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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.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

"American Hero" @ Artists's Rep

Artists's Rep shows so far this Season were two of the strangest I can remember. First was "Trevor" about an amiable wash-up showbiz chimp, a character so engaging that one easily forgets the dark, real-life inspirations hinted at in the playbill until it's too late to brace for the tragedy in the play itself.

"American Hero" is similar--in that it too is a play that has roots in real-life tragedy, in this case the suicide of a Quizno's franchisee. The play has many moments of sardonic humor, and reminded me a lot of Mike Judge films like "Office Space," a slice-of-life tale of the various indignities of being in a job you hate.  My favorite of these moments is the frequent scene-ending device of Sheri, (the two job-holding, car-sleeping youngest employee) as she dons her sombrero for the evening shift at the taco place in the same mall as the sandwich shop, her exhausted expression is priceless.

There's also the over-eager Ted, trying desperately to compensate for his drastic change in circumstance, and Jaime, the hanging by a thread single-mother. The laughs come freely, and yet there is a deft balance between them and the depressing reality of the story. It ends on a note just hopeful enough, and perhaps that the best we can expect from both the play and the situation we find ourselves in as a country.

Monday, October 10, 2016

"We Hold These Truths" @ Portland Center Stage

One of the thnigs I love most about art-and perhaps theatre in particular-is its ability to distill otherwise complex subjects into personal stories. Our textbooks tell us of the overall subject of Japanese Internment, but I had never heard of Gordon Hirabayashi, the college student who took his case against internment all the way to the Supreme Court. The best moments of "Hold These Truths" involve the reactions at various levels of government to Hirabayashi's defiance. The degree of unpreparedness is a brilliant example of both the injustice and ineffectiveness of internment itself.

Another bit of history brought to light and life by "Hold These Truths" is the discrimination and segregation faced by Japanese Americans during the run-up to American entry into World War II, especially here on the West Coast. Usually such things are thought of as a Southern shame.

"We Hold These Truths" is a brisk and energetic show, Hirabayashi is an ever-engaging charismatic character. This makes it all the worse when we see our country not live up to its ideals.

The play is eye-opening, and educational, (though that word is so dry I hesitate to use it, because "Hold These Truths never feels like a history-lesson.) See Hirabayashi's story, and get more of the "whole story" than you knew.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Crippled Critic Concert Preview: Marc Broussard @ The Aladdin Theater 10/16/16

I've sung the praises of Marc Broussard in this website before, and it is my privilege to do so again, to mark both his upcoming appearance at the Aladdin on Oct. 16, and the recent release of "SOS II: Save Our Soul: Soul on a Mission" Like its predecessor, "SOS II" is Broussard's interpretations of Soul Classics. The album is truly fantastic, as the show surely will be. His "Bayou Soul" is something to behold, at once explosive and slowly intense. I first discovered Broussard on something like Pandora, and so my fandom came about by chance. It is for this reason that I would strongly encourage you to take a chance and see him as well. I predict each one who does will be an instant fan. I speak from experience, since that day I have not missed a Portland show.

Marc Broussard @ The Aladdin

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Fly By Night Broadway Rose

"Fly By Night" earns the often over-used adjective "innovative." It has a time-bending romantic premise that for the most part works quite well. But, there are moments when it doesn't, and in those moments there is brief disorientation that requires re-adjustment and catching up. There is also the issue of general over-length, which changes the reaction to the unexpected ending into an "ooooh...." when the writers were likely aiming for something a little more visceral.

Still, "Fly By Night has a bright and varied score, and more importantly, the show itself represents yet another leap for Broadway Rose, the show is untraditional, a departure from the theatre's usual fair, though not far enough to be ill-fitting. Just enough to be different. The best way to articulate this is to let my inner-local theatre geek take the reins for a moment. This is show is what happens when Third Rail's sensibility (through director Issac Lamb) comes to visit Broadway Rose. It's something to see.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

"Masters of the Musical Universe: Battle for Etheria" @ Headwaters Theatre

"He-Man" wasn't a big part of my childhood, I was born in 1984, and that already puts me a little late for the height of its popularity, plus I was just a weird kid. But it doesn't matter! I still very much enjoyed Masters of the Musical Universe: Battle for Etheria. You don't need any real knowledge of the show beyond the absolute basics, least of all a need to have seen Episode 1, which was a lightning sell-out last year, (though they do sell a DVD at the merch-table.) The fun of the show lies in the hilarious costumes, the carefully chosen '80s rock classics, and the total-commitment of the cast, who despite the intentional schlocky-ness of the show never use that as an excuse to phone-in a single note. Tickets are selling briskly, and the production only runs through tonight and tomorrow. I recommend this show to both fans of its source, as well as those who just like their theatre funny and fringy!

