Monday, March 23, 2015

The Other Place—Portland Playhouse—NE Portland

“An Awfully Big Adventure”

This drama is written by Sharr White and directed by Brian Weaver (P/P’s Artistic Director).  It is playing at their space at 602 NE Prescott St. (parking lot is 2 blocks north of the theatre).  It runs through April 12th.  For more information, go to their site at www.portlandplayhouse.org or call 503-488-5822.

This story has some resemblance to the current film called Still Alice (starring award-winner, Julianne Moore) or the popular film, The Notebook (w/Gena Rowlands & James Garner).  It has to do with, in part, the search for identity (which, I’ve mention this before, that several of the recent plays I’ve reviewed in the past few months have similar themes to this.  Could this be a universal sign of theatres searching for their place in the collective cosmos of the world of the Arts.  Perhaps.)

Juliana (Sharonlee Mclean) is a researcher/promoter for conferences explaining the benefits of a new pill/drug that will help with memory loss.  She is currently going through a divorce from her husband, Ian (Duffy Epstein), a doctor.  But she also seems to be going through some episodes in which she is forgetting things and/or her recalling of past events may not be quite accurate.

So, she is going to a “shrink,” Dr. Teller (Nikki Weaver), to determine the truth of the matter.  She is convinced that she has a brain tumor, as it seems to run in the family.  But the reality may lead in a different direction.  She tries to find solace in her estranged daughter, Laurel (Weaver, again) and her husband Richard (Jean-Luc Boucherot), but they have their own reasons for being distant from her.  “Senior moments” are one thing but, in her case, it goes a lot deeper.

She longs to go back to “the other place,” a home they have in Cape Cod, in which she grew up.  It is, she believes, her escape from the stressful life she leads.  And, probably the oddest thing of all, she keeps seeing a “girl in a yellow bikini” at the seminars she gives.  It’s as if she’s haunting her, wanting something from her, needing to connect in some way. 

To tell more would be a spoiler and I won’t do that.  But, suffice, she does find “the other place,” sort of, and she does discover the secret to the bikinied girl or, at least, we do.  And know that we all have one in our lives and it’s just around the corner.  Intrigued?  See the play!

The plot is a bit of mystery, science, love story, magic trick and a search for meaning.  Much of it takes place on an almost bare stage and, when the set appears more permanent, that might be the biggest illusion of all.  I hope I have peaked your interest.  Myself, my attention was completely rapt in the final few moments of the play, as was the audience’s.  You could have heard a pin drop.

B. Weaver certainly has picked an enigmatic play to present.  Personally, I like a mystery/suspense in such an offering.  Hitchcock had said that the main ingredient of a story must be that the audience doesn’t know what’s around the next corner and, if you do it right, will be surprised.  This play certainly has that.  Weaver is always good at allowing the actors to be the storytellers and only using props/sets when necessary to cement the story.

Mclean, a fine actress from other productions I’ve reviewed (also a darn good singer, too) does justice to this complex and demanding role.  She must, at times, be bitingly witty, lost in thought (and dreams, perhaps?), accusatory, simpering, professional and hurting.  Quite an exhausting journey she takes us on and well traveled.  Epstein, too, a seasoned professional (I’ve even had the pleasured of sharing the stage with him some years ago) plays a man that could be seen as a villain but his portrayal is much more complicated.  As much as you may sympathize with Juliana, you learn to empathize with Ian.  Neither road easily traveled and both sojourners well suited to this rocky road traversed.

N. Weaver also shows versatility in her portrayal of a doctor, the daughter, et. al.  Well done.  And Boucherot as the son-in-law, et. al. is also effective.  The play is adult in nature so be aware.  I do recommend this show.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Six Gentlepersons of Verona—Bag & Baggage Theatre—Hillsboro

"If Music be the Food of Love, Play On”

The Shakespearean adaptation and direction of this comedy is by Scott Palmer (B&B’s Artistic Director).  It includes music and songs adapted from the 70’s by Musical Director, Beth Willis.  It is playing at the Venetian Theatre, 253 E. Main St. in Hillsboro, OR.  For more information, go to their site at www.bagnbaggage.org 

We have just experienced the cultural revolution of the 60’s and now, in the 70’s (the time period for this play), must follow the path we have laid out for ourselves. Morals and Music have changed, drugs and free love are now part of our persona and the art of politics soon will follow this winding road.  And so the landscape changes from the “little boxes” we live in, to the open, rainbow fields of discovery.

