Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Murder at Checkmate Manor – Farndale’s Finest Back in Town!

Tyler Buswell, Jeremy Sloan, Norman Wilson, Patrick Spike, and Arianne Jacques


By Tina Arth

The days are getting short, the nights cold and dark.  Our skies now sometimes shudder with thunder, and pounding rain is back in the picture.  Fear not – just in time to stave off an incapacitating bout of seasonal affective disorder, the bizarrely talented denizens of Bag and Baggage gallop to the rescue with The Farndale Avenue Housing Estate Townswomen’s Guild Dramatic Society’s Production of Murder at Checkmate Manor! Playwrights David McGillivray and Walter Zerlin Jr. have created just the right vehicle for director Scott Palmer’s somewhat quirky artistic sensibility, and B&B’s new theater, The Vault, is a perfect setting for this in-your-face cross-dressing farce. By the middle of act 2 my cheeks were numb from constant grinning (relieved only by frequent bursts of most unladylike cackling).

The show is a shameless exposé of the foibles of community theater – “what can go wrong, will” – writ large. Very, very large - almost as large as the unstoppable Mrs. Phoebe Reese (Patrick Spike, reprising the character he first foisted upon the good folks of Hillsboro in 2012). The untimely loss of a key actor means that Gordon the Stage Manager (Arianne Jacques) is drafted as part of the cast at the last minute, the unseen, exceptionally inept stage technician Adrian bumbles every cue, the “ladies” of the cast, with little mastery of their lines and no concept of blocking, are positively dripping with venomous rivalry, and the evening is punctuated with an endless stream of sight gags based on missing or misaligned props and set pieces (where IS that pesky staircase, anyway?). The plot, a very loosely woven British murder mystery, is almost irrelevant but provides a sturdy backdrop for the cast’s irrepressible comedic chops. In short, a British women’s theatrical group (longer in the tooth than talent) attempts to stage a murder mystery. Many people die. The identity and motive of the murderer are irrelevant. All of the actors are in drag (four men as women, one woman as a man). Nobody buys anything at the pre-intermission fashion show, but the bearded Jacques steals the show with her silver lamé gown. I get to drink red wine (through a straw!) inside the theater. The audience (myself included) loves every minute of it.

B&B newcomer Tyler Buswell (as Mrs. Felicity Fortescue, playing Pawn the Butler in a lovely blonde wig) is a joy to watch – how often do we get to see a man playing a woman playing a man?  However, the blonde bombshell trophy goes to Jeremy Sloan’s “Mrs. Mercedes Blower” – his long, lovely legs are accentuated by tasteful tennis attire, and his attempts at playing the ingénue are foiled by his incessant coy flirtation with any audience member in reach (when not preoccupied by his on-stage romance with the tiny Jacques). Spike’s explosively effusive  “Phoebe” contrasts nicely with Norman Wilson’s intense (and intensely disapproving) Mrs. Thelma Greenwood, whose glaring eyes and fixed moue are external signs of a rigid object apparently lodged in an unmentionable part of her (his?) anatomy.  The timing, expressions, and physical comedy from all five performers work to keep the show on the right side of the border between hilarious and ridiculous.

As one would expect with a deliberate train wreck of a show, the set and props are chaotic – a few rugs, chairs in the wrong places, a faux picture window that looks out on a series of cardboard backdrops reminiscent of pre-school theatrical productions, cocktail glasses glued to the tray, a nonexistent dog snoozing by the world’s cheapest fake fireplace. Melissa Heller’s costumes are perfect in their perfect absurdity, and the makeup design is too wonderful.

Scott Palmer, Assistant Director Cassie Greer, and the rest of the small army responsible for this Bag & Baggage offering hit every note right. It may be another five years or so before the fine ladies of Farndale Avenue come back across the pond – miss this gem at your peril!


The Farndale Avenue Housing Estate Townswomen’s Guild Dramatic Society’s Production Of Murder at Checkmate Manor is playing at The Vault, 350 E. Main Street, Hillsboro, through the end of October, with 7:30 p.m. performances October 19, 20, 21, 26, 27, 28, 30, 31 plus 2:00 p.m. shows on October 22 and 29. 

