Thursday, February 11, 2016

Taming of the Shrew—Battle Ground Drama Club—Battle Ground, WA

“The Roaring Twenties”

One of Shakespeare’s most popular comedies is being directed by Stephan “Cash” Henry in The Lair at Battle Ground High School, 300 W. Main St., through February 20th at 7 pm.  For more information, go to their site

In Henry’s notes he quotes the Bard, “The course of true love never did run smooth.”  Very accurate statement but, in considering the times he wrote, it was a lot rockier road for women than men.  They often were given (sold?) in marriage to a wealthy landowner, in which a handsome dowry was included.  In some countries that custom is still practiced.  In fact, a perfect setting for this play might be modern- day North Africa were women are suppressed a great deal more than Kate and her ilk.

There is no getting around the message of the play, that women’s roles are to be obedient and submissive to their mates.  But the freedom exhibited in the 1920’s at least gives them room to breathe.  The Bard’s writings are often transposed to other eras, which is fitting, as that none of his stories are original but taken from tales of other countries.  One thing that is particularly appealing about this show, is that it is very accessible and done in a “conversational” style, so is easy to understand.

And now, to be transported back, not a few thousand years but less than a hundred.  It seems that a rich landowner, Baptista (Justin Kunkel) has two daughters he wishes to marry off, Kate (Sammy Carroll) and Bianca (Jamie Allen), to increase his holdings.  It is customary that the eldest (Kate) must be married off first but, because of her temperament, she has no suitors.  Bianca, on the other hand, has many.  There is the foppish, Hortensio (Brendan Groat), the oily, Gremio (Andre Roy) and a new arrival in town, Lucentio (Skyler Denfeld), sent here to study.

They, of course, in turn, have their assorted servants, who are usually pictured as wiser than their masters.  The clever, Trainia (Cassidy Macadam) and the slow-witted, Biondello (Ben Howard), are assigned to Lucentio.  Into this mix we add the devil-may-care, Petruchio (Jack Harvison), who agrees to woo, Kate (for a fee, of course) and his petulant servant, Grumio (Ceili O’Donnell).  Half of the play deals with the many guises and tricks the men are willing to do to “win” their ladies and, once won, the attempt to “tame” them.

It would be too complicated to try to explain the story because of the many twists and turns.  But, during the course of it, we shall meet Petruchio’s flighty house servants, Phillip (Joe Vaught), Josephina (Arial Stanton), Nichola (Madison Gardner), Nathaniel (Vanessa Gress), and Curtis (Mackenna Davis).  We shall also meet a proud Widow (Katie Beard), a weary merchant (Thomas Rismoen), an aging father, Vincentio (Jerrin King), a feisty Tailor (Louise Bredvig Larsen) and a frightened Hatmaker (Ethan Floyd).

It is amazing that, with the right Teacher and Director, even teens can speak the language of the Bard and make it understandable.  They all do well in this regard and most of the thanks must go to Henry for leading this troupe.  The set by Groat and Sundance Wilson Henry, as well as her costumes, add to the fun and frivolity of this era.  And the music and title cards help establish the period, too.  One thing I would have added was to make some attempt to disguise the actors when playing different characters, even a simple mask across the eyes would have suggested enough of a change to convince an audience.

As mentioned, all the actors spoke “the speech liltingly on the tongue.”  But there were some that were even a step above that in their approach to the roles.  Both Harvison and Carroll as the leads were good choices and exhibited the necessary fire the roles called for.  Denfeld, as the young lover, stood out in what could have been a “throw-away” role.  He has talent.  Howard shows some nice comic timing in his role.  Macadam shows a real flair for the dual roles she performs.  And O’Donnell, as the Chaplin-ese servant, has a real stage presence and is animated and focused in her performance.  Well done.

I recommend this show, as these teens deserve to be applauded for doing well in an art form that many adults cannot conquer.  If you do see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Monday, February 8, 2016

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee—Broadway Rose—Tigard, OR


This musical was conceived by Rebecca Feldman, is written by Rachel Sheinkin with music and lyrics by William Finn and additional material by Jay Reiss.  It is directed by Annie Kaiser, musical direction by Jeffrey Childs and choreography by Dan Murphy (Founder/General Manager of B/R).  It is playing at their space, 12850 SW Grant Ave. in Tigard, through February 28th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-620-5262.

