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Tuesday, December 9, 2014

"The Mystery of Irma Vep"

Third Rail Repertory Theatre always has top-notch, polished productions even back in the days when they were just starting out and were tenants in a converted firehouse, and "Irma Vep" is no exception. The first thing that strikes you is the dazzling set, complete with lightning effects. I had not looked at my playbill before the show, so it took me a second to realize that the cast consists of only two members, two male actors. It didn't take long for "Irma Vep" to turn into a quick-change romp. It is a laugh-riot. And the twist at the end is completely unexpected. The most concise, spoiler-free thing I can say is: If you're looking for something different, this is it.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

"Blithe Spirit" @ Artists Rep

"Blithe Spirit" is Artist Rep's "non-holiday holiday show".  So those of you who already have holiday fatigue can use this show as an oasis. Still, I can't help but wonder why they didn't position it closer to Halloween because it's a ghost story comedy. My favorite scenes involved the ghost and her rapidly changing location, with the other characters trying to avoid sitting on her, like a child's imaginary friend.

Michael Mendelson is his usual animated self, his performance is worth going for all my itself.  Also noteworthy is Vana O'Brien as Madam Arcati, the scatterbrained psychic.

Monday, December 1, 2014

A Christmas Survival Guide @ Broadway Rose

"A Christmas Survival Guide" is -despite its title- the cheeriest Christmas show in town. Sure, there's nods to various sadnesses around the holidays: loneliness,  a frazzled adult asking Santa for a litany of unmet needs, a jaunty little number called "The Twelve Steps of Christmas," but even with all of those light whacks at the season, "Survival Guide" cannot hide its yuletide enthusiasm. "All Those Christmas Cliches" in Act I sums-up the spirit of the show, even though we may tire of some of the rituals of the holidays, we still long for them in their absence. My favorite number by far was the Big Finale "A Walk Through Bethlehem."  So, go! (you know you want to, don't hide it.) There are still plenty of us with Christmas joy to spare, some of you decorated right after Halloween, didn't you? This is a show for those people, and they should drag along a few Scrooges to hasten along that Christmas epiphany.

"A Christmas Survival Guide"

Broadway Rose New Stage

"Santaland Diaries" @ Portland Center Stage

I haven't seen  David Sedaris' "Santaland Diaries" for many years, Portland Center Stage was in its old home as a tenant of the Portland Center for the Performing Arts, it was the final year before "Santaland" took a long hiatus. A few things are different in this incarnation: On the positive side, my personal view was much improved, (the front of the Elleyn Bye Studio vs. the rear of the Newmark.) On the negative side,  PCS originally paired "Santaland" with Truman Capote's "Christmas Memory" and the contrast of Capote's melancholy with Sedaris' sardonic wit was sorely missed. Here's hoping that they revive the double-bill soon. I do not recall who played the role of Crumpet the Elf in the original production, but Darius Pierce, a local favorite of mine all the way back to his days with Theatre Vertigo is wonderful in the role. In fact, the reason I made sure to see "Santaland" this year was because I was reminded of how much I missed his unique stage-presence after seeing him in Third Rail's "Middletown".  I can see why "Santaland" has been a PCS tradition for so many years, the tale of Sedaris' brief stint as a department store elf is just the thing for those who wish to laugh knowingly at forced holiday cheer.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Penn and Teller at Spirit Mountain Casino

The quirky Vegas magicians Penn and Teller brought their totally wacky show to Spirit Mountain Saturday night It was equal parts Big Magic, comedy, and Teller's masterful sleight-of-hand magic. The opening trick had an audience member's cellphone appear inside a sealed box, which would be impressive enough, but inside the box was a fish, and the phone was inside the fish.  They dubbed the trick "cell-fish" and promised that the audience member's camera will have caught the secret of the trick.

The duo also performed their famous American Flag trick in which a flag appears to be burned, and reappears on its pole, a bit that was once telecast on an episode of "The West Wing" Another stand-out was a deliberately failed card-trick that meant Teller could not not be released from a giant tank of water.