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

You Can’t Take It With You A Solid BCT Comic Hit

Gary Anderson, Dennis Proulx, Jeanine Stassens, and Benjamin Philip


By Tina Arth

In many ways, Beaverton Civic Theatre’s current production of Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman’s You Can’t It With You is simply another version of last year’s The Addams Family – but without the music. Both plays are terribly funny (although Kaufman and Hart’s show is by far the wittier of the two), both feature a naively quirky family, completely out of touch with reality despite living in the middle of New York City, and in each play a daughter falls in love with a “normal” guy and grapples with the problem of how to introduce her family to his.  However, your affection for last year’s production should not be used as a reason to skip the one running now – it’s just too funny to miss, and every bit as appropriate a mood-lifter now as it was during the Great Depression. Director Kraig Williams and his cast clearly had a lot of fun putting the show together, and the audiences are having just as much fun watching the result.

Set in 1936 New York City, the show revolves around the extraordinarily free spirited, naively self-indulgent family patriarch Martin Vanderhof, his daughter and son-in-law Penny and Paul Sycamore, the Sycamore’s daughters Alice and Essie, and a stage full of hangers-on who have somehow insinuated themselves into the household. Alice is the only “normal” in the whole bunch, and she finds herself engaged (and madly in love) with her boss’s son, Tony Kirby. Alice and Tony plan to bring the folks over for dinner to meet their future in-laws, who have promised to be on their very best behavior, but with the help of an alcoholic actress, a Russian bear of a ballet instructor, four G-Men, a Grand Duchess, and a host of others the evening turns a bit, well, chaotic. A mass arrest and a broken engagement ultimately work out okay after Grandpa convinces the Kirbys that they need to mellow out – after all, they have quite enough money, “you can’t take it with you,” and they need a lot more fun and less work in their lives.

While there are some variations in experience and expertise, overall the cast is very strong. However, a few actors in both lead and supporting roles really stand out. Gary Anderson (Martin Vanderhof) is marvelous – calm, superficially logical, seemingly an innocent who has found a way to live life on his own terms. His demeanor never rises above lukewarm, but his deceptive calm masks a wily old guy who demands our attention every time he chooses to speak. Patti Speight (Penny) is also a treat – a loving mother, wife and daughter, she convinces us that she is completely unaware of the absurdity of her approach to life (who becomes a playwright simply because a typewrite is accidentally delivered to the house?).

In supporting roles, Les Ico (as the maid’s boyfriend Donald), Jeanine Stassens (as the uptight Mrs. Kirby), and Diana LoVerso (as the inebriated actress Gay Wellington) are particularly effective in selling the laugh-out-loud humor in their roles.  Both Ico and LoVerso augment their exquisite timing with their mastery of physical comedy, and Stassens’ tightly wound persona unwinds so gradually that we hardly realize what’s happened until she has subtly given us way too much information about her desiccated love life.

It’s tough to know whom to credit for the set – the set consultant? The scenic artist? The painter? In any case, the lights come up on an exquisitely detailed, cluttered but somehow charming living room that accurately reflects the chaotic diversity of the home’s genuinely whacko inhabitants. 

Director Williams has done a fine job of keeping the farcical elements of You Can’t Take It With You from drowning out its subtler comic moments.  Although it’s a long show (almost three hours including two intermissions) it never drags, and is well worth a few hours of your time.


Beaverton Civic Theatre’s production of You Can’t Take It With You runs through Saturday, October 14th with performances at 7:30 PM Fridays and Saturdays, 2:00 PM on Sundays at the Beaverton City Library Auditorium.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

A Taste of Neverland in Forest Grove

 Molly (Emily Smith) fighting with Black Stache (Noel Oishi) with the cast looking on.


