Monday, October 24, 2016

El Muerto Vagabundo—Milagro—SE Portland

Candle in the Darkness

This Day of the Dead celebration is written and directed by Georgina Escobar and is playing at their space, 525 SE Stark St. (street parking only, so plan your time accordingly), through November 6th.  For more information, go to the site at or call 503-236-7253.

This is a Hispanic tradition and, in my opinion, a lovely one.  It celebrates lives lived and honors those who have passed on.  As the author puts it, “…what is remembered never dies.”  She has chosen to place her setting under a bridge and camping together with, as the play reports, not homeless people but rather houseless people or, perhaps, hopeless.  In short, it is folks that society has forgotten, or swept under the rug to reside in the underbelly of our civilization.

I admit that being a “gringo,” I’m at a disadvantage in understanding Spanish, and with the names of the characters being in that language, I could only identify a few, so will just have to generalize the character situations.  Also this play is written more as a lyrical essay, consisting of poetry, songs, dance, masks, puppets, drawings, mime, etc. to tell the story.  And it’s impressive in its presentation, in that a writer can conceive so many different ways of expressing thoughts and feelings and be so compelling.

The cast includes Giovanni Alva as El Manotas; Patrica Alvitez as La Catrina; Roberto Arce as El Vagabundo; Juliet Maya Burl as La Llorona; Diego Delascia as The Kid; Carrie Anne Huneycutt as The Pan; Carlos Manzano as El Mundo; Mariel Sierra as The Sister; and Julio César Velázquez as El Jornalero.

The story concerns a boy (Delascia) is search of his father, who was MIA during the war.  He believes that if he creates an altar to honor the dead he will hear from him.  His sister (Sierra), a social worker, is more practical and is just trying to make ends meet.  The boy keeps a miniature radio close to him, assuming his father might communicate through it to him.  In the meantime, he comes upon a conclave of “street” people living under a bridge that feel compelled to tell their stories.

All of the stories are poetic in their renditions.  Some use song or dance, costumes and make-up, silhouettes and sketches, et. al. to express their individual stories.  They often involve violence, PTSD, drugs, alienation, loneliness, but also love, family, friendship, dreams and desires.  In short, a bit of the microcosm of any Nation.  My personal favorite was the Mute (El Mudo, I assume) who through mime, dance and expressions “felt” his way through Life, finding poetry in motion, something that can be lost in only words.  Their tales, a visual feast that rely on a broad canvas to communicate their plight.

This is a production that has everything that encompasses the Arts and certainly is a compliment to the artist, Escobar, that created it but also to the multi-talented cast that performed it.  It is well worth the time to enjoy it and, from one culture to another, a beautiful tradition that could be adopted into any culture, to honor those who have gone before…lest we forget…!

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

Goosebumps, the musical, Phantom of the Auditorium—Oregon Children’s Theatre—downtown Portland

Scared Silly

This world premiere, fun, Halloween musical for school-age kids and their families is written by John Maclay and Danny Abosch and directed by Stan Foote (OCT’s Artistic Director).  It is playing at the Newmark Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway, through November 20th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-228-9571.

This is based on the Goosebumps books by R. L. Stein, which also fostered for awhile a Saturday morning TV series and a recent, so-so movie with Jack Black.  They all feature teens and pre-teens overcoming eerie/mysterious circumstances in their communities, not unlike the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew mysteries of yesteryear.  What is important about these tales is they empower young people to overcome adversity, regardless of circumstances, and usually without an adult coming to the rescue.

In this day and age, with all the bullying, drugs, alcohol, suicide, et al. that Youth must face, it is refreshing to see a message about the power of teamwork, self-confidence and a solid, moral compass that these stories engender (as well as being involved in some sort of Artistic classes, as OCT teaches).  And, not to forget, the Young Professionals Company of OCT, with their show opening this week for teens and adults, In the Forest She Grew Fangs, about the angst of youth, mirroring a familiar “fairy tale.”  I’ve reviewed this play at Defunkt and it is powerful.  Best reserve seats now at the above info, as there are limited seats and performances.

In this story, there is this high school that has a haunted past.  It seems that many years ago, the legend says, there was an attempt to produce a musical call The Phantom.  But, because of some mysterious and eerie circumstances, concerning disappearances and accidents, it never went on.  But now, the drama teacher, Mrs. Walker (Laurie Campbell-Leslie), has decided to mount this show.  She casts two of her most talented students in the leads (also best friends), the boisterous, Zeke (Skylar Derthick) and the ever-confident, Brooke (Katie McClanan), as the Phantom and his lady-love.

But this does not sit well with the snobbish, Tina (Sophia Takla), who feels she deserves the role, instead of being relegated to being the understudy and Tech. Director.  The other classmates, Cami (Josephine McGehee), Steve (Gabe Porath), Anna (Emma Steward), and Corey (Xavier Warner) feel equally left out playing ensemble members and working behind the scenes.  But then mysterious messages begin to appear, as well as some unexplainable incidents.

Is it Zeke just “getting into character?”  Or maybe the grumpy night janitor, Emile (Andy Haftkowycz), has something to hide in the creepy sub-basement?  Of course, there is also the new kid in school to suspect, the handsome, Brian (Brendan Long), who seems smitten with Brooke (and she with him)?  Or is it their teacher who has relatives that were here during the original time period?  Or jealous Tina, or one of the other ensemble members?  Or the least suspicious one, Brooke, as traditional mysteries usually point to that character as being the culprit?  As you can see, I can only give you a thumbnail sketch because, being a mystery, it is up for you to solve for yourself.  And, being a mystery buff myself, I have to admit there are a couple of twists and turns that would have even made Dame Agatha proud.

