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Wednesday, February 15, 2017

"His Eye is on the Sparrow" @ PCS

"His Eye is on the Sparrow" is a an ambitious, likely grueling endeavor for Maiesha McQueen.  It is a one-woman biography of Ethel Waters.

I will briefly compare and contrast it with "Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin" because they were both both one-person shows about musical icons. What I enjoyed most about "Irving Berlin" was being told about the tragic and triumphant life of someone most of us probably know only from his songs that became Standards, so many that it's not common knowledge that he wrote them all. Ethel Waters has some tragic moments as well, most interestingly terrible treatment despite her star-status during tour-dates in the South, but the play spends a little too much time on the incompatibility of fame and love, and McQueen singing is so rapturous that I would have preferred an extra song or two instead of the romantic subplot. Seriously, McQueen could sing the ABCs and I'd be enthralled. As further proof of her magnetism, I offer that circumstances demanded I take my father along,  a man who defines "reluctant theatre-goer, and he enjoyed himself as well. All that's left to say is that I can't wait until she graces the stage again.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

"Marjorie Prime" @ Artists Rep

Well, at least I'm not the only one. Prior to curtain at Opening Night at "Majorie Prime" I chatted as I often do with an usher. She mentioned that the play was a strange-read, and mused that perhaps the forthcoming film version would make things clearer.

The play is a mere 75 minutes, which seems far too short to explore as many plot-lines as "Marjorie Prime" does. Scene One worked fine for me, and delved into a few themes I find particularly interesting, given my disability.  Namely, the replacement of human caregivers with robots. The questions raised by such a shift are fertile territory for drama, and to my knowledge the only work of art to tackle it thus far is the obscure film "Robot & Frank," which spends much of its time as a robot-assisted heist movie. "Majorie Prime" does address some of the expected issues, such as, the patient obeying the robot in matters of nutrition more readily than a human relative, and adds a layer of complexity because the robot can be made to appear as a person of their choosing, in this case, the deceased husband of the patient. There are also engaging moments dealing with caring for a relative with whom you have unresolved conflicts.

But then, things take a turn. Suddenly the play is no longer about the aforementioned themes. Scenes Two and Three revolve around using the robots not as replacements for caregivers, but rather replacements for psychologists, as tools to work out trauma caused by deceased people. I found these scenes much less interesting, especially since all scenes up to this point have included a large portion devoted to "programming" the robot with memories, a process that reminded me of monotonously calibrating a speech-to-text program. There are seemingly important details about the "truth" of a certain situation that vary depending upon who is doing the programming and whom they are programming, but the information revealed in these sessions remains unclear to me. But, all of that pales in comparison to the final-scene, which is the most frustratingly murky scene in recent memory. I have a guess as to what happens, but no idea what it's supposed to mean.....

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

"Murder on the Nile" at Lakewood

My favorite Lakewood productions have been mysteries, and "Murder on the Nile" fits in well with what I would call by now the "Lakewood Tradition".  It is an Agatha Christie play, so it's not as brisk or funny as Lakewood's frequent mystery-farces, though it does have a sprinkling of humor. What's most important in a Christie play are the twists, and "Murder on the Nile" has an abundance of those. All of Lakewood's cast is in top-form and the set of the opulent ocean-liner is gorgeous.

Due to the winter-storm,  I was forced to attend a performance closer to the end of the run than I would have liked, but it runs through February 12th, and imagining yourself floating along with them near Egypt's warmer climate is a welcome diversion.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin @ PCS

I must confess to some initial hesitation toward "Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin." I assumed it would essentially be a one-man jukebox musical, and it is, but it also has quite a lot of unexpected drama. Berlin's first wife dies young, and later a child dies at or near Christmastime.

I also was unaware of the sheer breadth of Berin's body of work, only associating him with "White Christmas" (We learn in the show that Berlin hated one of its best known versions, Elvis Presley's.) Berlin also expresses distaste for rock 'n' roll as a whole, and that leads to one of the most interesting parts of the show, watching the world and music change around a man who has influenced so much of its culture. I had no idea he had written "God Bless America," a song so much a part of our cannon of patriotic tunes, I had always assumed it was far, far older.

Hershey Felder is both a fine performer and musician, keeping things brisk and lively in a show which is just slightly too long to run without an intermission.

Also of note is the judicious and inventive use of projections, much like the soon to be revived "Pianist of Willesden  Lane," another show featuring one performer and a piano.

Despite the Christmas-tree on the stage, and the narrative being structured as a direct-address to the audience, who are carolers Berlin has invited in, the bulk of the show is actually a welcome respite from holiday fare. Like "Beautiful" it shines a light on a songwriter who was quietly responsible for some of our best known songs. It is a show that gives Berlin his due.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

"A Very Merry PDX-mas" @ Broadway Rose

Broadway Rose continues its tradition of being the local theatre 100% unafraid to be in the Christmas Spirit. I just finished praising Artists Rep's holiday-offering precisely for its strangeness, but it is certainly far too dark to put anyone into the mood for the season. For that, you must look exclusively to Broadway Rose.

"A Very Merry PDX-mas," as the title suggests, takes aim at some uniquely Portland things, and has quite a few name-dropping moments. Still, there is all of a sudden a very long break in that theme, so when it comes sputtering back about midway through Act II it seems somewhat out of place.

