Monday, November 7, 2011

Animals & Plants (CoHo Productions) Grade B

by Adam Rapp
Directed by Michael O'Connell

Burris  .....   Christopher David Murray
Dantly  .....   Joe Bolenbaugh
Cassandra   .....   Nikki Weaver
Buck   .....   Jon Plueard

sez says:  my-oh-my..what is this all about?  Evolution I guess. The acting is top notch--esp Murray and Bolenbaugh, who both create amazing, believable, and rather shocking characters. (Drug Mules in a motel room waiting for their connection)  They are shocking not because they are particularly evil or bad people--but because they are so 'Un-evolved".  Their level of discourse, there ideas, their relationship...everything about them reeks of a kind of animal ignorance --but it is laced with a twinklings of wondering about the world and a yearning to be connected to the world in some way.   Are these characters "real" or just in the imagination of the playwright?   I suspect the former--and we (the average theater-going-audience)  have so little contact with people like this --in real life or in the theater--that we don't know how to respond, or what to think.  Theater should expose us to new ideas--and to new cultures--and to new characters--and maybe, most of all, to our own ignorance.  So I have to say good job..and I am still thinking about these guys

mjc says: the two characters are well made by the actors and the playwright, at least in my prejudiced stereotypes of the "uninformed" who see to dominate the discourse on right wing talk radio.  And, what more could you ask for in a play but well made characters who come and go and that's that.

The Last Witch (Theater Vertigo) Reading

no cast list provided but most of the Vertigo ensemble were reading

Play by ... tk

sez says -- overly long for the subject.  And the subject is how people try and capture a little power for themselves:  the witch makes claims about powers she doesn't really have to carve out a place for herself;  people with power can abuse it,  ie the govt official who comes to town to investigate reports of a witch; sexual attraction is power (no big surprise there); anger and false accusations can result in getting power for a moment--but the result of its use can't be controlled and may result in things unwanted; the power in a mother's love can  trump all else..and so on ... anyway, it is an ok play--but not really tremendously interesting.  The topic has been done better elsewhere.

mjc says:  dragged on, unlike other readings I have enjoyed this play could benefit from actually being produced.

BecauseHeCan (Profile Theater Reading) Grade D

by Arthur Kopit
Director Jane Unger
Costa Astrakhan   .....   Paul Glazer
Joseph Elliot   .....   Shelly Lipkin
Joanne Summerhays Elliot   .....   Jami Chatalas
Orin Slake   .....   Todd Hermanson
Dennis McAlvane   .....   Dennis Kelly

Plot -- FBI interviewing publisher for activities on the computer:  publisher claims he has no idea what they are interested in;  maybe someone is planting information about his past and his activities that the FBI believes are true;  publisher's life is now in jeopardy --or is it that his secrets are actually being exposed; either way--computers will disrupt  life in a negative way for ever-more.

sez says -- the cast was fine, the direction was fine, the play is dumb. I am oh-so-tired of the theme: "computers are going to ruin our lives" -- sure the information/communication revolution is changing the world, and living through that change can be stressful--and has some negative aspects. And the negative things, things that frighten us about this new technology, has become common grist for the playwright. But this new technology also has freed us in so many ways -- made our lives more interesting --and has amazing potential.  And, I am tired of the one-sided story---that says we are all in danger from the technology.   Sure, we need to be alert to the negative side of these changes--but let's not miss out on the positive side.   I will continue to rant against plays that do not explore both sides.  Let's explore change for what it is--some good comes from it, some bad.. and not engage in hand-ringing and fear mongering.

mjc says:  I am enthralled by the wonder of the gadgets that abound; perhaps I am naive but the dangers seem to me to be the same as the chance of being the victim of a robbery or murder or plane crash--these things happen there is nothing to say they couldn't happen to me or someone I love, but that doesn't mean I am going to live my life afraid or suspicious.

Monday, October 31, 2011

The Kitchen (National Theater Live) A+

by Arnold Wesker
Directed by Bijan Sheibani

Magi,night porter....Tendayi Jembere
Max, butcher...Ian Burfield
Bertha, vegetable cook.....Tricia Kelly
Frank, second chef, poultry.....Neal Barry
Alfredo, roast....Vincenzo Nicoli
Hans, fry....Marek Oravec
Peter, boiled fish....Tom Brooke
Kevin, fried fish....Rory Keenan
Gaston, grill....Stavros Demetraki
Michael, eggs....David Benson
Nicholas, cold buffet....Craige Els
Paul, pastry chef....Samuel Roukin
Raymondo, assistant pastry chef....Gerard Monaco
Head Chef....Paul McCleary
Marango, proprietor....Bruce Myers
Anne, desserts and coffee....Siobhan McSweeney
Mangols, kitchen porter....Hambi Pappas
Dimitri, kitchen porter....Sam Swann
Head Waiter....Tim Samuels
Tramp....Colin Haigh

The Waitresses
Monique....Katie Lyons
Molly....Rebecca Humphries
Winnie....Sarah Mowat
Hettie....Rendah Heywood
Violet....Rosie Thomson
Gwen....Ruch Gibson
Daphne....Stephanie Thomas
Cynthia....Rebecca Davies
Betty....Sarah Sweeney

sez says: this is beautifully done (choreographed) so it is fun to watch -- and the topic is a perennial--because it is one that we as humans, keep asking and don't know the answer to.  That is, what is your dream?  What is freedom?  What would a fulfilled life be?  The answer is not some ephemeral, ie: that you want a car, or sex. Maybe you draw closer when you say you want a real friend, or a loyal spouse.  But when your life is so hectic--busy--driven (preparing food for 2000 people a day in The Kitchen) you don't have time to think, to dream, to contemplate life.  As one character says: "Put a man in a factory and he makes a little knob all day...eventually he becomes a little knob."

And in the end, The Owner asks:  Is there something I don't know? Is there something I need to know?  What is there more?

Also, this seems to be a metaphor for the international situation, after WW2. The play was written in the 1950s.  The people who work in the kitchen are from all over the world--and they have a variety of problems getting along, that seem to mirror national antagonisms at the time. For instance Peter is a German who was in a fight with a crowd that has encircled him the night before the play is set--there is anger that in the end he just shakes everyone's hands and walks away. There is a lot of reference to people/nations who can't accept apologies and they must be brought to order by threats and being given a 'big scare'. Peter says yes, the Germans once built triumphant arches--but that didn't work out so now they are using their skills to build bridges. 

Over the top outstanding is actor Tom Brooke, as Peter. What a fabulous performance.  The acting all round was first rate but his was inspired.
mjc says:  This was another wonderful experience at NT Live.  The production values, choreography, acting, is just so superb.

Gem Of The Ocean (Portland Playhouse) A

by August Wilson
directed by Michael Weaver

Eli   .....   Victor Mack
Aunt Ester   .....   Brenda E Phillips
Black Mary   .....   Andrea White
Rutherford Selig   .....   David Seitz
Solly Two Kings   .....   Kevyn Morrow
Citizen Barlow   .....   Vin Shambry
Caesar Wilkins   .....   Kevin Jones

sez says: I've seen this play before (in Ashland) and this is by far the better production.  It does not have the  fancy set that Ashland used, or sadly, as big an audience. But it is a better production.  It's focus is on the characters, their relationships and the situation the Black community faced (and indeed the nation as a whole faced) at the end of the 19th century. While the challenge was not fully articulated it was an ever present issue that required action.  That was, to determine "what is freedom" and how to get it -- as individuals and/or as a community? 

We have the two book ends: Solly and Caesar

Solly Two Kings had been a conductor on the Underground Railroad under slavery but when he got to Canada, he realized he could not live in freedom while others were still enslaved and he had to go back and do what he could to end slavery.  He was still working to help others--and he would not ignore the need for action to end new forms of slavery and oppression that were being instituted under different names, like debt and exploitation in the workplace.

Caesar had fought hard and suffered to establish himself in the world as it existed.  He was now wealthy and he was more than willing to accept his success alone.  He had not come up easy--and he was fine with being the instrument of the status quo (a sheriff) to keep others down.

In the middle are the remaining characters: primary among them is Aunt Ester (who appears in other Wilson plays). She is nearly 300 years old and carries the memory of those years.  She also knows about the City of Bones --the beautiful city of bones--where people speak with flaming tongues --and where there are 12 gate keepers.  (And when you leave the play you might want to ask yourself :What is the City of Bones?  One young man I talked to after the play told me he thinks that maybe we all have our own City of Bones, a place we need to visit and from which we might find what we need to direct us toward freedom.)

And there is Citizen Barlow--he wants his "soul washed" -- because he is carrying around a bucket of nails (things with which to build, or to use to crucify). His acquiring those nails led to a death that he feels guilty about.   He is the future--a man given a name that will be hard to live up to.

There is so much going on in this play that it would take all day--maybe all week--to write about. And I've already said more than I should--giving away some of the story.  In short, just go see this play, you'll be glad you did and I bet you'll feel better-off for the experience. It certainly will give you lots to think about.  In fact we found a nearly identical topic being explored in "The Kitchen" at National Theater Live...see the next review

mjc:  Portland Playhouse once again does a superb production of an August Wilson play.  This is the second production which is outstanding, better than other productions in bigger locations that we have seen.  Go see this play!

