Friday, March 8, 2013


The villian, the damsel, and the hero from the play

By Tina Arth and Darrell Baker
There are a lot of different models for what a community theater can be, and fortunately Washington County provides homes to a tremendously diverse array of local stages. Based on How Sweet Was My Swamp, a good old-fashioned melodrama we saw Sunday night, it is safe to say that Tigard’s Mask & Mirror Community Theater fills a critical niche in the local theater scene. With the exception of one experience in the mid-1960’s, neither of us has ever seen a “community” theater group that so completely embraces the widest possible community.

How Sweet Was My Swamp adheres to the conventions of classic melodrama – complete with signs instructing us to boo, hiss, sigh, applaud, and throw (fake) tomatoes at the villains (or anyone whose bad pun earns our contempt). The only thing they do not instruct us to do is laugh, and the cast ensures that no sign is necessary. The plot is irrelevant – suffice it to say that there are scheming villains, a staunch and upright hero, a damsel in distress, two Brits and a passel of swamp-billies.

Clyde List and Jan Rosenthal (Sir Malcolm Beauchamp and Lady Bountiful Beauchamp), as two wildly misplaced British tourists, are hard-pressed to maintain a semblance of decorum amongst the primitives. Their stiff-upper-lip characters provide a distinct counterpoint to the rest of the cast, as they inexplicably accept the obviously unacceptable. The swamp-dwellers (ably portrayed by A. J. Taylor, Marilyn Peterson, Carolina Rios, and Adam Farnsworth) bring a back-woods fidelity to their stereotypical roles. Double kudos to Taylor for the aplomb with which he deflects tomatoes without missing a beat.

Ranger Harry Dangerfield (Casey Faupion) is a comic standout who manages to outdo Dudley Doright as he bounds heroically around the set. His counterpart, Mistress Dulcet (Amanda Mehl) plays “an orphan and delicate heroine” with appropriately heart-rending melodramatic pathos. John Bartholomew (Mansewer Jacques LeMort, Villain) and Amanda Jones (Miss Betty Noir, Sinistress and Receptionist) bring an abundance of serpentine menace to their roles – nasty and evil without going over-the-top, and just the sort of villains we all love to hate.

The evening’s tension might have been unbearable without the services of the traditional Olio performances, “designed to offer a respite from the action with some top-notch musical entertainment.” The three Olios (Nick Hamilton as Hamish Hamilton, Mimi Wilaki as Tap Dance Tillie, and Karen van Dyck as Whistling Wanda), while distinctly novelty acts, are surprisingly entertaining. Finally, there is “sign girl” Sarah Ominski, about whom Darrell could only say “there should have been more signs!”

From the moment we entered the auditorium, we felt welcomed into a warm community of theater-lovers – house staff, actors, Mask and Mirror Theater Singers, even our fellow audience members all seemed genuinely happy that we were there. Beginning the show with a sing-along is inspired, as it breaks the ice and allows the audience to uninhibitedly participate in the fun. Thanks to Director Gary Romans for overseeing the chaos; we are eagerly looking forward to Mask and Mirror’s May production of The Importance of Being Earnest.

How Sweet Was My Swamp runs Saturdays and Sundays through March 17th at “The Stage” at Calvin Church, 10445 SW Canterbury Lane, Tigard, 97224.

"Swamp" cast members pose in costume

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

2013 a “Suite” Year for BCT

 Deborah Leinen as diva Athena Sinclair in BCT's Suite Surrender

By Tina Arth and Darrell Baker
2013 looks like the year that Beaverton Civic Theatre really puts itself on the map. In January, we thoroughly enjoyed Director Doreen Lundberg’s remarkable 60-minute cutting of The Miracle Worker, which was entered in Oregon’s American Association of Community Theatre Festival. On February 2nd, in competition, this cutting garnered awards for directing, lighting design, and fight choreography, as well as the state-wide Best Actress Award for Hayley Rousselle’s portrayal of Helen Keller. Later this month Beaverton takes the show on the road as they advance to the regional competition in Richland, Washington.

 This heady success is followed by Suite Surrender, the first show of BCT’s fifth season. Friday night’s opening performance brought truly a full house – what a pleasure to be asked to move over a few seats to make room for the last arrivals! The next two hours flew by; perhaps the strongest cast we’ve seen on BCT’s stage kept the audience in stitches with playwright Michael McKeever’s hilarious WWII era comedy of errors.  In a nutshell, two aging actresses, bitter rivals, are accidentally placed in the same suite at a luxury hotel. Two befuddled bellhops, two secretaries, and one hotel manager are pushed to the brink by the challenge of keeping the divas apart. Slamming doors, a flying dog (stuffed, of course), a frequently concussed gossip columnist, star-crossed lovers, disappearing roses, and a fair amount of gin help to propel the story to its surprising conclusion.
Tony Smith as Otis and Aaron Morrow as Bernard S. Dunlap
 Aaron Morrow anchors the cast as hotel manager Bernard S. Dunlap. More than any other cast member, he bears the burden of somehow preventing the disaster looming on the horizon should the two actresses cross paths. As the show progresses, he moves from officious confidence to sweat-soaked anxiety with a deft comic sensibility. Both BCT veterans, bellhops Otis (Tony Smith) and Francis (Scott Kelly), give the best performances we have seen them deliver on local stages. Smith’s doddering, confused persona and distinctive phrasing create a uniquely appealing character. Kelly gives us a worldly and sardonic ingenue with a real flair for physical comedy. The hotel owner’s wife, Mrs. Osgood (Mary Weigel), is a star-struck social climber whose loud, shrill and pretentious delivery highlights her total lack of social grace. Her gauche behavior is more than matched by Jessica Reed as reporter Dora del Rio, who recognizes no boundaries and pays with numerous contusions.

Matthew Sunderland as Mr. Pippet
 The actresses’ two beleaguered personal secretaries carry a fair share of Suite Surrender’s comic load. Amanda Clark (as Murphy Stevens) utilizes her marvelously mobile face (those eyes!) to shift from panic and angst to love-struck ardor. Her counterpart Matthew Sunderland (Mr. Pippet), seemingly genderless and acutely aware of the extent to which he is underappreciated, is funny throughout but nowhere more than in the scene with Kelly and the red roses (go see the show for this, the biggest laugh of the evening).

Donna Haub as Claudia McFadden
Finally, the divas – two fine actresses, playing actresses acting. Deborah Leinen’s Athena Sinclair is a demanding cougar whose aversion to white roses is matched only by her affinity for self portraits and young men. Leinen’s broad delivery effectively captures the comic potential of the role. It is only the strength of the rest of the cast that prevents us from saying that Donna Haub (as Claudia McFadden) steals the show. She is dry, subtle, and acerbic – her timing is wonderful, and she is able with the lift of an eyebrow to create her wry, yet mysteriously likeable, character.

Director Kraig Williams shows a good eye for casting and character development, and he manages to walk the fine line between comedy and slapstick. He will be filling in as Mr. Pippet for the second week of the run, and we are tempted to see the show again just to find out how he will interpret the role. Production designer Marion Kessler and her crew of able assistants have created a beautiful set that accommodates a lot of action in the very limited space available.

Suite Surrender is on stage through Saturday, March 16th at the Beaverton City Library Auditorium.