Sunday, April 30, 2017

The Talented Ones—Artists Repertory Theatre—SW Portland

To Dance, Perchance to Dream

This very dark comedy is a World Premier by Yussef El Guindi and directed by Jane Unger.  It is playing at their space, SW Alder St. & 16th Ave., though May 21st.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-241-1278.

This story is so full of twists and turns from the beginning, I can only reveal a thumbnail sketch of the story, lest I give away too much.  But there are a couple of sub-stories, underlying the main thread, that I can dwell on a bit.  Anyway, the plot does have some passing resemblance to an earlier work by El Guindi called, “Threesome,” which I a reviewed at PCS a couple seasons ago.  He is insightful as he dwells on relationships and how complicated they are between men and women.

This, then, is the story of three individuals:  Omar (John San Nicolas), working a mundane job while his real passion is to be a writer; his wife, Cindy (Khanh Doan), works as a nurse, but her burning desire is to be a ballet dancer;  and their best friend, Patrick (Heath Koerschgen), has no aspirations whatsoever into artistic realms.  He claims just to be an ordinary guy with “traditional” dreams of having a house, wife and kids, and maintaining a middle-class existence.  But, like all intense connections between people, “a little rain must fall.”

Two other characters key to this story are Omar (Michél Castillo) and Cindy (Madeleine Tran), the younger selves of key characters, both immigrants from other countries.  Both of them having dreams of a life without wars, poverty and a chance to be free and explore their talents.  But, as a friend of mine who is an immigrant explained, when you are not born into this country, or are of a different race, the expectations that are put on you to succeed are higher, as you not only have to be good at something—you have to be the Best!  This line of reasoning is explored in this plot as well.

Another sub-heading, that encompasses the title, is about the drive, the need, the obsession to be an artist.  I can speak personally on this, having been in the theatre arts for many years myself and, most recently, as a writer.  Many of us do have a Muse, sometimes an actual person in our lives, or sometimes, as in my case, an imaginary being that guides our artistic course.  It demands to be satisfied and nourished and, this desire, if left idle for too long, can become disruptive to the host’s being.  As in Cindy’s case, it can make you physically ill or, in Omar’s case, it can interrupt the progress of everyday, non-related activities.  In short, let it flow.  I’m sure Guindi is familiar from whence I speak.

Part of Guindi’s success as a playwright is his ability to inject humor into his story, even in the most dire of circumstances.  His characters also have an odd sort of logic as to how they approach things that, although seemingly superficial, have a “down-home” sort of sense to it.  They are like ships passing each other in a fog, seeing the outline of the other being(s) but unable to make a connection.  You may not whole-heartedly like these individuals but you do sense that somehow you know them.  The ending may be bittersweet but you do see a ray of hope trickling in.

San Nicolas portrays beautifully this conflicted character, a man who is disgustingly honest in some ways, but is having trouble balancing the practical and artistic worlds he faces.  Koerschgen’s character blunders and barges his way through life and who may be his own worst enemy.  Well done.  And Doan is terrific as the level-headed and yet passionate Cindy.  Your hearts goes out to her as she tries to navigate the “troubled waters” of reality and yet be true to her Muse.  I hope to see more of her onstage as she has a natural approach to acting which gives her an immediate believability.  Castillo is convincing as the wide-eyed young man in search of dreams.  Tran is also effective in giving us that innocence of the youth we all experienced that should never be forgotten.  She is a lovely dancer in her ballet number.

Unger certainly understands the script and the cast as she carefully weaves together a difficult tale traversing often conflicting ideals and ideas.  Sarah Jane Hardy (Artistic Director of NW Children’s Theatre) choreographed the ballet sequence and her talent shines through, as it does with all her choreography and directing.

I recommend this show but it is very adult in subject matter so not for the very young or those easily offended.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Rock, Roll and Remember—Portland Musical Theatre Company—East Portland

Music For Savage Beasts

This musical revue was conceived, created and directed by Deanna Maio (also the Founder and Artistic Director of the company).  It is playing at The Mister Theater, 1847 E Burnside (parking lot to the West of the building), through May 21st.  For more information, go to their site at or call 971-225-7469.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” as Dickens wrote, not speaking of the 30 years this music covers, of course, but the quote does seem appropriate.  It was the 50’s, the post-war era, where America was reinventing itself.  And part of any good revitalization, music was to play an important part.  And none more important on television, for reaching those “huddled masses,” than Dick Clark and American Bandstand!

