Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Adventures of Dex Dixon, Paranormal Dick—Stumptown Stages—downtown Portland

The Rise & Fall of a Fearless Dick

This noir, horror, musical comedy is written by Steve Coker with music and lyrics by Coker and KJ McElrath and directed by Kirk Mouser (Stumptown’s Artistic Director).  Musical direction is by Jon Quesenberry (arrangements by Pete Petersen) and choreography by Jamie Langton.  It is playing at the Brunish Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway, through January 31st.  For more information, please go to www.stumptownstages.org

The genre is from the 40’s detective film noir school were the antiheros were born, such as Sam Spade, Philip Marlow, Dick Tracy and Mickey Spillaine.  The play also has something in common with Mel Brooks’ type of humor, spoofing genres, and “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” where a noir detective goes into Toontown to investigate a murder.  Well, in this incarnation, it’s Nightside where all the paranormal creatures live.

It seems that Dex (Steve Coker) has a failing detective agency.  His only solace is a bottle of booze; his faithful girl Friday, Billie (Danielle Valentine), who has a thing for Dex, unrequited; his scruffy mascot/side-kick, Lobo (Sean Ryan Lamb), a werewolf, who pees on his carpet when he gets excited; and Scoops (Matthew Snyder), a cub reporter for a local rag, who occasionally gets Dex on the front page, which gives him some much needed PR.

But, just when you think things couldn’t get any lower, in walks a dame to die for, Nelly (Sydney Weir).  She wants him to investigate who turned her husband into a brain-eater (a zombie).  But that means Dex will have to cross over into Nightside, where all the freaks live.  And it means reuniting with his old flame, the sultry, Delila (Lisa Gilham-Luginbill), a Vamp (a vampire).  It also means meeting up with her old gang, headed by her brother, Horus (Illya Torres-Garner) and a messy gang of other vamps (Caroline D’Ambrosi, Tasha Danner, Elizabeth Hadley and Carrie Morgan).

But his job is too big for one man, so he has to recruit two of his competitor dicks, Lariby (Alexis Moore Eytinge), a she-dick and his chief rival, the unscrupulous Manix Marloe, mystic dick (Jonathan Hall).  And so, our daring dick and his dedicated dupes descend into the dirty depths of the depraved and dead.  But to tell you more would spoil the fun, so I’ll leave it at that.

I saw an earlier version of this show and was mightily impressed with it then…and still am.  Coker and McElrath are quite a team of creators and to have a play that crosses so many genres, and successfully, too, is quite an accomplishment.  Coker has captured the films of the Noir genre by giving us the same seedy, narrative style of those cheapy, detective, B&W flicks from the 30’s-50’s.  And McElrath has captured the 40-ish style of music and lyrics from that era to a tee.

Mouser, as always, knows how to squeeze the most out of a small space.  He is exceptional when choosing his cast, especially the ladies, who would rival any major singer in the world with the extraordinary quality of their voices.  Quesenberry adds an extra touch of magic when he’s involved with a show.  And Langton’s dances numbers are energetic and fit the Noir period.  Costumes (Marychris Mass) are also spot on for this era.  Especially noteworthy are the puppets of “Frank” and the Gatekeepers by Bill Holznagel, truly amazing!

As mentioned, all the ladies have outstanding voices.  Coker is at his best as Dex, giving full rein to bestowing homage to a by-gone time.  He has a velvet voice in his singing, smooth glide in his dancing and a chipper nature in his enacting a hard dick with guts of steel.  Lamb, as his faithful companion, Lobo, was particularly engaging, playing beautifully off Coker.  And Torres-Garner (“Flash” in another incarnation) was delicious as the bad dude, a fiend you love to hate.

And the songs were all well played.  My favorites were “You Pull My Strings,” Delicious Love,” and “Old Dog, New Tricks.”  This musical has potential to go “Big Time” and I hope they keep forging forward with it.  I recommend this show.  If you do see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Shackleton: the Untold Story—the Alberta Abbey—NE Portland

Armchair Adventures

This one-man show of a true story is presented by Portland Story Theater, directed by Lynne Duddy and stars Lawrence Howard.  It will be put on at the Alberta Abbey, 126 NE Alberta, on January 30th at 8 pm (jazz at 7 pm).  For more information, go to their site at www.portlandstorytheater.org or call 503-284-2226.  (It was a full house the night I went and is mostly street parking—although there is a very small lot across the street--so plan your time accordingly.)

