Friday, April 29, 2016

Into the Beautiful North—Milagro—SE Portland

Imaginary Borders & Impossible Dreams

This comedy-drama is adapted to the stage by Karen Zacarias from a novel by Luis Alberto Urrea.  It is directed by Olga Sanchez (Artistic Director, Emerita) and Daniel Jáquez.  It is playing at their site, 525 SE Stark St. (street parking is a challenge, so plan your time accordingly), through May 28th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-236-7253.

We probably have all felt the need to be saved, at one time or another, at one point in our lives.  The traditional model might go back as far as early Man, with the Hunter/Gatherers caste system, where roles where defined as to who were the protectors, the males, and who would keep the home fires burning, the females.  Medieval times chose to have castles and knights and fair damsels and dragons, to add to this complicated mix.  And then some years ago we had the dastardly villain and the meek maiden needing rescuing by the brave hero in the white hat….

But that was then, this is now!  In this modern scenario, the hero is a female, and a young one at that, that knows hand-to-hand combat and will not put up with bullying (young ladies, take notice).  Nayeli (Michelle Escobar) is a resident of a small Mexican town that is overrun by corrupt officials and drug lords.  She finds sympathy from her tough-talking, Tia Irma (Bunnie Rivera), who is also the mayor.  She also finds support from her best friends, Vampi (Michelle Caughlin), a vampire-like vixen and her gay friend, and boss at the café where she works, Tacho (Danny Moreno).

After seeing the film, The Magnificent Seven, Nayeli and her two buddies decide to venture up North to the United States, to find seven brave and true men who will rescue their town from these evil-doers.  Of course, they have little money and no passports and really have no idea where they are actually going, but that doesn’t stop them.  Their one goal is to find her father, who has been gone for some years, in the Great Lakes region of the U.S.  And they do remember a Missionary Matt (Romeo Ceasar), a gringo, who Nayeli has a crush on, from a visit when he was here, who lives in San Diego.  But there Odyssey will take many unexpected twists and turns before they reach their destination.

They will spend a night in the town dump, where they are greeted by the first of their “magnificent” men, an eccentric vagabond and street fighter named, Atómiko (Anthony Lam), who also knows the secret to getting across the border.  But along their perilous journey, they will meet up with some nasty Mexican border guards and one, somewhat sympathetic, American one; be separated at times; find hatred and kindness in small-town America; find another, “magnificent” man, in the desert, the wandering Angel (Carlos Manzano); reunite an old flame, Chava (Anthony Green), with a familiar face; and eventually find her Quest, only to discover it may have all just be a wonderful, impossible dream of hers all along.

I can’t tell you all the details, as that is a journey of discovery the audience must make with them.  But I will tell you that, not unlike Dorothy’s journey to Oz, what you have been seeking may have been in your own backyard all the time.  But, to learn that, one must make that trip over the rainbow.  I think everyone can glean something of value from this united safari into the unknown.  And know that Courage is only a word, if written in ink.  When dipped into one’s heart and written in blood, it becomes something quite unstoppable!  Youth, take note!

This is a play that sneaks up on you.  It begins quite innocently enough and you think you know where it’s going, but then it takes some sharp turns and ends up being more like a fable or parable, in which one can be entertained but also learn some important life lessons in the process.  The directors have done well by keep the setting simple and letting the actors flesh out the story, so that one’s imagination is challenged and becomes part of the vehicle in envisioning it (not like today’s films, in which there C/G effects spell out everything for us, allowing our imaginations to atrophy…but don’t get me started on that).  Also, the stylized fight scenes by Kristen Mun are very well done, as well as the video backgrounds by Andres Alcalá.

Anyway, it is refreshing to observe a talented ensemble relate a tale in a storytelling fashion, in which an audience is allowed to participate.  And most of the cast plays more than one role and are quite good in them, if they are just a few seconds long.  I especially liked Green in the many incarnations he creates and all very specific and captivating.  Lam was a scream, playing such an offbeat character even more offbeat.  You like his mad man even if you don’t understand him.  Moreno does justice to his creation by playing a gay man, who is quite admirable and someone who would be proud to have as a friend.  And Escobar, as the fiery heroine, is a gem.  She not only is able to impart a strong female character, who  appears able to take on all comers, but also has a sensuality that is quite appealing to a guy with any sense.  She is a perfect role-model for young ladies of today.

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

Monday, April 18, 2016

In the Heights—Stumptown Stages—downtown Portland

“Won’t You Be…My Neighbor?”

This Tony-Award winning musical is playing in the Brunish Theatre (4th floor), 1111 SW Broadway, through May 1st.   It was conceived by Lin-Manuel Miranda (who also composed the current musical, mega-hit on Broadway, Hamilton), who also wrote the music and lyrics, and book by Quiara Alegia Hudes.  It is directed and choreographed by David Marquez, with musical direction by Mak Kastelic.  For more information, go to their site at  

For those of you who might remember, or grew up with “Mr. Rogers Neighborhood,” the above phrase is part of his opening theme song, as he welcomed viewers to his world (or some might prefer Eddie Murphy’s bleaker version on “Saturday Night Live.”).  But, whatever your take on neighborhoods, there are always two sides to that kind of intimacy.  You might then picture, “Sesame Street,” and its alter-ego, in the Tony-Award winning musical, Avenue Q.  Two sides of the same coin, you see?

