Monday, July 29, 2019

How I Learned To Drive—Twilight Theater Company—N. Portland

                       Growing Pains
    This compelling and timely drama by Paula Vogel (Profile Theatre is doing their next season’s shows by this author) and is directed & produced by Dorinda Toner.  It is playing at their space, 7515 N. Brandon Ave. (just off Lombard, upstairs, free parking lot East of the building) through August 11th.  For more information, go to their site at

    When I was in school, mid-50’s to mid-60’s, it was pretty dull on the social front.  Plus, I went nine years of that time to a Catholic school, so even more predictable, and lived a pretty normal, middle-class life…in other words, nothing really earth-shattering happened in my world.  No social media or cell phones, pretty much dullsville in comparison to today’s Youth.  But one thing that was never broached around family and friends was Sex and how to deal with those mounting feelings of desire.  We, quite simply, were in a dark hole in that regard, with no mentors to guide us.

    But, according to Vogel, rural Maryland during that time period, was a whole different story, at least for these characters.  The whole family seemed to be obsessed with Sex, in one way or another, even to the older generation.  So, a young girl, just blooming into her teens was hearing a lot of stories, but no real guidance of how to handle herself in that regard.  Li’l Bit (Adria Malcolm) seemed to have the cards stacked against her from the beginning.  And when her Uncle Peck (Michael J. Teufel) takes a “special” interest in the budding young life, then the whole world is going to change around her.

    It all begins with secret conversations, slightly naughty, cheesecake photos, touching and feeling and, driving lessons.  Peck has been “damaged” somehow in the War so, like our returning Warriors of today, brings these problems into civilian life, and even drinking does little to quell the pain.  And Li’l Bit is in the unenviable position of being a buffer between his tortured world and her emerging one.  The results are not pretty and her family and friends, played by a Chorus (Noelle Guest, Kaylee Hawkins, Chris Murphy, Sarah Nolte Fuller and Mark Turvin) do little to help.  The results you’ll just have to see for yourselves, but this is very adult material, so be warned.

    Vogel has given us a compelling and intricate story on a very delicate subject.  Her characters are neither black nor white, but inhabit that gray area that engulfs us all.  But neither does she skirt around the matter, either, giving us a realistic look at the growing pains of a young, caring girl and the family in which she is saddled with.  Mentors are needed in such conditions and they are there, reaching out…all one needs to do is take their hand.  (An excellent film from last year, Eighth Grade, gives a realistic view of Youth of today.)

    Toner has done a fine job of casting and delicately nudging her cast in the right direction.  The Chorus is very powerful, a band of neighbors you hope never to meet.  Teufel, as the uncle, rides that thin line between being manipulative and genuine caring.  Very good performance.  And Malcolm, as Li’l Bit, is stunning!  She is totally convincing as this young girl/woman, from 11 to 45, and your heart both breaks for her and yet cheers for her.  She is an amazing and accomplished actor and I would love to see her again onstage.  She has some impressive credits already and I’m sure the future is bright for her to garner many more.

    I highly recommend this play for the discerning audience.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.
The following is a review by a budding theatre reviewer I’m mentoring,
Martha Harris:

             The girl trudges through the trenches of adolescence, feeling invisible and hyper-visible to the rest of the world. A guy finally notices her, cares for her, sees all of her complexities, and is the first to tell her “I love you.”
             A classic story we’ve seen over again in its many variations, meant to warm your heart with the sweet innocence of young romance. But when that scene plays out in Paula Vogel’s “How I Learned to Drive”, the more common reaction is disgust. After all, what we’re watching doesn’t take place in the halls of high school, but between a middle-aged man and his 13-year-old niece.
            In “How I learned to Drive”, now middle-aged Li’l Bit (Adria Malcolm) takes us through a non-chronological series of memories, that occurred during the 1960s in rural Maryland, surrounding her driving lessons with her Uncle Peck (Michael J. Teufel). Uncle Peck wants to teach Li’l Bit lessons about life, driving, men, and entertains all of her naive musings on the world. But he’s also teaching her from the age of 11 about sex through flirtatious comments, giving her alcohol while she’s underage, private provocative photo sessions in his basement, fondling of her body, and counting down the days until her 18th birthday.
            In addition to their relationship, Li’l Bit also invites us into the conversations her family and classmates had growing up about sex and the nature of men and women. A Greek chorus of three performers (Kaylee Hawkins, Noelle Guest, and Chris Murphy), portray those remaining characters, helping us to see this culture of guilt, secrecy, and seeing men as children and sex as a duty, that formed Li’l Bit’s viewpoint and excused Uncle Peck’s behavior.
            The chorus members often add comedy to this disturbing and serious situation, making it harder for the audience to form black and white judgements on the situation. Vogel has no clear villain or heroine. She is not writing to cast blame, but telling a story where the audience has to exercise empathy and ask questions instead of receiving answers. For such a complex situation, Vogel shows us that we have to think a little harder.
            And this particular production by Twilight Theater Company, directed by Dorinda Toner, is as relevant today as it was over twenty years ago when it first premiered.
The nearly bare stage and basic lighting, allowed the focus to remain on the characters and their stories. Keeping only the essentials one might remember from a twenty-year-old memory.
Malcolm as Li’l Bit does a fantastic job maintaining that distinction between memory and reality, clearly switching between the hyper-vulnerability of her youth and raw edge she’s acquired as an adult retelling the story. She commits fully to the flirtatiousness, unaware of what she’s doing, but you slowly see her add layers of defense in her older years. Malcolm adds excitement and wonder to these first experiences, which the audience can’t help but understand and share in her joy of, while also wanting to reach out and stop her. Outside of Li’l Bit, the slow pacing of the show was an interesting juxtaposition to that excitement and the intensity of the content, but at times veered on the side of sleepy. 
This harrowing memory play, “How I Learned to Drive” by Paula Vogel, can be seen at Twilight Theater Company now until August 11th. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Tonight Nothing…--CoHo Productions—NW Portland

        “Two Roads Diverged…”

    This, one-weekend only show, is co-produced by From the Ground UP and created & performed by Merideth Kaye Clark and Katherine Murphy Lewis and directed by Courtney Freed.  Songs, music and sound composed and designed by Merideth Kaye Clark.  It is playing at the CoHo Theatre, 2257 NW Raleigh St. (parking can be a challenge in this area, so plan your time accordingly), through July 28th.  For more information, go to their site at   

    Life may be Fragile but True Friendships are Forever!  Our journeys through this maze we call Life, are like a series of paths through a dense forest.  Some are rocky; some filled with potholes; some muddy; and some smoothly downhill.  But one thing is for sure, it is much easier to navigate it if you have a friend by your side.  There can be arguments and separations; tears of joy and sadness and anger; moments of regret and longing; freedom and commitment; purging of demons and discovering hidden treasures; but, through it all, that one true friend will become like a misty, mirror-image of you (and you, her) for better or worse.  But together, you’ll roar!  It is said, “no man is an island.”  Tis true.

    This story is such a journey.  Em (Merideth Kaye Clark) is the responsible, practical one of the duo.  Kaye (Katherine Murphy Lewis) is the traveler, the one who has to keep moving (running toward something, or away from something?).  She has a “rocket in her pocket” and feels the need to “gather no moss,” as her searching continues.  Seemingly, she and Em are like two sides of the same coin but, like coins, when rubbed together, they can cause friction.

     Both of them carry their past in a little basket, not wanting to let go of baubles and trinkets, representing memories of the Past.  Perhaps it’s a stuffed toy, or a red, electric wok, or a scrapbook of pictures and letters, especially of Em’s great-grandmother, Lela Hall Frank (Clark, again), who was a champion trapshooter of the 1930’s and a woman that forged her own trail (ala, perhaps, Annie Oakley).  And then, one day, it happens.  All these elements, the distant past, the recent past, the present and even a probable future, all converge on one another and decisions must be made as to…where do we go from here?!

