Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Murder at Checkmate Manor – Farndale’s Finest Back in Town!

Tyler Buswell, Jeremy Sloan, Norman Wilson, Patrick Spike, and Arianne Jacques


By Tina Arth

The days are getting short, the nights cold and dark.  Our skies now sometimes shudder with thunder, and pounding rain is back in the picture.  Fear not – just in time to stave off an incapacitating bout of seasonal affective disorder, the bizarrely talented denizens of Bag and Baggage gallop to the rescue with The Farndale Avenue Housing Estate Townswomen’s Guild Dramatic Society’s Production of Murder at Checkmate Manor! Playwrights David McGillivray and Walter Zerlin Jr. have created just the right vehicle for director Scott Palmer’s somewhat quirky artistic sensibility, and B&B’s new theater, The Vault, is a perfect setting for this in-your-face cross-dressing farce. By the middle of act 2 my cheeks were numb from constant grinning (relieved only by frequent bursts of most unladylike cackling).

The show is a shameless exposé of the foibles of community theater – “what can go wrong, will” – writ large. Very, very large - almost as large as the unstoppable Mrs. Phoebe Reese (Patrick Spike, reprising the character he first foisted upon the good folks of Hillsboro in 2012). The untimely loss of a key actor means that Gordon the Stage Manager (Arianne Jacques) is drafted as part of the cast at the last minute, the unseen, exceptionally inept stage technician Adrian bumbles every cue, the “ladies” of the cast, with little mastery of their lines and no concept of blocking, are positively dripping with venomous rivalry, and the evening is punctuated with an endless stream of sight gags based on missing or misaligned props and set pieces (where IS that pesky staircase, anyway?). The plot, a very loosely woven British murder mystery, is almost irrelevant but provides a sturdy backdrop for the cast’s irrepressible comedic chops. In short, a British women’s theatrical group (longer in the tooth than talent) attempts to stage a murder mystery. Many people die. The identity and motive of the murderer are irrelevant. All of the actors are in drag (four men as women, one woman as a man). Nobody buys anything at the pre-intermission fashion show, but the bearded Jacques steals the show with her silver lamé gown. I get to drink red wine (through a straw!) inside the theater. The audience (myself included) loves every minute of it.

B&B newcomer Tyler Buswell (as Mrs. Felicity Fortescue, playing Pawn the Butler in a lovely blonde wig) is a joy to watch – how often do we get to see a man playing a woman playing a man?  However, the blonde bombshell trophy goes to Jeremy Sloan’s “Mrs. Mercedes Blower” – his long, lovely legs are accentuated by tasteful tennis attire, and his attempts at playing the ingénue are foiled by his incessant coy flirtation with any audience member in reach (when not preoccupied by his on-stage romance with the tiny Jacques). Spike’s explosively effusive  “Phoebe” contrasts nicely with Norman Wilson’s intense (and intensely disapproving) Mrs. Thelma Greenwood, whose glaring eyes and fixed moue are external signs of a rigid object apparently lodged in an unmentionable part of her (his?) anatomy.  The timing, expressions, and physical comedy from all five performers work to keep the show on the right side of the border between hilarious and ridiculous.

As one would expect with a deliberate train wreck of a show, the set and props are chaotic – a few rugs, chairs in the wrong places, a faux picture window that looks out on a series of cardboard backdrops reminiscent of pre-school theatrical productions, cocktail glasses glued to the tray, a nonexistent dog snoozing by the world’s cheapest fake fireplace. Melissa Heller’s costumes are perfect in their perfect absurdity, and the makeup design is too wonderful.

Scott Palmer, Assistant Director Cassie Greer, and the rest of the small army responsible for this Bag & Baggage offering hit every note right. It may be another five years or so before the fine ladies of Farndale Avenue come back across the pond – miss this gem at your peril!


The Farndale Avenue Housing Estate Townswomen’s Guild Dramatic Society’s Production Of Murder at Checkmate Manor is playing at The Vault, 350 E. Main Street, Hillsboro, through the end of October, with 7:30 p.m. performances October 19, 20, 21, 26, 27, 28, 30, 31 plus 2:00 p.m. shows on October 22 and 29. 

