Wednesday, July 22, 2015

PREVIEW! The Real Inspector Hound—Anonymous Theatre Company—Pearl District

A Nomadic Troupe

This avant-garde type of play is by Tom Stoppard and directed by the well-known actor/director, Darius Pierce.  It will be presented one-time only at Portland Center Stage in the Gerding Theatre, 128 NW 11th Ave., on Monday, August 10th at 7 pm.  Tickets are $25 and 50% of the proceeds go to PATA’s Valentine Fund.  For more information, go to their site at   http://anonymoustheatre.org.  (A couple of things you might want to keep in mind:  Since it is a one-time only performance, tickets usually sell out, so get them early.  Also, parking in this area of town can be a real challenge, so best plan your time accordingly.)

This presentation is not a review of their show, since it is done only once, so a review of the performance would be of no benefit PR-wise.  But it is an overview of their company and the Founder, Darius Pierce (who, as mentioned, is also directing this show).  If you don’t know who Piece is, you must be one of the few who has not witnessed his one-man show, performed frequently at PCS, The Santaland Diaries by David Sedaris, a very funny depiction of Christmas, as seen through the eyes of a department-store elf.

This a very unique form of theatre, having things in common with Improv, like Saturday Night Live or Second City, and guerrilla or street theatre, in that it has a fresh and spontaneous feel.  The cast is secret and meets separately with the director to rehearse, which presents its own set of problems.  According to Pierce, “…finding rehearsal spaces is a constant challenge - because we can't meet where anyone else will see who is there or know why we are there.  So, you end up having a lot of meetings in back rooms of coffee shops and basements of homes…we have never run the show before, so all the details need to be figured out and kept straight in advance.  Marketing is also a tricky thing…because the huge majority of the people involved in the show can't tell anyone or too openly invite people!”  (Hopefully this article will aid the marketing angle.)

The process involves casting the play and rehearsing in secret, as mentioned.  Then they arrive on the night of the show in street clothes and sit with the audience, where they will, on cue, deliver their first lines, then proceed to the stage with the rest of the cast members.  This is the first (and last) time the entire cast will meet to perform the play.  They are now in their fourteenth year and, being that they usually get full houses for their shows, must mean they are doing something right.

Pierce’s inspiration for this type of presentation came from his college years, as he and some friends were always looking for ways to break down that “fourth wall” that separates actor from audience.  As he explains, “…if an audience member has read the play, they know almost literally as much about what is going to happen that night as an actor in the show. And that develops an excitement and a camaraderie…that rarely occurs elsewhere. Everyone feels they have a hand in telling this story and creating the evening…that is practically impossible to achieve under more traditional circumstances.”  Too true.

So, that begs the question, being that they only do it once a year, the choice of play must be crucial.  What is the process?  Pierce explains,…usually, we look for a comedy, good opportunities for men and women, reasonably short entrances spread throughout the play…fairly simple technically...and generally something not too obscure. It's nice for some of the audience to have a frame of reference for our craziness!  The cast is chosen from auditions!  We have auditions every year.  We do not have callbacks.  We just cast from the initial reads.

One play, once a year?!  That’s got to be frustrating, spending all that time rehearsing and creating a show, then only to do it once.  But Pierce is philosophically about it, as he says,…I have never found it frustrating. I am sorry that more people can't see it - but there's no way to do multiple performances! Perhaps actors have felt that way in the past, but I think their frustration is more about performing in a fantastic night of theater - than not being able to openly invite friends to see them in it!

But let’s see if an actor’s view is the same.  Of course, the person will have to remain nameless because I, and they, have been sworn to secrecy, but let’s get their perspective.  We will call the cast member, “George Spelvin” (insider’s joke), just for the sake of a name.  I put the same question to “George” about being frustrated with doing only one performance and not telling anyone.  “He” replied, No, I think that is the particular charm of it!  It's like you get to pull one over on your artistic family.

But that brings up the question, then how do you psyche yourself up for such an experience?  “His” offbeat answer was, my balls are the size of peanuts right now. It is funny how we always strive for spontaneity onstage and this kind of project gives you no choice but to be spontaneous, so I think looking at that perspective brings things back down to earth a bit.  Embracing the crazy is the way to tame it....  Very insightful, I’d say.

And, finally, “George,” Why…what's the "reward/perk" for you?

I think it is kind of a privilege to do this! It's like a kooky honor to be able to create some raw work with some fantastic (albeit unknown) collaborators in front of an artistic community you love.  Amen.