Monday, September 19, 2016

"Little Shop of Horrors" @ Portland Center Stage

"Little Shop of Horrors" is the "Ultimate Musical for People Who Don't Like Musicals" It is untraditional from the ground-up, taking its inspiration from a shoestring-budgeted Roger Corman film, which happened to feature a young Jack Nicholson. It also has a fairly un-Broadway Score, with lots of street-corner doo-wop, my favorite being "Ya Never Know"  A close-second is "Dentist"

The scale of Portland Center Stage's version is perfect. Midsize. "Little Shop" is so frequently produced-by small theatres, and even high schools--that one might be fooled into thinking it's a small show, and yet, I also saw the Broadway in Portland Touring Version,  in the mammoth Keller Auditorium, where it was swallowed. (I just realized "swallowed" is a delicious unintentional pun!) Also, the medium-ness of the production allows the puppets to tower even more.

Here's my advice:

1. Take a reluctant friend

2. Be ready to laugh

3. Don't feed the plants

Monday, September 12, 2016

"Trevor" @ Artist's Rep

I must admit that when I skimmed the synopsis of "Trevor" in one of Artist Rep's mailings, my first reaction was, "Huh?" I remember a phrase along the lines of, "washed-up showbiz monkey." (You just said, 'huh?,' didn't you?") Now add in the fact that the aforementioned washed-up showbiz monkey is-by stern admonition of playwright Nick Jones-not in  any kind of chimp costume, and your confusion should double.

"Trevor" may be the funniest play I have seen at Artist's Rep. Artist's Rep is usually at least a little darker in the majority of their choices than, perhaps, Portland Center Stage, and while the idea for the play was gleaned from tragic news stories, most of the humor in "Trevor" is light, which is a nice change of pace, despite my preference for its opposite. Even though the "news story" inspiration is mentioned in the playbill, as well as Jones' careful foreshadowing within the play, we like Trevor so much, the sobering turn comes as far more of a surprise than it should.

This is due to John San Nicholas' performance-to call  it "fully-committed" is a nearly inexcusable understatement-but it's the best I can do.

"Trevor" is the kind of show that will reward you if you can get past the fact that it sounds like it should never, ever, have worked. Let me assure you, it does.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum @ Broadway Rose

Dan Murphy is usually the "M.C." for Broadway Rose's productions, introducing the show and thanking donors. As far as I know, he has never before graced their stage as an actor. After "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum," I am convinced that it should become a far more common occurrence. His Pseudolus  is hilarious.

The cover of the playbill should have been a reminder that "West Side Story" and "Forum" were presented at Broadway Rose back-to-back, but I just thought of the nice combination of dark Sondheim washed down by light-Sondheim. They really do make unexpectedly nice bookends. Go see Broadway Rose flex their muscles once again, but in an entirely different way.

Gregory Alan Isakov @ The Crystal Ballroom 8-8-16

Gregory Alan Isakov opened for Josh Ritter at the Aladdin Theater years ago, and  he's been on my "remember that name" list ever since. So, I approached his Crystal Ballroom show with great anticipation. I was not disappointed. In fact, from the very first moment, I was treated like a royalty, scoring a wristband for the VIP Area.  Isakov belongs to what I term The Trinity of Literary Folk-Rock, along with Josh Ritter and Joe Pug.

He was accompanied by The Ghost Orchestra, and they performed so well together, I found myself hoping that the show was being recorded. It was sonic-heaven. The show was at once symphonic and rocking.  My one complaint was the remarkably low lighting. They may have been striving for a "mood",  but in reality it was just plain dark.

It is my privilege to highly recommend Mr. Isakov to you,  here is a sampling:

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

"West Side Story" @ Broadway Rose

Broadway Rose's "West Side Story" has a 15-piece band. This is remarkable for a theatre of its size. It is quite possibly remarkable for a theatre twice its size. "West Side Story" signals a gigantic leap-forward in all ways, from orchestra to cast-size for Tigard's little theatre with enormous ambition. This production is probably on par with the expansion to its own theatre-building.