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

You Can’t Take It With You A Solid BCT Comic Hit

Gary Anderson, Dennis Proulx, Jeanine Stassens, and Benjamin Philip


By Tina Arth

In many ways, Beaverton Civic Theatre’s current production of Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman’s You Can’t It With You is simply another version of last year’s The Addams Family – but without the music. Both plays are terribly funny (although Kaufman and Hart’s show is by far the wittier of the two), both feature a naively quirky family, completely out of touch with reality despite living in the middle of New York City, and in each play a daughter falls in love with a “normal” guy and grapples with the problem of how to introduce her family to his.  However, your affection for last year’s production should not be used as a reason to skip the one running now – it’s just too funny to miss, and every bit as appropriate a mood-lifter now as it was during the Great Depression. Director Kraig Williams and his cast clearly had a lot of fun putting the show together, and the audiences are having just as much fun watching the result.

Set in 1936 New York City, the show revolves around the extraordinarily free spirited, naively self-indulgent family patriarch Martin Vanderhof, his daughter and son-in-law Penny and Paul Sycamore, the Sycamore’s daughters Alice and Essie, and a stage full of hangers-on who have somehow insinuated themselves into the household. Alice is the only “normal” in the whole bunch, and she finds herself engaged (and madly in love) with her boss’s son, Tony Kirby. Alice and Tony plan to bring the folks over for dinner to meet their future in-laws, who have promised to be on their very best behavior, but with the help of an alcoholic actress, a Russian bear of a ballet instructor, four G-Men, a Grand Duchess, and a host of others the evening turns a bit, well, chaotic. A mass arrest and a broken engagement ultimately work out okay after Grandpa convinces the Kirbys that they need to mellow out – after all, they have quite enough money, “you can’t take it with you,” and they need a lot more fun and less work in their lives.

While there are some variations in experience and expertise, overall the cast is very strong. However, a few actors in both lead and supporting roles really stand out. Gary Anderson (Martin Vanderhof) is marvelous – calm, superficially logical, seemingly an innocent who has found a way to live life on his own terms. His demeanor never rises above lukewarm, but his deceptive calm masks a wily old guy who demands our attention every time he chooses to speak. Patti Speight (Penny) is also a treat – a loving mother, wife and daughter, she convinces us that she is completely unaware of the absurdity of her approach to life (who becomes a playwright simply because a typewrite is accidentally delivered to the house?).

In supporting roles, Les Ico (as the maid’s boyfriend Donald), Jeanine Stassens (as the uptight Mrs. Kirby), and Diana LoVerso (as the inebriated actress Gay Wellington) are particularly effective in selling the laugh-out-loud humor in their roles.  Both Ico and LoVerso augment their exquisite timing with their mastery of physical comedy, and Stassens’ tightly wound persona unwinds so gradually that we hardly realize what’s happened until she has subtly given us way too much information about her desiccated love life.

It’s tough to know whom to credit for the set – the set consultant? The scenic artist? The painter? In any case, the lights come up on an exquisitely detailed, cluttered but somehow charming living room that accurately reflects the chaotic diversity of the home’s genuinely whacko inhabitants. 

Director Williams has done a fine job of keeping the farcical elements of You Can’t Take It With You from drowning out its subtler comic moments.  Although it’s a long show (almost three hours including two intermissions) it never drags, and is well worth a few hours of your time.


Beaverton Civic Theatre’s production of You Can’t Take It With You runs through Saturday, October 14th with performances at 7:30 PM Fridays and Saturdays, 2:00 PM on Sundays at the Beaverton City Library Auditorium.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

A Taste of Neverland in Forest Grove

 Molly (Emily Smith) fighting with Black Stache (Noel Oishi) with the cast looking on.


