Sunday, September 14, 2014

All's Well That Ends Well...or Continues?

“Parting is such sweet sorrow,” wrote William Shakespeare.

And so it is that after more than two years, more than 400 posts, and just shy of 100,000 hits (and with a degree of sorrow) we must, alas, say farewell. 

The Southwest Washington Stage and Theater Arts Review blog has faithfully served the local theater public over the course of many exciting seasons. 


It has now come time for us to move on from the area. But, like so many good things do, our popular coverage need not come to an end. In fact, we don’t want it to. Possibly YOU will be the one to keep that from happening.

We’re looking for someone to take over for us. All you need is the tenacity to stick with it, reasonable writing skills and a love and understanding of theater arts.

Our blog is now at the place where it can and should bring in a small income. Traffic to the site is regular and our patrons are faithful. The likelihood of continued growth is high and ad sponsorship is certainly a strong possibility.

You won’t likely become rich, but could earn a small supplementary income and you most certainly will see a LOT of theater. (What a joy!) However, we suggest that you take it on simply for the love of it.

Here’s a profile of the person we’re looking for (and, if this is you, please contact us or share with others who might fit the bill):

  • You can write well
  • You love theater
  • You have theatrical experience (both on stage and behind the scenes)
  • You are not so involved in production that you are not available to review shows*
  • You are committed

You need not have blogging experience because we will train (it’s easy). We do not wish to see our service to the community end and neither does the community that has come to rely on us for objective reviews. So, DO consider the opportunity.

If you are interested, or think you know of someone who might be, please contact us soon as we are leaving BY the end of September, just prior to a barrage of openings to review.

In closing, we both say a hearty thank you patrons and producers alike for your strong and encouraging support.

Greg and Ruth Zschomler

*These tend to bunch up with the beginning of each season. Several shows do tend to open up at the same time. We generally see two to three shows a week for two weeks followed by a lull each fall, winter and spring. Between times we have enjoyed doing artist profiles, coming show announcements, and other bits of related news to keep things fresh and rolling.

Friday, September 12, 2014

REVIEW: SWNW's "Laughter on the 23rd Floor"

Stageworks Northwest presents a comedy about comedy writers written by a comedy writer.

Neil Simon.

What can I say about this (still living) modern American playwright? He's written one of my favorite plays (God's Favorite); several I like very much (like The Odd Couple); some that are quite good, but not my cup of tea; and quite a few I could care less about.

He's prolific. He can be funny. And he can be crude, somewhat foul and even irreverent. A Jewish writer, he's not afraid to let you know it and then show that he's not all that dedicated to the tenets of his faith either.

"Laughter on the 23rd Floor" is a biographical work. How accurate, how realistic, how self-reflective, I don't know. But it is a look back at his days working as a comedy writer for Sid Caesar's "Your Show of Shows" a live comedy variety show which ran on NBC from 1950-1954. Simon was part of the writing team which included Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks.

The play takes place in 1953 in the writer’s room of the "Max Prince Show," a fictional comedy variety show, during the height of McCarthyism.

Comedy writers who work in teams bounce around a lot of ideas, it seems, while also making jabs at one another. You'll see this in television programs like "The Dick Van Dyke Show" (1961-66, developed by Carl Reiner) and "30 Rock" (created by Tina Fey, who developed as a team comedy writer for SNL).

I've seen maybe a season of "30 Rock." I watched "The Dick Van Dyke Show" as a child and have revisited it as an adult. The former had it's funny moments, but also things that moved beyond my taste. The latter I enjoyed very much.

But what did I think of this production?

Frankly, not fondly. My least favorite Simon play to date. It was far too vulgar and distasteful for me. Way far. And that is it's biggest flaw, because it needn't be.

Lots and lots of F-bombs and coarse language, the Lord's name in vain, and general swearing permeated the script. The 50's weren't like that (at with least the F-bomb). Still, the story was good.

Having said that, I will add that a lot of the comedy shticks were really well written. There's a lot of great humor in the script. And having said that, I have to say that the patter pace and comic timing of this presentation simply did not do the comedy justice.

The Look of It

A pretty good shot of the really good set.
The set for this show looks great! The overall concept and execution, marvelous. The set dressing and costuming were generally good, but some non-period "best we could dos" were present in both.

