Saturday, January 30, 2010

giggle, giggle quack: A Musical Newmark Theatre

directed: Dan Murphy
book adapted for stage by James E Grote & George Howe
Music & Lyrics by: Grote & Howe

Nathan Avakin  .....  DUCK
Laurie Campbell-Leslie  .....  PIG / Narrator
Jay Pevney  .....  Farmer Brown & Brother Bob
Wendy Martel-Vilkin  .....  HEN
Sara Catherine Wheatley  .....  COW

sez says: being a grandparent results in attendance at shows like this.  I am enthusiastic about exposing my grandchildren to live performance. That lands me at a fairly broad array of experiences that range from super fun --to fall asleep and wish you were home.  This performance sits in the middle of that range.  It has some fun to it but it never makes it to super fun. There is no real story:  A farmer goes on vacation and the farm animals fool the the farmer's brother who has come to take care of them. They get pizza instead of slop and bubble baths instead of mud baths. That is ok, the audience is young and plot complexity could easily swamp them.  But here is the strange part.  While the story is simple the songs are complex.  They are not the stuff that children can leave the theater singing. Introducing children to one or two new big words is great, but when the lyrics are for the grown ups the children get lost. What saved the day was the enthusiastic dancing and prancing.  The performers were all up to the task at hand. None were of a caliber that exceeds 'good job"  The only stand-out was Ms. Wheatley's singing. She has a great voice--but she got little opportunity to demonstrate its potential, that is too bad.

Friday, January 29, 2010

BOOM, Theatre Vertigo

Playwright:   Peter Sinn Nachtrieb       
Directed by:   Joann Johnson

Jo  .....   played by Brooke Fletcher
Jules  .....  played by J.R. Wickman
Barbara  .....  played by Heather Rose Walters
Theater website:  Theatre Vertigo

sez says: Nachtrieb writes funny stuff --both make-you-laugh funny and funny/odd.  This is, in my book, a good thing.  He is interested in humanity from the perspective of  'geological time' and he wonders where we fit in the universe. Given this viewpoint human existence is no more than a fast passing blip in time. That seems to make us funny creatures to him. Funny how we take ourselves seriously.  Funny for what we care about (ie the list of things the journalist must not write about).. Funny at how we try and mask and or display our most basic functions: the primal drive to obtain food and to procreate.  Funny that we take ourselves seriously at all. He is facile in his use of language so he can demonstrate our various absurdities with uproarious one-liners. He is thoughtful and fun. Lucky for us he is writing plays.

Now, about this production.  The set was weak. It could have been made to look like a basement with, say some cinder blocks painted on the wall.  It need to seem more cramped.  Also the fish tank, sitting front and center, did not work.  It was too low and it only really showed up when it was the only thing lit on stage.  It would have been better in a wall, at eye level, where it could have been contemplated.  The control booth was fine--but the basement did not have the feel of a confined space in which two mis-matched people had to find a way to co-exist.  The acting was overall good.  Everyone got into their roles.  But no one was brilliant.  Overall fun to see. Again Vertigo has picked a good one!


mjc says:  my expectations were heightened after a reading of the author's Play Hunter/Gatherers earlier in the month, so I was a bit disappointed.  I would have liked more energy from the players and the whole effort needed more umph.  Nevertheless, I appreciated the Theater's choice of the play and would definitely go to another Nachtrieb play, and of course, I am a growing supporter of Theatre Vertigo.  GRADE:  C

Saturday, January 23, 2010

White Bird Uncaged: Minh Tran & Company KISS & Tere Mathern Dance PIVOT plus TWINE

White Bird Uncaged Series presents

Tere Mathern Dance PIVOT
choreographed by Tere Mathern

sez says: this was disappointing because the choreography appeared to be beautiful--but because 1) this was staged in a smallish theater in the round and it was hard to see much beside what was happening right in front of you. It was a struggle to try and see the entire company, and; 2) the dancers were not well matched in size and shape, nor did they seem to be well enough trained in general to dance together.  This ended up making it hard to figure out who or what to try and watch. There were too many instances of dancers struggling to be in sync--and they were out of sync as often as they were in sync. The pity is some of the movements were to die for beautiful.  There were parts that  you could feel the tension that exists between people who are struggling between the poles of independence and dependence. I wanted them to pull together and I wished I had a seat from which I could better observe them  --but neither was the case.

mjc says:  perhaps it is too many amazing performances at the Joyce Theater in New York, but none of these dances move me or even grab me for a moment.  With this one I must confess I was put off after reading the choreographer's notes--so much gibberish about movement theory and pseudo-philosophy probably prejudiced my viewing of the dance. 


TWISTED Choreographed and Danced by Tere Mathern and Minh Tran

sez says--this started off well but then fell into a abyss of nothingness.  Tran is a beautiful, graceful dancer and a joy to watch no matter what he is doing. On the other hand Mathern has an abrupt, almost jerky style of movement that can, at times, make her look like she is not fully engaged in movements..but you don't want to be fooled by this style--just look at her hands. They are amazing, at least at this performance there was not a single time when her hands were not held in astoundingly beautiful poses.  Be that as it may--this dance needed more work--I don't think it was ready to be taken out in public.