By Tina Arth


The word “charming,” when applied to a play, is often a reviewer’s analog to that death knell of blind dates, “a good personality.” Two more potential danger signals? Try “sweet” and “silly” on for size. However, Theater in the Grove’s production of Peter and the Starcatcher (a play by Rick Elice, based on the novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson) is charming, sweet, and silly – and so very much more. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Dave Barry is one of America’s funniest (and silliest) writers, and his comic style can be found all over the play. Director Jessica Reed and her cast have fully embraced the playful, childlike (but not childish) spirit of the story, and the result is a terribly funny, touching production that makes children giggle while reminding adults how much richer our lives are when we stay in touch with that little bit of Peter Pan and Wendy that lurks in the hearts of all but the most jaded grown-ups.

Did you ever wonder about Peter Pan’s backstory? How did he get to Neverland, why won’t he grow up, why can he fly, what’s up with Captain Hook and the crocodile, and so many other mysteries? Peter and the Starcatcher answers these and many more questions beautifully, with none of the dry, reality-based pragmatism sometimes imposed by adults attempting to explain away childhood’s magical moments.  The story is way too complex to summarize, yet simple enough that the kiddos in the audience have no trouble keeping up. In a nutshell, the play is an adventure on the docks of England, ships on the high seas, and on a faraway island. A nameless orphan boy finds an unexpected friend, the compassionate and strong Molly. Together, the two children (with a little help from their friends) outwit two different bands of evildoers, including the inept pirate Black Stache. In the end, a magical secret is kept safe and the world is (at least temporarily, I’m afraid) saved from unimaginable evil.  The tale give us the genesis of Peter and most of the other fascinating characters in Peter Pan, all delivered with a nice combination of broad humor and sly wit reminiscent of the most sophisticated Warner Brothers cartoons.

Young actors Canden Clement and Emily Smith have great chemistry as Peter and Wendy. Clement is defiantly pathetic at first, lashing out with palpable anger at everyone around him, but he gradually grows into the hero we know as Peter Pan. Smith shifts gracefully between three modes – friendship, leadership, and motherly, with just enough romance to keep it interesting but not enough to make it awkward. However, it is Noel Oishi (Black Stache) who really steals the show – his odd combination of flamboyance and self-absorption is delivered in a style that wanders from utterly deadpan to over-the-top, and his star turn as a mermaid (who knew they could tap dance?) is not to be missed.

Almost every cast member has at least one sparkling comic moment, but special notice is owed to Robin Michaels, William Ferguson (his Fighting Prawn is hysterical), Heidi Share, and the small but fierce Joanna Galvan. Also not to be missed is the lovely Prudence Dawes, a tiny scene-stealer if ever there was one.

The show’s aura of playful fantasy is set as soon as the lights come up with Leslie Crandall Dawes’ amazing set design – sometimes a pirate ship, sometimes a forested isle, sometimes an undersea grotto – but always a playground for the young at heart. Ward Ramsdell and Anne Kennedy’s lighting design is inspired and lovely, and Spencer Putnam manages the complex lighting cues like a pro. Hannah Early’s work at the keyboard and Brian Lacock’s work on drums add immeasurably to the entire production, providing a range of sound effects in addition to accompanying the musical numbers that pop up occasionally in the play.

If you have kids, take them – but if not, go see Peter and the Starcatcher anyway. It’s a rare treat, and a real ray of sunshine to help with some figuratively and literally dark days ahead.


Peter and the Starcatcher plays at Theatre in the Grove, 2028 Pacific Avenue, Forest Grove through October 15th with performances at 7:30 pm on Friday and Saturday and matinees at 2:30 pm on Sundays.

Friday, September 29, 2017

The Gondoliers: Another LOoPy Adventure

Tom Hamann, Becca Stuhlbarg, Anne Hubble and Rob Patrick


By Tina Arth

My first exposure to LOoP (Light Opera of Portland) – then called “The Dairyville Players” - was on stage in The Mikado at the Alpenrose Opera House in 2013 – not as a performer, but as part of the audience. At the time, the nascent group’s productions (and audiences) were so small that cast and patrons all fit easily onto the stage of the massive theater (with room to spare for the lone pianist).  LOoP’s current production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Gondoliers is a startling reminder of just how far this once–tiny band of performers has come in just a few years. An accomplished seven-person orchestra, 30+ cast members, and a satisfyingly large and enthusiastic audience greeted me at last Sunday’s matinee – clearly, contemporary Portlanders are dying to avail themselves of the joys of light opera, and LOoP director Dennis Britten is doing a great job of filling this need.