The three decades they would cover were certainly some of the more turbulent years America would encounter.  There was the Cold War, the Korean conflict, and the Viet-Name era.  There were Civil Rights Marches, free love, and the drug culture.  On the screen there were the lighter Beach Party flicks (w/Annette & Frankie)  but the rebels seemed to rule, with Brando in “The Wild One,” Dean in “Rebel Without a Cause,” “Hair,” and Fonda & Hopper with “Easy Rider.” “Grease,” “Hairspray” and “Saturday Night Fever” would soon evolve out of this.  Times they certainly were “a-changin’” and the one, uniting force among the Youth for those three decades was Bandstand and it’s “music to soothe the savage beast” within.

This revue begins its nostalgic trip down memory lane with, appropriately enough, a slumber party, in which, like Dorothy and her Emerald City, or Alice and her Wonderland, we are reawakened into a splendicious new world of fun and dance, and music and singing, where cares were sung about, not fought over; conflicts were choreographed on the dance floor; and the music was in rhythm to the heartbeat of a new generation.  The magic of melodies was mesmerizing.

These few, these seven people, carry us through a selection of 30 years of music with over 50 songs in less than 90 minutes.  Whew!  They are Taylor Mead (also choreographer), Adrian Christoph, Andy Roberts, Brit Eagan, Erik Montague, Malderine Birmingham and the incomparable, Deanna Maio (also Director & Creator).  Most of the numbers are ensemble pieces with only occasional parts of them as solos.  And the songs range from Elvis and Carl Perkins, to the Beach Boys and Connie Francis, to the Village People and Michael Jackson, and everybody in-between.

I was a teen through these ages and recognized most of the songs, as well as danced (poorly) to the numbers.  The only excuse for dancing, in my opinion, was the slow numbers, where you could hold your lady “close to you.”  My, how times have changed, as we now have “friends with benefits.”  Shame on us.

And the classics are all here, too, with “Rock Around the Clock,” “Hound Dog” and “Blue Suede Shoes” from the early days, to the silly “Lollipop” and “Tutti Frutti,” to the heartbreaking “Who’s Sorry Now” and “Somebody to Love,” to the hoppin’, “Boogie Fever” and “Flashdance,” and to the kinetic dancing in “Thriller” and “Footloose.” 

The cast is super on all counts but ya can’t keep a good woman down.  Maio positively soars as she her operatic voice nearly takes the roof off the theater, and her rendition of Francis’, “Where the Boys Are” is heartfelt and stunning.  I believe we haven’t heard the last of either of these ladies.  If this show is like a loaded deck of cards, then Maio is the Queen (and should have the power to change the sexist name of the space from “Mister,” to something more inclusive).  Everything works and my one hat is off, to the several she wears, in the creation of her shows.  Looking forward to her next incarnation!

The ensemble does blend beautifully, as they not only sing and dance to the beat but also, many times, assume the attitude of characters from those eras, with their expression and costumes, which reflect the times as much as the music.  Keep in mind, this young cast was not even around as teens during that thirty year period but they recreate it to a tee. 

As Maio puts it, “Our intention is to capture the feeling, the spirit, and the energy of a show that showcased teen culture…we’re appreciators, and not impersonators…I want this show to remind you that no matter what happens, music can bring hope and joy where there was none.  It has the ability to heal us, to make us stronger and to bring us together.  Its power endures.”  Wise words for these very troubled times.

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

Medea—Imago Theatre—SE Portland

A Woman Scorned

This classical tragedy is by Euripides, adapted by Ben Powers, produced by Carol Triffle and directed and designed by Jerry Mouawad.  It is playing at their space, 17 SE 8th Ave. (just off Burnside), through May 20th (parking can be a challenge in this area, so plan your time accordingly).  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-231-9581.