The beat expands more as you consider the old adage, from Africa, I believe, “it takes a whole village to raise a child.”  The question then becomes, what happens when that “child” dreams of and/or reaches out to the larger world and leaves that nurturing community?  Will they be swallowed up by the concrete jungles or be allowed to shine?  And what of those left behind, as they lose, through death or migration, key members of the pack?  Evolution is a natural part of Life but change is painful, too.

And so we have, the Washington Heights neighborhood, during one long, hot summer.  Our guide into this gnarly garden of contained wonders is Usnavi (Michel Castillo), a gregarious, street vendor and grocery store owner with his friend, Sonny (Matthew Synder), a cool, young tomcat.  His neighbors are the Rosario’s, Kevin/Poppy (Damien Geter), a no-nonsense guy who own a Limo service and his gutsy wife, Camila (Carmen Brantley-Payne).  There is also the caring grandma, Abuela Claudia (Laura Stilwell) and the petite, Stanford-college daughter, Nina (Essie Canty Bertain), home from school.

On the other side of the store is the Beauty Salon, run by a trio of vivacious vixens, Carla (Jalena Montrond), Daniela (Sydney Webber) and Vanessa (Justine Davis).  All who dream of the world, out there…a better life…their White Knight.  Also, into this world, is Benny (Salim Sanchez), a carefree guy, dispatcher at the Limo service, who has his loving eye on Nina (and she on him).  And then there is the optimistic, Piragua Guy (Feliciano Tencos-Garcia), who has a food cart; the elusive, Graffiti Pete (Raphael Likes), who will eventually find his true calling; and a couple of lovely, street-smart ladies, Lydia Fleming and Crystal Muñoz, who flesh out the rest of the neighborhood.

Their world is mostly contained, but with Rooftop Dreams and Champagne Tastes, it will evolve in time.  Then, a night of fireworks and a blackout will change everything.  Their patch of earth will collide with the unknown and what was will be no longer…but this sky full of stars will lead to a new dawning.  Can’t tell you too much, as it would spoil discoveries you should make.  And songs such as “Atencion,” “Everything I Know,”  “When Your Home,” “Patiencia Y Fe,” “Inutil,” et. al. and the dance numbers are fabulous.  Marquez has done an amazing job in such a small space of keeping everything alive and vibrant, and visceral, as well.

The cast is outstanding, all with great voices but my special favorites were Davis, Bertain, Geter, and Stilwell, whose voices shot through the roof.  And Muñoz, who I’ve touted many times before in all sorts of incarnations, from Shakespeare to musicals, is always an asset to a production.  Also the band (with Kastelic and Reed Bunnell, Eric Ching, Ben Finley and Darian Patrick) is truly gifted with some pretty intricate material.

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

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Chrysalis—OCT’s Young Professionals Company—NE Portland

The Dawning…

This World Premiere production is at Oregon Children’s Theatre’s Y/P Studio Theatre, 1939 NE Sandy Blvd., and is written and directed by Matthew B. Zrebski.  It is playing at their space through April 24th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-228-9571.

Once Upon a Time…there was a caterpillar, who some would say was mad…no, not the one from the Alice… stories (although he might have felt quite at home in this world) but a special one who seemed to have God-like powers.  His (Her?) job, so it seems, was to spin its silk from which a new world would emerge.  An end-world, possibly, a last generation, as it were, to fix all the muddled, madcap messes and mistakes that humankind has been making since the Dawn of Time.

But this new era would not be an easy one to create…it would be painful, in fact, as the old world and the old selves would die, as well as the caterpillar from which it sprang.  But it was a last ditch effort to save what was once a Beautiful Idea.  The mistake was, perhaps, giving these bipeds free will and reasoning powers and attempting not to interfere.  But this time, there would be an…interference…in which The Braids (Morgan Demetre, Conner Muhl, Emma Stewart and Martin Tebo) would get directly involved with the…transformation…and so our story begins….

Nigel (Isaac Sten), a high school student, is the blog guru of his school, proud of the fact that he prints only gossip, lies for the hungry masses.  And proud of the fact that he can “fix” things as needed if some rumors get out of hand.  But, when he stumbles accidently on a “truth,” given to him by his best friend, Dylan (Max Bernsohn), a God-fearing boy, about a girl that he’s sweet on, Jace (Tirza Meuljic), who is in the midst of an identity crisis, then that opens up a whole can of worms and all hell breaks loose (possibly, quite literally).

Jace also has an older sister, Holly (Charlotte Karlsen), who is planning on going away to college.  But, as this tin of squiggly beasties begins to erupt, she is catapulted into the vacuum, too, as she know secrets from their past.  And, with the Braids around, nothing goes unnoticed, or unresolved.  As they are nudged into a Rebirth, wounds need to be exposed so that the healing can start.  Issues of God, politics, forgiveness, power, identity, responsibility, abuse, et. al. must be addressed.  What emerges is…but that would be telling, wouldn’t it?  See it to glimpse this…brave, new world.

