Monday, February 22, 2016

Smokey Joe’s Café—Stumptown Stages—downtown Portland

“Trip the Light Fantastic”

This musical revue is written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stroller and directed by Julianne Johnson-Weiss (also a cast member).  Musical Director is Mak Kastelic and choreography by Jehn Benson.  It is playing at the Brunish Theatre (4th Floor), 1111 SW Broadway, through March 6th.  For more information, go to their site at

We all do it…wax nostalgic…take excursions down Memory Lane…wish we could go back to those days of yore, “the good ole days.”  If you could step into a time machine and take a trip back to your youth and change something from the past, would you?  Of course, keeping in mind, you would not be the person you are today.

But, putting “what-ifs” to one side, does not music, song and dance take you back in a special way to that same era:  The days of high school, as in the musical Grease or Hairspray, or the mid-West of The Music Man, or to the SW in Oklahoma, or the streets of The Big Apple of West Side Story, et. al.

Well, in this revue, you can take that journey, tripping through the late 40’s and jazz, cascading into the rock & roll & ballads of the red-hot 50’s and then taking a u-turn into the turbulent sixties and beyond.  Almost 40 songs comprise this era in the production and what a safari it takes us on.

You will be treated to a front row seat as you re-discover the bloom of young love in “Ruby Baby,” “Love Potion #9”and “Dance With Me.”  Then put on your travelin’ shoes as you search for your purpose in life in “Kansas City” and Searchin’.”  Get your heart broken by the gals in “Trouble” and “Poison Ivy.”  Discover sex in the moves of the Shimmy and “Little Egypt:” discovering the power and glory of womanhood in “I’m a Woman” and the males’ response in “There Goes My Baby;” and reliving the songs that epitomized the era, “Treat Me Nice,” “Hound Dog” and “Jailhouse Rock.”  And that’s just a sampling.

There is no linear story, as such, and no dialogue.  But part of the purpose of a production is to entertain and move you and this certainly fills the bill with energy to spare!  The band, led by music director, Mak Kastelic, with Michael Bard, Ben Finley, Dave Muldoon and Amy Roesler are sensational and not only add to the festivities but manage not to overpower the singers (which often happens in musicals).  And Benson’s dances are outstanding.  To be able to utilize such a small space and be able to create such amazing dance numbers is exceptional.  The dance highlights for me were the classic “Jailhouse Rock,” the lovely ballet in “Spanish Harlem,” and the revival-inspired “Saved.”

Johnson-Weiss, the director and performer, is a legend and, whenever you can see her perform, consider yourself blessed.  She has a voice that will make the rooftops tremble and angels take notice!  And the organization it must have taken to just create the intricate entrances and exits and costume changes is a feat worthy of notice.  She excels in her solo numbers, such as the touching, “Fools Fall In Love,” the rollicking, “Hound Dog,” and (as mentioned) the boisterous, “Saved.”  My companion, Deanna (an impressive entertainer and music entrepreneur herself), exclaimed that just seeing her was a treat in itself.  I would agree but would add that the whole cast of nine is on par with her.

Lisa Gilham-Luginbill had some nice moments to let her vocals shine in her solo, “Falling Out of Love can be Fun.”  And, as the “Shimmy” girl, all I can say is, “Ow!”, as well as her “Trouble” number.  She is also a real asset in the group numbers.  Kayla Dixon is a real, hot temptress, especially in her solo “Don Juan,” duet in “You’re the Boss” and “Trouble” and a delight in the lovely ballet in “Spanish Harlem.”  Elizabeth Hadley has a powerful presence in “I Keep Forgettin’” and “Pearl’s a Singer,” as well as her group numbers.

Jeff George has a great rock & roll number in “Treat me Nice” and the dance in “Spanish Harlem,” as well as his presence in male group numbers.  Nartan Woods is touching in “Loving You,” and “I Who Have Nothing.”  Raphael Likes is impressive in “Young Blood” and the powerful, “Stand by Me.”  Jerrod Neal is just fine in “You’re the Boss” and with his male counter-parts in group numbers.  And Jeremy Sloane is sensational in the Elvis-inspired, “Jailhouse Rock” and “Ruby Baby.”

The showstoppers for me were “I’m a Woman” and “Stand By Me.”  The simple but very versatile set was by Steve Coker; the inventive lighting, a real asset, was by Phil McBeth; and the outstanding costuming for quick changes was by Janet Mouser.  If you see this show, you’re in for a real treat.  And, if you don’t, shame on you!

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

Mothers and Sons—Artists Repertory Theatre—SW Portland

Bridges or Walls

This timely, NW Premiere drama by Terrence McNally is directed by Jane Unger and playing at their space, SW Alder St. & 16th Ave., through March 6th.  For more information, go to their site at

The Pope has just come out with the statement that we need to be building bridges, not walls, between people.  The same could be said for the recognition and acceptance and tolerance of those who do not believe in the same things that the “main stream” does.  And, case in point, if a person’s sexual preferences differ from that, then they are often ostracized and condemned for it and…the Walls go up.

But, folks, Love is a universal theme crossing all boundaries…and it is a very personal choice.  Who or How we Love is nobody’s business but the people involved.  And beware of judging others, for in the end, it may be you who are on the hot seat.  To traverse that Bridge to understanding others is quite simple…you just put one foot in front of the other….

The time is just a few short years ago in NYC where Gay marriage has been accepted.  It is a posh apartment on the Upper West Side near Christmastime.  Cal (Michael Meldenson) has a surprise visitor and not the one in a fluffy white beard and red suit that would arrive at this time of year.  It is Katherine (JoAnn Johnson), the mother of Cal’s former lover, Andre, who died of Aids some years earlier.  And Andre was an actor and only son of Katherine and her now, just recently deceased, husband.  She is alone with only memories now and a diary belonging to her son.

Cal has since married Will (Ryan Tresser) and they have a young son, Bud (Holden Goyette).  But the ghost of Andre still haunts them.  The estrangement of mother and son during those years with Cal; a box of old photos and a diary recalling happier times; the “blame game” of who was responsible for the “changed” lifestyle of a beloved young man; the resentment of this intrusion by Cal’s new love; and the inquisitive little boy who just may hold the key to building that Bridge.  All issues that need to be dealt with but also need to be seen by you to discover the outcome.

Unger has done a wonderful job of creating a world that we feel we can just take a few steps and walk into.  The atmosphere and set (designer, Daniel Meeker) are so complete you feel a bit like an intruder, peeking in on others lives.  McNally’s script is rich and heartfelt in the search for truth and his snippets of dialogue present the framework to discover that.  It may not be smooth sailing but each of the characters does have their points of view which are presented fairly.

