Thursday, November 13, 2014


Stacey Murdock (Kodaly) and Cassi Q. Kohl (Ilona)

By Tina Arth and Darrell Baker

Lakewood Theatre Company’s entry into the holiday theater scene is a wonderful production of She Loves Me – definitely a must-see for lovers of musical comedy. This rarely performed gem is given stellar treatment by director Tobias Anderson and music director Jon Quesenberry, both of whom clearly understand the light and deft touch needed for a small, intimate show. With music and lyrics by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick (of Fiddler fame), She Loves Me demands top-notch vocalists, and the Lakewood cast not only meets, but also exceeds, our expectations.

Paul Angelo (Georg) and Dru Rutledge (Amalia)
Long before and Facebook – even before Al Gore invented the Internet – people had a way to connect emotionally before they ever met by sending (gasp…) letters.  She Loves Me tells the story of Georg and Amalia, two constantly feuding clerks at Maraczek’s Parfumerie in 1930’s Budapest who are unaware that each is, in fact, the other’s romantic (but anonymous) pen pal. The story revolves in large part around their inevitable (and initially disastrous) face-to-face meeting. (Sound familiar? Perhaps you’ve seen You’ve Got Mail!) Another clerk, sleazy womanizer Kodaly, is secretly having an affair with Mrs. Maraczek and spending his free nights bedding another employee, Ilona. In the end, love and honor triumph.

Martin Tebo (“Arpad” the delivery boy) is by far the youngest cast member, and his youthful exuberance – augmented by impressive athleticism – brings a lot of energy to the stage, while his plaintive delivery of “Try Me” relieves the doom and gloom of Mr. Maraczek’s unfortunate “gun accident.” Brandon Weaver’s cameo as the tightly wound Maître d’ combines a controlled and lovely singing voice with a deer-in-the-headlights, almost Oliver Hardy-like panic as the situation spins out of his control. Jeremy Southard develops the role (“Sipos”) nicely with his one song, “Perspective,” but it is his consistent acting that really sells the character. On Saturday, Bryan Luttrell (“Mr. Maraczek”) seemed to be struggling a bit with timing at the beginning of “Days Gone By” but he quickly captured the rhythm, and his charming waltz turn lends a dignified Old-World charm that softens the blow of his angry moments later in the show.

“Ilona,” as portrayed by Cassi Q. Kohl, is in serious danger of stealing the show. Always a key comic role, Kohl’s “Ilona” is a true triple threat. She is an outstanding actress whose stage presence is utterly captivating, her timing is impeccable, and her delivery of “I Resolve” and “A Trip to the Library” showcases one of the best voices we have heard on a Portland area stage. Her counterpart, Stacey Murdock (“Mr. Kodaly”), brings more than just sleaze to his role – he is an accomplished actor whose “Grand Knowing You” may well be the strongest vocal number in the show.

Dru Rutledge and Paul Angelo are beautifully matched as Amalia and Georg – while the nature of the relationship evolves from hostility to the flames of newly discovered love, the level of passion is consistent throughout. Angelo’s nuanced performance gives Georg a likeability that makes the “happily ever after” conclusion satisfying and believable.  She Loves Me has been called the “Ice Cream” musical, and Rutledge’s amazing rendition of “Vanilla Ice Cream” fully validates the appellation. From the opening notes of “No More Candy” to the finale, Rutledge’s beautiful soprano integrates the music into her acting with seamless transitions.

Positioning the orchestra behind a semi-transparent scrim is a nice touch that allows the audience to observe these talented musicians without distracting from the central action. Both orchestra and chorus provide powerful support to the leads, and Laura Hiszczynskyj’s choreography brings wonderfully controlled chaos to the nightclub number.  The functional art deco sets allow for seamless scene changes, ensuring a constant flow of action.

 We have always loved this quirky, wonderful show – but never more than last Saturday’s performance at Lakewood.

