Theatre Reviews in Oregon and Southwest Washington

Theatre Reviews in Portland and Ashland Oregon
Dennis Sparks, with over 40 years of experience in performing arts as actor, director, and producer, reviews theatre productions.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Othello—Portland Center Stage—NW Portland

The Green-Eyed Monster

This classic tragedy by Shakespeare is directed by Chris Coleman (PCS’s Artistic Director) and plays at their space at 128 NW 11th Ave. through May 11th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-445-3700.

Revenge is a dish best served cold, as the saying goes.  And the cause of much revenge is unassuming, undiluted, unadulterated jealousy (the green-eyed monster).  In this case, Iago (Gavin Hoffman) is jealous of Cassio (Timothy Sekk), for getting a position he felt he deserved.  He is also jealous of Othello (Daver Morrison) for purportedly sleeping with his wife, Emilia (Dana Green).

And Roderigo (Leif Norby) is jealous of Othello for marrying the girl he was interested in, Desdemona (Nikki Coble).  And Bianca (Marianna McClellan) is jealous of Desdemona for the attention her man, Cassio, is paying to her.  And, in the end, Othello is jealous of his wife for purportedly sleeping with Cassio.  What a web we do weave for ourselves sometimes.

The story has Othello returning from the wars, a much-praised hero and marrying a senator’s daughter.  He has promoted the young Cassio to his second in command, over his trusted old friend, Iago, a seasoned veteran.  And, from that moment on, it all goes downhill.  Iago devises a plot, in which he consorts with Roderigo, his not-too-bright pal, to win back the affections of Desdemona, who he’s been pining over.  And, when Cassio falls out of favor with Othello, he conspires with him to regain his position, by having him plead with Othello’s wife to intercede for him.

Then he goes to Othello and drops hints of a possible illicit bond between his wife and Cassio.  But Othello, wanting physical proof of such a tryst, Iago enlists his wife, unaware of her husband’s devious dealings, to supply him with such an item.  In the end, almost none of them survive Iago’s clever contrivances and, as a result, they all pretty much make fools of themselves, fatal in many cases.

What is amazing is that Iago seems to be the smartest of the bunch and the original relationships of these characters to each other, seem shallow, to say the least.  And, for all of this to work, the pieces of the puzzle need to fall in place exactly as they do or it won’t be successful.  This is not the fault of the production but of the Bard’s plot.  But, even with these obvious contrivances, the plot is intriguing, as it flows forward.

I must say, from the outset, I found the set and the costumes, by the director, Coleman, and his designers, Scott Fyfe (set) and Susan E. Mickey (costumes) absolutely spectacular!  This is a classical production of the show (meaning that it is produced with the look of the original times).  The main set, on a revolve, is amazing, and easily and quickly transports you from one scene to another.  And the costumes are gorgeous to behold!

All the actors handle the language well and are convincing in their parts.  Morrison is a fine Othello, building his character slowly so that we see the rather easy-going fellow in the beginning and then the mighty wrath of a man betrayed.  Coble, as his wife, is lovely to look at and gives the character a trusting but naïve demeanor.  (Trivia note:  Two well-know Portland actors played this role at OSF—Gretchen Corbett in the late 60’s and Joyce Harris-Wood in the 80’s.)  Green stands out as the well-meaning, Emilia, and Norby is always good, this time as the thick-headed dupe of Iago.

But much of my praise for the acting goes to Hoffman as the “honest” Iago.  He has the look and sound of a Patrick Stewart.  His oily insinuations and smooth demeanor give the character a chilling countenance.  As he plays it, one almost has to admire his manipulations, as he leads people around by the nose.  It’s as if he saying to us, they deserve it for being so stupid and shallow.  He may be right.

The one piece of advice I would give the show, as a whole, is they need to ratchet it up a bit.  The whole tone seems a bit subdued and needed an added boost of energy at times.  But, in fairness, the mostly full-house gave it a standing ovation at the end.  I would recommend this show, especially for the set and costumes.  If you do go, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Opus 3 After Strindberg—PAC & PETE—SW Portland

A Dream Within a Dream

This production is a showcase from the second year students at Portland Actors Conservatory in conjunction with Portland Experimental Theatre Ensemble and directed by Jacob Coleman.  It plays through April 27th at their space at 1436 SW Montgomery St.  For more information, go to their sites at or

As the Bard might say, “We are such stuff as dreams are made on…” (The Tempest) or, “…Life’s but a walking shadow, that struts and frets his time upon the stage and then is heard no more…” (Macbeth).  Both analogies would be pertinent for some explanations of this production.  You might also throw in a dash of Alice in Wonderland, Six Characters in Search of an Author, Twilight Zone, No Exit and Everyman for good measure, too.  In short, this is not your traditional play.

