Tuesday, March 24, 2015


Picture shows (front) Sandra Conlon ("Girl"), Robin
Michaels ("Millie"), (back) Ilana Watson ("April") and Les Ico ("Bill")

By Tina Arth and Darrell Baker

Plays are funny things – some have clear-cut beginnings and endings, well-developed plotlines, and carefully crafted character development. Lanford Wilson’s Hot l Baltimore is not one of those plays. Rather, the show’s slice-of-life single day appears on stage full blown, like Athena springing from the head of Zeus. The characters do not develop – they just are, and the audience is left to assemble their relationships from a series of clues scattered through the show’s dialogue, costumes, and script.

The show opens early in the morning on Memorial Day, some time at the start of the  1970’s.  The once glamorous Hotel Baltimore (now “Hot l”, because the light on the “e” burned out and was never fixed) has degenerated into a single room occupancy flophouse, with a generally motley group of tenants whose lives are in as much disarray as the hotel. The night manager, Bill (Les Ico) is giving all of the tenants one month’s notice, as the tired old hotel is slated for demolition. The tenants seem much less concerned with the impending loss of their rooms than with the day-to-day irritations that define their lives – the grumpy Mr. Morse (Dan Kelsey) is irate because his window won’t close, prostitute April (Ilana Watson) complains about the onset of daylight savings time, and Mrs. Bellotti (Beth Self) whines incessantly about management’s refusal to let her son move back in after a recent jail stay, completely missing the essential fact that there will be no hotel in a matter of weeks. Most puzzling, “Girl” (Sandra Conlon) obsesses over the timing of trains that she will never take to places she will never go.

The lack of a more conventional plot structure puts a tremendous burden on the director and actors. In the current HART Theatre production, Patrick Brassell and his cast are largely successful in capturing the comedy and pathos of the original play. However, on opening night a few characters seemed unsure of their lines, which led to some uncomfortable pauses, interfered with the flow of dialogue, and sometimes threw the other actors’ timing off – a problem which may well be resolved by the second week of the run.

Despite opening night glitches, most of the cast does a fine job of creating the tragicomic characters necessary to capture the audience’s attention, make them laugh, and sometimes earn their sympathy. As played by Robin Michaels, retired waitress “Millie” is the most compelling and likeable of the hotel’s residents. Michaels creates a sweet, ditzy, disconnected persona that nonetheless provides comfort and even occasional guidance to her fellow guests. Les Ico’s desk clerk is convincingly sincere and awkward, blushing like a male ingénue at the bawdy antics and language of the hotel’s three “working girls.” Sandra Conlon’s portrayal of the youngest prostitute, “Girl” (because she changes her name as often as her men) parallels Ico in her innocence, and like Michaels, she is able to deliver the most off-the-wall dialogue without a trace of self-conscious irony. Ilana Watson and Jenn Brownstein, the other two (considerably more well-seasoned) hookers, are responsible for some of the show’s broadest humor and biggest laughs, and they are experienced enough (as actresses, we presume) to be convincing as bottom of the barrel ladies of the night. Perhaps Hot l Baltimore’s most pathetic and vulnerable character is the slightly dim “Jamie” (R. Justin Lizik). Lizik’s deer-in-the-headlights approach makes Jamie’s utter submission to his dominant sister quite credible, and sets up the touching moment at the end of the play when April displays her heart of gold by offering him a final dance.

In some ways, the star of the play is the hotel itself, and William Crawford’s beautiful set design is exquisitely appropriate to the grand hotel’s waning days. When the lights come up, the audience is immediately transported to a tacky but somehow familiar world that most of us have inhabited at some point in our lives. It’s worth the price of admission to be granted a brief visit to a time we would not wish to relive, but that we recall with foolish nostalgia.

Hot l Baltimore is playing at the HART Theatre, 185 SE Washington, Hillsboro through April 5, with performances at 7:30 on Fridays and Saturdays and 2:00 on Sundays. Adult language and themes make the show inappropriate for younger audiences.

Sunday, March 8, 2015


Clara Hillier as Valentine, Cassie Greer as Proteus, Jessi Walters  as Silvia, and Arianne Jacques as Julia. Photo by Casey Campbell.

By Tina Arth and Darrell Baker

Bag & Baggage seems, in addition to their stated goal of offering Hillsboro “Real.Provocative.Theatre.” to harbor a second mission – that of annually attempting to bring one Shakespeare play to town, and to make it sufficiently accessible that modern audiences will respond favorably. This year, B&B artistic director Scott Palmer’s foray into the world of high culture is The Six Gentlepersons of Verona, a uniquely Palmerian adaptation of Shakespeare’s first comedy, The Two Gentlemen of Verona.

