Saturday, February 17, 2018

Astucias Por HEREDAR--Milagro—SE Portland


The Art of Comedy

     The full title of this ribald, period comedy is (I guess, since I don’t speak or read Spanish and there was no translation in the program) “Astucias Por HEREDAR un sobrina a un tio” written by Fermin de Reygadas Vitorica and directed and mask designs by Robi Arce.  It is playing at their space, 525 SE Stark St. (parking can be a challenge in this area), through March 3rd.  For more information, go to their site at www.milagro.org or call 503-236-7253.

     Humor is very much an individual and/or cultural “sport.”  To put it simply, what is funny to one person may not be to another.  And in Period plays of this broad humor, from the times of the Greeks and Romans, to Shakespeare, through Vaudeville, to the Marx Brothers & Three Stooges and beyond (the musical, “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” is a good example of this type of comedy), a couple of items seemed universal in their themes—Social & Political Satire.  And so it is with this type of theatre, Commedia dell’Arte.

     The common elements seem to be masks (or exaggerated make-ups), slapstick, bawdy (and body)/physical humor, rapid-fire delivery, asides, and plenty of mime, madcap mischief and music.  This production has all of those colorful elements.  But you also need people who understand how to present this art form.  And, we’re in luck with this cast, director and writer, who have captured all the nuisances with bold strokes and sparing no feelings.  It is gutsy and gritty and a pie-in-the-face to all those who think they are better than anyone else.  It is not accidental that the servants in these stories are often the wise fools who, although tripping over their own feet much of the time, will expose hypocrisy in all its ugly glory!

     The story is of a very rich and ditzy uncle, Don Lucas (Yan Collazo) of a family, and who is, we suppose, on his last legs and his inheritance is up for grabs.  But he has a desire or two left that he pointedly wants to release before he passes into that netherworld.  One desire being, who to leave his vast fortune to:  his poor relatives, his faithful servants, or his devoted nephew, Don Pedro (Enrique Andrade).  His second, more pressing desire, is to marry a teenage girl, Doña Isabel (Marian Méndez)—not the sharpest knife in the drawer--that he’s taken a fancy to.  But her heart (and other related parts) has been given to his nephew.  And her greedy mother, Doña Teresa (Bibiana Lorenzo Johnston), is all too willing to give her consent.

     Meanwhile, back at the hacienda, his two servants, the winsome, Lucia (Verónika Nuñez) and the wily, Crispin (Carlos Adrián Mananzo), have been conniving, with the rest of the players, on how to get their own large share of the whole enchilada, even resorting to role-playing (Mananzo) of poor relatives, and even the uncle himself at one point.  And assorted other characters are revealed, such as the ladies’ servant, a doctor, a clerk, etc. (all wonderfully portrayed by Sara Fay Goldman).  To discover the outcome, you’ll just have to see it.  But, be warned, the humor is definitely of the PG-13 type and could offend some people.

     The success of this show lies in the presentation and they know exactly what they’re doing in that regard.  The masks by Arce are terrific and very much of the period.  And his direction, keeping the rather verbose story moving at a rapid pace, is amazing, the actors must be exhausted by the end.  The actors are all very resourceful and understand this genre to a tee.  And the clever set (Blanca Forzán) and changes, added to its success.  The only thing disconcerting to this gringo, not being able to speak the language, as it’s all performed in Spanish, is the annoyance of having to read the English sub-titles and missing some of the intricate humor.  But that is my bad, not theirs.
I recommend this show.  
     If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

--DJS

Monday, February 12, 2018

Kodachrome—PCS, The Armory—Pearl District


Love, Living and Loss

This World Premiere play is written by Adam Szymkowicz and directed by Rose Riordan.  It is playing at their space, 128 NW 11th Ave. (parking is a mess in this area, so plan your time accordingly), through March 18th.  For more information, go to their site at www.pcs.org or call 503-445-3700.

The play reminded me very much of Wilder’s classic, “Our Town,” which examines love, living and loss in small town, USA.  It gives us a view of a world without all the trappings of our urban, concrete jungles to see folks that simply relate to each other on very organic grounds, not through a “glass darkly” but through the scent of flowers.  It is of lives lived, perhaps not always wisely, but with all the Senses active, reaching out to each other in the hope of making contact and creating a difference in another’s life.

