Monday, December 14, 2015


bottom row, l - r: Sarah Fuller, Kathleen Silloway, Eric Lonergan middle row: Robbie Estabrook, Patti Speight, Brian Kennedy
back row: Ben Hare (standing), William Ferguson, Lacy Lonergan Photo by Patti Speight

By Tina Arth

The final course on the local holiday theater menu is something of a Christmas Miracle: only three weeks from casting to opening night – yet it’s definitely not a disaster (except, of course, where it’s supposed to be!). HART Theatre faced a last-minute challenge when key cast members for their planned production, Plaid Tidings, were unavailable. They brought in an ensemble of known commodities, HART veterans who could be relied on to do a credible job whether on stage or behind the scenes – spiced up with a few newcomers. In a leap of faith that paid off, they selected Mark Putnam to direct (for the first time since his college days), and quickly assembled a production of Happy Hollandaise, a tried-and-true holiday farce.

Despite the title, Hollandaise is definitely not gourmet fare. Tim Koenig’s slapstick comedy tells the absurd story of British brother and sister Claire and George Finley, attempting to welcome the new vicar, Father William Abbot, and his very pregnant wife Mary to town. All Claire wants is the perfect Christmas! She has planned a quiet, elegant dinner, highlighted by the cooking of renowned German chef Vilma Hasenpfeffer, whose special Hollandaise sauce will be the crowning touch. George arrives home to find chaos – their father, retired actor Philip Finley, has received a nasty blow to the head (from Claire, who beaned him with the crèche) and is reenacting a series of his favorite roles (in full costume, with weapons). Attempts to lock Philip in the basement are futile, the chef is late, the guests arrive early, the neighborhood is plagued by the notorious “Lone Wolf” burglar, and Mary turns out to be a bit more pregnant than expected. Of course, it all works out in the end – although the Sino-Teutonic fusion of Sweet and Sauerkraut may never catch on in the local food carts.

As with most stage farces, there is at all times a lot going on and it can be confusing to keep track of the frequent plot/character shifts. This production’s salvation is in the timing – while the pace is brisk, Putnam has slowed down both the action and the actors’ dialogue just enough that the audience can catch, follow and react to some really funny lines and great physical comedy. The detailed, attractive single set has four doors, a hallway, and a window so cast members are able to make frequent entrances and exits without colliding, and the show’s action is not slowed by scene changes.

The nine-person cast is solid – at a time when many actors might still be fighting to get off-book, this group was ready for opening night. Particular standouts include Brian Kennedy (“Philip”) who clearly gets to have the most fun – not too many lines, and his swashbuckling “El Caballo” is a real scene-stealer. This high-school senior is definitely someone to watch. Sarah Fuller’s “Claire” does a fine job of displaying quiet desperation with occasional bursts of hysteria, and Ben Hare (“George”) switches from hapless bumbler to Vilma impersonator with aplomb (although the enormous and wobbling breasts are a bit over-the-top even for farce). The most consistently funny character is Kathleen Silloway as the indomitable “Vilma” – her accent and distinctive lumbering gait are maintained throughout the show and are perfect for the part.

Happy Hollandaise has only a two-week run, so audiences have four more chances to catch this lighthearted show that will raise your spirits and prepare you for the festivities of the coming weeks.

Happy Hollandaise is playing at the HART Theatre, 185 SE Washington, Hillsboro through Sunday, December 20th, with performances Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 p.m.

Monday, December 7, 2015

BCT’s A Little Princess – Family Friendly Holiday Fare

Monsieur DuFarge (Michael Prange) enjoying some mayhem with girls from
the Seminary. Photo by Ammon Riley. 

By Tina Arth

Beaverton officially kicked off the city’s holiday season with an evening aimed at children and those who are children in their hearts: the lighting of the enormous tree outside the Beaverton Library followed by opening night of Beaverton Civic Theatre’s charming production of A Little Princess. Director Melissa Riley is using Bethany Schwarzkopf’s adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s much-loved novel, a perennial favorite of young girls throughout the English-speaking world. Like the novel, this version of the story is most captivating to pre- and early-teen girls, but the show is appropriate for many younger children and adults who cherish the world of imagination.

The play is set early in the 20th century and tells the story of young Sarah Crewe, a wealthy young girl raised in India who has lost her mother.  Her father is off to South Africa to expand his fortune with investments in the diamond mines, and he leaves his beloved daughter in the care of Miss Minchin’s Select Seminary for Ladies (in this version, located in New York City). Sarah has been treated like a princess all her life, and she treats everyone she meets (especially the underdogs) with the same gentle and loving attitude. For the first four years she is given royal treatment by Miss Minchin (who actually is quite jealous, and despises the young girl). When word reaches the Seminary that Sarah’s father has died and left her a pauper, the tables quickly turn. Sarah is sent to the attic to live and work with Becky, the scullery maid. Overworked, abused, and half-starved, she catches the attention of a wealthy neighbor, Thomas Carrisford, who has been searching for years for the daughter of his deceased friend, Captain Crewe. When Sarah recognizes her father’s friend, he rescues her from the evil Miss Minchin (and ensures that Miss Minchin will be punished for her misdeeds). The implausible coincidences and simplistic resolution work fine, because the play is aimed at children and celebrates the power and beauty of a child’s imagination.

8th grader Charlotte Burke (“Sarah”) is a stage veteran who carries off the lead role with compassion, resignation, pathos, and fire (as the moment demands).  Jeanine Stassens (“Miss Minchin”) personifies of every girl’s worst nightmare as she shifts from obsequious toady to cold sadist, and she laces her performance with believable menace.  As “mean girl” Lavinia, Victoria White brings a devious, self-righteous snobbery to her performance that most women in the audience must have recognized from their own middle school years, while Belle Edwards does a superb job of making us believe that she is the insecure and friendless “Ermendgarde.” Although the mature Michael Prange (“Monsieur Dufarge”) claims not to have acted since high school, he creates a warm and memorable character (and does a solid job of maintaining his French accent).  While he has very few lines and the diction of a kindergartner, tiny Logan Pounders (“Beggar Boy”) is impossibly endearing – the few moments he is on stage are unforgettable.

Alex Woodard’s set design is simple and flexible, and the use of the steps to carry on action during minor set changes ensures that no time is lost. The auditorium’s new light system is utilized to full advantage, and lighting designer Carter Marquis uses this medium effectively to change locale and mood throughout the play.

In a cast with lots of children, there are inevitably problems with vocal projection, and there are a few places where (at least from the back of the auditorium) I had a hard time understanding bits of dialogue. While the context is clear enough that there is no danger of getting lost, audience members with hearing issues should plan to arrive early and sit closer to the stage.  One other warning – judging from the behavior of children in two nearby rows, this is not a show well-suited to the interests and attention span of some active small boys. If they can’t handle two hours of young girls and their princess-fetishes, leave the poor little guys home!