It is said that, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned,” and this story is certainly the ultimate conclusion to that.  The Greeks had a powerful punch when telling a story and this is a prime example of it.  They often had a Chorus (Carla Grant, Tamara Sorelli and Lucy Paschall), which usually represented the conscience, inner thoughts and/or reactions of townspeople to the main characters and events and often spoke in unison.  One could say that every “…family has its ups and downs” but in this family, consisting of Medea (Anne Sorce), a suspected witch and ex-wife of Jason (Todd Van Voris), a military hero, with their two children (Duncan Creagle Doran and Anthony Feely), their “downs” just keeps going deeper downhill with no real “ups.”

It is on the eve of Jason’s nuptials to his new, younger bride, marrying into a family of royalty, as she is King Kreon (Sean Doran) of Corinth’s daughter.  He really has no tolerance for Medea hanging around so orders her and her sons banished from his kingdom within a day or be killed.  But she is not without friends, as she has the trust of her loyal Nurse (Madeleine Delaplane) and a friend in Aegeus (Tom Mounsey), King of the neighboring Athens, who is willing to give her sanctuary.  And, although this satisfies her to some extent, she still has the mounting lust for revenge against Jason, which must be satisfied.  But how to avail herself…?!

And now, as the Fates might exclaim, the spring is wound up tight in this clockwork world of woe.  She must tame her fury for a bit and offer an olive branch to Jason so that his guard is down and he is at his most vulnerable.  She offers a cloak of her own making as a present to his new bride.  She also agrees on a settlement with their boys that pleases him.  It is after this that she hears the results of her gifts at the wedding from an Aide (Jim Vadala) of Jason’s and so is primed for the last, desperate act in this fated drama to begin.  Of course I won’t reveal that to you but it is a revenge for the ages.

Another important character that should be mentioned is the stage itself, which tilts and is dependent on where people are standing at any given time as to which way it will land, sort of like being aboard a boat at sea during a storm.  In this case, though, the “storm” is the deep-seeded feelings the characters have for each other and the jockeying for power, as to who has the upper hand at any given point.  It is a brilliant concept and works very well.  I can only imagine the trepidation the actors felt when trying to master this balancing act.  But it works to perfection.

Mouawad, as always, gives us a production/interpretation that is totally unique and is a feast as nourishment for the eyes and soul.  We are, I believe, at the feet of creative genius when encountering productions of his and his partner, Triffle!  Sumi Wu has done a wonderful job of recreating the costumes of the period…I covet the red sash that Jason wore.  And the lighting, by Jon Farley, enhancing the moods of the piece, added greatly to the show’s success.

Van Voris is always a treasure when treading the boards.  His Jason is, to say the least, a conflicted man and he plays him with a sense of righteousness so that, although you feel Medea’s pain, you sense he is totally entrenched in his path with little regret.  Sorce must have the constitution of a lioness as her hatred and need for revenge oozes off the stage and seems to engulf the audience.  This is power from an actor and she sustains it throughout the show.  The Chorus is a perfect tribute to the old style of the in Grecian days.  Many of the rest of the cast have graced the boards in other theatres and are a real asset to this production because of their past experience.  And Delaplane, as the Nurse, and the opening and closing narrator, has an intensity that bores right through you.  I have worked with her myself and she has shown that sense of concentration even in her mid-teens.

I recommend this production but know that it is very intense.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Building the Wall—Triangle Productions!—NE Portland

Wall of Shame
This topical, Rolling World Premiere, is playing only in select theatres around the world and one of the spots is here at Triangle for a limited run.  It is written by Robert Schenkkan and directed by Donald Horn (Triangle’s Artistic Director).  It is playing at their space in the (aptly name) The Sanctuary at Sandy Plaza, 1785 NE Sandy Blvd. (parking lot to the West of the building), through April 27th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-239-5919.

It has been said that if we don’t correct the mistakes from the past, we are doomed to repeat them.  Keep that phrase in mind while watching this play.  Pope Francis, a leader in the Christian world, has said that we should be building bridges between nations, not walls, and forging positive relationships between cultures.  A wise statement, I believe.  It’s unfortunate that the leader of the Free World has chosen just the opposite approach to that sentiment.

