Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Beaverton Civic Theatre’s Little Women a Big Success

Virginia Kincaid, Beth Jones, Kraig Williams, Ryan Mitchell, Priscilla Howell,
Madeline Hagood (foreground),  Michael Prange, Les Ico, and Amanda Clark.
By Tina Arth and Darrell Baker
Truth in advertising – neither one of us has even been a big fan of Little Women (stage play, movie, or musical versions), and we’ve long been puzzled about the hold this story has had on generations of American women. We both managed to avoid the book during our formative years, and nothing in the adaptations that we had seen seemed to justify the story’s popularity. However, Beaverton Civic Theatre’s current production of Little Women is a bit of a theatrical eye-opener. Is it the adaptation (by Marisha Chamberlain), the direction (by Doreen Lundberg), or the strong leads in this production? Probably all three factors have contributed to the shift in perspective that found us actually enjoying a show we were prepared to merely tolerate.

Lundberg’s casting of the four March sisters (Jo, Meg, Beth, and Amy) works beautifully, and captures the enormous differences between each of the girls. The role of Jo is, of course, always the most fun – and Amanda Clark’s amazing skill as a physical comic is fully utilized – but don’t let that fool you. She brings a warmth and passion to her delivery that goes well beyond the comedic demands of the script, and captures not only her bold rejection of orthodoxy but also her fiercely mercurial love for her family. Priscilla Howell plays Meg as the polar opposite – her calm, dignified exterior conceals a young woman just discovering the possibility of love and romance. Howell’s embarrassed recounting of the party where she dared to flirt, drink champagne, and wear a low-cut gown breathes life into a character who, at first glance, seems in danger of being a Stepford daughter/wife. The role of the reclusive Beth allows for less breadth, but Madison Stoehr handles it nicely, and the audience watches her express through her music a personality inhibited by her extreme shyness (it helps, too, that she actually can play the piano!). Madeline Hagood does a fine job as the youngest daughter, the lovely but selfish and manipulative Amy. While Hagood easily captures Amy’s dark side, she also believably expresses the girl’s remorse and genuine affection for her entire family, in particular her nemesis, Jo.

While the supporting cast is somewhat uneven, there are a few real bright spots. Beth Jones (“Marmee”) portrays a three-dimensional woman who has sublimated her potential to play the role of perfect wife and mother. When she admits that she once dreamed of flying free, and encourages Jo to embrace a life of nonconformity, Jones is especially moving. Virginia Kincaid’s wealthy “Aunt March” is disturbingly caustic and militaristic, yet (like most of the other women) she finds the hidden warmth that helps define her character. Les Ico (“Laurie”) gets the only really interesting male role, and he makes the most of it. He and Clark create a believably platonic friendship that defines Laurie as the archetype of the enlightened male (at least for the 1860’s).

Alex Woodard’s detailed and lovely set expresses the shabby chic of the impoverished but genteel March family. Phyllis Fort’s period-appropriate costume design helps transport the audience to the Civil War era. Once again, director Doreen Lundberg’s attention to detail and eye for historical drama gives local audiences a glimpse of our shared past – and, in this case, may even inspire some viewers (including one of the reviewers) to read the book!

Beaverton Civic Theatre’s production of “Little Women” is playing at the Beaverton City Library Auditorium through December 21st, with performances Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 2:00 p.m.









Monday, December 8, 2014

TITG’s Shrek, the Musical A Fine Family Outing

Maille O'Brien (the witch), Jeremiah
Stephens (Pinocchio) and ensemble.

By Tina Arth and Darrell Baker

Theatre in the Grove’s holiday offering is not a Christmas show – or even a traditional holiday show – yet it is charmingly appropriate fare for this festive time of year. The first Sunday matinee was full to the brim with families spending a few hours together enjoying David Lindsay-Abaire’s lively musical adaptation of William Steig’s 1990 book and the 2001 Dreamworks movie. A striking feature of this show is that the shared family experience goes well beyond the audience to encompass all phases of the production. Director Jeanna Van Dyke makes it clear in her director’s notes that this is no accident – “On stage, and off stage (and even below the stage in the pit orchestra) are a number of family members working and playing together on Shrek; moms, dads, little brothers, big brothers, sisters, spouses, foster parents, nieces, nephews, nannies, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. This production is dedicated to Family.”

James Grimes (Donkey)
The story of the ogre Shrek finding true love is propelled by an enormous cast: forty plus actors and a surprisingly accomplished fourteen piece orchestra. Theatre in the Grove has one of the only Washington County stages capable of accommodating such a massive group, and (despite the fact that over half the cast are children) the costume and scene changes and blocking are seamless.

Like the movie, the witty script is designed for children but is laced with comic references that are clearly aimed at adults, and the show’s principals make sure that none of these touches are lost through a misplaced subtlety.  James Grimes (“Donkey”) gives an unforgettable performance – he is a strong singer and adept comic whose uninhibited facial expressions and fluid dancing provide the electric charge that drives the show’s dynamics. Tristan Stewart (“Shrek”) brings a wide range of emotions and a powerful singing voice to the role of the lonely, misunderstood ogre who is initially feared but emerges as the show’s hero. “I Think I Got You Beat,” his duet with Michelle Bahr (“Princess Fiona”) is a curious twist on Irving Berlin’s “Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better,” but in Shrek the two compete hilariously to determine which of the two has had the more miserable childhood. Bahr is a fine singer and comedienne who manages to create endearing chemistry with her chubby green Romeo even before she reveals her own inner ogress.

Other particularly effective comic performances include Dan Bahr as “Lord Farquaad”, a nasty Toulouse-Lautrec sized villain with an outsized ego, Breanna Grimes, a gingerbread amputee with a lovely voice, Tom Robinson as a gender-bending Big Bad Wolf, and Jeremiah Stephens as Pinocchio, the new spokesperson for puppet pride (“I’m wood, I’m good, get used to it!”).