Darius was more than generous with his time and insights.  But, I had one last question for him.  Although the style of this type of presentation is unique, I wondered if there was any other reason for choosing to do it this way.  His reply,…we wanted to challenge/force the actors to be fully in the moment, fully open and present and listening - all of the things that we usually spend weeks trying to get to.  Certainly, there is a lack of polish in an Anonymous show - but there are raw, exposed, brave elements that are pushed front and center. Watching the actor's process - hearing text for the first time, exploring relationships over the course of the evening, discovering emotions and comedy - is completely fascinating.  And at its best, some of the most real, passionate, hilarious, impressive, memorable moments of theater I've seen. Also, we thought it would be crazy fun! And I think we were right.

Can’t argue with that.

As for this show, The Real Inspector Hound by Tom Stoppard, I had the honor of directing it some years ago and it is a hoot.  Stoppard is a playwright that loves to twist things up, such as time, conventions and anything that reeks of normalcy.  As Anonymous describes it:  It’s about…two feuding theater critics are swept into the whodunit they were sent to review. In this hilarious spoof of Agatha Christie-like melodramas, the dead body hidden under the sofa proves to be just the beginning. As mists rise about isolated Muldoon Manor, everyone becomes dangerously implicated in the lethal activities of an escaped madman.

This evening of theatre also includes On the Porch One Crisp Spring Morning by Alex Dremann. In this ten-minute curtain-opener that premiered at the Humana Festival, a mother and daughter sip coffee on the porch one gloriously crisp spring morning. And then try to kill each other.

I’ve seen one of their shows, The Crucible, as I had worked with the young lady who played Abby, Madeleine Delaplane, and I have to admit there is an electricity in the air, an excitement and immediacy to the presentation that is usually not present when a show has a intense rehearsal period with the whole cast and a run of several performances.  And, not to forget, it is for a very good cause, the Valentine Fund, which benefits artists that are in need.


As to my final thoughts, I believe Darius has a dream and he is passionate about it.  And, if you remember the movie, Field of Dreams, then there is an adage in it professing “if you build it, they will come.”  And they have, both artists and audiences, in hordes.  Beware of standing in the way of a Dreamer, as you just might get caught up in it yourself.  Brave on Darius, and Company!

I recommend seeing this presentation.  If you do, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Much Ado About Nothing—Post Five Theatre—Sellwood area, SE Portland


The Look of Love

This comedy by Shakespeare is directed by Darragh Kennan and is playing at their space at 1666 SE Lambert St. in Sellwood through August 16th.  For more information, go to their site at www.post5theatre.org  (Note:  They do have a parking lot in back but no A/C—although they do loan you individual, hand-held fans/misters for your time there—bless their hearts!)

Although considered one of his best and oft-down comedies, it is a strange one, too.  The first act is mainly played for laughs but the second one is much darker in tone.  It does have the usual masks/disguises, wise fools, idle lords and ladies and merry, madcap mix-ups.  But it also has one of the weaknesses of the Bard’s characters, villains with little, weak or no motivations for their actions.  In this case, Don John, seems to have no reason to cause havoc except that he’s just…an asshole!

But, even with that hiccup, this production is fun and accessible to a non-Shakespearean audience.  It is spoken naturally with conversational speech and is full of physical comedy so that you can easily decipher what’s going on.  This company has always aimed at this type of presentation with their Shakespeare and Kennan is a master at keeping the play moving, understandable and, above all, funny.

The Prince, Don Pedro (Paul Angelo), is coming back from the wars with two of his most eligible, confirmed bachelors (famous last words), Benedick (Ty Boice) and Claudio (Chip Sherman), looking for the rewards of a civilian life.  They find them, in part, with Beatrice (Cassandra Boice), daughter of Antonio (Dan Robertson), and the Governor, Leonato (Scott Parker), in his daughter, Hero (Aislin Courtis).  Hero is easily won over by Claudio, but Beatrice is an independent woman and has no need of marriage.  So says Benedick, who is equally stubborn, terse and pig-headed.

So family and friends, including Ursula (Pat Janowski) and Margaret (Olivia Weiss), servants to the ladies, conspire to get these two lovers together.  Meanwhile, back at the manor, we have a disgruntled Don John (Stan Brown), brother to Don Pedro, who seems to revel in causing mischief for his brother.  So he, and his mates, Borachio (Adam Elliot Davis) and Conrad (Sean Kelly), devise a method of smearing Hero’s reputation, giving the inference that she is not a maiden.

