Monday, July 28, 2014

Love’s Labour’s Lost—Bag & Baggage Theatre—Hillsboro, OR

Such Is Life

This Shakespearean comedy is being performed outdoors at the Tom Hughes Civic Center Plaza, 253 E. Main St. through August 9th.  It is directed and adapted by Scott Palmer, Artistic Director for B&B.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503- 345-9590.

A little dose of La Doce Vita; an dash of an obscure, restoration play called, The Students; a large lathering of slapstick, physical comedy; a healthy dab of Laurel & Hardy; and, oh yes, a gallon or two of Shakespeare, and you have this rendering of Love’s Labor’s Lost.  This is the second showing of this play this summer, the first one being at Post 5 earlier.

If you need a plot, here it is in brief:  The King, Ferdinand of Navarre (Andrew Beck), and his bosom buddies, Berowne (Chip Sherman) and Longaville (Luke Armstrong) have foresworn love (ladies) and will concentrate their efforts on scholarly pursuits and clean living for three years.  Only thing standing in their way is the arrival of a Princess of France (Cassie Greer) and her lovely ladies, Rosaline (Arinanne Jacques) and Maria (Jessi Walters), as well as their ever-present, unique chaperon, Boyet (Dallas Meyers).  But other characters conspire to make this complex menagerie even more complicated.  A bulky, Spanish Knight, Armado (Gary Strong) and his inept page, Moth (Adam Syron), both have eyes and hearts for a wily, peasant girl named, Jacquenetta (Rachel Rosenfeld).

With some mistaken mix-ups of messages meant for the merry mistresses from these bawdy, bosom bodies, the love games are afoot.  With much wrangling and trepidation, the battles conclude with a type of truce with no true winners in sight.  About half the characters are missing from Shakespeare’s rendition of the story but they are not really missed in this more stream-lined version of the story.  It is not unusual for directors to mix and match various folios (versions) of his plays and incorporate from his source materials, as well, as none of the Bard’s stories were original.  Palmer is very adept at this, having done the same kind of cutting and re-assembling with his Lear.

In this case, the play’s not the thing, as it is the presentation that is superior, all thanks to Palmer.  His use of physical comedy, movement, acrobatics and dance (Anne Mueller) is absolutely extraordinary!  The actors’ use of the language is musical to listen to but also very conversational in its deliveries.  And the whole thing is done on a bare stage, in a courtyard outside, with some amazing, 60-ish costumes (Melissa Heller).  It is definitely a brassy, bawdy show for a mid-summer’s night.

Sherman is wonderful in his movements and soliloquies.  I have seen him in many other shows and he is always superior.  Greer has an alto voice (ala, Lauren Bacall) which is very alluring and coupled with her long body, is very sexy.  And Myers, as the effeminate guardian of this brood, is a scream, as his poses and postures himself is some very undignified ways.

But the casting of Strong and Syron as the Laurel & Hardy-ish comic team were the scene stealers.  It was amazing what they could do with their bodies.  They are a delight and make an already great show even better.  Strong, in particular, has some tremendous comedic talent as he masters a host of gestures, expressions and movements on his bulky frame and makes it so graceful.  Bravo to them and the whole cast, which were marvelous!

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

Hamlet—Anon It Moves & String House Theatres—SE Portland

“Undiscovered Country”

The most famous play by the Bard is playing at Zoomtopia, 810 SE Belmont St. through August 23rd.  It is directed by Elizabeth Watt.  For more information, go to their site at

This is Shakespeare’s most famous play and probably one of the most known plays ever.  The rendering’s of it on film have been from fair, Olivier’s award-winning film; to good, Maximillian Shell, Richard Burton, Mel Gibson and  Christopher Plummer (TV); to mostly excellent, Branaugh’s, four-hour version.  And a woman has even played him, Judith Anderson (as a female does in this production).