If you are expecting a traditional, linear story with an elaborate set, this is not that.  This is not so much a place, but a state of mind.  It has only one foot in reality.  The other foot is rooted firmly in that netherworld of dreams, a surrealistic state of mind, a labyrinth of expectations and disappointments…and possibilities.  It is a world seen by today’s Youth and should not be ignored!

Zrebski and his cast, has, I’m sure, traveled down some emotional and probably painful roads to hone out this missive.  It is to his credit that he has not only listened but heeded their story.  And they have done it in a safe environment, in the womb of the Y/P Company of OCT, in my opinion, the finest youth company in the NW.  And, it is to Dani Baldwin’s credit, as Education Director and guiding force of this group, that such a program exists and thrives.  Hurray to all of the above and to the very talented cast who, I’m sure, has been transformed in more ways than one, with this experience.  My companion to this and many shows, Deanna, would agree, to never underestimate or patronize our Youth for they are, quite seriously, the Hope of the Future.

And so, to end the story, “…and they lived…hopefully…ever after!”  I recommend this play, especially to the Youth out there, as I’m sure they will see they are not alone in the angst they feel.  If you do see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Blue Door—Profile Theatre—SW Portland

The Summoning

This drama is by Tanya Barfield and directed by Bobby Bermea.  It is playing at the Artists Repertory’s space, SW Alder St. and 16th Ave., through April 24th.  For more information, go to their site at

Family dynamics are sometimes a wonderful…sometimes a scary thing, to deal with.  After all, we may be able to choose our friends but we can’t choose our family (although there are times, I’m sure, we wish we could).  The Why of those statements has a lot to do with our own personal Egos.  As the Cowardly Lion expresses, “If I were King of the forest…” meaning that he would change everything so that it suited him.  But that ain’t the way Life works, pal.  You get the cards you are dealt, including family, and you have to cope with them the best you can.

But…surprise, surprise…we are not on an island and are the product biologically of many generations that have come before…the bad and the good.  True, Nature has a lot to do with our make-up, but there is Nurturing, too, as we adapt to how we were raised and our surroundings.  And, in the case of Lewis (Victor Mack), a highly regarded, Math professor, assimilation, perhaps, into a society which goes against his Nature, is the answer.  And that is the crux of the story, too.

Lewis’s world is made up of numbers, formulas, facts (you might say he sleeps with these images encompassing him), anything that can neatly fit into a box and be categorized to squeeze into the world of his making…his “forest.”  He, being black, has married a white woman, and is highly successful as a professor and writer, and earning a good living, all pointing to a bed of roses to relax on…but what about the thorns, “ah, there’s the rub.”  His wife leaves him, prompting a visitation of ghosts from the past in the guises of his grand-parents, his father, his brother and other incarnations, all created by one actor, Seth Rue, suggesting, perhaps, the intimate connections of their heritage to Lewis.

He is reminded of his slave past and how mistreated his people were.  He’s reminded of the humiliation, degradation, harassment and downright cruelty his people endured.  And they damn sure didn’t endure it for him to be absorbed into the enemy camp, the white world!  His role should be to seek equality, not assimilation.  And, even sadder, Lewis knows these stories but has chosen to ignore them.  But, like all truths, they will out…and have their day.

The question then is, will he listen, no, heed their summoning…?!  To discover the outcome, and the secret of the “blue door,” you will have to see the play for yourself, for no spoiler I.

This would not be an easy play to stage, for it is just two actors (and a whole slew of characters they create) on an essentially bare stage, with few props, for 90 minutes.  But Bermea has chosen well his cast and knows the art of storytelling.  The heart of any play is the author’s words, the director/actors’ vision and the audiences ability to listen.  If you have those essentials secure (and they do), then you have a play that holds your interest and is thought-provoking (which it is).  I have reviewed Bermea before as a director and actor and his creations are always worthwhile.

Mack and Rue play off each other with a free abandon, letting the story flow from within them, painting a landscape that is both multi-dimensional and heart-wrenching.  “The woods are…dark and deep…” and exploring them are scary, dangerous but hopefully, ultimately, fulfilling.  These two talented gentlemen create a populated world with merely a turn of a head, or a crouch, or a slight change of voice and, from that, weave a existence/history/philosophy that is both personal and universal.  Some of the best acting I’ve seen this season.

One final thought, may we all create our own “blue door” in order to survive “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortunes.”  I recommend this play.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them that Dennis sent you.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The Pianist of Willesden Lane—Portland Center Stage—Pearl District

Soothing the Savage Beast

This very personal, true story features Mona Golabek and is based on her book, “The Children of Willesden Lane,” by Golabek and Lee Cohen.  It is adapted for the stage and directed by Hershey Felder.  This one-person show is playing at PCS, 128 NW 11th Ave., through May 1st.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-445-3700.

It is said that “music soothes the savage beast” and I believe that it not only does that, but is the art form that is closest to evoking emotional response from people.  Look how effective it is in films to set moods for an audience.  It is said music was often played on the sets of Silent movies to get actors into the proper frame of mind for a scene.