Needless to say, the marriage does not go as planned with some dire consequences.  But have no fear, Dogberry (Brown, again), is here and he and his Watch, Verges (Robertson, again), and their underlings, a Priest and a Sexton (Matt Insely, Mathew Sunderland and Byron Gilmer) have uncovered the plot and seek to keep the record straight, even to the fact that Dogberry is “an ass.”.  More I cannot tell l you but, keep in mind, this is a comedy, and things will be righted again.

Sherman is always a delight to observe and he even finally gets a chance to sing and dance a bit in this one, which is wonderful to observe.  The battling Boices are perfect for these roles.  The eavesdropping scenes with the two of them and their subsequent monologues are a highlight of the show.  And they have a natural flair of delivery which makes them very human.  It is grand to see Parker again onstage, as he was a prominent actor some years ago in the Portland area.  It’s good to see that his talent is still firmly intact and hope to see more of him in future productions.

Angelo is a well-known and very good director, as well.  He has a natural ease with this character and his experience shows.  Robertson, with his very mobile face and expressions, always lights up a show in all the roles he plays.  I’m sure we’ll see more of him, too.  And Brown in the dual roles of the fool and the villain is convincing in both.  Davis, as the chatterbox, Borachio, is very funny, as well.

The expressions, the sight-gags and double-takes, music, songs and dancing from 50+ years ago and easy and naturalist pacing keep this production on one’s must-see list.  Yes, it may be a hot time in the ole town tonight but this presentation will cool even the most savage of beasts.

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

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Cymbeline—Anon It Moves—SE Portland


Transcending

This lesser known tragedy by Shakespeare is freely adapted to the stage and directed by Kira Atwood-Youngstrom (founding member of the company).  It plays at the Milagro Theatre space, 525 SE Stark St., through August 8th.  For more information, go to their site at www.anonitmoves.org  (Be warned, it is only street parking and can be tricky to find a space, so plan your time accordingly.)

This goes above and beyond the world which we know and transports us to a Neverland, where anything is possible.  It is not unlike a fairy tale, as it has elements of Snow White & the Huntsman; it skirts the boundaries of Sci-Fi in the costuming of the Romans; it plays with the mazes of our minds such as in Rocky Horror…; has a Cowboy-Western flavor in the depiction of the Outlaws; exposes a Japanese-Samurai flow as in the fight/dance scenes; but still has a foot firmly in the land of Mr. Shakespeare.  In other words, it defies description and genre but works in a surreal way.

The story may be the least appealing thing about the show, as it’s so unimportant to the enjoyment of the presentation that you’d wish it’d just go away.  I mean, how many people are going to set up a wager in which one person, to prove the faithfulness of their mate, bets with an enemy that they can’t seduce her?  And what kind of leader declares banishment on anybody who disagrees with him (pretty soon, no people in his country, right?)?  And what sort of play spends several minutes at the end of the play explaining the various, devious plots which the audience already knows and has seen?

This is not the Bard at his best…but it if fertile ground for the amazing imagination of Atwood-Youngstrom, the director.  And, with that talent, she weaves, with the equally talented, fight choreographer, Kristen Mun; dance choreographer, Cari Spinnler; original music by The Fith Sisters, Kyle Acheson, Nicholas Erickson and Sarah Yeakel; some out-of-this-world costumes and make-up by Summer Olsson; and an amazing cast, a world of make-believe which transcends our puny reality.

But, for you purists, who need a rack to hang your hat on, here is the story in a nutshell.  It seems that, once upon a time, there was this odious King, Cymbeline (Anthony Green) and his equally disagreeable wife, the Queen (Paige Johnson Jones), who rule the kingdom with a blind eye to just about everything.  His favorite child, the naive Innogen (Jahnavi Alyssa), has taken up with a lover, Posthumus (Alwynn Accuardi) who displease the King and so was banished.  The Queen is obsessed with controlling the throne by having her half-wit son, Cloten (Steve Vanderzee) either marry the child, or having her murdered, whichever comes first.

