Thursday, August 10, 2017

Hot ‘n’ Throbbing

Picture is Benjamin Philip ("The Voice"), Jason England ("Clyde"), and Jaime Langton ("Charlene")


By Tina Arth

Twilight Theater Company has carved out a niche for themselves by doing lots of edgy, little known plays that challenge the audience to really think about what they have seen. Simultaneously, they give local actors the chance to explore complex roles requiring them to dig deeply for both nuanced subtlety and the explosive action that sometimes accompanies their inner dialogues. Director Matt Gibson’s current production of Paula Vogel’s very dark, occasionally comic Hot ‘n’ Throbbing is classic Twilight: obscure, frequently surreal, deeply disturbing, nicely staged and skillfully acted.

There is an element of bait and switch in the show – the early scenes delude the audience into expecting a wacky, bawdy comedy about Charlene, a superficially button-down, school-marmish divorced mom trying to support two adolescents by writing “adult entertainment” – essentially soft-core porn. The erotic images floating around her brain (and keyboard), embodied by the male “Voice” and female “Voice Over,” are reminiscent of the short-lived sitcom Herman’s Head; Charlene’s inner voices stand in stark contrast to her parenting style, especially when she is forbidding rebellious sexpot daughter Leslie Anne from leaving the house in skin-tight clothing while son Calvin lovingly caresses his soft, willing baseball mitt. The serio-comic tone changes dramatically with the arrival of Clyde, Charlene’s drunken and abusive ex, who bursts in (defying a restraining order) for a quickie – he can’t afford a hooker. Charlene’s erotic fantasies, where the woman is in control of the S&M and bondage, are quickly replaced by Clyde’s all-too-real obsessions, and the evening goes very, very wrong.

Jaime Langton (“Charlene”) and Jason A. England (“Clyde”) create a bizarre, but ultimately believable, dysfunctional couple. Langton at first seems a bit too put-together and intellectual for the role of victim (or pornographer), but she skillfully devolves into the insecure dreamer trying to placate her abuser. The contrast between the external and internal is most pronounced in the scene where she awkwardly tries to seduce England in an almost childish parody of sexuality. England is probably a lovely fellow in real life, but he is terrifyingly believable in the role of violently twisted redneck; his incestuous musings about his daughter are positively chilling.

Tabitha Ebert (“Leslie Anne”) captures the classic over-the-top drama of the teen girl’s battles with mom, competition for dad’s attention, and incessant squabbling with her brother – all overlaid with the cold reality at the script’s core. My personal favorite performance comes from Chloë Duckart (“Calvin”), the obsessively masturbating, Peeping Tom little brother who, despite a multitude of quirks, is still ready to defend mom Charlene from her drunken ex. Duckart really has a feel for the emotional and sexual confusion and contrasts of early adolescence, and they create a memorable character.

The final two performers, Benjamin Philip (“The Voice”) and Adriana Gantzer (“Voice Over”) provide a significant dose of comic relief as they portray the overly dramatized external expressions of the naïve stereotypes living in Charlene’s imagination. Gantzer’s pole dancing siren hovers nicely on the line between erotica and parody, while Philip is at his best riffing on a Philip Marlowe-style private eye, alternating from hard-boiled to intellectual (sometimes in mid-monologue).

Vogel’s script is occasionally baffling, with odd interjections that sometimes muddy the core story. It is left to the director and actors to craft a coherent and compelling drama that holds the audience during the author’s flights of obscure intellectualism (or am I the only one who doesn’t need to hear multiple passages from Moby Dick?). Despite the distractions, Gibson and his cast keep the focus on pornography, incest  and domestic violence, delivering a hard-hitting drama that shines a powerful light into some very dark parts of the human psyche.


Twilight Theater Company’s Hot ‘n’ Throbbing is playing at the Performing Arts Theater, 7515 N. Brandon Avenue, Portland through Sunday, August 20th with performances at 8 P.M. Friday and Saturday and 3:00 P.M. Sunday. There is an additional performance Thursday, August 17th at 8:00 P.M.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Catch This Gypsy Before It Leaves Town!



By Tina Arth

While my attitude toward theater is generally “smaller is better,” I make an annual exception for the summer season at Broadway Rose. Their huge summer productions never fail to dazzle me, and this year’s blockbuster Gypsy is no exception. Director Annie Kaiser’s first swing at one of the company’s large-scale musicals is a home run; the show simply begs us: “Let me entertain you” – and it does.

The story is based on the memoirs of Gypsy Rose Lee, who (obsessively pushed by Momma Rose, the ultimate stage mother) rises from the vaudeville kiddy circuit to become perhaps the most famous stripper (or, as Gypsy says, “At these prices, I’m an ecdysiast!”) in history.  The show took Broadway by storm when it debuted in 1959 with the book by Arthur Laurents, music by Jule Styne, and lyrics by a young Stephen Sondheim – helped along by the power of Ethel Merman as Rose. Merman set a high bar, and mature comediennes with big voices have sought to put their own stamp on the role ever since. While Gypsy is properly classified as musical comedy, the complexity of the character and relationships (especially between Gypsy and Momma Rose) sometimes goes deep, and even dark – Momma Rose has earned a place as one of the most narcissistic and manipulative characters in all musical theater.  For readers who don’t already know and love the show, do not let this deter you – it’s very, very funny, loaded with memorable moments and great songs, and it ends on a lovely note of reconciliation.

W. C. Fields once said that you should never go on stage with children or animals, and while I’m sure this Gypsy cast would disagree, he had a point. Every time Ryleigh Hefflinger (Baby June) flounces across the stage, squeals, and kicks – and she is a world-class flouncer, squealer, and kicker – the rest of the cast seems to disappear. Rivaling Hefflinger for the scene-stealing title is Chowsie the Chihuahua, who clearly deserved but was robbed of a bio in the program. Of course Chowsie has no lines, and didn’t need to learn any blocking since he has trained the cast to carry him everywhere he needs to go, but he still gives a truly unforgettable performance. Aida Valentine (Baby Louise) masters the fine art of winning our attention and sympathy by graciously accepting her role as second-class daughter, with just the right touch of pathos to set up her emergence as a butterfly in Act 2.

Dan Murphy’s “Herbie” – who inexplicably adores Rose – creates a gentle doormat whose warmth makes him perhaps the most likeable character in the show – and I wanted to cheer when he finally had enough and walked away. Bryan Thomas Hunt’s Tulsa delivers a remarkable song and dance solo in “All I Need Is the Girl” that left me wanting more but frustrated, since he, too, walks away.

In the end, the show belongs to two women, Sharon Maroney (Momma Rose) and Kelly Sina (Louise/Gypsy). Maroney is definitely at her best when she’s playing it big, especially on the vocals, as she is a phenomenal belter. She also negotiates her character’s frequent personality shifts with aplomb, moving from bully to cheerleader, wheedler to delusional manipulator with sometimes dizzying speed.
Starting with the heartbreakingly pathetic “Little Lamb” and growing toward the swaggering strip routine, Sina gives her solo numbers a star turn that firmly establishes her place as best vocalist in the show, and her evolution from timid wallflower to the ultimate tease is a joy to watch.

Music Director/Conductor Jeffrey Childs leads his orchestra flawlessly, and seemingly has a lot of fun with some of the eccentric musical stylings designed to create the vaudeville/burlesque tone of the production. Costume Designer Darrin J. Pufall must also have enjoyed himself clothing Baby June, the Toreadorables, the cow, and of course the three wonderful strippers who introduce Gypsy to the world of burlesque.

This Gypsy gives us a great combination of humor, top-class song and dance, and sobering themes, clearly demonstrating why it’s often called America’s greatest musical. It should not be missed.


Broadway Rose’s Gypsy runs through August 20th at Tigard High School’s Deb Fennell Auditorium.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Bag & Baggage’s ROMEO AND JULIET A Compelling Mash-Up

Arianne Jacques as Juliet and Nicholas Granato as Romeo.
Photo by Casey Campbell.

By Tina Arth

Bag & Baggage’s artistic director, Scott Palmer, is notorious for his creative Shakespearian adaptations, but this summer the innovative Hillsboro theatrical company is truly breaking new ground. Palmer’s current production is not so much an adaptation as a mash-up, combining perhaps the best known play in all of Western Civilization and a lovely tale with deep roots in the ancient Middle East: hence, Romeo and Juliet (Layla and Majnun). The result is a sometimes jarring, but ultimately charming, twist on the traditional tale of star-crossed lovers that audiences have come to expect.