In this production, we not only have music, mostly classical, as a mood-enhancer, but it is intertwined and essential to the story being told, as the storyteller’s mother, Lisa Jura, a classical pianist, is being portrayed by her real-life daughter.  It may be in memories and words that we continue to live but music is the voice of the soul.

In the late 1930’s, Germany, in particular, was becoming a hell-hole for the people of the Jewish faith to live because of the Nazi reign.  Curiously, Vienna, where her family was from, was called, perhaps prophetically for her, the “City of Dreams.”  Lisa, one of three daughters, was being trained by her mother to become a pianist.  But it is soon evident that the Nazi’s were cracking down on any Jewish education and businesses, making it difficult for her father, a tailor, to continue to support his family.  When a stroke of luck offers them one ticket for a child on the Kindertransport to England, Lisa is chosen to the benefactor of this wondrous gift.

This program enabled around 10,000 Jewish children from Germany to be transported to England to be taken in and raised by families until the war was over.  Internationally, some sort of refugee program for them to other countries was proposed and rejected by 32 nations, including the United States.  But, God bless England, she rose to the cause and many Jewish families survive today because of their generosity and humanity.

As a young girl, Lisa was ushered from one family as a servant, to working on an assembly line.  But she always managed to find a piano, as she felt that was her calling.  Eventually, she found a home, like so many other refugee children, at Willesden Lane and discovered a benefactor who allowed her to continue to develop as a pianist.  Even through the destruction from bombings, Lisa played on.  She even entertained soldiers in music halls and finally had an opportunity to possibly be part of the Royal Academy of Music.  But the outcome of this story, dear reader, you’ll have to see, and hear, for yourself.

By coming to experience this show, will you learn anything new about the millions of stories already out there about the shattered dreams and renewed hopes of a whole nation of people?  Yes, I think you will.  Partly because it is told in a storytelling fashion, possibly the purist form of telling stories, so it becomes one-on-one as a personal bridge between storyteller and receiver.  Also, as mentioned above, it has music to gently, but dramatically, guide you on this coupled journey of memories, emotions and history.  And, since it is personal for the teller, one cannot say that it is just a performer enacting a part.  It is a human being sharing their very private story with you, so one should feel honored to be invited along this path to healing.  Finally, because of all of the above, it is a lesson for us to heed so that never again, perhaps, will we allow such atrocities to happen!

Golabek is inspiring, enchanting and empowering in her presentation!  She is bravely humble in her verbal relating of this epic tale but powerfully persuasive and driven in the musical landscape in which she resides.  By the end of her presentation I, and my frequent companion to plays, Deanna, a musical talent in her own right, were easily moved to tears.  And I’m sure both of us were changed by this experience.  Golabek had a well-deserved, standing ovation by the end.

Felder has kept the setting simple, but wide-spread in scope, as the ‘”portraits” of past events was a powerful tool to keeping us rooted to the period.  When all is said and done, what words cannot express, music can!

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

Monday, April 11, 2016

The Amish Project—Portland Actors Conservatory—SW Portland

The Nature of Evil

This drama about the murder of ten Amish school children on Oct. 2, 2006, is written by Jessica Dickey and directed by Beth Harper (PAC’s Producing Artistic Director).  It is playing at their space, 1436 SW Montgomery St. (be aware, it is only street parking, so plan your time accordingly), through April 24th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-274-1717.

One question that everyone would ask about such a senseless killing is…Why?!  But, as one character in the play proclaims, “there is no Why.”  Consider this, though, what if Evil is a real Entity, call it Satan, the Devil…whatever, and is able to take control of a conflicted person(s) for a period of time, in which it can create its mayhem.  In Capote’s powerful book, “In Cold Blood,” in which two young men kill a whole family for apparently no reason, he postulates that separately, neither of these troubled personalities would have done this ghastly crime, but the combination of the two created an evil persona that took control.  Could something similar have happened to Eddie Stuckey, a milkman and father of two?!

Much of this tragic story is presented like a Greek Chorus, which takes on a collective spirit in order to inform, comment on, and/or drive the plot forward.  Two of the deceased girls, the precocious, Velda (Sophie Foti) and the budding, younger sister, Anna (Sami Pfeifer), tell their story of a happy, carefree life in which they are just becoming aware of themselves and the wider world.  From there the story  jumps around in time and space, seemingly randomly.

We hear a local professor, Bill North (John Corr), provide information to the news media (and us) as to the way of life of the Amish and their shunning of modern conveniences and only minimal contact with the “outside” world.  But, although not Amish himself, he seems to have a special relationship with them, and with one young man in particular, Aaron (Jacob Camp).  We also hear from one, Hispanic, teenage, store clerk, America (Ahna Dunn-Wilder), a Catholic girl, as to her encounter when trying to help a woman in trouble.