One of the jobs of an actor or writer is to explore, expose, expand the Truth of their Artistry and for the viewer/reader to discover that nugget and filter it through themselves to arrive at their own revelations.  If that sounds pretty heady, it is.  And in perusing these concepts in their naked form, a “traveler” can easily become pretentious, preachy and pompous.  This is not the case with this show but it does butt its head against these pitfalls on occasion.  But it’s also loosely interpreted from Strindberg’s, Ghost Sonata, which gives it the anchor from going too far afield.

There is no conventional plot as such.  What we are greeted with at the opening of the play is a lot of oddly dressed characters talking past one another, seemingly in some negative, isolated hell of their own making, perhaps.  One seems to be a teapot/servant type (Alwynn Accuardi), always spouting about things she hates; two others (Emily Welch and Matthew Ostrowski), dressed in military regalia, seemingly masters of the house, constantly battling each other verbally; a gardener (Sarah Yeakel), a tender of the earth, very properly dressed in Victorian-like garb, with a song in her heart; and a forlorn maiden (J’ena SanCartier), looking for love.

One can imagine this mindless mayhem going on forever, except that an “audience” member (Otniel Henig) is able to communicate with the maiden and she hears him.  And so, he joins their pack, leaving behind the viewer aspect of himself, and becoming a participant. Shortly, with his arrival, they began to divest themselves of their disguises/masks and become more “real” or natural, perhaps.  (Both Norse writers, Strindberg and Ibsen, espoused that plays needed to reflect more the reality, the natural state of Man and, thus, a new movement was born.)

These transformations are not without pain though, and even death, perhaps.  But there is rebirth and light, or hope, at the end of the tunnel.  This is only my interpretation, of course, and others will, hopefully, come away with different viewpoints.  But that is as it’s meant to be.  If you’re looking for answers, it is not from without, that they will come but, from within.

The whole cast should be commended, as they all show some real potential.  And the costuming by Jessica Bobillot, must have been quite a challenge but she does a good job of hinting at restrictions and then, freedoms, as the characters progress.  The director has orchestrated the play well, as he seems to be challenging both the actors and audience to push the envelope to the limit.  I would recommend this play but, as I said, it is not conventional in its storytelling.  If you do choose to go, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Monday, April 14, 2014

pool (no water)—theatrevertigo—SE Portland

The Gang’s All Here

This “event” takes place “inside the pool” at the shoebox theatre at 2110 SE 10th Ave.  It is written by Mark Ravenhill and directed by Samantha Van Der Merwe.  It runs through May 10th.  For more information, contact their site at  They also have a next season announcement party at Vie de Boheme on April 23rd, which might be worth checking out.

This might be more accurately described as an event or awaking, rather than a play, as the audience is seated within the set (an empty swimming pool) and the actors talk to the audience (like a Greek chorus in days of old) as much as they converse with each other.  The atmosphere/set (Ted Jonathan Gold) is chillingly realistic (all they needed was the scent of chlorine). 

Unfortunately, pools evoke bad memories for me, as I was a sinker, not a swimmer.  Swimming, to me, was keeping alive in water.  Which might not be a bad metaphor for the story, except that one may be drowning…without water, possibly one of the points of the play.  If you dive into a pool, and can swim, you have a reasonably good chance of surviving, maybe even enjoying the experience.  But, if you dive in, without water, there will be crippling, if not fatal, results.

The story seems to center around a star or model, who is famous for her photos.  She has a band of hangers-on that revel in her shadow, but will never be truly great on their own.  They are the typical yes-men, druggies, lapdogs, toy boys (girls), et. al. that hang out with such celebs, licking the crumbs from her table.  On the surface, they dote on her.  Underneath, they loathe her (and probably, themselves, for being so dependent on her).

One fateful day, she dives into her pool which has, unfortunately, been drained of water.  Her broken and scarred limbs are on display for weeks in a hospitable bed, as she is in a coma.  But, art will out, and her “friends” see this as a photo opt.  So, with faithful camera in hand, arrange her limbs in “artistic” ways and take pics of her.  Their time has finally come, they echo, and now they will be famous on their own.  But a tiger cannot change its stripes, nor a piranha, its bite.  To tell more would not be good form for a reviewer but it leads to a bittersweet ending.