Broadway Rose's rendering of the Sondheim classic boasts fiercely talented leads in returning local-actor Andrew Wade as Tony, and Mia Pinero as Maria.

"West Side Story" marked a transition into grittier territory than what was expected in musicals of the era, and in certain ways,  even now. In that way, it is a show that may appeal to those of us whose tastes run a little darker.

I must restate for a final time, the impressiveness of its scope. Are even bigger things on the horizon?

Monday, June 13, 2016

Vandaveer at The KINK Skype Live Studio 6/10/16

I first saw Vandaveer  open for Joe Pug at the Doug Fir Lounge. They were a good fit. Both are folky and poetically verbose, but Vandaveer is heavier on harmony, whereas Pug is a vocal soloist even when accompanied by a band. There was very little room for the interview portion of their Skype show because the absolutely insane traffic had made them late, and they had some other engagement immediately after, which was in addition to their ticketed evening performance. Therefore, the only knowledge gleaned from the exceptionally brief interview was that many of the band's members are native to Kentucky, but all met each other and formed the band in D.C. And that their final song's lyrics were penned by an Oregon based poet.

Here's an an animated music video from their new album "The Wild Mercury":

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Brett Dennen @ The Skype Live Studio June 2, 2016

Brett Dennen is a poet. A singer-songwriter of the highest order. He is capable of both contemplative lyrics and bouncy melodies. His Skype Live Studio set was acoustic, which is well-suited to that venue, and showcased the aforementioned contemplative lyrics, but since  I am a newly-minted fan, I came home and found the studio-versions. The album version of Cassidy, (from his latest effort "Por Favor") is far more upbeat than the way he played it at Skype. Hearing it both ways was a privilege, and a testament to Dennen's versatility as a musician.

All but one of Dennen's songs came from "Por Favor," he played "San Francisco" in response to an audience member's request to pay tribute to The Golden State Warriors. Apparently, Dennen is a sports-fan as well, because he said, "Not that they need any help." he also had occasion to imitate an audience member's dance moves, (thankfully at a different performance), which demonstrated his humorous side. Once again, audience members at The Skype Live Studio are treated to seeing musicians in an intimate way that would be impossible at a full-scale concert. It is a jewel of the city.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Michael Tyler @ The Skype Live Studio

This is my second-entry in an ongoing series of reviews at Alpha Broadcasting's Skype Live Studio. I usually refer it as KINK's Skype Live Studio, but today's performance by Michael Tyler was hosted by Alpha's Country station, "The Bull".  According to his introduction by personalities from The Bull's morning show,  Mr. Tyler is best-known for penning "Somewhere on a Beach,"  currently a hit-song for Dierks Bentley. I truly prefer Mr. Tyler's version. He also sang a song called "Hi Momma" I predict it will be a hit as well.

One of the greatest advantages of reviewing Skype Shows on a regular basis is finding out about artists i would have otherwise never encountered. The performers I've seen under the KINK-banner usually have an evening show at a local venue, Michael Tyler did not, but if he had, I would have rushed out immediately to buy a ticket.

I can't quite gauge how well-known he is, but I have a feeling that he is just beginning his career. In that case, it is a distinct privilege to say, "You heard it here first."

"Hawthorne" @ Action/Adventure Theatre

Zoe Rudman is a very versatile actress. I know this because only exposure to her work was "Fierce Love" in which all her roles were light-hearted. So, it was quite a shock to see she was playing the lead in "Hawthorne,"  a neo-noir world premiere at Action/Adventure Theatre. Sure, there are the wisecracks that are expected of the genre, (some quite good), but "Hawthorne" also requires a fair amount of seriousness. I guess I shouldn't be too surprised that Ms. Rudman does a masterful job, my favorite scene of hers in "Fierce Love" involved finding the humor in learning how to pick yourself up after learning your child has been diagnosed with a disability.  If that's not a mix of funny and somber I don't know what is. (Ms. Rudman played a "Stunt Double.")

Also of note are the expressive projections, and the truly moody instrumental score. Unfortunately, some of the projections were not just for scene-setting, but included small jokes or necessary information like internet search results, and sometimes I missed them, either due to their speed or my sightline. Also unfortunate is "Hawthorne" 's relatively brief run, Thurs-Sat, thru June 4. I sincerely hope they extend it, there was a packed house the night I attended, so they may.  I look forward to seeing more work from Action/Adventure, and of course, Ms. Rudman. 

