Monday, December 13, 2010

Going to St. Ives, Profile Theater, READING

by Lee Blessing
Directed by ANdrew Golla
Dr Cora Gage  .....  Karla Mason
May N'Kame  .....   LaVerne Green

plot summary; IN BRIEF ... May N'Kame is the mother of an African 'strong man' ruler who is brutally destroying his country.  She needs eye surgery and has come to England where Dr Gage is about to operate on her.  The women meet and talk before the operation and it is revealed that Dr Gage's young son was killed by black kids in the ghetto in Los Angeles -- and her life has been a guilt ridden misery every since.  But she asks May N'Kame if she can intervene in the case of a4 doctors in her African country who have been condemned to death for not being willing to participate in torture.  N'Kame says she will if Dr Gage will help her kill her son --and thus help stop the reign of brutality that  he has orchestrated.  Six moths later, the deed done, May N'Kame is now slated to be executed for crimes she did not commit and Dr Gage is trying to get her to admit to the crimes and escape the country.

sez says: intricate exposing of relationship between empire and brutality..what is civilization--and isn't the idea of civilization itself just a cover-up for atrocity. This is the sort of play that would be worth READING slowly to yourself--so you could stop and ponder the issues that are explored. A worthwhile piece.

mjc says  the crimes of every civilization are inescapable even for the generations that follow the generations who perpetrated the crimes

Six Dance Lessons In Six Weeks, Portland Civic Theater Guild - READING

by Richard Alfieri
Dirtector Trish Egan
JoAnn Johnson   .....   Lily Harrison
Duffy Epstein   .....   Michael

plot summary: older woman/widow --hires caustic gay man to come the her high rise Miami Condo and give her dance lessons, not becasue she needs the lessons, but becasue she needs human companionship.  They spare verbally and come to be close friends. 

sez says: predictable story--but with good social issues woven into the story--the problems of gays men in abusive relationships, not being able to get help from the police; the way the wold makes women invisible as they age; the stereotyping we do when we hear a gay man lost his love (not from aids--but from cancer) It is full of these sorts of social commentary..and it was well read,,, so it was entertaining.  But is is not particularly interesting or heady stuff.  Johnson and Epstein did a nice job bringing these folks to life

mjc says:  a fun but totally predictable romp--good repartee

Dying City, Portland Playhouse, (Grade A)

By Christopher Shinn
Directed by Brian Weaver
Peter/Craig   .....   Wade McCollum
Kelly   .....   Cristi Miles

plot summary  Craig has been killed in "the war."  (Maybe it doesn't matter what war. He had become a disillusioned soldier.)  Peter is Craig's twin brother, Kristi is his widow.  We enter with Kristi alone packing and watching TV -- doorbell, brings a surprise visit from Peter. K & P have not seen each other since the funeral which was a year ago... story jumps back and forth from discussions between Peter and Krisi --to flashbacks whit Craig & Kristi... along the way the story unfolds and much is revealed about what war does and struggles in the heart's of men.

sez says: this is the sort of thing that draws us to the theater.  People struggling to understand the world, themselves and each other.  Peter/Craig are the SUBJECTS of this story--they are the characters whose actions move the issues we are to consider to the surface.  Kristi is the OBJECT of the story. Without Kristi, Craig and Peter would have little meaning to us. It is what happens to her/us that makes P/C actions matters.  How do we deal with men like this?  Craig is a man barely able to suppress his rage -- his anger at women-- the sickness he finds in himself.  But Kristi loves him and works hard to find a way to hold her own ground while reaching out to him. In the process she is rung dry and left hollow.  Peter is lost without his brother--who loved him --but who also abused him. Peter has no one to share his loss with, except Kristi -- and he wants the loss to be his alone -- while she wants to get past the dull ache that her life has become. Beautifully acted, intense piece of work. Well done all around.

mjc says:  one of the best pieces I've see on the Iraq War--glimpses of the anguish here and there.,

A Christmas Story, Portland Center Stage (Grade B)

Adapted by Philip Grecian
Based on the Mothin Picture written by Jean Shepard, Leigh Brown and Bob Clark and on the book In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash, by Jean Shepherd
DIRECTED by Rose Riordan
Aliemah Bradley   .....   Ensemble Girl
Michael Cline   .....  Ralphie
Dylan Earhart   .....   Flick
Harrison Goyette   .....   Randy
Aimee Martin   .....   Helen
Henry Martin   .....   Ensembel Boy
Eathan McKay   .....   Schwartz
Darius Pierce   .....   Adult Ralph
Laura Faye Smith   .....   Miss SHields
Ebbe Roe SMith   .....   The Old Man
Valerie Stevens   .....   Mother
Calvin Whitney   ..... Scott Farkus
Hannah Wilson   .....   Esther Jane

sez says: attended with the family -- kids loved it -- from the film by the same name. Boy child from mid 20th century America wants a BB Gun -- what he does to try and get it--and what happens when he does got it//"You could Shoot Your Eye Out' with this one. We've come to anticipate work well done when Rose Riordan in involved--and this is no exception.  Darius Pierce and Ebbe Roe Smith proved again that they are wonders to behold -- we are lucky to have them here in Portland.

mjc says:  enjoyable--looking forward to seeing the moive

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Patient A, Profile Theater (One Night Stand Reading)

Writer: Lee Blessing
Director: Bruce Hostetler
Kimberly  .....  Amy Newman
Lee   .....   Todd Hermanson
Matthew   .....   Matthew Sa

sez says:  Given Blessing's large body of work I am not sure why this play was picked for a reading. It is dated and it does not work to make universal the problems that are brought to the surface when people are frightened.  This was written early in the early days of the AIDS Epidemic.  It is about a young woman who was infected with the AIDS virus by her dentist.  The story could have lifted itself up if it had dealt with humans as fragile and easily frightened --and capable of cruelty when kindness is called for.  But it somehow never gets to a place past dealing with AIDS specific issues.
Possibly the whole problem was not with the play but with the reading instead, The play presents a poem that is read in parts --while the story is being told.  Todd Hermanson was the reader of the part / he is playing a writer/ who is drawing on the poem to understand the situation..but he read it so quietly we could not hear much of it.  So...not knowing what was in the poem / or only hearing part of it / made the poem burdensome to the reading.
Meanwhile Amy Newman and Matthew Sa did a fine job holding up their ends.  Generally we like Hermanson, and he would have seemed a likely candidate for this character, but he was weak here.  We all have bad nights. 

MJC Says: made in 1984, missed the potential exploration of the interconnectedness of humans --unless it was in the poem I couldn't hear.

Hearting Beatings, CoHo Production (Grade B)

Book, Lyrics and Music by Mark LaPierre
Director, Diane Englert
Music Driector Matt Isley
Cast:  Andrew Bray;  Chrissy Kelly-Pettit;  JP Latchaw;  Leah Yorkston (each playing multiple parts)

sez says: this is series of musical vignettes having to do with things of The Heart.  They have a fabulous logo/graphic done by Mark Fearing--of a heat in a boxing ring looking a pretty done-in but not out cold:  Kudos for that.  The various piece varied in appeal-- par for the course.  None were bad--all made it to better than good and none quite made it to exceptional. The performers were fine--and, like the music none bad, all generally good, but no one excelled.  One problem was the venue did NOT have good acoustics, so voices drifted and just were not big and powerful enough for the space. An pleasant evening's entertainment --but not art and not exceptional.

MJC Says:  Fun romp through some contemporary stories set to music.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Chesapeake, Profile Theatre, (Grade A)

Written By: Lee Blessing
Director: Scott Yarbrough
Todd Van Voris  .....  Kerr

sez says: BRAVO.... this was great entertainment--and based on Blessings definition of ART.. a piece with an artistic flare too.*  If you are a bi-sexual performance artist from a southern state where a nationally prominent homophobe and an all around right-wing scoundrel what do you do?  Move to NY of course.  But even in NY you can't escape being uses and abused by the aforementioned scoundrel when he wants to run for Senator.  You are angry and you decide to kidnap his dog (a creature used by the scoundrel in advertisements as an icon of his own classic American values --a man and his dog, etc).  The kidnapping goes wrong and the next thing you have become the bad-guy Senator's DOG!  But you can type--so you communicate with the Senator, who thinks you are a messenger from God.  That sounds pretty wacky now doesn't it.  But is works.  And there is plenty left out in my short replay--and Van Voris is on the mark here.  He is perfectly cast and he reads this piece well.  It is fun--it is funny--and it is dead serious.  (Grade A)

mjc says:  we saw this performed at Second Stage in NYC in 1999 with Mark Linn-Baker.  It holds up fine. But then it is my cup of tea.  I want to believe that even the most retrograde politician can brought to see the light and if there is a way to do that a dog is the way.