This tale is told through the eyes of the town’s Photographer (Lena Kaminsky), who is able to capture moments in people’s lives, of memories of what was, is and can be.  And it is about love, all kinds, from unrequited, to unrealistic, to fantasies, to hard facts and, through it all, humans survive.  There is the Policeman (Ryan Vincent Anderson) who seems not to notice the attentions of the Waitress (Tina Chilip) at the local diner, but she is noticed by the Perfume Maker (John D. Haggerty) who happens to have the local Florist (Sharonlee McLean) pining for him.

But it gets even muddier, as the Hardware Store Owner (Anderson, again), still mourning for his dead wife, being pursued by an old flame, the Librarian (Chilip, again).  And then there is the naive Young Man (Ryan Tresser) and Young Woman (Kelly Godell) about to take the plunge, and the History Professor (Haggerty, again) and his Mystery Writer (McLean, again) wife nearing the end of their union.  And we haven’t even gotten to the oddest of creatures, the Gravedigger (Tresser, again), who just happens to talk to dead people.  You see how complicated it gets and to discover the outcome of all these intricate stories, you’ll just have to see it.
This is an endearing tale and told in a storytelling style, with only minimum set pieces, props and costume pieces.  Riordan has chosen well her cast and manages to keep the story from getting too confusing for an audience.  I especially liked the photograph projections (Projection Designer, Will Cotter, I assume, is responsible for them).  They gave a close-up view of all the little moments that people would normally hardly even notice.

And the performances were top-notch.  Kaminsky, as our guide, gave us just the right amount of joy, humor and sadness in her performance.  And I loved the writing and performance of the character of the Gravedigger (Tresser), very inventive.  This story harkens back to a time and place in our Pasts and gives us a glimpse of the make-up of people stripped of all the trappings of an electronic world.

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

This Girl Laughs…--CoHo Productions—NW Portland


Finding Home 

“This Girl Laughs, This Girl Cries, This Girl Does Nothing,” a fairy tale of sorts, is written by Finegan Kruckemeyer and directed by Tamara Carroll.  It is playing at their space, 2257 NW Raleigh (parking in this area is a challenge, so plan your time accordingly), through March 3rd.  For more information, go to their site at www.cohoproductions.org

As in one of the most famous, magical tales of a young girl, Dorothy, trying to find her heart’s desire, she discovers she must go over the rainbow to find out what she had in her own backyard was where her heart, and home, lay.  But, in order to realize that, she did have to go far afield.  As in this tale of three girls that must traverse the world wide, in body, mind and soul, in order to find the self same place.

This story is not uncommon in lore.  Within this story are the shades of “Johnny Appleseed,” “The Fantasticks,” “James and the Giant Peach,” “Hansel and Gretel” “The Wizard of Oz,” and even, “Seven Samurai.”  We all desire to find our purpose in the world but that does not come easily.  Travel, tears and trials await those who seriously seek solace.  And such it is with these characters.

Albienne (Jen Rowe), the eldest of three girls, Beatrix (Beth Thompson), the middle daughter, and Carmen (Alex Ramirez de Cruz), the youngest, all grew up living happily in the forest with their father (Duffy Epstein) and mother (Sharon Mann).  But tragedy strikes even the happiest of families and, with that, often separation.

One went off to become a great warrior in the rural areas and leader of men.  Another traversed the wide sea and found a purpose in one of the great cities.  And the third simply stayed where she was in the forest and became friends with the animals, until a young traveler (Conor Eifler) came calling.  But, although a certain contentment settled in, they still had not found “Home.”  And to discover all the adventures they go through, you’ll have to see it.

Although, as mentioned, the story may seem familiar, it is in the telling that’s the magic wand to this production’s enjoyment.  It is told in a story-telling fashion with all the actors narrating and playing all the various roles needed to cement the tale, along with, of course, a high degree of imagination from the audience to fill in the blanks.  The set (Kaye Blankenship), costumes (Jenny Ampersand), lighting (Jennifer Lin) and props (Sarah Andrews) are all minimal, but very specific as needed, for the relating of this epic journey over many miles and several years.

