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Tuesday, December 15, 2015

"The Great American Trailer Park Christmas Musical" @ Stumptown Stages

"The  Great American Trailer Park Christmas Musical" is the holiday show for tweeners, those people who aren't quite ready for the madcap, (and sometimes abruptly dark) "Twist Your Dickens" , and yet want something more irreverent than "A Taffeta Christmas" ."Trailer Park" is profane and raunchy, but it is rather unique in the way that it manages to be that way without losing its Christmas Spirit. Sure, "Fuck it, it's Christmas" (my favorite number) will never be heard alongside "Frosty the Snowman", but that doesn't make it any less festive.

No,  "Trailer Park" is not for everybody. In fact, some of the tweeners may be lured away by "The Santaland Diaries" , but I will say this: It is the most fun of all three options.

"The Miracle Worker" at Artists Rep

Artists Rep continues exploring disability in its shows,  first with ""Tribes" and now with "The Miracle Worker." Both plays deal with deafness.

Granted, it has been many years since I saw Arthur Penn's film version,  but I do not recall a lot  of humor in it. The play has a surprising amount of comedy in it. Mostly between Helen Keller and her tutor Anne Sullivan, but also between Captain and Mrs. Keller..

Agatha Olson and Val Landrum are a perfect pair. Olson displays astonishing abilities, made all the more remarkable considering her youth. "The Miracle Worker" would be a wonderful introduction to theatre for young audiences,  or adults who want to begin theatre-going, and maybe especially those who want a respite from holiday fare. But, really, I recommend that you go if your heart is beating.

Monday, November 30, 2015

"A Taffeta Christmas" @Broadway Rose

"A Taffeta Christmas" is a proudly upbeat holiday show. This makes it unique among the other seasonal fare on local stages, which are all the opposite. There's PCS' revivals of "Twist Your Dickens" and "The Santaland Diaries" and the upcoming "Great American Trailer Park Christmas Musical" at Stumptown Stages. So, we are very much in need of a show unafraid of a little yuletide cheer. "A Taffeta Christmas" follows the harmonizing girl-group The Taffetas, as they return home to Muncie, Indiana for a Christmas television show.

While "A Taffeta Christmas" is mostly a revue, that doesn't mean there isn't room for comedy. My favorite moment was when The Taffetas dragged a man who looked to be truly unsuspecting, on stage to join them in song as their Cousin Warren. As we've come to expect from Broadway Rose, "A Taffeta Christmas" has extraordinary singers and a talented band. For those of you who wholeheartedly reject the Scrooginess of the other offerings,  "A Taffeta Christmas" is your cup of cocoa.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Jeff Foxworthy and Larry the Cable Guy's "We've Been Thinkin' Tour" @Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall

I've been very fortunate to have now seen all four members of "Blue Collar Comedy." The first two were at Spirit Mountain Casino, Ron White  and Bill Engvall. I've waited many years to see Larry the Cable Guy, after he suddenly cancelled a solo show at the Schnitz. Well, good things come to those who wait, because I was invited to a Meet and Greet with both Larry and Jeff on this tour.  Oh, and while waiting to be escorted to the official one I was able to meet them both at the stage-door lobby. It was a fantastic show. There is no such thing as too much toilet humor, and both comedians made the most of that truism. Among my favorites was Foxworthy's telling of his battle with a kidney stone.

Larry the Cable Guy's set was hilarious, though I must confess I was just slightly disappointed that his "I was madder than...." joke didn't end with "a two-fingered cripple tryin' to send a text message," a line I've used countless times. To be fair, the way he did finish the line was in the same vein, "Ronnie Milsap in a corn-maze."

The Schnitzer is a wonderful, beautiful, venue with excellent wheelchair seating. This show was the realization of a dream.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

"Flash Ah-Ahhh" @ The Hostess

"Flash Ah-Ahhh" is the most delightfully weird thing I have ever seen. It really can only be described as an oxymoron. "Brilliantly bad", maybe? It is a musical based on the 1980 "camp classic" "Flash Gordon" The movie's apparently iconic theme song is by Queen, and the rest of the musical's score is carefully selected Queen songs, that somehow actually fit.  I am a little late to the party with regard to the movie, but mention its title to anyone who has seen it and you will get an imitation of the falsetto chorus from which the musical takes its name.

There are two polar-opposite reasons that the musical succeeds as unbelievably well as it does. One is the unexpectedly fantastic band and singing. Their name is "Mercury Rising, AKA School of Rock," but for the purpose of this production, might I suggest that they change their name to "Flying Blind on a Rocket-Cycle." As soon as I heard that line in the film I thought, "That's a perfect name for a band!" The other is the hilariously low-tech props. Whether it be the villain's stuffed cat, or the "moon rock" rendered as a crumpled paper bag.

It turns out that the man behind "Flash Ah-Ahhh", Steve Coker is also behind "Dex Dixon: Paranormal Dick" which I am eagerly awaiting at Stump Town Stages. I think he is a bright voice in Portland's theatre scene.