The entire Theatre in the Grove community has obviously put their hearts into Shrek, the Musical, and the result is everything that Director Van Dyke wants – a family-friendly, family-filled fantasy suitable and entertaining for all ages. The music, colorful costumes, clever choreography (where else can you see a kick-line done on knee-pads?), and simple but effective set design work together to enhance the cast’s dedication and obvious joy as they present this entertaining musical to brighten the holiday season. Warning – it is a long show, and parents are advised to get their littler ones out of their seats to burn off some energy at intermission!

“Shrek, the Musical” is running at Forest Grove’s Theatre in the Grove through December 21 with performances Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 2:30 p.m.


Wednesday, December 3, 2014

BROADWAY ROSE: A Christmas Survival Guide

Megan Carver, Craig Allen, Amy Jo Halliday, and Ben Farmer.

By Tina Arth and Darrell Baker
Is there really a war on Christmas? If so, the news has not yet reached Broadway Rose. However, the venerable theater company’s 2014 tribute to the holiday season, A Christmas Survival Guide, makes it clear that there is a shootin’ war on Christmas clichés, including (unfortunately) classic holiday theater fare.

Sad to say, the thin premise of “Dr. Ben’s” absurd “Christmas Survival Guide” is inadequate to link the show’s 18 musical numbers into an engaging narrative. Many of the songs/skits are cute, witty, and occasionally touching – but even a top-notch Broadway Rose cast is hard-pressed to make a silk purse out of this particular sow’s ear. The result is an entertaining bit of holiday fluff that, while well worth seeing, still makes us wish it had been so much more.

Craig Allen, Megan Carver, Ben Farmer, and Amy Jo Halliday are four of the strongest performers in the Portland musical theater world, and each gives everything they’ve got to their numbers. Their voices blend beautifully in several ensemble pieces, and their individual spots are uniformly excellent. The vocal expertise is complemented by a hot trio of musicians led by music director/pianist Jeffrey Childs, and the actors’ occasional interaction with Childs is a clever and effective touch.

Halliday’s turn as the angst-riddled Mrs. Claus in “Surabaya Santa” is hilariously Teutonic; she evokes memories of Lotte Lenya and Marlene Dietrich, giving her a chance to show off comedic skills that rival her vocal ability. Carver’s manic delivery of “The Twelve Steps of Christmas” is another comic highlight of the show – she milks the song for all it’s worth, and it pays off with audience appreciation. The chaotic staging and arrangement of “Silver Bells” does not really allow Farmer to display his excellent voice, but his portrayal of Elvis in “Santa Claus Is Back In Town” more than compensates – and his Presley-esque interaction with the audience closes the first act with a bang. “This Will Be the Best Christmas Ever” features Allen and Carver in a classic song of miscommunication; Allen’s quiet insistence on decorating the tree with Star Wars ornaments and Carver’s single-minded determination to remove them nicely expresses the quandary of couples with misaligned holiday expectations – and where, oh where, did they get that wonderful Yoda tree-topper?

Despite the disjointed nature of the script, director Dan Murphy makes sure that the show runs smoothly.  Sound and lighting are flawless, the attractive single set allows for rapid shifts in locale, and the numbers are cast so that the many changes of costume and persona do not slow down the production. The Director’s notes accurately assert that “some of the songs are upbeat and bouncy, some funny, some poignant…some will be new, some will be familiar” – all true. However, we must differ with his belief that the songs are “all terrific” – there are a few too many formulaic potboilers and not enough heartwarming holiday classics to fulfill Murphy’s “guarantee there will be something in this show that will catch you reflecting on a Christmas past, or excite you for a Christmas future, all the while enjoying the Christmas present.”

“A Christmas Survival Guide” is playing at the Broadway Rose New Stage Theater in Tigard through December 21.




Rachel Thomas, Carl
Dahlquist, Lindsey Bruno, and Andy Roberts.
By Tina Arth and Darrell Baker
Washington County’s 2014 holiday season is rife with non-traditional theatrical fare, which makes HART Theatre’s decision to present a thoroughly conventional production of Irving Berlin’s White Christmas a bold and refreshing move. Director Matt Russell is an admitted Christmas fanatic, and he has put together a fine production to honor his favorite time of year. From the opening notes of “Happy Holidays” to the closing, an audience sing-along of perennial favorite “White Christmas,” the viewers are bathed in the comfort of a familiar tale and wonderful songs that have become a treasured part of America’s holiday culture.

 Grace Malloy
Even those few who are not familiar with the story will recognize its elements – nice boy meets girl, cherished army leader is in trouble after war ends, nice boy loses girl, loyal soldiers save the day for the “Old Man”, nice boy gets girl back again, playboy gets lots of girls but doesn’t recognize true love until she shows him the error of his ways. Add in “let’s do the show here!” and a retired chorine still in thrall to the siren song of show biz plus one lonely granddaughter with hidden talent, season with 21 classic Irving Berlin songs, and the evening is complete.

In a large, enthusiastic and generally strong cast, Lindsey Bruno (“Betty Haynes”), Rachel Thomas (“Judy Haynes”), and Sarah Fuller (“Martha Watson”) are real standouts. All three have beautiful solo voices, and when they join forces (as in “Sisters” and “Falling Out of Love Can Be Fun”) it’s pure ambrosia. Bruno’s rendition of “Love, You Didn’t Do Right By Me” is exquisite – perhaps the best number of the evening.