The challenge is especially daunting for the current production. In his director’s notes, Palmer freely admits that “Scholars differ, but the general consensus of opinion is this: The Two Gentlemen of Verona is, simply put, not a very good play.” Building on the efforts of two earlier adaptors, Benjamin Victor and John Philip Kimble, Palmer ventures into the deep end of the artistic pool. He not only uses an all-woman cast, nothing but huge cardboard appliance boxes as sets, and 1970’s American costumes and music, but he retains the original Verona/Milanese setting and the Shakespearian dialogue. Surprisingly, it works.

The story is a curious mixture of convoluted plot with simplistic characters. Veronese BFFs Proteus and Valentine are at odds – Valentine is off to make his way in the court of the Duke of Milan, and wants Proteus to accompany him. Proteus, madly in love with the fair but elusive Julia, cannot tear himself away.  When Valentine arrives in Milan, he promptly falls for the Duke’s daughter, Silvia. The Duke isn’t buying it – he wants Silvia to marry a local nobleman, and locks her away in a tower to keep her from Valentine. Meanwhile, back in Verona, Proteus’ father sends him off to join Valentine in Milan. Too late, Julia finally declares her love for Proteus, and they exchange rings just before Proteus leaves town. Proteus arrives in Milan, forgets all about Julia, and promptly falls for (wait for it…) Silvia! Proteus learns that Valentine and Silvia plan to elope, and he rids himself of (best friend?) Valentine as a rival by letting the Duke in on the secret. The Duke promptly banishes Valentine, who becomes the leader of a rather genteel group of forest ruffians.

Want more? You’ll just have to see the play – which is not a bad idea. First, there’s this really cute scene-stealing little dog (Mick DuPre, a pug playing the role of “Crab”). Second, the women in the cast do some great a cappella renditions of ‘70s love songs, and there are some fine voices, great harmonies, and innovative rhythm instruments. Third, the actors are superb in their many roles – the five women play 12 different parts (the dog only plays one).

The exceptionally long-limbed Cassie Greer is consistently droll as the languorous, perhaps slightly stoned (it is, after all set in the ‘70s) Proteus. Clara-Liis Hillier (“Valentine”) is in the unenviable position of being the “straight man” in a show that’s all about the comedy – but her remarkable singing voice more than compensates for the relatively simplistic character she must portray. Arianne Jacques (“Julia”), like Hillier, gets few comic moments – but she makes the most of the early scenes where she schizophrenically alternates between rejecting and embracing Proteus’ protestations of love. The best roles in the play are reserved for Jessi Walters – her “Silvia” combines a fine mixture of ardor (for Valentine) and scorn (for the faithless Proteus); her “Lucetta” (Julia’s maid) carries overtones of a good Jewish mother.  However, it is as Proteus’ servant Launce that she has the most fun – lots of comic dialogue about her relationship with Crab, plus she gets to carry him! The newcomer to Bag & Baggage is Kaia Hillier (as Valentine’s page Speed), who plays the role like a quintessential stoner and wields her cigarette (whatever it is, it’s not tobacco) like a rapier or a baton (as the moment requires).

Against all odds, Scott Palmer has taken Shakespeare’s vapid, much-maligned attempt at comedy and turned it into an enjoyable 2 hours and 10 minutes of accessible and entertaining theater.  We cannot help but wonder how he’ll top this feat next season!

The Six Gentlepersons of Verona is playing at Hillsboro’s Venetian Theatre, 235 E. Main Street, through Sunday, March 22 with performances Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2:00 p.m.

Friday, March 6, 2015

DEARLY BELOVED – What’s Not To Love?

Sarah Ominski, Jani VanPelt, and Diana LoVerso Photo by Al Stewart Photography, Tualatin

By Tina Arth and Darrell Baker

Theater serves a lot of purposes – it can move you, inspire you, scare you, make you think – but some shows are just good clean fun. Mask & Mirror’s current offering lands squarely in the latter camp, and the opening night audience responded by having an exceptionally good time. Dearly Beloved comes from the prolific pens of Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope, and Jamie Wooten, a writing team that specializes in “Southern Comedy.” Mask & Mirror produces at least one show a year from this general literary pool, so director Gary Romans and many of his regular actors are particularly comfortable with the deft touch needed to deliver the material.

Tyler Beadle, Aurea Taylor Photo by Al Stewart Photography, Tualatin
The show’s premise is somewhat convoluted, and revolves around the complicated relationship of the three slightly tacky Futrelle sisters, Honey Raye (Sarah Ominski), Twink (Diana LoVerso), and Frankie (Jani VanPelt). Frankie is planning an over-the-top “Gone With The Wind” themed wedding for Tina Jo, the older of her twin daughters.  As one might expect in a Southern Comedy, the hominy jest don’t always stick to the grits.

