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.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

The Liar—Artists Rep—SW Portland

The Idle Rich

This period comedy by Pierre Corneille is freely adapted by David Ives and directed by Artists Rep’s Artistic Director, Dámaso Rodriguez.  It is playing at their space, SW Alder St. and 16th Ave., through June 21st.  For more information, go to their site at www.artistsrep.org or call 503-241-1278.

Have no Fear,
There is no Crime.
The play is Done
In perfect Rhyme.
This is what makes the play somewhat unique, that the speeches are done (mostly) in iambic pentameter or rhymed verse.  There was also a rather good film version of The Pied Piper… done a number of years ago (w/Van Johnson & Claude Rains) that was all written in rhyme.  Corneille’s material has been updated in speech, also, so that it becomes more accessible to a modern audience.  That being said, the costumes (colorful & exaggerated) and settings (a gorgeous, detailed map in the background) are Paris during the mid-1600’s.

Corneille has ideas in common with Shakespeare and Moliere’s (both contemporaries) comedies, as they, too, ridiculed the upper class, politicians, the idle rich and lawyers (“let’s kill all the lawyers”—Shakespeare).  (Any comparison to modern-day counterparts is purely…intentional.)  They also all included masks and disguises to discover the intentions of others.  And they applauded the “wise fools,” the servants or clowns that seem to have all the answers.  And characters’ used asides to the audience to explain inner thoughts and motivations.  Also, of course, Love (or, at least, Lust) was always in the air and usually the focal point of the story.

In this incarnation of Cupid’s domain, a young suitor, Dorante (Chris Murray), arrives in town looking to make his mark in the world.  The first person he comes across is a common man, Cliton (John San Nicolas) who he takes under his wing to be his guide and valet, to acquaint him with the landscape of the town and its people.  Only problem is, is that Cliton cannot tell a lie.   Another concern, Dorante tells nothing but lies (like a certain counterpoint in children’s stories with a long nose), and real whoppers, too.  In fact, he has a problem keeping characters and incidents straight if he has to repeat the tale.

Never mind that as he comes upon the object of his dreams in the body of Clarice (Amy Newman) and is immediately smitten (she, less so).  She also has an entourage in the form of her cousin, Lucrece (Chantal DeGroat), a rather taciturn type, but both are women of means, in other words, fair game.  And they have a servant, the saucy, Isabelle (Val Landrum) who Cliton is immediately taken with (complications arise when he discovers she has a twin sister, Sabine).

All should be good in this little menagerie, except for the fact that Clarice is already spoken for.  It seems Dorante’s childhood friend, Alcippe (Gilberto Martin del Campo), also has eyes on this little prize and suspects her of having a tryst with a mysterious stranger.  Alcippe’s best friend, Philiste (Vin Shambry), too, has eyes on this house of beauties, as he is taken with the authoritarian maid of theirs, Sabine (Lundrum, again).  And, to add more seasoning to this already spicy stew, Geronte (Allen Nause), Dorante’s father, is more than willing to plead his son’s case to his beloved, if he can only wade through the tall tales that his son tells and discover the truth.  I will leave you to view how it is all sorted out.

This is, by far, one of the funniest plays I have ever seen!  It sparkles with wit, wisdom and whimsy at every wayward route!  It is a virtual feast for the eyes and ears and the funny bone, too.  Rodriguez is the Master here and we, like excited schoolchildren, absorb every word and clamor for more.  This is one for the ages!

The physical comedy is amazing and the rhyme only heightens the antics onstage.  The “air” duel between Dorante and Alcippe is a classic on a Chaplinese scale.  The pace is unrelenting (except in one, un-rhymed piece, where focus is given to truth over fiction) and the laughs are non-stop.  Rodriguez has a lot to be proud of as the Captain of this vessel of comic discovery.  And the costumes (Bobby Brewer Wallin) are super, as they are an art form in motion.  Also, the set (Susan Gratch), especially the map, gives us immediately and simply the tenor of the piece we are to witness, meandering paths in a giant labyrinth of a wilderness called civilization.

Murray carries much of the weight of the story and he does it beautifully, giving us a character you want to despise but can’t help liking.  Wonderful performance.  San Nicolas, as the “wise fool,” the teller of the tale, has never been better.  You at once identify with him as a man caught up in circumstances not of his choosing but gamely muddling his way through.  Terrific.  And Landrum, in her dual roles, with only slight changes to her costumes, lets us see what true acting is all about.  It starts within, and needs little accouterments from without, to be convincing.  A prime example.

