Tuesday, May 31, 2016

…On a Cloud—Imago theatre—SE Portland

Sad Stories of Raging Queens

Francesca, Isabella, Margarita on a Cloud was created by Carol Triffle, with original music and songs by Katie Griesar and lighting design by Jeff Forbes.  It is playing at their space, 17 SE 8th Ave. (just off Burnside), through June 19th.  For more information, go to their site at www.imagotheatre.com or call 503-231-9581.

Imago shows are not so much plays to be observed but experiences to be felt….and then filtered through one’s own being to discover truths.  Triffle and Jerry Mouawad might agree with Samuel Beckett’s statement, when asked about who Godot was in his play, he replied, “Who is he to you?”  That might apply here when searching for the meaning of the story.  They might reply, “What does it mean to you?”  Thereby allowing the audience to become an active part of the Search for Truth which, in actuality, is what all Artists seek.

On the surface, the story is about three sisters, the brainy Francesca (Megan Skye Hale), the sexy Isabella (Elizabeth Fagan) and the pretty Margarita (Anne Source), former Beauty Queens in their early years, now coming to grips with the barren reality of real life.  Margarita has her fond memories of winning many titles over her youthful years until she reveals the horror of what she and her mother had to do to win those crowns.  But she has her beau, TY’s, Bob, the Weatherman (Sean Bowie), more showman than meteorologist.

Isabella’s boat may have finally come in, as she had been cast in an Indie film, only to discover a leak as, once again, it’s her body, not her acting ability that the producers are interested in.  But she has her faithful puppy, her friend, RayRay (Kyle Delamarter) to find solace with.  And Francesca, the brains of the trio and owner of the house, seems accepting in the fact that neither Queendom nor Love is in the cards for her.  These three seems an odd trio, putting their faith in a fantasy, until you realize that we all probably do that to some extent…looking for the grass that is “greener on the other side…”or the dream that is just out of reach….

The show is dance/movement oriented with the actors in almost constant movement…a kinetic energy that seems to bounce them off the wall, as if looking for a solid base to latch onto, to hold them down, to give them a base from which they can evolve.  They seem to be either fleeing from something they don’t wish to face, or frantically seeking something of value to give them a purpose, or both.  The only times they seem to relax, to be still, is when they recall their childhood days, when they lay on the ground looking up at the sky and being absorbed by the gentle clouds that would take them anywhere their hearts desired.

My own similar experience of those early days of my life were when, on my grandparents land, I would climb the sloping hill in back of their house and lay on the ground overlooking a valley.  I would always watch as the train whisked by, carrying its passengers to exotic locations (or so a child’s mind would imagine) and I would, in turn, be each of them, giving them (me) histories as to who they were and what they would accomplish.  Thomas Wolfe has said, “You can’t go home again,” but I would disagree.  As long as you can embrace a cloud…or hook yourself onto a train…you are Home again!

The music (Griesar) and lighting (Forbes) match perfectly the reckless and ever-changing mood and energy swings the play takes.  Both are an intricate part of the show and I couldn’t imagine this production without those elements.  Triffle has done an amazing job of giving us another think-piece from Imago.  And her actors are all first-rate at giving her vision substance.  They must be dancers, singers and actors and all five of them do this and give us both a spicy stew to simmer in and a fluffy blanket to encompass us.

I can’t help but reflect on a couple more things, as I feel they relate to the play:  The unfortunate murder of a young beauty queen, Jon Benet Ramsey, and how she was thrust into a world of glitter and glamour far beyond her years with tragic results.  Also, I would implore parents/teachers, to encourage imagination in the young, whether it’s in bedtime stories and/or getting involved in an Art form.  They are so important in the growth of character in young person.

I recommend this show but, be aware, it is a unique way of telling a story, so be prepared to think and talk about it afterwards.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

The Skin of Our Teeth—Artists Rep.—SW Portland

The Once & Future World

This absurdist, dark comedy is written by Thornton Wilder and directed by Dámaso Rodriguez (Artist Rep.’s, Artistic Director).  It is playing at their space, SW Alder St. & 16th Ave., through June 12th.  For more information, go to their site at www.artistsrep.org or call 503-241-1278.

