Taccone!

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

Comedy of Errors was not reviewed by me but here is Greg’s perspective - http://swwastar.blogspot.com/2014/05/osf-review-comedy-of-errors-3-cats-meow.html

The Ashland Experience (Part II)

The Black Sheep

My favorite place to eat is this English-style restaurant and pub.  They have a full bar and dinner menu, reasonable prices, Wi-Fi, a happy hour, occasional live entertainment and they stay open till 1 am, just the place for a little libation or snack after an OSF play (1 block away).  They are located on the Plaza downtown, 51 N. Main St. (upstairs).  They have the whole array of traditional Brit food and drink, and Irish, Welsh and Scot’s noshes, too.

A special site you might want to take is the Doctor Who telephone booth.  My friend, Ryan, didn’t know who Who was and went in to make a call.  I haven’t seen him since, so hope the Doctor is taking good care of him.  Another special attraction is their lovely, welcoming, Prairie Skye.  (If you can’t solve the riddle for that, talk to their bartender.)  As they say, the place “Where You Belong!”

For more information, go to their site at www.theblacksheep.com or call 541-482-6414.  I, for one, will be back again.  I highly recommend this place.  If you do stop in, give a salute to their Prairie for me.

A Wrinkle In Time—Oregon Shakespeare Festival—Ashland, OR


This Sci-Fi Fantasy is from an award-winning book by Madeleine L’Engle and adapted for the stage by Tracy Young, who also directed it.  It is running in repertory through November 1st in the Bowmer Theatre at OSF.  For more information, go to www.osfashland.org or call 541-482-4331.

This was made into a rather good film by Disney a few years ago and the play has been done a couple of times in Portland over the past several months.  What I like about this adaptation is that it is told in a narrative, story-telling style and incorporating sections directly from the book.  And, most of the actors play more than one part, including reading the narration, which is very creative.

The story is about three children who are transported to a different land.  Meg (Alejandra Escalante) and her younger brother, Charles Wallace (Sara Bruner) go in search of their father (Don Donohue), with their friend Calvin (Joe Wegner).  They are aided by three witches, headed by Mrs. Whatsit (Judith-Marie Bergan) and go through a type of Wormhole to find him.

What they find, instead, is a society where everybody is the same, like Orwell’s book, 1984.  So, since everyone is bent on conformity, then nobody stands out, certainly not a democratic way of running things.  Their father is, indeed, there but trapped.  And outwitting the “Brain” that runs this whole society is the only way to set him free and possibly, in turn, their whole world, as well.

So, Charles Wallace, the egghead of the family, takes on the challenge, to match wits with It.  I can’t tell you too much more of the story, or it would ruin your own discoveries.  But there is one thing that the Beast can’t comprehend and that is the magic that will set them all free.  Some of the story, as to the first person who crossed the barrier (which the movie covers) and who the “Brain” really is, is lost.  But, what is left is quite an amazing adventure.

What is absolutely wonderful about this production is the amazing set (Christopher Acebo).  It is like going to the movies with all those special effects.  It has all the bells and whistles necessary to transport young and old alike and it is fun.  It’s a complicated plot but it does move along at a pretty rapid clip, without an intermission.

All the actors are very adept at their parts.  I wonder, though, at the choice of adults to play the children’s parts.  Although the actors are very accomplished, I have seen two other live productions where Youth played the parts and were very good.  I’m sure it must have something to do with Union rules, long and late working hours and performing during school time.  Also acting can be a very stressful occupation for actors, Youth or Adult.

Young has done a wonderful job of storytelling and not letting us get bored.  Telling a story is becoming a lost art form with so much involved with CG effects in movies nowadays.  The purest form of storytelling, of course, is like when the parent or grand-parent is sitting on the bed with a child and opens a storybook with pictures.  The adult will play all the character voices and the narration and often there is a simple message or moral embedded in the story.  The child, enraptured, will soon fall asleep, with dreams of their own.

It is also common, in many native tribes around the world, to have an oral history of their people, where storytelling becomes a big part of it.  Everything considered, Young has done a terrific job of blending old-fashioned storytelling with the modern electronic age.  And new worlds always open up with the magic words, “Once Upon a Time….” 

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

The Ashland Experience (Part I)

Being a reviewer, the focus of my Ashland trips are, of course, the plays at OSF.  But, as fulfilling as they are, the journey is also made up of accommodations while there, food and libations, and good company.  And, since I saw four plays, this will be a mini, four-part series, a part after each play, of some aspects of my visit.

The Ashland Springs Hotel

My friend, Ryan, and I stayed at the historic Ashland Springs Hotel (for a few old-timers, the Mark Anthony).  It is centrally located to all the downtown shops and restaurants, the famous Lithia Park, and OSF is less than a block away.  It also has secured parking, so no more hassle with find a parking space for the plays.  The room was very comfortable and had all the usual amenities such as Wi-fi, cable TV, and a very substantial Continental breakfast.  (They also have their own restaurant called Larks.)

All the staff was very pleasant and helpful.  In fact Ryan mentioned that all the people in Ashland that we met seemed very friendly.  He’s right.  It’s a friendly town where “All the world’s a stage, and men and women, merely players….”  I would recommend staying here.  Karolina, the Sales & Marketing Director, was especially helpful in answering all my questions.  For more information, go to their site at www.ashlandspringshotel.com or call 1-888-795-4545.  As per usual, if you do stay there, tell them Dennis sent you.

And, to follow more stories of my experience in Ashland, and the other three shows I reviewed:

Tempest - http://dennissparksreviews.blogspot.com/2014/05/the-tempestoregon-shakespeare.html
The Sign In Sydney Brusteins - http://dennissparksreviews.blogspot.com/2014/05/the-sign-in-sidney-brusteins.html
Cocoanuts - http://dennissparksreviews.blogspot.com/2014/05/the-cocoanutsoregon-shakespeare.html

Monday, May 19, 2014

Fewer Emergencies—Defunkt theatre—SE Portland

Picture of Happiness—Not!