Carroll has done an amazing job of not only choosing the perfect cast but also of keeping the story stream-lined for the audience so that they don’t get confused.  Rowe, Thompson and de Cruz are exceptional as the three daughters and I couldn’t imagine anyone else in these roles.  Epstein is always an asset to any production and this is no exception.  Mann is a wonderful character actor and I loved her “Lighthouse Lady.”  And Eifler, as the young man, and sometimes narrator, rounds out a magical cast.

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

Saturday, February 10, 2018

The Pride—defunkt theatre—SE Portland




Sliding Doors

     This drama is written by Alexi Kaye Campbell and directed by Sarah Armitage.  It is playing at their space at the Backdoor Theater in the Common Grounds Coffee Shop, 4319 SE Hawthorne Blvd. (street parking only, so plan your time accordingly), through March 17th.  For more information, go to their site at www.defunktheatre.com

     There was a movie a few years back called, “Sliding Doors,” which postulated that when you went through one section of these portals, you would have a certain life, but if you went through another one, a whole different set of circumstances would present itself to you.  This play reminds me, in a way, of that film.  But, perhaps, the choices we make in Life, the Crossroads we encounter, do have a bearing on what lies ahead for us.  Greek tragedies would say we are fated and nothing we can do will alter our course.  But many philosophies/religions will say that most things we do alter our destinies. “The road Not Taken,” as Frost says, can “make all the difference.”

     In one life cycle we have Oliver (Matthew Kern, Defunkt’s Artistic Director), a children’s book writer, having hired Sylvia (Paige Mckinney) to illustrate his book.  At our first encounter with them, he is just meeting her husband, Philip (Morgan Lee) and they engage in small talk as they began to get to know each other better.  It seems that the two men have little in common, but is there another meaning, another motive for their meeting?

     Entering the second “sliding door” we have Oliver (Kern), a journalist, hired by his editor, Peter (Robert Durante), to write an article on the lifestyle of a Gay man.  In reality (at least, this one), he has just had his true love, Philip (Lee), leave him again because of Oliver’s frequent indiscretions.  For solace, he turns to his best friend, Sylvia (Mckinney), although she has a new love she is trying to concentrate on.  Will both these stories end badly, or well, or will there open up a third “sliding door” to provide another path?  Honestly, I can’t reveal more without giving away secrets an audience should discover.

     These are intricate, twist-turning stories leap back and forth, as they thrust forward on their journeys to the inner depths of one’s soul, to the outer reaches of one’s understanding.  People are born, encounter, learn, adapt, change and evolve in, perhaps, a never-ending, sometimes vicious, cycle of Being to…Become. “We are such stuff as Dreams are made on, and our little Life is rounded with a Sleep.”  Dream well!

     This is heady stuff to present and Armitage has cast it to perfection and, I believe, understands the subject well and has passed much food for thought onto an audience.  Kylie Rose as the Dialogue Coach for their British accents has, again, made sure the dialects were there, but not so thick that you couldn’t understand them.  My experience, via in person, and Brit and Aussie films, is that sometimes they can be authentic but unintelligible.  Not so the case here in Rose’s capable hands.

     This must be difficult material for the cast, keeping it straight as to who they are, and when.  But McKinney as both Sylvia’s is just fine as the uptight illustrator and then the earthy friend of Oliver’s.  Lee is also equally good as the repressed husband, and then the rather principled lover of Oliver.  And Durante is spot on in the three distinct roles he must play.  And to top it all off, we have Kern in what I believe to be his best performance to date!  Kern is always good (as a director, as well) but this, in my opinion, is his Shining Hour.  He gives a very honest portrayal of a conflicted Gay man trapped in a world of misunderstanding, misinformation, and often shunned by the establishment, as most religions, cultures, and genders are.  (Look at our current state of affairs in this “free” country, which proves that point.)  Overall, some powerful performances.

