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.