Monday, August 22, 2016

Trickster of Seville—Masque Alfresco—SW OR Parks

Comedy With A Bite

This Commedia dell’arte style show is sprinkled with bits of Moliere, Shakespeare and other comedy writers of the 1600’s.  It is freely adapted to include modern references to political and celebrity figures and situations by Ravyn Jazper-Hawke and directed by the founder of this 15 year old company, Fayra Teeters.  It has played with sponsorship from and at parks in Lake Oswego, Beaverton and next weekend’s final performances at 7 pm at the Civic Plaza in Hillsboro, 150 E. Main St. in Hillsboro (bring blankets or chairs for seating).  It is a free event but a collection will be taken up at the end of the show.  For more information, go to their site at 

Combine a circus, vaudeville, singing, politics and comedy galore and who’ve got “…a whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on.”  Or, better yet, just watch some of the current political sniping occurring and you have many of the same elements.  And, as in most comedies of the 1600’s, notably Shakespeare, they all have wise clowns, buffoons as rulers, mistaken identities, masks and disguises, and a plot that is only a flimsy excuse to just get up and have fun.  As in another play of the same ilk, the musical, A Funny thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, it is essentially, “comedy tonight.”

If you must have a story to hang your hat on, then here it is in brief but, be warned, the success of this show is not in the story but in the manipulations, machinations and madcap mischief of the style in which it is presented.  It seems that Don Juan (yes, that one, the Great Romancer) is once again in the neighborhood plying his wares but this time it is in the Court of Naples and with the Queen’s (Athena McElrath) favorite lady-in-waiting, Carlotta (Sophie Foti).  Mr. Juan (Kenneth Dembo) has disguised himself as the Duke Octavio (Ravyn Jazper-Hawke) and so, when the ax is to fall, they will be looking for the Duke, instead.

The Queens’s ambassador, Don Pedro (KJ McElrath), tries to soothe things over with the Queen but has his own motives for this.  Meanwhile Don Juan attempts to flee the kingdom by boat but it is overturned and his is saved by his servant, Brighella (Mark Friendly).  They are taken in by some peasant fishermen, Tisbea (Jessica Reed) and her husband, Fabio (Iain Chester) but, being the rake that he is, he attempts to woo her as well.  Meanwhile, back at the ranch…er, castle, Don Gonzalo (Rian Turner) has arrived and has plans to marry his daughter into royalty.  Well, things just get messier after that….
Suffice to say, it all works out at the end (sort of) and everyone gets their just deserves (kind of).

But, I repeat, the charm of this piece is in how they incorporate local and national political figures and situations into this pot-boiler.  Much of the humor works, as Trump gets the lion’s share of the satire but, of course, it’s not to be taken seriously, as they are just joking (nudge-nudge, wink-wink).  The couple of songs are very appealing and the rap number is quite good.  All in all, it is good fun!

Dembo as the lover is very effective with his glib tongue, focused energy and suave demeanor.  Jazper-Hawke has a script that does a fine job of combining a past art form with modern antics and seeing that the mix is spookily too real.  And she is quite good as the Duke, too.   Teeters keeps the play moving at a fun pace, even getting the audience involved at times.  McElrath is an accomplished musician, borrowed from other companies, such as Stumptown, and is in fine form here, too, as is his wife as the Queen, having a nasty frown throughout and a shrill voice that, alone, would dissuade any suitors.

It is well cast and done simply, outside, against a marvelous tree, with minimal costume changes, which only adds to the charm of the piece.  I am especially impressed with some of the “low-tech” shows that have been presented this season, the crowns going to Around the World in 80 Days, by Beaverton Civic Theatre and, especially, Peter and the Starcatcher by Portland Playhouse.  This “black box” approach tends to stress on the story and actors for the strength of their presentations and not on any external trappings.  That takes guts and, when successful, quite effective.

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

Monday, August 15, 2016

Preview: The Magical Music of Disney—Chapel Theater at Milepost 5—NE Portland

PREVIEW: Dreams Really Do Come True”
This is the inaugural production of the newly formed Portland Musical Theater Company performing in the Chapel Theater at Milepost 5, 8155 NE Oregon St., opening Saturday, October 8th through October 29th (7 pm evening shows and 2 pm matinees).  The company is founded by, and this revue directed by, Deanna Maio.  For more information, go to their site at or call 971-225-SHOW (7469).