Mendelson is like a rare wine, it/he gets better as it matures.  This may be his most sensitive performance and I believe he felt every word he said.  Any role for an actor demands that they dig deep to find the truth within themselves and then expose it on the stage.  Mendelson is a master at that.  Johnson is a very fine actor and director, too.  This is a heart-wrenching role and she pulls out all the stops to give it fair weight.  It could have been played as a type of villain but the character she creates is all too human.  A mirror, perhaps, to Life itself and expertly portrayed.

Tresser does well in a difficult role needing to convince us of his love for Cal but not wanting to estrange him by his memories of Andre.  Well played.  And young Goyette certainly has a career in front of him, if he chooses.  The role calls for someone who is inquisitive, outspoken but mustn’t appear obnoxious.  Goyette delicately rides that thin line and makes it work.  As mentioned, all these actors presented a believable front without any false heroics or outright villainy.  They present us with Truth, in all its many guises.

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

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Breaking Rank—Well Arts at Milagro—SE Portland

Equality, Tolerance & Recognition

These true stories by five female veterans of our armed services is written by Jeanne Clayton, Jojo Jackson, Patti Jay, Layna Lewis and Sandy Scott and directed by Jessica Dart.  It is produced by Well Arts Institute in partnership with Returning Veterans Project (503-954-2259) and Wise Counsel & Comfort (503-282-0182).  It is playing at the Milagro space, 525 SE Stark St., through March 6th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-459-4500.

This is an important story that needs to be told and heard.  The above three words seem to sum up much of what it is these testimonies seek.  When we dare to ask people to alter their personal lives and serve in the military, it should be understood that they will get the best treatment when ill, the best equipment when forced into combat, and treated like superior human beings (which they are because of their sacrifice), regardless of gender, race, and sexual orientation.  Somehow the last part of that statement has often gotten lost in the translation.

The five individuals in this story, crossing the ranks of most of the services, are a testament to courage in bringing such abuses of power to our attention.  In the more than two hours that you follow these individuals, in a non-linear timeframe, over about 40 years, you will learn much and might even recognize yourself, or family members, or friends in the shadows of these women.  They endured much, fought back and are now on the roads to healing.  But it is a trial they should never have gone through in the first place!

The actors are Margie Boule (Ace); Andrea White (Rivers); Garland Lyons (playing the variety of male roles in the scenes); Sofia May-Cuxim (Cox); Stephanie Cordell (Jackson); and Cecily Overman (Patti).  I can’t tell you too much about the individual stories without giving away discoveries, so I will be brief in describing the characters.

Ace was deployed in Alaska and wanted to be an officer and a pilot, but she also wanted a family.  And, being a woman, those goals were going to be hard to achieve.  Rivers was stationed in Germany and it was suggested that, since she was attractive, she should “uglify” herself so that she wouldn’t be a temptation/distraction to the males; Cox was from Texas and abused while in the military, dared to fight back and suffered her whole life with the trauma associated with such treatment; Patti was from Wyoming but eventually ended up in Portland, from a military family she was always trying to live up to her family’s expectations; Jackson was stationed in Afghanistan and was combative and a holy terror from the get-go and tried her best to get ejected (honorably) from the service.

This is only a thumbnail sketch, as I mentioned, and it really needs to be seen to be appreciated.  All the actors interact with each other’s stories to help flesh them out.  Dart has managed to keep the stories fluid, simple staging and yet, because of her terrific cast, emotionally charged and easily traverses 40 years and several locations without confusing us.  I have seen most of the actors before and they are all assets to the shows they’ve performed in.

Boule is an icon of Portland theatre, the media and musicals.  She excels here as well.  White, always good in previous shows, is highly charged here.  Lyons, having done numerous plays before, shows his skill playing the variety of males in these stories.  May-Cuxim is emotionally compelling and your heart goes out to her.  Overman is powerful in trying to hold it all together but a wreck underneath.  And Cordell is the ultimate in feisty determination to get what she wants.

But, of course, the real heroes are the ladies themselves who, I would have thought, might have taken a bow at the curtain call with their respective stage counter-parts.  We have done wrong, grievous wrong in the past, to these ladies but that does not mean we have to keep doing wrong.  We, as a species, can change, do what we can to make things better for those previous mistakes and go forward with the resolve not to let it happen again.  Big words, I know, but going forward is simple really, just put one foot in front of the other….!

I recommend this show but, be warned, it is only street parking, so plan your time accordingly.  If you do see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Monday, February 15, 2016

What Every Girl Should Know—Triangle Productions!—NE Portland

The Elephant in the Room

This highly-charged, adult drama of four teenage girls in a Catholic Reformatory in NYC around 1914 is written by Monica Byrne and directed by Donald I. Horn (Triangle’s Artistic Director).  It is playing at their space in The Sanctuary, 1785 NE Sandy Blvd. (parking lot to the West of the building), through February 27th.  And investigate their new expansion, including a new Concessions’ area, merchandising shop, et. al.   For more information, go to their site at or call 503-239-5919.

The above phrase refers to something that is obvious but nobody talks about.  In the case of this play, it refers to subjects like masturbation, contraceptives, sexual practices and behavior, etc.  and…Margaret Sanger, who wrote a book about all this over a hundred years ago.  People were very repressed at that time about such taboo subjects and, although more out in the open in some ways now, it is still often a whispered topic or for backroom jokes.

Another very prominent subject is religion, specifically, Catholicism.  I went to nine years of parochial school so am familiar with the repressive, sheltered nature of this religion, especially when you are exposed to the wider world.  The Sanger subjects were definitely taboo then and may still be in these schools.  But I think Sanger’s object was not to necessarily promote these ideas, but to simply explain them in realistic terms…to expose the “elephant” in the room.  Sticking your head in the sand does not make touchy subjects go away.

As mentioned, the story takes place in a Catholic Reformatory in the early 1900’s.  Four teenage girls have been sent there.  Three of them have been there for several months.  There is Anne (Sasha Belle Neufeld), the unofficial leader of the pack and a bit negative; Theresa (Emma Bridges), more optimistic and a bit naïve; and Lucy (Katie Dressin), very religious and seems frightened by her own shadow.  Into this mix comes Joan (Lydia Fleming), the newbie, seemingly the more mature of the group and very outspoken.  She brings with her the writings of Sanger, whom her mother was jailed for peddling.

It doesn’t take long for the other girls to become intrigued by Sanger’s philosophy, even promoting her to idol stature, showering her image with gifts and praying to her.  And it seems that some of these prayers may get answered and this is where the play takes a turn into the mystical and expressionistic.  The games they play to amuse themselves, such as Truth or Dare, Secrets and Fears, and imaginings of life on the outside, take on a darker shade.  The cocoon they felt safe in, now becomes a dark dungeon; the truth behind Father Dolan’s “friendliness” is exposed; and the full truth of the girl who bled to death is revealed.  Only one thing left to do…and you’ll have to see the show to discover the ending.

