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.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Bag & Baggage Finally Opening “The Vault”

Kymberli Colbourne and Andrew Beck
Photo by Casey Campbell Photography


By Tina Arth

The long-anticipated opening of Bag & Baggage’s new performance space is finally here, and it was definitely worth the wait. Artistic Director Scott Palmer’s choice to present Rebecca Gilman’s Spinning Into Butter for the inaugural show is truly inspired. The theater company’s motto: “Real. Provocative. Theatre.” takes on new shades of meaning when an overwhelmingly white, upper middle class audience spends 2+ hours watching a play about white people who are grappling with racism without actually interacting with any people of color. Capitalizing on the flexibility of the company’s new space (btw, The Vault is awesome!), the production is done as theatre in the round, which drives home even more powerfully the ethnic homogeneity of the audience – while watching the play, each of the four sections can simultaneously observe the faces of 75% of the people in the room.

The title Spinning Into Butter refers to the long verboten The Story of Little Black Sambo. Set in a fictional small liberal arts college in Vermont, the play explores the campus community’s extremely tone-deaf response when Simon, one of the few African-American students on campus, receives a series of overtly racist anonymous letters. The reactions of Dean of Students Sarah Daniels, three other faculty/administrators, and a self-absorbed pre-law student reveal the self-delusion and hypocrisy of a pretentiously liberal academic elite; the well-grounded blue-collar campus cop provides the only voice of genuine compassion and sanity. As Dean Daniels explores (and ultimately reveals in a wonderful monologue) her almost-invisible but deeply rooted racism, we eventually see that her ardent if somewhat misguided efforts to provide scholarship support to talented Nuyorican (look it up!) student Patrick Chibas are her way of compensating. Few people in the opening night audience could honestly deny sharing some of Daniels’ thoughts – the production lives up to the “Provocative“ challenge by forcing us to confront this truth about ourselves and our neighbors. Despite the weighty topics, the show is neither preachy, didactic, nor humorless – in fact, it is often quite funny, and consistently engaging and entertaining.

Kymberli Colbourne’s “Sarah Daniels” carries the message, weight, and charm of the show on her shoulders, and she does it flawlessly.  In a play laden with sometimes narrow stereotypes, she is utterly authentic and as multidimensional as only a real, conflicted character can be. Whether she is defiantly sharing her contempt for Toni Morrison’s work, explaining in detail her criteria for selecting her seatmates on public transit, or railing against idealization as just another form of condescension, she elegantly expresses facets of our society’s tortured relationship to race and political correctness.  The other fully realized character is Andrew Beck, as Sarah’s lover “Ross.” Beck evolves from a one-dimensional, hypocritical, bombastic liberal into an actual human capable of offering real understanding (both to Sarah, and about the situation) in place of knee-jerk platitudes.

The audience’s ability to empathize with Sarah is bolstered by two other key characters, Peter Schuyler (as the almost-unbelievably self-righteous Professor Patrick Strauss) and Morgan Cox (as Dean Catherine Kenney, the poster child for connivingly pragmatic administrators).  Rusty Tennant (as cop Mr. Meyers) fills a completely different role – that of the (idealized, but still somewhat believable) good-hearted blue-collar guy who’s naturally superior to the faculty elite. Tennant manages in a few lines about a bathroom soap dispenser to convey a glimpse of hope for a post-racial society, and he delivers the lines so casually that we only realize upon reflection what we have heard. The two students in the play, Nuyorican Patrick Chibas (Carlos-Zenen Trujillo) and pre-law WASP Greg Sullivan (Phillip J. Berns) also offer a ray of hope; not yet fully cooked, they subtly offer a potential for incremental change.

The set consists only of a door, one long conference table, an easy chair and a bookcase – all that is necessary to allow the actors to tell the story in a way that offers fair vantage points to the entire audience, although some tenants of south wall seating are unable to see the activity at the door. Palmer moves his actors around constantly, and the realism of watching the cast actually speaking to each other, rather than cheating to face the audience, more than compensates for any temporarily impaired sightlines. The Vault is more of a performance space than a classic theater, and Spinning Into Butter illustrates just one of the many ways that the flexibility of Hillsboro’s newest stage can enrich the community.