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

"The Skin of Our Teeth" @Artists Rep.

If it weren't for "Cuba-Libre",  Artists Rep.'s musical with Broadway ambitions, I'd say that "The Skin of our Teeth" was their most technically-ambitious show. It has beautiful and effective projections, and set-changes so complicated that two intermissions are required. Not to mention they had to shift my seat to allow for the entrance of a giant prop.

 "The Skin of Our Teeth " can be at times confusing, but don't worry, there is always a character ready with a snarky aside confessing to a given scene's strangeness.

As big as "The Skin of Our Teeth" is, the moments I enjoyed most were quite small. Mostly Michael Mendelson  stealing the scene with some totally off-the-wall bit of goofiness.

It's certainly a one of a kind show, tracing the antics of man-kind through the centuries. It ends Artists Rep's Season on a humorous note, but a heady one as well. This Season was one with lots of muscle-flexing,  and it is most welcome.

Monday, May 23, 2016

"Streetcar Named Desire" @ Portland Center Stage

What can I say about Streetcar Named Desire"? It is obviously a classic, and deservedly so. It is also the best show of PCS's Season. Make sure not to miss it. There is the new wrinkle of a multi-racial cast, and a notation in the playbill about using a slightly revised script, the same one used in a 2012 multi-racial Broadway production. I wish I could say that I knew what had been changed, but I can't. What I can say is that after a remarkably short while, one is far less conscious of the race of the actors. I tend to believe this is a good thing. It means that one has become immersed.

The cast is worthy of breathless praise,  particularly Demetrius Grosse as Stanley. But, truly all of the cast is spectacular. Who is Stanley without Stellla, and who are either of them without Blanche? I just sing-out Stanley because I waited eagerly for the iconic "Stella!"

This is theatre at its finest. I felt enormously privileged  to watch.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Charles Bradley @ The Skype Live Studio & The Crystal Ballroom 5/19/16

Charles Bradley is most easily compared with James Brown: The energetic Soul music, the yowling, and the acrobatics with the microphone. But, at KINK's Skype Live Studio we learned that the young Charles Bradley actually met his inspiration as a teen, who advised him to do amateur nights at the famed Apollo Theatre. Bradley told the story of being sabotaged by the judges when he was forced to sing Brown's "Man's World" in an incorrect key, in order to ensure the victory of a favored competitor. This is the kind of revealing information one can glean from a Skype Live Studio performance, intimate half-hour shows in Downtown Portland's PacWest Center. I am excited to announce that reviews of Skype Live Studio shows will soon become a recurring feature of "The Crippled Critic." These performances typically occur at 12:00 or 3:00 (sometimes both) and last for around 30 minutes, so as to fit comfortably into a lunch-hour. You can RSVP at Skype Live, and winners will be e-mailed guaranteed seating, though thanks to the larger venue provided by the PacWest Center, oftentimes standby tickets are granted to "walk-ins." These shows are frequently hosted by KINK On-air Personality Steve Pringle, one of KINK's most knowledgable commentators.  This particular Skype show was slightly shorter, (two songs instead of the usual three or more.)

Luckily, I was granted tickets to Mr. Bradley's Crystal Ballroom show later that evening. He put on an astonishing show. He's in his sixties, and yet bounded around the stage in ways that would likely be difficult for a man half his age. Bradley's new album is called "Changes" and it takes its name from a Black Sabbath song of the same name which Bradley soul-ifys.

 I've seen Mr Bradley's full shows twice now, at the Crystal and the Oregon Zoo. Both times he ended them on heartfelt positive-notes, imploring his audience to think and react always with love, and he is a shining example that it can be done.

Monday, May 9, 2016

"Grand Concourse @ Artists Rep

"Grand Concourse" which opened Saturday at Artists Rep. has engaging characters. All have their own issues, and they congregate  at a South Bronx soup kitchen. There's Shelley, the struggling head-nun who is finding it necessary to use the microwave timer to force herself to pray. There's Oscar, the security-guard. Emma, the mysterious new volunteer, and my favorite, the mentally-ill transient "Frog". played by a literally unrecognizable Allen Nause, I looked in the playbill and did a double-take. Once again, he made me wonder, "Why did he ever retire?"

I did feel that Heidi Schreck's script left some unanswered questions, particularly with regard to Shelley background, but the performances alone are enough to recommend it.