And now, for your reading pleasure, a glimpse behind the mind of an amazing young lady, the creator of this company, Deanna Maio.  I first met Deanna when I reviewed a musical revue she directed and performed in, in Newberg, a few months ago.  Since then, she has been my companion on numerous occasions to many of the plays being produced in Portland, mainly musicals, so that she can observe some of the fine musical talents in the Portland area.  She has confessed to me on many occasions that she feels she has been blessed because of all the terrific people she has met while forming this company.  But, I’ve got a secret for you, much of this success is due to the remarkable business savvy, organizational skills, and knowledge and talent she herself has in the musical arts.

But this does not just come out of thin air.  I am a firm believer in encouraging artistic talent from a young age, as we all need mentors/idols in this field.  Maio admits that she was bitten by the bug at an early age, dancing and singing at home and being cast in school plays.  Her mother, grandmother, school friends and some teachers were all very encouraging in her carving out her niche in the musical fields.  After she graduated from high school, “Within two years I was invited to work at Glacier National Park through American Cabaret Theater in Indianapolis in an original revue and my life was made. I was in the show each night, the wig mistress, the costume mistress, the dance captain and vocal coach…basically I did everything but play in the band. It was my first professional job and it was the best time of my life…until now.

We all have influences/idols in our lives.  Hers were “…Gene Kelly, Ann Miller and Gregory Hines, and Paula Abdul.  I was a dancer in my heart and mind…a dancer who could sing and act. As the years passed I would become an actor that could sing and dance and now would identify as a singer that can act and dance….or better yet I'd say I was an entertainer. I knew ‘this was it’ for me very early on.”  I have also encouraged, over the years, young talent in the artistic fields because I know how much of this is missing in traditional, education institutions.  Thank God for private schools such as Oregon Children’s Theatre, especially their Young Professionals Company, run by Dani Baldwin, and the Northwest Children’s Theatre, run by Sarah Jane Hardy.  Both excellent training grounds for Youth, as well presenting entertaining productions.

As I’ve alluded to, she’s a shaker and mover.  Once the germ of an idea for a company was planted, it went ballistic.  As she explains it, “When I was approached to create and direct a revue in 2016 for Chehalem Players Repertory I fell in love with creating and directing…the very day that we closed that show I got home and within a few hours I thought to myself… ‘I can't wait another year to do that,’ and I immediately got started on Portland Musical Theater Company. Within 48 hours we had a name, logo, website, and all of our paperwork filed with the state and IRS.”  Whew!  I told you she is a dynamo!  I have created and ran theatre companies myself, so know the amount of time, dedication and perseverance it takes to create a company and season.  Forget about any personal life you may want or, more precisely, this becomes your personal, as well as business, life.  And to think she teaches and has a regular job as well.  Wonder Woman!

But it’s not just work that keeps you going in these fields, it’s the inspiration, the dream.  And so it begs the question, what is the motivating force that drives one to create something new?  She wanted to house it on the East side of Portland because that has been her home for over 15 years and she feels this area is underdeveloped artistically.  But there is often a humanitarian good, as well, for artistic folk.  She explains, “We are committed to two fundamental truths. Each of us is special and has unique gifts to contribute to the world and we're more alike and connected than we realize. I believe musical theater, because it's more popular and more attended than non-musical theater and it includes music (which is a 'common' language for all people) would be better positioned to make the impact in our community…and it's been my love for 37 years.”

But love of an art form, although a noble reason for being involved, is not going to sustain itself.  It needs someone who is not only creative but has a business background, which Maio has.  “…I have run a successful business for 8 years as a solo entrepreneur and helped hundreds of other business owners around the world be successful. This business management and marketing expertise is a definite asset to Portland Musical Theater Company…We believe and come from a place of abundance, partnership and run our company like a business...a business that is meant to support our community and make it better.

Deanna’s long-term goals may be pretty ambitious but, knowing her, definitely achievable.  And she will need partners along the way because she feels that kind of collaboration is a way to create win-win situations within the community.  Here are some nuggets from here well-spring of desires.

  • Secure a budget to produce traditional "book musicals" while still remaining true to our roots with producing one revue each season. 
  • Gain sponsorships and partnerships with organizations and individuals who want to create a win-win by sharing Portland Musical Theater Company with their community and donating to our programs. 
  • Paying minimum wage or better for all rehearsals and performances by season 4. It's a stretch but definitely possible.
  • Finding a permanent location we can call our home with a performance space, rehearsal space, offices and classrooms. 
  • To be known for producing quality entertainment that's accessible and attractive to the Portland community and to have our audience numbers reflect that.

