Monday, November 30, 2015

The Book of Merman—Triangle Productions!—NE Portland

Live Your Dreams!

This musical comedy has book, lyrics and music by Leo Swartz and is directed by Donald I. Horn, with musical direction by Jonathan Quesenberry.  It is playing at their space, 1785 NE Sandy Blvd. (free parking is available next to their building), through December 19th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-239-5919.

Mormons have been getting a lot of press lately, with the popular Book of Mormon on Broadway, and old stars like Tallulah, Maria Callas and now, Merman, getting reenergized by Triangle.  Put the seemingly two opposing forces together and you get the above mentioned musical.  I say “seemingly” because they may not be so far apart after all.

Merman was a force of nature and commanded attention.  So do the Mormons.  Merman strove hell-bent-for-leather to accomplish her goals.  Same with the Mormons (although, for them, it was probably “heck” bent for leather).  Merman was single-minded in her goal to be center stage.  Ditto the Mormons.  And Merman, oft laughed at and imitated, stuck to her guns and lived her dream.  Also, the Mormons.  So opposing forces may not be so opposite after all.  And, thereby, we have this fable.

The story is slight and may only be there as an excuse to let Merman’s legend shine.  But the Mormons hold their own and, in the end, they come to an agreeable compromise (something politicians can’t seem to do).  Probably everybody knows that one of the missions of the Mormon faith is to go into unknown territory, whether door-to-door in a neighborhood or a foreign country, to spread the Word of God.  In this case, the pervading prophets of the piece are the petulant, Elder Shumway (Collin Carver), and, the more devout, Elder Braithwaite (Will Shindler).

They seem to have a difference of opinion as to how the Gospel is to be spread and what their roles are.  Shumway is a closet thespian and reads bios of stars during classes.  Braithwaite has had a personal loss in his family and seems buried in his faith to find solace.  On their separate searches for meaning, they happen on the house of the bold, brassy, belting, Ethel Merman (Amy Jo Halliday).  She, assuming they are there to sell magazines or looking for cash donations, is very accommodating.  But Fate has a different lot in store for this intrepid trio.

Now we come to the heart of the story, as music is the way to calm the “savage beast” within and “catch the conscience of the [team].”  They question their own morality in “Son of a Motherless Goat” (very funny by the boys); duel with each other as to who has the upper hand in “Better Than You” (a showstopper); pump each other up in “You’re the Best” (a treat for the ears); learn that we all have a little Merman in us, “Be a Merman”; and, finally, secrets are revealed in, “Because of You” (touching).  There are about fifteen songs in all and all add a part to the story.

Horn, as always, has shows that not only entertain, but teach us as well.  He understands actors and has specific avenues he traverses with them to pull out every nuance of the character.  And his long-time music collaborator, Quesenberry, is always an asset to a production.  Also the lighting (Shelley Hutchinson) is very subtle but does create mood and focus when necessary for the plot.  She is one of those backstage, unsung heroes which every production has.

Carver and Shindler are terrific.  Carver as the rebel of the two, really does convince you of his struggle, so that you can identify the conflict within each of us, as Frost said, “two roads diverged…” and sorry I could not take both paths.  I think we’ve all been there.  And Carver’s voice and expressions are priceless!  Shindler is equally good as the more subdued soldier of God but equally, quietly conflicted.  His ballad near the end is lovely.  These two are perfect in their roles.

And Halliday is a gem.  The role fits her likes a glove and her operatic style makes “everything come up Merman.”  She plays it for laughs but you can see the human being beneath the bravado, a tribute to her acting, as well as singing.  Also, this type of character and her talent could easily overpower the boys but she is a genuine professional, taking the stage when it makes sense and allowing the others to shine when they should.  Halliday, I salute you!

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

Monday, November 23, 2015

Artichoke—Sandy Actors Theatre—Sandy, OR

“A House Divided…”

This comedy-drama is written by Joanna McClelland Glass and directed by Tobias Andersen.  It is playing at their space, 17433 Meinig, in Sandy through December 6th.  For more information, go to their site at

The thought that immediately comes to mind to me, when viewing this play, is Thomas Wolfe’s assertion that “you can’t go home again.”  This does not mean physically, of course, but the adage means you can’t relive the Past.  When a person refers to going “home” in this sense, they usually mean they are escaping from a dissatisfying Present to seek solace in the Past, in their memories of a simpler time.  But, unfortunately, the Past is cannot be recreated and, in this case, it is a House divided….

Gibson (Michael Streeter), the adopted son, of Gramps (Carl Coughlan), is a professor of literature at a university in the “Big City.”  But, in reality, his was raised on a rural wheat farm on the Saskatchewan Prairie in Canada.  In recent years, he has discovered that the “world is too much with [him]” as he has become tired of the hustle and bustle of modern life and must return to his roots.  But, his roots, his family, has also grown in other directions.

The little girl he played with (and that he was sweet on), the prideful, Margaret (Kelly Lazenby), daughter of Gramps, a wise old man, is now grown up and married but, it seems, not happily.  Her husband, the stubborn, Walter (Peter Baker), is a bit of a ladies’ man and had an affair with a water witch, which produced a child, a fourteen year old girl now, precocious, Lily Agnes (Allisonn O’Neill), who has been raised as part of the family, but Peter has been evicted to the Smokehouse for his transgression.  Lily Agnes is a “special” girl who is wise beyond her years and has an uncanny insight into human nature.

A unique twist to this story, is that there is a sort of Greek Chorus, two gossipy neighbors, Jake (Jim Butterfield) and Archie (Dan Robertson), that comment on the story and provide some background on the characters and the community at large.  They reminded me a bit of the old codgers that appeared on The Muppet Show from time to time.  Eventually they become involved with the goings-on and are an integral part of the tale themselves.  How all this angst and family dynamics finally work out would be telling, so I’ll just say, when all is said and done, there is still one element remaining in this Pandora’s Box…Hope.

The set (Dan Standley) is lovely and very accessible to the action and actors.  And Andersen certainly is an actor’s director.  He, himself, has been an icon in this theatre community for years and his passion and compassion for the artists and the material shines through in this production.  He is a bit of a romantic (as am I) and his obvious love and understanding of the play is evident.  There is, as mentioned in the play, a “pearl” in the production but, in my opinion, it is Mr. Andersen, himself, in all his glory!

