Monday, October 21, 2019

Me…Jane—Oregon Children’s Theatre—Downtown Portland


         Mistress of the Jungle


    This lively, informative musical is adapted for the stage by Patrick McDonnell and Aaron Posner, with music and lyrics by Andy Mitton, based on a book by McDonnell, and directed by Marcella Crowson, choreographed by Megan Smith and with music direction by Mak Kastelic.  It is playing at the Newmark Space, 1111 SW Broadway, through November 17th.  For more information, go to their site at www.octc.org or call 503-228-9571.

    My only exposure to exotic animals is with the Tarzan movies of the 40’s and 50’s, and the TV show Disneyland, with his Nature documentaries.  But I do understand dogs through my own recognizance, as I had a pet one at an early age and, being somewhat a misfit kid, I felt he was the only one who understood me…he was my best friend!  Since then I’ve had about a half dozen dogs in my adult life…and they were always by best buds.

    As reflected in this play, too, I was always told not to get too attached to them, as they were simply “dumb animals and had no real feelings.”  But let me tell you of an incident with my dog when I was a young man.  A friend of mine was a heavy smoker and, as a joke one day, let my pet sniff a cigarette, unlit…unlit, mind you….  He sniffed at it for a moment, then with one quick swipe of his paw, broke it in two.  Now, who’s the dumb one?!

    In this tale of the young life of Jane Goodall (Aida Valentine) in England, her favorite toy was a stuffed chimp named, Jubilee and her friend, her dog, Rusty (Breydon Little *, acting & Mak Kastelic, singing).  She tells her understanding Mum (Hillary Hoover), of her desires to go to Africa and live among the wild animals.  But their strait-laced neighbors, Mr. Crouch (Heath Hyun Houghton) and his wife (Paige Rogers), try to convince young Jane that climbing trees, talking to animals and dressing in jeans, with dreams of living in Africa, are not becoming what a young lady should be aiming for.  But her Mum, who has seen her drawings and journals, supports her all the way.

    She has studied the chickens in their yard and the squirrels in the woods and discovers, with patient watching, that one can learn a great deal from animals, “if you have eyes to see and ears to hear.”  She knows that the predominant theory from scientists is to observe animals in laboratory settings and make determinations about them.  But she is of no such mind.  She is made of “stardust,” as Carl Sagan might say, and follows, like Dr. Hawkins would propose, to “be brave, be curious and be determined.”  And so, her destiny is forged for her.  And today she has changed the face of natural history…may she “live long and prosper!”

    This is all so well and simply presented that it is suitable for all ages to understand, including us dense adults, who choose to watch Mother Nature and the wonderful creations of her labors, be slowly destroyed by our greed and stupidity, and fail, unlike animals, to live in harmony with each other! 
Crowson has chosen well her cast, as most play many roles, and she presents this nostalgic world with simplicity.  (I wish I could tell you the songs, but they were not listed in the programs.  Suffice to say, they all fit the story nicely with a talented group to present them.)  Houghton & Rogers were very animated, and I loved the tap-dancing number of the chickens.  Hoover has a terrific voice.  And Valentine is a very charming young performer doing justice to an outstanding individual.

    But the man of the hour was * Little, as he was a last minute replace for a sick actor and he was amazing!  I, myself, have been in such a position as an actor and it’s nerve-racking to say the least.  But he is a trooper and is quite good onstage, so hope he is given more opportunities to do so in the future.

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

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