Wednesday, April 18, 2007


Portland Center Stage
Posted by Followspot April 17, 2007; closes May 6, 2007

And that’s how that’s done. From high-caliber performances (especially Wendell Wright’s boisterous Troy Maxson, Wandachristine’s intricate Rose) to fully-fleshed production elements (the very theatrical realism of Scott Bradley’s set, Jacqueline Firkins costumes, R. Lap-Chi Chu’s lighting): major-league home run. A sad, beautiful story well told. The bar has been raised.


Anonymous said...

FENCES at PCS opening night:
a melodrama.
no one seems physically comfortable on stage.
the pace is fast and that contributes to the monotonous tone that leaves us disinterested.
even so, it's a 3 hour evening.
the set is superb.
but it is ill-used.
the staging is uninspired.
beyond these general difficulties, there are some mind boggling gaps in simple logic.
to wit:
with one exception, the characters cut the boards to build "the fence"
without measuring them. they are just making random cuts.
second: in the play's climactic confrontation, as one character attempts to get past another sitting on the steps, he claims he cannot pass lest the other fellow give way. however, there is more than enough room to pass due to the totally incompetent staging.
we sit in gape mouthed confusion.
and last:
two characters talk loudly in the back yard about one of them having cheated on his wife -- with the same volume and stage position as they carry on every conversation --including those that eventually include the wife as she enters from the house.
(and which she does here, shortly after his confession -- none the wiser)
where is the director in all this?
a "must not see" if there ever was one.

David said...

Anonymous 10:31 dislikes this production for many small reasons that didn't bother me as much, but which I did notice. I think they would have been LESS noticable if the performances had been less general, though I think the script's top-heavy verbosity makes it difficult for an audience's attention not to wander. (I've been reading O'Neill lately, who is just as wordy--if not wordier--of course, but Wilson's prose doesn't seem to gather the same kind of drive, at least not in this play.) Frankly, a so-so night.

Anonymous said...

If one has raised the bar, to use followspot's words, the small details should be important. Especially if they're obvious and easily fixed.

Anonymous said...

Ah yes the hyperbole of follow spot.

Once again this site as well as so
many other "theatre goers" in town prove what monkeys we all are....Nice production values, pretty lights, loud and very "intense" looking actors means "that's how it's done"

Give me a break. The show was fine...not great not terrible simply ok.

Anonymous said...

Thought the show was good, interesting, complex. Wouldn't say it was great, but very good. Many things to think about.

Bono was the weak link for me in this production. Something about his voice and mannerisms didn't ring true. Troy and Rose were good, Corey was a dynamo.

Wilson is an uneven author. "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" at OSF two years ago was one of the most amazing theatre experiences I have ever had. Electric every minute. "Fences" was not that way. It did not feel as driven. I'm not sure if this is the play or the production.

Beautiful set.

Anonymous said...

"Bono was the weak link for me in this production. Something about his voice and mannerisms didn't ring true."

i concur -- it was as phony as a $3 bill -- and the fact that it passes for masterful acting in 3 of the reviews i've read so far is TOTALLY disheartening for those of us who rely on critics for guidance.

it means we can't trust you when you pan something and we can't trust you when you praise something.
this blog then becomes the ONLY "truthful and accurate" formum in the city.

Anonymous said...

I think "Only" is overstating it. Sometimes people will agree with your impressions, sometimes they won't. Theater is a subjective experience, like beauty or love.

Anonymous said...

Did the filler and intermission music seem strangely out of period to anyone? That was one of the few wrong notes here for me.

Anonymous said...

here's a theory for you. i think that when there is the set as good as this one, it tends to hoodwink the critics into thinking the show is good.
at the very least, it distracts them.
to me, when an opportunity like this is lost (serviceable script, capable but misguided cast)it just doubles the tragedy that a set this good has NOTHING good going on in front of it.
it felt like a broadway set and a college acting class production.
none of the characters (read actors) knew what they wanted from the others -- and there was no connection between the actors and/or characters. it was an empty evening. devoid of emotional connection and therefore devoid of any rewards.
i tell ya, this town (the audience stood when i saw it) does have a clue what it is missing.
and that, for those of us who do know, is not ok.
sorry, got a little long winded there....
(the solution i suppose, is to put on so much theatre that is excellent, that productions like this which are DOA, become the exception rather than the norm, and that critics will see them for what they are.)
i'll wager you this: i'll bet the average devoted theatre goer in portland sees more b'way shows in a year than does the average portland theatre critic.
last year i saw 14 b'way shows.
did any pdx critic see as many?
while i may not be the average pdx theatre goer, the point remains that i don't think some of our critics really know what good theatre looks like.
and as long as our biggest theatre company can get away with things like "fences", things will never get better because they are selling tickets due to raves in the papers and even on this blog.
i don't think pcs can do better because i don't think it knows what better looks like.
sorry again for the lengthy diatribe.