The actors in the play all fit their parts like a glove.  They seem to become the characters instead of just enacting them.  The two grumpy old men, Robertson and Butterfield, are indeed crotchety but somehow loveable as well.  Coughlan looked like a Santa Claus in retirement, aware of everything going on but careful not to intrude or judge too strongly.  In Baker one could still see the appeal of the ladies’ toward him but his macho pride forbids him to apologize (a common fault in men).  Lazenby shows merit, as she must maintain composure for the rest of the family but one can see, too, that she is seething inside.

Streeter must balance the fact that he is world weary and a good man seeking home, with the fact, also that he is an intruder on these people’s lives, and he does it well.  O’Neill is a find, as she must play an adult in a child’s body.  She has an obvious stage presence and the intensity in which she approaches the role is spot on.  She has a good career in this field if she chooses to go forward.

I recommend this play.  I know it’s a bit of a drive for some people but, I believe, worth the effort.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Bite Me (a little)—Post5 Theatre—SE Portland

A Night to (Dis)member (or, Thirsting for Love)

This campy musical satire on Vampires is written and produced by Arlie Conner and he developed the music with Bill Larimer.  It is directed by Sam Dinkowitz with musical direction by Matt Insley and choreography by Sydney Weir.  It is playing at Post5’s space in the Sellwood area, 1666 SE Lambert St., through December 12th.

Eat your heart out, Dracula, as this show sucks like you never did!  There have been many interpretations of the vampire legend, some about Dracula and his minions, Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee being the most recognizable names.  But even Jack Palance, Gary Oldman, Frank Langella and even George Hamilton have played the infamous Count.  Now there are even TV series’ “honoring” the Undead.  And so the time is ripe for a musical.

This has much in common with Rocky Horror…, Little Shop of Horrors, Interview with a Vampire, Love at First Bite and, as my friend mentioned, Cabaret which, in this incarnation, it may have most in common with, as Cabaret was about the underbelly of German Society before WWII and this is about the underground of a bloodsucking horde.

As the story begins, we have a 1940, suave, film noir-type detective, Joe (Jim Vadala), on the trail of a serial killer who is mutilating bodies.  He is also the narrator of the piece.  His partner in trying to solve these grisly crimes is a morgue assistant, also an object of his desires, the lovely, Jenny (Chrissy Kelly-Pettit).  The motive is unclear but the trail seems to lead to a place called The Palace of Fun.

The Palace is run by the creepy, Dr. Hurt (Nathan Dunkin), a vampire of the first magnitude.  No longer the sometimes charming monster of films, he is outright devilish, disgusting, decadent, deceitful, and downright, dirty-minded.  He also has a delicious staff, headed by the feisty, femme-fatale, Georgie (Tyler Buswell), his manager, and his headline singer for the Club, the ravishing, ravenous, Raven (Sydney Weir).  And let us not forget those lascivious, leeches, the Twin Tina’s (Corinne Gaucher and Olivia Weiss).

But, like all good horror stories, we need an innocent to wander into this wily web and so enter the naïve, Ben (Brian Burger), just looking for a place to hold his high-school reunion.  Needless to say, he gets his heart’s desire and from there the pun…er, fun…begins.  I really can’t tell you too much more, as I would be a spoiler, but take it from me, not everything is at it appears.  The murders do get solved, which the detective has a hand in.  And love does have a way of seeping through the vein of the story.

But the success of this production is in the way it’s presented.  Obviously the tale does have its tongue securely cemented in its cheek, as it is, in part, an audience participation event with asides to the viewers, a campy take-off on vampire stories, some terrific rock music and songs, and an homage to film noir and old horror legends.  Author, Conner (and Larimer) and director, Dinkowitz, have managed to pull all these amazing elements together for quite a unique evening of entertainment.

And the cast and band (Insley, Gary Lapado, Brian Link and Matt Ramsdell) are all first rate.  In a small space like this, you’d expect the band to overpower the singers but this does not happen, kudos to some terrific voices and a super sound system.  And the few dances numbers (Weir) add flavor to the merry mischief.  Strangely, there was no real blood-letting during the show which I think was a wise choice, as it might have weakened the production.
Dunkin, who is always good, is amazing as Hurt.  His song and dance toward the end is a show-stopper.  He doesn’t try to copy anybody and so his interpretation is completely his own and it is one of his best portrayals!  Burger as the novice is a real treat.  He is the epitome of the innocent getting caught up in things beyond his control and understanding.  And he has a super voice to match.  Buswell as the bitchy drag queen is perfect.  He is a show all his own.  Weir is spot on as the sultry siren and has a voice that matches the 40’s Noir-style at the time.

No longer the virginal Marian (Music Man) or Poppins (Mary Poppins), Kelly-Pettit has grown up in the roles she plays and the transformation suits her.  Her voice is operatic and lends well to this role.  Vadala is a trooper and the roles he has played on the stage are varied.  His Spade send-up is a match for a Bogart or Raft and he plays it with appropriately somber glee.  And Gaucher and Weiss, as the twins, have amazing voices and are creepy and sexy at the same time.

I’m very impressed with Conner’s show and he should be proud of what he has created and the talent he has assembled to present it.  Bravo!  One thing I find annoying, though, and it’s present in the last two musicals I’ve seen recently, is that there is no page in the program for the songs and the talent that sing them.  I believe it’s disrespectful not to credit these areas.  Just my opinion, of course.

I highly recommend this production.  But, be warned, it is very adult in language and situations.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Present Laughter—Lakewood Theatre Company—Lake Oswego, OR

A Comedy of Manners

This Noel Coward comedy from the 40’s is directed by Don Alder.  It is playing at their space, 368 S. State St., through December 13th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-635-3901.

