Wednesday, December 7, 2016

TITG Tells A Seldom Seen Christmas Story

 David Reece, Carter Dawes, Sam Ruder, and Patti Speight
Photo by by Nicole Mae Photography

By Tina Arth

It seems like everybody is familiar with the 1983 “instant classic” version of A Christmas Story, and 2012’s A Christmas Story – The Musical can be found on stages all around the country. Often overlooked in all of this rush to holiday nostalgia is Philip Grecian’s utterly charming 2000 play version, but Theatre In the Grove is doing a great job of addressing this slight with their current offering. The play is small, intimate, and just loaded with both comedy and real heart - a perfect way for families old and young to spend a few hours getting into the spirit of the season.

Like the larger and flashier movie and musical, the straight play explores the magic and peril of getting what we want, primarily through the tale of young Ralphie’s obsessive pursuit of the perfect Christmas present, a Red Ryder BB Gun, in the face of relentless opposition. Everyone in his life – his parents, teacher, friends, even Santa Claus is sure that he’ll shoot his eye out (which, naturally, he very nearly does).  Ralphie’s quest is echoed by his father’s addiction to entering contests, including the one where he finally wins a hideous lamp (we’ve all seen it – the leg with mesh stockings disappearing into a fringed antique shade). Because the tale is being told through the eyes and memories of adult Ralph, everything we see is colored by the mists of a past recollected. Was the lamp really that hideous? Was little brother Randy really that pathetic (and more important, did he really wet himself while sitting on Santa’s lap?) Did the Old Man really swear constantly, and did Mother manage to overlook it while stuffing a bar of Lifebuoy soap into Ralphie’s mouth for uttering, just once, the “F” word? In the end, we are sure only that Ralph’s most enduring memories are of the warmth, understanding, and love of family and good friends.

While I saw a number of fine performances, the team of adult Ralph (Travis Schlegel) and Ralphie (Sam Ruder) fill their respective roles with real distinction, constantly passing from Ralph’s narration to Ralphie’s action. At first I had a hard time seeing them as the same person, but Schlegel gradually grows more childlike as the show progresses, and by the end he is every bit as much a kid as his much younger alter ego. Ruder is developing into quite a comic – his turn as a pathetic victim of Lifebuoy poisoning is particularly funny.

Patti Speight and David Reece (as Mother and the Old Man) face the challenge of portraying characters as they are in Ralph’s constantly evolving memories. Just like with real parents, they are sometimes harsh, rigid authoritarians and at other times surprisingly understanding allies, but every word and emotion has to be filtered through the lens of Ralph’s recollection. Reed does an amazing job of delivering the faux curses that lace the script – not a single dirty word is uttered onstage, but the range of homonyms is hilariously imaginative. Young stage veteran Carter Dawes (as little brother Randy) demands special mention, not only for his skill at portraying a truly screwed up little kid but for his courage in constantly crying out in front of a theater full of strangers that he “has to go wee-wee.”

Director/set designer Ron Hansen and set dresser Samantha Swindler have just the right touches in the set. The necessary 1940’s ambience is nicely captured with dreary colors, an old radio, and a period kitchen that could have been in any working class Forest Grove household of the era.

This version of A Christmas Story is a lot of fun for adults and kids, and will make a great holiday theater outing for local families and those of us who just like remembering how Christmas used to be in the good old days before the advent of the internet, cell phones, video games and a host of other modern marvels.

A Christmas Story is playing at Theatre in the Grove, 2028 Pacific Avenue, Forest Grove through December 18th,with performances Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m.

Have A Holly Jolly Christmas With HART

 Front row: Sarah Fuller, Christie Quinn, Rachel Thomas, Chris Byrne.
Back row: Spencer Masson, Heather Sutherland, Nick Serrone, Max Powell, Carl Dahlquist

By Tina Arth

By some standards, the Holly Jolly HART Family Christmas Variety Show may not be the best holiday show on local stages for 2016, but it is unquestionably the most fun. Co-authors Sarah Fuller and Chris Byrne have pulled together more than a dozen snippets from some of the best loved holiday TV shows of the ‘60s and ‘70s and transformed them into a nonstop montage of live theater that hits all the right notes. The material is tied together in two ways – first, by the TV-addicted “typical” Hart family and second, by projecting several authentic period commercials on a giant TV screen backdrop.

The wraparound story is simple. It’s Christmas Eve, and the Hart family is gathered in classic seventies style right in front of their living room television. In keeping with family tradition, mom Barb (Henley Slepyan) wants to read “The Night Before Christmas” but the kids think that’s boring. They’d rather watch their favorite TV specials, but can’t agree on which show to watch. Michelle (Courtney Bell) wants to watch “A Charlie Brown Christmas Special” but brothers Greg (Cameron Bell) and Jeff (Carson Bell) are lobbying for “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” The kids fight over the remote, triggering a wonderful live action clash between the casts of the specials. By intermission, the kids have gone off to bed, so Barb and husband Phil (Mark Putnam) settle in to watch more adult Christmas fare, with their own disagreement: Phil wants to watch “It’s A Wonderful Life” while Barb prefers classic musical holiday specials featuring stars like Andy Williams, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, and Mel Torme. Soon the restless kids wander back downstairs, where they eventually fall asleep while awaiting Santa’s arrival.

The rest of the cast members fill at least 30 roles as they bring the many scenes to life in front of a giant television screen. It’s hard to pick out favorite bits – but the Charlie Brown kids (Rachel Thomas as Lucy, Spencer Putnam as Charlie, Max Powell as Linus, and Christie Quinn as Sally) are particularly memorable. Nick Serrone’s Jimmy Stewart impersonation is spot on, and Sarah Fuller positively channels Judy Garland singing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”  Spencer Masson has real star power as Frank Sinatra, and Carl Dahlquist does a fine job as both Mel Torme and Clarence the Angel. Co-authors/directors Byrne and Fuller show off their versatility with a spectacular tap number, and Slepyan’s vocal on the “White Christmas” duet makes it clear that some of the best talent is right in the Hart living room.

Three super stars of the show are definitely music director Sarah Thornton, lighting designer Heather Sutherland, and costumer Chris Byrne. The special effects drive the production, and the dozens of costumes (cleverly done in living color or black and white depending on when each special originally aired) define and enhance each number.

This is a show that deserves to become a holiday tradition, for both HART and the large audiences it so richly deserves. Give yourself and a friend tickets as an early Christmas present – you’ve earned it! (And if you get the chance, don’t miss Ray Hale’s Orphan Train, playing on the same stage this month. See HART’s website for show dates/times.)

Holly Jolly HART Family Christmas Variety Show is playing at the HART Theatre, 185 SE Washington, Hillsboro through Sunday, December 18th, with performances Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

BCT Cast Pulls Out the Stops for Sorry! Wrong Chimney

Jason Weed, Sarah Ominski, Kraig Williams, Erin Bickler, Adam Caniparoli, and Essie Bertain.
Photo by Ammon Riley.

By Tina Arth

Fans of broad farce will absolutely love Beaverton Civic Theatre’s 2016 holiday offering, Sorry! Wrong Chimney. Director Meghan Daaboul has assembled a team of uninhibited comics willing to figuratively and literally let it all hang out in search of laughs, and the payoff is a cascade of slapstick merriment.

The story is set entirely in the living room of newlyweds Samantha and David’s big-city apartment. Samantha feels neglected – David is rarely home, and even when he’s there he’s too exhausted for much loving. What she doesn’t know is that he is moonlighting as a department store Santa to pay for a special Christmas present for his bride. Neighbor Natalie is full of sympathy, since her psychiatrist husband Bill is no more attentive. Enter the much-feared Santa Claus Bandit, Kris (it seems that nobody locks their doors in this city). After innumerable chases, entrances, and exits by the entire cast, including Kris’ girlfriend Sheila and an intrepid policeman, Bill’s somewhat imprecise hypnotherapy skills help to restore a semblance of order.

