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Monday, November 27, 2017

"Your Holiday Hit Parade" @ Broadway Rose

"Your Holiday Hit Parade" is the best of the Broadway Rose Holiday Revues I have seen. I'm going to be jokingly egotistical for a moment and claim credit for the newest offering having more of a "book" which i have been advocating for each year. The story revolves around 2 stranded motorists and the ghost who haunt an abandoned hotel. (The show was written by Dan Murphy and Rick Lewis, though I suspect it may have been "ghostwritten" by Jack Skelington, of "The Nightmare Before Christmas" fame.) Boy, I am just full of jokes.... There is also more of a set than in previous Broadway Rose holiday productions. As always, the band is fantastic, and the score features a moment my percussionist Mitch Wilson which stands out so much that it merits being projected on stage in silhouette.

I saw the first Sunday Matinee, which followed Thanksgiving, placing it on the cusp of acceptability for a Christmas-themed show. It was enough to push me over the threshold into a festive mood. I suspect it will do the same for you.

The Humans @ Artist's Rep

"The Humans" is somewhat difficult to review. I'll start by saying that it is quite simply splendid. The difficulty in writing about it lies in trying to explain why. The best, and most succinct way is to describe and laud its realism. Usually, "realism" is used as a synonym for "gritty." I use it here as the best way I can think of to denote that few other plays I've seen have been so true-to-life. The mother, Diedre, (Luisa Sermol)  seems achingly motherly. A woman who is both exasperating and endearing. The father, Erik Blake, (Robert Pescovitz) is equally Dad-ish, an incessant worrier about maintenance issues, and the like. Vanna O'Brien is outstanding in her role as the matriarch suffering from dementia, believable to frightening degree when she loses her grip.

It is as if playwright Stephen Karam recorded a Thanksgiving Meal and then simply transcribed it. Even the jokes seem unnervingly natural. Which makes it all the stranger when the play takes a breakneck turn towards a sadder tone. This turn is welcome, if sudden and arguably incongruous. The final minutes are bewildering, perhaps not in a negative way, though the people I chatted with at the Reception were similarly confused, so at least i'm not alone. None of this diminishes the remarkableness of the production as a whole, I suspect you will see someone you know represented by at least one these characters. Their sheer humanity is that striking.   

Sunday, November 19, 2017

"To Kill a Mockingbird" @ Lakewood

"To Kill a Mockingbird" is one of those shows that just demands to be seen. It's a show that despite the backing-up of my personal schedule, I still had to make sure I attended, even though it is now late in the all to brief run. See it before the explosion of yuletide cheer. See it for its unfortunate contemporary relevance. In short: See it as soon as possible. 

Thursday, November 16, 2017

"Mojada: A Medea in Los Angeles" @ PCS

There is much to admire in"Mojada: A Medea in Los Angeles" There's the dreamlike Magical Realist set, with its beautifully askew angles, and truly remarkable bits of stage-magic. There's biting contemporary social-commentary, concerning all-too-urgent issues of immigration and assimilation. And I have joust now gained an appreciation for the Greek Mythological skeleton upon which the play is built. Unfortunately, I gained this insight too late to assist me in deciphering some of the play's more confusing moments, because I did not arrive in time to peruse the playbill adequately, and the relevant section is buried on the last page page of that play's section in the playbill which serves all three of PCS's current and upcoming productions. Something so crucial should be given more pride-of-place. Now that you know to look for it, you may have an even better time than I did.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

"The Events" @ Third Rail Rep

"The Events" is a harrowing play, and unfortunately a topical one. My guess is that it was inspired by the massacres of Anders Behring Breivik, given the shooting's racial motivations. Sadly, in recent times, David Greig could have taken inspiration from any number of mass-shootings. Given the motive, it is a daring, yet confusing choice to cast a black actor in the role of the shooter. It is also just a mindbender of a play, and there are moments when more than two actors would have made the narrative easier to follow. However, Joseph Gibson is more than up to the task.