This is pretty typical of Coward’s comedies but not one of his best.  He often writes himself in as the main character and usually played it himself at one point.  Often he would write the ex-wife part for his good buddy, Gertrude Lawrence.  In fact there is a rather good film of their relationship called, Star, with Julie Andrews as Lawrence and Daniel Massey as Coward.  His most famous and best comedies of this type being, Blithe Spirit and Private Lives, I believe.  My favorite, though, is a drama called Brief Encounters.  He was also songwriter, and an actor, both in comedic and dramatic roles later in life.

Coward’s comedies often included ex-wives as characters, and it was the age of smoking jackets, sexual intrigue, gallons of booze and smoking, and with dozens of artistic types, free with their money, traveling casually about Europe.  In this case, it is about an aging, vain, matinee-idol named, Garry Essendine (Gary Powell).  It seems that he is preparing for a trip to Africa in the near future to perform a few months of repertory plays.  But he will not be allowed to slip easily into that “good night.”

His ex-wife, Liz (Olivia Shimkus) keeps popping back into his life, presumably because she still cares for him (or his money and lifestyle).  He also has the terrible habit on having young, fledgling starlets stay overnight in his flat because they have “forgotten” their latch-key, in this case a young, naïve girl named, Daphne (Brenan Dwyer).  His two best friends, also his Producer and his Manager, Hugo (Jacob Lee Smith) and Morris (Grant Byington) are constantly in and out of his life.  And the third member of the trio, although a bit of a misfit, is Joanna (Melissa Whitney), Hugo’s wife.  But it seems there might be a bit of mischief going on with her behind their backs.

To add to this madcap misadventure is a newbie, a brash, over-eager playwright, Roland (Jake Simmonds) who has a fixation on Garry and is dying for him to be in his new, rather avant-garde, play.  His staff, consisting of a frisky golden-ager, Fred (John Morrison), his valet, the other-worldly, Miss Erikson (Jane Ferguson), the maid and his faithful, straight-laced secretary, Monica (Marilyn Stacey), are the only ones to seem to know the “real” Garry.  Surrounded by the high-life and oodles of hangers-on, he is still a rather lonely man.  To tell you more would spoil the fun.

This tale is very slight as a storyline but heavy on relationships, which makes it fun.  Once upon a time, this was the life-style of a chosen few and it’s very well represented in this production of that era.  I don’t think it makes you want to hark back to those “good ole days” but, when this performed, this play and others, gave citizens a light-hearted romp at a time when England and Europe would be all ablaze with WWII.  It must have been a welcome relief from the misery surrounding them.

The cast is all spot on, reflecting on an era long past and giving us a view of a life-style, only slightly exaggerated, I assume, in which having fun was the order of the day and one shouldn’t take Life and Love too seriously.  Alder understands this period and his cast reflects it wonderfully, with quick repartees, rushing about every which way, and still retaining a modicum of mock elegance.  Also the set (John Gerth) and costumes (Clare Hungate-Hawk) mirror the period perfectly.   And Powell is exceptional, I think even Coward would have approved of him in the lead role.  He makes no bones about his vanity, aging and indiscretions, with a slight twinkle in his eyes.  Powell is every bit the winsome wit that Coward intended him to be! 

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

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Women of Troy—Play On Words—downtown Portland

“Where Have All the Flowers Gone…?”

This Greek tragedy by Euripides is a world premiere and has been adapted for the stage and directed by Jeffrey Puukka.  It is playing at PSU’s Lincoln Hall #55, 1620 SW Park Ave. through November 21st.  For more information, go to their site at

This is a great, anti-war story of the futility and the stupidity of War.  One might remember the story of Paris, A Trojan, abducting Helen, a Spartan, married to its king.  “The face that launched a thousand ships…” and so, as revenge, a kingdom was destroyed to get her back.  The Spartans led a night raid on Troy and, in the final result, most the males were killed, and females turned into slaves for them.  Thousands died, a culture was lost and all for the sake of a little dalliance between two, horny, young people.  Could anything be sillier or more stupid?!

How about a country fabricating a story that an opposing country has great, secret weapons that could wipe out a nation, just so they could go in and kill their leader, admittedly, a cruel man.  The fact that they were an oil rich country and their leader had once tried to assassinate this country’s leader’s father, really had no bearing on the war.  You bet.  And so the country, to this day, is in turmoil and thousands have (and are) dying because of this action years ago.  Guess we haven’t learned so much after all, have we?!  Someone once said, if we don’t learn from history, we are cursed to repeat it.  And so we are…

The story, as it goes, has flighty Helen (Shannon Mastel), the Queen of Sparta and married to the paranoid King Menelaus (Neil Wade Freer), being abducted by Paris, a Trojan.  Well, the Spartans have never really like the Trojans anyway, so the King, with his trusty advisor, the wily Odysseus (John Marks) and his older brother and chief General, the ruthless Agamemnon (Rick Zimmer), use this kidnapping as an excuse to wage war on the Trojans.  Joining the fight is a compassionate, one-armed veteran of war (Robert Lee Gaynor) and a sadistic guard (Sean Morgan).

They succeed in killing the King of Troy, Priam, and Paris, but the whereabouts of Helen alludes them.  The proud Hecuba (Elizabeth Ware), Queen and wife to Priam, does her best to protect her family, alive now only because they are all women.  The wily Cassandra (Wynee Hu) is a Seer, who has a direct line to the gods and can see the future by deciphering omens and signs.  She babbles a great deal and appears mad but is valued by the Spartans, especially Agamemnon, because she knows what lies ahead.
Another family member is quiet Andromache (Danielle Pecoff), daughter-in-law of the Queen, and having a child by her son, now dead, Hector.  Other siblings are the anxious Polyxena (Chelsea Turner), willing to do anything just to survive.  Another daughter (Emily Eisele) is defiant and pays the price.  And the youngest, (Nicole Resner), is just a child and still holds on to her stuffed toy as her best pal.  I won’t ruin the tale by telling you anymore but know that some do survive and are able to grieve and will eventually reinvent themselves.

The power of the play lies in some pretty impressive actors, as well as an updating of the language and time frame of the story.  Puukka’s script is very intense throughout and is almost three hours long.  And he has chosen to direct it on an essentially bare stage, allowing the actors much freedom to explore and expand their characters.  Good idea.  I would suggest, though, that some lightness needs to be found in the script, as Hitchcock even pointed out, doing his suspense films, that an audience always needs a little humor/lightness during these intense proceedings, to catch their breath and let their minds relax and re-group for a moment, before the next onslaught of emotions or actions.