I’m sure we could all think of themes/ideas for a play or book or musical.  But who, in one’s vast imagination would have ever thought of one about a Spelling Bee?!  You’re kidding, I’m sure must have been a response of producers.  But, you know, it works.  I suppose, if you look at any event, you have to admit it is made up of people.  And, in people, there are stories.  And so it is here…

I have to admit I am the world’s worst speller and couldn’t have spelled most of the words these characters came across.  Mostly, I suppose, we have trouble with spelling because words don’t often spell like they sound.  It may be the same way with people…they don’t often act like they look or behave outwardly.  And so we are introduced to this band of misfit kids and are ask to identify with them.

There is Olive (Danielle Purdy) who is shy, awkward, introverted, and a loner.  But you discover she does have feelings, is pretty smart, has a mother who seems to have abandoned her and really just doesn’t have anybody to confide in.  Barfée (Troy Pennington) is overweight, very smart, arrogant, has medical problems and has no friends.  But he is really just self-conscience, lacks social skills and is interested in science.  Chip (Alexander Salazar) is a Boy Scout, an outsider, has trouble adjusting to puberty and is also pretty much a loner.  But inwardly he just needs a friend and someone to guide him through this awkward stage.

Logainne (Catherine Olson) is also at an awkward transition for a young person, as she is Gay and a political activist, and has two fathers, which seems to set her apart from the mainstream of young people.  But, inwardly, she just wants to be loved for herself, stripping away the veneer, where she is just as vulnerable as anyone else.  Marcy (Audrey Voon) is a good Catholic girl, speaks six languages, loves music and athletics, very smart and is an over-achiever.  And, because of that, she really doesn’t fit into any social circles.  And poor Leaf (David Swadis), with his starched hair-do and his super-hero attire, a nerd who just doesn’t seem to fit in with anybody and yet, that’s exactly what he desires, to be a part of a group.

Then there is also Rona (Amy Jo Halliday), a past winner and moderator of this enterprise.  There is no doubt about it, she runs the show.  Panch (Lyle Bjorn Aranson) is the voice of the contest, giving out definitions and usages to the entrees.  He is also a bit of a prig and sweet on Rona.  And Mitch (Brian Demar Jones) is a comfort counselor and gives solace to those who lose.  He is also doing this as his community service, as he is part of the prison system.

All these characters have their stories to tell and to reveal much more would be giving discoveries away that the audience should glean.  But know there is more than one winner, depending on how you define “winning.”  And the songs are super.  My favorites were “Pandemonium,” w/Leaf & Co., “Magic Foot” w/Barfée, “Prayer of the Comfort Counselor” w/Mitch & Co., “Chip’s Lament,” “Woe Is Me,” w/Logainne & Co., “I Speak Six Languages” w/Marcy and “The I Love You Song” w/Olive & Co.  They are all powerful singers and certainly add to the success of the show.

Kaiser has done well, balancing the show with quieter times and then letting other moments explode.  The costumes (designer, Brynne Oster-Bainnson) help immeasurably in defining the characters.  The dances, by Murphy, are simple but effective.  And Childs and his band complement the show without overpowering the actors.

The acting by all is very specific and you feel for them, their characters.  Purdy is always worth watching in a show and she excels here, too.  Halliday and Jones have, perhaps, the most powerful voices in the show and are put to good use here.  Arnason has some of the funniest lines with his definitions and usages and has a great comic timing when delivering them.  Pennington touchingly presents an unsympathetic character in a sympathetic way.

Salazar is good at presenting a boy at an awkward age, something we can all identify with, I’m sure.  Voon is spot on in playing that oh-so-perfect person outwardly but is empty inwardly.  Olson’s character is so annoying at times that you want to ignore her until you see her vulnerable side and then you want to hug her.  And Swadis plays the nerd to a tee, someone we all knew (or were) in our youth.

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

You For Me For You—Portland Playhouse—NE Portland

Windmills of the Mind

This dream-like drama is written by Mia Chung and directed by Gretchen Corbett.  It is playing at their space, 602 NE Prescott St. (parking lot is located about 2 blocks North of the theatre), through February 28th.  For more information, go to their site at

I call this “dream-like,” or better expressed by the author, “magic realism.”  Keeping in mind, of course, that the word “dream” and magic have darker sides, too, called Nightmares.  Sometimes the only way someone can survive horrible experiences is by creating a fantasy…putting your real-life occurrences at arm’s length so that you can deal with them.  In Chung’s case, she uses the Pen to dissipate (or expose) the shadows that haunt her.  I’ve expressed it before, the old adage, “the Pen is Mightier than the Sword,” and, in time, I believe it will crush all demi-gods.

