Thursday, November 20, 2014

FROGZ—Imago Theatre—SE Portland

Imago, An Evolutionary Experience

This production has been touring world-wide since 1986 and the company has been around since 1979.  Although they have done many varied and innovative productions since then, FROGZ is definitely their signature piece.  It once again plays at their space at 17 SE 8th Ave. from December 12th through January 4th.  For more information, contact their site at or call 503-231-9581.

FROGZ is truly an amazing journey…through time, space, the outward trappings of mankind, the inner workings of the psyche and all or none of the above.  It is for you to decide.  But nobody will leave the production untouched by the…Happenings onstage.  It is a fun, thought-provoking, soul-searching Event that should not be missed.  The only thing I could compare it to would be Disney’s, Fantasia.

This show, as mentioned, has toured the U.S. extensively, as well as European countries.  It has played on Broadway twice and several television productions world-wide.  It can be enjoyed by children and adults alike, as well as appreciated by different cultures, as there is no language barrier, since it’s without words.  I saw the Swiss troupe, Mummerschatz, a number of years ago and they did a series of wordless, nonsensical skits and, from there on, I began to appreciate wordless communication.

The creators, designers and directors of this piece are the founders of the company, Carol Triffle & Jerry Mouawad.  Their methodology for theatre experiments stems from the teachings of Jacques Lecoq.  It is no surprise then that they found a family in the avant-garde playwrights, as well, such as Pinter, Beckett, Sartre et. al.  I, too, am of fan of these artists and have reviewed Imago’s productions of Pinter’s, The Lover, The Caretaker and The Homecoming and been enthralled by every one of them.  (Read my reviews, over the last two years of their shows, elsewhere in this blog).

Imago has won countless theatre awards for design, choreography, acting, production, script, et al.  The word Imago literally means an insect emerging or maturing into its adult stage.  And so, perhaps, is their view of Life and/or Art…a progression or evolution that is constantly changing, moving forward into uncharted territory…a journey that is to be nurtured toward an unknown destination.  FROGZ certainly gives that impression.

Note that the journey, via FROGZ, includes reptilian creatures, sloths, fish, and penguins, as well as the seemingly more mundane objects in our arsenal of clutter, such as boxes, sacks, strings and paper.  There is always the sense of discovery but one may not be sure of the discovery of, what.  Even though the mind may be buzzing after such an exhibition, there may also be a curious smile that crosses one’s face.  A smile because, perhaps, for one brief, shining moment you have been transported out of the Usual into the Unusual.

An Understanding of something, just on the tip of your tongue, that is still unformed, then slowly dissolves into thin air.  Such are the stuff of dreams and imagination and, often times, theatre.  But it is a strangely comforting feeling to know that a production can stretch an individual into uncharted waters, eddy around into those mysterious depths, and deliver one again onto the safe shores of the ordinary but, perhaps, with a heightened awareness of the possibilities of the world without and within.

Feel free to read my review of last year’s production, as I highly recommend it, and any of their future productions.  They are Masters in what they do and it shows in their products.  If you do go to see them, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Below are some connections to them that you might want to explore.

On this page you can read about the show and see video

And my review from last year’s production of FROGZ:

Monday, November 17, 2014

Alice in Wonderland—Tears of Joy Theatre—SE Portland

Toybox of Wonders

The production of the classic tale is performing at the Imago space at 17 SE Burnside Ave. through November 23rd.  It is directed and adapted for the stage by Tim Giugni from the book by Lewis Carroll.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-248-0557.  You might also want to catch their Improv Comedy Match between Puppets vs. People on the 21st & 22nd of November at 8 pm at Imago.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that this tale, as well as other Fairy Tales, such as Peter Pan, Pinocchio and The Wizard of Oz, et. al., are geared as much for adults as for children.  As did one of the early storyteller’s, a Greek slave named, Aesop, where all his stories had morals.  These later tales also carry this badge.  Oz…, with its conclusion that there is no place like home, but sometimes you have to go over the rainbow to appreciate that adage.  Or the little puppet that became a real boy only after he realized the importance of telling the truth.  And, …Pan, where childhood is held dear and adulthood peopled by stuffy prigs or pirates.  And, Alice…, a satire on the political and social structure of England at the time and the importance of saying exactly what you mean, unlike some of the gentry and nobility of those times (and, perhaps in modern times, as well, in all countries).