It Can't Happen Here (FUSE) Reading

large cast-names not provided / done on a Monday night in Oct 2011

Sinclair Lewis wrote the (relatively famous) book, then he participated in turning it it into a stage drama--eventually it was even made into a movie... The story of a right wing dictator getting voted into office and democracy being destroyed, followed by the rise of resistance to the new regime. The resistance fighters must make many significant sacrifices --and the play ends with the movement on going, but not yet successful.  A similar story was told by Margaret Atwood in The Handmaid's Tale.  There are probably many others. It is a story worth retelling-- there are dangers we need to remind ourselves about. 
There was a great deal of disparity in the skill demonstrated by the readers, a few were very very good, a few seemed like this might have been their first read through.  Still it required a lot of coordination becasue of the number of characters in the play. All in all it was a fine reading..not brilliant, but fine.

No Man's Land (Artist Rep) Grade B

by Harold Pinter
Allan Nunce
William Hurt
Tim True

sez says -- I keep pondering Pinter..what is he up to?  Here is a setting, a room, and four men who carry on conversations in that room.  There is a poet (some what down at the heels);  a successful man of letters (drunk most all the time); and two men who are the successful man's caretakers-one of whom might, or might not be, his son.
Some of the time the first two men are strangers who have just met.  At other times the conversation pertains to their long history. Most of the time they are both drinking heavily.   And what do they talk about?  Male things, or at least things from a male perspective: women in their life and their past competitions for women; liquor; work; loneliness; who will be in whose favor ... but they do not talk about much of anything in a liner fashion; questions are asked and not answered; one man is locked in a room alone overnight with no explanation. (Is how power operates between individuals one of the non-verbal topics?)

 And in the end..well, we "Change the Subject, Now and Forever" --and when the meaning of that is explained it is clearly horrifying.  Certainly you'd be in No Man's Land at that point.

Language matters a lot in this play--and it might be worth reading it BEFORE you see it. I wish I had. The conversations slip and slid so much that it is a little hard to get your baring sometimes.   I think I'd have gotten a lot more out of it if I'd read it first.  But taking it on with no prep provides quite a ride -- it is worth the time.  Fascinating stuff.
Te acting was all round solid--except Wm Hurt continues to mumble too much of the time. (He did this in Long Day's Journey Into Night also)  He is a great actor, the physicality he puts to a character is fabulous..but we need to hear him better so I'd suggest he work a little harder at enunciation .

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Pain and The Itch (Third Rail B-)

by Bruce Norris
directed by Slayden Scott-Yarbough

Mr Hadid  .....   John San Nicholas
Kelly   .......   Valerie Stevens
Clay   .......   Damon Kupper
Cash   .....   Duffy Epstein
Kalina   .......   Amy Beth Frankel
Carol     .......   Jacklyn Maddux

sez says:  Here is a bunch of good actors caught up in a play not worthy of their talents. I would like to see other works by this playwright but this one fell short for me in numerous places.

When you can't find anyone in a story that you can like --or identify with-- it suggests to me a problem. I'm not by any means suggesting characters have to be, or should be stellar individuals. In fact, I think characters need flaws to be realistic.  That makes us (the audience) able to forgive them (and maybe forgive ourselves in the process) for having human imperfections. But to have an entire line-up of characters who are not just flawed--but who are hard to like--makes me wonder what the playwright is trying to accomplish.

The characters are:

Mr Hadid..a third world person--he could have been from any part of the third world, a man who has come to America so his family can have a better life and whose wife has died as a result of ..... ( don't want to spoil the story entirely)  He is a watcher as our 'family' acts out its dysfunctions. He knows what America means to the world's poor. He is too kind, decent and smart to be believed. He is a straw man USED in the play to make a point..but he is not a real person.

KELLY--a woman who gets what she wants via the manipulation of political correctness. She has highly developed verbal skills which she attacks people and demonstrates little to no humanity toward anyone.

CLAY -- Kelly's husband, who is, in general, an incompetent, whose only function in life is to attempt to please others but who is holding roiling anger and frustration at bay. He is still engaged in childish anger at his mother and sibling rivalry with his brother--but even in the face of a serious health problem that his daughter has he hasn't taken her to the doctor.

CASH - Clay's brother, who has a sexy very young girlfriend and who is generally caustic to most everyone all the time. He jealous of his brother. He has probably betrayed his brother in adulthood. He stole his brother's toys when he was young.  He mistreats his young girlfriend.

KALINA: Cash's girlfriend --a super sexy East European woman who was abused by soldiers before leaving her country, who mirrors the worst of our culture's commodification of women -- who is a racist and an Anti-Semite -- who knows why third world people want to come to America--and who comes as close as anyone to being a sympathetic character--but who too easily fits into all the negative aspects of the culture she embraces.

KAYLA-- Clay and Kelly's daughter -- a little girl with no lines...who has a medical problem and is not an actual character in the play--but is more a point of reference.

CAROL mother to Clay and Cash -- a ditsy older woman--who mouth's platitudes --watches PBS and doesn't understand the material presented there, who espouses socialism and diversity but who doesn't seem to know what either of these things might actually mean. She is non-judgmental in all she says --but her actions suggest that the actual judgments she makes are insidious in their effects.

ok--so some good points are made when this crowd engages -- such as, people with wealth often feel guilty about their wealth and mouth concern for the less fortunate but given the possibility of losing that wealth they might do anything;  that giving "your children" "advantages" means that some other child ends up with less advantage.  That claiming family is what matters to you has to have content for it to be real--and if you haven't gotten over what happened to you at age ten you may have a negative experience of how  'family matters' in your current life.  But even with these issues spinning about--it was hard to care about these people

--and as the last line of the play says "How do we stop this?" --well you start to stop this by presenting more realistic characters, engaged in behaviors we can recognize, and let them point us in a helpful direction. Rather than having a bunch of miscreants trying to outdo each other is a story that aims only to criticize--and look down on the people it presents.

Meanwhile there is really good acting here--and even with my criticisms -- I would recommend people see it because it can make us talk about what the theater can do and what we want it to do.

mjc says:  there were times during the play when a particular misbehavior by one of the characters, or a misbehavior described by one of the characters resonated with my own experience of myself and others, but the story never coalesced into a gripping and realistic experience of what a family in 2008 might have experienced together, and, more vitally, how to find our way ahead together.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Cloud 9, Theatre Vertigo (Grade B-)

by Caryl Churchill
Directed by Jon Kretzu
Clive   .....   Andy Lee-Hillstrom
Betty   .....   James Sharinghousen
Joshua  .....   Joel Harmon
Edward   .....   R David Wyllie
Victoria   ..... AS HERSELF
Maud   .....   Kerry Ryan
Ellen   .....   Jane Fellows
Mrs Sanuders   .....   Melissa Whitney
Harry Bagley   .....   JR Wickman
Betty     ... Jane Fellows
Edward   .....   Anyd Lee-Hillstrom
Young Edward    .....   R David Wyllie
Victoria   .....   Melissa Whitney
Martin   .....   JR Wickman
Lin   .....   Kerry Ryan
Cathy   .....   Joel Harmon
Gerry   .....   James Sharinghousen

sez says: this is a fabulous play--adequately presented--with some real highpoints and one big problem.

First the Play's subject is poignant, playfully done and important.  That is: how is gender created. It is presented as much more complex than a 'fact of birth'  What are the prices paid (individually and as a society) for accepting the mandates of mandatory heterosexuality.  How are systems of domination intertwined: sexism, racism, patriarchy, etc.  The dialogue is wonderful. It is a play that you could read and enjoy--and it proves again that Theatre Vertigo picks some of the best material around to produce.

The production's big problem is mostly a problem of staging. They have tried to do theater-in-the too small of a space.  And if you've got the wrong seats (as we did)  you mostly sit and stare at one of the character's backs. The mirrors that are suppose to help the audience see, do not work.  Nor do they address the problem of an actor speaking lines while facing away from you: The lines can get lost.

That aside  ... the play is still well worth seeing. 

Some high points are: Andy Lee-Hillstrom's CLIVE.  He is on the mark with his character and it is fun to watch him.  Kerry Ryan also finds just the right angle to breath life into Maud.  The only really miscast character was JR Wickman as Harry Bagley.  While Wickman is a fine actor this should have been a boisterous, big-chested, deep-voiced, Man's-Man's-Jungle-Hunter-Explorer. That way his homosexuality / and interest in little boy's would make the point stronger, that is,  you never can tell who really desires whom.
And who desires whom is where all the fun / and the seriousness lies.  

But finally, the peak is reached --and the whole play is worth seeing just to hear Jane Fellows present the ending soliloquy. She brought tears to the eyes of more than one person in our party.

It is by no means a perfect production--but it is still worth seeing. It is truly enjoyable

mjc says:  This company is getting better and better.  It is not up to top notch Off-Broadway but they are fearless in their selection of material without flaunting its edginess.  This had the best of what I like in a play: the language, the twists and turns between horror, laughter, poignancy and desire.  Looking forward to more and more from them.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

God of Carnage, Artist Repertory Theatre (Grade B+)

by Yasmina Reza
Directed by Denis Arndt

Michael Novak  .....   Patrick Dizney
Veronica Novak   .....   Allison Tigard
Alan Raleigh   .....   Michael Mendelson
Annette Raleigh   .....   Trisha Miller

Plot: two couples meet to decide how best to deal with an altercation their young son's have had--one boy hitting the other with a stick and damaging his teeth, the other boy excluding the first from a 'gang' and calling him names--which precipitated the use of the stick. Their civility is frayed as the conversation goes on--sort of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf style.

sez says: This play want's to know how deep is our civilized self?  We can meet and be polite about things that are difficult -- but there is a point for each of us where the veneer is thin and once it is punctured we are capable of primitive behaviors.  The use of the wrong word can set some of us off....but agreement can be found to use another word, or to express an idea slightly differently, to bring ourselves back to civility. And we move on.  But additional little jabs transpire and the veneer can be penetrated in a variety of ways.  Thus tension ratchets-up, and even while we try and calm it down, tipping points are reached and we see even those most dedicated to civility can act out of base animal instinct.

