Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Constellations—Portland Center Stage—Pearl District

“Star-Crossed Lovers”

This existential, dark comedy is written by Nick Payne and directed by Chris Coleman (PCS’s Artistic Director).  It is playing at their space at The Armory, 128 NW 11th Ave., through June 11th (parking can be a challenge in this area, so plan your time accordingly).  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-445-3700.

“If we are Here, then we’re not There.  And, if There, then we are not Here” (anonymous).  If you understood that statement, then you have a clue as to the complexity of the subject matter this play is dealing with.  It is, in an odd way, really a love story, since those are proverbially, “…stories as old as time.”  But it is related in such as way, with just two characters, Marianne (Dana Green) and Roland (Silas Weir Mitchell), with minimal set and props, that it is very identifiable to many romances.

It is also told in such way as it encompasses, not only many years, but many dimensions, and so the outcomes of the story are multilayered.  Theories do exist that there are multiple, perhaps, infinite, alternate universes out there and there would be just as many outcomes for relationships, as well.  And so, the style of the story has many hiccups, starts and stops, as some of them are explored, but in bits and pieces.

Two strangers meet, such as Marianne and Roland, but in some scenarios they never consummate the relationship.  After a few false starts, they do connect and move in together, with varying results.  Some possible outcomes, have them getting married, or splitting up, finding other mates, becoming friends later on, and even dealing with tragedy together.  The possibilities are endless.  And the style of this play, in a sort of stream-of-consciousness way, provides peeks into many of them and, if told in a linear way, following only one of the possible plots, would takes only a few minutes.

Another way of looking at it is to picture those moments when you knew you were at a crossroads in your life, and made a decision that would carve a path in another direction.  I know I can think of a few instances and have always wondered what would have been alternate outcomes for me if I had chosen a different direction.  Now, multiply that curiosity a hundred times to other possible outcomes, and you will have an inkling of what this play is postulating.  So, without being a spoiler, I can’t reveal any more of the plot because, for one reason, I have already given you a thumbnail sketch of it in the above paragraph and, for another, the story is not the point, the style is, and you will have to view that for yourself.

Coleman has done an excellent job of keeping the audience engaged by subtle movements of the characters, pauses and employing bits of business that keep one’s attention.  His casting of the two actors is spot on, as both Green and Mitchell are perfect in these parts.  How the devil they memorized all the stops and starts this piece has, and not gotten confused, is beyond me.  They are amazing!  The clever set design by Jason Sherwood and lighting by William C. Kirkham, to connect the passages of time and space, greatly help with the success of this production, too.

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

Vanport Mosaic Festival—Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center—N. Portland

Phoenix Rising

“Staged readings of two new one-act plays about the American Dream, displacement & Hurricane Katrina from the African American perspective.”  This is part of the Vanport Mosaic Festival.  The plays are “Hercules Don’t Wade in the Water” by Michael A. Jones and directed by Damaris Webb and “American Summer Squash” by Don W. Glenn and directed by Jocelyn Seid.  They are playing at the IFCC space, 5340 N. Interstate Ave., through June 4th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 971-319-0156.

I’m going to go out on a limb (as I often do) and give my own personal impressions/take/flavor of the stories.  I’m sure everyone’s aware from recent news pieces that prejudice and racism have, like an ostrich, raised its ugly head from the sand and is again creating havoc.  But my perspective is that a Cause, a People, if it is truly just, will prevail against all odds and, like the fabled Phoenix, rise from the ashes of ignorance and hate, and have its day in the sun.  No doubt, probably naïve on my part, that the forces of Light will always defeat the forces of Evil and, if you persist long enough on this Field of American Dreams, it will come to pass.  “If you build it, they will come.”