Spinning Into Butter is playing at The Vault, 350 E. Main Street, Hillsboro, through Sunday, September 24 with performances Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. The performance on Thursday, September 14 is “pay what you will.”

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Hot ‘n’ Throbbing

Picture is Benjamin Philip ("The Voice"), Jason England ("Clyde"), and Jaime Langton ("Charlene")


By Tina Arth

Twilight Theater Company has carved out a niche for themselves by doing lots of edgy, little known plays that challenge the audience to really think about what they have seen. Simultaneously, they give local actors the chance to explore complex roles requiring them to dig deeply for both nuanced subtlety and the explosive action that sometimes accompanies their inner dialogues. Director Matt Gibson’s current production of Paula Vogel’s very dark, occasionally comic Hot ‘n’ Throbbing is classic Twilight: obscure, frequently surreal, deeply disturbing, nicely staged and skillfully acted.

There is an element of bait and switch in the show – the early scenes delude the audience into expecting a wacky, bawdy comedy about Charlene, a superficially button-down, school-marmish divorced mom trying to support two adolescents by writing “adult entertainment” – essentially soft-core porn. The erotic images floating around her brain (and keyboard), embodied by the male “Voice” and female “Voice Over,” are reminiscent of the short-lived sitcom Herman’s Head; Charlene’s inner voices stand in stark contrast to her parenting style, especially when she is forbidding rebellious sexpot daughter Leslie Anne from leaving the house in skin-tight clothing while son Calvin lovingly caresses his soft, willing baseball mitt. The serio-comic tone changes dramatically with the arrival of Clyde, Charlene’s drunken and abusive ex, who bursts in (defying a restraining order) for a quickie – he can’t afford a hooker. Charlene’s erotic fantasies, where the woman is in control of the S&M and bondage, are quickly replaced by Clyde’s all-too-real obsessions, and the evening goes very, very wrong.

Jaime Langton (“Charlene”) and Jason A. England (“Clyde”) create a bizarre, but ultimately believable, dysfunctional couple. Langton at first seems a bit too put-together and intellectual for the role of victim (or pornographer), but she skillfully devolves into the insecure dreamer trying to placate her abuser. The contrast between the external and internal is most pronounced in the scene where she awkwardly tries to seduce England in an almost childish parody of sexuality. England is probably a lovely fellow in real life, but he is terrifyingly believable in the role of violently twisted redneck; his incestuous musings about his daughter are positively chilling.

Tabitha Ebert (“Leslie Anne”) captures the classic over-the-top drama of the teen girl’s battles with mom, competition for dad’s attention, and incessant squabbling with her brother – all overlaid with the cold reality at the script’s core. My personal favorite performance comes from Chloë Duckart (“Calvin”), the obsessively masturbating, Peeping Tom little brother who, despite a multitude of quirks, is still ready to defend mom Charlene from her drunken ex. Duckart really has a feel for the emotional and sexual confusion and contrasts of early adolescence, and they create a memorable character.

The final two performers, Benjamin Philip (“The Voice”) and Adriana Gantzer (“Voice Over”) provide a significant dose of comic relief as they portray the overly dramatized external expressions of the naïve stereotypes living in Charlene’s imagination. Gantzer’s pole dancing siren hovers nicely on the line between erotica and parody, while Philip is at his best riffing on a Philip Marlowe-style private eye, alternating from hard-boiled to intellectual (sometimes in mid-monologue).

Vogel’s script is occasionally baffling, with odd interjections that sometimes muddy the core story. It is left to the director and actors to craft a coherent and compelling drama that holds the audience during the author’s flights of obscure intellectualism (or am I the only one who doesn’t need to hear multiple passages from Moby Dick?). Despite the distractions, Gibson and his cast keep the focus on pornography, incest  and domestic violence, delivering a hard-hitting drama that shines a powerful light into some very dark parts of the human psyche.