Or as in the case of  Alan Raleigh (Michael Mendelson) one can avoid engaging the question of  how to address the uncivilized behavior of his stick wielding son.  He want's to leave that to the his wife  Meanwhile his problem  is to hide from the public the harm a drug can cause in order to protect the drug's manufacturer. So he has a bigger stick that will hurt even more people.  

Throw in a little liqueur and the behavior gets more raw and the conversation circles around what chance does improving civilization really have... are we not, at core, all beasts...or at least capable of being beasts.  Great questions, great show.

mjc says:  the writer explodes into raw expression what lies just beneath the surface of our polite conversation.  It is there, the actor's portrayal of it I thought was real, though not quite the seamless flow of the repressed thoughts becoming fierce reality.

Lips Together, Teeth Apart, Profile Theatre (Grade B+)

by Terraence McNally
directed by Jane Unger

Chloe Haddock   .....   Susannah Mars
Sam Truman   .....   Darius Pierce
John Haddock   .....   Leif Norby
Sally Truman   .....   Karen Wennstrom

PLOT: Sally (Karen Wennstrom) has just inherited her brother's beach house on Fire Island, following his death from AIDS.  She and her husband (Darius Pierce) have invited her husband's sister (Susannah Mars) and her husband (Leif Norby)  to spend the 4th of July week-end with them at the house.   

sez says-- we saw this in preview --so by the time you see it it will probably be an even better production than we saw--and what we saw (while not perfect) was very good indeed. It has a stunningly beautiful opening --which I will not describe--because words won't do it justice and you need to be there to see it.  (I think we can thank Jane Unger for the opening).
And then there is the play.  It was written in the late 1980s early 1990s when AIDS was still not well understood--and that is a backdrop that has to be recognized to really capture the fullness of this play.  But it pulls it off--even with the distance in time.  Because the play is not just about AIDS, it is about the things that frighten us: death is on that list, but so is living.  So while no one wants to swim in a pool that once belonged to a man who died of AIDS --because just like it was said of polio--you might get infected if you swim in that water. So too is there fear of having a child, bringing a life into this world and teaching the child what life is worth, when you don't find your own life comfortable.  Each character speaks lines that are their thoughts: and they all have a similar message--they are afraid to speak truth.  As Sam (Darius Pierce) says to himself at one time: I talk to myself because when a second person is in the conversation truth disappears.  And why are they afraid of the truth?  Each character has their own reasons...but they add up to wanting to embrace life but feeling unworthy, or incapable, or too lost in disappointments. So, they move forward being civil, as best they can.
It is a great play, well done, and looking like it will improve.
mjc says:  this a play which, as the author's notes suggest, comes alive as you recognize yourself in each of the flawed characters--bits and pieces of our own fears and disappointments.  Great event!

OKLAHOMA, (Portland Center Stage) C+/B-

by Richard Rogers & Oscar Hammerstein II
Original Dances by Agens de Mille
Directed by Chris Coleman

Rodney Hicks   ,,,,,   Curly
Joy Lynn Matthews-Jacobs  .....   Aunt Eller
Brianna Horne   .....   Laurey
Troy Valjean Rucker   .....   Ike Skidmore
Don Kenneth Mason   .....   Fred/Dream Curly/Ensemble
Tomothey Ware   .....   Slim/ Ensamble
Jarren Muse   .....   Will Parker
Justin Lee Miller   .....   Jud Fry
Marisha Wallace   .....   Ado ANnie Carnes
Jonathan Raviv   .....   Ali Hakim/Fight Captain
Kelcy Griffin   .....   Gertie Cummings/Ensemble/Dance Captain
Shelia Jones  .....   Ellen/Ensemble
Berwick Haynes   .....   ANdrew Carnes
Tyrone Roberson   Cord Elam/Ensamble
Gregory J Hanks   .....   Mike/Ensemble
Kemba Anika SHannon   .....   Dream Laurey/Ensamble
Sumayya Ali   .....   Virginia / Ensembel
Bianca Burgess   .....   Iilene/Ensemble
Marlene Villafane  .....   Vivian/ Ensemble

plot --we all know this story, it has been in the culture for most all of our lives. Curley loves Laurey, Laurey can't make up her mind about him, Jud is a menacing man who also want's Laurie.  Sub plot Will Parker loves Ado Annie--but Ado is a silly flirt who has her eye on Ali Hakim the Peddler.  Fun and tension--songs and dances--all turns out as it should.

sez says: the best part of this is the all Black cast..thus playing with the iconic idea that only white folks populated the west, worked hard, had community and admirable dreams, etc.  But certainly it is more than just reconfiguring the imagery of The West that is good here--there is also a band of very talented entertainers on stage.   Some more so than others: Marisha Wallace (Ado Annie) and Jarran Muse (Will Parker) were stand-outs--making real characters appear on stage--instead of being just singers/singing well. And in parts the dancing was worth the price of admission..(but not all of it)  Disappointing was the Dream Laurey dancer; and Curly, while he certainly has a great voice, seemed a little uninvolved in his part.  To be fair I am not sure you can expect much from any dancer on the Stage at PCS--it is too small to allow ensemble dancing to be powerfully engaged, as each dancer has to work in a relatively small space. So the fact that some of the dances came out so very well is testimony to the talent of the dancers in this production.  Finally, and this is just a personal preference, I am no fan of light opera. I like my American Musicals to be 'popular music'.  and this production repeatedly pushed the music toward light opera--and that spoiled some of the numbers for me...but no doubt delighted those who are light opera fans.  Overall it is a nice production, worth seeing, but it is not astoundingly fabulous.
mjc says:  I am not normally a fan of musicals but this one is iconic, and I generally can indulge in a couple of songs and I love the dancing.  But, I must admit, I am spoiled by seeing the Broadway productions, the exquisite perfection of the cream of the talent pool spoils me for even very good work.  I would love to see this all black production again on a big stage with precision dancing and down home singing.

Monday, September 26, 2011

One Man, Two Guvnors, National Theater Live Broadcast via Third Rail (Grade A)

based on The Servant of Two Masters by Carlo Goldoni
by Richard Bean
directed by Nicholas Hytner
Dolly   .....   Suzie Toase
Charlie 'The Duck' Clench  .....  Fred Ridgeway
Lloyd Boateng  .....   Trevor Laird
Pauline Clench   .....   Claire Lams
Harry Dangle   .....   Martyn Ellis
Alan Dangle   .....   Daniel Rigby
Francis Henshall   .....   James Corden
Rachel Crabbe   .....   Jemima Rooper
Stanley Stubbers   .....   Oliver Chris
Alfie   .....   Davie Benson
Ensemble: Polly Conway; Jolyon Dixon; Derek Elroy; David Hunter; Paul Lancaster; Gareth Mason; Clare Thomson
The Band ...  "The Craze" with Benjamin Brooker; Richared Coughlan; Philip Jamesl Grant Olding

Plot:  half-wit Francis needs work, he takes on two jobs as 'assistants' to two people who are at odds with each other--so he must keep his second job a secret from each of his employers.  He does keep the secret but he does both jobs poorly--confusing instructions and generally being a buffoon...but a very funny buffoon, who in the first half is consumed by his desire for FOOD. In the second half he becomes a slave to his desire for sex.

Meanwhile employer #1 is Stanley.  He has has killed Roscoe who is his fiance's (Rachel) brother. Rachel is  is now pretending to be Roscoe (employer #2) so she can collect $ from Charlie THE DUCK. She is in love with her brother's murderer Stanley but needs $ so they can run off together.  Charlie THE DUCK had promised Roscoe that he could marry his daughter and would pay Roscoe a large dowry--which Rachel --pretending to be Roscoe-- is trying to collect.  The rub is The Duck's daughter (Dolly) is in love with Lloyd (an aspiring actor) and she doe not want to marry Roscoe.

sez says: this is a very funny, laugh-out-loud piece of theater.  It is based on lots of odd identity twists and buffoonery--but it all comes together via outstanding acting..and timing..and posturing...and even audience participation.  It is probably even funnier to people in Great Britain who would understand better than us Yanks references to Public Schools, and such.  Sometime it was pretty bawdy--but it got away with the rank humor because of it perfect pitch. There are not many places where a laugh can be extracted from a line about 11 years old boys being gang raped in public school.  Interspersed between acts is a Skiffle Band (British Country & Western) that had just the right spirit.   There is plenty of social commentary, including making fun of feminism, while, interestingly not being sexist. (Funny stuff about Margaret Thatcher, etc.)
mjc says:  this was an unusual event for me--laughing out loud at the antics of these actors was pure pleasure.  It was a demonstration of the impact of really skilled actors doing what they do best.  See this if you can!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

