Saturday, June 29, 2019

Tonight Nothing—CoHo Productions—NW Portland

        Finding “Little Boy Blue”

    Tonight Nothing—CoHo Productions—NW Portland
This is a preview of a musical play, written by Merideth Kaye Clark and featuring she and co-creator, Katherine Murphy Lewis and directed by Courtney Freed and co-produced by CoHo Productions.  It is playing one weekend only at the CoHo Space, 2257 NW Raleigh St., July 26-28.  For more information, go to their site at

    We have all lost something…something important…when we took that giant leap from Childhood to Adulthood.  Innocence is the biggie, of course, but other things, too, are locked away in that secret space of our brain…those “windmills of our minds,” that keep the precious memories/hopes/dreams of what makes us uniquely who we are.

    Along Life’s journey we make decisions and friends that will influence us the rest of our lives in the search for self.  The endgame is a legacy of what we want our slate to convey to our dear ones and the world at large.  But, in order to forge forward, we may have to backtrack to that attic, that secret space of so long ago, to re-discover self.  What has become of “Little Boy Blue” since he was confined to the cobwebs of our playful years?  Trust me, it is within one’s reach….

    As to Clark, I have witnessed her fine performances and voice on a number of occasions and so this will be a real treat for anyone lucky enough to see her and Murphy in action.  But, with only 3 performances, best get your tickets Now!  As to the story, read on from her words:

    "Tonight Nothing is new work created and performed by Merideth Kaye Clark and Katherine Murphy Lewis that follows the paths of two long-term friends, Kaye and Em, who must find their way back to themselves and each other. From garage sales to magical encounters in an attic this journey asks us to unpack the many ’things' that make up a legacy. What we leave, or don’t leave behind? and How on earth do we let go?"


Friday, June 28, 2019

Alice in Wonderland—Oregon Shakespeare Festival—Ashland, OR

                                                                     A Wondrous State

    This fantasy classic by Lewis Carroll is adapted for the stage by Eva La Gallienne & Florida Friebus and directed by Sara Bruner.  It is playing at their outdoor Elizabethan Theatre through October 12th.  For more information, go to their site at

Childhood is a wondrous state
And a happy place to be.
But when all is done
In this land of sun
And we see the world of Man,
A sorrowful cast
Will blinds our eyes,
As down the face
The tears will run!
    Growing into adulthood is a difficult transition for a child, as they leave behind innocence, a safe haven called home and trade it for _____ (fill in the blanks for yourself).  Look for yourself at what lies ahead when the curtain has parted: “Lions and Tigers and Bears, oh, my!”

    One’s dreams, in their jumbled state, try to mirror this land, so that we can cope with the big, bad world outside.  Fairy tales and fantasy stories from Carroll, Barrie, Bahm, Tolkien, Lewis, et. al. can ease the pain a bit but can never duplicate that assurance that, when all is said and done, we may live, at least, Hopefully, ever after!

    A film version of this famous tale was made by MGM in the 30’s with an all-star cast.  Disney then animated one in the 50’s, which was pretty good.  And Steve Allen wrote the music for another version of both the Wonderland and Looking Glass stories in the 60’s, with an all-star cast, too, which was very good and broadcast over two nights on television.

    And now we have the most precise version of his story, taken directly from his book.  All the familiar characters and incidents are here, such as, the Mad Hatter (Danforth Comins) and his balmy cohorts, the March Hare (Eddie Lopez) and the Dormouse (Cristofer Jean); the trippy Caterpillar (Brent Hinkley); the always grinning, Cheshire Cat (Lauren Modica); the contrary bros, Tweedledum (Daniel T. Parker) and Tweedledee (Kate Mulligan); the ineffectual King of Hearts (Anthony Heald) and his very, blood-thirsty wife, the Queen of Hearts (Amy Kim Waschke); the rotund, Humpty Dumpty (David Kelly); the bumbling, White Knight (Jean, again); the busy, White Rabbit (Shyla Lefner); and, of course, our new-age, tougher, Alice (Emily Ota)…plus many others.

    And all their individual stories are here, too, with the connecting tissue being Alice, as it is, of course, her dream/fantasy, as she is trying to merge the complex world of adulthood into her limited world of childhood (and vice versa).  This is a good play for children, as the colorful characters keep the story alive and moving.  This would be considered a low-tech production, as the ensemble creates much of the special effects themselves, which I loved.  They are the smoke rings of the caterpillar’s pipe; the many doors of Alice’s search for a way into Wonderland; and, especially, the balls (silver balloons) generated from the Queen’s lawn game, which spills out into the audience: and other little marvels of cleverness and inventiveness.

    There is also a very touching scene with the Knight and his song, as well as a very heated debate with Alice, with the Red Queen (Miriam A. Laube) and the White Queen (Robin Goodrin Nordli) on the merits/duties of Queendom.  The cast is marvelous!  The costumes are terrific (Helen Q. Huang), as well as Richard L. Hay’s set.  And Bruner, a fine actor herself, manages to fuse all this together into a very entertaining production!