Beaverton Civic Theatre’s production of A Little Princess runs through Sunday, December 20th at the Beaverton City Library Auditorium, with 7:30 pm shows on Friday and Saturday and 2:00 pm matinees on Sunday.

The Worst Kids in the World Deliver TITG’S Best Christmas Pageant Ever

From Left:  Gwendolyn Woods, Andrew Inman, Anna Adams, Nathan White, Sam
Ruder, Alyssa Kittle, Sean Fisk, Matthew Lowther, Sam Dennis, Charlee
Clement, Quinten VanDyke, Pamelajean Myers, Isabel Minor, Irene VanDyke,
Maya Luevane. Photo by Rebecca Cooper. 

By Tina Arth

While almost every community theatre group endeavors to present a holiday-themed play in December, it can be tough to cast these shows. Show biz, even at the local level, can be very demanding; actors are often reluctant to invest so much time in a production while spouses, parents, and children wait at home. In her Director’s Notes, Jessica Reed acknowledges the importance of this time, saying “Christmas has always meant spending time with family a way that we don’t usually get to the rest of the year.” Theatre in the Grove, a mainstay of both community theatre and children’s theatre in Washington County, addresses this problem neatly in their holiday production of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by delivering a nice amalgam of the two – call it “family theater” – that incorporates entire families into the production process. A quick look at the credits in the program says it all: the Dawes family, the Dennis family, the Fisk family, Brad and Christina Inman, the Harrelson and Lesh family, the Ross family, the Ruder family – all are recognized for their work both on stage and behind the scenes bringing the show to its audience.

Author Barbara Robinson has written a show that is funny, touching, and short enough to hold the attention span of even the youngest audience member: it’s time for the annual Christmas pageant, and the regular director, the imperious Mrs. Armstrong, is out of commission. The other parents gang up on fellow mom Grace Bradley, who reluctantly agrees to direct the show. Her husband Bob, who is totally disinterested, even more reluctantly agrees to help out by ensuring that the shepherds and baby angels appear on cue and in costume. The show threatens to fall apart when the Herdmans, who are the literally the worst kids in the world, demand lead roles as Mary, Joseph, the Wise Men, and the Angel of the Lord. The other town children don’t dare oppose this group of cigar-smoking, lying, shoplifting, assaultive thugs, who envision the Wise Men as spies, Herod in need of a thorough beating, and the Angel as a dark avenger. With no local mom willing to allow her baby to appear onstage in the grasp of these miscreants, they are forced to use a (much suffering) doll as the Baby Jesus. Of course, it’s Christmas, and a nice dose of holiday magic transforms the Herdmans and helps the whole town to see the story in a beautiful new light – hence, it is truly the best pageant ever.
Casting a show with a large cast of children often means that the adults are kind of an afterthought – brought in because they are tall enough, old enough, and can learn their lines while policing the antics of a stage full of kids. However, this show is something of an exception. Gratia Minor (“Grace”) brings a healthy combination of cynicism, resignation, and competitiveness to a key role, and Andy Dawes (“Bob”) displays fine timing and comic sensibility. Another adult standout is Aurea Taylor (“Mrs. McCarthy”), a priggish younger version of the domineering Mrs. Armstrong.  The kids, of course, are all impossibly winning – and Dawes’ interaction with the littlest angel (I suspect she is his daughter Pru) is just spectacular – well worth the price of admission!
The show is, as mentioned, very short. It would be nice to ratchet down the pace at a key moment (when Imogene starts crying) to draw more attention to this pivotal scene. It would also be helpful for Althea Harrelson (amazingly cute though she is in her portrayal of Gladys) to slow down her delivery and focus on really articulating the lines – she has some of the best moments in the show and should really work it!
Now that Theatre in the Grove has a tight new roof to keep the rain out, there is no excuse for all families in the Forest Grove vicinity to miss this entertaining holiday show, and to reflect on what it really means to be a refugee seeking shelter in troubled times.

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever is playing at Theatre in the Grove, 2028 Pacific Avenue, Forest Grove, with regular performances at 7:30 p.m. on December 11, 12, 18, 19, and Sunday matinees at 2:30 p.m. on December 13, 20. 

Monday, November 30, 2015

KBNB’s Swan Song

Phillip Berns, Peter Schuyler, Andrew Beck, Jessi Walters, Clara
Hillier, Gary Strong, Jeremy Sloan and Jessica Geffen as the cast of KBNB
Radio Classics, photo by Casey Campbell Photography

By Tina Arth

If Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is like a snow-covered Mt. Hood, returning annually to preside over the holiday season with predictable majesty, then Bag & Baggage’s A KBNB Kristmas Karol is like Mt. St. Helens, circa 1980 – a once in a lifetime, over-the-top explosion of theatrical farce that blows away its own foundation and leaves the audience wondering “what happened?” To strain the simile a bit more, Kristmas Karol was also preceded by two smaller, but still impressive, earthquakes (the 2013 and 2014 productions of It’s A Somewhat Wonderful Life and Miracle on 43d Street) which presaged what was to come but gave no real warning of the scope of the coming event. With this production, adaptor/director Scott Palmer doesn’t just close the door on his holiday trilogy, he slams it shut and throws away the key.

The lights come up on the now familiar (to Bag & Baggage audiences) KBNB backdrop – but the call letters are askew, the clock is broken, and in place of the studio’s furnishings the stage is littered with tattered boxes, one dangling microphone, and a snake of disconnected cable. As television is fast replacing radio as the dramatic medium of choice, this year’s production of A Christmas Carol will be the station’s last gasp, and it’s set to air in just 20 minutes. Producer Winston Whiteside (Gary Strong) and his oh-so-buxom bride Lana North-Berkshire-Whiteside (Jessica Geffen) arrive to find the station in disarray, and they panic, believing that the station has been robbed – not only of furniture, props, and electronic equipment, but of the scripts they need for the evening’s show. When stars Donald Donaldson (Andrew Beck) and Felicity Fay Fitzpatrick (Clara Hillier) appear, we learn that Donaldson not only hasn’t memorized his lines, he hasn’t even opened the script and is not familiar with the story. The sudden arrival of predatory TV producer Arthur Adams (Peter Schuyler) and his odd entourage introduces another seemingly insurmountable obstacle – apparently, the KBNB folks didn’t get the memo that the holiday radio broadcast had been moved to a studio in Hoboken. “The show must go on” is a nice concept, but seems unlikely until we learn that the greedy Adams is a big Scrooge fan, his “assistant” Laverne North-Berkshire (Jessi Walters) is channeling Scrooge’s nephew Fred, and famous film director Heinrich Huber Hauffman (Philip Berns), despite his unintelligible Mitteleuropean patois, is capable of plugging one electrical cable into another. From the ensuing chaos somehow arises, if not A Christmas Carol, at least the Ghost of Christmas Carols past.