     I recommend this production, but it does have some frank dialogue and situations for those easily offended.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

--DJS

Monday, February 5, 2018

Chitra: The Girl Prince—NW Children’s Theatre—NW Portland



“Faraway, So Close”


     This East Indian fable, with dance and music, is written by Avantika Shankar and directed and choreographed by Anita Menon and Sarah Jane Hardy (Artistic Director for NWCT), with fight choreography by Kristen Mun and composer/sound design by Rodolfo Ortega.  It is playing at their space, 1819 NW Everett St. (parking is a bear in this area, so plan your time accordingly), through February 25th.  For more information, go to their site at www.nwcts.com or call 503-222-2190.

     “Once Upon a Time…and They Lived Happily Ever After,” bookends for amazing adventures of Yesterdays, Tomorrows and Forever mores.  In-between is the “stuff dreams are made on.”  This is a tale of today, especially, for every girl who seeks equal status with male counterparts, and just to be accepted for who they are, not for anybody’s else’s image of who they should be.  This is a morality lesson from the Ages that echoes loudly to future generations!

     Royalty in this kingdom was expected to be passed down to male heirs to rule.  But this King (Heath Hyun Houghton) has been favored by the gods with a girl instead, Chitra (Alisha Menon, also dance captain), and so she is, quite appropriately, a girl prince.  This means she must, unfairly, fight harder to prove herself worthy in the eyes of their subjects and, especially, the other soldiers.  Particular defiance comes from the Captain of them, Raje (Avish Menon), who thwarts her every chance he gets.

     Their mettle will be tested when some of the peasants revolt and they become outlaws, led by their Bandit King (Zero Feeney, also fight captain).  But all is not so simple in this yarn from many moons ago.  Chitra is beginning to feel the yearnings of a young woman, to have a husband and a family.  And so, as in all good fairy tales, she meets an exiled prince in the forest one day, Arjun (Ken Yoshikawa), and the story includes a romance.  This whole affair is related to us by means of two gods, the fey, Madan (Houghton, again) and his counterpart, the matronly, Vasand (Sudipta Majumdar).  To experience the outcome, you’ll just have to see it for ourselves.
But the outstanding aspects of this production are in the presentation:  The amazing, colorful costumes by Mary Eggers; the very versatile and vibrant set and props by John Ellingson; the expressive lighting by Carl Faber; the marvelous video projections by Andrés Alcalá; Ortega’s music, and sound (w/Jake Newcomb); and the award-winning, Mun’s, extraordinary fight scenes, which are stunning!

     And I can’t say enough good things about the dancing (Hardy & Menon), as well as directing, both responsible for last season’s excellent “Jungle Book,” too.  When it comes to choreography for a musical, I believe Hardy and her team take top honors in theatre for the North West for that!  And the dancers are worthy of a mention, too (too numerous to name), so kudos to the Soldiers, Bandits and Opening/Closing dancers, as well.

     Alisha Menon, in the title role, is a lovely young lady, who knocks it out of the park with her dance/fight scenes, as well as her strength of character of succeeding in making all of her dreams come true.  And, in the comic department, Houghton, as Madan, steals the show with his comedic timing, energy and flitting about the stage, like a bee pollinating the atmosphere with laughter.  An exceptional cast of performers who must be exhausted to the bone after a performance.
I highly recommend this show, especially for the dancing. 
    If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

--DJS

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Eurydice—Young Professionals Company—NE Portland


“Thanks for the Memories”

     This modern adaptation of a Greek tragedy is written by Sarah Ruhl and directed by Lauren Bloom Hanover.  It is playing at OCT’s Y/P Studio Theater, 1939 NE Sandy Blvd., through February 11th.  For more information, go to their site at www.octc.org/YP-company

     This is a great companion piece for Y/P’s previous production, “Jasper in Deadland,” and Twilight’s latest production, “Antigone” (as well as the film with Robin Williams, “What Dreams May Come” and the recent animated, excellent film, “Coco”).  They are all based, in part, on Greek plays and local legends about the Underworld, the loss of a loved one, the importance of memories and, especially, what lengths one will go to connect again with your soul mate (there is the old title, “To Hell and Back,” and that is exactly, in apart, what this is about).

