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.