Entering Tom McCall Plaza, one thing is immediately clear – we’re not in Verona anymore. The exotic strains of Arab music and the gigantic, ornate tent immediately transport us to a fictional multicultural Persia where Roman Christians (shades of the Crusades?) interact, and sometimes clash, with the local Bedouin tribes. Lady Capulet, her daughter Juliet, and cousin Tybalt are emissaries from the Emperor Constantine. The local royalty includes the Sayyid, a direct descendant of Muhammad, who is determined to live in peace with the Roman newcomers. However, the instantaneous chemistry between Juliet and the Sayyid’s son Romeo/Majnun sets up an irresolvable conflict – neither parent considers the other’s child as a remotely suitable mate for their own offspring.  The long-standing feud between the Capulets and the Montagues in Shakespeare’s play is replaced by a new feud between the Christian Tybalt and the Moslem Newfal/Mercutio (many characters bear two names); Tybalt slays Mercutio, leading to Tybalt’s death at the hands of Romeo and setting up all that follows.

Although much of the original Shakespearean dialogue is retained, the play is definitely not just Romeo and Juliet in a new setting.  The second act is especially distinctive, not just on a superficial level (e.g., Juliet/Layla marrying Paris) but on an emotional level – the two parents, when pressed, show much more compassion than their Italian counterparts, and Majnun’s death provides a lovely spiritual touch at the conclusion.

Despite the complexity introduced by the production’s multiple origins, it is remarkably easy to follow the story. It helps that there is an omniscient narrator, storyteller Gary Ploski, to fill in some of the blanks. However, it is the principal actors who really tell the tale – despite being outdoors, with some inevitable noise pollution, every line is delivered distinctly, paced slowly enough to allow the audience to comprehend while permitting the actors to match each word with the requisite physical accompaniment – both fight scenes and love scenes really tell themselves.

Two Bag & Baggage newcomers particularly shine – Nicholas Granato (Romeo/Majnun) and Mandana Khoshnevisan (Lady Capulet).  Granato’s abrupt and peripatetic shifts from elation, passion, and despair capture the love stricken madness of his character, differentiating him (and the story) from the Shakespearean Romeo, and provide much-needed comic relief. Khoshnevisan offers additional shots of humor playing the protective, frustrated, status-seeking uber-momma without making a mockery of her fierce maternal love.

Bag & Baggage mainstays Cassie Greer (as Romeo’s cousin Benvolia) and Arianne Jacques (as Juliet/Layla) are, not surprisingly, superb. Jacques manages to capture the mercurial mood swings of a fourteen year old in the grips of first love, with just a touch of petulance toward her mother, a touch of the tease toward her lover, and mulishly rigid rejection of her husband’s very real ardor. Greer’s Benvolia is very much the level-headed peacemaker, and she plays the role of sensible (if unsuccessful) diplomat deftly – but with the added fun of watching her scornfully fend off Mercutio’s clumsy advances.

Other highlights include Signe Larsen’s athletic and exciting fight choreography (nowhere better than in her performance as Tybalt) and Melissa Heller’s costumes. With a story set in a fictional place and time, and an unlikely mix of characters, Heller provides imaginative attire that captures the spirit of two very different worlds. Assistant Director Melory Mirashrafi and her family served as invaluable consultants who helped Palmer, his actors, and his audience to overcome inaccurate preconceptions about how the Middle Eastern characters “ought” to behave, and contributed immeasurably to this beautiful and unusual fictional and cultural blend.

Bag & Baggage’s production of Romeo and Juliet (Layla and Majnun) runs through August 5, with shows at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings, at the Tom Hughes Civic Center Plaza, 150 E. Main Street, Hillsboro.


Wednesday, July 12, 2017

HART’S 2017 Page to Stage Intriguing Summer Fare

Picture by Carl Dahlqvist, shows (l - r) Les Ico, Ami Ericson,
Rachel Thomas, Skye McLaren Walton, and Kaitlynn Baugh
.
By Tina Arth

One of the best things about live theater is that no two performances are exactly the same, so there’s always the prospect of getting new perspectives on the material each time you see a show. However, HART Theatre’s current offering, 36 Perfectly Appropriate Mealtime Conversations, takes this concept to a whole new level. Never heard of it? Not surprising – it’s brand new, this season’s winner of HART’s annual “Page to Stage” competition, which gives local playwrights a chance to see their work in full production. Author Brianna Barrett decided to explore the complex topic of gender roles in theater by writing a show about messy human relationships in which every character can be played by either a man or a woman, and doubled down by then having the core cast members play different roles in each performance. Depending on the evening (and thus the assignments of the various cast members), one key character could be a heterosexual transsexual, a gay transsexual, a heterosexual woman, or a lesbian. While the dialogue stays the same, the subtext varies wildly – as does the humor (it’s a very, very funny play).

It’s not easy to condense a series of 25 vignettes into an intellgible summary.  In brief, six core cast members (Terry, Morgan, Jessie, Alex, Cameron, and Parker) and two “Observers” appear in a series of brief meetings in bars, restaurants, and homes where they obsess over a variety of issues involving their attempts, as maturing Gen Ys and millennials, to achieve true adulthood and lasting satisfaction in their interpersonal relationships.  Only the observers (Les Ico and Ami Ericson) retain their roles throughout the run of the show (although there is still some gender-bending, in particular Ico’s truly spectacular appearance singing love ballads in a fetching wig).  There is one married couple, and their discussions about love, fidelity, and parenthood/adoption will take on dramatically new meaning with each separate pairing. Blaine Vincent III’s effect as lounge singer Jessie will be very different when a woman plays the role, just as the bodice of his fabulous red dress will undoubtedly look a lot different when filled out by actual breasts.

I hesitate to call out any specific performances, as future audiences will not be seeing the actors in the same roles I saw.  Kaitlynn Baugh’s tough talking Alex and Skye McLaren Walton’s fragile, insecure Cameron present an interesting take on friendship that will undoubtedly be transformed when played by pretty little Rachel Thomas or stolid, serious Cecelia Shroyer. Barrett’s script is incredibly witty, but the funniest lines may shift nightly depending on who’s playing whom. I found myself several times watching and listening on two levels, seeing and enjoying the current cast while imagining how the effect might change in future productions. It’s obviously not practical to see every possible iteration, but I definitely plan to attend at least one more performance just to experience the effect of the shifting roles.

Page to Stage productions are, to some extent, works in progress. Director Carl Dahlquist has done a nice job of wrangling the complex script into coherence, but the show still runs a little too long (2 hours, 45 minutes including intermission). The set is minimalist, and several minutes could have been shaved by just simplifying the scene changes, in particular by reducing the number of times the tables and door are moved around the stage. There are undoubtedly places where the script can be tightened up, and I’m confident that Barrett will take advantage of the HART run to evaluate the effectiveness of each vignette.

The show should probably be rated as at least PG 13, due to some mature themes and language. That said, it’s an intriguing, entertaining story that should resonate with adult audiences from any generation.


36 Perfectly Appropriate Mealtime Conversations is playing at the HART Theatre, 185 SE Washington, Hillsboro through July 23, with performances at 7:30 on Fridays and Saturdays and 2:00 on Sundays. 

Monday, July 3, 2017

Broadway Rose The Addams Family Fast-Paced and Fun



By Tina Arth

I have seen The Addams Family musical three times in the past few years – once as a youth production, once in community theater, and last Friday at Broadway Rose’s stunning professional staging.  Each version was lively and entertaining, each (predictably) well cast for the level of the company, and (less predictable by far) each presented me with a different vision of who is the real star of the show. The book (by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice) and music/lyrics (by Andrew Lippa) leave ample room for the director and principals to play with the material, and Broadway Rose director Peggy Taphorn and cast are having a great deal of fun doing just that.