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

The Ashland Experience

    As past readers of this blog will probably know, my favorite eatery in Ashland is, The Black Sheep (look for the red door on the Plaza, upstairs).  It’s not only a British-style pub, with authentic food, as well as libations, but also a place to house entertainment.  The food, as always, is exceptional.  My friend, Dave, has always bragged about their beef pasties (in fact, I think, he’s become addicted to them as, I believe, he was trying to convince them to send some to his home in Portland).  And so, in keeping abreast of things, I finally tried one and they are very good.  His wife, Christine, favors the fish, and is also a Brit, so she gives this place a thumbs-up, too.  And they make all their own desserts, which are rich and tasty. 

    My favorite barkeeps are Greg (not there this time) and Lorah.  She was a marvel one night when we were there…one patron described her as a “whirlwind” (true enough), as she not only serviced the bar, but was constantly checking on customers on the floor, as well as checking on orders in the kitchen!  And her elfin charm and smile is contagious.   I highly recommend this place.  If you do go, please tell them Dennis sent you. 

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Between Two Knees—Oregon Shakespeare Festival—Ashland, OR

        Humor as a Weapon

Between Two Knees—Oregon Shakespeare Festival—Ashland, OR
This World Premiere is written by the 1491s and is directed by Eric Ting.  It is playing at the Thomas Theatre at OSF in Ashland, OR, through October 27th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 1-800-219-8161.

    It has been said that a good defense is a good offense.  In this case, if you pepper the “enemy” with humor, you might come out on top.  For example, Mel Brooks, a Jew, produced/directed both “The Producers” and “To Be or Not To Be,” and reduced the Nazis to blathering idiots and humiliated them (Chaplin did much the same thing with his powerful film, “The Great Dictator.”)  Brooks’ opinion was that the one thing Evil hates the most is to be laughed at.

    Not quite the same premise in this case of the “white man” vs. the Native Americans, but it does skirt this issue.  Many times us white folks in the Past, stole and lied to these native inhabitants:  They overwhelmed the population and took their lands; broke treaties; kidnapped Indian children and forced them into schools to educate them as to the customs and language of the “superior” white race; slaughtered them; forced them onto reservations; and humiliated them at every turn.  So, in this case, they retaliate with biting humor.

    The loose storyline, as such, traces two Native Americans, young Irma (Shyla Lefner) and young Isiah (Derek Garza) between the original Wounded Knee slaughter of the late 1800’s to the second Wounded Knee engagement of the mid-1900’s, older Irma (Sheila Tousey) and Isaiah (Wotko Long), and their offspring, their son, William (Shaun Taylor-Corbett) and grandson, Eddie (Garza, again).  During these years, they encounter many trials and tribulations and eventually the Viet-Nam War and aftermath.  This whole history is related by a narrator, Larry (Justin Gauthier).

    The idea for this tale is very clever and the actors and production values on this production are high (as they always are with OSF shows), but the actual story itself is unfocused; rambling; wanders down many rabbit holes, tarrying too long on these, only slightly related, incidents and characters; and lacks staying focused on a through-line, which should be the basis for the story.  There are many funny moments and some biting satire sprinkled throughout…my favorite bit, the Guru (performer not billed), who marries the couple, very funny moment but, again, has little connection to the whole.  So, in conclusion, this script needs to be condensed, streamlined to focus on a central theme and then not wander off from that.  Again, idea, actors and production values are high, but not the script, as it is currently.

    A final word on a serious subject:  We are what we breed, perhaps, but in order to evolve to a higher level, and not stagnate, we need to change/expand our viewpoints to embrace other possibilities.  Simply said, we need to walk in another person’s shoes for a while and look at the world the way they do!
Although this production has some real possibilities, I cannot recommend it.  But, please, don’t necessarily let me deter you from seeing it, as you can do so and make up your own mind as to its value.

The Ashland Experience

    And, as always, my friends (the Paull’s) and I stayed at the Ashland Springs Hotel, 212 Main St. (541-631-2010, ), next door to OSF (or at their sister resort, The Ashland Hills), for our stay.  They have a secured parking lot for their guests, as well as a complimentary excellent breakfast, not just sweet rolls and fruit, as others might, but a full buffet with muffins, eggs, cereal (hot and cold), fruits, juices, coffee and tea, et. al.  They also have some extras, like afternoon teas, as well as late-night snacks.  Rooms are very comfortable and they have a great staff.  All in all, a very satisfying experience which I highly recommend.  Tell them Dennis sent you if you do choose to stay there.

