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Monday, September 9, 2019

"In the Heights" @ PCS

"In the Heights" is a splendid show. It's fearlessly modern, but unafraid to nod to the classics. It laid the groundwork for "Hamilton", which would complete Lin-Manuel Miranda's quest to redefine what was "allowed" in a Broadway musical. "In the Heights" is revolutionary in its own right, too--totally apart from Miranda's blockbuster sophomore effort: It was the first successful Latin-themed Broadway musical since "Westside Story" in 1957.

 I would also dub "In the Heights" a musical for those who don't particularly like musicals, a group that includes myself. Yes,. that is mostly due to its aforementioned  modernity, but also its eye-popping choreography. (The show begins with a graffiti-artist tagging a store-gate, he executes a gravity-defying flourish at the end that's so impressive it's used as the show's logo.) This is just a foretaste of what's to come.

Stand-out numbers include: "It Won't Be Long Now" and "When You're Home". Perhaps the highest praise I can give the show is this:  "In the Heights" will mark the first time I have ever asked to see a show twice. While perusing the playbill in preparation for this review,  I saw that Yassmin Alers will be taking over the role of Abuela Claudia after Opening Night. Yassmin  Alers was an original cast member in the best musical ever written: Paul Simon's "The Capeman." The chance to see someone who was in that show, in my own backyard makes my heart pound. Miranda himself was a fan, lamenting the show's premature closure in interviews, and remarking that "In the Heights" began germinating as a means to fill the void left by it for Latino actors  New Artistic Director Marissa Wolf has a small connection to it as well, having done work at The Public Theater, which oversaw its latest Post-Broadway incarnation in Central Park. I'm always a little surprised to learn how well-read this website is within the theatre-community. I hope Ms. Wolf and Ms. Alers  read it. Will this be the beginning of my quest to see "The Capeman" on a Portland Stage? I don't know, but in the words of Abuela Claudia: I shall have "paciencia y fe."

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

"Footloose" at Broadway Rose

"Footloose" is my favorite production of Broadway Rose's current season. Its choreography is so acrobatic that its the only show I've ever seen where I thought to myself, "Where did they find humans without spines? Congress? It also has a delightful '80s soundtrack. Unfortunately, the theatre has informed me that the entire run is sold-out. Perhaps they will extend it, having reached that milestone so early. If so, put on your dancing shoes and hope they double as decent running shoes and get a ticket.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

"Into the Woods" @ Broadway Rose

"Into the Woods" proves once again that Dan Murphy needs to step on stage more often, and not just to tell the audience to "turn-off anything that's not implanted."His Narrator is the most consistent source of humor in the production. He's a natural goofball, and does more with the part than one would expect. Another standout is Tyler Andre Jones as the lovably dumb Jack. It's a fun romp through  familiar fairy tales, put over with the flair we've come to expect from Broadway Rose.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

"Native Gardens" @PCS

The most striking thing about "Native Gardens" is the perfection of its casting. The neighbors actually look like the types of people they are meant to represent. This is particularly true of Anne-Marie Cussion . She is the very embodiment of the weathered, tough-as-nails woman who fought her way up.

Most of the script is amusing. Although, it does underline its "we're not just talking about plants" topicality a little hard at times. I assure you that you'll get its drift. All in all, "Native Gardens"is a comedy about heavy themes, but also manages to end on a light note. Much like the hobby at its center, it is a pleasant way to while-away an evening.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

"The Breath of Life" @ PCS

First things first, I'd watch Gretchen Corbett read the phonebook. Unfortunately, much of David Hare's script made me wonder if that is what I was watching. There is a shocking lack of tension in this play. One of the reasons is that the script drops countless hints that the unseen man at the center of the show is someone of importance. I was waiting for a big-reveal that never came. That Julia Brothers is forced to be "on-book" due to the unexpected departure of Sharonee McLean, doesn't help matters, Add in the odd angles of the set yielding poor sightlines, and I must regretfully suggest you skip this one.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

"The Revolutionists" @ Artists Rep

The most intriguing aspect of  "The Revolutionists" is its deft juggling of tones. From the wrenchingly sad to the silly. It even manages to finesse the bumpiness of the play-within a play. This is mostly accomplished by effective self-referential humor . I Joellen Sweeney, as assassin Charlotte Corday. Her murderous exuberance is hilarious. There are also effective little theatrical-touches I enjoyed, such as the use of red-ribbons to signify death by guillotine. It is strange play, but if you like your violent European History served with a side of laughs, this is your show. 

Monday, April 29, 2019

"Crossing Mnosose" @ PCS

"Crossing Mnosose" has some of the most impressive scenic design I have seen in years. Unsurprisingly, the scenic designer (Todd Rosenthal) has many Broadway credits. Also worthy of note is how well the historical story of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, with the modern story of Standing Rock, and the Dakota Access Pipeline. Sadly, I must admit that Standing Rock had almost completely disappeared from my memory, until the play brought it back to mind. This play has a strangely short run, so if you'd like to see some of the most wow-inducing stagecraft you'll see in a Regional Theatre, you'd better hurry.