Friday, May 6, 2016

"Hangmen" Screening at Third Rail Rep.

"Hangmen" is the first screening I've attended of National Theatre Live, of which Third Rail is a local outlet. The experience is wonderful. I was worried that the wheelchair-seating in front which is a prime spot for Third Rail's live shows, would be a terrible spot for a film screening. Not so! The impressively large screen is perfectly positioned.

I came for Martin McDonagh, and how appropriate that Third Rail would be the venue. I've seen most of McDonagh's work there, (except for "The Lonesome West" when they were in the teeny-tiny Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center in their early days, high-time for a remount, methinks.)

McDonagh's dark humor is all over "Hangmen" and my favorite part was the smattering of Cripple Jokes, I loved the audience's nervous giggling, although they very well could have been giggling at my giggling. Who knows?

I recommend "Hangmen"  in the strongest possible terms! The final screening is May 8th. Go! Go now!

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Joshua Radin @ The Aladdin Theater 4/25/16

Joshua Radin possesses a voice that calls to mind Simon & Garfunkel in one body.  Last night's solo-acoustic show at the Aladdin Theater had a simplicity a-purity- that was a welcome difference from his last Portland  appearance at the much larger Roseland Theater with a full-band. Radin's songs are better-suited to intimate spaces, and even when certain full-band elements were absent on a song, the audience is more than willing to fill the gaps. As was the case with his previous show, a lot of the setlist was taken from Radin's latest studio-album "Onwand and Sideways", but he was more willing than most musicians to play requests, which made for an interesting mix, including a song with more humor than one would expect, given the seriousness of the rest of his output, "Vegetable Car".  His songs have the oddest backstories I've ever heard. The entirety of "Onward and Sideways" is a giant love letter to the daughter of a family he met briefly who happened to be from Stockholm, where he was playing the following night. Another song was created from a poem he had written at sixteen inspired by a woman on a train in France.

This was a show where the audience was made to feel part of the experience. Radin has the rare ability to make the performance seem like a conversation. We even had the privilege of a Meet & Greet.

Here's a sampling of his music:"Beautiful Day"

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

"In the Heights" @ Stumptown Stages

Please bear with a little bit of obsessiveness on my part, I can virtually guarantee that you won't find this information anywhere else: There is one play that unites 3 of 4 of  Stumptown's Current Season, Paul Simon's ill-fated musical "The Capeman."

Stumptown Show 1: "Carrie" a flop of legendary proportions that is often mentioned alongside "The Capeman," both have also had recent revivals.

Stumptown Show 3: "Smokey Joe's Cafe" was directed on Broadway by show-doctor Jerry Zaks, who was selected because of his experience with '50s music from that show.

And finally, Stumptown's latest show "In the Heights," known for breaking "The Capeman Curse." It was the first show featuring a predominately Latino cast since the failure of " The Capeman."

"In the Heights" is a production that very much deserved to break that barrier. It has a vibrant score by Lin-Manuel Miranda, who is  garnering wide acclaim for "Hamilton." Both of those shows feature Miranda's  truly unique brand of hip-hop. (It's not often that Cole Porter gets name-dropped in hip-hop, and that now seems like a minor feat compared to the genre-bending of "Hamilton." )

Stand-out numbers include:"It Wont be Long Now" and "When You're Home." This next statement is hard for me to write, given my love for "The Capeman," but it also refreshing to see Latinos given a throughly positive portrayal, rather than the knife-wielding thugs of "West Side Story" and again, with "The Capeman."

"In the Heights" is an exuberant show, and for that it must be admired.

Church Basement Ladies @ Broadway Rose

There is no denying that "Church Basement Ladies"is a fun show. There is a variety of humor in the show, from lighthearted to unexpectedly dark, delivered with a smile.  But, it must be noted that a fair amount of the humor, and even some of the songs rely on the finer points of Lutheranism  and Minnesota Cuisine. At times it felt like being left out of an inside-joke. I noticed in the program that the show was first produced in Minnesota, and I got the feeling that Lutheranism must be especially prevalent there. By far the best part of the show was the fully-committed and perfectly cast actresses. And the set deserves a mention as well, designed by the supremely talented Chris Whitten, whom I have become a fan of through his frequent work with Clackamas Community College.