Twilight Theater Company’s Hot ‘n’ Throbbing is playing at the Performing Arts Theater, 7515 N. Brandon Avenue, Portland through Sunday, August 20th with performances at 8 P.M. Friday and Saturday and 3:00 P.M. Sunday. There is an additional performance Thursday, August 17th at 8:00 P.M.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Catch This Gypsy Before It Leaves Town!



By Tina Arth

While my attitude toward theater is generally “smaller is better,” I make an annual exception for the summer season at Broadway Rose. Their huge summer productions never fail to dazzle me, and this year’s blockbuster Gypsy is no exception. Director Annie Kaiser’s first swing at one of the company’s large-scale musicals is a home run; the show simply begs us: “Let me entertain you” – and it does.

The story is based on the memoirs of Gypsy Rose Lee, who (obsessively pushed by Momma Rose, the ultimate stage mother) rises from the vaudeville kiddy circuit to become perhaps the most famous stripper (or, as Gypsy says, “At these prices, I’m an ecdysiast!”) in history.  The show took Broadway by storm when it debuted in 1959 with the book by Arthur Laurents, music by Jule Styne, and lyrics by a young Stephen Sondheim – helped along by the power of Ethel Merman as Rose. Merman set a high bar, and mature comediennes with big voices have sought to put their own stamp on the role ever since. While Gypsy is properly classified as musical comedy, the complexity of the character and relationships (especially between Gypsy and Momma Rose) sometimes goes deep, and even dark – Momma Rose has earned a place as one of the most narcissistic and manipulative characters in all musical theater.  For readers who don’t already know and love the show, do not let this deter you – it’s very, very funny, loaded with memorable moments and great songs, and it ends on a lovely note of reconciliation.

W. C. Fields once said that you should never go on stage with children or animals, and while I’m sure this Gypsy cast would disagree, he had a point. Every time Ryleigh Hefflinger (Baby June) flounces across the stage, squeals, and kicks – and she is a world-class flouncer, squealer, and kicker – the rest of the cast seems to disappear. Rivaling Hefflinger for the scene-stealing title is Chowsie the Chihuahua, who clearly deserved but was robbed of a bio in the program. Of course Chowsie has no lines, and didn’t need to learn any blocking since he has trained the cast to carry him everywhere he needs to go, but he still gives a truly unforgettable performance. Aida Valentine (Baby Louise) masters the fine art of winning our attention and sympathy by graciously accepting her role as second-class daughter, with just the right touch of pathos to set up her emergence as a butterfly in Act 2.

Dan Murphy’s “Herbie” – who inexplicably adores Rose – creates a gentle doormat whose warmth makes him perhaps the most likeable character in the show – and I wanted to cheer when he finally had enough and walked away. Bryan Thomas Hunt’s Tulsa delivers a remarkable song and dance solo in “All I Need Is the Girl” that left me wanting more but frustrated, since he, too, walks away.

In the end, the show belongs to two women, Sharon Maroney (Momma Rose) and Kelly Sina (Louise/Gypsy). Maroney is definitely at her best when she’s playing it big, especially on the vocals, as she is a phenomenal belter. She also negotiates her character’s frequent personality shifts with aplomb, moving from bully to cheerleader, wheedler to delusional manipulator with sometimes dizzying speed.
Starting with the heartbreakingly pathetic “Little Lamb” and growing toward the swaggering strip routine, Sina gives her solo numbers a star turn that firmly establishes her place as best vocalist in the show, and her evolution from timid wallflower to the ultimate tease is a joy to watch.

Music Director/Conductor Jeffrey Childs leads his orchestra flawlessly, and seemingly has a lot of fun with some of the eccentric musical stylings designed to create the vaudeville/burlesque tone of the production. Costume Designer Darrin J. Pufall must also have enjoyed himself clothing Baby June, the Toreadorables, the cow, and of course the three wonderful strippers who introduce Gypsy to the world of burlesque.

This Gypsy gives us a great combination of humor, top-class song and dance, and sobering themes, clearly demonstrating why it’s often called America’s greatest musical. It should not be missed.


