Monday, February 17, 2020

James X—Corrib Theatre—SE Portland



                 Original Sin?!

    This one-man, searing drama, starring Darius Pierce, is written by Gerard Mannix Flynn and directed by Gemma Whelan.  It is playing at the New Expressive Works space, 810 SE Belmont St., through March 1st.  For more information, go to their site at www.corribtheatre.org

    Shakespeare espoused that fault lies within ourselves, not in our stars and, thus, is he in accordance with the Old Testament concept of Original Sin, that we are born with a burden to bear, before we have even taken our first breath.  That stain on our very being, from the outset, can pursue us for the rest of our days.  But, contrary to that belief, is one of Anne Frank’s final entries in her diary, before she died in a concentration camp, she wrote, “I still believe people are basically good.”  Despite proof to the opposite nowadays in world governments, I cling, perhaps naively, to this young girl’s view.

     But so much rides on how we are raised--nature/vs nurture views.  As James X (Darius Pierce) awaits his call to court, to offer his case, of being abused in government and religious institutions, he vomits out his story for us.  Seemingly aware of the horrors which await him in life, he struggles against being born into such a world.  As his childhood is cluttered with unwanted siblings, with a father away and drinking and a mother overburdened, life becomes increasingly unbearable and so, he lashes out to rail against these injustices…but who is listening?!

    Thus, his life is entrusted to religious and government institutions, reform schools, counseling, mental hospitals and prisons, enduring physical and sexual abuse and, during his brief respites at home, he is given to petty thefts and brawling.  Eventually finding his “calling” with a punk-rock band, but even that doesn’t slow his ultimate descent into hell, in which he finally discovers when you’re are at the bottom, there is nowhere to go but up.  And so, he gathers from public records, data on himself through them.  But that’s not the real story, which can be told in a “simpler” manner…and to find out, see it for yourself, if you dare!

    His story is, indeed, horrific but the manner in which Pierce delivers this intense monologue, is a marvel of acting and a highlight of any theatre season!  His rapid-fire spewing of this growing cancer, eating away at his soul, is awe-inspiring.  It is exactly the right interpretation by director, Whelan and actor, Pierce, to capture the degradation, humiliation and pure self-loathing and hatred this character must feel for himself…and we are entrusted with knowing that his is not an isolated case…and what are we to do about it?!

    This is very adult material, so be warned.  I highly recommend this production.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.
--DJS

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Special K—Imago Theatre—SE Portland


          The Enablers


    This original play, exploring the mystery of the creative process, perhaps, is written, designed and directed by Jerry Mouawad and produced by Carol Triffle.  It is playing at their space, 17 SE 8th Ave., off Burnside (parking is a challenge in this area, so plan your time accordingly), through February 22nd.  For more information, go to their site at www.imagotheatre.com

    This is probably the best expression of the extent of possibilities involved in the process of creating Art!  To most, it is a mysterious journey, made up of Muses, Madness and Magic.  I have been a part of that unique club since I was old enough to remember and continuing to the present day.  To give some connection for you from the existing world of artistic merits, it skirts the edges of Serling’s, The Twilight Zone; the French, cult-classic film of yesteryear, King of Hearts; Vonnegut and his outrageous worlds; Pirandello and his search for meaning; Dr. Leary and his exploration of the inner depths through Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds; and other sources.

    The setting is a stage, cluttered with four folks, the asexual, Thelma (Stephanie Woods); the promiscuous, Louise (Emily Welch); the sanctimonious, Narcissus (Danny Gray); and the newbie, Goldman (Matthew Sunderland), actors all.  Their purpose, as it has been for twenty years, is to entertain the fantasies of SHE (Anne Sorce), the be-all and end-all, the Empress or Queen, of this “castle” during the Black Plague era of Europe in the 14th Century.

     (A side note, showing the creative side of people during such dark times:  The disease started as a red spot on the body and, as it multiplied, a dark circle formed around it.  To stop the spread, victims who died of this were identified by flowers being placed in the pockets of them.  The bodies were then burned.  A famous children’s ditty came from this disaster…which I’ll name toward the end of this review.)

    The purpose for this deception, it seems, is a type of therapy to feed into her delusion until it wears off.  Her minions are actors hired to feed into this atmosphere and to do her bidding.  But wear and tear are emotionally draining the participants, until an elegant stranger arrives, Arnold (Sean Doran) and his quirky assistant, Jeanette (Colleen Socha).  More I cannot tell you without revealing elements an audience should discover.  But, suffice to say, it will turn their world upside down and sideways…and ours, too.  Keep in mind, not everything is as it seems.

    This is a brilliant piece of Art by Mouawad (with is co-conspirators/designers, Jon Farley, Lighting & Props and Myrrh Larsen, Sound), exploring the inner workings of a human and merging them with the outer complexities of the universe.  “What a Piece of Work is Man….”  It is destined for a run, I predict, in the Big Apple.  It will open your minds to what is possible—Everything!

    The actors and crew, many from former Imago shows, are exceptional! The illusion/delusion they create is perfectly understandable and realistic…until it isn’t.  “We are but a walking dream…” and this cast & crew and its creator make us believe in the unbelievable…the illusion of reality.  And when this is stripped away, what are we left with…the Void…an Eden…no, another Dream, perhaps.  Oh, and the little children’s rhyme:  “Ring around the rosy, pocketful of posies, ashes, ashes, all fall down!”