Why the fascination with this tragedy?  Partly, it is because of the question of sanity.  Does Hamlet actually see his father’s ghost or is he mad?  Or, in feigning madness to get at the truth, does he actually go mad?  Is he in love with his mother and thus wants to eliminate any competition for her affectations?  What is the real nature of his relationship with Ophelia?  And why the cause of all this upheaval in which a number of people die, including himself?  Is it an act of revenge for his father’s death, or a petulant teenager feeling the angst of adulthood and royal responsibility?  Answers “devoutly to be wished.”

The story follows that this “melancholy Dane” suddenly is informed that a spirit has been haunting the castle.  (Lady) Hamlet (Erica Terpening-Romeo) insists it is the ghost of her father, claiming he’s been murder by his brother, Claudius (Jamie Peck), now King, who has married the Queen, Gertrude (Ethelyn Friend), Hamlet’s mother.  Included in this intrigue is his only true best friend, Horatio (Bonnie Auguston); Ophelia (Crystal Ann Muñoz), her love interest; Ophelia’s father, Polonius (Chris Porter), the royal couple’s confidant; and Laertes (Heath Hyun Houghton), Ophelia’s brother.

In order to discover the nature of Hamlet’s “illness,” the King employs two of his step-daughter’s childhood friends, Rosencrantz (Joel Patrick Durham) and Guildenstern (Caitlin Fisher-Draeger) to find the reason for this change in her nature.  Meanwhile, Hamlet has her own methods of wringing the truth out of the situation.  She employs a group of actors (Alwynn Accuardi, Gretchen Vietmeir, Murri Lazaroff-Babin and Kristen Lang) led by the First Player (Paul Susi), to incorporate some lines into their entertainment, that directly alludes to what she believes to be the murder of her father.

Needless to say, once the cat is out of the bag, all hell breaks loose and more than a half-dozen people die.  Can’t really tell you any more without giving away the ending but, suffice to say, an irresponsible sort of justice is metered out, such is the nature of tragedy.  Not all the questions are answered in this gender-bender interpretation of the story but it does tantalize us with more possibilities.  And credit must go to Watt for bringing this all together.

She has managed to give this play more physicality than is usually seen, in dance-like movements, which gives it a dream-like feel at times.  She also clarifies the nature of Ophelia and Hamlet’s relationship, in which they are already in love, but it is out of obedience to her father that she breaks off the union with Hamlet, because the King fears Hamlet to be mad.  And the concentration on more of the family (and friends) dynamics, gives a cleaner view of the plot.  Her use of space (with Kaye Blankenship & Matthew Robbins, Designers) in the many different settings is quite ingenious and never confusing.  I especially liked the Dumb (Mute) show tableaus of the Players play and the stylized fight scene at the end.

Terpening-Romeo (co-artistic director of Anon…) gives us a very convincing Hamlet.  We travel with her as she discovers and exploits the various guises of her family and friends to find the truth.  Peck gives a more relaxed and amusing King, which makes him all the more dangerous.  Durham and Fisher-Drager (co-artistic director) as her two friends are wonderfully befuddled, bemused and bewildered.  It will be fun to see these two explore more fully this relationship in their repertory piece, R&G Are Dead.  And, in supporting roles, Lang is someone to watch.  I’ve seen her in a previous show and she definitely has talent.

Susi is terrific as the Player King and the First Gravedigger.  It will be good to see this role expanded in R&G….  And Muñoz is the best Ophelia I’ve seen.  This is often a muddy character in other productions, as they may not have known what to with this role.  But here, it is clear that she and Hamlet definitely have a loving relationship and it is only politics that separates these two.  I’ve seen her in other productions and she is always worth watching.

This production is done in repertory with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard and directed by Emily Gregory.  I recommend this production and, if you do choose to go, please tell them that Dennis sent you.

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Tempest—Portland Shakespeare Project at Artists Rep—SW Portland

“…brave new world…”
This fantasy by the Bard is directed by Michael Mendelson (Artistic Director for PSP) and is playing at Artists Rep’s space at SW Alder & 16th through August 3rd.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-241-1278 for tickets.