What adds an additional element to this show is the dream-like dances/movements (choreographer, Lisamarie Harrison) in some scenes.  This gives the story a surreal feel so that you can sense it as well as heed the words.  Horn, as always, manages to set a story a notch higher because of his involvement.  His casting is always impeccable and he explores all the nuances of a character to make them as identifiable to an audience as possible.  Is there anything that Horn can’t do well?!

The actors are perfect for their parts and, I’m sure, went through some difficult revelations of themselves, so they could truly get inside these characters.  Neufeld is a bit of an enigma, as she tends to lead, then at times, falls in step behind others, doing well in keeping us guessing as to where her heart lies.  Bridges is a little too cheery, as you know she is holding back a horror she refuses to face.

Dressin is a sad case, putting all her eggs into one basket, religion, until she realizes that these “eggs” will not sustain her for the rest of her life.  And Fleming is wonderful as the catalyst of the group, forcing the group to rise to the next level of involvement with the outside world.  I applaud them all for bringing a difficult story to light.

This, very obviously, is not for everyone.  One woman, as she stomped out of the theatre, muttered to herself, “Disgusting.  I’ll never come back here again!”  But, I prefer Horn’s attitude, “…be part of the dialogue.”  To echo that, be part of the solution, not the problem.  I recommend this show.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Sense & Sensibility—Portland Actors Conservatory—SW Portland

“One For the Money, Two For the Show…”

The novel by Jane Austen has been adapted for the stage by Kate Hamill and directed by Brenda Hubbard.  It is playing at PAC’s place, 1436 SW Montgomery St., through February 28th.  (Note that it is only street parking, so plan your time accordingly.)  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-274-1717.

This popular comedy-of–manners by Austen, highlights the idle rich, who have nothing better to do with their time than lounge around and gossip…read books and plays to each other…take long rides and walks in the country…gossip…commute between a house in London and one in the Country…wax poetic…gossip…eat lavish meals…go to dances and parties…gossip…well, you get the idea.  And it would be abhorrent if anyone even thought of actually working for a living.  Of course, the chief role of a young woman was to find a rich man to keep her in this style of living.

Their heads are filled with “stuff and nonsense.”  This is the world we enter.  As it begins, a death of the Patriarch in the Dashwood family means that the son, John (Seth Witucki), inherits the fortune, according to custom.  The sensible widow (Tara Paulson-Spires) and her three daughters, Elinor (Sophie Foti), the practical one, Marianne (Ahna Dunn-Wilder), the impulsive one, and the youngest, Margeret (Samie Pfeifer), the flighty one, must fend for themselves.  They get a small cottage and promptly go about looking for eligible men as suitors so that they can continue their lavish lifestyles.

Their neighbors are the Middletons.  The flamboyant, Sir John (Joel Morello) and his wife (Hannah Quigg), a bit of a tippler, are the heart of hospitality (and gossiping).  Into this household, too, is the raucous, Mrs. Jennings (Paige Rogers), and two of her relatives, the Steele sisters, the conniving, Anne (Paulson-Spiries, again) and the feather-brained, Lucy (Pfeifer, again), also looking for a man.  Also, the men looking for women are the seemingly naïve, Edward (Jacob Camp); the charming, Willoughby (John Corr); and the awkward, Colonel Brandon (Robert Bell).

As the Bard has said, “The course of true love never did run smooth.”  They encounter the joys of the heart and the depths of anguish of the soul before things finally right themselves.  But beware the wolf in sheep’s clothing and, in the same line, the diamond in the rough.  To see who does what to whom, you’ll just have to see the show.  Be wary of idle tongues (and minds), though, as not all you hear, is the truth, nor all you see, a fact.  Such is the nature of “tongue-wagging.”

The story itself is not what is so important here but the way in which it’s told is the marvel.  Most of the actors play more than one role, even changing the sparse set (designer, Tim Stapleton) and playing, like a Greek Chorus, the myriad of gossips and also, my favorite, the forest itself, as it seems to come alive.  The costumes, too, are exceptional (designer, Jessica Bobillot), as they seem to billow off the stage like the pages from the novel.  And the cast, all terrific, have managed to keep it all straight with numerous exits and entrances, costume changes and keep us enthralled with the story.  Bravo!

Hubbard, I’m sure, having a wealth of directing credits behind her, is responsible for the look and feel of the play (as it should be).  She cast me many moons ago as Sir Richard Greatham in a Noel Coward play in a summer repertory production at the Portland Civic Theatre, then it closed its doors forever after the season was cast.  The way in which she handles actors, conceives of the vision of the play and executes it with smooth precision is uncanny!  She is a marvel and I hope to see her directing for many more years to come.

The cast are all spot on with nary a weak link.  Each character is distinctive.  The two leads, Foti and Dunn-Wilder, are absolutely right for their parts.  You not only see the foibles of their stations in life but the emergence of a distinctive air of independence and questioning of their plight.  Two of my favorites, too, were Paulson-Soires, as the matriarch of the family and Rogers as the brash but caring neighbor, Mrs. Jennings.  They both gave the roles a convincing maturity for such young actors.  Ray Walston once told me that playing character roles is the meat and potatoes of keeping busy in this industry.  And so, these two, are off to a good start.

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

The Call—Profile Theatre—SW Portland

“…Good Intentions”

This drama by Tanya Barfield is directed by Gemma Whelan.  It is playing at the Artist’s Rep.’s space, SW Alder St & 16th Ave., through February 21st.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-242-0080.

Barfield is an unique playwright, in that she is able to evoke the styles of August Wilson, in which all the characters have their own personal story and are able to reveal it in a semi-monologue way, revealing their inner life.  She also has a bit of Mamet in that her characters often talk over each other or never finish a complete sentence at times, which is the way people do converse, and so has a keen ear for dialogue.  And yet, she seems very comfortable in her own skin, giving way to the twists and turns, perhaps, in her own life.  As I said, a unique writer.

The story involves a young couple, an artist, Annie (Amanda Soden) and her husband, Peter (Tom Walton), unable to have a child of their own, deciding to adopt a baby.  They share this good news with their best friends, also artists, Rebecca (Anya Pearson) and Drea (Chantal DeGroat), who themselves have just decided to “tie the knot.”  And since they all have a connection, either through work or personal ties to Africa, they decided on an African baby.

There is also a humanitarian intent in this choice, since there are so many unwanted and starving children in that country, to give one of them a better life here in America.  As mentioned, “good intentions.”  But there is also the question of background, as far as exposure to disease, specifically aids, and of care for the child, respecting their heritage, for example, spending time doing their hair in the traditional manner, et. al.

After meeting their neighbor, Alemu (Jasper Howard), who is from Africa but is living here now, because he kind of “got stuck” in the trappings of this way of life, but he has never forgotten his roots.  And he has his own marvelous story about courage and never giving up on what’s important to you.  A theme for the play might be summed up in his line, “You want a child from Africa but you do not want Africa.” Things come to a head when they find out their choice may have been compromised, and then old wounds surface, threatening to destroy relationships.  More I cannot tell you without giving away secrets.