And so, in that vein…Once Upon a Time, in a Far-off Land, there lived a Fire-breathing Dragon.  He was a very demanding creature and would destroy anyone who spoke against him.  He discouraged, in the most heinous ways, anyone who would try to think for themselves.  In this Land, there also lived two sisters who desired to escape this Evil Empire.  And, the one thing that the beast could not control was their minds, their imaginations and so, a new reality…a magic reality…was born…

The elder sister, Minhee (Susan Hyon) was ill and food was scarce in North Korea.  Her younger sister, Junhee (Khanh Doan) was also starving and they knew the time had come to escape this restrictive structure.  They had heard horror stories of the Imperial Americans and so they chose to attempt a crossing into China.  They hired a Smuggler (Stephen Hu) to get them over the border but, in the process, they got separated.  And here, for the most part, is where the dream story or fantasy takes center stage.

Minhee’s “dream” focuses much of the time on her pangs of guilt on letting the government take away her son at an early age and be “re-educated,” reprogrammed in the ways of the State.  She also has a longing to find out what happened to her husband, a soldier of the State.  But, be careful what you wish for, as a visitation describes in graphic detail what she dreaded most.

Junhee has recurring images of Woman (Nikki Weaver), speaking what appears to be gibberish in various scenes (perhaps accenting the inability of one culture to communicate to another?).  Finally she envisions herself in a job at a hospital in NYC.  She also meets a fellow, Wade (La’ Tevin Alexander), who gives her the lowdown on being American, especially speaking her mind.  The American Dream come true?!  We’ll see…

The style in which this story is presented raises it a notch or two above other stories of this ilk.  It is presented in a dance-like (choreographer, Jessica Wallenfels), dream-like way, in which an ensemble of actors (Ken Yoshikawa, Elizabeth Bartz, Collette Campbell, Quinian Fitzgerald, Andrea Whittle, and Alex Ramirez) portray other characters, many in a surrealistic fashion.  And the setting (designer, Curt Enderle) is almost a bare stage, only bringing in a minimum of props and furniture pieces needed in the scene, and allowing the lighting (designer, Solomon Weisbard) and sound (designer, Matt Wiens) and, of course, actors, to create the atmosphere of this piece.

I can’t imagine the complexities that Corbett must have had to consider in order to do justice to the play.  But she has done it very well, incorporating what Chung calls “magic realism” into the mix.  And, in this way, she has created an alternate reality for the audience, as well.  Very well executed, I must say.  Wallenfels, likewise, creates an atmosphere of movement that enhances the surreal elements.

And the two leads, Hyon and Doan, are very convincing as the sisters.  All the gyrations necessary to create this world would have fallen on its face if these two ladies were not believable.  But, rest assured, they do remarkably well!  Weaver, in a variety of roles, is always engaging.  I can’t phantom how she managed to learn the variety of accents and gibberish(?) necessary for the parts and still make them understandable.  Wow.  Hu gives an extra dimension to his Smuggler, as he appears to have a bit of a heart, too.  And Alexander does present a very realistic portrait of what it is to be an American.

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

Much Ado About Nothing—Twilight Theater Company—N. Portland

Claudio (L) and Beatrice (R), played by Levi Ruiz and
Taylor Jean
Photography credit:  Garry Bastian of Garry Bastian Photography

This classic comedy by Shakespeare is directed by Sue Harris and is playing at their space, 7515 N. Brandon (parking across the street in the church parking lot), through February 27th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-847-9838.

The Bard’s musings have taken on many locales and time periods over the years since he conceived his plays.  Of course, he essentially lifted his stories from other sources, so I guess it’s only fair we transpose them as well.  His characters have been incarnated into New Orleans, Haiti, the hippie era of the 60’s, post-desert storm, Alaska, et. al. and now, Messina, Texas.  The setting that is rarely done is to place it in his time and space, with audiences sitting on the edges of the stages, laughing and asking questions of the actors, drinking their brews and tossing chicken bones around, females onstage being played by boys, and vendors hawking their wares during the performance.  But that was then…this is now.