Into this make-shift family are a curious lot of servants/advisors in the guise of the all-seeing, Cornelius (R. David Wyllie), a good-hearted soul, Pisanio (Nathan Crosby) and a faithful follower, Helen (Madeline Shier).  They are also at war with the Romans (Sarah McGregor, Juliana Wheeler, Tyler Miles and Shannon Mastel) who are not only deceptive but valiant fighters.  And to add ever more confusion to the rambling plot, there are three scurvy outlaws (Andrea White, Joseph Gibson and Murri Lazaroff-Babin), also banished by the King, who are intricate links in the chain of events about to happen.  All this watched over by the gods in the form of Diva (Sarah Yeakel), who will intervene whenever she feels the story takes a misstep.  Obviously, I’m not going to tell you how it all turns out.

The cast is amazing.  Most of them are comfortable with the Shakespearian banter and speaking it in a conversational way.  Green and Jones are old pros on the stage and their experience shows in their performances.  Alyssa, as the daughter, has the look of someone who you want to take in your arms and protect but it is obvious that she also has moxie and can give as good as she gets.  Vanderzee as the ne’er-do-well son is a hoot, sliming and sleazing his way into our demented hearts.  Crosby is especially pleasing as, perhaps, the only good guy in the flock.  White and her minions present a welcome relief to the boorish lord and ladies.  And, McGregor and her ilk, give us, with relish, the mirror side of the Brit aristocracy.

As mentioned, the dance, music and fight sequences (Spinnler, Fith Sisters & Mun) are some of the highlights of the show.  But, make no mistake about it, this is Atwood-Youngstrom’s baby from first to last.  She is the fearless leader that bravely sails us into uncharted waters, in which we will eventually navigate safely back to our own shores, definitely wiser and more fulfilled than when we departed on this journey with she and her crew.  Anon… always take risks with their productions, and I’m sure will continue to do so, and I’ve never been disappointed in the results.  Brave, on!

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

Monday, July 13, 2015

Twelfth Night—Portland Shakespeare Project—SW Portland

Love’s Sad Song

This production by William Shakespeare is directed by the renowned, Lisa Harrow.  It is playing at the Artist Rep.’s space at SW Alder St. & 16th Ave. through August 2nd.  For more information, go to their site at www.portlandshakes.org or call 503-806-1588.

If music truly is “the food of love” then it is indeed a humorous, troubled, complex and rather sad song, for it takes a group of wise fools to foresee love’s true course and put things right again.  If left up to the lords and ladies, who are constantly muddling things up with disguises, masks, and even gender changes, Love might be forever hidden.  In all his comedies it is generally the “Common-man” individuals that envision the world in romantic and/or earthy terms and the Elite that seem to be so self-absorb that they don’t trust or are unaware of Love’s path.

In this incarnation of Cupid’s swift arrows, there has been a shipwreck near an island and some lives are lost.  Viola (Kayla Lian), having been washed up on shore, fears that her twin brother, Sebastian (Luke Armstrong), to have been lost at sea.  To discover the truth on this alien island, she disguises herself as a boy, Ceasario, and eventually allies herself with the Duke, Orsino (Michael Mendelson), the head of the community, who she is immediately smitten with.

But the Duke only has eyes for the Lady Olivia (Crystal Ann Muñoz), who has no interest in him but does seem to favor Ceasario, who has been sent by Orsino to her to plead the Duke’s case for love.  Meanwhile Olivia has some very odd but witty servants, among them, Malvolio (David Bodin), a rather droll, petulant manservant (who has a bit of a crush on his mistress) and Maria (Ithica Tell), a mischievous merrymaker, both of whom only add more heat to an already spicy stew.

And, if that wasn’t enough, Olivia has a relative, Sir Toby Belch (Jim Butterfield), a drunk, and his rich, fey friend, Sir Andrew (Orion Bradshaw), a buffoon.   A rather independent and persuasive beggar, Feste (Allen Nause), a witty troubadour, seems to be our outside eyes, looking at the proceedings “through a glass, darkly” and commenting on them, or partaking in them when necessary, to route the story forward.  To say that things may end up in a muddle is an understatement.  And to relate too much more of the story would spoil the fun, but know that “Jack will have his Jill” and that the slippery slope they tumble down will have a softer landing, being that they are together.

Put the plot aside and watch the magic that unfolds before one’s eyes because of the antics, poetry, witty clowns, witless lords and ladies, as they weave a spell to attempt to entrap that elusive, mysterious, bewitching enigma called Love.

The director, Harrow, a Master in her own right, is just the leader for this band of merry pranksters.  What may seem like chaos in this complicated plot is smoothed out by the deft hand and precise path she has led us on, mainly through the character of Feste.  No matter how busy the picture seems to be, there is an Artist’s hand in control to make sure things don’t stray too far from the colorful, contained canvas created by Harrow and troupe.

