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Sunday, September 9, 2018

"Skeleton Crew" @ Artists Rep

There are sequences of movement in "Skeleton Crew" that are used as scene-breaks that are so synchronized, I suspected they were projections, until the dancers took their bows at the curtain-call.  It was at this moment I realized that the synchronicity displayed in those scene-breaks was a sort of microcosm of what I enjoyed most about the play. Not to mention that synchronicity itself is a theme of the play. This is of course intentional, at least insofar as the scene-breaks illustrate the precision workers on an assembly-line must possess, and the play is in large part about how little respect such work receives, and even the dialogue has moments of natural-poetry that takes some rhythmic skill to deliver effectively. (A feat accomplished especially well by actress Shelley B. Shelley, as Faye.) Yet, as apt as the "synchronized" description is, it should not conjure the connotation of being as generic as the products of an assembly-line. Indeed,  the greatest asset of "Skeleton Crew" is its ability to draw truly human characters. It is a timely, perhaps even vital play, and a truly impressive beginning to Artists Rep's new Season.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

"Guys & Dolls" @ Broadway Rose

Well, one advantage of not being raised on Musical Theatre is that even the classics are new to you. I only know of "Guys and Dolls" from pop-culture parodies. As such, I expected it to be a little dated, especially in its humor. It wasn't. Apparently, Relationship Humor is timeless.

This particular production's most impressive element is the sheer size of the cast. It makes for some real "showstoppers." It really is a complex undertaking. I almost missed this show, and I am so glad I didn't, you shouldn't, either.


Friday, July 6, 2018

"Mama Mia" @ Broadway Rose

I must confess that I did not expect to love "Mama Mia." I was born well past ABBA's heyday, and know virtually none of their songs, with the exception of "Dancing Queen." No one was more surprised than me when I quickly found myself enjoying it immensely. There are a few reasons for this: One is that it just seems to fit the mood of a musical running in the summer, a show that matched the bright Sunday I attended. Another is the once again surprising "scope" achieved by Broadway Rose. I mean, they list "pit singers" in the playbill, this suggests a larger size than we can even see. I seem to say a version of this in virtually every review of a Broadway Rose show, but hats-off to Broadway Rose for "going-big." That said, my favorite moment was the solo "Winner Takes it All" which deserved a mid-show ovation for the sheer power required. I believe this press-photo is from that song, and that is the moment I wish to spotlight, because it might be overlooked in all the fun of the rest of the show, and that would be a shame.

Monday, June 4, 2018

"Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill" @ PCS

Deidrie Henry is truly mesmerizing in "Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill" She somehow manages to embody Billie Holliday with out falling into imitation. She masters the conversational cadence of the show, which feels like it would be exceptionally difficult, and yet she makes it look effortless . The band is also exceptional. Even the placement of the stage is cool. It really feels like a club setting, as if we were indeed in the presence of a legend. I enjoyed every minute of its all-to-brief running time.

Monday, May 28, 2018

"I and You" @ Artist's Rep

"I and You" is a play about the pronouns of its title, specifically their use in the poem "Song of Myself" by Walt Whitman. At first glance, this would hardly seem enough upon which to hang a play. But, "I and You" left more than a few members of the Opening Night audience in tears. A pocket-pack of Kleenex might not be a bad idea.)

The basic  plot is the interactions of two students, one a brilliant, but nearly bedridden girl, the other a jock, who at first appears to be in desperate need of her tutelage, and their presentation about those all-important pronouns. Wrapped within it, is  a twist that would be criminal to spoil. Instead, I will reiterate my warning about tears, and express my admiration once more for its unexpected emotional resonance.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

"Tourette's Hero"

"Tourette's Hero: Stand-up, Sit Down, Roll-over" is a bizarre show. I don't think Tourette's Hero would object to such a description. Especially because a lot of it is MEANT to be bizarre. (Audience members are encouraged to come up and read corny cat-jokes at random intervals, for instance. ) And stand-up has been a place for bizarre things--Andy Kaufmann comes to mind. But, the word that best describes "Tourette's Hero" is not "bizarre," but rather "embrace." The entire evening is about embracing everything, and accommodating the unusual. This is the reason it is not merely "interesting" or "off-beat," but at times revolutionary, both in terms of the typical boundaries forced upon performance, (and oftentimes, by extension, who  gets to enjoy them,) as well as revolutionary in terms of the discussions sparked. It has been a long while since I stayed for a "talkback," but "Tourette's Hero's" examination of Disability Rights in different countries is a must-hear. It is also interesting to hear from the ASL interpreters about how they take on such an unpredictable task. Sometimes I found myself watching them in awe. If you've ever longed for a one-of a-kind show, this is it.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Major Barbara @ PCS