Like the majority of Gilbert and Sullivan’s work, 1889’s The Gondoliers tells a convoluted story filled with none-too-veiled ironic commentary on the politics and societal mores of England’s Victorian era.  Despite the 128 years that has elapsed since the show was first performed, the humorous critiques are shockingly apt today and resonate well with modern audiences – elitism, cronyism, nepotism, civil unrest, class warfare, intractable political divisions, and anti-democratic autocrats are all familiar features of modern society, and it’s delightful to see these topics skewered with melodic charm and wit.

The story revolves around newlywed gondoliers Giuseppe and Marco, who learn right after the weddings that one of them is the long-lost king of Barataria.  Barataria is in a mess, and needs leadership now – but the only person who knows which of the gondoliers is king is a missing foster mother. The Grand Inquisitor sends the men, both diehard republicans, off to rule Baritaria (sans their brides) jointly until the missing foster mother is found. He also reveals that one of the two is already married, having been wed in infancy to the fair Casilda (daughter of a Spanish nobleman, and madly in love with the servant Luiz). Things are finally sorted out with the arrival of the foster mother, who supplies a typical Gilbert and Sullivan twist that results in everybody living happily ever after.

The solo and ensemble work is often lovely, and always funny – this is definitely a show that requires serious comedic chops from the cast, and LOoP’s group earned an abundance of “bravos” from the audience for both their vocal and acting prowess. The show has an abundance of great roles, including leads Jacob Mott as Marco, John Kost as Giuseppe, Lindsey Lefler as Gianetta, Sheryl Wood as Tessa, Laurence Cox as The Grand Inquisitor, Rob Patrick as the Duke, Anne Hubble as the Duchess, Becca Stuhlbarg as Casilda, and Tom Hamman as Luiz. Hubble and Patrick share some wonderful comic moments, as do Wood and Kost, and Cox is having way too much fun creating the evil Inquisitor with his ominous bass, glowering sneers, and arrogant swagger.  Sara Rivera is only on stage for a few minutes in her role as Inez, the missing foster mother, but while she is there she captures 100% of the audience’s attention with her demented mezzo ranting and her appallingly funny lack of social grace. Special mention must go also to chorus member Gabrielle Widman, whose work on the castanets turns an already lively dance number into sheer delight.

The Gondoliers is only in town for one more weekend – if you are not already a fan of the genre, check it out and see if it changes your mind about light opera! By the way, be sure to take the time to read the director’s notes and glossary in the program – it’s well worth your time and you will undoubtedly learn a few things. Run time (with one intermission) is about 160 minutes.


Light Opera of Portland’s production of The Gondoliers is playing at the Alpenrose Opera House, 6149 SW Shattuck Rd., Portland through Sunday, October 1 with performances at 7:30 P.M. on Friday and Saturday and 3:30 P.M.  on Sunday.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Broadway Rose Helping to Blaze a New Trails



By Tina Arth

The Appalachian Trail stretches all the way from Georgia to Maine – about 2200 rugged miles of hiking. The road from germination to fruition for a piece of live theater is, in its own way, every bit as long and rocky as the Appalachian Trail. Broadway Rose’s production gives a huge boost to Trails, a new musical by Christy Hall, Jeff Thomson, and Jordan Mann – while allowing the audience to feel like they’ve gotten in at the start of an emotionally captivating dramatic work. Although we are not in on the earliest stages (the play has evolved through performances in New York and Issaquah since 2010), it still retains just a hint of the flavor of a work in progress, and one imagines the authors sitting in the theater busily scribbling notes about dialogue, lyrics, timing, pacing, musical arrangements, and audience reaction at every performance. That said, I can’t imagine that the authors would find many cringe-worthy moments in Director Brian Shnipper’s moving and evocative staging of their show.