* Blessing defines art as follows: (paraphrased) art only exists if it contains controversy. If there is no controversy than what you are engaging is entertainment--not art.  There is nothing wrong with entertainment--but don't confuse it with art.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

A Disappearing Number, National Theatre Live, Presented by Third Rail in Porrtland Oregon (Grade A)

Conceived and Directed by Simon McBurney
Devised by The Cast
The Cast:
G H Hardy    .....    David Annen
Al Cooper   .....    Firdous Bamji
Aninda Rao  .....   Paul Bhattacharjee
Tabla Player  .....  Hiren Chate
Mother/University Cleaner/Dancer ..... Divya Kasturi
Surita Bhogaita / Barbara Jones ..... Saskia Reeves
Ruth Minnen  .....  Saskia Reeves
Srinivasa Ramanuhan / Dancer .....  Shane Shambhu

sez says: these NTL productions are first rate. Everything about every one we have seen has been brilliant.  This is a story about numbers--and mathematics--and how in both math and in art we are striving for beauty. Math is about patterns and has a world and a reality of it own.  Some people are born with access to mathematical reality (ie Srinivasa Ramanujan and maybe G H Hardy) --they see what most of us can't--that is the beauty and pattens that numbers possess and that numbers can provide.  Numbers/mathematics also might well be the path to finding the physical laws of the universe, demonstrating the magnificence of all creation and ultimately solving the mystery of life and the mystery of existence itself. (ie: like String Theory--and it multitude of realities) 
Meanwhile this play has parallel and overlapping stories of love and exile and racism and death, class privilege and the ravages of war and it takes up the gifts and difficulties that accompany cultural diversity. And it wonders about death and what math can tell us: Is there really such a thing as infinity? If all things are connected --past to future with no end ever -- then can there be such a thing as an end at the point of death?  And as we the audience engage in imagining the play is real -- which is required in order to create the possibility of understanding what it is trying to convey, we are also reminded that, that is what mathematical imagining is also doing--trying to convey meaning and understanding.

Imagination is the underpinning and a requirement to understand both the complex elements of the play and to conjure up the relational patterns of numbers. What fun to encounter so much content and so much talent in one place.  It even ends quotng one of my favorite writers; John Berger. Grade A

Dead Man's Cell Phone, Theatre Vertigo (Grade B)

Writer Sarah Ruhl
Director  Buck Skelton
Jean  .....  Kerry Ryan
Gordon  .....  Mario Calcagno
Mother  .....  Jane Fellows
Dwight  .....  Joel Harmon
Hermenia  .....  Heather Lundy Kahl
Gordon's Lover  .....  Jenn Hunter
Ensemble   .....  Clara-Liis Hillier & Nico Marquez

 story outline: woman (Jean) sitting in cafe discovers a man at next table (Gordon) is dead.  She takes over his cell phone and decides--for no particular reason--that she loves the dead guy.  She takes charge of his cell phone and begins to tell anyone who calls lies about how he felt about the caller.  Her lies are meant to make people happy and to think well of Gordon.  The callers include business associates, lovers, his mother etc.  She does this to keep him alive and to make him the good person that she wants to believe he is.  

But he (Gordon) was not such a nice guy. He got rich selling body parts on the international market. He explains his work as a form of helping people.  Meanwhile Jean meets Gordon's brother, Dwight, and they fall in love.  They speculate about love and where do all the contents of cell phone calls go--off into the infinity of the either, etc.  Jean decides to try and help one last customer of Gordon's by delivering a body part to South Africa--and insisting the body parts be given away for love and not sold for $$.  She is dealing with some very shady characters--she get knocked out and has a near death experience--where she meets-up with Gordon on a far away planet.  Luckily she isn't really dead but she returns from this experience to warn other about loving the wrong person.

sez says...there is just the right bit of camp in this production. And what a great play this is. We saw it in Ashland a few years back and while they had a bigger venue and more $$ to spend on props and costumes and staging, Vertigo did a better overall job telling this story. They built up a "Tim Burton type" atmosphere, not dark and morbid but quirky-dark with a touch of vamp-satire.  There are many themes running around it this loony story. The whole thing is played straight but with a cartoon-esq, flat edge. And as we go along we are asks profound and inane questions:  Are Jean's lies better than Gordon's lies?  What are the unimagined and unknowable impact of communications becoming increasingly electronic?   How many kinds of love are there? Who owns the cell phone?

While the production as a whole was on the mark--there were some disappointing aspects.  Most distressing is that the acting was uneven.  Fellows and Ryan held up their ends but esp Calcagno fell off his sharp edge more than once. That is really too bad.  We have seen him do ever so much better and here, in this play, he was cast to type to a T.   He could have done so much more with Gordon.  Maybe Calcagno needs to take a trip to New Jersey and meet a real-life witness protection guy. The kind of fellow who wears Gucci Loafers and gold chains and who is overly aggressive in his presentation of slimy business propositions -- (these guys do exist but they are not so very common in Portland) Such an example might have suggested where he could take this character.  And Kahl was great one moment--and then would drop away and seemed to repeat her lines as if she were still working on memorizing them.  I can only guess that a little more work all around would have lifted this performance onto a substantially higher plane --but even as it, it is fun and worth seeing.  

Bloodyvox, Body Vox, (Grade C)

Co-Directors Jamey Hampton & Ashley Roland

Performers: Jamey Hampton;  Matt Hope;  Heather Jackson;  Daniel Kirk;  Ashley Roland;  Eric Skinner;  Zachary Caroll;  Jonathan Krebs

sez says:  hummm, this was a real mixed bag which I guess can be expected from a show that is made up of many short pieces..but overall this was a disappointment. It felt like too many of the pieces were more circus acts than dance. (ie George & George) I know, I know we don't what to limit what falls into the definition of dance--and I love Body Vox for that--even their name (Body Voice) conveys that notion. The body can and does talk...etc etc. But, when I go to a dance show I expect certain things..and again (this is at least the 2nd time I felt this way after a Body Vox show) I felt that some of the dances where not well enough rehearsed.  There was too much choppiness and off kilter action from the dancers. 
Not so in all cases.  For instance Little Miss Tough It  was masterfully choreographed and performed. It required precision and the job was done to a tea.  But what could have been a lovely piece, The BloodyVox Ball was a mess of people not handling their costumes correctly (lots of cloth needed to be integrated into the dance and it was slipping and having to be grabbed up and in general not handled well by the dancers) which suggests not enough rehearsal time.  It is frustrating to watch this sort of thing -- you can see there is a beautiful dance possible but it isn't happening.
I do have to say that again I was totally impressed with the costumes. Ashely Roland does most of the designs and she shines: out doing her self again and again. The designs, the cloth, the colors all work to make each dance something special. 

MJC says: fun innovative not necessarily dancing...


Sunday, October 31, 2010

Kiss Me Like You Mean It, Third Rail (Grade C-)

by Chris Chibnall
directed by  Slayden Scott Yarbrough
TONY  .....  Isaac Lamb
RUTH  .....  Lauren Bair
EDIE  .....  Jacklyn Maddux
DON  .....  Brian Thompson

sez says:  oh my-what has happened to Thrid Rail's Cutting Edge?  In past years you could count on them to pick provocative plays that challenge an audience.   This play is not bad..but it is not the least bit edgy.  It seemed to me to be more like a TV Sit-Com than a play. It is a pleasant little romp but it does not stimulate thought. It does not push us to think about or reconsider the world in any way at all.  It has a few 'bad-boy' moments -- like talk of testicles and senior citizens who enjoy sex and and older women who know curse words and can use them properly. (Ho hum--don't the young ones know that us geezers have sex and have been known to curse?)   This sort of stuff got a few laughs--but why I am not really sure.

Here is what we are given in this story:  Young folks need to find mates--and that is not always easy to establish. But when the opportunity arises it is important to be bold and to act, rather than miss the opportunity of finding a  life partner. And, two, when you know you are going to die, it makes sense to take matters into your own hands rather than to allow a disease to be in charge of your last days.  OK --and.... there is no more here than that...and all of this has been done much better elsewhere. I would have given this eve a lower grad if it were not for the acting--which was solid.  Also, the set was well done....but we need content for our good actors.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Touch, Theater Vertigo (Reading)

Writer Toni Press-Coffman
Director: Tamara Carroll
Danielle Larson
Brooke Fletcher
JR Wickman
Andy Lee-Hillstrom
Jenn Hunter

sez says: this is a wonderful play--the reading was a little bumpy at times but overall well done..and the story is really appealing.  Telling the story of a young man--geek/science student in high school. who falls in love with Zoe, marries her and lives, mostly happily every after, until the day she disappears and is later found murdered.  With many long monologues buttressed by dialogue that fills out people who encircle the primary character, this story explores the realm of the ways and means of human connectedness. How  strongly we are able to bond, how the tearing of that bond can leave us drained. How life without feeling or passion is deadening. How physical reality, emotional reality and even intellectual reality are tied together.  Our Vertigo Ensemble sure does pick great work to read and to perform, and that is appreciated.  