The first offering, “Hercules…,” is about two couples at crossroads in their lives.  Tupelo (La’Tevin Alexander) and Charmaine (Anya Pearson) both very hard working individuals, are barely keeping their heads above water, trying to put food on the table and pay the skyrocketing rent in their “modest” apartment in Chicago.  Their best friends, Maxine (Andrea Vernae) and Eugene (Seth Rule), are also diligent workers but have had a tragedy in their family that seems to be pulling them apart.  The sacrifice they make for honest labor is that they have no time for growing as couples.  Tupelo is eventually sent, with his friend, Youngblood (Eric Island), to New Orleans for work and they get caught up in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

The second play, “…Squash,” has a family dealing with the aftermath of the storm in Texas, near the border, close to New Orleans.  The righteous, Rev. Ratcliff (Anthony P. Armstrong) is living with his son, the lazy, Slidell (Jasper Howard), in a truck, sitting on the property of their elder, Lucille (Arlena Barnes), who owns a trailer.  There is much discussion as to accepting God’s Will or railing against this fate.  Into their already turbulent lives appear the brassy, bouncy, belligerent, Sweet 16 (Damaris Webb) and her new-found friend, the young Catfish (Rickey Junior).  She is the long-time mate of Slidell and is out to just have fun.  Sparks fly when all these spicy elements are dumped into an already bubbling stew.  Can’t tell you too much about both these plays without giving away plot devices.

What these plays have in common, besides the obvious thread of the storm, is that they both involve the storms that are already brewing within these individuals and the hurricane seems to be the tipping spot in which climaxes are reached.  They are all also about flawed, but very human people that, when the cards are stacked against them, rally and will rise again.  Their “once upon a time” story might end with “…and the lived [hopefully] ever after.”

Both plays are very well written and, it is not long into them, that you forget that the cast actually has scripts in their hands.  They are so adept as actors, that the pages disappear, and they become the characters they are portraying, thanks to some excellent casting and also narration by Kenneth Dembo.  Both directors have kept the movement fluid and, although in the first play, by Jones, they are different settings over several months of time, you never get lost.  And the second play, by Glenn, has shades of the great writer, August Wilson, as a few of the characters have interesting monologues that reveal their back-stories.

I recommend these plays.  You might check their website, too, as to other events that are connecting to them.  If you do choose to see them, please tell them that Dennis sent you.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Thom Paine (based on nothing)—Crave Theatre—SE Portland

A Creator’s Raffle

This one-man play by Will Eno, starring the one and only, Todd Van Voris, and directed by its co-founder, Sarah Andrews, is an opening act for a new theatre in town.  Crave is playing this production at the Shoe Box Theater, 210 SE 10th Ave., through June 11th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 360-931-5664.

This play, like many theatre pieces now, is not so much what it’s about but how it’s presented, a sort of realistic expressionism, if you like.  The story, as such, is about a little boy, “Thom” (Van Voris), who has grown up but has never forgotten when tragedy struck his life and his innocence was lost.  He had more sad experiences throughout his existence and has learned that to survive pain one must embrace it as not so much a part of Life but, perhaps, as Life itself.

His story is related in a haphazard, stream-of-consciousness way, as if trying to avoid the issue, the pain, so he distracts himself with whatever occurs to him at the time, a lame joke, a raffle, making a patron disappear, flirting with the audience…any kind of babble that bubbles up in his brain at the time.  As if avoiding Life/Pain (really living, in other words), will somehow deaden it.  There is no doubt that when Innocence/Paradise is lost, there is a fierce need to vainly try to reclaim it.

Is that what the author is trying to tell us?  Possibly, but maybe not.  What is more important is what effect it has on the listener, the viewer.  What does it mean to you?  The above is my synopsis of the story but, as just mentioned, it is more than that.  And, with that in mind, I will give you the flavor of the presentation, as experienced through my eyes and ears.  The writing, the style of story-telling, by the way, has much in common with Vonnegut, such as “Slaughterhouse Five” or “From Time to Timbuktu” and Pinter, such as “Krapp’s Last Tape,” if you need a point of comparison.

Anyway, my take of his perspective:  Child connecting with reality/death through lightning…fear of love…higher aspirations dashed…instant gratification…awareness…lost in the universe…a grain upon a grain…blind spots all around…repetition vs. originality…personality forms at night, in the darkness…mystery of the breeding years…inner life…what speaks to me…be stable, said the trainer to the horse…body vs. mind vs. memories…images of self…intermingling…stories within others’ stories…trying….  -All colors of the rainbow, all gears of the windmills of the mind.