By Tina Arth


The word “charming,” when applied to a play, is often a reviewer’s analog to that death knell of blind dates, “a good personality.” Two more potential danger signals? Try “sweet” and “silly” on for size. However, Theater in the Grove’s production of Peter and the Starcatcher (a play by Rick Elice, based on the novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson) is charming, sweet, and silly – and so very much more. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Dave Barry is one of America’s funniest (and silliest) writers, and his comic style can be found all over the play. Director Jessica Reed and her cast have fully embraced the playful, childlike (but not childish) spirit of the story, and the result is a terribly funny, touching production that makes children giggle while reminding adults how much richer our lives are when we stay in touch with that little bit of Peter Pan and Wendy that lurks in the hearts of all but the most jaded grown-ups.

Did you ever wonder about Peter Pan’s backstory? How did he get to Neverland, why won’t he grow up, why can he fly, what’s up with Captain Hook and the crocodile, and so many other mysteries? Peter and the Starcatcher answers these and many more questions beautifully, with none of the dry, reality-based pragmatism sometimes imposed by adults attempting to explain away childhood’s magical moments.  The story is way too complex to summarize, yet simple enough that the kiddos in the audience have no trouble keeping up. In a nutshell, the play is an adventure on the docks of England, ships on the high seas, and on a faraway island. A nameless orphan boy finds an unexpected friend, the compassionate and strong Molly. Together, the two children (with a little help from their friends) outwit two different bands of evildoers, including the inept pirate Black Stache. In the end, a magical secret is kept safe and the world is (at least temporarily, I’m afraid) saved from unimaginable evil.  The tale give us the genesis of Peter and most of the other fascinating characters in Peter Pan, all delivered with a nice combination of broad humor and sly wit reminiscent of the most sophisticated Warner Brothers cartoons.

Young actors Canden Clement and Emily Smith have great chemistry as Peter and Wendy. Clement is defiantly pathetic at first, lashing out with palpable anger at everyone around him, but he gradually grows into the hero we know as Peter Pan. Smith shifts gracefully between three modes – friendship, leadership, and motherly, with just enough romance to keep it interesting but not enough to make it awkward. However, it is Noel Oishi (Black Stache) who really steals the show – his odd combination of flamboyance and self-absorption is delivered in a style that wanders from utterly deadpan to over-the-top, and his star turn as a mermaid (who knew they could tap dance?) is not to be missed.

Almost every cast member has at least one sparkling comic moment, but special notice is owed to Robin Michaels, William Ferguson (his Fighting Prawn is hysterical), Heidi Share, and the small but fierce Joanna Galvan. Also not to be missed is the lovely Prudence Dawes, a tiny scene-stealer if ever there was one.

The show’s aura of playful fantasy is set as soon as the lights come up with Leslie Crandall Dawes’ amazing set design – sometimes a pirate ship, sometimes a forested isle, sometimes an undersea grotto – but always a playground for the young at heart. Ward Ramsdell and Anne Kennedy’s lighting design is inspired and lovely, and Spencer Putnam manages the complex lighting cues like a pro. Hannah Early’s work at the keyboard and Brian Lacock’s work on drums add immeasurably to the entire production, providing a range of sound effects in addition to accompanying the musical numbers that pop up occasionally in the play.

If you have kids, take them – but if not, go see Peter and the Starcatcher anyway. It’s a rare treat, and a real ray of sunshine to help with some figuratively and literally dark days ahead.


Peter and the Starcatcher plays at Theatre in the Grove, 2028 Pacific Avenue, Forest Grove through October 15th with performances at 7:30 pm on Friday and Saturday and matinees at 2:30 pm on Sundays.

Friday, September 29, 2017

The Gondoliers: Another LOoPy Adventure

Tom Hamann, Becca Stuhlbarg, Anne Hubble and Rob Patrick


By Tina Arth

My first exposure to LOoP (Light Opera of Portland) – then called “The Dairyville Players” - was on stage in The Mikado at the Alpenrose Opera House in 2013 – not as a performer, but as part of the audience. At the time, the nascent group’s productions (and audiences) were so small that cast and patrons all fit easily onto the stage of the massive theater (with room to spare for the lone pianist).  LOoP’s current production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Gondoliers is a startling reminder of just how far this once–tiny band of performers has come in just a few years. An accomplished seven-person orchestra, 30+ cast members, and a satisfyingly large and enthusiastic audience greeted me at last Sunday’s matinee – clearly, contemporary Portlanders are dying to avail themselves of the joys of light opera, and LOoP director Dennis Britten is doing a great job of filling this need.