Also, I noted, the subtle sounds of birds chirping during the day and crickets at night, and waves when on the seashore, checks on reality, I assume…nice touches by sound designer, Sharath Patel in keeping us grounded.  The lighting (Kristeen Willis Crosser) and set (Jack O’Brien) also are subtle, allowing the actors plenty of room to play in.  A wise choice by Harrow because, after all, “the play’s the thing….”

Mendelson is always good, giving us a stern but rather complex Duke.  Lian and Muñoz give us deeper characters than usual for these two roles, as they push the envelope to the limit, regarding gender issues.  Does Olivia really end up marrying Sebastian simply because he’s a male, or does the warmth of her heart still belong to Ceasario/Viola who is the real foundation of her Love?  Also, speaking of characters, depending on how one of his plays is cut and the interpretation of the director and the actor, will put certain roles to the forefront.  A case in point is that there are three characters who have only retained minimal spotlights in other productions but, in this production, because of the talent of the actors, they are brought to the forefront of the story.

Nause’s, Feste, becomes our POV for the show and it is a murky one, indeed.  He is like a puppeteer, pulling strings and manipulating people/events when necessary to resolve the issues at hand.  It’s as if the other characters are not savvy enough to figure ways to resolve their own plights.  I really quite like this insight to the play and is exposes even more the talents of Nause.  I know we’ll be treated to much more of his in-depth creativity in future shows.

Bradshaw’s, Sir Andrew, is usually just a stupid sidekick for Sir Toby but because of the actor’s talent, this one takes on layers of…ineptness, giving us the fop, the braggart, the dunce, a lemming who will never fit in nor make his mark in the world.  In this incarnation you could feel sorry for the man.  And Heath Koerschgen as Antonio, a sailor, perhaps pirate, but rescuer of Sebastian give us a fellow that is loyal to his friends and feels responsible for the life he saved.  A man of conviction and valor, willing to stand up for what he believes.  Hopefully we’ll be seeing these last two fellows many more times onstage, as they raise the bar a level higher by going deeper into what are usually sideline roles.

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

Looking For Olivia—Twilight Theater Company—N. Portland

The Look of Love

This comedy is written by local actor/writer/director, Steve Coker and directed by JJ Harris (Twilight’s Artistic Director).  It is playing at their space, 7515 N. Brandon Ave., through July 26th.  For more information, go to their site at www.twilighttheatercompany.org or call 503-847-9838.

As mentioned, Coker is a local artist and has performed his original material at the Funhouse Lounge and, as an actor, appeared with Artists Rep.  This play was originally done at Clark College in Vancouver, WA a few years back with Harris in the cast.  He admits that he was enchanted with the play back then and here it is now appearing, once again, before your very eyes, with his company.

Coker’s script is very funny (although, could use a bit trimming in places) and he has a great ear for dialogue.  And his characters are a riot, squeezing every ounce of humor from a situation, and it gallops by at a pretty good clip.  Harris is the right kind of director for this project and, as he has proved before, he is great with physical comedy and casting for it.  It is truly a fun evening!

The story involves a screenwriter, Henry (Tristan David Luciotti), who may be getting his big break by writing a sitcom for television.  The catch is that it must be done within a week.  To complicate matters, his girlfriend (not the sharpest knife in the drawer), Tia (Deone Jennings), wants him to concentrate on making her a big star.  But, as luck would have it, she has decided to go and visit her folks for a few days, leaving him to flesh out his epic film.

Just then, his best friend (kinship to Tia in cutlery), David (Craig Fitzpatrick), has been thrown out of his apartment and is looking for a shoulder to cry on.  He is an out-of-work actor whose claim to fame on the stage is playing bit parts in plays way, way off Broadway.  He is also lusting after Henry’s heart-throb, Tia.  All seems manageable until his next door neighbor, Olivia (Amanda Clark), gets locked out of her apartment and is needing a place to stay until the busy locksmith, Cliff (Nathan Will), can get her back in.

Another slight snag is that her, oh, so wealthy parents, Cynthia (Dorinda Toner) and Andrew (David Hudkins), now divorced, have chosen to visit her this weekend and, oh, by the way, they think she’s married.  So scriptwriter, Henry, must write and direct actor, David, into being her husband.  But, like all good situational comedies, even that will go awry.  To tell more would spoil the surprises but, let’s just say, “every Jack will have his Jill,” before the play is nil.