It is a cliche to call it haunting, but I think the word is apt, when it takes a day of "digestion" to write about the play. I wholeheartedly recommend "The Events". Catch it before it's all to brief run is over.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Marc Broussard @ Revolution Hall 10/13/17

Marc Broussard has mellowed just a bit. At first blush this would seem like a slightly unwelcome shift. In previous reviews, I've compared his performances to pyrotechnics. This most recent show, however, had a significant amount of down-tempo numbers. Selections I would later learn were from his brand-new album, "Easy to Love," a collection I would say represents Broussard most "balanced" work.

It fits in well with Broussard's previous two "SOS" Soul albums, but there are a few tracks that recall the most explosive of "Carencro", hence the "balance." It is a truly remarkable work.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

"Caught" @ Artists Rep

Huh. How does one write a review about a show in which nearly everything is designed to be a secret? There's always the cringe-inducing "Spoiler Alert," but everyone hates that--no one more so than a writer forced to use it.

In certain ways, this restriction on detail is a blessing. It prevents me from enumerating some of the discordant notes "Caught" strikes in service of twists-upon-twists.

So, all-in-all, I think it best to close with a few physical  details about the staging. Artist's Rep has changed the configuration of the theatre, and that is neat to see. This show also includes an art-installation component, a lot of which is interactive, and that too is a cool little flourish. I really do think that's all I should say....

Friday, October 6, 2017

"You in Midair" @ New Expressive Works

I like to believe that I have a preference for darker fare, but given the current influx of so many dark works, I am beginning to question whether or not that is actually my true preference. PCS's "Every Brilliant Thing" tackled depression and suicide, Third Rail's forthcoming "The Events" will take on a shooting at a choir practice, and "You in Midair" examines the murder of Rebecca Schaeffer, told as only a mother could.

Ms. Danna Schaeffer's brisk one-woman show is almost surely to be the most devastating piece of theatre this year. That said, somehow there's room for completely unexpected humor, mostly dealing with the unrealistic expectations of outsiders about how grief should be processed.

The show's greatest asset is its honesty, it's unashamed willingness to tell the truth. Ms. Schaeffer has no time for weak platitudes. She's the kind of person who finds solace in a book of quotes about death, because they are real, and not designed to bring comfort to someone who can't be comforted, and knows it.

Wounds heal, because unhealed wounds lead to death. But, we are seldom reminded that a synonym for "healed wound" is "scar," and scars are with us every day. Our inclination is to cover them, because they are not pretty. But, real bravery lies in letting them show, because they are the reason you're allowed to go on. They represent imperfect repair of that which is irreparable. They are an honor to see.

Monday, October 2, 2017

"Trails" @ Broadway Rose

"Trails" has all the expected hallmarks of a  Broadway Rose production: A  surprisingly expansive set, given the intimacy of the theatre, a top-notch cast, and a solid band. What was unexpected was the subject-matter, which was a shade or two darker than their typical fare. It is a welcome change. That said, my only real quibble with "Trails" lies in the script's tendency to "tease" the tragedy at its center just a bit too much. Hinting at it and then trailing-off begins to grate after a while.

The "trail" of the title is the Appalachian Trail. Two childhood friends walk it on a journey of self-discovery. They confront aging, ("Thirty-four is halfway to sixty-eight") and old rivalries and resentments, culminating a little late in the aforementioned tragedy.

All in all, I would recommend "Trails," but again, be warned, and/or excited by its unusualness.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

"Every Brilliant Thing" @ PCS

I  must confess to many misgivings about "Every Brilliant Thing," from the fact that it revolves around a list first begun by a young child, to that it has a very heavy audience-participation component.

