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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.