Both Samantha (Essie Bertain) and David (Adam Caniparoli) fill ingénue roles, so their performances are (relatively) subdued – but in this production “relatively subdued” still leaves a lot of room for sudden pratfalls (or whatever you call it when a pretty young woman throws herself atop a blanket-clad neighbor to deceive her husband and his wife) and other physical comedy – and Bertain and Caniparoli make the most of these moments. Bill (Kraig Williams) has a slightly supercilious manner that contrasts nicely with his inept therapeutic skills, and Erin Bickler’s strong, consistent New York accent helps to establish a sense of locale while making every line just that extra bit funnier. The third couple (Kris and Sheila, played by Jason Weed and Sarah Ominski) is very different – I would call them stereotypical working class, but in order to attain that status at least one has to have a job title more elevated than bumbling burglar. Weed uses his rather immense size to create a pathetically unthreatening and hapless bandit, and Ominski simply rocks the bright red wig and too-too tacky dress during an alarmingly chaste seduction scene.

The real standout performance for me is Benjamin Philip as the policeman, even though he spends much of the show in a trancelike state, victimized repeatedly by Bill’s awkward hypnosis. Philip the policeman is fine, but Philip the birthday stripper is a shining jewel who must be seen to be believed, and his third act contortions by themselves are worth the whole price of admission.

Sorry! Wrong Chimney fills a critical niche in a busy holiday schedule – pure comic relief, with no more expectations laid on the audience than that they sit back and laugh. The opening night audience had no trouble fulfilling this job description, and I am sure future audiences will also be up to the challenge.

Beaverton Civic Theatre’s Sorry! Wrong Chimney runs through Saturday, December 17th at the Beaverton City Library Auditorium. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and 2:00 p.m. on Sunday. December 11th.

Monday, November 28, 2016


Gary Copsey, David Heath, Arianne Jacques.
Photo by Casey Campbell Photography

By Tina Arth

When Bag & Baggage announced their 2016-17 season last April, few people would have predicted that the decision to replace their traditional Christmas farce with the relatively obscure Parfumerie would prove so prescient.  However, co-directors Scott Palmer and Cassie Greer did not miss the significance in November 2016 of a play that embraces love and hope in the face of an ominously xenophobic political climate. The result is a show that is funny, heartwarming, but still able to subtly remind us of shadows on the national horizon.

While Parfumerie is new to American stages (it was first performed in English translation in 2009), the story is widely known to fans of stage and screen. Author Miklos Laszlo’s original 1937 Hungarian play, Illatszertar, has been reworked as 1940’s The Shop Around The Corner, 1949’s In The Good Old Summertime, the 1963 musical She Loves Me, and most recently 1998’s You’ve Got Mail. Although the names and locale sometimes change, the basic story is the same – two pen pals fall in love through anonymous correspondence while unknowingly waging daily battles as co-workers. After the story has been told and retold by the likes of Jimmy Stewart, Judy Garland, Barbara Cook, Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, is there anything new to be gained from the efforts of Hillsboro’s Bag & Baggage? My answer is unequivocally “yes” – I found myself riveted by the deeper character and story exploration in the original play, and by the way it augments my appreciation of She Loves Me, my personal favorite among the adaptations.

Of course, even the best script calls for skilled actors, and B&B has assembled a first-rate cast to tell the tale. David Heath (as Parfumerie owner Miklos Hammerschmidt) gives a fiercely moving performance as he moves through his character’s anger, grief, despair, and ultimate contrition. Patrick Spike finds both the humor and pathos in his role as Sipos, the pragmatic wage slave who just wants to keep his job in tough economic times, and Eric St. Cyr’s consistently funny take on the hapless but ambitious Arpad takes the edge off some of the show’s darker moments. Nobody on local stages can top Andrew Beck for supercilious, unctuous depravity, and his portrayal of the thoroughly despicable Kadar fully lives up (or down) to his potential.

While the love-hate relationship between brittle, defensive Amalia Balash (Arianne Jacques) and her soulmate/nemesis, George Horvath (Joey Copsey) is the heart of Parfumerie’s many adaptations, the original play has a broader thematic focus.  However, the production still finds ample humor in the two characters’ confused relationship. Copsey’s juvenile mockery of his colleague (exemplified by his relentless mispronunciation of her name) and Jacques’ hostile, wounded reactions shape the plot, and the eventual revelation provides a satisfyingly romantic resolution. Jacques gets some of the show’s best comic moments in the scene where Amalia contrasts her anonymous pen pal’s sterling qualities with (her perception of)
George’s profound character deficits, and Copsey does a fine job of gradually revealing how very wrong she is. 
Ultimately the two characters’ problems pale beside the serious issues confronting Mr. Hammerschmidt, and a few subtle touches (an overzealous policeman, a hidden menorah, the emphasis on the Parfumerie’s elaborate Christmas décor) make it clear that in 1937 Hungary a rising fascism is a portent of much worse to come. The final scene is a beautiful, but slightly chilling, masterpiece of caroling harmonies and gently falling snow underscored by the distant pulse of a police siren.

Megan Wilkerson’s detailed scenic design, in concert with Jim Ricks-White’s lighting and special effects, create the ambience necessary to transport us back to an elegant 1937 Hungarian parfumerie, and Melissa Heller’s costumes provide just the right touch of formality for a European capital city of the era.

Audiences conditioned by three years of Bag & Baggage’s KBnB buffoonery will find this year’s holiday show to be very different, but every bit as enjoyable, as previous productions.  The meatier content (and family-friendly script) should draw an enthusiastic response from the company’s regulars and from newcomers in search of solidly entertaining Christmas theater.

Bag & Baggage’s Parfumerie is playing at Hillsboro’s Venetian Theatre, 253 E. Main Street, through December 23d, with performances Thursday through Saturday at 7:30pm, Sunday at 2:00pm.


By Tina Arth

Trust Broadway Rose to close its 25th season with panache! This year’s Christmas show, A Very Merry PDX-Mas, is an updated reprise of Celebrate Home, the first show to play at the venerable theater company’s New Stage in 2008. The show provides exactly the kind of experience its audiences expect for the holidays – impeccable vocals, a liberal dose of humor, some fine dancing, and a measured dose of scene-stealing kiddos to charm even the surliest Scrooge.

Local director/author Abe Reybold’s original show was a lovingly Portland-themed parody of traditional holiday revues, and the occasional facelifts ensure that it stays fresh as it returns to the New Stage every few years. Director Dan Murphy and a spectacular production team join with a dynamite cast to present a two-hour medley combining traditional, untraditional, and slightly twisted Christmas music into the perfect kickoff of the 2016 holiday season.

Vocal arranger Jay Tumminello has molded the seven cast members’ seamless, and often exquisite, harmonies in the show’s many ensemble numbers – but each actor has ample opportunities to shine in solo and duet arrangements, too. A leading contender for laugh-filled highlight of the show is, surprisingly, also a showcase for Dru Rutledge’s flawless operatic training – her “Exsultate, Jubilate: Alleluia” is simultaneously hilarious and ethereal, and a great vehicle for her comic as well as vocal chops.  The women’s ensemble (Rutledge, Sarah DeGrave, Cassi Q. Kohl, and Danielle Valentine) does a breathtakingly beautiful version of “The First Noel” in the Big Nativity Medley, ensuring that we get an ample serving of serious Christmas music to complement the show’s lighter moments.  Collin Carver simply nails some of the funniest numbers, including a slightly amended version of “My Favorite Things” and the ubiquitous “My Birthday Comes On Christmas.” Isaac Lamb’s “I Like Old People” provides some serious competition in the lively “Kidz Medley” – there’s something about a big bearded guy playing a kid (well) that just resonates with the audience! The eight real children in the show are a bit more refined when they appear in Act II – at least, until they break into their funky dance routine. Another unforgettable moment is “The Annoying Drummer Boy” featuring the four women plus Carver and Benjamin Tissell– we’ve all been there, right?

The Portland-specific vibe of the show is faithfully captured by scenic designer Jim Crino’s set – we get the clock at Union Station, the curiously phallic Portland Theater sign, St. John’s Bridge, and Mt. Hood gleaming in the background. Costume designer Brynne Oster-Bainnson brings the theme home with a surfeit of lumberjack plaids and subdued colors – in place of red and green the cast sparkles in cranberry and loden (accented, of course, with tasteful touches of brown).  As always, the accompaniment alone is worth the price of admission - music director/pianist Jeffrey Childs accompanied by bassist Fletcher Nemeth and percussionist Bill Norris-York are the hardest working folks on stage.