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

Sunday, February 9, 2020

The Jungle Book—NW Children’s Theatre—NW Portland


          Creatures of the Wild


    This dance movement-oriented version of Kipling’s classic book is adapted by Sarah Jane Hardy (NWCT’s Artistic Director), Anita Menon & Pat Moran, directed by Tamara Carroll, choreographed by Menon and music composed by Rodolfo Ortega.  
    It is playing at their space, 1819 NW Everett St., through March 1st (parking is an extreme challenge in this area, so plan your time accordingly).  For more information, go to their site at www.nwcts.org or call 503-222-2190.

    In this day and age, we have our own “jungle” to navigate through, made up of concrete and electronics, not the “warm fuzzies” of Nature’s forests and veldts.  We humans seem hell-bent on destroying all the natural wonders of God’s green Earth and making a mockery of the possibilities surrounding us from the natural order of things.  We have failed, in a big way, because of our greed and self-righteous, to live in Harmony with Nature.  But the creatures of the wild have learned that lesson and, in this instance, raised a human child in the ways of the animal, in hopes of creating a new union between beasts and humans.

    All these elements boil down to the transformation of a child, a boy named, Mowgli (Gowri Ganesh), a man-cub, abandoned at birth and raised by the animals of the jungle.  Chief among them are his tutors, a feisty black, panther named, Bagheera (Emma Sanders) and a blustering bear called, Baloo (Samson Syharath).  Mowgli is allowed to stay because the leader of the pack, a clever wolf, Akela (Alanna Fagan), has taken pity on him and believes he may be special in bridging the gap between “all creatures, great and small.”

    But Mowgli is cocky, impish and more interested in playing with his friends than learning lessons.  But there is a time, in every youth’s life, when it is necessary to put aside childish things and become an adult…and that time is closing in on Mowgli.   There are two dangers that face him.  The first is that he is a human and can make fire, which is a threat to the creatures of the jungle.  And the second is that a vicious tiger, Shere Khan (Andres Alcala’), an outcast from the ruling Council, as his style is too dictatorial for leadership, wants to steal Mowgli’s secret of fire for his own selfish ends.

    But, before Mowgli can be accepted, he has to pass certain tests, in order to prove his understanding of the jungle creatures’ way of life.  Along this journey he will face many obstacles, such as the foolish, mischievous monkeys (Arjun Pai & Maya Hawks); Shere Khan’s inept henchmen (Jason Nuesa & Kara Petrick); and the wily, Boa Constrictor, Kaa (Fagan, again).  Of course, a showdown is inevitable but you’ll have to see it for yourselves to discover the outcome…but the message is clear, if beings work together, anything is possible (unlike many governments of the world today).

    The charm of this production really lies with the amazing dancers and dances, as well as the captivating music.  It is a tale told mostly through stylized movement & interpretive, multi-styles of dance; very colorful and inventive costumes (Mary Eggers); and an extremely functional and sleek set (John Ellingson).  If you enjoy going to musical and dance concerts, you will really enjoy this.

    The chorus of dancers are the key to the success of this production and they are brilliant!  So, too, is Alcala’, who makes a delicious villain; Fagan in her aerial acrobatics, as the snake and, especially, Ganesh as Mowgli, she is amazing, having to learn all the different styles of dance in her journey, and is a pretty fine actor, as well.  One of the best and most energetic performances of the Season!  I predict she will go far in this profession.

    I highly recommend this production.  If you do go, please tell them Dennis sent you.
--DJS


Monday, February 3, 2020

Mamma Mia!—Stumptown Stages—downtown Portland

       
          “Thanks for the Memories”

    This popular musical has music and lyrics by Benny Anderson, Bjorn Ulvaeus, with Stig Anderson, book by Catherine Johnson and directed and choreographed by Christopher George Patterson, and music direction by Adam Joseph Young.  It is playing at the Winningstad Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway, through February 16th.  For more information, go to their site at www.stumptownstages.org

    “If music be the food of love, play on!”  In truth, what passes for “love,” in most filmic and literary definitions of the word, is really just simply lust or animal attraction.  But our poetic natures refuse this baser explanation of a truly enigmatic feeling, which is both very personal and undefinable.

And so, we are left, in this story, with what can be best described as a love child, with the possibility of three fathers.  Of course, if “safe sex” had been practiced, or a paternity DNA test issued, there would be no such questions nor, of course, no story.  So, sit back, relax, and let the Magic of the Greek isles weave its spell on you.

    The story is woven around the music of ABBA and cleverly done, too, from an “Age of no regrets.”  (Julie Traymore, of Broadway’s Lion King fame, did a similar film with a story woven around Beatles music.)

    Donna (the incomparable, Margie Boule’) has had her space in the sun, on her little, Greek island, running an Inn, for about 20 years, and raising, as a single mom, her daughter, Sophie (Jacqueline Mallene).  But changes are in the wind and her daughter has found the man of her dreams, Sky (Michael Castillo), and so, a wedding is planned.  Which means, of course, a huge party, with Donna’s two best friends attending, the vivacious, Tonya (Lisamarie Harrison, reprising her role from the Broadway Rose production) and the spunky, Rosie (Elizabeth Hadley).

