Chip Sherman

Catch a falling star, put it in your pocket

Portland Playhouse's "Peter and the Starcatcher" recaptures the magic of childhood in the origins of Peter Pan

Novelist Ridley Pearson sat down to read his daughters J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan without much luck. Not because the girls weren’t interested, but the youngest kept interrupting and wanted to know how Peter became an eternal boy, how he met Captain Hook, and when did Tinkerbell figure into the plot? Pearson was in a band called the Rock Bottom Remainders with horror author Stephen King and funnyman Dave Barry. Barry joined Pearson’s quest, and together they wrote a best-selling series that answers the origins of the famous Pan. Now Portland Playhouse has gathered all of their starstuff and staged the multiple award-winning play Peter and the Starcatcher.

It’s a well-sailed ship. The first thing to notice in the old church/playhouse that Portland Playhouse calls home is the meticulously detailed toy pirate ships dotting the stage. The white curtain is a mast with metal loops for rigging, but it has a soft blue glow like an ocean wave or the night sky reflecting the tiny distant suns in the sea wake. Front and center are silver clamshell lights, the kind you would have seen in the 19th century, which gave off the glow of the limelights. There’s an old magic in the air; you can almost feel a Ouija board summoning of the ancient spirits of Gilbert and Sullivan.

Oh, the villainy! OH, THE ADVENTURE! PHOTO: BRUD GILES

Oh, the villainy! Oh, the adventure! Photo: Brud Giles

We begin our history lesson in a sad and bleak Dickens vision where all the good grown-ups are jumping ship, leaving behind the nasty and distrustful. A trio of orphans – “the most useless creatures on earth,” named Boy, Ted, and Prentiss – are aboard. Ted (Chip Sherman) has an empty vortex of a stomach. Prentiss (Quinn Fitzgerald) dons a woolen cap too big for his head and is the self-proclaimed leader of the group. Boy (Nick Ferrucci), who has curly dark black locks, also has a temper against all the grown-ups and a slight impish look. The fourth child sailing on a ship they call the Neverland is the higher-born and more esoterically schooled Molly, played by Jen Rowe. Molly has good posture, and is full of common sense, which at times is overturned by curiosity. Because this is a good story, a children’s story, the four will overcome great odds, make a mess of a situation into a quest, and crown a few heroes by play’s end.

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Spirit, body, voice: how we get on

Portland Playhouse hops back to the '80s with a rhythmic rap tale straight outta the burbs

By CHRISTA MORLETTI McINTYRE

It’s 1988, and, Yo! MTV raps! We’re in the flyover states, the middle of nowhere, with the disappearing rust and wheat belts making way for the biggest malls in America. With How We Got On, Portland Playhouse and playwright Idris Goodwin are taking us on a journey through history, hip-hop, and a coming-of-age for three young black kids on the verge of adulthood.

Ithica Tell: The Selector selects. Photo: Owen Carey

Ithica Tell: The Selector selects. Photo: Owen Carey

The big beautiful magnet of hustle and bustle known as the City is far off. But for most kids of that era it was the place they wanted to be, and they went there by any means necessary, through their minds, curiosity and imagination. Book stores were few and far between, but the dial tone of the radio and cable television was everywhere. The silver neat-edged boombox tuned in, shouted back, and with two cassette decks could play, record and repeat. Music wasn’t just on the radio, but on the television: artists made little movies, music videos, that put their voices and hip, hyped-up icons in every room of the house. The kids ate it up and wanted more. In a series of composed boxes outlined with a few thin trees and concrete, the mall was the place to plug in and buy the electric-looking images they saw on their home screens. Shoes, shirts, hats, attitude and style could be played out, recorded and repeated. Why all the work? Suburbia was an adult world. Kids wanted their own thing, their own identity, and they wanted something new that had their meaning. Rap and hip-hop were bleeding through the cultural cracks and making their way to the Midwest. Life would never be the same.

Our guide on this journey is the Selector, graciously played by Ithica Tell. She’s the statuesque fair wise feminine energy of history. She’ll let you in and have your say as you become part of history, part of the story, but the Selector will put you in your proper place. The Selector choses the soundtrack, the back track that informs the lyrics that Hank, Julian and Luann will play out. She paints the backgrounds of former chapters and shows the heavy shoulders that all creative work builds upon. In a softly lit sound booth, she stands between two turntables and a DJ mixer.