"Church Basement Ladies" is an enjoyable production, but again, one that might be more enjoyable to those with more familiarity with its themes.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Blue Door @ Profile Theatre

I have not been to a Profile Theatre production since Neil Simon's "Biloxi Blues," when the company was still a tenant of the now defunct Theater! Theatre! building. Profile is now part of Artist's Rep's Arts Hub, and I was quickly reminded of what I had been missing. Profile, as its name implies, specializes in focusing upon a single playwright for an entire Season. This Season's playwright is Tanya Barfield.

"Blue Door" was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, and it is easy to see why, this 90-minute whirlwind examines a wide-swath of history, and one of the actors in this two-hander plays three roles, in Porfile's case, Seth Rue who handles that monumental task with great skill. But I must note that I first became interested in it because Victor Mack stars in it, and I have missed his presence on local stages. I hesitate to write "this marks his return", because I'm unsure if he had left, but in any case, I'm glad to see him.

"Blue Door" is a showcase for two exceptional actors  and an eloquent playwright, and a welcome reintroduction to a unique Portland theatre.

"The Pianist of Willesden Lane" @ Portland Center Stage

Reviewing "The Pianist of Willesden Lane" will strain my vocabulary, both because it is so deserving of every superlative I can conceive, and because I lack familiarity with the terms used in Classical Music. "The Pianist of Willesden Lane" is a one-woman show by Mona Golabek, based upon the life of her mother, told at a piano. Ms. Golabek's mother was a refugee on the Kinder Transport from Vienna, fleeing the Nazi Occupation. Ms. Golabek tells the story through truly virtuosic piano-playing, accompanied by vivid projections of relevant imagery.

"The Pianist of Willesden Lane" is a completely immersive experience, and one that shines light on current events, insofar as it deals with a refugee crisis, and I was reminded with shame of our national inaction regarding Syrians, it is a show worthy of boundless praise, a show about bravery, a show about desperation met by kindness severely lacking in today's world.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

"The Three Amigos: LIVE" @ Clinton Street Theatre

"The Three Amigos: LIVE" at Stagewarks Inc.'s new home at the Clinton Street Theatre is funny in ways only a Stageworks Inc. Production can be. Stageworks Inc, or maybe more accurately, its Artistic Director, Steve Coker is a master of hilarious subtlety. He will come up with something to do with a production's low tech prop that just exemplifies why the parody belongs on stage: The Three Amigos ride on stick-horses which is hysterical in itself, but, in the film there is this unremarkable line about Carmen readying their horses for a big fight, however when Carmen says the same on stage, she drops the stick-horses on the floor loudly. It's one of the best moments of the show, and only Mr. Coker would come up with it. Plus, all the classic moments from the film are there, and if that's not enough, there's also silly-string shot into the audience.

I am pleased that StageWorks has moved to the larger Clinton Street Theatre, I sincerely hope this means that more Portlanders will get to experience its utter uniqueness.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Crippled Critic Concert Preview: Joshua Radin @ The Aladdin Theatre 4/25/2016

I first heard Joshua Radin on streaming radio, and it was one of those moments where you do a double-take. I instantly thought. "He's Simon & Garfunkel in one body." I saw him live for the first time at The Roseland, and although he put on a wonderful show, his brand of music will be so much more at home in the intimate Aladdin. It is a common occurrence at concerts that someone will shout-out, "You should move here!" In Mr. Radin's case, it's actually true. He is the most Quintessentially Portland  Non-Portlander I've ever encountered. Join me on April 25th for one of the most poetic nights you'll ever have

Thursday, March 24, 2016

"We Are Proud to Present..." @ Artists Rep

A PRESENTATION ABOUT THE HERERO OF NAMIBIA, FORMERLY KNOWN AS SOUTH WEST AFRICA, FROM THE GERMAN SUDWESTAFRIKA, BETWEEN THE YEARS 1884-1915" is the full title of Artist Rep's current production, and for a little while the play seems to match the unwieldiness of its title. Perhaps this is intentional, setting the little-known history explored in the play against the backdrop of staging an improvisational theatre-piece is an intriguing way to illustrate the many voices and points of view vying for the spotlight. But keeping track of some of those voices and point of view becomes difficult in certain scenes.

But believe me, that is a minor quibble, as the play, and the play-within-the play settle into their rhythm, "We are Proud to Present..." becomes a show that knocked the wind out of me more than once.

And that old adage about history repeating itself is certainly true, events that happened a world away in 1884-1915 are suddenly relevant to a shocking degree once talk of wall-building begins. I'll put it as succinctly as I can: This is urgent theatre.