And, of course, there is the distressed wife of the killer, Carol (Paige Rogers), who now must raise her two children by herself and has no real means of support, but finds solace coming from a most unusual source.  There is also the accusatory neighbor, Sherry (Tara Paulson-Spires), who just loves to point fingers, as someone must be blamed for letting this happen.  We hear from Carol’s husband, Eddie (Danny Diess), attempting to fill us in on his earlier life.  And Seth Witucki and Hannah Quigg, fleshing out the ensemble of reporters and townspeople.

I really can’t tell you any more, as there are a couple of surprises in the story, one dealing with how small a world it really is at times.  Are there any revelations as to motive?  No.  One of the final thoughts in the show, which is common in horrific incidents like this, as to where is God in all this.  But, as one character notes, keep looking for Him…He’s here.  Or we might be reminded of one of Anne Frank’s final entries in her diary that, despite all the horrors this young girl experienced in a Nazi Concentration Camp, she still felt that people were basically good.  Wow!

And, of course, one burning question left unanswered…mainly because it is personal.  As Harper, the Director puts it, “Is forgiveness even a possibility?...I really don’t know.”  I would agree.  But, I would add, carrying negative vibes about you for the rest of your life will only eat you up from the inside out and leaves no room for Love.  So somehow, each of us, in our own specific way, needs to come to grips with it and be part of the solution, not the problem.  Hatred only breeds hatred.

Harper has done a masterful job of starting slowly and letting the tension build to its emotional crescendo.  Her artistic influence on these students is evident and it shows in their carefully modulated performances.  And Tim Stapleton’s simple but effective set is a real asset to the production, as well as Jessica Bobillot’s costumes.  I have touted Dunn-Wilder in her performances before and she again shines here, too.  A real talent.  But Rogers, as the killer’s wife, is a powerhouse of emotional turmoil.  By the end, she has not only probably drained her energy but ours as well.  She is terrific!

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

Love and Information—Theatre Vertigo—SE Portland

Death, Taxes & All That Jazz

This abstract play is written by Caryl Churchill and directed by Michelle Seaton.  It is playing at the Shoebox space, 2110 SE 10th Ave., through May 8th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-482-8655.

According to one writer, death and taxes are the only two certainties in Life.  And, “all that jazz,” is what happens in the meantime.  In a roller-coaster, 90 minutes, you will get a smattering of disjointed, distracted and disassembled voices from a little pebble in the Universe called Earth.  These mutterings and ramblings will rant and rail, coo and cajole, haunt and harass, and generally try to make sense of a seemingly senseless proposition…ergo, that there is a purpose to our existence.

Since there is really no logical or linear flow to the story, consider this:  a woman that remembers every single detail of her life; a celebrity hiding out from the public; someone in a witness protection program; a scientist modifying the brains of chickens; the meaning of words/language; relationships may not be what they seem, et. al.  Then, take all that, put it in a Washer on Spin and see what spews out.  What you may end up with is organized chaos (not unlike we really already may have).

And the brilliant perpetrators of this cornucopia of baffling profundities are Kimo Camat, Stephanie Cordell, Nathan Crosby, Nathan Dunkin, Joe Healy, Mindi Logan, Tom Mounsey, Shawna Nordman, Matthew Sepeda, Andrea White, Holly Wigmore and R. David Wyllie.  I can’t give more specifics, as they all play a multitude of roles, some of the scenes only last a few seconds and, at most, about three minutes.  And what a job the director, Seaton, must have had, trying to coordinate all the entrances and exits and then to deal with each actor as to characterization.  My hat is off to her!  But she has chosen her cast well, as I have seen many of them onstage before, and they are all amazing performers.

I really can’t give any more detail than that, because it really does have to be seen/experienced/sensed rather than having someone try to explain or summarize the story, mostly non-existent in the traditional sense, anyway.  If you remember the film, Inception, in which a team of people are traveling back and forth between “realities” and trying to decipher what is illusion and what is factual, that might give you a hint as to concept.

Could these characters be caught in a dimensional time warp; are these the final memories flashing through a dying soul(s); is there an alien entity out there messing with our brains (The Matrix?); or, are we all a dream, walking, et. al. ?  It is up to you to ponder, to wonder, to wrap your psyches around.

But, consider what the Bard has said, “There are more things in Heaven and Earth…than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” And, “We are such stuff as dreams are made on and our little life is rounded with a sleep.”  Dreams, whether waking or sleeping, make us whole.  “To sleep, perchance to dream…” It is the waking from them that may be the scary and/or revealing part!

I recommend this play but consider the premise, for your mind will be challenged and nothing spelled out for you.  For me that is terrific.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Monday, April 4, 2016

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane—Oregon Children’s Theatre—downtown Portland

The Beauty of Being

This delightful book of the same name by Kate DiCamillo is adapted for the stage by Dwayne Hartford and directed by Marcella Crowson.  It is playing at the Winningstad Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway, through April 24th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-228-9571.

This wonderful tale has much in common with Pinocchio, The Wizard of Oz, Peter Pan, The Velveteen Rabbit, et. al.  All those magical stories have, in part, a similar theme, about the journey of growing…into an adult, reality, acceptance and/or being loved and loving.  “Love is all there is…” as the song goes, but getting to that very special stage of Being is the tricky part.  For, in love, there is joy, but pain, also…in discovery, there is wonder, but it means leaving something behind, too.  Growing means evolving and, in evolving, we change.