High points of the show include an abundance of riveting physical comedy (Strong must be seen to be believed), the growing enthusiasm of Hillier’s impromptu jingles for sponsor Boromax, Geffen’s giddy hysteria throughout, and Schuyler’s remarkable transitions from slimeball to Dickensian thespian. The scene where Hauffman offers a solution to their problems, but needs fey policeman Patrick Paulson (Jeremy Sloan) to translate, is a gem that lasts long after the cacophony of the show subsides. Less thrilling (although certainly true to the intense parody of the form) are the incessant breast grabbing and the sometimes-inexplicable pants dropping. Frequently, there is just too much happening on stage to keep track of it all, and I’m sure I missed some truly boffo punch lines because I was distracted by constant chatter and activity.

The opening night audience was loaded with Bag & Baggage regulars, who had been groomed by the first two legs of the KBNB trilogy and understood the “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride” flavor of the evening. One hopes that newcomers (at least the savvy ones who are likely to populate the Bag & Baggage demographic) are able to focus and contextualize the show, find its underlying warmth, and appreciate the amazing acting company that brings such a broad and marvelous variety of theatre to Hillsboro.

Bag & Baggage’s A KBNB Kristmas Karol is playing at Hillsboro’s Venetian Theatre, 253 E. Main Street, through December 23, with performances Thursday through Saturday at 7:30pm, Sunday at 2:00pm, and Dec. 22-23 at 7:30pm.

A Taffeta Christmas Present From Broadway Rose

By Tina Arth

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas all over the metro area, but nowhere is the holiday spirit launched with more heart and verve than Broadway Rose’s New Stage in Tigard. A Taffeta Christmas, a 1950’s Musical Revue is drenching its audience with a dose of nostalgia that would be near-lethal were it not leavened by amazing vocal arrangements and lovingly ironic touches.  For scheduling reasons, I suspended my usual “no Christmas activities or apparel until after Thanksgiving” rule to see the show (and don my first holiday-themed attire) at its preview on Thanksgiving Eve – and my flexibility was amply rewarded.

Local author Rick Lewis’ holiday creation, like its predecessor The Taffetas, features sisters Kaye, Peggy, Cheryl, and Donna in a four-piece fifties “girl group.” The girls are back home Muncie, Indiana filming a televised special “Hometown Holiday Hoedown” for their loyal fans. Since the entire TV show is performed live (we are the studio audience) there is no attempt to create a backstory other than what the girls reveal between songs – in about 95 minutes, they deliver thirteen complete songs and three medleys. The holiday theme is pervasive, but not exclusive – songs like “Jambalaya,” “Sincerely,” and the wonderful “Secret Love Medley” lend period-appropriate variety to the show’s offerings. The “Taffeta Chatter” segment, the Galaxy Beauty Product ads, and a too-fabulous guest appearance by Cousin Warren keep the evening moving with a spirit of campy fun.

A musical revue rises (or falls) on the strength of the vocalists, and all four Taffetas (Kira Batcheller, Stephanie K. Leppert, Natalie McClure, and Dru Rutledge) deliver flawless performances. They are masters of complex four-part harmony, and each has the lead voice necessary to not just carry, but also adorn, frequent solo spots. Blocking a show where each performer is constantly attached to a long microphone cord must have been a nightmare, but Director/Choreographer Dan Murphy manages to keep all four girls posing, dancing, and weaving like they were coated in Johnson’s No More Tangles. Music Director/pianist Jeffrey Childs and his band mates, bassist Fletcher Nemeth and drummer Bill Morris-York, are unobtrusively tucked away in the background but they provide impeccable support to the production.

Costume designer Jim Crino captures just the right fifties Christmas look: bright red dresses accented by occasional touches of white lace or fur, classic “Jackie O” pearls that fit perfectly with the bouffant wigs and bright red lipstick (Galaxy brand, no doubt – the brand preferred by nine out of ten Hollywood starlets!). The scenic design by Gene Dent has the requisite “everything in one place” feel of a fifties TV show; one side of the stage is dedicated to nothing but the sponsor’s products, while the other houses a well-stocked bar that would feel at home in any rec room of the era, and the whole set exudes over-the-top Christmas charm.

A Taffeta Christmas is definitely not for everybody. Theater-goers in search of cutting-edge material, challenging dissonance, and cultural cynicism will have to find their needs met elsewhere – but for the rest of us, Broadway Rose is closing its 2015 season with just the right touch. Several shows are nearly sold out, so buy your tickets on-line as soon as possible.

“A Taffeta Christmas” is playing at the Broadway Rose New Stage Theater, 12850 SW Grant Avenue, Tigard through Sunday, December 20th with performances at 7:30 pm on Thursday, Friday and Saturday and 2:00 pm matiness on Saturday and Sunday.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The First Belles of Christmas Ringing at Mask & Mirror

Jani VanPelt (Frankie) and Michael Allen (Raynerd). Photo by Al Steward Photography, Tigard

By Tina Arth

Christmas Belles, Mask & Mirror’s offering for the holiday season, is a farce based on the calamitous events surrounding a very bad local Christmas production – and thus, by necessity, is infused with some elements of truly awful stagecraft. It is one of three comedies set in the fictional Fayro, Texas by the prolific writing team of Jones, Hope and Wooten, and centers on the absurd and tacky Futrelle sisters – a fitting sequel to last spring’s Dearly Beloved, with many of the same cast members. Like its predecessor, Christmas Belles needs to be approached in the spirit of unadulterated fun – any attempt to find great art within the script is doomed, and Director Gary Romans (who also directed Dearly Beloved) makes no effort to turn this particular sow’s ear into a silk purse. Silk purses just aren’t that funny.

The three Futrelle sisters are in crisis. Twink (Diana Lo Verso) is temporarily paroled from jail, sentenced for accidentally burning down ½ of a trailer court while trying to destroy her ex-beau’s NASCAR memorabilia. Frankie (Jani VanPelt) looks about 10 months pregnant, carrying unexpected late-life twins due at any moment. Honey Raye (Kari Trickey) is trying to lose her reputation as town slut by directing the annual Christmas program at the Tabernacle of the Lamb Church. Their principal adversaries are Miss Geneva Musgrave (Pat Romans), the overbearing town florist angry at having lost control of a pageant she directed for the past 27 years, and Patsy Price (Virginia Kincaid), the official town snob who disdainfully refers to the Futrelle girls as “the fertile, the flirt, and the felon.” A third unseen but powerful adversary is the food poisoning that has knocked out most of the cast on opening night – we can only imagine the scene that inspires the quote “Now, do any of you know how to shampoo a sheep?” These and a host of subplot crises magically resolve at the end, although I’m not sure that Dub (James Montgomery) ever manages to pass his kidney stone.