The Hostess
538 SE Ash

"Sylvia" @ Clackamas Community College

Molly Bowman. Remember that name. Her performance as Sylvia the dog in Clackamas Community College's current production of "Sylvia" is of the kind that makes a viewer know she has a bright future. Suffice it to say, she jumps in with all four feet. In fact, when Sylvia is revealed in a portrait at the end of the show, I was somewhat disappointed because I had pictured a much bigger animal. It's a role that's full of surprises. There's this scene which at first seems obligatory, a dog's encounter with a cat, but the scene is so unexpectedly, unrelentingly profane that it actually manages to become shocking, especially if one is sitting in the front row, as I was. There is quite a bit of "other woman" symbolism  in "Sylvia" which was at times humorous, but everything, everything  is overshadowed by Ms. Bowman's fully committed performance. There are times when one thinks, "My God, she must feel so silly!" And yet, she holds it together somehow. To keep from laughing must be a Herculean feat. It also must be noted that it is the only real comedy playing on area stages at the moment. A few are billed as such, but they have elements which color them as somewhat melancholy. Go to "Sylvia" and enjoy pure laughter.

Monday, November 9, 2015

"Present Laughter" at Lakewood Thetre

"Present Laughter" is a truly well-acted show.  Gary Powell is a wonderful Noel Coward stand-in, as the matinee-idol Garry Essendine. But, the character I enjoyed most was the stuttering, motor-mouthed aspiring playwright Roland Maule. (Jake Simmons) Most of Coward's wit is dry, but the Maule character provides the easier laughs.  It's a light show, but with traces of melancholy. A tale of love, friendship, and theatre.

Monday, November 2, 2015


Vana O'Brien's performance in "Broomstick" is truly phenomenal. Nearly 90 minutes of just her on the evocatively decorated set, reciting a rhyming poem. She makes a wonderful witch. The strength of her performance could almost justify "Broomstick" becoming a Halloween perennial, solely on its merits, but a few moments in John Biguenet's script are just a shade too dark to be comfortably rendered in rhyme. Another way to describe it would be as an occasionally off-putting tonal mismatch. But again, Vana O'Brien's performance is frightfully good.

Ain't Misbehavin' @ PCS

"Ain't Misbehavin'" boasts exceptional vocal talent, as is to be expected. It is also a show that lets actors of color have the spotlight, something I don't remember seeing since last season's Opener, "Dreamgirls". It's nice to see.

One criticism of "Ain't Misbehavin'" is its Broadwayization. I convinced my father, a reluctant a Broadway Musical attendee as there is, to go to "Ain't Misbehavin" on the strength of "Ain't Nuthin' But the Blues," which we saw at PCS together. I too must confess a preference for the quieter, less showtuned songs, many of which are found in the female solos that were at times showstoppers in a way that is the opposite of how that term is typically used, but that doesn't make it any less true. I also would have appreciated a little more "book", something similar to "Million-Dollar Quartet."

The revolving set is among the best I've ever seen, and it is sure to provoke ooohs and awes. PCS has certainly outdone themselves in every way for this show

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

"The Realistic Joneses" @ Third Rail Rep

Will Eno is strange. He looks at things in a slightly askew way. The last two plays I saw of his, this one, "The Realistic Joneses" and "Middletown" both at Third Rail, have been among the most unusual I've ever encountered. But, i wish I could remember more about the first Eno play I saw, "The Flu Season" at Theatre Vertigo many years ago, and if memory serves, also starring Darius Pierce, as all three have. I don't remember that one being quite so "out there." As it was with "Middletown," the best part of "The Realistic Joneses" is the dialogue. It's silly yet serious, and deeply affecting. Darius Pierce is the kind of actor I'd pay to see read the phonebook, so to hear him tackle such funny and yet mundane, yet lyrical dialogue is worth a recommendation all on its own.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

"Carrie: The Musical" @ Stumptown Stages

Most who see "Carrie: The Musical" will be looking for a Halloween treat, and they'll find it. The novel and film are widely known, but the musical is not, because its original production in 1988 is among Broadway's biggest flops. That dubious distinction is unlikely to haunt this production because the goings-on of Broadway have little appeal outside of New York City. In fact, the only reason I'm aware of its history is due to my obsession with another Broadway flop, Paul Simon's "The Capeman" Both shows have had smaller-scale shots at redemption, "The Capeman" at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, (which I saw!) and Central Park, and "Carrie" at the Off-Broadway Lortel, and in Seattle, which I believe was meant to be the start of a touring show that never materialized.

When I saw that Stumptown Stages was mounting the reworked and stripped-down Lortel version, I knew I had to see it. I found it to be an intriguing and, above all, brave choice.

The stripping-down has advantages and disadvantages--One advantage is the absence of the infamous "Out for Blood" which contains the lyric, "It's a simple little gig/You help me kill a pig." A disadvantage would be the choice to do the actual spilling of that blood with red-lighting, the scene in the film version is iconic. The biggest advantage of the new version is the sharpened focus on the relationship of Carrie and her mother. In these moments, the characters shine. The mother is played by the exquisitely-voiced Susan Jonsson, (who also gets huge bonus-points for being a founding board member of Well Arts, producers of "Fierce Love".) Carrie is played by Malia Davis, as an abused innocent with piercing eyes.

I am quite glad to have been added to Stumptown's Press List, their choices are certainly off the beaten path, including "The Adventures of Dex Dixon: Paranormal Dick". This is especially refreshing and gratifying when one considers that the city's bigger venues seem to view risk as taboo this Season.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

"Sex with Strangers" @ PCS

"Sex with Strangers" certainly does not live up to its provocative title. Director Brandon Woolley says in his Note that the title is what made the play stand out from the pile. I got the feeling again and again as the play wore on that the title gave the play a ton of unearned mileage.