Dorothy goes over the rainbow to discover what she was looking for was really in her own backyard all the time.  But she had to go over the rainbow, make the journey, in order to accept that.  Pinocchio had some maturing to do, and mistakes to make, before he could become a real boy, and so, again, a journey for him through dark shadows.    Edward, the rabbit, is so full of himself that he has no room for Love.  But the journey he makes will test this empty resolve and will open up a whole new world of better possibilities.  And so must we all…take journeys through dark forests, over treacherous mountains and stormy seas, enduring stifling deserts, to break through to discover our True Nature.

Edward Tulane (James Luster) is, in reality, a porcelain rabbit.  He comes into the world expecting everyone to love him because he is dressed in the best of finery and he is very handsome, everyone says so and he must, of course, agree.  Pellegrina (Emily June Newton), who has purchased him for her grand-daughter, Abilene (Emma Bridges), is from the best of families, and so he imagines he must be royalty.  And his sole purpose in life, besides being admired, is to gaze out the window for endless hours and imagine a world beyond.

But a ship journey will change all that in an instant.  He falls overboard, is eventually rescued by a seaman, Lawrence, and brought home to his wife, Nellie (Newton, again), who has lost a daughter and so assume Edward is a girl and dons him in dresses!  And so his journey of discovery begins, in a big way.  He eventually will become a companion of a Hobo and his dog, Lucy (Bridges, again), riding the rails and listening to the tales of woe from fellow travelers, absorbing their tears into his stubborn heart and beginning to feel for the first time.  He also discovers the endless array of stars and what a big world it really is and he, perhaps, only a pebble in comparison.

He encounters a very sick girl, Sarah Ruth (again, Bridges), who he brings much comfort to.  And so his heart opens wider, to let in the Joy of Giving, as well as the Pain of Loss.  His awareness grows over twenty years until a stroke of Fate, not unlike the Blue Fairy or Glinda, the Good, thrusts him…oops, but that would be telling, wouldn’t it?  Guess you’ll just have to see it, but know that I had a tear or two in my eye by the end and so did my frequent, play-going companion, Deanna (“growing” herself into a amazing, musical-theatre company creator), as she confided that this is probably her favorite play she has seen with me to date.

There are two other actors that play the other male characters, Josh Edward and Conor Eifler, but the character names were not listed in the program and they are similar in look onstage, so I don’t know who played which.  But they were both very convincing, as were Bridges, Newton and Luster.  With just a prop or costume piece, and a walk or voice change, these four actors played a variety of roles and very believably, too.  And Crowson has done a wonderful job of staging it, keeping it simple and letting the words and actors become the story.  Well done by all.

As you may have noted from previous reviews I’ve written, I love this black-box, storytelling style of theatre.  It enables one’s imagination to participate in the relating of the tale.  And since we all have different ways of seeing things, then it becomes a very personal story and so we may become one with it.  Also, all “children’s” tales often have some gentle but important message to impart.  And the message is usually universal, can be understood by anyone across the globe, and translatable to the child in all of us, however buried or distant they may seem.  Love is based, not on how much you take, but by how much you give.  Journey!  Discover!  Be!

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

Othello—Post 5 Theatre—Sellwood area

“Dangerous Conceits”
This, almost all female version of Shakespeare’s classic play, is directed by Caitlin Fisher-Draeger (co-Artistic Director of Anon it Moves Theatre Co.).  It is playing at the Post 5 space, 1666 SE Lambert St. (parking lot in the rear of the building), through April 23rd.  For more information, go to their site at “What a web we weave.”  The play, in actuality, should be titled, Iago, since she is the chief instigator of the action in the story.  Jealously, Ambition, Vanity, Envy and Vengeance are very common themes in Shakespeare’s plays.  After all, where would the story go without them…Hamlet avenging his father and jealous of his mother’s affections toward his uncle; the Macbeth’s and their obsession for power; Lear and his blind vanity, et. al.; and Iago filling all of those traits mentioned above.

In this case, “honest” Iago (Jessica Tidd)) is jealous of Cassio (Lava Alapai), former girlfriend of Desdemona (Joellen Sweeney), for getting a position she felt she deserved, as second in command to the General, Othello (Ithica Tell).  She is also jealous of Othello for (and this is where the motive for all the ensuring mayhem gets muddy) purportedly sleeping with her wife, Emilia (Alex Leigh Ramirez), Desdemona’s maid; and/or desiring Desdemona for herself; and/or is it simple prejudice against Blacks.  But, whatever the reason, her manipulations are what drive the plot forward to its bloody end.

Also there is the none-too-bright, Roderigo (Sean Doran), a dupe of Iago’s, doing her bidding.  And, Bianca (Shannon Mastel), jealous of Desdemona for the attention her lady, Cassio, is paying to her.  In the end, Othello is jealous of his wife for purportedly sleeping with Cassio.  And, poor Montano (Iulia Brezeanu), just a simple lass trying to get by.  What fools we mortals be, sometimes.