Neigh Saver

    A very worthwhile place we visited was this Sanctuary for hungry, neglected and abused horses and a tour you might want to take.  It’s only a few minutes from Ashland.  This organization does some great work with these animals.  They have about 35 acres altogether and they care for these valuable animals in a very humane and loving way.  The tour is free (our guide was the Board President, Ruth, a very knowledge individual) but you need to call for reservations for this hour-long tour from the Equamore Sanctuary, 4723 Hwy. 66 (541-482-5550).  For more information on this worthwhile cause, go to their site at 


Saturday, June 22, 2019

Dealing With Clair—Public Citizen Theatre—N. Portland

        The Ugly Ones

    This British thriller is written by Martin Crimp and directed by Aaron Filyaw.  It is playing at the Cathedral Park Place in the St. John’s area of Portland, 6635 N. Baltimore Ave., upstairs in Suite 270, through June 30th.  For more information, go to their site at

    There are certain people in life (and I’m sure we all know them) that are simply out to do harm, to create chaos, to make our lives more difficult—that are purely Evil Incarnate.  These people were not born, but simply crawled out from under a rock somewhere, or from the gutter, and are on earth to challenge, like the snake in the proverbial Garden of Eden, the Goodness inherent in Mankind.
But that Evil does prove one thing, the existence of a God (according to a Mexican fable) because, if there were no Evil in the world, there would be no need for a God.  It’s a balancing act of contrasts, you can’t have one, without the existence/presence of the other.
    Crimp reminds me very much of another popular Brit author, Patrica Highsmith (Strangers on a Train, The Talented Mr. Ripley, et. al.), who has these slow, very slow, build-ups to the heart of the Evil that oozes through every pore of these characters’ existence, sneaking up on you and whispering “boo” in your ear, as a chill runs down your spine.  (Even the title has a double-meaning.)
Being a mystery means I can only give you a thumb-nail sketch of the proceedings.  We open with a real-estate agent, Clair (Amanda Mehl), living near the train tracks in London and we discover how isolated her world is from others.  Her clients, in this story, are the social–climbing, Mike (Joseph Workman) and his wife Liz (Taylor Jean Grady), as well as their baby and her slovenly Italian nanny, Anna (Katherine Rose), who wish to move up in the world and want to sell their flat for a princely fee.
    They get a fair offer from one family but then enter, James (Gerry Birnbach), an American businessman, an Art dealer, with a roving eye for the ladies, and willing to up the ante and pay cash.  Some repairs need to be done first, so they hire Ashley (Ben Lawrence), a tradesman, to do the work.  But there is something decidedly wrong in these social and financial exchanges.  A sinister air permeates the atmosphere and soon we realize that all is not as it seems.  Somebody, if not all, is/are being duped and the trail will linger on to the very last line.  And so, you need to see it to discover the outcome.
    This Brit-style of mystery always seems to have a droll humor to it, an array of colorful and slightly off-balanced characters and usually more than one twist in its many turns.  This is a struggling, new company and certainly deserves some attention.  The sparse setting is not ideals for this sort of story but the actors more than make up for it.  They all fit their characters nicely with a stand-out performance by Birnbach, as the mysterious stranger.  And the director, Filyaw, working on an essentially bare stage, is a good storyteller and has assembled a very astute cast to present it.
    I recommend this play, it’s worth your time.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

The following is a review by Martha Harris, a young lady I’m mentoring in the art of reviewing:

As a current college student, I’ve worked a continuous string of customer service jobs since I was 16 and would cry if a customer was angry. It seems in every job, I have customers who push my boundaries—asking me to do something outside of being a customer, but instead as a person who wants something from another person. I want to do my job, help them have a positive experience with the company that is paying, but some people take advantage of that.

Maybe they misread my friendly smile as something flirtatious, only for them. Maybe they are just seeing what they want to see because even though I put on this front of being genuine and kind to every customer, we are after all just strangers. And it’s a lot easier to manipulate your idea of who someone is when you know nothing about them. I think we all do that to some extent. We see a stranger walking down the street and try to create a narrative for them, thinking we know something about who they are. While often harmless, what happens when our assumptions go too far and we start acting on them?

Clair (Amanda Mehl) works in London as a real estate agent, providing customer service at the stressful time of buying and selling flats. Mike (Joseph Workman) and Liz (Taylor Jean Grady), a couple with a six-month-old baby and Italian nanny named Anna (Katherine Rose), are selling their suburban flat with the help of Clair and looking to move to a smaller flat. Mike and Liz decide to ditch a serious buyer when James (Gerry Birnbach), an American businessman, comes along willing to pay a high price all in cash. The couple is concerned that James might not be placing a serious offer after not bringing his wife to see the flat and taking his time in handing over the money, but they are willing to take the risk for a bigger payout. Even if it’s not the most “honorable” way.

Over his many visits to the flat, James takes a particular interest in Clair, diving, as far as he can, into her private life, which begs the question, who is this man and what is he really interested in, the flat or Clair?

Dealing with Clair, written by Martin Crimp and directed by Aaron Filyaw, is a suspenseful telling of how sinister buying/selling a flat can get, when each party has such strong objectives and are willing to cross moral lines for their end result. The story and writing style are reminiscent of such thriller novels as Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins and Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.

It also addresses the way that young women are often treated by men in professional settings, crossing a line with compliments, comments, and playful touches on the arm. Not understanding their position of power and that the professional relationship is not appropriate for those types of advances.
In this production by Public Citizen Theatre, the minimal space and set are magnified by the musical compositions by Gavin Knittle and sound design by Stephen Claypool and Aaron Filyaw. Their work helps to add dimension, texture, and flow to the various setting and scene changes. The lighting design by Robert Osterhout also enhances the work with red overtones that changes in intensity with the plot and scene, creating an ominous glow on the actors.