Some of the musical parts of the script play more like an opera, as much of the dialogue is sung, rather than like many musicals, where the songs express inner feelings.  The whole cast is well-voiced in their chorus parts.  Campbell-Leslie is a seasoned pro from many years of major roles in musicals and it shows in her performance.  The highlight of the music was Takla’s (as Tina), rendition of “Understudy Buddy.”  She was very animated, in her expressions and has a powerful voice.  It was a show-stopper!  And she has talent that will blossom even more as time goes on, I predict.  Bravo!

Foote is always a pro in everything he does and it shows with his casting of the young people, especially, and his clever staging of the show, being magical, at times, itself.  As far as the script, I felt the supporting characters could have been fleshed out a bit more.  The talent was there in the actors but their parts seemed to have little definition or purpose other than to fill in chorus parts.  The roles of Cami, Steve, Anna and Corey need to have their own “voices,” too, as meaningful characters in the plot.

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

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Terror by Gaslight—Twilight Theater—N. Portland

A Grave Man

This very dark comedy, appropriate for Halloween, is written by Tim Kelly and directed by Doug Jacobs.  It is playing at their space, 7515 N. Brandon Ave. (just off Lombard), through November 5th.  There is limited parking in a church lot directly across from the theatre.  For more information, go to their site at

The time is the early 19th Century in Philadelphia…an era ripe for changes.  Although the story is a mix Frankenstein, Jekyll & Hyde, R. L. Stevenson’s, The Body Snatchers, and a bit of Sweeny Todd thrown in for good measure, it borders on a couple of serious issues back then.  One, in order for doctors to learn about how to best perform surgery, they needed bodies to dissect and examine.  Hiring grave robbers or “night crawlers” were doctors only source of cadavers but it was illegal.  Also it was considered not feminine for a woman to be interested in this profession.  Their only purpose, according to the accepted times, was to get married and propagate the race.  But, as I intimated, times, they were a-changin’!

Enter the cranky, cantankerous Dr. Norton (Gary Romans) who is a surgeon but has a dissecting room and hopes for a museum to focus on the human anatomy.  Although prominent in his field, he has colleagues, including the by-the-book, Dr. Winters (Redmond Reams), who keep a watchful on his “procedures.”  He also has an ex-student, a scumbag, Dr. Daniels (Breon McMullin), who is only interested in the profession for how it can profit him, including blackmail, if necessary.

But Norton has taken in a new student, Dover (Rob Kimmelman), who seems bright and willing to learn and eventually takes a shine to his daughter, Marilyn (Katherine Kyte), a very determined young lady who wants to learn the profession, too.  Another in his household is his stubborn sister, Constance (Debra Blake), who is devoted to the fact that a woman’s place is in the home with family and keeping house.  And Opal (Rachel Thomas) is the skittish and somewhat dim maid.  As you can see, heads are bound to clash when corpses begin to be a little “too fresh.”

It doesn’t help either that Norton has two nefarious “night crawlers” supplying him with bodies.  Scrubbs (Marty Winborne) is an apish, lowlife and is the brawn of the duo.  Gin Hester (Aje Summerly) is the other partner and is a mouthy drunk, the Burke and Hare of their day, which means that things will slide downhill from here.  Add a jilted “bride” by the name of Kitty (Kaitlynn Baugh), a pretty barmaid; a suspicious and a bit loony, grieving wife, Mrs. Culp (Katy Philp), of a corpse that disappeared; and a nosy detective, Harrison (Gary Sandelin) who, like a bulldog, will not let go of his hunches.  Can’t tell you more without revealing more of the plot but, know this, “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree!”

This is a fun show for a dark and stormy night (which it was) around Halloween.  Not necessarily for young kiddies but reasonably tastefully done, considering the subject matter.  Jacobs has cast it well and, being a community theatre, it is good to see a mix of newbies getting their feet wet and doing well and some seasoned actors treading the boards.

Romans turns Norton into a somewhat sympathetic character, who you condemn for his methods but also know he was a trailblazer.  Blake seems the most professional of the troop in her approach and, although you might see that she is trying to maintain a status quo, you also see a very determined woman who will not be silenced.  Kyte is an early example of a woman’s libber and plays it forcibly.  Baugh, in a small role, does shine, showing some talent.  And Winbrone and Summerly almost steal the show as the nefarious, dynamic, digging duo.  All and all, an entertaining evening and even a lesson or two woven into the fabric.

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

Friday, October 21, 2016

The Drowning Girls—Bag & Baggage Theatre—Hillsboro, OR

“Nearer My God To Thee”

his cautionary, true story is written by Beth Graham, Charlie Tomlinson and Daniela Vlaskalic.  It is directed by Scott Palmer (B&B’s Founding Artistic Director) and is playing in their space at the Venetian Theatre, 253 E. Main St., through October 31st.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-345-9590.

This is an appropriate but sobering tale for Halloween.  It is interesting to note the title of the hymn above, something the killer hummed often, was also reportedly the song the band was playing on the Titanic before she went under.  Prophetic, you might say.  The facts of the case are pretty straight-forward.  It seems that George Joseph Smith (under aliases) drowned three separate wives in their bathtubs, one per year, from 1912-14.  He was hanged for his crimes in 1915.  But the message here is larger than that.

It seems that Smith, also known as Henry Williams and John Lloyd, was a charismatic man of no means, who bilked wealthy young women out of their monies and then disappeared.  But, not content for some reason with just robbery, he resorted to marrying and then murdering them, I assume, because there was more money in confiscating their inheritances and life insurance policies, then simply taking their savings.  There was no doubt he was the culprit but the groundwork for his crimes had been laid down for many years before.