In this incarnation of the Bard’s play of Two Gentlemen of Verona the cast has a gender change of five women playing about a dozen roles and adding 70’s music, song and dance to the mix.  The plot really is very slight, not veering far from his other love stories in his comedies.  They always deal with disguises, cross-purposes, comic servants, irate parents, travels, bad poems and unrequited, young love.

In this case, lanky Proteus (Cassie Greer), has found his love in lovely Julia (Arianne Jacques) but, as usual, father objects looking for a richer suitor.  But his childhood pal, restless Valentine (Clara-Liis Hillier), is off to find love in the big city.  Speed, his feisty servant, (Kaia Hillier) has opted to go with him, to intercede or carry messages when necessary.

Before long, Proteus, tiring of the love games locally, decides to find his old pal and, like him, seek his fortune elsewhere.  Launce (Jessi Walters), his stoner servant, and his companion, the wide-eyed, Crab (Mick DuPre’), have chosen to amble along with him.  Meanwhile, Valentine has been smitten by Silvia (Walters, again).  But complications arise when Proteus also has a thing for her.  And, to make matters worse, Julia has decided to come after Proteus, disguised as a common man.

All these elements are familiar devices in the Bard’s comedies of love.  But to tell more of the plot would spoil the fun.  Needless to say, love conquers all and wrongs are righted again.  The success of the production is not in the original story itself which, as Palmer admits, “…is simply not a very good play.”  It lies in Palmer’s brilliant and innovative adaptation (which I hope he publishes, maybe OSF would be interested) and his marvelous, multi-talented cast, who are terrific!

Greer has played many major roles in his shows and has shown her diversity from the flighty, flirtatious Daisy in The Great Gatsby, to playing a languid, lanky boy in this production.  Her alto voice gives a mysterious, sexy charm to her personas.  And she is simply a very good actor, giving focus and believability to all the characters she inhabits.  Also, she is no slouch as a singer, either.  She should be seen again onstage and often!

C. Hillier is another very accomplished actor, gracing not only this stage but plays with NW Classical and Vertigo, as well.  She is always worth watching and this may be a personal favorite of mine from all the roles she’s done, as she stretches herself in very convincingly playing a young man but also in her very good singing ability.  I’m sure we’ll be seeing much more of her onstage.  K. Hillier (Clara’s younger sister) portrays one of the Bard’s better clowns in his shows.  She obviously comes from good stock and shows she also has some pretty impressive acting chops.  I wish her continued success.

Jacques is lovely to look at and then is equally convincing in her guise as a boy.  What could be just another love-struck, simple character is heightened by her abilities because she gets you to genuinely feel for her plight.  And Walters is amazing as the comic stoner, Launce.  Being space-out most of the time, gives an added dimension to the already amusing role.  I embraced her as soon as she set foot on the stage and I never wavered in my enthusiasm for watching and listening to her.  She had me at, “Dude….” And, what is more amazing, is she plays the beautiful Silvia, as well.  That’s acting, folks.

But her scene-stealing partner, DuPre’, as Crab, was also worth watching, as they made quite a team.  Although having a beastly countenance, the big eyes would melt your heart.  And DuPre’s timing in silent bits was impeccable, whether giving a stare at the audience or licking the face of the master…oh, didn’t I explain, DuPre’ is a dog, a pug, I believe…and is great.  W. C. Fields has said never to appear with animals or children because they steal the scene.  He’s right, but they never had Walters as the other half of the team, who holds her own against him.

The music is a welcome addition to the play and fits very well into the story.  And the ladies are simply a treat as the play boys, women, sing, dance, and play musical instruments.  This may be the best ensemble I’ve seen onstage!  And Palmer, as the Creator, not content to duly transcribe a play to the stage, he enhances all the shows he does by his uncanny understanding of the Art of theatre.  I’m always on board to see his plays and I’ve never been disappointed in his productions!

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

Monday, March 16, 2015

The Invisible Hand—Artists Rep.—SW Portland

Addictive Power

This political drama is written by Ayad Akhtar and directed by Allen Nause.  It is playing at their space at SW Alder St. & 16th Ave. through April 5th.  For more information, go to their site at www.artistsrep.org  or call 503-241-1278.

