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Sunday, October 15, 2017

Marc Broussard @ Revolution Hall 10/13/17

Marc Broussard has mellowed just a bit. At first blush this would seem like a slightly unwelcome shift. In previous reviews, I've compared his performances to pyrotechnics. This most recent show, however, had a significant amount of down-tempo numbers. Selections I would later learn were from his brand-new album, "Easy to Love," a collection I would say represents Broussard most "balanced" work.

It fits in well with Broussard's previous two "SOS" Soul albums, but there are a few tracks that recall the most explosive of "Carencro", hence the "balance." It is a truly remarkable work.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

"Caught" @ Artists Rep

Huh. How does one write a review about a show in which nearly everything is designed to be a secret? There's always the cringe-inducing "Spoiler Alert," but everyone hates that--no one more so than a writer forced to use it.

In certain ways, this restriction on detail is a blessing. It prevents me from enumerating some of the discordant notes "Caught" strikes in service of twists-upon-twists.

So, all-in-all, I think it best to close with a few physical  details about the staging. Artist's Rep has changed the configuration of the theatre, and that is neat to see. This show also includes an art-installation component, a lot of which is interactive, and that too is a cool little flourish. I really do think that's all I should say....

Friday, October 6, 2017

"You in Midair" @ New Expressive Works

I like to believe that I have a preference for darker fare, but given the current influx of so many dark works, I am beginning to question whether or not that is actually my true preference. PCS's "Every Brilliant Thing" tackled depression and suicide, Third Rail's forthcoming "The Events" will take on a shooting at a choir practice, and "You in Midair" examines the murder of Rebecca Schaeffer, told as only a mother could.

Ms. Danna Schaeffer's brisk one-woman show is almost surely to be the most devastating piece of theatre this year. That said, somehow there's room for completely unexpected humor, mostly dealing with the unrealistic expectations of outsiders about how grief should be processed.

The show's greatest asset is its honesty, it's unashamed willingness to tell the truth. Ms. Schaeffer has no time for weak platitudes. She's the kind of person who finds solace in a book of quotes about death, because they are real, and not designed to bring comfort to someone who can't be comforted, and knows it.

Wounds heal, because unhealed wounds lead to death. But, we are seldom reminded that a synonym for "healed wound" is "scar," and scars are with us every day. Our inclination is to cover them, because they are not pretty. But, real bravery lies in letting them show, because they are the reason you're allowed to go on. They represent imperfect repair of that which is irreparable. They are an honor to see.

Monday, October 2, 2017

"Trails" @ Broadway Rose

"Trails" has all the expected hallmarks of a  Broadway Rose production: A  surprisingly expansive set, given the intimacy of the theatre, a top-notch cast, and a solid band. What was unexpected was the subject-matter, which was a shade or two darker than their typical fare. It is a welcome change. That said, my only real quibble with "Trails" lies in the script's tendency to "tease" the tragedy at its center just a bit too much. Hinting at it and then trailing-off begins to grate after a while.

The "trail" of the title is the Appalachian Trail. Two childhood friends walk it on a journey of self-discovery. They confront aging, ("Thirty-four is halfway to sixty-eight") and old rivalries and resentments, culminating a little late in the aforementioned tragedy.

All in all, I would recommend "Trails," but again, be warned, and/or excited by its unusualness.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

"Every Brilliant Thing" @ PCS

I  must confess to many misgivings about "Every Brilliant Thing," from the fact that it revolves around a list first begun by a young child, to that it has a very heavy audience-participation component.

Some of the audience-participation is fairly inconsequential, such as being called upon to recite a numbered list-item aloud. But, other roles filled by audience-members are pivotal, like that of a school guidance-counselor who I would've bet my last dollar was a plant. According to director Rose Riordan, this role is cast by finding a woman wearing easily-accessible socks, (I won't ruin the reason why.) She may have been selected for her socks, but the vintage glasses she wore were undoubtedly a plus. If indeed her lines were completely unscripted, they happened upon a champion ad-libber. (My list item was one sentence long, and part of my mind was racing with thoughts of ruining the flow of the show had I dropped it, or something similar.) I can only imagine what she was feeling.

It seems almost embarrassingly obvious to note that the success of a one-man show rests on the shoulders of that actor, but it must be said that Isaac Lamb effortlessly exudes effervescence. (Ah, alliteration.) The list of Every Brilliant Thing was written as a child's ode to optimism to counteract his mother's severe depression, and we must see that optimism shine ever-so-slightly in Lamb at all times, even as he begins to despise The List himself. Because he succeeds at this, we are "with" him the whole way.

 That said, in my discussion with Ms. Riordan she invited me to come back, and I may, but probably for closing-night, because the number of emotions you are made to experience in a brisk 70 minutes make for a rough ride. But, it certainly is a Brilliant Thing.

