Monday, October 20, 2014

Bob: A Life in Five Acts—theatrevertigo—SE Portland

Bobbing Along:  Going the Distance

This dark comedy is written by Peter Sinn Nachtrieb and directed by Matthew B. Zrebski.  It is playing at the Shoe Box Theatre space at 2110 SE 10th Ave. through November 15th.  For more information, go to their site at www.theatrevertigo.org

A funny thing happed on the way to my demise—I lived.  How many of us can say that?  Bob and his journey is a microcosm of the American endeavor.  He participates in his dances of Hardship, Love and Luck and, somewhere along those stages, finds himself (or selves), for we are a many-faceted creature.  But it is not the destination that is the focus, but the journey.

In Bob’s (Nathan Crosby) beginnings, he is cruelly thrust into the world on Valentine’s Day in the rest room of a White Castle restaurant.  His mother, Helen (Darcy Lynne), abandons him, so a waitress there, Jeanine (Holly Wigmore) raises him and begins to educate him immediately, by taking him on a road trip around the good ole USA.  It is not long before he calls rest stops his home and lives at one.

Here he meets his true love, Emilia (also, Wigmore) but it is destined to be short-lived as she has her own journey to make.  He eventually takes to the rails and meets in a boxcar, a hobo, Gunther (Tom Mounsey), who takes him under his wing.  But, before long, this encounter too is cut short by some unfortunate circumstances and Bob is again exploring the world with virgin eyes.

Finally, down on his luck, he gambles his last dollars at a casino and wins, finally becoming a rich man.  He has a drool butler, Tony (Nathan Dunkin), who attempts to inspire him with some purpose to his existence but to no avail.  Bob’s big dream is to have his name etched in the memories of people, but when he gets that, he finds himself alone.  But, like all good fables, redemption is just around the corner and…but that would be telling, wouldn’t it?  You’ll have to discover for yourselves.

On the surface, this sounds like a pretty conventional rags-to-riches story.  But, like Bob’s journey, it is not what is obvious that makes it unique, it is what is behind the masks.  And, like Dorothy’s journey to Oz, she may, in the end, recognize some simple truths, that were present all along, but she had to go over the rainbow before she discovered them.  Again, the journey is the key.

Nachtrieb’s script may seem odd at first glance, but like all good stories, there are many layers underneath.  And Zrebski has managed to find all the nuances this tale holds.  Except for a few props, he has wisely chosen to leave the stage bare and let the actors be the map of his travels.  And his cast is quite exceptional.

All the actors mentioned above, except Bob, play all the various characters that appear in Bob’s surreal world.  This Chorus of voices are essential to a successful telling of the tale.  All their incarnations are very distinct.  I especially liked Wigmore’s Emilia, his lost love, and as Janine, his surrogate mother.  She is very appealing as both.  Lynne’s portrayal of his mother, Helen, delivers a complex character that is both scary and touching and her Bonnie, Helen’s friend, is a hoot.  Also, a small bit as an abused, kidnapped child is chilling.  Both terrific in their many guises.

Mounsey is great as Gunther, the hobo, a complex man with his own story to tell.  And his Leo at the end is a direct contrast to that.  Well done.  Dunkin is always good in whatever shows he does and I especially liked his Tony, the butler, a wise man who sees the good in Bob.  And Crosby, as Bob, is amazing.  He goes through as many transformations as does the Chorus and is riveting and believable in his evolution.  This is an actor to be watched, as this is a top-notch performance!

We are not alone, as you will discover through the course of this personal journey. And we do have an effect on others, so all life is precious.  We are all part of each others’ stories so tread softly before you judge, as a larger story is unfolding.  That is my take-away from this, yours may be different and equally valuable.

I recommend this show but it does have some brief nudity and is adult in its subject matter.  If you do choose to go, please tell them that Dennis sent you.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Homecoming—Imago Theatre—SE Portland


No Holds Barred


This black comedy by Harold Pinter is directed and designed by Jerry Mouawad (Imago’s Artistic Director and Co-Founder).  It is playing at their space at 17 SE 8th Ave. (just off Burnside) through November 9th.  For more information, go to their site at www.imagotheatre.com or call 503-731-9581.