But, another perspective, and one I like, from the Director/Co-Founder, Andrews, her reflection of the play, “…challenges us to consider what happen if we, as humanity, in particular, as a country, all cared about each other a little bit more…it would be a start.”    This hits home especially with the turmoil in our country, the world, is in now.  Like I said, all sorts of interpretations here and all valid, I believe.

The play is done in a cabaret, black-box style, which I’ve always liked, because it forces attention on the story, the artists and the audience’s imagination with nothing getting in the way of the artistic experience.  Andrews has done a wonderful job of keeping the story just out of balance enough that you feel yourself scooting closer to the action to make sure you’re not missing anything.

And her choice of an actor for the lead, Van Voris…well, let me put it this way, his talent is so far-reaching that he could be reading the phone book and you’d marvel at it!  He really is so good that, as disjointed as the piece appears, you still feel a symbiotic relationship with him, as you accept what he is saying and believe in his plight.  A rare gift that all actors strive for.  His careful phrasing, his subtle nuances, his improvisational style, his pregnant pauses full of meaning…all perfect for this character.  He is one of a few actors that I’d go see the show simply knowing that he was going to be part of it!  May he live long and prosper.

This is the first outing for this company and, on the quality they have exhibited here, I don’t think it will be their last.  There are nearly a hundred groups, I believe now, in the greater Portland area.  So one might ask themselves, why another?  The answer is simple.  Artistic quality, vision and passion know no bounds, except those you put on yourself.  Art will out!

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

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Importance of Being Earnest—Artists Repertory Theatre—SW Portland

“What a Web We Weave”

This classic comedy of manners by Oscar Wilde is directed by Michael Mendelson.  It is playing at their space, SW Alder St. & 16th Ave., through June 11th.  For more information, go to their site at  or call 503-241-1278.

In this time of great turmoil, one might ask themselves, is this piece of fluff even appropriate to be staged at this particular time.  My answer would be, it is imperative that we have just such a distraction, so that we can better deal with the strife and stress going on around us in this country and the world.  In the time of the Great Depression of the early thirties, the most popular films were the Busby Berkley musicals, full of fluff and frolic.  It was just what the world needed then, and what the country needs now.  A little perspective, please, so that we can get on with our lives!

Wilde, and Noel Coward, too, wrote about worlds in which the idle rich had nothing better to do than loll around and tend gardens, drink tea, go to parties and the theatre, write diaries, change clothes constantly and gossip.  And, of course, talking about the opposite sex was of paramount importance.  Love was simply a word without a foundation.  To these two writers credit, though, they were not without their serious side, Coward having written, “Brief Encounter,” and Wilde, “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” both excellent stories but the Public wanted the fluff and nonsense back.

And so we have two very rich and eligible bachelors, good friends to the end, Algernon (Ayanna Berkshire), sometimes known as Bunberry, and Jack (Jamie M. Rea), sometimes known as Earnest, both gallivanting Town and Country, to keep from getting bored and, of course, the quest to find true love.  But Jack has his eye on Gwendolyn (Kailey Rhodes), a cousin of Algy’s.  And Algy has his eye on Cecily (Crystal Ann Muñoz), Jack’s ward.  But, in those days, no marriages would dare take place without the approval of the parent, and so we have Algy’s mother, Lady Bracknell (Linda Alper), applying the third degree to Jack, if he is to marry Algy’s cousin, Gwendolyn.

It seems the important aspects that a gentleman should have are that they smoke, are of an appropriate age, have titled parentage, are ignorant, have fashionable homes and properties, and, of course, have money.  You’ll notice nothing is mentioned of love or a job.  To add to these complications, we have the serving class, which like in Shakespeare’s plays, sometimes hold the key to various mysteries.  In this case there is Miss Prism (Vana O’Brien), Cecily’s tutor, who is sweet on Rev. Chasuble (JoAnn Johnson), the local clergyman.  And then there are the butlers for the two houses, Lane and Merriman (Sarah Lucht), who have their own perspective of this vain, vapid and vacant world of the idle rich.