The story, therefore, has Othello returning from the wars, a much-praised hero and marrying a senator’s daughter.  She has promoted the young Cassio to her second in command, over her trusted old friend, Iago, a seasoned veteran.  And, from that moment on, it all goes downhill.  When Cassio falls out of favor with Othello, Iago conspires with her to regain her position, by having her plead with Othello’s wife, to intercede for her.

Then Iago goes to Othello and drops hints of a possible illicit bond between her wife and Cassio.  But Othello, wanting physical proof of such a tryst, Iago then enlists her wife, Emilia, unaware of her mate’s devious dealings, to supply her with such an item.  In the end, few survive Iago’s clever contrivances and, as a result, they all pretty much make fools of themselves, fatal in many cases.

What is amazing is that Iago seems to be the smartest of the bunch and the original relationships of these characters to each other, seem shallow, to say the least.  But, as in Life, we reap what we sow and, in this case, the field is a-flutter with flitting fools.

The set appears to be some type of bomb shelter which, if they are constantly at war, is a smart idea.  And why all females (sans one), you might say?  Because there was supposedly a race of warrior women, at one time, called Amazons, who had no use for men, except to procreate.  And, then afterwards, much like the Black Widow Spider, they either killed their mates, or made them servants to do the menial chores around the community.  Quite a reversal from traditional patriarchal societies, isn’t it?!  Anyway, if that is the setting, then it works for me.

And the ladies certainly do show their metal.  Fisher-Draeger is one of the best interpreters of Shakespeare around.  Having seen the highly colorful Winter’s Tale and …Dream of hers, I can attest to her talent.  Tell is always a commanding presence onstage and has a deep voice, perfect for this role.  Tidd plays the villain with total abandon, pulling out all the stops, and enacting pure evil, as if she were the Devil herself.  And Sweeney plays the hapless victim with a lot of spunk and grit, until she realizes the chips are stacked against her and then abandons all hope.  Quite an arc.

Alapai (director of the terrific, Columbinus, last season with the Young Professionals company of OCT), gives us Cassio as not only a bit naïve but also has a sense of false bravado about her.  Ramirez underplays Emilia beautifully, expecting the best from people, until it’s too late.  And the rest of the cast add to this gathering, an odd sense of companionship, in which it is acceptable to sing, joke, love, laugh…and then kill with equal flair.  But it all works.

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

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Twilight of the Golds—Twilight Theater Company—N. Portland

Search For Unconditional Love

This dramatic tale is written by Jonathan Tolins and directed by Ronald Jorgensen.  It is playing at their space, 7515 N. Brandon Ave. (just off Lombard), through April 16th (limited parking in the church parking lot across the street).  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-847-9838.

The “window dressing” for this story is about the dynamics of two upper middle-class, Jewish families in NYC during the mid-90’s.  Rob Stein (William Ferguson) is a genetics engineer at a medical research facility.  His wife, Suzanne (Danyelle Tinker), is a jewelry buyer for a big department store.  Her brother, David Gold (Jason A England), is a gay, production designer for an opera company.  His (and Suzanne’s) parents are Phyllis (Jodi Rafkin) and Walter (Chandano Fuller).  He is an investment broker.

At the opening, they are celebrating their three year anniversary.  You sense that Suzanne is over-dependant on her parents and that Rob seems to just tolerate that.  David is constantly relating the joys of opera, especially the Ring Trilogy, which they all just tolerate.  His partner, Steven, is conspicuously absent from these gatherings, another “toleration” one senses.  On the surface, a very light and tolerant group.  But everything is about to change in a flash, when she announces she is pregnant.

It is not the procreation that will upset this “tolerant” family but the fact that genetics can predict certain traits evident in the child before it is born.  And so Rob and Suzanne embark on this journey.  On the surface it seems great, as one might discover the causes of disease.  But, on the darker side, what happens if those “traits” don’t conform to what the parents’ desire.  Abortion?  And, here’s the kicker (and where it delves into the realm of Sci-Fi), what if there were a way to tell whether a child will be Gay which, according to the tests, he is?!  My, what a can of worms gets opened now….

Of course the fallacy to the whole argument, besides being that genetics cannot predict the sexual orientation of a fetus, is that Nurture is as crucial as Nature in the raising and determining of how a child turns out.  A similar interesting theory was proclaimed in a play and film of the 50’s called, The Bad Seed.  In it a baby is adopted at birth and raised in a “traditional” loving home, with no knowledge that her birth mother is actually is murderer.
And, despite all good intentions from her adopted parents, the child turns out to be one, too.  Rosemary’s Baby could also be put in this category, as to what a loving mother, perhaps, can do to change Nature.  Again, all Sci-Fi material, but thought-provoking.

But, back to this story, her brother is naturally pleased.  The husband and father-in-law are pre-disposed to be homophobic and the women seem to be torn, not so much from their own basic, nurturing feelings but because their mates don’t seem to be on the same page with them.  I cannot tell you more without spoiling issues that should be discovered by the audience.  The resolution, to me, seemed a bit of a cop-out but I understand why it was chosen.  What it all boils down to, is to simply love someone for who they are, not what you expect them to be, or how you might want to change them.  Unconditional Love is, I believe, the key.  Find that and it will unlock the door to unimaginable treasures!