    And, of course, that means Sophie’s best friends must also attend, the sassy, Lisa (Tina Mascaro) and the fun-loving, Ali (Liz O’Donnell).  There are also some very available young studs around for any unattached females, helpers at the Inn, the winsome, Pepper (Xander Dean) and the energetic, Eddie (Jeff George).   
Only one, teeny-weeny, little fly-in-the-olive-oil, she wants her dad to walk her down the aisle, as per tradition.  Only one small problem, she doesn’t know who  he is, so she invites all three of the potential suitors (according to her Mom’s journal), the designer, Sam (Shawn Rogers), Bill (Steve Coker), the writer, and Harry (Doug Zimmerman), the banker…from that fateful time period, when she was conceived…to the ceremony, in the hopes of finding out who her real dad is.

    “In the meantime, in-between time, ain’t we got fun!” Can’t tell you the rest without spoiling the tale but, trust me, the music, dancing and songs transport one to the land of, if not “happy” endings, at least, “hopeful” ones.

    All the popular songs are there, including the popular, “Dancing Queen” and, of course, “Mamma Mia.”  The songs and dances are a-plenty, all very well executed by an extremely talented troupe of performers, with nary a weak link in the bunch.  Harrison knocks ‘em dead with, “Does Your Mother Know,” and Hadley explodes with, “Take a Chance on Me,” both show-stoppers.  The dancers excel, especially in “Voulez-Vous.”  And Boule’ raised the roof with the emotional, “The Winner Takes It All”—powerful in the extreme!

    The acting was top-flight, too, among the ladies and, after all, it is their show.  But the guys lend ample support, with the most natural being Coker, with his easy-going manner and charm, giving a natural feel for the role.  Patterson has infused it with a winning cast and fast-paced delivery.

    On a personal note, I was seated in a section of the theatre where my sightlines of S/R action were hampered and had a pole in front me…not good placement for a reviewer…nor any audience member…so best check on the layout of seats when reserving them.

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

Friday, January 31, 2020

LIFE…--Triangle Productions!—NE Portland



The Journey

A funny thing happened on the way to the theatre last night…I almost ran over a nice, old Jewish lady.  It was a dark and rainy night and she crossed the street right in front of me.  I stopped just in time and offered her a ride and she was going to the same theatre I was and said her son, Irving, recommended the play about a rich, gentile boy named Hamlet and she was going to meet her husband there.

     When we got there, she thanked me and rushed out of the car. I reflected for a moment she must be at the wrong theatre because, although Don Horn does some amazing productions, Hamlet would be unusual for him.  I found my seat and, sure enough, there was this young actor (Alex Fox) onstage, dressed in what appeared to be a costume from Hamlet’s time, and he was about to do the “poor Yorick” scene, when in rushed my little, old lady, loudly trying to find her seat.  She was disoriented and the young man onstage took pity on her and motioned her to come up onstage with him.  Not long after, her husband appeared from the audience and he proceeded to be onstage, too.  It was then that I glanced at my program and it proclaimed the title of the play was, LIFE According To Morty And Ruth, written by Donnie and produced, directed and designed by Donald Horn.  And away we went…!

    For the next hour or so, we were taken on a whirlwind journey through the lives of these two, precious people, Morty (Jay Randall Horenstein) and Ruth (Wendy Westerwelle).  They recounted family problems, secrets of neighbors, their sex lives, marriage, biblical history, Jewish jokes, the importance of food, death, life and all that jazz.  And they did it in such a way as a stand-up comic might, or like a vaudeville routine.  The actors played off each other like ole pros, which they are, and kept the audience in stiches.  And if I tell you any of their priceless tales, it would be like giving you, in advance, the punch line to a joke, so best keep silent on that score.

 To say the least, it is a very entertaining hour and spent on such a dreary night, and the actors seemed to be having a ball.  Fox, essentially playing the straight man of the trio, was very indulgent to these characters.  And Horenstein, playing the slightly infirmed and befuddled husband, was a perfect foil for his mate, Westerwelle, the loud, brassy, but equally loveable female of the species.  They are also old pros in Portland theatre and with Triangle.  Horn has written a script that could easily have been done on the stages of New York during The Roaring Twenties.  In these chaotic times, it’s good to be taken back to a seemingly less troubled era and be regaled in a culture that espouses, to really exist, you have to live Life to the fullest, with some laughter, love and a little cheesecake.  Good advice, I think.

    The show is playing at their space in The Sanctuary, 1785 NE Sandy Blvd. (free parking lot to the West of the bldg.)  For more information, go to their site at www.trianglepro.org or call 503-239-5919.  Runs through February 15th.

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

Saturday, January 25, 2020

School Girls…--Artists Rep—Pearl District



          “Sugar & Spice & [Not So] Nice”

    School Girls; Or, The African Mean Girls Play, is performing, in conjunction with Portland Center Stage, at The Armory, 128 NW 11th Ave.  It is written by Jocelyn Bioh and directed by Lava Alapai.  It is performing through February 16th.  For more information, go to their site at www.artistsrep.org

    When I was a boy, we had a dress code and wore uniforms at school, as do these ladies but, in comparison to the Youth Culture now, my school days were down right dull.  No Electronic, Social Media to rule us, no blatant bulling or frequent suicides, no self-destructive vaping or obvious pill-popping…but then, the 60’s happened and, oh, my goodness, did things pick up then!

