Weekend theater works: The dark and the comic

'Sweeney Todd' gives a right sharp edge to the weekend shows

Gretchen Rumbaugh plays Mrs. Lovett in “Sweeney Todd”/Patrick Weishampel

For this week anyway, it seems our local theater artists have taken a look at us and our condition and decided, “These folks need a laugh or two.” And because they know we’re realists, they’ve made those laughs of the darker variety. I like to think that’s the case anyway, that our theater programmers are looking out for our spirits, because by thunder, somebody should be! Anyway, we’ve barely nudged into the middle of the month, and our stages are flowing with stage blood and sly jokes. Oh, and song!

“Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street,” Portland Center Stage, opening night Friday, Sept. 21 — Center Stage opens its 25th anniversary season with Stephen Sondheim’s grisly little musical, which here will boast a cast of 16 and an orchestra of 11, not to mention some complex stage effects. Given the mood of the electorate, a tale about revenge served warm in a meat pie may be exactly what we need, just to take on the proper edge for the politics to come? Maybe so.

“Little Shop of Horrors,” Broadway Rose, opening night, Friday, Sept. 21 — Yes, this is a bloodthirsty weekend for small business operators—the barber and the baker in “Sweeney Todd” and the flower shop assistant with the problem plant in “Little Shop,” which glories in doo-wop, rhythm and blues and comic gore. I’m sure this is a programming coincidence, but it IS amusing.

“End Days” opens this weekend at Clackamas Rep/

“End Days,” Clackamas Repertory Theatre, opening night, Thursday, Sept. 20 —  Whenever you think the end is near, an Armageddon comedy can come in handy, which is exactly what Clackamas Rep has cooked up for us in Deborah Zoe Laufer’s play about a family that falls into a deep ennui, with only the tender ministrations of a love-smitten, Elvis-lovin’ neighbor to pull them out of it and the End Days beckoning.

“The Clean House,” Lunacy Stageworks, opening night, Thursday, Sept. 20 — Sarah Rule plays don’t show up nearly enough here (hey guys, she won a MacArthur genius grant, for crying out loud), and this romantic comedy, which is just tetched enough for a company with “lunacy” in its name, is a sharp and compassionate one, as Christopher Isherwood points out in the New York Times.

Shows we’ve reviewed

“And So It Goes…” at Artists Rep: I haven’t heard a bad word about this production, an original script based on early Kurt Vonnegut. Here’s our Bob Hicks: “The play might be light, but it’s also serious, because its subject is the mysterious powers and vagaries of love. And it might be new, but its verities are traditional: tight script, good acting, approachable characters, recognizable tension, satisfying resolution. [Aaron] Posner based his script on a series of short stories in Kurt Vonnegut Jr.’s early collection “Welcome to the Monkey House,” and largely by making [Tim] True’s character, the lovestruck soldier turned amateur actor/director Tom Newton, into the storyteller and interpreter of broader meanings, he makes the series of incidents tie together neatly and (yes) sweetly.” Runs through Oct. 7.

“Avenue Q,” Triangle Productions: Yes, another fresh, good-hearted comedy! Bob Hicks: “What makes “Avenue Q” click is that it’s fun, and Triangle’s director, Donald Horn, has pulled together a lot of good and mostly young talent to produce a lightly ramshackle but freshly appealing and quick-paced show. It could stand a little sharper shaping here and there, but it gets the feel of the thing just about right: the show has heart, and “Avenue Q”‘s heart, despite all the Broadway gloss, is closer to basement theater.” Runs through Sept. 30.

“Far Away,” Shaking The Tree: This intimate production isn’t a comedy, but it does link to our theme with its End Times gaze. I wrote about it for ArtsWatch: “But even as I try to take the allegiances of ants or the lilies of the field seriously enough to type these sentences, I know that Churchill isn’t QUITE serious, that “Far Away” isn’t literal, and though it warns us about our complicity in our own end times, she’s also comic, maybe in the grotesque tradition, and metaphorical or fabulistic.” Last show Sept. 22.

Let’s see, what else?

Bob Hicks has a couple of theater reviews brewing, one on “ART” (with Daniel Benzali, Sam Mowry and Jonah Weston) and another on Hellfire Productions’ combo of “A Steady Rain” and “The Detective’s Wife.”

I enjoyed Portland Theatre Scene’s interview with Noah Dunham of the Action/Adventure Theatre, which opens its new show on Oct. 26.

And finally, congratulations to the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art for a fine TBA:12.  Can’t wait for next year!


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