Whelan has done a good job of keeping the audience off-balance, giving them a false sense of security at times, then changing mid-stream to expose another obstacle.  She and Barfield seem to be on the same page on this, as Life and Relationships are much like that, too.    We all have stories…and secrets…and within those, more stories and secrets….  We are not a perfect species…or an island…but we do have choices based, in part, on our experiences.  But, perhaps, the greatest asset we should have is the ability to be Tolerant and, in our approach to others, keep in mind, “First, do no harm….”

The cast is uniformly wonderful, convincing us of the reality of their situation.  Walton and Soden really do seem like a typical married couple that have grown together and apart through the years.  Pearson’s character is somebody you would want as a friend, trying to appease everyone so that no one gets hurt.  DeGroat has an unwavering focus, a bit unnerving, when she speaks and listens, as if she is looking right through you.  Perfect for the character.  And Howard is mesmerizing.  When he speaks in his quiet manner, you listen because you feel he is going to impart pearls of wisdom with every word.  His Lion story is captivating.  I could listen to him tell stories all day.

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

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Taming of the Shrew—Battle Ground Drama Club—Battle Ground, WA

“The Roaring Twenties”

One of Shakespeare’s most popular comedies is being directed by Stephan “Cash” Henry in The Lair at Battle Ground High School, 300 W. Main St., through February 20th at 7 pm.  For more information, go to their site

In Henry’s notes he quotes the Bard, “The course of true love never did run smooth.”  Very accurate statement but, in considering the times he wrote, it was a lot rockier road for women than men.  They often were given (sold?) in marriage to a wealthy landowner, in which a handsome dowry was included.  In some countries that custom is still practiced.  In fact, a perfect setting for this play might be modern- day North Africa were women are suppressed a great deal more than Kate and her ilk.

There is no getting around the message of the play, that women’s roles are to be obedient and submissive to their mates.  But the freedom exhibited in the 1920’s at least gives them room to breathe.  The Bard’s writings are often transposed to other eras, which is fitting, as that none of his stories are original but taken from tales of other countries.  One thing that is particularly appealing about this show, is that it is very accessible and done in a “conversational” style, so is easy to understand.

And now, to be transported back, not a few thousand years but less than a hundred.  It seems that a rich landowner, Baptista (Justin Kunkel) has two daughters he wishes to marry off, Kate (Sammy Carroll) and Bianca (Jamie Allen), to increase his holdings.  It is customary that the eldest (Kate) must be married off first but, because of her temperament, she has no suitors.  Bianca, on the other hand, has many.  There is the foppish, Hortensio (Brendan Groat), the oily, Gremio (Andre Roy) and a new arrival in town, Lucentio (Skyler Denfeld), sent here to study.

They, of course, in turn, have their assorted servants, who are usually pictured as wiser than their masters.  The clever, Trainia (Cassidy Macadam) and the slow-witted, Biondello (Ben Howard), are assigned to Lucentio.  Into this mix we add the devil-may-care, Petruchio (Jack Harvison), who agrees to woo, Kate (for a fee, of course) and his petulant servant, Grumio (Ceili O’Donnell).  Half of the play deals with the many guises and tricks the men are willing to do to “win” their ladies and, once won, the attempt to “tame” them.

It would be too complicated to try to explain the story because of the many twists and turns.  But, during the course of it, we shall meet Petruchio’s flighty house servants, Phillip (Joe Vaught), Josephina (Arial Stanton), Nichola (Madison Gardner), Nathaniel (Vanessa Gress), and Curtis (Mackenna Davis).  We shall also meet a proud Widow (Katie Beard), a weary merchant (Thomas Rismoen), an aging father, Vincentio (Jerrin King), a feisty Tailor (Louise Bredvig Larsen) and a frightened Hatmaker (Ethan Floyd).

It is amazing that, with the right Teacher and Director, even teens can speak the language of the Bard and make it understandable.  They all do well in this regard and most of the thanks must go to Henry for leading this troupe.  The set by Groat and Sundance Wilson Henry, as well as her costumes, add to the fun and frivolity of this era.  And the music and title cards help establish the period, too.  One thing I would have added was to make some attempt to disguise the actors when playing different characters, even a simple mask across the eyes would have suggested enough of a change to convince an audience.

As mentioned, all the actors spoke “the speech liltingly on the tongue.”  But there were some that were even a step above that in their approach to the roles.  Both Harvison and Carroll as the leads were good choices and exhibited the necessary fire the roles called for.  Denfeld, as the young lover, stood out in what could have been a “throw-away” role.  He has talent.  Howard shows some nice comic timing in his role.  Macadam shows a real flair for the dual roles she performs.  And O’Donnell, as the Chaplin-ese servant, has a real stage presence and is animated and focused in her performance.  Well done.

I recommend this show, as these teens deserve to be applauded for doing well in an art form that many adults cannot conquer.  If you do see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Monday, February 8, 2016

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee—Broadway Rose—Tigard, OR


This musical was conceived by Rebecca Feldman, is written by Rachel Sheinkin with music and lyrics by William Finn and additional material by Jay Reiss.  It is directed by Annie Kaiser, musical direction by Jeffrey Childs and choreography by Dan Murphy (Founder/General Manager of B/R).  It is playing at their space, 12850 SW Grant Ave. in Tigard, through February 28th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-620-5262.

I’m sure we could all think of themes/ideas for a play or book or musical.  But who, in one’s vast imagination would have ever thought of one about a Spelling Bee?!  You’re kidding, I’m sure must have been a response of producers.  But, you know, it works.  I suppose, if you look at any event, you have to admit it is made up of people.  And, in people, there are stories.  And so it is here…

I have to admit I am the world’s worst speller and couldn’t have spelled most of the words these characters came across.  Mostly, I suppose, we have trouble with spelling because words don’t often spell like they sound.  It may be the same way with people…they don’t often act like they look or behave outwardly.  And so we are introduced to this band of misfit kids and are ask to identify with them.

There is Olive (Danielle Purdy) who is shy, awkward, introverted, and a loner.  But you discover she does have feelings, is pretty smart, has a mother who seems to have abandoned her and really just doesn’t have anybody to confide in.  Barfée (Troy Pennington) is overweight, very smart, arrogant, has medical problems and has no friends.  But he is really just self-conscience, lacks social skills and is interested in science.  Chip (Alexander Salazar) is a Boy Scout, an outsider, has trouble adjusting to puberty and is also pretty much a loner.  But inwardly he just needs a friend and someone to guide him through this awkward stage.