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Telethon, Portland Playhouse (Grade B)

Written by Kristin Newbom
Directed by Rose Riordan

Scott  .....  Michael O'Connell
Anne  .....  Valerie Stevens
Shelly  .....  Nikki Weaver
Lewis  .....  Casey McFeron
Larry  .....  Gary Norman

sez says: two care takers (Scott & Anne) and their flock (Shelly, Lewis & Larry) who are a trio of people inflicted with Cerebral Palsy, sit in a donut shop after various holiday fundraisers and unwind.  They are a family of sorts--or at least a community of individuals who know each other intimately.  They banter and brag and fight and joke-around like any group of close friends..except in this case, two are paid (paid very little $$ wise) to care for the other three.  The three who are the cared-for are part of the invisible word--the world we would rather not look at, so we shy away from them and their awkward jerky physical motions, and we seldom see them as people in the world.  But here, in this play, the audience is forced to see them as they are, just as nutty and aggressive and helpful and belligerent, and wanting to be accepted as the rest of us.  And they are sometimes care givers themselves--connected to each other and to their care givers via the interactions of everyday life.

This is not specifically about cerebral Palsy--it is about people caring about each other..and then moving on. It is about ephemeral relationships, that can be intense when they exist and then can be gone in the wink of an eye.  This is not told in a linear fashion, but rather it is presented as the sum of shared experiences and told via snippets of time that our group spends together. And then about how all that seems solid turns to dust, as life moves on and changes come from unexpected places.

Well acted. A gathering of people who won't be easy to forget.

MJC SAYS:  The acting pool has deepened and gained in skills since our arrival in Portland as demonstrated by this production.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Great Falls, Profile Theater (Grade A)

by Lee Blessing
Director, Jane Unger
Monkey Man  .....  Tim True
Bitch  .....  Ana Reiselman

sez says:  this is the story of a step-father and step-daughter who are deeply connected (as father and daughter) but who have been torn apart by a difficult divorce.  They are on a car trip across country initiated by the step-father and begrudging supported by the step-daughter.  Step-dad says he wants to talk--but does not do it when the opportunity is available;  Step-daughter is caustic, angry, verbally abusive, and very much in need of an adult to help her through a serious problem.  Neither party here is all right--or all wrong.  They struggle to find a way to heal the past and the present but there is no easy fix.  Dad claims there must be a place --a time--when he will no longer have to pay for his past discretion.  The daughter can not imagine a man --even a son--that deserves to exist.  Both are wrong.. there is no point when the the past is wiped away and there may be men in the world who are not monsters --one might be her step-dad, but the bridge to that place is tenuous.  Step dad sums it up with the line that was something like:  I wish I could do you good with doing you harm. 

Great acting and a really moving, contemporary story.

MJC Says: well acted, solid story, got emotionally engaged, what more can you ask. Thanks for making a step parent into a caring person and not a villain.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

An Iliad, Portland Center Stage, Grade A

Written by Denis O'Hare and Lisa Peterson, based on Homer's The Iliad
Directed by Penny Metropulos
Staring Joseph Graves

sez says: this is what theater is suppose to be, engaging, serious, alive, even breathtaking and full of purpose.  Rage is the beginning, an epic is told, but what is the human reality underlying the emotion and the history?  Why do humans war?  Strife raises its head and grows till it fills the sky, says our one man singer/storyteller.  He asks repeatedly, do you see what I am saying? can you really see it?   And no one can ignore what his words bring into the room. He makes us see even if we don't want to look. The energy required to provide this performance is extraordinary--but Graves ran this marathon--a full hour and 45 minutes, non-stop, without skipping a beat, or resting in the process.  This is a suburb piece of theater, beautifully done.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Sunset Blvd, Portland Center Stage (Grade C)

Music By Andrew Lloyd Webber
Book & Lyrics by Don Black & Christopher Hapmton
Based on Billy Wilder Film
Directed by Chris Coleman
Norma Desmond  .....   Linda Mugleston
Max von Meyerling   .....  Larry Daggett
Joe Gillis  .....   Kevin Reed
Betty Schaefer  .....  Sarah Stevens
also...Michael Brian Dunn; Jessica Lisa Elovsson; Tony Falcon; Courtney Freed; Lisa Karlin; Robert Andrew Koutras; Emily Leondar; Paul Louis Lessard; Lindsay Luppino;  Leif Norby; Jeffery Pew; Kurt Raimer; Robert Stoeckle; Tracy J Wholf.
Orchestra Conducted by Rick Lewis

sez says: too bad, this just doesn't have much spunk. It reminded me of something you might see on a cruise ship--with maybe more talent than you'd find on an average cruise ship but less energy than those cruise ship kids generate.  Mugleston (as Norma Desmond) did the best among them -- you have to give her credit for holding-up her end of the job-- but Reed (Joe Gillis) was weak. He even made the title tune, "Sunset Blvd"--which is a passionate piece of music--feel forced and heavy. A couple of cast numbers tried to build-up some steam : 'The Lady's Paying' and 'This Time Next Year' provided some moments of hope that the show would get up on its feet...but it didn't manage to do it.  Can't say much in its favor, it is a middle of the road event.  

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Ah, Wilderness! - Artist Repertory Theatre

writer: Eugene O'Neill
directror: Pat Patton
playing Sept 7th to Oct 10th 2010

Nat Miller   .....   Michael Fisher-Welsh
Essie Miller   .....   Sharonlee McLean
Arthur   .....   Nathan Crosby
Richard   .....   Philip Orazio
Mildred   .....   Helena Fisher-Welsh
Tommy   .....   Blake Peebles
Sid Davis   .....   Don Adler
Lily Miller   .....   Vana O'Brien
David McComber / Salesman   .....   Gary Powell
Murial   .....   Amaya Villazan
Wint   .....   Samuel Benedict
Bella & Nora   .....   Amy Newman
Bartender   .....   Grant Turner

sez says: Given that  A Long Days Journey Into Night depicts a version of O'Neill's real family, you can imagine he wrote this as an offering of what he thought a 'good family' might look like.  The Miller family is one to love--and to emulate. It has plenty of quirks but it is held together by love and respect for each other. It nurtures its children and does the right thing all the time. It is rather refreshing--and while parts of the Millers are familiar to all families--they are not like any family I've ever seen outside fiction.  It may be what we yearn for--but it is a far cry from what most people actually experiences.

Well written (as you'd expect from O'Neill), well acted all round, very nice costumes, and then comes the one strange flaw.  The set is second rate.  It seems to be half done with poles and ropes exposed hanging above the stage area.  Even the furnishings were shoddy.  The lace table cloth didn't fit the table,  the book case was half-full of what looks like old Readers Digest reject books, and such.  This is suppose to be the early 20th century...this set didn't look it. It looked a bit too much like a second hand store.

Oh, The Humanity, Our Shoes Are Red / Performance Lab @ Portland Playhouse

Writer William Eno
Directed By Devon Allen

cast: Tim Stapleton, Casey Pfeifer, Matthew Dibiasio, Jennifer Rowe Hadley Boyd, Hans Eleveld

Sept 2010

sez says: I sure like William Eno, we attended a reading of his play GNIT, at JAW last summer--it was wonderful.  So we jumped at the opportunity to see another of his works, this being the "Portland Premier" of OH, THE HUMANITY, which is is made up of five short piece.  This is not a standard narrative/story. Rather it is 5 separate vignettes--tied together loosely by a concern with the "Majesty" (Eno's word) and complexity of life and by the fact that all life is ephemeral but even-so it provides a kaleidoscope of action, emotion, yearnings, awe and sorrow--any and all of which can be altered by the way it is viewed.
For instance, one scene is of a woman, representing an airline, taking to the friends and family of an airplane that has just crashed , and from which there are no survivors.  She has no standard rap to give (which she reminds us is a good thing--because seldom do planes fall from the sky) but as she gropes for something worthwhile--or meaningful to say--she reminds us that we are all on our way down. She hopes the passengers never realized they were falling as she stumbles around imagining their last minutes of life and trying to find words, any words, to make meaning of life, anyone's life.
In another scene a photographer and his assistance bring the audience into the show by making the audience the subject of a photograph.  They talk about another group photo, taken of soldiers during Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Rider Adventures in Cuba. They tell the audience that they are seeking to find our souls in the photo and suggest we adjust our gaze to seek our highest moral selves, to look concerned for the world, to demonstrate an expression of compassion..and so these elements of our humanity can be caught on film.
The acting was fine, not exceptional, but solid.
I'm looking forward to seeing more of Eno's work.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Stones In His Pocket, Public Playhouse (Grade B)

By Marie Jones
Director Michael Mendelson

Cast:  Dustin Milberg as Charlie &  Christopher David Murray as Jake

At CoHo Theater 2257 NW Raleigh, Portland Oregon  -- Sept 10, to Oct 2, 2010

sez says: This play requires tremendous dexterity from the actors. Milberg and Murry must portray 15 different characters--and they do it so well that they make it look easy: a turn of the head and a new person appear, or a step is taken in one direction, there is a short halt, and seamlessly another character appears.  At times there were dances of twists and turns that accompanied a bouncing back and forth between characters: Very impressive stuff,  indeed fun to watch and well done.  Not just any one could pull this off but Milberg and Murry proved they have the required skill.