Some of the audience-participation is fairly inconsequential, such as being called upon to recite a numbered list-item aloud. But, other roles filled by audience-members are pivotal, like that of a school guidance-counselor who I would've bet my last dollar was a plant. According to director Rose Riordan, this role is cast by finding a woman wearing easily-accessible socks, (I won't ruin the reason why.) She may have been selected for her socks, but the vintage glasses she wore were undoubtedly a plus. If indeed her lines were completely unscripted, they happened upon a champion ad-libber. (My list item was one sentence long, and part of my mind was racing with thoughts of ruining the flow of the show had I dropped it, or something similar.) I can only imagine what she was feeling.

It seems almost embarrassingly obvious to note that the success of a one-man show rests on the shoulders of that actor, but it must be said that Isaac Lamb effortlessly exudes effervescence. (Ah, alliteration.) The list of Every Brilliant Thing was written as a child's ode to optimism to counteract his mother's severe depression, and we must see that optimism shine ever-so-slightly in Lamb at all times, even as he begins to despise The List himself. Because he succeeds at this, we are "with" him the whole way.

 That said, in my discussion with Ms. Riordan she invited me to come back, and I may, but probably for closing-night, because the number of emotions you are made to experience in a brisk 70 minutes make for a rough ride. But, it certainly is a Brilliant Thing.

Monday, September 25, 2017

"Fun Home" @ PCS

I'm aware that this may sound stupid,  given the far headier themes in "Fun Home." But, my favorite moment by a mile was the fake commercial the children recorded, a rousing ode to the family business, a funeral home, nicknamed the "Fun Home." We've all done something like it, when goofing around as children, this number is what such a thing would look like if we were aided by a professional choreographer and props. It is both true-to-life and fantastical. I found ,myself liking thee lighter moments the best, which is contrary to my usual preference, but all of "Fun Home" -the dark and the light is performed expertly,  especially my the youngest members of the cast.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Trent Beaver @ The Double Aught Ranch in Canby

“Fight For Heaven,” the second track on Trent Beaver’s debut album, “Ghost”, is a twist on the old myth of the musician who sells his soul to The Devil for fame and fortune. Beaver’s angle is that his bargain is not for wealth and stardom, but rather to be able to do what he loves while fulfilling the obligations of marriage and fatherhood. He revisits fatherhood on the seventh track, “Blooming,”  about his 17 month-old daughter, Lennon, who came along for our interview dressed in a Rolling Stones shirt. She is clearly a musician’s child. He was as well, his father was a country singer in Nashville. When his parents split-up, he moved with his mother to Molalla, where he began to pursue music in his teens. He says his father turned down opportunities to go further in the business due to fear. He is determined not to repeat his father’s mistakes, namely, giving-up. So much so that his newest of many tattoos is the phrase, “Hold-fast,” written across his knuckles.

Beaver may well be on his way, “Ghost” was recorded at Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, with Will McFarland, of Neil Young’s band, on Lead-Guitar, who is showcased best on the first track, “Lost In Space”, which features a wonderfully strange mix of synthesizer and guitar, instantly suggesting the ethereal setting, before a single lyric is sung, which speaks to the wisdom of Beaver’s preference to compose melody first. While the genre that leaps to mind to describe Beaver’s music is Country, Rock, and even Soul would also fit on certain tracks. Perhaps it is this willingness to mix genres fluidly that makes him particularly appreciative of the jam-session dynamic. He says that the experience of traveling to record the album made him keenly aware of the way musicians freely collaborate and jam with each other in other parts of the country, something that he believes needs to happen more frequently here at home. To that end, he spearheads a jam session every Monday night at the Double Aught Ranch in Canby.

He also tours local venues in the Canby/Oregon City area with his band The Damned. If you’re looking to see one of Oregon’s most seamlessly versatile musicians, seek out Trent Beaver.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

"An Octoroon" @ Artist's Rep

There is line in "An Octoroon," which initially passed unnoticed. The actor playing the playwright, (of the current show, not the character listed as "Playwright" within it), laments white actors' reluctance to play slaves. What he does not mention is that those white actors are to play their roles in Blackface. "Uh...." was my reaction when the first white actor ambled on-stage. This reaction would repeat in my head many times throughout "An Octoroon." "Did he really just say that?" was a close-second. Your discomfort is most certainly planned, and I believe audience discomfort is a valuable thing to elicit in the theatre.  That said, it is a feeling that will not leave you until lights-down. If you're up for that, this is your show. If not, run! It's that simple. Artist's Rep's current Season is loaded with what seems like "Pull-no-Punches Theatre", and I, for one, am licking my lips. Unfortunately, this also means that going into detail in my reviews might be more difficult than usual. A small price to pay.