Believe me, she will achieve this, I have no doubt.

“To dream the [possible] dream” to have a thriving company with performers, teachers, tech. staff, designers and a full season of plays.  That is what the Dream will look like down the road.  And, ultimately, to make audiences happy, “…become a sanctuary or refuge where people can get away from it all, if only for just a little while.”  Amen to that.  And this opening show should do that as it encompasses over 50 songs from Disney musicals in 90 minutes.  She also suggests that children (and adults) are welcome to costume themselves as their favorite Disney characters, too.  This revue not only stretches over years of his amazing films but also expands the positive aspects of one’s imagination and, perhaps, for you to take home a little bit of that magic to put into good use in this current, chaotic environment!

Knowing her and the subject matter, I can easily highly recommend this production!  Don’t hesitate to check out her website and, as soon as possible, get your tickets to this show because the theatre seats under 100 people so will easily be a sell-out sooner than later.  Parking in this area can be a challenge, as it is in a neighborhood with homes, so I recommend you plan your time accordingly and, if possible, carpool or take public transports.  If you do choose to see it, as always, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Preview: A Language of Their Own—MediaRites’ Theatre Diaspora—NW Portland

PREVIEW: An Invisible World

This staged reading is written by Chay Yew and directed by Andrew Klaus-Vineyard (co-Artistic Director of defunct theatre).  It is playing at Portland Center Stage, 128 NW 11th Ave., on Saturday, September 10th at 7:30 pm and at Portland Actors Conservatory, 1436 SW Montgomery St., on Sunday, September 18th at 2 pm.  For information and tickets, go to their site at

The above-mentioned “world” is the behind-the-scenes glimpse at the activities that are necessary to put on a production, mainly producing a show.  I have founded and been a Producing-Director of two theatre companies and Artistic Director of another one, so am familiar with the myriad of duties associated with staging a play.  It should be mentioned that putting on a Staged Reading is not as time-consuming as a full-scale production, as it is usually a minimal set with little or no costuming or prop considerations.  Also it is a limited rehearsal period and run of the show.

But, as the lead Producer of this show, Wynee Hu points out, she “…recruits actors, sets deadlines, recruits guest panelists for post-show talkbacks, coordinates and conducts outreach visits to local events, coordinates interviews with the press, manages show-related cooperation between Theatre Diaspora and other organizations, ensures distribution/collection of contracts, liaises with performance facilities’ site contacts, and either does or delegates any other show-related work that arises.”  Whew!  And, believe me, that is only the tip of the iceberg.

But she does have two co-producers, Samson Syharath (also an actor in the show and with PAC), who coordinates liaisons with necessary parties, designs fliers and programs, recruits actors/director, etc.  And another crucial piece of the puzzle that falls within his boundaries is to “… try to expand our audiences so outreach and community development is one of our top priorities.”  I’m sure also, being an actor in the play, compounds the pressure, too.  Note, many larger theatres have specific people that deal with marketing, graphics, media, etc., but I can attest that if you don’t have the personnel for that, then it, by default, falls on the Producer.

The other co-producer is Alex Haslett.  His job is to deal with the social media, videos and still photos associated with the production.  And, of course, there is the Executive Director (and co-founder) of the company, Dmae Roberts who, I’m sure, will tie up any loose ends.  But, when choosing a show to produce, being personally vested in it is important for its success.  Doing a play for fun or because it will be popular is okay, but when you do a production that you put your heart and soul into and believe in, it makes all the difference and it shows, I believe.

This play is about two gay men and their issues navigating the complicated world of relationships, AIDS, and a society that doesn’t fully accept them.  So, why choose this play?  Hu explains, “It portrays the variety of human responses to mortality, and courage and fear in the pursuit of connection and love. The most inspiring and rewarding motivation for me as a producer has been the response of AAPI LGBTQ community members, AIDS survivors, and AIDS community advocates when we talk about the production. They are tremendously enthusiastic and invested in the story. I feel blessed to be working on a project that is meaningful to people who understand it at an intimate, personal level.”  Syharath adds, “It is important to understand that there are different kinds of love and that it is not just black and white. He's (the writer) shown a light on the grey area of what's right and wrong in a relationship…I wish more of these stories were told.”