PERSONAL, a Made In Oregon JAW Reading, 2011

by Brian Kettler
director Jessica Nikkel


Lucy   .....   Jennifer Rowe
Ronald   .....   Nick Schultz
Raef   .....   Casey McFeron
Greg   .....   Eli Blue Eagle
Alice Cain   .....   Lauren Luiz
Bixby Daniles   .....   Zach Virden
Kim   .....   Morgan Cox
Stage Directions   .....   Kelsey Tyler

plot outline: Alice Caine is a 'perfect girl' beautiful, humble, friendly to all... and  she is the star of a TV show that is about to come to an end, but wait the STAR-Alice has disappeared --all the kids in town are distraught--and many have been institutionalized because they are so depressed --and they need to be reprogrammed to forget about Alice.  Ah but there is a twist ...

sez says: this was not very good. It has no idea about what young women are like--it is even rather unkind toward young women in general --at one point it even says a beautiful girl like Alice who is nice can not really exist--she has to be 'created' --and of course she is miserable.  The readers all did a fine job --but the material was hardly worth the effort.

mjc says: childish, but without a child's perspective

ANTARKTIKOS a Made In Oregon JAW reading, 2011

by Andrea Stolowitz
Directed by Gemma Whelan

Susan    .....   Valerie Stevens
Hilary   .....   Amy Newman
Alex   .....   Isaac Lamb
Robert Falcon Scott   .....   Michael Fisher-Welsh
Stage Directions   .....   Sharon McDonald

plot: Susan thinks she is in Antarctica--but really she is in a coma following a bike accident--that followed an argument with her daughter Hillary.  Susan thinks Alex is the welcome wagon at the South Pole--when he is really an EMT worker.  Susan gets Alex to promise to watch over Hillary.  Alex takes the promise seriously and will not leave when Hillary arrives at her mother's bedside.   So various realities are set up.. .. the reality in Susan's head: she is in Antarctica talking with Scott about his trip to the pole and the reality in the hospital room.

sez says: the structure and plotting of this play are perfect. The story manages to hold the audience in suspense wondering what is real and where will this all go .. in the meanwhile some serious conversations take place..between Scott and Susan (about what is bravery and what constitutes a hero), between Alex and Susan (   ... ) and between Hilliary and Alex (about promises and loyalty) --and finally between Susan and Hillary (who needs whom in a mother daughter relationship that can so easily be taken for granted--and the whys and hows of this being such an indestructible bond).  I'd get in line to see a full production.

mjc says:  it was well written piece and especially enjoyable after having recently heard the story of Scott and Amundsen at a local Urban Tellers performance

FORKY, a Made in Oregon JAW reading 2011

by Matthew B Zrebski
director Michael O'Connell

Banks   .....   Spencer Consay
Macy   .....   Melissa Kaiser
Evan, Karl, Mr Davenport Crispy Cash   .....   Gavin Hoffman
Jewel, Room for Cream, Victoria, Tonya   .....   Brooke Fletcher
The Sperm Coroner, Combo   .....   John Steinkamp
Stage Directions   .....   Casselle La Tourette

plot: should have Banks and Evan followed the path of a gay relationship? 

sez says: all decisions are not easy to make --and sometimes you look back and wish you had done things differently .. if you get caught in this loop you might even discover that you can't figure out how to order you coffee any more.  Humm-- well if every decision you make is actually not a decision--but one path of many that are in fact transpiring in the universe (ie it is suggested that with every decision that is made a fracture takes place - ie: the decision makes a fork in the road -- and at that fork there is a fracture that sets off two realities, the reality that you are aware of, and, another reality, that is a reality that runs in the direction of the other fork not followed).  OK, so you can buy that or not-- and I know string theory and alternate realities / parallel universes are all the rage in physics these days ... but this did quite get us to the meat of that science.  But there was some fun dialogue here and the Sperm Coroner idea was fabulous. It worked well ..  but more work is needed to tighten this up and I think it needs a new name

mjc says: clever premise, probably would have been better as a full production than it was as a reading

CONTINUUM, at Made In Oregon JAW-- 20011 Reading

by Patrick Wohlmut
director Stan Foote
Peter   .....   Tim Blough
Craig   .....   Chris Harder
Guard   .....   Jennifer Rowe

story line Peter is an astronomer who blew his promising career for reasons of his own.  Craig is a math savant who also has a history that compels him to have reasons to mislead people around him.  The reasons are revealed --in flash back form -- while Peter visits Craig in a prison and tries to find out why Craig betrayed him by misappropriation of research funds. Hint hint--it is all about fathers and sons

sez says:  a work in progress with great promise.  A serious topic -- fathers and sons and agendas that at first blush seem mysterious.  One thing is it needs to be cut/consolidated by about about 20% and the number of flashback jumps need to be reduced.  Good job reading.

mjc says: a  hard romp throuhg science and the heart

You Can't Take It With You, Annoynomus Theater, (Grade C)

sez says: too bad the venue was changed--we were toward the back of the auditorium and we could not hear about 20% of the dialogue.  But the parts we could make out and the frolicking on the stage WILL get us back next year to this much cherished and anticipated annual event!  I recommend the 1930s Frank Capra film version for more fun than this particular effort offered.

mjc says--not as good as last year (Lend Me A Tenor) They just didn't reach the level that made you let go the hitches that are inevitable in such a production.

One Night With Janis Joplin, Portland Center Stage (Grade B)

created and written by Randy Johnson
Musical Director & Arrangers Len Rhodes

Janis Joplin   .....   Moriah Angeline
Blues SInger   .....  Sabrina Elayne Carten
Background vocalist   .....  Marisha Wallace

sez says:  hummm what are we to make of this--what exactly should we call it?  It is not really theater, and it is not really a concert, and it is neither great nor awful. It is a form of entertainment--but a funny kind of entertainment.   I guess I'd say it is neither Fair Nor Foul. Not fair--because it is usurious of Joplin and her name and her music while pretending to duplicate it --but it is not entirely Foul--because it is, in parts, an entertaining homage to Ms Joplin.  Joplin was a somewhat tortured woman and you'd never know that by watching this..and as good as the singers were--they are NOT Joplin.  And, a personal beef, while the imported black singers were very good--what's up with not using local talent?  We DO have some amazingly great Black women singers in PDX..why are they never hired at PCS?

mjc says:  musicians were great, the woman who did the Joplin singing hit the right spirit on a couple of songs, and the blues singer could have been more powerful in the play--and in her presentation of the music,

Monday, May 30, 2011

My Soul Grows Deep: Spoken Words In Harmony, 300 Years of African American Poetry / BASE ROOTS THEATER GROUP / Grade C+

Arranged by Bobby Bermea and Eric Hull
Directed by Bobby Bermea
Performers: Shuhe Hawkins, Anya Pearson, James J Dixon, Tyler Andrew Jones, Ambrosia Montgomery. RaChelle Schmidt. Tracey Turner, Brenda Phillips

sez says; what a great idea--and what a fabulous show...the poetry of African American men and women read with spirit and and intent to make clear the force of language as a tool of liberation.  I enjoyed every minute of it-- but I also have to admit that the presentations were mixed--some were in tune and the timing was perfect--but then, with other poems the group lost its way--and performed like an instrument out of tune.

Particularly well done were: The Negro Speaks Rivers by Langston Hughes;  Amethyst Rocks by Saul Williams; Liberator of the Spirit by Kamau Daadood.   But my all time favorite poem Langston Hughes' Let America Be America Again--fell way short,  In between it was up and down--with neither the up nor the down holding sway--but even weakness in the performances could not detract from the beauty--and importance of this poetry. So I'll be back to keep up with this troupe!

BUST, Portland Center Stage, Grade C

written and performed by Lauren Weedman
Directed by Allison Narver

sez says: having worked in prisons as a volunteer I was looking forward to seeing this one woman take on that topic...and, maybe, I am too sensitive...but I was offended by some of the cheap shots she took to get laughs.  But then she redeemed herself by mixing in some of the non-sense that you find yourself mixed-up with when you encounter 'the prison system' --where people --guilty and innocent alike-- get chewed up.
Ms Weedman is talented and energetic--and the topic is one that doesn't get much attention (that is why it can go on in the lunatic way it so often does).  So good kudos to her for telling even some of this story--and maybe the cheap shots are required to get an audience to come and laugh--otherwise they might not show up at all.

