Monday, April 27, 2015

Grease—Broadway Rose—Tigard, OR

“Thanks for the Memories”

This iconic musical is written by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey and directed and choreographed by Jacob Toth with musical direction by Jeffrey Childs.  It is playing at their home location at 12850 SW Grant Ave. in Tigard through May 24th.  For more information, go to their site at

Musicals of that “simpler time,” the 50’s & 60’s, are good reminders of our history, such as Hairspray and West Side Story.  Remember the days of drive-ins (both restaurants & theaters), piercing ears, rock ‘n’ roll, cheap wine, Twinkies, roller rinks, hot cars and chicks, acne, sock hops, et. al….when all the guys were in love with Annette and all the gals with Frankie Avalon….when 45’s (the records, not the guns) were all the rage, the Mickey Mouse Club or American Bandstand was top TV watching for teens and hot-rodding down Main Street was probably the worst trouble you could get in?  And we shivered with the original The Blob, I Was a Teenage Werewolf, Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Thing.

Those were the days, my friends, we thought they’d never end…”  Well, in this production, we are treated to going back in time to relive them for a couple of hours.  Before there was Facebook and tweeting, Columbines and Sandy Hook’s, “friends with benefits” and Aids…a time before “…the music died.”  Believe me, it is time well spent, not only for the oldsters who lived them but for the young’uns who could learn from them.  Maybe those days are gone but not forgotten, as we take a stroll down memory…to Rydell High in the 50’s.

The two main species at large in this world are the Greasers, led by Danny (Peter Liptak) with Kenickie (Max Artsis), Roger (Bryce Earhart), Doody (Paul Harestad), and Sonny (Justin Canfield).  Their counter-parts are The Pink Ladies, led by Rizzo (Claire Rigsby), with Sandy (Kylie Clarke Johnson), a new recruit, Frenchy (Emma Holland), Marty (Sydney Weir), and Jan (Amanda Pred).  Then, of course, there are the Insiders (Cheerleaders), led by Patty (Kira Batcheller), the Outsiders (kids from another school), led by Cha-Cha (Lindzay Irving), the Nerds, led by Eugene (Collin Carver) and, finally, the dreaded adults, the principal, Miss Lynch (Quimby Lombardozzi) and the radio DJ, Vince (Adam Davis).  This is their world and welcome to it.

Once upon a time…it seems that Danny and Sandy met for brief romance in a summer of love.  But, now that reality, the school year, has set in, he must assume the role of a cool dude, meaning that he’s expected to play the field.  She is heartbroken and aligns herself with friends that try to straighten her out from her straight-laced upbringing to face the facts of life.  It is a harsh world out there not reflected by the movies with Sandra Dee, Doris Day, Troy Donahue or Rock Hudson.

It involves growing pains, “Those Magic Changes,” like dealing with long distant romances, “Freddy, My Love,” and reality, “Beauty School Dropout,” and “Alone at a Drive-In Movie.”  But one still can dream of the ultimate, a hot car, “Greased Lightning,” or the perfect mate, “Summer Nights,” to find out, in the long run, “You’re the One I Want.”  It is a dream, well-told, with music, songs, tears, laughter and dance.  The lost years are here again to tantalize us, challenge us and direct us to what was then our goal…to “…live happily ever after.”  After all, those “salad days” never really left us because they are still there, inside us, waiting to be revived.  The ball is now in your court…?!

The cast is uniformly excellent, proving they are all at the top of their game, “a triple threat” in dancing, singing and acting.  Rigsby is hot and owns the stage when she’s on.  Johnson is the perfect girl-next-door, the one that is dreamed of, but just out of reach.  Liptak is super as Danny, looking, as well as performing the part, to a tee.  I couldn’t imagine anyone else in the role.  And Carver, as the nerd and the Teen Angel, proves once again, “there are no small parts….” He’s is electric whenever he’s onstage and knocks his solo number out of the park, as well as being the ultimate, nerdy guy.  (A side note, I also touted him in productions at OCT’s Young Professionals Company and he’s still got the clout.)

Toth’s direction and choreography is amazing.  He could have had the audience rocking with them, as his song and dance numbers are very contagious.  Only thing stopping us may have been that all “the right stuff” is now in the wrong places.  And Childs music compliments the show as well, never overpowering but inspiring.  The designs, Costumes, Jessica Carr, Scenic, Owen Walz, Lighting, Phil McBeth and Sound, Tim Richey, are likewise a perfect fit for a dream show.

(Another side note, I directed Liptak some moons ago in the title role in the musical, Oliver.  His whole family is involved with show biz, as his sister is connected with cable TV series’s, his Mother is a House Manager in many Portland theatres and his Dad is a Musical Director of shows.  It is good to know that “greasepaint” is in their blood and that they support and encourage their children in the Arts.  Parents, take note.)