The play itself is about lots of things and it is simply laid out. What is the impact of Hollywood on people's dreams?  What happens to traditional cultural when it comes face to face with the dream makers and fakers? Who is responsible for telling / remembering truth?   It is not deep--or complex--but it is honest and it has entertainment value.  I certainly would not hesitate from recommending it to kith and kin.

But I do have a gripe. And I would ask anyone who sees it to think about this: Why are the women characters so hideous?  Is it necessary to the story?  The first  time a female character appeared I thought the character being portrayed was a send-up of a fastidious gay man who was working on the set. As it turns out the character is an impatient she, who is generally hysterical and unkind. Similarly the 'famous actress' was played as if she were a drag queen.  Both of these characters were set-up as entirely unattractive people.  I am not sure that this was in the script.  There is no question that the skill of the actors would have allowed them to play these characters in a variety of ways. So it must have been the director who wanted it this way.  It would be interesting to read the script and to see if the author intended the misogyny that was displayed.  I suspect not. I'd have to get a copy of the script to really answer this question . But it seemed a curious and sorry aspect of an otherwise good show.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Stage Left Lost, IMAGO (Grade B+)

Imago Theater, 17 Wast 8th Ave, Portland, Oregon

Director/Writer An original work by Jerry Mouawad

sez says: wish I could list the cast --but the Director's note we got at the performance does not have their names--nor do they appear at the web site. It is a cast of 12 and they do a strong performance--as a company--and yet each individual very specifically adds something extra to the whole. No talk here -- but the story is clear: jealousy, spurned affection, betrayals of the hearts, these things can lead to tragedy. This is a take-off of Othello, sort of--but certainly not a version of Othello. It is an adventurous combination of theater and dance and performance art and I found it entirely enjoyable.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Long Day's Journey Into Night - Artists Repertory Theatre (Grade C)

Director: Andrew Upton
Venue Newmark Theate
James Tyrone   .....   William Hurt
Mary Tyrone   .....   Robyn Nevin
James Tyrone, Jr.   .....   Todd Van Voris
Edmond Tyrone   .....   Luke Mullins
Cathleen   .....   Emily Russell

sez says: Robyn Nevins is extraordinary--and even with the faults this production has, and it has faults, it is worth seeing if only to watch Nevins fully inhabit, pitch-perfect, the character of Mary Tyrone.  I sit here still awe-struck by her performance.  She is a great gift.
And, of course this is a great play. The story is well enough known: Dysfunctional family--mom is a morphine addict; dad is a miser; older son is a drunk; younger son has consumption.  Each has reasons for being the way they are and those reasons are reveled -- and they all even know their shortcomings --but none seem to break the pattens that beleaguer them--as individuals, as a family.  Yet they do care deeply for each other--while they abuse each other.
BUT THERE WAS A BIG PROBLEM: The dialogue was at times hard to hear. I wondered if it was the acoustics, then I wondered if it was my ears, than I realized I could hear Nevins fine, all the time. It was Mullins that was hardest to hear: I probably lost at least a quarter, or more, of his lines. And it was Hurt too -- he slurred his lines at times -- possibly trying to push the dialogue to quicker pace, or to portray himself as a drunk -- but regardless of the cause,  words were getting lost. Losing words in the theater is not ok..esp so in a play like this one. 
I was greatly looking forward to seeing this. Maybe my expectations were too high, but I did expect something better than was delivered.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

London Assurance, NT Live Presented by Third Rail (Grade A)

NT Live  is a HD broadcast of performances by The National Theater of London , Third Rail is hosting this series in Portland
Director Nicholas Hytner
by Dion Boucicault
Cool, a valet   .....   Nick Sampson
Martin, a man servant  .....   Richard Frame
Charles Courtly, Sir Harcourt's Son  .....   Paul Ready
Richard Dazzel   .....   Matt Cross
Sir Harcourt Courtly  .....   Simon Russell Beale
Pert, servant to the Harkaways   .....Maggie Service
Squire Max Harkaway   .....   Mark Addy
James, servant to the Harkaways  .....   Simon Markey
Grace Harkaway   .....   Michelle Terry
Mark Meddle, attorney at law  .....  Tony Jayawardena
Lady Gay Spanker   .....   Fiona Shaw
Mr. Adolphus Spanker   .....   Richard Briers
Mr. SOlomon Isaacs  .....   Junix Inocian
Doctor  .....   David Whitworth
Servants   .....   Mark Extance; Prasanna Puwanarajah
Doctor's Daughters   .....   Fiona Drummond; Laura Matthews

sez ...thank you Third Rail for hosting these broadcasts.  This was a hoot. It is a play from 1841 that holds strong in the 21st century, with disdain for lawyers;  parent's who have fantasies about who their children really are;  asking should you marry for love or money;  presenting women who are smarter thatn all the men around them; and providing a array of characters that are much bigger than life--and, most important, who are all played to perfection..
I don't remember when I enjoyed any single performance by an actor more than I did Simon Russell Beal's  Sir Harcourt Courtly. His physical presentation of this character was a full blown delight.  And Fiona Shaw's Lady Gay Spanker blew the top off any other possible presentation that could ever be of this wild woman...who even circa 1841 is presented as wearing the pants in her family--and happily so according to her husband. 
The story does not seem to matter a bit (we all know wht is going to happen) - the fun is in the characters--and it is quite possible that they could have been doing anything, in any story, and they would have been fun to watch. 

Night Terrors, JAWS Reading at Portland Center Stage July 2010

by Ebbe Roe Smith
Evelyn   .....   Darius Pierce
Horse & Alien   .....   Casey McFeron
Incubi, Maga, Sucubi   .....   Ebbe Row Smith
Stage Driections  .....  Jennifer Rowe

sez says: there is a lot of laugh out loud material here--especially so since it was very well read by Pierce & McFeron.  Author Smith did his lines ok--but he isn't an actor--he certainly knows what he wants his character to say/do but the pros did a better job in creating characters.    And of course, it seems that Pierce can do no wrong. How lucky we are to have him here in Portland  So this was fun to hear read.

But ...

Re; The play/script/story: It is a BOY STORY. Aging and Ego and Competition in the workplace align with bad fiction to create unhappy nights full of monsters.  And while McFeron & Pierce made as much as they could of the characters--there really is NO character development. There is just a guy and his fears --those malevolent powers that want his sperm / read manhood. And, pity be, there are female characters who are crafty enough to get what they want. There is just a slight hint of rancor toward women showing in the presentation of 'the feminine' --be that in women's books, or female characters dishonest and manipulative ways (saying one thing when they want something else) ... which the male characters don't stoop to.

I think this would make a find graphic novel -- but to become a piece for the theater I think it needs a lot more work.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Live Girls, CoHo (Grade D-)

Written by Natalie Rose
Directed by Toni McDowell
Baby.....  Pat Janowski
Fantasy  .....  Meegan Anslee
CHerry   .....   Alyssa Roehrenbeck
Jason   .....   Jonah Weston
Tigress  .....   Danika Louise
Divinity   .....   Rocket
Juli / Extacy   .....   ilena herrin
Sapphire   .....   Briana Ratterman
DJ Prik   .....   Stephan Henry

sez says: too bad about this--what a great topic/ Strip Clubs / and what a failure at providing any insight at all into this culture:  there is NO STORY and there is NO Character Development in the play.  This is a fly-on-the-wall observation of conversations, which revels small amounts about the characters but nothing more. You've got:  an aging stripper with dreams of marrying a customer; a mom stripper hooked on drugs who might lose her child; a  new stripper, who takes to the profession like gang busters;  an exotic stripper who has moved deeper into the world of porn and is making movies and doing light S&M at the strip club.  Meanwhile, you've got a stripper that gets pregnant and doesn't know who the daddy is, but who leave the club.  You've got a Catholic girl, who hates cursing, has bruises she can't explain, and who overdoses.  You've got women who give there money to men who are obvious using them. You have a woman who has become a lesbian because she has had it with men.  You have a club manager who falls in love with strippers and is always disappointed and drinks his way out of misery. The acting was really mixed and needed some stronger direction. But mostly this material needed  a story. It needs to get us into the whole life of at least one--or more--of these characters and thus to actually provide insight into this world. Nothing that was presented was news. In fact it was generally rather boring. It gets a D-minus from me--and that is only becasue it attempted to approach an important topic..but it fell way short of doing anything interesting.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Backs Like That, Imago Theatre (Grade B)

Backs Like That was written by Carol Triffle
Danielle Vermette  .....  ChloeJerry Mouawad  .....  business Owner Morton
Darren McCarthy ..... Donnie the boyfriend
Kyle Delamarter ..... Joey the brother
Robert Gaynor ..... the Dad

sez says: this piece tends toward the Avant Garde -- it is about dysfunctional families, about people who think they have secrets, it is about trying to find a place in the world..., it is about having to carry around all the baggage of your life where ever you go. 
In this case, a lot of Chloe's baggage is in attendance at her first day of work at a new job. --that baggage would be her family --father, brother, boyfriend.  There are some very funny bits; some songs that won't make it to the top 40, but that fit snugly into this exploration.  The acting is wonderful, physical, comic, exploiting telling movements eloquently ... and the script is certainly thought provoking.   There is good reason it is not suggested for children --not so much becasue of sex or violence--but because the underside of family life is hard to explain. Original work, made in Portland and to be appreciated. (grade B--for good job)