    The point being, I guess, is that people and eras evolve.  “That was then, this is now.”  And, to the credit of some Youths now, they are demanding environmental changes and stricter gun control laws for the betterment and safety of all.  “Attention must be paid!”  People do change and heroes do arise out of the debris of the Past (look who is on the cover of Time, as their Person of the Year).  And so, for all the dips on the giant graph of Humankind, there are also grand peaks, too, in which to aspire…and we do reach those tops, eventually.
    For the girls in this story, they do seem to be playing “chicken,” who dares to be most popular and have minions groveling at their feet?  Who’s going to win the international beauty contest and represent Ghana?  But, more importantly, at what cost will this happen…who will get hurt…who will grow and evolve to become a better human being?

    The school is headed by Francis (Kisha Jarrett), the headmistress, who appears to be a strict but fair administrator.  But the definite “Queen of the Walk” is Pauline (Andrea Vernae), who rules her fellow students, not wisely but with an iron fist.  The chief article of ridicule is Nana (Treasure Lunan), who has a weight problem and thus is the butt of all jokes.  There are also the “twin” parrots, Gifty (Tonea Lolin), who has a reading problem, and her inseparable other half, the giggly, Mercy (Kayla Kelly).  And Pauline’s best friend (when the mood suits her) is the obedient, Ama (Tamera Lyn).

    But into this toxic environment, appearing from the States, is the attractive and capable, Ericka (Morgan Walker), and whose father is a rich plantation owner locally.  And to add to this heady brew even more enter, Eloise (Sara Williams), a former Miss Ghana herself, and looking for a successor to that crown, which bears with it rewards, but also at a far-reaching political and personal cost to others.  What will happen in this arena of one-upmanship?...you’ll just have to see for yourselves.

    Alapai has chosen well her cast and the play moves briskly to its conclusion.  The group is uniformly excellent, as you witness all sides of these complex relationships and even, I’m sure, can identify with some of them yourself.  Jarrett, Williams, Walker and Vernae handle the key roles with juicy abandonment.  These are “mean” girls at their most combative and most vulnerable, too.

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

Monday, January 20, 2020

Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde—Experience Theatre Project—Beaverton, OR



          The Duality of Man

    This reimagining, interactive presentation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic terror tale, is transformed from Victorian England to the 1860’s Old West in America, and is adapted and directed by the company’s Founder, Alisa Stewart.  It is playing at the Masonic Lodge in Beaverton, 4690 SW Watson Ave., through February 16th.  For more information, go to their site at www.experiencetheatreproject.org

    Jekyll/Hyde has been played in films by many great actors, including John Barrymore’s campy portrayal (Silent); Spencer Tracy and Jack Palace, who simply transformed their walk, posture and voice to emulate the Hyde side, relying on their acting to do the rest (by far the most difficult).  Or, like Fredric March, who is transformed into a beast.  Or, also interesting, Jerry Lewis, who pictures Hyde as a handsome man-about-town, Buddy Love (well-acted, too), or even Tim Daly, who has his Mrs. Hyde.  And, even recently, a musical.  Open to interpretation, of course, but keep in mind, it is still Jekyll who unleashes his evil side upon the world!
    In this case, Jekyll (Richard Cohn-Lee) is attempting to rid the world of a killer disease and so, attempts to separated that bad part of a human from the good cells and ends up, almost by accident, separating good from evil, in his case into another physical being, Mr. Hyde (Steven Grawrock).  He does his experiments in a small, western town and so unleashes this monster upon the world.
    Among the townsfolk are Poole (Ryan Pfeiffer), his dedicated servant; his best friend, the well-respected attorney, Jane Utterson (Adria Malcolm), who has drawn up his will, favoring a mysterious, Mr. Hyde, as benefactor, on his death or disappearance.  There is also Millie Enfield (Falynn Burton), the astute business owner; Rev. Carew (Matthew Ostrowski), an unscrupulous minister; Hastie Lanyon (Eric Island), the upright sheriff and shop owner; his lovely, young daughter, Cecily (Lydia Fleming); and her young beau, the well-meaning, Hiram (Erik Montague).
    Other folks, include the alluring and talented, Tina (Leia Young); Jolly (Lala Gunn), the accommodating bartender; Bradshaw (Carlyn Blount), a local patron; and Sam, the piano-man (Jeffrey Michael Kauffman).  Tragedy will befall many of these folks and the whole character of the town will change over several days.  To discover their stories and the outcome of all this, you’ll just have to see it for yourselves, won’t you?!
    Now, if you saw this play on a normal stage, you’d be interested, I’m sure, in the story and performances and leave the theatre, going about your business, with no further thought of it, maybe.  But this interactive approach, places the audience squarely within their world, in which the characters move among you and even talk with you at times.  You, in fact, become part of their world and experience, first-hand, the plight of these folks and feel you are transformed back in time.
    The set (designer, Alex Meyer) is amazing and complex, occupied by two major playing areas and punctuated by some pop-out type set pieces, in which the audience can move about to view whatever scenes they choose.  There are even some clever video presentations (designer, Stewart), which enhances some background pieces of the story.  Stewart has done a remarkable job of writing and directing this very complex script into a fully, fleshed-out presentation…and it works incredibly well!
    All the cast is tuned-in together, from leads to cameos.  I felt as if I was, for a while, transported back in time to a less complicated era (and liking it).  This is part of the immersive experience the company aspires to create.  The dual roles of Jekyll and Hyde are well-played, keeping in mind that the creator of this chaos, however well-intended, is responsible for several deaths.  Malcolm is, once again, very watchable and accomplished in her performance (a side note, she played the very difficult role of Lil Bit in How I Learned To Drive and was brilliant.  I’m sure she will continue to amaze audiences with future creations).
    The performances of Burton, Ostrowski, Island, Fleming and Montague in key supporting roles, all had a professional look to them.  I assume we will see them again onstage, too.  And, as an audience, this is a unique experience, as you become captivated and, somewhat like the Holodeck in Picard’s Star Trek stories, live for a little while in someone else’s shoes in another time and place.  Trust me, it’s an exhilarating experience!
    Oh, and a message that I hope gets delivered.  I was approach by a very pretty, talented (singer and violinist) lady, Miss Tina, who said for the price of a coin, we could be alone together for a period.  Well, I have the coin now, so hope that offer is still available…oh, my gosh, I haven’t yet shaken off the results of the immersion, I guess, as there is still a part of me who wishes I was still back there, in that time period and place, with her.  Try it on for size yourself and you’ll see how addictive the spell of this show can be…!
    This is adult language and material so, be aware, it may not be for everyone.  There is also limited spaces available because of the nature of the show, so get your tickets soon.  I highly recommend this play.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.
--DJS