Yes, the story is contrived but most comedies are, for in order to get certain results, certain things must happen in a prescribed order.  Much of the humor is derived from the clever repartee between characters and the visual comedy displayed by the actors.  And Harris does have a cast to die for.  They all fit their parts like a glove and the physical antics, devised by Harris, are an exciting plus to the playful proceedings.

Luciotti handles the very demanding part of the lead with tireless effort.  He must drive the plot forward and he does it full steam ahead.  Jennings, as his main squeeze, is appropriately sexy and stupid in the same breath.  Clark, in the title role, has to appear and look like the girl-next-door image, and she does.  She is wholesome, attractive and who wouldn’t want to help this damsel-in-distress.  A key role to get our sympathies and she is just right for it.  Will, as the belated locksmith, is understandably frustrated and annoyed at these proceedings.

Toner and Hudkins, as the parents, are the most seasoned players of the menagerie and they are a hoot.  A telling element in showing off their professionalism is that they are re-actors, as well as actors.  It is important in comedy, especially, in not only what you say and how you say it, but, more specifically, your reactions to situations.  They also know good comic timing.  Watch their expressions as things happen around them.  And they know when to underplay something or take a pause to get the best comic results.  They are pros and it shows.

As good as everyone else is in the play, Fitzpatrick takes home the prize as the befuddled, egotistical best friend.  He lights up the already bright stage whenever he’s on.  And, as enthusiastic and overbearing as his antics are, they never seem too much.  He is grounded and very believable in his portrayal.  When he has a touching monologue toward the end of the play, you get a bit of a tug at the heartstrings.  And his daring in his spandex outfit is…well, you just have to see it to believe it.  In short, he is terrific and I hope other Portland theatres will take notice of his talents!

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

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

In The Next Room or the Vibrator Play—Profile Theatre—SW Portland

Snow Angels

This comedy-drama is written by Sarah Ruhl and directed by Adriana Baer (Profile’s Artistic Director).  It is playing at the Artists Rep. space, SW Alder St. & 16th Ave., through June 28th.  For more information, go to their site at www.profiletheatre.org or call 503-242-0080.

The title of my review will become clear at the end of the play but, in essence, it has to do with giving way to one’s passion and “winging” it, perhaps.  The story has a great deal of humor, as well as depth to it.  And it doesn’t deal with just one issue but several, including a new age with the coming of electricity into every home, the bond between mothers and their infants, the introduction of the vibrator to cure “hysteria” in women and the awaking of men to the needs of the fairer species…”what men do not observe because their intellect prevents them from seeing, would fill many books.”

In The Next Room… takes place in upstate New York in the 1880’s.  On the surface, it is about the invention of the vibrator.  But, in its depths, it concerns the collision of personal expression, the nature of artistic vision, progress in the electrical age, repression/oppression and love.  During the Victorian Age and before, women were to appear in society and at home as polite, pretty and perfect creators to the next generation.  But underneath this trussed exterior was a volcano waiting to erupt.


Couples were not permitted to even kiss before marriage, let alone have intercourse.  And, after marriage, this was often accomplished in the dark with eyes closed.  Married couples sometimes had never seen each other naked.  It is not surprising then, that this anxious feeling or moodiness of women, in particular, was soon diagnosed by the medical profession, as a type of hysteria.


The story takes place in the parlor and office of Dr. Givings (Leif Norby) and his wife, Catherine (Lauren Bloom).  Mrs. Givings has given birth but cannot nurse her own child because she has “bad milk,” so a wet nurse is found, Elizabeth (Ashley Nicole Williams).  She is an Afro-American maid of one of the doctor’s patients, Sabrina Daldry (Foss Curtis) and her husband, Mr. Daldry (Karl Hanover).  Dr. Givings is treating Sabrina, with his nurse, Annie (Beth Thompson), for this “hysteria” with an invention of his, the electric vibrator.
Like many brilliant men, his obsession with his profession blinds him to the fact that he is neglecting his own wife and unaware that she is “suffering” from this same kind of “hysteria.”  So the doctor’s wife and Sabrina take it on themselves to dip further into the meanings of this new instrument in this strange new world and, subsequently, themselves.