A perfect mix of old standbys, newer songs, and flat-out parodies in A Very Merry PDX-Mas makes it an ideal way to usher in the holiday season. Out of town guests will love the Portlandia flavor, and locals will cheerfully acknowledge that yes, we are just a little bit weird (and proud of it).

A Very Merry PDX-Mas is playing at Broadway Rose’s New Stage, 12850 SW Grant Avenue, Tigard through Thursday, December 22nd. See their website ( for specific performance dates and times.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016


 Max Nevers ("Dewey") with ensemble. Photo by Frank Hunt.

By Tina Arth

For sheer, unbridled energy nothing beats a stage full of tweens and teens giving their all to a rock musical. STAGES Performing Arts Youth Academy taps into this excitement with School of Rock, The Musical – Youth Production. Director and choreographer Luis Ventura, vocal director Barbara Edwards, and music director Joe Aloia have done a great job of molding 28 young actors into a raucously cohesive unit that swarms over the stage at Hillsboro High.

It’s actually quite a coup for STAGES to have gotten the rights – while the full musical is playing on Broadway, only a small number of theaters nationwide are cleared to do the Youth Production; STAGES is the only theater group in Oregon to have earned this privilege.  There are strings – they must use a live band (no karaoke allowed!) and they need more audience capacity than HART, where they usually do their shows, can offer.  The show is based on the popular 2003 movie starring Jack Black, and playwright Julian Fellowes retains much of the feel of the movie. While some of the movie’s original songs are retained, many of the show’s songs were newly written by composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyricist Glenn Slater.

The story revolves around failed rock singer/guitarist Dewey Finn (just kicked out of the band “No Vacancy”). To earn some cash, he poses as substitute teacher Ned Schneebly at the elite, private Horace Green School. Within a short time, Dewey wins over the skeptical kids in his class – they become his co-conspirators, pretending to be learning mathematics while Dewey is actually transforming them into a rock band, a hard-headed manager, back-up singers, and roadies worthy of the upcoming Battle of the Bands. After some early clashes with principal Rosalie Mullins, Dewey discovers the uptight woman’s two weaknesses – beer and Stevie Nicks – and ultimately gets her support of his unorthodox activities. In a moment reminiscent of both The Music Man and The Mighty Ducks, the underdogs prevail, horrified parents become ardent fans, and kids with low self-esteem find themselves accepted and loved.

In a huge cast, a few roles and performances are real standouts. Caitriona Johnston (“Principal Mullins”) is a confident and dynamic actor, and she handles the vocal demands of the role with ease. Max Nevers (“Dewey”) is at his best when showing off his dancing (and leaping, and falling) skills – his vocals are sometimes rough, but the role does not demand a perfect voice (he is, after all, playing a rock star). Rylie Bartell (as the painfully shy new girl, “Tomika”) is a joy to watch and listen to as she finds her voice and earns a solo with her lovely rendition of “Amazing Grace.” While Jolee Morris (“Summer”) doesn’t have a big singing role, she does a fine job of transforming herself from an uptight, Harvard-bound snob to a fiercely determined band manager.

The cast and crew make good use of William Crawford’s simple, flexible set design. Costumes (designed by Luis Ventura) are effective at capturing the elite private school ambiance.

On the night I saw the show, there were some problems with the microphones that made it difficult to understand all of the lyrics (and even some dialogue). While the pit band does a great job of capturing a pounding rock ”wall of sound” effect, they might be well advised to turn down the amplifiers to accommodate the weaker microphone system if these problems persist.

The STAGES program does a great job of offering opportunities for Washington County kids to work on and around live theater stages. Productions like School of Rock are a great argument for providing arts in our schools and communities, and the best way to show your support is to go see the show. I promise you’ll have a good time!

STAGES production of School of Rock – Youth Production is playing at Hillsboro High School, 3825 SE Rood Bridge Rd. through Sunday, November 20th with shows at 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and matinees at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Mask & Mirror’s Sparkling Ballyhoo

 Katherine Roundy ("Sunny") and Jay Dressler ("Joe")

By Tina Arth

Every once in a while I am treated to a hidden theatrical gem, and The Last Night Of Ballyhoo by playwright Alfred Uhry (better known for Driving Miss Daisy), definitely fits the bill. In the hands of a fine team from tiny Mask & Mirror Community Theatre, Uhry’s work comes to life with a complex and moving mixture of comedy, angst, bigotry, jealousy, and love that cannot help but touch the audience.

The story is set in 1939 Atlanta in the home of the wealthy Freitag/Levy household. The presence of a small Christmas tree and surrounding discussion make it clear that while it’s a Jewish household, they adhere to a standard of class-based, genteel Southern Judaism that is more about social standing and acceptance than honoring the Shabbat – for them, Judaism is an accident of birth to be camouflaged, not a religion to the embraced. The plot revolves around the five residents, Adolph Frietag, sister Beulah (“Boo”) Levy, sister-in-law Reba Freitag, Boo’s daughter Lala, and Reba’s daughter Sunny. Two young men round out the cast: Adolph’s new assistant Joe Farkas (a Brooklyn Jew, and thus very much a horse of a different color) and the socially desirable, if somewhat odd, Peachy Weil, an import from Lake Charles, Louisiana.

While Hitler’s Germany is ominously on the move in Europe, Boo’s overriding concern is finding Lala a date for a big dance (held at a posh “restricted” country club on the last night of the upscale Jewish community’s annual Ballyhoo celebration). The flamboyant, awkward Lala is yet another step removed from reality – her obsession with the Atlanta premiere of Gone With the Wind has released an inner Southern Belle perhaps best left confined. Boo and Lala are palpably jealous of Sunny, a quietly attractive and brilliant Wellesley student who is clearly the apple of her uncle Adolph’s eye. As the story unfolds, Joe forces Sunny to examine the class bias with which she was raised, and the whole group learns a bit about what it means to be part of a Jewish family and community.

There are only seven cast members, and each deserves mention, as each plays a critical role with amazing finesse. Benjamin Philip’s “Adolph” is the salt of the earth – steady, hard-working, fair, quietly loving. Life has not worked out the way he thought it would, but Philip gives his character a steady intelligence and dignity that make him one of the most consistently likeable characters in the production. Virginia Kincaid’s “Boo” is completely opposite – angry, jealous, shrew-like – but Kincaid gives her character an undercurrent of maternal frustration and pathos that somehow engenders the audience’s sympathy.  As sister-in-law “Reba,” Diana LoVerso provides much of the evening’s comic relief – not the shiniest star in the family constellation, she delivers the most absurdly literal replies and retorts with a wide-eyed innocence.

Kathryn Schelonka (“Lala”) somehow manages to portray the family drama queen without going over the top – not an easy feat when throwing a temper tantrum on the living room floor in a hoop skirt better suited to Scarlett O’Hara. Despite the comedy inherent in some of her situations, she always goes for the dramatic import rather than the cheap laugh. Katherine Roundy’s “Sunny” is serious and quiet – a lovely intellectual more interested in the works of Upton Sinclair than Margaret Mitchell. Roundy’s best moments come when she talks about growing up Jewish in Atlanta and when she is forced to confront and overcome her own inner biases.

The two young men, ultimately suitors to Lala and Sunny, are worlds apart. Robert Altieri manages to make “Peachy” sarcastic, flippant, occasionally casually mean, but still somewhat likeable because of his wit and honesty. Jay Dressler’s “Joe” is superbly drawn – the quintessential outsider, with a Brooklyn accent and attitude to match. Dressler gives the character an intensity and intelligence that really drive the fundamental conflicts of the production.

Director Jayne Furlong has achieved something truly beautiful, and (while she gives all credit to her cast) there is a consistency to the actors’ dedication and focus that reflect a good director’s careful hand – I found myself trying to simultaneously watch all of the actors because they never let down, even when they were not the center of attention. Furlong’s set design is detailed and functional, allowing for the frequent entrances and exits inherent in a Southern drama.

The Last Night of Ballyhoo is so good that it demands the largest audiences possible in the compact space available. The show deserves to be a sellout, and I hope audiences will find their way to Tigard to enjoy this little gem.