Sunday, January 19, 2020

Sweat—Profile Theatre—SE Portland



          “Best Laid Plans…”

    This award-winning drama is written by Lynn Nottage and directed by Christopher Acebo.  It is playing at the Imago space, 17 SE 8th Ave. (parking is a challenge in this area, so plan your time accordingly), through February 2nd.  For more information, go to their site at www.profiletheatre.org

    The moment you are born, you begin to die…so best make the most of the in-between time.  The Young usually don’t realize this dilemma, as the early years are spent in frivolity…using the imagination…learning social skills (of course nowadays, most of that time is preempted by doing worship to the electronic gods of Social Media, which rule their lives).  But there was a time, not so long ago, when one had dreams of seeing the world, meeting all sorts of interesting people and just enjoying life on your own terms.

    But then reality raised its ugly head and you realized you had to actually get a job to earn all the benefits of your dreams…and that’s where things can begin to go sour.  The working at a futureless job just for a while, turns into your Life, as you race to just pay the bills.  And, as you age, you realize Time and your Dreams are passing you by.  What to do…what to do…!?

    In the case of this small, industrial town in PA, one works at the Factory or Plant, where generations of your family worked…and so a Tradition has been maintained, like a rat in a maze, with no way out.  The Grieving Place for lost dreams here, is the local bar, managed by Stan (Duffy Epstein), a former employee of the said Plant, until an accident rendered him disabled and, with him at the bar, his faithful companion, Oscar (Chris Ramirez), of Columbian extract, looking for that same yellow-brick road that everyone else is seeking.

    Into this haven for lost souls, comes Tracey (Linda Hayden), a rather disillusioned lady, looking for the golden ticket for her passage out.  Her son is rather a shiftless individual, Jason (Jim Vadala), whose only dream seems to be his motorcycle.  Jessie (Alissa Jessup), her friend, is slowly sinking into alcoholism.  Another friend, Cynthia (Cycerli Ash), has grander ambitions, of being a supervisor someday.  Her son, Chris (La’Tevin Alexander) is cut from the same cloth as Mom, as he has dreams of college.  But the stone around their necks seems to be Brucie (Victor Mack), the drunkard father/husband of this clan.  And trying to piece it all together is the town counselor, Evan (Bobby Bermea), who tries to pick up the pieces of these broken folks.  To see their stories and how they work out, see the play…it’s powerful!

    This has one of the best ensembles I’ve seen, as each of the characters have very rich and complex lives, as portrayed by this exceptional cast, which Acebo has assembled.  He is a master at digging into these roles with his cast and creating, with his designer, Peter Ksander, an amazingly realistic playground to let them explore.  You feel you could actually walk into that setting and go back in time to another era and place, it’s that realistic.

    Everyone of the cast is worth bragging about, and I’ve seen many of them before onstage (even acted with one, back in the day).  Ash is a powerhouse, as you see her evolve, unwillingly at times, from a semi-happy place, to despair, then settling on…reality.  Mack is excellent as the old sot with demons too powerful to overcome, and it hurts you to watch him sink further into oblivion.  Vadala is a pathetic loser and you sense his violent streak even at the beginning, a bomb waiting to explode, and he is terrific in his portrayal.  And Epstein has been a stalwart actor for many years in local theatre and he is a perfect choice for the “Father Confessor” role this play offers.

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



Monday, January 13, 2020

Wait Until Dark—Lakewood Theatre Company—Lake Oswego, OR

          Blind Courage


    This classic thriller is written by Frederick Knott, adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher and directed by Nancy McDonald (Lakewood’s acting teacher).  It is playing at their space, 368 S. State St. in Lake Oswego (parking lot to the rear of the bldg.), through February 16th.  For more information, go to their site at www.lakewood-center.org

    This suspense thriller was made into a very good film some years back with Audrey Hepburn, Alan Arkin, and Ricard Crenna.  It takes place, in this incarnation, in the mid-forties in a basement apartment in Greenwich Village, NY.  The Hitchcock thriller, Dial M For Murder, was also by the same author.  Confined spaces are always a dynamite setting for a story of suspense, which is partly why they were so popular on the radio during this era…being alone in a room at night and listening to a mystery, only added to the terror.  Look at the panic (and publicity) that happened with Orson Wells’ classic, War of the Worlds, on one fateful Halloween night.