You may balk when I call this play a “comedy” and contend there is nothing funny about it.  And you’d be right, if we were talking about “comedy” in the more common usage of the word.  But this is not your traditional, trivial, TV sit-com funny.  This is absurdist comedy, meaning nonsensical or ridiculous.  The style is not beholding to any sort of “normal” rules of storytelling, nor does Pinter, nor does this play.

Chekov also contended that his plays were comedies, being that they focused on the human condition and the struggle between class systems, which he found amusing.  This play is also a struggle…but a struggle between realities…a struggle for dominance…control…king-of-the-hill…top dog.  We all have stories and are part of each others’ stories.  But in these stories…these realities…these dreams/nightmares, who is the Creator/Controller?  In the world of The Homecoming, the map of the family’s landscape is continually being redrawn…reinvented…re-imagined.

On the surface, it is the story of family dynamics.  There is the retired grizzled old father, Max (Douglas Mitchell) and his three dutiful sons.  Lenny (Jacob Coleman), the eldest, a nattily-dressed, oily character, who owns some real estate.  Then, there is the passive, middle son, Teddy (Jeffrey Jason Gilpin), a well-to-do philosophy professor.  And finally, the baby of the brood, the not-too-bright, Joey (Jim Vadala), an aspiring boxer.

Add to this mix, Ruth (Anne Source), Teddy’s mysterious wife, and the prissy, Sam (Craig Rovere), Max’s brother, a Limo driver, who lives with them.  Teddy, who has been away for about six years and now has three boys, has decided to drop in for a few days on his infamous family.  This unexpected development upsets the balance of power and so now they all must jockey for new positions.  In turn, each of the family members of this rocky assemblage strut about and spout their positions in this new arrangement, giving and taking as needed to get the upper hand.

But there are some surprises for all of them, as one member claws to the top of the heap, giving way to a strange, new world.  I certainly can’t give away too much more, as an audience must discover, as the other characters in the show, the outcomes of these proceedings.  But, if you go expecting the traditional tale of a family misbehaving, you might be surprised, pleasantly, I hope.

Mouawad is probably the foremost and best interpreter of Pinter in this part of the country.  I have reviewed his The Lover and The Caretaker, and they both exceeded my expectations, as I am a fan of Pinter.  His set design (as well as lighting, Jeff Forbes, and sound, Ryan Mooney) is surreal, evoking memories of some the German, expressionist films of the 20’s and 30’s.  And his (and the cast’s) handling of the dialogue is key to appreciating Pinter. The pauses and pacing in his scripts are exacting and must be followed to get the true impact of his plays.  Mouawad delivers a package worthy, I’m sure, of even Pinter’s praise!

The cast is so uniformly in tune with each other and the script that it is hard to pick any one person out.  But I especially appreciated Coleman’s Lenny, as he stands alone in his portrayal of a really creepy individual.  And Source’s Ruth, excels in exposing the power a woman can have if she puts her mind to it.  But, as I said, an exceptional, ensemble cast.


I would recommend this show but it is definitely adult in nature.  If you do go, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Typographer’s Dream—Portland Center Stage—NW Portland

The Measure of a Man

This comedy by Adam Bock is directed by Rose Riordan.  It is playing at their space at 128 NW 11th Ave., in the Pearl District, through November 16th.  For more information, go to their site at www.pcs.org or call 503-445-3700.

After you first meet somebody at a social gathering, what is typically one of the first things you ask them?  “What do you do,” right?  And if I were to answer them literally, I might say, “I’m write plays…I like to take long walks on the beach…I enjoy listening to Classical music…et. al.”  And they would probably look at me with a blank stare, then repeat the question.  What they meant was, what do you do for a living?  But, candidly, is that who we really are, our jobs?

At its heart, that is what this play is examining, I believe.  What makes us who we are?  And it is seen through the eyes of three analytical people.  There is Dave (Kelsey Tyler), the Stenographer or Court Reporter, who has had to learn how to communicate in another language altogether, via his abbreviated typing machine.  There is no room for error in his job.  He is a witness to events and the “he said, she said” dialogues that he transcribes must be accurate, as it is real lives and events that are being exposed and examined.  Only problem is that Dave has forgotten who he is, as he never uses the word “I” when talking with others.  His personal world has been swallowed up into his work world.

