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Monday, March 18, 2019

"Wolf Play" @ Artists Rep

"Wolf Play" gets off to a rough start. It begins as a metaphysical rumination on wolves, acting, theatre, and the nature of the universe. It registers as a gigantic "Huh?" This is especially unfortunate because there are some fairly important details of the plot in this rapid-fire mishmash.  However, it doesn't take long for the play to find its groove. "Wolf Play" explores the legal pitfalls of same-sex adoption, which exist even following the Supreme Court victory in gay-marriage, Much more surprising, and even less widely known, are issues involving the internet and adoption. The production is well-acted, particularly the genuinely motherly performance of Ayanna Berkshire. Despite my disappointment with its opening, I must also note that there is a harkening-back to some of the more esoteric details, which do seem to help bring the play full-circle. But, I do hope that some editing is done, as this play is world-premiere, and it is on it's way to more productions elsewhere.   

Sunday, March 3, 2019

"Tiny Beautiful Things" @ PCS

I came in completely cold to "Tiny Beautiful Things." I had not read either of Ms. Strayed's books, and only knew that the play concerned an advice column she had written.  My only thought about it was: "Oh, my mom might like this one." In other words, I was expecting a fairly light night at the theatre. Arriving on Opening Night, (sadly without my mom, who was sick, and as I predicted, quite disappointed to miss it), the woman who hands out the press-tickets gave a warning about the need for tissues. She was promptly chided for her "spoiler" by a nearby co-worker. I shrugged it off, being a seasoned-veteran of emotionally engaging theater, and even having a preference for it. The play is 90 minutes, and in the very beginning, it was approximately what I had expected. Things quickly take a serious turn, into some of the most emotionally-exhausting territory one can encounter. Consider this the warning I wish I'd had. I may not have had warning, but I did have cake at the Opening Night Reception. Cake helped. Plan to get cake. I have done you a big favor.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

"A Doll's House Part 2" @ Artists Rep

Somewhere, I had gotten the completely mistaken impression that "A Doll's House: Part 2" was merely an update of Henrik Ibsen's original, into 1950s America. I have no idea where I got that idea, but it was part of the reason I heeded the "Spoiler Alert" heading of the essay in the playbill examining the meaning of both plays. In reality, the "Spoiler Alert" only really applies to the second-half of the essay, dealing with the modern sequel. The first-half is actually quite helpful in providing much-needed background information. As I did not possess this information until immediately before beginning this review I tended to inadvertently ignore some of the finer details of the plot (which made little sense at times), and focus instead on the jarringly intense performance of Artist's Rep Ensemble Member Michael Mendelson, and the minor role, but stellar performance of the ever-engaging Vana O'Brien. If either of those two things appeal to the more seasoned readers of this blog, who know the truth of my praise of their previous work, they may well be able to enjoy the piece on the strength of the performances alone. For everyone else, I'd recommend reading the playbill at the very least, and Ibsen's original if possible.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

"Creating Life Inside" @ Sellwood Playhouse


"Creating Life Inside" is a presentation of Rogue Pack, a sister-organization to the sadly now officially defunct Well Arts, producers of "Fierce Love"  Rogue Pack uses a very similar "collage" format, and shares the mission of telling the stories of under-represented groups on stage-in their case-focusing on youth. Their current show collects the writings of juvenile inmates at Donald E. Long Detention Center.  I was amazed by the insightfulness and general quality of the pieces, especially given the chaotic home-lives one would assume most of them endured, and a few of them actually write about, which in itself is an act of exceptional bravery in which many adults would not engage. The show itself is a very brief thirty minutes, and I really wanted more. Particularly from one searingly poetic participant, who managed to find an abundance of hope in his bleak circumstances. Much of his material is syncopated a bit like rap, but slow enough to be easily understood by those not used to the rapid-fire delivery of much of the genre.

I know I count among the readers of this website at least a handful of professionals involved in the larger theatres in the area. I assume that many of them are the kind of people who seek out work on the fringes, and if I can point them here I'd be honored to do so. Perhaps, they might also have ideas about bringing the show to a wider-audience, something the production richly deserves.




Thursday, January 24, 2019

"Teenage Dick" @ Artists Rep

Oh, what a title! For months, my brother-in-law would make pederasty jokes every time he saw a postcard for "Teenage Dick." So, when two failures of transportation made me miss Opening Night, I took solace in the fact that at least my brother-in-law would shut up if I missed it.  I then read a review posted on Artist Rep's Facebook, which reminded me that the two leads had disabilities, and not just any disability--my own. Now I had to make sure I saw it. I have never been more glad to have made the effort!  I'll make the obligatory point about "representation" being important, and the further point about the all-too-rare casting of disabled actors to play disabled characters. (Especially when Bryan Cranston smells Oscar.) Yes, seeing oneself represented is every bit as gratifying as they say, and yes it is nice to see actors with disabilities on stage. Which made me wonder why this was not mentioned in the promotional materials, I doubt I would have known at all,  had that review not jogged my memory of it being mentioned in passing at the Season Announcement Party. Next time there's a show involving disability, (please let there be a next time) emphasize it more. I saw myself a lot in Richard, and not just in the obvious way, but also in the way that the cunning nerd never gets his due, either. (I've often said that evil genius is a symptom of cerebral palsy,  no one believes me.)