Newman and DeGroat and just fine as the ladies in question, funny and beautiful in the same breath.  Del Campo and Shambry are both very animated and almost dance-like in their presentations.  And Nause is always a treat to watch, as he beautifully underplays the bumbling father (with a secret).  He is a pro whether acting or directing and it shows.


“All’s well that Ends well”

(Or so is said);

And, with that Rejoinder,

Now home to Bed.


I highly recommend this play (if you already hadn’t guessed that).  If you do see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Friday, June 5, 2015

George Washington Slept Here—North End Players—North Portland


A Simpler Time

This comedy from the 40’s is written by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman and directed by Ilana Watson.  It is playing at the Twilight Theater Company space at 7515 N. Brandon Ave. through June 14th.  For more information, go to their site at www.NorthEndPlayers.org or call 503-847-9838.

Kaufman and Hart were both well-known and successful comedy playwrights of about 70 years ago.  This play was also made into a film with Jack Benny, who was never very convincing as an actor but garnered much success as a comedian on the radio and TV.  The story is a trip down memory lane where one could wax nostalgic about the good, ole days and simpler times.

Of course, there was a little thing called WWII around this era but plays such as this were great escapist fare yearning, not only a more peaceful atmosphere, but also one removed from the hustle and bustle of the Big City, in this case a farmhouse in Pennsylvania where, purportedly George Washington had slept.  (It turns out that it was the not the General that had snoozed there but a more nefarious character from that War.)

Newton (Ken Doud) has yearned for such a peaceful place, a charming, historic spot that he could call his own.  Annabelle (Debbie Larsen), his wife, is less than enthusiastic, to say the least.  And their daughter, Madge (Tabitha Ebert) and her boyfriend, Steve (Tristan David Luciotti), are along for the ride. Mr. Kimber (Jeff Paulsen), the local handyman, has great hopes for the place.

True, there is no water (the well is dry) or plumbing, or a bathroom, and the kitchen doesn’t have an appliances or, for that matter, an outside wall, and they have bug-infested trees and they don’t even have the right-of-way to the road to their house…except for these few minor problems, it is their dream house (or, at least, his).

Of course, the last thing they need is visitors and, of course, that is exactly what they get.  A helpful neighbor, Mrs. Douglas (Jo Lavey), fills them in on all the local gossip and they are besieged by two, summer stock actors, the egotistical, Clayton (Bobby Nove) and his ditzy wife, Rena (Genavee Stokes-Avery).  And if that isn’t enough, relatives have dumped off their troubled nephew, Raymond (Anthony Braunstein), to spend the summer with them and rich, fussy, Uncle Stanley (Tony Smith) has elected to spend a few days with them, as well.

Add to that, a grumpy maid, Hester (Ravyn Jazper-Hawke); the neighbor-from-hell, Mr. Prescott (Dan Kelsey); and a flock of young friends of Madge’s, the leggy, Sue (Josie Benedetti), the bouncy, Ellen (Kaitlin Fitzgerald), and the taciturn, Miss Wilcox (Kennedy Marvin), who she has invited to a party there, and you have a perfect recipe for disaster.  How it all turns out…well, you’ll just have to see, won’t you?

If, in that day and age, people were wishing for a simpler life, can you imagine how people of today should feel, with constant, international turmoil, civil unrest, bombardment of electronic gadgets and toys, etc.  But “Eden’s” are few and far between nowadays.  What this story attempts to offer is an alternative to the bustling lifestyle.

But, what is observed, is a play (not the actors fault) that needs some editing, has a long and repetitious final scene and peppers the play with some extraneous characters that do not further the plot.  Watson, the director, has done her best to block the scenes in such a way that there is always something going on but it does not cover up the fact that this is Hart and Kaufman not at their best.  The actors, too, do as well as they can with a weak script.

Doud, as the enthusiastic husband, is certainly the most animated of the cast and does infuse it with life whenever he’s on.  Larsen, as the unhappy wife, with her defeated attitude and some good, wise-cracking observations, manages to infuse the play with some spirit, as well.  And Smith is also good as the petulant Uncle who has a dire secret.  But many of the rest of the cast are somewhat inexperienced and it shows at times in their comic timing.  Actually being onstage, of course, is a great training ground and so this experience will hopefully encourage them to continue the process through training, education and more plays.

I’m impressed with the space that they have to work with, as it is rare that a theatre has exclusive use of a place.  It is only street parking at this point and I don’t believe they have any access for disabled people yet, as the theatre is upstairs.