Annalise (Laura Faye Smith) is totally absorbed or, maybe obsessed, with her job, a Geographer, or decoder of maps.  She seems to understand the nature of boundaries and how their arbitrary placements on the Earth have major ramifications with people, cultures, livelihoods, etc.  She illustrates how Nature intended the world to be and the complications humans have imposed on it.  An eagle, flying overhead, does not see lines drawn in the sand, or borders.  He sees the whole forest, not just the trees.  And the early Native Americans did not understand how one can own land, as it is for everyone to share, as we are the caretakers of Mother Earth.  Simple, smart lessons we seem to have forgotten.

Margaret (Sharonlee McLean), the Typographer, a type of graphic writing, seems intrigued but somewhat frightened by her job.  It is the ability to makes things stand out in written form or become buried, depending on how you set the type/page.  A truth can become a lie, or a lie, the truth, depending on how one arranges things on a page.  It is a scary thought and could make one feel like a conspirator, or one that is conspired against.  The strength of the pen, the written word, can truly be more powerful than the sword.

These three people and the jobs they inhabit are the focal point for the story.  In truth, it is a sad story, told by sad but funny people.  They can laugh through their tears.  Somewhere the real human, their personal worth, has gotten lost in their job descriptions.  It is interesting to note that children have no “job descriptions.”  Their purpose is to play, to enjoy, to explore and discover.  And then, we get older and leave all that behind.  But, like these three characters, we may have lost something important in that transition.  The measure of a person may just be in finding that lost child again, within ourselves.

Riordan has presented this show much like a Stage Reading, except they don’t use scripts, and it works well on that level.  Except for some visual aids, it is pretty much dependant on the cast to carry the show.  And she has chosen her cast well.  McLean is wonderful as the less chatty of the trio, tending to brood more, and seemingly quite troubled by her plight, as a purveyor of possible lies.  Smith is certainly verbose and can be maniacal at time, which is both funny and scary.  A complex character and well presented.  Tyler as the man who seems to struggle most with who he is, allows us to see the confidence slowly slip away, as he becomes more questioning of who he is and, thus, more vulnerable and human.  Good job by him and the other two ladies.

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

In The Forest She Grew Fangs—defunkt theatre—SE Portland

“Here There Be Monsters”

This production plays at the Common Grounds coffee house at 4319 SE Hawthorne Blvd. through November 15th.  It was written by Stephen Spotswood and directed by Andrew Klaus-Vineyard.  For more information, go to their site at www.defunktheatre.com.

This is the 15th Season for this very successful black-box theatre and, if this play is any indication of things to come, then they will have many more years of good fortune.  This very loose, modernized adaptation of Little Red, Riding Hood (the original story, not the sanitized ones) has elements of Into The Woods and a very good, not often seen, film from the 70’s, Last Summer.  Simply put, it is about the angst of growing into adulthood and the sexual awakenings that occur.  Like I said, very simply put, for this journey goes much further, for the woods are lovely to look at but dark and deep, too.

Again, simply put, from a psychological viewpoint, tall trees and towers are symbols of the male and water or rivers are symbols of the female.  These elements definitely come into play in this story.  And, keep in mind, when viewing this show, things and people are not always as they appear.  Like Life, there are layers within layers and stories within stories.  And we are who we are because of our Past, not in spite of it.  We are Evolution in the making.

Lucy (Marisol Ceballos) is a typical, small-town girl, a bit of a wall-flower, a loner, who feels more at ease with the forest and streams.  She is picked-on and bullied by her classmates (Kitty Fuller, R. David Wyllie, and Annie Ganousis) and doesn’t seem to have a friend in the world.  She lives with her Granny, Ruth (Lauren Modica) who has a few demons of her own that torment her.  She is haunted by her own unhappy childhood memories of not being worth anything.

Into this less than idyllic world appears the new kid in town, Jenny (Tabitha Trosen).  She is “hot” and all the guys want to date her…and more.  But she has her own insecurities coming from the big city.  And she misses her abusive boyfriend, the one with “cold, granite abs and hot surf.”  And, of course, the nerdy guy in school, Hunter (Gabriel Isaac Lakey) is trying to work up the courage to ask her out.