Addiction is a powerful, driving force.  Whether it’s addiction to drugs, to religion, to electronics, to gambling, to power or to money, it can easily become an all-consuming obsession.  Once you have tasted the fruits of its tree, it can burrow its roots into you and control you.  Much of it has to do with an individual’s pursuit of his own self-interest, often without regard for the consequences to others.

An invisible hand or shadow force seems to take over at some point in this drive for…more…of whatever it’s offering.  It has often been alluded to that, especially in the film Network, countries are not really ruled by individual leaders but by world-wide conglomerates that pull the strings, mainly through money, for their own self-interests in controlling the world.  And the rest of us are merely puppets to their whims.

It is a frightening thought and this play, in some respects, explores such a dilemma.  If an individual could predict or control future events for his own gain, then the world is truly his oyster.  Nick Bright (Connor Toms) is a mid-level stock trader at a firm in Pakistan.  He is kidnapped, perhaps mistakenly, for ransom by a shadow organization in this country.  The leader of this movement is Imam Saleem (William Ontiveros) who wants 10 million dollars from the U.S. government and/or his family for his safe return.  But the U. S. does not negotiate with terrorists and his family can’t raise any more the 3 million, so they seem to be at an impasse.

But Nick has an alternate solution, which meets with some interest from two of Imam’s minions, Bashir (Imran Sheikh) and Dar (John San Nicolas).  Being a stock trader, Nick proposes that he can raise that kind of money, and more, for them through the Market.  This odd grouping seems to reach an uneasy truce as he teaches Bashir, a London-born revolutionary, the secrets of the Stock Market.  But, teacher beware, of educating an innocent into the wiles of the world, for you may have created a monster.

To reveal more would be giving away plot devices, but know that it does seem to have a ring of truth about it and is very relevant to our present-day, world-wide situations.  This event happens in Pakistan, since that is familiar for the author, but it could just as easily happen elsewhere in Africa, or China, or here, or any country trying to work its way out of poverty.  The dangers of corruption and greed and exclusive, self-interested are everywhere.  Trying to better yourself should be encouraged but you should also be aware of the responsibilities and consequences of such actions, too.

Nause is an inspired director for such a play, having directed plays internationally.  And, although heady with deep ideas and words, the play has a pounding rhythm that propels it forward.  Nause, being a fine actor himself, certainly understands actors and it shows in how they approach the material, giving us glimpses, one at a time, into the terrifying momentum of the events.

The actors all give us shades of gray, as to the coloring of their characters.  Is Dar just a simple minion or can he aspire to something greater?  Is Nick simply playing for time or is he caught up in the allure of power?  Is Imam Saleem really altruistic in his dreams of a better world for his people or is he falling under the hypnotic power of greed and self-interest?  Can Bashir use his newly acquired knowledge for good or will he succumb to the “way of all flesh?”  These actors are amazing in throwing out crumbs for us to chew on without completely satisfy our hunger, and that’s as it should be.  Keep in mind, “absolute power corrupts absolutely!”

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

Mary Stuart—NW Classical Theatre—SE Portland

A War of Words

This historic drama is written by Peter Oswald and based on a play by Friedrich Schiller.  It is directed by theatre veteran, Elizabeth Huffman, and co-produced by Cygnet Productions.  It is playing at the Shoebox Theatre space at 2110 SE 10th Ave. and runs through March 29th.  It only seats about 40 people and is only street parking, so best get there early.  For more information, go to their site at www.nwctc.org or call 971-244-3740.

The time is of unrest in the world of royalty and politics and distrust among nations.  Political alliances are made, and broken, treaties and promises are conceived, and broken, leaders of countries come and go on a whim sometimes, it seems.  And religious persecution is common, holy wars rampant and deaths created by them, a daily occurrence.  The time period I’m talking about…500 years ago?  No, today!  But it is interesting how modern times mirror those in England and Europe 5 centuries ago.  There is a saying that those who have not learned from the mistakes in History are condemned to repeat them.  Tis true, as here we are in 2015 and it seems little has changed.