Women through this period of time were deliberately kept in the dark as to how the world worked.  Education for young girls was not encouraged, women did not have the right to vote or own property and even getting a job, other than as a servant or as a teacher, seamstress, laundress, et. al., was not desired by this patriarchal society.  Even law enforcement, juries, business heads, etc. were all men.  In short, women were to get married (to as wealthy a man as possible), have kids and run the household, nothing else.  Love should have no real bearing on this union and it was still customary in having parents arranging marriages for their daughters.

In this case, the three women in question, Bessie (Jessi Walters), Alice (Autumn Buck) and Margaret (Jessica Geffen) were all vulnerable and under this hypnotic air of indifference by the Society at large, to be led like sheep and, in these cases, to the slaughter.  Smith may have been the hand of the executioner but Society had already laid the foundation for these pre-ordained sacrifices.

In my opinion, women may have come a long way in altering that groundwork but it is still inherent in some instances.  Just the other day I overheard a mother saying to her young daughter, “and when are you going to give us grand-babies?”  Is there any choice involved for this young lady, or even Love as a factor?  Also, the male judge, that sentenced a young rapist to only a few months in jail, is appalling.  Shades of a different century still prevalent?!

What is remarkable about this production is the fact that it is up to the three women in question to tell their tale from their perspective.  The sodden voices are allowed to speak and their stories are even sadder than their fates because they, from the outset, had the cards stacked against them.  Also remarkable are the fact that the three actors involved play all the various characters throughout the story, including servants, family, lawyers, doctors, business owners and even the killer himself.  Walters, Buck and Geffen deserve a standing ovation for traversing this difficult territory and being able to keep the story straight and flowing!

Palmer has, once again, dipped into an unknown stream and been able to snag a beauty as a showcase for him and some amazing actors.  Also, the set by the very talented Megan Wilkerson and sound and lighting by Palmer and Jim Ricks-White are an absolute must in the success of this show!  There season of shows are never disappointing and always breaking new, artistic grounds.  And now they will have a new home in the Spring to develop even more their dreams.  I salute them!

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

Monday, October 10, 2016

Hold These Truths—Portland Center Stage—Pearl District

“Carefully Taught” Truths

This one-man show on real-life figure, Gordon Hirabayashi, was written by Jeanne Sakata, stars Ryun Yu (who originated the role) and is directed by Jessica Kubzansky.  It is playing in the Ellyn Bye studio at PCS, 128 NW 11th Ave. (finding parking can be a challenge in this area, so plan your time accordingly), through November 13th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-445-3700.

Part of my title above comes from a song to the musical, South Pacific.  It refers to a love affair between a white American soldier and a Pacific Islander girl.  It is particularly relevant here as it refers to the fact that children have to be taught to have prejudice, it doesn’t come naturally.  Shame on us!  Another point, some of the rest of the phrase from the title of the play refers to “these truths…to be self-evident…” meaning obvious.  So the rights of American citizens should be obvious, something evidently, in this case, that was not obvious to a President, the military, Congress and the Supreme Court at the time of these incarcerations!

It is probably well known by now that Japanese Americans had their businesses boycotted, lost property and belongings and were eventually transported to camps after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, as possibility being a threat to the country.  Of course, we were also at war with Germany and Italy but citizens that came from those countries were not.  Why?  The color of their skin, being white, would make it difficult to distinguish from other white Americans.  Of course that also meant that anyone of Asian extract, even if from China, Korea, a Pacific Islander, or from another Asian country, was suspect, even if not Japanese, simply because of the color of their skin.  Double shame on us!

Hirabayashi had grown up on the West Coast of the U.S. and went to college here.  But when he and his family were given curfews and then ordered to report to camps (for their own protection, of course, except the guns at these outposts were aimed toward the inside of the camp, not the outside), which were less than appealing quarters for families.  Gordon felt there was something terribly wrong about these restrictions to American citizens and chose to ignore the curfew.  He was arrested and decided to fight in court, contending that these rules/laws were unjust and he demanded due process of law.

His own family wanted him to give up the struggle because it might bring shame on the Japanese people and make them look guilty.  Our Government preferred not to make these restrictions too public and offered to settle with Gordon.  But he held out, eventually getting the support of the ACLU and took his case to the Supreme Court.  He lost the first round and was eventually ordered to spend a short time in prison.  His friends stuck by him, white and Asian, and he eventually married his college sweetheart, Esther, a Quaker lady, and they had a family.  To discover the outcome of his suit, you’ll have to see the play.

Yu does manage to hold your attention for the whole 90 minutes on an essentially bare stage.  I especially liked his portraying many other characters within the story as it showed his terrific versatility.  Sakata tells a powerful and complicated story of this man well, one which is probably not well known to the majority of people.  Kubzansky has kept the set simple with only three chairs, allowing the actor’s talent, the author’s words and the audience’s imagination to fill in the blanks.

One suggestion, though, that both my friend, Chris and I came up with at the same time after the play, is that they have this large white screen stretched across the back of the stage.  Wouldn’t it be even more effective if scenes from various incidents he was talking about, and possibly he and his family and friends, be projected on this during the play, to heighten the story points?

One more thought about “teaching” prejudice.  A close friend of mine, half-Japanese, when just a child, went to the ice cream shop one day with her white cousins, who she played with all the time, and her white uncle bought cones for them all…except her.  The point stuck with her all her life, she was excluded because she was of a different color, different nationally.  As mentioned, prejudiced has to be “taught.”  Our future depends on what kind of things we impart to our children.  I’ve said it before in my blog, and I’ll say it again, as Pope Francis stressed, should we be building Walls or Bridges between peoples/nations?!  Future Generations cry out for an answer….