Broadway Rose’s Gypsy runs through August 20th at Tigard High School’s Deb Fennell Auditorium.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Bag & Baggage’s ROMEO AND JULIET A Compelling Mash-Up

Arianne Jacques as Juliet and Nicholas Granato as Romeo.
Photo by Casey Campbell.

By Tina Arth

Bag & Baggage’s artistic director, Scott Palmer, is notorious for his creative Shakespearian adaptations, but this summer the innovative Hillsboro theatrical company is truly breaking new ground. Palmer’s current production is not so much an adaptation as a mash-up, combining perhaps the best known play in all of Western Civilization and a lovely tale with deep roots in the ancient Middle East: hence, Romeo and Juliet (Layla and Majnun). The result is a sometimes jarring, but ultimately charming, twist on the traditional tale of star-crossed lovers that audiences have come to expect.

Entering Tom McCall Plaza, one thing is immediately clear – we’re not in Verona anymore. The exotic strains of Arab music and the gigantic, ornate tent immediately transport us to a fictional multicultural Persia where Roman Christians (shades of the Crusades?) interact, and sometimes clash, with the local Bedouin tribes. Lady Capulet, her daughter Juliet, and cousin Tybalt are emissaries from the Emperor Constantine. The local royalty includes the Sayyid, a direct descendant of Muhammad, who is determined to live in peace with the Roman newcomers. However, the instantaneous chemistry between Juliet and the Sayyid’s son Romeo/Majnun sets up an irresolvable conflict – neither parent considers the other’s child as a remotely suitable mate for their own offspring.  The long-standing feud between the Capulets and the Montagues in Shakespeare’s play is replaced by a new feud between the Christian Tybalt and the Moslem Newfal/Mercutio (many characters bear two names); Tybalt slays Mercutio, leading to Tybalt’s death at the hands of Romeo and setting up all that follows.

Although much of the original Shakespearean dialogue is retained, the play is definitely not just Romeo and Juliet in a new setting.  The second act is especially distinctive, not just on a superficial level (e.g., Juliet/Layla marrying Paris) but on an emotional level – the two parents, when pressed, show much more compassion than their Italian counterparts, and Majnun’s death provides a lovely spiritual touch at the conclusion.

Despite the complexity introduced by the production’s multiple origins, it is remarkably easy to follow the story. It helps that there is an omniscient narrator, storyteller Gary Ploski, to fill in some of the blanks. However, it is the principal actors who really tell the tale – despite being outdoors, with some inevitable noise pollution, every line is delivered distinctly, paced slowly enough to allow the audience to comprehend while permitting the actors to match each word with the requisite physical accompaniment – both fight scenes and love scenes really tell themselves.

Two Bag & Baggage newcomers particularly shine – Nicholas Granato (Romeo/Majnun) and Mandana Khoshnevisan (Lady Capulet).  Granato’s abrupt and peripatetic shifts from elation, passion, and despair capture the love stricken madness of his character, differentiating him (and the story) from the Shakespearean Romeo, and provide much-needed comic relief. Khoshnevisan offers additional shots of humor playing the protective, frustrated, status-seeking uber-momma without making a mockery of her fierce maternal love.

Bag & Baggage mainstays Cassie Greer (as Romeo’s cousin Benvolia) and Arianne Jacques (as Juliet/Layla) are, not surprisingly, superb. Jacques manages to capture the mercurial mood swings of a fourteen year old in the grips of first love, with just a touch of petulance toward her mother, a touch of the tease toward her lover, and mulishly rigid rejection of her husband’s very real ardor. Greer’s Benvolia is very much the level-headed peacemaker, and she plays the role of sensible (if unsuccessful) diplomat deftly – but with the added fun of watching her scornfully fend off Mercutio’s clumsy advances.

Other highlights include Signe Larsen’s athletic and exciting fight choreography (nowhere better than in her performance as Tybalt) and Melissa Heller’s costumes. With a story set in a fictional place and time, and an unlikely mix of characters, Heller provides imaginative attire that captures the spirit of two very different worlds. Assistant Director Melory Mirashrafi and her family served as invaluable consultants who helped Palmer, his actors, and his audience to overcome inaccurate preconceptions about how the Middle Eastern characters “ought” to behave, and contributed immeasurably to this beautiful and unusual fictional and cultural blend.