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Little Ugly, Vertigo (READING)

Playwrite: Jen Silverman
Director Jane Fellows

Darios Pierce   .....   Ze
Mario Calcagno   .....   Roma
Brooke Fletcher   .....   Little Ugly
JR Wickman   .....   Mikhail
ileana herrin, Jean Hunter & R David Wyllie --Chorus

sez says: this production,  presented in conjunction with The Classic Greek Theatre of Oregon, was a reading of a  new play by Ms Silverman. The play is harsh--and the reading was not always smooth--but the whole was more interesting than the sum of its parts.  Harvesting blood --killing dreams -- exploitation and suffering form the larger contours of the play. It is supposed to be loosely based on the Greek myth of Prometheus --who steals fire from the Gods and gives it to humans--then he must live in chains and literally be food for the birds for the rest of his life.  How the myth and the play fit together is not immediately apparent --but Roma does set Little Ugly free (gives her fire?) and his life is not looking too pleasant as a result.  This felt a lot like a work in progress from start to end and team Vertigo did a fine job getting it up off the ground to look at it. As a work in progress it is hard to grade. It contained interesting stuff, It was well written. But it seems to me like it belonged at JAWS where it could be worked on properly and brought into shape.  no grade

Lime Tree Bower, CoHo (Grade A)

Playwright: Conor McPherson
Director: Devon Allen
Joe   .....  Matthew Micucci
Frank, Joe's Older Brother   .....   Matthew DiBiasio
Ray, their sister Carmel's boyfriend   .....   Dennis Kelly

sez says: this play is a series of monologues --all pitch perfectly done. Using Irish accents that were realistic but never hard to understand we are given three characters who are storytellers of the first rank.  They are:  A young man--coming of age; An older brother, whose first concern is to help his father and who engages in daring -do to accomplish that end; A college professor who is a narcissistic prig of the first-order and who is an alcoholic--who provides never ending crude comic relief.  Mixed in there is rape and robbery and finally a resolution of sorts--for all but the girl.  Wonderful story telling--well done all round --and a beautiful set to-boot.  Grade A 

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Portland Center Stage (Grade B+)

Director: Rose Riordan
Lyrics and Music by William Finn / Book by Rachel Sheinkin

Leaf Coneybear   .....   Connor Bond
Marcy Park   .....   Ka-Ling Cheung
Mitch Mahoney   .....   Gavin Gregory
William Barfee   .....  Isaac Lamb
Chip Tolentino   .....   Raymond J Lee
Rona Lisa Peretti   .....   Susannah Mars
Logainne'Schwartzy' Schwartandgrubeierre   .....   Ellie Mooney
Douglas Panch   .....   Darius Pierce
Olive Ostrovsky   .....   Sara Catherine Wheatley

sez says: this was a lot of fun. The personalities of pre--and early--pubescent children are a treasure trove for comedy.  And this story puts that gawky, awkward, ever so serious and delicate time of life on display without mockery.  Two performers stood out:  Isaac Lambs and Ellie Mooney. Both of these people put something extra into their parts that made them shine. Everyone else did great jobs -- but the physicality of Lamb and Mooney made the whole performance special.  The story is unmitigated fun, as contestants engage The Bee. And the audience participation was just right and added a touch of knowledge that every performance was being made into its own unique presentation based on strangers to the cast appearing on stage. The dancing too was top notch. The only down side was that some of the lyrics were impossible to hear/understand. That made a near perfect production lose some luster. (grade B+)

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Dividing The Estate, Profile Theatre (Grade B)

Playwrite: Horton Foote
Director: Pat Patton
Scene: Harrison Texas, 1987

Cathleen   .....   Shoshana Maxwell
Lewis   .....   Duffy Epstein
Lucille   .....   Mindi Logan  
Pauline   .....   Brooke Fletcher
Sissie   .....   Brittany Burch
Emily   .....   Amy Newman
Son   .....   David Sikking
Stella Gordon   .....   Eve Roberts
Doug   .....   Kenneth Dembo
Mildred   .....   Jocelyn Seid
Mary Jo   .....   Jane Unger
Bob   .....   Jason Maniccia
Irene Ratcliff   .....  Briana Ratterman

sez says:  This reading was well done and the story a fine cap to this series of Horton Foote plays.  'The children' of  'The Estate' are an unwieldy group--selfish and yet defined by their relationships to each other and the land from which their wealth is derived. Mama--is a domineering matriarch who wants to control the future far after her death; few of the family have ever worked; selfishness has gone ballistic; and the family sings Christian hymns together. Meanwhile money holds them together and divides them at the same time.  Great entertainment and a look at America c. 1980s--needing to rill up its shirt sleeves and get back to work.
P.S.We will be missing Brittany Burch as she takes off for Chicago to study with Steppenwolf.  We would be happy if she came back to Portland. But we also wish her well and hope her career takes her where ever she wants to go

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Gracie and the Atom, Artist Repertory Theatre (Grade C-)

Written by McKinley
Directed by Allen Nause
World Premiere
Gracie  .....  Beth Soto
Angela  .....  Brooke Markham
Beth  .....  Marissa Neitling
Gabriella  .....  Melissa Murry
CHrista  .....  Kylie Clarke Johnson
SIster Lidwina  .....  Emily Beleele
Sister Francis  .....  Mary Baird

sez says:  first off Mary Baird was perfect! What a great performance.  And this I say in the face of strong performances all around.  To a person all the woman in this play did a fine job creating their characters --but no question about it Baird's Physics teacher, Sister Francis was an outstanding delight. That makes it sad that the show was not worthy of their work. It is a musical -- and a couple of the song are clever -- but none are  particularly good.   The idea of the story is o.k.-- not a grand achievement -- but a structure to hang the songs on (my dad id dead and who is my mother). But again, the songs just didn't have what it takes to pull the story up out of ho-hum.  But good for ART to give this a whirl--and how nice it is to see anything at all that tries to depict honestly the lives of adolescent females.  We really do need to find some good material to begin exploring that strange land -- Grease and its progeny really are not what the average girl's life is about.  But we will have to keep waiting becasue that mystery is not really explored here either.  (Grade C-)

The Habit of Art, NT Live Presented by Third Rail (Grade A)

NT Live  is a HD broadcast of performances by The National Theater of London , Third Rail is hosting this series.
a new play by Alan Bennett
Director Nicholas Hytner
Frits (WH Auden) .....  Richard Griffiths
Henry (Benjamin Britten)  .....  Alex Jennings
Donald (Humphrey Carpenter)  .....  Adrian Scarborough
Tim (Stuart)  .....  Srephen Wright
Kay (Stage Manager)    Frances De La Tour

sez says: what a joy to see such a perfect production, with wit and irony and snide asides those people who we are suppose to see as 'the great ones' are played as people with flaws.  Their talents and contributions are not denied: they continue to be held in the highest esteem. But they are also human and the play focuses heavily on the underbelly of who they were.  From Auden peeing in his kitchen sink, to Britten's admiration of little boys. And while we may be told in art classes that we stand on their shoulders and that we must  genuflect to the creative genius they left for us--we also need to remember that they too stood on the backs of others, in order to do the work they did.  There are the house cleaners that keep their homes and the 'rent boys' whom they desire and toss aside--and, as the play says, 'there is always somebody left out of the story.'  Indeed isn't that always the case--how often do any of us acknowledge our debt to all the invisible people who hold the social order in place. (Grade perfect A)

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Young Man From Atlanta, Profile Theatre, (Grade C)

Playwright: Horton Foote
Director: Pat Patton

Will Kidder   .....   Tobias Anderson
Tom Jackson   .....   Jonah Weston
Miss Lacey   .....   Briana Ratterman
Ted Cleveland Jr.  .....  Jason Maniccia
Lily Dale  .....  JoAnn Johnson
Pete Davenport  .....  Scott Malcolm
Clara  .....  Jocelyn Seid
Carson  .....  Schuyler Schmid
Etta Doris  .....  LaVerne Green

sez says: this Pulitzer Prize winning play is a wonder of language and characters. Foote's style is so easy, so invisible, so perfectly pitched, that you feel like you are watching real people talking to each other in the most ordinary way. And you wonder what is this about --and then 'life' happens to the character and they stand their ground and take it and find ways to prevail by simply being themselves. 
This performance was mixed: Tobias Anderson  certainly made Will Kidder come alive but JoAnn Johnson struggled with Lily Dale. She just didn't  meet the bar.  The rest of the cast were fine--not great but perfectly adequate to tell the story.
And here are some  issue the play gives you to chew:  How well do any of us know our children. How much do we want to know about them? If the Young Man From Atlanta comes to tell us about them, will we let him in?  And how does anyone cope with loss?   How do you know who to trust? If you only child kills himself  and you don't know why how do you cope?  What might you do / or what might you be willing to believe to find solace? As you turn the corner and head down the last part of life how do you keep going when everything you believed in and worked for begins to unravel? And there is more--presented in the most everyday sort of talk with everyday activities going on all around. It is a wonderful piece of work -- and it is well worth seeing, even in a production that is not perfect.