And if you think that is complicated, believe me, “you ain’t seen nuthin’ yet.”  Really can’t tell you any more, as all these, games, masks, deceptions and mysteries should be sorted out and discovered by the audience.  But, know that, in the end, there is an “earnest” effort to set things right!

This is an outstanding cast, as I am familiar with all of them, sans one, and they have all been an asset to past productions in which they have graced the stage, this one being no exception.  Lucht is a scream as the “servant of two masters.”  Berkshire and Rea are perfect as the young men, battling wits, to find love.  Rhodes and Muñoz are enchanting and lovely as the femme fatales of a bygone era.  Alper, as the epitome of Wilde’s voice of social satire, is terrific.  O’Brien is a treasure and, in my opinion, is always a highlight in every show she does, including this one.  And Johnson is wonderful as the slightly naughty representation of the religious aspect of Wilde’s wit.  The costumes are marvelous, in the hands of the designer, Bobby Brewer Wallin, colorful and fitting the period, as is the art deco, black and white, sparse set by Megan Wilkerson.

This show depends on its success from Wilde’s clever language and a very inventive director.  The sight gags and timing are crucial to the production’s success, and Mendelson, an actor’s director, is perfect for the job.  He has chosen a super cast and has pulled out all the stops to get the needed humor out of the situation.  It was a full house and the show got a well-deserved standing ovation, so Mendelson should be proud of what he has wrought!

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

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Anatomy of Gray—Mask & Mirror Community Theatre—Tigard, OR

The Age of Discovery

This comedy-drama is written by Jim Leonard, Jr. and directed by Sarah Ominski.  It is playing at the Calvin Church, 10445 SW Canterbury Lane in Tigard, through May 21st.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-333-1139.

As Dickens famously wrote, in his opening to a classic novel, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” and so it is, too, with any age of discovery.  The years just after the end of the Civil War for America, through the thirties, were times of monumental changes and profound revelations.  Moving pictures, the end of slavery, women’s voting right, prohibition, the stock market crash, not to mention another War in Europe, electricity and the telephone, industrialization, et. al.  Medicine/health was not to be dismissed either, as they, too, were at the vanguard of change.  Leeches and home remedies were out and blood typing, pasteurization, quarantines, autopsies, sterilization from germs, etc. was in, or soon would be.

The time of this story is the mid-West of the 1880’s, the infancy of these changes.  But this is not just a history lesson but sprinkled with odds bits of parallels to other stories and characters, such as Professor Marvel from the Oz tales; a salute to Wilder’s, “Our Town,” both in story-telling style and personas; and, by the end, homage to, perhaps the most famous birth in history.  Ominski, the director, has the unenviable job of keeping it all together with just a few props, some authentic-looking period clothing by Viola Pruitt, nicely rendered, and some effective lighting by Brian Ollom.  And this cornucopia of oddities and tributes works surprisingly well and gives us a sample of a microcosm of human behavior having to deal, sometimes harshly, with change.

I really can’t tell you a whole lot about the plot, as much of it concerns devices which the audience should discover.  But the story has to do with a rural community, consisting of June (Caitriona Johnston), a teenager, and her mother, Rebekah (Renae Iversen), having just buried the patriarch of the family at the beginning of the play.  Pastor Winfield (Ted Schroeder) and his maiden sister, Tiny (Donna Haub), seem to be the head of a rather religious township.  Other prominent citizens seem to be a dedicated farmer, Crutch (John Knowles), and his wife, Belva (Pat Romans); Maggie (Emily Smith), a bit of a gossip, who runs the town eatery and watering hole; and Homer (Linh Nguyen), although a friendly chap, a bit of a ne’er-do-well when it comes to actually working.  As well as a host of town-folk that, go with the flow.