Logainne (Catherine Olson) is also at an awkward transition for a young person, as she is Gay and a political activist, and has two fathers, which seems to set her apart from the mainstream of young people.  But, inwardly, she just wants to be loved for herself, stripping away the veneer, where she is just as vulnerable as anyone else.  Marcy (Audrey Voon) is a good Catholic girl, speaks six languages, loves music and athletics, very smart and is an over-achiever.  And, because of that, she really doesn’t fit into any social circles.  And poor Leaf (David Swadis), with his starched hair-do and his super-hero attire, a nerd who just doesn’t seem to fit in with anybody and yet, that’s exactly what he desires, to be a part of a group.

Then there is also Rona (Amy Jo Halliday), a past winner and moderator of this enterprise.  There is no doubt about it, she runs the show.  Panch (Lyle Bjorn Aranson) is the voice of the contest, giving out definitions and usages to the entrees.  He is also a bit of a prig and sweet on Rona.  And Mitch (Brian Demar Jones) is a comfort counselor and gives solace to those who lose.  He is also doing this as his community service, as he is part of the prison system.

All these characters have their stories to tell and to reveal much more would be giving discoveries away that the audience should glean.  But know there is more than one winner, depending on how you define “winning.”  And the songs are super.  My favorites were “Pandemonium,” w/Leaf & Co., “Magic Foot” w/Barfée, “Prayer of the Comfort Counselor” w/Mitch & Co., “Chip’s Lament,” “Woe Is Me,” w/Logainne & Co., “I Speak Six Languages” w/Marcy and “The I Love You Song” w/Olive & Co.  They are all powerful singers and certainly add to the success of the show.

Kaiser has done well, balancing the show with quieter times and then letting other moments explode.  The costumes (designer, Brynne Oster-Bainnson) help immeasurably in defining the characters.  The dances, by Murphy, are simple but effective.  And Childs and his band complement the show without overpowering the actors.

The acting by all is very specific and you feel for them, their characters.  Purdy is always worth watching in a show and she excels here, too.  Halliday and Jones have, perhaps, the most powerful voices in the show and are put to good use here.  Arnason has some of the funniest lines with his definitions and usages and has a great comic timing when delivering them.  Pennington touchingly presents an unsympathetic character in a sympathetic way.

Salazar is good at presenting a boy at an awkward age, something we can all identify with, I’m sure.  Voon is spot on in playing that oh-so-perfect person outwardly but is empty inwardly.  Olson’s character is so annoying at times that you want to ignore her until you see her vulnerable side and then you want to hug her.  And Swadis plays the nerd to a tee, someone we all knew (or were) in our youth.

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

You For Me For You—Portland Playhouse—NE Portland

Windmills of the Mind

This dream-like drama is written by Mia Chung and directed by Gretchen Corbett.  It is playing at their space, 602 NE Prescott St. (parking lot is located about 2 blocks North of the theatre), through February 28th.  For more information, go to their site at

I call this “dream-like,” or better expressed by the author, “magic realism.”  Keeping in mind, of course, that the word “dream” and magic have darker sides, too, called Nightmares.  Sometimes the only way someone can survive horrible experiences is by creating a fantasy…putting your real-life occurrences at arm’s length so that you can deal with them.  In Chung’s case, she uses the Pen to dissipate (or expose) the shadows that haunt her.  I’ve expressed it before, the old adage, “the Pen is Mightier than the Sword,” and, in time, I believe it will crush all demi-gods.

And so, in that vein…Once Upon a Time, in a Far-off Land, there lived a Fire-breathing Dragon.  He was a very demanding creature and would destroy anyone who spoke against him.  He discouraged, in the most heinous ways, anyone who would try to think for themselves.  In this Land, there also lived two sisters who desired to escape this Evil Empire.  And, the one thing that the beast could not control was their minds, their imaginations and so, a new reality…a magic reality…was born…

The elder sister, Minhee (Susan Hyon) was ill and food was scarce in North Korea.  Her younger sister, Junhee (Khanh Doan) was also starving and they knew the time had come to escape this restrictive structure.  They had heard horror stories of the Imperial Americans and so they chose to attempt a crossing into China.  They hired a Smuggler (Stephen Hu) to get them over the border but, in the process, they got separated.  And here, for the most part, is where the dream story or fantasy takes center stage.

Minhee’s “dream” focuses much of the time on her pangs of guilt on letting the government take away her son at an early age and be “re-educated,” reprogrammed in the ways of the State.  She also has a longing to find out what happened to her husband, a soldier of the State.  But, be careful what you wish for, as a visitation describes in graphic detail what she dreaded most.

Junhee has recurring images of Woman (Nikki Weaver), speaking what appears to be gibberish in various scenes (perhaps accenting the inability of one culture to communicate to another?).  Finally she envisions herself in a job at a hospital in NYC.  She also meets a fellow, Wade (La’ Tevin Alexander), who gives her the lowdown on being American, especially speaking her mind.  The American Dream come true?!  We’ll see…

The style in which this story is presented raises it a notch or two above other stories of this ilk.  It is presented in a dance-like (choreographer, Jessica Wallenfels), dream-like way, in which an ensemble of actors (Ken Yoshikawa, Elizabeth Bartz, Collette Campbell, Quinian Fitzgerald, Andrea Whittle, and Alex Ramirez) portray other characters, many in a surrealistic fashion.  And the setting (designer, Curt Enderle) is almost a bare stage, only bringing in a minimum of props and furniture pieces needed in the scene, and allowing the lighting (designer, Solomon Weisbard) and sound (designer, Matt Wiens) and, of course, actors, to create the atmosphere of this piece.

I can’t imagine the complexities that Corbett must have had to consider in order to do justice to the play.  But she has done it very well, incorporating what Chung calls “magic realism” into the mix.  And, in this way, she has created an alternate reality for the audience, as well.  Very well executed, I must say.  Wallenfels, likewise, creates an atmosphere of movement that enhances the surreal elements.

And the two leads, Hyon and Doan, are very convincing as the sisters.  All the gyrations necessary to create this world would have fallen on its face if these two ladies were not believable.  But, rest assured, they do remarkably well!  Weaver, in a variety of roles, is always engaging.  I can’t phantom how she managed to learn the variety of accents and gibberish(?) necessary for the parts and still make them understandable.  Wow.  Hu gives an extra dimension to his Smuggler, as he appears to have a bit of a heart, too.  And Alexander does present a very realistic portrait of what it is to be an American.

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

Much Ado About Nothing—Twilight Theater Company—N. Portland

Claudio (L) and Beatrice (R), played by Levi Ruiz and
Taylor Jean
Photography credit:  Garry Bastian of Garry Bastian Photography

This classic comedy by Shakespeare is directed by Sue Harris and is playing at their space, 7515 N. Brandon (parking across the street in the church parking lot), through February 27th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-847-9838.