MJC SAYS: this was a bust--perhaps I am too sensitive from my prison volunteer days--but late redemptive attempts failed to counter the early use of stereotypes 

OPUS, Portland Center Stage, Grade B+

by Michael Hollinger
Directed by Brendon Fox
Elliot   .....   Chris Coleman
Alan   .....   Greg Jackson
Dorian   .....   Matthew Boston
Carl   .....   Chris Hietkko
Grace   .....   Sarah Stevens

sez says: a string quartet gives its all to making art -- provides a study of democracy functioning on a small scale -- and good people trying to live and work together with perfection as their goal --  wonderful topics  - well produced and performed

mjc: excellent production, successfully creating an illusion of actors playing great music, fun to watch

The Cherry Orchard, Artist Repertory Theater, Grade C

by Anton Chekhov adapted by Richard Kramer
directed by John Kretzu
Ruby Ranevsky  .....   Linda Alper
Simon   .....   Todd Van Voris
Leo Gayev   .....   Michael Mendelson
Varya   .....   Val Landrum
Firs   .....   Tobias Anderson
Yermolay Lopakhin   .....   Tim Blough
Trofimov   ....   Blake Lowell
Dunyasha   .....   Victoria Blake
Simon Yepidikoff   .....   Andy Lee-Hillstrom
Anya   .....   Amy Newman
Charlotta   .....   Vana O'Brien
Chekhov   Jeffrey Jason Gilpin
Woman in White   .....   Siobhan Caverly
Yasha   .....   Colton Ruscheinsky
The Boy   .....   Logan Tibbetts, Beckett Parker-Lisk

sez says--again Chekov -- what is the fascination with him that make his plays so often produced?   This is a fine rendition --noting special-- but still worth seeing, as is the case with all this so often produced playwright -- So why won't the landed aristocracy do what is required to keep their land and move into the future?  What we lose as we change is always a subject worth thinking about? 

mjc says:  attempt at clever staging fails with plastic water --better sets would make for better productions, actors in this case are all ok

Reason to Be Pretty, CoHo Theater, Grade B

by Neil Labute
Directed by Gretchen Corbett
Greg   .....   Casey McFeron
Stephanie   .....   Nikli Weaver
Kent   .....   John San Nicolas
Carli   .....   Kelly Tallent

sez says: this turned out to be so much better than I expected it to be--and that, because the acting was really first rate.  I hesitated about this play because I am not sure what I think of Neil Labute.  My sense of him is that he takes on really serious issues regarding interpersonal relationships but somehow falls short of bring the issues he raises into a full flowering of their importance.  So it is good that he raises the issues--but then the issues can  seem trivialized in the shallows of his presentations.

For instance: this play takes up the issue of the importance of  "HOW WE LOOK" -- are we thought of as pretty, or handsome, or ugly?  -- Do you think your neck is to short, or that your butt is too big -- or do you have a pretty face?   How we value--and hurt ourselves and others --based the superficial and uncontrollable aspects of physical appearance -- the unavoidable facts of our appearance -- is a huge topic...and one worth  some serious 'literature'     And here we have a case study of what happens if your lover learns that s/he does not think you are as attractive as, say, the new person working in the office.  Can you really make love with someone who does not think you are physically attractive?  You'll have to see the play to see how LaBute answers that--and you can decide f you think he is able to make important observations--or if it is just a topic on which to write some funny lines.

Meanwhile this production does all it can with the topic..and that is a lot.

MJC says:  weeks later and I still have vivid images of this --well written dialogue--actors did their jobs well

Last of the Boys, Third Rail - Grade B

by Steven Dietz
Directed by Slayden Scott Yarbough

Ben   .....   Damon Kupper
Jeeter   .....   Michael O'Connell
Slayer   .....   Laura Faye Smith
Lorraine   .....   Valerie Stevens
The Young Soldier   .....   Justin Mark

sez says:  there is a lot of 're-viewing' (ie looking again at) the Viet Nam War and its aftermath in our literature and this is a middle-of-the-road example of that genre.  In this case we learn that 'The Father' turned against the war while his son was a soldier who, even after the war is over, is still trying to hold Robert McNamara up as an example of a good American.  So this story switches the generations roles. Most Viet Nam stories have the youth against the war.  In any case, to tell this story it might be important to know more about this particular war--and why it divided generations -- indeed divided the nation / the way it did...and that seems to be lacking here.  First clue to that is in the Playbill Glossary: The Viet Cong are defined as "South Vietnamese guerrillas fighting in opposition to the Republic"   WHAT??? hum .. OK so what about the play..

First the Acting:
Valerie Stevens should get the Drammy this year for her role as Lorraine--the girl who got pregnant and married a boy-soldier who died in Viet Nam leaving her a single mother who has now grown old and ironic --and now she is not very successfully trying to keep her now grown daughter out of harms way.  What a talent Stevens is proving to be.  And the play is worth seeing just to see her performance.

Michael O'Connell, on the other hand, did not fulfill the needs of the special mix his character required, that is of a counter culture academic / Vietnam Vet / Lonely Womanizer.   These men, in real life, are both damaged and arrogant and O'Connell never got into that groove.

Smith & Kupper were fine--but Mark Justin should have been given a starched costume. No soldier at the time would be in an ill fitting, saggy uniform. Soldiers were stiff -- starched --spit-shined shoes --, jar head hair cuts -- those were the symbols of the army/ and the war, and the culture that backed the war and which  stood in opposition/contrast to the anti-war counter-culture of long haired hippies.

So again we are back to some fundamental lack of knowledge of the era and the weaknesses that permeated the play are not the plays fault..  I fear it was the Direction that didn't understand the details of how to portray these people who were caught in the grips of this most agonizing bit of our history.

MJC SAYS:  no comment

COBB, Profile Theater Reading -

By Lee Blessing
Directed by Jason Maniccia
Mr. Cobb  .....   Dick McMahon
The Peach   .....   Andy Lee-Hillstrom
Ty   .....   Todd Hermanson
Oscar Charleston  .....   Victor Mack

sez says: this is a near perfect play..the main character is represented by three characters (the kid-Cobb; the in his prime Cobb, and the old man-Cob) and by the knowledge of his worst shortcoming. Played by Victor Mack, Oscar Charleston (aka the Black Cobb)  haunts Ty Cobb--becasue his refusal to play against blacks means he would never know if he was really THE BEST.  And being THE BEST was all Ty Cobb ever wnated to be--no matter what it took. And he was willing to use any means available 'to win'--including slamming his cleats into a catchers chest--and attacking fans who heckled him, etc.  Cobb wanted to be remebered--and maybe he wanted to be loved-- but being remembered, being 'a winner' (in baseball and in finance) is what drove him--- so he was not a nice man.  But he still thought of himself as a winner-- 'the best'--but then there was Charleston--who sits in the shadow oif his memory/consciousness and will always be the block to knowing if he was really "the best."  Since he wouldn't play againt Charleston he/we can't know who 'the best' really was --and even with all of his talent--it would be hard for any one to walk away from this story saying "I like Ty Cobb'  there is nothing to like about him --but this play about him  is a fabulous study in looking at skill and ambition gone ugly.  RECOMMENDED

mjc says: revived my interest in baseball, great way to tell a person's story with multiple generations on the same stage.


Fortinbras, Profile Theater - GRADE B+

by Lee Blessing
Director Jane Unger
Hamlet   .....   Matt Volner
Osric   .....   Samuel D Dinkowitz
Horatio   .....   Jonah Weston
English Ambassador/Polonius   .....   Ted Roisum
Fortinbras   .....   Leif Norby
Capt of the Norwegian Army   .....   Alan King
Marcellus   .....   Matthew Pavik
Barnardo   .....   Bobby Ryan
Polish Maidens   .....   Chelsie Kinney, Sarah Farrell
Ophelia   .....   Greta West
Claudius   .....   Stephan Henry
Gertrude   .....   Paige Jones
Laertes   .....   Dennis Kelly

sez says:  this is a wildly funny--and  And it was well done by this troupe.  How important is  honesty? And what is the meaning of life?  If a person has any hope of being remembered can that happen when the telling of history (or current events) is up for grabs?  We all know that history is written by the victors, in real life and in this play.  But here we see how the lack of honesty about events can be (and is) used by those who seek power and who use the means of communication to manipulate people.  Only Horitio remains wed to the truth--while the 'frat boy' Fortinbras gallops about trying to have a good time...but --what's this--the dead are still with us--and what an intersting take they have on all of these goings on!  And while all the cast did good service to the story I have to give a special nod to Samuel Dinkowitz for his delicious performance.  RECOMMENDED

MJC says: very funny

Monday, April 18, 2011

A Walk In The Woods, Profile Theater, Grade A

written by Lee Blessing
Directed by Pat Patton

Andrey Bootvinnik   .....   Ted Roisum
Jone Honeyman   .....   Karen Trumbo

sez says--this was a perfect piece for a reading--there is  little staging required and the fact that the actors were holding their scripts was nearly unnoticeable. It is a well done piece that takes on the question of why the US and Russia could not stop the arms race. Both entertaining and worth thinking about --and very nicely presentd.

mjc says- Enjoyable presentation of the issue of the time. 

The Adding Machine, Theatre Vertigo, Grade A

written by Elmer Rice
directed by Jane Bement Geesman

Mr. Zero  .....  Gary Norman
Mrs Zero  .....   Jane Fellows
Daisy Diana Dorthea Devore   .....  Jenn Hunter
The Boss / Policeman   .....  Tom Mounsey
Shrdlu   .....   Joel Harmon
Mr. One / Lt Charles   .....   Mario Calcagno
Mrs. One   .....   Clara-Liis Hillier
Mr Two / Fixer   .....   Drew Danhorn
Mrs. Two / Judy O'Grady   .....   Brooke Fletcher
Mr. Three / Young Man / Joe   .....   R David Wyllie
Mrs. Two   .....   Natasha Terranova

sez says: Here is a timeless story.  Try mixing this up:  1) Technology. that keeps changing the world and at the same time undermines relationships in the workplace.  2)  People who too often don't live up to their dreams and fall into a hum-drum life, disappointing themselves and their families. 3)  Add to this some eastern religion and the idea of the transmigration of the soul  (which was all the rage in the 1920s when this was written)  4) Then juxtapose a moralistic, self defeating culture (doomed to degradation and an ever declining situation for it inhabitants) against the the dreams of an Elysian Field (where people are gay, making art and watching the flowers grow without need for purpose and who don't make judgments about each other.)