This play has a lot in common with Ionesco’s unorthodox, Rhinoceros, Albee’s thoughtful, Seascape, and even Carroll’s nonsensical (?), Alice in Wonderland and …Through the Looking-Glass.  The play has one foot planted uneasily on solid ground and the other precariously balanced over the Abyss.  It is peeking at Mankind, not through rose-colored glasses but through a glass, darkly.  It is considering what once was with what is, or will be.  And it’s not a pretty picture.

We are a war-like creature, which is true.  We have degraded and enslaved minorities because of culture and religion…History proves that.  We have polluted our environment.  We are driving wedges between countries instead of building bridges.  Does History repeat itself, one of the questions the play postulates?  Look at current (and possible, Future) events and you tell me?!

Wilder is probably most famous for his play of an iconic, small-town America, Our Town.  As in this play, he shatters the fourth wall and, even then, has a type of audience participation.  He throws conventional ways of presenting things out the window by giving us a history lesson; embracing small, simple ideals; and even having the long-departed speak to us of deep truths and simple homilies. He embodies this self-same style in this play, too.

At the start of this story, you must ask yourself, is this a tale of the beginning of the end, or the end of the beginning?  I think Thornton himself would wrestle with that corundum.  We are presented with the maid, Sabina (Sara Hennessy), who talks directly to the audience, giving us a brief rundown of the situation.  It seems the Ice Age has returned and the sun is growing cold.  A baby Dinosaur (Sky Jude) and Wooly Mammoth (Eva Rodriguez) have even returned (or never left) to welcome in this new age.  And it seems we are on the verge of inventing the wheel (among other things), although no practical purpose seems to be associated with it.

The home we have invaded is that of the Antrobus family, about 5,000 years old.  The father (Don Alder), seems to be an Inventor and Politician.  He is a harried man having little patience with his family.  The mother (Linda Alper), is a home maker, right out of a TV sit-com from the 50’s, complete with hoop skirt.  The daughter, Gladys (Val Landrum), is a naïve little rascal, unaware of practical matters, who sucks lollipops but is endowed with a brain that is able to absorb facts.  Henry (Shawn Lee) is a rebel, anti-establishment, who likes to hurt people.  He is the Yang to his parent’s Yin.

Other characters to cross their paths are the philosopher, Homer; Moses, the prophet; a gypsy, fortune-teller (Lauren Modica), who sees and knows all; a persistent newscaster, (Vana O’Brien); the symbol of the postal system, an obedient, telegraph boy (Dámaso J. Rodriguez); a couple of boozy, political cronies (Michael Mendelson and Chris Harder); and an annoying Stage Manager (Sarah Lucht) who tends to break in whenever the play seems to be floundering.  The story will follow this family through rise to political power; the disintegration of the family unit and the Ice Age; a catastrophe of monumental proportions; to a hesitant but, perhaps, brave new world, peeking its head out from under the rubble.

The story, as you may have guessed, is not to be taken as a literal tale, but is more a state-of-mind, a stream-of-consciousness, approach to serious societal/historical/political issues.  The director, Rodriguez, has mentioned that it is one of his favorite plays and this enthusiasm for it spills over into his production.  It is wild, disconcerting, imaginative, thought-provoking, heart-breaking, breaks all the rules of conventional theatre and, most importantly, it works!

His cast is a who’s-who of theatre with Modica, Mendelson, Harder, O’Brien and Lucht, having often distinguished themselves in major roles, playing part of an ensemble here, showing us what Pros are all about.  There is a sense of warmth and team-spirit with every show at Artist’s Rep. and that Love translates to very professional and yet accessible productions for an audience.  May they Live Long and Prosper!

I especially liked Alder, as I’ve watched him grow as an actor, and this last year he had definitely reached a new plateau, as this enigmatic character is given some specific definition by him.  Also enjoyed Modica as the mystic, at first appearing like a possible stereotypic character, but in her capable hands, with knowing looks and calculated words, she gives the role an original slant.  All the others were equally proficient in their enactments.

And a special shout-out to the set-change crew who were amazing in their efficient and speedy manner in which they changed some complicated sets.  They are not identified, as such (but might deserve a curtain call, too…just saying…) but here are some names that I assume were responsible for these remarkable procedures:  Michelle Jazuk, D. Westerholm, Esther McFaden, Joshua Rippy, Grace Owens and Charlie Capps, et. al.

