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 ingĂ©nue 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.