But, that is a minor quibble, as is its lack of any kind of "book." It is my preference to have even a slight structure in revues. I kept thinking back to 2013's Holiday show "A Christmas Survival Guide," which seemed to be on a more solid foundation due to a little bit of "book." Both shows also share "A Walk Through Bethlehem," which "Survival Guide" wisely chose to use as the Finale. Then again, "PDX-mas" had to leave room for a very cute little kid dance-off.

All-in-all, "PDX-mas" does fill an unexpected void,  there is no other unabashed tribute to yuletide fun, and when its competition is set in the Civil War, and "Santaland" is much more acerbic than I had remembered, one can not deny that it is needed.

"A Civil War Christmas" @ Artists Rep

Playwright Paula Vogel must have some issues with Christmas. The seeming mismatch of "War," "Christmas" and "Musical" reminded me of another Vogel play, which was dark and serious, but still managed to make use of puppetry, an art-form not known for somberness. I just now recalled that the title was "A Long Christmas Ride Home."

Here, Vogel manages to make the play part history lesson, part seamless musical, and even part comedy. (The extremely versatile John San Nicholas plays both Mary Surratt and a horse.) Yes, he plays a horse, a feat that would be all the more notable had he not just played a chimpanzee in "Trevor."

Of all the holiday offerings on local-stages, I would dub this one the "must-see" of the bunch. I say this because it is the one most likely to be passed over due to its strangeness, from the title on down. See the intriguing shows, they deserve an audience they often don't receive.

Monday, November 7, 2016

"The Oregon Trail" at PCS

"The Oregon Trail" computer-game was a staple of childhood in this state. For the Nostalgia-Factor alone, "The Oregon Trail" stage-play would be worth the price of admission for students of a certain era-quite possibly exactly my era-because Jane, the protagonist, mentions being in middle school in 1997. The fact that there are also some of the most true-to-life one-liners I've heard relating to my generation is an added bonus. "You chose Media Studies...which is nothing", booms an off-stage narrator, in reference to Jane's impractical major. That one hit close-to-home, but I laughed anyway. "The Oregon Trail" game comes to represent the pitfalls in her life's journey, and this device quickly becomes the more interesting of the two plots, the other being the members of Jane's in-game wagon-train. Though they do end-up playing a pivotal role near the end, a scene or two fewer would be welcome editing.

Still, for me it was the little things that made the play enjoyable, not only the tidbits of nostalgia, or the self-deprecating jabs at my generation, but also things you'd never have thought of had you not been reminded, like that no one can remember making it to the end of the game. (Not even me, and Your Crippled Correspondent was allowed to take his gargantuan Apple IIe home with him over summer-vacation.)

If you want to vividly relive a moment in time, see "The Oregon Trail." You will be transported.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Marc Broussard @ The Aladdin Theater 10/16/16

Music is a powerful thing. This truth was on full-display on Sunday night at Marc Broussard's show at the Aladdin. I had been in horrific pain in the days leading up to the show and the days following, and I was completely pain-free for his entire set. Which clearly means I should have followed him to Seattle, (I wish.)

Broussard's newest album is a "sequel" to S.O.S.: Save Our Soul, his interpretations of Soul Classics. "S.O.S. II" has a few more well-known tracks than its predecessor, and for that reason it may have a slight edge. (Unfortunately, my copy from the Merchandise Table was cracked, so I've only heard the streaming-preview so far.)

The set-list was more varied than in previous shows, I could be wrong, but I don't think "Paradis" has appeared on a studio-album yet, only on "Live From Full Sail University", but I think that he could do a lot with it, it deserves to be a better-known track.

It was a fantastic night, Broussard always puts on an unforgettable show, overflowing with energy.

Friday, October 14, 2016

"The Nether" @ Third Rail Rep

I first encountered the work of Jennifer Haley in "Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom" Like that show, this production is set in the world of virtual-reality. "The Nether" is a place so real that most of society's functions take place within it, such as primary and higher-education. It is a place where some "citizens" elect to stay permanently within it. There is also an unspecified disaster which has decimated much of the real-world, at least in terms of vegetation.

The story centers around the interrogation of Mr. Sims, the proprietor of a "realm" known as "The Hideaway" where "guests" can engage in behavior certainly unacceptable in the real world. In Michael O'Connell's hands, he is a cold rationalist, which makes him all the more unsettling. Most disturbing of all, however is Agatha Olson as Iris, the "child" victim.

The set also deserves special mention, while it is spare, the "static-curtain" is a brilliant device to divide the real and virtual.

Due to a whirlwind of openings, I got to "The Nether" a little late, and it only runs through Oct. 22, but I hope you will see it, because it is the most provocative show of the early Season.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Crybaby Live! Stageworksink @Clinton Street Theater

"Crybaby Live!" is the latest from Stageworks Ink, the company behind some of the weirdest productions in Portland, such as "Flash-Ahhh-ahhh" and "Dex Dixon: Paranormal Dick." "Crybaby" provides slightly fewer opportunities for the trademark weirdness, but that's only because the source material,  John Waters' film, already has a strange vision of its own. Still, a show that manages to feature a naked man in a clear plastic bubble-belt is a unique show indeed. Another stand-out "only in a Stageworks show" moment is when founder/actor Steve Coker sings as Milton in a hilariously long falsetto number. Oh, and one cannot forget to mention the singing ventriloquist dummy...

Fans of the film, fans of Stageworks, and fans of the truly bizarre will find "Cry-Baby Live" thoroughly enjoyable. Hurry, because it only runs this Friday, Saturday and Sunday.