This is storytelling theater at its best and to bring us this whirlwind true tale of the untamed South Pole is the Word-Master himself, Lawrence Howard.  Storytelling is as old as civilization is, as it harkens back to the age before there was written language, only cave paintings and oral transmission of history.  It is not unlike, as depicted in the film, “The Princess Bride,” the old grandfather, sitting on the bed and telling a bedtime story to his grandson, playing all the characters with great relish.  One difference in this presentation is that it is told in narrative form, using only a giant map to project the journeys of the various parties.

But we, like that young child, are absolutely captivated by the great adventures that are unfolding before our ears, like radio theatre use to do, before our imagination was diluted by the Internet.  And why, pray tell, do many of us subject ourselves to these flights of fancy into the Unknown, from the safety of our comfortable chairs?  Because, as Ray Bradbury, a master storyteller himself, has said, that when we project ourselves in this Void we battle and overcome trials and tribulations, that somehow may defeat us in real life, and come out of the experience feeling better about ourselves.  I’ll buy that.

And one more thing (also, ala Bradbury), when we see a film, we are stuck with that image of the story in our minds.  But when we read or hear a story, our imaginations will fill in the scenes and actions, and what we can conjure up ourselves, is much more powerful than any image a film-maker can portray on the screen.  In that sense, for all intents and purposes, we are living those experiences.

The reason I’m am spending so much time on the process is because I’m not going to give you a recap of the story, as that is not the power in this production.  It is in the relating of the tale that makes the show unique.  And that lies somewhat in the adventure itself (Shackleton & Co.) but mainly in the hands of its creators, Howard (the performer) and Duddy (the director).  But, to be brief, it is about conquering nature, in the guise of the South Pole from around 1915-1917.  The Pole had been reached some years earlier by a Norseman but the Continent of Antarctica had never been crossed.

Shackleton proposed coming down from the Weddell Sea area and then having another group come from below, in the Ross Sea area, and leave supplies for them along the way at specific drop points, so they wouldn’t have to drag all that food and equipment with them on their trek across the land.  There is sadness in this tale, as not all the participants made it out alive, and also tragedy, hope, teamwork and, in the final result, magnificent heroism.  If you thought you knew the particulars of this adventure, el contra, this is truly, as mentioned in the title of the show, the untold story.

Howard weaves this immensely complicated story of two teams of adventurers, painting us a rich tapestry, illustrating with metaphors, factual tidbits and quiet determination, a saga of the human spirit and endurance that pales in comparison to other stories of this ilk!  Much of his power is the fact that he, with his voice, gives us a flavor of the piece and lets us fill in the blanks, so that we become part of the story.  Another performer might have placed his ego front and center and said, look at me.  But Howard is confident in letting the settings, the words and the audience’s imaginings take center stage.  Bravo to both for guiding us on this unique journey!

Being that there is only one more performance, and the fact that they had a full house for this one, might encourage you to get your tickets very soon.  I do recommend this show (there is a CD available for purchase, too).  If you choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

I Want To Destroy You—Theatre Vertigo—SE Portland

“Eye of the Beholder”

The world premiere of his drama about Art is written by Rob Handel and directed by Matthew B. Zrebski.  It is playing at the Shoebox theatre space, 2110 SE 10th Ave., through February 20th.  For more information, go to their site at www.theatrevertigo.org or call 503-306-0870.

Art is a fickled Master, a cruel Mistress but, in the long run, the final result is actually in the “Eye of the Beholder.”  The Nature of Art is a very complicated process.  In my opinion, at its most inspired, it involves a Muse or, if you will, a Mentor, someone to guide you.  But the secret of your Art ultimately lies deep with you.  How it is perceived, is a whole other ballgame.

The open-minded, Harold (Duffy Epstein), considers himself an artist and, evidently, so does a very prestigious school, as he has become a professor there and is nearing tenure.  The autocratic Dean of the school, Stephanie (Sharon Mann), is very pleased with him up to this point.  He has even invited a famous European Artist, Flamia (Jessica Zodrow) to be a guest speaker.  His teenage daughter, Micki (Holly Wigmore), has acclimated herself to the fact that he’s not going to be a stay-at-home Dad, as his work is his home.