Bag & Baggage’s production of Romeo and Juliet (Layla and Majnun) runs through August 5, with shows at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings, at the Tom Hughes Civic Center Plaza, 150 E. Main Street, Hillsboro.


Wednesday, July 12, 2017

HART’S 2017 Page to Stage Intriguing Summer Fare

Picture by Carl Dahlqvist, shows (l - r) Les Ico, Ami Ericson,
Rachel Thomas, Skye McLaren Walton, and Kaitlynn Baugh
.
By Tina Arth

One of the best things about live theater is that no two performances are exactly the same, so there’s always the prospect of getting new perspectives on the material each time you see a show. However, HART Theatre’s current offering, 36 Perfectly Appropriate Mealtime Conversations, takes this concept to a whole new level. Never heard of it? Not surprising – it’s brand new, this season’s winner of HART’s annual “Page to Stage” competition, which gives local playwrights a chance to see their work in full production. Author Brianna Barrett decided to explore the complex topic of gender roles in theater by writing a show about messy human relationships in which every character can be played by either a man or a woman, and doubled down by then having the core cast members play different roles in each performance. Depending on the evening (and thus the assignments of the various cast members), one key character could be a heterosexual transsexual, a gay transsexual, a heterosexual woman, or a lesbian. While the dialogue stays the same, the subtext varies wildly – as does the humor (it’s a very, very funny play).

It’s not easy to condense a series of 25 vignettes into an intellgible summary.  In brief, six core cast members (Terry, Morgan, Jessie, Alex, Cameron, and Parker) and two “Observers” appear in a series of brief meetings in bars, restaurants, and homes where they obsess over a variety of issues involving their attempts, as maturing Gen Ys and millennials, to achieve true adulthood and lasting satisfaction in their interpersonal relationships.  Only the observers (Les Ico and Ami Ericson) retain their roles throughout the run of the show (although there is still some gender-bending, in particular Ico’s truly spectacular appearance singing love ballads in a fetching wig).  There is one married couple, and their discussions about love, fidelity, and parenthood/adoption will take on dramatically new meaning with each separate pairing. Blaine Vincent III’s effect as lounge singer Jessie will be very different when a woman plays the role, just as the bodice of his fabulous red dress will undoubtedly look a lot different when filled out by actual breasts.

I hesitate to call out any specific performances, as future audiences will not be seeing the actors in the same roles I saw.  Kaitlynn Baugh’s tough talking Alex and Skye McLaren Walton’s fragile, insecure Cameron present an interesting take on friendship that will undoubtedly be transformed when played by pretty little Rachel Thomas or stolid, serious Cecelia Shroyer. Barrett’s script is incredibly witty, but the funniest lines may shift nightly depending on who’s playing whom. I found myself several times watching and listening on two levels, seeing and enjoying the current cast while imagining how the effect might change in future productions. It’s obviously not practical to see every possible iteration, but I definitely plan to attend at least one more performance just to experience the effect of the shifting roles.

Page to Stage productions are, to some extent, works in progress. Director Carl Dahlquist has done a nice job of wrangling the complex script into coherence, but the show still runs a little too long (2 hours, 45 minutes including intermission). The set is minimalist, and several minutes could have been shaved by just simplifying the scene changes, in particular by reducing the number of times the tables and door are moved around the stage. There are undoubtedly places where the script can be tightened up, and I’m confident that Barrett will take advantage of the HART run to evaluate the effectiveness of each vignette.

The show should probably be rated as at least PG 13, due to some mature themes and language. That said, it’s an intriguing, entertaining story that should resonate with adult audiences from any generation.


36 Perfectly Appropriate Mealtime Conversations is playing at the HART Theatre, 185 SE Washington, Hillsboro through July 23, with performances at 7:30 on Fridays and Saturdays and 2:00 on Sundays.