Into their lives appears a doctor out of the blue (literally), Galen Gray (Aaron Morrow), who is a god-send to some, for other than medical reasons in some cases, and a curse to others,  as home remedies for ailments seem to be a thing of the past.  As he roots himself into the town, some radical changes must be made in their lives, which are not always welcome because, as a harbinger of progress, he alienates tried and accepted ways of dealing with health concerns and introduces, what some would consider, invasive ways of dealing with sickness.  And here is where I have to leave off, as the rest is for an audience’s eyes and ears only.  But a major medical issue will manifest itself and all their lives will change forever.

I’ve always liked the story-telling approach to plays, as it rests solely on an actor’s talent, the author’s words and an audience’s imagination to relate the story.  This production lends well to that philosophy.  Morrow, as the key character, does very well with the role, having to waver back and forth between being understanding with folks and yet needing to introduce new ways of dealing with things.  Smith and Knowles do very well in giving us a sample of rural mentality of over a hundred years ago.  And, Johnston, as another focal character, is extremely good, revealing the angst of a youth, not entrenched yet with the old ways but curious and eager to be exposed to the new.  A difficult role but she does it well.  It would be good to see more of her onstage.

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

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Godspell—Lakewood Theatre Company—Lake Oswego

“…And a Child Shall Lead Them”

This rock musical from the early 70’s is written by John-Michael Tebelak, music by Stephen Schwartz, directed and choreographed by Michael Snider, with music direction by Cyndy Ramsey-Rier.  It is playing at their space, 368 S. State St. in Lake Oswego (plenty of parking at the rear of the building), through June 11th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-635-3901.

This was the era of “Hair” and “Jesus Christ, Superstar,” too.  It was a time of protest, both against the war in Nam and also for the Civil Rights of individuals in this country.  The time was ripe for revolution, as it was some 2,000 years ago.  And the setting (designed by the, always marvelous, John Gerth) is a playground, also appropriate, as they (and possibly us) will, through a child’s eyes at the dawning of curiosity, (re)discover possibly, through games, the Purpose of Life.

The stories, parables, are not unlike Aesop’s fables, where a lesson is taught in the pleasant guise of a children’s tale.  And the teachings are straight out of the New Testaments of Matthew and Luke.  Mind you, I never thought I was being preached to, as I hate that, but being gently exposed to other possibilities.  In these turbulent times, with the World on pins and needles, it might heed the warning in one of the songs offered here:  “Turn back, O man, and mend thy foolish ways!”  Amen.

The stories are presented in all manner of ways, assumedly so that they are easily understood by even a child.  The tales are exposed in short shifts and range from Improv to Vaudevillian, from a Circus atmosphere to child’s games, from Game shows to finger puppets, and everything in-between.  The parallel story that is also told is that of Christ’s final days, touching on his Baptism, the Sermon on the Mount, the confrontation with the Pharisees, conflicts with the Roman lords, the Last Supper, and, of course, the Crucifixion.

The music, songs and dances run the gamut, too, from ballads to Rap, from Rock & Roll to hard rock, from soft shoe to synchronized dances.  And it all works beautifully.  My own personal favorite number is, “All For the Best,” lead by Jesus (Benjamin Tissell), and Judas (Brock Bivens), who do a super job with the catchy lyrics and soft shoe.  (Note, Alec Cameron Lugo’s strong voice is in the Chorus and played Jesus in four productions of this show.)  There is also the haunting, and probably the most recognizable song from the show, “Day By Day,” sung touchingly by Kelly Sina.  And Tasha Danner is movingly expressive with, “Learn Your Lessons Well.”

Jorie Jones and Joey Cóté both lead well rousing numbers, she with, “O, Bless the Lord, My Soul” and he with, “We Beseech Thee.”  Another quiet moment, led softly by Amanda Pred was, “Side By Side.”  Also, Jeremy Sloane and Colin Stephen Kane lead them nicely in the moody, “On the Willows.”  “All Good Gifts” had the powerful voice of Alexander Salazar to lead the chorus.    And Clara-Liis Hillier, always a welcome addition to any cast, gave us the vampish vixen in her sexy rendition of, “Turn Back, O Man.”