Monday, August 14, 2017

"Lungs" @ Third Rail Rep.

"Lungs" reminded me a little of "Constellations" at PCS last Season, in terms of speed at which the narrative moves through wide-swaths of time. "Lungs",  is the slightly better of the two shows, precisely because of its ultimately narrower scope. Despite sharing the time-shifting element, "Constellations" tried to tackle enormous questions of time and space, while still squeezed tightly around the relationship of the couple at its center. "Lungs" on the other hand,  is given greater heft by barreling through courtship, tragedy, betrayal, childbirth, parenting, and death, in 90 minutes. All without feeling overstuffed, and strangely, is both panoramic and focused at the same time. It is one of the most intimate shows I have seen, sometimes uncomfortably so. It should not be missed.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

"Gypsy" at Broadway Rose

At times like these, I feel the need to confess that I came to love theatre somewhat late in my life, (the beginning of college.) I did not "grow-up" on it. Therefore, some of the classics still hold surprises for me. For example, "Rose's Turn" is probably the song everyone waits for, and wonders of a given actress: "can she pull it off?" In the case of Sharon Maroney, the answer is an emphatic yes. It is a moment so striking that all which came before it is momentarily reduced to a blur, and yet it also serves to explain everything. It's the strangest feeling, one I have experienced very few times. She owns the thing. Sometimes being uninitiated has its advantages.  I often have trouble choosing a production-photo, not this time:

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

"The Addams Family" @ Broadway Rose

"The Addams Family" is likely among the largest-scale shows Tigard's Broadway Rose has undertaken. In the program-notes it is revealed that it was even difficult to get the production's rented touring-set through Tigard High School's doors. This is unsurprising, as it often seems massive, particularly in a cemetery scene. As always, the band is large and gung-ho, leading me to be newly impressed with the scale and scope Broadway Rose manages to achieve without being among the heavy-hitters downtown, this production begin with an audience-participation snap-off, which I thought was a nice touch. All of the performers embody their characters delightfully, of particular note is Isaac Lamb as Uncle Fester, who deserves extra points for tipping slightly more toward goofball than weird-eccentric as Fester has been played in previous incarnations. It is a refreshing choice. Gomez is also given more complexity in the musical than I remember from the smattering of TV episodes I saw on tape, and the films from the '90s, here he tries to behave honorably towards both his wife and daughter when their desires conflict, which is not only fodder for comedy, but also gives him more depth.

Aside from one off-putting suggestive musical number, unless I'm experiencing a huge lapse, the rest of the show would likely be suitable for fairly young audiences, which is a great thing because even the movies are getting old, (which means so am I,) and thus this musical would seem the perfect vehicle to introduce the creepy and kooky Addams Family to a new generation.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

"The Importance of Being Earnest" at @ Artists Rep

I am glad that I waited to write my review of "The Importance of Being Earnest" until today, because in-between seeing it on Saturday and now, I read an article about the controversy surrounding the "non-traditional" casting of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" at Portland's Shoebox Theatre. This controversy is making national-news, due to the Albee Estate's refusal to grant the rights to the play because of the mixed-racial casting. Of particular resonance to me was a brief mention in the article of the casting of an actress with Muscular Dystrophy in the role of Laura in "The Glass Menagerie" currently running on Broadway, and Rex Reed's truly nauseating criticism of that decision.