Andy Roberts (nice guy “Bob Wallace”) and Carl Dahlquist (playboy “Phil Davis”) play the former army buddies turned song and dance stars. Dahlquist and Thomas make a cute couple, and they team up especially well for “I Love A Piano.” Roberts’ voice is perfect for his touching rendition of “Count Your Blessings” with Grace Malloy (“Susan Waverly”). Seventh grader Malloy shines as the studious granddaughter who surprises everybody (including the audience) with her newly discovered song and dance prowess.

The other 16 cast members fill countless roles, with lightning fast shifts from one persona to the next. Vocal Director Alice Dalrymple has crafted a strong vocal ensemble; several chorus members have cameos that further demonstrate the depth of the cast’s musical ability. Choreographer Kate Jahnson’s dance ensemble also sparkles with individual displays of talent. Along with Malloy, the four smaller children in the cast are shameless scene-stealers, especially when they silently rehearse their dance numbers at the back of the stage.

Karen Roder’s costuming for White Christmas must have been a real labor of love, as some characters wear 6+ outfits and all attire is period appropriate to the forties and mid-fifties. The small band of five musicians, conducted by accompanist Beth Karp, helps to keep everyone on key and on beat through the show’s 2+ hours of nearly nonstop singing and dancing.

Many thanks to HART for giving Washington County audiences a good old-fashioned family show that would melt the heart of even the Grinchiest of Grinches!

“Irving Berlin’s White Christmas” is playing at the HART Theatre, 185 SE Washington Street, Hillsboro through Sunday, December 21 with 7:30 p.m. performances on Friday and Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2:00 p.m..







Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Bag & Baggage’s Latest Holiday Massacre

Photo by Casey Campbell Photography
By Tina Arth and Darrell Baker
Two years ago, we saw our first Bag & Baggage holiday production, Farndale Avenue’s…Christmas Carol and left the theater somewhat puzzled. The show was pure slapstick, and the audience’s enthusiastic response made us feel like the only ones left out of a huge inside joke. Last year’s radio parody, It’s A (Somewhat) Wonderful Life made more sense – a show so funny that it easily earned every laugh. Finally, this year we get it. Miracle on 43d Street: A 1940’s Holiday Radio Massacre is not just a farce, it’s part of a series intended by Director/Adaptor Scott Palmer as an early Christmas gift for Bag & Baggage’s regular supporters, and it is in this spirit that the show must be taken.

Photo by Casey Campbell Photography
The “gift” is showing us another side of a group of outlandishly talented actors who regular populate Bag & Baggage’s more conventional productions. Jessica Geffen’s outrageously ditzy portrayal of Lana North-Berkshire-Whiteside is imbued with additional depth (if that word can be used in this context!) following hard on the heels of her icy portrayal of Elizabeth Proctor in The Crucible. Geffen milks the removal of her gloves like Gypsy Rose Lee on steroids, setting the stage for two hours of comedic one-upmanship. Not to be outdone, Clara Hillier’s venomous Casca in 2013’s Julius Caesar gives way deliciously to drama queen extraordinaire Felicity Fay Fitzpatrick, perhaps the dumbest diva Broadway ever bred.  Speaking of Shakespeare, Bag & Baggage company regulars Gary Strong and Luke Armstrong (as Winston Whiteside and Anthony Antonino) forsake the classic comedy of last summer’s Love’s Labours Lost for this winter’s anything-but-classic holiday parody, bringing non-stop absurdist energy to the schizophrenic demands of the Palmer’s adaptation. Reprising his role as foley artist Peter Paulsen from last year’s radio show, Brandon McFarland moves from dead drunk in 2013 to just plain dead in 2014  – but (with the help of the rest of the cast) his frenetic animation belies his demise.

The final two cast members are newcomers to the Bag & Baggage company, but we hope that by next Christmas they, too, will be regulars – both bring a lot to the show. Chase Fulton (as handsome film star “Donald Donaldson”) comes closest to the role of straight man; his upright stance and clear delivery give him the ambience of a (slightly tarnished) Dudley Do-Right. By contrast, Jeremy Sloan’s character is as delightfully un-straight manly as can be. His hilarious interpretation of New York police officer Gilroy Gildersleeve is charmingly fey, and every time he opens his mouth or sashays across the stage he gets another laugh.

Photo by Casey Campbell Photography
Our only issue with the show is that the stage layout (with foley table stage left and the radio performers’ microphone stage right) splits the action into two distinct areas, yet the activity on both sides is non-stop. Placing the table to the rear center would allow the audience to simultaneously take in the dumbshow at the foley table and the dialogue at the microphone.

Also reprising its role from last year is the art deco WBNB Radio backdrop, a stunning piece of set construction with functional clock and “on air” lights to ensure that the audience knows exactly where the story is set and when the characters are on the air. Costumes are period appropriate; Geffen’s abundant cleavage provides a key sight gag that is enhanced by her gaudily gauche attire.

Bag & Baggage’s regular audience does not need to be told about this show – they are already on board (and, in fact, filled much of the house for preview night). However, many of the evening’s attendees were newcomers (Palmer polled the house during his introductory remarks), and they clearly enjoyed the experience too.

Bag & Baggage’s A Miracle on 43d Street, A Holiday Radio Massacre is playing at Hillsboro’s Venetian Theatre, 253 E. Main Street, through December 23, with performances Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm, Sundays at 2:00 pm, and two extra shows Monday/Tuesday December 23-24 at 7:30 pm.






Thursday, November 13, 2014


Stacey Murdock (Kodaly) and Cassi Q. Kohl (Ilona)

By Tina Arth and Darrell Baker

Lakewood Theatre Company’s entry into the holiday theater scene is a wonderful production of She Loves Me – definitely a must-see for lovers of musical comedy. This rarely performed gem is given stellar treatment by director Tobias Anderson and music director Jon Quesenberry, both of whom clearly understand the light and deft touch needed for a small, intimate show. With music and lyrics by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick (of Fiddler fame), She Loves Me demands top-notch vocalists, and the Lakewood cast not only meets, but also exceeds, our expectations.

