THEATER

Review: a swift and lean rock-star ‘Hamlet’

As Post5 starts a half-million-dollar campaign for a new home, the great Dane prevaricates quickly

Last weekend at Post5 Theatre, managing director Corinne Patel announced a capital campaign seeking a little more than a half-million dollars to enable the company to find “our forever home.” She didn’t say where that forever home might be, only that it would be closer to the homes of their core patrons who have been driving out to Northeast 82nd Avenue; no doubt the secret is in the ticket system’s zip code data.

The campaign, while not exactly big-money, is a sign of ambition from a little, out-of-the-way theater company started just a few years ago by a pair of twenty-something guys from Southern Oregon. But Orion Bradshaw (who recently ceded the managing director job to Patel and became outreach coordinator) and artistic director/resident leading man Ty Boice have shown the pluck to get their fledgling off the ground.

Ambition and pluck come together, too, in Post5’s production of Hamlet, a lean and muscular push through this masterpiece’s challenging terrain.

Gorham as Claudius, Boice as Hamlet, Hadley Boyd as Gertrude. Photo: Russell J. Young

Gorham as Claudius, Boice as Hamlet, Hadley Boyd as Gertrude. Photo: Russell J. Young

Hamlet, to put it mildly, is a complicated guy. En route to the avenging of his father’s murder, he wrestles with a host of questions — practical, ethical, spiritual, perhaps even epistemological and existential. When he’s not tipping precipitously into either indignation or despair, he’s evincing a peculiar sort of brash uncertainty.

Clad in black, his blazer collar upturned, his eyes hidden behind large sunglasses, Boice’s Hamlet takes the stage as a rock-star prince, studied in his melancholy and emotional distance. Tall, blond and handsome, he looks the part of young Danish royalty.

The tricky part of playing Hamlet is making his intensely mercurial nature feel authentic and compelling; to render it somehow emotionally coherent yet still psychologically inscrutable. Boice hits this mark better in some scenes than in others. Bamboozling Polonius, the King’s adviser, he shows deft comic timing and shifting tones in his flagrant display of (real or feigned?) madness. Jousting verbally with the nefarious King Claudius — who has killed Hamlet’s father and taken both crown and queen — or with his erstwhile school pals Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, he floats like a butterfly, stings like a bee.

At other times, Hamlet’s famously reflective eloquence pours out of him too quickly, a pressurized flow of verbiage. Quite why the speech speeds ahead, or occasionally slows markedly, isn’t clear as a matter of attitude or thought progression. Perhaps it’s meant to suggest a racing mind, fueled by a volatile combination of youth, grief, passion, confusion and fear. In any case, Boice does make Hamlet convincing as a character who could and should be a man of action, but whose thinking gets in the way.

As much as a Hamlet rides on its Hamlet, such a complex central character needs strong figures to play against. Jeff Gorham’s Claudius is conniving and ruthless, but never a cardboard villain; he wants what he wants, and that means he must stay his course just as much as Hamlet must his own. As Claudius is Hamlet’s foil in an ethical sense, Polonius is in a generational one, contrasting the young prince’s perceptive, questioning nature with a seasoned courtier’s dull certitude. Tobias Andersen, clipboard ever in hand, renders the old windbag as at once comically fatuous and admirably paternal; we can laugh at him, yet still feel for him.

Speaking of foils, Laertes, the son of Polonius, both is one and wields one. His father, like Hamlet’s, is slain, but unlike the prevaricating prince, he moves swiftly and furiously to action. Jake Street’s coiled, muscular intensity is just right for the role, especially in the climactic swordplay that brings all plots to a point.

What might stand out most in this production, though, is the prominence of Horatio, Hamlet’s loyal confidant. Casting a woman in the role — especially an emotionally attuned actor who also happens to be the leading man’s wife, Cassandra Boice — highlights the closeness and tenderness in the friendship as Horatio watches and even helps Hamlet along his collision course with tragedy.