Which leads me to "Earnest," and Artist's Rep's choice to have an all-female cast. The other local production with non-traditional casting that comes to mind is PCS's recent "Streetcar" with an all-black cast. I will admit to having initial misgivings about that idea, given that one must totally ignore that the action takes place on a former cotton-plantation and everything that conjures-up. But, in that play, as with "Earnest," the novelty of the casting disappeared within minutes. I honestly almost forgot. I think this speaks to the skill of the performers, above all else. Part of me finds my lack of reaction superficial, that I should have seen something in the "difference" of the casting in either show, to have "learned something" from the new perspective, but another part of me says that what is truly profound is seeing no difference at all. The best "difference" in theatre is that the show is different every night. For example, Ayanna Berkshire, as Algie, got the giggles pretty badly on Opening Night, while forcing the butler to take the blame for not procuring the cucumber sandwiches for the guests, while in reality she herself had eaten them all prior to the guest arrival. It is unlikely any other performer, regardless of gender, would have done precisely that thing at that very moment, and that is the essence of live theatre.

"Constellations" @ PCS

I am walking up the face of the mountain
Counting every step I climb
Remembering the names of the constellations
Forgotten is a long, long time
That's me
I'm in the valley of twilight
Now I'm on the continental shelf
That's me
I'm answering a question I am asking of myself

-Paul Simon, "That's Me", "Surprise" (2006)

I am fairly sure that the above lyrics did not inspire "Constellations", but they were running through my head after seeing the play, and I think they fit. 

"Constellations" is time-bending play, showing moments both significant and mundane, and how they unfold in many theoretical Multiverses. I was somewhat hesitant to see "Constellations," after   having to confess to losing track of "Mary's Wedding" several times. But, I do credit a whooshing sound-cue for making nearly all the difference in my ability to keep track of all the shifting.  "Constellations" greatest asset is its steady and sure balance of the simple and complex. This makes it both a stimulating and relaxing neural-massage.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Marc Cohn @ The Aladdin Theater 5/4/2017

Marc Cohn once again put on fantastic show. I saw him once before, also at the Aladdin. The biggest difference between that show and this one was Cohn's infusion of Gospel-elements into more of his songs. This was most notable on "Silver Thunderbird. A new morsel he shared with us that I do not believe was mentioned at the previous show was a recording of the Muriel of "Walking in Memphis" fame. This was a nice personal touch that enhanced the song. This show was particularly special to me because it came with my first Artist Interview: Crippled Critic Interview: Marc Cohn, which also allowed me a backstage pass, and a brief meet and greet.

Marc Cohn is a remarkable artist, and a very humble man, who does not fit the stereotype I have in my head of the artist so lost in his own brain that fans barely exist. This is always a pleasant surprise.

"Toxic Avenger: The Musical" @ Stumptown Stages

"Toxic Avenger: The Musical" is the most fun I've had in months. Other shows in recent memory have had their moments, but even the most recent comedy I've seen had dark elements. "Toxic Avenger" has violence-galore, but it is cartoonish and schlocky, much like the movie from which it takes its inspiration. Normally I'm a fan of darker themed shows, but lately I've wished the theatre-scene would lighten-up just a bit. I did not stop laughing through the whole show. They even managed some cripple-humor, with a number dedicated to the advantages of possessing a "marketable handicap." The cast and creators never use the cheesiness of the material as an excuse for the quality of the lyrics or singing-quality to dip. It is so, so much fun, and in ways you wouldn't expect, like seemingly ceaseless cross-dressing. It's just fantastic, I can not recommend it more highly.