This production is worth seeing for a glimpse back into history and observing the world as it was.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The Comedy of Errors—Post5 Theatre—SE Portland

Double Vision

This comedy by Mr. Shakespeare is adapted and directed by Ty Boice (co-founder and Artistic Director for this company).  It is playing at their space in the Sellwood area, 1666 SE Lambert St., through June 27th.  For more information, go to their site at www.post5theatre.org

Ka-Boom!  The secret of this show is that you have two sets of twins that have been separated at birth and know nothing of each other’s existence.  Now you can either try and find twin actors (unlikely) to do the roles, or have one person enacting them and when they meet, have him change a position of a cap or scarf to communicate to us which brother is speaking (interesting), or have a man and woman that look similar play the pair, disguised as guys (not bad).

But, in most cases, you throw similarities out the window and have them unlike as possible (like we have here).  That way the audiences can see the obvious differences but assume the characters within the play, can’t.  The most extreme example was when DeVito and Schwarzenegger were brothers in the film, Twins.  Whatever the device, most of the gags in the show revolve around this case of mistaken identities.

The plot, to be brief, has to do with a father, Egeon (Stan Brown), who lost his fortune in his home country of Elizabetha and, through a storm at sea, has been washed up onto the shores of Portlanda. He has also managed to lose his wife and his twin sons, Antipholus (Chip Sherman and Orion J. Bradshaw) and their twin servants, Dromio (Philip J. Berns and Brian Burger).  (A side note, why the devil would anybody call their twins by the same name. Duh.)

He soon discovers from the Duke of Portlanda (Pat Janowski) that to be a vagrant in their fair city is a death sentence, so he must find someone who will support or speak up for him.  (I don’t believe Northwesterners would be quite that cruel, except to Californians who might be planning to move up here.)  But it seems that one of the twins (Bradshaw) and his servant (Burger) have done well for themselves here, as he has a wife Adriana (Jessica Hillenbrand) who, with her sister, Luciana (Heidi Hunter), run a boarding house.

The other set of brothers (Sherman and Berns), the aliens, run into all sorts of unscrupulous people trying to part them from any monies they may have.  There is the local Goldsmith, Angelo (Dan Robertson), ching-a-ling, who has a bridge…er, gold chain, he wants to sell them.  There is the local concerned citizen (Ithica Tell) who wants to cure them.  Of course, there is the Courtezan (Aislin Courtis), who wants to sell her “goods” to the highest bidder.  And there is the diligent police officer (Matt Insley), who just wants justice done.  Obviously, mistaken identities add to the madcap, merry, mix-up, which is the crux of the story.  To tell more would be…er, telling, so mums the word.

Now, with all that being said…forget about it.  The real fun is in the presentation, thanks to Boice’s vision.  The physical comedy is brilliant!  It is part vaudevillian, commedia-del-arte, slapstick, and good, old-fashioned comic repartee.  And the two sets of twins are the main reason this succeeds, as they have the brunt of the humor.

Sherman, Bradshaw and Berns are all core members of the group, as well as Boice, and certainly have a comic-shorthand from all this time together to work with and it shows.  Sherman is always impressive in anything he does and his body movements and expressions are dance-like in their execution.  Berns, likewise, is very agile and nimble in his physical presentations and it’s a hoot to observe his facial contortions.  Also, always worth watching.  Bradshaw wears his feelings in his face, as you can see him thinking, digesting information and then reacting to the situation.  I look forward to his performances.  And Burger is a nice addition to the group and has quite a singing voice.

Tell, another veteran of the group, always has a commanding presence, as she does here toward the end of the play.  When Courtis was on, I somehow wasn’t able to concentrate on much else that was happening.  She is very appealing and could easily be a model and I wish her well in whatever direction she goes.  And Robertson is a gem, as he’s proven before in a couple of their shows.  His high-class attitude to his low-life ventures is priceless.  You looked forward to seeing his character onstage, as his mere presence always got a laugh.

Boice has a winner here and it’s his casting of the show and adaptation of the material (to Portland natives) that gives this high marks.  As always, I look forward to seeing his productions.  Next up for them is Much Ado About Nothing in mid-July.  Boom-Ka!