This pared-down version of the story does carry much of the self-same messages, where miscommunication and nonsensical speech is rampant among the inhabitants of Wonderland.  As this adaptation goes, Alice is in her family’s attic, where some mischievous creatures of the imagination are lurking, just waiting for a curious victim, on which to wreck havoc on their senses.  Call it a dream, an alternate reality, or an overactive imagination, but Alice is whisked through a looking-glass (mirror) in which she finds herself desperately trying to acquaint herself and adapt to this new landscape.

While eating and drink some mind-altering foods, she becomes either too small, about the size of a cold bug, or too large, in which she literally explodes from her house.  Finally her body adjusts to her new environment in which she acquaints herself with its citizens.  There is the caterpillar, who speaks or sings in rhymes and riddles.  Then there is Tweedle-Dum and Tweedle-Dee, twins who are always at war with each other.  And the snooty, Mad Hatter, March Hare and Dormouse, who are having a constant tea party, in which word games are played.  Also add an appearance by the Cheshire Cat, who can disappear and appear at will; the raucous Lady and her pig (literally) of a baby; and finally, the Queen of Hearts, whose favorite pastime seems to be the beheading of people.  Make of these symbols as you will.

But what makes this production enjoyable, for both young and old alike, is the way it is presented.  Although we have a life-sized Alice, we also have masks, finger puppets, costumed actors, balloons, clowns, songs, to participate in the relating of the story.  As well as the fact that the play is performed by only four actors, one of which is Alice all the time, leaving the menagerie of other creations to only three of the company and they are terrific.  These elements alone are worth the price of admission.  An amazing feat!

I wish I could tell you the name of the performers involved, as they deserved the recognition, but they weren’t listed.  All that was listed was the group that supplied them, .  The puppets and masks were designed by Jane Clugston and Wooden O Studio and others.  The set (Steve Coker & Lance Woolen), Lighting (Craig M. Ogg), Costumes (Cynthia Combs & Carol Cooley), and Original Music (Richard Moore) also added greatly to the fun, color and bombardments to the senses of their special skills and artistry.  And Giugni, the director and writer, must be commended for pulling all these pieces together into a very entertaining and comprehensible show.

Since the sad passing of one of the co-founders of TOJ, Janet Bradley, (a fine artist herself, whom I knew) this company may have passed into history.  But Nancy Aldrich, the current Artistic Director, has assumed this giant mantle and has forged the dream of imagination and puppetry forward.  Imagination would be a terrible thing to waste but in their capable hands, it is alive and well!

I recommend this show for children and the young at heart.  If you do see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

As You Like It—Post 5 Theatre--SE Portland

“As I Remember Adam…”

Shakespeare’s classic comedy is directed by Ty Boice (Post 5’s Artistic Director) and is playing at their new space in the Sellwood-Moreland area of Portland at 1666 SE Lambert St.  It performs through December 13th.  For more information, go to their site at

…Are the opening words of this play and also the title of the autobiography of the Founder of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, OR, Dr. Angus “Gus” Bowmer.  I studied with him when I went to college back in the late 60’s and was part of the acting troupe for that company for a couple of seasons.  He always believed in the importance of the “little people,” the character roles, in the plays and in the early years of his theatre, always enacted Shylock in Merchant of Venice, Peter Quince in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and, of course, Adam, in As You Like It.

I will attempt to give you a sense of the story by giving a thumbnail sketch of the plot but that is not wherein the fun lies.  To try and put it into one sentence, it is a ribald, rip-roarin’, rootin’-tootin’, rib-ticklin’, reef-induced, rough ‘n tumble, raucous, raunchy ride into the woods.

But, for those of you who prefer a more mundane approach, it is about a deposed brother of royalty, Orlando (Chip Sherman) and his faithful servant, Adam (Daniel Robertson) attempting to regain his good name because, it seems that his Uncle, the Duke (Jim Butterfield) and his brother, Oliver (Gilbert Feliciano), have labeled his father a traitor, and having failed to kill him in the wrasling…er, wrestling, ring by Charles (Will Steele), he thereby escapes to the nearby Forest of Arden but not before being smitten by Rosalind (Isabella Buckner), who is also on the run with her cousin, Celia (Jessica Tidd), both of whom, with their servant, Touchstone (Max Maller), have been banished by the bad Duke.  Whew!

Wait, there’s more.  The forest is run by another sort of Duke, Fred (Michael Streeter), and his band of (a little too) mellow, mischievous, merry men (and women) who also share the forest with some shepherds, Sylvius (Sean Powell) and Corin (again, Robertson) watching their flocks by night (and days, too, I suppose) and inhaling some of the local weed, also.  Of course there are also a couple of shepherdesses, one of which, Audrey (Anne Adams), falls for Touchstone and the other, Phoebe (Julia White), falls for Gannymede (forgot to tell you, Rosalind has disguised herself as this man so that she/he can investigate the wooing methods of Orlando.)

Also there are some hippie-like musicians (Leia Young, Christopher Beatty and, again, Adams) that inhabit the forest.  And, oh yes, there is the melancholy Jacques (Keith Cable) who has one of the most famous Shakespeare monologues, Seven Ages of Man, and seems to be a servant but his loyalties seem to be toward whoever’s around at the time.  Can’t tell you who will end up with whom but, after all, it is a comedy.  I think this covers all the characters for those of you who need some sort of plot.  But, as I said, the fun lies in the presentation.

Boice, the director, is quite amazing and has knocked this one out of the park!  His presentation should stand as a classic as to how to present Shakespearean comedy.  He has pulled ever nuance, sight gag, and comedy bits or pratfalls out of the bag and had the audience in almost constant laughter.  And he has chosen his cast well, as they all are wonderful in the many guises they put on.  And the forest set is simple but amazing (pity the poor person, though, that must pick up and separate the leaves after every show).  This production is a must see!

The additions of the musicians/songs (Beatty, Young and Adams) are a welcome addition to an already amazing show.  Cable is a seasoned performer and nails the cynical Jacques.  Sherman is always good in every show I’ve seen him in and his physicality/movement, also, is an asset to his character creations.  Buckner is an absolute scream as Gannymede, wavering between the female and males side with such ease that you’d think she was two actors.  And Tidd has a wonderfully expressive face and pulls all stops to gander the laughs.  And a couple of gems in the “little people” (as Bowmer might say) are Robertson as Adam and Corin.  His elastic face and expressions are worth a thousand laughs.  And White is an amazing find.  She commands the stage every time she’s on it.  It is obvious she understands comedy, movement, acting and Shakespeare.  I hope to see more of her onstage.

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

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Outsiders—Battle Ground Drama Club—Battle Ground, WA.

“…Nothing Gold Can Stay”

S. E. Hinton’s novel and film has been turned into a stage play, adapted by Christopher Sergel and directed by Stephan “Cash” Henry.  It is playing at Battle Ground High School in The Lair through November 22nd.  For more information, go to their site at

There is a terrific movie of her novel, too, which was early in the careers of Ralph Macchio, Matt Dillon, Diane Lane, Tom Cruise, et. al.  There was also a follow-up novel/movie, Rumble Fish, that was equally good.  This semi-classic was written in the late sixties by a teenage girl, so she knows of whence she speaks.  It is about the angst of teens in their “salad days” and the caste system between, perhaps, the well-bred (Soc’s) and the well-meaning (Greasers).

The Soc’s were the rich kids who dressed their parts and were usually the jocks and cheerleaders in school, the popular ones, you know the type.  The Greasers were usually from troubled or broken homes, living on the poorer side of town.  And so gangs were formed and turfs were defended.  Never the twain shall meet.   Other familiar ground for this story around the same time period would be Rebel Without A Cause, Blackboard Jungle, and The Wild One, and the musicals, West Side Story, Grease, and Hairspray.

One of the last things a character in the play says, “Stay Gold,” which refers to Frost’s poem, but also to holding onto and treasuring those teenage years, as they will ne’er be again.  Who we are as adults in many ways reflects who we were as Youths.  And the differences between people from all walks of life are not really so different from anyone else.  If we can create those chasms, real or imagined, we can break them, too, as they attempt to do in this wonderful but tragic story.

The narrator and main character is Ponyboy (Skyler Denfeld), a Greaser, who lives with his two older brothers Darry (Tullee Stanford) and Sodapop (Reagan Joner).  Darry is the breadwinner and a control-freak and has dropped out of school to support them.  But Ponyboy is the smart one, gentle, and a reader of the classics such as Salinger, Dickens and Gone with the Wind.  He also is a writer of poems and stories and this sets him apart from just about everybody.

His best friends are Dallas (Jack Harvison), a drop-out, who will rumble at the drop of a hat; Two-Bit (Max Greener), another drop-out but somewhat of a gentler sort; and Johnny-Cake (Cody Bronkhorst), a troubled soul, who was badly beaten in a fight with the Soc’s and now is traumatized by that event.  But in their travels they meet Cherry (Desiree Roy), a Soc but seemingly sympathetic to the softer musings of Ponyboy.  Of course, none of this crossing of the lines will go unnoticed and in the end, some die, some run away but all are changed by these events.  And, in the process, they grow up and learn, perhaps, that we are all shades of gray and that tolerance may be the stepping stone to understanding.

I certainly will not give away the ending but the story itself has a ring of truth to it in which, I think, we can all understand and identify with.  I certainly do.  And doing this with a cast of actual teens is not only a creative experience for them but a great learning tool as well.  The adaptation by Sergel is awkward, jumping too many times between scenes, but the cast soldier’s forward and is effective despite this hiccup.  And the simple but effective sets by Sundance Wilson Henry greatly aid the flow of the story.  “Cash” Henry’s direction of these young people is always a pleasure to watch as he seems to have the ability to pull the essence of characters from young actors and always succeeds in letting them shine.

The major roles in the cast are very convincing.  Denfeld, in the pivotal role as Ponyboy, has the right look and feel for the role.  Bronkhorst in the complex role of the troubled teen, Johnny-Cake, really does the role justice, showing the different layers of the character.  Harvison as the tough-boy image, Dallas, has the right combination of macho and yet sensitivity the role demands, even looking a bit like Matt Dillon (who played the role in the movie).  And Roy, as Cherry, is a good choice for the role and proves she does have a real talent for the stage.  The rest of the cast also shows promise.

And where was I in this menagerie of social wanderers, you may ask.  I was, you guessed it, an actor and in the drama club, an outsider, a loner, as artistic people really had no status.  They were simply tolerated but ignored by all the major social groupings.  So I identify not only with the characters in the play but with the young artists who are creating them.  And if the Arts are your Dream, never let them die.  “Stay Gold!”

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

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Willamette Radio Workshop—various venues—Pacific Northwest

Putting On Airs

This group has been active in this area for over thirteen years doing live, staged performances of old radio shows and adaptations of novels and stories, complete with Foley Artists (sound effects people).  The Founder and Leader of the Pack is Sam A. Mowry.  For more information on the company, schedule of shows, et. al., please go to their site at

My first exposure to them was a few years back at the UFO Festival that is held every year in McMinnville, OR.  It was a rendition of Orson Welles’s infamous, radio broadcast of H. G. Wells’s classic, War of the Worlds and, although they have done many fine productions since then, this is my favorite to date and seems to be a standard with them, especially at Halloween.

I love the Sci-Fi/Horror genre, especially the 30’s through the 50’s, B&W, B flicks of those eras including Val Lewton’s atmospheric, low-budget films and later, Roger Corman’s, especially the Vincent Price/Poe collaborations.  Also such films as The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Thing, The Blob, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Invaders From Mars and, of course, War of the Worlds.  The latter having already gained fame because of the Halloween broadcast of 1938.