The heavily-stuffed VanPelt is remarkably true to the awkward physicality of the extremely pregnant, and injects just the right note of hysteria into her performance. LoVerso shifts seamlessly from wide-eyed innocence to determined escape artist/vandal – her timing and delivery earn lots of laughs. Trickey’s acting captures Honey Raye’s transformation from trash to, well, slightly-less-trashy, but her hair, makeup, and clothing are all a bit too respectable for the part – somebody just needs to tart this girl up a little! Romans’ take on Miss Geneva is superb – she oozes “pushy Southern broad” out of her smug little pores. In Act I, Kincaid’s elitism is believably annoying – but it’s in Act II that she really gets to shine; as she gradually succumbs to the irresistible effects of a powerful painkiller, we see a whole new side of the prim and proper Patsy Price.

Two of the men demand mention, although for very different reasons. While watching a man in agony probably shouldn’t be funny, Montgomery is hilarious as he mirrors his wife’s oncoming labor pains with his frantic kidney stone inspired writhing – and his stoic refusal to pop a pain pill is just plain heartwarming. Maybe I’m overly sensitive, but I was a bit uncomfortable with Michael Allen’s portrayal of Raynerd Chisum, a mentally challenged and much-loved local character. From what I can tell he played the part as written, so my unease is really aimed at the authors, but it just seems like a cheap shot to milk laughs out of poor Raynerd’s intellectual shortcomings. Allen does, however, turn the tables and partially salvage the role with his exceptionally dignified last-minute rendition of the Christmas story.

While Christmas Belles is broken into two acts, it’s really structured more like a sitcom, with a series of blackouts punctuated by lots of one-liners, clever bits of over-the-top Southern slang, and broad physical comedy. It’s undemanding, a whole lot of fun in the spirit of the ugly Christmas sweater, and it’s a great way to usher in the lighter side of the holiday season!

Christmas Belles runs through November 22nd at “The Stage” at Calvin Church, 10445 SW Canterbury Lane, Tigard, with shows at 7:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and 2:00 p.m. on Sundays.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

HART’s Foreigner Unapologetically Funny Farce

Picture is of William Ferguson (Charlie), Patti Speight (Betty),  and Carl Dahlquist (Ellard).  Photo courtesy of Nicole Mae Photography

By Tina Arth

It is said that laughter is the best medicine. If so, then audiences for author Larry Shue’s The Foreigner are getting a real bargain – HART’s $15.00 admission, while not covered by Obamacare, is still the best deal in town. Under the guidance of director Sarah Ominski and Assistant Director Sarah Thornton, the cast of this odd farce creates an engaging narrative and characters we really care about.

The premise of the show is a convoluted and utterly implausible melodrama. Cockney Staff Sgt. Froggy LeSeur is making his annual annual visit to Tilghman County, Georgia, to share his explosives expertise with soldiers at a local army base. His first stop is to deposit his former Commanding Officer, Charlie Baker, at the dilapidated fishing lodge owned by Betty Meeks, an elderly, credulous Southern ditz. Charlie has been convinced by his wife’s disdain that he is utterly devoid of personality; humiliated and self-conscious, the last thing he wants is to be left alone with a group of strangers. Froggy addresses this dilemma by telling Betty that Charlie is a foreigner, understands no English, and cannot be spoken to during his visit. The lodge’s other visitors, assuming that Charlie cannot follow their conversations, reveal several dark secrets in his presence – including a sinister plot by local Klansmen to take over the lodge and eventually the country. Charlie improvises a “foreign language” gibberish until a cheerfully dim-witted guest, Ellard Simms, endeavors to teach him English. For obvious reasons an apt pupil, Charlie becomes fluent with miraculous speed, and within two days he is able to foil the dastardly plot and befriend the lovely heroine, Ellard’s sister Catherine.

While the cast is amply endowed with comedic talent, the chemistry between Ellard (Carl Dahlquist) and Charlie (William Ferguson) really sells the show.  Dahlquist is a master of the requisite “duh” look and attitude, yet he manages to convey Ellard’s inner goodness and fundamental street smarts while simply rocking a striped union suit. HART’s small theater is a perfect platform for Ferguson, as he telegraphs his thoughts to us (and eventually to his allies) with expressive eyes and an amazing range of facial tics. Many of the evening’s best laughs come from the language lessons, as an uptight British officer is transformed into a drawling yahoo learning that “ye-us” is a two syllable word. The final Musketeer in the comedic trio is Betty, and it is a part that actor Patti Speight was born to play. She hurls herself at the role, and at Charlie, in the ubiquitous American belief that loud talk and big gestures can overcome any language barrier. Jason Weed (as the lead Klansman) is a surprising standout who captures an over-the-top Southern meanness ranging from simple malice to apoplectic anger.

William Crawford’s fishing lodge set is detailed, authentic, and cleverly designed to allow for a variety of unusual entrances and exits. Some alarming events going on in an unseen outside world are captured neatly by Rebecca Glass and Benjamin Phillip’s sound design paired with lighting design by Ray Hale and Brian Ollom.

It’s not easy to keep broad farce from stepping over a fine line between serious comedy and annoyingly juvenile silliness, but the opening night audience’s reaction make it clear that the HART ‘s cast and crew got it right. If you go, you will laugh (a lot) – is there any better reason to see a comedy?

The Foreigner runs at HART Theatre, 185 SE Washington, Hillsboro through Sunday, November 8th with performances at 7:30 on Fridays and Saturdays and 2:00 on Sundays.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015


Trevor Jackson (Brandon) and Michael Tuefel (Rupert). Photo by Casey Campbell.

By Tina Arth

Bag & Baggage’s October offering is definitely in the spirit of Halloween – a macabre murder-mystery-comedy that keeps the audience laughing at absurdly stereotypical caricatures. However, playwright Patrick Hamilton’s 1929 work manages, in the end, to sneak in a dose of real character development and a message about human values transcending the nihilism of its time. Guest director Rusty Tennant has imported a sparkling cast of Bag & Baggage newcomers to Hillsboro for this quirkily inverted whodunit – the question is never “who?” or even “why?” but rather “will they get caught?”