I especially liked the marriage of opera music and the Ring tale to highlight aspects of this story.  Jorgensen has done well in giving us a roller-coaster ride about halfway through, as emotions explode and then diminish just as quickly, how much of real family dynamics work.  And the cast seems right for their roles.  Especially good are England, as the gay brother, and Tinker, as his sister, both very convincing in difficult roles.

I recommend this play but, because of the subject matter, it is for more mature people.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Why Can’t You Stay Dead?—Chianti Club Productions—SE Portland

Our Gang

This interactive, original, dinner-theatre, comedy-musical is created and written by Lou Pallotta and directed Melinda Leuthold (Creative Consultant, Stan Foote).  It is playing at the Tony Starlight’s Showroom, 1125 SE Madison, through Saturday and then again, May 5, 6 & 7 and 19, 20 & 21.  For more information, go to their site at or call 800-966-8865.

This a sequel to the play, Who Stole My Dead Husband?, which ran for about six years in the early 2000’s, with some of the same cast members.  It is inspired by the author’s experiences growing up in an Italian neighborhood in Brooklyn, NY.  The songs and music are from the 40’s & 50’s and include such favorites as “Mack, the Knife,” “Downtown Strutter’s Ball,” “Pennies from Heaven,” “I Ain’t Got Nobody,” “Amore,” “Big Spender,” “The Lady is a Tramp,” “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” and more.  And they’ve got a dynamite band trio, Music Director, Bo Ayers, Bernardo Gomez, bass and Jolie Clausen, Drums, to backup the songs.

The plot is a bit more complicated than it needs to be but, keep in mind, this is entertainment first and foremost.  Anyway, for those of you who need a story to hang your hat on, I’ll give it a try.  It seems that the “Husband” in the title should be Carmine, husband of Concetta (Sharon Mann), sister of Luigi (Lou Pallotta), the head of the family.  But the body actually could be Mikey, the plumber. Her secret love, though, is Dominick (Ernie Casciato), the Godfather of the group, who has been in a loony bin for the past several months and talks through others.

But, not to be outdone, there is Marie, (Tracy Sacdalan), the sister-in-law, who practices the ancient art of Rumpology, telling fortunes from reading people’s…posteriors.  And she has a son, Frankie, Jr. (Alex Lankford), who is a pretty cool cat.  And then there is Luigi’s daughter, Angela (Dani Baldwin), a hottie, who is going with long-time boyfriend, Johnny (John Casale), who seems to have a block when trying to express his love for Angela.  Of course, with every gang, there needs to be an Enforcer and that is the insatiable, Jimmy (Ben Plont), who also looks strikingly like Aunt Josephine.

And, just when you thought you had everything all figured out, there is some question as to whether Concetta actually is kin; whether there might have been a twin of one of the family members; whether one of the ladies may be having a miracle birth; and just where is Mama anyway.  Questions also arise when we see a handcuff on Dom’s wrist; whether they will have to perform the little-done, Cleaving Ceremony (and whether the house will get raided if they do what is probably an illegal Rite); and what other secrets are contained in Aunt Joe’s Chest of Family Memories?  Whew!  (And I’m sure I missed a few tidbits along the way, or got them, as a Rumpologist would say, ass-backward).

But, instead of trying to figure out who did what to whom and why…just enjoy the fun.  Keep in mind, as I mentioned, this is interactive and may be the ultimate in audience participation.  Of course, this means that the actors have to be on their toes all the time.  And they are, and do…splendidly.  How a director manages this organized chaos is beyond me, but Leuthold does it beautifully.  The audience does throw themselves into this melting pot with both hands and feet.  Great fun!  The only change I might suggest is that the little summing up at the end is unnecessary (save it for of the plot of Part III, which will happen at some point, right?!).  This is not a show one should have to think too hard on.

The actors are all pros.  Sacdalan, Mann, Baldwin and Lankford shine in their songs.  Casciato is a master ad-libber and comedian and does a pretty mean, “Mack, the Knife” (cleave your heart out, Bobby Darin).  Pallotta and Plont perform marvelously in their dual roles.  And Casale as an Elvis impersonator that can’t sing is funny to begin with.  A couple of side notes, Foote, Baldwin and Lankford (Artistic Director, Education Director and performer) are all associated with the outstanding, Oregon Children’s Theatre.  Baldwin, in particular, is not only a fine singer, dancer and actor on-stage but also is an impressive director and teacher at OCT, and their Young Professionals Company is outstanding!  Leuthold also has her own theatre company in Woodland, Love Street Playhouse, which is worth checking out.

And, did I mention, this is a dinner-show, so they served Antipasto, Chicken with mushrooms, a Caesar’s salad, a pasta salad, and a cheesecake with hot fudge, which is to die for.  There is also an open, full bar to purchase drinks.  For more information on the catering, go to their site for Steve Brown at Spin Catering at or call 503-730-7040.

I recommend this show.  And, of course, if you do choose to go to the show and/or use the catering services at some point, please tell them Dennis sent you.