Monday, April 29, 2013


The cast of Steel Magnolias at Beaverton Civic Theatre
Photos by Ammon Riley
By Tina Arth and Darrell Baker
Beaverton Civic Theatre’s second show of the season, Steel Magnolias, is further evidence that 2013 is going to be a great year for this company. The show is a community theater favorite, and for good reason – there are six great roles for strong women, and the set is minimal since the entire show takes place (over an 18-month period) in Truvy’s, a Louisiana beauty parlor catering to a select clientele of wealthy but eccentric local women (none of your “Kut and Kurl” Kwickies here!). Audiences come already somewhat familiar with the story, courtesy of the hit movie, and the actors get to deliver lots of snappy Southern humor but still have the opportunity to deal with serious dramatic themes. Director Tony Bump has taken the show’s potential and actualized it into a really solid dramedy that keeps the audience laughing where they should laugh, while bringing them close to tears in key scenes.

Rebecca Cline as Annelle
Truvy (Arleen Daugherty) anchors the show as the owner of “Truvy’s Beauty” (slogan: “There is no such thing as natural beauty!”). More than a beautician, she is confidante and hostess to a group of wealthy and eccentric long-time friends who meet every Saturday to gossip while Truvy and her assistant, Annelle (Rebecca Cline) cut, color, roll and tease them into shape for the week to come. Daugherty walks a fine line – she manages to convey a working-class background while still seeming socially equal to her clientele/friends, and she delivers some of the evening’s best one-liners. The role of white trash is left to Annelle, Truvy’s new assistant who stumbles into the shop in search of a job to take the place of her lost husband and home. Cline manages Annelle’s transition from naïve wallflower to born-again zealot with comic aplomb, and her silent prayers in Act II provide some gentle humor.

April Hendricks and Jeneé Fahndrich portray mother M’Lynn Eatenton and her daughter, Shelby. The story revolves around Shelby’s transition from fiancée to wife to mother and beyond. Fahndrich plays Shelby with a perfect mixture of strength and vulnerability as she refuses to bend to her mother’s will and the physical limitations imposed by her debilitating diabetic condition. Her Act I seizure and subsequent physical decline are handled believably, without undue histrionics. Hendricks displays the widest emotional range in the cast, displaying more than any other character the steely, stiff-upper lip code of her cohort until the end, when for a few minutes she lets down her façade of control and succumbs to the agony of losing her daughter.

April Hendricks as M’Lynn Eatenton
Ouiser (Lauren Bronson) and Clairee (Jane Vogel) provide constant comic relief, and it is their unwavering friendship that gives M’Lynn a lifeline when she finally cracks. Both actresses have great timing and delivery, and they get the lion’s share of the evening’s laughs.

The set is effective – just elaborate and tacky enough to convey the ambience of a Southern beauty parlor. Costumes were appropriate to the characters’ personalities, and really enhanced the production. Opening night, scene changes in both acts were a bit awkward, possibly because of simultaneous costume changes. This minor glitch may be smoother in future performances, but in any case in no way diminished the full-house audience’s appreciation of the show.

Beaverton Civic Theatre is presenting Steel Magnolias through Sunday, May 12th at the Beaverton City Library Auditorium. Ticket and show information is available at

The set of Steel Magnolias

Monday, April 22, 2013

Crazy About Always…Patsy Cline

Photo by Craig Mitchelldyer
Pictured is Sara Catherine Wheatley as Patsy Cline
By Tina Arth and Darrell Baker
Is Broadway Rose’s current production of Always…Patsy Cline a two-person musical, or is it a country/pop concert with a dynamite vocalist and an ass-kickin’ band? Yes, it is. Should you go see it, even if your musical tastes generally run to loftier genres? Yes, you should.

First, a brief history lesson. Fifty years ago, thirty-year-old Patsy Cline was killed in a plane crash. Twenty-five years ago, Ted Swindley’s Always…Patsy Cline made its stage debut in Houston, Texas. Three years ago, Broadway Rose Theatre Company brought the show to town. Last week, they brought it back. Good for them, good for us.

Photo by Craig Mitchelldyer
Pictured is Sara Catherine Wheatley and Sharon Maroney
The show is based on the real-life relationship between Patsy Cline and an ardent fan, Louise Seger. Louise fell in love with Patsy’s music after hearing her on the Arthur Godfrey Show, and spent one night as Patsy’s self-appointed manager and hostess that led to a lasting friendship between the two women. The story is told by Louise talking directly to the audience, direct conversations between Louise and Patsy, Louise’s imagination, Patsy and Louise interacting with the band, and of course the twenty-eight songs that Patsy sings in a foot-stomping couple of hours.

