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Monday, April 23, 2018

Major Barbara @ PCS

Sometimes it is unavoidable that the viewer puts his own feelings into a work of art. There are moments in "Major Barbara" which, to me, suggest clear satire of unfettered capitalism. Chief among them is the final scene, in which arms-dealer Andrew Undershaft mounts a rousing defense of his business, and capitalism itself, all the way down to caring not at all about which side he is arming in a given conflict. Previous mottoes of the munitions-factory are projected on a screen throughout the show, culminating in the least nuanced of all, simply "unashamed," which I took as Shaw's backhanded assertion that we should indeed be ashamed. This interpretation was bolstered by overhearing someone in my row hiss "Satan!" at the end of Undershaft's speech. But, spurred-on by actor Brian Weaver's interpretation that the play is a "shameless defense of capitalism" I unearthed that Shaw had written a preface to the published edition in which he comes out against the idea of rejecting money for a good cause due to the morally impure source of that money. This surprised me, due to other scenes in the show that suggest Shaw believed the opposite.  Barbara's about-face on many issues also seems rather abrupt, if they are not meant to show the seduction of a pure-heart by  temptations of wealth, and questionable pragmatism. Departing director Chris Coleman notes that Shaw was a leading Progressive of his time, which undercuts the idea of trumpeting the virtues of capitalism.  On the whole, the play is a debate, and all good debates must be fair to all sides. "Major Barbara" is fair above all else, this makes for a good show.

"Luna Gale" @ Coho

Let's get right to the point: "Luna Gale" is the most compelling play currently running on a Portland stage. I should stop there, and urge you to use the saved time to go buy a ticket to its all-too-brief run. But I feel the need to add that I have yet to see an imperfect play by Rebecca Gilman, and I'm quite sure that is at least partially due to the fact that all three I have seen have been so meticulously staged at CoHo.

All I feel comfortable divulging of the plot is that it concerns a custody battle for an infant. Instead I shall use the reminder of this space to full-throatedly gush. It is the kind of play that is presented with such impressive precision that you notice the little things and how well they mesh with the larger things, like the incidental music. The best endorsement I can give it is that the play has stayed in my brain from lights-down, and seems to have no plans of leaving any time soon.

I will close with an impassioned plea that CoHo stage "The Glory of Living" and continue their Gilman streak. Now, go buy a ticket!

Monday, April 16, 2018

"Always Patsy Cline" @ Broadway Rose

"Always Patsy Cline" appears from the playbill to be a frequently revived Broadway Rose production, and I now can see why. It's a two character play, and yet seems to be bursting with tunes that would tax a cast of many more. Not only is it frequently revived, it is revived with the same cast, which certainly increase its specialness to Broadway Rose itself, especially considering that one of the two characters is played by Artistic Director Sharon Maroney, (I have eagerly awaited her return to the stage after her truly memorable role in "Gypsy.")

The show, unlike others of its type, actually has a decent amount of "book" providing details of the characters' relationship, and leading to a few very impressive duets. It is a show for fans of Patsy Cline, and more than usual, a show that seems to be particularly attached to its venue. This makes it a must-see.....

Monday, April 9, 2018

"The Thanksgiving Play" @ Artist's Rep

"The Thanksgiving Play" is a brisk, hilarious 90 minutes. But, its briskness and humor does not mean it's light. The humor is disarming, because the themes at the center are quite heavy.  I was particularly impressed by the way the script handled the "moral," which I will not spoil here. Suffice it to say that in lesser hands would feel rather hollow. This is a show for everyone, but I think that Portland audiences will be especially receptive to its skewering of New Aginess,  because we are sort of a mecca for such things. That its targets are varied is yet another plus, from Hollywood, to Revisionist History, to the theatre itself.  It's ease of flow and general balance are remarkable. I truly enjoyed myself, and you will too.

"And So We Walked" @ PCS

Delanna Studi's "And So We Walked" is probably the first One-Woman show where the word "epic" can be properly applied. Yet, despite its breadth, I enjoyed its small moments most. Moments like when Studi was a grade schooler, and Native Americans were called "extinct" by a virtue on a rule in the curriculum, which Studo's father- a towering presence in the show- managed to get overturned. Or moments where little traditions are revealed, like defacing $20s because of the presence of Andrew "Indian Killer" Jackson. These brief stories truly inform the whole, and give the Big Event at the play's center huge personal meaning.

The recurring motif of dreams is also effective, but to uninitiated eyes, the lines between them can occasionally be blurred.

I wonder if the bookending with Artist's Rep's "The Thanksgiving Play" was intentional, because they complement each other tremendously, because "And So We Walked" is a show in which a Native Woman tells her story, and "The Thanksgiving Play" is about what happens when others try to tell stories for others. The contrast is remarkable, even beyond the humor. I feel privileged to have watched these shows by voices so neglected, that in all my years of theatre going, I believe that they are the only two I've seen from a Native perspective.