Ominski is an utterly fearless actress who pounces on her entire role with the same fervor that she brings to shucking down (part way) and leaping on the buffet table to attack the turkey.  VanPelt effectively portrays a woman who is the polar opposite – trying (in vain) to fit in with the local gentry, and eager to marry her daughter off to one of its scions. LoVerso skillfully captures the extremes of both sisters in a deceptively complex role. 

Although the show revolves around the women, some of the most fun comes from the men. Twink’s fiancé Wiley (Ted Schroeder) gets a lot of laughs as he moves from wild-eyed incoherence to near-comatose. Frankie’s husband Dub (Michael Allen) brings a likeable if lumbering charm to his role as the compliant but reluctant  father of the bride. There’s more than a little of Barney Fife in highway patrolman John Curtis Buntner (Stephen Radley) and Radley draws upon every Southern stereotype for his performance. UPS Driver/seminarian Justin Waverly (Tyler Beadle) nails the part of a befuddled blue collar ingénue coping with the women drawn like moths to the undeniable sex appeal of a man in a brown uniform.

The rest of the cast are thoroughly enjoying themselves, too – having almost as much fun as the audience.  Aurea Taylor is a fine physical comic whose shy portrayal of younger twin Gina Jo is highlighted by her awkward management of a truly hideous bridesmaid’s hoop skirt. Virginia Kincaid (as Patsy Price, the mother of the unseen groom) simply oozes snobbery.  Rounding out the cast are two more southern stereotypes, fully realized. Pat Romans is the enterprising multitasker, running the local florist shop/bus station and serving as the town’s premier wedding planner. Local psychic Nelda Lightfoot (Pamela Hough) projects just the right aura of mysterious chicanery to her malleable predictions.

The basic set (a church hall) is quickly converted into a variety of locations with portable set pieces and well-timed blackouts. Viola Pruitt’s costumes are colorful and appropriate to the characters and locale. The final (brief) concert by the Futrelle Sisters, reliving past glory as the Sermonettes touchingly brings the show full circle.

Dearly Beloved runs Saturdays and Sundays through March 22ndt at “The Stage” at Calvin Church, 10445 SW Canterbury Lane, Tigard, 97224, with shows at 7:30 p.m. on Saturdays and 2:00 p.m. on Sundays.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015


Teresa Chrisinger, Kraig Williams, and Stan Yeend

By Tina Arth and Darrell Baker

Once upon a time, there was a group of Americans called “WASPS” (White Anglo-Saxon Protestants). They generally ranged from the truly wealthy to upper-middle class, and they dominated much of our nation’s cultural, economic, and political structure for generations. WASP culture was promulgated primarily by the females of the species, who did not work outside the home and were inordinately proud of their English heritage, antique furniture, Wedgewood china, Waterford crystal, sterling silver flatware, and Mayflower Society certificates. Their daughters went to cotillion and became debutantes, their sons attended private prep schools (Phillips Exeter, anyone?), they belonged to country clubs and played golf. And their homes had capacious dining rooms where they gathered at dinner (and often at breakfast, too) for family meals – uninterrupted by ubiquitous modern distractions like television and telephones.

Beaverton Civic Theatre’s current production of A. R. Gurney’s The Dining Room is a play that lovingly explores and mocks the demise of WASPs as the (self-proclaimed) arbiters of culture in American society. The simple set (a single room dominated by a large dining room table and a correspondingly massive china cabinet) provides the backdrop for a series of dining room-centered stories, each illustrating a different aspect of genteel living.

Even though Doreen Lundberg has demonstrated her skill as a director time and again, we were still a bit nervous about how she would handle a small cast portraying 50+ different characters of all ages in almost a score of separate vignettes. In other hands, it could have been a train wreck, but Lundberg and her 6-person cast find the thematic unity necessary to express the larger story by telling their small tales.

BCT is fortunate to have a core group of talented actors who frequently populate its stage, and four of the six performers in The Dining Room are drawn from this group. We were delighted, however, to see two new faces on stage. Teresa Chrisinger plays ten different parts, ranging from a little girl to an Alzheimer’s stricken grande dame. She is effective in all roles, but her shining moment is the scene (with the other newcomer, Susan Page-Giberson) where two unsupervised teen girls dig into the parental liquor cabinet and create a lethal combination of gin, vodka, and Fresca to help them pass the afternoon. Having been there (up to and including the Fresca and the watered-down vodka) we can attest to the scene’s fundamental authenticity as well as the girls’ ability to capture the mood. Page-Giberson also navigates the gap between various social classes with finesse, one minute the passive-aggressive snob and the next the ubiquitous maid who is not seen and sees naught.