Director Paul Angelo has done his part here, too. A spare scenic approach, utilizing merely a few curtains, chairs and small tables, lets the action flow, as do a few judicious trims to the text (such as clipping all the odd business at the end wherein Fortinbras, an invading Norwegian, is handed the Danish crown). Presenting the play’s most renowned scene, Hamlet’s “To be, or not to be” soliloquy, illuminated by only an intermittently flickering lighter is a terrifically apt choice, both visually and thematically. And though he needlessly presents the actors in the “play within the play” as inept boobs, and lets Phillip J. Berns ham it up far too egregiously (as is his wont) as the flippant gravedigger, Angelo otherwise draws smart, well-measured performances from the cast.

The truest ambition, after all, is founded on steady work and small yet worthwhile achievements. This Hamlet surely counts.

*

Post5′s Hamlet continues through May 4. Ticket and schedule information here.

‘A Pigeon and a Boy’ talkback notes

A biblical pigeon hunt and a pro/con character assessment (with spoilers!) for JTC's current play.

Some plays make me laugh. Some make me cry. But the Jewish Theatre Collaborative‘s A Pigeon and a Boy is the first to send me thumbing through the Old Testament for pigeon references.

The play is a “first” in many ways: a world premiere stage adaptation of Meir Shalev’s novel of the same name, adapted in-house by director Sacha Reich and Doren Elias. It’s the culmination of the JTC’s “Page2Stage” season, an immersive book club experience that started last fall with staged readings of the first chapter and continued last month with a series of “footnote” excerpts from Israeli authors.

Nick Ferrucci, Chantal DeGroat, and Sam Dinkowitz briefly portray a group of British tourists, searching the sky for every sort of bird but the titular pigeon. credit: Friderike Heuer

Nick Ferrucci, Chantal DeGroat, and Sam Dinkowitz briefly portray a group of British tourists, searching the sky for every sort of bird but the titular pigeon. credit: Friderike Heuer

As a Johnny-come-lately who’s not (yet) read the novel, I can’t say how well the play serves the original text…but the experience of watching it is undeniably novel-esque. Characters are connected by especially deep familial, romantic, and ideological ties. Specters from the past breathe down the necks of people in the present; sins of fathers are conspicuously visited upon their children; archetypes and icons abound. The story spans a broad scope of time, with two generations elapsing in as many hours—but time can also stand still. At key moments, the actors freeze-frame, narrating flashes of realization. Twice—at the beginning and near the end—a pigeon rises and hangs in the air, book-ending the plot between furtive twin wingbeats like angels flanking the arc of the covenant. The novel begat this play, but parts of the Bible obviously begat the novel. And that’s what sent me on my scriptural pigeon-hunt.

Bob Hicks, having marked the play’s creative development more closely than I, wrote an excellent review last week for ArtsWatch. If you have yet to see the play, or to read Shalev’s text, by all means head straight to Bob’s review. But if you’re already familiar with the story and crave more biblical and social context, read on. SPOILER ALERT: The following analysis, inspired by opening weekend’s Sunday talkback, unveils surprises from the plot.

“We’d simply like to start the conversation,” explained Reich as she perched on the edge of the stage alongside Kenneth Gordon after the epic play had run its course. “What struck you? What do you wonder about?”

Continues…

A pigeon, a boy, a novel night onstage

Jewish Theatre Collaborative's literary drama takes flight into the heart of home

“That novel just came to life for me!” I overheard a fellow theatergoer exclaim happily as I worked through the crowd at Milagro Theatre on Saturday night after the opening performance of the Jewish Theatre Collaborative’s A Pigeon and a Boy.

Well, yes, it did – and in some interesting ways. She might have meant the story itself swept her off her feet. And she might have meant she loved seeing good actors step inside the story and bring its characters into heart-thumping, flesh-and-blood reality.

Muñoz, DeGroat, Dinkowitz: ready to fly. Photo: Friderike Heuer

Muñoz, DeGroat, Dinkowitz: ready to fly. Photo: Friderike Heuer

Both were reasonable responses to JTC’s performance, a world-premiere stage adaptation of the Israeli writer Meir Shalev’s time-hopping novel about a rumpled, aging tour guide in contemporary Israel and the unlikely love story of a pair of young pigeon-handlers during the 1948 war of independence. A Pigeon and a Boy ripples with themes of home and belonging, issues that are intensely potent in Israel and the Middle East. But onstage the tale’s metaphors play second fiddle to a more basic and immediate dramatic impulse: how’s life going to work out for these characters right here in front of my face?