Trails tells the story of Mike, Seth, and Amy, friends since childhood. The actors portray the three as children, teens, and (after many years of estrangement) in the present time. Long estranged, Mike comes back to town and he and Seth decide to complete a boyhood dream of hiking the entire Appalachian Trail. The two set out on a journey of 6 months, often bickering like children while confronting the demons of their pasts and gradually repairing their broken friendship. Along the way, they meet some forest rangers and a few other hikers who help them to define and clarify the next acts of their lives. It’s not, of course, that simple – Amy pops in and out of the scene and we learn that the friendship was also a love triangle, while Mike and Seth explore their respective feelings of loss (through abandonment and death). The other hikers illustrate the values of lives fully embraced, helping the men to see that at the age of 34 they are half way to 68, but it is not too late for them to shed the shackles of the past and begin to develop and realize dreams for their futures. I will graciously overlook the fact that they see 68 as being old; when I was 34 I undoubtedly felt the same way!

As always with Broadway Rose, the vocals, music, and arrangements are beautifully executed – the harmonies are elaborate and powerful, and the sometimes haunting, sometimes upbeat solos allow each character a full range of expression. Each of the three forest rangers is given a second part (with vocal solo) that directly addresses the story’s themes. Two fine numbers are by a couple of gutsy, confident women who have each found the courage to grab the lives they want. Quinlan Fitzgerald (“Ranger Molly” and “Faith”) simply bubbles with glee about her impending engagement, and her “Places In Between” is a spine-tingling anthem to love, beauty, and the ability to not just live, but to revel, in the moment. Danielle Weathers (“Ranger Rhonda” and “Mama Harley”) is equally stunning delivering “The Road Is My Home” and her free-spirited plea that we must not mire ourselves in the past when there is so much world out there to be seen. The messages might seem hackneyed in dialogue, but they have amazing resonance and endurance when expressed in song. Kevin-Michael Moore  (“Ranger Dan” and “Virgil”) illustrates the alternative in his gravelly, mountain man rendition of “Purgatory Blues,” a boozily hard-hitting tale of his search for escape from past pain through sweating out the trail.

Of the three principals, Rachel Lewis (“Amy”) does the best job of switching from between childhood and maturity – just picking up a stick or donning an imaginary tiara is all it takes for her to become the bossy little girl who has set the whole show in motion. Her clear soprano flawlessly captures the intersection between dreams and reality in the lovely “Miles of Time” and we have no trouble understanding why both Seth and Mike are ensnared by memories of this charming woman/child.

Michael Morrow Hammack (as the overachieving lawyer “Mike”) and Joel Walker (as the home-bound underachiever “Seth”) are a little harder to buy as young boys, but since most of their stage time is dedicated to their adult relationship it’s really not a problem.  Hammack’s “The One That Got Away” tells a ubiquitous tale of lost love with painful honesty and directness; we can all relate to his plaintive “and I’m missing both the lover and the friend.” Of all the characters, it is Joel Walker’s “Seth” who most tugs at our hearts as he works through a lifetime of loss and of lost opportunities – he mixes anger, despair and bereavement to create a truly memorable character.

The band (under the direction of pianist Eric Nordin) is superb, and they move easily through the shows shifting musical genres. Much of the play’s magic derives from the vision of director Shnipper, scenic designer Emily Wilken (the set is truly lovely, and the rotating platform a perfect way to allow for long hikes on a short stage) and Carl Faber’s often breathtaking lighting design.

As mentioned before, this is a new play – while it is fine in its current form, some song lyrics are a bit simplistic or weighed down with forced rhymes (“loam” is something of a stretch when paired with “home”). That said, the Broadway Rose take on Trails is well worth a visit; the evocative music and siren call of the open road more than compensate for any minor issues.

Trails” is playing at the Broadway Rose New Stage Theater, 12850 SW Grant Avenue, Tigard through Sunday, October 22nd with performances at 7:30 pm on Thursday, Friday and Saturday and 2:00 pm matinees on Saturday and Sunday. An additional performance will be held at 2:00 pm on Thursday, October 19th.