The setting this time, as mentioned, is Messina, Texas.  So we find the Prince, Don Pedro (Benjamin Philip), coming back from the wars with two of his most eligible bachelors, Benedick (JJ Harris) and Claudio (Levi Ruiz), looking for mates.  They find them in Beatrice (Taylor Jean Grady), daughter of Antonio (Aaron Crosby); and the Governor, Leonato (Aaron Morrow), in his daughter, Hero (Alicia Hueni).  Hero is easily won over by Claudio, but Beatrice is a kissing cousin to Kate, the shrew, from another of the Bard’s works.  And he, Benedick, is equally stubborn and pig-headed.

So family, and servants, including Ursula (Tate Kuhn) and Margaret (Tabitha Ebert), serving maids to the ladies, conspire to get these two lovers together.  Meanwhile, back at the manor, we have a disgruntled Don John (Mark Putnam), brother to Don Pedro, desiring Hero for himself.  So he, and his mates, Borachio (Ilana Watson) and Conrade (Russell Owens), devise a method of smearing Hero’s reputation, giving the inference that she is not a maiden.  Obviously, Claudio is not pleased and so has his own devices for dealing with such treachery before the Preacher (Doug Jacobs). 

Meanwhile, on the home front, the intrepid Dogberry (Tom Witherspoon), the constable, and his band of merry minions, Verges (Bobby Nove), Seacole (Belanna Winborne) and Otecake (Amelia Harris) have captured Don John’s underlings and they confess to concocting the whole plot before a Judge (Mary Winborne).  More I cannot tell you but, this being mostly a comedy, things have a way of working out for all concerned.

Motivations of villainy are one thing that is never very clear in Mr. S’s plays.  Why is Oberon so irate about Titania taking in a changeling boy; why is Iago really so hateful toward Othello; and why is Don John so mean to his brother and Claudio?  Jealousy seems to be a key factor but to really go to such extremes…but, then again, there would be no play without these crucial elements.  Contrivance is usually something that is in most plots…in other words, if something doesn’t happen in a certain way, then the story falls apart.  And so, bowing to this device, Don John must concoct his scheme so that we have a play.

It is gratifying to see that Harris has assembled this many people to deliver Shakespeare’s words and, for the most part, they do reasonably well.  Part of the success of this, is that she has them speak in a conversational way, which makes all the difference.  I learned Conversational Shakespeare from Dr. Bowmer (Founder of OSF in Ashland) and Richard Fancy from NYC.  It is the “new” Shakespeare onstage.  Therefore, one should not fear not understanding the story just because it happens to be by the Bard.

Harris has kept her set simple, allowing the actors and some minor set or props changes, to broadcast the setting.  And her cast handles it well, keeping in mind that community theatre is good training ground for this Art.  One basic thing, though, that should be cleared up before performing the show for an audience, is that actors should not look out at the audience (unless it is an aside) or doing bits of business that distracts from where the main focus of the scene should be.  A couple of her actors have not yet learned that.  But, after all, it was opening night, so I trust this will be cleaned up for future performances.

JJ Harris and Grady were quite good as the two mismatched lovers.  They both had a command of the language and played off each other well.  Morrow gave it his all when playing the anguished father.  Nove has a real knack for comedy in the roles he played.  Jacobs does a nice turn in the small role of the Preacher.  And Philip is very adept as the “leader of the pack.”  He has a good stage presence and seems very comfortable with the language.

But a nice surprise is Hueni as the young, Hero.  These roles are usually considered lightweight and seem to have little more to do than being a naïve victim.  But she doesn’t allow herself to fall into that trap and holds her own on the stage.  She is an attractive lady, so fits the role physically, but she also has an assuredness as to her character and a focus as an actor that raises the bar on playing what is usually a “throw-away” role.  I hope to see more of her onstage.

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

Friday, February 5, 2016

PREVIEW: King Lear, Tobias Andersen - Post 5 Theatre

Tobias Andersen:  A “Staged” Life

In a couple of weeks you will be a witness to greatness.  I’m not talking just about Shakespeare’s classic play, King Lear, but, even better, Tobias Andersen playing King Lear!  And if you are a regular patron of the local theatre and have to ask, who is Tobias Andersen? you must really live in Siberia.