I recommend this show, especially for the comic antics.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet)—NW Classical Theatre—SE Portland

The Wise Fool

This comedy is playing at the Shoebox Theatre, 2110 SE 10th Ave. through June 21st.  It is written by Ann-Marie MacDonald and directed by Brenan Dwyer.  For more information, go to their site at www.nwctc.org

According to this story, there are still some unanswered questions about Shakespeare and his plays.  ‘Tis true, as there are still some questions in some people’s minds, as to the authorship of those plays.  In this case, it is that there are possibly missing scenes and characters from his tales, or a “wise fool” who will explain some of the mysteries or inconsistencies if we could just crack the code.  Of course it is well known that Mr. S. “borrowed” the actual stories from other sources.  But what is not known is if the plays, as we’ve seen them, do not have certain scenes or characters missing from them, possibly lost forever, that would explain gaps in the plots.

One question is, why are such plots in the tragedies hinged on such feeble or trivial contrivances; why do the “heroes” accept so readily such flimsy evidence; and why do the villains, pictured as stout-hearted gents, all of a sudden, for little or no reason, turn on those closest to them.  This play’s contention is that the tragedies were simply meant to be “comedies turned upside down.”  Or, comedy and tragedy are simply different sides of the same coin.  One contention is, since there are so many fools or clowns peppered throughout his tragedies, often wiser than their masters, then they may have the true answer as to the Bard’s intention with those so called tragedies, if one could just break the code.

Such examples are the Fool in King Lear, or the Gravediggers in Hamlet or the Porter in Macbeth, et al.  In this story the concentration is on the main characters in Othello and Romeo and Juliet.  The tale starts out with a mousy, little school teacher, Constance (Rebecca Ridenour), madly in love with her Professor (Ashleigh Bragg) and writing his papers for him so that he can get tenure.  But he has eyes for another… “and thereby hangs a tale” for another story.  But Constance’s main desire in life is to see if the Bard’s stories were altered, from what they were meant to be and, if changed into Romances and/or Comedies, what would they look like.

She gets her chance to find out as she, too, like Dorothy being whisked off to Oz or Alice sliding down the rabbit hole, is swept back to the betrayal of the apparently naïve, Othello (Bragg) by his devious, right-hand man, Iago (Denna Wells) by pulling the incriminating handkerchief of Desdemona’s from Iago’s pocket and thus changing the outcome of the story.  She also meets a very headstrong Desdemona (Melissa Whitney), who by no means appears to be anybody’s victim.

All good?  Wrong!  If you alter a story and it plays out on its own, leaving them to their own devices, you then have a different story, which may not comply to your wishes (unless you’re the author, of course).  Won’t be a spoiler and tell you what happens…

She also inserts herself into the R&J story and immediately stops the crucial fight between Tybalt and Romero by revealing that R&J are married and so Tybalt (Bragg), being a cousin of Juliet’s (Bonnie Auguston), is now kin to Romeo (Wells) and they should kiss (or at least shake hands) and make up.  This means, of course, that R&J are now a married, meaning that the “star-crossed” lovers are now, perhaps, a cross-eyed, old married couple.  Again, more I cannot tell you…

Constance eventually finds some answers from one of the clowns who is only partly exposed.  I won’t tell you who, but I’ll give you a hint by paraphrasing an old adage, “a fool and his ‘head’ are soon parted.”  The play (MacDonald) works on more than one level.  It celebrates the power of the female; it quite effectively mixes genders, widening the casting possibilities for all roles; and it brings up an unanswered question as to history, if one could go back in time and change something, like assassinating Hitler before he came to power, would you?  Be careful what you wish for because you may be the Changer of the future but not the Author of its outcome.  Such great authors as Serling, Bradbury, Vonnegut, et. al. have played with those possibilities with varying results.  This story’s conclusion works well, too.

Dwyer has had no easy task (nor the actors) of putting this play together.  A cast of 5 brilliant ladies playing about 15 or more roles must have given them a sense of multiple personalities.  But Dwyer has managed to keep it all straight, simple and stream-lined for an audience’s appreciation.  And the interpretation of these roles, once altered from their original form, are quite amusing and enlightening.  Bragg, as Othello, still retains his sense of suspicion of people even when the plot is altered and, as Tybalt, may now be just one of the “good ole boys” but still retains his hot-headedness.  Well done.

Whitney, as Desdemona, gives us the fire within her and pictures her as a no-nonsense woman.  She is equally convincing as the ditzy girlfriend of the Professor.  A fine actor.  Auguston, as Juliet, starts off as a bit of a scatter-brain, then becomes quite bold in her desires, and finally gives us the bored, housewife look.  An inventive and well-rounded performance.  Wells is exceptional as the conniving Iago, who is obviously smarter than his cohorts, and is quick to change his game-plan on a moment’s notice to still get his desired outcome.  And her Romeo falls from grace as a romantic icon to just an average Joe and is it quite believable.  Hope to see her talent more often on the boards.