Monday, May 1, 2017

"The Talented Ones" @ Artists Rep

I was first introduced to the work of playwright Yussef El Guindi by Portland Center Stage's "Threesome" You'll notice the extreme brevity of that review. Act I was one long, disgustingly unprintable, but nonetheless hilarious, joke about sex.  I dubbed Act II an "unexpected gut-punch." I start with "Threesome" because comparing the two highlights the strengths and weaknesses of his new play, "The Talented Ones."  As was the case with "Threesome," there's a large portion of sex-humor, and ruminations on sexual-politics, unlike "Threesome," there're lengthy breaks between the humor and insightful discussions about the pitfalls of relationships, but "Threesome" saved all of the serious things for Act II. On the one hand, such a mixture must have been more difficult to finesse, which is an admirable feat when it succeeds. On the other hand, sometimes the most astute lines come across as far too calm and philosophical, considering the situations which give rise to them. This is somewhat believable, given the self-conscious intellectualism of the two leads, which is integral to the prominent theme of the immigrant expectation of over-achievement. Still, while sometimes this high-toned rationality provides a kind of humor of its own, it also has the frequent effect of drastically undercutting hard-won tension. All of that said, "The Talented Ones" remains enjoyable throughout.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

"Mary's Wedding" @ Portland Center Stage

There are plenty of plays with only two characters. I've even seen a few in which one actor plays multiple roles. I've also seen plays with time-shifting aspects, and devices akin to dream-sequences. But, combining all of those elements into one play can certainly cause confusion. Such is the case with "Mary's Wedding."

There are definitely things that merit praise.: The two leads manage a truly remarkable juggling act, the projections are frequently beautiful and evocative. But, I can't remember ever being quite so lost.

The plot is a nice, serviceable love story amid war, which is all the more reason to wonder why playwright Stephen Massicotte chose to complicate the narrative so needlessly. Despite the significant difficulties I had, I don't wish to steer you completely away. Perhaps if you are prepared for its eccentricities, you won't be thrown quite so off-balance.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Crippled Critic Interview: Marc Cohn

Today marks my first celebrity interview, with singer-songwriter Marc Cohn. His new album is "Careful What You Dream: Lost Songs and Rarities." The album is entirely comprised of outtakes from his self-titled debut. I chose some highlights to discuss with him: "Maestro", and "Street of Windows" "Maestro" is about George Zell, the conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra, who lived next-door to Cohn in his youth, and had a crush upon both Cohn's mother and step-mother, so he would invite the family to use his box-seats. "Street of Windows" takes its title from a line in Gabriel García Márquez's Magical Realist novel, "Love in the Time of Cholera" I also gained some insight into one of my favorite Cohn songs, "Walking in Memphis," which was incited by James Taylor's advice to travel for inspiration.

I often find myself using religious language to describe the experience of watching concerts, and I owe the habit at least partially to my favorite lyric from "Walking in Memphis":

"Now Muriel plays piano
Every Friday at the Hollywood
And they brought me down to see her
And they asked me if I would
Do a little number
And I sang with all my might
And she said
'Tell me are you a Christian, child?'
And I said 'Ma'am I am tonight' "

I asked Mr. Cohn if performing is akin to a religious experience, if the feeling of transcendence is the same from his side of the stage. He said that it was, even going so far as to say that music has healed him from pain and illness. That has happened to me many times.

I thoroughly enjoyed my conversation with Marc Cohn, and I hope that interviews become a regular feature of this website. I will be reviewing his upcoming performance at The Aladdin Theater on May 4th.

Monday, April 24, 2017

"Beehive" @ Broadway Rose

I spent most of my childhood obsessed with the Oldies station, so "Beehive" is right up my alley. It's a '60s Musical Revue, veering just slightly into the Seventies. There is just enough "book" to satisfy those like myself who prefer a bit of structure. But, "Beehive" is about the music, and that is not a bad thing. Highlights from the sprawling score include a Supremes Medley, and truly energetic versions of "Respect" and "Natural Woman" If "Beehive" is nostalgic for me, as someone who grew-up with these songs when they were old, I can only imagine it would be even more fun for those who grew-up with them when they were new. I'll close by noting that "Beehive" is one of a handful of musicals, or music-infused plays currently running on local stages, and it is the most unabashedly fun and light. That is becoming harder to come by, so enjoy it while you can.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

"Rodney King" @ Artist Repertory Theatre

I am just a little too young to truly remember the Rodney King Beating. My first vivid recollection of it was its presence in the opening-title sequence of Spike Lee's "Malcolm X" That is somewhat fitting, because Spike Lee and the star of "Rodney King," Roger Guenveur Smith have had a long collaboration with each other, including the upcoming Netflix premiere of this very show. While I am quite sure that Mr. Lee will do a characteristically stellar job, I also suspect that we are very lucky to be the last to see this production live.