Gerry Birnbach’s portrayal of James, the businessman, reminds me of Stanley Tucci in The Lovely Bones (2009). In both performances, on the surface, you just see a pleasant middle-aged man, but there is an underlying edge that is unsettling and keeps the audience waiting for the other shoe to drop. Joseph Workman does a great job as Mike maintaining an air of subtle, confident power over all the women in his life, helping to add to the play’s themes. Amanda Mehl as Clair physically shows the drudgery of being in a profession she doesn’t particularly care for. Mehl also displays an interesting juxtaposition between her normal unassailable self and when she is belittled, particularly by men, and loses that confidence. I also applaud the entire cast in their handling of all of the dialects that come with this play.

Dealing with Clair is playing now until June 30th at Bridgetown Conservatory at Cathedral Park Place (6635 N Baltimore Ave. Suite 270 Portland, OR 97203). For more information visit

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Red—Crave Theatre—SE Portland

                                                     A Lack of “Fineness”

    This stunning production is written by John Logan and directed by Sarah Andrews.  It is playing at the Shaking-the-Tree space, 823 SE Grant St., through June 30th.  For more information, go to their site at

    Artists of all kinds are, indeed, a strange breed and do have their own language, which only another artist can fully understand.  They are moody; deep, in a shallow way (or vice-versa); talkative to those who can translate their babblings; have a love-hate relationship with others (and themselves); and a legend in their own minds.  Or, as Zorba the Greek might put it, “Everybody needs a little madness in their time.”  What artists cannot stand is mediocrity or, as the author puts it, a certain “fineness” in the world.

    Mark Rothko (Maia McCarthy) is a tortured soul.  She seeks to explain the unexplainable, to define the undefinable, to walk barefoot on hot coals and know that she will be scorched but survive and, perhaps, be transformed because of the experience.  She is obsessed with the color Red, the sign of Life but also tragedy.  She fears the color black, a sign of nothingness, perhaps, death.  But, most important of all, she must Paint and then poses the question to an invisible audience (and herself), “What do you see?” and then, “What do you feel?”  A sensory journey through a maze of conclusions, contrasts and contradictions.

    She hires an assistant, Ken (Kylie Jenifer Rose), a novice, a wannabe artist herself, to help her in the studio, a sort of Man-Friday, with benefits.  Through the two years they will spend together, they will fuss and fume, bellyache and banter on the rocky road to creating Art.  And, as one’s guide in these ventures, is their Muse, who will be with them through thick and thin, till death do they part.  Art is not something You seek out, but will seek you out if it finds you worthy.  It is also an all-consuming, cruel mistress, as it rules your life.

    The play is rich with dialogue about the nature of Art and Life itself, and so must be seen and heard to be appreciated.  And, if you think that’s worthy your attention, as the saying goes, “you ain’t seen nuthin’ yet!”  The dance/interpretive movement pieces (choreographer, Rachael Singer) are astounding, and Rose is sensational as an interpreter of those sometimes dreamy, sometimes savage, undulations!  The music choices, ranging from classical, to pop to jazz, compliment the dances and production.  And all the designers of the set area really have created a work of art in their own right.

    Andrews has a masterpiece on her hands in this production and it should not be missed!  The movements in a semi-circular space are beautiful to behold.  And her choice of actors for the roles is first-rate.  McCarthy as Mark is extraordinary!    She embodies the character, giving us the impression that she is thinking on her feet, as she forges forward (or backward), full-speed to an artistic fulfillment of some sort, a revelation transcending this corporal universe.  And Rose is equally as riveting, as the assistant, matching her mentor thought for thought.  She’s especially powerful in her dance moments.  Both actors mesmerizing!

    A side note, Haley Ward, Martha Harris (both notable artists in their own right) and myself, were chatting afterwards and all came up with the idea, what if Ken doesn’t really exist?  Is it possible that Mark is simply battling with his own conflicting ideas, as that would not be unusual in the creative process?  Anyway, just a thought….

    I highly recommend this production. It should not be missed!  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Tigers Be Still—Lyon Theatre—NW Portland

       “[Lyons] & Tigers & Bears,                            Oh, My”
 This moving play is written by Kim Rosenstock and directed by Katie O’Grady and Matt Gibson.  It is playing at the Siren Theater space, 315 NW Davis St., through June 22nd.  For more information, go to their site at

    In the jungles and forests, there seems to be a certain complex simplicity and savage order to the way things unfold.  Regardless of Man’s view on the Animal Kingdom, there is an odd logic to how Nature governs her charges and it seems to work.  But with the supposed Superior Race of Mankind, any sort of logic seems to be missing and Chaos rules this world.  In the end, which species will dominate…those that live in harmony with Nature…or those that ignore that primal directive and oppose the natural order?!  I think our way of life may be on the way out, folks, unless we change our behavior…and that may be like saying, the tiger will shed his stripes someday…!

