Monday, April 10, 2023

Of Mice And Men—21TEN Theatre—SE Portland


“All the Lonely People…”

    Life In Arts Productions present John Steinbeck’s immortal classic drama, at what used to be the old Shoebox Theatre space (and Theatre Vertigo) at 2110 SE 10th Ave.  The production will run through April 22nd.  For more information, go to their website at or for tickets, or their email,

“…where do they all come from?”      That should be the story’s theme. All these characters are set-apart from the American Dream…awkwardly searching for meaning, friendship, and a reason to go forward…perhaps, not much different than today. Except now, we put our faith, not in Mankind, but in the cold god of Technology…shame on us!

    Steinbeck’s real claim to fame was, of course, The Grapes of Wrath, which was made into a very good film in the 40’s with Henry Fonda.  Later, Gary Sinise and John Malkovitch adapted a rawer stage version ofit.  They also did a good film version of, Of Mice and Men.  But my favorite was a 30’s film version with Burgess Meridith and Lon Chaney, Jr.  (Personally, my favorite book of his was, Travels With Charley, the story of his adventures around the country with his dog…as I’m a dog person).

    There has been some criticism of the author’s view of George (Benjamin Daniel Philip) and Lenny’s (Travis Schlegel) relationship, that George is taking advantage of Lenny’s strength, rather than finding help for his mental deficiencies, to get jobs.  In other words, George needs Lenny more than Lenny needs George.  You decide…

    They bounce from job to job in the fields of Northern California of more than a hundred years ago, seeking a stake so they can live out their American dream.  George is a quick, feisty fellow, looking for a fast buck without too much effort. And his supposed albatross, Lenny, is a burly man physically but more than a little light in the head, who just likes to pet soft things.  Together they find themselves on their next job, where the Boss (Chuck Weed) has been waiting for them to buck grain.

    They meet up with an old retainer, Candy (Ron K. Palmblad), who has a hand missing and a blind old dog.  There is also the stable buck, a black man with a crooked back, called Crooks (Jelani Kee).  We also meet the Boss’s surly son, Curley (Chloe Duckart) and his flirtatious wife (Bobbie Kaye Kupfner).

    They get assigned to Slim’s (Akitora Ishii) tea, who’s a decent fellow.  Among the other ranch hands are Carlson (Brandon Michael) and Whit (Steve Radley).  There is also a wandering mistral (Iris Evans), who underscores, with a guitar, some of the incidents in the play, as well as a few songs the cast sings to emphasize their feelings.  And the cast, as well, narrates parts of the book at times, to color the landscape of the play.

    The play has its own power, which must be seen to appreciate.  In addition to the music/songs, there is a stylized fight scene, snapped in photo-like s stances, which is brilliant.  The set (Kyra Sanford, designer) is sparse to accommodate the many settings of the scenes but works beautifully.  The cast is equally powerful with not a sour note among them.  One can capture the wandering looks in Lenny’s eyes; the restless spirit in George’s movements; the righteous indignation in Crooks demeanor; the hopeless bearing in Candy’s “dying of the light” demeanor; the longing in Curley’s wife’s sashaying; the volcanic rage instilled in Curley; and the quiet acceptance of Slims empty fate.

    There is no director credited, as they all seem to have a hand in it.  But I assume Philip, as Artistic Director, is the driving force.  This a new company on the Portland scene and, if this is any example of what is in store to the local artistic scene, we are in for a treat!  BRAVO!

    This is an intense play and may not be suited for everyone, as well as containing the “N” word.  Also, it may hold only about 50 folks so best get your tickets soon.  But I highly recommend this show.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.


Friday, April 7, 2023

The Inheritance (Part I)—Triangle Productions—NE Portland


“What a Piece of Work is Man…”

    This award-winning, epic drama is written by Matthew Lopez, directed by Andres Alcala and produced by Donald Horn.  It is playing at their space at 1785 NE Sandy Blvd. (free parking lot next to the building) through April 17th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-239-5919.  (Masks recommended because of Covid).

    It is said, we are the sum total of all our parts.  And those “parts” may stretch back generations. Our ancestors contributed much to who we have become.  Our individual chemical/biological make-up is a factor, as is as is the nurturing from relatives, teachers, friends and the wide, world itself that we encounter along the journey of our maturing.  What we make of it and what legacy we may leave behind is firmly within our grasps….let us make proud our heritage.  We stand on the shoulders of others to become who we are today…and, likewise, others will stand on our shoulders…let us ROAR!

    This is an epic story of three generations of gay men in NYC beginning in 2015 and ending, in Part I, in 2017.  The saga continues in Part II from June 1st to 17th.  It is inspired by E. M. Forster’s, Howard’s End.  It begins with Eric (James Sharinghousen), a political activist, with his boyfriend, Toby (Michael Teufel) and what happens when a stranger, Adam (Brave Sohacki) enter their lives, uprooting them and catapulting them into different directions.

    This whole endeavor is orchestrated by these three, et. al., by E. M. Forster himself (Gary Powell), who this group has called upon to help them tell their story.  Toby is an aspiring writer and wants to write the “great, American novel,” but is persuaded to make it into a play about his own life, which is forthcoming.

    And Adam, being an aspiring actor, jockeys to play the lead.  Among others in this menagerie of souls is Eric’s boss, the very serious, Jasper (Adam John Roper) and his lover, Tristan (Eric Zulu).  There are also the rather amusing Jason's, two lovers with the same first names (Tanner Huff &Julio Cesar Velazquez).  There are also some rich friends of theirs, a developer, the reclusive Henry (Gary Wayne Cash) and his shy lover, Walter (Gary Norman).  Henry also has two rather obnoxious sons, Charles (Kimo Camat) and Paul (Roper, again).  And other characters yet to be fleshed out, Peter (Matthew Sunderland) and Dylan Hankins.  There stories and relationships are complicated, varied and, also, full of surprises, which need to be viewed, not summarized.

    I’ve review Sharinghousen before and he is also an asset to any production, as he is here.  His character is both charming and maddening, at times, but very human.  Teufel is terrific as the tortured playwright, trying to exorcise his demons without ever facing them. Sohacki is seemingly disarming as the na├»ve (or not) snake-in-the-grass that slithers into their hearts and destroys their idyllic garden.  Powell is an ole pro of Portland stages (I even acted with him myself once) and is perfect playing the grand architect, Forster, of this extravaganza.  But I was blown away by Norman, as Walter, who has this amazing long, poignant  monologue of his awkward childhood and his touching gift that he gives to those with Aids…a tour de force…Bravo!

    Alcala has done a super job of telling this story in a stylized way, much of the time, and pacing his actors between tension and tenderness.  And Horn has, once again, educated and entertained us with his choice of material….and after 33 years, my hat’s off to you!  A word about the setting and style:  It is an essentially bare stage with allthe actors mostly in view much of the time.  A lot like Pirandello’s, Six Characters in Search of an Author;  Chekov/Simon’s, The Good Doctor; Marat/Sade; and even, the film, The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm, in which the characters, yet to be realized, have a say in their own development.  I love this style of theatre because, in part, it allows the audience to view the artistic process close up.

    It should be noted, this is R rated for subject matter and language.  I highly recommend this play.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.