I didn't hate "Sex with Strangers," it's just that it is persistently, insistently underwhelming. You see, I made special arrangements to avoid taking my mother, expecting to see and hear things I would feel uncomfortable having experienced with her in the next seat. While there was some-I guess you could say-- frank discussion, most of the prior- to-the-act scenes would have probably passed the Hays Office. This should not be construed as a plea for nudity, PCS' own production of "Venus in Fur" had no nudity and at times veered toward pornography. It even shared literary themes with "Sex with Strangers," and handled those in a far more interesting way as well. There was a moment when I thought I caught a whiff of cruel romantic betrayal ala the Poor Man's David Mamet, Neil LaBute, who has made a career of writing the same play several times, and despite this fact, they still manage to be entertaining. It is very sad indeed when you find yourself pining for a derivative twist pioneered by a man who has a reputation for being derivative himself and frequently of himself.  Every play I thought about when reflecting upon "Sex with Strangers" is better than "Sex with Strangers." None more so than PCS' "Threesome,"" a play with an equally salacious title, which delivered on its promises. Its final scene, in which a character screams desperately for her clothes, is ringing in my head at this very moment. My thoughts about "Sex with Strangers" on the other hand, will end with this sentence.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

"Cuba Libre"

"Cuba Libre"is almost certainly Artist Rep's most ambitious production. It boasts impressive choreography, and of course a vibrant score. It is so nice to see a company like Artist's Rep. have the opportunity to flex it's muscles in a larger space--The Winningstad Theatre inside the Portland Center for the Performing Arts.

As they did with "Tribes" Artist Rep. makes elegant use of subtitles, but again, as with "Tribes" sometimes they were obscured or disappeared too quickly.

There are tragic moments in the show, but everything is made brighter with Tiempo Libre's buoyant score, which concludes with an audience participation dance-off. The show has Broadway buzz, so see it while you can.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

"Adrift in Macao" @ Broadway Rose Theatre

"Adrift in Macao" struck as what it might be like had the writers of "Airplane!" penned a musical. This is a good thing. Add in the film noir setting, and you have a show tailor-made for many of my tastes. "Adrift in Macao" is my favorite type of Broadway Rose show, they have the musical-mystery down to a science. One of my favorite elements of this particular one was the lighting by Phil McBeth. Expressive lighting is essential to creating the film-noir look. In fact, it is the mood and design of the show that impressed me most. So much so, that my choice of production photo is the one I feel captures it best:

Friday, September 25, 2015

Dave & Phil Alvin @ The Aladdin Theater

My ears are still ringing from Dave and Phil Alvin's incredible and incredibly loud show at the Aladdin Theater last night. The volume of the show was somewhat unexpected given the first section of the performance, which was relatively subdued. This only served as build-up to the indescribably energetic songs later in the night. One song featured such a long interlude that Dave Alvin remarked from the stage that the audience could go for a meal and return before it was over. There was also an unbelievable drum solo by a female, which made me smile because my twin sister is a drummer and I thought of her. Another stand-out was a song about their brotherly feud. I do not know what started the bad blood between them, but I am very glad it has ended. The Alvin Brothers are one of the best duos in music today.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Marc Broussard @ The Aladdin Theater, 9-19-15

Marc Broussard never disappoints. His performance style always serves as an embodiment of why I love music. He puts every ounce of himself into a song. He performed many songs from his newest album, "A Life Worth Living," my favorite after his best-known album "Carencro" His songs are bayou soul at its finest. A Broussard show is the musical equivalent of a Charismatic Revival. It is truly something to behold. Au Long De La Rivere" a song that is as of now only available on the recording "Live from Full-Sail University" and just cries out for a studio-version.

Everyone should join me at his next show. I can almost guarantee he will become one of your favorites.

"Our Town" Portland Center Stage

"Our Town" is the kind of show you hear about all the time, but seldom see because there is a prevailing feeling that everyone has done it. Sort of like "Inherit the Wind," which I have read but have yet to see. "Our Town" is the story of life in Grover's Corners and follows its characters from birth to death. The image that has stuck with me since seeing it is the set in the Third Act, in which many actors sit in suspended chairs, in a version of the afterlife. It drew an audible gasp and its own applause from the audience.

I enjoyed the show, but I must agree with the two gentlemen I overheard, who lamented that something edgier was not selected instead, given that this was the Season Opener. Still, it is a truly ambitious undertaking, and worth your time.

Monday, September 14, 2015

"The Understudy" at Artist's Rep

"The Understudy" is a play about theatre and acting. This made me wary.  Sometimes writers writing about their own world isn't always exciting. "The Understudy" however is hilarious, though it must be noted that quite a bit of the humor is of the insider variety, including a brilliant off-handed takedown of Jeremy Piven and his dubious departure from "Speed-the-plow" due to mercury poisoning. The play could probably be described as a satire, but the word suggests viciousness, and "The Understudy" is very much a love-note to theatre. In fact, my favorite moment is the dance sequence at the end, a silly and yet elegant metaphor for the value of doing art for its own sake. I also conversed with someone after the show who said that in the script the only instruction is "they dance," which makes the unabashed goofiness of the dance all the funnier. If you are interested in watching what it takes to put on a show, and having a few laughs while you're at it, you will enjoy "The Understudy"

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Crippled Critic Concert Preview: Marc Broussard @ The Aladdin Theater September 19th 2015

Marc Broussard's music is best described as bayou soul. He sings with all of himself, truly inhabiting the music. I first heard his work on the album "Carencro", and have been a huge fan ever since. Broussard's compositions cover a wide range of styles. There are songs like the thudding "Home" contrasted with sweet, tender tributes to each of his children. Perhaps the best of these tribute songs is "A Life Worth Living," the title track of his most recent album. The song celebrates his recently departed grandmother, and it is quite moving--especially live.  Other stand-outs from his most recent release include "Hurricane Heart" and "Man Ain't Supposed to Cry."