The cast is powerful.  Especially impressive were Zimmer, as the General, the consummate egomaniac, caring only for his own glory.  You really hate this guy.  Ware, as the opposing leader, brings a great deal of nobility to the role and is quite the leader herself.  An erudite and strong-willed portrayal.  I was moved by Gaynor as the disabled soldier.  A touching performance of a very conflicted but caring human being.  Marks as the architect/planner is probably the most dangerous character of all, as he can smooth-talk his way into your psyche.  A dangerous politician and well played.  And Hu, as the Seer, skillfully weaves her way in and out of sanity, keeping one always on their toes as to what she will do next.  She’s always in character and you believe her instantly, a born survivor.  Bravo.

And, in that regard, here are some words from her when I asked about the play and her role:

"I have been involved with Women of Troy since August 2014. As an actor, it is a pleasure and a privilege to be part of a project's development. In terms of creating a character, I enjoy revisiting Cassandra and discovering new things about her each time I step into her shoes. Regarding the ensemble, there is a palpable sense of camaraderie formed by the original cast that continues to grow with the addition of new cast members. I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to work extensively on a complex, archetypal character, and to meet and learn from my fellow actors over time."

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

A Christmas Carol—Battle Ground High School—Battle Ground, WA

A Tale of Redemption

This production is a world premiere, adapted and directed by Stephan “Cash” Henry from the classic novel by Charles Dickens.  It is playing at their auditorium at the school, SW 3rd Ave. & Main St. in Battle Ground, through November 21st.   For tickets, go to

I was unable to see this production because of the terrible storms we had but I think it does deserve a preview, as it’s an original adaptation and this high school’s drama department and its teacher/director, Henry, show merit that goes far beyond “typical” high school plays and is a terrific training ground for young adults.  I, myself, have even written a rather more traditional adaptation, doing it as a full-stage and readers theatre production, to this story and even played Cratchit, myself, in a college production many moons ago.

This immortal tale has been rendered countless times in movies, TV, animated versions, on stage, a musical, and in a one-man show.  Alaister Sim (the best), George C. Scott, Reginald Owens, Jim Backus (Mr. Magoo), Henry Winkler, Sterling Hayden, Albert Finney, Bill Murray, Jim Carrey, et. al. have all played various incarnations of the infamous, Scrooge.

Everyone has a story…of who they were…who they are now…and who they might become.  Scrooge has the enviable task of being able to go back and relive highlights of his life in a brief span of time and then makes changes accordingly.  Make no doubt about it, he is a mean, miserly, spoiled, spiteful old man who needs a good spanking rather than a second chance.  But this is not a tale of revenge and punishment but of forgiveness and redemption.  It is, by all accounts, a true Christmas story, about the birth of Hope.  Not unlike the original, true story, of 2,000 years ago, or even the old myth of Pandora’s Box, where she released all the evils unto the earth but managed to keep Hope contained.

But as the director/adapter, Henry, puts it:

Writing this adaptation was one of the great joys of my life in the theater. I hadn’t realized the amount of time and effort that goes into something as seemingly simple as an adaptation.

I wanted to better understand Ebenezer Scrooge as a person, not just as a character. He is, to me, a dystopian everyman, and person who seems to live in his own chosen world that exists in darkness and complete lack of hope, surrounded by people who find hope in the darkest of moments. He has everything the quintessential “happy” person should have: plenty of money, people around him who care about him (his nephew Fred to name just one), he owns his own business and does well for himself, and yet he is deeply sad and alone of his own choosing. I wanted to delve further into how he became this way, because just as I believe that no one is born evil, I believe that no one is born unhappy. We all have the choice to either fall into the depths of despair or rise above the challenges we are faced with and soldier on. Why did fall? How does he rise again? I wasn’t trying to improve Dickens story, as I think it truly is a classic tale of the fall and rise of a man, but I wanted to accentuate the depth of this man, and the boy who was lost and found within him. I wanted to love Ebenezer Scrooge as a person, not just like him as a character.

And, as the original story goes, when we first visit Ebenezer Scrooge (Brendan Groat) he has spurned some charity seekers (Reagan Joner), his own nephew, Fred (Thomas Rismoen) and even his sole clerk, Bob Cratchit (Andre Roy).  His place in society is locked, until a visit from old partner, Jacob Marley (Artagnan Ricardo), now a ghost, who warns him of dire consequences in the afterlife if he doesn’t change his ways.

He then is visited by three spirits, the Ghosts of Christmas Past (Denise Luschenko), Present (Sarah Wren) and the Future (Bailey Baxter).  The first one gives him a peek at his past as a Young Man (Skyler Denfeld) with his loving sister, Fan (Sierra Dumont), mother of his nephew, Fred, now deceased, and old Fezziwig (Spencer Ridgeway), a generous employer.  And, of course, his true love, dear Belle (Cassidy MacAdam), who he cast aside for the pursuit of wealth.

The second spirit shows him the present, with the joy of the Cratchit family, his wife (Madison Gardner), their children, Peter (Braeden Miller), Martha (Trinity Weaver), Belinda (Louise Larsen) and the ailing, Tiny Tim (Jerrin King) and the gayness of his nephew and kin (Anneke Kincaid), at this festive season of the year.  The third, from a time yet-to-come, has his spoils being divided up by the “street” people, Old Joe (Jaden Denfeld), Ms. Dilber (Jamie Allen) and Ms. Belkin (Emily Vaught), and points to doom and gloom for Tiny Tim, the youngest of Bob’s children, and Scrooge’s own forgotten demise.

He vows then to keep Christmas in his heart all year round and make use of his wealth for the good of others.  Of course, one wonders what has happened to Belle after all these years and why his hatred of Fred, his nephew, who is, after all, his beloved Fan’s son.  But, perhaps, these are stories for another time.