Give this material to a fabulous cast and you've cooked up one great night at the theater.  Vertigo may be the most interesting theater in Portland  -- I am shocked that they are not mobbed every night.

mjc says:  a nice piece of writing--imaginative staging.

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, Portland Playhouse, A+

written by August Wilson
Directed by Kevin Jones

Irvin   .....   Duffy Epstein
Studyvant   .....   Bruce Burkhartsmeier
Levee  .....   Victor Mack
Cutter   .....   Wendell Wright
Slow Drag   .....   Jerry Foster
Toledo   .....   Wrick Jones
Ma Rainey  .....   Julianne Johnson
Dussie Mae   .....   Andrea White
Sylvester    .....   Deion Guice
Policeman   .....   Gavin Hoffman

sez says: Do you remember the song "Blue Suede Shoes"?  You can do anything but don't you step on my blue suede shoes? How important are "those things you walk around in"?   Both as a metaphor and as a concrete symbol of style, shoes are capable of being powerful presenters of much more than protection for your feet.  You might want to think about this on your way to the Playhouse.  

This is a an amazingly perfect play--and this production is near perfect.

Set in  the 1930s, Chicago, and the world of blues music. Ma Rainey has made her way in this world and she has no illusions about how it works.  "They want my voice --they don't care about me" she says and she balks and refuses the best she can to "do it their way" And there is the band, each member as interesting as any other. An amalgam of lives lived inside the constraints of a racist society.  There is Toledo, who spends his free time reading, and who sees the larger picture and rages in frustration at the blindness of this companions. Cutter and Slow Drag find life in their music, the church and with women.  Finally there is Leeve, who wants to be heard and who is alive with creative energy.

Wilson puts his characters --and especially Levee --in a pressure cooker of a world: one that gives little opening for creative energy to find a home -- a world where talent is thwarted and exploited and violated.  This is a place where any straw might break a camels back. That these characters carry the loads they do --that they have found ways to cope in good humor--finding joy where they can and defining for themselves what is important make them all heroes of a sort.  But then there is Levee, we learn he copes better than anyone might imagine a person could cope, given his history --and still he is driven to make his music heard. That he will be robbed seems likely--and he knows that is the likelihood as well as the audience. 

And what a cast has been assembled here for this presentation! We find we have an abundance of talent that really ought to be seen more often in Portland's theaters.

MJC Says -- this is theater as it should be--brilliant play engaging and moving at the same time

Jack Goes Boating, Artists Repertory Theater (Grade B+)

written By Bob Glaudini
Directed by Alan Nause

Jack   .....   Tod Van Voris
Clyde   .....   John San Sicolas
Connie   .....   Emily Sahler
Lucy   .....  Tai Sammons

sez says:  This is a sweet work that mimics an increasingly familiar story-line. It is represented by such works as "Forrest Gump", and Kurt Vonnegut's "Galapagos", and the best selling  "All We Need to Know We Learned in Kindergarten"  etc.  It is about how those who are 'slow' --(or in the case of Vonnegut, those with slightly smaller brains) understanding, better than the rest of us, the world and what is really important. Jack wants a girlfriend and he is willing to learn new things and to take his time to develop a relationship. ie:  He will learn how to swim before he goes boating.  His more "sophisticated" friends don't have the success that will be Jack's  --they have outwitted themselves.  Ok--it is a sweet story and nicely done.  But is it true?  Does one have to be a nerd, or a simpleton  to figure out how to be a happy, moral, successful person? 

The production of this story was strong--the weakest link was Van Voris. We have seen him in roles where he has excelled.  But it seems he if being pushed into territory for which he is not well suited.  He played the part as if he were a bit bored by it. It is not so much that he was bad--he just was not as great as the others were in the production we saw .. maybe it was just a bad night for him.

mjc says: It was a nice little romantic story from a male perspective about just trying to do the right thing with another person.  Good acting by all but Jack.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Frankenstein, National Theater Live via Third Rail (Grade A)

Director: Danny Boyle
new play by Nick Dear--based on the novel by Mary Shelly
cast: Benedict Cumberbatch/Johnny Miller  ---- Frankenstein/The Creature these two actors alternate roles every other play

other cast members include: Ella Smith; John Killoran; Steven Elliot; Lizzie Winkler; Karl Johnson; Daniel Miller; Naomie Harris; George Harris; Haydon Downing; Wm Nye; Jared Richards; Danial Ings; Martain Chamberlain; Mark Armstrong; John Stahl; Andreea Padurariu; Josie Daxter

sez says: world class performance by Cumberbatch as 'The Creature' --and what we could see of the staging, it looked brilliant.  It really made you want to see the show in person. It was clear that the cameras could not fully convey the experience of being in the room. It was almost, but not quite, good enough to want to go back and see it again with Miller as The Creature, to see how he explored The Creature's character.
The telling of the story is from The Creature's perspective. And in making it such a lot of philosophical questions were posed.  Maybe a few too many.  I love drama that makes you think --but this was an unfocused case, with lots of questions asked.  What is creator? What is the relationship between creator and created (us and God)?  What is a parent and what are a parent's responsibility -- (much was made of the abandonment of a child.)  Is humanity doomed by its own actions?  What is paradise?  What is our relationship with science and knowledge? Are we moving ahead or backward -and is our only real motivation --underlying all that we do --to destroy what we have created ? -- and on and on the questions were posed.  I never thought I'd say this:  It got to be a bit too much.  Some focus would have helped--but still, it was a masterful bit of work and it is easy to recommend.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

FUTURA, Portland Center Stage, Grade C+

by Jordan Harrison
Directed by Kip Fagan
Lori Larsen  .....  The Professor
Christopher David Murray  .....  Gash
Kerry Ryan  .....  Grace
Phillip Clark  .....   Edward

sez says: future time--the virtual world of letters has replaced the written word.   the result: No books, No hand writing, No privacy.  We open with a professor lecturing her class about Fonts and the written word. She is kidnapped by people who want to stop the consolidation of all knowledge 'by any means necessary' ie: they are terrorists.  Lots of conversation takes place about the dangers and changes that accompany the technological changes we are experiencing today.   The first half of this show was great--'the professor's lecture' --the second half was less engaging because the issues and their implications were not clearly delineated....and what was suggested was not fully thought out.  So it seemed like a good idea--but needed to get sharper toward the end--not duller.  The acting was very good but the play, while not BAD--was also not GOOD either: It needs more work.  It was fine for a JAW reading (which is what it was--a work in progress) but it seems like it was choose to fill space, cheaply, in the season's offerings.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Scene (Portland Playhouse) Grade B+

by Teresa Rebeck
directed by Tamara Fisch
Clea  .....  Nikki Weaver
Charlie  .....  Leif Norgy
Lewis  .....  Ty Hewitt
Stella  ,,,,,  Laura Faye-SMith

sez says: Bravo / Brava -- wonderful acting here! 

Nikki Weaver is marvelous in any role that requires physicality.  She moves and poses and stretches and  slinks and bends and presents a fully engaged presence when she is given a part that provides her an opportunity to use 'body language'.  When, in the end, she has to stand and deliver lines her oomph is diminished--but her character is still strong enough to take us to the conclusion of the play based on her earlier development of the character.  

Leif Weaver turns himself into Charlie--the man who will criticize "the party" --seeing how vapid it is --but who really only wants to be the one people are sucking up to.  His decline is well observed

Ty Hewitt has a smaller part but he does it well and is ever so likelable

Laura Faye-Smith also portrays to a "T" the good people that make "the party" possible: competent, precise, under appreciated but paid enough to support a family and who can live in  the aura of  those who are at the center of 'The Scene' --ie the dramatic arts, TV, the Stage, acting, the media. 

The play seems to say:  accept it, this is how it is, maybe in a different academic --or moral -- universe we would seek enlightenment and art for the betterment of humanity.  But the reality is different,  There is "a party" that goes on that requires 'ass licking' and 'selling out'  -- and that most people who complain about it are just people who wish they were at the top of the heap.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, (Portland Center Stage) Grade B+

by Dale Wasserman from the Ken Kesey novel
Directed by Rose Riordan
Chief Bromden   .....  Tim Sampson
Dale Harding   .....  Stephen Caffrey
Billy Babbitt  .....   Ryan Tresser
Scanlon  .....  Ebbe Roe Smith
Cheswick  .....  Craig Bockhirn
Martini  .....  John Shuman
Ruckley  .....  Rich Cashin
Randle P McMurphy  .. PK Sosko
Patient Ensemble .....  Logan Loughmiller; Noel Plemmons; Nick Schultz; Robert M Thomas

Adie Warren  .....  Vin Shambry
Adie Williams  .....  Bobby Bermea
Dr Spivey  .....  Michael Fisher-Welsh
Nurse Ratchet  .....  Gretchen Corbett
Nurse Flynn  ..... Amy Newman
Aide Turkle  .....  Tracy S Turner

Candy Starr   .....  Sara Catherine Wheatley
Sandra  .....  Val Landrum

sez says: Rose Riordan is one of my fav directors --she always brings life and meaning to the work she does.  This story is well known --and continues to be lived..even though I have to wonder why.  It is sexist to the core.  And it could be argued that is is also racist too.  Plus do we see the mental health profession in the same light today as it was suggested here in the 1960s?-- ie: people are not sick but the world around them is and the sane thing --even the brave thing to do is to struggle against illegitimate authority.