Most of these classics from that era, including War… have been remade since then but none of the remakes are anywhere near as good, in my opinion.  Throwing more money into a production, having bigger stars and technological better special effects does not automatically translate into a better presentation.  Because one thing is missing from them, and what those B films and radio had, is adding and trusting an audience’s imagination to flesh out the environment and emotions.  What a human mind can imagine is going to be more beautiful or more horrifying than any CG effect.

And so we have come full circle, back to books and radio, still probably the purest form of entertainment and, perhaps, enlightenment.  And so we, as viewers/listeners, humbly sit back and relax and let the pros transport us to various vistas of exotic lands and forgotten times.  We leave behind the everyday cares and woes that modern life has imposed on us and allow our creative batteries to be recharged so that once again we can tackle the “slings and arrows” of the everyday world.

Not only is it fascinating to watch the Foley artists at work, recreating many of the sound effects from that era.  The visuals they show on the screen behind them are often drawings/photos from the artists of that time period.  Also, of course, we wouldn’t want to forget the voice actors themselves who play all the various characters.  It is one thing to create a character, when you have all sorts of trappings of costumes and sets to mask a character, but it is something entirely different when you are creating a world out of simply the author words, the actor’s voice and an audience’s imagination.  So, plaudits to this very fine group of individuals!

Their upcoming events include a new partnership with WSUV and the Creative Media and Digital Culture Program, in which they will produce four live radio shows at the Kiggins Theater in Vancouver, WA with support and additional activities provided by the school and the students.  War of the Worlds was the first offering, followed by a Radio Christmas Carol (their Dickensian fund raiser for the Vancouver Food Bank) with a broadcast of Radio Carol scheduled for Christmas eve on OPB at 9pm. January has their Hobbit's Greatest Hits at McMenamin's Kennedy School on the 10th at 3pm. All these shows are free, with donations asked for the Radio Carol show.

Their future shows will include, The Island of Dr. Moreau, adapted by William S. Gregory and a double bill of The Fall of the City and R.U.R. for next summer. Dates are TBA at this point.

Regular members of our company include Chris Porter, Todd Tolces, Cindy McGean, David Ian, Dino de AElfweald, Marc Rose, Phil Rudolph, Linda Goertz, Mary Thomas, Bruce Miles, Erik James, James Dineen, Alyson Ayn Osborn, Scott Jameison, Toni Lima, Patt Blem, Robin Woolman, Sara McCauley, Atticus Welles Mowry, Lindsae Klein, Tim McKinney, Alan King, Renne King, Greg Alexander and, of course, Sam A. Mowry.

I have seen their Flash Gordon, Journey to the Center of the Earth, et. al. and I have enjoyed every one of them.  Also I have worked with a couple of the actors in their company on the stage, Tim and Alyson, and I can tell you from personal experience, they are some of the best.  I saw the clip below from The Island of Dr. Moreau and it appears to be their most ambitious endeavor.  Both the Lancaster and Brando films of this subject are pretty awful, only the Laughton version from the thirties having some merit.  Also R.U.R is an old stage play from, I believe, the thirties, in which the word robot was first widely used.  I’m looking forward to both those productions.  A final suggestion from me, would be to do a radio theatre of James Hilton’s wonderful, The Lost Horizon of Shangra-La (of course they may have already done that at some point and I simply missed it).

There are several excerpts of his company on their web. But here are some . . 



And some clips from the Columbian here:

Monday, November 10, 2014

True West—Profile Theatre—SW Portland

The True Nature of the Beast
This American Classic by Sam Shepard is directed by Adriana Baer (Profile’s Artistic Director) and is playing at the Artists Rep’s space at SW Alder St. & 16th Ave. through November 23rd.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-242-0080.

