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