And that strikes me as a good thing.

Continues…

Nobody leaves Deevy in a suitcase

Readers Theatre Rep revives a fascinating figure from the Irish theater: last chance Saturday night.

Spitfire Irish playwright Teresa Deevy (1894-1963) didn’t have it so easy. She was struck deaf before she ever started writing professionally, and then, after a brief rise to acclaim, her work was struck down by Irish censorship laws. Her scripts, stashed in her native Waterford “in a green suitcase under the bed in the spare room,” were only recently unearthed by Jonathan Bank at New York’s Mint Theater, and quickly snapped up by local Ire-o-phile, dialect coach, and director Mary “Mac” McDonald-Lewis for a short run with Readers Theatre Repertory, an undersung gem of the staged reading format since 2001.

Teresa Deevy. Photo:  IrishCentral.com

Teresa Deevy. Photo: IrishCentral.com

Last night and tonight – Saturday, March 22 – at Blackfish Gallery, RTR hosts The Belle of Waterford: Discovering Teresa Deevy, a flight of three blocked, rehearsed staged readings: Holiday House, Strange Birth, and In Search of Valour. While each has a distinct flavor, the three do present a through-theme: bravery — not in its oft-lauded applications in business or battle, but in its subtler, social contexts; the bravery to face someone you’d rather shun, or to make romantic overtures and risk rejection.

Holiday House

High-strung Hetty Mackey (Megan Skye Hale) and her warm, easygoing mother (Chrisse Roccaro) prepare a summer home for a potentially tense month-long family reunion. Doris (Sarah Hennessy), her sister-in-law by way of her brother Neil (Josh Weinstein), was originally engaged to her other brother, Derek (Ted deChatelet), and the pair haven’t spoken since the switch. Meanwhile, Derek’s rebound wife Jil (Foss Curtis) will also vacation with the group. Doris, furtive and regretful, wants Derek back. Neil, a bit of a dandy, has detached his affections and fallen “in love with his car.” Jil is catty and defensive toward Doris, whom she sees (rightly?) as a threat, and she’s clingy and resentful of her husband Derek for putting her in this situation. Derek, meanwhile, is playing it cool, lightly ribbing his ex and waving off his wife’s concerns. But a partner switch is thickly foreshadowed….

Strange Birth

A pragmatic, bright receptionist and mail handler for a small boarding house, Sarah Meade (Curtis) knows everyone’s business. She knows that Mrs. Taylor (Chris Sheilds) is expecting a visit from her long-lost son, that Mr. Bassett (Weinstein) is depressed that he hasn’t heard from his would-be sweetheart, that Mrs. Stims (Rocarro) has two new letters … the contents of which she’s suddenly snappy about, despite having confided in Sarah in the past (so it must be bad news). Though intimately acquainted with others’ affairs, Sarah is apparently alienated from her own, failing to consciously process her obvious crush on the postman, Bill Carowyn (Thomas Slater), until he presents her with a letter addressed to “Mrs. Carowyn,” referencing his wish to marry her. She balks: “All the people in this house are sufferin’ because of love.” But the newly ebullient Mrs. Taylor begs to differ: “Life is worth livin’ in contrast”—meaning painful moments are justified by joyful ones.

In Search of Valor

Young domestic Ellie Irwin (Lissie Huff) is exhausted by the dull company of her pious mistress Mrs. Maher (Roccaro), and entertains herself with escapist fantasies spun from a local parish production of Coriolanis. She dreams not only of epic battles from the Shakespeare story, but also of the storied life of the play’s lead actress, a Miss Carlotta Berk, who went on to a brief stint on the London stage, then ended her life by drinking poison. So taken is Ellie with this story, she extends her worship to Berk’s surviving family, the Glitterons, and presses their maid Stasia (Shields) for thrilling details about their private lives. Meanwhile, as rumors swirl of a madman on the loose, Jack the Scalp, Ellie secretly roots for him; even a violent attack may relieve her of boredom. The Glitterons (Hennessy and deChatelet) eventually come looking for their maid, and upon meeting them, Ellie is bitterly underwhelmed by how normal and cowardly they seem. Even when Jack the Scalp (Weinstein) does happen to invade the home, he fails to live up to Ellie’s dreams of a brave renegade. After chasing him away, she exclaims, “There is no man livin’ now. Small wonder a woman would take poison.”