    Lewis & Clark (historic and present-day explorers) have many things going for them in this original material.  It is certainly a tale of bonding between two women.  It is a story of heritage and its DNA’s effect on our personas.  It is a saga of loneliness and aloneness.  But, most of all, it is a diary of changing and evolving.  In this regard, then, it is a journey of all of us through this misty, murky, and mysterious creature we regard as human who, to live up to that heritage, must also, ultimately, be humane!

    This is planned for a revival into a fuller production some time in the future, so if you can’t catch this short run, definitely watch for it in the coming months.  I highly recommend it.  The two actors play off each other brilliantly and the story, with simple setting, and some lovely songs/music by Clark, are worth your time.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Much Ado About Nothing—Bag & Baggage Productions—Hillsboro, OR

       Masks, Merriment & Mischief

    This semi-classic comedy by Shakespeare, adapted for the stage by Gordon Barr and directed by Cassie Greer, is playing at their space at The Vault Theatre, 253 E. Main St., in downtown Hillsboro.  It is playing through July 28th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-345-9590.

    At one time, one could say the world of the Bard was almost like an alien environment, as far as the behavior of individuals.  But nowadays it seems it may have come full circle.  In Shakespeare’s day, in his plays, there were gender-switching of identities/genders all the time…now, we have the same.  The “fools” of society, the masses, in his day, were often the wisest of the ensemble on stage…now, we have the masses, the “we the people” of the Constitution, proving more in touch with reality than the ruling class.  They say Mr. S.’s themes are universal and Time just might prove him right!

    The plot is complicated, with essentially two families, Don Pedro’s (Tara Hershberger), with his errant brother, Don John (Julet Lindo) coming in conflict with the other prominent family in the area, headed by Leonato (Diana Trotter).  It seems their offspring and cousins have formed unions with each other (sort of a Romeo & Juliet thing, but tamer).  Benedick (Norman Wilson) has been sparring good-naturedly with Bertram (Phillip J. Berns) for years.  Meanwhile, Hero (Christian Mitchell) and Claudio (Arianna Jacques) have shyly been pacing around the May Pole for some time, too.

    But all is not as pretty as it seems.  Don John has decided to throw the proverbial wrench into the mix (motive unclear) and, with the help of some servants, gives a false impression of some indiscretions of the two young lovers, thus preventing their marriage and upsetting the normal tranquil atmosphere of these families.  But, as usual, leave it up to the “fools,” the constables, Dogberry (Mandana Khoshnevisan), Verges (Justin Charles) and Seacole (Lindo, again) to upset the apple cart (more accidental than by design) and direct them to a “happily ever after” type of conclusion with the Friar (Peter Schuyler).

    This is by no means Shakespeare’s best comedy.  It’s almost like two plays, with the first act being silly and frivolous and the second act being (except for the comic interludes by Dogberry & Co.) being fairly serious (and this act being, in my opinion, the better of the two).  But the first act, as adapted, is so outrageous that the concluding elements in Act II don’t seem to have anything in common, and so a real disconnect story-wise.  Also, I believe, that the reference to the military background of these men is important to the plot, suggesting a professional rivalry, as well as pointing out, perhaps, the adverse effects of war on soldiers.

    Also, the gender-bending is so rampant that only 3 roles play the actual gender they are in the script.  Switching genders is a common practice onstage nowadays but it is usually only in a couple of roles and it is obvious as to whether the roles are being played as a male or female.  In this case, I overheard one audience member wonder out-loud whether a certain role was a man, who just like to dress up in women’s clothes, or was the man supposed to be playing it as a woman?  Good question.  (It should be noted that in the Bard’s day, all actors onstage were male, with clean-shaven men playing the female roles as women.)  Not that clear in this adaptation.

    The actors were all very adept at playing the language.  Greer has chosen her cast well, Hershberger, Trotter and Khoshnevisan being particularly good.  And the set by Tyler Buswell, lighting by Gabriel Costales and costumes by Melissa Heller were exceptional.  (A side note, I directed Trotter, before she headed off to Berkley, as Babe in Crimes of the Heart and Cheri in Bus Stop, as well as her directing for me, The Diary of Anne Frank.  She was a fine artist then, as now, and it is gratifying to know that she is still “treading the boards!”).