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

American Hero—Artists Repertory—SW Portland

Sub Species

This touching comedy is written by Bess Wohl and directed by Shawn Lee.  It is playing at their space, SW Alder St. and 16th Ave., through October 30th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-241-1278.

This sandwich shop could be anywhere, USA, in one of the many Malls springing up, ad nausea.  I must confess when I arrived I expected not to see only some humorous tales of sub shop experiences, but this story is about much more than that.  It is about a growing population that is earning minimum wage in thankless retail jobs in our in our increasing suburban, concrete jungles.

Guaranteed these occupations are not the “dream” jobs for any of these individuals, unless they mistakenly (as we find out in the play) think that it is a way to become an executive with loads of money and perks.  It is, at best, a stopping off place, a momentary oasis amongst a harsh environment, so that one can get their bearings, catch their breath, for future Life struggles.  But, most of all, they are real people who just want to be given a chance to shine.

Bob (Mueen Jahan), from the Middle-East, is trying to find for himself those “streets paved with gold” that are often referred to.  He has a franchise in a sub shop and is hiring a staff.  He plays by the rules and adheres closely to the corporate handbook.  Among the staff he has hired is a young, rather shy, girl name Sheri (Emily Eisele), who is already working at a taco place, too, just to make ends meet.

He also hires Ted (Gavin Hoffman), nearing middle age with a business degree, but had been downsized from a management bank job.  But he also has a slew of other problems in his personal life that are hounding him.  He is very practical and likes to stick to the rules.  And the last employee is Jamie (Val Landrum), a rather sexy, free-wheeling lady that doesn’t seem bound by anybody’s rules of behavior.  But she also has a trunk-load of personal problems that haunt her.  In other words, these are just plain folks that are trying to get from one day to another, like the rest of the world.

It soon becomes apparent that things are not as they seem.  Their boss hasn’t been seen for awhile and their supplies are running low.  This means they will have to bond together, become a Family, for the common good and come up with a plan.  This also means they will have to put their egos aside and attempt to make the best of an increasingly dire situation.  Can’t tell you more without ruining the solutions they come up with.  But, the beauty of this story is that the human spirit will endure, in spite of odds against it, and the “little men,” in all of us, from kings to knaves, will have their say.

Wohl has given us a smorgasbord of delights to choose from, to concoct our own “Heroes” to digest.  What we choose to include in those will result in how we/they turn out, so choose ingredients carefully, for the fault is truly in us, not in our stars, as the Bard might surmise.  Wohl has a gem of a story that is reflective of all of us, a true microcosm of America.  And Lee has chosen a jewel of a cast to mirror her vision.  He also has the ability to create (with designer, Megan Wilkerson) an uncanny reality with the shop itself, giving actors plenty of playing room, but also making you feel like you want to step up on the set after the show and order a sub.

The cast is delicious.  Hoffman plays well the steely exterior whose inner world is collapsing.  Landrum is fine as she splays her sensuous bravado to hide the inner pain.  Eisele is a true find, riding that delicate line between being the scared mouse in the corner but able to display the roar of a Lioness when necessary.  And Jahan, in his many incarnations, gives a good variety to his characters and is powerful in his final monologue as Greg.

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

Hir—Defunkt Theatre—SE Portland

A “Hir-Raising” Event
This very dark comedy is written by Taylor Mac and directed by Andrew Klaus-Vineyard.  It is playing at the Backdoor Theatre (in the rear of Common Grounds coffee house), 4319 SE Hawthorne Blvd., through November 12th.  For more information, go to their site at

One way to describe this show is to quote from Eleanor in The Lion In Winter, “What family doesn’t have its ups and downs.”  But this group is even darker than her family, something akin to the skin-loving family in The Texas Chain-Saw Massacre.  In other words, a pretty dysfunctional gathering.

It seems that Isaac (Jim Vadala) has come home after three years from the wars overseas, after being dishonorably discharged for taking drugs.  What he is expecting to find on arrival is the home he left behind.  But, as Thomas Wolfe observed, “You can’t go home again.” 

Isaac is in for a rude awaking.  His “home” is in total chaos—literally.  The entire living area is covered in clothes, clean and dirty.  His mother, Paige (Paige McKinney) has become a cross between a martinet and Big Nurse from Kesey’s story.  She rules the roost with an iron fist and is taking no prisoners.  Conventional ways of doing things are out, including electronics, modernization and is concerned with turning the land back to the way Nature originally intended it to be.

His father, Arnold (Anthony Green), is pretty much a basket case.  He is dressed up in women’s clothes, wears diapers and is face is made up in clown make-up.  He has recently had a stroke, which has inhibited part of his body and slurred his speech.  He also may be taking female hormone pills.  He is kept sedated much of the time and prefers to sleep under a cardboard box.  It turns out he was a very abusive father and husband.

And his sister, now brother, (because of male hormone pills), Max (Ruth Nardecchia), seems to be still adjusting to “hir” (a word that encompasses both the “his” and “her” pronouns) place in life.  It seems that being in a commune with some anarchists is “hir” dream.  And Isaac realizes that something’s gotta give so he chooses to take charge and attempts to turn their world upside-down.

Will he be successful and turn his family into Ozzie and Harriet or will he change?  And just what is “home” anyway—four walls and a roof, or something deep in one’s psyche?  You’ll just have to see it for yourselves to find out.  The journey will be painful for all involved but change and evolution are inevitable…but at what price?!  It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Klaus-Vineyard has painted a vivid, albeit explosive, landscape on which this creation exists.