This show, by Martin Crimp, is in repertory with Betty’s Summer Vacation under the umbrella of States of Emergency through June 14th.  It is directed by Jon Kretzu and is playing at the Backdoor Theatre, 4319 SE Hawthorne (in back of the Common Grounds Coffee Shop).  For more information, go to their site at www.defunktheatre.com.

Both of these shows do have things in common.  They are both surrealistic and seem to take place in some sort of alternate universe of the mind.  They are both sterile settings (mostly white) and are performed in a stylized manner (Fewer… more so than Betty’s…).
They both have a serial killer as one of the characters (coincidently, played by the same actor).  They both involve characters that have had some sort of abuse as a child.  They both have a sort of Greek Chorus, at times.  And neither of them have, what would be called, a traditional story line.

So, there is no point in trying to summarize the story, so will have to give you a flavor of the piece, instead.  It seems to be divided in four segments.  The first one involves Matthew Kern (defunkt’s artistic director), Corey O’Hara and Andrea White.  They are sitting around a white table, drinking red wine and expounding on a couple who met, fell in love, got married, then decided they would split, but she had a baby, which kept them together

The baby, called Bobby (or Jimmy), seemed to have some sort of developmental issues (if he ever really existed).  But Matthew and Andrea (the couple they are talking about?) seem oblivious to this and converse with the child.  The second segment has a serial killer (Steve Venderzee) in a school going through a narrative of the order in which he killed the children but, getting confused, and having to rely on a type of Greek Chorus, at times, of the exact facts of his story, as if he/it’s on automatic pilot.  The killer might be Bobby as an adult.

The third segment has Corey, as a banjo player, strumming and singing the Postman Blues.  This part was quite enjoyable, albeit a sad story.  And the fourth part involved a Counselor (?), Lori Sue Hoffman, talking with the parents of how things are going with them and their child.  The couple conceded that they are the “picture of happiness” and that Bobby (?) has been reaching out for that elusive key to sanity, dangling just before their eyes, like a carrot, tempting them to keep going.

The meaning?  Like all plays of this type, in the eye of the beholder.  My take on it, they are a family that has chosen to isolate themselves from the world, both physically and mentally (“fewer emergencies,” that way), so that their lives will be well-ordered and predictable.  Reality is just out of reach of their sterile existence.  In their chosen space, on the surface, they are safe from the chaos of the outside world.  But, safe may not be the same as living!  They may have to let a little rain in, to find out just how valuable sunshine can be.  That’s Life.

But you need to decide for yourselves, which means using your own, ole gray cells (not the Internet), unless you want to live in their bubble.  This is not a play for everyone and it is adult in nature.  Personally, I like to cogitate and assimilate and come to conclusions, even when I’m wrong.  It’s called thinking, learning and evolving.  And that’s Life, too.

Kretzu seems very sure of his cast and material and does a fine job of creating pauses and hesitations and variations to keep the play on track.  And his cast keeps you guessing, like they know a secret and you must discover it.  I especially like Vanderzee’s stumbling monologue and O’Hara’s musical interlude.  But all five were spot-on.

I would recommend this play for the daring-do.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

The Elephant Man—Beaverton Civic Theatre—Beaverton, OR

What Makes a Man?

I did not go to review this play, since I only saw the closing performance of it, as a friend of mine was in it.  But since they did such a remarkable job for a community theatre of a difficult play and subject matter, in such a confined space, I thought they deserved a nod.  So, here is a mini-review, hoping you might want to check out future productions.

An age-old question and none better to represent it than John Merrick (Rielly Peene), the Elephant Man, who lived in England during the late 1800’s.  He spent much of his life in a carnival side-show run by an unscrupulous manager, Ross (Laurence Cox).  His later life was more serene for him, as he was a special guest of a hospital, after he was rescued by Dr. Treves (Adam Caniparoli), and was visited by heads of states from many countries.  He turned out to be quite an erudite fellow and even built a model for a church.

The director, Jessica Reed, has done a fine job on her use of such a tight space and having the smooth flow for the many scene changes.  And her cast is uniformly good.  All the debating sides of, just what is a man, represented by the Church, Bishop How (David Paull); politics, represented by the head of the hospital, Gomm (Steve Holgate); medical science, Treeves; and even property ownership, by his old manager, Ross.  He even gets a glimpse of the female side of things through an actress, Mrs. Kendal (Leticia Maskell).

David Paull

More questions are raised than answers but it is obvious Merrick is a sensitive man with real feelings and dreams.  Many of the cast play more than one role and do them well.  Cox plays his manager and, although portrays the gruffness of the man with enthusiasm, he really is too young for such a seasoned con artist as Ross.  And Caniparoli is good but I would have liked to see a little more variety at times in his performance.

Outstanding is Peene as Merrick.  They have wisely chosen not to go into the heavy make-up, which it would take to realistically presented this person, but have found a happy, middle-ground in which he contorts his body similar to Merrick’s and slurs his speech a bit, and the rest of the transformation is just very fine acting.  A difficult role, beautifully played.

Also very good is Maskell as the actress.  She is lovely and has the right look and bearing to realistically present a famous actress of that period, like a Duse or Bernhardt.  Her scenes with Merrick are especially touching.  She has classical training in her back ground and I predict she will go far in this medium.

Their first two shows of next season are the fairy-tale musical, Into the Woods, and the classical, Little Women.  I think their shows should deserve a look.  For more information, go to their site at www.beavertoncivictheatre.org or call 503-754-9866.