“What a piece of work is Man…” might be an appropriate alternate tile for this play.  In simplest terms, we are good, we are bad and we are often both at the same time.  And the nature of an artist, a writer, as it applies in this case, is even more complicated, as he’s a creation unto his own.  A person possessed, obsessed, and predisposed to follow his calling…no matter what!

This story is primarily about two brothers, Austin (Nick Ferrucci), a rather repressed, by-the-book writer, struggling with, perhaps, his first great success as a screenwriter.  He is staying at his Mom’s (Diane Kondrat) place in the California desert to concentrate on writing, while she’s off in Alaska.  His brother, Lee (Ben Newman), a low-life, drinker and petty thief is visiting for a few days, hoping to score some merchandise off the good people in the neighborhood.

Herald the entrance of Saul (Duffy Epstein), a slick, Producer from the movies, working with Austin to get a studio to bankroll his screenplay.  But Lee, a rather simple soul, also has some rudimentary ideas for a film, probably based on his own true-life experiences.  And then the “worm turns” and things and life become somewhat unsettling around the ole homestead.  What was, is no longer, and what is, marks a new chapter in all their lives.  I really can’t tell you any more about the story or I would be a spoiler.

But I will tell you that the movie script of Adaptation does bear some striking resemblance to this story.  Also, this is about the nature of man, the beast, in which the civilized self knocks heads with the primeval self.  At its heart, it confronts the very essence of whom we are and why we are.  The duality of man has been examined by Shakespeare, Stevenson and Wilde, et. al.   If there were no darkness, how would we know what light is?  It forces us to peer into the void, the dark abyss, and pray that there is not someone, something, peering back.

Shepard needs to be played on a smaller stage, as the themes, characters, stories are confrontational and need to be up close and personal.  The set (Alan Schwanke) literally is spilling out into the audience, in more ways than one, so you feel you are there.  And it is skeletal, allowing plenty of room for the actors to emote.  Well done.

And Baer’s direction is first-rate.  She was excellent in directing Shepard’s, Buried Child (a Sparkle winner, too) and has a knack for these gritty, personal dramas.  I love the way she allows the play to breathe, giving fair time to the pauses and reactions to tell the story as well.  She is directing Miller’s, The Price, next year for Artists Rep and, I believe, is a wise choice, as that is also character-drive and something she will be able to sink her teeth into, too.

Kondrat is fine as the mother, allowing appropriate shock value to the proceedings and giving us a glimpse into the real family dynamics of this brood.  And Epstein is always a pleasure to observe onstage, as he has been around for number of years and always gives a full picture of the character.  His Saul is calculating, manipulative, and even pampering, when necessary.  And, a great asset that Epstein has, is that you can see him think onstage, considering his next move.  I know we’ll see him next year in a Portland Playhouse show and, hopefully, many more to come.

But the powerhouses in this production are Newman and Ferrucci as the battling brothers.  They are both raw emotions exposing their feelings to the blistering sun of the desert and beware of any toaster, typewriter, or plant that gets in their way, for they can be fearsome to the extreme.  Again, they use the pauses in the show well and give us the guts as well as the thoughts of both of these dynamic people.  In the end, the Jekyll and Hyde syndrome may not have been better explored than with these two in this play.

I recommend this play but, keep in mind, it is very intense.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

The Night of the Iguana—Clark College—Vancouver, WA

Resort of Lost Souls

This classic drama by Tennessee Williams is playing at their Decker Theater at 1933 Fort Vancouver Way through November 22nd.  It is directed and designed by Mark Owsley.  For more information, go to their site at or call 360-992-2815.

The lizard is considered one of the earliest forms of life and has remained relatively unchanged through all those centuries.  An enduring primitive creature, evolving from the sea, where early life may have started.  It is not a coincident, then, that this play takes place near the sea and has an iguana as the symbolic creature of the primitive and, perhaps innocence, of early Life itself.

Albee actually has the two species meeting (lizards & homo sapiens) in his play, Seascape, and Williams even tiptoed around the theme also in his, Suddenly Last Summer, a story of beauty and decadence being devoured and consumed, not unlike Wilde’s, …Dorian Gray.  That said, the fallen and the pure, the living and the dead, the primitive and the up-tight, all converge onto this Mexican resort in the 1940’s.