Paul Angelo (Georg) and Dru Rutledge (Amalia)
Long before Match.com and Facebook – even before Al Gore invented the Internet – people had a way to connect emotionally before they ever met by sending (gasp…) letters.  She Loves Me tells the story of Georg and Amalia, two constantly feuding clerks at Maraczek’s Parfumerie in 1930’s Budapest who are unaware that each is, in fact, the other’s romantic (but anonymous) pen pal. The story revolves in large part around their inevitable (and initially disastrous) face-to-face meeting. (Sound familiar? Perhaps you’ve seen You’ve Got Mail!) Another clerk, sleazy womanizer Kodaly, is secretly having an affair with Mrs. Maraczek and spending his free nights bedding another employee, Ilona. In the end, love and honor triumph.

Martin Tebo (“Arpad” the delivery boy) is by far the youngest cast member, and his youthful exuberance – augmented by impressive athleticism – brings a lot of energy to the stage, while his plaintive delivery of “Try Me” relieves the doom and gloom of Mr. Maraczek’s unfortunate “gun accident.” Brandon Weaver’s cameo as the tightly wound Maître d’ combines a controlled and lovely singing voice with a deer-in-the-headlights, almost Oliver Hardy-like panic as the situation spins out of his control. Jeremy Southard develops the role (“Sipos”) nicely with his one song, “Perspective,” but it is his consistent acting that really sells the character. On Saturday, Bryan Luttrell (“Mr. Maraczek”) seemed to be struggling a bit with timing at the beginning of “Days Gone By” but he quickly captured the rhythm, and his charming waltz turn lends a dignified Old-World charm that softens the blow of his angry moments later in the show.

“Ilona,” as portrayed by Cassi Q. Kohl, is in serious danger of stealing the show. Always a key comic role, Kohl’s “Ilona” is a true triple threat. She is an outstanding actress whose stage presence is utterly captivating, her timing is impeccable, and her delivery of “I Resolve” and “A Trip to the Library” showcases one of the best voices we have heard on a Portland area stage. Her counterpart, Stacey Murdock (“Mr. Kodaly”), brings more than just sleaze to his role – he is an accomplished actor whose “Grand Knowing You” may well be the strongest vocal number in the show.

Dru Rutledge and Paul Angelo are beautifully matched as Amalia and Georg – while the nature of the relationship evolves from hostility to the flames of newly discovered love, the level of passion is consistent throughout. Angelo’s nuanced performance gives Georg a likeability that makes the “happily ever after” conclusion satisfying and believable.  She Loves Me has been called the “Ice Cream” musical, and Rutledge’s amazing rendition of “Vanilla Ice Cream” fully validates the appellation. From the opening notes of “No More Candy” to the finale, Rutledge’s beautiful soprano integrates the music into her acting with seamless transitions.

Positioning the orchestra behind a semi-transparent scrim is a nice touch that allows the audience to observe these talented musicians without distracting from the central action. Both orchestra and chorus provide powerful support to the leads, and Laura Hiszczynskyj’s choreography brings wonderfully controlled chaos to the nightclub number.  The functional art deco sets allow for seamless scene changes, ensuring a constant flow of action.

 We have always loved this quirky, wonderful show – but never more than last Saturday’s performance at Lakewood.

Lakewood Theatre Company’s She Loves Me is running at Lakewood Center for the Arts, 368 S. State Street, Lake Oswego through Sunday, December 21st.  Show dates and times and ticket information are available at https://www.lakewood-center.org.



Monday, November 10, 2014

The Play is On at Mask & Mirror

Jayne Furlong, Gary Romans, and Pat Romans.
By Tina Arth and Darrell Baker
As authors of a show recently performed by a local community theater, we are perhaps hypersensitive to a script that mocks royalty-free new plays by amateur playwrights. Thus our senses were quivering, ready to take offense at Mask & Mirror’s production of Play On, which dares to denigrate the delightful drama spewed from novice pens. However, our nascent ire died a-borning – this production is really funny, and we were too busy laughing along with the rest of the opening night audience to worry about our delicate artistic sensibilities.

Sarah Thornton, Pat Romans, Gary Romans,
Nick Hamilton, and Jacob Clayton.
Nick Abbott’s broad satire tells the story of a small, marginally talented community theater group that is frantically preparing for the opening night of “Murder Most Foul,” a genuinely awful play-within-a-play that just keeps getting worse with every re-write by hare-brained author Phyllis Montague (Phyllis Lang). The cast members (when in character for “Murder…”) are just as awful as their material – ham-fisted thespians with a mind-numbing flair for over-the-top melodrama who are nowhere near off-book three nights before opening. Banishing the author from the theater does no good – she keeps reappearing and is unable to understand why adding new scenes, dialogue changes, and characters this late in the game might be problematic for director, cast, and crew. Add several doses of contempt, lust, and jealousy among the actors, a determined but weak-willed director, and a thoroughly disaffected crew and the stage is set for a disastrous opening night ‘s performance.

Anyone can be a bad actor, but it takes a really good actor to act like a bad actor.  Director Harry McClane has gone above and beyond the call of duty, presenting his audience with a cast so uniformly talented that they can be really, really bad. The competition for “worst actor” award is fierce – is it Sarah Thornton (as Violet  Imbry, playing ingénue “Diana Lassiter”) who seems unable to grasp the difference in meaning between different pronunciations of “content” and who frequently refers to a co-star by his real name, rather than the name of his character? Is it Pat Romans (as Polly Benish, playing the larger than life “Lady Margaret”) who displays all the subtlety of Marx Brothers foil Margaret Dumont? Our trophy goes to Jayne Furlong, (as parochial schoolgirl Smitty Smith, playing “Doris the Maid”). Not only is Smitty convincingly distracted in mid-rehearsal by her upcoming biology exam, but she hurls herself into the “Doris” role with unbridled fluidity and the huge gestures and piercing tones of a true novice.

