Thursday, March 10, 2016

Heathers, the Musical—Triangle Productions!—NE Portland

Damaged Goods

This Northwest Premiere musical, based on the cult film from the late 80’s by Daniel Walters, was written for the stage by Kevin Murphy and Laurence O’Keefe and directed by Diane Englert, co-production with Staged!, musical direction by Jonathan Quesenberry, and choreographed by Erin Shannon.  It is playing at their space at the Sanctuary (parking lot to the West of the bldg.), 1785 NE Sandy Blvd., through March 2nd.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-239-5919.

This has many things in common with Carrie, Bonnie and Clyde, Rebel Without a Cause, Badlands and Rent, et. al., in that it deals with people, dissatisfied with the current state of affairs (in their family, school, town, et. al.) are willing to take things, in a violent way, into their own hands.  Observe the current events with Youth in school shootings, bombings, Gay issues, abuse, bullying, date rape, suicides, sexing, drinking & drugs…and this story all takes place in the mid-80’s, before there was even the social media and cell phones!  Was this story ahead of its time and a prophetic warning of days to come?  Hell, yes!  So view at your own risk.

My first thought was to warn an audience of a certain age, teens, to stay away but I think those are exactly the ones that should see it!  It holds a mirror to their own generation and says, look at what the world of Youth has come to in some instances.  Hopefully the viewing will spurn revelations, discussions and, perhaps, changes in the way we look at things and the world.  OCT’s Young Professionals Company (just down the street from here) has been asking many of the same questions with their excellent shows around similar topics, Columbinus, Wrestling Season in the past and, next up, Chrysalis in mid-April.  It is said, “the pen is mightier than the sword,” and these examples just might hone these issues to a positive point.

The play is set in a high school during the 80’s in the Mid-West. Veronica (Malia Tibbets) is a newbie to the school and so, according to the social system, is an outsider.  But she wants to be part of the Popular Crowd like the snobby Heathers (Kelsey Bentz, Hannah Lauren Wilson, and Kaitlyn Sage).  So she agrees to do their bidding, just so she can fit in.  She does have some valuable attributes for them, like being able to forge handwriting, fetch items when called on and, generally, be a glorified gofer.  Of course this means she may have to shun her friendship with her best pal, Martha (Amanda Pred), who would definitely be considered a freak with this “In” crowd.

And this also allows her to associate with the Jocks, especially the ever-popular, not so bright, Kurt (Michel Castillo) and Ram (Blake Stone).  A double-edged sword, as she gains popularity, true, but they see her as nothing more than a sex toy.  Even her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Sawyer (Lisamarie Harrison) and (Joe Theissen) try to help by throwing a party for all of them but it’s a dud (what to parents know anyway, they were never young, right?!).

But then appears the new kid in town, J. D. (Ethan Crystal), a definite outsider, wearing black, with a flowing black coat (images of a Gunslinger or, perhaps, the Grim Reaper) and this world changes.  His abusive father (Colin Wood), too, is unable to cope with the Youth of his day.  Veronica feels a definite connection with him and together they will…but that would be telling, wouldn’t it?  So, guess you’ll just have to risk a trip and witness for yourself, the outcome.

Being a musical actually adds power to the story, as music for Youth is a great communicator to and for them.  My lovely friend, Deanna, who is much more musically inclined than I am (and an artist in that area in her own right) and identifies more closely with that era, was totally blown away by the songs, singers and musicians.  The songs are engrained in and enhance the plot, and powerful they are.  One of my favorites was a sad ballad by Martha, seeing the world through a misfit’s eyes.  The band is top-notch and Quesenberry’s lead is always a treat.
Englert and Horn are willing to tackle social issues head-on and this is perhaps one of his most engaging, as it spews the issues directly into our laps, almost daring us to dispute them and definitely challenging us to change them.  Her casting is excellent and this is a must-see if you are a believer in the power of the “mighty pen.”

Tibbets is terrific, as you’re never really sure as to which way her loyalties will eventually lie and her voice is unbeatable.  Crystal, as J. D., plays the character as an enigma, as it should be and is very convincing in his role.  The three Heathers Bentz, Wilson, and Sage are girls you love to hate and have voices that would raise the roof.  And I especially liked Pred as the misfit, Martha, as her type is so identifiable in any school or business (like myself in my teen years, unable to fit into any group, being an artist).

This production should take the town by storm!  It’s an earthquake, disguised as a tremor, but beware of the aftershocks!  Obviously, I highly recommend this production and I applaud the lady sitting in front of us, who came with her school-age daughter, as they reacted to the play and were holding each other.  May we all be as wise.

If you choose to see, tell them that Dennis sent you.

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