Ignoring the obvious complication of a body in a chest, Rope plays out at first quite like a traditional drawing room comedy. Two exceptionally callow and bored Oxford students, the dominant Wyndham Brandon and weaker Charles Granillo, have expressed their pseudo-Nietzschean intellectual superiority by committing a motiveless crime (the murder of the innocent Ronald), then inviting a few friends over for dinner. The dining room table is covered with books, so the food is set out buffet-style on the chest in the drawing room. The guests include Kenneth Raglan, a particularly silly fellow student, and Leila Arden, his apparently equally silly female counterpart – voluptuous, flirtatious, and very eager to fit in with the sophisticated and well-educated group. Through some patently expository initial dialogue, we learn that another two guests are Sir Johnstone and Mrs. Debenham, the father and aunt of the luckless, chest-bound Ronald. The final guest, Rupert Cadell, is a very, very clever poet whose World War I experiences have left him utterly cynical and totally disaffected from contemporary mores. Leila jokingly raises the possibility that there could be a body in the chest, then pursues her whimsical notion with the persistence of a bulldog – but to no avail. Rupert, having spotted an unexpected music hall ticket in Granillo’s vest, deduces that Leila has inadvertently hit on the truth, and the play then revolves around the possibility that Rupert might expose the murder and, if so, how he might react to it.

In the first act, each role is played with such broad enthusiasm that we get little sense of actual character (except for a clear sense of the lack of character of Brandon and Granillo). Raglan (Joel Patrick Durham) is an absolute ninny, and Durham’s nearly hysterical tittering makes it abundantly clear that the murderers are intellectually superior to at least some of their guests. Signe Larsen (Leila), while considerably less educated, shows some signs of grey matter – but her incessant prancing, dancing, and over-the-top attraction to Kenneth shows that she is no candidate for Mensa. In Act II the real tension between the handsome, but chillingly sociopathic Brandon (Trevor Jackson) and the foppish Rupert (Michael Tuefel) emerges. Tuefel’s wonderfully effete delivery of a monologue equating warfare with murder and dismissing each of the Ten Commandments sets him up as sympathetic to the boys – but Tuefel gradually displays hints of a deeper character buried beneath the façade.

Rope is one of those plays that, like Rupert Cadell, seems at first to be merely clever and funny (and it is extremely funny!) but turns out, on introspection, to be hiding a serious and thought-provoking side that more than justifies the audience’s attendance and attention.

Bag and Baggage’s production of Rope runs through Sunday, November 1 at Hillsboro’s Venetian Theatre, with performances at 7:30 Thursday – Saturday and 2:00 pm Sunday matinees.

Monday, October 12, 2015

TITG Presents a Fine Fiddler

Darren Hurley (Tevye) leading the ensemble in "Tradition."Photo by Ward Ramsdell

By Tina Arth

Theatre in the Grove’s current production of Fiddler on the Roof is not perfect – it’s something much better. It’s real and alive, with music and dance integrated so smoothly into the narrative that you never have that moment of wondering why exhausted, careworn peasants suddenly look and sound like they are playing hooky from their real gigs at the Imperial Ballet or the Metropolitan Opera House. Director/Choreographer Melanie Shaw has melded her talented cast into a believable microcosm of life for early 20th century Russian Jews and their Czarist oppressors. The show, written by Joseph Stein, with music by Jerry Bock and lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, is a classic because it so movingly combines the wry humor and the powerful currents of grief of a people trying to maintain their cultural identity as their world is once again torn apart.

The tale is as old as anti-Semitism and as new as the crisis in Syria. While political turmoil and oppression swirl around them, the poor milkman Tevye and his wife Golde just want to raise their family and marry off their five daughters in peace, living their lives according to the traditions handed down from their forebears. The show opens with a powerful ensemble rendition of “Tradition” that immediately conveys the essence of how a patiently beleaguered people have coped with generations of upheaval. As Tevye and Golde’s daughters break with tradition by choosing their own increasingly “inappropriate” spouses, Tevye grudgingly rationalizes his compromises in monologues punctuated by the phrase “on the other hand” – until the third daughter, Chava, elopes with a Gentile and he angrily concludes “there is no other hand!”

The three oldest daughters introduce themes of change through their unorthodox courtships. Playing eldest daughter Tzeitel, Natasha Kujawa injects intelligence and irony into her role as an early feminist, determined to marry for love and able to badger timid fiancé Motel (Dan Bahr) into standing up to Tevye. As second daughter Hodel, Amy Martin evolves from obedient girl to strong and independent woman, willing to leave her world behind when fiancé Perchik (Andy Roberts) is shipped off to Siberia. Martin’s lovely voice brings pathos to the powerful and evocative “Far From the Home I Love.” As third daughter Chava, Rachel May Thomas’ solo dance during Tevye’s “Chava Sequence” beautifully accents his grief at the loss of his favorite daughter. The daughters contrast dramatically with their mother Golde (Wendy Bax), a conventionally downtrodden peasant trying to manage her household with an iron fist. Bax has a gorgeous voice, and is a good enough actress to use it only when the script demands that she show it off (as in the beautiful “Sabbath Prayer” and the always touching “Do You Love Me?”). As Yente the Matchmaker, Jeanine Stassens get many of the show’s funniest lines, and she makes the most of them.

Director Shaw’s staging of “The Dream” is the funniest version I have seen of this comic highlight. The decision to cast an eleven year old as Grandmother Tzeitel was inspired – the tiny, fierce Luella Harrelson keeps the audience in stitches with her frenetic energy, and her costume and makeup effectively disguise her youth. Jennifer Yamashiro’s take on Fruma Sarah is a perfect counterpoint; the character’s physical elevation and tottering gait amp up her already hysterical delivery.

Of course, Fiddler is really Tevye’s show, and Darren Hurley could not be better cast. He avoids the common pitfall of delivering his lines with a heavy accent, choosing instead to inject just a trace of Yiddish flavor into the role. This allows him to create a character, rather than a caricature, to anchor the show. His powerful voice ensures that the musical’s most well-known numbers will stay with the audience long after they leave the theater, but it is his total commitment to Tevye’s thoughtful combination of rigidity and flexibility that makes the performance truly memorable.

The ensemble is exceptionally strong – solid choreography delivered with utter precision, and vocal harmonies that sometimes bring chills, other times tears (as in the evocative “Sunrise, Sunset”). James Grimes’ spare, but cleverly designed set precludes all but the briefest scene-change delays, and Ward Ramsdell’s lighting design enhances the barren beauty of the tiny village.

Audiences still have two more weeks to see one of the finest Fiddlers likely to come their way; this one is definitely worth the drive to Forest Grove for lovers of classic musical theatre.

Fiddler on the Roof runs through Sunday, October  25th at Theatre in the Grove, 2028 Pacific Avenue, Forest Grove with performances Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

STAGES’ The Addams Family Musical A Stretch, But It Works!

