Monday, December 14, 2015


bottom row, l - r: Sarah Fuller, Kathleen Silloway, Eric Lonergan middle row: Robbie Estabrook, Patti Speight, Brian Kennedy
back row: Ben Hare (standing), William Ferguson, Lacy Lonergan Photo by Patti Speight

By Tina Arth

The final course on the local holiday theater menu is something of a Christmas Miracle: only three weeks from casting to opening night – yet it’s definitely not a disaster (except, of course, where it’s supposed to be!). HART Theatre faced a last-minute challenge when key cast members for their planned production, Plaid Tidings, were unavailable. They brought in an ensemble of known commodities, HART veterans who could be relied on to do a credible job whether on stage or behind the scenes – spiced up with a few newcomers. In a leap of faith that paid off, they selected Mark Putnam to direct (for the first time since his college days), and quickly assembled a production of Happy Hollandaise, a tried-and-true holiday farce.

Despite the title, Hollandaise is definitely not gourmet fare. Tim Koenig’s slapstick comedy tells the absurd story of British brother and sister Claire and George Finley, attempting to welcome the new vicar, Father William Abbot, and his very pregnant wife Mary to town. All Claire wants is the perfect Christmas! She has planned a quiet, elegant dinner, highlighted by the cooking of renowned German chef Vilma Hasenpfeffer, whose special Hollandaise sauce will be the crowning touch. George arrives home to find chaos – their father, retired actor Philip Finley, has received a nasty blow to the head (from Claire, who beaned him with the crèche) and is reenacting a series of his favorite roles (in full costume, with weapons). Attempts to lock Philip in the basement are futile, the chef is late, the guests arrive early, the neighborhood is plagued by the notorious “Lone Wolf” burglar, and Mary turns out to be a bit more pregnant than expected. Of course, it all works out in the end – although the Sino-Teutonic fusion of Sweet and Sauerkraut may never catch on in the local food carts.

As with most stage farces, there is at all times a lot going on and it can be confusing to keep track of the frequent plot/character shifts. This production’s salvation is in the timing – while the pace is brisk, Putnam has slowed down both the action and the actors’ dialogue just enough that the audience can catch, follow and react to some really funny lines and great physical comedy. The detailed, attractive single set has four doors, a hallway, and a window so cast members are able to make frequent entrances and exits without colliding, and the show’s action is not slowed by scene changes.

The nine-person cast is solid – at a time when many actors might still be fighting to get off-book, this group was ready for opening night. Particular standouts include Brian Kennedy (“Philip”) who clearly gets to have the most fun – not too many lines, and his swashbuckling “El Caballo” is a real scene-stealer. This high-school senior is definitely someone to watch. Sarah Fuller’s “Claire” does a fine job of displaying quiet desperation with occasional bursts of hysteria, and Ben Hare (“George”) switches from hapless bumbler to Vilma impersonator with aplomb (although the enormous and wobbling breasts are a bit over-the-top even for farce). The most consistently funny character is Kathleen Silloway as the indomitable “Vilma” – her accent and distinctive lumbering gait are maintained throughout the show and are perfect for the part.

Happy Hollandaise has only a two-week run, so audiences have four more chances to catch this lighthearted show that will raise your spirits and prepare you for the festivities of the coming weeks.

Happy Hollandaise is playing at the HART Theatre, 185 SE Washington, Hillsboro through Sunday, December 20th, with performances Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 p.m.

Monday, December 7, 2015

BCT’s A Little Princess – Family Friendly Holiday Fare

Monsieur DuFarge (Michael Prange) enjoying some mayhem with girls from
the Seminary. Photo by Ammon Riley. 

By Tina Arth

Beaverton officially kicked off the city’s holiday season with an evening aimed at children and those who are children in their hearts: the lighting of the enormous tree outside the Beaverton Library followed by opening night of Beaverton Civic Theatre’s charming production of A Little Princess. Director Melissa Riley is using Bethany Schwarzkopf’s adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s much-loved novel, a perennial favorite of young girls throughout the English-speaking world. Like the novel, this version of the story is most captivating to pre- and early-teen girls, but the show is appropriate for many younger children and adults who cherish the world of imagination.

The play is set early in the 20th century and tells the story of young Sarah Crewe, a wealthy young girl raised in India who has lost her mother.  Her father is off to South Africa to expand his fortune with investments in the diamond mines, and he leaves his beloved daughter in the care of Miss Minchin’s Select Seminary for Ladies (in this version, located in New York City). Sarah has been treated like a princess all her life, and she treats everyone she meets (especially the underdogs) with the same gentle and loving attitude. For the first four years she is given royal treatment by Miss Minchin (who actually is quite jealous, and despises the young girl). When word reaches the Seminary that Sarah’s father has died and left her a pauper, the tables quickly turn. Sarah is sent to the attic to live and work with Becky, the scullery maid. Overworked, abused, and half-starved, she catches the attention of a wealthy neighbor, Thomas Carrisford, who has been searching for years for the daughter of his deceased friend, Captain Crewe. When Sarah recognizes her father’s friend, he rescues her from the evil Miss Minchin (and ensures that Miss Minchin will be punished for her misdeeds). The implausible coincidences and simplistic resolution work fine, because the play is aimed at children and celebrates the power and beauty of a child’s imagination.

8th grader Charlotte Burke (“Sarah”) is a stage veteran who carries off the lead role with compassion, resignation, pathos, and fire (as the moment demands).  Jeanine Stassens (“Miss Minchin”) personifies of every girl’s worst nightmare as she shifts from obsequious toady to cold sadist, and she laces her performance with believable menace.  As “mean girl” Lavinia, Victoria White brings a devious, self-righteous snobbery to her performance that most women in the audience must have recognized from their own middle school years, while Belle Edwards does a superb job of making us believe that she is the insecure and friendless “Ermendgarde.” Although the mature Michael Prange (“Monsieur Dufarge”) claims not to have acted since high school, he creates a warm and memorable character (and does a solid job of maintaining his French accent).  While he has very few lines and the diction of a kindergartner, tiny Logan Pounders (“Beggar Boy”) is impossibly endearing – the few moments he is on stage are unforgettable.

Alex Woodard’s set design is simple and flexible, and the use of the steps to carry on action during minor set changes ensures that no time is lost. The auditorium’s new light system is utilized to full advantage, and lighting designer Carter Marquis uses this medium effectively to change locale and mood throughout the play.

In a cast with lots of children, there are inevitably problems with vocal projection, and there are a few places where (at least from the back of the auditorium) I had a hard time understanding bits of dialogue. While the context is clear enough that there is no danger of getting lost, audience members with hearing issues should plan to arrive early and sit closer to the stage.  One other warning – judging from the behavior of children in two nearby rows, this is not a show well-suited to the interests and attention span of some active small boys. If they can’t handle two hours of young girls and their princess-fetishes, leave the poor little guys home!

Beaverton Civic Theatre’s production of A Little Princess runs through Sunday, December 20th at the Beaverton City Library Auditorium, with 7:30 pm shows on Friday and Saturday and 2:00 pm matinees on Sunday.

The Worst Kids in the World Deliver TITG’S Best Christmas Pageant Ever

From Left:  Gwendolyn Woods, Andrew Inman, Anna Adams, Nathan White, Sam
Ruder, Alyssa Kittle, Sean Fisk, Matthew Lowther, Sam Dennis, Charlee
Clement, Quinten VanDyke, Pamelajean Myers, Isabel Minor, Irene VanDyke,
Maya Luevane. Photo by Rebecca Cooper. 

By Tina Arth

While almost every community theatre group endeavors to present a holiday-themed play in December, it can be tough to cast these shows. Show biz, even at the local level, can be very demanding; actors are often reluctant to invest so much time in a production while spouses, parents, and children wait at home. In her Director’s Notes, Jessica Reed acknowledges the importance of this time, saying “Christmas has always meant spending time with family a way that we don’t usually get to the rest of the year.” Theatre in the Grove, a mainstay of both community theatre and children’s theatre in Washington County, addresses this problem neatly in their holiday production of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by delivering a nice amalgam of the two – call it “family theater” – that incorporates entire families into the production process. A quick look at the credits in the program says it all: the Dawes family, the Dennis family, the Fisk family, Brad and Christina Inman, the Harrelson and Lesh family, the Ross family, the Ruder family – all are recognized for their work both on stage and behind the scenes bringing the show to its audience.

Author Barbara Robinson has written a show that is funny, touching, and short enough to hold the attention span of even the youngest audience member: it’s time for the annual Christmas pageant, and the regular director, the imperious Mrs. Armstrong, is out of commission. The other parents gang up on fellow mom Grace Bradley, who reluctantly agrees to direct the show. Her husband Bob, who is totally disinterested, even more reluctantly agrees to help out by ensuring that the shepherds and baby angels appear on cue and in costume. The show threatens to fall apart when the Herdmans, who are the literally the worst kids in the world, demand lead roles as Mary, Joseph, the Wise Men, and the Angel of the Lord. The other town children don’t dare oppose this group of cigar-smoking, lying, shoplifting, assaultive thugs, who envision the Wise Men as spies, Herod in need of a thorough beating, and the Angel as a dark avenger. With no local mom willing to allow her baby to appear onstage in the grasp of these miscreants, they are forced to use a (much suffering) doll as the Baby Jesus. Of course, it’s Christmas, and a nice dose of holiday magic transforms the Herdmans and helps the whole town to see the story in a beautiful new light – hence, it is truly the best pageant ever.
Casting a show with a large cast of children often means that the adults are kind of an afterthought – brought in because they are tall enough, old enough, and can learn their lines while policing the antics of a stage full of kids. However, this show is something of an exception. Gratia Minor (“Grace”) brings a healthy combination of cynicism, resignation, and competitiveness to a key role, and Andy Dawes (“Bob”) displays fine timing and comic sensibility. Another adult standout is Aurea Taylor (“Mrs. McCarthy”), a priggish younger version of the domineering Mrs. Armstrong.  The kids, of course, are all impossibly winning – and Dawes’ interaction with the littlest angel (I suspect she is his daughter Pru) is just spectacular – well worth the price of admission!
The show is, as mentioned, very short. It would be nice to ratchet down the pace at a key moment (when Imogene starts crying) to draw more attention to this pivotal scene. It would also be helpful for Althea Harrelson (amazingly cute though she is in her portrayal of Gladys) to slow down her delivery and focus on really articulating the lines – she has some of the best moments in the show and should really work it!
Now that Theatre in the Grove has a tight new roof to keep the rain out, there is no excuse for all families in the Forest Grove vicinity to miss this entertaining holiday show, and to reflect on what it really means to be a refugee seeking shelter in troubled times.

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever is playing at Theatre in the Grove, 2028 Pacific Avenue, Forest Grove, with regular performances at 7:30 p.m. on December 11, 12, 18, 19, and Sunday matinees at 2:30 p.m. on December 13, 20.