The Bard’s musings have taken on many locales and time periods over the years since he conceived his plays.  Of course, he essentially lifted his stories from other sources, so I guess it’s only fair we transpose them as well.  His characters have been incarnated into New Orleans, Haiti, the hippie era of the 60’s, post-desert storm, Alaska, et. al. and now, Messina, Texas.  The setting that is rarely done is to place it in his time and space, with audiences sitting on the edges of the stages, laughing and asking questions of the actors, drinking their brews and tossing chicken bones around, females onstage being played by boys, and vendors hawking their wares during the performance.  But that was then…this is now.

The setting this time, as mentioned, is Messina, Texas.  So we find the Prince, Don Pedro (Benjamin Philip), coming back from the wars with two of his most eligible bachelors, Benedick (JJ Harris) and Claudio (Levi Ruiz), looking for mates.  They find them in Beatrice (Taylor Jean Grady), daughter of Antonio (Aaron Crosby); and the Governor, Leonato (Aaron Morrow), in his daughter, Hero (Alicia Hueni).  Hero is easily won over by Claudio, but Beatrice is a kissing cousin to Kate, the shrew, from another of the Bard’s works.  And he, Benedick, is equally stubborn and pig-headed.

So family, and servants, including Ursula (Tate Kuhn) and Margaret (Tabitha Ebert), serving maids to the ladies, conspire to get these two lovers together.  Meanwhile, back at the manor, we have a disgruntled Don John (Mark Putnam), brother to Don Pedro, desiring Hero for himself.  So he, and his mates, Borachio (Ilana Watson) and Conrade (Russell Owens), devise a method of smearing Hero’s reputation, giving the inference that she is not a maiden.  Obviously, Claudio is not pleased and so has his own devices for dealing with such treachery before the Preacher (Doug Jacobs). 

Meanwhile, on the home front, the intrepid Dogberry (Tom Witherspoon), the constable, and his band of merry minions, Verges (Bobby Nove), Seacole (Belanna Winborne) and Otecake (Amelia Harris) have captured Don John’s underlings and they confess to concocting the whole plot before a Judge (Mary Winborne).  More I cannot tell you but, this being mostly a comedy, things have a way of working out for all concerned.

Motivations of villainy are one thing that is never very clear in Mr. S’s plays.  Why is Oberon so irate about Titania taking in a changeling boy; why is Iago really so hateful toward Othello; and why is Don John so mean to his brother and Claudio?  Jealousy seems to be a key factor but to really go to such extremes…but, then again, there would be no play without these crucial elements.  Contrivance is usually something that is in most plots…in other words, if something doesn’t happen in a certain way, then the story falls apart.  And so, bowing to this device, Don John must concoct his scheme so that we have a play.

It is gratifying to see that Harris has assembled this many people to deliver Shakespeare’s words and, for the most part, they do reasonably well.  Part of the success of this, is that she has them speak in a conversational way, which makes all the difference.  I learned Conversational Shakespeare from Dr. Bowmer (Founder of OSF in Ashland) and Richard Fancy from NYC.  It is the “new” Shakespeare onstage.  Therefore, one should not fear not understanding the story just because it happens to be by the Bard.

Harris has kept her set simple, allowing the actors and some minor set or props changes, to broadcast the setting.  And her cast handles it well, keeping in mind that community theatre is good training ground for this Art.  One basic thing, though, that should be cleared up before performing the show for an audience, is that actors should not look out at the audience (unless it is an aside) or doing bits of business that distracts from where the main focus of the scene should be.  A couple of her actors have not yet learned that.  But, after all, it was opening night, so I trust this will be cleaned up for future performances.

JJ Harris and Grady were quite good as the two mismatched lovers.  They both had a command of the language and played off each other well.  Morrow gave it his all when playing the anguished father.  Nove has a real knack for comedy in the roles he played.  Jacobs does a nice turn in the small role of the Preacher.  And Philip is very adept as the “leader of the pack.”  He has a good stage presence and seems very comfortable with the language.

But a nice surprise is Hueni as the young, Hero.  These roles are usually considered lightweight and seem to have little more to do than being a naïve victim.  But she doesn’t allow herself to fall into that trap and holds her own on the stage.  She is an attractive lady, so fits the role physically, but she also has an assuredness as to her character and a focus as an actor that raises the bar on playing what is usually a “throw-away” role.  I hope to see more of her onstage.

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

Friday, February 5, 2016

PREVIEW: King Lear, Tobias Andersen - Post 5 Theatre

Tobias Andersen:  A “Staged” Life

In a couple of weeks you will be a witness to greatness.  I’m not talking just about Shakespeare’s classic play, King Lear, but, even better, Tobias Andersen playing King Lear!  And if you are a regular patron of the local theatre and have to ask, who is Tobias Andersen? you must really live in Siberia.

Andersen is no stranger to Lear (or Shakespeare, for that matter) as he had played the roles of “Albany (OSF) and Gloucester (Cal Shakes).”  And when asked, why now…and at Post 5, he replied, “’it’s time.’  I never chased the role but when this opportunity presented itself, I felt my career has led me to this point and the universe was saying ‘do it.’”  And he added, referring to the allure of working with Post 5, “It’s the energy.  I feed on it like a vampire.  They are so inventive, willing to try anything.  And talented I think it’s the perfect place for a 79 year old to play Lear.”

And since he is in the golden years of his theatre career, with many more opportunities to come, I’m sure, I thought it only fair to prompt him as to when the acting “bug” bit him and he knew this was going to be his whole life.  He remarked, “When I was in my teens, a touring company from Cleveland Playhouse came to our small Oklahoma oil town…and performed The Importance of Being Earnest.  I’d never seen anything like the magic of those words….”

Tobias went on to say, when he was 25, his local community theater went on to produce a farce, The Moon Is Blue, and so “…with a flat top haircut and a stuck on mustache, [he played] a 55 year old suave playboy….and I got laughs.  That did it.”

Since then, I have seen him in many productions recently, and my favorite is the one-man show he performed from the works of Ray Bradbury.  He and the author were so intertwined that they seem to speak with one voice.  I admit a bias, having a fondest for Bradbury (as does Andersen).  But, the point being, there is something magic about his words, poetic-prose and very identifiable to each of us.  The same goes for Tobias, when he’s playing a character onstage, you believe him and understand where’s he’s coming from…and that is part of the magic of being a fine actor, which he is!

And so I have chosen my favorite among the few roles I’ve seen him perform.  Now it’s his turn:  “…I’d say playing Clarence Darrow before audiences in Pakistan, including members of the government, and watching them take in and understand his positions on freedom of speech and religion, rights of the working man, abolishment of the death penalty.  Performing theatre that can make a difference in thinking is really special for me.”  It is said that, “the pen is mightier than the sword,” and this just may be one proof of that.