The overall production values were high and the lighting even and well conceived. Everything ran smoothly.
Kudos to Michael and Jennifer Cheney for a great design as well as Leslie Slape for making it all cue up.

The Lack of It

Michael R. Cheney, left, plays a tormented TV star.
The production, directed by Jennifer Cheney, I would classify as "good," but not exceptional (like their production of "9 to 5"). As mentioned the cast lacked zing in the zingers. And I felt the characters should have been pushed a bit more toward the zany. Performances generally lacked oomph. I just wasn't sold.

The cast, in order of appearance, includes: Dean Baker as Lucas, new writer (based on Neil Simon); Corey Farmer as Milt, staff writer (based on Sheldon Keller); Pip A. Kennedy as Val, head staff writer (based on Mel Tolkin); Ryan Lee Gaylor as Brian, staff writer (based on Tony Webster); Patrick Hale as Kenny, staff writer (based on Larry Gelbart); Lora Ressler as Carol, senior staff writer (based on Lucille Kallen); Michael R. Cheney as Max Prince, comic actor (based on Sid Caesar); Ashley Stevens as Helen, secretary; and Matt Olason as Ira, staff writer (based on Mel Brooks).

Pip A. Kennedy, right, is in top form and clearly the leading talent.
Michael Cheney's and Matt Olason's performances did rise above the rest, but the true star of the show was Pip Kennedy in top form. I believe he played his role near perfection.

I think the play has merit. It is interesting. And, if you are a person who can take a goodly dose of foul language without it bothering you, then you should see the play.

WARNING: This show contains a few adult situations and pervasive strong language--including the Lord's name used in vain and several F-bombs. I do not recommend this show for everyone.

The play runs 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays now through September 28, 2014 at the historical Longview Theater space of Stageworks Northwest. Click here for tickets.

I enjoyed this related trivia page on the SWNW website.

By Gregory E. Zschomler
Photos, by Amanda Wilson Portraiture, provided.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Stageworks Northwest to Present Neil Simon Comedy "Laughter on the 23rd Floor"

Neil Simon's "Laughter on the 23rd Floor" opens this Friday, September 12, 2014 at Stageworks Northwest in Longview, Wash. The run continues through the 28th. Showings are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m. The production is directed by Jennifer Cheney.

"Laughter on the 23rd Floor” takes place in 1953 in the writer’s room of the Max Prince Show, a fictional comedy variety show, during the height of McCarthyism. Its characters are based on the real-life comedy writers Neil Simon worked with in his early career as a comedy writer for Sid Caesar on “Your Show of Shows,” a popular weekly variety show that ran from 1950–1954.

Warning: This play contains strong language and adult subject matter.

Look for our review on Saturday, September 13.

REVIEW: Classic, Commie-hunt Commentary "The Crucible" from Bag & Baggage

Salem, Massachusetts—1692?

Bag & Baggage announces their newest production opening just after Labor Day weekend.

Rigid piety huddles on the edge of the new world’s wilderness in the Arthur Miller classic drama "The Crucible."

A small town's inhabitants believe unquestioningly in their own sanctity, but in the playwright’s edgy masterpiece, that very belief will have poisonous consequences when a vengeful teenager accuses a rival of witchcraft—and then those accusations multiply to consume the entire village.

Photo, provided, by Casey Campbell Photography with Hanna Rose Brumley,
Melory J Mirashrafi and Maddie Ogden.

The play was first produced in 1953, at a time when America was convulsed by a new epidemic of "witchhunting," "The Crucible" brilliantly explores the threshold between individual guilt and mass hysteria, personal spite and collective evil…and speaks as clearly to us today as it did during McCarthy’s Red Scare.

"The Crucible" is a play that is not only relentlessly suspenseful and vastly moving, but one that compels us all to question our hearts and consciences in ways that only the greatest theatre ever can. A not-to-be-missed, Bag&Baggage style examination of one of the greatest plays in American history.

“A drama of emotional power and impact” —New York Post

The production has a large cast and features familiar Bag & Baggage players as well as new faces. It should be interesting to see what artistic director Scott Palmer does with this allegorical commentary. When will it be set? What relevance for today will be emphasized?

Runs: September 4, 5, 6, 7, 11, 12, 13, 14, 18, 19, 20, 21, 25, 26, 27, and 28 – 2014
Preview Night: Thursday, September 4, 2014
Opening Night: Friday, September 5, 2014

At the last minute we were unable to review this show, however here is a great review by Dennis Sparks.