But the forest and the river are the keys to all these longings and achings, and itches and twitches.  It is the ripening and budding of a strange, new world.  The unexplored country where no one returns unchanged.  It is seemingly a natural progression through troubled waters and tangled branches.  The outcome is never a foregone conclusion.  I really can’t tell you anymore of the plot because it needs to be experienced not summarized.  But it is an in-your-face (literally) experience and not for the faint of heart.  It is not a show for young children but it is something that should be seen by savvy teens.

Klaus-Vineyard, the director, has assembled quite an impressive team to produce this show.  And he has his cast, wisely, underplay their characters in a story that could easily have been over-acted.  And he has done it on a simple stage space, letting his outstanding visuals and his terrific cast and script tell the story.  The designers, Max Ward, Dan Minzer, Jesse Holt and Lori Sue Hoffman, are to be commended for creating such a surreal world in such a limited space.  I loved the actors disappearing into the fire and water effects.

Lakey does a convincing job of presenting a guy who is awkward in social situations and, I’m sure, we all know the sort.  Modica is excellent as Granny, especially in her monologues.  Quite honestly, I could have listened to her telling stories all night.  Trosen, as the “hottie” is definitely, just that.  But she manages to bring a depth and complexity to her character that makes her very believable to us and, thus, we can emphasize with her.  Well done.

And Ceballos, as the budding wallflower, is an extraordinary young actress.  This role is very demanding both physically and emotionally, a roller-coaster ride that never slows down.  She projects sexy, vulnerable and yet dangerous, a possible deadly combination for this vixen-like persona.  She has quite a future ahead of her in the artistic fields, I would predict!

Oh, and where are the Monsters, you may ask?  Guess what, folks, look in the mirror—they are here!

Also, it is sponsored by Contact Lines For Life for troubled souls, whether substance abuse or suicide prevention or bullying, etc., contact them at 1-800-282-7035 or info@LinesForLife.org  

I recommend this show but it is adult in content and language.  If you do go, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Monday, October 6, 2014

The Last Days—Post5 Theatre—NE Portland


The Great, Full Dead

This Halloween-type drama is written by Carlos Cisco and directed and designed by Rusty Tennant.  It is playing at their current space at 850 NE 81st Ave. (Note:  they will be moving to their new space for the rest of the season at 1666 NE Lambert St.).  For more information on the show and their new space, go to their site at www.post5theatre.org

Okay, this show is about Zombies and is a perfect Halloween show.  There certainly have been plenty of movies about them.  The best early ones were Lewton’s atmospheric, I Walked With A Zombie and White Zombie, with Lugosi, both quite good.  A semi-factual one came out a number of years ago called The Serpent and the Rainbow, also not bad.  But Romero owns the genre with his Night of the Living Dead and his subsequent sequels Return of…, Dawn of…, and Day of….

There are some rules that go with this genre.  Originally they were created for cheap labor through some voodoo rituals but most of the later incarnations of these creatures, including this play, disregard that rule.  But the constants are that if you are bitten by one, you become one in a short period of time.  Also they eat flesh and a delicacy for them is the brains.  And the best way to kill them is to shoot them through the head.  In short, they are mindless, eating machines, who seem to be immortal.

This is about four survivors of a Zombie take-over that have holed up in a cabin in some mountainous woods somewhere.  Shep (Orion Bradshaw, co-founder of Post5) is a survivalist and self-appointed, Leader of the Pack, an anti-hero.  He carries The Regulator (a baseball bat with pointy nails, a type of Medieval Mace) with him wherever he goes, keeps himself in tip-top shape and has a mean pick-up.  His wife is Larina (Cassandra Boice, Associate Artistic Director).  She is also is tip-top shape (Ow!) and is dressed to kill.  She has her weaknesses, though, canned green beans, her brother and is haunted by memories of her family and the fact that she has never had any closure to their deaths.

Another member of this intrepid troop is Val (Ernie Lijoi), Larina’s brother, a bear of a man but with a soft heart, who has no taste for killing.  He loves his sister dearly, lumbers about the place in some confusion and has a deadly secret.  And lastly, there is Miguel, (Chip Sherman, a long-time member of the company), an intellectual and Val’s lover.  He is a tender, thoughtful soul but can be brutal if the occasion arises.  He is the calm center of this hurricane-like mass of individuals.