The story of Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, and Elizabeth the First of England is a complicated one, so I will try to give you a mini-view of the atmosphere of the times and a flavor of the relationships.  Mary (Luisa Sermol), although born in Scotland and legitimate heir to the Scottish throne, was raised in France and even married into French royalty.  She was spoiled, naïve as to the political and religious leanings of her birth country, erudite, Catholic, young and beautiful.  So, when she eventually takes the throne in her native country, she totally unaware of the political climate.

Elizabeth (Lorraine Bahr), on the other hand, was her cousin but a Protestant, not overly attractive, had a keen sense of politics and knew how to manipulate people to her own ends.  Almost the opposite of Mary.  And, being at war with Scotland, it is not long before Mary is captured and imprisoned, as she is accused of plotting her death, which is treason.  And Elizabeth has her loyal minions, among them the devious Lord Burleigh (Gary Powell) who feels that as long as Mary lives, she is a threat to the throne.

The Earl of Shrewsbury (Rob Harrison), a trusted old retainer, feels that it is bad for the royal image if Mary were to be executed.  Dudley (Joe Healy) simply flows whichever way the wind is blowing, espousing love for the Queen but is not beyond seeing if there is greener grass on the other side of the land.  Mortimer (Phillip Whiteman) is what you might call a Mole in the spy game, playing both ends against the middle, but doing it for baser reasons.  Paulet (David Bodin), technically her jailer, wants nothing to do with any attempts on her life, as it may tarnish his reputation.  And poor Davidson (Anthony Green), a dupe, trying to do what is expected but it caught up in a web beyond his own making or understanding.

Mary, though, is not without her supporters.  Among them is her faithful nurse, Hannah (Cate Garrison) a loyal companion that serves her mistress well.  And, toward the end, a priest, Melvil (Chris Porter), a loyal Scotsman bringing her much needed comfort.  The meeting between the two icons of history probably never took place but it would be remiss of any dramatist not to have included such an encounter.  And the dialogue between them seems perfectly in accordance of what might have been said had they met.  Also it a powerful dramatic scene as well, pointing up the strengths and failings of both characters.

But this is a play of words and ideas and so you must listen and cogitate the arguments, knowing that nothing is really resolved, it only resurfaces in different guises over the years.
Huffman is a master of the historic and classical material.  I fondly remember her mixing dialogues and characters from the Bard’s plays to have them meet at the Shakespeare Café in modern-day New Orleans.  And she knows how to use space very well.  She manages to stage this complicated story in a space not much larger than some living rooms.  Huffman proves the old adage that a play well performed only needs the author’s words, the actors’ talents and the audience’s imagination to be successful.  The rest is window dressing.

The entire cast is exceptional and well-suited to their roles.  But, without a doubt, it would be nothing if there was a mismatch in casting the two Queens.  And, in this case, they are extraordinary!  Sermol shows us the heroic aspect of Mary’s character toward the end but also manages to show her vulnerability as well.  Her worst sins may be that she is stubborn, naïve and uncompromising.  It is to her credit as an actor, that you can understand why she must die at the end, as the character senses it, too.

And Bahr, as Elizabeth I, not only has the right look for the character, but you can observe her thinking and plotting in all the machinations she gyrates in order to achieve her ends.  You also sense the intense loneliness she must feel, knowing that all that serve her have to be suspect, she can literally trust no one.  Bahr is terrific is giving us a one-of-a-kind performance!  Here image is seared into my brain in this role.  Bravo!

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

Friday, March 13, 2015

Jewtopia—Triangle Productions!—NE Portland

Identity Crisis

This adult comedy is written by Bryan Fogel and Sam Wolfson and directed by Donald Horn (Triangle’s Artistic Director).  It is playing at their space at 1785 NE Sandy Blvd. through April 4th.  For more information, go to their site at www.trianglepro.org or call 503-239-5919.

Once again, it is amazing how many recent theatres that have had discovering one’s identity at the forefront of their shows.  Among the recent plays that had this as one of their themes are shows at Post 5, defunct, theatre vertigo, Artists Rep., PAC, et. al.  This must be a sign that the world of Art, or maybe just the world in general, is seeking to find answers to who they are and what their purpose in life is.

In the case of this story, it is about Chris (Alex Fox), who was brought up in one religion but is desperately wanting to become a Jew, because Jewish women are really hot.  He meets up with his old school pal, Adam (James Sharinghousen), a Jew, whose parents are bugging him to settle down with a nice Jewish girl and have kids.  Only problem is, he strikes out with the ladies.  So a bond is formed in which Chris will teach him how to get women if Adam teaches him how to become Jewish.