    I recommend this production for all the talent involved that presented it.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Stars of Tomorrow—Portland Musical Theater Company—N. Portland

   Artists are a Many-Splendid Persona

    This Showcase for young talent, ages 10-13, just concluded their revue last night to a full house.  Next Showcases, ages 14-18, will be on Saturday, August 17th at 7:30 and Sunday, August 18th at 2 pm.  These are directed by Deanna Maio, Founder of PMTC and Master Teacher of Confident Voice Studio:  
    These cabarets are held at the Peninsula Odd Fellows Lodge, 4834 N. Lombard St. (upstairs).  For more information, go to their site at

    “We are such things as dreams are made on…” and it often begins that way, as a dream, to be a star.  But that, in some ways, is demeaning to the nature of an emerging artist.  An artist, I believe, is born, not made.  They have a uniqueness, and drive and obsession to expand, expose and explore that Muse that demands so much from them and, no matter what, that inner voice will never be quelled, regardless of practical circumstances.  My best advice to an emerging, artistic soul, is to always look for Your Truth in this quest, never give up, and do the best with what you’ve got:  And “…Art, if it finds you worthy, will guide your course!”

    This Showcase, and these young artists, have one outstanding thing going for them…Maio!  She is a Trouper…a Pro…and stands for everything I’ve just espoused.  These Youth are lucky that she has taken them under her wing.  She also hosted the evening and brought down the house with a few songs herself.  I’ve had the pleasure to have watched her grow, in a very short time, from doing musical revues in Newberg, to having her own theater company.  “May she live long and prosper!”  And, perhaps, this note for her charges, when you walk with Giants, you can’t help but grow a little yourself.

    I have worked, as a director/teacher, with young folk myself in, To Kill a Mockingbird, the musical, Oliver and Anne of Green Gables, et. al. and I loved every minute of working with them, as they have a naturalness and honesty as artists that often slips from our grasp as Time marches on.  These few, these chosen few, do, indeed, have the solid inklings of future, professional performers:  Abigail Dixon, Addyson Finley, Braylin Soon, Ellen Horton, Fiona Garrett, Mira Herman and Henry Findtner.  Coming Soon, watch for their names in lights!

    They all had similar attributes in common.  They had stage presence, showed confidence in themselves and their material, very animated, put their “best foot forward,” and all, with these audition-like pieces, could have gotten cast in a show based on what they produced in this cabaret.  I would have to say that two artists/numbers stood out, among an already outstanding array of talents.  They were Horton, with her uke, and her sad rendition of “Over the Rainbow,” which was a tear-jerker.  Also, Finley’s honky-tonk, jazz song (unidentified), out of a bygone era of bands, which proved her a belter.  Kudos to both of them and the rest of the ensemble.  The Arts are in good hands if this is an example of our future Artists!

    I recommend their next show, which will be just as exciting and entertaining, I believe, as this one.  If you do go, please tell them Dennis sent you.

The following is by Martha Harris, a reviewer I’m mentoring:

            Director Deanna Maio, of the “Stars of Tomorrow” youth cabaret, put it perfectly while introducing the next performer, “don’t you just feel hopeful for the future?”
            It feels like a daily battle to remain optimistic in the face of uncertainty, change, regrets, and a world we can’t seem to make sense of with our limited perspectives. But it is opportunities like this one, seeing such talent in the rising generation and getting to watch the joy on someone’s face as they take their first steps into the theater world, that help to tip the balance.
            “Stars of Tomorrow” youth cabaret is put on by Portland Musical Theater Company, showcasing some of the best middle school-aged performers in the Portland, OR. In a makeshift cabaret cafe setting, each performer sang one to two songs, displaying their musicality, dancing, and acting abilities. On a whole, I was blown away with the poise, talent, and depth that all of the performers showed at such a young age.
            Addyson Finley brought the house down with her mature voice. Adding her own style to classic songs. Fiona Garrett shared with the audience a great level of emotional vulnerability, bringing to life the character she was portraying with just one song. Mira Herman’s style of acting is very imaginative and charismatic, painting a clear picture for the audience and taking them along for the ride. Abigail Dixon has a dynamic presence that takes charge of the stage with a dance-like, fluid physicality. Braylin Soon has confidence and maturity, that adds a layer of depth to her pieces. Ellen Horton dazzles with her cheeky wit and a powerful, rooted voice. Henry Findtner has a beautiful, clear voice and range that I’d expect from a high schooler. He also has a subtle emotional intensity that is reminiscent of Ben Platt in Dear Evan Hansen.
            Overall, all of the performers did an outstanding job. All they need to do is trust their instincts, keep making bold choices, and they are on the right path.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Matilda—Lakewood Theatre Company—Lake Oswego, OR