It is run by the free-spirited, Maxine (Linda Matthews Owsley) whose husband, Fred, has just passed away.  Into this wayward paradise descend a flock of Texas Baptist women, led by The Reverend T. Lawrence Shannon (H. Gene Biby) a defrocked, alcoholic, woman-chasing man of the cloth, who is their tour guide.  The most prominent member of the group is its leader, Miss Fellowes (Emily Wells), a cantankerous, old biddy who is a thorn in everybody’s side, and a budding, sexy, teenage vixen, Charlotte (Kiara Goulding), aching for more rendezvous’ with Shannon.

Also adding drama to this pack of misfits are Hannah (Elana Mack), an artist and virgin, and her grandfather, Nonno (Zak Campbell), the oldest living poet.  They tour the world, paying their way by drawing character sketches of patrons and reciting poems.  In short, they are all hustlers or con men, trying to scratch out their special place in the world by any means necessary.  Spinster vs. Heathen vs. Widow vs. Vixen vs. God vs. Nature, all adding emotional energy to this bubbling oasis.  It is the story of people, not events, and who will survive this steaming cauldron of caustic calamity.

I have to say right off that Owsley’s set is amazing.  One feels that you could simply step onto the stage and be transported into their world.  It is a small space for so many characters but Owsley’s blocking kept the comings and goings flowing smoothly.  Williams is not an easy writer to enact, as his plays are more character-driven than story-driven.  And with mostly college students, who may not have even heard of Williams, this is not an easy task.  But Owsley has assembled a cast that appears to understand the material and delivers a worthwhile production.  “Fan-tastic!”

Biby, as the minister, is wonderful to watch.  The neat thing about his interpretation is that he allows the character to slowly build into a frenzy and thereby you understand his frustration.  A couple other productions I’ve seen of this play depict him ranting and raving from the beginning, which doesn’t allow the character room to stretch as the story proceeds.  Biby was also excellent as George in their …Virginia Woolf? and he, once again, is a joy to watch!

Owsley, as Maxine, is also a fine actor, having also played Martha to Biby’s George.  She does well as the free spirit, spouting and spewing when it’s called for.  Wells as the uptight matron is truly a monster to behold, someone you would not want on your vacation.  But, for the life of me, I couldn’t identify the accent, which should have been a Texas drawl, that she was attempting.  Good acting, though.  And Goulding as the sexy teen definitely has all the right stuff for the part.  Not only is she alluring, she is a damn good actor as well.  Look forward to seeing her on the stage again.

Campbell, as the aging poet, is obviously several years too young for the part but he does an excellent job of portraying the character.  His delivery of Nonno’s final poem is quite moving.  But I would tone down the face make-up a bit, as it doesn’t need to be so pronounced in such a relatively, small space.  And Mack, in what is probably the largest female role in the play, is just fine.  Her rendition of her stories about her sexual encounters is very moving and captivating.  In fact those long scenes with Biby in the second act are some of the best in the show.

I would recommend this show but, because of subject matter, it is obviously not for everybody.  If you do go, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

One For The Ages - Ernest Borgnine - One of the last interviews

"No doubt that Mr. Borgnine was one of the greats, a legend in his own time but, as he suggests in this interview, what does that really mean.  In his case it means that he was a consummate actor, who not only had talent and worked a lot, but really loved his art.  He was not just a personality, in which a role was fitted to him, like some of the bigger named stars.

He was what would be considered a "character actor" and embodied the role within that.  In this interview he does not put on airs and seems to be a genuinely happy and fulfilled gentleman who loved life.  In this modern age of pretty-boy and girl emphasis, as opposed to talent, he ranks high above all that.  When his star was snuffed out, part of the Golden Age of films died with him!"