The Last Night of Ballyhoo runs through November 20 at “The Stage” at Calvin Church, 10445 SW Canterbury Lane, Tigard, 97224, with shows at 7:30 p.m. on November 10, 11, 12 and 19 and 2:00 p.m. on November 13 and 20. Please note that there is no show on Friday, November 18 and there is a show on Thursday, November 10.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Murder by Indecision – Fun Fluff as Autumn’s Days Grow Darker

Jordan Wilgus ("Ken Steele") and Jean Christensen ("Gwen Hubbard")

By Tina Arth

HART Theatre’s current production of Murder by Indecision goes way over the top to transform playwright Daniel O’Donnell’s often-clumsy Agatha Christie spoof into a worthwhile evening – and it actually works!  First-time director Aaron Morrow confronts head-on the challenge of making the audience laugh when presented with a “parody” that is long on lame jokes and short on real wit. By allowing his actors free rein to play their thin roles to the hilt, he brings the audience in on the joke (much like the deliberate overacting in a melodrama), and the cast is rewarded with abundant laughs that mark a genuinely entertaining production.

The premise for Murder by Indecision has real promise – imagine an iconic writer like Agatha Christie struggling with writer’s block, working and reworking a script, while her characters act out the constantly evolving scenes in front of the audience. The tantalizing possibilities are lost in a sea of characters like author Agatha Crispy, agent Ruth Less, intrepid sleuth Miss Maple, and the evil industrialist Victor Greedly – the author’s choice of names alone telegraphs the futility of going for comic subtlety.  While Murder by Indecision’s humor is extremely broad, and the cast large, the actors succeed in bringing diversity (and some moments of exquisite timing) to their individual roles.

Patti Hansen does a fine job of portraying the aging and desperate Agatha Crispy as she lies to her agent and chats with her only real friend, her trusted typewriter. However, the most memorable roles are the people who populate Crispy’s imagination and come to life on the stage.  Inspector Dryfus (Michael David Allen) is thick, none too bright, but relentless – a nice foil for the quiet intelligence of Miss Maple (Phyllis Lang). The Greedly clan delivers some of the best performances – my favorites are the two children, Victoria (Karen Huckfeldt) and William (Nicholas Granato). Huckfeldt’s comic timing, combined with her dry delivery, bring real panache to the role of the impossible spoiled little rich girl. HART newcomer Granato has just the right touch as the disaffected young hipster, self-righteously rejecting the family’s materialism while quietly accepting the privileges of wealth. Leslie Inmon is clearly having fun taking the role of Victor’s wife Sophie up to and over the top, and the audience cannot help but respond to her evil enthusiasm as she stridently makes the most appallingly inappropriate demands.

Since the play Crispy is writing is a boilerplate whodunit, the rest of the cast fill a variety of the genre’s most beloved stereotypes.  The role of Officer Bently, Dryfus’ assistant, was played on opening night by understudy Corinne Brock - who seemed so charmingly befuddled that she managed to make Dryfus look almost intelligent by comparison. Jordan Wilgus, as corporate whipping boy Ken Steele, gives a performance that is consistently and compellingly groveling (both literally and figuratively). The obligatory scheming secretary (Gwen Hubbard) is played by Jean Christenson with just the right touch of tightly wound iciness.

HART’s set, as usual, is detailed without being overdone. A simple riser at the side of the stage easily accommodates the scenes where Crispy is writing, eliminating the need for scene changes as the action shifts from the author to the characters of her imagination. Ray Hale and director Aaron Morrow’s lighting design complements these shifts by moving the audience’s attention as necessary.

Murder by Indecision is definitely not great art, but Morrow and his cast succeed in making it a family-friendly farce that asks only that we sit back and laugh. There are times (and this is definitely one!) when this is exactly what the doctor ordered.

Murder by Indecision is playing at the HART Theatre, 185 SE Washington, Hillsboro through November 13th, with performances at 7:30 on Fridays and Saturdays and 2:00 on Sundays.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Nowhere Men – On the (Abbey?) Road, But Not Quite There Yet

Konrad McKane (Paul McCartney), Chandano Fuller (John Lennon), Elizabeth Champion (Yoko Ono), 
Dawn Horstead (Brianna Epstein), Brian Howelton (Ringo Starr), and Nick Liepman (George Harrison)

By Tina Arth

The producers of Nowhere Men graciously allowed me to watch a dress rehearsal of this original play by Shannon Doherty (book) and Borys Maciburko (book, music and lyrics). The cast were preparing for a one-night run at the Alpenrose Opera House, the second of two free local performances (the first at Hillsboro’s HART Theatre the previous week). The show is a one-act that takes place entirely on a fictional single night when the Beatles decide to break up their band. The actual breakup of arguably the greatest rock bank in history was, of course, a somewhat more drawn-out affair encompassing years of gradually escalating discord, varying rates of spiritual and musical growth, and disillusionment with the trappings of fame – but the “one night” approach contains the essence of a really fascinating story.

The program says that the show “tells the true story behind the fall of greatest band of all time” but a quick look at the cast list clearly reveals that this is a figurative, rather than a literal statement. Beatles manager Brian Epstein plays a prominent role (thinly disguised as “Brianna Epstein”) in the play about the band’s dissolution, but the Beatles’ last two albums, “Abbey Road” and “Let It Be” were released in 1969 and 1970 – well after Epstein’s death in 1967. There are other puzzling elements – for example, there is a brief love/lust scene between Paul McCartney and Brianna, yet the rumors of the time were about a sexual encounter between John Lennon and Brian Epstein. As a child of the sixties, I clearly remember my personal reaction to the final breakup of the Beatles – I blamed Yoko (didn’t we all?) and really only considered how my friends and I were affected. Nowhere Men tempts with the intriguing notion that it will tell an untold and powerful tale – the story of how each of the four Beatles felt about the band’s collapse. The core of this story is contained within the current script, but to be really effective the show needs to be work shopped with some experienced writers/performers and given the loving attention of a good script doctor.

A more difficult problem is that the authors (for good reason – it would cost a fortune!) do not have rights to use any songs from the Beatles catalogue. Maciburko worked around this by writing some original songs that have a Beatle-like flavor, including some very recognizable chord progressions; while each of the songs is fine on its own, they tend to blend together. Before taking Nowhere Men to a paying audience, the music will need to be made more distinctive.

When the show is next taken before an audience, a great deal more attention needs to be paid to costuming (in particular, the wigs), choreography (the Beatles used some choreographed movement, but the dancing in this show seemed to be reaching for something more like the Four Tops), direction (much of the acting was way over the top), and rehearsal (in particular, tech rehearsal so that audio effects can be smoothly incorporated into the production).

I hope to some day be able to see a new and vastly improved version of Nowhere Men - one that will deliver on the show’s tantalizing promise.

Monday, October 24, 2016


Gary Romans (Dr. Norton), Aje Summerly (Gin Hester), and Marty Wimborne (Leonard Scrubbs)

By Tina Arth

Twilight Theater Company is celebrating Halloween, Dia de los Muertos, Samhain, etc. with a rarely performed bit of stagecraft, Tim Kelly’s Terror By Gaslight. While actual terror is in short supply, the show provides a few shockers and a lot of fun – perfect indoor fare for a dark and stormy night. Director Doug Jacobs and his cast and crew keep the audience guessing, laughing, and occasionally flinching for two acts that seem to fly by.

The tale is set in 19th century Philadelphia, where the esteemed Dr. Cyrus Norton is assembling a museum of body parts to help medical students learn anatomy. The only legal cadavers are the bodies of hanged criminals, but the supply is inadequate and many (in particular, Dr. Norton) have turned to grave robbing as a source of fresh specimens. Local ne’er do wells Gin Hester and Leonard Scrubbs eke out a living by selling bodies newly harvested from Philadelphia graveyards, but the families of the involuntarily disinterred and the local police make this a hazardous career path, so Norton advises his suppliers to range farther afield in their hunting. Cyrus shares his home (the site of his macabre museum) with his unconventional daughter Marilyn (who, in defiance of societal norms, aspires to training as a doctor) and his oh-so-conventional sister Constance (who longs to see that Marilyn marries well and abandons her feminist fantasies). Add in a maid, a nosy detective, a jilted barmaid, several other doctors, and a very cranky widow and the pieces are in place for an evening of dark drawing-room comedy with perpetrators and victims (living and otherwise) entering and exiting, peering through windows, and generally keeping the audience guessing until the very end.

Gary Romans plays Dr. Cyrus Norton as a thoroughly likeable (if somewhat pretentious and occasionally murderous) old fellow, dedicated to making Philadelphia a world-class center for anatomical education (there are some funny lines about the incompetent hacks at Harvard). Katherine Kyte (“Marilyn”) is utterly charming – her huge smile and sparkling eyes draw audience attention while initially revealing virtually nothing about the woman beneath the surface. Grave robbers Marty Winborne (“Scrubbs”) and Aje Summerly (“Gin Hester”) demand our attention with each unusual entrance. Winborne inexplicably shouts “Scrubbs” each time he appears; his slouching posture and devious mien immediately telegraph his character’s menacing persona. Summerly’s inebriated and wobbly gait combines with her high-pitched and whiny rambling to do the opposite – she sells herself until the crucial scene as a pathetic and ineffectual drunk.

The show is generally well cast – special mention is due Debra Blake (“Constance”), Rachel Thomas (impossibly cute as the maid), and Rob Kimmelman (as William Dover, Marilyn’s suitor/fellow student). The dialogue is occasionally a bit didactic, but the actors do a great job of bringing life to even the most openly expository lines.

Robin Pair’s lighting design and Ilana Watson’s sound design work beautifully, providing special effects on cue. Costumes, provided by Helen’s Pacific Costumers, are integral to creating the proper 19th century ambience – they are detailed and feel quite faithful to both the era and social classes represented in the story.

Terror By Gaslight is not the most challenging play you’ll see this year, but it’s a lot of fun, fits well with the spirit of the season, and will serve as a great way to mark the beginning of a long spate of winter-themed productions. It’s probably not appropriate for most young children, but the violence is handled with some discretion and should be fine for pre-teens.

Twilight Theater Company’s production of Terror By Gaslight is playing at the Performing Arts Theater, 7515 N. Brandon Avenue, Portland through Saturday, November 5th with performances at 8 P.M. Friday and Saturday. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Immerse Yourself in Bag & Baggage’s Latest

Bag&Baggage The Drowning Girls- Autumn Buck as Alice, Jessi Walters as Bessi, 
Jessica Geffen as Margaret- Casey Campbell Photography

By Tina Arth

What’s not to love in The Drowning Girls at Bag and Baggage? Right before Halloween, we get a true-crime story of a psychopathic mass murder, three dead brides, always-timely feminist themes, and phenomenal acting. There is, however, one problem with director Scott Palmer’s latest venture into the world of innovative local theater – the first act is simply too long for its content. Perhaps the problem is one of pacing – the Playwrights Guild of Canada lists the running time of the entire play at 80 minutes, and B&B’s first act alone runs almost an hour. Luckily, the swifter pacing, clear narrative, and disturbingly detailed exposition in Act II more than compensate for the first act’s problems, and the show ends on a series of riveting images that stay with the audience long after the stage goes dark.

The tale is set in early 20th century England, based on the crimes, trial, and ultimate conviction of George Smith, a smooth talking Lothario who made a living by marrying a variety of women young and old, rich and poor, desperate and romantic – then killing them for their estates or insurance policies. The three women whose murders led to his discovery were all drowned (“accidentally”) in a bathtub after their weddings. He was undone because, despite changing his name frequently, one girl’s family recognized the pattern after reading a news article about another drowned bride. Much of The Drowning Girls, however, is not really about George Smith (alias John Lloyd, Henry Williams, etc.) – it is about the three brides: Alice, Bessie, and Margaret. What motivated these three women, and many others, to leave their families, marry a total stranger, accept his word that he was a man of independent means, and sign all of their worldly goods over to him? As the show makes clear (and the first act reiterates, perhaps one or two times more than is strictly necessary) turn of the century England was not kind to spinsters, and a woman without a husband and family was a social and economic pariah. A look at worldwide events as well as some current American political realities makes it clear that in some ways we just haven’t come that far yet, and it may be a long time before feminist themes are passé.

The actors (Autumn Buck as Alice, Jessica Geffen as Margaret, and Jessi Walters as Bessie) play not only their principle roles, but also every other role in the play.  The eerie effect is amplified by watching the women portray first themselves (dripping, with hair like seaweed cascading in their faces), then their suitor/killer (the proposal scene is chilling), and finally the prosecutor and a surrogate drowning victim simulating a death scene for the court’s benefit. A favorite scene for me was the one where three hotel maids describe the killer’s process – the dialogue is highly expository, but delivered in hushed, confidential tones that bring it vividly to life.

The set and lighting are remarkable – a series of dangling white rectangles, properly lit, give the entire stage a rippling, underwater feel that helps the audience to imagine the horror of drowning, and the simple 3 bathtub set ensures that the audience will not lose sight of the story’s core elements. 

Despite several moments of dark humor, The Drowning Girls is not a good-time show. If you go, be prepared for an intense evening that will leave you shaken – and don’t worry about the slow first act. By the end of Act II that will be the least of your thoughts!

Bag & Baggage’s The Drowning Girls is playing at Hillsboro’s Venetian Theatre, 253 E. Main Street, through Sunday, October 31st, with performances Thursday through Saturday at 7:30pm, Sunday at 2:00pm.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016


Beth Noelle (Morticia), Jason Taylor (Gomez), and Olivia Noelle (Wednesday) with Ancestors in background.

By Tina Arth

Beaverton Civic Theatre’s 2016 season is still going strong with their current production of The Addams Family - A New Musical, a truly hilarious send-up in the tradition of the classic Addams Family cartoons, television series, and movies. Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice (book) and Andrew Lippa (music and lyrics) have created a surprisingly adult comedy – still silly, of course, but with lots of funny stuff aimed way over the heads of younger audiences, plus a challenging musical score. Directors Josh Pounders and Melissa Riley utilize a blend of BCT regulars and newcomers to treat Washington County audiences to a remarkable theatrical experience – including some of the best solo, duet, and ensemble vocal work I’ve heard in recent years.

While some cartoon characters have the luxury of staying the same age forever, it is not surprising that Wednesday Addams is growing up – but shockingly, she has fallen in love with Lucas Beineke, a nice boy from an uptight middle class Ohio family. The time has come for the two families to meet, and Wednesday is understandably nervous about the intersection of Lucas’ parents with Morticia, Gomez, and the rest of the somewhat unusual Addams family. Wednesday swears her father to silence about the scariest bit – that she and Lucas plan to announce their engagement that evening. In addition to the usual cast of characters (including Pugsley, Grandma, Uncle Fester, and Lurch) the clan is aided by a troupe of Addams ancestors, barred by Uncle Fester from returning to their graves until the situation is resolved. By the end of Act II, both the Addams and Beineke families have gone through some growth and all looks suitably bleak (the Addams equivalent of any other family’s “rosy”) – a fairly standard story of young love’s triumph delivered with enough twists, comedy, and song to keep the audience more than satisfied.

The entire cast does a credible job throughout, including some really nice work by the younger players (Olivia Noelle, Riley Suzuki, and Austin Peters). However, the evening really belongs to three people: Jason Taylor (Gomez), Beth Noelle (Morticia), and James VanEaton (Lurch). Taylor’s performance is simply superb – his powerful baritone seems to flow effortlessly (and flawlessly), and even during his most challenging songs he never allows his acting to take a back seat to the singing. He is alternately charming, graceful, strong, timid, passionate, terrified – and always very, very funny. Taylor is a wonderful addition to the BCT family who will, I hope, appear regularly on Washington County stages.  Beth Noelle could not have been better as his steely, dominant helpmate Morticia. Her duets with Taylor are magic, and she somehow manages to turn her eyes into black marbles of pure fury when she’s angry.  VanEaton’s strength is not his powerful pipes (although he does have one droll audience-pleaser of a song) – it is his incredibly lanky body and absolute mastery of Lurch’s wooden affect. The few times that he shows us a hint of human emotion are quite spectacular, and his commanding rigidity sometimes makes it hard to watch any one else for fear of missing a subtle (and hilarious) wisp of life.

Stan Yeend is physically perfect as Fester, and he gives the character a surprisingly playful and lovable tone, nicely setting the stage for his ultimate declaration of love for a well-known lunar body. The ancestors are fun, and provide a stunning choral ensemble in support of the main characters. My ears were especially drawn to the dead housewife, an astonishingly clear and strong soprano – at intermission I read the program and realized that it was Erin Zelazny, an accomplished veteran of both community and professional theater.

Costume designer Sue Woodbury, set designers Alex Woodard and David Smith, and technical director Jenny Cyphers did a beautiful job of setting the scene for this loving tribute to Charles Addams’ creepy clan. Josh Pounders and Melissa Riley definitely got this one right, and the opening weekend audiences repaid them with full houses and standing ovations that will undoubtedly persist for the rest of the run.

Note – the show should be viewed as PG 13, rather than G-rated, due to mature themes, language, and darned funny innuendo that might puzzle the little ones.

The Addams Family runs through Saturday, October 15th 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.

Sunday, October 2, 2016


Grace Malloy (Jojo) and Ami Ericsson (Cat in the Hat), ensemble in background.

By Tina Arth

It’s hard to imagine that anyone raised in, or raising a family in, this country could be unfamiliar with the amazing body of children’s lit by Ted Geisel (Dr. Seuss). Horton the Elephant, the Grinch, the Cat in the Hat, Yertle the Turtle, Whoville, McElligot’s Pool, and a host of other people and places are firmly rooted in our consciousness, and Theatre In the Grove’s current offering of Seussical The Musical is a fine tribute to this legacy. Director Michelle Bahr, a remarkable production team, and 21 actors give everything they’ve got to bring playwrights Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens’ musical Seuss mash-up to the stage, and both kiddos and adults in the audience clearly applaud their efforts!

The musical debuted on Broadway in 2000, and quickly became a staple of child-friendly community theater. While there are characters and story lines from several Seuss books blended in, Seussical is driven by that most admirable of all Geisel’s creations, Horton the Elephant (Carl Dahlquist). Joining Horton in selling the show’s kid-friendly themes, including loyalty, compassion, acceptance, “don’t judge a book by its cover,” and the importance of imagination, are Jojo the Who (Grace Malloy) and Gertrude McFuzz (Karli Winters).  Of course, no Seuss tribute would be complete without the Cat in the Hat (Ami Ericson), who fills the role of narrator with the spirit of unbridled mischief and uniquely amoral perkiness of this most troublesome feline.

Even before the show begins we know we are somewhere special - the ubiquitous director’s welcome is delivered (in clever rhyme, of course) by the Whoville Mayor (Kraig Williams) and his wife (Holly Farmer).  After a lively all-cast opening number, the show quickly turns to Dahlquist, who is alternately heartbreaking and inspiring as the most faithful of elephants – shy, brave, persistent, and of course “faithful, 100%.” When only he believes in Whoville, Horton is taunted mercilessly by his neighbors, especially the deliciously mean Sour Kangaroo and her daughter, Young Kangaroo, played with evil glee by Wendy Bax and Mylie Winters.  There is a constant struggle between Dahlquist, Malloy, and Karli Winters to see who will steal the show – Dahlquist with his soulful sincerity, Malloy with her spunky intelligence and unstoppable voice (that girl can sing!), and Winters with her gradual transition from love-struck nerd to flaming, iron-willed advocate for her beloved Horton. In the end, there’s no need to choose – each shines alone, and together they are simply brilliant. The show has lots of fun songs, few truly memorable, with the exception of Dahlquist and Malloy’s “Alone in the Universe” – an anthem to imagination and friendship the wraps up the stories’ key themes in four minutes of touching connection.

Nearly every cast member has at least one moment – Jeananne Kelsey’s lovely en pointe ballet solo, the flighty (no pun intended) and self-absorbed Mayzie LaBird (Shannon Jones), Mylie Winters’ agile acrobatics, the scene-stealing singing, dancing and sneering Wickersham Brothers’ (Luella Harrelson, Kada and Kassie Swizter) – just to name a few. Maille O’Brien and Tami Malloy’s costumes are vivid – true to the bright primary colors of the books, and carefully color-coded to the characters’ groupings. The orchestra, conducted by Stephanie Landtiser, is a nice touch – providing solid, but never overwhelming accompaniment and some truly ear-catching sound effects. Special recognition is due James Grimes, Ward Ramsdell, Anne Kennedy, and Abbi Kinzinger – the interplay between Grimes’ wonderful set and the others’ lighting creates some real magic – the evening would have been worth my time just for the McElligot’s Pool design.

Of course, this is a children’s show – much like a first trip to Disneyland, it will be best appreciated if you take along a couple of wide-eyed pre-teens who can share their sense of wonder with their more jaded elders. There’s only one more weekend to go, so buy your tickets now!

Seussical the Musical plays at Theatre in the Grove, 2028 Pacific Avenue, Forest Grove through October 9th with performances at 7:30 pm on Fridays and Saturdays and matinees at 2:30 pm on Sundays.

Friday, September 30, 2016


Virginia Kincaid (Lady Bird), Sandee Cnossen (Pat), and Patti Speight (Betty)

By Tina Arth

My enthusiasm for the STAGES benefit production of Tea For Three - Lady Bird, Pat and Betty, currently playing at the HART Theatre, is tempered only by my dismay that this wonderful show is only available for a three-night run – this is a play that deserves so much more! Director Kim Sandstrom, her remarkable three-woman cast, and a small army of STAGES youth theatre kids have crafted a truly memorable experience from the tale of three of the United States’ amazing first ladies. The timing could not be better – not only is the current presidential race bringing a heightened awareness to the political process, but we are on the verge of possibly seeing a first lady move from “the hardest unpaid job in the world” (a quote from Pat Nixon) to being President. This would have been absolutely inconceivable in the 1960s and ‘70s when the story takes place, yet for many of us that time period is a vivid part of our lives, rather than just a bit of history.

The structure of the play is simple and clever. Lady Bird Johnson, Pat Nixon, and Betty Ford are each given 30+ minutes of stage time, alone except for the occasional intrusion of protesters (enthusiastically portrayed by the STAGES teens). Lady Bird begins at the Kennedy assassination and ends by preparing to give her successor, Pat Nixon, a tour of the White House and an introduction to the complex and undervalued role of First Lady. Pat Nixon’s turn concludes after the Watergate affair as she prepares, following Dick Nixon’s resignation, to give Betty Ford the same tour.  The final scene with Betty Ford puts the whole thing in perspective, clearly illustrating not only the sociological gap between these three women but the historical turning points encapsulated in their White House terms. Between each of the women there is a brief intermission, allowing for quick changes of key photographs and other props appropriate to the lady in question. As a “woman of a certain age” whose adolescence and early twenties coincided with the show’s events, I was reminded of so many moments that I had forgotten – but also given insight into the challenges and heartache that go hand in hand with the position of First Lady in any era.

The three principal actors bring the show to life with riveting authenticity. Texas native Virginia Kincaid (Lady Bird Johnson) nails the Texas accent, of course, but beyond that she delivers the mixture of insecurity, self-effacement, grace, and iron will that somehow coexisted in LBJ’s loyal helpmate. Sandee Cnossen (Pat Nixon) perhaps has the toughest role, playing a shy First Lady who lived in the background throughout much of her husband’s tumultuous career.  Cnossen projects a quiet dignity, as well as intense loneliness – a high point in her performance is the touching way she describes her relationship with the Secret Service “boys” who not only protected her, but provided her with real friendship that was so lacking in her relationship with her husband. As the high-spirited Betty Ford, both reveling and trapped in the cycle of substance abuse, Patti Speight gets to have a little more fun. Unlike her predecessors, Speight is definitely not drinking tea throughout her time onstage, and as the vodka and pills take hold her carriage and speech become gradually looser and more flamboyant. Speight walks a fine line, and (like Betty Ford) she carefully treads on the edge without becoming openly inebriated.

Tea For Three needs no hype, and I predict that the three performances will easily sell out. I can only hope that this wonderful assemblage of actors is able to find another venue to reprise their roles in the near future!

The STAGES Performing Arts Youth Academy benefit production of Tea For Three runs through Sunday, October 2 at Hillsboro’s HART Theatre, 185 SE Washington, Hillsboro through with performances at 7:30 on Friday and Saturday and 2:00 on Sunday. 