Friday, April 26, 2019

"Jesus Hopped the A Train" @ CoHo

I fell in absolute love with the writing of Stephen Adly Guirgus when I was introduced to it via Artists Rep's production of "The Motherfucker with the Hat", had it rekindled with "Between Riverside and Crazy", and now it continues with "Jesus Hopped the A Train." In my review of "Motherfucker" I described Guirgus's dialogue as "verbal sprints." That description holds true for "Jesus Hopped the A Train. This time, however, I was struck not only by the incredible speed, but by the dialogue's near-musicality. It's basically a symphony of profanity.

"Jesus Hopped the A Train" was one of a handful of shows I have anticipated from the beginning of the Season. it continues Coho's long tradition of presenting productions with minimalist-sets that let local actors take the well-deserved spotlight. In this, it's Bobby Bernea, as a serial-killing Christian Convert, of  all things. I've said a version of the following in my reviews of Guirgus's work: it embodies the essence of the violent, visceral reasons I love the theatre. Plays like this are what I hope to see.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

"A Grand Night for Singing" @ Broadway Rose

"A Grand Night for Singing" is a collection of Rogers and Hammerstein classics, arranged in revue. This revue is bookless, and so I was grateful for the detailed playbill, which noted where each song was from. This made things more grounded than they were in the similar  Kander and Ebb revue Broadway Rose did a few years ago. I overheard someone else say that despite the fact she was a pretty big fan of the duo, there were songs she hadn't heard, which suggests that material varies fairly widely. Of the numbers I recognised, quite a few if them were from previous, equally good Broadway Rose full-productions. If you liked their versions of "Oklahoma" and "The Sound of Music", you'll enjoy this show. If those I hadn't heard, the solos were my favorite. These songs are a lot to have on a single person's shoulders, but the vocalists at Broadway Rose never disappoint.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

"Taking Steps @ Lakewood

"Taking Steps is a classic farce with a British-lilt. Once I made peace with the fact the promotional material had exaggerated the "haunted manor" aspect, which is what caught my attention, I found it to be an amiable entry into the genre. As always with a Lakewood production, the cast was top-notch, and the set worthy of a theatre twice its size. It's a pleasant way to while away the last of the cold, as we inch ever closer to Spring. There's just a wintery feel about it, and as the season itself ebbs, so does the length of the run, if dry British wit strikes your fancy, rush over to Lakewood.

"Until the Flood" @ PCS

My first exposure to Dael Orlandersmith's work was "Forever" Reading that review again., I see I rained down superlatives upon it. "Until the Flood" is even more entrancing, and at times seems like a impossibility. I was silently awestruck at the way she inhabited such diverse characters. At times Olandersmith disappears so completely into the roles that she seems almost like a conduit.

"Until the Flood" examines the Michael Brown Shooting through the eyes of several residents who live near the scene. The most admirable aspect of the production is its even-handedness. Even the unapologetically racist electrician is given space to describe events in his life that may have led to misplaced anger. The bravest thing about the show is its unabashed excoriation of the fence-sitting White Liberal, having one characters state  "At least with a bigot, I know where I stand." That's bold remark to make in a show where that category of people is likely to make up a large segment of your audience. Still, virtually no character or group emerges unscathed, except perhaps the Universalist minister who pleads for love among all, ultimately she's the only one who deserves to be unblemished, because her view is the best we can hope for.

Monday, March 18, 2019

"Wolf Play" @ Artists Rep

"Wolf Play" gets off to a rough start. It begins as a metaphysical rumination on wolves, acting, theatre, and the nature of the universe. It registers as a gigantic "Huh?" This is especially unfortunate because there are some fairly important details of the plot in this rapid-fire mishmash.  However, it doesn't take long for the play to find its groove. "Wolf Play" explores the legal pitfalls of same-sex adoption, which exist even following the Supreme Court victory in gay-marriage, Much more surprising, and even less widely known, are issues involving the internet and adoption. The production is well-acted, particularly the genuinely motherly performance of Ayanna Berkshire. Despite my disappointment with its opening, I must also note that there is a harkening-back to some of the more esoteric details, which do seem to help bring the play full-circle. But, I do hope that some editing is done, as this play is world-premiere, and it is on it's way to more productions elsewhere.   