This oft-copied story has been done in a modern guise in the film, Tempest by Cassavettes; a Sci-fi movie, called Forbidden Planet, with Walter Pidgeon; a 60’s Hallmark Hall of Fame presentation with Maurice Evans, Roddy McDowell and Richard Burton; a televised staged presentation with Christopher Plummer; a recent movie with Helen Mirren as the magic-maker; and a current production at OSF in Ashland (read my review).  All things said, a popular story.

This telling of the tale has Prospera (Linda Alper), having been disposed of her kingdom by her sister, Antonia (Adrienne Flagg) and her cohort, Sebastian (Gary Powell), the King, Alonso’s (Jim Butterfiled), brother.  She has been exiled to a remote island, with her daughter, Miranda (Susannah Jones), to live out her days.  Her only possessions are her magic books and cloak, smuggled to her by her only friend, Gonzalo (David Bodin).

But Prospera quickly discovers that that her refuge is not completely uninhabited.  There is a spirit, Ariel (Mike Dunay), who she charges to do her bidding and a rather uncivilized being, Caliban (Matthew Kerrigan), to do the baser chores.
With these enforcements she plots her revenge.  A storm (tempest) is conjured up and a ship, that the aforementioned characters are on, is forced onto her island.  With this dubious gathering is also the King’s son, Ferdinand (Joshua Weinstein), who Miranda immediately takes a shine to.  And a couple of rummy, drunken servants, Trinculo (Nathan Dunkin) and Stephano (Sam Dinkowitz), added for fun.

Needless to say, all these elements, coupled with three muses (Foss Curtis, Clara-Liis Hillier and Tiffany Groben) conspire to enact justice to all those treated unjustly.  To reveal further of the plot would be treating the audience…unjustly.  And before this vision disappears completely, you should book passage to this magical isle and discover for yourselves the secrets held within.

The changing of genders does add another dimension to the story, giving Propera a more maternal connection to her charges.  Also, it shows women in a position of power and in our “progressive” society, this is a good thing.  And it shows the power of one’s mind.  Are these misguided concoctions of her Island, really separate entities, or are they the Ego and Id of a woman (or man) spurned?  And if a mind can manifest revenge, can’t it also create forgiveness and an uneasy, perhaps, truce for all?

Questions to ponder, as well as imaginings of your own.  And part of the purpose of a well-done production, which this is.  I was intrigued by the set (Nathan Crone) & props (Bronwyn Maloney) & costumes (Sarah Gahagan).  It looked like something from an old W/B cartoon and was fitting for this fantasy, alternate universe that we visit.  The lighting (Kristeen Willis Crosser) also set the moods and places for the scenes so that it was never confusing as to where they were.
And the discordant music at the intervals (sound, Sharath Patel) was very appropriate for this piece, giving the feeling that things are out-of-joint here.
With Mendelson at the helm of this vessel, you will never be steered wrong.  His ability to pick just the right cast for the parts is uncanny.  And the “conversational” style of presentation means that it is always going to be understandable for an audience, no matter one’s level of classical theatre background.  He is truly a master at this!

And the cast, from large to small roles, is a wonderful mix of newbies to ole pros.  Alper, from many seasons at OSF, is exceptional always.  You journey with her from a bitter woman, through the handling of her charges, to the acceptance of the fates and letting go, to finally forgiving those who have wronged her, is remarkable.

Dunkin & Dinkowitz are a great comedy team and play off each other very well.  Kerrigan presents us with a milder Caliban, showing more of a misunderstood soul than an inherently mean one.  And Dunay, as the Spirit, looks more like an angel, and his character seems to mirror Prospra in his attitudes, which probably gives her pause, as she see herself reflected in him.  The rest of the cast is super and even the Muses/Sailors/Ensemble (Curtis, Hillier & Groben) are very accomplished actors themselves.