Well, good news, Riordan pulls something more from the story--the humanity of people, even when they are struggling to figure out there place in the world..and that made the play solid and sound.  But you can't get away from the story line problems of sexism and an entirely simplistic presentation of mental health issues. Sure, people get into places of power and while claiming to be benevolent abuse their power.  And certainly there are people who think they are doing 'good' for others that are indeed malevolent --but those stories can be told in a way that actually mirror society--then they have power and meaning.  As is, this Kesey romp is a reminder of days gone by and a time of simplistic social analysis.

And, not to be forgotten here--the acting was good all round. Ryan Tresser, in particular, did a first rate job of bringing Billy Babbitt to life; Ebbe Roe Smith's Scanlon was perfectly tuned;  Amy Newman shined in her small part as Nurse Flynn.  All round the acting held up well.

Independance (Profile Theater) Grade C

Directed by Amy Gonzalez
Here is a not at all believable  story of a mother and her three grown daughters in a small Midwestern town. The daughters are suppose to be concerned for their mother’s mental health and how to live their own lives in the face of their mother's erratic behavior. The eldest daughter, a professor and a lesbian, has moved away and not been back for returns believing the middle sister has been badly hurt.  She discovers her sister was not as badly hurt as she had thought she might be and that she is pregnant. The baby sister meanwhile has had a child has been forced (by the oldest sister) to give it away, and is now apparently the town slut, waiting to finish high school and get out of town as soon as she can.  Mom mean while (Jackie Maddux) is mostly sane--but breaks things from time to time. 
Well-what is the 'drama' here?  Mom has already spent a short stint in a 'hospital' for here nutty behavior (again something orchestrated by the eldest sister.  But now, who will take care of her?  That is the drama.  Mom does not want to be left alone Number 1 & Number 3 sisters are clear they are not going to stay with her.  Number 2 sister is torn---pregnant and wanting to marry the child's father..but feeling obliged to stay with mom. She loses her boyfriend and must decide if she will leave with her older sister or 'stay forever' in service to mom.
Well they all see no answer but to walk out and 'abandon' mom. That is where this story falls entirely apart and loses all meaning.  Anyone of us with aging parents knows that making sure they are well situated is a task that, while hard and draining, can be accomplished,  If you have money there is a growing industry emerging to assist you.  So how about assisted living? Never mentioned.  How about seeking help from some of mom's peers (she has lived in this small town all of her life) she must know someone who might be recruited to keep an eye on her. How about taking Mom home with you--rather than be stuck in her home and the small oppressive town?   Ther are options --none necessarily great--but still options that  were not considered here--and that make the story pointless.
The acting was standard--but the play/story is a waste of time.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Wonderful World of Dissocia, Third Rail (Grade A)

by Anthony Neilson
Directed by Slayden Scott Yarbrough

Lisa  .....  Maureen Porter
Ensemble:  John Steinkamp,  Damon Kupper,  Stephanie Gaslin,  Valerie Stevens,  Philio Cuomo,  Isaac Lamb,  Tim True

sez says: what a grad bit of fun this is!  The first half is a presentation of mania--both joyous and frightening. The second half asks the question: is a numb life --that is being forced to 'accept reality' -- a humane solution to impose on people with psychological/mental 'disorders' The cast was wonderful in the first half: Third Rail Actors seem to excel at presenting the nutty side of thing.  And the second half was dull and boring--which was the point. Take away the mania and life turns dull. 
Maureen Porter is certainly going to be a Drammy Award candidate for her work. She was perfect is every way as Lisa.  The only person who seemed out-of-step in the production was Stephanie Gaslin.  She missed lines and just didn't seem to be able to find the groove required to play the parts she had. 

mjc says: this was quite a production, trying to portray the call of the wild that is creativity, how do you do that without losing your way?

FELA, National Theater Live, ( Grade C)

Based on the Life of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti
Conceived by Bill T Jones, Jim Lewis and Stephen Hendel
Director & Choreographer:  Bill T Jones

cast: very large...Sahr Ngaujah as Fela

sez says: I was all geared up to be lifted by this piece. I expected the music and dancing to be up-beat, exciting, full of life and powered by resistance to oppression.  What I found was some of that but not nearly as much as I expected.  The filming was off:  the camera did not follow the dance well, it didn't allow the viewer to see the entire activity on stage.  It did too many close-ups when what was needed was a view of the whole.  Filming dance takes special skill and that skill available was not top notch.  
On the other had the story is powerful --and an important one for a western audience.  We are failed by our news media when it comes to reporting on Africa and African affairs. And you could not have found a more talented performer than Sahr Ngauhah for the part of Fela.  We will actively watch for his work in the future.

mjc says: music and band was great was fun to watch--the second half was boring.  

Thief River, Profile Theatre (Grade B+)

by Lee Blessing
Directed by Pat Patton
Gil at 18 / Jody  .....  Andy Lee-Hillstrom
Ray at 18, Kit .....  Jack Morrison
Gil at 43, Harlow  .....  Jason Maniccia
Ray at 43, Reese  .....  Todd Hermanson
Gil at 73, Perry  .....  Shelly Lipkin
Ray at 73, Anson   .....  Tobias Anderson

sez says: anyone who has seen the film Brokeback Mountain already knows this story. There are story line difference: this is set in the mid-west and the men who love each other are farmers not cowboys; one of the young men knows he is gay form the get go and is an out, gay man for the whole story; there is a murder in this version; but the point of the two stories is the same.   Worthwhile subject, well performed, nice stage set too.

mjc says: great story, acting was good. I am finding I enjoy these kind of stories more than the psychological explorations. I like this kind of story telling

99 Ways to Fuck A Swan, Theatre Vertigo (Grade A)

by Kim Rosenstock
Directed by Megan Kate Ward
Dave  .....  Mario Calcagno
Fiona  .....  Brooke Fletcher
Leda/Servant/Tammy .....  Danielle Larson
Tyndarcus/ Bembo/Joey  .....  Tom Watson
Alfonso/Rudolph/Dr Hirschberg .....  JR Wickman
Michaelangelo/Terrance/Birdman  .....  Joel Harmon
Mary/Mother Nature/Amy  .....  Megan H Carver
Francesco/Clyde/Hal  .....  R David Wyllie
Lucrezia/Waitress  .....  Dainichia Noreault

sez says: this is a fabulous play well presented. The underlying theme is the diverse sexual proclivities of humans: do cats turn you on?; would making love with a swan be heaven?; should you shave your head if that is what turns on your lover? and so on  .. The one thing you shouldn't do is get locked up in an ice cave...where sex is forbidden. The entire cast seemed to be having fun and that lifted the performance out of the ordinary and made it one of the best shows we have seen in this little theater...and that is saying a lot, becasue they often do better than the average work. 

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Polar Opposites: Amundsen, Scott and the Race For the Pole. Portland Story Theater Armchair Adventurer, Grade B+

Story told by Lawrence Howard

sez says: what a wonderful evening, sit back and listen to this tale of adventure about two men (Amundsen & Scott) with contrasting temperaments who find themselves setting out to accomplish the same task: To be the first to the South Pole.  Well guess what,  Amundsen had a life in snow country to draw upon. He was Norwegian who had 'found' the northwest-passage and crossed the North American continent in what we would now call Northern Canada; He had been on various other expeditions to the North Pole and even had experience in the area of the South Pole. So when he decided to take on the challenge of being first to reach the South Pole he was well experienced and he accomplished the task without more hub bub than required.
 Scott on the other had was and Englishman who had little experience in snow--and he made BIG mistakes. He got to the pole a few days after Amundsen--and he paid for his mistakes (that stemmed from arrogance) with his life.  A fascinating tale--well told. I look forward to more!

mjc says: wonderfully enjoyable story telling. The only thing that could have improved it is an armchair.

Body Vox 2 (Grade B)

Director: Zachary Carroll
Choreography: Jamey Hampton, Ashley Roland, Eric Skinner, Eowyn Barrett
Costume Design: Ashley Roland
Jeff George, Kara Girod, Chase Hamilton, Melissa Kanavel, Josh Murry

sez says: to be honest I have not been as impressed with Body Vox as I want to be.  I WANT to like them, they are cleaver, creative and a hometown original..but it seems they too often fall short of my desire to love what they do. Indeed, I have thought that I might give up my subscription. Wait a couple years, and check back in later. So I went to this show hoping against hope that it wouldn't be another disappointment.  Maybe becasue I had reduced expectations I came out of this show happier than usual.  There are some rough-diamonds here. But before I talk about the dances I do want to say something: I am never disappointed with Body Vox costumes.  Ashley Roland is a genius. Thank you Ashley! There are times when the costumes are so inventive that they take over a performance. There were two examples of that in this show: 1) Foreign Trails--with its white skirts and 2) Tangled with it gold gossamer gown.  There were plenty of other great costumes but these two really stand out.
Probably the most emotionally moving dance of the night was The Obliged which led us down a path of magical realism and heartfelt relationships. Equally moving was the sultry Shake in which Jeff George and Melissa Kanavel hold each other and the audience captive to their explorations.  Jamey Hampton's new piece, Snap to the Grid was enjoyable and contained new arrangements of some of his classic moves, like the limp wrist twirling and body gestures with a special Hampton-signature. But why did we see The Usual Suspects and Shed again so soon after there last performances.  They are ok dances but they don't need to be in ever-other show...that goes for the Films too. The Mitch Films are fun--but no single film ought to be show more than once every 3 or 4 years.
But all in all the enjoyment know was turned up a notch. The Vox 2 dancers were in sync with the evenings demands--and I just might subscribe again.

