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.