Into this mix enters Leo (Matthew Kerrigan), a free-spirited painter from Italy, also suffering from a type of block that prevents him from creating art anymore.  But with one “dose” of the doctor’s magical machine and he has an epiphany.  Not only is he able to paint again, but awakens bottled-up desires within others as well.  The climax is bitter-sweet, with some of the desires being met but some left smoldering.  To tell you more would be giving away discoveries an audience should make.

This is a story for discerning adults because of the subject matter, as well as some brief nudity.  But, what could have been a cheap, tawdry sideshow is made beautiful by the pen of Ruhl and direction of Baer.  The author dips her pen into her heart and writes with blood and Baer extends those strokes into a warm, humorous, revealing and passionate tale in which we just might meet ourselves.

The set (Stephen Dobay) and costumes (Sarah Gahagan), too, are not only functional for the period but also suggest the confinement and repressed secrets underneath one’s garments and behind locked doors.  The backdrop is particularly impressive with parasols and fans, products of a waning age that shaded people and cooled passions.  But with electricity, dark corners will be exposed and shadows disbursed.  A new age is beginning to evolve.

The actors are all first rate.  Norby is always worth watching on stage.  He plays the doctor as a man, on the surface, content with everything in its place but, inwardly, changes are happening.  He has quiet intensity that is perfect for the character.  Bloom, as his wife, is both funny and sad as we watch her trying to make sense of this new-found world she has been thrust into.  Her arms are flying and her words unguarded as she tries to express herself.  A well constructed performance.  Thompson, as the nurse, does nicely as an enigma, a person just doing her job but with desires, too, unquenched.

Williams, as perhaps the wisest and most down-to-earth of the group, is wonderful as she tries to navigate her way into these untested waters for a Black American woman in this Age of Discovery.  Kerrigan, as the free spirited artist, may be the most repressed of the bunch, as he appears to be unconnected to the trials and tribulations of this society.  But, once his creative juices are allowed to flow again, he charts a new course for himself.  Well done.
Hanover, as the husband of Sabrina, seems not to have a clue as to what’s going on, and is marvelously funny as he, like a bull in a China shop, continues to plow full-speed ahead.  And Curtis, as his wife, is terrific, as we seem to experience this journey through her eyes.  Entering into the picture as an attractive but repressed young woman who, once awakened, she is fully capable of dealing with this new-found energy.  It is lovely to watch her bloom and embrace this brave, new world.

I recommend this show but know that it is very adult in nature.  If you do choose to see it, tell them Dennis sent you.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Inhale, 9 Questions—Portland Playhouse—NE Portland

“To Thine Own Self Be True…”

This is a Showcase or Solo Show Festival for the Apprentice Company of this theatre.  The monologues are written by (I presume) the artists themselves and directed by the Instructors, Nikki Weaver, Gretchen Corbett and Cristi Miles.  It is playing at their space, 602 NE Prescott St., only through Wednesday, June 10th at 7 pm.  For more information on this program, go to their site at www.portlandplayhouse.org

The above quote form Hamlet is a bit of a misnomer, as it is spoken by a character (Polonius) who is undeniable false.  But the sentiment is true and decidedly fits the theme of these presentations, as they all, in one way or the other, are about seeking their own identity (as were many plays presented this season).  Not such a stretch, as they are in their twenties and looking for a path to find themselves and how they might put their mark on this unsettled world of ours.  They are, quite frankly, our future.

All of these eight presentations employed the use of stylized movement, dance, mime, visual aids, recorded music, song, video, recorded voices, shadow play, and/or live singing and playing a musical instrument.  They all were exploring their own image of self as they relate to death, life, family, friends, fear, bravery, heritage, bucket lists, sex, game-playing, obsession with looks, anxiety, stereotypes and experimentation.  We are all connected and, like it or not, we “oldsters” have been there, too.  Question is, how do you get here from there and who will you be when you finally “Arrive?”

These pieces are not so much a play about facts but about feelings and so I will approach my impressions from that position.  The Fastest Way Down (Sarah Gehring) hits upon an essential truth, if one wants to fly eventually you have to come down.  Or, perhaps, the moment you’re born, you begin to die.  And Life happens in-between those two episodes.  Falling on your face and eating gravel might be embarrassing but it is more harrowing if you don’t pick yourself up, brush yourself off and go forward.  She summoned it up well with, “being brave is like being an idiot for a good cause.”

I believe Gehring, as she seems in touch with herself.  She has a kinetic energy that is infectious and I envy those spurts of life…those moments of awareness…that ability to see beyond oneself to possibilities.  She is concentrated, daring and gives the awkwardness of Youth a nobility.