    And so, we come, in a very roundabout way, to the human side of things, but not without the ominous presence of our striped friend, always luring in the background, like a cloaked observer, waiting to pounce if we let our guard down.  In this corner, we have Sherry’s (Tiffany Groben) story about a slice of life from her world.  She lives with her mother, who is upstairs and never comes out of her room; her sister, Grace (Jaime Langton), who has traded in her beau for an entity called Jack (Daniels, that is), and a Top Gun named Cruise); and Sherry, herself, who has never had a boyfriend, has just acquired her first job at a school as an art therapist.

    Joining this motley crew in our tale, is the Principal of the school, Joseph (David Mitchum Brown), who has his hands full with worrying about his son, who has anger issue and is becoming more reclusive;  and has a surprising connection to Sherry’s family; also, of course, a Tiger that has escaped from the zoo and may be lurking about.  And last, but certainly not lease, is his son, Zack (Skyler Verity), who is Sherry’s first client, which is appropriate as he does have a dark secret he is harboring.  In the end, all these factions (including the Tiger) will merge to create a new (and better) order for their future paths in life.

Can’t tell you more without revealing information an audience should discover.  
     But, I will say this, Lyon theatre has constantly given us plays that focus on the human condition, not in earth-shattering ways, like so many of their ilk nowadays, but in those small, recesses of the human mind, that reflect the little things in life we all face from day to day and, by conquering those little anomalies, we are more prepared to encounter the larger challenges that the world thrusts toward us.  It’s refreshing, and so my hat is off to them for that!

    O’Grady and Gibson have assembled a wonderful team of actors to share this story with us.  Brown’s character is cautious at first, then slowly reveals the complexities underneath.  Verity is quite a natural actor, underplaying the role, which makes it all the more powerful.  Groben is a perfect choice for the lead, as the everyman(woman) type of character that we can easily identify with.  And Langton is a gem.  She is always totally believable in all the roles she portrays, as well as having produced and choreographed shows with great success.  Grace is a dynamite role and so logically you get a dynamite actor to portray her, which they did!

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

Friday, June 14, 2019

Beirut—Shoebox Theatre—SE Portland

        Love Among the Ruins

    This raw, in-your-face production is written by Alan Bowne and directed by Andrea White.  It is playing at the Shoebox space, 2110 SE 10th Ave., through June 22nd.  For more information, go to their site at

    What is love?  An age-old question.  Is it the seeking of companionship, a constant sexual partner, a father or mother for children, a spiritual strength, et. al.?  In truth, it may be all of those things, or none.  It is simply undefinable.  Love is in the eye of the beholder.
    Calling this tale, a love story, might be a stretch but so is, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”  It is the finding of that one person who, knowing all your faults and failings, loves you, not in spite of them but, perhaps, because of them, as that, encompassed with everything else, makes you who you are!
In this futuristic, alternate universe, we are again, as in most visions of the future, living in a demolished universe.  In this case, a plague has infected citizens and, to rid the population of it, people that are Positive for the virus are isolated from others and by law, no further contack with them can be made.
    The Black Plague, that infected the earth hundreds of years ago, was devasting.  You may remember a little children’s ditty that came from this era in history. The disease first appeared as reddish spots on one’s skin and then a darker circle formed around them.  After death, flowers were put in the pockets of the victims and their bodies burned to help stop the spread of the illness.  The cute ditty that emerged: “Ring around the rosy; pocketful of posies, ashes, ashes, all fall down!”
    In this case, no clever song comes out of it.  Torch (Joshua Weinstein), is in a containment unit and, so far, is a Positive for the appearance of the disease, and is checked daily by the ruling forces, in the guise of the Guard (Caleb Sohigian), for sores.  But, into his private hell, appears his old girlfriend, Blue (Mamie Colombero), who is from the outside world and is Negative for the disease and so roam the streets, but not to come in contact with those Positives.  So, can love bear fruit amongst these impossible conditions?  No spoiler here, so you’ll have to see it to discover the truth.
    But, make no mistake about it, this play pulls no punches.  It’s highly, sexually charged, with frank dialogue and nudity, so may not be for everyone in this hard R rated show.  One can’t help make the comparison with the Aids epidemic, which, I’m sure, is deliberate.  (A side note:  There is a rather well-written B film by Roger Corman with Vincent Price called “The Masque of Red Death,” by Poe, which mirrors this in some ways, as it deals with the Black Plague.)
    Scenic Design by Ted Jonathan Gold adds immensely to the show’s grit and grist.  And the performances by the actors in this small space are electric!  The depictions, as written and performed, are of real people, not your Hollywood glamor squad, and they are totally vested and convincing in their portrayals.  White, a very good actor herself, is a fine choice for a director, as she understands the craft perfectly and so can guide them expertly through the mazes of creativity for them to give such explosive performances!
    I recommend this show, especially for the performances, but note the warnings I have given.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Below is a review by a young lady, Martha harris, I am mentoring in writing reviews.  Read and enjoy her take on it…