Like the majority of Gilbert and Sullivan’s work, 1889’s The Gondoliers tells a convoluted story filled with none-too-veiled ironic commentary on the politics and societal mores of England’s Victorian era.  Despite the 128 years that has elapsed since the show was first performed, the humorous critiques are shockingly apt today and resonate well with modern audiences – elitism, cronyism, nepotism, civil unrest, class warfare, intractable political divisions, and anti-democratic autocrats are all familiar features of modern society, and it’s delightful to see these topics skewered with melodic charm and wit.

The story revolves around newlywed gondoliers Giuseppe and Marco, who learn right after the weddings that one of them is the long-lost king of Barataria.  Barataria is in a mess, and needs leadership now – but the only person who knows which of the gondoliers is king is a missing foster mother. The Grand Inquisitor sends the men, both diehard republicans, off to rule Baritaria (sans their brides) jointly until the missing foster mother is found. He also reveals that one of the two is already married, having been wed in infancy to the fair Casilda (daughter of a Spanish nobleman, and madly in love with the servant Luiz). Things are finally sorted out with the arrival of the foster mother, who supplies a typical Gilbert and Sullivan twist that results in everybody living happily ever after.

The solo and ensemble work is often lovely, and always funny – this is definitely a show that requires serious comedic chops from the cast, and LOoP’s group earned an abundance of “bravos” from the audience for both their vocal and acting prowess. The show has an abundance of great roles, including leads Jacob Mott as Marco, John Kost as Giuseppe, Lindsey Lefler as Gianetta, Sheryl Wood as Tessa, Laurence Cox as The Grand Inquisitor, Rob Patrick as the Duke, Anne Hubble as the Duchess, Becca Stuhlbarg as Casilda, and Tom Hamman as Luiz. Hubble and Patrick share some wonderful comic moments, as do Wood and Kost, and Cox is having way too much fun creating the evil Inquisitor with his ominous bass, glowering sneers, and arrogant swagger.  Sara Rivera is only on stage for a few minutes in her role as Inez, the missing foster mother, but while she is there she captures 100% of the audience’s attention with her demented mezzo ranting and her appallingly funny lack of social grace. Special mention must go also to chorus member Gabrielle Widman, whose work on the castanets turns an already lively dance number into sheer delight.

The Gondoliers is only in town for one more weekend – if you are not already a fan of the genre, check it out and see if it changes your mind about light opera! By the way, be sure to take the time to read the director’s notes and glossary in the program – it’s well worth your time and you will undoubtedly learn a few things. Run time (with one intermission) is about 160 minutes.


Light Opera of Portland’s production of The Gondoliers is playing at the Alpenrose Opera House, 6149 SW Shattuck Rd., Portland through Sunday, October 1 with performances at 7:30 P.M. on Friday and Saturday and 3:30 P.M.  on Sunday.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Broadway Rose Helping to Blaze a New Trails



By Tina Arth

The Appalachian Trail stretches all the way from Georgia to Maine – about 2200 rugged miles of hiking. The road from germination to fruition for a piece of live theater is, in its own way, every bit as long and rocky as the Appalachian Trail. Broadway Rose’s production gives a huge boost to Trails, a new musical by Christy Hall, Jeff Thomson, and Jordan Mann – while allowing the audience to feel like they’ve gotten in at the start of an emotionally captivating dramatic work. Although we are not in on the earliest stages (the play has evolved through performances in New York and Issaquah since 2010), it still retains just a hint of the flavor of a work in progress, and one imagines the authors sitting in the theater busily scribbling notes about dialogue, lyrics, timing, pacing, musical arrangements, and audience reaction at every performance. That said, I can’t imagine that the authors would find many cringe-worthy moments in Director Brian Shnipper’s moving and evocative staging of their show.