I am not able to reveal actual actors as relation to characters, as they all (except the model) play numerous roles, and there are no photos of them in the program.  But they are equally good (Christy Bigelow, Stephanie Cordell, Nathan Dunkin, Joel Harmon, Tyler Ryan, Holly Wigmore and R. David Wyllie).  The lead of the piece is beautiful, as the role as a model calls for, and does good in the acting department, an attribute a star should have.  All the rest are quite inventive, too.
Van Der Merwe has no easy task in assembling this piece of art itself.  It does move, flow, like an artistic piece should and will leave its viewers as to their own reflections.  And the set (Gold), as mentioned, is really the star of the piece.  It is really quite original and very appropriate to the play.  And the choreography/movement, by Jessica Wallenfels, adds beautifully to the piece.

I recommend this play but it is adult in nature.  If you do choose to go, please tell them Dennis sent you.  

The Quality of Life—Artists Rep—SW Portland

Rules of the Game

The NW premiere of this searing drama by Jane Anderson is directed by Allan Nause (former Artistic Director for Artists Rep).  It plays at their space at SW Alder St. & 16th Ave through May 11th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-241-1278.

The rules of the game, when dealing with life, love and death are…that there are no rules.  We are all made up, on the outside, of the same elements…clay, ashes, dirt, atoms, water, DNA/RNA, “sugar & spice and puppy-dog tails,” whatever….  But how these clay-footed lumps relate to one another, and to Mother Earth, may be the ultimate question while alive.

No need to look to the heavens for that answer, it is not there, it is, within ourselves.  We have free will and reasoning powers “and, therein, lies the rub.”  These are just some of the thoughts that ran through my mind after seeing this heart-wrenching, thought-provoking play.

And, as an added bonus to Andersen’s gripping drama, we have Nause (the Director), Susannah Mars (Dinah), Michael Fisher-Welsh (Bill), Linda Alper (Jeannette), and Michael Mendelson (Neil), all long-time icons of theatre here, to explore with us the dilemma of existence, meaning, communication, relationships, responsibility and tolerance, among other things.  And, let me tell you, folks, with these artists at the helm to explore these areas with, it doesn’t get any better than this!

The story begins with Jeanette and Neil, living primitively, out the Wild in a Yurt (a type of Mongolian tent).  Their house was destroyed in one of California’s famous fires and forced them to change their lifestyle.  But, for these baby-boomers and, presumably, ex-hippies, this doesn’t seem much of a stretch.  They are both in the creative arts field and “tree-huggers” as well.

They have decorated their trees with remnants of their former life and only thing they seem to be missing is their beloved cat, who was lost in the fire.  Oh, yes, and Neil also has incurable cancer and opts for pot, rather than hospital treatment for his illness.  They are “soul-mates” and seem comfortable with the limited choices left to them.

Into these idyllic lives enter Dinah and Bill, relations from the mid-west and, one gets the feeling, somewhat estranged.  They are from a different world of computers, construction, straight-laced and “born-again” Christians.  They have also dealt with loss and seem to have a common but shaky ground for dialogue with them.

But grief, isolation, opposing viewpoints strike a raw chord in this music of the spheres.  What one thinks they see and hear, may not be what is.  Old wounds are exposed, skeletons are revealed and their worlds are turned dramatically around by the end of the play.  I cannot tell more of the story without revealing what should be discovered by the audience.  But, it is an emotional journey, not only for them, but for us, too.

Fisher-Welsh, begins the trip as the least sympathetic of the group, but shows by the end, that he is more complex than that.  It is a character we can laugh at, perhaps, but in his adept hands, it is far from a stereotypic creation.  Mars, as his wife, may appear to be a little dense or naive at first, but in that simplicity of demeanor, lies a simmering volcano.  And, in her expert hands, she leads us carefully, step-by-step, to the depths of this person’s being.

Alper gives us a picture of a character, seemingly perfectly content at communing with Nature, but secretly harboring doubts and confusion as to decisions that have or must be made.  Again, a complex role, well-presented by her.  And Mendelson, always a joy to watch, as you can see him thinking onstage, considering his next moves in character.  His relaxed demeanor as Neil, with his racked body and spirit, still seems to “rail against the dying of the light.”  A wonderful performance.

And Nause is a master at working with actors.  He seems to relish in the complexities in the characters he is helping to create.  He’s aware of the rhythm of the piece, the humor, even in the most dire of circumstances, and the nuances inherent in the make-up of the play’s personas.  I couldn’t imagine anyone else leading this production.  And the set, by Tim Stapleton, is a wonder to behold.  It is not only functional but a work of art in itself.  You feel you are there.|

Perhaps the best summing up of the show I heard was, when Mendelson comes bounding out on stage for his curtain-call, after playing such a sickly role, an audience member remarked, “Oh, I’m so glad he got better.”  Pure gold.  My conclusion, about questions raised in this show, maybe we should all just love each other a little more…till the end…and let the rest of “the world slide….”