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

Thursday, May 26, 2016

A Streetcar Named Desire—Portland Center Stage—Pearl District

Fading of the Light

The classic, searing drama by Tennessee Williams is directed by Chris Coleman (PCS’s Artistic Director).  It is playing at their space, 128 NW 11th Ave., through June 19th.  For more information, go to their site at www.pcs.org or call 503-445-3700.

Paper Moons and Glass Unicorns are lovely to observe but fragile and easy to destroy.  But this fragileness is an intricate part of Life and Love…real or imagined, relying, perhaps, on “the kindness of strangers,” to get you through the night.  It is part of the world of Williams, both personal and public, where both these worlds would crash and burn but, from the ashes, would emerge savage beauty and painful poetry.  Such is the Nature of Art…and Artists.

Williams early life was dominated by a domineering mother, a fragile sister and an absent father, “who fell in love with long distance.”  Mental illness was never far from his thoughts and affected his entire life.  His sister, Rose (a prototype for “Laura” in his lyrical, The Glass Menagerie”), was institutionalized and later, lobotomized, in his early life as a young man.  One or both of these female images recur in characters in many of his plays.  Men are usually pictured as brutes or ineffectual.  Blanche, in this play, is possibly an older version of “Laura.”

Blanche DuBois (Deidrie Henry) lived the life of the elite of Southern, “polite” society at their estate, Belle Reve, as did her young sister, Stella (Kristen Adele).  But Stella felt a disconnect with this privileged world and fled to the Big City, New Orleans, and the French Quarter, to meet up with a working class brute of a “common” man, Stanley Kowalski (Demetrius Grosse), who yanked her from those lofty columns of poetic romance to the wet, hot pavements of “colored lights” and the “real” world…and she loved it.

But into this concrete jungle, having lost Belle Reve, appears Blanche one day, arriving on a streetcar named Desire, for one last, desperate attempt to revive her old world dreams.  But her, and Stella’s worlds have nothing in common and so allowances must be made.  Blanche finds some solace in the sensitive, Mitch (Keith Eric Chappelle), a friend of Stanley’s from work.

But reality has a way of raising its ugly head and the outside world, consisting of their upstairs neighbors, Steve (Bobby Bermea), Eunice (Dana Millican) and Creola (Anya Pearson) and her frequent companion (David Bodin); the drunken poker games played with guys from his work, including, Pablo (Gilberto Martin Del Campo); a vendor (Sofia May-Cuxim) who sells flowers for the dead; and an attractive, tempting, young news boy (Blake Stone), all seem to conspire to destroy the illusions that Blanche has tried so hard to maintain.

Stanley also discovers that Blanche’s high ideals and stories of lofty romances may be just so much fictional fodder a fairy tale writer might have trouble believing.  And so her Ivory Tower begins to crumble and one fateful night, it will explode.  The details of the story you will have to experience for yourself, for there are discoveries only an audience should make.

The set and costumes by G. W. Mercier are terrific, setting the scenes in a very realistic way in the seamy and steamy street life of the South of over 50 years ago.  The director, Coleman, has a couple of unique things going for this production.  All the characters are fully “grounded,” earthy, giving them a harsh realism that other productions of this play, miss.  It is also much more ethically cast, therefore accessible, being that this part of the country at this time would have been a melting pot of cultures, and whites would probably not have been the dominate one.  Both of these elements add to the realism of this production.

The cast of this show seems ingrained to the time period, all creating the atmosphere to make the show live.  It was good to see some familiar Portland faces, May-Cuxim, Del Campo, Bermea, and Millican in supporting roles.  Henry is first-rate as the fading light of the South.  She gives the character an earthy quality which makes her demise all the more tragic.  Grosse is appropriately brutish, exuding masculine energy whenever he’s onstage.

Adele is surprisingly strong-minded as the wife, matching her husband in determination.  And Chappelle seems, in some ways, as out of place as Blanche is, in this rough-and-tumble world.  But, the important thing is that this world is believable and the cast and crew appear to have worked hard as a team to achieve this, and they did!

The ending has always gotten a lot of criticism and rightly so.  Williams and Kazan (director) did modify it for the film and that version works better.  Can’t tell you more without ruining it but you decide.