I would recommend seeing this show as, although it is rushing the Season a bit, but you will find yourself transported to another time and be impressed by the talents of this group.  A cast of about 20 play more than twice that many in characters, too.  Quite a feat for even a more seasoned company.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Flash! Ah-Ahhh!—StageWorks Ink—SW Portland

“It’s A Miracle”

This Rock & Roll parody of songs by Queen is adapted for the stage and directed by Steve Coker, with music by School of Rock and musical director James Liptak and Illya Torres-Garner and choreography by Jamie Langton.  It is performing at The Hostess, 538 SE Ash St., through November 21st.  For more info, go to their site at

This musical has had more than one incarnation and a few cast changes over the past couple of years.  And the group itself is moving to the Clinton Street theatre next Spring, opening with a play adaptation from the film, Three Amigos (with Steve Martin).  Also, on the docket for Coker, is a rebirth of his original noir, horror, comedy-musical, The Adventures of Dex Dixon, the Paranormal Dick, songs co-written by KJ McElrath, at the Stumptown Stages next year.

There was a very campy movie with football star, Sam Jones, in the lead, a number of years ago.  There was also the serials from the 40’s with Buster Crabbe as our hero.  And some of us might remember the skin-flick of about 50 years ago called, Flesh Gordon (of course, I only saw it for research on Sci-Fi movies).  The play has things in common with The Rocky Horror Show, Mel Brook’s send-ups, and a washer on spin cycle.  It is a high-flying (without a net), highfalutin, hotwired, high-jinx menagerie of merry, misfits that will leave you in stitches.  And it has some extraordinary voices to top off this delightful treat!

As for any kind of story (which pales in comparison to the songs), it involves Flash Gordon (Illya Torres), a hunky athlete, being kidnapped, with his old squeeze, the delectable maiden, Dale Arden (Tasha Danner) and a semi-mad, scientist, Dr. Zarkov (Kristi Bogart), to the distant planet, Mongo, which is ruled by the despicable, Emperor Ming, the Merciless (Craig Fitzpatrick).  Ming’s goal is very simple, really, to destroy Earth and its inhabitants and rule the universe.

But complications arise when his daughter, the devious, Aura (Kara Hayes), falls for Flash, and Ming, of course, is smitten by Dale.  But the vain, Prince Barin (Sean Ryan Lamb) only has eyes for Aura himself (that is, when not admiring himself in his mirror).  The hawkish, Prince Vultan (Steve Coker), has eyes on Ming’s kingdom.  And a couple of Amazon-like warriors, the busty, Klytus (Landy Hite), and the naughty, Kala (Cyndi Rhoads), are out for their share of the pie, as well.  And, of course, there are always the minions, in this case a chorus of throw-backs comprised of the good citizens of Mong, Amanda Healy, Athena McElrath and Matthew Workman.

Throw in some hypnotism, wonder drugs, a wood beast, Bore Worms, a magic ring and a good, old-fashion sword fight and you’ve got all the elements for a rip-roarin’, swash-bucklin,’ rootin’-tootin,’ adventurous good time.  And the band, the School of Rock (Zach Holden, Max McCargar, Evan Shely, Connor Johnson and Otto Portzline), composed of all teens, really do Rock your socks off.  I doubt if there is any way to solve it in such a small space, but the band does drown out the lyrics of the singers at times.  Unfortunately, the songs, and singers associated with them, were not listed in the program, but know that there is not a weak voice in the cast.

Torres and Coker played two of the main roles in their last play and they are a great team together.  Both of them have powerful voices and have just the right amount of camp in their performances to keep you laughing.  Lamb is certainly one of the funniest characters in the play and his relationship with his mirror is positively indecent.  He also has a strong voice.  Hayes, as the wily princess, is someone you love to hate but has the voice and beauty to charm you.  Bogart is appropriately zany as the mad scientist, and the chorus, playing multiple roles, is quite a feat, as are Rhoads and Hite as women in power.

Danner has a voice that would blow the roof off the theatre, if allowed to be completely unleashed.  She is amazing and probably could be a concert star if she put her mind to it (and possibly is).  And Fitzpatrick (who I’ve reviewed before) is deliciously decadent as the evil ruler.  He has a comic timing about him that is spot on and his expressions are priceless.  He is so good he convinces you that you might actually want him to succeed.  Hopefully other theatre people, as well, will appreciate his talent and keep him working the arts.

A side note, if you are sitting more than a couple rows back, if the actors are seated for a number, you see only the tops of their heads and, if standing, you see them from the waist up, unless they’re at the back of the stage.  Putting higher risers in for the audience or raking the stage in some fashion would be a possible solution.

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

Monday, November 9, 2015

Ain’t Misbehavin’—Portland Center Stage—Pearl District

The Art of Feelin’ Good

This musical based on the life and times of Fats Waller is conceived by Richard Maltby, Jr. and Murray Horwitz, directed by Chris Coleman (PCS’s Artistic Director), choreography by Kent Zimmerman and musical direction by Rick Lewis.  It is playing at their space at 128 NW 11th Ave. through November 29th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-445-3700.

Since this musical is 99% song and dance only, I will attempt to give a flavor of it by just using mostly their song titles.  I got my fingers crossed but looks like this show is spreadin’ rhythm around.  It’s a sin to tell a lie but, in the audience, if you find out what they like then they be keepin’ out of mischief now and  the joint is jumpin.  Okay, that’s a stretch, but if you find a different language to communicate with others, you are bound to give it a try and that ain’t misbehavin.

This does have aspects of opera, as there is essentially no spoken dialogue, but the music is pure Waller and his era.  He was purported to be in league with the devil because his music was so revolutionary for the time (as was another musician, Robert Johnson, who is rumored to have made a pact with the devil, his soul for the art of writing music.  Strangely, no verified photos of Johnson exist).  Instead of romanticizing those years (early 20th century), Waller choose to reflect them in the music and songs of the times.  They were troubled days, especially for minorities, and these songs reflect that.