    I can tell little of the story because it might give too much away with all its twists and turns.  Susan (Taylor Jean Grady) is a recently blinded young lady, who is also a newlywed, married to a photographer, Sam (Daniel Zubrinsky).  Through a set of circumstance, Sam ends up with a mysterious doll among his belongings.  But it seems this doll is also implicated in a heist, as well as a murder.  And so, the police, Carlino (Stan Yeend) are investigating the killing in their neighborhood.

    Sam is suddenly called away on business, leaving Susan with only her upstairs neighbor, a rather bratty, teenage girl, Gloria (Lana Sage), as a support.  And after that, a flurry of strangers invade her house, including the Roat (Paul Angelo) family, and an old war buddy of Sam’s, Mike (Mario Calcagno), who just happens to drop in for a visit.  More I cannot tell you without giving away vital clues, which an audience should discover.

    The plot is more contrived than it needs to be but it’s all for a purpose.  Once you get past the extensive expository of the story, it is quite suspenseful.  The set is nicely laid out by designer, John Gerth and McDonald has chosen her cast well, as they all are very convincing in their roles.  Angelo, usually known as a fine director, excels in the complicated role of Roat.  Grady does well in the key role of the blind, young wife, going through movements that were convincing for a person that was blind.  Sage does well in the role of the teen who you love and hate at the same time.

    I only wish this had been produced in a smaller venue, as there are plot devices that are unclear because of the expansive space.  A claustrophobic atmosphere would have worked much better for this story.  But it does create the hoped-for tension and is well worth your time to see it.

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

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Stupid Ghost—Theatre Vertigo—SE Portland



             The Spirit Is Willing

    The West Coast premiere of this clever play is written by Savannah Reich and directed by Devon Roberts.  It is playing at the Shoebox Theatre, 2110 SE 10th Ave., through January 25th.  For more information, go to their sites at www.theatrevertigo.org

    We all live in worlds, unknown, unseen by most but which is very active.  There is the world of Nature, on land and sea, in which animals and plant life rule.  There is the world of germs and microbes, undiscovered by most folks, but still inhabiting our space.  There is the world of outer (and inner) space, which we have mostly guessed as to who or what occupies that.  And there is the spirit world, dimensional perhaps, in which only suppositions exist as to actuality, but one in which we must all visit at some point, as most of us believe.  And what of their “lives,” thoughts, aspirations…“must give us pause.”

    According to our little setting in this outing, ghosts mainly live in the woods, just hanging out, it seems.  On occasion, they might follow around the living for a bit but according to The Book of Ghost Etiquette, must never interfere or interact with these beings, according to some Lecturers (Adriana Gantzer), and they come from a wide variety of backgrounds and attitudes, from Casper to Marley.  But Rule #1 is about to be broken.

    There is one Ghost (Jacquelle Davis), who is mischievous and more than a little curious about a certain young girl, Ronnie (Kala Maarja Hillier), and her blooming into a woman.  The Ghost finds this too much to resist and chooses, with the assistance of a more seasoned spirit, a Poltergeist (Tom Mounsey), who takes on the girl’s mother’s persona, and together dash the rule book out the window and, at crucial times, become these individuals.  This happens much to the fascination of Ronnie’s new boyfriend, John (London Bauman).  Although simply meant to be a lark, it does have some serious consequences.  To discover more, you’ll just have to see it for yourselves.

    This is my favorite type of theatre setting, the “black box,” in which you have to invent and present the setting in a very confined area with the simplest of props, relying only on the author’s word, the artistry of the cast and designers and the audience’s imaginations (long since replaced by CGI and electronic gadgetry) to create the show…in other words, pure theatre.  And Roberts and the ensemble do this concept justice!

    The cast is wonderful at creating silly, both in human and spirit form, as well as becoming more serious as the moments demand.  Kudos to the ensemble and this company for reverting back to the purity of true creation, making something out of nothing!
    Are we but dreams, as some poets suggest, or something more mysterious in purpose than that?  “There are more things in heaven and earth…than are dreamt of in [our] philosophy.”  Muse on that the next time Life seems dull or worthless to you.

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

Friday, January 10, 2020

Huinca—Milagro—SE Portland



        The Mythology of Us

    This world premiere is written by Marilo Nunez and directed by Reina Solunaya.  It is playing at their space, 525 SE Stark St., through January 18th.  For more information, go to their site at www.milagro.org

    All civilizations have their own stories of how we, this earth and even space and time began.  Most of the cultures…Romans, Greeks, Africans, Native Americans, et. al., of the world have similarities in the development of Us and our ancestors.  Most of them, including this South American one, have a series of gods ruling the Skyland but, taking on human characteristics, finding there is strive even among such noble beings.  This strife causes violence, which causes such disruptions that  the earth is created almost by accident, as a way for the gods do something creative with their endless time…and so, this rock we inhabit, is a sort-of playground…a testing site for their skills.  To be honest, looking at the results now, it seems we may be a big disappointment for them!