Penn and Teller put on a fantastic show, and as always, Spirit Mountain is a delightful venue. It is exceptionally wheelchair-friendly, if you haven't been, you must go.  

Saturday, November 8, 2014

"The Paino Lesson" @ Portland Playhouse

I am honored to add my voice to the chorus of praise for Portland Playhouse's latest August Wilson production, "The Piano Lesson". It is truly amazing how much this comparatively very small theatre can do with Wilson's sweeping works. In fact, it was their first Wilson production, "Radio Golf" that made me face the prospect of being lugged-up their stairs once again, only to find that they had installed a ramp.  "The Piano Lesson" is story about overcoming the ghosts of the past, sometimes literally. My favorite moments were the musical interludes. The play won Wilson a second Pulitzer Prize, and tickets to Portland Playhouse's production are selling quickly. Get your tickets now, the show must close on Nov. 16.

Friday, October 31, 2014

'Night Mother @ Coho Productions

My first exposure to " 'Night Mother" was the film with Sissy Spacek and Anne Bancroft and I remember thinking, "I bet this is so much better on stage." As director Gavin Hoffman says in his notes " 'Night Mother" is an oft-talked about, but rarely seen play." And so, how very fortunate we are that it is being staged in the intimate CoHo Theater. I won't give away the central plot point, but I will say that as I sat there with my white-knuckled hands against my ears at the end, I was not self-conscious. If I had to pick one show that is currently running as a "must-see" it is " 'Night Mother" hands-down. And hurry, it is a brief run, which ends Nov. 8th.  If one of the two actresses does not win a Drammy for her work, something is very wrong.

Thelma: Jacklyn Maddux

Jessie: Dana Millican

2257 NW Raleigh St 
Portland, OR 97210 
(503) 220-2646

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

"The Typographer's Dream" @ PCS

Adam Bock must have had one hell of an office job at one time. His work reflects the tedium and monotony like no one else. While "The Receptionist" was much darker, "The Typographer's Dream" might be just slightly more incisive. I would have never thought that the nature of your job could subconsciously influence how you speak in your leisure time. I'm sure the repetitiveness of the narrative is intentional, but for this reason you may be glad that the show is a lean seventy-five minutes. There is however a unexpected and brilliantly goofy dance by Laura Faye Smith that breaks things up nicely, in fact it's worth the price of admission all by itself.

Monday, October 13, 2014

"Middletown" @ Third Rail Rep

Darius Pierce's performance of a breathless monologue at the beginning of "Middletown" is reason enough to see the show. He has the best moments in the show. His delivery of a line as a tourist telling a guide "let me take a picture of you being wrong" is priceless. "Middletown"'s funniest humor comes from lines like that, another stand-out is when a nurse remarks, "I always thought 'Botulism' sounded like a philosophy of poor choices."  Be warned that the play is very odd, I'm not sure I understood it all, but for some people "odd" is a selling-point. But, once again, the biggest draw for me was Darius Pierce, I hadn't realized how much I have missed his totally unique stage-presence.

Monday, October 6, 2014

"Exiles" @ Artists Rep

"Exiles" is the story of Cubans fleeing their country for Miami during a mass exodus known as The Mariel Boatlift. The projections in the show are beautiful, and Bobby Bernea absolutely steals the show as "The Lunatic", a character representing the many criminals and mental patients released by Castro to embarrass the United States.

There was one minor disappointment with the projections: "The Lunatic" has a flashback scene describing the political cartoons which made him run afoul of the government. There is a verbal description of one involving Castro and a pineapple, and judging by the laughter from the roughly one-fourth of the audience who could see it, I felt like I missed something important.

"Exiles" is a lean and tense drama that is worth seeing, especially for Bermea's performance, which is sure to rank among the best of the season.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

"Dreamgirls" @ Portland Center Stage

"Dreamgirls" is a fictionalization of the rise and breakup of The Supremes. It is one of the few musicals which doesn't sound Broadwayized, (it's always fun to create a word.) In other words, to my knowledge it is the earliest example of a rock musical which was not written by a rock musician. So, it is the perfect show to take someone who is reluctant to go. Every thing about this show oozes with glitz, from the dazzling costumes to the intricate sets. But, the very best part of "Dreamgirls" is the Act I finale "And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going," and Nattalyee Randall as Effe White knocks it out of the park.