Minh Tran & Company KISS
Choreographed by Minh Tran

sez says: what a mixed bag-- lots of repressed and liberated sexuality on parade--and an interesting dance troupe, each individual having stand out qualities.  But, again, too often things didn't come together, and there was at times more attitude than dance.  The choreography was not inspired, the dancing was only acceptable.

mjc says:  the costumes where trite, not to say hokey, but what was most startling was how the corps of dancers were shown to be clunky and awkward every time Minh Tran came on stage full of grace and beauty.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Snow Falling On Cedars, Portland Center Stage

Performance: January 21, 2010
Director: Chris Coleman
Adapted for the Stage by Kevin McKeon

Ishmael  .....  Vince Nappo
Hatsue  .....  Olivia Oguma
Nels  .....  Tobias Anderson
Kabou  .....  Bruce Locke
Susan Marie  .....  Amanda Soden
Various Characters were played by:  Alan Ariano, Allan Michael Barlow, Tom Bloom, Scott Coopwood,  Colin Johnson, Casey McFeron, William Peden, Jayne Taini, Mia Tagano
 Theater Link:  Portland Center Stage

sez say: BRAVO! BRAVA! This is a surprising delight. the story was well told, well acted and even more impressive it was exceedingly well staged. They used a minimalist set--done with lights, a couple of plain backdrops (a set of three windows, a boat, an American flag flying over the silhouette of houses), a little smoke now and again, and very few props--and then they relied on strong acting to convey the places or events.  It really worked. The acting was across the board, very strong.  The story is, of course, well constructed and familiar, having been a popular novel and a movie; most people know the story line. This maybe the best production we have ever seen as PCS.

mjc says:  I finally feel as if I know some of the local actors well enough to spot them in a production, in particular, Scott Coopwood and Casey McFeron who each played multiple roles.  They are local but they held their own with the cast members who were brought in for the production.  I had read the book and wondered how they were going to handle all the settings from boats in the Sound to fighting in the Pacific, but it was all very persuasive.  

Monday, January 18, 2010

Hunter Gathers, Theatre Vertigo

Hunter Gatherers
by Peter Sinn Nachtrieb

January 18, 2010 Reading One Night Only

This was a standard reading with 4 characters and a 5th person reading stage directions.

Darius Pierce read  Richard
Heather Rose Walters read Pam
R David Wylie read Tom
??? read Wendy

This is a very funny piece about the universal/primal aspects of humans. They want to eat and procreate.  There are, of course, variations (heterosexual, homosexual, dominant, submissive etc,) on how each of us want to go about these things--but underlying all of our talk and nicety-nice there is still the beast within us all.  Take this theme and turn up the volume to make it all a caricature of our wildest impulses, mix in a bit of our silly cultural pretensions and fads and it is a rollicking good time.  After the reading the company asked if they should produce it next year as a full production--the gathered crowd was unanimous in the opinion that they should.  My only question is do they have the skill as comedians?  It will require some accomplishment at broad physical, over the top type of comedic presentation. If they have that talent it ought to be a great play--if they don't it could be an embarrassment. But isn't that always the case with comedy.  It is a particular type of presentation that requires particular skill.  Tune in next year to see if they attempt it.  It is hard to grade a reading--but this was good--so I'll just go with a standard grade.

mjc adds:  readings are so much fun because, if the actors get into it, you are able to supply your own imagined stage settings and actions.  This is especially true in this reading in which so much action from slaughtering a lamb to choking someone to death in the throes of dominant sex seem difficult to produce with the small budget and small stage of Vertigo.  So, if they mount the production I'll go but this was fun all by itself. 


Saturday, January 16, 2010

To Kill A Mocking Bird, Profile Theatre, January 2010

Profile Theatre, 3430 SE Belmont Street, Portland (503)242-0080
Playwright: Horton Foote
Director: Pam Sterling

A staged reading, not a full production. Profile does readings every season that are more than a typical reading and less than a full production which they call staged readings. People are often in partial costume and move about the stage-area as they interact.  They carry their scripts and read some of their lines. They generally have short prep time for the presentation--so these are not fully polished but they are professional presentations.

Scout ...... Jill Westerby
Mr Cunningham / Hect Tate ...... Stephan Henry
Atticus Finch ..... Thom Bray
Calpurnia ..... Kimberly Howard
Jem ..... Andy Lee-Hillstrom
Dill / Cecil ..... Mathew Sa
Stephanie / Maybell / Mrs Dubose ..... Christy Drogosch
Boo Radley / Bob Ewell .....David Sikking
Tom Robinson / Dr. Reynolds ..... James Oscar

To Kill A Mockingbird  is one of America's masterpieces.  It acknowledges some of the worst of us and some of the best of our aspirations. Putting yourself in its path--in any form, be that in the theater, watching the film, reading the book is a recommended exercise and one that ought to be repeated from time to time.  Given that, we have an opportunity to be exposed one more time right here, and right now, in Portland. It is being offered by that most worthy of local theaters, Profile Theater.  So yes, everyone should go see this reading.

But our support of the theater and our reverence for this piece of literature begs the question of the production's merits.  Keeping in mind they had only 10 days to prepare we can say it was well done.  But it does have notable merits and flaws.  The casting was generally good. Thom Bray is a little too old to be playing the father of a 6 year old -- and it seemed he was trying to recreate Gregory Peck 's film version of the character. He might have done well to trust his own talent and to find the Atticus in himself.  Christy Drogosch could not have done a better job as Maybell--that damaged and sad young woman.  The three adult actors who played the children pulled it off--not an easy task.  Kimberly Howard seemed too young to play Calpurnia but she held her own. James Oscar made a believable Tom Robinson -- but his being the doctor was jarring given the racial issues of the story. And Sikking and Henry made themselves believable good-old-boys. Overall GRADE B