It seems that Chris has the hots for Allison (Sarah DeGrave) but her mother, Marcy (Michelle Maida), only wants a Jewish boy for her.  Things get a bit heated when they go to the temple for further insights into the Jewish faith only to discover that the Rabbi (Jon Quesenberry) is from Adam’s old neighborhood and still has not forgiven him for an insult he produced at the temple when he was a young man.

As things progress, Adam and Chris seems to exchange places, which comes to a head at a celebration with Adam’s mother (Maida, again) and father (Michael Rouches) and uncle (Quesenberry, again).  Chris becomes too Jewish, as he turns on his friend, and Adam slides the other way, as he brings home Rachel (April Peng) not only not Jewish but of a different nationality.  The surprises are not done yet, but to tell more would spoil the discoveries.

A danger with comedies dealing with racial, cultural or religious issues is that you have to be so careful not to be laughing at them but with them.  But, in this case, Horn is at the wheel and “all’s right with the world.”  Issues that are broached include guilt trips, rituals and rites, circumcision, family dynamics, et. al.  And Horn has kept the play moving along with lots of physical humor as well.

The main theme, which is quite touching, is to love a person for who they are, not what they are suppose to represent.  We must remind ourselves that we are not our parents and, although valued human beings, they are not us.  The scariest part of growing up may be just being yourself regardless of opposition.  And if we meet up with someone or something that doesn’t agree with us, perhaps we need to just walk around in their skin for awhile to see how the world is viewed from their eyes.  It may not change our own personal views but it might just teach us to become more tolerant and compassionate.

The two leads, Sharinghousen and Fox, handle these opposing points of view with clarity, neither becoming completely heroic or villainess, but all shades of gray.  I have seen Sharinghouse in a number of plays here and at OCT and he is always interesting to watch onstage, giving complete focus to his characters.  Fox is equally as good, giving a nice contrast to Sharinghousen’s character.  It’s good to see Quesenberry onstage, as he is usually behind the scenes as the excellent musical director and composer for many of the shows here.  His two roles in this show are quite amusing and seem very authentic.


Maida and Rouches are just fine as the flamboyant and demanding parents.  Peng seems to be a new addition to the stage and holds her own in the scene where she expounds her point of view.  DeGrave is an attractive young lady and does well in, what turns out to be, a conflicted character.  I’ve seen her before onstage, about a year ago in Proof, and she is a fine dramatic actor as well.  I hope to see both of these young women again onstage in future productions.

This is definitely a show for adults because of subject matter.  I recommend it and, if you do go, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Annie Get Your Gun—historic Iao Theater—Maui, Hawaii



Shootin’ From the Hip

This Irving Berlin musical is directed and choreographed by Brian Swasey with musical direction by Beth Fobbe-Wills.  It plays at their space at 68 N. Market St. in Wailuku, HI.  It runs through March 22nd (warning, it is street parking so best allow time for that).  For more information, go to their site at www.mauionstage.com or call 808-242-6969.

I’ll bet that few of you out there know what famous, iconic song came from this musical.  It’s the identifying song for all Broadway musicals, “There’s No Business Like Show Business.”  Ethel Merman was the original “Annie” and made that her signature song.  Betty Hutton did the film version (after Judy Garland was fired from it).  And it has been revived on Broadway more than once, the latest version with Bernadette Peters, I believe.

The story is a play within a play, much like the style of Man Of La Mancha, presenting a small group of actors portraying all the characters onstage.  Within the play, the setting is Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, an actual troupe that toured a show throughout the world, purportedly recreating the “Old West.”  It consisted of the irascible Buffalo Bill Cody (William Hubbard) himself, as well as the handsome sharp-shooter, Frank Butler (Steven Dascoulias), the wise Chief Sitting Bull (Rick Scheideman) and, of course, a backwoods gal named, Annie Oakley (Alexis Dascoulias).

And, in the play at least, there is a “half-breed Indian,” Tommy (Brock Kahoohanohano-Ambrose) who is smitten by a young lass, Winnie (Roxi J. Nelson), also the daughter of a bigoted but former love of Frank’s, Dolly (Laura Cole).  And the thorn in their side is the competing Show, lead by the equally cantankerous, Pawnee Bill (Joel Agnew).  And the Ringmaster/Narrator that pulls the whole story together is the patient Charlie Davenport (Tully O’Reilly).