            Our culture is drawn to dystopian literature, media, theater, and art. It is nightmarish fantasy where people are so dehumanized, they are unrecognizable as humans. It is a frustratingly absurd world where we can’t decipher the “why” or “how on earth did they get to this point?”
            But we also ask, “is it possible we could get there some day” and “they aren’t really that different from us.” It is this relatability within the horror that drives us to buy that ticket to the Hunger Games or read 1984 again. We want to see where this game of life is headed for us and, maybe, what we can change before we get there.
            Beirut, written by Alan Bowne and directed by Andrea White, tells the story of an unnamed sexually transmitted disease that has taken control of New York. People are defined by whether they are “negative” or “positive” for the disease. The positives are contained in the lower East Side, referred to as “Beirut”, held up in rooms with the bare necessities and checked by guards frequently to make sure that they aren’t showing symptoms of the disease.
            The negatives try to keep going on with their lives in the outside, but that world is falling apart. They aren’t afforded their normal activities like going to the movies, those aren’t being made anymore. They can’t visit the positives and they can’t have sex with other negatives.
            Blue (Mamie Colombero), a negative, takes the risk to venture into the lower East Side to be with her positive boyfriend Torch (Joshua Weinstein). But Blue isn’t just there for a visit and to catch up. She wants to stay with Torch to the end, even if that means giving up her negative status. She has discovered her life on the outside isn’t really living if you don’t have anything worth being alive for. Torch, on the other hand, can’t imagine being responsible for her death by infecting, but would also like nothing more than for her to stay. He also still has a romantic notion of what it would be like outside of this diseased colony, experiencing the simple joys of eating pizza instead of lukewarm grapefruit from a can. They fight back and forth on what they believe is worth living for, whether that means freedom with nothing to do or being held captive with the one you love.
            This powerful show that debates the nature of life, death, freedom, and the stigma of disease, is led by a brilliant cast that portray these characters with the level of raw complexity that they deserve. Mamie Colombero utilizes a large variety of tactics so that her pursuit of Torch never gets dull, while maintaining an unwavering Italian New Yorker dialect. Joshua Weinstein’s performance has a mix of manic power over Blue with total defeat, that helps the audience to feel and see the toll this experience has had on him, taking away everything he thought he knew.
            The combination of the actor’s own ingenuity and direction by Andrea White, creates a highly physical performance juxtaposed with the lack of mobility the characters are allowed in this hopeless situation. However, it also would’ve been nice to see more pauses and moments of stillness, to let the characters and audience fully process the action before diving into the next fight.
            From the beginning the sound and scenic design helped to establish the world of Beirut. The hodgepodge of plywood, concrete, brick, and tin that was Torch’s room looked like an abandoned warzone, complete with ominous writing scrawled on the walls. The directional sound designs, complete with air planes overhead and distant talking, created a world bigger than this one room. Both of these elements did a successful job of helping the audience to forget a world outside of Beirut for 75 minutes, so that it was even more impactful when the play was finished to realize that we do still have a choice.
            Beirut is uncomfortable to watch, but at the same time a relief to remember that we always have a choice.
            This show is playing at the Shoebox Theatre (2110 SE 10th Ave Portland, OR 97214) until June 22nd, 2019. For more information or to buy tickets, visit or call (323) 401-9343.

date seen: 6/13/19

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Arlington (a love story)—Third Rail—NW Portland

        A World Gone Astray

    This Futuristic story is written by Enda Walsh and directed by Isaac Lamb.  It is playing at the CoHo space, 2257 NW Raleigh St. (parking is a challenge in this busy area, so plan your time accordingly), through June 22nd.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-235-1101.

    Once upon a time…in a far-off land (well, maybe not too far off, as it might be just around the corner…just within our grasp).  Anyway, there existed a city of Ebony Towers (no, not like the Black Tower from King’s, Gunslinger series…nor like the Dark Tower from Tolkien’s, Lord of the Rings), just some imposing monoliths, full of lost people and ruled by…well, no one is sure.

    Within one of these enclosures is the hopeful, Isla (Rebecca Lingafelter), waiting for her number to be called so she can move on…although she is not sure what that means…move on to where…why?!  Looking over her containment cell is a young man (Nick Ferrucci)…a sort of security guy for her…who is pretty good company.  It seems this place values hearing about one’s dreams, or re-arranging one’s memories.  Anyway, a sort of bond is built up between them.

    In another cell is a mute young lady (Kayla Hanson), who is forced…or does she volunteer…to respond to certain music, though dance, acrobatics, interpretive movement, etc., like a puppet on a string.  In the end, though, of all of her gyrations, she would “fly….!”  Sometime later, our young man also finds himself in a containment unit, lorded over by an unseen but very vocal Supervisor (Kerry Ryan).  He, too, is put through a drill, but this time there is a madness to the method…er, reverse that (or not). 

    Through all of this, think Flashdance…or, Soylent Green…or Orwell’s, 1984 and you will have some idea as to the scope and depth of the stories.  The traditional “…Ever After,” doesn’t seem to apply to the end here.  But, as one famous fictional character said, “In a world without [love], it is better to be dead.”  So, see it and decide for yourself.