It is a play produced and performed by professionals and it shows!  I recommend this play.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Also, this fine theatre company will be doing a staged reading of James M. Barrie’s play, The Admirable Crichton, directed by Jon Kretzu.  Barrie is the author of the classic, Peter Pan.  Most of the cast of this show are also in The Tempest and, as an added bonus, Vana O’Brien, an icon of Portland theatre.  It deals in a semi-comedic way with class issues.  The reading is presented Tuesdays, July 22nd & the 29th and Sunday, August 3rd at 7:30 pm.  Go to for more information.

Love’s Labour’s Lost—Post 5 Theatre—NE Portland

Battle of the Sexes

This lesser known Shakespearean comedy is directed by Avital Shira and is playing in their outdoor Courtyard theatre at 850 NE 81st Ave. through August 3rd.  Best get there early, as parking is only on neighborhood streets and space in the Courtyard is limited (and bring your own seating, too, e.g. blankets, chairs, etc.).  For more information visit

As in most Shakespearean comedies, this has gender-bender roles, disguised identities, mixed messages, comedic characters & intervals and moonstruck lovers, who seem to be spending most of the play at odds with each other, than connected.  But without all those prostrations and frustrations, there would simply be no story, or a rather dull one, at best.

In this offering, the young men in question have chosen to forgo love/women, to fast and concentrate on study for three years.  The women in question are concentrating their wiles on getting the men to change their minds.  The leader of the pack is King Ferdinand (Will Steele) with his faithful fellow wolves, Berowne (Jim Vadala), Dumaine (Hans Eleveld), and Longaville (Max Maller).

Their respective mates, in this lovers’ game, are the Princess (Danielle Frimer) and her vixens, Rosaline (Jessica Tidd), Katherine (Jordin Bradley) and Maria (Allison Rangel), as well as their ever-present chaperon, Boyet (Ithica Tell).  But when this games afoot, the players include an inept policeman, Dull (again, Eleveld), the pseudo-scholars, Holifernes (again, Maller) & Sir Nathaniel (again, Rangel), an inept French soldier, Don Armado (Jean-Luc Boucherot) and his boy, Moth (again, Bradley).  And let’s not forget the besot servants, Costard (Jeff Painter) and his female counter-part, the foxy, Jacquenetta (Danielle Chaves).

The story is almost inconsequential in the telling and, to be frank, definitely one of the Bard’s lesser efforts.  But in the pursuit of love (or lust), anything is possible and everything is plausible.  But there are some curious, original byways the plot explores.

The period seems to be in the time that England occupied part of France (around the time-frame of The Lion In Winter) and therefore has a rather serious setting to the frivolities.  The ending speaks of the gravity of this situation.  And, although the lovers in this tale are pretty standard for Willy S., the comedic characters shine.  And, another interesting note, that although things do reach a climax of sorts, nothing is completely resolved, as “Jack does get his Jill”…sort of.

None of the criticisms reflect on the production itself, but on the light-weight script.  The direction by Shira and the performances of her entire cast pull the play from rather mundane to an exceptional example of pros at work (and play).  I love the fact that it is presented on an essentially bare stage, exposing whether a cast can convincingly portray a story without the pretty pageantry of expensive sets and costumes.  This cast is up to that task and succeed admirably!

And the duel playing of roles is tricky at best but Eleveld, Maller, Bradley and Rangel do an exceptional job of the balancing act between the two, and do it so well that there is no residue from one role to the other, as they are that good in the transformations.  And Tell is always a stand-out in whatever roles she plays.

Maller’s Holofernes is a scream and a highlight of the show.  Chaves is lovely to look at and has a lovely voice to match.  And Boucherot almost steals the show as the smitten, French soldier (with an authentic accent to match).  He is a delight, as they all are.
I recommend this show and on a warm summer night, sipping wine and eating chicken on a blanket next to a loved one, watching an entertaining show, as one can truly, “…let the world slide.”  If you do choose to see it, please tell them that Dennis sent you.