The story adheres to a familiar format for comic adaptations – two very different groups (in this case, the dark and eerie Addams clan and the disturbingly cheerful Middle-American Beineke family) are brought together by a Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner? type romantic mismatch. A twist on tradition is a key plot point – Gomez knows about daughter Wednesday’s engagement to the seemingly unsuitable Lucas Beineke, but swears not to tell Morticia, setting up the crisis of a man trapped between love for his wife and love for his daughter. The script is fraught with light-hearted tension and ultimately resolves in a series of classic “love conquers all” moments extending not only to the young couple but to both sets of parents (Gomez and Morticia Addams, Mal and Alice Beineke) and to the most unlikely of Lotharios, Uncle Fester.

Both the breadth and depth of talent on stage are truly impressive. The twelve Addams Ancestors, representing earlier generations of the family, provide a solid choral background, lively and athletic dance ensemble, and plenty of comic moments - Christopher Sweet’s ghostly conquistador is positively unforgettable. Emily Windler’s “Grandma” is really quite lovable in a stunted, twisted way, and she brings a razor-sharp wit to her work with Pugsley (Karsten George) in the “What If” scene. George shows a fine grasp of physical comedy in “Pulled,” and his vocals and timing are spot-on throughout. Isaac Lamb’s incurably romantic “Uncle Fester” moves from the campy “Fester’s Manifesto” (complete with ukulele) to the utterly enchanting “The Moon and Me” – a perfect example of this show’s ability to meld the absurd with genuinely lovely ballads.

Joe Theissen (Gomez) and LisaMarie Harrison (Morticia) get some of the show’s finest numbers – Theissen’s “Happy Sad” captures the spirit of any father dealing with the pride and heartbreak of a growing daughter, and he conveys his passion for Morticia with just the right note of Latin lover in numbers like “Live Before We Die.” Like the rest of the Addams clan, Harrison”s “Morticia” is playfully dark, but she reveals her soft underbelly in flashes of maternal devotion and wifely love that transcend mere passion. At her lowest moment, Harrison reminds us subtly of Tevye’s conundrum, then (with the help of the Ancestors) does a spectacular job of cheering herself up in the classically Broadway-style “Just Around the Corner.” Molly Duddleston is charming – perhaps a little too much so – as Wednesday Addams. Her voice is lovely, but she’s just too cute to completely sell the hostile, depressed side of her character, giving us a bit too much ingénue and not quite enough Goth.

The role of Alice Beineke was a bit of a throwaway in the first two Addams Family productions I saw, but Amy Jo Halliday quite simply steals the show at Broadway Rose.  Her trip across the tabletop in “Waiting” (so reminiscent of Bye Bye Birdie’s Rose Alvarez) is an absolute showstopper – nothing less than the full ensemble rendition of “Full Disclosure” could have followed it to end Act I. The combination of her vocal power and utter lack of inhibition sets a dauntingly high bar for the rest of the cast, moving the show from “really fun” to absolute dynamite.

Alan D. Lytle and his orchestra keep the show moving at a rapid pace, and the elaborate sets are engineered to eliminate even slight delays for scene changes.  Director Taphorn has injected the script with several crowd-pleasing contemporary quips, and her choreography is dynamic, precise and imaginative, particularly in ensemble numbers with the Ancestors. Broadway Rose’s first big summer offering for 2017 is well worth a trip to Tigard for fine acting, great vocals, and a full evening of laughter.


Broadway Rose’s The Addams Family runs through July 23d at Tigard High School’s Deb Fennell Auditorium.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Experience Theatre Project Whips Up a Steampunk Tempest

Robert Amico (Ferdinand) and Nicole Richwalsky (Miranda)
Casey Campbell Photography


By Tina Arth

Beaverton’s “Experience Theatre Project” is a local leader in the movement to bring new audiences to the works of William Shakespeare by offering free or low-cost productions to the broadest possible audience. In keeping with this, their current staging of The Tempest has a fun steampunk style, is offered outdoors (at The Round in Beaverton) with no set admission fee ($10 donation suggested, $15 for reserved seating with a drink and dessert), and provides both sign language and Spanish interpreters. Director Jen Waters has done a great job of integrating the audience into the show, as the cast frequently moves through the seating areas and occasionally interacts directly with individual audience members. All of this makes for an enjoyable, accessible experience that will captivate adults and their kiddos. Of course the youngsters may not understand everything (realistically, few of the adults will follow every nuance!), but the movement, costumes, clowning and broad dumb show are enough to give the broad outlines of the story and keep everyone engaged.

Unless you’re a real Shakespeare fanatic, I recommend that you read the show synopsis in the program before the performance begins – a crutch I was denied since I attended the dress rehearsal. An even briefer guide: Alonso (King of Naples) and friends are shipwrecked by a huge storm, and all aboard are tossed into the sea. They arrive safely (but missing Alonso’s son Ferdinand) on an apparently deserted island. The island is actually inhabited by the exiled Prospero (former Duke of Milan), his daughter Miranda, and the half-wild native, Caliban, and several spirits. Ferdinand, who has landed on another part of the island from the rest, encounters Miranda – love at first sight! Prospero’s chief spirit/slave, Ariel, desperately wants his freedom, and Prospero offers it in return for a few small favors (primarily leading Alonso and his party to Prospero). The court jester, Trinculo, and Stephano the butler form a drunken alliance with Caliban, and vow to usurp Prospero as leader of the island.  Prospero agrees to allow Miranda and Ferdinand to marry, Ariel foils the evil plot by Trinculo/Stephano/Caliban, Alonso and his party find Prospero and are thrilled to find Ferdinand alive and betrothed, Ariel is released from bondage, and the (miraculously intact) ship carries all of the good folks home.

One great strength of the production is its physicality – the amazing simulation of the tempest by the storm-wracked passengers, Sam Schultz’s crab-like crawl as Caliban, Sullivan Mackintosh’s bawdy, staggering acrobatics as Trinculo, and Charles Grant’s leaping, soaring Ariel. Greg Barrett paints the drunken Stephano with a broad brush, and his magic trick is a real audience pleaser.  Schultz and Grant are particularly effective at creating the aura of magic and mystery essential to the tale.

The loving couple (Nicole Richwalsky as Miranda, Robert Amico as Ferdinand) express their infatuation so clearly that it doesn't matter if a few lines of dialogue are drowned out by passing trains (always a risk at the Round), and Richwalsky injects the right notes of childish, wide-eyed innocence into the role. Bill Bernsohn’s portrayal of the loving father conveys his guilt at depriving his daughter of a normal life; he also segues nicely from seeking revenge to forgiving his old rivals.
Alisa Stewart’s costumes are quite stunning – in particular, Ariel’s wings and Caliban’s terrifying mask, as well as the fantastical makeup designs on these key characters. The steampunk theme is carried out effectively on the set with a huge machine resembling a giant, mechanized, steam-belching teapot.

As mentioned above, passing trains (and ambient noise from outdoor seating at nearby restaurants) sometimes interferes with dialogue, but the production really doesn't suffer much from those obstacles. Only the reserved seating offers chairs, so I’d recommend bringing a portable camp chair if two hours on concrete or grass doesn't sound appealing. The weather may be very hot at the Sunday matinees – wear sunscreen and a hat!


Experience Theatre Project’s The Tempest runs at the Round at Beaverton through Saturday, July 8th with performances at 7:30 Fridays and Saturday, 2:00 pm on Sundays. There will be a special show on Thursday, July 6 at 7:30.  For reserved seating, go to www.experiencept.org.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Believe the Rumors About Twilight’s Latest



By Tina Arth

It’s hard to go wrong with Neil Simon’s plays, but even the best script, in the wrong hands, can turn witty farce into irritating buffoonery. Rumors makes no pretense at deep social meaning, and has unapologetically slapstick elements that open the door to chaotic overacting – but Director Maury Evans and his brilliant cast have crafted Twilight Theater Company’s production of Rumors into, without question, the funniest show I’ve seen this year.

Laura Myers and Richard Barr
The story takes place in the living room of New York City Vice-Mayor Charles Brock and his wife Myra, who are supposed to be hosting an elegant party to celebrate their 10th anniversary.  Missing are Charles (unseen upstairs, bleeding from an apparent suicide attempt gone awry), his wife Myra, the couple’s household help, and all of the expected trappings of a dinner party, including the food (other than a well-sealed bag of pretzels and a well-stocked bar). In classic drawing-room comedy style, the first arrivals (Charles’ lawyer Ken and his wife Chris) madly endeavor to conceal the situation from the next three couples, hoping to avoid a scandal. As new people gradually arrive the cast makes liberal use of five doors – a sixth is curiously ignored. Slowly, the other couples learn bits and pieces of the story, adding their own interpretations and rumors to a tale that grows increasingly complex and culminates in the utterly absurd version recounted to the police.