    This weird, Kafka-like tale may not be to everyone’s taste but, trust me, it is compelling…and will have you discussing it long after it’s over.  And Lamb has chosen the perfect cast.  Lingafelter is a seasoned performer around this area and presents us with another powerful performance here, as a sort of “Everyman (woman)” character.  Ferrucci is very touching as the befuddled young man, who must follow a strict discipline blindly without knowing the what’s and why’s of it.  Ryan, although unseen, has a demanding presence in her voice.

    And Hanson is a marvel!  Her entire performance is in interpretive dance/movements (reminding me of Twala Tharp’s type of choreography—film, “Footloose”).  She flips and flies and walks on walls and is simply amazing, as her gyrations express pain, joy, madness, confusion, etc., all in her body movements/facial expressions!  It’s not clear from the program whether she choreographed it herself, or Lamb, or the “consultant” listed, Amber Whitehall.  But, however it was conceived, Hanson is a standout in this production!

    Also, of note, is the video designer, Michael Ward, as they are very effective.  I recommend this play.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Friday, June 7, 2019

The Legend of Georgia McBride—Triangle Productions!—NE Portland

        When You’re Not Yourself

    This eye-opening production is written by Matthew Lopez and directed and designed by Donald Horn.  It is playing at their space, 1785 NE Sand Blvd. (free parking lot to the West of the bldg.) through June 22nd.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-239-5919.

    Remember as a kid, when you played all sorts of games with your friends, pretending to be certain characters you may have seen in the movies or on television.  In a way, it is a search for your own identity, you’re place in the world.  But when you grew up, you were forced to put away childish things, such as these pretend games and were forced to graduate to the adult games, which became much more serious…but your true identity may still have been buried, like those of super-heroes, perhaps, but still searching for Truth as to your essence.
    But there is real danger in the world if you choose to go against the grain, the “norm,” those people in the majority that have established what the “norm” is.  And, if your choices crosse “established” sexual and gender boundaries, then be prepared to be bullied, harassed and discriminated against.  In the case of Casey (James Sharinghousen), an entertainer, an Elvis impersonator, in a run-down, flea-bag of a bar called Cleo’s, run by the good-hearted but practical owner, Eddie (Gary Wayne Cash).  As business is slowing to a crawl, he is forced to let Casey go.
    Unfortunately, when Reality raises its ugly head, in this case it crashes in like a tidal wave, it hurts.  Casey and his true-blue wife, Jo (Julet Lindo) are also expecting a child and their landlord, Jason (Colin Kane) is on the verge of evicting them, since they are several weeks behind in their rent.  But all is not lost, as the new act at Cleo’s, a female singer impersonator team, consisting of the outgoing Miss Tracy (Fredrick Williams-T’Kara) ends up partner-less, as troubled Rexy (Kane, again) has fallen off the wagon and, thus, Georgia McBride is born.  To tell you more would spoil the story, so you’ll just have to see it to determine how it all turns out.
    Horn has, once again, entertains us lavishly to a feast for the eyes and also offers us a large dose of heart for the soul!  Sharinghousen never ceases to amaze me in all the incarnations he has embodied over the years!  His song, near the end, is beautifully rendered.  You feel the sincere frustration of Lindo, as she touchingly portrays the practical half of the duo.  Cash, a seasoned performer, gives just the right amount of empathy for his character, so you feel for him as he travers unfamiliar ground in exploring a different world.  Williams is super in his onstage personas, as well as his understanding heart.  And Kane is terrific as Rexy, a drunk who has a painful past to expose, which does bring a tear to your eye.  And his rendition of Minelli doing a song of Sally’s from “Cabaret” is chilling.  Kudos to all involved…and the costumes by Horn are fabulous, too!
    I recommend this show as it has an important message to impart, that is, perhaps, just be yourself and let the rest of the world catch up!  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Into the Woods—Broadway Rose—Tigard, OR

        “…Woods are Lovely, Dark and Deep…”

    This dark fairy tale musical has music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by James Lapine.  It is directed and choreographed by Jessica Wallenfels and music director and pianist, Eric Nordin.  It is playing at their space at the New Stage, 12850 SW Grant Ave. in Tigard, through June 30th.  For more information, go to their site at

    …And, at time, can be more than a little scary, too, therefore, this play is not really for younger children.  Remember those classic fairy tales of the Two Doofus Princes…or, 2 Blind Step-sisters…or, A Giant Price to Pay…or, maybe, Happily Never After?  Not familiar.  Well, these and more stories, did really exist but you are probably more familiar with their counter-parts from childhood.  But, this time out, you will see a re-imagining of those classic tales.

    Reading of stories to children is a precious commodity but rarely exercised in today’s world, where the almighty Cyber-god rules our lives.  And so, our children have occupied their minds with video games, in lieu of a parental storyteller.  And, although fairy tales may not be a reflection of the real world, it does supply us with a type of moral compass, heroes and villains, right and wrong, good and evil…and that’s not such a bad start on our way to adulthood.