Andersen is no stranger to Lear (or Shakespeare, for that matter) as he had played the roles of “Albany (OSF) and Gloucester (Cal Shakes).”  And when asked, why now…and at Post 5, he replied, “’it’s time.’  I never chased the role but when this opportunity presented itself, I felt my career has led me to this point and the universe was saying ‘do it.’”  And he added, referring to the allure of working with Post 5, “It’s the energy.  I feed on it like a vampire.  They are so inventive, willing to try anything.  And talented I think it’s the perfect place for a 79 year old to play Lear.”

And since he is in the golden years of his theatre career, with many more opportunities to come, I’m sure, I thought it only fair to prompt him as to when the acting “bug” bit him and he knew this was going to be his whole life.  He remarked, “When I was in my teens, a touring company from Cleveland Playhouse came to our small Oklahoma oil town…and performed The Importance of Being Earnest.  I’d never seen anything like the magic of those words….”

Tobias went on to say, when he was 25, his local community theater went on to produce a farce, The Moon Is Blue, and so “…with a flat top haircut and a stuck on mustache, [he played] a 55 year old suave playboy….and I got laughs.  That did it.”

Since then, I have seen him in many productions recently, and my favorite is the one-man show he performed from the works of Ray Bradbury.  He and the author were so intertwined that they seem to speak with one voice.  I admit a bias, having a fondest for Bradbury (as does Andersen).  But, the point being, there is something magic about his words, poetic-prose and very identifiable to each of us.  The same goes for Tobias, when he’s playing a character onstage, you believe him and understand where’s he’s coming from…and that is part of the magic of being a fine actor, which he is!

And so I have chosen my favorite among the few roles I’ve seen him perform.  Now it’s his turn:  “…I’d say playing Clarence Darrow before audiences in Pakistan, including members of the government, and watching them take in and understand his positions on freedom of speech and religion, rights of the working man, abolishment of the death penalty.  Performing theatre that can make a difference in thinking is really special for me.”  It is said that, “the pen is mightier than the sword,” and this just may be one proof of that.

Andersen added to the list saying that, “…playing Gudmondsson, the defense attorney in Snow Falling on Cedars…”and “Playing Falstaff…to 500 people a night on the shores of Lake Tahoe is a pretty special memory.”  But he also adds, “…that the Portland Community Theater is the best that I’ve encountered.  The satisfaction I have gotten from the good work I have been privileged to do has been more than matched by the love, support and friendship of my fellow theater artists.”

Having experienced Post 5 productions for almost four years now, and reviewing most of them, I would agree with Tobias as to their energy and inventiveness and talent, as it shows in every play they do.  And so I queried him as to what will be unique about this production.  He explains that they will have one that has “evolved… we will continue to rely on [the text] and interpret it in such a way that the process is informing us as to where we are physically and in time….For certain, it will be a Post 5 production and all that that entails…interesting casting, high voltage energy, choices you may not often see in more traditional productions.”  He adds enthusiastically, “I love it.”

Rusty Tennant, the director (and new co-Artistic Director along with Patrick Walsh and Paul Angelo), confides that “What makes this production special is Tobias as Lear…he tackles it like he’s wrestling the beast that it is into submission….It’s about Tobias…getting to play Lear for the first time in his life.  To me, that is amazingly special.”

But in an Artist’s creative juices…lodged in the cubby holes of their minds…just around the corner from this show, are always the next undiscovered lands to traverse.  And what is next for Andersen?  “There are plans to revive Clarence Darrow, the one man show I have acted for years and play it in repertory with The Great Tennessee Monkey Trial…taken directly from the actual Monkey Trial…and is as timely as ever…I am also intent on directing a multicultural production of Rashomon.”  (Interesting to note that the Japanese have also tackled the Bard with Throne of Blood (Macbeth) and Ran (King Lear) by that great film director, Akira Kurosawa—who also directed the film, Rashomon.)

And so, in a way, we have come full circle and the legacy being, those young hopefuls out there trying to break into the biz.  Tobias’s advice:  “…making a living in theater is a tough business but my experience is that if you have to have ‘something to fall back on,’ you will fall back on it.  If you can do something else, do it.  If the theater still calls you, then go for it with everything you have.”  Amen!

Rusty tells me that, as far as them leading the company, “…we hope to retain the energy and great brand that Ty and Cass built…to be a source for fresh and vital productions…as well as branching into more modern classics…to give our audiences a more complete and enjoyable evening at the theatre.”

