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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

"A Very Merry PDX-mas" @ Broadway Rose

Broadway Rose continues its tradition of being the local theatre 100% unafraid to be in the Christmas Spirit. I just finished praising Artists Rep's holiday-offering precisely for its strangeness, but it is certainly far too dark to put anyone into the mood for the season. For that, you must look exclusively to Broadway Rose.

"A Very Merry PDX-mas," as the title suggests, takes aim at some uniquely Portland things, and has quite a few name-dropping moments. Still, there is all of a sudden a very long break in that theme, so when it comes sputtering back about midway through Act II it seems somewhat out of place.

But, that is a minor quibble, as is its lack of any kind of "book." It is my preference to have even a slight structure in revues. I kept thinking back to 2013's Holiday show "A Christmas Survival Guide," which seemed to be on a more solid foundation due to a little bit of "book." Both shows also share "A Walk Through Bethlehem," which "Survival Guide" wisely chose to use as the Finale. Then again, "PDX-mas" had to leave room for a very cute little kid dance-off.

All-in-all, "PDX-mas" does fill an unexpected void,  there is no other unabashed tribute to yuletide fun, and when its competition is set in the Civil War, and "Santaland" is much more acerbic than I had remembered, one can not deny that it is needed.

"A Civil War Christmas" @ Artists Rep

Playwright Paula Vogel must have some issues with Christmas. The seeming mismatch of "War," "Christmas" and "Musical" reminded me of another Vogel play, which was dark and serious, but still managed to make use of puppetry, an art-form not known for somberness. I just now recalled that the title was "A Long Christmas Ride Home."

Here, Vogel manages to make the play part history lesson, part seamless musical, and even part comedy. (The extremely versatile John San Nicholas plays both Mary Surratt and a horse.) Yes, he plays a horse, a feat that would be all the more notable had he not just played a chimpanzee in "Trevor."

Of all the holiday offerings on local-stages, I would dub this one the "must-see" of the bunch. I say this because it is the one most likely to be passed over due to its strangeness, from the title on down. See the intriguing shows, they deserve an audience they often don't receive.

Monday, November 7, 2016

"The Oregon Trail" at PCS

"The Oregon Trail" computer-game was a staple of childhood in this state. For the Nostalgia-Factor alone, "The Oregon Trail" stage-play would be worth the price of admission for students of a certain era-quite possibly exactly my era-because Jane, the protagonist, mentions being in middle school in 1997. The fact that there are also some of the most true-to-life one-liners I've heard relating to my generation is an added bonus. "You chose Media Studies...which is nothing", booms an off-stage narrator, in reference to Jane's impractical major. That one hit close-to-home, but I laughed anyway. "The Oregon Trail" game comes to represent the pitfalls in her life's journey, and this device quickly becomes the more interesting of the two plots, the other being the members of Jane's in-game wagon-train. Though they do end-up playing a pivotal role near the end, a scene or two fewer would be welcome editing.

Still, for me it was the little things that made the play enjoyable, not only the tidbits of nostalgia, or the self-deprecating jabs at my generation, but also things you'd never have thought of had you not been reminded, like that no one can remember making it to the end of the game. (Not even me, and Your Crippled Correspondent was allowed to take his gargantuan Apple IIe home with him over summer-vacation.)

If you want to vividly relive a moment in time, see "The Oregon Trail." You will be transported.