Monday, September 25, 2017

"Fun Home" @ PCS

I'm aware that this may sound stupid,  given the far headier themes in "Fun Home." But, my favorite moment by a mile was the fake commercial the children recorded, a rousing ode to the family business, a funeral home, nicknamed the "Fun Home." We've all done something like it, when goofing around as children, this number is what such a thing would look like if we were aided by a professional choreographer and props. It is both true-to-life and fantastical. I found ,myself liking thee lighter moments the best, which is contrary to my usual preference, but all of "Fun Home" -the dark and the light is performed expertly,  especially my the youngest members of the cast.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Trent Beaver @ The Double Aught Ranch in Canby

“Fight For Heaven,” the second track on Trent Beaver’s debut album, “Ghost”, is a twist on the old myth of the musician who sells his soul to The Devil for fame and fortune. Beaver’s angle is that his bargain is not for wealth and stardom, but rather to be able to do what he loves while fulfilling the obligations of marriage and fatherhood. He revisits fatherhood on the seventh track, “Blooming,”  about his 17 month-old daughter, Lennon, who came along for our interview dressed in a Rolling Stones shirt. She is clearly a musician’s child. He was as well, his father was a country singer in Nashville. When his parents split-up, he moved with his mother to Molalla, where he began to pursue music in his teens. He says his father turned down opportunities to go further in the business due to fear. He is determined not to repeat his father’s mistakes, namely, giving-up. So much so that his newest of many tattoos is the phrase, “Hold-fast,” written across his knuckles.

Beaver may well be on his way, “Ghost” was recorded at Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, with Will McFarland, of Neil Young’s band, on Lead-Guitar, who is showcased best on the first track, “Lost In Space”, which features a wonderfully strange mix of synthesizer and guitar, instantly suggesting the ethereal setting, before a single lyric is sung, which speaks to the wisdom of Beaver’s preference to compose melody first. While the genre that leaps to mind to describe Beaver’s music is Country, Rock, and even Soul would also fit on certain tracks. Perhaps it is this willingness to mix genres fluidly that makes him particularly appreciative of the jam-session dynamic. He says that the experience of traveling to record the album made him keenly aware of the way musicians freely collaborate and jam with each other in other parts of the country, something that he believes needs to happen more frequently here at home. To that end, he spearheads a jam session every Monday night at the Double Aught Ranch in Canby.

He also tours local venues in the Canby/Oregon City area with his band The Damned. If you’re looking to see one of Oregon’s most seamlessly versatile musicians, seek out Trent Beaver.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

"An Octoroon" @ Artist's Rep

There is line in "An Octoroon," which initially passed unnoticed. The actor playing the playwright, (of the current show, not the character listed as "Playwright" within it), laments white actors' reluctance to play slaves. What he does not mention is that those white actors are to play their roles in Blackface. "Uh...." was my reaction when the first white actor ambled on-stage. This reaction would repeat in my head many times throughout "An Octoroon." "Did he really just say that?" was a close-second. Your discomfort is most certainly planned, and I believe audience discomfort is a valuable thing to elicit in the theatre.  That said, it is a feeling that will not leave you until lights-down. If you're up for that, this is your show. If not, run! It's that simple. Artist's Rep's current Season is loaded with what seems like "Pull-no-Punches Theatre", and I, for one, am licking my lips. Unfortunately, this also means that going into detail in my reviews might be more difficult than usual. A small price to pay.

Monday, August 14, 2017

"Lungs" @ Third Rail Rep.

"Lungs" reminded me a little of "Constellations" at PCS last Season, in terms of speed at which the narrative moves through wide-swaths of time. "Lungs",  is the slightly better of the two shows, precisely because of its ultimately narrower scope. Despite sharing the time-shifting element, "Constellations" tried to tackle enormous questions of time and space, while still squeezed tightly around the relationship of the couple at its center. "Lungs" on the other hand,  is given greater heft by barreling through courtship, tragedy, betrayal, childbirth, parenting, and death, in 90 minutes. All without feeling overstuffed, and strangely, is both panoramic and focused at the same time. It is one of the most intimate shows I have seen, sometimes uncomfortably so. It should not be missed.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

"Gypsy" at Broadway Rose

At times like these, I feel the need to confess that I came to love theatre somewhat late in my life, (the beginning of college.) I did not "grow-up" on it. Therefore, some of the classics still hold surprises for me. For example, "Rose's Turn" is probably the song everyone waits for, and wonders of a given actress: "can she pull it off?" In the case of Sharon Maroney, the answer is an emphatic yes. It is a moment so striking that all which came before it is momentarily reduced to a blur, and yet it also serves to explain everything. It's the strangest feeling, one I have experienced very few times. She owns the thing. Sometimes being uninitiated has its advantages.  I often have trouble choosing a production-photo, not this time: