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Sunday, September 29, 2013

"Mistakes Were Made" @ Artist's Rep

Michael Mendelson's performance in "Mistakes Were Made" is astounding. It would be impressive under normal circumstances, because he is essentially alone on stage nearly all of the play's ninety-minute length, save for a few brief appearances by a secretary, and large puppet of a fish. In those ninety-minutes, Mendelson must not only breathlessly try to please everyone involved in the Broadway-bound play his character is producing , but also to  keep the audience engaged, while most of the other people he interacts with are on the phone. As I've said, all of this is a feat under the best of conditions for any actor. Now consider that Mendelson had to fill in for an unexpectedly absent leading-man. due to a family emergency. This unspecified emergency took place ten days prior to opening-night, and Mendelson only had a week-long postponement in which to prepare. Add all that together and Mendelson should bee awarded a medallion which declares, "World's Greatest Actor" to be worn unashamedly throughout the run. Ok, maybe that's a bit much, but having read the exact time table in the playbill, I was truly shocked it was possible to learn that many lines in so little time.

The play reminded me a little of "Fully Comitted," a play mounted by Portland Center Stage several years ago, which also involved one man on the phone. If you happened to have seen that show, you are likely to enjoy this one. Go anyway to see an actor embark on a test of endurance.    

Thursday, September 26, 2013

"The Big Meal" @ Artist's Rep

"The Big Meal" is a play that shares much with the metaphor of its title, the narrative spans decades in the life of the family at its center,  all of the action taking place in a restaurant, and therefore the lives that unfold before us can be seen as one "Big Meal." And like a big meal, while one can appreciate the breadth of delights spread out upon the table, one might also wish to take a breath or two between courses. The whirlwind pace of "The Big Meal" is quite possibly deliberate, to show how fast time can seem to pass, and in certain ways it is effective, (there are moments when characters appear to age in an instant.), and the skill with which so few actors play so many parts within less than 90 minutes is remarkable. But,  I couldn't shake the feeling that as I worked to keep up with the action in terms of what, where, when, and who, I was missing something in the meantime. Yet, this is a minor quibble, in an otherwise fantastic production. I particularly enjoyed seeing Allen Nause preform again, having enjoyed him in "Death of a Salesman" years ago. Though he is retiring from his post as Artistic Director, I hope that we might get to see him grace the stage every now and then.

There are moments of happiness, dashes of humor, and at least two servings of terrible sadness. Bring your  knife and fork,  some napkins for dabbing tears, and dig in.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

"Fiddler on the Roof" @ Portland Center Stage

The most striking thing about Portland Center Stage's production of "Fiddler on the Roof" was the unexpected humor. Most of it comes in the witty quips of Tevye, patriarch of a large Jewish family in small Russian village. The best of these come in Tevye's frequent conversations with God. Given the depressing circumstances of most of the play; including forced expulsion of Jewish people by the Czar.

David Studwell plays Tevye, and heads a uniformly impressive cast, including Portland favorite Susannah Mars. They are parents of five daughters, the three oldest of whom are poised to break centuries of tradition by marrying outside of arrangements made by the town's matchmaker.

The choreography is fantastic, and I would venture to say that it has the most dancing of any Portland Center Stage production I have seen. The orchestra is also sprawling, with ten musicians, I would wager that number is close to the largest band Portland Center Stage has assembled.

"Fiddler" is in all ways a fittingly ambitious production, and serves to as an exciting foretaste of things to come.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Ron White at Spirit Mountain Casino, Sept. 21, 2013

Ron White, the raspy-voiced, Scotch-swilling comedian of "Blue Collar" fame, brought his unique brand of humor to Spirit Mountain Casino on Saturday Night. White's jokes ranged from gleefully raunchy, (most involving his penchant for drinking; something he indulged in on stage!), to unexpectedly sweet, a brief routine revolved around a friend's participation in The Special Olympics. And then there was a bit about a grisly roller-coaster accident which was in such astonishingly bad-taste that White pretended it was his closer. (I can't lie, it was so funny that I began to choke.).

Ron White's show also ranks among my luckiest, (though not in relation to gambling, don't worry, losses were minimal) No, the show was lucky because I secured press tickets for a sold-out show, which would be lucky enough on its own, but while waiting in line, someone passed me a Meet & Greet sticker. Only the Spirit Mountain photographer was allowed to take pictures, and they will be available soon.

As I noted in my Wanda Sykes review, Spirit Mountain is exceptionally accessible, with things like removable chairs at every slot, and lowered gaming tables. It's always nice to go somewhere that's even reasonably accessible,  given the hassles involved when you come upon a place that isn't, but Spirit Mountain is almost in a class by itself. If anybody who has a disability has not yet been, I highly recommend that you experience it.

Monday, September 16, 2013

"The Mountaintop" @ Portland Center Stage

My first exposure to "The Mountaintop" was an interview with Samuel L. Jackson, who played Martin Luther King in the Original Broadway Production. In the interview, Jackson referenced a small moment in the play in which King urinates, and that our collective view of King is of a man so revered that we are almost surprised that he too was subject to the elimination of bodily fluids.

Katori Hall's play is full of little revelations that might come as a bit of shock to those only familiar with the History Book King. Equally unsettling are the moments when we are reminded of our government's role in impeding the progress of The Civil Rights Movement. We like to think it was just a fight against hateful misguided citizens, and unjust laws in the Southern States, but we are shown this is false in a moment as brief as it is brilliant, when King unscrews his telephone receiver to check for bugs before he calls Room Service for a cup of coffee brought by a maid who is not who she seems on his final night on Earth, after his painfully prophetic "I've been to the Mountaintop" speech.

Rodney Hicks is up to the monumental task of the role he must play, giving us a King who is both stoic and vulnerable. Natalie Paul effortlessly imbues the character of Camae the maid with natural, easy charisma, as she draws out both sides of King's personality.

"The Mountaintop" is well-worth seeing for it's brief and penetrating look inside the life of an icon who was every bit as human and afraid as the rest of us.