Addams Family (Athena Van Dyke as Lurch, Dahlia/Lavender Wyatt as Grandma,
as Kai Nevers as Pugsley, Elijah Webbas Gomez, Caitriona Johnstone as
Morticia, Emily Neibergall as Wednesday, Max Nevers as Uncle Fester). 

Photo by Frank Hunt.

By Tina Arth

Hillsboro’s STAGES Performing Arts Youth Academy has historically limited its productions to typical family fare – Cheaper By The Dozen, High School Musical, and various “Jr.” shows, productions abbreviated to make them more accessible to a young cast. However, the program is stretching its participants by venturing into deeper water this year. The Addams Family, based on Charles Addams’ New Yorker cartoons and the iconic TV series, is definitely not a children’s show. Authors Marshall Brockman and Rick Elice have included a number of adult themes and jokes that make the show more PG-13 (and a whole lot funnier) than expected, and the music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa (23 songs, including several big production numbers) require the cast to work much harder than is usual in youth theatre. It is impressive to see how well director Luis Ventura and the current crop of STAGES actors are rising to the challenge.

The story, as expected in expanded cartoons, is simplistic (if somewhat convoluted). Brooding Goth princess Wednesday Addams has fallen in love with a normal guy, Lucas Beineke, and the time has come for the two families to meet. She confides in her father, Gomez, that she and Lucas are engaged – but begs him not to tell Morticia (her mother) until the time is right. The entire Addams family (including a host of really interesting dead ancestors) is expected to behave for one night like a regular family. Lucas’ parents are pure middle America, and (despite the Addams’ attempts to behave) are more than a little confused about the bizarre family, although they tend to ascribe most of the weirdness to the fact that the Addams are New Yorkers – an alien species to the Ohio born and bred Beinekes. After accidentally consuming a magic potion meant for Wednesday, Alice Beineke realizes that her marriage has become a sham; tightly wound husband Mal, once a passionate and spontaneous lover, has become a distant workaholic.  Chaos ensues – but of course it all works out in the end. Wednesday and Lucas, Mal and Alice, Gomez and Morticia, even Uncle Fester and his true love, the moon – all work out their differences, and the ancestors go quietly back to their graves, reassured that their descendants have resolved their many issues and no longer need their guidance.

Most of the show’s principals have extensive show-biz bios and are well prepared to take on the more demanding roles of the show. The surprise standout is 15-year-old Elijah Webb (“Gomez”) – this is only his second play and his first musical. He delivers a mature performance, has great timing and gravitas, and delivers strong solos in many of the show’s musical numbers. STAGES veteran Marlena Starrs (“Alice”) nails her transition from repressed Ohio housewife to a kind of lusty second-adolescence, and she is equally convincing in both personas. Emily Niebergall’s “Wednesday” is a delightful mixture of darkness and light – her personality as quirky as the bright yellow dress over her dark stockings and darker mien – and she brings a solid voice to some of the show’s best numbers. “Morticia,” in the hands of a very experienced Caitriona Johnstone, is a classic control freak, and the moment when she realizes that she has “become her mother” (every bride’s nightmare!) is simply lovely.

William Crawford’s set is darkly beautiful, detailed, and efficient. Costume coordinator Sandy Wilson has outdone herself with the Ancestor’s attire, portraying a wide variety with character-appropriate yet ghostly all-white togs – and the Ancestors’ makeup is superb.

Congratulations to Director Ventura for his willingness to take the STAGES program to the next level – one can only imagine what we’ll see with their next production, Shakespeare’s The Tempest (and no, there is no Tempest, Jr.!)

The Addams Family is playing at the HART Theatre, 185 SE Washington Street, Hillsboro through Sunday, October 11th with 7:30 p.m. performances on Friday and Saturday and 2:00 p.m. matinees on Saturday and Sunday.

Monday, October 5, 2015

The Verdict Is In On Beaverton Civic Theatre’s Twelve Angry Jurors

Steve Holgate (Juror #8) exploring a fine point in the evidence. The other jurors (going
around the table clockwise from bottom left) are Bud Reece, Virginia Howe
Kincaid, Allison Andersen, Tonja Schreiber, Diana LoVerso, Jessica Reed,
Stan Yeend, Greg Prosser, Les Ico, Priscilla Howell, and Erin Zelazny. Photo by Ammon Riley.

By Tina Arth

As someone familiar with Henry Fonda’s 1957 film version of Twelve Angry Men, I initially found the title of Beaverton Civic Theatre’s Twelve Angry Jurors a bit jarring - would updating the show diminish its impact? However, this powerful drama is only improved by revising it to reflect current realities (e.g., we allow women on our juries now) – the removal of now-obsolete features serves to illustrate more fully that the central themes are completely relevant in 2015. Rush to judgment? Check. Inequities based on class and economic status? Check. Abusive parents? Check. Racism? Check. Overworked, uninspired public defenders? Check. Ambiguity about the meaning of “reasonable doubt?” Check. Ultimately, good people with good sense prevailing? Well, sometimes check.

Director Kraig Williams has assembled a truly amazing cast, and the result is a riveting show. For two hours we watch the jurors, twelve ordinary Americans drawn from all walks of life, who are closed into a stifling jury room for hours to deliberate the fate of a young man facing the death penalty for allegedly killing his father. Introducing women into the mix (this production peoples its jury with five men and seven women) superficially changes things, but none of the wit, intelligence, callousness, anger, bigotry, pain, and sensitivity of the original show is lost. The universality of these qualities is emphasized by the anonymity of the cast – the jurors have only their juror numbers, and the young man on trial is never given a name or ethnicity - he is just one of “them,” and we all know how “they” are. An inspired twist is portraying juror # 11, typically a German immigrant, as a Muslim woman – in 2015 a much better illustration of the evils of stereotyping (and a clear reminder that some problems of the 1950’s are still with us, despite several decades of “progress”). The jurors begin with a general assumption that it will be a quick guilty verdict, based on the evidence they have heard and their own biases. The first informal poll reveals that they are split 11 – 1 in favor of a guilty verdict – the lone holdout Juror #8, a Physics teacher who believes that the accused deserves a bit more deliberation before being sent to death row. Gradually, in fits and starts, the guilty verdict begins to collapse under the weight of “reasonable doubt” and a growing willingness on the part of the jurors to critically examine the evidence. Ultimately, after a liberal dose of reason and common sense, the group reaches a unanimous “not guilty” verdict.