Trails tells the story of Mike, Seth, and Amy, friends since childhood. The actors portray the three as children, teens, and (after many years of estrangement) in the present time. Long estranged, Mike comes back to town and he and Seth decide to complete a boyhood dream of hiking the entire Appalachian Trail. The two set out on a journey of 6 months, often bickering like children while confronting the demons of their pasts and gradually repairing their broken friendship. Along the way, they meet some forest rangers and a few other hikers who help them to define and clarify the next acts of their lives. It’s not, of course, that simple – Amy pops in and out of the scene and we learn that the friendship was also a love triangle, while Mike and Seth explore their respective feelings of loss (through abandonment and death). The other hikers illustrate the values of lives fully embraced, helping the men to see that at the age of 34 they are half way to 68, but it is not too late for them to shed the shackles of the past and begin to develop and realize dreams for their futures. I will graciously overlook the fact that they see 68 as being old; when I was 34 I undoubtedly felt the same way!

As always with Broadway Rose, the vocals, music, and arrangements are beautifully executed – the harmonies are elaborate and powerful, and the sometimes haunting, sometimes upbeat solos allow each character a full range of expression. Each of the three forest rangers is given a second part (with vocal solo) that directly addresses the story’s themes. Two fine numbers are by a couple of gutsy, confident women who have each found the courage to grab the lives they want. Quinlan Fitzgerald (“Ranger Molly” and “Faith”) simply bubbles with glee about her impending engagement, and her “Places In Between” is a spine-tingling anthem to love, beauty, and the ability to not just live, but to revel, in the moment. Danielle Weathers (“Ranger Rhonda” and “Mama Harley”) is equally stunning delivering “The Road Is My Home” and her free-spirited plea that we must not mire ourselves in the past when there is so much world out there to be seen. The messages might seem hackneyed in dialogue, but they have amazing resonance and endurance when expressed in song. Kevin-Michael Moore  (“Ranger Dan” and “Virgil”) illustrates the alternative in his gravelly, mountain man rendition of “Purgatory Blues,” a boozily hard-hitting tale of his search for escape from past pain through sweating out the trail.

Of the three principals, Rachel Lewis (“Amy”) does the best job of switching from between childhood and maturity – just picking up a stick or donning an imaginary tiara is all it takes for her to become the bossy little girl who has set the whole show in motion. Her clear soprano flawlessly captures the intersection between dreams and reality in the lovely “Miles of Time” and we have no trouble understanding why both Seth and Mike are ensnared by memories of this charming woman/child.

Michael Morrow Hammack (as the overachieving lawyer “Mike”) and Joel Walker (as the home-bound underachiever “Seth”) are a little harder to buy as young boys, but since most of their stage time is dedicated to their adult relationship it’s really not a problem.  Hammack’s “The One That Got Away” tells a ubiquitous tale of lost love with painful honesty and directness; we can all relate to his plaintive “and I’m missing both the lover and the friend.” Of all the characters, it is Joel Walker’s “Seth” who most tugs at our hearts as he works through a lifetime of loss and of lost opportunities – he mixes anger, despair and bereavement to create a truly memorable character.

The band (under the direction of pianist Eric Nordin) is superb, and they move easily through the shows shifting musical genres. Much of the play’s magic derives from the vision of director Shnipper, scenic designer Emily Wilken (the set is truly lovely, and the rotating platform a perfect way to allow for long hikes on a short stage) and Carl Faber’s often breathtaking lighting design.

As mentioned before, this is a new play – while it is fine in its current form, some song lyrics are a bit simplistic or weighed down with forced rhymes (“loam” is something of a stretch when paired with “home”). That said, the Broadway Rose take on Trails is well worth a visit; the evocative music and siren call of the open road more than compensate for any minor issues.

Trails” is playing at the Broadway Rose New Stage Theater, 12850 SW Grant Avenue, Tigard through Sunday, October 22nd with performances at 7:30 pm on Thursday, Friday and Saturday and 2:00 pm matinees on Saturday and Sunday. An additional performance will be held at 2:00 pm on Thursday, October 19th.

Friday, September 15, 2017

See How They Run – Off to a Good Run

Chris Byrne, Erin Bickler, and Jason Fox


By Tina Arth

In my book, HART’s current production, Philip King’s classic British farce See How They Run, begins with two strikes against it – I am not a big fan of the genre, and British humor often leaves me cold.  Once the door is opened for slapstick comedy, community theater productions are notorious for going over the top, obliterating the fine line between silly fun and total train wreck. Thus I was quite shocked to find that HART’s offering manages to hit a home run – it’s really funny, and it just made me laugh. A lot. Even the best script can only succeed when there is a careful mixture of solid comic timing, absurd physical comedy, and a director willing to impose some restraint on the cast when they cross the line, as they inevitably will. Happily, Director William Crawford picked the right actors and he lets them mine their roles for maximum humor, but the show never descends into madcap buffoonery.

The premise is, of course, utterly silly. It’s 1949 (updated slightly from the original 1943), and the young and lovely American actress Penelope Toop has scandalized the tiny village of Merton-cum-Middlewick by marrying the local vicar, Rev. Lionel Toop.  Local spinster/prude Miss Skillon, having set her cap for the vicar, is particularly outraged. Send the vicar away temporarily, add in an American soldier, another reverend, a Bishop, a Russian spy, (all eventually adorned in clerical garb), an officious if clueless policeman, a wonderfully clever and irreverent maid, and lots of doors and the ingredients are in place for the mistaken identities, near misses, and general mayhem (including a great deal of actual running) that are essential to full-fledged farce.

Technically, the show’s leads are probably Penelope (Kaitlynn Baugh) and Corporal Clive Winton (Blaine Vincent III) – and certainly both do a great job. In a romantic comedy, they would be the fresh-faced ingénue couple that winds up together at the end of Act II. However, in this farce Penelope is happily married – so the great chemistry between this pair is channeled into friendship punctuated by enough bickering to make it clear that there will be no hanky-panky. Reverend Toop (Jason Fox) plays the classic innocent, accentuated by the fact that he spends most of the play in his underwear, and much of it locked in the closet with the love-stricken Miss Skillon.

The best roles go to Miss Skillon (Erin Bickler) and the maid, Ida (Chris Byrne). These two fierce comediennes attack every scene with such commitment that they seem to be vying for the title of Best Actor. Bickler’s piercing, consistently outraged voice and physical fearlessness (she reminds me of the great Joan Davis and may, in fact, be made of unbreakable rubber) keep the audience in stitches, and she makes a great drunk. Byrne uses her mobile face, snide affect, and exquisite timing to steal the scene every time she appears – and when she and Bickler share the stage it’s tough to know just who to watch.

The chase scenes would seem overdone if they were the sole focus, but both Ida and Penelope maintain a façade of “business as usual” while up to five real and faux-clerics tear around the set, leaping over Miss Skillon’s prostrate form  - the timing and blocking are exquisite when she’s there, and even funnier when she is gone but they keep leaping.

Director Crawford also designed the lovely and detailed set, made even finer by the stone fireplace (courtesy of Woody Woodbury) so realistic that some audience members sneaked onto the stage at the end of the evening just to check it out.  Chris Byrne’s costumes (in particular, Ida’s polka dot dress and the flowing trousers on Penelope and Miss Skillon) work beautifully to establish the time, place, and social caste of each character.

HART’s theme this season is “Laugh Along With HART” – See How They Run is a great beginning!


See How They Run is playing at the HART Theatre, 185 SE Washington, Hillsboro through September 24th, with performances at 7:30 on Fridays and Saturdays and 2:00 on Sundays. 

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Twilight Tackles Big Pharma With Rx

By Tina Arth

 Leslie Inmon and Zero Feeney
Photo by Alicia Turvin
North Portland’s Twilight Theater Company can usually be relied on to surprise me with its eccentric offerings, but the opening moments of their current show, Rx, left me a little nervous. I was not expecting the lights to go up on an otherwise pretty woman in a pretty dreadful blonde wig, baring her midriff like Daisy Mae Yokum while bravely attempting to sing Dolly Parton’s classic “9 to 5.” However, the inexplicably awkward intro was quickly followed by an amazingly funny, smartly written satire performed by a fine cast who simply litter the stage with brilliant moments. Author Kate Fodor, mining the world of pharmaceutical development and sales, uncovers a mother lode of both comedy and social commentary. Co-directors Jo Strom Lane and Samuel Ruble have assembled a cast able to adroitly work with some very sharp comedy, warm us with a bit of gentle romance, and use both to deliver the show’s message.