Now to the BCT “regulars” – beginning with Amanda Clark, a wonderful actress who knows how to use her spectacular eyes to sell any part she’s given.  Her petulantly defiant teen, who chooses theater with her aunt over dancing school, should resonate with any WASP daughter.  Aaron Morrow is at his best when he is playing an officious boor or a befuddled innocent. His take on the psychiatrist analyzing his contractor (a very neurotic Kraig Williams with daddy issues) is particularly funny. The high point of Williams’ many roles is the remarkable scene where, fruitlessly seeking approval, he imitates his father (Stan Yeend) as they read the morning paper at the dining table. Yeend is masterful throughout. He is one of the most versatile actors on Washington County stages, and his seriocomic performance as a doddering old man planning the distribution of his estate is strangely touching.

Those of us who personally experienced the demise of WASP culture (as attested by our Waterford crystal, sterling silver, and 1840’s era dining room table, all inherited from our parents) cannot help but enjoy this show. The real audience, however, must be younger generations who might otherwise never know, first-hand, how little they have missed!

The Dining Room runs through Saturday, March 14th at the Beaverton City Library Auditorium, 12375 SW Fifth Street, Beaverton, with performances at 7:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and 2:00 p.m. on Sundays.

Monday, March 2, 2015


Cast members Jessica Reed (Percy), Jeanna
Van Dyke (Hannah), and Jennifer Yamashiro (Shelby)

By Tina Arth and Darrell Baker

It is not often that a play inspires audience members to seek out and thank the director at show’s end. Theatre in the Grove’s current production of The Spitfire Grill is just such a production. TITG veteran director Darren Hurley has achieved a long-held dream by bringing this powerful musical to Forest Grove, and he has assembled a cast, orchestra, and production crew worthy of his vision.

The Spitfire Grill by James Valcq and Fred Alley, based on Lee David Zlotoff’s film of the same name, is one of the best shows you never heard of; once seen, it is a show you will never forget. Percy Talbot, a young woman just released from prison, hops a bus to Gilead, Wisconsin, selected because she fell in love with a photo of the fall leaves in a travel magazine. Gilead turns out to be a minute hamlet, depressed by the closure of the local quarry and stranded by the re-routing of the interstate. Percy gets a job at the only diner in town, the Spitfire Grill, which owner Hannah Ferguson has been trying unsuccessfully to sell for over a decade. Percy and local housewife Shelby Thorpe cook up a scheme to raffle off the grill, and this plan forms the skeleton of the show.

Jessica Reed’s powerful performance as Percy anchors a truly amazing cast. Her strong and beautiful voice sells a series of complex and emotional ballads; her acting is impeccable. Jeanna Van Dyke as Hannah gives the vocal and dramatic performance of a lifetime. Reed and Van Dyke literally brought us (and the people around us) to tears at one point in Act II. Jennifer Yamashiro as Shelby is the third musketeer in this dynamic diner triumvirate. Her lovely voice lends a bluesy touch to her solos, and she masterfully navigates her character’s transition from shy sparrow to confident eagle. The fourth woman in the cast, Melanie Shaw (as local gossip/postmistress Effie Krayneck) skillfully lends an occasional and much needed touch of comic relief.

The show’s three men, Justin Canfield (police officer Joe Sutter), James Grimes (Shelby’s husband Caleb Thorpe), and Thomas Robinson (the Visitor) round out the cast with their distinctive characterizations of a lonely male ingénue, a depressed and controlling bully, and a mysteriously silent vagrant. Canfield (who does superb double duty as vocal director) is believable as the upstanding and sympathetic local cop. In the belligerent “Ice and Snow” Canfield, Grimes, and Shaw form a powerful trio that captures the town’s desperate plight, while Canfield’s duet with Reed in “This Wide Woods” displays his character’s romantic side. Grimes, whose huge voice in “Digging Stone” clearly demonstrates the breadth and depth of his frustration, provides some of the show’s best vocal moments. Despite the absence of any songs or dialogue, Robinson’s mute performance is as eloquent as any on the stage, especially in the scene where he and Percy watch the sun rise over Gilead.

Under the direction of pianist Ingrid Unterseher, the five-piece orchestra is so good that we occasionally found ourselves watching the musicians as they interpreted the score – especially the interplay between fiddler and cellist.  The set design and evocative lighting obviate the need for scene changes – multiple levels, spotlights and colored gels convey movement of the principals as well as the shifting seasons.

The Spitfire Grill is community theater at its best, and fully merits the attention of audiences from the entire Portland metro area as well as enthusiastic local support.

Theatre in the Grove’s production of The Spitfire Grill runs through Sunday, March 15th with performances at 7:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and Sunday matinees at 2:30 p.m.