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.