Andersen added to the list saying that, “…playing Gudmondsson, the defense attorney in Snow Falling on Cedars…”and “Playing Falstaff…to 500 people a night on the shores of Lake Tahoe is a pretty special memory.”  But he also adds, “…that the Portland Community Theater is the best that I’ve encountered.  The satisfaction I have gotten from the good work I have been privileged to do has been more than matched by the love, support and friendship of my fellow theater artists.”

Having experienced Post 5 productions for almost four years now, and reviewing most of them, I would agree with Tobias as to their energy and inventiveness and talent, as it shows in every play they do.  And so I queried him as to what will be unique about this production.  He explains that they will have one that has “evolved… we will continue to rely on [the text] and interpret it in such a way that the process is informing us as to where we are physically and in time….For certain, it will be a Post 5 production and all that that entails…interesting casting, high voltage energy, choices you may not often see in more traditional productions.”  He adds enthusiastically, “I love it.”

Rusty Tennant, the director (and new co-Artistic Director along with Patrick Walsh and Paul Angelo), confides that “What makes this production special is Tobias as Lear…he tackles it like he’s wrestling the beast that it is into submission….It’s about Tobias…getting to play Lear for the first time in his life.  To me, that is amazingly special.”

But in an Artist’s creative juices…lodged in the cubby holes of their minds…just around the corner from this show, are always the next undiscovered lands to traverse.  And what is next for Andersen?  “There are plans to revive Clarence Darrow, the one man show I have acted for years and play it in repertory with The Great Tennessee Monkey Trial…taken directly from the actual Monkey Trial…and is as timely as ever…I am also intent on directing a multicultural production of Rashomon.”  (Interesting to note that the Japanese have also tackled the Bard with Throne of Blood (Macbeth) and Ran (King Lear) by that great film director, Akira Kurosawa—who also directed the film, Rashomon.)

And so, in a way, we have come full circle and the legacy being, those young hopefuls out there trying to break into the biz.  Tobias’s advice:  “…making a living in theater is a tough business but my experience is that if you have to have ‘something to fall back on,’ you will fall back on it.  If you can do something else, do it.  If the theater still calls you, then go for it with everything you have.”  Amen!

Rusty tells me that, as far as them leading the company, “…we hope to retain the energy and great brand that Ty and Cass built…to be a source for fresh and vital productions…as well as branching into more modern classics…to give our audiences a more complete and enjoyable evening at the theatre.”

King Lear opens at their space, 1666 SE Lambert St. in Sellwood, on February 26th and closes March 19th.  For more information on this show and their Season, go to (an unbeatable price, too, 8 shows for $100!).  I recommend them and, as always, if you do choose to see their shows, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Alice In Wonderland—NW Children’s Theatre—NW Portland

A Scat For Cool Cats

This jazzy, musical updating of Lewis Carroll’s novel was conceived, composed and musical direction by Ezra Weiss and written, directed and choreographed by Sarah Jane Hardy (NWCT’s Artistic Director).  It is playing at their space in the NW Cultural Center, 1819 NW Everett St., through February 28th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-222-4480.

So, you think you know the story of Alice and her adventures down the rabbit hole.  Think again.  True, the original was written partly as a condemnation of the Queen, the government and the hoity-toity upper crust and their life styles.  “Say what you mean…” is a definite jab at them. (One could easily put our Congress in this boat, too.)  Also, “rabbit hole” has another connation, meaning, getting side-tracked on trivial issues.  But, all his flavor is still retained in this merry, madcap of mischievous marvels.

In fact, I’m sure Carroll would have approved, as the nonsense in his story and the freewheeling style of jazz and scat go hand-in-hand, like spam and strawberry jam.  And, if confronted by reality, these characters would only go as tourists, I’m sure.  For the stuffed shirts out there, loosen your ties, put on your sandals, let down your hair and, as Zorba (the Greek) would say, “Everybody needs a little madness” once in awhile!

The story is probably familiar to most of you, so I’ll just skim the surface.  Alice (Kai Tomizawa), the prim and proper, sees a White Rabbit (Sophie MacKay) escape down a hole and she goes tumbling after.  She almost immediately gets invited to play in a crochet match with the Queen of Hearts (Marilyn T. Keller).

So, she asks various individuals along the way for directions.  There is the very hip, trippy Cheshire Cat (Gerrin Mitchell), who only grins when confronted; a frighten, little Mouse (Aida Valentine), who hates cats; a bombastic Duchess (Ithica Tell), who has a pig for a child; a far-out Caterpillar (Kevin-Michael Moore), who speaks in riddles (seems to be the chief language of this Land—Riddlese).

Then she gets trapped in a Tea Party of nonsensical individuals (think about it in relation to this heated political climate) consisting of the whimsical, Mad Matter (John Ellingson); a chipper, March Hare (Leif Schmit); and a rather sleepy, Dormouse (Keller, again).  And when she gets there, finds a trembling trio of cards, Seven (Jimmie Herrod), Five (Ronni Lee) and Two (Annabel Cantor), who are “not playing with a full deck.”

The game commences, with flamingos for mallets and hedgehogs for balls and, surprise, surprise, the Queen wins.  But there is a deeper miscarriage of justice, as someone has stolen the Queen’s tarts and so a trial ensues.  I can’t tell you the outcome but even the band (Pete LaMalfa, Adam R. Jones, Tim Paxton, Thomas Barber, Noah Bernstein and Stan Bock) gets in, at times, on the action.

This is certainly one of the most uniformly talented ensembles I’ve seen!  And individual numbers are super, too, such as Tell’s revealing rendition of the “Duchess’ Blues;” Moore’s rhetorical rendering of “Who Are You?;” Valentine’s pitiful plight of “A Long and Sad Tail;” MacKay’s harried hasty relating of “Look At the Time;” Herrod’s schemingly scatty singing of “The Knave’s Letter;” Mitchell’s boastful belting of “The Craziest Cat in Town;” and Keller’s hauntingly heart-felt “Three Little Sisters.”

And one cannot forget Schmit as the timid, March Hare and, especially, the amazing Ellingson as the baffling buffoon in the Mad Hatter.  He has played many major roles in their plays and is always outstanding.  Tomizawa was exceptional in the title role in OCT’s “Junie B….” and shows that, again, she is a major star in the making. 

And, not to forget, “there are no small roles…” and so, it is true here, too.  The trio (Herrod, Lee and Cantor), who play at least four roles, prove their talent and are a major asset to the success of this show.  Also, to narrow it down a little more, Cantor appears to have a little something extra, a stage presence, a “diamond-in-the-rough” quality that, in time, hopefully, will see her in larger roles.

Hardy has her hands full, wearing so many hats in this play, but it exposes her talent in so many fields.  She, like the show, is an original and so, should take some well-deserved bows in all her incarnations.  Weiss certainly knows his jazz and it shows.  This is one that could evolve to bigger things, if Broadway is listening.  And the band is spot on and does not overpower the actors.  Mary Rochon’s costumes are marvelous, as they compliment, not only the character, but the actor, too.