Of course, all of this is in the service of comedy, and the cast serves up a constant flow of laughs.  Often we did not know where to look, as all of the cast members are constantly in character (or, to be more precise, in one of their characters). Jayne Ruppert (as stage manager “Aggie Manville”) is a master the art of deadpan delivery that clearly conveys her unwavering cynicism and utter contempt for cast, director, and author. Gary Romans’ wide-eyed, oft-lascivious portrayal of Henry Benish as “Lord Dudley” is a perfect complement to Pat Romans, his wife in real life, the play, and the play-within-the-play. Nick Hamilton (as Saul Watson, playing villain “Doctor Rex Forbes”) is calm and confident; his “Saul” never allows the chaos around him to interfere with his constant and vicious digs at Polly (except when he gets quite convincingly and understandably drunk on opening night). We denied Sarah Thornton ”worst actress” accolades, but she gets many of the evening’s biggest laughs with her vacuous delivery – apparently, “Violet” has been cast for beauty, not brains, and it shows!

Nick Hamilton’s set design is perfectly suited to the play’s tone – three different kinds of wallpaper in one room, a safe with no back, and a host of other small touches appropriate to a stereotypically tacky community theater setting. Needless to say, sound and lighting cleverly live down to the rest of the production, and the sight of Play On’s real-life producer Sarah Ominski raising and lowering the makeshift curtain is an added bonus. “Murder Most Foul” may be a terrible show, but Play On is top-notch community theater and a thoroughly entertaining way to spend a few hours.

Mask & Mirror’s Play On runs through Sunday, November 23d at Calvin Church’s “The Stage”, 10445 SW Canterbury Lane, Tigard with performances at 7:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and 2:00 p.m. on Sundays.







Monday, October 27, 2014


Matt Ostrowski (as Thad) and Les Ico (as Nick) Charity Crawford 
(as Susie Sue) and Jenn Brownstein (as Mary) in General Mayhem. 

By Tina Arth and Darrell Baker

Hillsboro Artists’ Regional Theatre (HART) fills an essential niche in the West Side theater scene by regularly providing a venue where area playwrights can display their work. Hard on the heels of HART’s third annual “Page to Stage” competition comes Pieces of the HART, a presentation of five original one-act plays by local authors ranging from Portland to Forest Grove. To be completely honest, we had some trepidation about the whole thing, both as audience members and as reviewers – but it was a fast-paced and thoroughly entertaining evening.

Those of you who don’t plan to stay home handing out candy can still enjoy a lively Halloween populated by lethal hamsters, contract killers, thwarted death-by-rhinoplasty, and other surreal and (usually) humorous tales – but you must go quickly, as the program’s brief run means there are only six more chances to catch it. General Mayhem (by Peter Stein, directed by Sam Stein), The Third Rail (by Case Middleton, directed by William Crawford), Recovery (by Patrick Brassell, directed by Ilana Watson), Serial Date (by Milo T. Collins, directed by Brandon B. Weaver), and American Cupcake (by Michael Johnson, directed by Dan Kroon) provide a fun-filled night with lots of dark situations, plenty of laughs, unexpected twists and turns (who knew that the good-looking guy in the brightly colored underwear would turn out to be straight?) and more than a few ponderable moments when the players and audience can truly focus on the human condition.

Rarely has the phrase “community theater” been as appropriate as it is in Pieces of the HART, for the evening is truly a communal effort by an amazing group of multitalented multitaskers. Overall coordination of the program comes from Forest Grove’s Peter Stein (also one of the authors), augmented by 18 actors filling 30 different roles – but the overlap does not end there. Director William Crawford also provided set design, and is one of the board operators. The other board operator, Milo T. Collins, is also an author. Stage manager and lighting designer Justin Campbell plays a role in Recovery, and director Sam Stein serves as prop master for the evening.  The seven actors who perform in multiple plays are not only quick-change artists, they are able to successfully transform their personalities to fit the demands of five very different scripts.

Special recognition is due to Crawford’s extremely flexible set design. The minimalist framework is cleverly and quickly adapted to the demands of the five shows, and very little time is lost on scene changes as the settings shift rapidly from home to train station, restaurant to therapist’s office, and more.

Mature themes and language pop up in several of the works, so Pieces of the HART is not appropriate for children (or narrow-minded adults). This stricture still leaves a substantial potential audience in the region – and we owe it to ourselves to celebrate and support the area’s vast pool of talent.

Pieces of the HART runs through Sunday, November 9th at the HART Theatre, 185 SE Washington, Hillsboro with performances at 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and 2:00 p.m. on Sunday.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Malice & Mayhem at Bag&Baggage

Andrew Beck as Tony, Luke Armstrong as Max and Cassie Greer as Margot,photo by Casey Campbell Photography 
Photo by Casey Campbell

By Tina Arth and Darrell Baker

This year’s Bag & Baggage homage to the spooky season has no zombies, werewolves, nor vampires – rather, it is a play having fun with dark themes of murder and intrigue. Playwright Fredrick Knott’s Dial M for Murder is complex and convoluted, but Director Brandon Woolley and his cast lead the audience carefully along, ensuring that everyone is in on the fun.

Unlike conventional mystery stories, there is never any doubt about who is responsible for the various misdeeds. In 1950s London, professional tennis player Tony Wendice (Andrew Beck) suspects his wealthy wife Margot (Cassie Greer) of infidelity with American hack mystery writer Max Halliday (Luke Armstrong).  Tony, who will inherit Margot’s estate, blackmails an old college acquaintance, Captain Lesgate (Dennis Kelly) into a plot to murder her. Tony arranges to go dinner with Max at the time of the murder, giving him a perfect alibi for the perfect crime – which turns out to be less than perfect, as often happens with such plots.