Monday, September 26, 2016

FLY BY NIGHT – Broadway Rose Soars Into New Territory

By Tina Arth

I rarely expect “surprise” to figure as one of my principal reactions to a Broadway Rose production. My usual responses are awe at the vocals, band, musical direction, and acting, with a hefty dose of wonder at the tech work that brings their musicals, big and small, to life. I am often familiar with the play, and if it’s new to me it still can be easily slotted into one of a few basic categories: big Broadway-style musical, concert-like small show, quirky dark or light comedy, cute holiday revue. “Darkly comical metaphysical rock musical” is not a phrase I ever anticipated using for a Broadway Rose review – until now. The Portland-area premiere of Fly By Night, a collaboration by playwrights Will Connolly, Michael Mitnick, and Kim Rosenstock, is really quite wonderful – one of those shows that stays with you for days as you muse over the mixture of darkness and light, text and subtext, isolation and connection, simplicity and complexity that make this production so compelling and memorable.

Director Issac Lamb and his cast tell the story of a single year – from November 1964 through November 1965 – in the lives of six people (plus a narrator), culminating in the Great Northeast Blackout of 1965. The lives of two sisters from South Dakota, a humble sandwich maker and his boss, a bereaved widower, and a wannabe Broadway promoter intersect (helped along by the narrator/fortune-teller, who also plays the girls’ mother as needed). The storytelling is honest about its non-linear nature and makes liberal use of the narrator as a guide, so the audience has no trouble following forward and backward leaps in chronology. Key themes revolve around connections – between spouses, parents and children, lovers, siblings, old friends, one’s own memories, and ultimately between humans and the universe. Chance encounters and seemingly random choices lead inexorably to the show’s heartbreaking finale, where key characters finally are able to find a measure of hope, comfort, and peace from each other.

Joe Thiessen gets many of the best comic moments and makes the most of them as he cheerfully shifts from omniscient narrator to cold South Dakota mama to soothsayer. The competition for nostalgic pathos is tight between Gary Norman (the widower “Mr. McClam”) and Tim Blough (deli owner Crabble). Blough captures Crabble’s working class despair to perfection, and simply sparkles with life during his two turns directing traffic – once in memory, once in real life. Norman wins the day, however – not with his character’s pathological grieving and desperate numbness, but when he allows himself to feel again. In the simple but beautiful “Cecily Smith,” he delivers the line that perhaps best sums up the whole show: “Life is not the things that we do – it’s who we’re doing them with.”

The heart of the show is the curious love triangle of the two sisters and the sandwich-maker. Malia Tippets (“Daphne”) is charming but unstoppable in her furious search for stardom, and expresses through ”Daphne Dreams” and ”I Need More” the futility of trying to validate herself by seeking the approval of others. Rebecca Teran is everything the authors could have wanted in Miriam – cute, winsome, enthusiastic, impossibly kind and sincere – and she tells us everything we need to know in her exquisite and poignant delivery of “Stars I Trust.” If Miriam and Daphne had grown up in in New York, rather than South Dakota, we might not be able to accept their attraction to Benjamin Tissell’s sandwich maker “Harold” – an awkward, lonely drifter nursing dreams he’ll never pursue while life just sort of happens to him. “Circle In the Sand” becomes his anthem to lack of direction, but when he grabs hold of life in Act II’s “Me With You” Tissell completely nails his character’s expansion: “I never dreamed that I could feel a great deal better than just fine,” and we see the man beneath the mayonnaise, meat, cheese and lettuce.

Music director/conductor/pianist Jon Quesenberry ties the whole production together in a neat musical bundle – vocal ensemble and band work beautifully to tell and sell the story. Lighting is key in the show, and designer Gene Dent creates a magical world of light and darkness building up to a powerful, light-filled denouement.

I rarely rush to buy soundtracks of new musicals, but “Fly By Night” is one that I must have – not because of the elegance of the songs, but to remind me of the almost Taoist harmony the authors successfully project through this memorable show. As with many little known shows, audiences are strongly advised to see it now –it may not be back in the area for a long, long time and it should not be missed.

Fly By Night is playing at Broadway Rose’s New Stage, 12850 SW Grant Avenue, Tigard through Sunday, October 23d.

Sunday, September 18, 2016


Megan Keathley ("Gloria") and Rob harris ("Bernard").Photo by Garry Bastian Photography.

By Tina Arth

The folks at Twilight Theater Company never fail to surprise  – after a string of intense, quirky, and sometimes cheerfully tasteless shows, they fly back into the fall season with playwright Marc Camoletti’s Boeing Boeing, a classic French farce that loses nothing in translation and keeps the passengers/audience robustly entertained. The show won the 2008 Tony award for “Best Revival of a Play” – and having seen the Twilight version it’s easy understand why. It’s smartly written, fast-paced, and the humor is in no way dated.  This is director Matt Gibson’s first production in Portland, but most certainly not his last.

The set-up is revealed before the first actor comes on stage – the airline theme broadcast by a recorded pre-show announcement that mimics pre-takeoff instructions, the potential for horseplay obvious from the single set with six doors. We just know that there will be a lot of coming and going and lots of close calls to justify that many portals! The story? Swinging American bachelor Bernard has a spiffy pad in Paris, in which he serially entertains three lovely airline hostesses/fiancées. With the assistance of Berthe the maid, he’s able to juggle the three by studying the airline timetables to ensure that their visits never overlap.  Of course it’s too good to last; the introduction of newer, faster planes means that each woman’s travel time is shortened, and inevitably they find themselves all in Paris at the same time. The catastrophe comes soon after the arrival of Bernard’s friend Robert, an unsophisticated Midwesterner whose presence first ameliorates, later complicates, the situation.

Boeing Boeing is one of those satisfying shows where each member of the small (six person) cast is critical to the plot. That can make casting a special challenge, but Gibson has assembled a group of adept comedians (four new to the Twilight stage) who do complete justice to the split-second timing and lavish physical comedy required by the script. Megan Keathley (“Gloria”) is beautiful in the pushy, domineering style of an “Ugly American” – she delivers her lines with an abrasive chauvinism accented by consistent disdain for all things French. Erin Bickler is a marvel as the Italian “Gabriella,” particularly to anyone who saw her earlier this year playing Tracy Lord in Philadelphia Story. Had it not been for the program, I wouldn’t have recognized her as the same actor – it was like seeing Katherine Hepburn suddenly transformed into a combination of Sophia Loren and Charo. Jenny Newbry’s German “Gretchen” is perhaps the most charming of the three hostesses – while she is appropriately argumentative bringing a Teutonic directness to her delivery, she resists the urge to play the part of a stereotypical uber-Kraut.  Her amazingly cute face goes a long way toward softening her Germanic quirks, and her pigtails are more “little girl” than Hitler Youth.

Rob Harris has the nominal lead as “Bernard,” and he makes the most of some great material. Harris hilariously traverses the path from suave womanizer to hysterical mess as his chickens come home to simultaneously roost, and the scenes where he explains the merits of his foolproof system to old friend Robert (Zero Feeney) provide exposition without seeming expository – not an easy feat. However, it is Feeney and Amanda Clark (as “Berthe”) who really steal the show. Feeney brings a blend of baffled naivety, sincerity, and near-adolescent eager sexuality to his role, and his timing and delivery could not be better. “Berthe” is the role Clark was born to play – the small theater’s intimate setting is the perfect canvas for her incredibly large and mobile eyes, and she unfailingly adheres to her French disdain for the houseful of idiotic foreigners – with a special dose of contempt for Gloria’s all-too-American arrogance.

Costume Designers Chris Byrne and Mikaela Gladstone have done an exquisite job of capturing authentic ‘60s style. The longer skirts, carefully tailored jackets, perky hats, matching bags, and bright color-coding of each hostess are particularly effective in capturing the fashion spirit of the era. The clothing suggests an apparent societal and sexual interchangeability among the three women that turns out to be quite misleading – despite their bright smiles and tight bodies, these are not Stepford Stewardesses!

Boeing Boeing is one of the funniest shows I’ve seen this year, and definitely merits the large audience and larger laughs I heard at Friday’s show. There are only two more performances, so get your tickets now!