The Pavilion, Third Rail Reading (Grade A)

Playwright: Craig Wright
Read By: Valerie Stevens; Damon Kupper; Michael O'Connell

sez says: wonderful play, well read--exploring such topics as: everything you do has consequences and moves the universe forward;  at the same time everything you do is insignificant as the universe moves forward. The universe does not go backward we cannot change what's happened. Each of our actions--no matter how seemingly big or small--shapes our existence and the way the world works all around us:  to sit down or not to sit down, which door you choose to use, to smile or not--all have consequences.  And nobody "has it together' everyone is struggling with something --but this isn't bad--right now is an opportunity to try again. The danger lies in living in the past--not ignoring the past--but not letting go of the past.  To linger in the past is to abdicate the future:  and all hope dies there. You must keep moving forward with the universe. All of this demonstrated at a High School reunion where the 'Cutest Senior Couple'  find each other and must deal with their past and their futures.

mjc says:  this was my kind of play--lots of interaction, wonderful words and images, philisophical as well as religious as well as intensely personal.  So, thank you for the experience. 

Saturday, May 8, 2010

The Gray Sisters, Third Rail (Grade B-)

Playwright: Craig Wright
Director: Slayden Scott-Yarbough

Sarah  ( not called Sarah in the play, called Pokey)   ...    Stephanie Gaslin
Pam    ...    Maureen Porter
Anya    ...    Valerie Stevens
Dina    ...    Gretchen Corbett

sez says: this play was written for Third Rail--and that is a wonderful and deserved compliment to the company but--the play itself feels unfinished, not fully fleshed-out. That is not the company's problem--but the play's problem.  It is a good play in many ways..but it is rough in places and doesn't quite all hang together.  The women of the company did fine jobs with the material--esp Stephanie Gaslin and even more so, Valerie Stevens.  But fine performances can't fill in for the empty spots in the play.

The play is about a family that has baggage. The men of the family have been either 1) absent/unavailable (even when present) and, when a replacement is found step-dad turns out to be 2) a good-dad/bad-dad. Meanwhile mom is an oblivious sidelight with her own weaknesses.  We learn this -and much more -- via four monologues (one for each actor/sister) that build upon each other, each adding late breaking news and detail about the past, and thus a story is told of parental betrayal and the forever-after coping with that betrayal. It is harrowing at times.  And it comes real close to falling into the abyss of lets bash parents for all the problems of the world. Where it is good is when it begins to show that the children are really very much like the parents they are struggling to cope with. This is best seen via Porter's character--as she talks to her mother--we glimpse that her characters may well be not much different than the mother she is complaining about.  Meanwhile the play seems to want to say, as Anya tells her son after the plays most emotionally draining scenes, life is worthwhile, even at its worst.  It might have made that point with more to prove it is true, if there had been more relationship between the sisters. But--that might come--becasue I bet this play will go though  some more revisions before it is really finished. If it does, I'll back and see it again. If it is never revised --then I wouldn't bother going in for a second round. It was ok for one performance but without some more work it will probably not go anywhere from here. That would be too bad   (Grade B-)

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Last of the Thorntons, PROFILE THEATRE (B)

Director Grant Turner
Writer: Horton Foote
"One Night Stand - Reading"

Ms Pearl   .....   Victoria Blake
Fannie Mae  ....  JoAnn Johnson
Clarabelle  .....   LaVerne Green
Older Woman  .....  Bibi Walton
Ora Sue  .....  Kristen Martz
Alberta  .....  Jacklyn Maddux
Lewis  .....  Richard Matthews
Annie Gayle  .....  Jane Fellow
Douglas Jackson  .....  Dave Bodin
Tom  .....  Scott Carson

sez says--this was a reading--not a full production--but as usual Profile brings just enough of the characters into a reading to give it a little more oomph than a traditional reading.  This was nicely done, and it is a lovely piece of literature. Jane Fellows only had one line--but she made her presence intensely felt to the telling to the tale. Everyone read their parts well--but JoAnn Johnson really stood out. Thank you all for a delightful evening. (Grade B)

Othello, Artist Repertory Theatre (F)

Director Jon Kretzu
Author: William Shakespeare

Othello   .....   Victor Morris
Desdemona   .....   Amaya Villazan
Iago   .....   Todd Van Voris
Emila   .....   Sarah Lucht
Brabantio / Lodovico   .....   Michael Mendelson
Roderigo   .....   Alec Wilson
Duke of Venice / Gratiano / Montano   .....   Nathan Dunkin
Bianca   .....   KB Mercer
Cassio   .....   JJ Johnson

sez says: we left at intermission. We've seen a variety of productions--on film and stage--of Othello.  It is one of my favorite's from The Bard.  This production might have been ok but it has a couple fatal flaws. The first and most deadly was, you could not hear some of the actors. In particular this was a problem for the central character Iago played by Van Voris (whom we generally love).  He spoke in a conversational voice that did not carry well. We literally could not hear a quarter (or more) of what he was saying.  But it was true of some of the others too. (With one exception, and that was Michael Mendelson, who did a great, and believable job in the role of Desdemona's father)   Add the desperate struggle to hear to the second problem, which was that much--maybe most--of the action was played to the center--so the audience on the side could seldom see the actor's faces.  Without visual cues (combined with not being able to hear the the dialogue clearly) the production went murky. I know the story--but if I didn't, I speculate I would have had no idea what was happening. I am sorry to have missed the second half to see how Morris played Othello's decline into the dark waters of jealousy--but the first half was too difficult.

mjc says:  this was a real disappointment, I was looking forward to a refreshing look at this classic.  I have been to enough Shakspeare to know that you need to give your brain a chance to let the language--its rhythm and archaic usages--a chance to click in.  I could not hear well enough, or see the actors well enough, to get up to speed.  The whole thing escaped me and I am so trained up to stay for the whole show it is a demonstration of how disconnected I was that when given the choice of staying or leaving I voted with my feet.  (Grade F)

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Mike's Incredible Indian Adventure, Portland Center Stage, (Grade B)

Written & Performed by Mike Schlitt
Directed by Nancy Keystone (Mike's wife)

sez says: What an interesting and honest story Mike tells about his life and his quest (or might that be his mania) to be "a great artist" (whatever that might be) -- or, as Mike says, to have the opportunity to sell out. With no intermission this 80 minute, multi-media dialogue flies by and entertains.

But here is the rub:  It is of the genre of self revelation. It is in line with all of the stories that have proliferated in the last decade that wind around a plot that "tells-all"  ---  "I really did this"  and how bad (or stupid) I feel about it.  Or the theme of "This happened to me" and I survived.  Or the "Aren't you shocked by my truth" stories.  Most of that genre has grown stale and ends with an audience walking away stunned and/or celebrating the human capacity to overcome, or just wondering "why should we care."  And then we forget the whole thing the next day.  Most of this genre fades away quickly because it is too personal and it fails to find the universal that makes a work of art meaningful and lasting.   "Mike's Great Adventure.." might have jumped the divide by expanding on themes that are universal that sat right in front of him. But he misses the mark. He emphasizes a point during which he says "the whole story is told" when he could have--but he didn't--tell the truth.  But a bigger truth comes out when you ask why he couldn't tell the truth--and that is a story about self delusion.