What you will see mirrored on the stage is a journey of love found and lost (Honeysuckle Rose, I Can’t Give You Anything But Love and Mean To Me, et. al.; dreams of an elusive Eden, Black And Blue; degradation and despair, Lounging At the Waldorf and The Viper’s Drag, et. al.; and, ultimately, shouts of joyous celebration of life and lovin’ and livin,’ Spreadin’ Rhythm Around and The Joint is Jumpin,’ as well as the title song.   Some of my favorites were Handful of Keys (Demone, David St. Louis, André Ward, David Jennings, Mia Michelle McClain, and Maiesha McQueen); Cash For Your Trash (Olivia Phillip and McQueen); and Black And Blue (DeMone, St. Louis, Ward, Jennings, Charity Angél Dawson, Phillip, McClain, and McQueen).  Also adding powerful vocal support was the youngest, Hailey Kilgore.

It is an ensemble cast and these are some of the best voices I’ve heard in a musical!  All of them are very strong and have a tremendous range.  Coleman has chosen his cast well and an added necessary talent for him is managing the intricate but very smooth revolving set changes that add immensely to the success of the show.  Tony Cisek is a major asset as the scenic designer and his set not only is amazing to view but the revolve works very succinctly from the audience’s perspective (but I’m sure it was more organized chaos behind the scenes).  The music added greatly to the production (Lewis), never overpowering the actors and Zimmerman’s dances fit perfectly the moods of the pieces.

I recommend this show, as it is not only a treat for the eyes and ears, but adds honesty to the story of important time in our history.  If you do see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Orlando—Profile Theatre—SW Portland

Ages of Man

This avant-garde, dark comedy is written by Sarah Ruhl, based on a novel by Virginia Woolf and directed by Matthew B. Zrebski.  It is playing at the Artists Rep. space, SW Alder St. & 16th Ave. through November 22nd.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-242-0080.

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to live hundreds of years and experience all the changes the world had to offer?  But, except for Vampires, and some prophets from the Old Testament, that is not likely to happen.  That is, except for Orlando.  He not only survives (for some unknown reason) for 500 plus years but also changes gender.  That is, what I would call, fully experiencing Life.

Virginia Woolf wrote a novel on this subject, which was made into a rather good film in the early 90’s, with Tilda Swinton as the title character.  Ruhl’s play is presented in a story-telling theatre style on an essentially bare stage with the actors not only doing dialogue but also commenting on and relating the action of the story.  Orlando is played by Beth Thompson with four other actors playing all the other characters and a type of Greek Chorus, which narrates and underscores the tale.

It begins innocently enough, with Orlando simply sitting under an Oak tree some 500 years ago, trying to write a poem.  But he soon gets swept up the aristocracy of the period when the Queen (Elizabeth Rothan) takes a liking to him and lavishes him with land, money and gifts.  But the Queen is a jealous goddess and will stand for no other rivals in her house.  So, when Orlando is smitten with a Russian skater, Princess Sasha (Crystal Muñoz), and plans to run away with her, the Queen is not a happy camper.

But, dash the luck, the skater seems a bit on the flighty side and decides to return to her own country without him.  And, somewhere along Life’s journey of several years, Orlando falls into a deep sleep and when he awakens, he is a woman…but in a man’s body and with the same memories of his Past.  He then meets a rather silly Arch-Dutchess (Ted Rooney) who is vying for her (his?) attentions.  Finally, after some more gyrations, she meets what is probably her true love in Marmaduke (Ben Newman), as she feels she has known him before.  How it all turns out, you’ll just have to see.

This is only the barest of a thumbnail sketch of the story because the power lies not in the facts but in how they are related.  Woolf’s/Ruhl’s language is poetry in motion and the superb cast is the product of that endeavor.  The stylized presentation is almost dance-like at times and may be a distant cousin to the Japanese Noh way of theatre.  Only essential props are used and many of them only skeletons of the actual objects, the actors change character, relying little on costuming but heavy on their own unique talents of creation.  And the narrative style of relating the story makes you feel you are turning the pages of a book and letting your mind interpret the proceedings.  All told, quite a feat!

Zrebski certainly has the command of the stage at his disposal and a solid understand of the material.  He has also chosen his cast very well as they are all up to such a unique challenge.  Rooney’s Duchess (and Duke) are a scream.  His vocal tics stopped the show at times with laughter, as they were so damn funny.  Rothan is delightfully evil as the Queen and a little scary to see how absolute power can corrupt.  Muñoz is perfectly lovely and convincing as the skater and is always an asset to the many varied roles/productions she has been in.  Newman, as Orlando’s soul mate, gives a heartfelt performance and one’s wishes that all of us could meet that magic someone who might be just around the corner.

And Thompson, what a powerful depiction of this very complicated and conflicted character.  She is absolutely marvelous!  Not only is she onstage the whole time but, with almost no alterations, goes from being a male to a female and convinces you of both.  And, in a part that could have been overdone or exaggerated, she prefers to, like a thief in the night, slip in and of her role with barely a whisper of the passing of time or gender.  Bravo!

Also, is this story a subtle way of informing us that gender identity comes from within, which is the resting place of our true nature?  I think so.  And, another point about Woolf’s writing, which is somewhat relevant here.  She was famous for writing in a stream-of-conscious way, meaning letting us in on what the character is thinking as each second goes by.

In the play by Albee, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, the two main characters engage in a game of make-believe to survive.  At the end, when the games are over, George sings to Martha from the title of the play and she admits that she is afraid of Virginia Woolf.  Now, substitute the word “reality” for Woolf’s name and you see what she is really afraid of.  Is this a theme, too, of the play, that we are afraid of who we really are and showing it?  Possibly.

I recommend this play but, be aware, there is full nudity in it and adult situations.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

The Wrestling Season—OCT’s Young Professionals Co.—NE Portland

Seeking, Me

This teen-angst drama is written by Laurie Brooks and directed by Pat Moran and Zoe Rudman.  It is playing at Oregon Children’s Theatre’s black box space at 1939 NE Sandy Blvd. through November 15th.  For more information, go to their site at

To paraphrase the Bard:  Identity is the means, wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the teens.  An oft-repeated phrase throughout the show is, “You think you know me but you don’t!”  No doubt, true.  A line “grown-ups” love to use toward their kids to show understanding is, “well, I was a kid once, you know.”  But that was then…this is now.  A major difference is the electronic, social media that has exposed society to an unsuspecting world, warts and all.  The intent…to pull people and the world closer …but the result has had just the opposite effect.  By exposing those most vulnerable and yet not completely formed, our Youth, it has created a maelstrom in their search for who they are.