Ernest Borgnine - One Of The Last Interviews

Monday, November 3, 2014

Ivy + Bean—Oregon Children’s Theatre—downtown Portland

Playing for their Life

This musical is written by Scott Elmegreen and is based on a book by Annie Barrows.  It is directed by Isaac Lamb, musical direction by Mont Chris Hubbard and choreography by Amy Beth Frankel.  It is playing at the Newmark Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway through November 23rd.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-228-9571.

I’m only usually remotely aware of the books these OCT’s plays are based on, because I need to be focused on the translation of them to the stage, not on the book itself.  But I understand this, and other plays they will be doing this season, are from very popular books.  There is often a lesson or moral (like Aesop’s Fables) these books have and this one is no exception.  It involves the importance of…Playtime.

I believe I heard on the news lately that some schools were thinking of cutting down, or out, recess time because they couldn’t see any tangible reason for it.  The reason for such unstructured play is that is where a child’s character is being built.  Their relationship to the world and each other is being explored and the discovery of who they are and what their role is, in this vast, complicated structure called Civilization.  These are their “Salad Days,” don’t let them be eaten up too early by having to grow up.

So, parents/educators, concentrate on allowing playtime, whether with other neighborhood kids, at camp, or through more structured play, such as classes involving the Arts.  Children have more Freedom than adults may ever have.  And, as adults, often we wish to return to such childhood innocence.  It is said, you can’t go home again.  Perhaps not, but you can, at least, allow your children to engage in one-on-one fantasy and games (not the mindless, electronic ones) with other kids, as their character as adults will depend on it.

Now, off my soap box and onto the play.  It is principally about a new kid, Ivy (Madison Wray), a bit of a loner, who moves into the neighborhood of Pancake Court.  And the self-appointed Leader of the Pack of the neighborhood is Bean (Haley Ward), a tomboy, who is none too pleased with this new addition to their turf, as Ivy spends most of her time reading by herself.  Ivy’s world seems to be in the studying of magic and casting spells, while the other kids are off playing games.

Leo (David VanDyke) is into sports and is convinced that is the way to success.  Eric (Jonathan Pen) thinks that setting world records will give them all recognition, such as how many beans one can eat, or how many straws can one fit into the mouth, or how many worms one can be gathered, etc.  Sophie (Sophie Keller) seems adaptable to whichever way the wind blows.  And Nancy (Stephanie Roessler), Bean’s older sister, seems to have only one mission in life—to torment Bean.  (There is some speculation that this character may have some kinship to the Wicked Witch of the West…but you decide.)

And Bean’s Mom and Dad (Alex Leigh Ramirez and Joey Cóté) seem to be typical parents, not understanding the growing pains of Youth, especially when they put Nancy in charge of babysitting Bean.  But all is not lost, for Ivy and Bean have learned magic, traversed volcanoes, and found a secret place where time stands still.  In the end, all works out well, as in most children’s books, and the Youth have had their moments in the sun.

The songs themselves are largely only serviceable but it is the cast itself that sells the numbers, and the tricky choreography by Frankel, which seems to touch on the Tango, modern dance, ballet, and even Irish clog dancing, all well performed by the cast and band (Hubbard).  Also the cartoon like sets (Kristeen Willis Crosser) and costumes (Ashton Hull) add to the magic of the production.

The cast is first-rate, with Roessler as a stand-out at the “evil” sister.  And there are some great bits by Lamb with the cast such as the trampoline timing in a musical number and the passing down of a basket filled with secret stuff to Bean.  Priceless.  Lamb has kept the cast energized throughout the show with never a dull moment.  And some of the reaction shots, especially from Bean, are perfectly in character for the scenes.

Also, on a personal note, Wray (Zombie in Love and Fancy Nancy) and Ward (Magic Treehouse… and Fancy Nancy) have been touted more than once in my reviews for superior performances (and won Sparkle Recognition from me) and this one is no exception.  They are two of the best young actors on Portland stages and are stand-outs in this show, too.  Although there are many good things to say about this production, these two alone would be worth the price of admission.  I expect and predict many good plaudits for both of them in the future, as they are truly, uniquely-talented young ladies!

I recommend this show, especially for appreciating Ward and Wray.  If you do see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.