Monday, March 7, 2016

"Bullshot Crummond 2" @ Lakewood Theatre

I have only seen the film version of "Bullshot Crummond," but it is unnecessary to to have seen it to enjoy the world premiere sequel at Lakewood. It is a wall-to-wall laugh-riot. The multiple sets are gorgeous and intricate. The goofy intentionally low-tech projections and props are hilarious. Spencer Conway is perfect as our bumbling hero Bullshot Crummond. There are dashes of humor that reminded me of Monty Python and  the Petter Sellers "Pink Panther" films. Lovers of "B" movies will find much to enjoy as well.  This has been a outstanding season for Lakewood, one that has seen them expand in many ways--from world premieres (this may be Lakewood's first)--to dramas with darker subject matter than they typically present. Bravo Lakewood!

Monday, February 22, 2016

Smokey Joe's Cafe @ Stumptown Stages

I've enjoyed Oldies since childhood, so "Smokey Joe's Cafe" was a show I couldn't wait to see. My gleeful anticipation was richly rewarded. The supremely talented cast, which includes the Grammy-nominated Julianne Johnson-Weiss, who also directs, does this revue of Leiber and Stoller hits justice.

I am happy to report that this production of "Smokey Joe's" sounds considerably less Broadwayized than the filmed version. I would guess that this is a intentional and wise choice on Johnson's part.

Standout numbers include "Saved" "Poison Ivy" and a truly astounding multi-voice version of "Stand By Me"

"Smokey Joe's Cafe" is a high-energy, soulful, splendid stroll through what I often wish was Memory Lane.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

"Forever" @ Portland Center Stage

This is probably a cliche the capital-"W" Writer in in me wishes I would avoid. But, is something really a cliche when it's literally true? As "Forever" ended, all I could say was, "wow". It is a rapturous 80 minutes.

There are light subjects--stories of favorite musicians and poets, a sincere ode to the power of art. There are darker subjects, child abuse, alcoholism, and rape. All of them are handled with grace, and have equal power for different reasons-especially one moment when the two mix:

Dael Olandersmith tells the story of doing homework as a young girl. She excels in writing, appreciating the beauty of it--down to the letterforms. She does not do well in math. I had the fleeting, funny  thought to raise my fist in solidarity, but I resisted. The story quickly turns to the first instance of child abuse, her failure resulting in a beating.

My consolation from this story is that she damn-well put the skills she did possess to great use. Skimming her bio in the playbill I found that she has quite an impressive body of work, and I thought, "I hope I have the privilege to see more of it."

Monday, February 15, 2016

"Mothers and Sons" @ Artists Rep

One of the noblest functions of theatre is to show a viewer the power of a story not their own. I am not homosexual, and perhaps the most foreign aspect of "Mothers and Sons" was seeing what a miserable mother looks like. My mother is frequently my guest at shows, and this time I could feel her seething frustration with Katherine, the "mother" of the title. A few times I wanted to move away a bit, it was that strong. It wasn't "judgment," just genuine feeling.

And yet, it must be noted that McNally works very hard to avoid turning Katherine into a monster.

The play takes place decades after McNally's "Andre's Mother", a play about Katherine's son Andre who has died of A.I.D.S. and his boyfriend Cal's desire to share in mutual grief. But, Katherine has never accepted Andre's homosexuality, and blames Cal for his death.

In this play, Cal has legally married, and they have son together. McNally says in the playbill that his goal was to filter decades worth of real-world progress through the lens of the play, and I was surprised how well he succeeded.

Cal is played by Michael Mendelson, an actor who I have praised many times for his extreme versatility, and his work here is no exception.

"Mothers and Sons is among the most searingly personal plays I've ever seen. It is at once joyful, angry, and sad. It is a play that will give you insight no matter the angle from which you view it, and that is rare.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

"Each and Every Thing" @ Portland Center Stage

Dan Hoyle's monologue "Each and Every Thing" begins with the story of a paroled member of the Aryan Brotherhood. He also tells the story of the drug-dealer on his corner, who ends up living at his home. One of the sections involving the Aryan Brotherhood member relates a story that the only time this man was knocked-out was by his abusive father. He edits himself, "One time in prison, someone used D-batteries as brass knuckles, so that didn't really count." This man is a fascinating character. He's at once detestable because he literally has his bigotry tattooed on his skin, and yet Mr. Hoyle manages to nearly instantly humanize him as a person so scarred by feeling helpless in childhood, he exudes misdirected rage. Throughout "Each and Every Thing" Mr. Hoyle  gives one the feeling of, "Yeah, I'd talk to that guy." In light of the unusualness of these first two stories, what a shame it becomes that the narrative turns slowly towards our over-reliance upon technology.