Boxed Up (Andy Haftkowycz) could be labeled “a stranger in a strange land.”  Boxing up your dreams and memories (good and bad) is one way of holding onto your truths.  Growing up in one heritage and then trying to apply it to a whole new world is not an easy task.  Who is a person really?

Are they to blindly follow traditions as they grew up or boldly to start their own?  We are who we are today, not in spite of our upbringing but because of it.  Haftkowcyz gives us a glimpse into two worlds and the brave struggle he makes to make a third one, his.  He portrays an honesty in his dilemma and enables us to walk in another’s shoes to see what the world looks like from his perspective.

L**E (Adriana Bordea) is about someone who at an early age has created a bucket list or goals to achieve in her lifetime.  Not too unusual, as on it are winning the lottery, going skinny-dipping, meeting a celebrity…and falling in l**e (something she can’t articulate).  Bordea is brave in at least bringing up the subject.  The definition of that four-letter word is misused so many times it may have lost its meaning.  Lust, as she finds out, may but a good substitute but it is not…It.  She finds herself at one point surrounded by paper statements as to its meaning and discovers everyone has a different connotation.  She is certainly honest in her portrayal and wise beyond her years in even asking the question.  But, as she discovers, it may not be L**E she needs to be addressing but commitment.  Ah, “there’s the rub.”

Gut (Corinne Gaucher) perhaps the bravest of the troupe, as she dares to face the question of this society’s obsession with the physical self.  Using paint, she marks her body with all the various physical shortcomings and possible ailments she may be subjected to.  This “gut” honesty is refreshing.  But what she reveals may be true, as to the obsession of our world, but is only endearing as she exposes her inner and physical self.  I applaud her honest and daring and, to be quite frank, I think she is just fine to look at (sans paint, of course) and, more importantly, her self-awareness and candor are very attractive features, too.

The People I’ve Loved (Jake Simonds) are about, just that, people he’s loved or have been important to him in exploring the issues of Sex.  His father, a bit of a dead-end there.  Friends, well they all think it’s about lust, getting your rocks off, scoring, getting it up.  And the women…but somehow there seems to be something missing…perhaps, that magic, elusive element called Love.  Simonds writes part of his piece in rhyme, which suggests a romantic at heart.  And that may be the key.  Romance…the “stuff that dreams are made on.”  He does hit all the right notes in his poem, as yet unfinished.

I Share, Therefore I Am (Sasha Belle Newfeld) may be the most prime…or, perhaps, I should say, primal example of finding oneself.  She believes she is a Rhino and seeks to prove it, by shedding her human trappings and allowing her inner (beast) self to come out.  It is an exploration of the psyche as well as the body.  Newfeld does reach down into her (our) depths to discover, perhaps, origins of being.  When an animal sheds one’s skin, or molts, they discover a new self.

I Am Meryl Streep (Emma Bridges) concentrates on the daring bravery of Streep in playing all the varied characters she’s presented, so convincingly, too, over the years.  In contrast, Bridges explores a person who is afraid of everything.  Her best friend in this search is Anxiety.  She was the youngest child in her family and probably was overprotected growing up.  Also, she never felt that she was good at anything and so her self-image was tarnished.  She was, in essence, afraid of change.  So, to overcome it, she boldly strove to face the Fears she cultivated.  She became a stand-up comic, got her long hair cut, went dragon-boating, climbed a mountain, etc.  Finding out, in the process, there is really “nothing to fear but Fear itself.”  I think she’s well on her way to becoming a pretty, remarkable person.

It Ain’t Easy (La ‘Tevin Alexander) presents the most topical of the pieces.  With all the violence that is going on in the cities today against Afro-Americans, it is important to note that it is not only very wrong but can definitely stunt the growth and potential of young individuals.  “Violence breeds violence.”  He shares with us the plight of a young black man simply being in the neighborhood where a crime is committed and being abused by police for simply being…black.  Exposing his soul is a bold move and what can be hoped for is that that people will listen, not only with their ears, but with their hearts, and change this atmosphere of hate to tolerance.

The Apprenticeship program is a powerful one for young artists and one can only hope it grows from here.  Weaver, Corbett and Miles are pros in their own right and have done a terrific job of mentoring these young performers.  They also need Host homes for young artists to reside in while they are immersed in their classes.  Hopefully, some of you will reach out and check their website and become involved in some way.  I recommend this program and see their show tonight if you can.