Monday, September 15, 2014

Tick…tick…BOOM!—Triangle Productions!—NE Portland

“Don’t Forget To Breathe”

This 3-character, semi-autobiographical, musical is written and composed by Jonathan Larson, the creator of the hit musical, RENT, and directed by the incomparable, Don Horn (Triangle’s co-founder and Artistic Director).  Musical direction is by the ever-present and ever-popular, Jonathan Quesenberry, and choreography by the talented, Sara Martins.  It is playing at their space, 1785 NE Sandy Blvd., through September 27th.  For more information, go to their site or call 503-239-5919.

This show, by Larson, written before RENT, is eerily prophetic.  Most people know that this young man, on the eve of the opening of what would be his award-winning musical, saw the dress rehearsal, gave an interview to the NY Times, then went home and quietly died of an undetected heart ailment.  RENT was made into a very popular movie and if you buy the two-DVD set of it, there is an excellent documentary outlining his rags-to-(almost)riches tale.

Not only is it prophetic and shows some of the promise that his subsequent play would exhibit, but it is also pretty autobiographical.  It traces Jon’s (Drew Harper), the author in the real world, years of working in a diner in the Big Apple.  It follows the strain of working a job that was just to pay bills, and writing a musical, his true calling.  It details the relationship with his girlfriend Susan (Danielle Purdy), Victoria in real life.  And the up and downs of his connection with his childhood friend, Michael (James Sharinghousen), possibly the foundation for the character of Angel in RENT.

He suffers the “slings and arrows” of family and friends when following the artistic calling.  Why aren’t you married?  Where’s our grandchildren?  Why don’t you get a real job?  (Been there, done that.)  And there is no simple answer that will really satisfy them, is there?…because it can’t be simply explained.  It is within an artist’s soul to do what he does, no matter what…and if you don’t follow that path, it eats away at you until you do, or it destroys you.  The Muse of Arts is a cruel mistress and it will not be denied!

The pain of Jon’s plight I can identify with.  He and Susan are a couple but they see life differently.  She sees marriage and a house and a family on Cape Cod.  He sees a house full of people, and an audience, cheering him on.  If only one could be two people and follow both paths.  Even his friend, Michael, an actor, chooses (or sells out) to the corporate life of the fancy cars and a plush house.  So Jon, alone, is compelled to follow his trek.  I will leave you with that flavor of the show because I don’t want to give too much away of the story.

The play is consumed with songs.  My favorites:  30/90, about turning 30 years old and where is his life going; Therapy, about miscommunication between the two lovers; Come to Your Senses, a knock-out, coming-of-age song by Susan; Why?, an age-old question; and Louder Than Words, about how Action is the necessary remedy to one’s plight.  All the show’s songs work in telling the inner and outer semblances of the story.  What it’s saying is that there is a telling time, a secret time, for all artists when decisions must be made…and damn be those who stand in the way!

The band is just fine, with the unstoppable Quesenberry on keyboard.  And the direction and design by Horn is (as always) first-rate.  There is no doubt that Don personally understands (as I do) the plight of an artist in flight toward…his destiny, and the sacrifices that must be made along the way.  He has picked a super cast to tell his story.  And if you think there is any doubt of Mr. Horn’s success, I will tell you his shows are always on the upside, of the scale from 1-10, in excellence!

Harper, as the thinly disguised author, is in top form, as he was in last season musicals at Portland Playhouse and PCS, among others.  You do sense his dilemma, even if you may never have felt it personally, I’m sure you know somebody who has.  And his singing is spot on, especially in Why? and Therapy (as is Purdy).  A very good talent that has nowhere to go but up.  Sharinghousen, showing his acting and singing chops again, as he had at OCT and previous Triangle shows.  He is always a pleasure to watch and listen to.

Purdy is simply amazing!  I touted her acting talents in Ithaka last year and now I have the pleasure to applaud her singing talent, as well.  She also plays several small roles (as does Sharinghousen) in the show and does them all wonderfully.  She is attractive, moves well onstage, is convincing in all her guises, belts out the show-stopping number, Come To Your Senses, and knocks your socks off!  I expect to see more powerful performances by her in the future.

One final message, having to do with the underlying theme of the show:  If you are, or have, a Youth in your home that has a bent for the Arts, do everything in your power to allow them their moment into the sun.  Unfortunately, our school system seems to place the Arts at the lower end of the Educational process.  Arts, above all, build character, confidence and teamwork in individuals, not only for Artistic leanings but for Life.  It is a safe haven for struggling voices to be heard…SO LISTEN!

I recommend this show and would probably rate it PG, so should be fine for teens.  If you do go, please tell them Dennis sent you (and maybe give Don a hug, too, for all his years of service to the Arts).

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