This will be an explosive show. As a small illustration of what I mean: I once saw Broussard in a intimate and brief radio-studio session concert, the the number of musicians on that stage would almost certainly rank among the most ever held on that small stage. They blew the roof off.

But, as testament to the "range" I mentioned earlier, I have also witnessed Broussard's low-key side, in a -if memory serves- mostly acoustic concert, with two other musicians trading off. This show was every bit as fantastic as the high-energy shows that he usually performs.

I am filled with excitement for this show, and I hope to see some of you there. You won't regret it.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Jason Isbell @ Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall August 8, 2015

I first saw Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit" opening for Justin Townes Earle. It was the very first time i saw an opening band come back for an encore, but the crowd was just that enthusiastic. Isbell's songs are of wildly differing volumes, but always poetic. I think his new album "Something More Than Free" might have eclipsed his previous effort, "Southeastern" (an album my father played incessantly for a long while.) I am not sure a word exists to adequately describe the level of loudness last night in the intimate and church-like Schnitzer., "wall-shaking" will have to suffice.

 I am so pleased to see Mr. Isbell rocket so far into fame since I saw his first solo show at the much smaller Aladdin Theater. I also must gratefully report that unlike the John Mellencamp show at the Schnitzer a few weeks ago, the audience stayed mostly in their seats, despite the rollicking atmosphere. The Schnitzer has a wonderful selection of accessible seating locations, and is a peerlessly beautiful venue. Jason Isbell deserves every bit of the accolades he will no doubt receive, and if my father elects to play "Something More Than Free" constantly, I will not mind.

"Oklahoma!" At Broadway Rose

I must confess that I thought "Oklahoma!" would be a little dry. It's old, and there have been more than a few things done to it over the years in a bid to inject new life. There was the Portland Center Stage production with an all-black cast that caused a little controversy in the press, and just before attending Broadway Rose's resolutely traditional production, I read that New York was going some strange "hipster" route with theirs. So imagine my surprise when I laughed as much as I did.

Joey Cote steals the show as the conniving peddler Ali Hakim. That is not to say that the uniformly spectacular cast didn't make its own impression, only that Hakim was hilarious.

"Oklahoma" was also a "so that's where that song is from!" show for me. As I watched it, I had the thought, "why would anyone mess with this?" So, put my vote in the "traditionalist" column. This comes as a bit of a shock, because I would have expected the opposite.

Broadway Rose's choreography is always fantastic, and "Oklahoma'" is no exception. In fact, my favorite part of writing a Broadway Rose review is picking out the press photo I will use at the end.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Patty Griffin & Mavis Staples @ The Oregon Zoo 7/25/15

The rain held-off for Patty Griffin & Mavis Staples on the beautiful lawn of The Oregon Zoo. This was fortuitous for two reasons: the obvious one being that we were not soaked, as was a distinct possibility earlier in the day. The second reason was, the threat of bad weather was enough to thin the crowd gathered in the standing-room only section at the base of the stage. This provided an excellent viewing experience for the marathon three-act show.

First up was Amy Helm and the Handsome Strangers. Amy Helm is the daughter of the late Levon Helm,  drummer for The Band. The Handsome Strangers were her two band-mates. Helm possesses a clear, clean Southern voice. I couldn't help but wish for a duet between her and Patty Griffin, whose voice is equally fantastic, but has a weathered character. The contrast would have been something to behold.

Next was Patty Griffin. Her  set was heavy with Gospel songs, each more stunning than the last. It is shows like these which reinforce my belief that music is quite similar to meditation and prayer

Mavis Staples was last. Her set was straight out of the Civil Rights Movement, songs of defiance, justice and freedom. She ended it with a thundering audience-participatory version of "I'll Take You There" which had me floating.

Mavis announced that not only do the three women plan to reassemble next year, but they also want to produce a record together. I for one am filled with anticipation even now.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Bruce Hornsby and The Noisemakers @ The Oregon Zoo 7/24/15

Bruce Hornsby has been a favorite of mine since childhood, and so it was a fantastic experience to see him on a perfect summer night, outside on the sprawling lawn of The Oregon Zoo. As I understand it, the Oregon Zoo pioneered the concept of zoo concerts and others around the country followed suit. They are one of the highlights of the summer. Hornsby played my favorites, "The Way It Is" and "Valley Road," the latter with a bluegrass twist, developed at Tennessee's Bonaroo Festival. Hornsby is a one-of-a kind piano player with a truly unique and instantly identifiable style.

I also learned a lot from his stage-patter between songs, such as how he toured with The Grateful Dead" in his early career, and he threw in that his son was an Oregon Duck, much to the delight of the crowd.

Also of note was local guitarist Tony Frutado a great fit for Hornsby. They seem to share that aforementioned singular style. Witnessing such artistry from all-involved was an unforgettable privilege.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

John Mellencamp @ Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall

It would be nearly impossible to top the second time I saw John Mellencamp, at which I was invited to take the security guard's spot--right at the front of the stage. Praise Be to The Concert God: Dylan & Mellencamp @ The Edgefield Still, that was a hard-won privilege, I looked forward to the intimate Schmitzer, and I thought that surely it would be a different experience than the sprawling lawn of Edgefield.