*

Which came first — Deevy’s disdain for characters who can’t take the heat, or her censors’ rulings that her scripts were too hot for the stage? Either way, an argument was waged, and Deevy’s plays and potential audiences were the short-term losers. Fortunately, good literature outlives both its writers and its censors, and calls for bravery ring true in any age.

*

RTR’s next event after this evening’s reading at Blackfish Gallery will be April’s “Zell-stock,” featuring the works of Let a Hundred Flowers Bloom playwright David Zellnik. The company also has a few Deevy anthologies available for sale ($15).

————

A. L. Adams also writes the monthly column Art Walkin’  for  The Portland Mercury, and is  former arts editor of Portland Monthly magazine. Read more from Adams: Oregon ArtsWatch | The Portland Mercury
Support Oregon ArtsWatch!

 

This month onstage: hypocrites, senior sex, other twice-told tales

Suddenly, Portland's stages are an echo chamber. But it's an INTERESTING echo chamber.

Say, is there an echo in here? And by “here,” I mean in Portland theater, specifically current/closing plays that I’ve recently seen: Portland Center Stage’s A Small Fire, Artists Rep’s The Motherfucker with the Hat, Post5′s Tartuffe and Spectravagasm, Shaking The Tree’s One Flea Spare, Defunkt’s Let A Hundred Flowers Bloom, and Triangle’s Next Fall.

David Bodin and Kayla Lian in "One Flea Spare." Photo: Shaking the Tree.

David Bodin and Kayla Lian in “One Flea Spare.” Photo: Shaking the Tree.

Staying well clear of cliché, these shows have been delving into a lot of relevant themes that you don’t see every day on the stage. And unless I need my eyes adjusted, I’ve been seeing double. Just for fun, with some (mostly) late-run spoilers, here’s a short list of motifs that recur at least twice:

Senior Sex

In at least two productions, One Flea Spare and A Small Fire, senior citizens climax on stage. (Seniorgasm?) In both instances, the late-life lovers have suffered a loss of sensation, and use sex to reconnect, which brings us to…

Sensory Deprivation

One Flea Spare, Let A Hundred Flowers Bloom, and A Small Fire each introduces us to a character who can’t feel like he/she used to. In Flea, the loss is due to scar tissue sustained in a fire. In Fire, a rare nerve disorder robs a character’s senses one at a time. (And, no, oddly enough, I didn’t get those titles crossed.) In Flowers, HIV meds hypersensitize a character’s skin to the point where he can’t stand to be touched.

Bible Bangers

These exaggerated characters have swooped into the current plays like a sweet chariot. In Tartuffe, they abound as the title character and his enablers. In Next Fall, they’re praying for the recovery of their openly Christian, secretly gay son. In Spectravagasm, they’re the subject of spoof, and in Hat, a different bible—the AA recovery one—stands in for the other good book. Which brings us to…

Hypocrisy

Tartuffe and Hat each shows us supposed right-living mentors who backstab their protegees. In Next Fall, there’s another twist: a religious zealot backstabs himself, alternately accepting beliefs that do not condone his lifestyle, and practicing a lifestyle that’s not supported by his beliefs.

Matthew Kern and Andrew Bray in "Let a Hundred Flowers Bloom" at defunct. Photo: Heather Viera Keeling

Matthew Kern and Andrew Bray in “Let a Hundred Flowers Bloom” at defunct. Photo: Heather Viera Keeling

The Gay Community

Both Next Fall and Flowers center on committed long-term monogomous gay couples, and while Flowers hits a community hot button, HIV, Fall humanizes its pair with an everyman situation. Gay or straight, we can all be put down by a hard bump to the head.