Despite the absence of in-depth character development in the script, each actor quickly develops a distinct personal style that defines the cast member’s social status, personal neuroses, and relationship to the others.  Evans’ decision to cast Greg Saum as Cookie, the flamboyantly zaftig cooking show host, was inspired – the contrast between the over-the-top Cookie and her worshipful but introverted psychiatrist husband Ernie (nicely underplayed by Andy Roberts) sets up some of the show’s best moments.  Another power couple, Glenn (Ian Leiner) and Cassie (Amanda Anderson) bickers incessantly, primarily about Glenn’s focus on every woman he sees except his wife. Leiner finds a fine balance between button-down politician and lecher, using his eyes to tell a story otherwise denied, and Anderson’s shift from neglected harpy to seductress is hilariously convincing.

Rob Harris gives “Ken” a bug-eyed, barely controlled hysteria, his frenetic hand movements telegraphing the frenzy bubbling just below the surface. Alicia Turvin (as Ken’s wife Chris, also a lawyer) is utterly flustered, expressing her anxiety through her all-consuming need for a forbidden cigarette to calm her nerves. The final couple, Lenny and Clair (Richard Barr and Laura Myers) anchor the show with their sterling performances. Myers carefully negotiates the challenge of getting progressively drunker throughout the evening without becoming sloppy – her diction, bearing, and gossipy motor mouth remain consistent as she steadily downs a series of drinks (many intended for other characters). Barr is a classic candidate for anger management, always on the brink of an explosion but never venturing too far, until his spectacular final monologue. This masterpiece of comic timing left the audience, although weak with laughter, strong enough for the solid round of applause he so richly deserved.

Scott Miler’s set design functions like another character, immediately clueing the audience in to the cleanly elegant ambience of the era and locale while providing (in a remarkably small space) the levels and portals necessary for the show’s complex physical comedy, and Chris Byrne’s costumes skillfully complement each character’s personal style.

Nothing I write can begin to capture either the comedy on stage or the audience’s robust reaction. If you share my conviction that laughter is particularly essential in trying times, then this is one of those shows you’ve just got to see – perhaps more than once!


Twilight Theater Company’s Rumors is playing at the Performing Arts Theater, 7515 N. Brandon Avenue, Portland through Sunday, June 25th with performances at 8 P.M. Thursday, Friday and Saturday and 3:00 P.M. Sunday. The Thursday, June 15th performance is a special fundraiser for the Kenton Business Association’s “Paint Paul” campaign.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

TITG’s Earnest Effort Pays Off

 Lindsay Partain, Anne Kennedy, Mark Putnam, and Tonja Schreiber

Photo by Jennifer McFarling


By Tina Arth

Some classic plays, no matter how engaging, can grow stale with endless repetition.  120 + years after its debut, this is still not an issue with Oscar Wilde’s incessantly ironic, tightly written The Importance of Being Earnest. While the original play is set in late Victorian London, modern directors frequently place it in different milieus – in recent years I have seen it done in the post-Civil War American South, and (in Theatre in the Grove’s current production) back in London, but in the 1930s. Director Jess Reed and her cast (despite a few opening night line-bobbles) show how seamlessly the show can move from era to era, place to place - a testament to the universal relevance and appeal of this superb farce.

 Wilde acknowledges with his subtitle: A Trivial Comedy for Serious People, that the story is quite silly. Aristocratic bachelor Algernon languishes in a decadent life with his best friend Ernest, until he learns a shocking secret: both he and Ernest are leading double lives – Algernon frequently flees London to visit a fictitious ailing friend, “Bunbury”, while Ernest is really the upstanding Hertfordshire gentleman Jack Worthing, guardian to the lovely Cecily. Immediately intrigued, Algernon schemes to meet the girl. Jack, meanwhile, is in love with the aristocratic Gwendolen, who shares his passion but believes him to be Ernest. Add Gwendolyn’s tightly wound mother, Lady Bracknell (who is also Algernon’s aunt) to anchor the plot, and Wilde’s wit is launched on all of the foibles of an empty upper class.

The unusual decision to cast a woman (Anne Kennedy) in the role of Algernon really works. Physically, Kennedy’s fantastic hairdo and tightly stuffed suits support the illusion, and her lines are spoken in a gender-free vocal register. However, it’s really Kennedy’s delivery that sells the role, and there’s something really appealing about watching this woman play the part of the jaded wastrel. Her comic timing is spot on, and she does a nice job with the accent. Mark Putnam (as Jack/Ernest) is a perfect foil – upright, dry, acerbic and even avuncular at times. While Kennedy is frequently sprawled on any available couch (inhaling every muffin in sight), Putnam stands ramrod straight, and delivers even his funniest lines with a slightly fussy gravitas.

Tonja Schreiber’s “Gwendolen” is forthright and brassy – there’s more than a touch of her mother in this determined young lady. She contrasts nicely with Lindsay Partain’s “Cecily” – a bubbling, enthusiastic ingénue eager to trade her sheltered life for a passionate alliance with Algernon. And then there’s Pat Lach’s “Lady Bracknell” – a ferocious social doyenne whose humble origins are no barrier to her savage snobbery. Her crisp delivery, upright carriage and amazing hats all reinforce her ironically self-righteous embrace of social conventions.

James Grimes’ set design is lovely, and really captures the Art Deco feel necessary to create the feel of the 1930s. Flori Lima-Steele’s costumes (especially the hats mentioned above) further enhance the period feel and define each of the characters.

Director Reed, her production team, and cast have crafted a really funny, very fresh production of Wilde’s classic that should appeal to all fans of social commentary cloaked in razor-sharp wit.


The Importance of Being Earnest is playing at Theatre in the Grove, 2028 Pacific Avenue, Forest Grove through June 18th, with performances Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Crowds Should Roar at HART’S Greasepaint

Urchins' ensemble. Front row: Aubrey McLain, Lily Henderson, William Ferguson.
Back row: Kennedy Raphelt, Rylie Elizabeth Bartell, Orion Duncan, Sarah Felder


By Tina Arth

History tells us that The Roar of the Greasepaint, the Smell of the Crowd is an allegorical tale from the 1960s about the inequalities of the British class system.  Despite evidence to the contrary, including my own memory of several of the songs, a part of me insists that this quirky little show was written in 2017 to shine the piercing light of absurd comedy on the current scene in Washington D.C. Co-authors Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley have captured with unerring prescience key themes in 2017 America, and I suspect that this rarely performed musical will see a renaissance in the coming months and years. HART Theatre should be proud to be leading the charge.

While the story is pretty much indescribable (you’ve really got to be there), some exposition may help. On a starkly minimalist set, two men (the aristocratic Sir and the subjugated Cocky) are playing the game of life (literally – there is a game board painted on the stage floor).  The game is rigged to reflect a societal perversion of the golden rule  - “he who has the gold makes the rules.”  Eagerly supported by a group of ragtag urchins, Sir wins every game without ever lifting a finger. It’s always Cocky’s turn, and every move he makes is wrong. The pattern is disrupted only with the arrival of The Stranger (described in the original play as “The Negro”), a newcomer who functions outside of the rigid constructs of the game, makes up his own rules, declares himself the winner, and cheerfully wanders off.  Sir, Cocky, and the rest are left to puzzle out how to respond to this revolutionary tear in their social fabric.  The ambiguity of the show’s conclusion provides no easy answers, but at least opens the door for hope that today’s often-maligned social justice warriors may be tomorrow’s victors. All of this is delivered with a liberal dose of wit, really fun choreography, and some amazing songs including classics like “Who Can I Turn To” and “A Wonderful Day Like Today” that take on whole new meaning in the context of the show.