Friday, September 15, 2017

See How They Run – Off to a Good Run

Chris Byrne, Erin Bickler, and Jason Fox


By Tina Arth

In my book, HART’s current production, Philip King’s classic British farce See How They Run, begins with two strikes against it – I am not a big fan of the genre, and British humor often leaves me cold.  Once the door is opened for slapstick comedy, community theater productions are notorious for going over the top, obliterating the fine line between silly fun and total train wreck. Thus I was quite shocked to find that HART’s offering manages to hit a home run – it’s really funny, and it just made me laugh. A lot. Even the best script can only succeed when there is a careful mixture of solid comic timing, absurd physical comedy, and a director willing to impose some restraint on the cast when they cross the line, as they inevitably will. Happily, Director William Crawford picked the right actors and he lets them mine their roles for maximum humor, but the show never descends into madcap buffoonery.

The premise is, of course, utterly silly. It’s 1949 (updated slightly from the original 1943), and the young and lovely American actress Penelope Toop has scandalized the tiny village of Merton-cum-Middlewick by marrying the local vicar, Rev. Lionel Toop.  Local spinster/prude Miss Skillon, having set her cap for the vicar, is particularly outraged. Send the vicar away temporarily, add in an American soldier, another reverend, a Bishop, a Russian spy, (all eventually adorned in clerical garb), an officious if clueless policeman, a wonderfully clever and irreverent maid, and lots of doors and the ingredients are in place for the mistaken identities, near misses, and general mayhem (including a great deal of actual running) that are essential to full-fledged farce.

Technically, the show’s leads are probably Penelope (Kaitlynn Baugh) and Corporal Clive Winton (Blaine Vincent III) – and certainly both do a great job. In a romantic comedy, they would be the fresh-faced ingénue couple that winds up together at the end of Act II. However, in this farce Penelope is happily married – so the great chemistry between this pair is channeled into friendship punctuated by enough bickering to make it clear that there will be no hanky-panky. Reverend Toop (Jason Fox) plays the classic innocent, accentuated by the fact that he spends most of the play in his underwear, and much of it locked in the closet with the love-stricken Miss Skillon.

The best roles go to Miss Skillon (Erin Bickler) and the maid, Ida (Chris Byrne). These two fierce comediennes attack every scene with such commitment that they seem to be vying for the title of Best Actor. Bickler’s piercing, consistently outraged voice and physical fearlessness (she reminds me of the great Joan Davis and may, in fact, be made of unbreakable rubber) keep the audience in stitches, and she makes a great drunk. Byrne uses her mobile face, snide affect, and exquisite timing to steal the scene every time she appears – and when she and Bickler share the stage it’s tough to know just who to watch.

The chase scenes would seem overdone if they were the sole focus, but both Ida and Penelope maintain a façade of “business as usual” while up to five real and faux-clerics tear around the set, leaping over Miss Skillon’s prostrate form  - the timing and blocking are exquisite when she’s there, and even funnier when she is gone but they keep leaping.

Director Crawford also designed the lovely and detailed set, made even finer by the stone fireplace (courtesy of Woody Woodbury) so realistic that some audience members sneaked onto the stage at the end of the evening just to check it out.  Chris Byrne’s costumes (in particular, Ida’s polka dot dress and the flowing trousers on Penelope and Miss Skillon) work beautifully to establish the time, place, and social caste of each character.

HART’s theme this season is “Laugh Along With HART” – See How They Run is a great beginning!


See How They Run is playing at the HART Theatre, 185 SE Washington, Hillsboro through September 24th, with performances at 7:30 on Fridays and Saturdays and 2:00 on Sundays. 