Now, I must say that "Each and Every Thing" continues to have its moments even in this less interesting territory, there's a hilarious romantic ode to the unique experience of reading a newspaper, for instance, but there are many times when Mr. Hoyle seemed to be having much more fun than I was.

What insight is there to add to a problem of which everyone is aware? I mean, for financial reasons, as well as physical difficulty with touch-screens, I don't own a cell-phone, and even I feel tethered to the internet.

There's this scene where Hoyle illustrates how the internet fractures our attention, and as the monologue ran through its brief, but bloated 75-minutes, I began to think that it was a piece about information overload that suffered from information overload, and I don't think it was intentional.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Mr. Kolpert, Third Rail Rep @ Imago Theatre

I'm having trouble deciding on the best way to describe "Mr. Kolpert." The play is visceral, violent, and funny. Perhaps the best description is "Vintage Third Rail". This is the theatre which brought us many of Martin McDonagh's works. I was reminded of McDonagh a  lot in "Mr. Kolpert" The official description name-drops Tarantino and Hitchcock. Tarantino is obviously mentioned for the gleeful violence, and Hitchcock to draw comparisons to "Rope". Those mentions are apt,  but David Gieselman's play also has a voice of its own, (and I'm doubtful even Tarantino would have concieved of a woman urinating on a corpse.) As you can see, this also means that "Mr. Kolpert" is only for a certain type of theatre-goer--the slightly twisted type. This group includes myself, and I'm sure at least a few of you. You know who you are. But, remember that you have been warned.

Monday, February 1, 2016

"The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" @ Broadway Rose

I saw "Spelling Bee" many years ago at Portland Center Stage. I was somewhat surprised that I remembered so little. It tuns-out that a lot of the dialogue is improvised, (perhaps nightly, though I'm not sure.) I find this a very interesting aspect of the show, particularly because it is not publicized anywhere. The best lines come from the extremely high-strung vice-principal (Lyle Arnason) Other standouts include Troy Pennington as William Morris Barfee, and David Swadis as misfit among misfits Leaf Coneybear. There is also quite a bit of audience participation. "Spelling Bee" is the kind of show that may reward repeat viewings. In fact, research revealed that there is an "adults-only version. I do not know if Broadway Rose plans to mount that version during the run.

Broadway Rose's production is nearly non-stop fun, oddly enough, sometimes the music gets in the way. For me, the best part of the show was the improvisation, that and the fully committed goofiness of the cast.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Dex Dixon Paranormal Dick @ Stumptown Stages

"Dex Dixon: Paranormal Dick" is doubtlessly the most bizarre show currently running on a Portland stage. I am as yet undecided if it has beaten "Flash Ah-ahhhh" as the weirdest thing I've seen this Season, coincidently both productions are from the truly strange mind of Steve Coker.

"Dex" is a film noir parody musical, sprinkled with vampires, werewolves, and zombies. See? I told you it was one of a kind! As was the case with "Flash-Ahhhh" the show's unconventionality is never used as an excuse to have subpar production values. Both the singers and the several-piece band are impressive. "Dex" is the middle-show of Stumptown's Season, and for me, it holds the top spot.

I have become very fond of Mr. Coker's work, and I cannot wait for his next outing, a musicalization of the Steve Martin comedy "The Three Amigos."

Sunday, January 10, 2016

"Golden Boy" @ Lakewood Theatre Company

"Golden Boy" is the best show Lakewood has mounted in all the years I've been attending. The show is a departure from the kind of material Lakewood usually produces, it is the first non-musical non-mystery I have seen there. This is not to say I don't enjoy those kind of shows,  I liked this season's "Unnecessary Farce," and the upcoming "Bullshot Crummond" will also be a return to form, but it is nice to see Lakewood stretch their wings.

"Golden Boy" is a classic Clifford Odets drama. The set is gorgeous and massive. The acting is breathtaking.

I heard mutterings in the lobby during the Opening Night Reception that this choice was a bit of a risk for Lakewood. I sincerely hope that they are richly rewarded.