Do yourself a favor and see "Dreamgirls" I am telling you that you won't regret it.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

"Whodunit" @ Broadway Rose

It's always nice to find a show that you can recommend to everybody, a show so genuinely fun that it has something to please every taste. "Whodunit", which runs through October 19th at Broadway Rose Theatre Company's New Stage Auditorium is a tuneful romp, a twisty mystery, and an off-the-wall comedy. The most surprising thing about it is quality of the solo numbers, despite the lightness of the material. Standouts include "If Only" and "A Lady's Maid" One of my favorite elements of shows like this is that even the background characters get their moment in the spotlight--often in unexpected ways.

Also noteworthy is the set by Charles Murdock Lucas, even the man who introduced the show couldn't resist entering by its grand staircase. 

Oh, one final suggestion: Be sure to take a friend, so that you might ponder the clues during intermission.

"Whodunit" By Ed Dixon
Broadway Rose New Stage Auditorium
12850 SW Grant Ave., Tigard.

Monday, September 15, 2014

"Intimate Apparel" at Artists Rep

"Intimate Apparel" is a play about a lot of different things: love, betrayal, gender roles,  race, religion. But, as is the case with all forms of art, the viewer has the privilege of selecting which themes resonate the most with him personally, and for me "Intimate Apparel" is at its best when it is an ode to craft. What stuck with me most after the curtain went down is how all art is fundamentally the same. All art has elements of craft, and all craft has elements of art. Would I have ever thought about sewing and clothing in this way had I not seen "Intimate Apparel"? No. And the appreciation of craft goes beyond the spoken word in this show, the set is gorgeous, and as is to be expected in a show about clothing, the costumes take center stage. It is fitting that this production allows for the people who toil behind the scenes to have their moment in the spotlight, much like the protagonist herself.

Friday, September 5, 2014

"Butt Kapinski" @ Coho Theatre

I got an e-mail about "Butt Kapinski" and I had to suppress a squeal. A film noir parody with a title like that? It couldn't be more my kind of thing if it tried. "Butt" is a one woman show, and she spends most of the hour-plus wearing an interrogation lamp. That alone is worth the price of admission, add in her speech impediment and the pronunciation of "noir" and you're set. It must be noted however that the production spins into some explicit territory toward the end, and it was more than a little uncomfortable to attend with my mother, (who incidentally made her stage debut as a corpse.) "Butt" is a two-night traveling show, the final one is tonight at 7:30.

CoHo Theatre 
2257 NW Raleigh St 
Portland, OR 97210 
(503) 220-2646

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Eddie May Mysteries @ The Stockpot Broiler

Eddie May Mysteries has been a Portland institution for thirty years. Of all the Mystery Dinner Shows around the Portland area, Eddie May seems to have the largest cast. The current story is set in 1929 in a speakeasy.  The format is traditional, the characters make their way to you and are easily identifiable, I strongly prefer this format to others I have encountered. For example, The Dinner Detective employs an anonymous cast approach, which meant that participants had to interrogate each other just to learn the suspects, this was awkward. Another dinner theatre company makes selected audience members learn their parts from booklets, this approach was in some ways even more bizarre.

The humor is rapid-fire. Wall to wall "blink and you miss it" jokes. Listen closely.  My favorite: "I tried to drown my sorrows, but my wife would never go swimming."

The Stockpot provides posh surroundings for the show. Due to the time of year, the show is currently held in a smaller room. Fall will bring larger crowds, but there is a better chance of winning the prizes with less competition. This is worth noting because the prizes are far better than all of the other Mystery Dinner Shows. These include a framed certificate, a trophy, and a gift certificate to The Stockpot.

The included meal is delicious: A choice of steak, chicken, or risotto. The show changes soon, I hope to attend again. Eddie May Mysteries has these things down to a science. I loved it!