And in some ways it was. Mellencamp's show is every bit as loud as you'd expect. Now, imagine the loudness of an arena show inside a 3,000-seat venue. My shirt was vibrating. The aspect that remained the same as with the Edgefield show was totally unexpected: People stood the entire time. I was shocked, I figured this Schnitzer date would attract every Mellencamp fan too faint of heart to brave the General-Admission, Standing-Room Only Edgefield throngs. In short, I thought they'd be grateful for their seats.

I squeezed myself into the aisle, and could see pretty well from there. Mellencamp is an artist who doesn't mind playing his Greatest Hits, like "Pink Houses" "Small Town" and "Jack and Diane" (the latter was a tune notably absent from both nights of his Edgefield show. Still absent was "Hurts So Good", a composition which was the favorite of an irate drunk woman who did not appreciate that it was not included in his Edgefield setlist. )  That said,  Mellencamp did manage to include lesser-known songs from his catalogue, such as selections from his stage-musical collaboration with Stephen King.

Despite the standing issue, I found the Schnitzer to be an elegant venue for the show, all's well that ends well.

Amos Lee & David Gray @ Edgefield July 14, 2015

I have been a fan of Amos Lee since first seeing him open for Bob Dylan in '05. In the intervening decade, I have seen all of his Portland Area shows, and even a few radio station sessions. I've watched him grow from a relaxed brand of soul-singer on his self-titled debut, to a rocker with a Springsteenian vibe, to most recently a slightly country-inflected troubadour on his two latest releases, "Mission Bell" and "Mountains of Sorrow, Rivers of Song" He is a marvelous fit in any of those genres, each is so evenly matched that picking a favorite boils-down entirely to personal taste, and not his skill.

It was a particular pleasure to see him perform once again at Edgefield Concerts on the Lawn, a venue which can also claim credit for evolution. Edgefield once ranked among the worst places for patrons with disabilities, as shown in the review of my first experience:Praise Be to The Concert God: Dylan & Mellencamp @ The Edgefield. The wheelchair-seating has greatly improved since that time, and now Edgefield has risen to one of the most enjoyable venues in town. This is quite a feat for an outdoor setting.

Foe me, David Gray was a bonus. I enjoy his music very much, nut in a Greatest Hits sort-of-way. That is not to say that he didn't put on a fantastic show. He did. There are few things greater than seeing two consummate musicians in top-form, something made even better when it's experienced in a venue that has come so far with regard to accessibility. For that, Edgefield deserves all the praise in the world.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

"Unnecessary Farce"

"Unnecessary Farce" was my first show as an invited critic for Lakewood Theatre, but I have seen similar shows at Lakewood and this is the type of show at which they seem to excel. I love a Lakewood crime/mystery play.

"Unnecessary  Farce" begins as a undercover bribery investigation, (one of the bumbling cops is too excited about her first real assignment to realize it is unwise to dress in full-uniform.), but it becomes much more.

It is a toss-up for funniest character, but I think the lisping head of mayoral "sec-curr-ity" Agent Frank, (Ashton Root) wins the honor, though the thick-accented, impossible to understand Scottish hit-man named Todd (Ethan LaFrance) is a close second.

While there is nothing particularly summery about the play itself, it did feel like the perfect way to spend a summer evening. I suspect you will enjoy this very necessary farce.

Monday, July 6, 2015

"Thoroughly Modern Millie" @ Broadway Rose

"Thoroughly Modern Millie" is an odd show, to say the least. On the one hand, it is very much an old-school show: Big production numbers, with sweeping choreography. On the other hand I was surprised to read that the show premiered on Broadway in 2002, because there is some humor in the show that made me wince just a bit. Further reading revealed that the film upon which it is based is itself based on another film from 1956, which explains the "dated" humor and stereotypes. Plus, it's set in the 1920s. Long story short, I wouldn't have expected human trafficking to be such a hoot. Someone should tell Liam Neeson he can lighten-up a bit.

Millie Dillmount is a "modern woman" making her way in 1920s New York City, with an eye towards landing a rich husband, possibly her boss at the steno-pool. Along the way she meets handsome, young, and poor Jimmy Smith and she must make her choice.

Heath Hyun Houghton and Samson Syharath are indeed hilarious as Ching Ho and Bun Foo, two brothers who assist in the human trafficking subplot, it is the kind of humor for which you are likely to feel a twinge of guilt, but really what's a little guilty humor now and then?

"Thoroughly Modern Millie" continues Broadway Rose's long and strong tradition of providing quality musicals. There's a 12-piece band! And once again, I feel compelled to share a photo in order to capture the largeness of the show.

Performances run through July 26th at Tigard High School.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

"The Liar" at Artists Rep

To miss "The Liar" would be a crime
A comedy delivered all in rhyme
You'll have the time of your lives at this play by David Ives 
He has a knack for adaptations, that's for sure
He also wrote "Venus in Fur
The play has lies, laughs, and a love letter
And I promise you their rhymes are better

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Three Days of Rain @ PCS

I've been toying with the idea of adding a kind of Season Wrap-up article to this site. In this article I would select the best show from each of the theatres to whose Press List I belong. I'm thinking of calling the awards "The Crippys," what do you think? It is with this in mind that I hereby award "Three Days of Rain" Portland Center Stage's "Crippy" I went back through my reviews of PCS' current season, and though I really loved "Dreamgirls" for its theatrical dazzle, I think "Three Days of Rain" wins easily overall.

I wanted to live inside Scott Fyfe's set, and I haven't been this struck by the subtle and thus, often overlooked, lighting design since "Sweeney Todd," and unsurprisingly, the same person,  Dianne Ferry Williams is responsible for both shows.