Self delusion is a dangerous and ever so prevalent aspect of life. What allowed Mike to believe his tawdry production was art?  We need only to ask how and why he--AND WE--know so little about India--or anywhere else for that matter.  Is it not because we believe WE must be the center of all stories? Is it not our national as well as out personal arrogance that is blocking us?  For instance when we see Mike in a TV interview calling India "small and weak" -- that is not just a personal embarrassment -- it is a cultural and ideological stance that is an apt demonstration of our self delusion at a larger scale. Self delusion--at a personal level --and at an national scale--keeps us from being able to speak truths that are lost in the mist of our delusions.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Radio Golf, Portland Playhouse (Grade B)

Playwright: August Wilson
Presented as a joint work by Portland Playhouse and Base Roots Theater Company
Director: Brian Weaver

Hammond Wilks      Lawence E. Street
Mame Wilks        Andrea White
Roosevelt Hicks        Bobby Bermea
Sterling Johnson        Victor Mack
Elder Joseph Barlow       Kevin E Jones

sez says: What a neat little theater, housed in an old church. The space feels full of love and creative energy and commitment to the performing arts. It is a pleasure to find such a place--and not a surprise to discover it here in North Portland.  This production has heart. Of course August Wilson left the world a legacy of  work that can enrich our souls and should be mulled over and over and over again. I personally will go to any performance of his work that is available for me to see--anywhere --anytime. (Can you tell I am a fan) So that fanaticism got us to this production.  The play itself can only be fully appreciated as a part of a much larger story--told in preceding plays about this community. But the play also stand alone, asking how do we hold on to what is important in the past while we move into the future. The acting here was a little uneven--but it was plenty good enough --and the story held its own, even in the face of a few technical difficulties. Kudos all around, and thanks. (Grade B)

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Chosen, Portland Center Stage (Grade D-)

Director: Chris Coleman
From the Book The Chosen by Chaim Potok, stage play by Aaron Posner

Reuben Malter    Matthew Boston
Young Rauven Malter     Carter Hudson
Reb Saunders     Daivd Margulies
Danny Saunders     Jonathan David Martin
David Malter     John Rothman

sez says:  The acting was great--the staging was fine but the play itself is a bust.  Uncritical endorsements of Zionism, in any form, are in questionable taste. If you want to tell one side of a story, tell the other side.  Is it possible that people in Portland know so little about what happened to the Palestinians (the people who occupied the area that the Zionist took), that they can sit and listen to accusations that the Palestinian were attacking Jewish Settlements without at least feeling a bit squeamish?  Excuse me, did the Palestinians not have a right to at least try to protect their land and their homes?
Anyway, politics aside (which is hard to do)--my question about this play is: What if you removed all of the disagreeable politics and set the play in some other time and place--what would you have?  Well--you'd have an entirely unbelievable story about fairytale father-son relationships (has anyone ever had --or known of --fathers or sons like the ones in this story?) The story ends with the conclusions that son's must find their own paths, even if that disappoints their fathers.  And good fathers, while disappointed, will love their sons and accept their decisions. Well...humm. how new or interesting or realistic is that?  And, is it worth an entire play?  Maybe it is worthy of a sub-plot--but if that is all there is--that ain't much.  Real fathers and sons do struggle--but those struggles are never so simple as they are presented here.
And, one last point.  A little fact checking is needed:  I don't think a Hasidim would be tossing a football  around with his pal.  Footballs are made of pigskin.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The As If Body Loop, Reading at TheatreVertigo

Writer: Ken Weitzman
Reading (April 2010)

--sez says -- the reading was fine-- a little rough in places (some readers were less familiar with their lines than others --so there were some take-backs and restarts..but nothing terrible)  but the story was well told.  It is a tight story--all the elements are well managed and every element that is presented finds a neat place to get tucked back in so there is a complete little universe presented with no loose ends.  Plus there are some good laughs.  But I found myself both cheering-on and being angry with the story's message. The "As If" is right up my alley-- you cannot see someone suffer without suffering yourself. It is 'As If' you were suffering from the same thing. I'm with ya there. An injury to one is an injury to all. But this is told in the context of a dysfunctional family -- and the mother and father are the source of the suffering. That pisses me off--it is "as if" the parents suffering does not count.  That they were not able to be good parents shouldn't be seen as some character flaw. Rather it is the result of their being hurt people too.  The hurt and suffering comes from a larger place--the culture as a whole --not just from your mom and dad.  We've got to get past this "blame it on the parents" thing if we are going to address the source of the suffering--and--as the play points out, find our ability to heal each other.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Gods's Ear, TheatreVertigo (A-)

By Jenny Schwartz
Directed by Philip Cuomo

Mel  ...  Heather Rose Walters
Ted  .....  Mario Calcagno
Lanie  .....  Amy Newman
Tooth Fairy  .....  Jenn Hunter 
GI Joe / Flight Attendant  .....  Gary Norman
Guy  .....  JR Wickman
Lenora  .....  Brooke Fletcher

sez says: perfectly cast, to a person, this story presents an array of individuals exposing their underbellies via a dialogue made up primarily of cliche and slang.  It reminds me of Harold Pinter's The Homecoming, in which everyone says what they are actually thinking, rather than what we are suppose to say in social settings. But Pinter saw people's inner selves as selfish and mean spirited. Here Schwartz presents people who are struggling to cope with what the world throws at them. Good play, well done.

mjc says:  Vertigo is always on the edge and this is no exception.  The set was weak and did not support the production at a level that equalled the performances or the content.  The sufferings of a low budget production no doubt!  (Grade A-)

Friday, March 26, 2010

Body Vox: Smoke Soup, March 2010 (Grade C)

Artistic Directors Jamey Hampton & Ashley Roland
World Premiere of Smoke Soup

sez says: I love this dance troupe--so I am not ever happy to be critical of them. But their dancing in this show was uneven and so were the dances themselves. Hampton's opening Light No Lamp was just awkward--it was hard to see and it didn't work. Next All Blues Hail Mary--was slow to start and once it picked up interest it ended. SUIT ON A FRAME was the stuff we go to Body Vox to see, great choreography--and with a few more days of practice might have been one of the best in the show. "My Favorite Cage"--was almost embarrassing. But things did pick up from there. TRAMPOLINE was energetic and fun--and Melissa Kanavel had perfect poise, balancing action with a complete nonchalant relaxation as she got tossed around the room. Then came CIVILIANS--probably my favorite  --but again the dancers needed to be a little more  in sync.  Write My Book was entertaining and clever and Hello Stranger was full of fun energy.
After the intermission THE MAN I KEEP HID started things off right, with humor and all the right moves...but again with some dancers not being entirely in rhythm with the group. Another stand out in the second half was PROGRESS OF LOVE--which was sensuous and fun at the same time. STOP worked well and was spot-on in both execution and choreography--with Hampton hopping about with two mannequin types.  We'll Meet Again followed by Death to the Storm flowed together seamlessly -- but the second part seemed to need a larger space.   Finally Rough and Tumble has humor and style but the end number STARS didn't have enough oomph for the finale.

On the really positive side--the costumes were wonderful--and the music was well performed. I like Joe Henry's music, and I give credit for trying to use as the basis of the show--but I am not so sure it was a good decision. There are, after all, so many very great pieces of music to choose from.

Overall grade C

Saturday, March 6, 2010

39-Steps, Portland Center Stage (Grade A)

Director: Nancy Keystone
Adapted by Patrick Barlow from the novel by John Buchan and the Movie by Alfred Hitchcock and an original concept by Nobby Dimon and Simon Corble

Richard Hannay          .....           Leif Norby
Anabella/Margaret/Pamela   .....  Christine Calfas
MAN #1             .....                  Darius Pierce
MAN #2             .....                  Ebbe Roe Smith

sez says: This is fun, laugh out loud theater. It is full of purposely missed cues, intentionally broken props, fake knives, and jokes of all sorts flying around.  And while all four of the actors deserve praise the show belongs to MAN #1 and MAN #2 (Pierce and Smith) who are both exceptional talents. Pierce has become one of my favorite Portland based actors: he is fearless and brings just a hint of madness to his characters.  Smith--whom I'd not seen before--matches the deadpan mayhem that Pierce provides--with the delivery of a physical comedy that sent waves of laughter through the audience with a simple change in facial expression alone.  Of course you need the right vehicle for their talents --and 39 Steps is it.  The carrying on of these two never fell into madcap but never missed a beat in the requirement to shape-shift from one character to another and to keep the party fun all night long.   Norby too was well cast and fully engaged -- but  he didn't top Calfas performance -- whose training in Indian Classical Dance lends itself to her body-language that is both camp yet sensuous.

mjc says:  this was very fun, the kind of theater I like, lots of body stuff and dialogue to match.  RECOMMENDED - Grade A

Wayne McGregor, Random Dance, ENTITY, 2010 Whitebird Uncaged (Grade A)

Choreography: Wayne McGregor in collabpration with the dancers
Concept and Direction: Wayne McGregor
Dancers: Neil Fleming Brown, Catarina Carvalho, Agnes Lopez Rio, Pablo Mangiola, Daniela Neugebauer, Anna Nowak, Maxime Thomas, Antoine Vereecken, Jessica Wright
Original Music by Jody Talbot & Jon Hopkins


sez says-- what a wonder these dancers are --precision, perfection dexterity, seeking the edge of the the human body's capacity for altering and presenting itself--alone and in relation to other bodies.  These are world class dancers -- in control of their physical selves in a way that is seldom seen. Each time a dancer changed partners--or a new dancer entered into relationship with a pair of dancers, forming a triad,  a new 'entity' presented a new chemical combination --having something in common with the last combination but also being entirely new.  I was awe struck within minutes of the start --and with only a few exceptions--remained mesmerized throuhg the entire show--60 minutes --no intermissions. Thank you and thank you again --maybe I'll become a groupie and follow this troupe around--or at least, I'll be in the front of the line to get tickets to see them if they show up in this part of the world again.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Receptionist, Portland Center Stage