     It is said, in the lore of some countries, that as long as one holds onto memories of a loved one, they never really die.  In this case, our hero, Orpheus (Nate Gardner), a musician, and his beloved since childhood, Eurydice (Fiona Jenkins), are set to be married.  But the one important person, in spirit only, missing from this ceremony, is her Father (Max Bernsohn), who is gone but not forgotten, either by her, or him and, even though he has been washed in the River of Forgetfulness, love seems to be stronger than even those soothing, tepid waters.

     And, as in all good tragedies, this fateful day also holds the demise of the young bride, as she, newly awashed, is greeted by The Stones (Madeleine Adriance, Heidi Osaki and Zyla Zody), a sort of Greek Chorus, as they’re job is to convince the recently arrived that they should be as a hard rock, oblivious to any outside urges or influences.  And the Lord of the Underworld (Henry Sanders), an underdeveloped, bratty little kid, is charged with making sure inmates stick to the rules—no contact with mortals or those pesky memories of “forgotten lore.”

     But not everybody plays by the same rules.  The Father acts as a servant to his daughter down under, recalling for her incidents from her life, so that her memories will return.  And the young groom refuses to let a little thing like death prevent them from being together.  It seems that there is a magic in calm waters and music that has special powers, too.  “And thereby hangs a tale.”  To discover the outcome, you’ll just have to see it for yourself.

     These young people certainly get an amazing education by being part of the Y/P troupe.  I’ve seen them explore some pretty heady subjects over the years, which give them insight into the adult world of life and literature, and provides a safe environment to explore all these changing moods and emotions Youth must feel, as future “inheritors of the earth.”  This is done in a “black box” style of theatre, where only essential props, costumes and set pieces are used.  The Stones’ outfits were quite compelling, as were the actors playing them.  Enacting the Head Demon himself as a rather snotty little shit with a tricycle, as opposed to the more traditional approach as a bombastic fellow, was quite a welcome change, and well acted by Sanders.

     The Father and the two young lovers have a natural appeal in their style of presentation and pull it off nicely.  Hanover has done a good job of leading this group but the production (possibly script, too) needs tightening a bit, as it seemed to drag a little in spots, and the energy could be kicked up a notch, too.  But, overall, it is good to see some difficult material handled professionally.
I recommend this production.  

     If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

--DJS

Saturday, February 3, 2018

2.5 Minute Ride—Profile Theatre—SW Portland

    
Down the Rabbit Holes

     This one-woman show is written by Lisa Kron and directed by Jane Unger.  It is playing at the Artists Rep space, 1515 SW Morrison St., through February 11th.  For more information, go to their site at www.profiletheatre.org or call 503-242-0080.

     This is a roller coaster ride in an amusement park in the Mid-west, via the Concentration Camps of Poland, by way of her brother’s wedding, which gives you a vague idea that you are in for the ride of your life.  Lisa (Allison Mickelson) is on her own personal sojourn to make a simple documentary about her father and his life, but is Life ever that simple?!  When you begin investigating “the windmills of your mind,” it can take you through all sorts of rabbit holes, a labyrinth of twists and turns of undiscovered countries, of roads not taken, the ones imagined and, through it all, we are still looking at Life from our own perspective, perhaps, “through a glass darkly.”

     Lisa decided to accompany her father on a trip back to the “old country,” Germany, where he grew up, and the camps of Poland.  The mission was to find where his parents were buried as, like so many Jews of the WWII era, they lived in ghettoes and were taken to a concentrate camp where they were murdered, like so many others.  It is one thing to hear the stories, but something entirely darker to actually visit those places where the horrors took place.  Her father’s memory, although his eyesight was failing, described every pothole and curve in the road as they traveled--a path of broken dreams.
But, as memories do, other images come to mind, such as the love of roller coasters her father had.  Did they represent the ups and downs of his life, his family—possibly?  And how does one describe a dysfunctional family, anyway.  It is one thing to have lived it, as it may have seemed so normal, but another thing altogether to try and describe it:  Why was her mother afraid of cameras; or why, in a whole day at an Amusement Park, the concentration was on the food choices from her family; or, with a brother getting married, what kind of uproar such events can cause; or explaining being gay in small-town, mid-west America to your family.