But all is not roses in his life.  His house is beginning to crumble, so he hires a fastidious contractor, Andy (Nathan Crosby), to rebuild his roof.  His own mentor, Bob (Grant Byington), is in the hospital, dying.  But his students seem to adore him.  He gives them full freedom to create what they want within a topic he assigns.  Leaf (Shawna Nordman) is a nervous sort, constantly checking to make sure she’s doing the right thing.  Ilich (R. David Wyllie) is an eager beaver, always coming up with elaborate projects.

But everything comes to a head and his life may be taking a major detour when one of his students, Mark (Jacob Orr), a brooding but excitable type, brings a gun to class, not wanting to reveal the purpose of this “art” demonstration.  Weapons in a classroom are not acceptable, for obvious reasons nowadays, but can they be part of artistic expression?  Much of the remaining dialogue revolves around why is Art created…solely for the artist’s pleasure…or for an audience, as observers or inter-active?  You’ll have to see it to find out.

Handel’s play is at its strongest when dealing with the purpose of art and the various projects the students come up with, as well as Harold’s view of this passionate beast.  But the play wanders off a bit, down some rabbit holes, when it brings in Harold’s personal life, consisting of redoing his home, his daughter and whether guns should be allowed in school because of the disruptive nature of this issue.  All good story points when fleshing out the main character but maybe too much to encompass when also dealing with the Nature of Art, and that part is fascinating.  Handel has a good ear for dialogue and that comes off very well.

I’m constantly amazed what directors can do in such a small, black-box space.  Zrebski, with just some various size platforms and a few props, has created a whole world with many facets and you never lose track of the story.  His has chosen his cast well, from the smallest to the largest of the roles, they are all convincing.  This is, almost quite literally, an in-your-face experience, which might itself be considered active or living art.

Two actors stand out in this well-groomed cast.  Orr, as the troubled student, Mark, gives you the shivers as he parades around at times like he’s got a rocket-in-his-pocket, then will burst into tears, and  at other times, eerily silent…brooding…waiting…for what?!  This roller-coaster performance is powerful.  And Epstein, always a pro, is terrific at the lead character.  I am no expert in the Art World but when he expounds on Harold’s views, I believe him.  I understand why his students would idolize him.  And when he allows you to see his vulnerable side, you identify with him because, when all is said and done, we all have feet of clay.  Well done.

And my own personal view of Art, being a Writer, is to trust the Muse and let her take you where she will.  Also, as to Artists, this reworked adage seems to fit the bill:  “Do not seek out [Art], for [Art], if it finds you worthy, will guide your course.”

I recommend this play, especially for the great discussions and insights into Art and the fine performances.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Geronimo Stilton: Mouse in Space—Newmark Theatre—downtown Portland

The Mouse That Soared

The world premiere of this imaginative play for the young is based on an original idea from Elisabetta Dami and adapted for the stage by John Maclay and directed by Stan Foote (OCT’s Artistic Director).  It is presented by the Oregon Children’s Theatre and will be playing at the Newmark space, 1111 SW Broadway, through February 14th.  For more information, go to their site at www.octc.org  or call 503-228-9571.

This clever little “tail” takes place in New Mouse City.  It is a pretty ordinary town sitting on an island, much like Manhattan.  It has newspapers, schools and churches, scientists, and a rodent population you wouldn’t believe.  It also has burglars and spies and that is what the bulk of our story is about.

You see, Geronimo Stilton (Brian Burger), is a “cheesy” kind of guy…er, mouse.  He is a bit timid…actually scared of his own shadow.  But when his house is invaded by thieves, he fights back with his trusty…slipper(?).  But, not to worry, he has a very supportive family.  There is his lovely and courageous sister, Thea (Maya Caulfield) and his inquisitive nephew, Benjamin (Bryce Duncan), his very eccentric uncle, Trap (Rusty Tennant) and his demanding Grandpa (Gary Norman).

But things are about to change in a dramatic way for this intrepid family of mousekins.  First, because of his bravery with fending off villains with a slipper, he is recruited into a secret organization of spies by Agent 00K (Dennis Kelly).  Then, he is encouraged to buy an expensive security system for his home by the vivacious, Suzy Slyrat (Emma Younger).  But the town soon finds out this is just a rouse to control the City by the nefarious, Dr. Wicked Whiskers (Scott Engdahl), as he has a control center in space.