I recommend this play.  Know that parking is a challenge in the Pearl District, so plan you time accordingly.  If you do see it, please tell them that Dennis sent you.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Almost, Maine—Shaking the Tree—SE Portland

Love Hurts

This touching comedy-drama is written by John Cariani, directed by Devon Lyon and produced by Lyon Theatre at the Shaking the Tree Warehouse location, 823 SE Grant St., through May 28th.  Be aware it is only street parking, so plan your time accordingly.  For more information, contact them at almostmainepdx@gmail.com

This is a delightful and poignant series of skits of how Love affects people, as told by four actors in various guises.  Love is elusive, ever-changing and evolving, and, as mentioned, can hurt.  It’s not so much that Love is fickled but people often are.  Love is pretty constant but does defy a clear definition.  And it can easily be confused with a kissing cousin, Lust which, in films, is usually what they mean when they “fall in love” at the drop of a hat.

But in this incarnation, it does take some amusing, and sometimes touching, turns and most of them with a twist that you won’t see coming.  The cast includes Jamie Langton, Katie O’Grady Field, John Zoller and Jason Satterlund embodying about 20 roles in nine scenes.  I think it would be too confusing to tell you character names, so I will attempt to capsulize the scenes without giving away the twists.  But the actors all successfully go from one role to another and give every one of them a distinct difference.

The Prologue opens with two skiers (Zoller and Field) who have just met and she is obviously smitten with him.  But he explains, in an odd sort of logic, that two people sitting next to each other are actually far apart if you look at circumference-wise.  At this point, she leaves.
In the next scene, we encounter Langton camping out on a residence lawn, who is a total stranger, to see the Northern Lights.  The owner of the property, Satterlund, is bemused and also attracted to this stranger.  She explains that she must say goodbye to a former love who had, quite literally, broken her heart.  The scene after this involves two old flames (Zoller and Field) that have a chance meeting at a bar.  He hopes to rekindle their romance but she has a surprise for him.

In the third scene Field meets a neighbor, Satterlund, who claims that he cannot feel pain and demonstrates it.  But he soon finds out there is one pain he is not immune to.  In the fourth scene Langton is at the point of breaking up with Zoller because she feels that after years of a relationship, there doesn’t seem to be a permanent commitment on his part, so she gives him his Love back and now wants hers in return.  What she actually gets is more than she bargains for.

In the next scene Zoller and Satterlund find out there is more to “falling” in love than they expected.  In the sixth scene, Zoller and Langton are a married couple at a skating rink, on the point of breaking up.  But wishing on a star brings an unexpected bonus.  In probably the most touching scene, Field returns to her old hometown to find her lost love but discovers Satterlund may no longer reside there.  But she has an answer now to the burning question he asked many years ago.  In scene eight, Zoller and Langton have been best friends for years but Fate has another relationship in mind for them.  And in the last scene, to tie up the story from the Prologue, Field returns to Zoller and proves how strong her Love for him is.

An evening well worth your time.  It’s a town that could have been created by fantasy writers, Ray Bradbury or Rod Serling, just this side of Glocamora and not far from Brigadoon, close to Neverland and just up from Shangra-la.  It only has one foot in Reality and its whole heart in the world of Make-believe.  Lyon has, wisely, chosen to create this world simply, allowing the actors and story to tell the tale.  It is full and insights and wonder and magic something, I believe, the world needs desperately now.

The actors are all first-rate and they have a look of 30’s/40’s film stars in my eyes.  Zoller has the bearing and looks of a Victor Mature; Satterlund, a slightly awkward Jimmy Stewart type; Field, possibly Jean Harlow; and Langton could be a Carole Lombard.  But they all are wonderful in their own right, too.  I especially admire Langton, as she is not only a fine actor and co-producer of this show but I’ve seen her as a dancer/choreographer, too, and she excels in those areas as well.  A “Jill” of all trades, I would say.

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

Monday, May 16, 2016

Man of La Mancha—Lakewood Theatre Company—Lake Oswego, OR

“…Perchance, to Dream…”

This highly acclaimed musical is written for the stage by Dale Wasserman, directed by Greg Tamblyn and musical direction by Alan D. Lytle.  It is playing at their site, 368 S. State St. (parking lot in the rear of the bldg.), through June 12th.  For more information, go to their site at www.lakewood-center.org or call 503-635-3901.