On the surface, the two leads, Annie and Frank, seemed engaged in a constant “pissing” contest, as to who is the better shot.  But underneath it all, there is an instant love at first meeting.  The story is also about blossoming of an individual, regardless of gender or culture, to have the rights and freedoms of everyone else.  Annie stakes her claim for women and Tommy and Sitting Bull for the Native American.  And, in a way, so do the leaders of the troupes, for a dying way of life that must inevitably make way for “progress” into a brave new world.

One of the most amazing things about the complicated staging of this production is that there are no weak links.  Everything works!  There is a whole lot of talent in Maui and seems to be focused in this show.  Kudos to the director, Swasey, for utilizing this small stage to accommodated so much traffic and action and still have the story and characters understandable.  The tiny group of musicians, Fobbe-Wills, Kim Vetterli, Clay Logue and Perry Gragas are first-rate.  And the set, Mark C. Koski and costume designers, Roxi & Vicki Nelson gave a colorful and seamless flow to the show.

And the popular songs are still there, such as the above mentioned icon and “Doin’ What Comes Naturally,” “The Girl That I Marry,” “You Can’t Get a Man with a Gun,” “I Got the Sun in the Morning,” and “Anything You Can Do.”  But, as well done as all the numbers were, the rousing showstopper for me was Annie’s (A. Dascoulias) rendition of “Can’t Get a Man…,” mainly because of her extraordinary singing talent!

A common fault with productions of these older musicals is that they are often played for the glitz and glamour, leaving the characters to be just a shell of the true nature of the story.  Thankfully, not so with this production.  All the characters are presented as very real people, which seems to come first in the interpretation, as it should be.  I applaud this troupe for giving us a story that is not only entertaining but also has soul.  It is a story in which the quill has been dipped, not into an ink well, but into the heart, and written in blood.

What usually are throw-away roles in these productions, the young lovers, are well presented here by Nelson and Kahoohanohano-Ambrose.  Also the younger children, playing the brother, Beckham Westphal, and sisters of Annie, Madison Casteel and Lily Janneck, definitely held their own onstage and show talent for future artistic endeavors.  Cole acts and sings her part well, playing the gal you love to hate.  O’Reilly, Scheideman and Agnew do well in filling out their colorful characters.  And Hubbard has an eerie resemblance to the real Old West icon and does well in presenting him.

S. Dascoulias, as Butler, has a great singing voice, sounding almost operatic, and is a pleasure to hear him trill onstage, especially in “The Girl That I Marry.” A difficult character, because his character is not likable but, as he presents it, a vulnerable man, who is definitely in love and, thus, willing to change.  Well done.

And A. Dascoulias, as Annie, is a true treasure for the stage!  The highlight for me in her singing was, as mentioned, “You Can’t Get a Man With a Gun.”  Also she has the right look for the role and is totally convincing in her acting of the part.  I did get a chance to see an excerpt of Merman doing the role, all bugles and brass, but not believable as a person.  This young lady, I believe, is better.  She certainly has all the right stuff for the singing and adds that, sometimes elusive, truth in which you feel you can identify with her, as you sense you are seeing a real human being before you.  Bravo…with many more to come, I’m sure!

All volunteer theatres, like this one, could not only use your support as an audience but also some financial backing.  This one is certainly worthy of that kind of attention.  I highly recommend this show.  If you do see, it, please tell them that Dennis sent you.
The Maui Experience
Myself, my blog manager, Jennifer and her husband, Rick, as well as friends, John & Jim and Mia all went to Maui to witness a wedding of some friends, Michaelo and Jessica Ross.  The wedding was beautiful, as well as my first exposure to Maui.  My fondest take-away were the sights and smells of the tropical flowers and trees, as well as the trills of the birds.

We also went to a luau, the Feast at Lele, www.feastatlele.com or call 667-5353, which was on the beach and included foods from Hawaii, Aotearoa, Tahiti and Samoa, as well as entertainment from those cultures including a fire dancer.  It is well worth the time to visit.