Needless to say, it is up to Geronimo and his rat pack to save the day by going into space and destroying Whiskers’ headquarters.  Can’t tell you any more or I would be giving away the ending.  But, be prepared to learn a few things along the way about science, which turns this play into a valuable learning tool, as well as being entertaining.

Foote has chosen his cast well and has conceived some very imaginative and humorous scenes to create the atmosphere.  The preparation scene where they are training to go into space is hilarious.  And the scenes in the space ship are very cleverly done, especially the bit where one of the characters is floating in space.  Kudos must be given, too, to Tal Sanders, as the designer, and his team.

I have seen Burger before in a very offbeat vampire musical at Post 5.  He was good in that as the lead character and does equally well here.  Caulfield had been growing as an actor over the years.  She and another OCT student, Madeleine Delaplane, played major roles in an Indie movie, “Nightbumpers” (www.imdb.com), I made a few years ago and nearly stole the film.  Also noteworthy, in a smaller role, is Younger as the bad girl of the story.  She moves nicely on the stage and has a certain focus when she’s on that suggests a real talent emerging (a “diamond in the rough,” perhaps).

But Tennant, a seasoned professional actor, director and fight choreographer, bursts onto the scene and is a focal point whenever he’s on.  He is fun to watch and brings even more life to a very good show.  All in all, it is well worth watching and you might learn a thing or two in the process.

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

Saturday, January 16, 2016

The Yellow Wallpaper—CoHo Productions—NW Portland

“Windmills of the Mind”

The is a world premiere of an eerie drama by local playwright, Sue Mach, and adapted for the stage from a short story written by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, co-produced by Mach and Grace Carter and directed by Philip Cuomo (CoHo’s Producing Artistic Director).  It is playing at their space, 2257 NW Raleigh St., through February 6th.  For more information, go to their site at www.cohoproductions.org or call 503-220-2646.

I read this short story a number of years ago and it is one of the eeriest I’ve ever read.  It stays with you.  It has similarities to Henry James’ ghostly, “Turn of the Screw,” the haunting “Silent Snow, Secret Snow” and even the suspense film, “Shutter Island.”  They all deal with the trappings or windmills of the mind.

The story also deals with spirits that may exist which possibly only certain people can sense.  Or is it in their minds?  After a whirlwind courtship between a rather prominent doctor, John (Chris Harder) and an independent-minded, young woman, Charlotte (Grace Carter), we are immediately thrust into the bulk of the story.

Some time has passed and the couple has rented a summer house in the country so that Charlotte can have some peace and quiet.  You assume she has had a breakdown of some sort and she also has had a child.  Is she suffering from post-partum depression?  Not explained.  Whatever the cause, she is on a restricted diet and must not excite herself…no reading material, no writing, only quiet and rest.

John’s devoted sister, Jenny (Christy Bigelow), has been assigned as a nurse/companion for her and this seems to have a soothing effect for awhile.  But in the confines of her bedroom she definitely takes issue with the room, specifically her yellow wallpaper, which disturbs her greatly.  She believes the patterns are changing and hears noises/voices coming from within it.  It seems the room was once a nursery/playroom for children but no explanation as to what happened to the former occupants.  Could it be they had been swallowed up by the room, the wallpaper?  Possibly.

Burt creepiest of all, she believes a Woman (Diana Schultz), is living within the wallpaper, trapped perhaps, waiting to get out.  Is it real or is she being drugged in some way to drive her mad, possibility because she is so independent-minded that she has become an embarrassment to her husband in what was, primarily, a patriarchal world?  Maybe.  But, the creepiest of all, is that she seems to recognize the Woman.  If she could only figure out where….  To tell more would spoil the story but hopefully I’ve left you hungering for more.

Mach’s adaptation is very imaginative, asking questions, giving hints but only giving you a taste of…possibilities.  This is a story that sneaks up on you.  Just when you think you may have solved the puzzle, another element intercedes.  First and foremost, Mach is a story-teller and this, like her other plays, embodies that premise.  And story-telling is the chief asset a play must have for it to be enjoyed by an audience.  Tell a good story and you will have them enchanted.  Mach does that well in this play.