Hispanic Bi

This is a great run for switch-hitters from south of the border. In both Hat and Flowers, we’re introduced to a discreet, half-closeted, het-married “Maricón.” In Flowers, a roguish shoe salesman warns his “blanquito” that he limits dalliances with men to “two times” to evade discovery by his pregnant wife. In Hat, the main character’s gay cousin is tired of being called effeminate and eager to show how tough he is (as tough as Van Damme, apparently) in a fight. But other than that, these characters are so similar they could almost trade plays.

Looking back, this has generally been a high-stakes, agony-and-ecstasy-filled fleet of dramas, with razor’s edges and gnashing teeth…and a few good laughs interspersed. It’s showed us challenging stuff—and then, just in case we missed it, showed it again.

————

A. L. Adams also writes the monthly column Art Walkin’  for  The Portland Mercury, and is  former arts editor of Portland Monthly magazine. Read more from Adams: Oregon ArtsWatch | The Portland Mercury
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Review: ‘Next Fall’ is potent, but not perfect

Opening night jitters blunt the impact of a touch-and-go medical dramady.

Luke and Adam first fell for each other when Luke (James Sharinghousen) gave Adam (Jason Glick) the Heimlich maneuver, but now their caretaker roles are reversed. Luke lies unconscious in the hospital while his helpless partner keeps vigil. Next Fall‘s premise hits especially close to home for Triangle Productions director Don Horn, whose son sustained a 46-day coma in 2006 before reviving and pulling through.

Geoffey Nauffts’ fictional script unfolds on two planes that the stage is split to accommodate. On the right side, there’s the hospital waiting room, where Luke’s friends and family—strangers to one another— interact awkwardly and imagine the worst. On the left, we’re shown scenes from Luke and Adam’s past, the laid-up Luke springing back into action to depict Adam’s memories of their relationship—some touching, some tense.

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Meet the ensemble: Helen Raptis, Bill Barry, James Sharinghousen, Jason Glick, Michelle Maida and Alex Fox.

The dynamic between Luke and Adam is a familiar May-September romance; an energetic, naive pup nipping at the heels of an older, more sedate dog who mostly enjoys it but occasionally growls. The gay rights politic, though ever-present, is neither overblown nor oversimplified by this story, thanks to Luke’s mixed loyalties across the commonly accepted “gays v. Christians” and “gays v. Republicans” binaries. Like his Bible-banging parents, Luke believes that homosexuality is a sin…it’s just one he’s willing to repeat and then repent every day. When his dad visits the couple’s shared apartment, Luke attempts to hastily “de-gay” the place (unfortunately missing a racy Mapplethorpe). Adam, of course, disagrees with Luke’s approach and frequently calls out his young partner’s hypocrisy. At the time of Luke’s injury, this bone of contention has finally snapped and Adam’s on the verge of leaving…but he doesn’t expect it to end this way. Now stuck in the waiting room with nothing but time to reflect, he’s regretting his last words and (understandably) chafing at the company of Luke’s parents, who, though concerned and loving, are also the source of Luke’s half-baked beliefs.

Luke’s father, the stoic and almost too aptly named Butch (Bill Barry), has converted his anxiety to anger, while his mother Arlene (Helen Raptis) burns off her nervous energy by running her colorful mouth. Brandon and Holly (Alex Fox and Michelle Maida) are tertiary supporters of Luke; his fellow Bible student/possible ex and his employer, respectively. Their waiting room seats would be tight enough without the proverbial elephant in the room: Luke and Adam’s romantic relationship, which Adam doesn’t feel at liberty to reveal to Luke’s parents. And therein lies the most prominent political footnote: If the couple were heterosexual, this issue would at least be less looming. (Don’t forget that liberal heteros can still face blowback from conservative family members for “living in sin.” Still, that problem seems smaller overall, doesn’t it? Instead of a whole elephant, somebody might just have a cow.)