And Ridenour is amazing.   As this mousy, backward, little nothing, that she starts out to be, then steps boldly up and attempts to change artistic history.  What a terrific transformation!  She is an actor to watch and will astound us again onstage, I’m sure.

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

Friday, May 29, 2015

The Winter’s Tale—Anon It Moves—SE Portland


“A Tale of Two Cities”

This production is by Mr. Shakespeare and adapted and directed for the stage by Caitlin Fisher-Draeger (Founding member and Co-Artistic Director of this company).  It plays at the Shaking Tree space, 823 SE Grant St., through June 13th.  For more information, go to their site at www.anonitmoves.org

This is by no means the Bard’s best play so is seldom done.  It is assumed that the title, as mentioned by the director, is because it is a sad story.  But she has chosen to look at it as a play on words, that it could be justifiably called “Tail,” assumedly because the first Act could take place at the “tail” of a devastating Winter, giving rise to a redeeming Spring in Act II.  I like that concept.

It does seems like two separate plays, as one takes place in Sicilia, ruled by a tyrannical hereditary and the other country, Bohemia, governed by a type of benign democracy.  And, like all of his comedies, there are clowns/servants (who are usually wiser than their masters) and disguises galore (which, in reality, would probably fool no one).

But my argument with the play (not the production, mind you) is that the King’s evil side manifests itself with little or no motive (as does Iago’s in Othello and for similar reasons).  Yet these machinations form the whole reason for the plot to move forward.  He seems to need a contrivance in some of his plays (as in this one) to get the ball rolling.  And both of these plays have an (unfounded) jealousy to spur them forward to some amazing adventures.

But, that being said, the plot is (at least what I can tell you of it without being a spoiler) that that King of Sicilia, Leontes (Glenn McCumber) suspects his wife, Hermione (Erica Terpening-Romeo) of having an affair with Polixenes (Brian Demar Jones), the visiting King of Bohemia.  He relays his suspicions to his trusted adviser, Camillo (Paul Susi) and other close friends, Antigonus (Michael C. Jordan) and his wife, Paulina (Victoria Blake), but they will have none of it and Camillo actually flees with Polixenes back to Bohemia.

Herminone, who is with child, is actually brought to trial for theses supposed offenses and there are some tragic consequences to these actions.  By Act II, we are in Bohemia, where 16 years have passed.  Polixenes is concerned about his own daughter, Florizel (Isabella Buckner), who seems to be disappearing for odd periods of time.  So he and Camillo disguise themselves to go in search of her.  Princess Florizel, meanwhile, is well and happy and has found a new love in Perdita (Corey Maier), a shepherdess.  I cannot tell you more without spoiling the discoveries an audience should make.

The performers are all first-rate.  Among the stand-outs are Jones, who has a terrific presence onstage in such vehicles as this.  Terpening-Romeo plays her tragic figure well, being especially moving in her trial speech to the court.  Susi is also a powerful character onstage, having the courage to follow his convictions.  And Buckner, as the princess, also asserts herself well on the boards, letting a woman’s voice be heard and not letting status stand in the way of her true feelings.

And where the play veers into the magical and imaginative is in Fisher-Draeger’s choice to have clowns and circus performers become entrenched in the proceedings.  Although not technically as Shakespeare envisioned, perhaps, Players were an important part of his society at the time.  Note the key scenes in Hamlet, where the troupe helps uncover a mystery in the story.  To me, this points out the inventive nature of this theatre company, as they had done in their Hamlet, R&G Are Dead and The Fifth (next up for them is Cymbeline in mid-July at the Milagro space).

The Circus Project, www.TheCircusProject.org  needs to be applauded, as well as the musicians (composer, Devan Wardrop-Saxton) also including John Bruner, Ethan LaFrance, Hayley McCurdy and Shanan Wolfe).  The clowns/actors were also an asset to the production (Adam Thompson, Winston Bischof, Chris Daniels, and LaFrance, McCurdy and Wolfe, too).  This group always raises the bar a notch when they do these productions.  I look forward to the next one.

It was a very hot night when I saw this, and no A/C at this point, as well as the space having a tin roof, which only added to the temp inside, so be prepared to dress accordingly and be well hydrated for the approximately three-hour production.  Also, probably because of the fans and the cavernous building, sometimes the actors’ lines could not be distinguished at times.

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