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Comedy of Errors: Post5 reclaims the real Portlandia

With a contemporary Portland twist on Shakespeare's comedy of mistaken identities, Post5 creates a farce of a farce

By CHRISTA McINTYRE

A motley crew of shipwrecked Portlanders has descended upon the stage at Post5: Rude boys, a set of twins from Wes Anderson’s Team Zissou, an uplifting curvaceous woman who keeps her employment on 82nd Avenue alongside her fur-coated Iceberg Slim creditor, and the perhaps newly iconic lumbersexual transport Shakespeare’s most superficial of plays into an evening of laughter.

Director Ty Boice takes the flattest of characters in The Comedy of Errors and matches them with their modern descendants roaming our city blocks. A farce becomes a farce of a farce as the overgrown subcultures of the last 20 years mix and meet and mistake identities.

Twin terrors of Puddletown: double your pleasure, double your fun. Photo: Russell J Young

Twin terrors of Puddletown: double your pleasure, double your fun. Photo: Russell J Young

There’s never a dull moment at Post5: the troupe love what they’re doing, and their contagious energy embraces the audience. Surveys might suggest that Portlanders have had their fill of Byzantine-decorated donuts, birds on things, sock-collecting, and keeping it weird. Post5’s production of The Comedy of Errors refreshingly allows us to once again laugh at ourselves.

Comedy is a light-hearted and fantastical jab at the nature of human relations, with familiar Shakespearean themes aplenty: twins, mistaken identities, bawdy slights, a sea voyage, imaginary landscapes, and impossible names.

Post5’s actors exude a natural chemistry, transporting the audience with their comfortable camaraderie. Chip Sherman, who lit up the stage in the company’s recent Twelfth Night as an Eartha Kitt-ish Olivia, anchors the play once again with his brilliant slapstick. As one of the Antipholus twins, he acts with a similar gregarious coyness, this time around as a rakish male. The transformation speaks volumes about his talent: he makes both men and women characters sexy and aloof.

Stan Brown, who gives us Egeon and others, suggests Shaft and Kojak, alternating his lines with a hilarious staccato and lollipop. Boyce gives the lines an old commercial jingle interpretation, and Brown’s wittily caricatured presence hallmarks the inside joke.

Borrowing from cable television shows, internet and local memes, The Comedy of Errors has a jump rhythm, and just as you’re thinking, “I know, I know what comes next,” the one-wheeled man of all seasons, The Unipiper, breaks the final wall. The only missing Oregon elements to the play, it seems, are a cat and Steve Prefontaine.

There’s nothing like being in a room filled with people and regaining a healthy sense of the creativity that Portland has yet to untap. The Comedy of Errors has no life-changing emotional insight, but Post5 has a wonderful aesthetic for translating the biggest of English literary icons into a restless passion and making a room break into laughter. Take some time to see this comedy at Post5. They soon could be a citywide treasure, and may have to make a play about themselves.

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The Comedy of Errors runs through June 27 at Post5 Theatre. Ticket and schedule information are here.

At Post5, the comedy’s the thing

A witty, clownish, contemporary "Twelfth Night" is one of the funniest shows of the season

By CHRISTA McINTYRE

If Shakespeare and his inner Falstaff wanted to create a play for everyone, his democratizing agent would be a joyful and laughing audience, ready for any bet. In spring, the daffodils are nodding their heads, tulips are in open bloom, and wisteria reach past the gables. It’s an excellent time for Post5’s springlike new Twelfth Night, because with what you will (Shakespeare’s subtitle for his fantasy), love, or the laughing at it, will trump us all.

From left: Jessica Tidd, Chip Sherman, Trri Paddleford, Jim Vadela, Tom Walton. Photo: Russell J Young

From left: Jessica Tidd, Chip Sherman, Trri Padellford, Jim Vadela, Tom Walton. Photo: Russell J Young

Cassandra Boice directs a seamless and contemporary presentation of this eternally hopeful comedy. We’re greeted by a 1980s Miami background, where the clown Feste is a Gilligan or other heavy-lidded participant in the play (see recent laws passed about marijuana use in the state of Oregon). Throw away the canticle: a ukulele and kid’s accordion serenade us with The Beatles’ Let it Be. The aristocratic Olivia’s maid-in-waiting, Maria (played by Tori Padellford) arrives on the scene in a very polyester uniform, and what we see in ads about maids’ uniforms is played true.

Here lies the point and distinction of Post5’s interpretation: Boice and company take a play more than 400 years old and make it relevant and cryingly funny, marching the best parts of our humorous icons onto the stage in a very affordable seduction.