By Adam Brock
Directed by Rose Riordan
At Portalnd Center Stage
Feb 2010

Lorraine Taylor   .....   Laura Faye Smith
Martin Dart   .....   Chris Harder
Beverly Wilkins   .....   Sharonlee McLean
Edward Raymond   .....   Robert M Thomas

sez says: I am more impressed by Sharonlee Mclean every time we see her. She did a spot-on job in her role as the Receptionist in this play of the same name.  She led the way in the creation of a work place many of us have been in, in which daily personal drama mixes with whatever the goal of the office staff might be.  In this case, the goal of the staff is a never fully identified creepy backdrop to office antics which the Receptionist tries, half-hardheartedly, to keep in check.  All we know is that whatever these people do in their work life it requires torturing people--and they can be added to the list of those to be tortured.  Meanwhile they prance about worrying about tea cups and old boyfriends, and dreaming of fly fishing.  Are we all really that alienated from the products of our labor?    Karl Marx said we were and maybe Adam Brock agrees.  Robert M Thomas also provided a droll rendition of a man who may have caught a glimmer of the reality behind his job.  We are hopeful about his possible contributions to Portland's community of actors. Chris Dart was a little flat and Laura Faye Smith was a bit to broad in our opinion.  All in all this is an interesting piece--but it is a little thin. I wouldn't tell my friends to avoid it but then I wouldn't tell them to rush out to see it either.  Grade C-

Saturday, February 20, 2010

American Buffalo. Third Rail

By David Mamet
Director: Daniel Stern
Donny ..... Bruce Burkhartsmeier
Bobby ..... Brian Weaver
Teach  ..... Tim True
LINK:  American Buffalo

sez says: David Mamet is like a magnet for me. That is because a view through his window on the world never fails to leave me thinking..and often feeling...something new.  American Buffalo is not a new play, but I had not seen it before and I am glad for the opportunity to be introduced to it by this production.  Weaver and True brought their characters to life with performances that exceeded 100% involvement. They passed by something that might be called 'perfect portrayals' and added that magical extra piece to their presentation of these characters. They gave us a glimmer of the souls of  Bobby and Teach. And, nothing less than that would do this play justice.  Mamet has written a play that presents men who are inarticulate.  The very nature of these characters is their limited ability to use words to explain themselves: their desires, their pain, their aspirations, their fears,  their affections, and so on.  So to know them, to see them, to grasp them, the men who portray them (the actors) must show us who they are...becasue the script alone cannot do it --the script only lets us see them struggling to find a way to express themselves...words are not tools they are skilled using/ that is part of the point of the play/--so their actions must do much of their speaking.  And True and Weaver pulled it off, they bring Bobby and Teach to life.  Having a limited verbal vocabulary they do much of their speaking through their actions, and their kind of talk is rough and violent and lacks order.  You can think what you want of Donny and Bobby and Teach. But I have no doubt that men like them exist. And knowing they are among us is at least a step toward seeing the full expanse of our culture and its products--the things we are given, and that we create, that we throw away. They all wait in the silent dark for us.  GRADE B+


Feb 2010
Director Zachary Carroll
Performers: Jeff George; Kara Girod; Melissa Kanavel, Jonathan Krebs, Josh Murry

sez says: this band of young dancers is a delight to watch...they are not always a precision assembly...but each one of them has personal powers to develop and they provide a glimpse of  what the future holds in the world of dance.  And that is a happy vision. Jeff George can leap and twirl as if he were born to fly but he seems less comfortable with some of Body Vox classic Body Voice moves.  Jonathan Krebs has energy and enthusiasm to spare but sometimes his movements do not flow as smoothly as you might wish.   Kara Girod mixes sensuous beauty and phenomenal physical strength but needs to learn to present those skills in a more subtle manner -- as if they did not exist. Melissa Kanavel may be small of stature but she has a giant personality that shows through in both her exquisite movement and, most impressively, in the expressions on her face while she dances. She is able to convey the tenor of each dance and her involvement in the body's voice with a sidewards glance, a smirk, a sultry smile. Josh Murry held up his part of the sky but he never rose above the surface to be of note.

Of course these lucky Body Vox Apprentices got to dance some of the company's most fun and enjoyable pieces like THE BUNNY -- which I could start my day, every day, watching.  Equally enjoyable is the Body Vox perennial Hopper's Diner, that full of fun romp of a story, that literally revolves around a dinner table and that is packed with humor and requires perfect timing-- which this troop managed well. Three pieces stood out  1) the USUAL SUSPECTS in which the need To Belong is demonstrated with light humor and a touch of pathos.  2) SOS  flows like water and sets off waves stroking the shore: it is nothing short of beautiful. And of course 3) LIVE WIRE a dramatic fun mechanical explosion, that conjures up robots and space men and plays with synchronization in a tour'd force ending of the show.

The tickets are a little expensive to see apprentices dance--but it always seems worthwhile to support this troupe. And we got a little shot of joy from the show -- which is priceless.  Grade B- 

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Bruno Beltrao / Grupo De Rua, White Bird Uncaged

Artistic Director: Bruno Beltrao
Dancers Bruno Neres; Bruno Duarte; Danilo Pereira; Augusta Eduardo Hermanson; Fiilipi De Morais; Kleberson Goncalves; Kristiano Goncalves; Luis Carlos Gadelah; Thiago Almeida.

Dancing H3

sez says --wowzers! this started off a little slow and I feared at first that it was some sorry version of Kung Fu Fight'n....but then, after the first segment, (which, I can you tell, I was not grabbed by)  it took off like a rocket and it never stopped.  This is MALE and it is URBAN -- you can feel the testosterone in the room as these young men power up and begin to fly.  The energy and precision movements --the speed, the cooperation and chest-bumping one-up'smenship,  the technical skill and non-stop street energy is 100% captivating.  While there is love demonstrated in this dance -- there is nothing gentle about it.  While there was competition, there was nothing hostile about it.   Beltrao has taken hip-hop and given us a new form of dance that makes you want to stand up and cheer for humanity, creativity, strength and dexterity--and we did cheer. And we would be happy to go back and see them again--but all of their performances are sold out here in Portland for this visit. We will be watching for them to come back!  GRADE A

Friday, February 5, 2010

The Carpetbagger's Children, Profile Theater

Director: Joh Kretzu
Playwright: Horton Foote

Cornelia  .....  Jane Fellows
Grace Anne  .....  Jacklyn Maddux
Sissie  .....  Val Landrum 

sez says: Profile presents another delightful play. The entire Horton Foote series has proved to be compelling. It is the magic of Profile, to reveal something more about the art of the theater by presenting multiple works by the same author, and gradually providing a depth of focus that is not available seeing only single pieces of a person's work.

For this play the simplicity of the structure is perfect for telling an epic. The tale spans the lifetime of a generation.  Three women telling little bits of stories about their lives, builds into a tale that tells not just about themselves and their family, but about a entire social order and about the tricks of memory and the slow rewriting of events to make the whole hold together.

The production itself is solid. Jane Fellow and Jacklyn Maddux easily slip into their characters and pull the audience right into the world they inhabit.  Val Landrum sang nicely (she has a lovely voice) ... but she was otherwise not at all as strong as Fellows and Maddux.  You couldn't help but know that she was trying to create a character...she was working at her accent and the voice changes she had to do. Or, in other words you knew she was acting--and thus not making the character real. Regardless, this is well worth seeing--and Profile Theater continues to get high marks from me.  GRADE B

Monday, February 1, 2010

Design For Living, Artists Repertory Theatre

Playwright: Noel Coward
Director: John Kretzu

Gilda  .....  Sarah Lucht
Ernest Friedman  .....  Doren Elias
Otto Sylvus  .....  Todd Van Voris
Leo Mercure  .....  Michael Mendelson
Miss Hodges / Grace Torrance  .....  Vana O'Brien
Mr. Birbeck / Henry Carver  .....  Alec Wilson
Helen Carver  .....  Amy Newman
Matthew / Photographer  .....  Tim Hill

sez says: simple plot: she loves them both, they love each other, and they both love her.  Given that as the basic facts to be dealt with a new way of living together must be found..and it is--they will all live together and share the love three ways--via a ménage à trois.  It takes a lot of talk -- much of which is witty and fun -- and a couple scene changes --and some good time hamming it up -- to get to the conclusion that a threesome is the solution.  There are plenty of raised eyebrows from people who live off of art--and who do not understand art (ie are disqualified from having opinions worth considering.)   It is mostly entertaining with the exception of the third scene, it drags on a bit.  Possibly not as shocking today as it was when it was written--but still a worthwhile message: What consenting adults are up to in private is nobody's business but their own.

The production is adequate to the task of telling the story. Sarah Lucht does the best job acting that we have, to date, seen her do. But that has to be understood in the context that we've seen her in many shows and we have never seen her really shine in any of them. So while she's ahead of her own game here that is a relative condition. And, something really weird, she needs to get a haircut that matches the time and place..or at least, she should comb her hair. The night we saw her, her hair was half done--and distracting.  Van Voris and Mendelson seemed to be having  lot of fun  -- making them fun to watch. GRADE C

mjc says:  this had some fun moments with witty dialogue and some good physical stuff  by the actors.  As sometimes happens I wonder how it would be if the acting and production was notched up a couple of clicks, but it was, by and large, an entertaining evening. GRADE C