Please, please, see this show. It is momentous. I will do my part to spread the word among advocacy organizations and such. "We" need to flood into shows like this, so there will be more.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

"Dial 'M' for Murder @ Lakewood

"Dial 'M' for Murder" is the kind of show where even the most cursory of plot summaries would amount to a smorgasbord of spoilers. So, let's jump right into the reasons you should see it. The title tells you everything you need to know about whether it is your cup of tea. It most certainly is mine, coming in second only to Lakewood's immediately previous production of "Inherit the Wind" as my most anticipated production of the metro-area's entire Season. In fact, the splendidness of these two shows has served to make me regret my inadvertent neglect of their shows as of late. It also must be noted that shows like "Dial 'M' are solidly in Lakewood's wheelhouse, it's always nice to see them do a show that has their "mark" as it were. Even the weather felt like a perfect complement to the show, the kind of night one might bundle in a blanket and watch its famous cinematic adaptation. In short, put this at the top of your list, it's run is rather brief.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

"It's A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play" @ Artists Rep

Artists Rep's 2013 production of "X-Mas Unplugged" still holds the distinction of being the most unapologetically dark holiday offering I have ever seen. Santa is still nursing a grudge that he was beaten to death at the end of "The Reason for the Season," the first of a double-bill of virulently anti-Christmas One-Acts. That play absolutely crushed PCS' now-perennial "A Christmas Carol" send-up, "Twist Your Dickens" in terms of emphatic humbuggery.  So, it is very surprising indeed that I can crown Artist's Rep's current yuletide offering, "It's A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play" as the most unabashedly festive production I have seen this year. In fact, it is like an oasis in a desert of Theatrical Grinchiness. This is a Theatre Season which includes the similarly radio-themed "A 1940s Radio Christmas Carol", a pretty drastic departure from Broadway Rose's annual Christmas-themed revues, both in terms of a somewhat depressing plot, and precious little singing, it was the only one of their productions to fail to get me in the mood for the holidays. Even Artist Rep itself can't emerge unscathed from allegations of dampening the Holiday Spirit, with the mortality-tackling "Everybody" playing on their home-stage. (This production plays at Northwest Children's Theater.) I had a post-show chat with Artists Rep's Press Person, who sensed I was a little unnerved by "Everybody," and she worried that George Bailey's contemplation of suicide wouldn't provide the "uplift" I admitted to craving in my review. I giggled a little, because no one is going to mistake "It's a Wonderful Life" for "Whose Life is It Anyway?" This is a thoroughly pleasant adaptation of the Capra classic, and in this climate, I'd run to it if I were you.

Monday, December 3, 2018

"Everybody" at Artist's Rep

The gimmick at the heart of "Everybody" is worth attending. Each night, the roles are chosen by lottery, so the actors must memorize the entire script. I am sure this is no easy task, and I am equally confident that the show would reward repeat viewings, as I found myself imagining how a certain actor would play "Everybody" when they shared a scene with the actor who was playing him. That said, "Everybody" might not be for everybody.  It evokes intense and varied emotions, which of course, is a mark of good theatre, but you have to be in the right frame of mind. It tackles the questions at the heart of our very existence, and one could be excused for desiring lighter fare at this time of year, such as Artist's Rep's next production, "It's A Wonderful Life Radio Play." In fact, it would not surprise me if the two shows split audiences into camps. I have the privilege of seeing both, and while "Everybody" ends on a note of profound truth, and perhaps even hopefulness, I crave the promised uplift of their next show.

Monday, November 26, 2018

"A 1940s Radio Christmas Carol" @ Broadway Rose


"A 1940s Radio Christmas Carol" is remarkably different from Broadway Rose's usual Yuletide fare. On the one hand, there is more story, which I've often wished for in previous years, and there is a comedic section featuring a parody of Private Eye radio dramas, which I appreciated very much as a fan of the genre. On the other hand, there is very little singing, and most of it seems incidental to the plot. As much as my own Inner-Scrooge hates to admit it, the bulk of the show-with its wartime themes registers quite often as a bit of a downer. I must also admit that I would be far more willing to tolerate this change of tone from a company other than Broadway Rose. Their unashamedly festive revues are often a welcome counterbalance to the other offerings around town which aim for a more melancholy, or even negative tone. Last year's Broadway Rose holiday production finally struck just the right balance between book and score, and so I hope that next year's "It Happened One Christmas" is a triumphant return to form.

Monday, November 5, 2018

"Inherit the Wind" @ Lakewood Theatre

I've wanted to see "Inherit the Wind" performed live since Sophomore Year in high school, where we read it in Language Arts, taught by David Sikking, who happens to play the Rev. Jeremiah Brown in this production, which was a pleasant surprise. "Inherit the Wind" is one of the two productions I have been looking most forward to this Season, both of which are at Lakewood, the other being "Dial M for Murder," directed by Mr. Sikking. Lakewood's "Inherit the Wind" was worth the nearly twenty wait. It was particularly nice to see Allen Nause come out of retirement to play Henry Drummond, and be paired with fellow Artists Rep alum Todd Van Voris as Matthew Harrison Brady. I believe "Inherit the Wind" is the best production currently running in the metro-area.