One would expect this to be a tongue-in-cheek (no pun intended) take on a very familiar tale (to us horror buffs).  But, although there is some dark humor, it is a pretty straight-forward story of people trying to survive after a holocaust.  And part of that survival means getting along with each other and leaning to compromise, which is not the strong suit of any of these characters.  It also adds a twist by the second act in which they are allowed to reflect on their fears and hopes, so the audience can become aware of what they are thinking and feeling.  Quite effective.  This script by Cisco definitely has the makings of a film.

This four-person cast is a virtual powerhouse of talent, exploding on the stage with a force to be reckoned with.  Zombies are no match for the artistic quality of this production!  Grateful survivors we all be.  Bradshaw is always a stand-out in all he does.  His survivalist would match anything that a Schwarzenegger could dish out.  Sherman, also, is thrilling to watch in all his stage incarnations.  His character here gives hope to the artistic nature of mankind.  Boice is a knock-out and a triple threat in the Art world (actor, writer & director).  She has it all and, in this production, gives us a powerful example of what a woman can and should do in this so-called “man’s world.”  And Lijoi presents us with the dual nature of a man, sensitive yet macho.  A touching performance.

And Tennant is no slouch in wearing several hats in theatre (director, actor, designer/builder, and fight choreographer).  Of course he has a dynamite cast to work with but he also has managed to stage it, using most of the theatre space for this sprawling cabin.  It gives you a sense that you are in there with them.  And his cabin design is super with shingles and see-through slats that, with his unique lighting, give an eerie effect.  The man who can do everything, has done everything that could be done with this show.

I recommend this show and it’s probably fine for teens and up, but there is adult language and some stylized violence and suggested sex.  If you do go, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Exiles—Artists Rep—SW Portland

Race For Freedom

This drama, a NW Premiere, is written by Carlos Lacámara and directed by Dámaso Rodriguez (Artists Rep’s Artistic Director).  It is playing at their space at SW Alder St. & 16th Ave. through October 26th.  For more information, go to their site at www.artistsrep.org

The time is 1980.  The President is Carter and Castro rules Cuba.  The place is onboard a small boat, somewhere in the 90 miles of watery stretch between the Florida Keys and Cuba.  It was a brief period of time where Castro allowed whoever wanted to, to leave the island and Carter allowed this migration.  The problem was that Castro released many of the political dissidents and people that were mentally unstable.  This ark represents those dreamers and the damned.

First, I have to say, although the actors were all terrific, the lasting image I have of the show is the boat, moving in the water and the excellent video images on the backdrop.  Plaudits to the director and the designer, Megan Wilkerson.  This not only gave a cramped but realistic playing space for the actors but allowed the audience to partake in the journey, as well, with them.  It was also wise not to have an intermission, as that would have broken the spell.

The story is a microcosm of some of the varied individuals that would have been on the boats escaping toward a brave, new world.  The Lunatic (Bobby Bermea) was a political cartoonist with the regime until he dared ridicule the Leader himself.  But his true reality is in the oceans of his mind (not unlike the Chief in One flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) and his desire is to taste an apple one more time.  The boat also houses Pepito (John San Nicolas), a political prisoner, a revolutionary waiting for the opportunity to rule in his own reality.  A visionary with violence as his bedmate.

The Captain of the sputtering vessel is Rolando (Andrés Alcalá), a man haunted by his past and those he left behind.  His son, Roli (Rafael Miguel), is a naïve dreamer, who wishes his slice of the American ideal.  He may be unrealistic but he does have courage.  Also, along for the ride is Joaquin (Jason Glick), an avowed Communist at one time who has some terrible secrets he must hide.  His rocky relationship with the Captain goes back many years, in which many wounds are exposed during this trip.  And the last trepid traveler is his daughter, Saadia (Sekai Edwards), an intellectual who didn’t see Cuba as a prison but is just along for the ride because of her father’s desire to escape.

All these explorers, thrown together by circumstance and the elements, must learn to get along in order to survive.  They may rail at the storm, and each other, and commune with the stars but learning to adapt to their circumstances may be the biggest challenge of all…the evolution of one’s being.  My personal favorite scene was the one between Joaquin and Rolando, as they let their guards down and talked frankly about the old days.  A meeting of the minds that may not change things but, at least, they put things in perspective.

This will give you a flavor of the show, in which discoveries will be made as to the fates of all these individuals.  It is tense, provocative and enlightening.  One could compare it to border and immigration issues that we currently have with Mexico.  People simply wanting the best for themselves and their families.  That would probably be understandable to anyone.

Rodriguez and Wilkerson, as mentioned, have created an amazing atmosphere for this story.  And the author, Lacámara, does not seem to be making judgments on people but simply giving them a platform on which to expound on their lives as they see it.  And the actors are all excellent in revealing the colors of their rainbows.  A fine ensemble cast.

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

The Piano Lesson—Portland Playhouse—NE Portland


Haunted Lives

This award-winning play by August Wilson is part of his 10-decade cycle of stories about Afro-Americans.  It is directed by Kevin Jones and is playing at their site at 602 NE Prescott St. through November 2nd.  Artists Rep, and OSF in Ashland, have also done shows of the cycle by this author.  For more information, go to their site at www.portlandplayhouse.org

The Portland Playhouse is now, has been, and probably always will be one of the best interpreters of Wilson’s works.  There is unquestionably the talent here and they seem to have the passion for this brilliant writer that is unmatched.  The place is the Charles’s home in Pittsburg in the mid-1930’s.   Like in many of his stories, there is always the prodigal son or outsider that enters the picture and stirs things up.  And, as always, there are the ghosts from the past that will intrude upon the living.

Boy Willie (Bryant Bentley) comes home after a long time on the road.  He has arrived with his childhood friend, Lymon (Seth Rue), in a broken-down truck and a parcel of watermelons to sell.  The home is owned by his uncle, Doaker (Mujahid Abdul-Rashid) and the most prized possession in it is the old piano, moved up here from the South and a product of their heritage, as it is carved with the faces of their family, slaves in a disgraceful time in our country’s history.

His sister, Bernice (Chantal DeGroat), lives there, too, with her daughter, 12-year old, Maretha (Seraiah Hardy), the doorway into future generations.  Other visitors to this bridge between Past and Present are Wining Boy (“Ranney”), Doaker’s best friend, a man always out of money and looking for the next hustle.  There is the Preacher, Avery (Ronald Scott), Bernice’s beau, looking to build a church for all lost souls.  And Grace (Carmen Brantley-Payne), a gal just out for a good time.
And they all have their stories, either about them or some influential event in their life that molds and shapes them as to who they are today.  A common device in Wilson’s plays.

But the conflict of the tale is an age-old one.  The struggle of living and honoring one’s Past, one’s heritage, the Piano, built with blood, sweat and tears, or moving forward into the Present, by selling it to ensure future dreams, in this case, to buy land.  Family dynamics are never easy to deal with and can be explosive, as is the case with this brood.  It’s really not a question of who’s right or who’s wrong but how to do both.  When your memories tug at you from behind and your dreams entice you forward, what is the solution?

In this case, it is taken out of their hands, as the Ghosts from the Yellow Dogs come calling.  Like forlorn whistles in the night, warning of dire consequences if ignored or forgotten, the battle is brought to an explosive conclusion by the end of the story.  We are who we are because of our heritage, not in spite of it.  And, as has been said, if we cannot solve the mistakes from the Past, then we are bound to repeat them.  So blindly forging ahead is not the answer.  Instead we must hold out our hands to our ancestors and walk slowly forward with them to, hopefully, a better tomorrow.

Jones has done an excellent job of casting and presenting this story.  You feel as if you’re really there, shamefully spying into a neighbor’s yard, painfully aware that rhythm of their songs may march in cadence with your own.  He has woven a rich tapestry of human foibles and fears, never making judgments but allowing us to witness lives in constant motion.

And it is certainly one of the best ensemble casts I have seen.  It is as if you want to reach out your hand, help the little girl up the stairs and guard her from the dark at the top of them.  They are all so real and touchable that you feel that you might make a difference if you could just walk into their world.  And, just maybe, that is part of the point of the play.

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