Cassie Greer as Margot Wendice, photo by Casey Campbell Photography 
Photo by Casey Campbell
Beck’s portrayal of the evil husband is satisfyingly one-dimensional – his ennui-laden self-absorption and cool delivery leave no doubt that he lacks any redeeming qualities, and his veneer of charm is paper-thin. Although she makes concessions to save her marriage, Greer is no doormat. Her crisp, clipped British accent, upright carriage, and occasional sparks of defiance make it quite clear that she is a force to be reckoned with even before she picks up the scissors. Luke Armstrong, true to his American character, shows none of the stiff upper lip of his British counterparts – he displays believable passion and panic when faced with Margot’s impending execution. While Dennis Kelly does a creditably weak and sleazy job of playing the unintended victim, the biggest laugh of the evening is his frozen countenance when his corpse is rolled toward the audience. 

Phillip J. Berns is surprisingly funny as the officious and self-important policeman Thompson. The real hero of the story is Inspector Hubbard (Judson Williams), the detective who not only unravels the murder plot but also cleverly entraps the guilty husband. Williams’ precise diction as he explains things to Armstrong and Greer (and, coincidentally, to the audience) makes the plot crystal clear to all listeners, both on and off the stage.

Scenic designer Megan Wilkerson has created a set that is detailed and elegant, and her use of frames gives the audience a clear view of key elements outside the living room of the Maida Vale flat. The rain curtain, while appropriate to the story line, is a bit distracting and perhaps unnecessarily telegraphs an important plot point before its time. Lighting and sound conspire with careful blocking to keep the audience engaged and aware of every twist in the story line.

Bag and Baggage presents Dial M for Murder at Hillsboro’s Venetian Theatre, 253 E. Main Street, through Sunday, November 2nd.

Monday, October 13, 2014


Touchstone the clown (Zachary Centers) foolishly
explains his idea of love to Rosalind (Kailea Saplan.)

By Tina Arth and Darrell Baker

The last 500 years have made much of Shakespeare’s work somewhat impenetrable to modern theater audiences, and it can be a real challenge for actors and directors to overcome this vast temporal chasm. Theatre in the Grove’s current production of As You Like It makes a valiant effort, and is frequently successful in lifting the curtain of obscurity from this much-venerated comedy. Is it worth the trouble? Perhaps not, if one’s only frame of reference is pure entertainment value. However, appreciation of modern English-language plays requires some familiarity with historical roots, which cannot be achieved by reading alone – audiences must be exposed to live productions of ancient works. In this context, it is not only worthwhile, it is essential that theater companies tackle Shakespeare.

Celia (Alison Luey) reads a love letter from Orlando
meant for Rosalind.
The story itself is convoluted beyond words – rather than attempt to explain the show’s characters or events, we will leave it at this: there are bad guys and good guys (some of them women) and for reasons left unexplained the bad guys have  kicked the good guys out of town. The evil Duke banishes the Duchess, and later her daughter, who goes off to the woods (in drag) with the Duke’s daughter. There’s a guy who hates his younger brother, who also hates him. Lots of people eventually fall in love, not necessarily with an appropriate love object. A few weddings later, the play ends happily.

Director Gavin Knittle’s firm hand keeps this chaotic cauldron of fol de rol under control and ensures that his actors find and exploit every comic moment in the script. As in Shakespeare’s day, there is a strong reliance on broad physical comedy – which, when combined with exquisite timing, ensures that the audience will catch the jokes even if they cannot always follow the story. Knittle also composed original music for the production, enabling cellist Cory Sweany to show his stuff while several of the actors display their fine singing voices.

Kailea Saplan is irresistibly charming as the cross-dressing heroine, Rosalind. She is ably abetted in her peregrinations by the loyal Celia (Alison Luey). Aaron Filyaw is staunch and manly, if somewhat confused and hapless, as Rosalind’s lovestruck and poetically challenged suitor Orlando. In a show that already confuses gender roles, Director Knittle goes the Bard one better by disregarding gender in his casting. The Duchess (actually a Duke in the original) is played with great distinction by Anita Zijdemans Boudreau, whose excellent diction and dignified stage presence enhance the show’s overall professionalism. Charles the Wrestler, as portrayed by Brittney Spady, adds a comic note to the opening scenes that immediately engages the audience.

Another cast standout is Zach Centers, whose portrayal of Touchstone the Clown distracts us from the sometimes ponderous confusion of the first act, and Donald Cleland’s consistently bumbling persona (both as Adam and Martext) probably earns the evening’s most laughs.  The second act is livened considerably by the addition of Carly Wasserstein (Phoebe) whose misplaced lust for Rosalind is expressed with superb delivery and a remarkably mobile face that telegraphs her every emotion.

Zach Centers’ set design is brilliant – the rolling sets open and close quickly and seamlessly, moving the audience from a sterile court to a lush forest glade with almost magical speed. Tanya Scott’s scenic art is truly lovely, in the tradition of the best Renaissance landscape painters.

Theatre in the Grove’s production brings Washington County theater lovers an accessible and entertaining vision of Shakespearean comedy.