Snider has done an amazing job of casting the show and creating all the intricate details, as well as the dances, that lend to much of the success of this production.  And Lakewood always manages to get some of the best singers and dancers in the area, as the cast is extraordinary on all counts!  The band, too, led by Ramsey-Rier, is spot on with the various types of music (as well as sound effects) and does not overpower the actors (which many bands of musicals often tend to do).

I did overhear one audience member asking her friend whether she thought this show would be appropriate for children.  Personally, I think it is (depending, of course, on parental religious viewpoints), as the stories really focus on compassion, tolerance, and acceptance for all individuals, something future generations should embrace in their education, as the current generation seems to have “misplaced” or lost track of them.  Also, the tales are told in entertaining ways, both for Youth and Adults.

A special shout-out, also, to Steve Knox, the current producer, who is one of those many unsung heroes behind the scenes of shows.  He, himself, has a long history of involvement with the performing arts and is a fine director, as I can attest to, as he directed a reading of one of my plays at Lakewood with Youth and did a super job of it.  Would like to see more of his directing efforts at some point, hint-hint.

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

Monday, May 8, 2017

Óye Oyá—Milagro—SE Portland

“Two Roads Diverged…”

This world premiere of a musical in Spanish based, in part, on Shakespeare’s, “The Tempest,” is written by Rebecca Martinez and Rodolfo Ortega, directed by Estefania Fadul, music direction by Clay Giberson and choreography by Freila Merencio.  It is playing at their space, 525 SE Stark St. (finding parking is a concern in this area, so plan your time accordingly), through May 27th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-236-7253.

My above title comes from a poem by Robert Frost, in which a person is faced with having to choose between two roads going through a forest, as the one he chooses will be his destiny.  A similar dilemma faces the heroine in this story.  Does one, at the crossroads of their life, choose the smoother, more traversed path, or the lesser known one, “…the road less traveled by?”

As mentioned, this story has counterparts to the Bard’s play, in which a storm throws people together, who are forced to confront old enemies, make new friends and, ultimately change the fates of all concerned.  And, believe me, it doesn’t turn out the way you think it might.  In this version, Felo (Jimmy Garcia), a café owner, is a man who feels trapped in Cuba, having had a chance to flee to America but was betrayed by his best friends, Dimiri (Enrique Eduardo Andrade) and his wife, Caridad (Amalia Alarcón Morris), who left without him and ended up in Miami.  While there, they had a child, a boy named Javier (Christian Alavarez), all of whom have been washed up on these shores by a storm.

Also, on board their ship, are two “ugly American” tourists, Alex (Andrés Alcalá) and his ditzy wife, Francis (Janelle Vanpelt), who see opportunities galore in this paradise, in which they can “Americanize” this island.  They discover an old man, Canimao (Julio César Velásquez), who makes some very potent moonshine.  And you don’t even want to know what they plan to do with pizza!  Also on the island are Yenisel (Lori Felipe-Barkin), the daughter of Felo, who has only heard stories of the shiny land beyond.  There is also a Musician (Dashel Ruiz), giving support to the proceedings.  And, most importantly of all, there is Doña Teresa (Julana Torres), a spirit guide who has a special connection to the goddess, Oyá, who can alter the fates of these humble creatures.

More I cannot tell you without being a spoiler.  But know that crossroads in a person’s life are not to be taken lightly and magic is not to be dismissed.  This is also a timely play with the immigration issues at the forefront of the news nowadays.  The music and songs in this show do enhance the story greatly and I’m sure the Bard would be pleased with how his fantasy piece has inspired generations.  The dance numbers are amazing, especially Torres, who conveys easily the airy spirit of this “music of the spheres.”  I was also impressed with the art design for this show by William Hernandez, which captures expressionistically the mood of the piece.  The graphic projections for the storybook were also beautifully rendered by Lawrence Siulagi.