And it always a pleasure to see celebrity actors, in this case, Silas Weir Mitchell and Sasha Roiz, both of TV's "Grimm",  filmed in Portland. If you happen to have never been to PCS's gorgeous Armory building in the Pearl District, I can't imagine a better introduction.

Now, the only question that remains is whether Portland Center Stage is brave enough to publicize that they are the first recipients of a "Crippy". We shall see!

Monday, May 18, 2015

"Static" @Third Rail Rep

One of the greatest things about art of all kinds is its ability to make you see things in a new way. Usually when I use that particular line of praise, I am speaking about big things. But, "Static" taught me that art can also help us see new significance in the mundane. See, when I listen to music, it's a very personal, solo experience. Yet, it doesn't have to be. The characters in "Static" share music generously, they bond over it. They heal by it. I am thankful to be shown the power of this, I think it's something I needed to be reminded of. That's yet another great thing about art: Each of us gets to choose what to take from it, and I will treasure what it taught me for quite a while. "Static" is flat-out wonderful, and I'd recommend that you rush to see it. You never know what you might draw from it.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

"The Lion" @ Portland Center Stage

"The Lion" is not the show it appears to be. The trailer I saw was essentially a clip from an upbeat little tune about a child playing music alongside his musician father. In other words, a pleasant way to spend eighty minutes. Instead, those promised happy moments are brief, and concentrated mostly in the beginning. It's not long until the tone changes drastically. Normally I count this shift as a good thing, there's nothing I like better than a deeply affecting show, but there's cancer involved. In that case, I would have preferred to skip it. My mother has had cancer twice, and she was my guest last night.  I cringed through the entire song about chemo. But, my mother is the most optimistic person I know, and her biggest take-away from the show was how the diagnosis brought the scattered and somewhat estranged family together. Looking back, that was probably among the points the playwright was trying to make, but by that time I had retreated halfway into my "happy place." I guess the best thing I can do for you is to tell you to be prepared, and if you are, there might be something you'll be glad you saw, as my mother was. Me, I'm angry at the marketing department.....

Sunday, May 3, 2015

4,000 Miles @ Artists Rep

I must confess that I approached "4000 Miles" with trepidation. I had just recently seen another Amy Herzog play, "Belleville" at Third Rail Rep and I was angered by the contemptuously unanswered questions at the end. While I did have some minor issues with Herzog's script this time, (the play is littered with fragments of dialogue that scream, "this piece of information will become important later" with little to no pay-off in the end), but that's easy to overlook. What makes "4000 Miles" unmissable is Vanna O''Brien's performance as grandmother Vera Joseph, a role she also played in Portland Playhouse's production of "After the Revolution," which I now regret I missed. I don't think that seeing that show would have filled in many of the blanks, because I have vague memories of reading "Revolution" on behalf of Portland Center Stage, and that play focused on the daughter of the family, I don't even recall a son, but this is still good advice: Do not repeat my mistake, see this one while you can.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

"Grease" at Broadway Rose

"Grease" was the show I was looking most forward to when Broadway Rose announced their current season. I had seen the movie a long time ago, and re-watched it last night so I could compare it to the stage version. The first difference I noticed was that the Broadway Rose cast could more easily pass for high school students than could, say, Stockard Channing, who was 33 (!) when filming began. (Yes, I looked it up, it's just that striking.) The second thing I noticed was that there seemed to be far more songs in the stage version than the movie, for that alone it's worth the trip to the theatre. I'd liken it to finding out that a movie you like was based on a novel you haven't read, except that live performances are much rarer things, so when the opportunity presents itself you must jump at it while you can. And you should! Broadway Rose's production oozes with fun. There was an abundance of younger audience members on Opening Night, and I think that "Grease" would be a fine introduction to live theatre for a kid looking for a new interest, at the very least it would be a nice night out. On this one I can virtually guarantee a good time.

Performances held at the Broadway Rose New Stage, 12850 SW Grant Ave., Tigard.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

"Cyrano" @ PCS

"Cyrano" as translated by Michael Hollinger and adapted by Aaron Posner is a laugh-riot. I approached it with some trepidation, because although I love the classics I sometimes have trouble with the odd syntax. Highlights included Cyrano's deprecating nose jokes, somehow he's better at it than anyone who tries to insult him. (Maybe someone should send the script to Adrian Brody? Perhaps he'd find some of them useful?) The set is complex and I'll remember the moonlight scenes for a long time. Oh, and I almost forgot to mention that Darius Pierce is in it, which means it's automatically worth seeing in my opinion.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

"The Price" by Arthur Miller @ Artists Rep

I once saw a clip of Arthur Miller discussing the premiere of "Death of a Salesman", he said he was panicked because the audience had not applauded at the end. He thought that the play had bombed, and then he slowly realized that the audience had been so overwhelmed that they had forgotten they were watching a play. That's how I felt at Artists Rep's production of Miller's "The Price." This play is so real, so emotionally raw that I wager you will forget that you are in a theatre. The last Artist Rep show that was this transcendent was "The Motherfucker with the Hat", and while I breathlessly praised that show, the one thing I couldn't say is: "If you want to see why I love theatre, go see this show!", because, as its title suggests, that show had a few things that might have offended certain sensibilities. "The Price" has none of that, and it really does have most of the elements I love: poetic yet natural use of language, a story which starts as one thing and ends as another, and somewhat unusually, a lesser known work by a master. Finally I get to say it: "If you want to see why I love theatre, go see this show!"