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

Sunday, April 26, 2015

The Little Mermaid—NW Children’s Theatre—NW Portland

The Magical, Misfit Mermaid

This original musical is adapted for the stage by Milo Mowery and Rodolfo Ortega, directed by John Ellingson, choreography by Sarah Jane Hardy (NWCT Artistic Director) in partnership with A-WOL Dance Collective, Heather Shrock and Alicia Doerrie, and musical direction by Ortega.  It is playing at their space, 1819 NW Everett St., through May 25th.  For more information, go to their site(s) at or

The original story by Hans Christian Andersen was made into a very popular Disney, animated musical a few years back.  It takes place under the sea and, in this incarnation, in Havana, Cuba, too.  The story’s narration (Sophie MacKay) tells of a sort of ugly duckling mermaid called Ariel (Annie Willis), who doesn’t fit in with her peers, sister mermaids, Melody (Chrissy Kelly-Pettit), Minuette (Maddy Ross) and Aria (Signe Larsen).  They have beautiful, ballet moves and lovely, singing voices, while Ariel’s voice sounds like a mad hen and her movements jerk every which way but loose.

But, at least, she has a bosom friend in Hippos (Gracie Jacobson), the Sea Horse, who listens to her and teaches her how to play.  But the main purpose of mermaids, according to legend, is to enchant sailors with their mesmerizing voices, so that they will shipwreck on the rocks.  (Why they have a need to do this is unclear.)  But Ariel even fails at this, as she rescues one of the seamen, who is actually a Cuban prince, Miguel (Brendan Long).  And, like in all good fairy tales, she is immediately smitten by him, and longs to become human so she can be with him.

But, easier said than done, as she must go to the unscrupulous Cecelia (Jenny Bunce), the Sea Witch, in order to get her wish fulfilled.  But this demanding diva has conditions of her own.  Ariel can be transformed into a land-lubber to be with her love for two days.  If, by the end of this time, he has not kissed her, than she must return to the sea and forfeit her soul.  And she is to be mute, having her voice taken away, so that she cannot tell the Prince who she is or express her love for him.  The contract is agreed to but Cecelia has her own devious plans to thwart the little mermaid….

To tell more would be giving away some plot devices, so I will stop the story at this point.  One unique thing about this adaptation is that neither of the young lovers are the sharpest swordfish in the ocean.  Miguel is rather vain, none too bright and is use to getting his own way.  Ariel has a good heart but is awkward in social situations and is easily duped by dishonest hags.  In this interpretation, they become much more human and, thereby, identifiable to the common man.

Another outstanding aspect to this production are the aerial artists (Kelsie Young, Lacey McGraw and Paulina Muñoz).  Watching them perform their “flying” maneuvers are worth the whole show.  They are absolutely amazing.  And a third element that gives this show a boost is the Sea Witch puppet, designed by Ellingson.  It is probably my favorite creation from all the shows I’ve reviewed here, scary, silly and intricate in its conception and performance.

The performers are all first-rate.  Willis gives us the ungainly teen striving to find her place in the world and doing it convincingly.  Mackay is clear and concise and portrays the story interestingly for us.  Jacobson has a great voice and you want to hug her for being such a true friend.  And Bunce, as the Witch, is truly talented, both in voice and acting.  She is the villain you love to hate.  I’ve reviewed her before and given her high marks.  She is easily up to that standard here and I look forward to seeing her in her next project.

Hardy is always first-rate with her dance numbers, as she is here.  Mary Rochon has outdone herself with the very colorful and fanciful costumes.  And Ellingson is always at the top of his game as a director, designer, as he is here, and actor.  And, as mention, Shrock and Doerrie, and their performers, are exciting to watch, bringing back good memories of going to a circus when I was a child.

Although the songs and music by Ortega and Mowery are pleasant and well performed, they fall slightly short of being memorable.  And the story, likewise, does not have the intricacies that other pieces NWCT has done.  The story seems a little too simple to be, although mildly entertaining, not really thought-provoking, as other productions they’ve done.  Even the applause for numbers was polite but not roaringly enthusiastic, as I’ve heard from other shows.

I would recommend this show.  But, be warned, parking in this area is a real problem, so plan accordingly or best use public transportation, be dropped off, and/or car pool.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Nana’s Naughty Knickers—Twilight Theater Company—N. Portland

Wily Wicked Women

This adult comedy is written by Katherine DiSavino and directed by Sue Harris.  It is playing at their new space, 7515 N. Brandon Ave. (just off Lombard), through May 10th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-847-9838.