Cuomo has kept the setting sparse, giving full room to concentrate on the most important aspects, the main character and the wallpaper.  There are moments of quiet, like the hair washing scene, to let the audience take a breath before the next onslaught of action.  Hitchcock, the master of suspense, would have been proud, as he always said that an audience needs a moment of respite every now and then to breathe and collect their thoughts.  Cuomo has done a masterful job of pacing and modulating the actors and action to maximum benefit.

Harder give a well-calculated performance and keeps you guessing as to his possible involvement.  Bigelow is quite effective as her friend but also seems trapped in a traditional woman’s role, not to question a man’s decisions.  Schultz, as the Woman, is just plain creepy, reminding me of the creature in those Japanese “Grudge” movies.  The scenic design (Dan Meeker) and video projections are very effective and add immensely to the success of the production.

But Carter is the focal point and she builds and transforms her character step by step until…the final showdown.  This would be a very tough role for any actor but after seeing her embody it, I couldn’t imagine anyone else performing it.  She, as is said, not only takes the bull by the horns and rides it, but becomes it.  Bravo.  A tour-de-force.

One final note, after I got home and got in bed, I do believe I saw the wallpaper in my room begin to move.  But, perhaps I shouldn’t be saying that too loud, lest you think…  Well, never mind.  Also, I mentioned to Sue after the show, that I thought it was “a dirty play.”  Of course, to understand what I meant, you’ll just have to see it won’t you?!

I recommend this play but, be warned, parking is a major problem in this part of Portland, especially on weekend nights, so plan your time accordingly.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Broken Promises—Milagro—SE Portland

Who Am I?

The world premiere of this drama is written by Olga Sanchez (Artistic Director Emerita for Milagro) and directed by Francisco Garcia.  It is a bilingual production and will be taken on tour after the play dates here.  It is presented at their site, 525 SE Stark St., through January 23rd (only street parking, so plan your time accordingly).  For more information, go to their site at www.milagro.org or call 503-236-7253.

A question we must all ask ourselves at some point, who are we and what is our purpose in Life.  If we discover that at an early age, we will probably only encounter a minimal of angst when growing up.  But, if because of family circumstances, we are forced into a type of adulthood too early and must flounder to fend for ourselves, the outcomes may be less than normal, or we will have created a “new normal.”

Such is the case of the teenager, Adriana (Monica Domena), who is thrust into this world less than prepared.  Her family is broken and her mother gone.  Her father (Ajai Terrazas Tripathi) is struggling to keep bread on the table and has been abusing his daughter.  And she is now dealing with a new school and classmates.  Josefina (Shenekah Telles) at first is in conflict with her but soon becomes her friend and introduces her to her best buddies.

Esteban (Geo Alva) is a rebel and hates school, mistrusting all teachers, and adults, in general.  He also takes a “romantic” interest in her.  Raul (Tripathi, again) is free and easy and looking for the quick buck.  They all discover, “thanks” to the Internet, a simple way to makes some bucks cheaply, by making porn videos.  Adriana is looking for money to go to college so this seems a simple way out of her less than ideal home life.

But the path to a better world takes a nasty turn as the porn project gets out of hand.  Instead of a sideline in school, it takes over her world.  And the introduction to drugs and alcohol and other “partners” only compounds her problems.  What seemed like the yellow brick road to happiness is turning into a black spiral to a darker place.  I can’t tell you more without being a spoiler so will stop here.  But know that this is an honest but brutal depiction of teen life today, taken from dialogues with actual young people.

Sanchez pulls no punches with her script and, although it is short, about an hour long, it gets to the point quickly.  And, through the eyes of her characters, we can easily see how one can fall into the trap of dreaming of a better life but settling for “broken promises.”  Fittingly, there is no answer to this dilemma, as the struggle is ongoing and many are still enslaved in such a culture.  And the first step to freedom is, perhaps, the most difficult:  Admitting that there is a problem, then asking for help.

Garcia has an almost bare stage for his actors to create on.  Some of them play multiple characters and his sparse set and quick changes keeps the play moving at a brisk pace.  He also has adopted hip-hop, poetry and stylized movement to help convey the story, as its gives the play a type of surreal atmosphere.  All of this works to the story’s advantage and for a production that will be on tour, this simplification of space gives a sense of accessibly for the message to blend or contrast with the reality of the audience’s take on Life.