And keep in mind, also, there is more than one way to create walls to keep people out besides just physically.  After watching this play, it also put me in mind of a book and film called, “Voyage of the Damned,” in which a Scandinavian liner in the early part of WWII carried a number of Jewish refugees from Germany to seek asylum in other countries and were turned away by everyone.  I also recall “Andersonville,” a prison camp during the Civil War, which was overcrowded and many prisoners died because of starvation, lack of medical attention and exposure.  And, lest we forget, the Nuremberg Trials after WWII.

I draw your attention to the above incidents because they will figure into the plot of this play, but can’t give away specifics because those should be left up to the audience to discover. The story takes place in the very near future, 2019, after Trump’s Wall has been built, in a prison in El Paso, Texas.  A history professor, Gloria (Andrea Whittle Vernae), wants to do a story on a prisoner named, Rick (Gavin Hoffman).  It seems he has been involved in a major incident that has taken on international significance.  He, himself, was raised in a military family with a harsh abusive father and a drunk, and a very religious mother, so his upbringing consisted of learning discipline of body and soul.

He ran away from home as a teenager doing odd jobs, finally joining the army and became an MP, enjoying the rigid life style the military offered him.  Rick is a Republican and was a Trump supporter because he liked the way he was always bursting bubbles of the “high and mighty.”  He eventually got married and his military background was helpful when he secured a job with a detention facility on the border for deportees back to Mexico.  More I cannot tell you as I would be a spoiler.

As far as Gloria, she grew up with the usual struggles of being a black women trying to make a mark for herself, eventually becoming a professor of history at a university.  She hopes, through this interview that, from a historical point of view, we can learn an important lesson from what has happened to Rick and the incident that he was involved with and went to trial for.  Again, can’t tell you more without giving away the end but, trust me, it’s a doozey!

Just recently we had seen major incident in Paris, again another terrorist attack.  Also, there is the use of chemical weapons from Syria’s dictator against his own people.  The relationship with Russia and North Korea is at an all-time low.  But, even more disturbing to me, mainly because the international tensions will always be there no matter what, are the individual, senseless, seemingly random attacks against innocents:  School shootings, the man who shot a stranger in the face and filmed it, the misuse of the social media, the lighting on fire of a customer at a restaurant…all highly disturbing because they can’t be predicted.

I believe it is time for us to be “our brother’s keeper,” to reach out to those in need and, if necessary, tear down the walls that confine us (remember the fate of the Berlin Wall).  It would be nice to think that political figures, who have the influence, could use it for good instead of their own self-interests but, Rick may be right when he says that all politicians lie, it just part of the game.  So it may be up to the Gloria’s of the world to examine history and uncover the fallacies that are stumbling blocks for future generations (and things that have worked, as well).  It is up to parents/teachers to instill values in our children that will embrace diversities and differences in people.  In my opinion, the Arts are a good springboard for that because it instills confidence in Youth, unites them in teamwork and provides a safe haven for them to explore different ideas through their talents.  In short, it teaches one how to think, not just mimic facts.  Be inclusive!

Both actors are super and very believable to their presentations of diverse thoughts.  Although the play may be sedentary, its ideas are explosive so you are never bored.  There is also a cleaver video showing just before the play, exposing some the pitfalls of Trump’s Wall, which we are paying for, by the way, taking away tax money from our local Coast Guard, federal funding for the Arts, many national social services, et. al.  And a special thanks to Don Horn and his forthright policy of always giving us fodder for thought and being inclusive in his attitude toward the larger picture.  His productions are always a revelation, an education, and entertaining, as well.  May He Live Long and Prosper!

I highly recommend this show, but it has a limited run so get tickets soon.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Orphans—Young Professionals Company—NE Portland

Family Angst

This drama is written by Lyle Kessler and directed by Val Landrum.  It is playing at Oregon Children’s Theatre’s home location, 1939 NE Sandy Blvd., through April 30th (adult language used).  For more information, go to their site at

We all have had parents and gone through the normal family angst.  But some are raised as orphans, never having had a real family and, therefore, the world outside seems like an alien atmosphere to them, having never experienced the love and direction a parent would give as to how to adapt to it.  In this story we have two teenagers, sisters, living in an abandoned home in one the poorer sections of Philadelphia.  Treat (Maya Caulfield) is the eldest and definitely rules with an iron fist.  She is violent, inconsiderate and a control freak, the alpha wolf.  Her younger sibling, Phillip (Emma Goldman-Fish), is pretty much the opposite of Treat.  She is child-like, timid, has all sorts of allergies, can’t write, can barely read and has never been outside her home.