Event Time: Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30pm, Sunday matinees at 2:00pm
Event Location: The Venetian Theatre, 253 E Main Street, Hillsboro 97123
Special Events: Meet-the-cast Talk Backs on Sunday September 7, 14 and 21

Adults – Section 1: $30
Adults- Section 2: $26
Students/Seniors – Section 1: $24
Students/Seniors – Section 2: $20

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Class at Magenta Teaches How to Fight Right

A sword fight scene from Magenta's "Romeo and Juliet"

Put ‘Em Down, Take ‘Em Out: Close Quarters Violence for the 21st Century Theatre

Teacher: David Gregory Bareford

According to the promotional copy, "This extended 10-hour stage combat seminar gives actors the skills to perform brutal, high-stakes struggles at close quarters, especially for audiences in close proximity to the action. We will be modeling characters with and without martial training in desperate fights for their lives using unarmed strikes, grappling, and small weapons. No prior theatrical fight experience is necessary, but a background of stage combat may allow individual students to cover more techniques.

"This is not your standard unarmed class! Mastery of concepts is emphasized rather than blitzing through a grab bag of techniques. We will also explore the character psychology of approaching a fight with a plan, working that plan, interrupting or shutting down the opponent’s plan, and adapting to the rapidly shifting tides of a combative engagement. Students will learn and rehearse up to speed a vicious one-on-one struggle, and will get video copies of their final fight performance."

The stage combat workshop will begin at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 8 and run Mondays through Oct. 6 at Magenta Theater, 606 Main St., Vancouver. The class costs $95 and is open to ages 16 and older.

Sept. 8, 15, 22, Oct 6
6:30 pm to 9:00 pm
Cost $95

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Longview's Theater Sign Lights Up the Night

The new SWNW marquee goes up.
Stageworks Northwest (SWNW) continues to improve their theater space in downtown Longview, Wash. After months and months of work inside and out, new paint (and waiting), the new marquee arrived, was put up and, last night (Wed. Aug. 6, 2014), was lit up for the first time.

The new signage pays homage to the original motion picture theater's marquee that was originally housed in the building with a few modifications. The new sign includes the theater company's name.

The lighting ceremony featured musical performances from some of SWNW's recent shows sung by the players. Songs from 'The Secret Garden', 'The Great American Trailer Park Musical', and '9 to 5 The Musical' were performed.

SWNW players perform below their new marquee.
More than a year ago Stageworks Northwest purchased the building and has been renovating it since. It opened as a work in progress last year and there are still a number of refurbishment and improvement projects to go.

There are challenges to the space, such as no backstage area. Dressing rooms are in the balcony as are the restrooms. But these issues will be overcome in time.

For now there is much to celebrate--a theater, with its own space, is thriving in Southwest Washington!

You may view the ceremonial countdown and lighting video here:

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Bag & Baggage Production of Shakespeare's "Love's Labour's Lost" Magnifique!

Shakespeare in the Park...

No one knows how, when, or where it began. Could be, perhaps, it began with the Bard himself before he gained any semblance of notoriety. Perhaps he was just a lad, playing sketches before his friends on the lawn?

However it began, it has certainly proved a popular and cheap way to stage the royalty-free works. I first experienced the joy of outdoor Elizabethan Theatre some years ago with a production of “The Taming of the Shrew” in Vancouver’s Esther Short Park. And the tradition continues with this production of “Love’s Labour’s Lost” presented by Bag & Baggage in Hillsboro, Ore.

The plaza setting for the Bag & Baggage Production of Shakespeare's "Loves Labour's Lost."
It’s not frequently that you’ll be able to catch the obscure “Love’s Labour’s Lost,” as it is lesser known and somewhat unpopular “lost” Shakespearean work. So, catch this one while you can and enjoy a lovely "open air" evening with a great, professional cast.

Costume test and couples pairing for B&B's "Love's Labour's Lost"
The adaptation, by Scott Palmer, based primarily on an earlier adaptation is quite truncated from the original three plus hour play and clocks in at less than two hours.