His has cast well the parts.  Vadala is always an asset to a show and in this psycho world, he takes us on a roller-coaster ride where the ending is to be determined.  McKinney is downright scary in her cold, calculated version of the world.  Green enacts the confused patriarch is such a way that is unsettling, as you know there is still a human being beneath all the rubble.  And Nardecchia plays beautifully the struggle with gender identity that makes you understand the plight of many people like “hir” in this world, simply to find themselves and be accepted.

If you want a good Halloween story this may be it.  It’s scary, not from beasts in the woods but beasts in side of us.  I do recommend this play but, as you might have guessed, it’s not for everyone, so be warned.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Friday, October 7, 2016

The Magical Music of Disney!—Portland Musical Theater Company—NE Portland

A Universal Language

This is the Premiere production for this company and it is a Revue of 60+ songs in 90 minutes from Disney musicals, created and conceived by Deanna Maio, the Founder and Executive Director for the company.  It is playing at the Chapel Theater at Mile Post 5 (the old Post 5 theatre space), 8155 NE Oregon St. (street parking only and the doorway may be a bit hard to find but it’s near the Art Haus coffee bar, so plan your time accordingly), through October 30th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 971-7469.

“If music is the universal language, Disney is a special dialect spoken by the young and young at heart (Maio).”  Amen…and it’s a good thing that she and I speak “Disney.”  But let me carry that thought a couple steps further.  Legend says that Pandora had a box, when released, spilled out all the Evils onto our world.  But when she finally regained control of the box, there was still one element not released…Hope.  And so, like greedy children, we embrace that element when the world is at strive, as it is now and has been for many, many years.

Disney can be compared with that last, precious element of humankind, as most of the songs in this collection/revue all reflect Hope.  It’s what the “world needs now…” and there appears to be precious little of that.  So let Disney (and Maio and her troop) transport you out of the chaos into a better place, even if only for a couple of hours.  And, perhaps, some of you will carry that message…that Hope into the larger, populated areas and it will grow.  Ambitious, Yes.  Unrealistic, Perhaps.  But impossible, “Never, Never, Never, Never, Never (Churchill).”

She (Maio) and her troop (Ashley Moore, Alexandra Habecker, Ehren Schwiebert, Erin Riha, John Knowles, Kenan G. Koenig, Rebecca Raccanelli and Sarah Thornton) whiz through songs from “Snow White…” through “Frozen,” giving us a glimpse of Disney and his magical world.  We travel from the diamond mines of the dwarves to the Arabian Nights; from the Deep South to the Frozen North; from the rooftops of London to playful puppets; from the depths of the ocean to the jungles of Africa; and from the lives of Native Americans to the loves of beauties and beasts.

They spend some time on songs from Mary Poppins, perhaps Disney’s most successful film (overall his studio has won more Academy Awards that anyone else in film history).  I have about 70 DVD’s of his films and it is certainly one of my favorites.  It also includes Disney’s favorite song, “Feed the Birds” (and one of mine) and is beautifully done by the ensemble.  One trivia fact is that the woman who plays the Bird-Woman was found in an “old folks’ home” and died shortly after the film was released.  The lady was Jane Darwell, Award-winning actress as Ma Joad from The Grapes of Wrath, revitalized before the end, having been forgotten for years.  Perhaps another miracle of the Disney touch.

Almost all the songs are done by the ensemble as a whole but each one has one has a solo which shows off what a talented company she has.  They are all dressed in black and white, with a touch of gray, and only a minimal prop or two to expand the vision.  It is an essentially a bare stage with colored lights, but with that they can create countless worlds.  All that needs be added is the audience’s imagination.  Are you up for the challenge…to exercise that pliable brain, numbed by reality shows and incessant bombardment by infomercials of useless banalities?  If so, give yourself a treat and see this slice of Eden  amongst the concrete jungle.   Refresh your soul and find this may give you a new lease on Life.  After all, there are “no strings on [you],” right?!

I confess to a bias for Disney, having been a devoted fan for years.  And a bias for Maio, as she’s been my companion to many musicals over the past several months.  But that is because I also have a bias for talent and struggling theatres and am, without shame, a promoter of Theaters and the Arts in all their forms.  I believe Art builds character, something the world sorely needs now.  The production covers all the bases and reaffirms one’s belief in the Power of Hope.  Only one thing left to say, directions to this magical place:  “Second star to the right, and straight on till morning.”  It’s worth the trip!

For more on Maio, check this out:

She is an amazing, young lady, being able to marry the business and creative side of theatre, a feat not often done successfully.  Although her whole cast is talented, it’s easy to see the professional edge she has when performing.  Keep track of her progress on her site, as she has other revues coming up.  In January, Broadway of the 60’s in Newberg, and Rock & Roll from American Bandstand in the Spring at the Chapel Theater again.

Obviously I highly recommend this show.  But if you choose to see it, know that they are selling out fast, so best get tickets soon!  And children are welcome to wear costumes of their favorite Disney characters (just in time for Halloween, too).  If you do choose to see it, as always, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

PREVIEW—Bag & Baggage Theatre—Hillsboro, OR

PREVIEW - Evolution of a Dream

This is a Preview of this theatre company’s visions as they are readied to move into their own space, only a couple of blocks away from their current place in the Venetian Theatre, 253 E. Main St., in downtown Hillsboro, in the late Spring, 2017.  The source for this information comes from interviews with Scott Palmer, Artistic Director and Founder; Beth Lewis, Managing Director; Cassie Greer, Director of Advancement and Resident Artist; and two frequent actors, Clara Hillier and Jessica Geffen.

What artist hasn’t had the dream of having their own space someday to create and make a living at seeing your creations come to light and be appreciated.  I know I did but it was not to be.  But one similar story that could, in some ways, be parallel to B&B’s is Dr. Angus (Gus) Bowmer and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, OR.  I had the good fortune to study Shakespeare and be directed by him for two years and was an acting member of OSF for two Seasons, when it was simply the outdoor theatre and operated only during the summers.  This is a view of the personal side of, perhaps, a like Vision.