     Well, that is only the tip of the iceberg of her explorations, a type of stream-of-consciousness that, if it doesn’t drive you crazy, just might make you stronger.  Believe me, the story is better told in Mickelson’s capable hands, who is a whirlwind, a firestorm of activity, and is directed by Unger, who has conceived the pace of the show from very rapid-fire to some very pronounced pauses, and they keep you intrigued every step of the way.  They are both masters of their crafts and it shows!
An interesting side note, and I’m not giving anything away since it happens right at the beginning of the play and continues throughout, Lisa has a slide show that she presents at various points in the story—but the slides are blank!  One speculation is that the author wanted the audience to put themselves into those pictures so that they became more personal.  My own thoughts are that pictures are permanent, but memories, fluid, and that seems to be the point, or state-of-mind, of Lisa.  Whatever the reason, it works and you can make up your own minds as to the reasons.

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


--DJS

Friday, February 2, 2018

Madness of Lady Bright & TRANS-formation—Triangle Productions!—NE Portland


 “…no place like home”

     These two one-acts, the first written by Lanford Wilson, and the second one written by Donnie, are both directed and designed by Donald Horn (costumes, sound and set) with Lighting Design by Trevor Sargent and Tech/Stage Management by Kendra Comerford.  It is playing at their space in The Sanctuary, 1785 NE Sandy Blvd. (free parking in the lot to the West of the building), through February 24th

  For more information, go to their site at www.trianglepro.org or call 503-239-5919.

     Lady “Leslie” Bright (Gary Norman) is lonely on a hot summer day in NYC in his apartment in the mid-70’s.  He has two outlets to the outside world, his telephone, which is totally mute on the other end when calling friends, except for the dial-a-prayer number, which is good to know that God always answers.  The other connection is his wall of names/signatures, reflecting very specifically on the actual persons themselves, from miniscule to bold, from flamboyant to timid, all having skipped by now the “…light fantastic, having fallen in love with long distance” (T. Williams).

     His world now consists of voices in his head, real and imagined, the stimulating music of Mozart, dancing from one era to the next, and his array of finery for his next, hope-filled encounter.  He is, quite frankly, simply looking for a place to belong, a comfort from the darkness, a place called…home.  Doesn’t he realize that he only needs to click his heels together three times and he’ll be there?!  Personally, I sincerely hope he makes it to his personal Wonderland.

     Wilson’s play is cited for being one of the first ones of any note to concentrate on gay issues.  Norman is extraordinary as the individual who only wants to be loved.  His portrayal of a slow descent into this gray world of “madness,” in such a short period of time, is quite remarkable.  And Horn is the master is conducting him, and the audience, into this exploration and exposition of alienation and loneliness.

________________________________________________________________________________



  Becoming Oneself

     This is a very brave piece by someone, Christine (nee, George) Jorgensen (Matthew Sunderland), in the late 40’s who, although discharged from the army and coming from a loving home, felt that life was not just ahead of him as a man, but was passing him by, as he, from an early age, had felt he was a female trapped within a male’s body, yearning to break free.  His closest ally was his sister, Sally (Jacquelle Davis), as well as a supportive family.  But that was not enough to quell the real being within.

     And so a trip was necessary to Denmark to get the help he needed.  He met there Dr. Christian Hamberger (Mark Pierce) who took him in as a research subject in an area declared taboo in many societies, to transform physically a person from one gender to another.  It had been attempted before some years earlier in Germany but the patient died as a result.  And so now, history was waiting to be made.  But it would be a long and arduous journey together.

     To tell you more would spoil the revelations made during this story.  Sunderland is amazing in a very difficult role and he pulls it off, giving us a full view of the male/female conflict.  Horn certainly has his hands full here, both having written the story, as well as directing it.  And he has chosen the best person for the lead, which should always be the case when casting.  It also helped to have some visuals of the real Jorgensen’s life.  Hopefully this play will continue to grow, as it would be helpful, being that it’s now a one-act, to expand it to include her later life as she grew older.  I can certainly envision this going to The Big Apple in time to get universal recognition, and acceptance.

     I recommend both these plays, both from an educational aspect, as well as damn good acting, writing and theatre.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.


--DJS