Despite the heavy implications here, Naufft’s dialogue feels natural and unpretentious, peppered with the sort of popped-off un-PC remarks and casual errors that happen in ordinary discourse. A character who means “cleft palate” accidentally says “club feet” and is corrected. The word “Mongolian” is misunderstood as “mongoloid,” leading to an irrelevant observation about the mentally disabled. Realistic and perhaps less funny than it intends to be, the script at least avoids feeling preachy. Much of the dramatic burden rests on Adam’s shoulders, and we definitely feel for him. He wasn’t too happy with his life before Luke, and he’s at his wits’ end now.

On opening night, performances across the board lacked a final polish. Southern accents had a hitch in their getalong, and general momentum stagnated within scenes as single moods or poses were held too long. At one point, a character even called Butch by the wrong name, “Bruce”—though there is no Bruce at all in the play. The supporting cast could still stand to get better acquainted with each other, the leads, and their lines, as well as conjure more dynamic moods within each scene. They’re not far off…but they’re not quite there.

A few loose ends won’t deal-break this powerful content. Still, the kickoff of Next Fall does overlap with the final weeks of Defunkt’s (recently extended) Let A Hundred Flowers Bloom, a play very similar in theme (from hospitalization to health to the special concerns of long-term commitment between gay men) if not tone (Flowers is more irreverent by design, funnier and warmer in execution) in which every performer is pulling his weight. Depending on how you look at it, each of these shows could inform a greater dialogue about gay monogamy and health from different angles…or, seeing one could negate the necessity of catching the other. If you have to choose, you’re better off snatching the last few Flowers while Fall‘s pieces settle into place.

————

A. L. Adams also writes the monthly column Art Walkin’  for  The Portland Mercury, and is  former arts editor of Portland Monthly magazine. Read more from Adams: Oregon ArtsWatch | The Portland Mercury
Support Oregon ArtsWatch!

The mysterious case of the missing Bard

Ashland's 2015 season will include only one Shakespeare on the outdoor stage. Shall we all panic now?

In one of those inexplicable zombie moments that strike the social-media world with déjà vu-ish regularity, a column from 2008 by Brendan Kiley in Seattle’s alt-weekly The Stranger came back to life a couple of weeks ago with a, well, vengeance. Theater peeps were posting it all over Facebook, sometimes cheering, sometimes jeering. Ten Things Theaters Need To Do Right Now To Save Themselves, the headline blared, and at the top of the list, nailed Martin Luther-style to the virtual church door, was this demand to the papists of the holy stage: Enough with the goddamned Shakespeare already.

Ashland's "Comedy of Errors" this spring: too popular for my own good? Photo: Jenny Graham

Ashland’s “Comedy of Errors” this spring: too popular for my own good? Photo: Jenny Graham

In Portland, where we have dueling Lears onstage right now and an ingrained cultural certainty that bardliness is next to godliness, it’s not bloody likely. Actors like to act Shakespeare. Audiences like to see it. Around here, people know the difference between Richard II and Richard III. They speak knowingly of The Two Noble Kinsmen, and they can unknot a Problem Play like nobody’s Gordian business. They don’t blink an eye at the thought of goofy-but-fun Original Practice Shakespeare in a city park, or The Tempest with a woman Prospero (the excellent Linda Alper, this summer at Portland Shakespeare Project), or in-your-face Shakespeare at the 36-seat Shoebox Theatre or grand-scale Shakespeare in the big main space at Portland Center Stage. Oxfordians and Stratfordians duke it out companionably over copious craft beers. And at places like Post5, which is getting ready to take a stab at that great Dane of a drama, Hamlet, the audiences are far from blue-haired and doddery: some of these kids hooting and hollering over the Elizabethan action are barely out of swaddling clothes. Maybe counterintuitively, all of this is taking place at the same time the city’s awash in new plays, many from the keyboards of a resident covey of playwrights more numerous than the population of some of the state’s towns.

So, no: Oregon’s pretty firmly Shakespeare Territory, from stem to stern, at least partly because of the presence of the venerable Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, where the state’s eager tykes drink deeply from the mothers-milk and grow up to be strapping classicists – if, often, classicists with a free-and-rowdy contemporary twist.

So what’s up with the 2015 season the Shakespeare festival’s just announced?

Continues…

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