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Tuesday, October 27, 2015

"The Realistic Joneses" @ Third Rail Rep

Will Eno is strange. He looks at things in a slightly askew way. The last two plays I saw of his, this one, "The Realistic Joneses" and "Middletown" both at Third Rail, have been among the most unusual I've ever encountered. But, i wish I could remember more about the first Eno play I saw, "The Flu Season" at Theatre Vertigo many years ago, and if memory serves, also starring Darius Pierce, as all three have. I don't remember that one being quite so "out there." As it was with "Middletown," the best part of "The Realistic Joneses" is the dialogue. It's silly yet serious, and deeply affecting. Darius Pierce is the kind of actor I'd pay to see read the phonebook, so to hear him tackle such funny and yet mundane, yet lyrical dialogue is worth a recommendation all on its own.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

"Carrie: The Musical" @ Stumptown Stages

Most who see "Carrie: The Musical" will be looking for a Halloween treat, and they'll find it. The novel and film are widely known, but the musical is not, because its original production in 1988 is among Broadway's biggest flops. That dubious distinction is unlikely to haunt this production because the goings-on of Broadway have little appeal outside of New York City. In fact, the only reason I'm aware of its history is due to my obsession with another Broadway flop, Paul Simon's "The Capeman" Both shows have had smaller-scale shots at redemption, "The Capeman" at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, (which I saw!) and Central Park, and "Carrie" at the Off-Broadway Lortel, and in Seattle, which I believe was meant to be the start of a touring show that never materialized.

When I saw that Stumptown Stages was mounting the reworked and stripped-down Lortel version, I knew I had to see it. I found it to be an intriguing and, above all, brave choice.

The stripping-down has advantages and disadvantages--One advantage is the absence of the infamous "Out for Blood" which contains the lyric, "It's a simple little gig/You help me kill a pig." A disadvantage would be the choice to do the actual spilling of that blood with red-lighting, the scene in the film version is iconic. The biggest advantage of the new version is the sharpened focus on the relationship of Carrie and her mother. In these moments, the characters shine. The mother is played by the exquisitely-voiced Susan Jonsson, (who also gets huge bonus-points for being a founding board member of Well Arts, producers of "Fierce Love".) Carrie is played by Malia Davis, as an abused innocent with piercing eyes.

I am quite glad to have been added to Stumptown's Press List, their choices are certainly off the beaten path, including "The Adventures of Dex Dixon: Paranormal Dick". This is especially refreshing and gratifying when one considers that the city's bigger venues seem to view risk as taboo this Season.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

"Sex with Strangers" @ PCS

"Sex with Strangers" certainly does not live up to its provocative title. Director Brandon Woolley says in his Note that the title is what made the play stand out from the pile. I got the feeling again and again as the play wore on that the title gave the play a ton of unearned mileage.

I didn't hate "Sex with Strangers," it's just that it is persistently, insistently underwhelming. You see, I made special arrangements to avoid taking my mother, expecting to see and hear things I would feel uncomfortable having experienced with her in the next seat. While there was some-I guess you could say-- frank discussion, most of the prior- to-the-act scenes would have probably passed the Hays Office. This should not be construed as a plea for nudity, PCS' own production of "Venus in Fur" had no nudity and at times veered toward pornography. It even shared literary themes with "Sex with Strangers," and handled those in a far more interesting way as well. There was a moment when I thought I caught a whiff of cruel romantic betrayal ala the Poor Man's David Mamet, Neil LaBute, who has made a career of writing the same play several times, and despite this fact, they still manage to be entertaining. It is very sad indeed when you find yourself pining for a derivative twist pioneered by a man who has a reputation for being derivative himself and frequently of himself.  Every play I thought about when reflecting upon "Sex with Strangers" is better than "Sex with Strangers." None more so than PCS' "Threesome,"" a play with an equally salacious title, which delivered on its promises. Its final scene, in which a character screams desperately for her clothes, is ringing in my head at this very moment. My thoughts about "Sex with Strangers" on the other hand, will end with this sentence.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

"Cuba Libre"

"Cuba Libre"is almost certainly Artist Rep's most ambitious production. It boasts impressive choreography, and of course a vibrant score. It is so nice to see a company like Artist's Rep. have the opportunity to flex it's muscles in a larger space--The Winningstad Theatre inside the Portland Center for the Performing Arts.

As they did with "Tribes" Artist Rep. makes elegant use of subtitles, but again, as with "Tribes" sometimes they were obscured or disappeared too quickly.

There are tragic moments in the show, but everything is made brighter with Tiempo Libre's buoyant score, which concludes with an audience participation dance-off. The show has Broadway buzz, so see it while you can.