Fifteen year-old Lily Henderson does a fine job in her key role as Sir’s sidekick “The Kid” – both the scorekeeper and the narrator, she enthusiastically captures the paradox of the lower-class character working against her own interests.  The rest of the urchins sparkle with their physical agility, and they provide a powerful vocal ensemble to back the show’s biggest numbers. Prince AV’s “The Stranger” is a real find, with the trained voice to absolutely nail one of the show’s biggest solos, “Feeling Good” (a standard long before anyone ever heard of Michael Buble). Kaitlynn Baugh is lovely and winningly naïve in her part of “My First Love Song,” but it is her silent despair when claimed as one of Sir’s many prizes that really catches the audience.

Finally there are the two leads – Stan Yeend (“Sir”) and James Grimes (“Cocky”). Both hit just the right notes for their characters, injecting their songs with both power and personality while avoiding either distracting British accents or cartoonish melodrama. Playing it straight serves to emphasize that, while the story may be an allegory, it’s just not that far off from contemporary reality.  Yeend is literally larger than life, and he manages to convince us that he is really puzzled by Cocky’s petty discontents and rebellions – in Sir’s world, best expressed in “A Wonderful Day,” the status quo is just fine, and “it wasn’t by chance that we happened to be where we are.”  Most of Grimes’ songs, despite some wide octave shifts, still fit neatly in the center of his vocal range, allowing him to give numbers like “Who Can I Turn To” a poignant dignity. I was equally impressed with Grimes’ acting – he moves from craven to eager, suspicious to optimistic, and despairing to hopeful with ease. The character’s sporadic limp, the result of a genuine injury, manages to give Cocky an extra dose of pain and pathos that works quite well, although one hopes that he’ll have recovered by the second week.

Three unseen, but not unsung heroes are musicians Ryan DeHaven, Glen Libonati, and Amy Katrina Bryan. Their flawless work proves once again that the basic keyboard, bass, and drums can deliver even the most challenging score in an intimate setting. Add in Sandy Libonati’s solid vocal direction, a top-notch technical crew (special props to Natasha Cimmyotti’s follow spots), Linda Anderson’s athletic choreography, and of course Glenn York’s tight, restrained direction and the product is a show well worth seeing.


The Roar of the Greasepaint, the Smell of the Crowd is playing at the HART Theatre, 185 SE Washington, Hillsboro through June 18th, with performances at 7:30 on Fridays and Saturdays and 2:00 on Sundays. 

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Many Shades of Meaning in Anatomy of Gray

Catrionia Johnston, Aaron Morrow, Ted Schroeder, John Knowles, and Pat Romans


By Tina Arth

Mask & Mirror Community Theatre’s selection process in the last couple of years has yielded some real gems – and their current show, Anatomy of Gray, is definitely a rare jewel. Jim Leonard Jr.’s 2006 play is funny, touching, and thought provoking – one of those works that lingers, quietly revealing new facets long after the final curtain. Director Sarah Ominski and her cast have done a fine job with this nuanced play, allowing the actors and audience to have an enormous amount of fun without sacrificing the poignant and sometimes painful elements of this tale of love, loss, and community.

The opening scene is comfortably familiar – young Junie Muldoon, trapped in the tiny 19th century hamlet of Gray, Indiana, begins with a monologue about boring life in this boring town, immediately followed by her father’s funeral. Shortly after she writes an anguished letter to God asking for a doctor “so that nobody will ever have to die again” a massive storm arrives – and any pretense of reality goes on the back burner. The first clue is when Junie tears across the stage crying out for her lost dog – shades of Toto – followed by a huge twister that brings the mysterious Galen Gray crashing down in his balloon. Obviously, at some level we’re not in Indiana anymore.
The xenophobic Pastor Wingfield is suspicious about the newcomer, who conveniently turns out to be a doctor, and the good pastor’s suspicions are inflamed by the appearance of mysterious and deadly lesions on some of the locals. Ultimately only Dr. Gray, Junie, and Junie’s hapless suitor, the soda-pop swilling Homer, are free of infection.  A combination of hometown wit, physical comedy, and well-played pathos keeps the audience engaged as we gradually see parallels between the events in Gray and the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s.

There are several great supporting roles – I particularly liked Steve Horton’s guitar playing. Donna Haub’s crisp take on Tiny Wingfield and Ted Schroeder’s narrow-minded enthusiasm as Pastor Wingfield. However, the show really pivots on the performances of Aaron Morrow (Galen P. Gray), Caitriona Johnston (June Muldoon), Renae Iverson (Rebekah Muldoon), and Robbie Estabrooke (Homer). Estabrooke is perfectly cast as the awkward, love-struck suitor – his earnest overtures are just what I’d expect from a young man of that time and place. Iverson gives her performance a kind of timeless depth and enlightened sensitivity, and she manages to play the martyr without pathos or melodrama.

Morrow gets some of the best material, especially in the realm of physical comedy, and makes the most of it without ever seeming silly – he delivers his lines with a solid intelligence and honesty that allows his character to emerge organically.  Johnston’s “Junie” is a nice blend of innocence, longing, and precociousness, and she has the audience on her side from the moment the lights come up.

Speaking of lights, Brian Ollom’s work as Technical Director plus light and sound designer and operator plays an enormous role. The dreamlike nature that reinforces the play’s allegorical intent is expressed almost completely with lighting, as set and props are starkly minimal. The play moves from farm to graveyard, home to river with not much more than a few boxes; it is Ollom’s lighting that really sets each scene (and his storm is authentically terrifying in its intensity). Viola Pruitt’s costumes help to anchor the show in its time period; despite its thematic progressiveness, we always know that on one level we are still in a 19th century farm town.

Anatomy of Gray is not a show you’re likely to see again for quite awhile, and this production will definitely enhance your understanding of how theater can tell multiple stories simultaneously. Ominski and her team have worked long, hard, and successfully to bring the play to local audiences, and they deserve a run of full-houses.


Mask & Mirror’s Anatomy of Gray is playing at “The Stage” at Calvin Church, 10445 SW Canterbury Lane, Tigard through May 21st, with shows at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2:00 p.m. on Sundays.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Twilight’s Latest More Fun Than A Barrell of Bridesmaids

Chelsea Read, Genevieve Larson, Morgan Lee, Danyelle Tinker, Adriana Gantzer, Emily Jeziorski


By Tina Arth

Note to self: NEVER sit between two experienced actors when reviewing a show. They will (guaranteed!) focus on the one feature of an otherwise fine show that doesn’t quite ring true – and once it’s been pointed out to the hapless reviewer, that one detail, no matter how trivial, will loom like a 500# gorilla. More on that later…

Twilight Theater’s Five Women Wearing the Same Dress lives right in the middle of my favorite nonmusical genre – dramedy. Unless you’re Neil Simon or Noel Coward, it can be tough to sustain two acts of straight comedy, no matter how wittily written. Serious drama dealing with important themes, but unleavened by a generous helping of humor, is often a bit overwhelming.  Playwright Alan Ball’s Five Women…  weaves topics like lesbianism, AIDS, child sexual abuse, bigotry, fundamentalist religion, promiscuity, and abortion into an otherwise hilariously irreverent tale of the horrors of bridesmaid’s dresses and the angst of the women condemned to wear them. While some of the language is a bit dated (one speaks of HIV these days, rather than AIDS) the fundamental story is pretty timeless.

Novice director Ilana Watson, explaining why she wanted to direct the play, points out that “there is not always a lot of variety for women on the stage, and not much opportunity to explore why women are who they are, much less explore all of the different ways there are to be a woman.” Watson’s cast members mine the script for all its worth, and despite their identical dresses (and godawful hats) by the end of the show the audience has no trouble differentiating between the five women and seeing them as individuals – just as the women come to see and understand each other.

The play is set entirely in the upstairs bedroom of the rebellious Meredith during the wedding reception of her older sister, Bridezilla Tracy. As the five bridesmaids come and go, we learn that they are hiding out upstairs as much as possible, uncomfortable with the wedding party downstairs; they dislike Tracy almost as much as their dresses; and they have plenty of issues with the wedding guests (in particular Tommy Valentine, a devilishly handsome but unseen Casanova who has slept with the majority of the bridal party, including the bride).  There are no weak links in the 6-person cast, so it’s difficult to call out any actors for special notice, but a few hit particularly high notes.