The plot is loose, convoluted and not extremely important--think early situation comedy--but here it is in a nutshell:

King Ferdinand and his friends devote themselves to three years of uninterrupted "study" and NO women will be allowed within a mile of their court to interfere with their academic pursuits—that is, until the Princess of France arrives with her entrancingly distracting entourage of gorgeous ladies-in-waiting! They tease the boys then--with disguise, deception, mayhem, and romantic mischief--drop them like hot potatoes. No, this Shakespearean comedy doesn't end with weddings.

The Princess (center) and her ladies: Jessi Walters (L), Cassie Greer,
and Arianne  Jacques (R).
The sassy dialogue--inlaid with satirical, double-meaning gems and plenty of sexual barbs and sexist banter--is intriguing and was well ahead of it's time. While not a great classic, and certainly an experimental, early work of the Bard, it none-the-less foreshadows themes that will play out (better) in his other, later works. The director, Scott Palmer, has set the production with a uniquely Italian-Frederico-Fellini feel, inspired by Fellini’s masterwork La Dolce Vita.

The show is billed as "a light-hearted romantic romp, outdoors in the glorious surroundings of the Tom Hughes Civic Center Plaza—with stunning Italian-couture costumes by Melissa Heller and starring some of B&B’s most recognizable outdoor performers—riding in on Vespas! Perduta di lavoro la dolce vita di amore!"

L to R: Andrew Beck (the King) with Chip Sherman and  Luke Armstrong. 
The cast includes Andrew Beck as Ferdinand, Chip Sherman as Berowne, Luke Armstrong as Longaville, Cassie Greer as the Princess of France, Arianne Jacques as Rosaline, Jessi Walters as Maria, Dallas Myers as Boyet, Adam Syron as Moth, Gary Strong as Armado, and Rachel Rosenfeld as Jaquenetta. All played strongly.

The direction, by Palmer is, as usual, quite well done. Striking, really--especially in the blocking. The "runway" stage, with audience members on both sides, worked well, primarily because Palmer knew how to make it interesting. However, one must give the players quite a bit of credit as well; these are some of the Portland Metro Area's finest.

Front facing: Gary Strong throws it all in as Armondo.
The parts were played broadly, especially by the men, and the, sometimes slapstick, performances were melodramatic. The women, in general, played their roles "safer" and straighter. Among the women, only  Rosenfeld pushed with the same exaggerated characterization as the men.

Especially strong and delightful performances were given by Myers, Syron and Strong; all have great comedic skill. Having seen Syron and Strong in previous--and quite different--roles, I was particularly impressed. Strong, especially, excelled--throwing himself fully into his role. He was absolutely brilliant in this part!

Adam Syron (kneeling) as the servant, Moth.
The setting and scenery was nonexistent, since the production was "open air" rather than in their theater. It worked; nothing more was needed. The lighting, also sparse, also did the trick. The plaza's acoustics were great and there's not a bad seat in--well, out of the house. Best seats, I believe, will be on the first landing of the plaza's stairs.

The Princess and her ladies and the King and his men, dressed for the ball.
The costumes, by Melissa Heller, looked good, as far as I know. I'm no expert on the 1960's Italian thing. I did find the lack of distinction between the royalty, aristocracy and peasantry disturbing. (On a related side note, this lack of separation between the classes went beyond dress and was also present in manners--too familiar or casual.) Rosenfeld's costume also did not fit well with her characterization. Noting that one small caveat I recommend the production.

The show's remaining performances are July 26, 31, August 1, 2, 7, 8, and 9; 7:30 p.m. at  The Tom Hughes Civic Center Plaza, 150 E Main Street, Hillsboro, Ore. Tickets: $18, may seem a tad steep for a royalty-free, low tech budget, open air production, but B&B does pay their resident actors.

Photo by Ruth Zschomler.
Pre-show we ate at Orenco Station Grill, 6195 SE Cornell Rd. (Hillsboro). The service and setting were delightful and the food was superb, as was the music (live smooth jazz). I had the Cajun Shrimp Salad with seven delicious shrimp, mixed greens, sliced pears, Swiss and mozzarella cheeses, topped with bleu cheese dressing. My wife had a Chinese Chicken slaw-type salad that featured a sweet, gingery dressing and crunchy "chow mein" noodles. Both portions were good and fairly priced. For dessert we had a perfectly crafted slice of key lime pie (and we ought to know, we sampled a few when we were in Florida).

By Gregory E. Zschomler
Photos, except as noted, provided.

For another perspective by Dennis sparks, click here.