Yes, this is the “Impossible Dream” musical and it is not to be missed!  It is the story of Courage, against all odds…the Right to have dreams, and be able to fulfill them, regardless of who you are…and the desire to create a better world for all people.  It is not of world of facts and figures…of cement and skyscrapers; it is a world of living things, all of whom matter.  It is a world of endless possibilities…only Pass to this magical world, is that you need to have Hope and…Believe.

The story is simple (or is it?).  A man, Cervantes (Leif Norby), is imprisoned during the Spanish Inquisition for writing subversive material and daring, as a tax collector, to tax the Church.  But, during this period of time the right to a speedy trial was not an option.  And so he, and his faithful companion, Sancho (Joey Cóte), must face a trial of a different sort, from the prisoners themselves.  If he loses, all of his worldly possessions become theirs.  But he does insist upon a defense, in which he will tell his story and they are all to take on the various characters in his little drama.

In it, he becomes a Knight Errant, Don Quixote, whose mission is to rid the world of evil.  But, there is one little glitch in his plan, he has not been properly been dubbed a Knight.  And so he must find a castle (in actuality, an Inn) and have the Lord of the manor (an Innkeeper, Stacey Murdock) bestow upon him Knighthood.  He must also have a Lady, Dulcinea (Pam Mahon), in which he will dedicate his conquests for (in reality, Aldonza, a scullery maid and local whore).  He will also meet a Barber (Dan Bahr) who possesses what Quixote sees as a priceless object, the Golden Helmet of Mambrino (in reality, a shaving bowl).  But his greatest fear is to meet The Great Enchanter, who will cloud his visions.

But his ramblings are also played out on the home front, too, in which he has a niece, Antonia (Malia Tippets) who is to marry Dr. Currasco (Corey Brunish), who is trying to cure Cervantes of this curious malady that he is really a Knight, fighting imaginary beasts.  And he has his housekeeper (Susan Overcast) who is sweet on him, and his best friend, the Padre (Ron Harman), who sympathizes with him.  I think you see where this is going, the realities vs. the dreams and which will dominate.  And to find out the conclusion, you’ll just have to experience it for yourself, won’t  you?

The dilemma is as old as the hills.  Do we accept the cold reality which we have been presented, or do we create our own, from our warm hopes and dreams?  As the Doctor is endeavoring to force the former, chilly reality upon Cervantes, I am reminded of a simple line from a play called, Harvey, in which a man has created an invisible rabbit to help him cope with the harshness of Life.  When his relatives opt for a shot to cure him of the malady, a cab driver comments on how pleasant his fares are when he brings them here but when they leave, they are definitely like a “normal” person “and you know what bastards they are,” he adds.  That may sum up the reality Quixote is being forced into.

Children seem to have a grasp on this alternate world but somehow it gets lost when we grow into adulthood.  What happens?  I believe we are taught, as the song goes, “…to hate and to fear,” and so most of us play along in order to survive with this grim prospect.  Like lemmings, many of us may go over the cliff just because others do.  But a child, in his or her play-times and fairy tales, is able to combat these dragons and thus the scary Unknown is conquered.  As adults most of us have no such defense.  One more thing, before I get off my soapbox, it is also said, “a child shall lead them.”  Perhaps we should heed that adage.

When observing the scope of this production, my friend, Deanna, remarked that she, being a musical theatre expert in her own right (having founded the www.portlandmusicaltheater.org which will begin productions in October with a Revue of Disney songs) said that she instinctively will pick out things in a production that she would do differently or don’t work.  But she found herself in this show unable to find even one thing that didn’t make sense.  High praise, indeed, and I concur.

Tamblyn has a huge winner on his hands and, like his Pixie Dust Productions, this has the polish of a professional.  Likewise the band, under Lytle’s skillful direction and Glenn Gauers’s terrific set, as well as Margaret Louise Chapman’s amazing costumes and subtle but effective lighting (Kurt Herman) and sound (Marcus Storey), they all blend so beautifully together!  And the supporting cast is totally in sync with this vision (Joe Theissen, Ryan Monaghan, Bruce Lawson, William Shindler, Jeremy Southard, Jeremy Garfinkle, Larry James Taylor and the amazing voice of Sam Mowry as the Captain).