Sometimes it is unavoidable that the viewer puts his own feelings into a work of art. There are moments in "Major Barbara" which, to me, suggest clear satire of unfettered capitalism. Chief among them is the final scene, in which arms-dealer Andrew Undershaft mounts a rousing defense of his business, and capitalism itself, all the way down to caring not at all about which side he is arming in a given conflict. Previous mottoes of the munitions-factory are projected on a screen throughout the show, culminating in the least nuanced of all, simply "unashamed," which I took as Shaw's backhanded assertion that we should indeed be ashamed. This interpretation was bolstered by overhearing someone in my row hiss "Satan!" at the end of Undershaft's speech. But, spurred-on by actor Brian Weaver's interpretation that the play is a "shameless defense of capitalism" I unearthed that Shaw had written a preface to the published edition in which he comes out against the idea of rejecting money for a good cause due to the morally impure source of that money. This surprised me, due to other scenes in the show that suggest Shaw believed the opposite.  Barbara's about-face on many issues also seems rather abrupt, if they are not meant to show the seduction of a pure-heart by  temptations of wealth, and questionable pragmatism. Departing director Chris Coleman notes that Shaw was a leading Progressive of his time, which undercuts the idea of trumpeting the virtues of capitalism.  On the whole, the play is a debate, and all good debates must be fair to all sides. "Major Barbara" is fair above all else, this makes for a good show.

"Luna Gale" @ Coho

Let's get right to the point: "Luna Gale" is the most compelling play currently running on a Portland stage. I should stop there, and urge you to use the saved time to go buy a ticket to its all-too-brief run. But I feel the need to add that I have yet to see an imperfect play by Rebecca Gilman, and I'm quite sure that is at least partially due to the fact that all three I have seen have been so meticulously staged at CoHo.

All I feel comfortable divulging of the plot is that it concerns a custody battle for an infant. Instead I shall use the reminder of this space to full-throatedly gush. It is the kind of play that is presented with such impressive precision that you notice the little things and how well they mesh with the larger things, like the incidental music. The best endorsement I can give it is that the play has stayed in my brain from lights-down, and seems to have no plans of leaving any time soon.

I will close with an impassioned plea that CoHo stage "The Glory of Living" and continue their Gilman streak. Now, go buy a ticket!

Monday, April 16, 2018

"Always Patsy Cline" @ Broadway Rose

"Always Patsy Cline" appears from the playbill to be a frequently revived Broadway Rose production, and I now can see why. It's a two character play, and yet seems to be bursting with tunes that would tax a cast of many more. Not only is it frequently revived, it is revived with the same cast, which certainly increase its specialness to Broadway Rose itself, especially considering that one of the two characters is played by Artistic Director Sharon Maroney, (I have eagerly awaited her return to the stage after her truly memorable role in "Gypsy.")

The show, unlike others of its type, actually has a decent amount of "book" providing details of the characters' relationship, and leading to a few very impressive duets. It is a show for fans of Patsy Cline, and more than usual, a show that seems to be particularly attached to its venue. This makes it a must-see.....

Monday, April 9, 2018

"The Thanksgiving Play" @ Artist's Rep

"The Thanksgiving Play" is a brisk, hilarious 90 minutes. But, its briskness and humor does not mean it's light. The humor is disarming, because the themes at the center are quite heavy.  I was particularly impressed by the way the script handled the "moral," which I will not spoil here. Suffice it to say that in lesser hands would feel rather hollow. This is a show for everyone, but I think that Portland audiences will be especially receptive to its skewering of New Aginess,  because we are sort of a mecca for such things. That its targets are varied is yet another plus, from Hollywood, to Revisionist History, to the theatre itself.  It's ease of flow and general balance are remarkable. I truly enjoyed myself, and you will too.