Some Golden-agers in New York City, Sylvia (Jodi Rafkin) and her best friend, Vera (Bonnie Littleton), not quite ready to give up the ghost yet, have decided to go into business for themselves in Sylvia’s apartment, unbeknown to her landlord, Mr. Schmidt (Rob Harris).  The business involves making and selling naughty lingerie items to other mature women.  And it seems the apartment was once owned by a notorious bootlegger and so has plenty of hiding places for such items.

But complications arise when Sylvia’s grand-daughter, Bridget (Taylor Lane), a rather straight-laced young lady, decides to move in and stay with her for the summer.  And it also doesn’t help that the local beat cop, O’Grady (Breon McMullin), has taken a shine to her (and she to him).  But when Sylvia is sent, mistakenly, a rather large order for some X-rated, sex toys and clothing, people become suspicious and her daughter is unceremoniously drawn into this web of wanton women.

Also, it doesn’t help when the UPS Woman (Sophie Schmidt) tries to hit on Bridget and a strange, saucy lady, Heather (Amanda Andersen) shows up on their doorstep, and the landlord threatens to evict Sylvia, and their best client, Clair (Kimberley Anne Gray) arrives to further confuse the issue…well, you just have to see it for yourself to see how it all turns out.  But, it is safe to say, that the machinations of love, laughter and…lingerie will succeed in winning the day.

DiSavino is by no means up to the standards of other comedy writers about NYC, such as Neil Simon or Woody Allen, but there is a gentle, albeit risqué, humor to the plot, sort of like Golden Girls meet Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.  And the cast is easily up to the task of complimenting the story.  Rafkin plays the stereotypic, mature New York Jewish lady to a tee.  And McMullin as the befuddled cop, Schmidt as the unscrupulous deliverer and Gray as the important client, add to the fun.

Lane, usually behind the scenes in shows, is a welcome addition to the onstage personas.  She is appropriately upset, then baffled, then a partner in the proceedings….and she looks just fine in lingerie.  Littleton is great as the somewhat deaf, best friend.  Her comic delivery is some of the best in the show.  R. Harris gives us a typical, Archie Bunker type of character, all smoke with little fire and is fun to watch.  And Andersen, as the kooky visitor, is a hoot.  She adds an extra dimension to the liveliness when she arrives onstage.

Harris has done a good job of keeping the blocking fluid so that none of the scenes get static.  And she has chosen her cast well.  This is a new space for their theatre and it is very well put together.  It is neighborhood parking at present, so allow time for that.  Also the show would probably be PG-13 rated, so be aware of that, too.

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

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Cyrano—Portland Center Stage—NW Portland, Pearl District

The Measure of a Man

This classical, tragic love story is by Edmond Rostand (translated by Michael Hollinger) and adapted for the stage by Hollinger and Aaron Posner.  It is directed by Jane Jones and is performing at PCS’s space, 128 NW 11th Ave., through May 3rd.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-445-3700.

Heroic and Love are two words that are bantered about so often that they have lost much of their punch.  But Cyrano is a man who knows the deepest meanings of these words and shows us by his actions.  The sub-sets for those words might be courageous…sacrifice…unconditional…honor, and Cyrano is the embodiment of those meanings.  A man cursed to be anything but himself.

The play was written in the late 1800’s and has been performed many times.  Jose Ferrer gave an Academy-award winning performance on film in the 50’s (as well as being involved with a musical version some years later); Depardieu brought us a rich, French version; Christopher Plummer did if for television on Hallmark Hall of Fame; Steve Martin performed a rather good, modern update called Roxanne; and Kevin Kline was on a PBS showing in the 2000’s.  All good pedigrees for this story.

Once upon a time, there was a man, Cyrano (Andrew McGinn), who loved a woman, Roxanne (Jen Taylor), but from afar.  For you see, although this man was a brilliant soldier and swordsman, a witty and erudite fellow, a poet, an honorable man, he was also cursed with what he thought to be a rather large imperfection, a big nose, and so he considered himself ugly.  It came to pass that a rather handsome, young man, Christian (Colin Byrne) caught the eye of his beloved.

But it seems that this pretty, young fellow also had an imperfection, too, he was a mess when it came to expressing himself, he had no way with words.  Besides, a rather powerful Lord, De Guiche (Leif Norby), was also jockeying for the attentions of Roxanne.  And Cyrano, being an honorable man, wanted his love, albeit unrequited, to have her heart’s desire.  So he agreed to act as the voice for Christian.

It was all going well, Cyrano as Love’s voice and Roxanne’s nurse, Desiree (Damon Kupper), protecting her maidenhood. Then, a war intervened and he and his troop (Darius Pierce, Chris Harder, Gavin Hoffman) and his Captain, Le Bret (Brian Gunter) were called to the Front.  More I cannot tell you for spoiling future discoveries.

And, although this tale may not end with a “…happily ever after,” like all good fairy tales, it concludes more like an Aesop fable, with a moral or lesson.  That being, perhaps, be happy with who you are and the world will respond in kind, or so one hopes.  If not, shame on the world, not the person.

Jones has done a wonderful job of presenting a complicated story on an essentially bare stage with few props.  She moves us along quickly but taking time out for the more poetic moments as well as allowing some comedy to come through.  And she has a very talented cast, some playing two or three roles.  Some I have reviewed before, like Pierce as a very funny dept. store elf in his one man show at PCS; Hoffman as a terrific Iago in their Othello; and Norby, wonderful as the Beast in Beauty and the Beast with Pixie Dust Productions.  McGinn is a super Cyrano, showing his prowess as well as his vulnerability.

And why should one see this story.  Claudie Jean Fisher, PR Manger for PCS, put it best:  “To cheer for Cyrano is to cheer for the triumph of intellect over appearance; kindheartedness over bullying; and panache over self-doubt…the hero for those who want to be accepted for who they are and are loved despite their imperfections….” Amen.  I couldn’t have said it better myself.  And for all those teens who are going through the angst of school and growing up, pay attention.  This one’s for you.

I recommend this show, but know that parking in the Pearl District can be a bear, so plan your time accordingly.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Twelfth Night—Post Five Theatre—SE Portland

Masking Reality

Considered one of Shakespeare’s best comedies, this production is directed by Cassandra Boice.  It is playing at their space in the Sellwood area, 1666 SE Lambert St. (parking lot in the rear), through May 16th.  For more information, go to their site at

It is amazing how many of the Bard’s comedies have similar plots.  They are all about finding one’s true love via disguises (often as the opposite sex), secret letters and poems, witty servants, mistaken identities and cross purposes.  But, as the director has pointed out in her notes, it takes a mask or disguise to discover the real nature of another being.

Actually, not a bad subterfuge for finding out a person’s true motives.  Nowadays, we have a controversial government surveillance system that checks up on individuals, ferreting out only the bad eggs, or so we hope.

This story is no stranger to these above mentioned common threads.  At the opening, there has been a shipwreck near an island and some lives are lost.  Viola (Jessica Tidd), having been washed up on shore, fears her twin brother, Sebastian (Sean Kelly), to have been lost at sea.  To discover the truth on this strange island, she disguises herself as a boy, Ceasario, and eventually allies herself with the Duke, Orino (Tom Walton), who she is immediately smitten with.

But the Duke only has eyes for the lady, Olivia (Chip Sherman), who has no interest in him but does seem to favor Ceasario, who has been sent by Orino to plead his case of love.  Meanwhile Olivia has some very odd but witty servants among them, Malvolio (Ty Boice), a rather droll, petulant manservant and Maria (Tori Padellford), a mischievous merrymaker who only adds more chaos to the proceedings.  And, if that wasn’t enough, Olivia has an uncle, Sir Toby Belch (Jeff Gorham), a drunk, his friend, Sir Andrew (Stan Brown), a buffoon and a servant, Feste (Jim Vadala), a witty troubadour.

Without the servants, clowns and fools in these plays, where would we be.  They are the heart and soul of the humor.  Needless to say, everybody eventually ends up with who they should and the morose or malicious beings get their come-uppens.  It is said, it takes a whole village to raise a child.  In this case, it takes a cluster of clowns to put love back on its true course.

As in all his comedies, it is not the actual plot that will win accolades but the machinery that is put in motion to achieve the those ends.  It is the duping of the duped and the awakening of blind lovers and the insights of the lowest of creatures, the servants, that will win the day.  We, who only seek happiness, sometimes ignore those who make us merry.  But, without them in these plays, or Life, where would we be?

Post 5 always does an excellent job of presenting Shakespeare.  And with Ms. Boice at the head of this project, there is no doubt Mr. S. is in good hands.  She has the training in clowning, as well as the language and does a super job with this.  Sherman is one of the primo actors in Portland and his Olivia is outstanding.  We get attitude, wit, humor, lust, and a gal who is at the top of her game, from his characterization.  An actor always worth watching.

Tidd, playing a boy for most of the show, does a convincing job of it, relying on female instincts and wit but always keeping within the male bonds of companionship.  Walton is also good at keeping his feelings for her in check but you can see him melting under her spell.  Gorham and Brown make a good comedy team with lots of funny physical interplay between them.  This is unlike the usual stately or evil characters I’ve seen Gorham portray and it is a real delight to see him “expand” in this, as he does it well.

Vadala is a nice “emcee” for the proceedings and his singing and comedy quite accessible for the audience, making them feel part of it.  And Ty Boice is a real treat.  His lisping, morose clown is a delight.  He can get more out of a cold stare or a silence or a limp, than all the asides possible.  He is a master of humor and his portrayal of this malcontent is a classic.  “May you live long and prosper.”

The setting, Aaron Kissinger, is very versatile allowing many different scenes to be played out without the audience getting confused as to where and when.  And the costumes, Gina Piva, are equally fun, giving a taste of each character without overpowering them.

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

Monday, April 13, 2015

Columbinus—Oregon Children’s Theatre’s Young Professionals Company—NE Portland

Color Me…Red
This Y/P production at OCT’s home space, 1939 NE Sandy Blvd., is written by Stephen Karam and PJ Paparelli and directed by Lava Alapai.  It plays through April 19th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-228-9571.

This is about the Columbine high school massacre in the spring of 1999 in Colorado, in which 13 people were killed, plus the two assassins of self-inflicted gun-shot wounds.  And, make no mistake about it, all the language and grit from actual transcripts, diaries, interviews, videos, etc. of the people involved are included, with no censorship in the presentation.  Bravo!  It has long been debated as to whether Nature or Nurture is responsible the most for how we turn out as adults.  A play and film from over 50 years ago, The Bad Seed, concluded that of a child of a murderess, even though raised by good parents and knowing nothing of her background, will herself turn out to murder people.

But, the recent trend of caring teachers, civic workers, family relatives, et. al. shows that a life can actually be turned around by getting them involved in extra-curricular activities that build team-work, confidence, self-worth, and character in individuals and groups.  Everybody has a bent, a knack, a talent for something.  It’s just up to parents and schools to encourage and foster those visions.  And, to step up on my soap-box for a moment, theatre and the Arts are a great avenue for that venture.  (OCT, and especially, their Young Professionals Company and classes, are one of the best in this area, in my opinion!)

This play is graphic in its content but stylized in its presentation.  It’s done on a bare stage with minimal props to keep the focus on the story and characters.  Six Youths (Carter Bryan, Amber Kiara, Nate Golden, Isaiah Rosales, Charlotte Karlsen and Emma Younger) play a variety of people involved and Blake Peebles (Dyaln) and Thom Hilton (Eric) play the two killers.  And all the different social types of individuals are presented:  The rich kids and the poor, the nerd, the jock, the religious follower, the intellectual, the misfits, the artistic types, the outsiders, the intellectuals, the loners, the bullies, the druggies, the dorks, and the bad and the beautiful.  (I guess I would have been considered an artistic outsider when I was in school.)

The story follows the lives of these individuals over a period of a year or so, showing the build-up in tensions that existed (and still do, I’m sure).  The play not only follows the actions of many of them but also their secret thoughts when confronted with various situations.  Also neither of them blamed their parents for their explosive ends.  The incident can rightly be called tragedy because a series of unfortunate choices of these individuals seem to dictate the ultimate results.  But, to quote the Bard, “the fault…is not in our stars but in ourselves.”   

It was interesting to note the Eric had a chance to connect with a girl to the prom but parents objected.  And Dylan seemed to have a creative side in writing but it was never pursued.  Eric was also on medication for some mental issues and had an uncontrollable rage inside him.  Dylan was bullied because he didn’t feel he was good at anything and wanted revenge on those who laughed at him.  They both seemed to know they were doomed and choose mass violence as an outlet to their public suicides.

The other characters in this are very distinct in the various incarnations they portrayed.  For, young in experience as they may be, they are very professional in their presentations.  And Hilton and Peebles are extraordinary in their performances!  There is an intensity and fire in the feelings they explore and yet you see their vulnerability, too.  These are some young people that will go far in their careers if that’s what they choose to do.

Alapai has done an amazing job with this production.  I’m sure the rehearsal process was very intense as the young actors explored many of their own emotions from their own school experiences.  But it was also, perhaps, very therapeutic and cathartic as well.  She certainly has taken a sensitive subject and infused it not only with dramatic elements but being informative and gut-wretching, too.  I hope to see more of her work in the future.  And I applaud Dani Baldwin (Education Director), Alapai, Y/P and OCT for doing this daring work.  My hat’s off to you all!

A last thought, although it is impossible to put blame on these kinds of incidents on any one thing, it is interesting to note that in many cases, such as the story of Compulsion, about the two high-society boys that chose to kill another student just for the fun of it, or In Cold Blood, in which two men, intent on a simple robbery, decided on a whim to kill the whole family.  They were in pairs.  It was concluded that these crimes would not have happened if the two had never met.  It was as if together they created one evil being.  Could that be a contributing factor here?  Perhaps.  Interesting thought, though.