Sunday, March 3, 2019

"Tiny Beautiful Things" @ PCS

I came in completely cold to "Tiny Beautiful Things." I had not read either of Ms. Strayed's books, and only knew that the play concerned an advice column she had written.  My only thought about it was: "Oh, my mom might like this one." In other words, I was expecting a fairly light night at the theatre. Arriving on Opening Night, (sadly without my mom, who was sick, and as I predicted, quite disappointed to miss it), the woman who hands out the press-tickets gave a warning about the need for tissues. She was promptly chided for her "spoiler" by a nearby co-worker. I shrugged it off, being a seasoned-veteran of emotionally engaging theater, and even having a preference for it. The play is 90 minutes, and in the very beginning, it was approximately what I had expected. Things quickly take a serious turn, into some of the most emotionally-exhausting territory one can encounter. Consider this the warning I wish I'd had. I may not have had warning, but I did have cake at the Opening Night Reception. Cake helped. Plan to get cake. I have done you a big favor.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

"A Doll's House Part 2" @ Artists Rep

Somewhere, I had gotten the completely mistaken impression that "A Doll's House: Part 2" was merely an update of Henrik Ibsen's original, into 1950s America. I have no idea where I got that idea, but it was part of the reason I heeded the "Spoiler Alert" heading of the essay in the playbill examining the meaning of both plays. In reality, the "Spoiler Alert" only really applies to the second-half of the essay, dealing with the modern sequel. The first-half is actually quite helpful in providing much-needed background information. As I did not possess this information until immediately before beginning this review I tended to inadvertently ignore some of the finer details of the plot (which made little sense at times), and focus instead on the jarringly intense performance of Artist's Rep Ensemble Member Michael Mendelson, and the minor role, but stellar performance of the ever-engaging Vana O'Brien. If either of those two things appeal to the more seasoned readers of this blog, who know the truth of my praise of their previous work, they may well be able to enjoy the piece on the strength of the performances alone. For everyone else, I'd recommend reading the playbill at the very least, and Ibsen's original if possible.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

"Creating Life Inside" @ Sellwood Playhouse


"Creating Life Inside" is a presentation of Rogue Pack, a sister-organization to the sadly now officially defunct Well Arts, producers of "Fierce Love"  Rogue Pack uses a very similar "collage" format, and shares the mission of telling the stories of under-represented groups on stage-in their case-focusing on youth. Their current show collects the writings of juvenile inmates at Donald E. Long Detention Center.  I was amazed by the insightfulness and general quality of the pieces, especially given the chaotic home-lives one would assume most of them endured, and a few of them actually write about, which in itself is an act of exceptional bravery in which many adults would not engage. The show itself is a very brief thirty minutes, and I really wanted more. Particularly from one searingly poetic participant, who managed to find an abundance of hope in his bleak circumstances. Much of his material is syncopated a bit like rap, but slow enough to be easily understood by those not used to the rapid-fire delivery of much of the genre.

I know I count among the readers of this website at least a handful of professionals involved in the larger theatres in the area. I assume that many of them are the kind of people who seek out work on the fringes, and if I can point them here I'd be honored to do so. Perhaps, they might also have ideas about bringing the show to a wider-audience, something the production richly deserves.




Thursday, January 24, 2019

"Teenage Dick" @ Artists Rep

Oh, what a title! For months, my brother-in-law would make pederasty jokes every time he saw a postcard for "Teenage Dick." So, when two failures of transportation made me miss Opening Night, I took solace in the fact that at least my brother-in-law would shut up if I missed it.  I then read a review posted on Artist Rep's Facebook, which reminded me that the two leads had disabilities, and not just any disability--my own. Now I had to make sure I saw it. I have never been more glad to have made the effort!  I'll make the obligatory point about "representation" being important, and the further point about the all-too-rare casting of disabled actors to play disabled characters. (Especially when Bryan Cranston smells Oscar.) Yes, seeing oneself represented is every bit as gratifying as they say, and yes it is nice to see actors with disabilities on stage. Which made me wonder why this was not mentioned in the promotional materials, I doubt I would have known at all,  had that review not jogged my memory of it being mentioned in passing at the Season Announcement Party. Next time there's a show involving disability, (please let there be a next time) emphasize it more. I saw myself a lot in Richard, and not just in the obvious way, but also in the way that the cunning nerd never gets his due, either. (I've often said that evil genius is a symptom of cerebral palsy,  no one believes me.)

Please, please, see this show. It is momentous. I will do my part to spread the word among advocacy organizations and such. "We" need to flood into shows like this, so there will be more.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

"Dial 'M' for Murder @ Lakewood

"Dial 'M' for Murder" is the kind of show where even the most cursory of plot summaries would amount to a smorgasbord of spoilers. So, let's jump right into the reasons you should see it. The title tells you everything you need to know about whether it is your cup of tea. It most certainly is mine, coming in second only to Lakewood's immediately previous production of "Inherit the Wind" as my most anticipated production of the metro-area's entire Season. In fact, the splendidness of these two shows has served to make me regret my inadvertent neglect of their shows as of late. It also must be noted that shows like "Dial 'M' are solidly in Lakewood's wheelhouse, it's always nice to see them do a show that has their "mark" as it were. Even the weather felt like a perfect complement to the show, the kind of night one might bundle in a blanket and watch its famous cinematic adaptation. In short, put this at the top of your list, it's run is rather brief.