Phone: 503-524-4366

Address: 8200 SW Scholls Ferry Rd, Beaverton, OR 97008

Price: $60 including show, three course meal and gratituity

Monday, July 14, 2014

Bill Engvall @ Spirit Mountain Casino

Bill Engvall, best known as part of the Blue Collar Comedy Tour played Spirit Mountain Casino last night. Unlike fellow "Blue Collar" alum, Ron White who also graced the Spirit Mountain Stage, most of Engvall's routine was relatively clean. Bits ranged from his tenure on "Dancing with the Stars" to the cremation of his father-in-law and his experiences as a novice with Medical Marijuana. Also notable was his assessment of Farmer's Markets, which went over well with a -ahem- knowing Portland-centric audience.

Once again I must note that Spirit Mountain is among my favorite venues in the state. The Event Center has many moveable seats, so that many of them can be easily converted into a wheelchair space. The same is true of the slot machines. There is also a comparative abundance of accessible seating at the gaming tables. I love this place so much If you've never been, drop everything and go!

Monday, June 30, 2014

"The Music Man" at Broadway Rose

"The Music Man" is an ambitious production from Broadway Rose. I would wager that it is among the most complex shows they have mounted. The large cast is impressive in every way, but especially with regard to choreography. The band is top-notch and fills the intimate space with so much melody it seems barely able to contain it.

The sets and props are magnificent, particularly the train that comes rushing out at you, complete with smoke.  Joe Theissen shines as the cunning con man Harold Hill, and Thomas Prislac Jr. is an appropriately stuffy Mayor Shinn.

It's a fun show, and again, a lavish one. Thoroughly enjoyable in every respect. Here's my favorite photo from the press-kit which I think does the best job of capturing the scope of the choreography.


Tuesday, June 10, 2014

"The Playboy of the Western World" @ Artists Rep.

I'm afraid to confess this because I think it makes me sound not-so-smart, but "The Playboy of the Western World" is pretty hard to follow. Of course, that really shouldn't come as much of a surprise, given that it was written in 1907, in a strange Irish-what's the word--dialect? Artists Rep seems well-aware of the play's difficulty, providing links to the script and other resources on their website, and yet, I think director Damaso Rodriguez sums up the complexity best with this passage from his Director's Note:  "On the page, Synge's language seems impossibly dense, each line requiring a Google search to make sense of what's being said."

In this light, perhaps I should feel that I am in good company in being frequently lost in terms of the plot.  Despite this, there is still praise to be given, particularly to Michael Mendelson, who once again proves himself ready for Herculean acting tasks, the lyricism of the dialogue can not be denied. If you feel up to it, you might do better than I did, and even if not, watching some of Portland's finest actors take on a challenge like this is something to see.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

"The Beauty Queen of Leenane" at Third Rail Repertory Theatre

"The Beauty Queen of Leenane" marks my first show as an invited critic to Third Rail Rep, though I've been a long time fan of their work. It is also gratifying to see them fitting so comfortably into their new home at the Winningstad Theatre. In fact, if memory serves, the last production I saw of theirs was also a Martin McDonagh play, "A Skull in Connemara," on my birthday during their first "Leenane Day" in which a full production of a play in the Trilogy is performed after readings of the other two.

"Beauty Queen" is the first of the Trilogy, a play which mostly focuses on the strained relationship of Maureen and her mother, Mag, though there is room for McDonagh's trademark odd-ball supporting characters, as well as some of the darkness he is also known for, but I'd better leave it at that.... Both actresses are in top form, Jayne Taini is the grating and conniving Mag and Maureen is Maureen Porter, in a role she seems meant to play, right down to her first name.

It is an honor to be added to Third Rail's Press List. I can not wait for next season.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Brighton Beach Memoirs @ Clackamas Community College

"Brighton Beach Memoirs" at Clackamas Community College is once again a truly ambitious undertaking, rivaling their last production of Neighborhood 3:Requisition of Doom, again directed by James Eikrem with a set by Chris Whitten. This one is the multi-room home of the Jerome family, the alter-egos of Neil Simon's own.