I do highly recommend this play.  As noted, it is adult in language and subject matter.  Does this mean I wouldn’t recommend it for teenagers?  Hell, No!  This is exactly the kind of show that teens (and their parents and teachers) should see.  I’m sure they are already aware of the various factions in their own lives currently that might contribute to another Columbine.  And maybe, by seeing and discussing these issues, another such disaster can be avoided.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

When Animals Were People—Tears of Joy Theatre—SE Portland

A Walk on the Wild Side

This play with puppets is based on stories from the Huichol Cultural in Mexico and from The Lazy Bee by Horacio Quiroga and adapted for the stage by Omar Vargas and Nancy Aldrich (TOJ’s Artistic Director) and directed by Aldrich.  It plays at the Imago Theatre space, 17 SE 8th Ave., and runs until April 19th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-248-0557.

The approximately hour long presentation is actually two short plays.  The first one is The Lazy Bee and the second one is the title piece, which is a bit of a misnomer, as it should be titled something like When Animals Talked or Spoke, as a reference to people is not part of the actual story.  A side note, there is a Christmas story about animals getting the use of human speech on Christ’s birth so they could celebrate His arrival.  But all the animals did was bicker among themselves so, because of that, the gift was taken back and animals resumed their normal ways of communicating.  Possible fodder for a TOJ production?

A bee is usually pictured as an industrious creature but there is always one that is a slacker and doesn’t pull his share.  In this case, he is warned by the elders that there are consequences for not doing his job of bringing nectar to the hive but he ignores them.  So, as a punishment, he is not allowed back into the warm hive for food and shelter.  Forced to spend the night in the unfriendly wilderness he meets a snake who…well, you’ll have to see the show, won’t you, to see how it all turns out.

The title story involves a turtle who appears to be able to bring rain when he chooses.  He is also an accommodating fellow and shares his food and rain puddles with his buddies, the vulture and the squirrel, as long as they are able to add to the stew with extra morsels of venison, potatoes, etc.  But soon he meets a stray wolf who promises corn for the pot if they will share with him.  But Mr. Lobo has other ideas of what he wants to dine on and it’s not what’s in the stew but the guests.  Again, you will have to see it to find out the outcome.

The stories will be easily enjoyed by children but the magic is not so much in the fables but in the presenters of them.  The puppets (designer, Jason Miranda) are absolutely amazing.  I especially like the snake in the title show.  And the puppeteers are extremely talented, not only in working the puppets (a demonstration is given at the end of the show) but with just two ladies (Carrie Anne Huneycutt and Sara Fay Goldman) doing all eight characters with appropriate voice characterizations!  They are true artists, as well as the designer.  And Aldrich has created a fun, informative and magical show for the whole family!
I recommend this show.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis send you.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Really Really—Portland Actors Conservatory—SW Portland

He Said…She Said

This topical drama by Paul Downs Colaizzo is directed by Beth Harper (PAC’s Founder and Artistic Director).  It is playing at their space, 1436 SW Montgomery St., through April 27th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-274-1717.

Truth…oftentimes an elusive thing.  It may be in the “Eye of the Beholder” (like Beauty), but it does depend on one’s perspective…and motives.  Rape, sexual abuse, harassment, et. al. are serious matters.  The purest view of this may be Kurosawa’s beautiful film, Rashomon, in which the story of a rape is told by four different people, the bride, her young groom, the bandit and a witness.  All of them having their own motives for telling the story the way they do.  There is also the fine, two-character stage play and film by Mamet called, Oleanna.

You have also may have noticed in the news the story of “Jackie” published by Rolling Stone, a young woman claiming to have been raped by four college students.  Turns out the story may have been less than true and the full facts may never be known.  The same can be said for this story, as it resembles, in some ways, all of the above.  And, as sometimes noted, no story is quite what it seems.  They are, at best, variations and/or manipulations of the Truth.

This tale concerns, Leigh (Shannon Mastel), a previously rather promiscuous college girl, now in the process of settling down with her beau, Jimmy (Murri Lazaroff-Babin).  Her roommate is Grace (Halie Becklyn), a rather religious, conservative woman and head of her Church’s Future Leaders of America, espousing women’s roles in leadership positions.  Leigh is a survivor (in more ways than one).  Grace may not be.