Palmer and Bowmer both had to deal with uphill battles in a small town community that espoused that classical theatre would never work in such a place.  But they were both fighters and wouldn’t take “No” for an answer.  Thank God!  Look at where OSF is now, an internationally known, resident, professional, Tony Award-winning theatre.  After ten years, Bag & Baggage seems headed for that same Fate.

Palmer’s vision is focused “…on adaptations and innovative retellings of classical drama…classic stories are NOT museum pieces. Rather, they are classics because of their universal and timeless themes. Our mission is to crack open those stories and connect them to a modern audience…we try to reinvigorate classic work to make it more immediate, more personal, more relevant to our diverse audiences.”  Lewis concurs, “…Scott consistently adapts, directs, and produces a variety of works that always engage our audiences in new and unique ways.   Scott likes to say that he doesn’t care if someone loves or hates our work, just so long as they have an opinion about it.”

I have reviewed some of these productions over the last few years and am mightily impressed when I saw a musical production of Shakespeare with all women, an adaptation of the classics, “Moby Dick” and “the Great Gatsby,” done in storytelling theatre style, a delve into Jane Austin, and a reimaging of the classic film, “The Graduate.”  All extremely stimulating.  And how does the small town deal with being thrust into a literary atmosphere.

Palmer says, “Hillsboro is a sort of incredibly well kept secret: the state’s fast growing, most diverse community…we have worked passionately to connect to our local community--producing work here in Hillsboro that is of relevance to our audiences. As the only professional theatre company in Hillsboro, we are in a uniquely strong position: no competition, a decade-old reputation for excellence, and a decade-long commitment to the people who live, work, and play right here in our hometown.”  Lewis responds, in kind,The City of Hillsboro has been very forward-thinking…very aware of what makes a city ‘livable’ and therefore has been very supportive of arts and culture…has been integral to Bag & Baggage’s success and we’re incredibly grateful to them for their constant support.”

From an actor’s point of view, Greer had this to say about B & B’s approach, “vision-driven…intellectual approach to the text and improvisatory spirit of physical play and exploration…almost painfully committed to specificity…style…storytelling…we tackle work…relevant to us and our audiences…aren’t afraid to be irreverent or shocking…know that hard work and hard play are two sides of the same coin.”  Also, she adds, “…it seemed like style was extremely well thought-out, and arose from an element of the text--a text refined to include pieces of its original source material, and streamlined with a sensitivity to the clarity of the story…”  Whew, quite concise, I’d say.  Geffen’s take on it is, “…continues to push boundaries and positively challenge the audience’s way of thinking…unique spin on the storytelling to heighten your interpretation….wide range of stories–from Shakespeare to adaptations of classic literature…minimal scenic design and simplistic staging to focus on the story itself….”  Hillier adds this, “…tremendous at focusing on ensemble work, new opportunities for female actors and the challenge of multi roles and learning how to diversify your vocal/physical/emotional presence on stage.”  By the way, all three of these young ladies have been featured in roles in many of their plays, as well as others in Portland, and are, in my opinion, some of the best actors in the Portland area and add enormously to the success of these productions!

But the new venue does add other challenges, such as moving from about a 400 seat capacity to about a 140+.  As Palmer sees it, though, “…The most important part for me is that our audiences will have a much greater connection and intimacy with our shows in the new space. The best way to think about it is this: In The Venetian, the closest you can get to a performer is 30 feet away. In our new space, you will never be more than 30 feet away from an actor. That is what I am most excited about: intimacy.” Another thought, from Lewis, “We want the space to be active 24/7, so not only do we want to expand our own programming, but we want to serve as a destination for other arts organizations to present their work in addition to being a space available for rentals.”

I can see a bright future for this group, as well as the talent involved.  So, that begs the question, what are the visions for the future (and, boy, did I open up a can of worms with them on that question)?  Palmer would like to see, “…increase the number of shows we perform from 6 to 7 in the next year or so, and add new programming like improvisational comedy nights, rehearsed readings, new play readings, and also present other organization’s work. Eventually we hope to produce children’s theatre; adult actors doing classic children and family shows for our local audiences.”  Lewis is equally vocal, “…I want our impact to be stronger and more far-reaching…the artistic product to get stronger…actors to get paid better….increase our level of professionalism, organization-wide…hire more staff to help us expand our programs…unlike any other arts organization…that doesn’t turn over every six months, because they get burnt out and frustrated by their leadership…help turn Hillsboro into a tourist destination…I want us to continue pushing the envelope and driving the conversation and making our work relevant and important.”  Wow!  Tall orders, but from what I’ve seen in the past, they have the “right stuff” to succeed.

And the “beat goes on,” with Geffen piping in, “…it would be neat for those not involved in the current production to be able to host workshops/classes, do in-school workshops and educational work with the local high schools we partner with through the Passport program, to tour the area bringing productions into the schools….  Hillier’s take on it, “…Flexible seating, intimacy between the actors and audience, huge chances for risk taking both for actors and designers and how a season is selected. Many more productions and a different style I believe will be perfect for the space.  Greer’s unique observations are, “…engage our audiences…moved by work where I’m clearly breathing the same air as the performers, sharing their personal space, and being even more clearly physically invited into their world. The proximity at which I’m able to experience another human being’s vulnerability is electric.

I have witnessed the theatre scene in the greater Portland area grow and expand immensely over the last 35 years that I’ve been involved with it and the magic continues to spread.  Nothing is impossible if the Dreamer stays steadfast to their course.  The only thing to stop you is if you let the dream die.  I would bet money that Bag & Baggage’s dreams will come true!  I, like Cassie, am “…looking forward to being on this crazy ride and seeing where it takes us as we grow!