Twilight Theater Company’s Boeing Boeing is playing at the Performing Arts Theater, 7515 N. Brandon Avenue, Portland through Saturday, September 24th with performances at 8 P.M. Friday and Saturday. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2016


 Ira Fortum (Macbeth) and Aaron Morrow (Macduff)

By Tina Arth

I was a bit worried as I walked into HART’s production of Macbeth Saturday night – my guest was a 14-year-old girl with little exposure to Shakespeare, and I had been warned that the show ran over 3 hours. My fears were groundless – while my young friend was a bit baffled at first, by intermission she was so captivated by the production that she chafed at waiting 15 minutes to get back to the story! Just because they are taught in so many English lit classes does not mean that Shakespeare’s plays are meant to be experienced via text, as Director Paul Roder and his cast are so dramatically proving. A stage full of fine actors brings one of the Bard’s most powerful stories to life in a way that obviates the need for footnotes and annotation, substituting real motion and emotion for dry analysis.

Roder’s vision of the tale is faithful to the canonical text – he resists the urge to update or adapt a story that needs no alterations, and the large crowd Saturday night would seem to indicate that 400 years after the author’s death, local audiences are not tired of Shakespeare’s tragic Scottish Play. For those not familiar with Macbeth, the briefest of introductions will do: Macbeth is the Thane (a local official in service of the King) of Glamis. He encounters three witches in the woods who prophesy that he will become King of Scotland. Consumed by ambition (his own, and especially his wife’s) he murders King Duncan to hasten the fulfillment of the prophecy.  He assumes the throne, and then is driven to protect his status by killing his cousin Banquo and the wife and children of another nobleman, Macduff. A combination of guilt and paranoia drives both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth toward madness, leading to the final confrontation and the play’s bloody conclusion.

In HART’s production, as is often found in community theater, the quality of the acting is a bit uneven. However, Roder’s casting of the major roles is impeccable – in particular, Ira Kortum (Macbeth), Leticia Maskell (Lady Macbeth), Aaron Morrow (Macduff), and Adam P. Farnsworth (Banquo) turn in stellar performances. Farnsworth gives his character the quiet integrity and absence of guile needed to be the perfect foil for his more ambitious relative – he plays a simple man with an uncomplicated view of honesty and loyalty. Morrow’s Macduff is much smarter, and more complex, but still imbued with a fierce loyalty to Scotland that drives him to risk (and lose) all that he loves to protect his country. Morrow’s measured response radiates intelligence, and I swear I could see tears sparkling in his eyes when he learns of his family’s awful fate.

Kortum captures all of the contradictions that make Macbeth a tragic figure. Ostensibly brave, it is clear in his first interactions with his wife that his insecurity and self-doubt make him vulnerable to Lady Macbeth’s overt manipulation; whenever he is on stage alone we feel his indecision and angst. Maskell plays a dizzying number of women in a single role, and commits fully to each facet of her character. Euphoria, slyness, fierce rage, pitiable grief, and a seductive tenderness are all tools in her repertoire to ruthlessly control her husband and to deceive everyone else – Lady Macbeth is a consummate actress, and Maskell subtly brings the audience into this secret.  We only see her play her true self after her descent into madness, and I have not seen the iconic “Out, damned spot. Out, I say!” done better.

There are countless other performance gems – in particular Donald Cleland (who plays three roles) in his hilarious turn as the porter, and Karen Huckfeldt’s heart-wrenching Lady Macduff.

Karen Roder’s costume designs are inspired – she uses rough fabrics, dark colors, and primitive design to capture the time and place.  The design of Macbeth’s kingly robe, cascading awkwardly off one shoulder, is a constant reminder of how uneasily he bears the throne, while Lady Macbeth’s elegant gowns capture her eagerness to play a queenly role. Paul Roder and Tina Crawford’s detailed castle wall comprises the entire set, allowing for quick scene changes through addition and deletion of props. Finally, fight choreographers Brent Lambrell and Leann Hansen have succeeded in turning a stage full of relatively peaceful actors into fierce swordsmen, and the battle scenes are realistic and powerful.

Macbeth is playing at the HART Theatre, 185 SE Washington, Hillsboro through September 25th, with performances at 7:30 on Fridays and Saturdays and 2:00 on Sundays.

Monday, September 12, 2016


Eric St. Cyr (Ben), Arianne Jaques (Elaine), David Heath (Mr. Robinson), Kimberli Colbourne (Mrs. Robinson).
Photo by 
by Casey Campbell Photography.

By Tina Arth

Admittedly, it’s been almost 50 years since I saw the film version of The Graduate – but even so, Bag & Baggage’s current production surprised me. I just couldn’t believe how much I had forgotten! Through the miracle of Google, I quickly learned that while I may be old, I’m not THAT old -Terry Johnson’s 2002 stage adaptation of the 1963 novella and 1967 motion picture diverges wildly from both of the earlier formats.  The result, at least in the hands of director Scott Palmer, is a slightly bipolar mix of the really hilarious and the grimly disturbing, with a side of plain old depression to keep things interesting.

The play opens with newly minted college honor student Benjamin Braddock sitting on his bed wearing the wetsuit he was given for a graduation present – he is expected to leap into the family pool to demonstrate the suit’s effectiveness for a houseful of his upper-middle class parents’ guests.  Ben is overwhelmed with crippling ennui – unwilling and unable to hop cheerfully into the prosperous Stepford Son future envisioned by his parents and their cohort (hence, the iconic line “One word, Ben – plastics!”), paralyzed by lack of direction and a sense that life is fundamentally absurd and meaningless. He refuses to go downstairs to greet the guests, and ends up trapped in his bedroom by the libidinous Mrs. Robinson, eager to score some fresh meat. Much of the rest of the play is spent exploring the comic potential of this unlikely sexual setup, until Ben makes the mistake of falling in love with naïve and idealistic Berkeley student Elaine, the Robinsons’ daughter. Clearly, this is not going to go well. As Ben, Elaine, and her mother negotiate these troubled waters, the play quickly shifts from bedroom farce to a gripping exploration of the darker themes embedded in the tale.

As one expects with Bag & Baggage, the leads are superb. Eric St. Cyr (Ben) creates an initially comic character so naturally that the laughs just find him – he never has to go out looking – and he pulls off all but full frontal nudity with remarkably good taste. As the show and his character evolve, he moves from comedy to desperation, ending in a heart-wrenching scene that leaves the audience more than a little shaken. Seen through the lens of the 21st century, Arianne Jacques (Elaine) is irritatingly self-effacing and naïve – we wonder how someone that smart can be simultaneously that dumb, but at the end she radiates a combination of strength and nurturing that complements and accommodates Ben’s disintegration. The real stunner is Kymberli Colbourne (Mrs. Robinson). She is playfully seductive, at times a bit maudlin, yet she consistently projects a manipulative coldness that renders her character thoroughly unlikeable even at the funniest moments. We cannot help but feel a little sorry for Ben – he is simply no match for this version of Mrs. Robinson, and when she is angry she approximates a destructive force of nature.

The rest of the cast all play multiple roles, and while they are by no means afterthoughts, they really serve as accessories for the pivotal central characters However, Cassie Greer, in her role as a stripper, deserves triple kudos not only for her amazing outfit and confident strut, but also for actually making the tassels twirl on cue.

There are a couple of awkward moments that simply don’t ring true – David Heath (Mr. Robinson) just can’t sell his axe-swinging attack on Ben, and there are times when the receptionist and therapist are drawn (by the author, not the actors) too superficially to really fit. However, these false notes are few, and do not  detract from the overall progression of the play.

Melissa Heller’s costume designs – especially the seamed stockings, virginal plaid skirt, ankle socks, period cocktail dress, pearls, and industrial-strength lingerie - ensure that the audience will retain a sense of the time, place, and social class that define the characters. The near complete absence of color in the clothing (reminiscent of black and white movies and TV) combine with the featureless white cubbies of the set to reinforce the sterility of the figurative boxes in which these people are trapped.

This Graduate leaves us troubled and puzzled - despite the strong comic elements, it is the profound emptiness that will endure after you leave the theater. In 2016, in a  world that seems poised on the brink of an unpredictable and jarring set of political, social, and environmental realities, this production has the power to shake us. While it ultimately offers no answers, it compels an introspection that merits the Bag & Baggage motto: Real. Provocative. Theatre. Caution – there is enough nudity that the show is really inappropriate for minors.

Bag & Baggage’s The Graduate is playing at Hillsboro’s Venetian Theatre, 253 E. Main Street, through October 2nd, with performances Thursday through Saturday at 7:30pm, Sunday at 2:00pm.