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

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Lend Me A Tenor—New Century Players—SE Portland

A Romp on the Wild Side

This farce by Ken Ludwig is directed by Tony Bump and is playing at the Rex Putnam High School in their black box theatre.  It is located at 4950 SE Roethe Rd. in Milwaukie, OR. (not easy to locate) and plays through April 20th.  For more information, check out their website at or call 503-367-2620.  This ten-year-old group is also having a gala anniversary celebration on May 31st.  And, I have it on good authority, that their Artistic Director and the school’s drama instructor, Kelley Marchant, is quite amazing with the students she teaches and shows she directs there.  I believe the school’s next production is James and the Giant Peach later this Spring.  Might be worth checking out.

This play harkens back to the merry, madcap, carefree days of the Marx Brothers, Gilbert & Sullivan, Noel Coward, and drawing room comedies.  It is a delicious, nostalgic romp down memory lane with a touch of naughty throw in for good measure.  It is an escape from the real world of the Thirties, which was reeling from the depression, and was coping with the conflicts in Europe, the prelude to WWII.  It was a time to forget the real and believe in the ideal.

The time is the mid-1930’s in a hotel suite in Cleveland, Ohio.  The opera company is preparing for the entrance of one of the greatest tenors in the world, the bombastic, Tito (Doug Jacobs), to grace their stage.  He has arrived to perform for one night in the opera, Otello, and his fiery wife, Maria (Debra Hudkins), has accompanied him.  His reputation as a lover of women, drink and good food has preceded his persona.  It is also noted that, having such a large appetite, he has an equally large ego and must be handled with kids gloves.

The producer of the show, Saunders (David Hudkins), is a bundle of nerves and is barely able to function with such an enormous responsibility.  So, he does what every good manager might do, he passes that baton to his underlying, Max (Kraig Williams), charging him to stick to Tito like flypaper and keep him away from wine, women, and his admirers.  But his fans are closer than he thinks.  Saunders own young daughter, Maggie (Allison Andresen), has eyes for Tito and feels she just must have one fling first, before submitting her life in a marriage with Max.

And even Max, himself, is a fledging tenor and wants a chance to prove his worth onstage.  The bellhop (Zac Brugess) also feels the need for recognition of his singing prowess from the great Tito.  And the Soprano in the show, Diana (Dorinda Toner), wants to get closer to the big man, as does the leader of the sponsoring guild, Julia (Jane E. Vogel).  They all want to bathe in the shadow of greatness.  As it turns out, the Great Voice, having overindulged on lunch, has much need of sleep.  But he gets more than he bargains for, as too much rest is not a good thing.

So events turn from bad to worst and…but to tell any more would be spoiling the story.  Suffice to say, they all get their wishes, sort of, but in odd turns of events.  But the fun is not in the plot anyway, but in how it is presented.  The word plays, mistaken meanings and identities, madcap chases, double-takes, and boundless energy, all are the important elements in making the show a success.

And, in this vain, it all works, thanks to a tireless, talented cast and, especially, to the director, Bump.  He, himself, has much training in music, directing/performing G&S operettas, performing and directing comedies and his expertise shows in this production.  This type of show is not easy to mount, as the director must be a traffic cop, an expert in comic timing, a teacher, a music aficionado, and a visionary of the scope of it.  Luckily, Bump has all of those traits in good supply!

And there is not a sour note in his cast, either.  Hudkins, as the befuddled producer, is all about double-takes, innuendos, slow burns and rapid–fire deliveries.  All of it very well done.  Williams, as his obedient lackey, is wonderful playing the dutiful employee and the amorous rogue.  Jacobs, as the great star, adds a nice touch of vulnerability to the ego-driven character, which endears him to the viewer.  Andresen, as the ingénue, definitely has the beauty this kind of role demands, but also shows herself to have a nice grasp of comic timing, too.  She shows promise as a budding actress.

Ms. Hudkins, as the multi-betrayed wife of the Great Man, is a hoot.  She is in good form, racking the rage of the typical, comic-Italian wife, via Anna Magnani, all fire and “bosoms,” just as Tito likes.  Toner and Vogel add lusciously to the Tenor’s legions of admirers.  And Burgess, a high school drama student (of Marchant’s), holds his own on the stage, doing some nice comic bits and looking like a young Tommy Tune.  All have their moments and shine in them.

The set, by Thyra Hartshorn, is very functional but wished it could have been shored up a bit more, as with all the needed slamming of doors, the shaking of the set was evident at times.  To be honest, though, this is not easily solved, unless you actually build real walls.  But, it is only a minor distraction, in an otherwise very well presented production.

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