King Lear opens at their space, 1666 SE Lambert St. in Sellwood, on February 26th and closes March 19th.  For more information on this show and their Season, go to (an unbeatable price, too, 8 shows for $100!).  I recommend them and, as always, if you do choose to see their shows, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Alice In Wonderland—NW Children’s Theatre—NW Portland

A Scat For Cool Cats

This jazzy, musical updating of Lewis Carroll’s novel was conceived, composed and musical direction by Ezra Weiss and written, directed and choreographed by Sarah Jane Hardy (NWCT’s Artistic Director).  It is playing at their space in the NW Cultural Center, 1819 NW Everett St., through February 28th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-222-4480.

So, you think you know the story of Alice and her adventures down the rabbit hole.  Think again.  True, the original was written partly as a condemnation of the Queen, the government and the hoity-toity upper crust and their life styles.  “Say what you mean…” is a definite jab at them. (One could easily put our Congress in this boat, too.)  Also, “rabbit hole” has another connation, meaning, getting side-tracked on trivial issues.  But, all his flavor is still retained in this merry, madcap of mischievous marvels.

In fact, I’m sure Carroll would have approved, as the nonsense in his story and the freewheeling style of jazz and scat go hand-in-hand, like spam and strawberry jam.  And, if confronted by reality, these characters would only go as tourists, I’m sure.  For the stuffed shirts out there, loosen your ties, put on your sandals, let down your hair and, as Zorba (the Greek) would say, “Everybody needs a little madness” once in awhile!

The story is probably familiar to most of you, so I’ll just skim the surface.  Alice (Kai Tomizawa), the prim and proper, sees a White Rabbit (Sophie MacKay) escape down a hole and she goes tumbling after.  She almost immediately gets invited to play in a crochet match with the Queen of Hearts (Marilyn T. Keller).

So, she asks various individuals along the way for directions.  There is the very hip, trippy Cheshire Cat (Gerrin Mitchell), who only grins when confronted; a frighten, little Mouse (Aida Valentine), who hates cats; a bombastic Duchess (Ithica Tell), who has a pig for a child; a far-out Caterpillar (Kevin-Michael Moore), who speaks in riddles (seems to be the chief language of this Land—Riddlese).

Then she gets trapped in a Tea Party of nonsensical individuals (think about it in relation to this heated political climate) consisting of the whimsical, Mad Matter (John Ellingson); a chipper, March Hare (Leif Schmit); and a rather sleepy, Dormouse (Keller, again).  And when she gets there, finds a trembling trio of cards, Seven (Jimmie Herrod), Five (Ronni Lee) and Two (Annabel Cantor), who are “not playing with a full deck.”

The game commences, with flamingos for mallets and hedgehogs for balls and, surprise, surprise, the Queen wins.  But there is a deeper miscarriage of justice, as someone has stolen the Queen’s tarts and so a trial ensues.  I can’t tell you the outcome but even the band (Pete LaMalfa, Adam R. Jones, Tim Paxton, Thomas Barber, Noah Bernstein and Stan Bock) gets in, at times, on the action.

This is certainly one of the most uniformly talented ensembles I’ve seen!  And individual numbers are super, too, such as Tell’s revealing rendition of the “Duchess’ Blues;” Moore’s rhetorical rendering of “Who Are You?;” Valentine’s pitiful plight of “A Long and Sad Tail;” MacKay’s harried hasty relating of “Look At the Time;” Herrod’s schemingly scatty singing of “The Knave’s Letter;” Mitchell’s boastful belting of “The Craziest Cat in Town;” and Keller’s hauntingly heart-felt “Three Little Sisters.”

And one cannot forget Schmit as the timid, March Hare and, especially, the amazing Ellingson as the baffling buffoon in the Mad Hatter.  He has played many major roles in their plays and is always outstanding.  Tomizawa was exceptional in the title role in OCT’s “Junie B….” and shows that, again, she is a major star in the making. 

And, not to forget, “there are no small roles…” and so, it is true here, too.  The trio (Herrod, Lee and Cantor), who play at least four roles, prove their talent and are a major asset to the success of this show.  Also, to narrow it down a little more, Cantor appears to have a little something extra, a stage presence, a “diamond-in-the-rough” quality that, in time, hopefully, will see her in larger roles.

