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Monday, February 22, 2016

Smokey Joe's Cafe @ Stumptown Stages

I've enjoyed Oldies since childhood, so "Smokey Joe's Cafe" was a show I couldn't wait to see. My gleeful anticipation was richly rewarded. The supremely talented cast, which includes the Grammy-nominated Julianne Johnson-Weiss, who also directs, does this revue of Leiber and Stoller hits justice.

I am happy to report that this production of "Smokey Joe's" sounds considerably less Broadwayized than the filmed version. I would guess that this is a intentional and wise choice on Johnson's part.

Standout numbers include "Saved" "Poison Ivy" and a truly astounding multi-voice version of "Stand By Me"

"Smokey Joe's Cafe" is a high-energy, soulful, splendid stroll through what I often wish was Memory Lane.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

"Forever" @ Portland Center Stage

This is probably a cliche the capital-"W" Writer in in me wishes I would avoid. But, is something really a cliche when it's literally true? As "Forever" ended, all I could say was, "wow". It is a rapturous 80 minutes.

There are light subjects--stories of favorite musicians and poets, a sincere ode to the power of art. There are darker subjects, child abuse, alcoholism, and rape. All of them are handled with grace, and have equal power for different reasons-especially one moment when the two mix:

Dael Olandersmith tells the story of doing homework as a young girl. She excels in writing, appreciating the beauty of it--down to the letterforms. She does not do well in math. I had the fleeting, funny  thought to raise my fist in solidarity, but I resisted. The story quickly turns to the first instance of child abuse, her failure resulting in a beating.

My consolation from this story is that she damn-well put the skills she did possess to great use. Skimming her bio in the playbill I found that she has quite an impressive body of work, and I thought, "I hope I have the privilege to see more of it."

Monday, February 15, 2016

"Mothers and Sons" @ Artists Rep

One of the noblest functions of theatre is to show a viewer the power of a story not their own. I am not homosexual, and perhaps the most foreign aspect of "Mothers and Sons" was seeing what a miserable mother looks like. My mother is frequently my guest at shows, and this time I could feel her seething frustration with Katherine, the "mother" of the title. A few times I wanted to move away a bit, it was that strong. It wasn't "judgment," just genuine feeling.

And yet, it must be noted that McNally works very hard to avoid turning Katherine into a monster.

The play takes place decades after McNally's "Andre's Mother", a play about Katherine's son Andre who has died of A.I.D.S. and his boyfriend Cal's desire to share in mutual grief. But, Katherine has never accepted Andre's homosexuality, and blames Cal for his death.

In this play, Cal has legally married, and they have son together. McNally says in the playbill that his goal was to filter decades worth of real-world progress through the lens of the play, and I was surprised how well he succeeded.

Cal is played by Michael Mendelson, an actor who I have praised many times for his extreme versatility, and his work here is no exception.

"Mothers and Sons is among the most searingly personal plays I've ever seen. It is at once joyful, angry, and sad. It is a play that will give you insight no matter the angle from which you view it, and that is rare.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

"Each and Every Thing" @ Portland Center Stage

Dan Hoyle's monologue "Each and Every Thing" begins with the story of a paroled member of the Aryan Brotherhood. He also tells the story of the drug-dealer on his corner, who ends up living at his home. One of the sections involving the Aryan Brotherhood member relates a story that the only time this man was knocked-out was by his abusive father. He edits himself, "One time in prison, someone used D-batteries as brass knuckles, so that didn't really count." This man is a fascinating character. He's at once detestable because he literally has his bigotry tattooed on his skin, and yet Mr. Hoyle manages to nearly instantly humanize him as a person so scarred by feeling helpless in childhood, he exudes misdirected rage. Throughout "Each and Every Thing" Mr. Hoyle  gives one the feeling of, "Yeah, I'd talk to that guy." In light of the unusualness of these first two stories, what a shame it becomes that the narrative turns slowly towards our over-reliance upon technology.

Now, I must say that "Each and Every Thing" continues to have its moments even in this less interesting territory, there's a hilarious romantic ode to the unique experience of reading a newspaper, for instance, but there are many times when Mr. Hoyle seemed to be having much more fun than I was.

What insight is there to add to a problem of which everyone is aware? I mean, for financial reasons, as well as physical difficulty with touch-screens, I don't own a cell-phone, and even I feel tethered to the internet.

There's this scene where Hoyle illustrates how the internet fractures our attention, and as the monologue ran through its brief, but bloated 75-minutes, I began to think that it was a piece about information overload that suffered from information overload, and I don't think it was intentional.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Mr. Kolpert, Third Rail Rep @ Imago Theatre

I'm having trouble deciding on the best way to describe "Mr. Kolpert." The play is visceral, violent, and funny. Perhaps the best description is "Vintage Third Rail". This is the theatre which brought us many of Martin McDonagh's works. I was reminded of McDonagh a  lot in "Mr. Kolpert" The official description name-drops Tarantino and Hitchcock. Tarantino is obviously mentioned for the gleeful violence, and Hitchcock to draw comparisons to "Rope". Those mentions are apt,  but David Gieselman's play also has a voice of its own, (and I'm doubtful even Tarantino would have concieved of a woman urinating on a corpse.) As you can see, this also means that "Mr. Kolpert" is only for a certain type of theatre-goer--the slightly twisted type. This group includes myself, and I'm sure at least a few of you. You know who you are. But, remember that you have been warned.

Monday, February 1, 2016

"The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" @ Broadway Rose

I saw "Spelling Bee" many years ago at Portland Center Stage. I was somewhat surprised that I remembered so little. It tuns-out that a lot of the dialogue is improvised, (perhaps nightly, though I'm not sure.) I find this a very interesting aspect of the show, particularly because it is not publicized anywhere. The best lines come from the extremely high-strung vice-principal (Lyle Arnason) Other standouts include Troy Pennington as William Morris Barfee, and David Swadis as misfit among misfits Leaf Coneybear. There is also quite a bit of audience participation. "Spelling Bee" is the kind of show that may reward repeat viewings. In fact, research revealed that there is an "adults-only version. I do not know if Broadway Rose plans to mount that version during the run.

Broadway Rose's production is nearly non-stop fun, oddly enough, sometimes the music gets in the way. For me, the best part of the show was the improvisation, that and the fully committed goofiness of the cast.