Norby is the perfect Quixote both in voice and acting.  He has been around for many years playing leads in musicals and his expertise shows to the fullest in this production!  Cóte is the perfect sidekick, always supportive of his “master.”  And his voice and expressions are a perfect match for this.  Mahon has a super voice and this very complex character(s) are expertly handled in her hands.  She plays to a tee the gal with a tough exterior but who has a soft heart.  And the rest of the actors are equally powerful.

Also, dreams always have a start somewhere.  This is one of the early shows that Deanna saw that inspired her to go into musical theatre.  And now, some years later, she has caught that dream and now has a company of her own.  “Dreams really can come true, they can happen to you…”  I highly recommend this show.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

James and the Giant Peach—Newmark Theatre—downtown Portland

Just Peachy!

Oregon Children’s Theatre presents this classical story and new musical, based on the book by Roald Dahl and directed by Stan Foote, musical direction by Jeffrey Childs and choreography by Kemba Shannon.  It is playing at the Newmark space, 1111 SW Broadway, through May 29th.  Go to their site at www.octc.org or call 503-228-9571.

This is certainly an oft-done tale on the stages and very popular with children.  It is a story of teaching one respect for Nature and especially the “lowliest” creatures in our existence, the insects.  And, like all good fairy tales of this sort, we have our hero, usually a child, in the mold of Dorothy from Kansas, who had to go “over the rainbow” to appreciate what she had back home, or Wendy who yearned to see what the distant stars held for her but eventually found her way back home.  And so, to the “James” (Aida Valentine) of our story, an orphan just looking for…you got it…home.  Notice the common theme?

When he is whisked off to his only surviving relatives, two greedy, maiden aunts, Spiker (Stephanie Leppert) and Sponge (Victoria Blake), who have a side business of picking pockets, but the attraction of monies coming from the state to take care of James is too good to resist.  He is immediately put to work as a slave, ordering, among other things, to cut down a giant peach tree in their yard.  It seems that the aunts have tried everything to kill vegetation around their property, which means killing insects, too.

But when a Giant Peach appears on their tree, through some magic from a sort-of carnival barker, Ladahlord (Gerrin Delane Mitchell), they decide people would pay money to see it.  But this self-same magic also allows James to become the size of insects and so he enters the peach, where it suddenly rolls downhill and into the ocean, where James’s journey of discovery begins.

Inside the peach he meets the demure ladybug (Danielle Valentine), who is a bit sweet on the adventurous Grasshopper (Matthew Brown).  There is also the scaredy-cat Earthworm (James Dixon), who’s frightened of his own shadow; the calculating Spider (Claire Rigsby), always weighing the odds; and the petulant Centipede (Gary Norman), antagonizing everyone.  This motley crew will brave hunger, turbulent waves, sharks (Xavier Warner and Allison Parker), almost being beset by an ocean liner and flying.  And in the end will discover the true meaning of Family and Home.  And, as for the Aunts, they do get their just rewards, as they encounter, as Mrs. Doubtfire might say, “a drive-by fruiting.”

The play is low-tech and presented in a storytelling style, like many from others theatres this season.  My favorite among the songs are “Shake It Up,” “Floatin’ Along,” and “Plump and Juicy.”  Foote, as always, has chosen a first-rate cast and keeps the play moving along at a comfortable pace.  Among the actors, young Valentine, as James, who is in almost every scene, handles the acting and singing with signs of a true pro.  Mitchell, as the mysterious, Ladahlord, has energy to spare as he careens through the scenes like a runaway locomotive.  And Norman, as the pouty, Centipede, is wonderful, someone you want to dislike but can’t help but having a soft spot for.  He is a gem.

As mentioned above, the themes in this are similar to Cinderella, Peter Pan, The Wizard of Oz, Oliver Twist, et. al., it is a search for the true meaning of Home and Family.  Perhaps that’s why these stories still appeal to adults, too, as they may be searching for their lost childhoods, when home and family were the havens that kept you safe.  Not so much now with the intrusion of the electronic media.  But, perhaps, when all is said and done, those yearnings are really not so far away, but buried within, just waiting to be rediscovered.

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

Friday, May 13, 2016

Liza! Liza! Liza!—Triangle Productions!—NE Portland

Beyond the Rainbow

This musical production, on the career of Liza Minnelli, is written by Richard Harris, directed and designed by Donald I. Horn (Triangle’s Artistic director), musical direction by Jonathan Quesenberry and choreography by Terry Brock.  It is playing at their space at The Sanctuary, 1785 NE Sandy Blvd. (parking lot, west of the bldg.), through May 28th.  For more information, go to their site at www.trianglepro.org or call 503-239-5919.