The premise is easy to relate to – at least, all of us who have ever been unhappy with our jobs. What if workplace discontent were not a necessary fact of life, or possibly a sign of an intractably bad attitude? What if it were, instead, a diagnosable form of depression that could be treated with a little pill? In Rx, the hard working researchers and merciless marketing execs at Schmidt Pharmaceuticals are testing just such a drug, cleverly named SP 925 (“nine to five” – get it?).  Meena Pierotti, managing editor in the piggeries division of American Cattle and Swine Magazine, is a test subject in the SP 925 drug trial, under the care of researcher Dr. Phil Gray. Meena copes with her workplace malaise by regularly indulging in crying jags in the old ladies’ underwear department at the Bon-Ton Department Store. Drawn together by their mutual misery (Meena is at heart a talented poet, Phil wants to save third-world lives as part of the Flying Physicians program) the ingredients are there for a beautiful relationship – until, of course, problems arise. Beneath the extraordinarily droll and witty dialogue, Fodor tells a story about the importance of human relationships, risk, and the dangers of turning too quickly to pharmaceuticals to pave over dilemmas that are necessary components of the human condition.

While there are some fun cameos, the show really belongs to three actors: Leslie Inmon (“Meena”), Zero Feeney (“Phil”), and Jayne Furlong (“Allison,” the passionately cutthroat marketing director).  Inmon’s direct, in-your-face style gives Meena’s confused persona an interesting twist – even when she’s at her lowest, she’s never whiny or weak, and there’s an undertone of lovable optimism that she just can’t shake. “Phil” may be the logical scientist, but Feeney gives his character a consistently awkward and loveable sensitivity that quickly endears him to the audience (if not, initially, to Meena). The chemistry between the two leads is palpable, but not sexual – it’s more like they are lost and each finds salvation and understanding, rather than passion, from the other. Jayne Furlong ‘s “Allison” is perhaps the most fun role, but it presents a special challenge.  Allison is 100% parody, and Furlong delivers the broadest satire – her enthusiasm for marketing runs the gamut from perkily gung-ho to positively orgasmic. Her timing and inflection are marvelous, but the real strength of her performance is that she plays it straight, without a hint of the over-the-top self-consciousness that so often destroys comic performance.

Among the rest of the very solid cast, two performances absolutely must be mentioned. Timothy Busch (as outside marketer “Richard”) is wonderfully droll in his fervor for an ad campaign to push Thriveon, his slick re-branding of SP 925, and his deadpan reception of Phil’s suggestion that they try Surviveon instead is stunningly underplayed. Rhona Klein moves  unflappably from helpless to giddy, and finally to stoically accepting, as the old lady Meena meets and inspires in the Bon-Ton lingerie aisle.

The set is striking in stark black and white, and flexible enough to quickly accommodate the numerous scene changes.  However, the story would work just as well with a slight reduction in props (extraneous chairs, wastebaskets, etc.) and the changes might seem less chaotic with fewer items to move. However, this (like the faux-Dolly Parton intro) is a minor complaint, and really doesn’t materially detract from an overall fine and terribly funny production. Like many Twilight productions, Rx is not appropriate for children due to both language and several adult-themed moments.