Treat makes a meager living for them as a pick-pocket and petty thief.  She even resorts to some violence if provoked, like a cornered animal in a cage would.  She is over-protective of her sister, not wanting to expose her to the outside elements, possibly for fear of losing her, and Phillip is fully dependant on her.  It is an odd sort of bond, a dysfunctional family unit of sorts, but themselves without the guidance of parents and values.  They are as a ship drifting in the fog, without a beacon to point them to a safe haven.  They are the lost children of a never-land, who may never grow up.

Into this shaky world, an adult is thrust, Harold (James Farmer), himself an orphan as a child.  Treat kidnaps him easily from a bar, as he is too drunk to resist.  He sees Treat as the ultimate Dead-End Kid from the movies, surly, reckless, angry, but has certain street smarts.  Treat finds his briefcase has stock and bonds in it so assumes he is a wealthy man and decides to hold him for ransom.  He is tied up as Treat leaves to investigate his contacts.  Meanwhile, Harold befriends Phillip and, over a course of time, begins to teach her about the outside world, giving her encouragement, hope, which doesn’t sit well with Treat, as she senses she is losing her control over this family.  More I cannot tell you without spoiling the climax but know that it is bittersweet.  I left with a tear in my eye.

This is a story that sneaks up on you.  At the beginning it seems like just a simple story of some petty thieves trying to survive, like in Dickens’, “Oliver Twist.”  But it grows into something a lot more, as it takes on its own mantle and becomes a parable of sorts on control, freedom, values, direction, Life and, yes, even Love.  Landrum knows acting, being a fine one herself, and has carefully led her performers through calm, humor, hurt, rage and enlightenment, as the audience feels the progress themselves and, in the end, are moved by it.

It is also evident that this company, led by Dani Baldwin, OCT’s Education Director, has the smarts to do training and plays that reflect realistically the environment they are now existing in and allowing them a safe haven in which to explore the conflicting feelings that they must have in navigating this bumpy trail.  I can’t emphasize enough the importance of their school and the education they are getting, stressing teamwork, self-confidence and the freedom to express themselves and explore those feeling in a safe environment.  Public education has all but abandoned the Arts so it is up to these private institutions to reenergize them for the sake of our Youth and future generations!

Farmer underplays the role of Harold and it works wonderfully, allowing the two Youths to express the frustrations of their plight.  Goldman-Fish is a revelation as Phillip, as we see her grow from a scared rabbit to a determined lioness, as she matures before your eyes.  She is excellent in the role and is definitely destined for an onstage career if she wishes it.  Caulfield is amazing.  She tears up the stage as she rants and rages but you know behind those bravados there is a wiser being beneath.  She dominates the stage, even when in one of her quieter, inquisitive moods, and you can actually see her thinking, weighing things, as she prowls the stage.  This is an outstanding performance and she will be a talent to be reckoned with as she matures in the Arts!  (A side note, I cast Maya in a film when she was 12—based on Dani’s recommendation—and she had that mesmerizing concentration even then).

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

Berlin Diary—hand2mouth—NW Portland

Lost Memories

This two-character play, based on real life incidents, is written by Andrea Stolowitz, directed by Jonathan Walters and co-produced by CoHo Productions.  It is playing at the CoHo space, 2257 NW Raleigh St. (parking is a challenge in this area, so plan your time accordingly), through April 30th.  For more information, go to their site at

Memories are tricky things.  Sometimes things you thought happened, actually never did; sometimes they are buried and/or are too dramatic to recall; and some are simply imagined.  Family angst and dysfunction are also very complicated things, as they are often based on childhood memories of wrongs, real or imagined.  Keeping a diary is one way of keeping memories fresh…but what if important things are deliberately kept out of it like, in Stolowitz’s case, the fate of relatives during a major event called, the Holocaust!

Perhaps the most famous diary of that era was from a pre-teen, Jewish girl named, Anne Frank, who died in the camps with most of her family.  But even in all her anguish, her words of wisdom toward the end were most remarkable, as she wrote that she still thought “…people are basically good.”  Amazing!  “Out of the mouth of babes…”  But, in this case, the Berlin Diary is not quite so specific, and yet, when you dig deeper, it reveals not so much what was said but what was left…unsaid.

The character of Stolowitz is divided into two characters as she tells the story of her discoveries.  Damon Kupper and Erin Leddy play her split personalities, as well as all the other characters she encounters, including the author of the diary, Dr. Max, one of his patients with a “pressing” problem, various relatives of hers and voices from the past.  These transitions are all done with the very minimum of props…a shawl here, glasses, maybe, and slight changes in voice patterns and posture.  All brilliant!

It seems records at the time were scarce in some cases and even misleading.  Records or births and deaths were also elusive.  But the one thing that was clear, was that her family was scattered and really had little contact with each other and, whenever they did, they usually were at odds.  There had to be a reason.  Was there a family secret that was being covered up?  A hidden trove in the closet somewhere?  A missing link there was…but what?

What she did discover was that her relatives were incommunicado when it came to talking of the past in Germany.  She also found out that many Jews from Israel and other countries were moving back to Germany, the homeland of many of their relatives.  Her kinfolk, who died there, wished to leave a legacy for the living, the survivors.  But the legacy she discovered from her family was all but obliterated.  Why?  It was only when a hidden postscript to the diary surfaced that she would decipher the last bit of the puzzle.  Obviously, to tell more, would give away discoveries an audience should make….

The play itself works like a good mystery, slowly sucking you into what, on the surface, seems like a fairly ordinary story.  But, as it progresses, little nuggets arise and the plot thickens.  Soon it has you engulfed in the happenings and, in the end, perhaps moved by them.  Walters has done a very good job of keeping the story moving, as well as characters and incidents clear, not an easy task, given the circumstances.  And the two actors, Kupper and Leddy, are terrific!  They are not only competing entities in the same consciousness but also play a whole raft of characters she encounters on her journey.  How they kept them straight in their own heads would be a story in itself, I’m sure.  (Perhaps the very good animated movie, “Inside Out,” would give you some idea of dueling factions inside us.)

I recommend this play, especially for the amazing talent onstage, both acting and writing.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

A Maze—theatre vertigo—SE Portland

The Rat Race

This bizarre, surreal comedy is written by Rob Handel and directed by Nate Cohen.  It is playing at the Shoebox Theatre, 2110 SE 10th Ave., through May 13th.  For more information, go to their site at

Have you heard the one from the late, great improve comedian, Paul Lynde, about describing Life as a rat race in a maze and, “…the rats are winning!”  This is an appropriate analogy for this show, as that they do tell jokes and create stories within it.  The play has some resemblance to a book/movie of some years ago called, “The Collector,” as well as “The Matrix” and the more recent, “Room.”  It is about people being trapped and finding their way in, or out, of a maze, as part of the plot.

We all feel at some point in our lives, I’m sure, that we have a purpose in the larger scheme of things.  Some call this realization, this yearning, a gut feeling, a talent, a Muse, guiding or pushing them toward an unsubstantiated end result.  If we follow it, we will be happy or at peace.  But, make no doubt it, it can be an obsession.  This passion, or drive, can be likened to a cruel mistress, as it demands all your attention and energy.

Discovering your purpose is not as easy as you might think, as we are constantly being bombarded from the outside world and people with their expectations of us, and part of our DNA is to please people, so we easily get side-tracked, trapped, in a maze, often of our own design.  Such it is with these characters.

Jessica (Kaia Maarja Hillier) had been kidnapped when she was nine years old and finally, at seventeen, she has escaped.  Her captor is also, in a way, trapped in his own world of writing, in which he is being unceremoniously led through a labyrinth of mazes, creating a medieval world which he doesn’t fully comprehend, and often acted out with his captive.  In it, there is a Queen (Josie Seid) and her husband King (James Dixon), that are creating a maze to keep people out.
There is another world of artists, too, in which a graphic comic artist, Beeson (Nathan Dunkin) and a fellow rock musician, Paul (Nathan Crosby), are in a rehab center, run by Tom (R. David Wyllie), to get off their addiction to drugs, a common side-effect for artists, it seems.  Paul is aptly supported by his partner in the band and lover, Oksana (Shannon Mastel).

And finally, the real world intrudes on this artistic venue, as Jessica escapes from her captivity and wants to tell the world her story of survival on a highly touted TV program hosted by Kim (Paige McKinney).  Also, the world of rock music may also be united with the storytelling artist.  All these worlds eventually merge in a way and come to a head.  As reality and the imaginary, the windmills of one’s minds, all collide and the outcomes of such a conglomeration will be determined.  We all have stories, and stories within stories, and are also part of each other’s stories.  It’s a broad and complicated maze out there we all live in.  I’ve only given you a sketch of these tales for fear of giving away too much.

The setting by Tyler Buswell is simple but very inventive, love his kitchen design.  The artist, Russell Foltz-Smith, has some super graphics which add to the success of the show.  And the original songs/music, evidently created by the cast/crew, works very well in the environment.  The director, Cohen, has done an outstanding job of marrying all these varying portions together with his cast, into a surprisingly coherent narrative.  You can always rely on theatre vertigo to knock your socks off with the concepts they present, as well as awaking parts of your psyche to alternate possibilities of art.

The cast is uniformly exceptional, playing a variety of roles, many of them company members.  Hillier and Dunkin are worth noting as standing out in an outstanding cast.  Hillier comes from good stock as her sister, Clara, is one of the better actors in the area.  She has also been in shows at Bag & Baggage, too, and always worth watching onstage.  Dunkin is also a seasoned actor of Portland theatres and always creates interesting characters, usually with a bit of an edge inherent.

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

Thursday, April 13, 2017

This Random World—Portland Actors Conservatory—SW Portland

Proof of Life

This surrealistic comedy is written by Steven Dietz and directed by Beth Harper (PAC’s Artistic Director and Founder).  It is playing at their space, 1436 SW Montgomery St., through April 23rd (it is only street parking, so plan your time accordingly).  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-274-1717.

This story has similarities to the very good play that has been done in this area, “Almost Maine,” as it’s seemingly about random incidents/people that are, in reality, connected in some ways.  They are also about the search for love, life and a person’s purpose in it.  Some believe that Life itself is a random act and that there is no Supreme Force that has created or guiding it/them.  Others believe we are here for a Purpose and that our spirit will keep coming back until we achieve it.

But one thing is evident in Dietz’s interpretation, is that we are all interconnected and part of each other’s stories, as they are part of ours.  “No man is an island” and so we must find out how we plug into the circuits of Life and the World surrounding it.  With some, it may be a unique talent or skill or craft.  With others, it may be helping them to achieve their purpose and light their way.  But, bottom line, we must strive to make our mark, develop our legacy, so that we have proof we were here and have lived.

In this microcosm of the world, we meet Scottie (Kathleen Worley), a woman nearing the end of her life, whose sole passion now is traveling the world to see all that she may have missed.  She does this with her companion of a number of years, Bernadette (Melissa Buchta) who, one senses, is a bit world-weary at this point and so offers her sister, Rhonda (Tyharra Cozier), as her traveling buddy this time on her excursion to Japan, to find an elusive garden of contemplation.  It seems Scottie has a specific ritual to perform in order to complete her Life’s journey.

One quirk in Scottie’s existence, though, is that she refuses to inform her children of these excursions into the unknown because she feels that they would just worry needlessly and might hamper her plans.  Her daughter, Beth (Kristin Barrett), is a traveler, too, and is off this time to climbing mountains in Nepal (possibly, like her mother, to find a certain solace missing in everyday life).  Her son, Tim (Jacob Beaver), is of a different breed, in that he can’t seem to hold a job or even a girlfriend.  But his last one, Claire (Christa Helms), who has just been dumped by her boyfriend, Gary (John D’Aversa), still carries a torch for Tim.  Believe it or not, there is a point to all these seemingly random characters.