As You Like It runs through October 26th, with performances at 7:30 pm on Fridays and Saturdays and matinees at 2:30 0n Sundays. Tickets are available at Theatre in the Grove, 2028 Pacific Avenue, Forest Grove.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

BCT Knocks Into the Woods Out of the Park

Beth Noelle (the Witch), Amelia Rothschild-Morgan (the Baker's Wife), and
Jake Beaver (the Baker)

By Tina Arth and Darrell Baker

In essays, editorials, etc. the conclusion is generally to be found at the end of the piece. Beaverton Civic Theatre’s current production drives us to ignore this principle and lead with our considered opinion – Into the Woods is not only the best musical BCT has ever done, it is the best community theater musical we have seen in 41 years of theater-going. It helps, of course, that the cast was drawn from a flood of actors – we understand that the audition pool was enormous. However, co-directors Melissa Riley and Josh Pounders did a spectacular job of picking just the right cast from a truly regional talent base. Remarkably, only four of nineteen cast members have appeared in previous BCT productions. This production, with this cast but more resources, could be mounted on any of several local professional stages.

Into the Woods may be Stephen Sondheim’s best-loved musical. His songs, sometimes startlingly witty and sometimes emotional and profound, are a perfect complement to James Lapine’s book – a marvelous jumble of fairy tales drawn from Jack in the Beanstalk, Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and more. The stories intersect through the three main characters – the Baker (Jake Beaver), the Baker’s Wife (Amelia Morgan-Rothschild), and the Witch (Beth Noelle) – none of them drawn directly from the show’s fairy-tale antecedents. These powerful characters, supported by an amazingly gifted ensemble, weave a new story of love and responsibility never imagined by the Brothers Grimm.

Essie Bertain (Cinderella) and Olivia Noelle (Little Red Riding Hood)
Long before the announcement was made, we had already mentally cast Jake and Amelia in their roles (doesn’t everyone have dream casts?). We were right. Beaver is perfect for the part – his warm and mellow baritone fills the theater on solos and provides the foundation for the vocal ensemble, and he brings a maturity and subtlety to the complex role that belies his 25 years. Rothschild-Morgan is every bit as strong. Her wide vocal range permits her to deftly handle Sondheim’s demanding score, and her timing and delivery ensure that none of the authors’ intricate lyrics or dialogue fall by the wayside.  Noelle is equally well-suited as the witch, the most challenging role in the show. She navigates the transition from withered crone to supple dynamo with ease, and she is equally effective whether delivering tongue-twisting patter or heart-rending ballads.

There is a lot to love in the rest of the cast. Almost all were obviously chosen for both their singing and acting ability, and it really shows in the beautiful ensemble numbers. Essie Bertain (“Cinderella”) is gifted with a mobile face and exquisite voice – and her timing on “Steps of the Palace” makes it a comic highlight of the show. Olivia Noelle (“Little Red Riding Hood”) has obviously inherited a lot of talent from her mother (who plays the Witch). She is terribly funny, has a lovely voice, and has somehow mastered the art of singing with her mouth full – kind of like a musical spit take! The other younger cast member, Burke Boyer (“Jack”) displays a convincingly plaintive relationship with his pet cow, and does a fine job with his two big solos, “I Guess This is Goodbye” and “Giants in the Sky.” Jack’s Mother, as played by Kymberli Colbourne, gets several big laughs with her wry, frustrated take on the character.

Two characters often hidden in the shadows really came out of the woods in this production – Greg Prosser (“Narrator”/”Mysterious Man”) and Sarah Spear (“Rapunzel”). Prosser’s clear speaking voice is well suited to his expository function, and his added involvement as bird puppeteer is a nice touch. Spear’s well-deserved prominence in the show (her voice and face are both quite lovely) comes from the directors’ choice to keep her center-stage (and perhaps from the audience’s proximity to the action). Max Artsis (“Cinderella’s Prince”/”Wolf”) and Kraig Williams (“Rapunzel’s Prince”) work well together, and the iconic duo “Agony” earns the requisite laughs. Artsis’ lithe physicality and seductively sinister mien ensure that the carnal nature of both of his roles is fully realized.

Of course, no cast is alone – especially in a musical. Given the space constraints of BCT’s current venue, a full orchestra would have been impossible, and completely canned music inadequate to a production this strong. As music director, Pounders made a brilliant choice, augmenting the pre-recorded score with flautist Cara Morgan and clarinetist David Massey – their accents give the music a live feel and provide the actors with much-needed cues. The single set, a darkly detailed forest scene, is cleverly designed to utilize every inch of the stage, and Rapunzel’s Tower stands in lieu of wing space for much of the action.

The enthusiasm of opening night’s full house audience predicts that there will not be many empty seats for the run of the show. We’ve seen audiences cheer at final curtain – but did not expect it at intermission! We recommend that you buy tickets in advance – there’s no guarantee that walk-ups can be accommodated.

Into the Woods runs through Sunday, October 18th at the Beaverton City Library Auditorium. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and 2:00 p.m. on Sunday.

Monday, September 22, 2014


Pictured in front is Mike Dedarian as Detective
Jarvis, and back from left is Jennifer Goldsmith as Liddy Allen the
cockney maid, Debbie Hunter as Carrie Innes the wealthy spinster, Thomas
Slater as Thomas the odd butler, Joy Martin as Carrie's niece Sally Innes,
and Sean Powell as Sally's fiancé Jack Bailey.

By Tina Arth and Darrell Baker

Depending on the time of year, Broadway Rose is either a big company producing lavish Broadway musicals or a small, intimate company offering quirky and often unknown gems. This season’s latest gem, Whodunit… The Musical, is a real treasure, both as a musical and as a comedy. Broadway Rose Artistic Director Sharon Maroney met playwright Ed Dixon a few years ago, and he pitched his obscure new show to her. She liked it, and the rest will soon be history.

At first glance, Whodunit looks like just another comfortable murder-mystery-musical in an already crowded field. What distinguishes this show is that Dixon’s music, lyrics, and book, in the hands of director Annie Kaiser and a top-flight Broadway Rose cast, simply sparkle with unexpected wit and evoke a steady stream of belly laughs.

