Monday, February 25, 2013

CUCKOO’S NEST SOARS AT THEATRE IN THE GROVE


 
The Cast of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest at Theatre in the Grove.

 
By Tina Arth and Darrell Baker 

Theatre in the Grove does not shy away from productions that jar their audiences’ sensibilities, as is amply demonstrated by the current production of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. While the mental health system has changed radically since the late fifties (electroshock therapy and frontal lobotomies are no longer treatments du jour), the darker theme of a social order imposed by mindless obedience to an arbitrary rulebook is at least as relevant now as when the play (and book) were written.

The play (by Dale Wasserman and based on Ken Kesey’s iconic 1962 novel) portrays life on the men’s ward of an Oregon mental hospital. Despite the breadth of lunacy on the ward, order is maintained by Nurse Ratched, whose rigid rules dictate every facet of the inmates’ lives. This simmering tranquility is brought to the boiling point by the arrival of R. P. McMurphy, a very sane petty criminal and con man who feigns mental illness so that he can sit out his five month sentence in the mental hospital. The inevitable conflict between McMurphy and Nurse Ratched drives the play to its powerful and jarring conclusion.

Stevo Clay as R.P. McMurphy (right)
and Zachary Centers as Billy Bibbit.
Director Dan Harry has assembled a generally strong cast from whom he draws a number of superb performances.  Stevo Clay (R.P. McMurphy) delivers flawlessly, and is well-worth the price of admission. He is engaging, charming, iconoclastic, fast talking – the Harold Hill of the wacky factory.  Further, he seamlessly manages the character’s transitions from con to conformist to martyr.  Aleks Merilo plays Harding, the “bull goose loony” who loses top dog status to McMurphy, with intelligence and sensitivity despite the character’s sardonic bent. Zachary Centers is simply amazing as pathetic, stuttering, virginal, suicidal momma’s boy Billy Bibbit. His portrayal displays the depth of Bibbit’s complex neuroses, and he easily earns the audience sympathy that is essential to the play’s climax.

The stage is set in many ways by the slow and deliberate narration of Chief Bromden (Jim Feemster), who is able to grow psychologically into his hulking physical presence.

The rest of the patients on the ward (Ted Felt as Scanlon, William “Chandano” Fuller as Cheswick, Joshua Willis as Martini, Fred Sherrill as Ruckley, and Joey Steve as Chronic Patient), each maladjusted in his own way, manage to express their various psychoses with a flamboyance tempered by respect for the characters they portray.  Even at their looniest, there is no sense of comic mockery. Many thanks to the cast and director for their sensitivity in crafting this bizarre but restrained microcosm.

 Anita Zijdemans Boudreau brings her own interpretation to the role of Nurse Ratched. Her intent (based on what we read on-line) is to humanize the key female character by portraying her as sincerely concerned with the patients’ welfare. From our perspective, this is problematic because the role as written simply does not sustain the approach. Kesey and Wasserman drew a Nurse Ratched who would require unanimous votes on ward policy when one of the voters is catatonic, who would drive Billy Bibbit to suicidal despair, and no reading of the script really allows for the benign mindset Boudreau seeks. However, she emanates a passive-aggressive, sterile malice that pushes all of the right buttons. In stark contrast to Nurse Ratched’s sterility is prostitute Candy Star (Ashli Zijdemans), whose overt sexuality and effusive enthusiasm bring astonishing vitality to the ward whenever she appears.

The set, lighting, and sound combine to evoke an eerily institutional feel that provides the perfect background for the show’s action. The near-capacity audience (at a Sunday matinee!) was clearly as impressed as we were with the entire production. Caution – this is not a show for children or the faint at heart – both the language and themes require a mature sensibility!

 

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest plays at Forest Grove’s Theatre in the Grove through March 10th.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

YOU’LL LOVE HOW THE OTHER HALF LOVES




By Tina Arth and Darrell Baker


 
The cast of "How the Other Half Loves"
H.A.R.T. Theatre’s production of How The Other Half Loves delivers a hearty dose of fast-paced drawing-room comedy to the Washington County theater scene, and Dan Kroon tackles this extraordinarily challenging show with a skill that belies his status as a first-time director.

At first glance it may not seem like that complex an endeavor – after all, there’s only one set and six actors. However, the “one” set is, in fact, two separate apartments simultaneously occupying the same space, and the six cast members (three 1990’s era British couples) inhabit one locale or another within this space depending on the demands of the script. Worse (or better) yet, in a pivotal scene one couple attends two different dinner parties (one in each apartment) with different hosts, on different evenings, at the same time and at the same dining table!