Alabama native Sarah Catherine Wheatley (Patsy Cline) is simply amazing. We loved her two years ago as Annie Oakley, but Patsy is the role she was born to play. Wheatley’s vocal ability and stage presence recreate the magic that can only be experienced when a first-rate performer is seen live – recordings just do not capture the exuberance or the intimacy that we imagine Patsy Cline must have brought to the stage. Remarkably, Wheatley achieves this without overt imitation – her vocal style, while reminiscent of Cline’s, is distinctly her own, and she actually has a more solid singing voice (particularly in her lower register) than the character she portrays.

Photo by Craig Mitchelldyer
Pictured is Sharon Maroney and Sara Catherine Wheatley
Sharon Maroney (as Louise) is by no means a secondary character. She serves as a “Greek Chorus” who narrates the events of Patsy’s life, but it is really the evening that the two women spend together that shows the audience Patsy Cline’s human face. Maroney is hilarious as the working-class divorcee who befriends the star and drags her home for bacon and eggs after a 1961 performance. The two women have a common bond of children, ex-husbands, and optimism tempered with a healthy dose of crusty cynicism. Despite her outlandish wardrobe, occasional bumps and grinds, “impromptu” duets, and loud and wisecracking delivery, Maroney demonstrates just enough restraint that she never upstages her idol. Both Maroney and Wheatley are obviously having a great time with each other and with the band (listen to the 1961 Tulsa concert, available on CD, to get a sense of how Patsy’s down-to-earth attitude cements her relationship with the musicians).

Speaking of the band – they are great performers who really “get” the down-home feel of the era’s country music. Musical director/conductor/pianist Barney Stein has done an incredible job – Bob Wills would have been proud to work with this group of musicians. The band’s subtle but effective vocal harmonies add an unexpected and welcome touch.

Director Chan Harris has assembled a support team that creates just the right atmosphere. The versatile set works beautifully (who knew an oven could be a juke-box?), costumes are faithful to the period, and the sound, lighting, and special effects are flawless. A wildly enthusiastic full-house audience gave not one, but two, standing ovations – both resoundingly well-deserved.

Always…Patsy Cline is playing at Broadway Rose’s New Stage, 12850 SW Grant Avenue, Tigard through May 19th.

Photo by Craig Mitchelldyer
Pictured is Sharon Maroney and Sara Catherine Wheatley

Monday, April 8, 2013


Once again, Washington County’s rich theater community has introduced us to a show we’ve never seen – this time, Theatre in the Grove’s production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee – and it is well worth the drive to Forest Grove. A small-time spelling bee seems an unlikely subject for musical comedy, but director Zach Centers and his nine-person cast (all adults, and aided by three somewhat befuddled audience members) deliver two hours of fast-paced humor, pathos, and angst that manages to preserve some of the improvisational flavor of the show’s origin.

The story centers on six eccentric schoolchildren (of indeterminate ages) who are competing in the fictional Putnam County’s annual spelling bee. Last year’s winner, Chip, is a somewhat hyperactive boy scout who is competing against Logainne, a young girl being raised by her two fathers, Leaf, a dim and insecure boy who yearns for his family’s acceptance, William, an obsessively competitive nerd, Marcy, a perennially and parentally driven overachiever, and Olive, an impoverished but optimistic lost soul wending her way through life with little parental support. The competition is ill-managed by three pseudo-adults – Rona Lisa Peretti, who will never recapture the long-lost glory of her own spelling bee victory, angry and frustrated Vice Principal Panch, who will never be a principal (or very bright), and surprisingly empathetic Mitch Mahoney, the unlikely ex-con “comfort counselor” working off his community service hours by handing out hugs and juice boxes to eliminated contestants.

In a cast with no weak links, a few performances really demand special recognition. Brittney Spady (as Logainne Schwartzandgrubenniere) is by far the most successful at capturing the essence of awkward childhood. Her unusual lisp and effervescent outlook combine to capture the persona of a truly nice little girl.  In contrast, Jason Yates (Vice Principal Panch) does a great job of portraying the classic public school martinet – everything by the book; what little power he has comes from dominating the weak. His stunning transformation at the end of the bee gives us hope that even the coldest bureaucrat may harbor some human tendencies. Brittany Bickel (as Olive Ostrovsky) really sells the whole show – her poignant enthusiasm provides a stark counterpoint to the “win at any cost” ethic of the competition, and the audience, like Panch, ultimately falls in love with this sensitive underdog.

Vocal director Justin Canfield (who also plays William) draws strong ensemble work as well as interesting solo performances (some lovely, some deliberately quite awful) from the cast.  The small but mighty orchestra, conducted by Alicia Barrett, provides just the right musical touch – ranging from barely discernible to strident depending on the demands of the moment. Light designer Ward Ramsdell makes it possible for the cast to shift from high school gymnasium to intimate flashbacks and dreamlike spots.