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Twilight Tackles Big Pharma With Rx

By Tina Arth

 Leslie Inmon and Zero Feeney
Photo by Alicia Turvin
North Portland’s Twilight Theater Company can usually be relied on to surprise me with its eccentric offerings, but the opening moments of their current show, Rx, left me a little nervous. I was not expecting the lights to go up on an otherwise pretty woman in a pretty dreadful blonde wig, baring her midriff like Daisy Mae Yokum while bravely attempting to sing Dolly Parton’s classic “9 to 5.” However, the inexplicably awkward intro was quickly followed by an amazingly funny, smartly written satire performed by a fine cast who simply litter the stage with brilliant moments. Author Kate Fodor, mining the world of pharmaceutical development and sales, uncovers a mother lode of both comedy and social commentary. Co-directors Jo Strom Lane and Samuel Ruble have assembled a cast able to adroitly work with some very sharp comedy, warm us with a bit of gentle romance, and use both to deliver the show’s message.

The premise is easy to relate to – at least, all of us who have ever been unhappy with our jobs. What if workplace discontent were not a necessary fact of life, or possibly a sign of an intractably bad attitude? What if it were, instead, a diagnosable form of depression that could be treated with a little pill? In Rx, the hard working researchers and merciless marketing execs at Schmidt Pharmaceuticals are testing just such a drug, cleverly named SP 925 (“nine to five” – get it?).  Meena Pierotti, managing editor in the piggeries division of American Cattle and Swine Magazine, is a test subject in the SP 925 drug trial, under the care of researcher Dr. Phil Gray. Meena copes with her workplace malaise by regularly indulging in crying jags in the old ladies’ underwear department at the Bon-Ton Department Store. Drawn together by their mutual misery (Meena is at heart a talented poet, Phil wants to save third-world lives as part of the Flying Physicians program) the ingredients are there for a beautiful relationship – until, of course, problems arise. Beneath the extraordinarily droll and witty dialogue, Fodor tells a story about the importance of human relationships, risk, and the dangers of turning too quickly to pharmaceuticals to pave over dilemmas that are necessary components of the human condition.

While there are some fun cameos, the show really belongs to three actors: Leslie Inmon (“Meena”), Zero Feeney (“Phil”), and Jayne Furlong (“Allison,” the passionately cutthroat marketing director).  Inmon’s direct, in-your-face style gives Meena’s confused persona an interesting twist – even when she’s at her lowest, she’s never whiny or weak, and there’s an undertone of lovable optimism that she just can’t shake. “Phil” may be the logical scientist, but Feeney gives his character a consistently awkward and loveable sensitivity that quickly endears him to the audience (if not, initially, to Meena). The chemistry between the two leads is palpable, but not sexual – it’s more like they are lost and each finds salvation and understanding, rather than passion, from the other. Jayne Furlong ‘s “Allison” is perhaps the most fun role, but it presents a special challenge.  Allison is 100% parody, and Furlong delivers the broadest satire – her enthusiasm for marketing runs the gamut from perkily gung-ho to positively orgasmic. Her timing and inflection are marvelous, but the real strength of her performance is that she plays it straight, without a hint of the over-the-top self-consciousness that so often destroys comic performance.

Among the rest of the very solid cast, two performances absolutely must be mentioned. Timothy Busch (as outside marketer “Richard”) is wonderfully droll in his fervor for an ad campaign to push Thriveon, his slick re-branding of SP 925, and his deadpan reception of Phil’s suggestion that they try Surviveon instead is stunningly underplayed. Rhona Klein moves  unflappably from helpless to giddy, and finally to stoically accepting, as the old lady Meena meets and inspires in the Bon-Ton lingerie aisle.

The set is striking in stark black and white, and flexible enough to quickly accommodate the numerous scene changes.  However, the story would work just as well with a slight reduction in props (extraneous chairs, wastebaskets, etc.) and the changes might seem less chaotic with fewer items to move. However, this (like the faux-Dolly Parton intro) is a minor complaint, and really doesn’t materially detract from an overall fine and terribly funny production. Like many Twilight productions, Rx is not appropriate for children due to both language and several adult-themed moments.


Twilight Theater Company’s Rx is playing at the Performing Arts Theater, 7515 N. Brandon Avenue, Portland through Sunday, September 24th with performances at 8 P.M. Friday and Saturday and 3:00 P.M. on Sunday. There will be an additional performance at 8:00 P.M. on Thursday, September 21st.