The cast was all first-rate and Felipe-Barkin particularly has a terrific voice.  Fadul has done quite an exemplar job of putting this all together on such a small stage.  And, for those of you who do not speak this expressive language, the supertitles in English are quite easy to follow.  I’ve always been impressed with the quality of their shows and after almost 35 seasons, they have proven they have quality and sustainability in their productions.  Wishing them another 35 years of success!

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

Friday, May 5, 2017

Satchmo at the Waldorf—Triangle Productions!--NE Portland

“What a Wonderful…” Entertainer!

This one-man show, starring Salim Sanchez, tracing events in Louis Armstong’s life, is written by Terry Teachout and directed and designed by Donald Horn (Triangle’s Artistic Director).  It is playing at their location in The Sanctuary at Sandy Plaza, 1785 NE Sandy Blvd. (free parking lot to the West of the building), through May 27th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-239-5919.

It certainly became a more “wonderful world” when Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong (Salim Sanchez) debuted into it around the turn of the 1900’s, and a much sadder one after he passed in the early 70’s.  Although his trumpet was his instrument, his gravelly voice was his unique trademark, using it to good advantage in the mid-1960’s, when he recorded the title song from the Broadway show, “Hello, Dolly!” and it knocked the Beatles off the chart as the number one single.

A lot of African-American “firsts” were attributed to him in the mid-30’s, including writing an autobiography, featured billing in a film, “Pennies From Heaven,” and host for a nationally-sponsored radio show.  But his upbringing and personal life were less than stellar:  A mother who was a prostitute, a father who abandoned them, four wives from the entertainment industry and poor health.  He, of course, had to face one of America’s biggest disgraces, not treating those of a different race, culture, sexual orientation, religion, et. al. as an equal (seems we are still faced with that dilemma).

And his professional life was, early on, on the shady side as well, being employed by the likes of notorious gangsters, such as Al Capone and Dutch Schultz.  But he loved the music and the tours, even more than the money he was making.  And he immersed himself in all kinds of music including, of course, Jazz and Blues, but also ragtime, skat, swing, country, classical and even, grand opera.  Like all great artists, the art, his music, was “the thing,” which obsessed him and captured his heart and soul.  “It is a poor thing, but mine own,” might have been his mantra.  He was, truly, one of a kind…never to see his like again!

But in this production, we not only see the man, as he relates his story, but two individuals, which Sanchez’s plays, too, that put this icon in perspective.  Most importantly, there was Joe Glaser, his agent and manger for 40 years, who he trusted completely with his finances and bookings.  Joe knew talent and seemed to have treated him fairly and always had high praise for “his find.”  Miles Davis, another great jazz musician, had a different view.  He considered “Satchmo” a clown, a panderer to white folks who, he felt, never really represented or understood the black struggle.  Whoever he was, he was one for the Ages!

Sanchez has the unenviable job of switching back and forth between characters, sometimes within a sentence or two, with hardly a beat to separate them.  He does it with posture and voice (and a bit of help from lighting:  Trevor Sargent and Mandara Nott).  His smooth transitions are one of the highlights of the show.  He is a master at it.  And he does have that unique voice down to a tee.  My friend asked him, after the show, his secret to not losing his voice and he said, “apple-vinegar” (oops, was that a spoiler.  I think not, just one of the assets a performer employs to transform into a character).  Anyway, Sanchez is amazing and so is the Man with the Horn.

And the other Horn, Don, that is, has created a great atmosphere in which to present this show.  The set is full of odds and ends to give us a realistic view of the workings of a performer.  And the little bits of business that Horn has conceived for Sanchez, keeps the play flowing and grounded.  Now, if only the rest of the globe were in “tune” with such beautiful music, “what a wonderful world it would be if only we’d give it a chance.”