"Brighton Beach Memoirs" is the first in Simon's trilogy known as the Eugene Plays, after his own character, Eugene Morris Jerome. This play concerns Eugene's adolescence, followed by his service in World War II in "Biloxi Blues" and finally his fledgling career as a writer in "Broadway Bound."

The cast is top-notch. Branden McFarland is a ceaselessly likable Eugene. Jayne Hall is the elder brother, Stanley, whose main function is to be a fount of endless "adult" knowledge for Eugene. Halley Houser is a stoic and endearing Kate, the family matriarch, a perfect match for her wise, yet stubborn husband, Jack. Blanche Morton (Jennifer Whitten ) is Kate's sister and complete opposite--frail and asthmatic--but sympathetic nonetheless. Her daughters, Nora and Laurie complete the out-sized brood, the younger daughter shares her mother's frailty, while the elder provides oh-so forbidden fantasy for Eugene.

Unfortunately, once again, I saw a late performance, and the show is now closed. But, the production was so well received that I hold out hope that they may make their way through the trilogy. If they do, I will be sure to give you a heads-up, because it will doubtlessly be worth seeing.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

"Lizzie" @ Portland Center Stage

You know a production is strange when even the Director's Note says, "Whaaat? How's that going to work?"A musical about Lizzie Borden is weird enough on its own, but not entirely unheard of, I mean "Sweeney Todd" is based on fact, right? It's the "punk-rock musical" part that sends it into the stratosphere of bizarreness. Somehow it works, and I don't just mean that I enjoyed it, or that it managed to transcend the "Whaaat?" Factor. No, what I'm trying to articulate is that "Lizzie"succeeds in all of those ways,  and also pulls off a difficult tonal balancing act. Of course it's dark, and, as is to be expected, there's also a healthy dose of dark-humor mixed-in, culminating in a number with a giant blood-spraying axe that closes Act I, but there is also room for quieter, more serious numbers, and it turns out that those are the ones that become unexpected     

The band deserves special mention. I suppose that six musicians is a fairly large band, but the music is so...thumping that you'd expect a group twice that size.

Beyond the band, beyond the general fun of it all, the best part of "Lizzie" is that it seems to be a musical for people who don't particularly like traditional musicals (myself included). There's almost none of the Broadway Belting that even seeps into compositions by rock artists who should know better. This is a feat indeed.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

KINK on the Waterfront: Vicci Martinez, Marc Broussard, and Vintage Trouble

Where to begin? I knew I'd love Marc Broussard having seen his unique brand of Bayou Soul before. And he did not disappoint. He performed a set of songs taken mostly from his first album, Carencro, but also included new songs as yet only found on his album "Live from Full-Sail University." The summer-themed tunes were a perfect complement to the unexpectedly warm night.

I had never heard of either of the other acts, Vicci Martinez, and the headliner Vintage Trouble. Both were incredible surprises. Martinez is like a female freight train, and Vintage Trouble was Classic Soul, (we also got the unexpected treat of Booker T. subbing for Vintage Trouble's ill bass player.) Vintage Trouble's lead singer bounded about the stage, and a seemingly impossible distance away from it  They played classics  as well as their own tunes, and they seemed indistinguishable, as in equally great.

Out of nowhere Vintage Trouble's lead singer made a short speech about the power of live music on the spirit, and I would whole-heartedly agree. The evening was both full of soul, (the genre), and soul-stirring.

Monday, May 5, 2014

The Last Five Years @ PCS

 "The Last Five Years" is an autobiographical musical tracing the relationship of writer "Jamie" and aspiring actress "Cathy. Perhaps it was a little too autobiographical, because the inspiration for "Cathy" threatened legal action against playwright Jason Robert Brown, alleging that the musical mirrored her life to closely and violated the terms of their divorce decree.  Brown altered the lyrics to a song in order to avoid legal trouble. Ah, the perils of writing, (and getting involved with a writer.) The play employs an interesting narrative device. Jamie's story is told in chronological order, while Cathy's is told in reverse, (I must confess that I lost track of the timeline occasionally.)