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

"Belleville" by Amy Herzog @ Third Rail Rep

There are certainly things to praise in Third Rail's "Belleville. There's the performance of Issac Lamb as Zack, a lovable goof. There are interesting plot-points in Herzog's script. But, virtually nothing was resolved to my satisfaction. One small example: Zack is indeed a stoner extraordinaire, but there is a scene in which he is caught lurking in the neighbor's apartment in the middle of the night, his excuse is that he was looking for the neighbor's stash of marijuana because he had run out of his own. That just didn't add up to me. Not in the moment, because I didn't believe someone would do that for marijuana, especially since that neighbor is also the landlord and Zack owes him quite a bit of money. Then I flashed back to it after the unexpected bit of violence at the end, were his motives far more sinister and he just got caught? We're never told. I was so confused by nearly everything that I read the NY Times review because I was sure I had missed something. One thing the Times review noted was that the pornography Zack is caught watching when his wife returns home earlier than expected, was "violent" Really? All I remember is pretty standard moaning. Zack happens to discuss the incident with the landlord pre-break-in and the landlord asks, "was it nasty shit?" and Zack says yes, but mentions nothing of violence. But in light of the break-in, and bloody ending, again,  was Zack's motive predatory? The play's final scene is rendered entirely in untranslated French dialogue, and that registered with me as Herzog's version of an elementary schooler's sing-song taunt, "I'm not going to tell you." Well,  Ms. Herzog, you also neglected to make me care enough in the first place. I'm certainly less enthused about seeing another Herzog play coming soon to Artist's Rep.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

"Fierce Love" @ Milagro Theatre

"Fierce Love" is certainly true to its title. This play of short scenes and monologues by six mothers of children with Cerebral Palsy is an epic testament to the kind of love that is born from adversity. At the risk of abusing a phrase, it's about the a kind of love not for the faint of heart. There are scenes of fear, scenes of injustice, frustration, and heartache. But, there are also scenes of triumph, both of parents and children. Most surprising is the humor. The play is structured as sort of a collage, with the troupe of six actresses playing multiple roles, it is quite an ambitious undertaking.

The play was produced by Well Arts, which focuses on bringing stories from under-represented groups to the stage, and I must take a moment to say what a wonderful concept that is.

If I were to name the unifying theme of the pieces--beyond love--it would be how these mothers have each journeyed to find ways to see their children for who they are. Whether it be suddenly making a simple yet profound connection with a child who has severe communication difficulties, or realizing that the baby you love hasn't changed just because he now has a scary-sounding diagnosis.

"Fierce Love" has a bit of everything: comedy, tragedy--a mother has a conversation with her uterus, I mean, where else are you going to find that? This show is worth your time whether or not you have any experience with disabilities--perhaps even more so if you don't. Why? Because it will change the way you see disability when you encounter it. These women tell their stories not in a plea for sympathy, but for simple understanding, and as with all great art, these stories make you see things in a new way.

"Fierce Love" 
Written by Ann Connor-Griffin, Susan Cushman, Danae Davison, Michelle Haines, Jennifer Peterson, Nicole Silverman

Facilitated and Directed by Erica Terpening-Romeo and Heath Hyun Houghton

Arlena Barnes
ZoĆ« Rudman 
Diana Schultz 
Jeanette Swafford 
Chelsie Thomas
Sumi Wu

Performance Dates
Tuesday, March 17, 7:30pm
Saturday, March 21, 2pm
Wednesday, March 25, 7:30pm
Saturday, March 28, 2pm
Saturday, April 4, 2pm
Cost: $10 general admission, $5 students/seniors

Performance Venue
Milagro Theatre
525 SE Stark
Portland, OR 97214

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

"The Invisible Hand" @ Artist's Rep

The saying goes: "Good things come to those who wait" and that couldn't be more true about those of us who anticipated "The Invisible Hand," now playing at Artist's Rep. Bringing the play to the stage has been a multi-season struggle for the theatre. I seem to remember it was delayed twice, though I could be wrong. At any rate, former Artistic Director Allen Nause persevered, and came out of semi-retirement for the show.  The audience is richly rewarded by his efforts. "The Invisible Hand"has themes of terrorism and kidnapping, which are what attracted me to the show so fiercely, and it also deals with the stock market and economics. Thankfully, the latter is presented in an easily accessible way. "The Invisible Hand" 's strongest asset is how well it handles its "ripped from the headlines" feel. By that I mean, everyone winces at the mention of murdered journalist Daniel Pearl, and feels the tension when violence is threatened, but what makes it more than a topical thriller is that it the economics angle is not often explored. And when it is explored, the complexity of the specialized language soon falls away to reveal simple and nauseating truths.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Other Desert Cities @ PCS

"Other Desert Cities" starts out as a typical "Family Fight Comedy" Most of the fighting in the early going is of the political kind. You know, the instantly familiar holiday debates. Except these are between parents and children, which for some reason are 10 times worse than those between others who are not as close. Add in a politically-charged family tragedy, and things become explosive. The father plays easy-going peacemaker, the mother is the always-right unswerving, towering presence. The daughter is the one itching for a fight, and has a tell-all book on the way about that family tragedy. Rounding out the brood is the youngest son, and the boozy aunt. The cast is fantastic, of particular note is Barbara Broughton, as the aging film star, who reminded me a little of Lauren Bacall. The play is a little too long, but the climax is surprising. It is certainly worth seeing.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