And, behind door # 2, are the college boys who have thrown a wild, drunken party, in which the ladies attended.  Cooper (Therman Sisco, Jr.) is less than serious about classes and treats the time as his own private smorgasbord of delicious, party delights.  Johnson (Nile Whent) is a studious sort but definitely will sway whichever way the wind blows, as it seems to be important to him to be part of the crowd.  Davis (Murren Kennedy) is a bit of a loner, an outsider and, although a serious student, is not at his best when confronted with the reality of Life.  Into this mix is also thrown Haley (Alexandria Casteele), Leigh’s sister, who lives an “alternate” life style and unconcerned with what Life throws at her, and is also a bit of a detective when prying for the Truth.

The events in question take place over a two-day period and involve a purported rape that happened at a drunken orgy.  Or did it?  Can’t really tell too much more of the plot, as much of it is up to the audience to discover, but suffice to say, the conclusion is never completely resolved and some of it is up to the viewer to cogitate on.  Atticus Fitch (To Kill A Mockingbird) says that in order to understand someone, you must get inside their skin and walk around in it a bit.  This may not get you to discover Truth, but you will see things from a different perspective.

The two sets (designer, Tim Stapleton) are very realistic and give us important insights into the characters’ behaviors, as do the costumes (designer, Jessica Bobillot).  And Harper digs deep into these people and we get very distinctive flavors of their attitudes and viewpoints.  The cast is lucky to be working with such an insightful director/teacher.

And the whole cast is to be commended on presenting such a difficult issue.  I’m sure there were many discussions on this story and related issues.  They work well as a team, as it should be, and give us a very fluid look at a microcosm of Youth in current society.

I recommend this play.  But, be warned it is, obviously, very adult in subject matter and language.  Also it is street parking in a neighborhood setting, so best get their early.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

The School For Lies—theatrevertigo—SE Portland

“Oh, What a Web We Weave”

This modern updating of Moliére’s satirical comedy is by David Ives and directed by theatre veteran, JoAnn Johnson.  It’s playing at their space at the Shoebox Theatre, 2110 SE 10th Ave. through May 9th.  For more information, go to their site at

“Dying is easy, comedy is hard,” it has been said.  Perhaps true, at least in the timing, for that is the crux of successful comedy.  And, add to that, to do the whole play in rhyme, as that’s asking for trouble.  (A movie that successfully did this was the musical, The Pied Piper… w/Van Johnson).  But, Have no fear, There is no curse, The play is done In perfect verse.

This must be an added burden for the actor, for he has no choice but to get the lines exact.  How would you adlib something in rhyme?  And now you must get the audience to accept a poetic proposition of prose and still have it retain a certain modicum of naturalism.  But in the deft hands of Johnson and a delightful cast, they do manage to pull it off in all its glory.

The story is slight, as are most comedies of this period, but it is not in the plot that these tales succeed but in the witty language and underlying swipes it takes at society, the law and politics.  Inevitably, they are about love, or to be more precise, lust.  And, looking at it closely, not much has changed in the past 350 years since the advent of the original play.  In other words, we may have progressed mightily in tangible advancements but only tripped haltingly in personal development.

In this story Celimene (Stephanie Cordell), an owner of a “salon” (racier definitions might apply) is having a bad day.  It seems that she has three suitors, the foppish, rich lawyer, Clitander (Heath Koerschgen); the mime-looking, bard, Oronte (R. David Wyllie); and the dense, toy-boy of hers, Acaste (Nathan Crosby); all demanding committed satisfaction from her, to one of them, after all the months of attention and monies they have lavished on her.  And it doesn’t help that she has an inept, clumsy servant, Dubois (Tyler Ryan), who only adds to the onstage confusion.

She also has a younger sister, Eliante (Shawna Nordman), whom nobody seems to care a fig for, although Philinte (Tom Mounsey), a rather serious young man, secretly has a crush on her.  And, too, she is being sued by, she suspects, her waggish friend, a notorious gossip, Arsinoe (Holly Wigmore)—a kissing cousin to the Wicked Witch of the West.  But this all comes to a head with the arrival of the mysterious Frank (Nathan Dunkin), a world traveler and a rather coarse and blunt individual.  Needless to say, Frank and Celimene connect like oil and water, which is to say, the makings of tumultuous love story.  To say more would spoil the fun.

Johnson does a terrific job of using an almost bare space to the actors’ advantage.  And the pacing is rapid-fire and physical gags abound.  Certainly not an easy show for predictable smooth sailing but with Johnson at the helm, the course is bound to be straight and true.  Also, I loved the lavender wallpaper (designers, Nathan Crosby & Noah Wesley Phillips).  And the costumes (designer, Casey Ballard) ranged from the truly authentic for the period to the modern and, for me, it worked, bridging the 300+ years.