There is no doubt that people still recognize the name Judy Garland, if for nothing else, her iconic performance as Dorothy in the classic, The Wizard of Oz.  But her real life was far from ideal.  She was wracked with self-doubt, depression, weight issues, drugs, smoking and alcohol.  And she didn’t fare any better with husbands.  The most famous of them being Vincent Minnelli, the great film director with whom she had a daughter, Liza, debuting as an infant in the film, In The Good Old Summertime, directed by Minnelli.

A privileged child of famous parents who, one might think, would have had a privileged life.  But this would not be the case.  In fact, she would follow, almost literally, both in talent and downfalls, in the footsteps of her mother (which, of course, begs the question, was there something hereditary in how she turned out?).  But, although bad news seemed to follow her, so did some astounding successes.  She was nominated a number of times in stage, film and music for awards and won a Tony, Emmy, Oscar and Grammy, one of few individuals to have done this.

But now to this production:  ***WOW*** It doesn’t get any better than this, folks, when it comes to performers creating a musical icon.  Admittedly, I am a fan of both Garland and Minnelli, so do have to confess a bias in that regard.  But my best barometer, in judging music and musical performers, is my frequent companion to these shows, Deanna Maio, who you will be hearing more of in the future, as she has begun her own theatre company at www.portlandmusicaltheater.org presenting shows beginning in October, at the old Post 5 space, now called Art Haus, so I would consider her an expert in this field.  Anyway, her meter (as well as mine) was in the “blown away” section of it!

The style of the play is also pretty unique.  It has all three ladies playing her, onstage at the same time—when she was in her early years (Hannah Lauren Wilson); in her middle years (Jillian Snow Harris); and in her later years (Emily Sahler).  They all trade barbs and kudos with each other regarding “Mama”, their father, step-fathers and step-siblings, husbands and lovers, accidents, illnesses  (both mental and physical), addictions (drugs, alcohol and smoking), weight gains, instability, money issues and, of course, successes, as well.  Despite it all, there was that enormous talent that would not be denied!

What is it about genius that causes a certain kind of madness?  Or, is that the answer, too?  Madness and genius are kissing cousins.  Zorba (the Greek) confessed that everybody needs a little madness in their lives sometimes to keep sane.  Just throw off the guise of conformity once in awhile and discover the joy, the freedom, the passion of just being you, and damn what the world may think.  Artists probably have that similar drive, only it’s in high gear for them and for longer, sustained periods in which a person can be destroyed.  Such is the case with the Garland/Minnelli’s genius, I believe.

The three Liza’s are simply amazing, as performers, as well as actors.  Sahler embodies the older and possibly the wiser side of her, realizing the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,” some of her own making.  Coming to grips with her demons is, in part, a road to recovery.  Sahler’s voice also signals that maturity through the many signature numbers she does with the trio.

Harris is an amazing look-alike to the short-haired Liza from the Cabaret era of her life.  When they make a Biopic on her life, Harris would be my pick for the lead.  And her voice makes no doubt to the musical talent she has doing this role.  It would be great seeing her doing the musical, Cabaret, at some point, as she has Liza moves, looks and voice down to a tee.

And Wilson, as the youngest of the incarnations, has a killer voice that will electrify you!  She simply blew me away every time she sang.  And she was always connected to the role, with little gestures, expressions, and movements that were completely in sync with the character she created.  The sad part is, she will be in college next year and won’t be around here for us to enjoy more of her talent.  But, mark my words, Ms. Wilson, someday you will get that major role on Broadway and win a Tony and I will remember when I prophesied that, as I stand to applaud your success!

Horn, as always, has done his usually amazing job with this show and his pick for the cast is spot on.  I concur with Deanna, that I didn’t want the show to end.  I wish I could say that he surprises me with the shows he does, but he doesn’t.  He always does a superior job, just raising the bar a little higher each time.  And Quesenberry, onstage too, armed with 88 keys (and some dialogue), is decidedly the “fourth” Liza.  He and his music are an intricate part of the show and I couldn’t imagine the show without him.

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

Monday, May 9, 2016

Jane Austin’s EMMA—Bag & Baggage—Hillsboro, OR.