 My favorite song was the devastating opener "I'm Still Hurting" a raw look at the broken heart of a person left behind. (I must note that the piano in some songs drowned out bits of dialogue, I hope that they have made slight adjustments since Opening Night.)

What's most interesting about "The Last Five Years" is that Cathy was willing to sue over her portrayal, and yet her character is the more sympathetic one. Which means that the most admirable thing about "The Last Five Years" is Brown's willingness to look far less than perfect. Not many of us would be willing to do that, and that is worth seeing.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

"The Quality of Life" @ Artists Rep

It is my practice to avoid reading synopses of the plays I haven't already heard about. "The Quality of Life" was one of those plays. Which means I was unprepared, to put it mildly.

The play is about death and dying, but it is also about grief, and our unavoidably clumsy way of dealing with it. There is never any grace in grief. 

Susannah Mars once again plays a mother who has lost a child, a role she has played twice before in Artists Rep productions, "Rabbit Hole" and "Next to Normal," and it is a role she crushes every time, in such a way as to make it look effortless. Michael Mendelson plays a terminally ill man, and while the role does have room in it for him to be a bit of a goofball free-spirit, his raging speech at the end is a departure for the character, and if memory serves, for Mendelson himself.

Michael Fisher-Welsh has the thankless job of playing the stiff and boring grieving father, a man who has had every ounce of joy sucked from him. I say "thankless" because we spend much of the play not liking him, so the challenge is to imbue him with a dwindling spark of humanity, doused almost completely by sadness. Fisher-Welsh succeeds, and the audience owes him thanks.

I've been trying not to use "gut-wrenching" because it is a cliche, but perhaps I'll be granted a pass if I admit that the aforementioned last scene with Mendelson made me nauseated. You have been warned.  

Monday, April 14, 2014

"Othello" @PCS

Portland Center Stage's "Othello" is magnificent in every way. The entire cast is fantastic, but special praise is owed to Gavin Hoffman as Iago. His performance is so palpably villainous that one expects to see a forked tongue eventually. And he's local, which of course scores him even more points!

The set is mammoth, so much so that adjectives like that don't quite do it justice, which compels me to quote the specifications from the Press Notes: "The set structure is 30 feet wide and estimated to weigh 2,000 pounds. It rotates 360-degrees on 104 castors, powered by a 5 horsepower engine." Try to imagine what that looks like. I wager the actual set is grander than what your mind's eye conjures. It must be seen to be believed.

"Othello" is my favorite of Shakespeare's plays. I enjoy its dark themes, and the language seems easier to interpret than some others. I would recommend "Othello" to reluctant Shakespeare beginners. But really, I'd recommend it to everyone. It is such a feast for the senses, it almost defies description.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Murder Served Hot: Mystery Dinner Theatre

"Murder Served Hot" is an Interactive Murder Mystery. The current show is set in 1950 and the investigation centers around the murder of  local slime-ball Nippy. Suspects include a recently acquitted accused murderess, a prostitute, and the mayor. "Murder Served Hot" is performed in the traditional format, in which the characters are easily identifiable and converse with the audience. I enjoy this format much more than the anonymous approach employed by "The Dinner Detective" (

All of the cast seemed to relish their roles, (none more so than Nippy.)  The investigative portion involves looking through the jackets and purses of the characters, and my father nearly forgot to put a seemly insignificant prop back where it came from. Sure enough, this item proved crucial to the solution of the mystery, we had a good laugh.

The dinner is fantastic, we chose the beef option, but there is also a mushroom risotto. Both come with a salad and an absolutely decadent Kailua Fudge Brownie.

It took me a while to see "Murder Served Hot" because they moved venues frequently, and the previous two were pretty far away. Now they've settled into Macadam's Bar and Grill. The scripts change about every four months, and I have been invited back. I couldn't be happier, I love these things.
"Murder Served Hot"

Box Office Phone Number for Public Shows, or to schedule a private event:



Public Show Venue:

Macadam's Bar & Grill

5833 SW Macadam Ave

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Neighborhood 3:Requisition of Doom @ Clackamas Community College

The set for "Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom" by Chris Whitten is striking, a brilliant merging of old-school and new-school gaming. It's part Q-bert blocks, part giant video screen. The cast does a wonderful job of filling the large space, shepherded by director James Eikrem.  The play is much edgier than I was expecting, and as regular readers know, this is always a good thing in my opinion. The original musical score by Chris Wilcox is professional-caliber, not to mention creepy as hell.