There are some wonderful comic gags (a taste of vaudeville & silent films, perhaps) performed by Ryan and he’s a hoot.  Both Dunkin (always worth watching) and Cordell as the leads are well suited to be playing opposite each other.  It is a joy to watch their sparring.  Mounsey and Nordman as the young lovers give some depth to what could have been rather dull portrayals.  Wyllie and Crosby give us very distinct caricatures of the artist with no talent and the hunk with the wiles of a fox.  Wigmore is a tasty villain.  And Koerschgen is a stand-out, decked to the nines of a lord of that period and romping about the stage (and to think he played the dastardly Mr. Hyde not so long ago.  That’s acting at its best, folks).  And they all handle the flowery dialogue very nicely, thank you.

I do recommend this show but it is adult in language and subject matter.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Monday, April 6, 2015

The Price—Artists Rep—SW Portland

The Cost of Redemption

Arthur Miller’s little done drama is directed by Adriana Baer (Artistic Director for Profile Theatre).  It is playing at their space at SW Alder St. & 16th Ave. through April 26th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-241-1278.

Miller’s plays are rarely just about the surface issue or title.  Death of a Salesman is not just about the collapse of a man but of an era; All My Sons is not only about his disintegrating family but all the men who were lost at war because of his mistakes; The Crucible not only encompasses the Witch Trials in Salem, Mass. in days gone by but the McCarthy era of the 50’s; and The Price is not only concerned with their childhood house of furniture being sold but the cost of Salvation, Memories or Redemption, perhaps.

The Franz family, Victor (Michael Elich), a policeman in NYC and his wife, Esther (Linda Alper) and estranged, older brother, Walter, a doctor (Michael Mendelson) are getting ready to sell all the family furniture because the building in which they lived as Youths is due to be torn down.  So Victor gets in touch with a furniture dealer/appraiser, Solomon (Joseph Costa) to sell their chattels and trinkets from a rich but somewhat dark childhood.  Also, Victor and Esther, quite frankly, need the money.

The only stumbling block is the estranged relationship between the two “boys,” who haven’t been in touch with each other for a number of years.  The reasons for this gulf are many and affect all of them deeply, preventing them, in some ways, not to go forward or grow any further.  It is with Walter’s arrival at this crossroads in their lives, which provides the crux of the story.  It is a character-driven play in which old wounds are exposed and the pains and secrets from a bygone era are revealed.  Obviously, to tell more would be giving away plot devices and I won’t do that.

But, one should keep in mind, that memories are tricky things.  Like clay, it can be molded and reshaped into any form the creator wishes.  Other writers like Williams, O’Neill, Faulkner, Hellman and Vonnegut, et. al. dealt in some of their stories with the power of the mind to remember and the imagination to create whatever works to keep our psyches whole.  It also depends on one’s perspective of events.  And, oft-times, we discover we are, indeed, our own worst enemies.  Healing can only take place once we acknowledge we have a hurt.

The set (Jack O’Brien) is wonderful and I marvel at some of the pieces he came up with, especially the harp and the old record player.  A treasure trove of memories for, I’m sure, many in the audience.  And Baer is herself quite a treasure as a director.   She always gets to the heart of the characters under her charge and brings out all the little nuances that make them tick.  She is, indeed, what is called, “an actor’s director.”

Two of the cast, Mendelson and Alper, are regular company members and are frequently in shows here.  They are truly seasoned professionals and add a crescendo of class to any stage they grace.  Alper’s Esther appears to be the secure hand behind the marriage but, as we soon discover, all may not be what they seem on the surface.  She slowly eases into the many layers that make up her character.  And Mendelson’s Walter, is outwardly, in dress and manner, the perfect gentleman.  But, underneath, he’s a man that has secrets and may be losing his grip on reality.  He’s a smoldering stewpot about to erupt its contents.  Both are excellent in their depictions.

Elich as the dutiful son, brother, husband and civil servant may be the product of his own mind.  Never having allowed his true feelings to show, he is now forced into a corner where he must face his demons in order to survive.  He initially presents us with a simple man, who you want to like, but by the end, we are facing a very troubled man.  A wonderfully layered performance.  And Costa is a gem.  Outwardly all bombast and bubbles but inwardly a shrewd businessman, a bit of a sage and a secret hurt also that haunts him.  Costa explodes on the stage with his energy and enthusiasm in a captivating performance.

A side note:  Artists Rep has two theatres (next plays, 4000 Miles and The Liar, in May and June) which are always busy.  They also graciously house Profile Theatre, headed by Baer  (next play, In the Next Room… in June) who always do amazing works.  And housing the Portland Shakespeare Project  headed by Mendelson in the summer (next show, Twelfth Night, in July).  Folks, it doesn’t get any better than this!

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