The story adheres perfectly to the genre. A spinster aunt and her maid rent a large, old isolated house. They will be joined by a lovely young niece and her friend (who turns out to be a surprise fiancé). With the exception of the butler, the entire household staff has quit, frightened by eerie events that began after the demise of the house’s former master. Mysterious things happen – a dark and stormy afternoon, a face in the window, a burglar who takes nothing and leaves behind a crow bar, a shot in the dark that kills the intruder, another fatal gunshot, and more. It’s happily ever after for all (except the dead guys). Impossibly clichéd, yet impossibly entertaining.

One expects uniform excellence from a Broadway Rose cast, and this show delivers in (Sam) Spades. Two characters, in particular, exceed even our lofty expectations. Jennifer Goldsmith (as Cockney maid Liddy Allen) is too funny for words, and delivers her musical numbers like a true comic diva – somehow managing to skirt “over-the-top” without falling over the edge.  Even more surprising is Sean Powell (as fiancé Jack Bailey, in the usually thankless position of male ingenue). He has a spectacular voice and impeccable timing, and he displays remarkable versatility as his character evolves.

The other four major characters (Debbie Hunter as the aunt, Joy Martin as the niece, Thomas Slater as the butler, and Mike Dederian as the detective) more than carry their weight. Hunter and Martin bring strong comedic backgrounds to challenging roles, and prove that classical vocal training does not necessarily conflict with the demands of musical comedy. Dederian’s trench-coated gumshoe skillfully alternates between two modes – the private eye and the wandering eye. The butler gets a lot more latitude; Slater’s expressive face and powerful voice fully exploit the role’s potential.

Music Director Mont Chris Hubbard and his tiny band do full justice to a lively score that explores various musical styles ranging from Sondheim to Gilbert and Sullivan. None of the songs would stand alone, for each supports the story and provides a unique comic touch. We cannot fail to mention the set, which provides an elegant tone akin to Henry Higgins’ study with menacing overtones suited to a Universal Horror picture.

You’ve probably never seen or heard of this show – but trust us. Whodunit is a local premiere that sets the standard for a show that should, in time, become a standard. Go see it.

“Whodunit… The Musical” runs through October 19th  at the Broadway Rose New Stage in Tigard. Performances are 7:30 p.m. Thursdays – Saturdays, with 2:00 pm matinees on Saturdays and Sundays.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014


Sarah Thornton, Gary Romans, and Dalene Young

By Tina Arth and Darrell Baker

Evidently, divorce is not always a bad thing. It was allegedly Neil Simon’s split from actress Marsha Mason that indirectly inspired Fools, one of the funniest shows we’ve seen all year. An embittered Simon, faced with a settlement that awarded royalties from his next show to Mason, set out to write a total failure – but happily for audiences, he (ultimately) failed.

Broadway crowds, used to the urbane sophistication of Simon’s usual fare, gave the show a poor reception when it opened in 1981. However, Fools has been delighting less rarefied audiences across the country for the last 33 years, and the current production at the HART clearly illustrates why. The story is absurd, the premise  ridiculous, but Simon’s words, shaped by Director Stephen Kelsey and delivered by a strong cast, are genuinely laugh-out-loud hilarious.

Long ago a curse was laid on the inhabitants of a remote Russian village by the angry father of a deceased, less-than-brilliant young man. All of the townsfolk would be forever stupid – really, really stupid – unless the daughter of the (formerly) brightest family in town wed a son of the curse-laying family – OR until a teacher was able to (in 24 hours, no less) nudge the daughter’s IQ toward some unspecified magic number (100?). The teacher falls for the daughter, but realizes that he will never achieve his goal in the time allotted. In a stroke of masterful subterfuge (at least by local standards) the teacher pretends to be a long-lost member of the curse-laying clan, marries the daughter, and releases the town from the curse. Of course, adept audience members (perhaps from another, brighter, village) will discern that the curse should not have been lifted since the conditions were met fraudulently. Remember Dumbo? Timothy the Mouse pulled the same trick, and it worked then, too!

In a solid 10-person cast, clear comic standouts are Gary Romans (Dr. Zubritsky), Dalene Young (his wife Lenya), and Helena Greathouse (Yenchna, the peddler). Romans’ delivery, sense of timing and fluid facial expressions elicit some of the biggest laughs of the evening. Young is his perfect foil – a wide-eyed, good-hearted, slow-witted version of Imogene Coca. Greathouse – earnestly offering flowers as fish from her wagon (why should she suffer just because the fishermen had a bad day?) – plays her role with the intensity of Lady MacBeth, but coming from her it’s a lot funnier.

The roles of straight man and ingénue are generally limited in comic potential by their functions. Mitchell Stephens (the teacher Tolchinsky) and Sarah Thornton (Sophia Zubritzky) overcome this handicap with a combination of acting ability and, let’s face it, sheer cuteness. Thornton’s shining moment, when she demonstrates that she has nearly mastered the art of sitting down, is riveting, and Stephens frequent asides draw the audience into the bizarre, Brigadoon-ish village in which he finds himself.

Nobody plays bewildered better than Tony Smith, and as “Something Something Snetsky,” the Shepherd, he carries on his grand tradition. Brandon B. Weaver’s clipped, delivery (as the evil Count Gregor) bristles with befuddled menace. Thomas Wikle, Debby McKnight, and Jerry Hathaway fill out the cast with the requisite quirkiness.

Fools may be joke-riddled, but the HART was dead serious about the set – it is cleverly designed for ease of movement, and the interiors and exteriors are painted and papered to perfection – even in a relatively short show, audiences appreciate fast scene changes!

Fools runs through Sunday, September 21st with performances at 7:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and 2:00 p.m. on Sundays at H.A.R.T. Theater, 185 S.E. Washington, Hillsboro.