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.