Danyelle Tinker (“Trisha”) is simultaneously the wildest of the five bridesmaids and the most sensible. Tinker give her character a breezy cynicism that precisely captures the role’s contradictions – she has matured since her bad-girl college days, but she has not lost the spirit of mischief and adventure that keeps her open to whatever comes her way.  Playing Mindy, the groom’s out-of-the-closet gay sister,  Emily Jeziorski delivers a fascinating performance, completely devoid of easy lesbian stereotypes. She seems completely comfortable with her sexuality, yet it’s not the defining feature of her life (perhaps a difficult feat in upper-class 1993 Tennessee) so she is able to bond unself-consciously with each of the women.

I feel slightly guilty choosing, as perhaps my favorite performer, Morgan Lee (the only male who actually appears onstage, as usher “Tripp”). In a play that’s really all about the women, he appears late in Act II and simply steals the rest of the show with his playful, witty, egalitarian and persistent pursuit of Trisha. Tinker and Lee instantly develop an on-stage chemistry that has the audience rooting for their budding romance/friendship – unlike all of the (unseen) male wedding guests, Tripp is obviously just a really nice guy, apparently devoid of the huge character flaws the women have found in the other men in their lives.

The costumes are predictably hideous – there would be no joke if Tracy had put her bridesmaids in less humiliating attire – and a lovely subtle touch is that Lee’s tie is a close color match to the clouds of bilious salmon in the dresses.  The set is simple and adequate to create the effect of a rebellious daughter’s lair in her wealthy parents’ home.  Now, for the gorilla: many scenes in the play involve one or more of the women looking out the bedroom window to the crowd of guests at the reception. There is a nice window upstage left, and at times the women peer out that window and discuss the scene below – but at other times, they face directly out at the audience while looking down and commenting.  Given the harsh realities of architecture, both windows cannot look down on the same group of people. Would I have noticed this without input from the folks in neighboring seats? Probably not, but once it was brought to my attention I could not get it out of my head.

Go see the show – it’s really, really funny, very touching, and Watson and her cast hit just the right notes of cynicism and hope. Just don’t think about those windows.


Twilight Theater Company’s Five Women Wearing the Same Dress is playing at the Performing Arts Theater, 7515 N. Brandon Avenue, Portland through Sunday, May 14th with performances at 8 P.M. Friday and Saturday and 3:00 P.M. Sunday. There is an additional performance Thursday, May 11th at 8:00 P.M.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Secret Garden Blooms at STAGES



By Tina Arth

Frances Hodgson Burnett’s beloved children’s novel The Secret Garden has blossomed in many forms since she first wrote it – in 1910 as a serial, in 1911 as a single novel, and countless times since as a movie, stage play, and musical. While the story is always oriented toward young audiences, some of the adaptations go the next step and are appropriate for productions run not only for children, but also by children – true educational children’s theater. The STAGES Performing Arts Youth Academy’s current offering fits neatly into this category. Producer Cindy Wilkins and Director William Crawford are practically the only adults with any involvement in the show (other than parents whose chauffeuring services are recognized several times in the program). Other than that, all major roles (on and off stage) are filled by teens and tweens, many of them doing multiple jobs as cast members and in design and production.

The story: young Mary Lennox (Tia Green), orphaned after her wealthy parents die of cholera in India, is sent to live with her Uncle Archibald Craven (Michael Koach) at his estate in Yorkshire. When he is at home, Craven lives in isolation, never having recovered from his grief at the loss of his wife; Mary’s care is entrusted to the stern housekeeper, Mrs. Medlock (Jessica Woolfolk). Mrs. Medlock basically restricts Mary to her room, barring her from exploring the rest of the house. A good-hearted maid, Martha Sowerby (Anika Hyatt), befriends Mary and expands her world, introducing her to the gardens and the moor.  Mary meets gardener Ben Weatherstaff (Damian Woodruff), who warns her away from one locked garden that has been hidden and deserted since Mr. Craven’s wife died. A helpful robin directs Mary to the garden’s lost key, and with the help of Martha’s brother Dickon (Cody Burkett) she secretly brings the lost garden back to life. In the meantime, Mary has discovered a bigger secret – in the forbidden part of the house, she finds young Colin Craven (Riley Reynolds), confined to his room and convinced that he is helplessly crippled. With Mary’s help and encouragement, Colin ventures out to the secret garden in his wheelchair, where Dickon and Mary show him that he can indeed walk. Not surprisingly, all turns out fine – Archibald is thrilled to see his son doing well, and the lovely garden is again open to view.

Green’s portrayal of Mary Lennox is impressive – she does a nice job with the upper class British accent, and she handles the transition from spoiled aristocratic brat to caring cousin and friend smoothly. Like many other cast members, she occasionally delivers her lines just a little too quickly; this, combined with the accent, means we lose a few of her words. Hyatt gives a first-class reading of Martha – she’s bubbly, talkative, and her Yorkshire accent is intentionally harder to understand (even Mary can’t always follow her) but she manages to sell every line.

Burkett’s “Dickon” and Woodruff’s “Weatherstaff” are an interesting pair – both love the earth and have a natural affinity for her creatures, but where Burkett is young, winningly elfin, bursting with energy and optimism, Woodruff at first appears to be a gruff and taciturn old man. In a story of transitions, Woodruff evolves neatly into an older version of Dickon who clearly shares his passion for all living things. The biggest transition by far is reserved for Reynolds, who has to move Colin’s character from a self-pitying, often hysterical whiner into a boy with hope, finally able to experience real friendship and a full life. The audience cannot help but first pity, then admire the young boy and the actor who portrays him.

Hope Edwards’ contribution demands special mention – her solo work on the flute not only introduces the show, it also highlights the shifting moods throughout, and adds immeasurably to the production.

Sets, costumes, and special effects are all primarily the work of STAGES kids. Hannah Vertner’s costume designs are detailed and appropriate, and Nathan Robinson’s work on lights and sound display a level of stagecraft well beyond what I might expect of a 13-year-old. The sets are mostly simple, but the garden wall (inside and out) is quite detailed, and the set design for the fully restored secret garden is stunning. The play is written with many short scenes, and although set changes are done quickly, the effect still makes the show seem a bit episodic – perhaps the audience should be required to rely more on imagination and suspension of disbelief to keep the story running smoothly.

The Secret Garden offers good, family-friendly entertainment and a solid grounding for the STAGES kids in all aspects of the theater arts. There are only three more performances to go – so rain or shine, pack up the whole family and head to HART Theatre next weekend!


STAGES’ production of The Secret Garden runs through Sunday, May 7th at HART Theatre, 185 SE Washington, Hillsboro with performances at 7:00 on Fridays and Saturdays and 2:00 on Sundays. 

Thursday, April 27, 2017

TITG”s Bright Superstar

Dan Bahr, Matthew Brown, Zachary Centers, Zachary Johnsen, Travis Schlegel.


By Tina Arth

When Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber first released Jesus Christ Superstar as an album in 1970, they could not have anticipated the effect this powerful rock opera would have on subsequent generations of theater lovers. Theatre in the Grove’s current offering is the latest in a long string of productions bringing the authors’ vision to the public, and it definitely merits its place in the august lineup. Director Ken Centers, music director Michelle Bahr, and choreographer Jeananne Kelsey have collaborated to give the show its own unique flavor while remaining generally faithful to the now-classic words and music of the original. Quite appropriately, the solo vocals are not always pretty – often imbued with a gritty individualism – while the ensemble work flawlessly mirrors the groupthink of the adoring crowds.

The entire story is told in song (like Lloyd Webber’s earlier Joseph, some rock, some pop); with no spoken dialogue, the show is truly an opera. Although set in ambiguously modern times (wardrobe, machine guns, even a man-bun) it revolves around the period leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion, seen primarily from the perspective of the title character and his betrayer, Judas Iscariot. Judas is angry – he sees Jesus as a man who has succumbed to his own hype, now betraying the original mission, and buying into the hero-worship of fans who view him as the King of the Jews.  Judas is also furious about Jesus’ relationship with Mary Magdalene – he believes that consorting with a woman in her profession opens them up to criticism and violates the group’s principles. Jesus is exhausted from the pressure of his role – he sums it all up in “Gethsemane” when he sings “I’m not as sure as when we started. Then I was inspired, now I’m sad and tired. Listen, surely I’ve exceeded expectations. Tried for three years, seems like thirty.” Both Jesus and Judas begin to realize that they are pawns of inexorable forces– one compelled to suffer and die for a cause he cannot fully grasp, the other compelled to betray his closest friend in order to bring the story to its tragic conclusion. The story deviates pretty significantly from the Biblical version(s), but in doing so it sheds a powerful light on the age-old dilemma of reconciling Jesus the man with Jesus the agent of God.