Sound confusing? It could be, but the combination of author Alan Ayckbourn’s warm and witty script, Kroon’s deft direction, a brilliant set, and six solid performances keep the audience on track and engaged for 2+ hours of comedy that flies by. The story itself adheres to many classic “comedy of errors” traditions – marital infidelity (actual and illusory), discontented spouses, stereotypical British class warfare, lies, gossip, and bullies who get their comeuppance.
 
 

Michael Rouches as Frank Foster

Michael Harry Rouches plays Frank Foster, the older, gentrified boss whose wife Fiona (Danielle Valentine) is having an affair with one of Frank’s subordinates. Rouches is charmingly befuddled throughout, and one of the most consistently likeable characters in the show – a stark counterpoint to Valentine’s brittle and condescending British matron. Valentine’s comic timing and clipped British accent provide an effective foil to Rouches’ performance as the hapless cuckold.
 
Dennis Kujawa and Meghan Daaboul (Bob and Teresa Phillips) represent the other end of the class spectrum – he the glib, bullying, self-centered misogynist and she the angry and thoroughly disenchanted working-class new mom who is sure (for good reason) that her no-good husband is cheating.  Kujawa does an outstanding job of making the audience despise him, while Daaboul earns a little sympathy although her maternal skills are somewhat impaired.




Dennis Kujawa and Meghan Daaboul
Brick Andrews as William Featherstone and Holly Danelle as his wife Mary, while given a bit less stage time, are figuratively and literally caught in the middle. Andrews and Danelle carry the dinner party scene on their able shoulders, instantly and fluidly switching between Thursday’s dinner with the boss and Friday’s awkward meal at the Phillips’ apartment. While the entire show calls for exquisite timing, this scene is by far the most demanding, and both Andrews and Danelle rise to the challenge. Furthermore, Danelle does a superb job of navigating her character’s transition from mousy, insecure doormat to, if not Margaret Thatcher, at least a decently assertive and confident woman.

Thanks to director Kroon for assembling a cast capable of making us (and our fellow audience-members) laugh over and over throughout the evening.  The packed house was well-deserved, and we hope that the show enjoys continued strong attendance!

 
How The Other Half Loves is playing at Hillsboro Artists’ Regional Theatre through March 3.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

I LOVE YOU, YOU’RE PERFECT, NOW CHANGE

Photo by Chris Ryan. Pictured from left is Amy Jo Halliday, Joshua Stenseth, Leah Yorkston, and Colin Wood.


Broadway Rose kicks off its 2013 Season



By Tina Arth and Darrell Baker
 
Broadway Rose Theatre Company’s theme this season is “Discover a Season of Unforgettable Memories in 2013” and the opening show, I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change fits comfortably into the mold. The long-running show (12 years - second only to The Fantasticks in the length of its Off-Broadway run) has consistently amused and entertained audiences since its 1996 debut, and will probably continue to do so for many years to come.

The show makes no pretense at being cutting-edge, and even when it was first produced some of author Joe DiPietro’s vignettes were based on time-honored clich├ęs about the full spectrum of complications when man and woman try to get together. On the other hand, it is the enduring commonality of these situations that makes the show’s humor so accessible to its audiences – despite the advent of Twitter and Skype (or whatever this week’s media-of-the-moment might be), in many ways nothing has changed in the world of dating, love and marriage.

With no unifying plot and only four actors, each one occupying a character who lasts only as long as a song/dialogue vignette (and there are 21 in the show!), it is a challenge to fully engage the audience. Happily, Director Sharon Maroney peoples her cast with four heavy hitters (all regulars in top-notch Portland area productions) who have the amazing voices, timing, and comedic skill to keep the customers satisfied.

Some of the show’s best moments come in numbers where all four cast members perform together, delivering intricate harmonies and powerful solos sandwiched in the crisply delivered comedy. In an evening filled with laughs, the audience was especially receptive when Amy Jo Halliday and Colin Wood portrayed grandchild-seeking missiles frustrated by son Joshua Stenseth’s inability to commit, and girlfriend Leah Yorkston’s focus on her career over marriage and family. Who among us has not been there, either as parent, child, date, or all three? 

Wood is especially effective in “Shouldn’t I Be Less in Love With You?” which is essentially a solo spot in the spirit of Fiddler on the Roof’s “Do You Love Me?” (wife Halliday is on stage throughout, but is so wrapped up in the morning paper that she barely glances his way).  However, all four cast members give us memorable moments well beyond the demands of the material.

Amazingly for a show with as many quick character changes as I Love You…, there were no discernible technical errors – quick changes in sound, lighting, costumes, and sets were accomplished without a hitch. While this is a “small” show in some ways, the production is deceptively complex. The director, tech crew, and musicians as well as the actors clearly put in the time and thought required to make the first offering of Broadway Rose’s 2013 season unforgettably memorable.

I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change plays at Broadway Rose’s New Stage in Tigard through February 24th.