We can guess while reading or watching Shakespeare’s plays at his love of mythology and travels to distant lands. As with Herodotus, we listen for his insights on human values and understanding of others, even in the most fantastical of tales. And Twelfth Night is fantastical. A brave Duke Orsino, having failed to win Olivia’s hand, lies in melancholic turbulence. Overcome and seemingly unable to manage his kingdom, he still chooses a good and strange confidante in the recently arrived Cesario. Cesario is actually Viola, twin to Sebastian, whom Viola/Cesario believes drowned at sea. Viola dons a man’s appearance and becomes the voice of love for Count Orsino as he presses his suit for Lady Olivia’s hand. All of Cesario/Viola’s speeches are meant for the love of Orsino, even as she strives to win his current object of affection, Olivia. Olivia, meanwhile, remains in mourning for her brother. Sebastian, who has not drowned after all, returns to shore and is mistaken for his sister, who is pretending to be a man. Meanwhile, a troupe of sycophants settle into bouts of undisturbed drinking, bedding, and the occasional preemptive song. Shakespeare presents his audience with a strange and hybrid confluence of circumstances on an unknown island, with little cultural reference: we just have to understand a basic hierarchy of lady, duke, fool, maid, etc. It all gets deliciously muddled: A maid takes a man, a maid as a young man would like to take a man, a man would like to take a lady, a man took a maid many times, the maid of the lady sets out to take the lady’s man, and a man and maid of the lady set out to take a man who would like to take the lady, forging letters that expose the heart of all, ad infinitum and bee pollen. Because in the end, love triumphs all. If this seems consumptive and confusing, then you have not had a friend or fallen in love.

However, like the brooding Malvolio, you may have put on your yellow stockings and garters.

Jeff Gorham, as Sir Toby, cousin and leech to Lady Olivia, deftly lays out all that there is about being a drunk. He bounds onstage in an obvious pillowed stomach and torn-astray tie that becomes a physical fixation. Within a few minutes we reach the anchor Boice has given him – his Toby-meter, the rhythm of his consistent drinking from the bottle.

Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Stan Brown), Sir Toby’s Bertie Wooster-minded accomplice, is red-cheeked and beauty-marked, a parody of his own class. He matches scene for scene the virility of the manchild with an empty optimism.

If, in Shakespeare, the point is always on point and made well about love, Jessica Tidd as Cesrio/Viola captures unconfused a man and maid. With her sweeping doe-gaze of wide-eyed openness and a little John Travolta knee across the floor, she makes us believe wholeheartedly in the young and attractive Cesario giving counsel that only a woman in love may give: throwback kicks, arched eyebrows and those “yes, this is love” poses. There is that.

And she plays Olivia as seamlessly as, back in the day, a man (rather, a boy) would have. This Olivia is a rose of Spanish Harlem, ample in skirt and pointed knee. She meditates upon her chosen, fragrant and fond in her focus to attain the person she shall have: flippant as in nature, yet becoming sure as an anchor toward the end. Chip Sherman, further complicating matters as a man playing Olivia, gives us a lady very capable of choosing and taking her man, as all ladies should. As Feste becomes a Venice Beach rescuee, so Olivia is an Eartha Kitt.

Traditionally, Olivia’s man-in-waiting Malvolio is played as a stuffed-shirt Puritan, a straight man countering the incessant and boorish charms of the drunks and fools lining up at his mistress’s door. Yet he, too, is not disinclined to the temptations of nature, and the straight man becomes his own foil – or at least, we believe so until the end. Ty Boice presents Malvolio as a Carol Burnett asexual butterfly with the acrid wit of a Tim Curry. He shakes and stutters and gives a gap-toothed smile as his transformation takes shape.

In such little touches, Cassandra Boice’s intelligent direction comes through. She translates Shakespeare’s stock characters into figures from our own cultural experience. At first we laugh at every moment of Malvolio’s yellow bondaged legs, until his last monologue, when both Boices drive what has been laughable into true compassion. Malvolio, perhaps the only character in the play in whom an honesty resides, is driven to address his assault – and for the audience, ridicule becomes compassion.

Post5, as with a few other small ensembles that push the envelope in art, makes theater a living experience and opens Portland’s cultural dialogue by being affordable. The theater is small, but ambitious. At moments in Twelfth Night when the plot is rushed, and the supporting cast is less consistent than the leads. None of these small points should make you miss one of the funniest productions of the season.

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Twelfth Night continues through May 16 at Post 5 Theatre 1666 S.E. Lambert St. Ticket and schedule information are here.