Jurors #8 (Steve Holgate), #10 (Virginia Howe Kincaid), and #3 (Stan Yeend) provide the show’s principal conflict; other jurors offer more nuanced reactions to the three central characters. Holgate is quietly compelling as a man of conscience and science who cannot allow his fellow jurors to rush to judgment. Kincaid is disturbingly strident as the racist who blithely assumes that everyone secretly shares her vicious perspective. Yeend plays the angriest and most troubled of the group, and reaches frighteningly authentic heights of apoplexy as his character unravels in the face of the other jurors’ obvious aversion to his hate-filled choler.

While there are no weak performances, two other actors merit special mention. As Juror #11, Jessica Reed evolves believably from a retiring hijab-wearing Muslim to a passionate advocate of the best of American democracy; her growing reactions to Kincaid’s worst excesses subtly underscore the play’s themes. Les Ico (# 5) uses his remarkably expressive face to illustrate his character’s growing empathy for the accused, who shares his violent slum upbringing.

While there are several moments of dark humor to relieve the tension, Twelve Angry Jurors is intense and sometimes uncomfortable. However, it is one of the most powerful and provocative dramas I have seen on a BCT stage, and the quality of the production makes it a must-see for local audiences.

Beaverton Civic Theatre presents Twelve Angry Jurors through Saturday, October 17th at the Beaverton City Library Auditorium, 12375 SW Fifth Street, Beaverton, with performances at 7:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and 2:00 p.m. on Sundays.

Monday, September 28, 2015


Gene Chin (Tempura), Danielle Weathers (Corinna), Michael Morrow Hammick
(Mitch), Olivia Shimkus (Daisy and others), Pam Mahon (Lureena), Gary
Wayne Cash (Rick Shaw), and Joey Côté (Joe and others).

By Tina Arth

After a summer of big, beautiful, classic musical theatre, Broadway Rose kicks off its return to the smaller New Stage by offering a quirky, utterly silly show with absolutely no redeeming social value – and I love it! The sets, costumes, lighting, choreography, and music set the stage for an unashamedly campy homage to film noir. Director Isaac Lamb and his cast embrace the genre’s stereotypes with typical Broadway Rose panache and an enthusiastic embrace of the absurd reminiscent of Young Frankenstein, Airplane, or the occasional episode of American Dad!

Christopher Durang (book and lyrics) and Peter Melnick (music) set their little parody in Macao, China circa 1952. The plot is utterly predictable and fundamentally irrelevant – a small group of troubled Caucasians (casino owner Rick Shaw, rival cabaret singers Lureena and Corinna, and the handsome but hard-boiled Mitch) are trying to escape their troubled pasts in a den of iniquity; Mitch seeks to clear himself of an unjust murder charge by locating the mysterious McGuffin. As apparently the lone Asian in the world’s most densely populated city, the pianist Tempura portrays every possible Oriental stereotype with a veneer of subservience thinly covering his simmering hostility.  All’s well that ends well, with everyone back in NYC and the principles paired appropriately.

The first real joke in the show lets the audience in on the fun – after a brief (and, of course, hard-boiled) dockside flirtation, Mitch says “See you around, I hope” and Lureena replies “Well, it’s a small cast.” From there on, we know that they know that we are watching. Even though the fourth wall is only broken a few times, it’s enough to ensure that the stylized and melodramatic performances are perceived from the beginning as intentional parody.

Pam Mahon is absolute dynamite as “Lureena.” Her voice and stage presence are huge – even though the big ballads and bigger production numbers are (as generally expected in parody) quite forgettable, her performance is anything but. As the opium sniffing “Corinna,” Danielle Weathers shifts from drug-addled has-been to fighting tigress with aplomb, and she is perhaps the best physical comedian in the cast.  Casino-owner “Rick” (Gary Wayne Cash) seems to have been overlooked when the authors were handing out the fun roles, but the pseudo-poignant “Rick’s Song” makes it clear that he had been intentionally, rather than inadvertently, overlooked. Michael Morrow Hammack (“Mitch”) is the quintessential antihero – brooding, almost too handsome, with a perfectly trimmed two-day growth of beard to accentuate his chiseled chin. He seems to channel Humphrey Bogart, but with a much, much better singing voice.

Gene Chin (named “Tempura” because he’s been battered by life) gets many of the best lines, and he makes the most of them. Suggest that he is inscrutable, and he stomps his feet and insists that he is utterly scrutable. Chin’s operatic background makes “Tempura’s Song” even funnier – that powerful and lovely voice singing the praises of a “rovely rotus reef” – and his magic disappearing act after the final dockside battle is stunningly devoid of magic. The remaining two characters (Joey Côté and Olivia Shimkus) play a multitude of roles (it is, after all, “a small cast”) – and while Shimkus doesn’t get much chance to really shine, Côté is haplessly wonderful leading the audience in a round of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.” In fishnet tights he also proves that he, not Chin’s “Tempura,” has the best legs in the cast.

As always, music director Mont Chris Hubbard and his tiny band are flawless, and their placement at the back of the stage ensures that they do not overpower the vocalists. The sets are appropriately cartoonish, and the first scene change (from the docks to the club interior) is breathtakingly efficient. The costumes (especially the women’s) are tastefully over the top, and the Carmen Miranda-like headdresses in the final performances are simply wonderful.

Adrift In Macao is perfect for audiences looking for a little R-rated entertainment – the plot may be predictable, but the strong vocals combined with laughs that often come in unexpected places makes it an evening well-spent.

Adrift in Macao runs at Broadway Rose’s New Stage, 12850 SW Grant Avenue, Tigard through October 25th.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Bag & Baggage’s Best Asks: Have We Really Come a Long Way, Baby?

Arianne Jacques (Gregg), Stephanie Lippert (Brenda), Cassie Greer
(Caroline), Jessi Walters (Mary Agnes), and Joey Copsey (as Mr. Shalimar)

By Tina Arth

We’ve all seen 9 to 5, Mad Men, and countless other dramedies dealing with sexism and gender inequity in the culture of American business. In 2015, can a play (even if written in 2012) based on the absurd sexual politics of the 1950s have anything meaningful to offer, other than cheap laughs and a little head scratching at how stupid everybody used to be? Surely the feminist revolution of the ‘70s fixed all that! This question is answered with a resounding “yes” in the Bag & Baggage production of Rona Jaffe’s The Best of Everything, adapted for the stage by Julie Kramer. Bag & Baggage, already known for its consistent elevation of the status of women, has outdone itself in this profound (and hilarious) production.