    The gods and humans in this case are beautifully portrayed by a cast of just four actors…Emily Hogan, Ajai Terrazas Tripathi, Nick Median and Cati Rangel.  They encompass their beings in song, dance, stylized movement, dialogue and monologue.
 
    It seems the gods have entrusted one of their own, Millaray Cayancura (Hogan) to guide Chile through a particularly difficult time in their development.  The native people’s land is being swallowed up by outsiders, land barons, supervised by the ruthless, Karl Carver (Medina), intent on robbing trees and natural resources from the rightful owners of this property.  But the rebels are united by a powerful speaker in the guise of Manuel Huillipan (Tripathi) and so it is up to a young Canadian lawyer (Rangel), to defend the native population.  You’ll just have to see it to discover how it all turns out.

    This is a very topical story, which has been repeated in most countries, many times over.  “The rich get richer and the poor get poorer, in the meantime, in between time, ain’t we got fun!”—not.  There is no doubt the author certainly has a personal story invested in this play and it is something that I believe all cultures can related to.  The director has chosen her cast well, as they are all most effective in their portrayals.  I was especially drawn to Rangel, playing a boy at one point, and also the female lawyer, very convincing in both guises.

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

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Hedwig and the Angry Inch—Portland Center Stage—Pearl District


        Measure of a (Hu)man

    This classic, cult musical is written by John Cameron Mitchell, with music & lyrics by Stephen Trask and directed by Chip Miller.  Music Director, Amir Shirazi, with the band consisting of Darian Anthony Patrick, Maria Del Castillo, Jasmine Linee Wood and Nsayi Matingou.  It is playing at their space, 128 NW 11th Ave. at the Armory, through February 23rd.  For more information, go to their site at www.pcs.org

    In reality, we are the most perfect of imperfect souls, as the intended function of our creation has only been surpassed by the idiocy of how we treat ourselves, our fellow creatures and the Earth!  We have constantly striven to ignore or thwart any attempts to survive in what once was, a “Paradise.”

    In biblical terms, if that is your cup of tea, we were given a perfect world and have since then striven to destroy it at every turn.  But, one little hiccup in that story, is that only one human was actually created, the male of the species, and the female was developed from his rib, and that has also been a point of contention ever since…and, in an odd way, part of the premise of this play.

    It is of a person, Hedwig (Delphon “DJ” Curtis Jr.), feeling there is something missing, something left out of the creation of a person, another half that has gone dormant…and the story is, in part, the search to find that missing, vital element and become whole again.  And so, my missive enfolds within this touching fable, this journey to reconnect with the fuller self, as may have been intended all along from Day One!

    Hedwig was a “military brat,” growing up in a small hovel with mom in East Germany, when there was the infamous Wall (not unlike the equally infamous border Wall today here, only the former was to keep people in, the latter one, to keep people out).  Some solace was found in a friendly, security person and enlarged the understanding of who this individual was.  Eventually settling in the mid-West here, growing even more, joining a rock band, becoming an entertainer and marrying Yitzhak (Ithica Tell).

    The story is told through a narrative style and in song, detailing the ups and downs of discovering the being within.  The style of music and storytelling is not unlike the equally explosive cult classic, The Rocky Horror Show, as they are both searching for Love and their own essence.  As to the success of this mission, you’ll just have to see it.  But, at its heart, it does speak to anyone that is searching for relevance and their purpose in the scheme of things.

    Curtis is fantastic and, with their band of renown, and Tell, is the glue that holds the production together.  Hedwig is a very complex character, both musically and as a person, but Curtis is very believable and is a terrific entertainer, as well.  But I do object that the setting seems to stifle the performances, as the set is crowded with tables and audience members, in order to simulate a cabaret-type of atmosphere, I assume, but it does restrict the actor’s movements, and the amazing band is partially hidden by set pieces.  Also, modern references in a story that obviously takes place some years ago, really doesn’t work.

    I recommend this show for the performances and underlying story but, be warned, it is very adult material.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.
--DJS


Monday, January 6, 2020

Hedwig and the Angry Inch—Portland Center Stage—Pearl District


          Measure of a (Hu)man

    This classic, cult musical is written by John Cameron Mitchell, with music & lyrics by Stephen Trask and directed by Chip Miller.  Music Director, Amir Shirazi, with the band consisting of Darian Anthony Patrick, Maria Del Castillo, Jasmine Linee Wood and Nsayi Matingou.  It is playing at their space, 128 NW 11th Ave. at the Armory, through February 23rd.  For more information, go to their site at www.pcs.org

    In reality, we are the most perfect of imperfect souls, as the intended function of our creation has only been surpassed by the idiocy of how we treat ourselves, our fellow creatures and the Earth!  We have constantly striven to ignore or thwart any attempts to survive in what once was, a “Paradise.”

    In biblical terms, if that is your cup of tea, we were given a perfect world and have since then striven to destroy it at every turn.  But, one little hiccup in that story, is that only one human was actually created, the male of the species, and the female was developed from his rib, and that has also been a point of contention ever since…and, in an odd way, part of the premise of this play.