If you want the practical information on their progress, check out this site or their company site at  If interested in tours or if you have any questions as to how you can contribute contact or call her at 503-345-9590.  May they Live Long and Prosper!

Monday, October 3, 2016

The Addams Family, the musical—Beaverton Civic Theatre—Beaverton, OR

A “Grave” Family

This comic musical is based on the cartoons of Charles Addams and the TV series.  It is written by Marshall Brickman (a frequent co-writer for Woody Allen’s films) and Rick Elice, and music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa.  It is directed by Melissa Riley (also Founder and Artistic Director for the Company) and Josh Pounders (also Music Director) and choreographed by Jenny Cyphers.  It is playing at their space in the Beaverton Civic Library, 12375 SW 5th St. in Beaverton, through October 15th.  For more information, go to their site at

Okay, maybe I’m aging myself by saying I watched the old TV series of this show, as well as its counter-part, The Munsters.  I also was aware of the comic strip by Charles Addams, which the series and musical are based.  The Muster family went on to make a movie and the Addams’ this Broadway musical with Raul Julia.  It definitely broaches on some pretty grisly matters such as zombies, vampires, ghouls, torture, ghosts, witches and, of course, death itself.  But they always managed to chill and thrill us with humor, not an easy task.

In case you’re one of the few who are not aware of the Family, here is a quick run-down.  The patriarch is Gomez (Jason Taylor), who is a horny, big devil and is almost always truthful.  His wife is Morticia (Beth Noelle) a very alluring femme-fatal.  Their children are their daughter, Wednesday (Olivia Noelle), a morbid sort who yearns to be “normal.”  Then there is their son, Pugsley (Riley Suzuki), who enjoys being tortured in his spare time, as well as needling his sister.

Uncle Fester (Stan Yeend) communes with the spirits of their ancestors and has a secret love of a lunar capacity.  Granny (Laurie Monday) is an herbalist, or better known in the rural parts, as a witch.  She has potions and spells at her disposal and in the wrong hands can be quite deadly.  And, lastly, there is their beloved servant, Lurch (James VanEaton), a zombie, who has a rather exasperating language barrier because of that.  All in all they reside in a spooky old mansion and they are--The Addams Family.

Well, all is going along as per expected, when Wednesday suddenly falls in love with one of the “normals,” a young man named Lucas (Austin Peters) and they want to get married.  But that means introducing the families and there could be a bit of a disconnect, as you might expect.  Lucas’s father, Mal (Greg Prosser), a control-freak and his repressed wife, Alice (Trishelle Love) are invited to dinner where all hell breaks loose.  Even the spirits of the ancestors are invited to help but will it all end happily?  Will Fester be united with his lunar babe?  Will the dance of love be enough to win over his wife?  Will Lurch finally find his voice?  Stay tuned and see this exciting episode of…The Adams Family!

The songs/music are good and further the story along but not necessarily memorable.  What is memorable are the people doing the singing, they are terrific and sell the songs!  Taylor is perfect as Gomez and has a voice to match.  Would like to see him do the Mostel/Lane role in The Producers.  He is a gem in all his numbers and hope to see him on the “Boards” again.  Noelle, as his wife, is equally as good, having the right look/allure for the role, as well as the voice and acting chops to match.  (She is also a fine musician/music director from a past production I saw elsewhere).

Noelle and Suzuki as the offspring have a lot of talent for such young performers and should go far in the future.  Yeend is a charmer as the smitten uncle and Monday an adorable old hag.  The chorus and the “normal” family also are in very good voice, almost operatic at times.  And who can’t forget VanEaton as Lurch, in a small, mostly mute role, he shines proving once again the old adage, “there are no small roles, only small actors.”

The set by David Smith and Alex Woodward is wonderfully gloomy and perfectly accessible for such a large cast on a small stage.  The Black & White costumes by Sue Woodbury fit the show like a glove, evoking fond memories, as well as recreating an era.  Riley and Pounders, as the directors, have managed to pull off a minor miracle, trafficking a large number of actors on such a limited space.  And their casting is spot on, both vocally and acting-wise.

And I have to give a special shout-out to one of the many unsung heroes behind the scenes, my contact at BCT, their marketing person, Amanda Clark (and a fine comic actress, too, in her own right).  I spoke with her for awhile after the show and she is everything you would want in this kind of individual, enthused about the company and their mission, looking for ways to get the word out, and a genuinely very appealing presence.  There are many such people behind the scenes (which I’m sure all theatre folk would agree with) that never get the kudos they deserve.  So, I present for your approval, one of the many, Amanda Clark (applause, applause)!

I recommend this show, it’s worth the drive out.  But, a word of warning, for some complicated reasons, the theatre is very chilly, so please dress warmly (they also have blankets available).  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Jekyll & Hyde, the musical—Stumptown Stages—downtown Portland

Once Upon a…Nightmare!

This dark musical, based on the classic story by Robert Louis Stevenson, is written by Leslie Bricusse and music by Frank Wildhorn.  It is directed by Jon Kretzu, music direction by Mak Kastelic and choreography by Beth Raimer, and plays at their space in the Brunish Theatre at 1111 SW Broadway (4th floor) through October 16th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 800-273-1530 for tickets.

It is said that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.  Enter Dr. Henry Jekyll (Kirk Mouser, Artistic Director for Stumptown), in the London of the late 1800’s (breeding ground also for Jack the Ripper and Sherlock Holmes) offering to rid the world of evil.  But, like nuclear power, which can generate vast quantities of power to homes (or make bombs), what do you do with the deadly waste?  Something Jekyll doesn’t think about when performing his experiments.  What does one do with the Evil or Waste once it’s separated?  A grand plot for a thriller!

