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!