Repression & Idleness

This storytelling style of Austen’s novel is adapted to the stage by Michael Fry and directed by Patrick Walsh.  It is playing at the Venetian Theater, 253 E. Main St., through May 29th.  For more information, go to their site at www.bagnbaggage.org

The above statement seems to represent this age of many years ago very well.  Women were repressed and would be for several more years.  And both sexes were repressed as far as any sexual revolution.  Also it seems that the upper crust of society just sat around, did arty things and gossiped.  Of course, the lower classes were breaking their buns just to eke out a meager living.  But writers like Austen, the Bronte sisters, et. al. were beginning to write books exposing these inadequacies and slowly, in time, the “times would be a-changin’.”

It seems that the storytelling style of theatre (which I love) seems to be catching on.  Lately there have been a number of plays presented this way:  Peter and the Starcatcher (P/P), Around the World in 80 Days (BCT), Into the Beautiful North (Milagro), The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane (OCT), Davita’s Harp (Page2Stage), and Moby Dick (B&B), all well done, to name a few.  This style involves a few characters taking on many parts and narrating at times, too, to move the story forward in time and place; few props and a mainly bare stage; and a “low-tech” approach to presenting the show.  And, guess what, in this age of hi-tech films, the audience loves this alternate style of presenting art.  Heed the trend, fellow artists!

You couldn’t get better actors then these from B&B’s resident company:  Cassie Greer (Harriet, Miss Bates, et. al), Clara-Liis Hillier (Emma), Arianne Jacques (Emma’s father, Ms. Fairfax, et. al.), Andrew Beck (Churchill, Elton, et. al.) and Joey Copsey (Weston, Martin, Knightly, et. al.), to present this show on a cluttered stage with lots of trunks full of costume pieces and props, from which they will enhance their story.  It is over 2.5 hours and, I believe, could have had about 30 minutes trimmed out of it for clarity and by eliminating some of the minor characters.  But the actors are extraordinary in creating these many characters, by the many bits, interchanges, and alterations of voice inflections, walks and gestures.  They are truly gifted!

But, and here’s “the rub,” the program only gives credit to the actors names that are presenting the show which, after the first scene, are never used again.  So we have little clues as to the actual actors playing each of the roles and what the relationship to each other is.  It would have been a lot clearer to have, after the names of the five actors, which characters they played and, if possible the relationship to the other characters.  I heard the group sitting in front of me trying to sort out this same dilemma, such as “…is that person a neighbor or a relation…now, who is she again…no, I think that other actor played that role…,” etc., so, I can only give a rough, thumbnail sketch of the show and hope I’ve got at least the spelling of names correct, as well as relationships.

Emma seems like the least likable character of many like-novels of this era.  Although she means well, her own arrogance seems to blind her as to what is really going on before her eyes and her meddling manages to upset many relationships over a course of time.  She is a matchmaker, which in many cultures is an accepted way of arranging matrimonial unions between people that would benefit both families.  Often the parents did this but sometimes they went to a “professional.”  Love between people had very little to do with such contracts.  But it seems that the shy Harriet has her sights set on a farmer named Martins.  But that just won’t do, according to Emma, as he’s not of her class.  The awkward Elton would be more her match, but he has his eyes on Miss Bates.

Meanwhile, Emma seems to have her eye on the rich traveler, Churchill, son of a neighbor, Weston, but he seems to have his eyes on Miss Fairfax.  Out of the blue from all this appears a Mr. Knightly, who gives Emma a dressing-down for all the trouble she’s caused.  Finally, realizing the errors of her ways, she may be able to make things right.  In the end, Love does win out, sort of.  There is more to the story but, as I said, like the people in front of me, sometimes I’m not sure who did what to whom and when.

But, all that being said, the style in which it’s presented and the terrific actors make it all worthwhile.  Walsh, I’m sure, is responsible for the many little bits that enhance this production.  And Hillier, as the title character is, as always, very good in this and other incarnations she’s created for the stage.  She manages to make an unlikeable character, likeable, no small feat.  And Greer, is one of the top actors in the area!  Her creation of the chatterbox, Bates, and then reverting to the shy Harriet so convincingly one would think it was another person playing the role, is a tribute to her talent.  I recommend this production, especially if you are a lover of the novel it’s based on, as you will have a first-hand rendering of that.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.