To call it "breathless" would seem at first to be a cliche, but I mean it quite literally, Mr. Smith's stream-of-consciousness meditation on the event is so rapid-fire I actually did wonder several times how he was able to breathe. Unfortunately, due to some astoundingly rude behavior by a few audience members, Mr. Smith was forced to pause and admonish them.

That aside, "Rodney King" is a piece that pulses with urgency, because things have gotten much worse. It is a work of art that deserves more attention than it is getting. It is part of what Artist Rep has dubbed The Frontier Series, which is in addition to its Main Stage Season. I only knew about it from handbills prior to the Press Release. It only runs through Sunday, and Opening Night was not at capacity. I hope to do my part to change that.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

"Lauren Weedman Doesn't Live Here Anymore" @ PCS

Lauren Weedman's first show at PCS was "The People's Republic of Portland" and I remember enjoying it, but thinking that it could've used more structure. Ms. Weedman's new show, "Lauren Weedman Doesn't Live Here Anymore" has a stronger sense of structure due to the plot-device of an imaginary Country-Western Variety show. This device also allows for frequent musical interludes and impressions. But, the best of Weedman's humor comes from the brief moments outside of the show-within-a show,  in moments like when she tells a story about freaking out her preschool-mommy  yoga class with a dark quip about Jonestown, and her desperate desire not to be judged by them when the joke didn't land. This was also true of "People's Republic of Portland," the one moment which stayed with me in the years since, was a story she told about not wanting to be judged by Portland parents who prized low-tech entertainment, as she tried to hide that she was keeping her own child occupied with an iPad. Weedman is at her funniest and most truthful when she is palpably anxious about not fitting in wherever she goes, despite her best efforts.

The addition of music and impersonations does help to create a fuller show, and I think it has broad appeal.

"Wild & Reckless" @ PCS

"Wild & Reckless" is a collaboration between Blitzen Trapper and Portland Center Stage. They term it a "concert event," and it is indeed a good concert, but I did find myself thinking that its dystopian plot,  having to do with a drug made from lightning,  needed a bit more spoken-narration than it received. Still, the music is gorgeous throughout, so much so that I am now a fan of Blitzen Trapper on the strength of this score alone. The show is as loud and as "wild" as its title suggests, with moody "trippy" projections to help set the scene. It is a truly unique piece, and a strong signal that PCS is making a commitment to new-work, which is laudable in itself. I'd say the audience for this show is made-up of people who like theatre and like music, but are not huge fans of theatre-music. This is an example of what can be done if the two worlds unite and yet keep their own identities.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

"Feathers and Teeth" @ Artist's Rep.

"Feathers and Teeth" is a strange show, to put it mildly. Darius Pierce has long made a home in strange shows, but it is still disconcerting to see Agatha Olson in darker roles, having first become acquainted with her in "The Miracle Worker." She set a precedent for such a shift in Third Rail's "The Nether", but even then she was in the role of a victim. Here, she is almost a villain, though there is room for doubt.

The play can be funny, deeply sad, and sometimes genuinely psychologically unnerving, and at other times, recall the late-night horror creature features of yesteryear. It is a delicate mix, but one that the strong cast and script pull-off effortlessly. I would recommend it equally to those who are intrigued by that last sentence, as well as to those who read it and mentally exclaimed "huh?" Those who are intrigued will not be disappointed, and those who said "huh?" will see how well such disparate themes can coalesce. As one final enticement, and/or warning, depending upon your preference for such things, be careful where you sit, one side of the theatre is informally designated as a potential splash-zone.  

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.