This story all takes place on a wrestling mat, overseen by an omnipresence, a Referee (Emma Weightman), who allows them to hustle and tussle but blows the whistle on them when they are “out of bounds.”  The angst of this world is no different than issues, I’m sure, the actors face in the so-called, “real” world.  The single-minded, Matt (Morgan Fay) is best friends with the shy, Luke (Nate Gardner).  But the friendship is solely questioned when they are purportedly observed “all over each other” in the locker room.  And the witchy Heather (Adie Fecker), enjoying her position as “Miss-Know-It-All,” loves to spread that rumor to her friends, especially her naïve disciple, Nicole (Sierra Kruse).

And, of course, the macho boyfriends of the gals, the oversexed, Jolt (Michael Kepler Meo) and his buddy, the bullish, Willy (Tristan Jackson), escalate the rumor to a more physical nature.  But all is not lost as Matt seeks out a girlfriend in the attractive, Melanie (Sophie MacKay), a girl also with a tarnished “reputation,” and Luke finds solace in a caring lady, Kori (Katie McClanan), who listens and does not judge.  But the climax is a big wrestling match in which prowess may be determined.  The survival of the fittest?  You’ll have to see it.

This may not be the end-all in teen-angst stories but the author, Brooks, certainly seems to know what she is talking about.  And the actors themselves must feel the story fits them.  There have been past stories about “growing pains,” such as The Outsiders and Rumble Fish and the musicals, Grease and Hairspray, but this one concentrates the story on just a few mainstream issues and one setting and lets the ripples spread from there outward.

In school, I was always the one picked last for a team and shunned by the social set.  But I had one advantage that these Youth have, I found the Arts, specifically theatre, as my saving grace.  And it became invaluable to me in realizing my potential.  And so, I say to this Cast, you are one Giant Step ahead of your peers by going forward in this medium.  It teaches you focus, teamwork and gives you confidence in yourself.  And I can’t think of any better artistic path than the one you have here with Dani Baldwin and her incredible team at OCT’s school.  So, in my opinion, dump the electronic venue to find yourself and embrace your fellow artists.  That’s the REAL world.

I couldn’t imagine a better cast to perform this than the one they have.  They are exceptional young actors and, I’m sure, can personally identify with the story and characters in this play.  The directors, too, Moran and Rudman, have kept the play moving at a brisk pace and, I assume, have allowed the teens a lot of leeway in how they approach the characters.  Each one of the roles, also, is very specific in how they’re performed.  I couldn’t imagine a better friend than McClanan’s, Kori and can identify with having a female as a friend, as they often are my best friends.  Your heart goes out to Gardner’s, Luke as the sensitive boy, set apart from the others.

And Fay, as the conflicted, Matt, a person you want to like but has some major anger issues to deal with.  Mackay’s, Melanie seems the most astute of the pack and you want to put your arms around her to shield her from the foibles of mankind.  Fecker, Jackson, Kruse and Meo are the all too familiar bullies of the world and you feel you want to give them a good smack alongside the head, not to injure them but to wake them up to the harm they are doing.  And Weightman does a good job of attempting to keep a sense of order to the proceedings.  They are all spot-on in their performances.

I recommend this show.  Note, it only has one more weekend to perform and this performance was sold out, so get your tickets now.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Equus—Post 5 Theatre—SE Portland

Seeking Normal

This intense drama is written by Peter Shaffer and directed by Ty & Cassandra Boice.  It is playing at their space in the Sellwood area of Portland, 1666 SE Lambert St., through November 15th.  For more information, go to their site at

This was made into a film some years ago with Richard Burton in the lead but loses some of the impact because it pictures it in a realistic way.  Part of the power of the story is how the boy sees his own reality in symbolic and expressionistic ways, dealing with the inner workings of the imagination and human psyche in interpreting reality.  In this way, the stage is a much more powerful tool to relate this tale.

Although the story is told through the psychiatrist’s eyes, Dysart (Todd Van Voris), it is really also the boy’s, Alan Strang’s (Phillip Berns) perceptions, as seen through the Doctor, which then, may actually differ from reality.  And, of course, we are all products of our upbringing and, thus, his zealously religious mother, Dora (Catherine Melo) and strict, atheistic father, Frank (Tony Green) are, in part, responsible for how the boy turns out.  The possibly that he is simply the product of a “bad seed,” and that nothing could be done to change that, is pretty preposterous.

A doctor’s job, to put it simplistically, is to take away pain and give a person as normal a life as possible.  But his job, according to his oath, is to “first, do no harm.”  Ah, “therein, lies the rub.”  How does one define, “normal” and what would be considered, doing “harm?”  Does “normal” meaning going along with how the majority of people see the world and using that as a basis?  And if you take away pain, does that really mean you have done “no harm?”  This is the dilemma that Dysart faces, as we all do through our journeys in Life.

Alan has been sent to him by his caring friend, a magistrate, Hester (Jill Westerby Gonzales) who, rather than passing legal judgment on this teen, who has blinded six horses, wants Dysart to discover the reason for this bizarre behavior and “take away his pain.”  Dysart, overworked and dealing with a failed marriage himself, agrees, maybe feeling that more work will ease the numbness of his personal life.  And so the two confront each other and their own fears.

The doctor certainly has some “tricks” to get the boy to talk, like playing games, using hypnosis, interviewing the parents, giving the boy a recorder to transmit his thoughts, and finally, a “truth” session.  He interviews the parents, gets feedback from Alan’s nurse (Mariel Sierra), and former boss, Dalton (James Dixon), hears about the horseman (Murren Kennedy) that introduced Alan to horses and about a possible girlfriend, the free-spirited, Jill (Olivia Weiss), at the stable in which he worked.

Through it all, there is the figure of Nugget (Ethan LaFrance), Alan’s favorite horse, who seems to hover on the sidelines, like a ghostly figure, nudging the process onward.  He finally devises a way to get the truth of what happened that night from him but the results are not what he expected and may be more horrifying than what he imagined!  For more of the story, you must see it.