               “Gods and Monsters”

    This musical, based on the book by the classic children’s story writer, Roald Dahl, is adapted for the stage by Dennis Kelly, with music and lyrics by Tim Minchin and directed by Paul Angelo, Choreographed by Jorie Jones and musical direction by Andrew Bray.  It is playing at their space, 368 S. State St., in Lake Oswego, through August 18th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-635-3901.

    The world of Childhood is a pretty black & white place.  Some of what we glean then is inherent from our parents, and some adapted from our environmental influences.  But, early on, it is populated by the “white hats,” the heroes, or gods, and the “black hats,” the villains, or monsters.  The “gray” areas of behavior are added as we mature.

    The theme of the story, in part, champions reading and education, as ways of growing and learning.  One key monologue and song, “All I Know,” by Mr. Wormwood (Danielle Valentine), Matilda’s dad, pooh-pooh’s reading in favor of the telly.  Translated, bring that sentiment into our modern world and we can see the same conflicts, in this time, with the cyber-sphere engulfing and smothering our imaginations and our sense of self.  But it’s not too late to be as these “Revolting Children” (ala, “Les Miz”), and turn the tides on the monsters of the Internet (as these children do, circa, over 50 years ago)!

    The story, not simply told (needs a bit of editing), but beautifully produced onstage, is about a 5-year-old, precocious little girl, Matilda (Cora Craver)—note, this role is also played by Jorja Reed on alternate performances—who is just enters first grade.  She can already read, write and reason quite nicely for herself.  Her parents, Mr. Wormwood (Valentine), an oily car salesman, whose chief clients are the Russian mafia, and his dingy wife (Stephanie Heuston-Willing), a failed dancer, as well as their numbskull son, Michael (Jackson Wells) are less than enthusiastic about the accomplishments of this strange child.

    But she basically gets along well with her fellow schoolmates, mainly with Lavender (Josie Overstreet) and Bruce (Brock Woolworth).  She also has a couple of champions in the adult world, such as her teacher, Miss Honey (Brooke Moltrum), and the librarian, Mrs. Phelps (Trishelle Love)—the “gods.”  But the Queen of the “monsters” is the headmistress, Miss Trunchbull (Andy Lindberg), who would make Frankenstein’s creation look like a puppy dog, in comparison.

    These elements all battle for the souls of Matilda and her mates but…well, you’ll just have to see it, won’t you, to find out how it all turns out.  The stand-out number for me was “Revolting Children,” a dance and musical ensemble by the children, that is amazing.  This is, by far, one the best chorus production group of young people that I’ve ever seen!  Kudos to all of them...and their choreographer, Jones.

    Outstanding performances go to Lindberg as the martinet head of the institution.  He was absolutely amazing, and more than a little scary, as this creature from the underbelly of society.  Equally good was Valentine, as the father.  She was a Vaudeville-act, par expellant.  Both actors brilliant in their gender-bending roles.  And Craver, as Matilda…oh my gawd!  What a talent, voice and stage presence this young lady has!  She will blow you away…and has a long road ahead of her if she chooses the Arts as her career.

    Angelo has assembled an amazing cast and has kept the pace moving along for an uplifting show.  Jones and Bray add their talents to bring this production full circle for a highly recommended experience.  And, as mention, the youthful chorus nearly steals the show, as all those young people are truly a tribute to their Art.

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