Tripathi, in his multiple roles, was amazing to watch, as I actually thought it was a different actor in each incarnation.  Telles gives us a character so caught up in the free and easy world that she is only able to see the harm it may be doing when she befriends the lead character.  Then, she too, must question her lifestyle.  Alva has the thankless job of portraying the villain of the piece.  But villains are not so cut and dry, as they must believe they are right.  He convinces me he believes.  All three of these young actors are energetic and persuasive in the roles they play.  Well done.

But Domena is even a cut above them, as she has the unenviable role of letting us see the plight from whence she comes, to the heartfelt desire to pull herself out of the pits, to the heartbreaking reality of only sinking deeper down into the abyss.  It would seem at the outset this type of transformation would be impossible but in her capable hands she pulls it off.

Much of what she is doing as an actor is underplaying the role which is exactly the right choice.  You feel with her the pain and humiliation of her station in life and the vulnerability it exposes in her.  You also sense the strength through the tears of who she is and have hope for her.  Domena is an attractive young lady but has a natural beauty, not artificial with loads of make-up, so that you can emphasize with her and know she is “real.”  She plays the character with a subtle, focused air and your heart goes out to her.  She has made all the right choices in this portrayal and it works.  She has talent beyond her years and I hope to see more of her onstage in the future!

And what is the cause and the answer to the growing anxiety of Youth and, in this case, child pornography and prostitution?  Although the Social Media may not be the only cause, it certainly does not help.  My friend Dave and José González (Executive Director and Founder of Milagro) were talking after the show and agreed that the problems Youth face today have always been there, it is just more pronounced now with the advent of the Internet.  Also, we all agreed that these are the future leaders of our World and things need to change.  Maybe this play will help with that transition.

My own solution is to see that Youth have a safe place to vent their concerns and express their dreams, such as the Arts, whether it’s theatre, music, painting, writing, dance. et. al.  I, personally, have seen lives changed in Youth by being involved with theatre projects.  So my advice to parents, is to get your young ones involved with some sort of artistic endeavor, and to the public education system, shame on you for cutting or demoting the Arts in our school system.  You have no idea how it builds confidence, character, and teamwork in people.  And, so I say to the staff, crew and cast of this show and Milagro, specifically, thank you for growing our Youth.  “What [we] sow, so shall [we] reap.”

This is adult subject matter but is tastefully done.  I recommend it.  If you do go, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Golden Boy—Lakewood Theatre Company—Lake Oswego, OR

The American Dream

This classic Clifford Odets drama is directed by Vladimir Ilnitzky.  It is playing at their space at 368. S. State St. through February 14th.  For more information, go to their site at www.lakewood-center.org or call 503-635-3901.

Who doesn’t dream…and have dreams of becoming rich, famous, loved…whatever your heart desires.  But Reality has a way of raising its ugly head at some point and declaring that you also must make a living.  And the dreams, well, they have a way of dissipating, of dissolving into thin air, some never to be realized again.  Sad, sad, sad.

In the early 1900’s, immigrants had this dream when coming to America to make their fortune, where the streets were purportedly, “paved with gold.”  In many cases, they still do support this dream, I believe.  In the persona of Joe Bonaparte, from an Italian immigrant family, the dream is to play the violin in a concert hall.  The reality is becoming a prize fighter in the boxing ring.  When these are in conflict, reach for the…well, that is what the story is all about.  What to do…what to do…?!

Odets was of Jewish immigrant parents so he knows first-hand from whence he speaks.  He was also part of the famous, and infamous, Group Theatre of Strasberg, Kazan, and Adler and Clurman and Crawford, from whence the American Method of acting was born which, among other things, stressed naturalism in style and tackled social issues of the day.  Brando and Clift and Dean were of this school of art.  The impact of this philosophy changed theatre history.

Golden Boy was also made also made into a film with William Holden in the 40’s and a musical with Sammy Davis, Jr. in the 60’s.    Rod Serling was an admirer of Odets and his award-winning TV drama (and movie), Requiem for a Heavyweight, might have been reflecting Odets’ characters in the future.

This production features Ty Boice (co-founder of Post 5 Theatre) as the petulant, Joe.  His dreams as a boy (Carter Christianson) are to be a violinist but his family is not wealthy.  His loving father (Gary Powell) supports his dreams but has no money to give him the education he needs for it.  His older brother, Siggie (Stan Brown), a bit of a drunk, is a cabdriver.  And so it is up to Joe to pull him, and them, out of the dumps.