    It is of a person, Hedwig (Delphon “DJ” Curtis Jr.), feeling there is something missing in his being, something left out of his creation as a person, another half that has gone dormant…and the story is, in part, his search to find that missing, vital element and become whole again.  And, so my missive, enfolds within this touching fable, this journey to reconnect with the fuller self, as may have been intended all along from Day One!

    Hedwig was a “military brat,” growing up in a small hovel with his mother in East Germany, when there was the infamous Wall (not unlike the equally infamous border Wall today here, only the former was to keep people in, the latter one, to keep people out).  He found some solace in a friendly, security person and enlarged his understanding of who he was.  Eventually settling in the mid-West here, he grew even more, joining a rock band, becoming an entertainer and marrying his current partner, Yitzhak (Ithica Tell).

    He tells his story through a narrative style and in song, detailing the ups and downs of discovering the being within.  The style of music and storytelling is not unlike the equally explosive cult classic, The Rocky Horror Show, as they are both searching for Love and their own essence.  As to the success of his mission, you’ll just have to see it.  But, at its heart, it does speak to anyone that is searching for relevance and their purpose in the scheme of things.

    Curtis is fantastic and, with their band of renown and Tell, is the glue that holds the production together.  Hedwig is a very complex character, both musically and as a person, but Curtis is very believable and is a terrific entertainer, as well.  But I do object that the setting seems to stifle the performances, as the set is crowded with tables and audience members, in order to simulate a cabaret-type of atmosphere, I assume, but it does restrict the actor’s movements, and the amazing band is partially hidden by set pieces.  Also, modern references in a story that obviously takes place some years ago, really doesn’t work.

    I recommend this show for the performances and underlying story but, be warned, it is very adult material.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.
--DJS


Friday, January 3, 2020

Die Hard, the musical parody—Funhouse Lounge—SE Portland


           Never Say Die!

    This camp musical is written and directed by Andy Barrett, with musical direction by Jesse Groat, music composed & arranged by James Liptak and choreography by Justine Isla.  It is playing at their space, 2432 SE 11th Ave., through this weekend.  For more information, go to their site at www.funhouselounge.com

    It is said, “dying is easy, comedy is hard!”  Since no one can verify that, guess we’ll just have to take their word for it.  Camp (either intended, or otherwise) has been around for a long time…from the days John Barrymore rolled his eyes in a silent version of Jekyll & Hyde, through Flash (ahh-ahh) Gordon, Rocky Horror Show, Young Frankenstein, et. al., with the ultimate king of camp going to Mad Magazine (who undoubtably did their own print camp version of this iconic action film).

    The tricky part of Camp is to do it as a homage to the piece, laughing with it, not at it.  And these folks appear to be masters (this being, at least, the third, sold-out incarnation of this piece, with another promised next Christmas).  Look for future parodies of Point Break and Star Trek in the future, as well as generous portions of Improvs, libations and food…and the infamous “Clown Room,” but only if you dare!  A fun time will be had by all.

    Die Hard, the action-filled flick with Bruce Willis, spawned three sequels, and a couple of dandy villains in the guises of Alan Rickman and Jeremey Irons.  But they, too, with all the madcap mayhem going on, did have there tongues firmly planted in their cheeks, as does this one.

    The plot involves a corporate Christmas party, hosted by a famous Japanese firm in their skyscraper building.  Holly (Kate Faye Cummings), a manager in the company, and the estranged wife of rouge Detective, John McClane (Sean Ryan Lamb), is at the top of her game.  But there is the added burden of a band of international thieves, headed by madman, Hans Gruber (Landy Lamb) and his motley crew, consisting of the pessimistic, Inga (Mandy Khoshnevisan), the indiscriminate killer, Karl (Chad Dickerson), Tony (Jon Gennari), and other miscreants (Nefertiti Porter and Linh Nguyen).  The white hats consist of Alex Buckner and Murphy Jackson as lawmen.

    The plot involves millions in bearer bonds that this company has, and the bad guys trying to relieve them of this commodity.  But one, lone cop, methodically thwarts them at every turn.  There are vicious fights and killings, explosions, falls from very high places and gun battles, all taking place in an area the size of one’s living room!  So, reality must take a back seat to viewing this production.  And, in doing that, let your imagination soar, as well as your appreciation for the abstract and camp and, if you do that, this show will curl your toes and put hair on your teeth…as I said…let go of reality, and enjoy!

    Their songs are all delicious, as are the performances.  I especially liked the opening ensemble number; the sardonic love song, Unbreakable; One Job More, with the Nordic brothers; Real Power, with mastermind, Hans; My Time, with the ladies; and Catchphrase, with the fellows.  And S. lamb and Cummings are in excellent voice, as well as being fine comedic talents.  And L. lamb, as the villain, is in a class of her own, as the nefarious head baddie.  She is exception in her acting and singing, as well as creating an unforgettable character!  I can only hope these three will again repeat their roles next year.

    Barrett, Liptak, Groat, Sam Dinkowitz, Isla and Matt Insley, all should be lauded for a production that has, at least, the earmarks for an off-Broadway show!  Also, a shoutout to Haley Ward, the Asst. Dir./Stage Manager, who is a terrific talent in her own right as a performer, someone who I have touted for years in my reviews.

    I would wish the seating was better, as the audience is on the same level so some of the scenes were difficult to see.  I do recommend this production.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.
--DJS