For myself, I have family members and friends that are gay and I am appalled and somewhat frightened at some of their stories of “mistreatment” by the rest of society.  People can really be very cruel sometimes, can’t they?  And, if you look at the news nowadays, it doesn’t seem to be getting any better.  My own, perhaps naïve, take on it is, why is it anybody’s business who you choose to love?!  That is a very personal and private matter and is, in my opinion, nobody’s damn business!

And what should be the take-away for an audience after attending this play?  Syharath and Hu put it very well.  Samson professes, “Relationships have many layers. People have many layers. It is important not to make judgments when every person has different reasons for doing what they do. We should keep our minds open.”  Wynee concludes, “I want the audience to become hungrier for the multitude of narratives that do not get broadcast by mainstream outlets.”  Couldn’t have said it better myself.

I have witnessed and reviewed many of their productions in the past and can assure you they do quality work!  I would recommend experiencing this play and then sit down with friends and discuss it afterwards.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Monday, August 8, 2016

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum—Broadway Rose—Tigard, OR

A Comedy or Errors

This classic comedy-musical was written by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.  It is directed and choreographed by Abe Reybold with Music Direction by Eric Nordin.  It is playing at the Deb Fennell Auditorium (across from Tigard High School), 9000 SW Durham Rd. in Tigard, through August 21st.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-620-5262.

This vaudeville style of show does not even try to allude to anything more than just pure fun and entertainment.  Picture the Three Stooges or the Marx Bros. running rampant in old Rome and you have a pretty good idea of what’s in store for you.  Most comedies nowadays try to sneak in a message or give the story an ironic or satirical twist.  In this one, you could make a case for the demeaning of women, or the wrongfulness of slavery, or a caste system, etc.  But these elements go zinging right by you and you never pay them a mind.  As the show proclaims, “Comedy Tonight!”

The story is essentially about three houses in old Rome.  The house of the eccentric, Erronius (Kevin- Michael Moore) stands mostly empty, for he is on a quest to find his two children, snatched from their cradles when they were infants over twenty years ago.  When he does return, over the course of this story, he is told by a “soothsayer” that he must make seven trips around the seven hills of Rome and then his children will be returned.  Strangely, this works in an odd sort of way.

The second house is the house of lecherous Lycus (Norman Wilson) with his “family” of bustling, busty beauties (Deanna Olsen White, Kelsey Bentz, Louise Chambers, Krista Monaghan, Laura Hiszczynskyj, and Vanessa Elsner) all ready to “do anything” to increase the coffers of their master.  In other words, a house of ill-repute.  His recent acquisition is his most prized, a rather-dippy virgin, Philia (Kaitlyn Sage), but she has been promised to an egotistical captain in the Roman army, Gloriosus (Colin Wood), who is scheduled to pick her up soon.

And the third and main house of the story, is of the hen-“pecked,” Senex (Mike Dederian) and his wife, the “pecker,” nagging, Domina (Emily Sahler).  He has his eyes (among other things) on the House of Lycus and especially their newest “purchase.”  But he also has a young, naïve, spacey son, Hero (Ethan Crystal), who has his orbs on the self-same philly.  They also have two servants, the head man, the excitable, Hysterium (Joe Theissen) and the resourceful (and narrator of the story), Pseudolus (Dan Murphy, founding, General Manager of B/R).  He, perhaps foolishly, has promised Hero the bride of his dreams if he is granted his freedom.

And let us not forget the citizens and soldiers of Rome, too, the Proteans, all played by three people, Collin Carver, Joey Klei and Raphael Likes.  Now that you have all the necessary ingredients for this mischievous, madcap, mayhem, I’ll let you mix these elements well and you will be able to piece together the story.  Note, the film of this is also quite good with the outrageous, Zero Mostel playing the lead in both stage and screen versions with the support of fellow comedians, Phil Silvers, Jack Gilford, Buster Keaton, a dramatic actor, Michael Horden and a young Michael Crawford (before “Phantom”).

The songs are not particularly memorable but do fit the story well.  The most famous probably being “Everybody Ought to have a Maid,” “Lovely,” and, of course, the aforementioned, “Comedy Tonight.”  Reybold has managed to keep the show free-flowing and light with many sight gags.  I especially liked Moore’s slow trek around the hills and the chase scene toward the end.  Nordin and his group of musical merry-makers are “pitted” front and center but do not overpower the actors.  And the set by Sean O’Skea is very well designed, giving plenty of room for the players and yet very expressive.