TITG mainstay Zachary Centers (who served as costume and set designer in addition to his directorial role) has succeeded in capturing an often hilarious episode in the lives of  his “children” that shows them negotiating the tricky waters between childhood innocence and  adult realities (some of which render the show inappropriate for very young children). The Bee has two more weeks to run, and anyone who enjoys live musical theater will find a lot to like about this remarkable production.

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is playing at Theatre in the Grove, 2028 Pacific Avenue, Forest Grove through April 21st with performances Friday and Saturday at 8:00 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 2:30 p.m.


Monday, April 1, 2013

Spring Brings a Midsummer Night’s Dream to the HART


By Tina Arth and Darrell Baker
It takes a lot of courage for a director to tackle Shakespeare, because it is unlikely that anyone will enter the theater with a truly open mind, prepared to enjoy the production on its own merits. Part of the potential audience is prepared to be impressed by the lofty art of The Great Man, and thus willing to overlook a multitude of sins in pursuit of “culture.” Another group (if they enter at all!) harbors the suspicion that Shakespeare’s work is vastly overrated by gullible culture seekers (see above!) and really not worth all of the fuss. A final group, some slightly warped in high school and others fully deformed by college English Lit classes, approach Shakespeare as literature, to be analyzed and dissected over the course of a tortuously long term.

That said, thanks to Director Paul Roder for bringing a thoroughly entertaining production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream to Hillsboro’s H.A.R.T. Theatre. With the help of a small army (cast, sets, sound, lighting, costumes, make-up, choreography and more) Roder creates a magical and timeless world where fantasy reigneth supreme, and common sense ‘tis but a folly.

In what is arguably Shakespeare’s best-loved comedy, three worlds collide – The Fairy World, The Court of Athens, and The Rude Mechanicals (a troupe of extraordinarily inept actors). Theseus, Duke of Athens, eagerly awaits his marriage to Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons. Two young men, Demetrius and Lysander, are both in love with Hermia. Hermia is enamored of Lysander, but betrothed by her father Egeus to Demetrius. Hermia’s friend Helena adores Demetrius and pursues him relentlessly, but to no avail. The Rude Mechanicals are preparing a play to present at the nuptials, in hopes of earning a 6-pnce/day annuity from the Duke. In the meantime Oberon, King of the Fairies, is estranged from Fairy Queen Titania due to perceived mutual infidelities. Young lovers make assignations in the woods while playful Puck prepares potions to punish Titania and realign the star-crossed lovers. Hijinks ensue, and as demanded by the comic medium, everything works out in the end.

The Fairy World is peopled by a charming ensemble of young girls whose enthusiastic flitting, dancing, harp playing, and giggling lead us into the magic of the play. Oberon (Laurence Cox) and Titania (Jody Spradlin) are both veteran actors, able to guide the audience through the nonsensical complexity of their story. Cox does double duty, shifting from Oberon’s masterful presence to Rude Mechanicals buffoon Snug the Joiner. The evening’s liveliest turn is that of Larry Jensen as Puck, whose nimble physical performance and delivery really capture the irrepressible spirit of the role. In this production, Puck has an alter-ego (Justin Campbell as Galmus) whose brooding presence provides a dark counterpoint to Puck’s spritely élan.

The Rude Mechanicals are beautifully cast as a Marxian (Groucho, not Karl) troupe, ironically providing comic relief in a comedy. Jake Beaver merits special mention for his portrayal of Nick Bottom, who is transformed from an egotistical and melodramatic ass to a literal ass, and back again. Another highlight within this lively ensemble is Chris White (Tom Snout), who is truly hilarious playing the wall in the “play within a play.”

 Brian Myers (Theseus) effectively conveys the character’s romantic side, awaiting his wedding night with a bit more eagerness than his delightful Amazonian fiancée (Ilana Watson). The young lovers (Penuel Corbin as Demetrius, Samuel Jones as Lysander, Kelly Brown as Helena, and Olivia Weiss as Hermia) have a lot of fun conveying the unbridled love, lust and frustration required by the sometimes convoluted plot. In particular, Brown and Weiss, each frantic at the prospect of love denied, really convey the difference between the demure Hermia and the bold Helena.

 Once again, H.A.R.T. performs a valuable service, this time by bringing such a likeable and accessible night’s dream to its audience.  Roder and company remind us that Shakespeare’s plays are living theater, fully experienced only when fully staged, rather than dry literary offerings.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is playing at Hillsboro’s H.A.R.T. Theatre, 185 S.E. Washington Street, through April 14th, with performances Friday and Saturday at 7:30 and Sunday matinees at 2:00.