Lakewood Theatre Company’s She Loves Me is running at Lakewood Center for the Arts, 368 S. State Street, Lake Oswego through Sunday, December 21st.  Show dates and times and ticket information are available at



Monday, November 10, 2014

The Play is On at Mask & Mirror

Jayne Furlong, Gary Romans, and Pat Romans.
By Tina Arth and Darrell Baker
As authors of a show recently performed by a local community theater, we are perhaps hypersensitive to a script that mocks royalty-free new plays by amateur playwrights. Thus our senses were quivering, ready to take offense at Mask & Mirror’s production of Play On, which dares to denigrate the delightful drama spewed from novice pens. However, our nascent ire died a-borning – this production is really funny, and we were too busy laughing along with the rest of the opening night audience to worry about our delicate artistic sensibilities.

Sarah Thornton, Pat Romans, Gary Romans,
Nick Hamilton, and Jacob Clayton.
Nick Abbott’s broad satire tells the story of a small, marginally talented community theater group that is frantically preparing for the opening night of “Murder Most Foul,” a genuinely awful play-within-a-play that just keeps getting worse with every re-write by hare-brained author Phyllis Montague (Phyllis Lang). The cast members (when in character for “Murder…”) are just as awful as their material – ham-fisted thespians with a mind-numbing flair for over-the-top melodrama who are nowhere near off-book three nights before opening. Banishing the author from the theater does no good – she keeps reappearing and is unable to understand why adding new scenes, dialogue changes, and characters this late in the game might be problematic for director, cast, and crew. Add several doses of contempt, lust, and jealousy among the actors, a determined but weak-willed director, and a thoroughly disaffected crew and the stage is set for a disastrous opening night ‘s performance.

Anyone can be a bad actor, but it takes a really good actor to act like a bad actor.  Director Harry McClane has gone above and beyond the call of duty, presenting his audience with a cast so uniformly talented that they can be really, really bad. The competition for “worst actor” award is fierce – is it Sarah Thornton (as Violet  Imbry, playing ingénue “Diana Lassiter”) who seems unable to grasp the difference in meaning between different pronunciations of “content” and who frequently refers to a co-star by his real name, rather than the name of his character? Is it Pat Romans (as Polly Benish, playing the larger than life “Lady Margaret”) who displays all the subtlety of Marx Brothers foil Margaret Dumont? Our trophy goes to Jayne Furlong, (as parochial schoolgirl Smitty Smith, playing “Doris the Maid”). Not only is Smitty convincingly distracted in mid-rehearsal by her upcoming biology exam, but she hurls herself into the “Doris” role with unbridled fluidity and the huge gestures and piercing tones of a true novice.

Of course, all of this is in the service of comedy, and the cast serves up a constant flow of laughs.  Often we did not know where to look, as all of the cast members are constantly in character (or, to be more precise, in one of their characters). Jayne Ruppert (as stage manager “Aggie Manville”) is a master the art of deadpan delivery that clearly conveys her unwavering cynicism and utter contempt for cast, director, and author. Gary Romans’ wide-eyed, oft-lascivious portrayal of Henry Benish as “Lord Dudley” is a perfect complement to Pat Romans, his wife in real life, the play, and the play-within-the-play. Nick Hamilton (as Saul Watson, playing villain “Doctor Rex Forbes”) is calm and confident; his “Saul” never allows the chaos around him to interfere with his constant and vicious digs at Polly (except when he gets quite convincingly and understandably drunk on opening night). We denied Sarah Thornton ”worst actress” accolades, but she gets many of the evening’s biggest laughs with her vacuous delivery – apparently, “Violet” has been cast for beauty, not brains, and it shows!

Nick Hamilton’s set design is perfectly suited to the play’s tone – three different kinds of wallpaper in one room, a safe with no back, and a host of other small touches appropriate to a stereotypically tacky community theater setting. Needless to say, sound and lighting cleverly live down to the rest of the production, and the sight of Play On’s real-life producer Sarah Ominski raising and lowering the makeshift curtain is an added bonus. “Murder Most Foul” may be a terrible show, but Play On is top-notch community theater and a thoroughly entertaining way to spend a few hours.

Mask & Mirror’s Play On runs through Sunday, November 23d at Calvin Church’s “The Stage”, 10445 SW Canterbury Lane, Tigard with performances at 7:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and 2:00 p.m. on Sundays.