Matthew Brown (“Jesus”) eases gradually into his role – at first a tepid participant in the crowd’s worship, then overwhelmed and frantic in the leper scene – and when he cries out “Heal yourselves!” we cannot help but empathize with his plight.  While this depressed and downtrodden Jesus has bursts of strength (especially in “The Temple”) Brown does a fine job of conveying his character’s confusion, fear, and ultimate resignation to a fate he never sought. Micaiah “Ky” Fifer is just the opposite – from his first moment on stage he is bursting with furious energy as he tries in vain to steer his friend away from certain doom.  Fifer’s strident vocals (and bulging biceps) combine to define his persona, setting us up for his moving reprise of “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” and, ultimately, “Judas’ Death.” The third key character is Anna McKie (“Mary Magdalene”), who simply nails every song and scene in which she appears. She’s calm and caring, with a sinewy fragility that embodies both Mary’s femininity and her quiet strength. Her voice is lovely, and her delivery of “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” and “Everything’s All Right” are the perfect counter to Fifer’s pent-up rage.

Other particularly impressive and often fun portrayals (it may not be obvious, but there are lots of comic touches) are Zachary Centers’ “Caiaphas,” Travis Schlegel’s “Pontius Pilate,” Zachary Johnsen’s “Annas” and Jeannane Kelsey (sinuously eye-catching swiveling around in her black short-shorts).

Much of the show’s ambience is created through technology, done beautifully. The video screens give Zach Centers a disembodied eeriness and enhance Jesus’ death scene with gripping images of crucifixions, while the elevator cross injects a modernist note into a barbaric ancient practice. In some places, elaborate lighting effects create a carnival-like atmosphere that works perfectly for a mindless crowd.

The importance of Michelle Bahr’s work as both music director and conductor cannot be overstated. Synthesizer, guitar, flute, horns, drums and all the rest work together to support the vocalists and to introduce shifting moods as the show progresses through the story and through a variety of musical styles.

Audiences familiar with the original 1970 Jesus Christ Superstar album or the subsequent stage and movie versions will not be disappointed with Theatre in the Grove’s 2017 take, and newcomers should be converted into fans rushing to Amazon or YouTube to explore earlier executions of the work. The show runs only three weekends, and the best seats should go fast.

Jesus Christ Superstar is playing at Theatre in the Grove, 2028 Pacific Avenue, Forest Grove through May 7th, with performances Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m.









Tuesday, April 25, 2017

BCT’s Absurd Death By Design – Undemanding Fun

Greg Mansfield, Jemi Kostener Mansfield, and Sam Roberts


By Tina Arth

Beaverton Civic Theatre’s current offering, Death By Design, is a light-hearted murder-mystery-farce that asks little of its audience other than hearty enjoyment. The script, kind of a mash-up of Agatha Christie, Noel Coward, and the Marx Brothers (with just a touch of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?), is laden with clever one-liners, plot twists (some predictable, some not), and unabashed slapstick.  Director Susan Giberson has chosen her cast well, and directed them to go after every possible laugh like terriers with a rat’s nest – subtlety has little place on stage in this production.
Playwright Rob Urbinati’s story is set entirely in the living room of Cookham, an estate near London, in 1932. Fictional playwright Edward Bennett (Ira Korum) and his uber-diva actress wife, Sorel (Jemi Kostiner Mansfield) have retreated to their country house to lick their wounds after receiving devastatingly bad reviews on their latest play, each blaming the other for the show’s poor reception. The stage gradually fills with the arrival of unexpected and eccentric houseguests (plus the staff – a maid and chauffeur who provide a running commentary on the antics of their betters). A guest, the well-connected and lecherous politician Walter Pearce (Gregory Mansfield), is apparently slain; everyone is potentially a suspect, and it’s left to Bridget (Teresa Chrisinger), the maid and true-crime aficionado, to solve the mystery.
Korum and Kostiner Mansfield have the right chemistry to pull off their mercurial and sometimes violent relationship: when sparks fly, they may be passion or they may involve flying vases. Helped by copious quantities of whiskey, Korum is calmly sardonic throughout, despite his eccentric wardrobe choices that do nothing to disguise the wounds he has sustained from his wife’s frequent tantrums. Kostiner Mansfield moves smoothly from seductress to hellion, shifting from languor to fury in the blink of an eye. A personal favorite of mine is Eric (Sam Roberts), the fiery anti-establishment radical who inexplicably appears on the scene and spends the night hurling his social-justice warrior invective at rest of the cast.
The broadest physical comedy falls to Priscilla Howell (as the bohemian artiste Victoria Van Roth). Playing on the character’s unusual grooming choices, extraordinary dancing, and truly awful artworks, Howell succeeds in making us laugh (and groan) while repelling the houseguests (especially the uptight Pearce).
Chrisinger’s “Bridget” is the real star, and she dominates the stage (and the household) with a stolid Irish determination and a dose of common sense. Her accent is consistent (always a plus when dealing with British comedy), and her timing precise. Although she is often quietly perched stage left, the audience cannot help but watch her as she uses her mobile face to silently comment on the insanity around her; when she speaks, her sardonic disdain for her employers and their guests makes it clear that she is really in charge.
Lights, sound, costuming and technical effects all complement the scene - from the timing of the gunshot knocking down Van Roth’s beloved painting and the strobes that partially illuminate each potential murderer to the bizarre match between Sorel’s bright crimson hair color and the lavish draperies. These and dozens of other touches help to keep the comedy moving and provide an internal consistency to the absurd story.
Like many farces, the script and stagecraft sometimes wear thin in Act II – we know the characters’ quirks, we’ve seen the running gags one time too many – but Giberson has paced the show well; it runs under two hours with intermission, and this helps to keep the audience engaged. Urbinati has laced the show with enough witty throwaway lines to amuse an alert audience – I particularly enjoyed his prescient sporadic barbs about cuts in government funding for the arts. The show is generally PG-13 – appropriate for older children, although many of the best lines may be wasted on them.

Death By Design runs through Saturday, May 6th 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.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Gallery’s The Gin Game Darkly Powerful

Kathleen Silloway and Gary Romans


By Tina Arth

I rarely make the trek to Gallery Theater, as McMinnville is a hefty ride down the 99 from SW Portland – but their current production of The Gin Game was well worth the drive. Director Joe Silva and Co-Director Valerie Steele clearly understand this oddly compelling cautionary tale about the perils of aging, and they have drawn from their actors exactly the performances the material demands.

D. L. Colburn’s Pulitzer Prize winning 1976 play provides plum roles for two strong actors “of a certain age” - in this production, Gary Romans (Weller) and Kathleen Silloway (Fonsia). Like other shows that deal with the last act in our lives, The Gin Game delivers a hefty dose of laughter leavened with sadness, anger, and depression – but unlike many such shows, it reveals no convenient silver lining to warm our hearts as we exit the theater. Had I not been faced with the drive home, I might have been inspired to go in search of a spot of gin for myself (the beverage, not the card game).

The play revolves around two residents of the Bentley Nursing Home, old hand Weller and newcomer Fonsia. Unlike most of the home’s residents, these two are neither mentally nor physically impaired – they are just too old to live alone and apparently unwanted by neglectful relatives. Weller sums it up nicely: “I have one of the most advanced cases of old age in medical history.  The mortality rate’s incredible.” As the show progresses we get hints of the character traits that have contributed to their abandonment. They cling together over a three-week time span, at first united and ultimately divided by a series of card games (gin, naturally) that grow increasingly tense, until the final explosion leaves Weller, Fonsia, and the audience profoundly shaken.

Roman’s “Weller” is a wonderful mix of charm, persistence, impatience, anger and abusiveness, and he makes the most of every moment on stage. His comic and dramatic timing are superb, and he switches from one mood to another with Jekyll and Hyde-like precision.  Silloway’s “Fonsia” has an emotional subtlety that almost fools us into thinking that she’s just a sweet old lady, done wrong by an uncaring world – it takes time to penetrate her strategy (at cards and life). Each time she lays her cards down and says “gin” we come closer to understanding her passive-aggressively manipulative side; although she never really drops her pose of fragility and innocence, she gradually shows her hand.