I recommend this show, but it does have strong language for anyone offend by this.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

The Addams Family—Battle Ground Drama Club—Clark County

Family is…as Family does!
This musical, based on the popular TV series of some years ago, was written by Marshall J. Brickman and Rick Elice, with music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa and based on characters created by Charles Addams.  It is directed by Stephan “Cash” Henry, music directed by Darcy Schmitt and choreography by Cassidy MacAdam (also, “Mortica”) with set, art and costume design by Sundance Wilson Henry.  It is playing in The Lair at Battle Ground High School, 300 W. Main St., in Battle Ground, WA.  The show runs until May 13th.  For more information, e-mail the director at

Families are a complicated stew.  You could reflect on TV’s wholesome image of “The Brady Bunch” or “Father Knows Best,” et. al. of several years ago.  Or maybe you’d sprinkle it with spicy seasoning from “The Godfather’s” ilk or possibly, “The Lion in Winter” of medieval times, professing “…what family doesn’t have its ups and downs.”  And then you have the undead, outrageous, Addams clan…and you couldn’t get nuttier than that!

But, to be serious, for just a short moment, Henry, the director, has proffered a sobering thought as, despite everything, families are, including this one, a heritage of honor where, “the history of the ancestors is remembered fondly and with reverence in this household, and the children know the importance of who they and where they come from.  There is pride in this family:  Pride in self, pride in each other, and pride in their shared history.”  The true founders of this country, the Native Americans, follow this philosophy.  Asian, African-American and Latino cultures also honor their Past.  But it seems that many Americans choose to dishonor their family history by current violence and hatred and shutting out of our lives and country many cultures we can learn from!  Okay, with that in mind, I’ll get off my soap box now and we can move forward with the fun….

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 (Skyler Denfeld), who is a horny devil and is, almost always, truthful.  His wife is Morticia (Cassidy MacAdam), a very alluring, femme-fatal.  Their children are their daughter, Wednesday (Lauren Southwick), a morbid sort who secretly yearns to be “normal.”  Then there is their son, Pugsley (Jack Harvison), who enjoys being tortured in his spare time, as well as needling his sister.

Uncle Fester (Jaden Denfeld), brother of Gomez, communes with the spirits of their ancestors and has a secret love of a lunar capacity.  Granny (Danielle Morgan), assumedly Gomez’s mother, 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…revealing.  And, lastly, there is their beloved servant, Lurch (Ethan Floyd), 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 (Noah Plummer), and they want to get married.  But that means introducing the families and there could be a bit of a disconnect because of life styles, as you might expect.  Lucas’s father, Mal (Andre Roy), is a control-freak, and his repressed wife, Alice (Katie Carter), are invited to dinner where all hell breaks loose.  Even the spirits of the ancestors are engaged to help, but will it all end…“happily ever after?”  Will Fester be united with his lunar babe?  Will the Dance of Love be enough for Gomez to win over his wife?  Will the Truth Game reveal family secrets?  Will Lurch finally find his voice?  Stay tuned and see this exciting episode of…The Adams Family, snap, snap!

Although there are no truly memorial songs from this show, the music therein fits perfectly to the story.  Gomez is great singing, “Trapped” and “Happy Sad.”  Mortica is mysterious with her “Secrets” and “Just Around the Corner.”  Wednesday is conflicted in her “Pulled” song.  Pugsley has his moment in, “What If.”  Fester is feisty in, “The Moon and Me.”  And, especially Alice, is terrific in her rendition of “Waiting.”  The dance numbers, choreographed by MacAdam, are all very cool, especially in “The Moon and Me,” and “Tango De Amor.”  And the chorus is super.

S. Denfeld is wonderful as the maniacal, mischievous, milk-toast of a husband.  And MacAdam is appropriately sexy, demanding and mysterious as the wife.  She does a fine job in her first choreography experience and hope she continues in this field.  One of the best set and costumes designs Sundance Wilson has created, as they all look like they’re ripped from the series.  And “Cash” and Schmitt have done their usual fantastic job of directing these youth.  I hope the cast/crew knows how lucky they are to have such leaders!

A side note, these folks have been chosen to participate in an Arts Festival in Scotland in August and have raised over $100,000 toward it.  They still have only $2,000 left to raise for their trip, so hope some generous individuals or organizations can help out.  They deserve it!

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