Unfortunately, I saw a rather late show, and closing night is tomorrow. If you can make it, I highly recommend it.  In fact, I hope they extend it. It is brave, provocative, and has technical artistry that rivals productions with presumably much higher budgets. In short, it deserves to be seen by as many as possible, and I am happy to do my part.

Monday, March 3, 2014

"A Small Fire" @ Portland Center Stage

"A Small Fire" is a departure for director Rose Riordan, and possibly for playwright Adam Bock, though I have less exposure to his work. (I saw "The Receptionist" in its first incarnation at CoHo, but I'm apparently the only theatre-goer in Portland who missed "The Thugs".) Most of Ms. Riordan's work is on the darker side,"The Pillowman", "The North Plan" Bock's "Receptionist," to name a few. So, it is quite surprising that while "A Small Fire"certainly deals with heavy subjects, there is also a lot of tenderness in it.

It's a play of small moments. We watch as Emily Bridges, a somewhat gruff woman, loses her sense of smell, quickly followed by her sight and hearing.  It's difficult to watch, especially given Emily's fierce independence. One of my favorite small moments is when Emily's co-worker and closest friend, the affable Billy, (Isaac Lamb)  has her grasp his hardhat by way of identification.

Emily is played by Peggy J. Scott, and her vulnerable, unexpected, and brave final moment in the play has stuck with me for days.

Once again, my transportation was extremely late, as it was for "Bonita", but this time, because it was opening night, I got to meet quite a few members of the cast, as well as the playwright. That was fun.

In my review of PCS' last production "Bonita," I relished the opportunity to warn of disturbing subject-matter, "A Small Fire" could be considered disturbing in certain respects, but I think the word is "disquieting," it shakes you up not because it's dark, but because you're surprised by how much you care.  

"The Motherfucker with the Hat" @ ArtistsRep

"The Motherfucker with the Hat" is unsurprisingly profane, so profane that its title is essentially all I'm comfortable reprinting. But, even posting the title in full puts me ahead of some outlets. When "Motherfucker" premiered on Broadway, one of the theories behind its underperformance at the box-office was that star Chris Rock couldn't say the title on talk-shows. The title has also been a marketing problem locally. Even if I were comfortable quoting from the show, it would be difficult to do. All the characters speak in what I can only call "verbal sprints." This style is especially suited to Victor Mack as Ralph D. Victor Mack always has this wonderfully distinctive cadence in his voice. (I've always wanted to see if it's natural or if he chooses characters who are the town criers. )

"The Motherfucker with the Hat" is a play about love and addiction, and the owner of the mysterious hat. I am intentionally keeping the summary brief because I want everyone to see this show. Why? Because it's "Grab-You-By-the Throat" theatre. It is here where I'd start machine-gunning superlatives on the show, but reading them would cost you precious dialing-time. This show will sell-out quickly, the best service I can do you is to tell you to pick up your phone right now!  

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Bo-Nita @ PCS

I didn't read anything about "Bo-Nita" prior to seeing it on Friday. The logo of the production is an innocuous cereal bowl, which gives no hint at all to the edginess of the show. It is no wonder that I was caught off guard. Bo-Nita speaks with such nonchalance about the horrific things visited upon her in her short thirteen years that it takes some precious time to process what she has said.  More than once I was knocked mentally off-balance, and briefly lost track of the narrative. It gives me great pleasure to warn of disturbing subject matter, because it is to my taste in drama. But, I must reiterate again that this is a sucker-punch of a show. Somehow it manages to mix streaks of dark humor in, and sometimes it works, other times it just increases the feeling of dread. The show is a lean 85 minutes, and if you think that you can take it, you will be glad you saw it. I almost said, "I think you will enjoy it", but I don't think "enjoy" is the word to use here.