    And, in this play’s case, the Woods might just represent adulthood/maturity/reality and these selected characters must journey into and out of this tangled maze to find what they are made of…their moral fiber, if you will.  And it all starts with a Narrator (Dan Murphy) and “Once Upon a Time…”
And so, in this magic land, we have a poor family with a naïve, Jack (Tyler Andrew Jones) and his practical mother (Josie Seid) trying to make ends meet.
    So, they must sell their milky white cow at the market.  But he instead trades her for some magic beans…and we all know how that turns out.  Meanwhile, a rather snotty Red Riding Hood (Hannah Sapitan) is on her way to take some sweets to her Granny (Katherine Martin), until she meets a hungry wolf (Austin Comfort) and he seizes the opportunity for his next meal…and we all know how that turns out, too.

    And we also have an industrious Baker (Eric Michael Little) and his attractive wife (Leah Yorkston) who want a child and so make a pact with a devious Witch (Erin Tamblyn) that they will do some errands for in exchange for such a favor.  Also, can’t do a proper fairy tale without the adorable Cinderella (Kailey Rhodes) and her odious step-mother (Elizabeth Anne Young) and two bitchy step-sisters (Kayla Dixon and Sarah DeGrave), a nosy Steward (Alec Cameron Lugo) and her ineffectual father (Bruce Blanchard).  And, of course, there is the reclusive, Rapunzel (Kelly Sina), who is trapped in a tower under a spell.  And what would these two later tales be without a couple of wandering brothers, Princes, no less, (Comfort, again and Adam Elliot Davis).

    And so, you think you know the stories, do you?!  Well, “you ain’t seen nuthin’ yet.”  This presentation will turn these tales upside-down, then, when things seem to be “…happily ever after,” they flip over once more.  This complex, re-inventing of these familiar stories, which are told with much gusto from an amazing cast and a pianist without equal, the brilliant, Eric Nordin!

I believe everyone will admit that Sondheim is not an easy composer to perform, but this cast is exceptional in that regard!  My favorite among the songs are “Agony” (the Princes), “It Takes Two” (the Bakers), “Stay With Me” and “Last Midnight” (Witch), “No One is Alone” (Red, Cindy, Baker & Jack) and, of course, the magical, “Into the Woods” (Cast).

    Wallenfels is exceptional in leading this group, as she is with all the shows she directs!  And, as mentioned, Nordin is a major part of this production’s success.  The costumes, too, are quite fitting and colorful by designer, Darrin J. Pufall Purdy.  A show that exceeds expectations!

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

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Gambatte, An American Legacy—IFCC—N. Portland

    A Legacy of Tears…and Hope

    This play is part of the Vanport Mosaic Festival at the Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center, 5340 N. Interstate Ave. (mostly only street parking, so plan your time accordingly), through June 5th.  The play is written by Chisao Hata, with contributions from the cast, and directed by Hata and Heath Hyun Houghton.  There is a display of art and information upstairs in their gallery.  For more information, go to their site at

    Gambatte means Perseverance.  One of the main thrusts of this story is the incarceration of Japanese-Americans in Concentration Camps (politely called “Interment” Camps).  These families were uprooted from their homes at the beginning of WWII for America, sent to places in the middle of nowhere, forbidden to speak their language…and lost all rights and property, simply because they were Asian!  A clear case of Racism, as we were also at war with Italy and Germany but there were no camps set up for them.  So, if you simply looked Asian, you lost your familiar world!

    This, of course, is our only example of behavior like this…oops, there was that time, several years before that, when we uprooted many Africans from their homeland and forced them into slave labor here…or, how about that time before them, when Native Americans were uprooted from their lands and forced onto reservations, again, forbidden to speak their own language.  And, also, how about the Mexicans and Central American people being separated from their families and stuffed into inhumane living conditions nowadays.  Whatever happened to “Land of the Free…and All People are Created Equal?!”  An American myth, I guess.  If we can’t learn from our past mistakes, I guess we are, indeed, doomed to repeat them!

    This story is an ensemble piece, relating primarily, the plight on one individual, Grandma (Kathy Hsieh) and her memories of those days, told in words, poetry (Mizuki Shiigi), music (Mitch Imori & Amanda Shannahan) and dance (Thien-Kim Bui & Toshiko Namioka).  The rest of the cast, playing her grand-children and memories/members of her friends and family from those anxious times, are the co-director/writer, Houghton and Ken Yoshikawa, Jenna Yokoyama, Ana Harvey, Kurt Ikeda, Lynn Grannan, Gary Terusaki, Viola Lo Forti, and Aleena Yee.

    This is a feast for the soul and no amount of an attempted summary on my part would do it justice, so you’ll simply have to see it to experience its beauty first hand.  I was moved especially by the interpretive dances, as well as the drummer (Shannah, I assume), all well-modulated and presented by Hata, Houghton and the rest of the creators.  This should be a time of reflection of yesterdays by all involved and spring-boarding, hopefully, to better tomorrows!

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