The whole cast is in very good voice as they manage to entice many of the fine singers in this area for their shows.  The trio of Proteans (Carver, Klei and Likes), nearly steal the show, playing a variety of contrasting characters, sometimes with only seconds between changes.  Certainly the busiest cast members in the show and very well done.  Theissen is also note-worthy as Murphy’s “henchman” and they play well off each other.  Murphy is at the top of his game playing the chief slave.  He’s a pro and it shows.  Also he doesn’t attempt to copy Mostel’s, over-the-top style of acting but instead gives it more of a Tim Conway approach, down-playing a bit and letting the jokes, silliness sink in.  A hoot!

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

The Maids—Shaking the Tree Theatre—SE Portland

“…A Little Madness”

Public Citizen Theatre presents this Portland premiere of Jean Genet’s twisted classic tale, translated by Martin Crimp and directed by Aaron Filyaw (& co-producer).  It is playing at 823 SE Grant St. through August 21st.  For more information go to their site at

Where does one draw the line between fantasy and reality (or is there really a defined line)?  Everyone has dreams, fantasies and moments of “madness.”  Zorba, the Greek, espoused that everyone needs a little “madness” at some point in their lives.  This strange tale has shades of Albee’s, …Virginia Woolf, when moments of the imaginary world they have created, crash into the real world and so it must be eliminated; or, Marat/Sade or King of Hearts, when the insane re-create the world of the sane; or Sunset Boulevard, when the lines become blurred with tragic results; and Gosford Park and Upstairs/Downstairs as caste systems are examined and, perhaps, never the twain shall meet.  This play contains bits of all these elements.

It seems that when the Cat/Mistress’s (Alexandria Casteele) away the Mice/Maids, Solange (Amanda Mehl, also co-producer) and her sister, Claire (Ahan Dunn-Wilder), do indeed play.  Claire likes to dress up as the Mistress, using her clothes and jewels, as well as taking on her personality, and delights in mistreating her sister as an underling, verbally and physically abusing her as, perhaps, the real mistress does to both of them.  It is a sado-masochistic relationship but played as a dark comedy.  But their game-playing turns even darker as they plan on poisoning their Mistress and usurping her lifestyle.

When she arrives home again, she beings to notice little changes in the atmosphere, as well as the behavior of her servants.  The jig might be up but a call from a former lover, thought to be in jail, is coming home, so she goes to meet him.  But the sisters seem so set in their plan that the playacting might drive them off the deep end.  To see how it all ends, you must, of course, see the play.  But know that such dangerous games can have dangerous consequences.

The power in the play is in witnessing the performances, so I have deliberately given you only a thumb-nail sketch.  But, I would note that Genet is something of a prophet, too, as the computer age has unleashed a series of video games, some very realistic, in which one needs to enact roles, to win.  Some people are so ultra-obsessed with the avatar counterparts that they become more real and desired than the actual world they live in.  Not a comforting thought for “that way lies madness.”

Filyaw has kept the story moving at a brisk pace with nary time for a breath.  And he has a first-rate cast, which is the crowning glory of this production!  Casteele plays the condescending, prissy little bitch of a Mistress to a tee.  One could well see why she might be a deserving candidate for Sweeney Todd’s barber chair.  Mehl, as the calculating Solange, keeps you guessing as to her motives and even her next moves or even as to how she really feels about her sister, Claire.  She is especially good in her monologue at end, as she sinks deeper into her enigmatic world.  And, Dunn-Wilder is amazing as the role-playing Claire who has definitely crossed the imaginary line, between what is real and what is not, by the end.  I have touted her before in past PAC productions and she proves she is not just a flash-in-the-pan but someone has true acting chops who I look forward to seeing again onstage.

One note, though, the theatre is so cavernous, lines have a tendency to get lost at times when they are speaking too fast and/or not enunciating.  Not their fault, it the place, but just something to be aware of.  Also I was going to make a negative note about outside noises (sound designer, Saul Martinez) that creep in, until I realized that they were part of the show (imaginary invading the real?).  Very clever.  And the set (Tyler Buswell) and lighting (Becca Priddy), although simple, are quite effective, too.

I recommend this show, although because of the adult subject matter, may not be for everyone.  If you do see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.