Twilight Theater Company’s Rx is playing at the Performing Arts Theater, 7515 N. Brandon Avenue, Portland through Sunday, September 24th with performances at 8 P.M. Friday and Saturday and 3:00 P.M. on Sunday. There will be an additional performance at 8:00 P.M. on Thursday, September 21st.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Bag & Baggage Finally Opening “The Vault”

Kymberli Colbourne and Andrew Beck
Photo by Casey Campbell Photography


By Tina Arth

The long-anticipated opening of Bag & Baggage’s new performance space is finally here, and it was definitely worth the wait. Artistic Director Scott Palmer’s choice to present Rebecca Gilman’s Spinning Into Butter for the inaugural show is truly inspired. The theater company’s motto: “Real. Provocative. Theatre.” takes on new shades of meaning when an overwhelmingly white, upper middle class audience spends 2+ hours watching a play about white people who are grappling with racism without actually interacting with any people of color. Capitalizing on the flexibility of the company’s new space (btw, The Vault is awesome!), the production is done as theatre in the round, which drives home even more powerfully the ethnic homogeneity of the audience – while watching the play, each of the four sections can simultaneously observe the faces of 75% of the people in the room.

The title Spinning Into Butter refers to the long verboten The Story of Little Black Sambo. Set in a fictional small liberal arts college in Vermont, the play explores the campus community’s extremely tone-deaf response when Simon, one of the few African-American students on campus, receives a series of overtly racist anonymous letters. The reactions of Dean of Students Sarah Daniels, three other faculty/administrators, and a self-absorbed pre-law student reveal the self-delusion and hypocrisy of a pretentiously liberal academic elite; the well-grounded blue-collar campus cop provides the only voice of genuine compassion and sanity. As Dean Daniels explores (and ultimately reveals in a wonderful monologue) her almost-invisible but deeply rooted racism, we eventually see that her ardent if somewhat misguided efforts to provide scholarship support to talented Nuyorican (look it up!) student Patrick Chibas are her way of compensating. Few people in the opening night audience could honestly deny sharing some of Daniels’ thoughts – the production lives up to the “Provocative“ challenge by forcing us to confront this truth about ourselves and our neighbors. Despite the weighty topics, the show is neither preachy, didactic, nor humorless – in fact, it is often quite funny, and consistently engaging and entertaining.

Kymberli Colbourne’s “Sarah Daniels” carries the message, weight, and charm of the show on her shoulders, and she does it flawlessly.  In a play laden with sometimes narrow stereotypes, she is utterly authentic and as multidimensional as only a real, conflicted character can be. Whether she is defiantly sharing her contempt for Toni Morrison’s work, explaining in detail her criteria for selecting her seatmates on public transit, or railing against idealization as just another form of condescension, she elegantly expresses facets of our society’s tortured relationship to race and political correctness.  The other fully realized character is Andrew Beck, as Sarah’s lover “Ross.” Beck evolves from a one-dimensional, hypocritical, bombastic liberal into an actual human capable of offering real understanding (both to Sarah, and about the situation) in place of knee-jerk platitudes.

The audience’s ability to empathize with Sarah is bolstered by two other key characters, Peter Schuyler (as the almost-unbelievably self-righteous Professor Patrick Strauss) and Morgan Cox (as Dean Catherine Kenney, the poster child for connivingly pragmatic administrators).  Rusty Tennant (as cop Mr. Meyers) fills a completely different role – that of the (idealized, but still somewhat believable) good-hearted blue-collar guy who’s naturally superior to the faculty elite. Tennant manages in a few lines about a bathroom soap dispenser to convey a glimpse of hope for a post-racial society, and he delivers the lines so casually that we only realize upon reflection what we have heard. The two students in the play, Nuyorican Patrick Chibas (Carlos-Zenen Trujillo) and pre-law WASP Greg Sullivan (Phillip J. Berns) also offer a ray of hope; not yet fully cooked, they subtly offer a potential for incremental change.

The set consists only of a door, one long conference table, an easy chair and a bookcase – all that is necessary to allow the actors to tell the story in a way that offers fair vantage points to the entire audience, although some tenants of south wall seating are unable to see the activity at the door. Palmer moves his actors around constantly, and the realism of watching the cast actually speaking to each other, rather than cheating to face the audience, more than compensates for any temporarily impaired sightlines. The Vault is more of a performance space than a classic theater, and Spinning Into Butter illustrates just one of the many ways that the flexibility of Hillsboro’s newest stage can enrich the community.


Spinning Into Butter is playing at The Vault, 350 E. Main Street, Hillsboro, through Sunday, September 24 with performances Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. The performance on Thursday, September 14 is “pay what you will.”

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.