A little more fodder for your fertile brains, mythology has characters, like a Satyr and Pan, that are half-man, half-beast and usually involved with fertility and sexuality.  Also ancient tribes, who had no knowledge of horses, upon seeing soldiers on horseback, thought they were one animal and worship them as gods.  These factors do play as ingredients to the story.

This production is powerful and gripping!  It hold no bars, as it steamrolls you from its delicate   beginning to it shattering conclusion.  The Boices’ have outdone themselves on an almost bare stage with several locations to create a reality that is solely within your imagination.  And the important part of this equation is a superb cast that willingly hops aboard this psychic locomotive to another space in an altered time.  The play asks the all-important question, perhaps, if we take away a crucial element of a person’s psyche, however well-intended, shouldn’t we be replacing it with something equally relevant?  Again, the conclusion of the story is a question…we are the answer!

All of the cast is powerful in their portrayals but the bulk of it rests on Van Voris and Berns and they are more than up to the task of offering us a feast for the senses!  Berns, a company member from the beginning and in many of their productions, is outstanding as the boy in question.  His body movements, facial expressions, intonations, haunting eyes, all conspire to suck you into his world of deep distress (or are we being pulled out of our self-same world?).  His kinetic performance is mesmerizing and he deserves all the accolades one can muster for a riveting delve into the mind.

Van Voris is so good in this (and, quite frankly, in everything he performs) that you feel he is speaking with authority in this field and that his search for truth is gospel.  He is no longer an actor on the stage but is fully immersed in the character he portrays.  His booming voice not only can stop you in your tracks but also quavers, so that you see/hear the vulnerability underneath, creeping up on his reserved front.  He blesses us every time he “treads the boards.”  May we never see the end of his talents.

A side note, this is very adult in subject matter and has full nudity by two members the cast.  Although baring themselves emotionally before an audience is stock-and-trade of the acting profession, revealing the human body before strangers, is no more easy for them, as it would be for us.  Berns and Weiss certainly have nothing to be ashamed of, as they are attractive human beings, but they are also very brave to go the “extra mile” in exposing themselves to us.  I applaud them for this.  And Weiss is also a very talented, up-and-coming actor in the company and we should be seeing more of her in the future.

I recommend this show but, again, be aware, it is very adult in content.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Broomstick—Artists Rep.—SW Portland

A Wry, Witchin’ Good Time

This one-woman show about the angst of a Witch stars Vana O’Brien, is written by John Biguenet and directed by Gemma Whelan.  It is playing at their space at SW Alder St. & 16th Ave. and runs through November 22nd.  For more information, go to their site at

Perhaps one should begin with the nature of Evil or Villainy, as the theme of the play hinges on it.  I worked as an extra many years ago in Paint Your Wagon, most of it filmed in Baker City.  I remarked to Lee Marvin that he was always so convincing as a villain and how did he do it.  He said that you never play a villain as if he’s wrong.  He believes that he is right and justified in what he’s doing.  So it boiled done to perspective, as does the character in this story.

Also, one more point, although not mentioned in the play, if you believe in Evil, or the Devil, you must by default, believe in Goodness or a God, because one has no existence without the presence of the other (think about it).  And now, to the play which, by the way, is all written in rhyme:

Once upon a time

In a far-off land,

Mr. Sandman had a plan:

With one sweep of his hand

He put us to sleep,

And dreams became

Our permanent demand.

And so, here we are, story-tellers to the end.  Keep in mind that oral tradition is probably the oldest form of plays and our history.  And part of that heritage is the Lore of a people, among them fables and fairy tales, in part to teach us lessons.  But the major stumbling block to all this, is the perspective of the Teller, it is their viewpoint, not necessarily what really happened.  And, like magic, here appears our centerpiece for this tale, the Witch (Vana O’Brien).

She is a bit of a composite of all fairly tale hags from the European tales of Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Hansel and Gretel, and the Wizard of Oz, also, Macbeth’s “three weird sisters,” to America’s Salem Witch Trials and the historic Bell Witch of the NE U.S. from the 1800’s.  I applaud, too, the fact that they chose not to dress and make her up as a “traditional” witch but instead chose the more human look and thus, she became more believable.

Although she may have powers beyond normal understanding, that doesn’t mean that she is totally in control of how they affect her on a personal basis.  She appears to be telling her tales to one or more “ghosts’ from the past that seem to haunt her.  Or is she just talking to keep herself awake so that her personal demons don’t overpower her?  Or is she even awake?  It seems that early memories may have caused the rift in her personality, as she witnessed some horrible deeds of the past.  Also, her boyhood love, as they grew to a more intimate relationship, had a tragic end.  This seemed to be the tipping point for her and from there on she took control, in more ways than one, of her life and of lives around her.

She can be very human and identifiable, as when she describes her first encounter with sex (beautifully written and portrayed), then can graphically recall witnessing the horror and callousness of the inhumanity of one person to another, to the pain of personal loss.  It some ways you can see why she has chosen the path she does.  And the relating of the Hansel and Gretel story through her eyes is a real treat for this Halloween-type tale.

I don’t want to tell you too much about the stories, as so much of the magic is due to O’Brien’s marvelous command of the stage and character.  Also the set is quite a work of Art (designer, Kristeen Willis Crosser), very organic and appears to have a life of its own.  And the lighting (designer, Carl Faber), very subtle, is also very active, as you move from one mood or aspect or her story to another.  The wig (Ashley Hardy) and coat (designer, Gregory Pulver) add a certain rustic beauty to the production, too.  Whelan never keeps the scenes static, always moving the story forward in a naturalistic style.

And what can you say about O’Brien, which has already been lauded many times before.  She is, without a doubt, one of Portland’s artistic treasures!  And it’s not just that she is always an asset to a production because of her professional approach but that she delivers her own unique, artistic choices as to the interpretation of a character.  In this case, her Witch is all too human, allowing us to identify with her and yet be appalled by some of her deeds.  She presents a “villain” you can understand.  In other words, “there but for the Grace of God, go I.”  Bravo, Ms. O’Brien…”may you live long and prosper!”

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