James Steele’s set functions almost like a third character.  As silent nursing home attendant Jordan Mackor “fixes” the broken finial with chewing gum, breaks the flower pot, and props the window open with a roll of toilet paper we are drawn to the key details of a set – a lonely patio, cluttered with once-lovely touches now in the throes of inexorable decay - that functions as a detailed metaphor for the lives of Bentley’s inhabitants.

Co-directors Silva and Steele have paced the show nicely, bringing it in under two hours even with intermission.  Lighting designer Jason Alexander and (14 year old!) light board operator Kylee Longaker help create a variety of daytime and evening moods that complement and enhance the scene, accenting the characters’ changing emotional states.


The Gin Game is running at Gallery Theater, 210 NE Ford Street, McMinnville through Saturday, May 6 with performances at 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and Sunday matinees at 3:00 p.m.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

BEEHIVE Takes Broadway Rose By Storm



By Tina Arth

I always expect to be impressed by the quality of Broadway Rose productions, yet their current offering still surprised me. Like many of their shows on the smaller New Stage, Beehive isn’t really a play, it’s a concert garbed in a thin wraparound story, but this is by no means a criticism.  During the brief narrative moments (and the two songs specifically written for the musical) I was chafing for them to get back to the meat of the production – a 5-piece band and 6 female vocalists delivering stunningly accurate renditions of all or part of 39 popular songs from the 1960s.  Despite its name, the show is much more than a parody of the exaggerated hairstyles, wardrobes, kitsch and melodrama of artists like Shirley Ellis, Leslie Gore, Connie Francis, and the Shangri-Las.

Like the decade on which it is based, Beehive is divided into two sharply different segments. Act I reflects the innocent optimism attributed to the early ‘60s, with silly or self-absorbed numbers like “The Name Game,” “My Boyfriend’s Back,” and the triumphantly petty “Judy’s Turn to Cry.” Following intermission (which comes much too soon) the tone, much like the decade, is transformed. The harsh realities of the Kennedy assassination and civil rights movement contribute to darker moods and heavier themes, moving inexorably toward an awesome rendition of Janis Joplin’s “Ball and Chain.”

The 6 women who bring it (literally) to the stage are unbelievable. Their timing and harmonies are sharp, and they manage to emulate the original artists respectfully, lapsing only rarely into parody (sorry, Annette!). Narrator Alyssa Birrer sets the tone for both acts, as the audience’s cheerleader for “The Name Game” and opening Act II with the somber predictions of “The Beat Goes On.” Kayla Dixon has fun spoofing Annette Funicello and playing with Diana Ross’ well-known ego during the Supremes medley, but tears our hearts and hers out in the Tina Turner medley.

Andrea Enright masters several ‘60s genres including the haunting melodrama of “Remember” and the bubble-gum self-absorption of “It’s My Party” and “Judy’s Turn to Cry.” Her “You Don’t Own Me” is a wonder of nascent feminism, and she demonstrates the depth of her vocal soul in the “Natural Woman”/”Do Right Woman” medley. Malia Tippetts demonstrates a truly remarkable vocal (and acting) range: unbearably perky in “My Boyfriend’s Back,” dripping with pathos in “I’m Sorry,” channeling Petula Clark in “Don’t Sleep In the Subway,” then dragging us into the reality of racism with an exquisite “Society’s Child.” Janis Ian would be proud.  

Two performers, Antonia Darlene and Kristen Calvin, ultimately dominate the show with their work in Act II. Darlene’s “Respect” demands the audience cheering it receives, and her part of the “Natural Woman”/”Do Right Woman” medley is earthshaking – the perfect set-up for the final Janis Joplin medley. When Kristen Calvin first appears on stage in her Joplinesque hippie attire and exaggeratedly wild hair, the audience succumbs to brief moments of laughter; as a serious aficionado I was mildly annoyed by the sense of parody - then she launched herself into “Piece of My Heart” and I knew all was well. By the end of “Ball and Chain” I was swept up in the excitement that brought the audience to its feet to honor the 6 women (and Jeffrey Childs’ band) for a tour de force that transcends nostalgia. My only real complaint is that this was not a “real” concert, so we couldn’t clap and scream for encores.

Director Sharon Maroney, choreographer Dan Murphy, and costume designer Brynne Oster-Bainnson can bask in their successful recreation of so many iconic moments from one of our nation’s most turbulent and creative eras. Seats are going fast, so buy your tickets soon!


Beehive is playing at Broadway Rose’s New Stage, 12850 SW Grant Avenue, Tigard through Sunday, May 14th.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Funny, Funny Farm

 The cast of Born to Be a Cowboy.

By Tina Arth

In 5 years, and over 150 reviews including many youth productions, nothing quite prepared me for the Funny Farm Early Learning Center’s dinner theater production of Country Fair Jamboree. Despite seemingly insurmountable odds (including, most notably, a last-minute rescheduling from Friday night to Saturday afternoon for the one-time event) this remarkable group of staff, volunteers, and preschoolers proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that age is no barrier to immersion in the theater arts. Funny Farm doyennes Laura Rawlins and Marcy Wells (filling numerous roles as organizer, author, adapter, director, emcee, auctioneer, choreographer, and so much more) assembled a team so skilled and flexible that the 22-hour delay in opening the curtain caused no apparent snags, and Funny Farm parents, grandparents, and friends cheerfully reorganized their schedules to accommodate last Friday’s horrific windstorm and subsequent power outages.

Elouise Surmi and Axel Dubois
(as Cowboy Roy and Horse) 
If I counted right (several kids filled roles in different numbers) no fewer than 26 singing, dancing, acting preschoolers appeared on stage. They conclusively proved that they could master singing in unison (and in time with the music), blocking, dialogue, comic timing, and quick costume changes (for four musical numbers and three narrated dramas) like a bunch of tiny pros.  For most, it was their first time on stage – but it definitely will not be their last.  

Playing on the actors’ natural affinity for silliness made it possible for the cast to overcome potential stage fright and give it their enthusiastic all. Each number had its own unique charm, but while it is not easy to isolate specifics, I did have a few personal favorites. The Pie Song gave the kids their first chance to shine as individuals, and they made the most of it – they really rocked their pie faces! Born to Be a Cowboy incorporated Laura Rawlins’ skilled choreography – those of us challenged to chew gum and walk at the same time could only envy those singing, dancing little cowpokes. Axel Dubois, making his Funny Farm debut as “Cowboy Roy,” was articulate and earnest in his search for a steed. For me, the best moment in the show was when he finally located a horse (the captivating Elouise Surmi), disappeared backstage with horse and saddle, and emerged with the horse riding the cowboy – a nice plot twist, but more than that, an expression of the humane values so critical in early childhood education. 

Veteran Funny Farm performer Selina Applestill gave Axel stiff competition in the best acting category – her “Little Old Lady” was truly fearless, and kept her amazing array of followers on point. For sheer, unbridled fun nobody on stage could compete with Alex Thompson (also a veteran actor), whose “Duck” in Dooby Dooby Moo provided the perfect finale and kept the house (on and off stage) in stitches. I see a bright future for this young man as either an Elvis imitator or a flock leader – or maybe both.

On the adult side, Marcy Wells’ narration was brilliant – flexible, just slightly sardonic, and apparently (although not really) spontaneous, and her skill as an auctioneer deserves special mention. Marcy also gets credit (along with Margaret Farnsworth) for the fabulous costumes. Sets and scenery (Marcy and Margaret again, plus the multi-talented Chris Byrne) added immeasurably – I was particularly taken with the forest backdrop and the wonderful and flexible cornstalks.

One tiny note of criticism: I was surprised to see, in the (absolutely wonderful!) program, that folks were invited to get autographs from their “favorite actors and actresses.” In 2017, the gender distinction between male and female performers is becoming a linguistic anachronism, and I hope that Funny Farm considers moving to gender-neutral labels for future productions.


Funny Farm ELC’s production of Country Fair Jamboree played one performance only, on Saturday, April 8 in the Garden Home Recreation Center Auditorium. I strongly recommend that you buy your tickets early for next year’s show – this one was clearly a sell-out performance!