Oddly, all these people connect with each other and, as I’ve mentioned before, to the other’s story.  To discover the connection, you’ll have to see the play.  And, being the play does go all over the world, the designer, Max Ward, has cleverly created a sort of “screen play,” in which the removal or addition of screens changes the setting.  Also Ward has created a mist/rain effect for the end of the show, which is quite compelling.  Harper has taken a very intriguing and complicated story and streamlined it so that it is understandable.  And she, being a fine teacher, too, has led her students, in the majority of roles, into an intricate journey of the artistic mind, letting less, in their emoting, actually being more satisfying.

The cast were all good and Worley, an icon in local theatre for many years, is both winsome and thoughtful in a carefully modulated performance.  She always has been a talent to be reckoned with as a director/teacher herself, as well as an actor.  There are no false moves in any of these performances and the story, like a good mystery, will keep you fascinated till the end.

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

Monday, April 3, 2017

Lauren Weedman Doesn’t Live Here Anymore—Portland Center Stage--Pearl District

Deconstruction of “Tami Lisa”

This World Premiere of this one-woman show is written by, and stars, Lauren Weedman, and is directed by Rose Riordan.  It is playing at their space in The Armory, 128 NW 11th Ave., through April 30th (finding parking is a major problem in this area, so plan your time accordingly).  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-3700.

The title of Weedman’s show may not only refer only to a physical location but also her emotional/mental state as well.  It is somewhat reminiscent of Bette Midler’s great pseudo-bio film of Janis Joplin called, The Rose.  It speaks volumes about an entertainer’s fragile state of being, as one tries to cope with Fame.  Fame is unrelenting in its demands on a person, as you try to please everyone, fans, friends, managers, crew, et. al.,  and end up often on that slippery slope, relying on drugs and alcohol for your solace, ending up deconstructing yourself.

“Stop the World, I Want To Get Off,” Weedman’s character, Tami Lisa, her alter-ego, a country-pop star singer, seems to be screaming.  In front of a crowd of fans she introduces guests, including Lucinda Williams, her husband, Roman (also a singer), her babysitter, et. al. and even attempts to chat with her band, who are all totally tongue-tied.  She attempts to channel songs from her contemporaries, such as Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, Helen Reddy, Neil Sedaka, Dolly Parton, Neil Diamond and many others, which she succeeds at with gusto.  All the time running a non-stop patter for fear that, if coming up for air, she might see the vacuum she actually lives in called Her Life.  “Life is something that happens while you’re waiting to die,” might be her mantra.

Also, while she is on this rapid-fire journey through the show, she attempts to tell jokes that her writers have dug up from past comedians, all very lame.  She also reads and answers questions from the audience, also a dead-end.  It seems that she is ready for anything Life has to thrust at her, except Life itself.  In her journey of attempting to express herself and please others, she has forgotten to carve out a little corner of the world for herself.  She is a “hard-looking woman,” trying to find herself through others.  In the end, when all is said and done, she may discover that the only persona she needs to satisfy, is the one looking back at her in the glass.  When ‘tis done, Peace will follow.

The energy Weedman exudes in this ceaseless, spontaneous trajectory through the cosmos is remarkable!  She is a force-of-nature and unstoppable, as her talent explodes, playing all the various supporting characters in her entourage, as well as singing, dancing and playing her way through a myriad of songs.  She is an unmovable force in a very moving performance.  And, as I understood at this show, she actually wasn’t feeling all that well.  Now, that’s a professional, as not for one second did I sense she wasn’t giving 100% on that stage!

Riordan , I’m sure, has been a good sounding board for Weedman and kept an objective eye on the pacing of the show, and it’s evident in its success.  My own personal observation, as well as two friends who were with me (who also enjoyed the production immensely), is that the show might be even more dynamic on a more intimate stage.  But, with that aside, it is spectacular.  Also credit should be given to the two, backstage musicians, Tim Sonnefeld (guitar) and Ji Tanzer (percussion), who provided live music for the show.

I recommend this show, especially for Weedman’s whirlwind performance.  If you do see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.