Jekyll/Hyde has been played in films by many great actors, including John Barrymore (Silent), Spencer Tracy, Jack Palance (and Mouser), who simply transformed their walk/posture and/or voice to emulate the Hyde side, relying on their acting to do the rest (by far the most difficult).  Or, like Fredric March, who is transformed into a beastly being.  Or, also interesting, Jerry Lewis, who pictures Hyde as a handsome man-about-town, Buddy Love (well-acted, too), or even Tim Daly, who has his Mrs. Hyde.  Open to interpretation, of course, but keep in mind, it is still Jekyll who unleashes his evil side upon the world.

It seems that Jekyll’s (Mouser) ideas of separating evil from our character would make the world a better place.  Only his lawyer, the steadfast, Utterson (Jess Ford), his fiancé, ever-faithful, Emma (Katie Harman) and her understanding father, Sir Danvers (Bob Sterry), seem to support him.  The rest of the Board of Governors and Society’s elite, reject him and his theories.  And so he resorts to seeking the underbelly of society to find solace.  There he meets Lucy (Kerry Ann Moriarty), the hooker with the heart of gold who aspires to something better.

And so, without a subject to experiment on, he does the inevitable (you guessed it) he uses himself as the guinea pig, and so diabolical, Mr. Hyde, is born.  This, of course doesn’t bode well for all those that opposed him and, unfortunately, for those that love him as well.  To see the outcome you will, of course, have to see the show for yourself.  An added element is that it also plays like an opera where much of the dialogue is sung, which is fitting for a tragedy such as this.

The staging is sparse, using only essential pieces of furniture/props to keep the story moving.  The costumes (Raquel Calderon) are an essential part of the plot as they set the moods for the piece, especially the vibrant red dress worn by Emma.  And the tricky but essential lighting (Demetri Pavlatos) in the crucial confrontation scene between Jekyll and Hyde is amazing and quite effective.  Kastelic and his orchestra are fine with a tricky and exhausting score.  And Kretzu has done an amazing job of managing over 20 people on a small stage and having such exceptional voices for the leads and supporting cast.

The songs are quite expressive and further the plot.  My favorites were “Someone Like You,” “No One Knows Who I Am,” and “A New Life” (Lucy); “Once Upon A Dream” (Emma) and “In His Eyes” (w/Lucy) and “Take Me As I Am” (w/Jekyll); and “This Is The Moment” (Jekyll) as well as his aforementioned, confrontation scene.  Harman is quite engaging as Emma, avoiding the stereotype of the typical lady-in-distress and giving her some real backbone.

Moriarty is extraordinary as Lucy.  Her voice is outstanding and, like Harman, avoids the ruts of playing her as the typical bad-girl victim.  She lights up the stage every time she comes on and one wants to hold her and whisk her away to a better world.  She is new to the area and my vote would be to keep her around and let her shine, as she has an amazing voice and acting talent!

Mouser does so much by using only his acting talent to depict the extremes in these two sides of the same coin.  One genuinely feels for him, a good man trying to do right, but ignorant to the fact that evil must exist in the world so that we can define what is good.  Mouser also has a terrific voice and is a fine director, as well.  I hope we get to see more of him onstage!

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

How I Learned What I Learned—Portland Playhouse—NE Portland

“A Stitch In Time”

This one-man drama about the early years of the great playwright, August Wilson, is performed by Victor Mack, directed by Kevin Jones, co-conceived by Todd Kreidler and produced in partnership with the August Wilson Red Door Project.  It is playing at their space, 602 NE Prescott St. (parking lot a couple blocks North on 6th), through October 23rd.  For more information, go to their site at

We don’t know what we don’t know.  We learn simply by being in a specific place in time and recording that in the fabric of our minds.  And, as I’ve found out, as did Wilson, it is sometimes not the big events that we encounter that move us, but in the small moments.  I remember his touching story of his first kiss.  It seemed to transform him and mark him for life…and yet, it was such a little thing.  Small moments…some memories are like that.

I remember a time, when I was a young man, I was walking with a friend at Cannon Beach and two young girls had gotten stuck on Haystack Rock when the tide was coming in.  They seemed to need rescuing and so my friend and I waded out and carried both of them back to shore.  We never saw them again but somehow that memory will be with me forever…and many more, larger events forgotten.  Such a little thing…and yet….

Wilson recalls his mother fondly, his days in the Hill District of Pittsburg doing menial jobs…mowing lawns, in the mail room, as a dishwasher, etc., just to pay the rent.  He remembers his friends in an artists’ colony, his time in jail, his school days in the Christmas Pageant, the magical music of John Coltrane, Snookie, his first real love, and an important lesson from his mother that he always adhered to, “Something is not always better than nothing.”  And, when attempting to forge his own artistic path, this advice from a fellow traveler, be aware of the “limitations of the instrument.”  One should strive to go beyond what is possible.  And, of course, his views on white vs. black culture.

We are all stories…and stories within stories…and his plays (many of which I’ve seen) reflect that, as they seem to be a stretch of narratives of various individuals from his past that form a Network called…Life.  Mack beautifully relates many of the incidents of Wilson’s life, keeping them earthbound and relatable so that all can identify with those small learning moments we all encounter.

Jones and Mack have conceived such a simple but powerful storytelling style that you wish it would never end.  One can glean what they can from his stories, and personalize, as needed, to make sense of our own existence.  That may be the beauty of Wilson’s writings, that he can hone his own truths and at the same time pass this magic on to you, so that you can do the same for your own world.

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