Bennett Campbell Ferguson

 

Laughing at the end of the world

Carol Triffle's apocalyptic comedy "Fallout" at Imago is a show of quirky madness with a heap of questions hanging like a mushroom cloud

What is Fallout? I suppose the term “end-of-days comedy” fits. Yet that seems too narrow for a play about war, friendship, sexual awakening and the adverse effects of nuclear ash on human hair. Written and directed by Imago Theatre’s renowned absurdist Carol Triffle, Fallout is a play far grander in scope than the cramped room where it unfolds.

In an era awash with self-important tales of heroines and heroes nobly braving the apocalypse, the idea of Triffle (co-founder of Imago and co-creator of the legendary Frogz) journeying to the end of the world armed with her trademark anarchic wit sounds inviting. Yet despite the healthy amount of chuckling in the audience on the night I saw Fallout, the play struck me as emotionally aloof and scattershot. It’s the theatrical equivalent of a cereal box stuffed with many disparate brands.

Kyle Delamarter: crazy like a fox, or just crazy in a foxhole? Imago Theatre photo

Fallout begins in a bomb shelter that a bumbling drifter named Bobby (Kyle Delamarter) has molded into a relatively cozy home. It’s not immediately clear whether Bobby is hiding from a nuclear war or is simply a reclusive lunatic (a scene where he muses nonsensically about snake bodies encourages the question). Yet he seems to have settled into a routine that consists of playing his out-of-tune guitar, writing in his diary, and dreaming of either going to college or dying (don’t look for logic in his thinking).

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Last Party at the Kit Kat Club

Getting hot and bothered in the Funhouse Lounge: Fuse Theatre Ensemble's "Cabaret" balances glamour and grit.

“The party is over.” Those words burst out of a character’s mouth near the end of Fuse Theatre Ensemble’s new production of Cabaret, striking an ironic chord. What, you may ask, is Cabaret if not a party? Isn’t it all about cheery show tunes, bowler hats and being called “old chum”?

Yes and no. Part show-business extravaganza, part queer manifesto and part requiem for pre-WWII Germany, the 1966 musical edition of Cabaret (which adapts Christopher Isherwood’s 1939 novel Goodbye to Berlin and John Van Druten’s 1951 play I Am a Camera) is a tornado of energy charged with both glee and grief. And while Fuse’s production sometimes struggles to weave a coherent path between those dueling emotional poles, it is nevertheless a rousing night of theater that ends on a powerfully tragic note.

Alec Cameron Lugo as Clifford, Gwendolyn Duffy as Sally Bowles. Fuse Theatre Ensemble

Cabaret is fueled by one of the most enduring mythological archetypes: the young man who enters an unfamiliar and alluring world. In this case, the man is the American novelist Clifford Bradshaw (Alec Cameron Lugo) and the world is Berlin during the time of the waning Weimar Republic. There, Clifford becomes fascinated with the maniacally intense English singer and dancer Sally Bowles (Gwendolyn Duffy) and her performance arena of choice: the Kit Kat Club, where straight, gay and trans performers alike are given carte blanche to express their identities in an inferno of music, movement and joy.

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Going with the flow

Oregon Children's Theatre's team Impulse creates improv at its best. Here's a review of the show—and a look behind the scenes.

You know an actor means business when he refers to the 2014 movie Whiplash (about a face-slapping, chair-throwing jazz conductor) as a model of a tough but successful learning experience. That’s what Hank Sanders, 17-year-old member of Oregon Children’s Theatre‘s improv team Impulse, did when I asked him about the group. “We read a book about how the best practice isn’t fun,” says Sanders. “So while I might not be always smiling and happy and be like, ‘Wow, I cannot wait for rehearsal,’ I think that’s a good sign and that we’re the best we’ve ever been.”

He has a point. Impulse’s 2018 show is improv at its finest—smoothly executed by well-trained performers, yet with a sense of weirdness that can only come from trusting your gut. I first encountered Impulse when I watched a rehearsal last month and the versatility I witnessed (the actors dreamed up comedic skits on the spot about everything from Batman to carpeting) is fully displayed in the show.