MJC Says:  I was moved and had some visual delights, much better than our last outing with them

Monday, January 24, 2011

Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom, Theatre Vertigo Reading

by Jennifer Haley
read by Eric Lynus;

story line: kids are hooked-on /addicted  to a violent video game and begin killing people in the neighborhood--including their parents because they can't tell real life from their on-line life.

sez says: well read --interesting/contemporary subject -- but ultimately simplistic about relationships between parents and children (do children really want to kill their parents--can they be confused and manipulated into violence). An alarmist look at the changes going on in our society that accompany our on-line relationships and only seeing the negative.  Kids need to learn how to relate and communicate via an on-line world to prepare themselves for the future. Yes some games have a lot of violence --graphic and gory--but I am not convinced that exposure to that will tun them into psychopaths.  When I was youg parents were breaking little Richard recored for fear the lyric were going to turn all of us int nymphomaniacs --that didn't happen either.    

mjc says: has a great deal of potential to raise a number of issues from suburban isolation to gaming addictions.  Unlike many reading we have gone to this one could benefit from being produced.

Superior Donuts, Artist Repertory Theatre (Grade A)

by Tracy Letts
Director Allen Nause
Max Tarasov  .....  Michael Mendelson
Officer Randy Osteen  .....  Linda Alper
Officer James Bailey  .....  Victor Mack
Lady Boyle  .....  Vana O'Brien
Arthur Przybyszewski  .....  Bill Geisslinger
Franco Wicks  .....  Vin Shambry
Liuther Flynn  .....  Pierre Brulatour
Kevin Magee  .....  Paul Glazier
Kiril Ivakin  .....  Matthew D Pavik

plot summary:  a depressed ex-60's war resister from Chicago still owns the family business, a Donut Shop in Uptown, on the north side of town--a working class neighborhood. He tells his story as the play goes on--he wonders if he was a coward--as his father has said he was, as well as honestly being against the war.  His father had died--days befroe Kent State and while he was in Canada, so he had been unable to attend his funeral and had never been able to reconcile with him.  His marriage had ended in divorce and he had proved to be a bad fater, not staying in touch with his daughter.  Next door to the donut shop is a recent immigrant with a video rental store--he wants to buy the Donut Shop and expand his business. The shop is not for sale. A new employee is hired--a literate and optimistic young black man--who has dreams and plans and tries to talk our depressed ex-radical into truing the Donut Shop into a hip coffee shop, place with poetry readings and healthy food alternatives.  Then the young black man's past come back to haunt him in the form of a major gambling debt -- and each character has to react.

sez says: this story could have been told about anyone, of any class, in any time.  It is a well enough known, maybe even a humdrum story, about the power of friendship, the never ending possibility of renewal and redemption and finding hope where hope has been lost. It is not the story that makes this a great play. It is great because of the setting--the place and its people make it special.  It illuminates a world often overlooked. It  understands that world with an affection for the past and with an understanding of its power and place in our country's history.  And this production does justice to this sensitive and moving bit of drama.  It is reminiscent of August Wilson's Jitney --but in this case featuring an ethically mixed cast of characters.

mjc says:  engaging and enjoyable yet stirring up some reflections on racism and politics

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Shape of Things, Public House Theatre (Grade C-)

By Neil LaBute
Directed by Dustin Milberg
Robert Alsman  .....  Adam
Kacey Griffin  .....  Jenny
Briana Ratterman  .....  Evelyn
Schuyler Schmidt  .....   Phillip

plot w/ SPOILER ALERT:  female art student seduces frumpy boy and makes him into her 'art project' Ie she is molding human flesh.  Using her 'attractiveness' / powers of seduction / sexuality / and his desires as tools she suggests changes he might make in his appearance--which he willingly agrees to and which alter his appearance for the better (lose weight, be healthier, dress more fashionably etc) making him a more 'attractive' person.  Everyone notices the change--he is happy and she records it all in diary, film video, etc.  What she also records are changes in his moral character--which are not improvements.  IN the end she revels she has no love for him--it was all an art project--and then they discuss what is and isn't art.

sez says:  The play itself is rather interesting--it does bring up worthy subjects for discussion: how we can be influenced the surfaces of things --and how we might do better to pay attention to the content of those things; what is free will and how is it influenced by desire; to what extent is it acceptable for the making of art to ignore the moral universe, especially if its aim is to make us see the moral universe; and if we are happy without knowing the truth, would we be better off not knowing the truth if that truth will make us unhappy...and more.  The content of this play is packed with powerful questions..and to its credit it does not try to answer those questions.  It  offers material for discussion and argument: to paraphrase one of the characters, the play says: you don't have to agree with me but you need to respond.  Well done that...

But here is the rub--this version was not very well done. We are told Adam has gone through an amazing transformation--but we don't see it on stage.  This transformation is supposedly accomplished by the replacement of an oversize coat with a designer jacket and by taking off his glasses.  It doesn't work.  Adam needs to be altered in order to convey what the script says is happening--and he is not altered in any substantial way. Not in his appearance or in the content of his behavior.  There are plenty of ways this change might have been conveyed--but evidently the director did not think it necessary, making us wonder if he had any idea what this play might be about.  Overall the acting was rather lackluster: Griffin and Ratterman did their parts well--but Alsman was flat --and Schmidt did not make himself into the jerk that the script called for.  Again, we can suppose this was a problem with directing --as a problem with casting.

mjc says:  a transformation project that wasn't transformative. I am realizing that I am weary of minimalist sets and washed out directing.

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Imaginary Invalid, Portland Center Stage, (Grade B)

by Moliere --adapted by Constance Congdon
Directed by Chris Coleman
Beline   .....   Christine Calfas
Dr. Purgeio   .....   Barry Del Sherman
Angelique   .....   Hollye Gilbert
Toinette   .....   Sharonlee McLean
Argan   .....   David Margulies
Cleante/Fleurant   .....   John Wernke
DeBennefoi / Claude   .....   Danny Wolohan

plot: hypochondriac dad wants daughter to marry a doctor so he will have medical attention for free (a doctor in the family) but the man he has picked is a fool and she loves another.  Meanwhile the evil step-mother wants to secure control of the dad's money and she wants to send the daughter to a convent so no dowry will have to be paid and there by leaving more $$ for her to get her hands on. Surrounding this is the good servant (who is on the daughters side and understands exactly what is going on) and corrupt notary and bad doctors and the girl's suitors. 

sez says:  this old French farce has a few laugh out loud moments and many lesser giggles. We think that any thing that can make us laugh is good.  It certainly had the necessary elements to make it great.  The adaptation is good.  And the acting was all round fine--and had a few stand outs:  Marguiles fit his character to a tea; Christine Calfas is a joy to watch, her training in classical Indian dance shows as she floats around the stage striking poses that are full of grace and still fulfilled the need to be larger than life.  Barry del Sherman turned his minor character into a major part of the play; and Danny Wolohan was more fun than the whole troop put together as he strutted about the stage as a chicken. Maybe not for everyone--but certainly fun from some.  Grade STRONG  B GOOD

mjc says:  recent adaptation of ancient farce left farce ancient -- adaptation did not add anything to the humor--it was funny to begin with

Monday, January 17, 2011

When We Go Upon The Sea, Profile Theatre Reading (B)

By Lee Blessing
Director Kathleen Worley
Don Alder   .....   George W Bush Jr ( ex-US President)
Jami Chatalas  .....  Anna-Lisa (the professional soother/prostitute. Piet's wife)
Chris Maslen  .....  Piet (the Butler)

sez says: this is a somewhat confusing piece..Bush has been called to The Hague to face War Crimes--for which we are told he will be convicted.  But the essence of the play seems to be how dare we blame GWB for doing the hard things that are required of our leaders. We are told that there are "the leaders and the masses" and the leaders are expected to take care of the masses, at great expense to themselves. And, if we are to understand the characters of Anna-Lisa and Piet, as our guides then our desire should be to selflessly work to 'sooth' those who 'keep us safe'.  But then GWB does not seem to understand well why Piet and Anna-Lisa offer their services and in face, one than once, he is made the butt of jokes.
When Piet talks of his grandfather's role in WW2 he understands that once you engage in war, once you commit to one side, terrible things WILL happen--that anyone in a war will do terrible things and that can not be avoided. So committing to anything past his Hotel--where he feels safe--is the greatest commitment he can make. He offers his all (including his wife) to 'the leaders' who keep him and safe in this little world.
At one point GWB says if people didn't want me to do what I did why did they let me? -- Why weren't they in the street....?   Well, they why is he asking that question? 
In sum--the acting was strong--especially Chris Maslen, who in new to Portland, and we hope to see him well employed here -- but the story was less thought provoking than it was unfocused and confused.

mjc says:  some speeches reminiscent of Jean Anouilh's Antigone about the hardships of leadership but the play lacks the moral challenge provided from Antigone's daughter.  Acting was generally fine but certainly we can celebrate the discovery of a new talent in town--Chris Maslen!