Hardy has her hands full, wearing so many hats in this play, but it exposes her talent in so many fields.  She, like the show, is an original and so, should take some well-deserved bows in all her incarnations.  Weiss certainly knows his jazz and it shows.  This is one that could evolve to bigger things, if Broadway is listening.  And the band is spot on and does not overpower the actors.  Mary Rochon’s costumes are marvelous, as they compliment, not only the character, but the actor, too.

I recommend this show (especially if you are a jazz lover).  But, be warned, parking can be a nightmare in this area of town, so plan your time accordingly.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Great Expectations—Portland Center Stage—Pearl District

“The Play’s the Thing…”

One of the great novels by Charles Dickens is adapted for the stage by Lucinda Stroud (for Book-It Repertory Theatre) and directed by Jane Jones.  It is playing at the PCS space, 128 NW 11th Ave., through February 14th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-445-3700.

Shakespeare certainly knew a thing or two about plot and characters driving a story forward on a stage.  And Dickens was his literary equal in books, creating such a rich tapestry, a visual feast for the eyes and mind that would seem impossible to perform on the stage and do justice to the book.  But if you do the play in a storytelling style, with a few actors playing all the roles, and interspersing the dialogue with narratives from the book, then you’ve come as close as you can in creating the book onstage.  A “novel” approach, I would say (groans from the readers are heard…).

In about 2 and a half hours, a cast of nine (most of them playing multiple roles) offers us, in a very satisfying fashion, Dickens’s work come to life on the boards.  It seems that Pip (Stephen Stocking), orphaned at an early age, has been raised by his shrewish sister, Mrs. Joe (Dana Green) and her patient husband, Joe (Gavin Hoffman), a blacksmith.  Pip’s lot in life, too, seems to be training for that profession, as well.  But, as fate would have it, a chance encounter with an erudite, escaped prisoner, Magwitch (John Hutton), would change his life forever.

He also has the good fortune to meet up with the eccentric, reclusive, rich Miss Havisham (Green, again) and her beautiful but proud ward, Estella (Maya Sugarman).  He is immediately smitten by her but is treated in distain by both of them, for no apparent reason.  Also his life is changing on the home front, too, as Joe has taken in a helper, the oily Orlick (Isaac Lamb), who is constantly trying to accost his good friend, Biddy (Sugarman, again).  And, out of the blue, a strange lawyer, Mr. Jaggers (Hutton, again), has made Pip an offer he can’t refuse, to come to London and be tutored as a “gentleman,” all expenses paid, which he does but starts behaving soon, because of this, “bigger than his britches.”

Jaggers explains that the monies is coming from a mysterious source so best not to question it.  His clerk, Wemmick (Damon Kupper), feels for the boy so tries to help him as best he can.  His roommate, Herbert Pocket (Chris Murray), is a cheery sort and a good pal in teaching him the refinements of being a “gentleman.”  But his tutor, Drummle (Sean McGrath), is a hard taskmaster and also seems to have designes on Pip’s girl, Estella.  It all comes to a head when…but that would be telling, wouldn’t it?!  Just have to see it to find out how it all comes out.

I very much like this style of storytelling.  They essentially use just one set (designer, Christopher Mumaw) and then bring in various pieces/props that are relevant to the scene, and specific lighting changes (designer, Peter Maradudin), to tell the story.  Also the performers, except for costume (designer, Ron Erickson) changes, must rely on their acting abilities to transform from one character to another.  And Jones has chosen well her cast, all being exceptional, and is very adept at keeping things moving without losing track of the complicated story.  Quite a feat and she does it well.

Stocking seems perfect as the young boy who is transformed into a man.  Sugarman is also very keen in playing the two young ladies in the show.  Green, having been touted as an actor before in many Portland shows, is, again, super in enacting one of the great characters in all of literature, Miss Havisham, and she does Dickens proud in her portrayal here.  Hoffman, again a familiar face on Portland stages, is irresistible as the kindly, patient father-figure and friend of Pip.  Your heart goes out to him.  And Hutton, in his dual, key roles, is terrific!  He’s quite a find and is mesmerizing when on stage and very believable.  Hope we will see him again on Portland stages, as he’s a real asset to a show.

I recommend this play but, be warned, it can be a nightmare finding parking in this area of town, so plan your time accordingly.  If you do see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.