"The Night Alive" by Connor McPherson---Third Rail Rep @ Coho Theatre

"The Night Alive" has a lot in common with their recent production of Martin McDonagh's "The Beauty Queen of Leenane" in that both plays,  have a lot of their comedy come from just slightly wacky characters, in pretty ordinary conversations, which makes them a little difficult to review. Both also have brief explosions of violence, but I really shouldn't spoil that.  I was surprised at the violence in this show because while I don't have a crystal-clear memory of the handful of other McPherson plays I've seen, I don't think they were violent. Now, I'm not saying the violence is extreme, just unexpected, given the rest of the show. "The Night Alive" is a production with top-tier talent, a rich, odd, and endearing story with tons of humor, and a dash of Third Rail Rep magic. Go see it, though I would opt for a seat a little bit towards the back in the intimate CoHo, the set was a bit large for the space, and there isn't a bad seat in the house.

Monday, February 9, 2015

"Tribes" @ Artists Rep

"Tribes" is a play about family, and how families are their own little "tribes." I wish I hadn't read the Playwright's Note while waiting for the play to begin, it would've been nice to happen upon the meaning of the title on my own. Though I fear that without the Playwright's Note, I may have understood only half of the title's meaning. You see, the the word "tribe" has also been applied to those of us with the same disability. In the case of this play, that disability is deafness. It appears that deaf people take that tribal mentality more seriously than others. And that's why I appreciated the other sense of "tribe" referring to "family", because it diluted my misgivings about its meaning in the context of disability. There is a ton of discussion within the play about the Deaf Community. There are huge differences of opinion about deafness/ hearing-loss between those born with it, and those who go deaf later in life, what one character calls a "hierarchy".  I suppose that there are things unique to deafness that differentiate it from other disabilities, namely, that Sign Language is very much a language, not merely an adaptation, and I assume that this is a large part of the reason why "tribal" feelings are so strong. But, I must admit that I winced when the parents' efforts to raise their son not to be "defined" by his disability were questioned. I couldn't help but reflect upon my own life with Cerebral Palsy. I know that the feelings of "isolation" that were supposed to come from  being the only one,  or one of very few children with a disability was once a prevalent and powerful argument against educating us in regular classrooms, one that I am grateful my parents fought against. I never felt those feelings, but I can understand how other people might, and again, the differences about deafness that other disabilities do not share.

Back to the play itself: The interactions between the family members are hilarious. The projections are truly breathtaking, and provoke a mental "wow!" Especially effective are the ones dealing with deafness, the translations of musical notes into colors and static, when a character losing her hearing plays piano. Subtitling is also inventively done, but I must say that I would have appreciated a few more seconds to read them. "Tribes" is a must-see. It will make you look at your world, and the world at large in a different way.

Monday, February 2, 2015

"The World Goes 'Round" at Broadway Rose

Dan Murphy's Director's Note reveals that he was unfamiliar with most of the songs in "A World Goes 'Round when he saw the New York production, and that prior knowledge was not required to enjoy it. I would respectfully disagree. There is no narrative in "The World Goes 'Round" a revue of Kander & Ebb show-tunes. So, all that's there is the songs. All of them are ably performed by the cast, but it would have been nice to have some context as to why a man has broken into an ode to his Sara Lee dessert, for instance.  I went back and looked in the playbill, and "Sara Lee" did not have a note about which show it was from, as some of the others did. Everybody knows "All That Jazz," a stand-out, but again I would say that a familiarity with the material is a must.

"Threesome" @ Portland Center Stage

This review will be unavoidably brief. I have run into this issue with my smattering of stand-up comedy reviews, when I can find nothing suitable for reprinting. Act I of "Threesome" certainly falls into that category, for reasons that should be fairly obvious, but I don't think many will conjure anything quite as gross as the story relayed by a character about a mishap involving Thai food. Allow me to summarize the First Act thusly, "Haahahaahahaa! Yuck!" That will have to suffice. Act II is a complete tonal shift, and it is the gut-punch of a finale that makes "Threesome" not only a must-see, but among PCS' best. I truly wish I could tell you more, but I shouldn't. I'll tell you this: Go!

Portland Center Stage
128 NW Eleventh Avenue
Portland, Oregon 97209 | 503-445-3700

Monday, January 19, 2015

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike @ Portland Center Stage

"Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike" is not a straight adaptation of a Chekhov play. but it contains many references to his work, and it's a comedy. My only other exposure to Chekhov's work was an adaptation of "The Seagull" by Joseph Fisher, which I went to see after laughing hysterically at his adaptations of "Faust" and "The New House," which took its inspiration from a Greek play I can no longer recall. Unfortunately, I could not grasp the humor in "The Seagull" or even if it was intended to be humorous, I only assumed it was, given the other adaptations. All this is meant to illustrate the trepidation with which I approached "Vanya and Sonia and Masa and Spike," I am happy to report that the humor is much more accessible.

 The production boasts a top-flight cast, including Sharonlee McLean, who plays Sonia, a character very similar to her role as a perpetual sad-sack in "The Typographer's Dream."

The basic plot is fairly easy to summarize: Siblings Vanya and Sonia live together in the family home, they have spent several years caring for their now deceased parents, while their sister Masha went off to have a career in Hollywood. Masha comes back to visit, and is contemplating selling the house. But, along the way, the play finds comedy in such disparate thnigs as voodoo, experimental theatre, and a "reverse strip-tease", which is self-explanatory, but must be seen to be believed. If you're in the mood for something off-the-wall, this is your show.