The story is based on Jaffe’s bestselling 1958 book, and explores the lives of a group of young secretaries in New York City. It opens as recent Radcliffe grad Caroline is left waiting on the pier by her fiancé, Eddie, who has hitched his wagon to the daughter of a wealthy Texas oilman. Unwilling to go back home in defeat, Caroline takes a secretarial job at Fabian Publishing, where she finds herself surrounded by women whose lack of ambition and stereotypical obsession with snagging a husband at first seems to define them. As the play progresses, the women become more complex, and issues like wage gaps, sexual harassment, marital infidelity, the glass ceiling, abortion, and stalking flesh out these characters’ lives. Ultimately Caroline becomes an editor, while most of the others get the husband/family they sought – but at what price? And then there’s the death of Gregg, the aspiring actress who cannot accept rejection by David, a producer and super-cad who rivals Eddie for the title worst boyfriend/husband material on Earth.

Clearly, the comedy is not inherent in the sometimes-grim plot – but this smartly written play is loaded with ironic one-liners and absurd perspectives that are amplified by Michelle Milne’s direction and her cast’s spectacular use of timing (especially the pregnant pause). Cassie Greer’s “Caroline” is played with an admirably straight face, even when confronted with the ridiculous things she hears from her bosses, former fiancé, and co-workers. Her unflappable acceptance of the most outrageous conduct is terribly funny, but also illustrative of how commonplace this blatant behavior was in the 1950s. Andrew Beck’s alarmingly self-centered “Eddie” is evocative of Cinderella’s Prince – suave, pretentious, condescending, and utterly clueless. Joey Copsey plays the remaining four male roles, and displays a remarkable ability to shift characters at the drop of a hat (or the addition of a cravat), but he relies more on posture and delivery than costuming cues to create the weirdly sympathetic Mike, the elderly lech/boss Mr. Shalimar, the utterly despicable David, and the awkward, stuttering, naïve but sweet Ronnie. Morgan Cox manages her character’s transition from arrogant and amoral ice princess to reluctantly supportive mentor with believable subtlety, and Arianne Jacques’ portrayal of the pathetic stalker “Gregg” is both chilling and heartbreaking.

The staging, sets, and costumes combine to support both the humor and deeper themes of the story. The interchangeable desks create invisible walls, illustrating workplace class distinction and emphasizing the employer’s view that the secretaries are completely interchangeable. Hats become symbols of maleness, and ambitious women don hats as part of the uniform of success – but the hats also are used to show that it is really the men who are soulless cogs in the machine.

So why is The Best of Everything engaging and profound over a half-century after the book’s debut, and several decades after the “sexual revolution” should have made its issues passé? Take a look at the current crop of presidential candidates for a clue. And don’t miss the opportunity to see this wonderful production!

Bag & Baggage’s The Best of Everything runs through September 27th with performances Thursdays – Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2:00 p.m.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Lots To Love In HART’s I Hate Hamlet

Paul Roder ("John Barrymore") and Benjamin Philip (Andrew Rally)

By Tina Arth

Bard lovers, Bard haters, even the Bard-indifferent should all find something to love in HART Theatre’s current production of Paul Rudnick’s I Hate Hamlet. Propelled by a menu of truly memorable one-liners, the show keeps its audience laughing, and at intermission folks seemed eager to get back into the theater (once they had devoured a few fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies) to see what gems the second act held in store.

The show marks Penny Lonergan’s debut as a HART director, and it’s a great start. Solid casting helps – in a six-person show, any weak link really hurts, but Hamlet is devoid of those cringe-worthy moments. With a script as witty as Rudnick’s, poor timing, rushed lines, pregnant pauses followed by mugging or muffled delivery – all would be downright criminal.

The story was new to me, and probably most of the audience. TV actor Andrew Rally arrives in New York City, after a run as lead in a recently cancelled LA-based TV series. Realtor Felicia Dantine has found him an apartment that is everything Andrew hates – a musty, vaguely Gothic brownstone once inhabited by the great John Barrymore. It’s so wrong for a displaced Angeleno in love with the new (an obvious commentary on the contrast between the modern transience of television vs. the lasting traditions of theatah…). Worse yet, agent Lillian Troy (who had a tryst with Barrymore years earlier) has booked him as Hamlet for Shakespeare in the Park – antiquated role, lots of work, no payback in terms of fame or fortune, and burdened with the history of Barrymore’s definitive 1922 Hamlet.  The cast also includes Deirdre McDavey, Andrew’s 25-year-old virgin girlfriend, and an astonishingly shallow LA buddy (producer-director Gary Peter Lefkowitz). A séance (to contact the ghost of Barrymore) that summons the spirit (and corpus) of the Great Man puts the foundation in place. Under Barrymore’s tutelage, Andrew learns to love the role and the apartment; Deirdre learns a thing or two about love, too. Felicia hitches her star to Gary to achieve her dream of being a Beverly Hills realtor, Lillian has one last tender moment with Barrymore before he disappears, and Andrew decides that despite his abysmal acting chops he’ll stay in New York and pursue real theater. Trust me, it’s a lot funnier than it sounds in synopsis!

Kathleen Silloway’s “Lillian” is a curious combination of Teutonic stiffness and romantic fantasy, and she captures this duality nicely in her performance, with bits of melodrama, languor, and carefully timed dry wit. Tamara Sorelli (“Felicia”) uses a mild New York accent to express her character’s shamelessly mercenary bent; I appreciate her restraint in allowing the script to drive the comedy, rather than chasing laughs with overacting. Les Ico (“Gary”) nobly represents all that is most despicable about Hollywood; he unselfconsciously dismisses all live theatre, especially Shakespeare, as “Algebra on stage”. Emma Heesacker (as the virginal “Deirdre”) has the least to work with – ingénues rarely get the best material – but when she is allowed to loosen up in Act II (post-Barrymore) she and the audience have a lot of fun with the role.

Benjamin Philip’s “Andrew” is funniest when playing off the Ghost of Barrymore (Paul Roder). His attempt to update Prince Hamlet with a sort of Valley Girl method acting is simply hilarious – he is at his best when acting like he’s overacting, and his final bow is a thing of beauty. Roder bears little physical resemblance to Barrymore, and his tights and tunic do little to add to his stature, but he very quickly melds himself with the larger than life character he portrays. His voice, timing, movement and projection make the most of a powerful (and powerfully funny) role, and the swordfight with Philip is played to the hilt.

Eric and Penny Lonergan’s set is lovely – appropriately elegant, Gothic, and thoroughly functional. Karen Roder and seamstress Pat Hill provide imaginative and evocative costumes, and Heather Sutherland’s lighting design is key in setting and changing the show’s moods.

It’s always risky to tackle a show that is a bit obscure, but the combination of a tightly crafted comic script and skillful production should make this gamble a winner for HART and local audiences.

I Hate Hamlet plays at Hillsboro Artists’ Regional Theatre (HART) through Sunday, September 20th, with performances Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 2:00 p.m.