I recommend this show (especially if you are a jazz lover).  But, be warned, parking can be a nightmare in this area of town, so plan your time accordingly.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Great Expectations—Portland Center Stage—Pearl District

“The Play’s the Thing…”

One of the great novels by Charles Dickens is adapted for the stage by Lucinda Stroud (for Book-It Repertory Theatre) and directed by Jane Jones.  It is playing at the PCS space, 128 NW 11th Ave., through February 14th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-445-3700.

Shakespeare certainly knew a thing or two about plot and characters driving a story forward on a stage.  And Dickens was his literary equal in books, creating such a rich tapestry, a visual feast for the eyes and mind that would seem impossible to perform on the stage and do justice to the book.  But if you do the play in a storytelling style, with a few actors playing all the roles, and interspersing the dialogue with narratives from the book, then you’ve come as close as you can in creating the book onstage.  A “novel” approach, I would say (groans from the readers are heard…).

In about 2 and a half hours, a cast of nine (most of them playing multiple roles) offers us, in a very satisfying fashion, Dickens’s work come to life on the boards.  It seems that Pip (Stephen Stocking), orphaned at an early age, has been raised by his shrewish sister, Mrs. Joe (Dana Green) and her patient husband, Joe (Gavin Hoffman), a blacksmith.  Pip’s lot in life, too, seems to be training for that profession, as well.  But, as fate would have it, a chance encounter with an erudite, escaped prisoner, Magwitch (John Hutton), would change his life forever.

He also has the good fortune to meet up with the eccentric, reclusive, rich Miss Havisham (Green, again) and her beautiful but proud ward, Estella (Maya Sugarman).  He is immediately smitten by her but is treated in distain by both of them, for no apparent reason.  Also his life is changing on the home front, too, as Joe has taken in a helper, the oily Orlick (Isaac Lamb), who is constantly trying to accost his good friend, Biddy (Sugarman, again).  And, out of the blue, a strange lawyer, Mr. Jaggers (Hutton, again), has made Pip an offer he can’t refuse, to come to London and be tutored as a “gentleman,” all expenses paid, which he does but starts behaving soon, because of this, “bigger than his britches.”

Jaggers explains that the monies is coming from a mysterious source so best not to question it.  His clerk, Wemmick (Damon Kupper), feels for the boy so tries to help him as best he can.  His roommate, Herbert Pocket (Chris Murray), is a cheery sort and a good pal in teaching him the refinements of being a “gentleman.”  But his tutor, Drummle (Sean McGrath), is a hard taskmaster and also seems to have designes on Pip’s girl, Estella.  It all comes to a head when…but that would be telling, wouldn’t it?!  Just have to see it to find out how it all comes out.

I very much like this style of storytelling.  They essentially use just one set (designer, Christopher Mumaw) and then bring in various pieces/props that are relevant to the scene, and specific lighting changes (designer, Peter Maradudin), to tell the story.  Also the performers, except for costume (designer, Ron Erickson) changes, must rely on their acting abilities to transform from one character to another.  And Jones has chosen well her cast, all being exceptional, and is very adept at keeping things moving without losing track of the complicated story.  Quite a feat and she does it well.

Stocking seems perfect as the young boy who is transformed into a man.  Sugarman is also very keen in playing the two young ladies in the show.  Green, having been touted as an actor before in many Portland shows, is, again, super in enacting one of the great characters in all of literature, Miss Havisham, and she does Dickens proud in her portrayal here.  Hoffman, again a familiar face on Portland stages, is irresistible as the kindly, patient father-figure and friend of Pip.  Your heart goes out to him.  And Hutton, in his dual, key roles, is terrific!  He’s quite a find and is mesmerizing when on stage and very believable.  Hope we will see him again on Portland stages, as he’s a real asset to a show.

I recommend this play but, be warned, it can be a nightmare finding parking in this area of town, so plan your time accordingly.  If you do see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

There’s No Business Like Show Business—Chehalem Cultural Center—Newberg, OR

Thanks for the Memories

This musical revue, celebrating the golden age of Broadway, is created and directed by Deanna Maio.  It is playing at their space in the black box theatre, 415 E. Sheridan St. in Newberg, though February 12th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 971-264-9409.

The 40’s through the 50’s were indeed the heyday of musical theatre.  They ruled the stages of the Big Apple.  Gone are those days, though, replaced by occasional, hit-and-miss musicals that have some merit, but the central heart of this bygone time, seems to be missing, sparked every year by one or more revivals of these plays, which still pull in the audiences, wanting to be transported back to the South Pacific during WWII or Oklahoma of the old west.

But my own personal connection to these was that elusive Love that was out there, somewhere, just around the corner.  Songs like, Some Enchanted Evening, where you’ll recognize your true love even “across a crowded room.”  (My friend, Deone, told me that was exactly the way it was when meeting her true love, her husband.) Or singing, “Goodnight, My Someone…,” to that imaginary person that you know is still out there and will complete you.  Ah, Romance…Sweet Mystery of Life…!

My own brush with musicals is fleeting, having played Capt. Von Trapp in “Sound of Music,” directed “Oliver,” and produced “A Chorus Line” and “West Side Story,” among others.  But this production in a small space, formal, black attire and no set, does captivate one in a very special way.  For one, the chorus of eight voices is extraordinary (actually too big for the space); secondly, the simplicity of presentation invites the listener to concentrate on the beauty in the songs; and lastly, the choice of material gives a good retrospective of the era.

The numbers are scattered across the years concentrating on Guys and Dolls, South Pacific, Kiss Me Kate, Annie Get Your Gun, Gypsy, West Side Story, My Fair Lady, Oklahoma, and The Music Man (two of those –B/F-- are among my three favorites and the third would be Cabaret).  As mentioned, there are some outstanding voices.  Ashley Moore has an operatic voice and is a belter, as well (another Merman?).  Sarah Thornton is a soprano and has the look and voice to easily play any of these leading young ladies in the musicals mentioned.  And John Knowles, not only has the voice for the more mature parts, but does some animated bits throughout that lend to the authenticity of the songs.

But major kudos are reserved for the director and songstress, Deanna Maio, as she is a marvel!  It would seem like an impossible task to be able to choose specific materials from the vast wealth of selections, decide on how they are to be edited and who to sing them, direct the cast and be a major player in it, too.  Wow, she’s got my respect.  She is not only a talented singer but has great stage presence and an attractive lady, as well, able to play either character parts or leading ladies (my choice is that she would be perfect as Fanny Brice in “Funny Girl”—any theatres listening out there?!).

The rest of the cast is also quite amazing—Pamela Woodrow, Rebecca Raccanelli, Jeremy Marcott and Matt Simek.  I know it’s a trek to go there but I think you will be rewarded by the talent involved, as well as a trip down memory lane.  I recommend this show.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.