Impulse comedy-improv team 2018. Photo: Blake Wales

Impulse is a part of OCT’s Young Professionals Company, a year-long advanced acting program for students ages 14-18. The Impulse shows combine games with short and long scenes, which use audience suggestions as inspiration (the actors ask the audience beautifully bizarre questions such as, “Would you like to see a scene about a broken ruler or a crying student?”). This year’s performers are Sanders, Bryce Duncan, Isaac Ellingson, Devlin Farmer, Emma Fulmer, Nate Gardner, Onar Smith, Emma Stewart and David VanDyke.

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Hughes Heaven

Staged!'s teen musical "John Hughes High" is pure '80s gold

There’s a moment in Staged!’s new musical John Hughes High when a teenage girl realizes she’s falling in love. Yet the object of her affection is not one person—it’s a school packed with loners, leaders, artists, athletes, and plenty of kids who haven’t quite figured out what they are.

Nerd City: Aidan Tappert, Brendan Long, Martin Hernandez in “John Hughes High.” Photo: David Kinder

That moment is proof that the creators of John Hughes High, Mark LaPierre and Eric Nordin, understand that while Hughes had a sense of humor about high-school heartaches (who doesn’t laugh when Jon Cryer gets chucked into the girls’ bathroom in Pretty in Pink?), he did his young characters the honor of taking their emotions and desires seriously. John Hughes High (which is enjoying its world premiere on the Alder Stage at Artists Rep) does the same, and as a result, the rapidly beating heart of its heroine briefly becomes yours.

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The Fighter, unleashed

Defunkt Theatre's "Girl in the Red Corner" is a rousing feminist anthem

“I want to fight someone so bad!”

That’s what I heard one audience member say after the end of defunkt theatre’s fearsome production of Girl in the Red Corner, Stephen Spotswood’s play about the rise of a rookie mixed-martial-arts fighter. I felt the same way, but I also understood that while Girl in the Red Corner is about fighting, it is specifically about women fighting. The true victory is not that the play’s protagonist, Halo (Elizabeth Jackson), becomes a winner, but that she defies abusive men and cynical women by molding her body and spirit into taut, unassailable fighting form.

It’s a long way from where she starts out. Girl in the Red Corner, which was directed by Paul Angelo, begins with Halo divorced, unemployed, and living with her Bud Light-loving mother, Terry (Diane Kondrat), who is about to be fired from her job at Safeway. Halo eventually finds work as a telemarketer, but that defines her less than her lessons with the ruthless Gina (Mamie Colombero) at an MMA gym.

Going with the punches. Photo courtesy defunkt theatre

MMA is the only way Halo can release the rage that has been building inside her ever since she was forced to quit her previous job after being sexually harassed by her boss (the sound of her leg kicking an Everlast pad is like a sonic boom). The only question is whether that will be enough to keep her from falling into the canyons of hopelessness that have consumed her mother and her sister Brinn (Paige Rogers), both of whom have been demeaned by powerful men for so long that they have all but given up resisting.

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Surviving the Baby Wars

CoHo's "Luna Gale" chronicles a volatile and exhilarating custody battle

There is a moment in CoHo’s astounding new production of Rebecca Gilman’s Luna Gale when a mother learns a stomach-churning secret about her daughter. Yet she doesn’t scream, shake her first or exclaim that it can’t be true. She simply freezes as still as a photograph.

That is what it feels like watching Luna Gale. Gilman’s story of a brutal custody battle in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, may not be soothing, but in the hands of director Brandon Woolley and his ferociously committed cast, it is spellbinding. Together, they embrace not only Luna Gale‘s power to provoke, but also the fact that it is entertainment in the best and brashest sense of the word—a roller coaster of a play packed with twists that could have made a Sixth Sense-era M. Night Shyamalan howl, “Why didn’t I think of that?”

Sharonlee McLean, “a force of unearthly brilliance” in “Luna Gale.” Photo: Owen Carey

The first hairpin narrative turn arrives in the opening scene, where we meet a young couple, Karlie and Peter (Shannon Mastel and Jacob Camp). With her black nail polish, ripped jeans and James Dean-style bellowing, Karlie looks like a teenager fuming in the principal’s office. However, we quickly learn that she and Peter are immersed in all-too-adult crises. Not only are they meth addicts, but they are also in danger of losing their baby daughter Luna to Karlie’s mother, Cindy (Danielle Weathers, who also co-produced the show), an evangelical Christian who hides her vindictive spirit behind touchy-feely declarations like “The thing about Jesus is that he always gets results.”

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