He stumbles into boxing by accident, as he is a last minute replacement for an injured boxer who happens to be working out at the same gym Joe works out at.  His eventual trainer, the good-hearted, Tokio (Jeff Gorham), has faith in him and touts him to his manager, the oily, Tom Moody (Jason Maniccia), who takes him on.

But Joe seems to lack the “killer instinct,” so Moody sends his main squeeze, the beautiful femme fatale, Lorna (Tabitha Trosen), to convince the seemingly, easily manipulated, Joe, to bend to Moody’s desires.  But the road to fame is a rocky one and when Joe starts battling his way to the top, the mob, in the guise of the hard-nosed, Eddie (Garland Lyons), wants a piece of the action, too.  To tell you more would be a spoiler, so I will stop at that.

The set (Max Ward, designer) is stark and simple with a rather stunning backdrop of the Urban Jungle.  And the frequent set changes are quickly and smoothly done.  The director, Ilnitzky, because of his background, certainly understands the trials and tribulations of being a “stranger in a stranger land,” and this understanding is shown to good advantage in the carefully crafted performances.  Boice is particularly powerful in portraying this image of a person caught up in a web not of his understanding, coming from two opposing backgrounds and having opposing dreams which, not unrealistically, must come to a head.  Boice underplays him beautifully.

Powell, as his father, has been playing significant roles in this area for a number of years (recently seen as the lead in Present Laughter at Lakewood).  He plays the part as a man of understanding, supporting his son no matter what, and your heart goes out to him.  It is a well-balance performance.  Trosen has always impressed me in productions she has done and has the unenviable job of playing a woman with an abusive background just trying to survive, no matter what the cost.  But she also has a heart and simply, like Joe, doesn’t know how to combine both desires, and so you care about here.  Well played.

Maniccia is appropriately despicable as the weak and demanding manager.  Brown is convincingly loud and boisterous as the older sibling, perhaps trying to live his dreams through Joe.  Gorham as the faithful friend and trainer is appealing as he gently tries to steer Joe in the right direction.  And Lyons as the creep, Eddie, strong arm of the mob, is chilling.

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

Friday, January 8, 2016

Fertile Ground Festival—Artists Rep., et. al.—Portland area

Seeds of Creativity

This is a city-wide festival for new works ranging from stage readings, story-telling, musicals, events, to full-blow productions.  And they are playing at different venues throughout the Portland area beginning January 21st.  A Festival pass is $50 which comes up to less than a dollar a show!  For more information, go to their site at www.fertilegroundpdx.org

I was lucky enough to sit in on an event where artists of some of these productions pitched their projects to media people.  Out of over 60 productions slated under this banner, I was fortunate enough to have chatted with over 15 of them during the allotted time period.  And this was all due to PATA, the blessed Ronnie Lacroute, Virginia Oshel, Howard Cutler, et. al. and Artists Rep. with the Festival’s director, the amazing Nicole Lane.

I can’t begin to describe all the eclectic types of people, productions or ideas that were pitched that evening but know that Art is in the best of hands in the Portland area.  What did I learn from this adventure?  That mustaches can be eatable; that I actually got to meet the “real” Baba Yaga from folklore; that troubled youths have a voice; that even Frankenstein has a point of view (and a feminine one at that); that cabaret, “ole chum,” is becoming another way to present music and stories; and that one does not need to sell his soul to get noticed.

After reading the material for all the shows to be presented and listening to pitches from some of them, my reaction briefly would be, innovative…imaginative…educational…entertaining…enriching…a feast for the eyes and ears and mind, an opportunity to go, perhaps, where no human has gone before….  But enough of my inadequate ramblings as the Queen of the crop, Nicole Lane, has said it best:  …”get out there, take a chance, go visit undiscovered nooks and crannies of all sorts, expand your art-growing repertoire and see theatre, clown, dance and more…most certainly you will feed your arts yearnings, grow your perspective and embrace your sense of adventure as you participate in Portland’s unique culture…‘grow’ out on a creative adventure….” 

Some of these events are selling out fast so I would recommend going to the website mentioned above very soon.  Also the Festival Pass is certainly the most economical way to go.  And, as always, if you do attend, please tell them Dennis sent you.