We also went to Mama’s Fish House, which had an amazing view of the ocean as well as some terrific drinks and food.  And some Whale Watching and an Aquarium sponsored by the non-profit, Pacific Whale Foundation, www.pacificwhale.org   Both of these trips are well worth your time and support.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Durang Durang—Post 5 Theatre—SE Portland

Pulling Out all Stops

This absurdist comedy is by the award-winning playwright, Christopher Durang and is directed by Samuel Dinkowitz.  It is playing at the Post 5 space at 1666 SE Lambert St. in the Sellwood area (parking lot in the rear) through March 28th.  For more information, go to their site at www.post5theatre.org

Durang doesn’t fool around when professing/confessing his view of Life, Art and People.  If you peel back the layers of his witticism you will see…more layers of witticism.  No, actually, he does reveal his view of the Catholic religion, the electronic age, therapy, actors, et. al. in past plays and, let me tell ya, it ain’t good.

In this one, parody plays an important part.  In simplest terms, a parody is a satirical view of a literary work and sometimes used to comment on a travesty of some sort.  Both definitions can of use here, I believe, as it applies to his situations.  The production consists of six short plays, part of them commenting on paying humorous homage to past classic writers and the others commenting on the human condition.

I must iterate early on that the cast of six is extremely talented, not to be only playing about two dozen characters, but being able to successfully translate this difficult style of theatre to the stage.  I’ll give you their names now, because to identify all the characters associated with a role would just confuse you.  They are:  Philip J. Berns, Keith Cable, Heath Koerschgen, Pat Janowski, Kelly Godell and Jessica Tidd, most of them in previous Post 5 productions and all very talented.

The first selection is a monologue by a Mrs. Sorken (Cable) who does a rather good job of explaining the origins of the words drama and theatre and of their creators, especially the Greeks.  She also explains how listless her life is having not been a part of these artistic endeavors.  In short, the Arts can bring light and life to otherwise routine existences.

The second presentation, “For Whom the Southern Belle Tolls,” is a parody of Tennessee Williams’, The Glass Menagerie.  And, I hate to say this, but if you’re not familiar with the play, most of the humor/story will go over your head.  So, I believe, a brief recap (as it relates to this presentation), is in order.  This was Williams’ first theatrical success and it reflects the memories of his childhood, his domineering mother, his reclusive sister whose world consisted of little glass animals, and a friend of his, Jim, a gentleman caller, who may be his, and his sister’s, only salvation from their stifling upbringing.

In this version, Laura, the sister is transformed into Lawrence (Berns), a crippled brother who collects swizzle sticks, and the visitor, is a loud-mouth girl called Ginny (Godell).  Oddly the play does follow somewhat closely the last Act of the original play with many satirical touches, of course.  The third play, “A Stye in the Eye,” is a collection of various characters and situations from Sam Shepard’s shows.  It deals, again, in an offbeat way, with themes that are rampant in his shows such as incest, dysfunctional families, dual personalities, troubled pasts, symbols, and even artichokes.  Again, knowing Shepard’s plays would help decipher the humor.

“Nina in the Morning,” seems to reference classical plays, such as Chekov and foreign films, especially Malle and possibly a touch of Bergman.  A fading beauty, Nina (Janowski), is unsuccessfully trying to deal with her state in life, as well as that of her eccentric family and servants.  All very dramatic, of course, and depressing.  “Wanda’s Visit” focuses on a married couple, Jim (Koerschgen) and Marsha (Tidd), reaching that part of their lives which has become very routine.  But, in steps Wanda (Godell), an old flame of Jim’s from school and life becomes much more…interesting.  She is obnoxious, loud, forthright…and may just be the spark necessary to rekindle broken lives.  The last is “A Business Lunch at the Russian Tearoom.”  It presents, possibly, an all-too-real portrait of a writer (Cable) and producers/agents trying to get material on the screen.  He’s trying to stick to his artistic visions but they seem to want some outrageous plots that will shock the audience.  Shades of a very good film of past years called, The Player, with Tim Robbins.

Dinkowitz certainly knows his material and has cast it equally well.  He, being a very capable actor himself, would be considered an actor’s director and, in this case, it pays off well.  This material is not for everyone and, as mentioned, knowing something about the playwrights and foreign films would help understand the humor.  Durang’s humor may be biting but it hits the bull’s eye most of the time.  And I applaud the whole cast with some very difficult material.  They are super.

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