I must also take a moment to thank PCS staff for letting me stay warm during transportation difficulties. It was much appreciated.  

Monday, February 3, 2014

"The Monster-Builder" @ Artist's Rep.

Adjectives like "reptilian" and "serpentine" are over-used to describe slimy and unpleasant characters. Watch Michael Eilich's otherworldly performance as architect Gregor Zebrowski  in Amy Freed's "The Monster-Builder" and I dare you to tell me any other description would do the character justice. Especially in the scene where he interacts with the eel he's about to dine upon. Elich's all-in performance is worth the price of admission by itself.

There are even more pleasures to be had: the askew set by Tom Buderwitz, the dark and sly humor of the script. I must note that the script sometimes talks past its audience, the rapid-fire name-dropping can pull you out of the action for a bit. (The playbill does contain a glossary, but it's buried on the last page before the Cast List, which undercuts its usefulness.)

I can't shake the feeling that I am short-changing Mr. Erlich's performance, here's one more attempt to capture its brilliance: He is as imposing as the structures he creates.


Monday, January 20, 2014

Jonny Lang @ The Roseland

Last night Jonny Lang reminded me why I love live music. The thing I love beyond all else- beyond lyricism, beyond rhythm, beyond synchronicity, is watching a musician,-a band- put every ounce of themselves into a performance. If you're lucky, you may be able to hear that on a record, but it really must be seen. Part of what I'm trying to describe involves sweat and energy, but sometimes it also involves something else, something deeper.  A person like Jonny Lang puts his soul on stage. "Red Light" was already my favorite track on "Long Time Coming," but when Mr. Lang sang it last night with all the desperation of someone searching for more, it's an entirely different song. Some may want to dismiss Lang's recent religiously influenced work as only for those who share his faith, but I think that is a mistake. Many of those songs are among his best work, due in large part to what they obviously mean to him personally. I am not a Christian, in fact the closest thing I have to a religion is the experience we shared last night. The electricity that exists between artist and audience is very spiritual indeed.

I've been laughing lately about how the word "epic" is overused, and used as a synonym for "excellent" or "cool," instead of lengthy or wide in scope. But, there is no other word but 'epic' to describe the extended versions of songs Jonny Lang played last night. They were truly astonishing.

If I were to meet Mr. Lang someday, the first question I would ask him is: "where do you go?" I believe he would know exactly what I was asking. What does it feel like in that place of obvious transcendence? Where are you when you seem to leave the rest of us?

Maybe someday I'll know.

"Chinglish" @ PCS

"Chinglish" is a play which finds humor and meaning in the mundane.  Our protagonist is David Cavanaugh, an executive at a sign company looking to land a lucrative contract to produce signs and provide English translations for a museum in China. The play's opening scene provides hilarious examples of signs with translations gone awry, and the many moments of humor in the play revolve around not only the mind boggling complexity of Mandarin, where a incorrect tonal inflection can mean completely different words, but also the difficulty of interpreting and translating idioms. The latter humor was probably my favorite, communication between people is a messy business under the best of circumstances-- everyone wants to say the right thing--add in the oddities that native speakers never notice about their own language and the comedy is as surprising as it is funny.

Most of the rest of the plot concerns salesmanship and politics, and because these subjects lead to the play's twists, I will not elaborate on them.

I'd be remiss not to tell you that the play has quite a bit of Mandarin in it, rendered in subtitles projected on a  screen above the stage. (The Press-Notes put the amount at about half the dialogue.)  Once you get used to reading the subtitles it becomes easier to follow both action and words at the same time, (the synching felt perfect.)  Still, I would say that it did feel much more difficult to do than watching a subtitled film. Especially when actors would stand in front of the screen, luckily this was rare. If you decide you're up to the challenge, I'd recommend opting for a few rows back, perhaps that will allow you to see better at those moments. I believe that "Chinglish" will reward your effort, but I also now understand why Milagro Theatre touts their "Gringo Discounts" for their bilingual productions. One last suggestion that might make things easier: theatres have copies of their scripts on hand to assist patrons who are hearing-impaired, it might behove you to take advantage of this service as well.