David Loftus said...

Most of the hyperbole here is unnecessary and just plain . . . er, dramatic.

This is not the "only" place to get honest assessments of Portland theater; for one thing, there are disagreements -- often fierce ones -- with Followspot's opinions and with one another, as this very thread shows.

By the same token, some reviews hit spot on and many do not, for a variety of reasons.

For the record, I saw "Fendes" during preview week and thought it was mostly solid, though unspectacular. Terrific if underused set.

And yes, there was something odd about the music. If anyone can remind me of what it was, I'll probably be able to say what.

Ben Waterhouse said...

Who cares how many shows you saw in New York last year? My readers weren't there with you, I can promise you that much. If I were to pan everything I see because it isn't as good as the latest show at the Booth Theater, or wherever, it would hardly be fair to my audience or to the artists upon whose creativity I feast like the horrible little parasite I am.

But let's focus on Fences here: sure, it's not the best we've ever seen, but can you really deny that Wendell Wright was immense and terrifying?

If you disagree so much with the reviews you read in Portland, anonymous, why not write letters to the editor saying so?

crane said...

although i think Broadway is the most boring and irrelevant arena for theatre creativity ... this thread is about FENCES ... which I happened to think surpasses most anything else up to this point in the season -- very polished production. Maybe not a complete rave -- it seemed long and I agree the music seemd weird. But everything else worked for me.

Anonymous said...

I have to chime in with the "nay-sayers" on this one. Not a great evening of theater and I expected a lot more from the top Equity company in the city. Also, I'm a bit of an August Wilson fan and this one let me down.

I saw it opening night and was shocked that people stood up at the end. I guess they appreciated the out-of-town actors and wanted to be polite. Many of the actors were clearly very talented but the staging was really flat, uninspired and pedestrian (anytime there were three people on stage, the director just placed them in a perfect triangle and left them there) and the pace, though brisk, had no variety to it. This made an already talky show pretty tedious.

Because of the monotonous pace, I think all the little flaws stood out even more. The not measuring of the boards and the really, really badly staged fight scenes for example (seriously, those were some of the worst fight scenes I have ever seen on a professional stage) And while the set was lovely, what was up with the costumes? Did anybody besides me notice the little girl's dirty old sneakers where brand new, perfectly white and quite clearly not of the period? How hard is it to find a dirty old pair of sneakers? And how many aprons did that woman own? Does a garbage man's wife really own six different aprons? And there was that wadded up rag hanging from that rope downstage right. I waited the entire play for somebody to take a good swing at it. Troy barely taps it once. Was that symbolic of something? It bugged me ... and that means the play wasn't engaging me very much if I was noticing this kind of silly stuff.

Most important of all; what did the character's want? I didn't see it.
The monologues where Troy suddenly goes all King Lear and starts talking to "Death" were very clumsy and I'm not sure Mr. Wilson isn't to blame for some of this. But I saw "Ma Raney" and "The Piano Lesson" in Ashland and "Seven Guitars" on Broadway and loved them all. So maybe this just isn't my favorite August Wilson play. It seems to end about five times and then just keeps going on and on.

I'm sorry but I really don't get what all the fuss and great reviews are about. "Fences" didn't even come close to "Pillowman" and people seemed to rip "Pillowman" apart.

Alison Hallett said...

"If you disagree so much with the reviews you read in Portland, anonymous, why not write letters to the editor saying so?"

Yeah! Write a letter! Even if it is about how full of shit I am (hey, guess how many Broadway shows I've seen? Come on, guys, guess...). Mercury readers will notice that we rarely publish letters about theater; that's because we rarely receive letters about theater. Now I know y'all have plenty on your minds. You can even e-mail letters:

Anyway, I too was a little put off by the audience's standing O at the opening night of Fences. Nothing like feeling peer-pressured into standing up for a show you weren't blown away by (so, I faked it). Also, much of the music struck me as incongruous but I can't remember specifics, anyone note what songs were actually used?

Slateface said...

When three actors are on stage, they're always in a perfect triangle.

Anonymous said...

oh PLEASE slateface (and followspot adminstration for that matter)
this blog is not about geometry.
it's about the fact that the staging SUCKED.
get a grip both of ya.

Anonymous said...

This is Anonymous 4/23.
I didn't post that last comment but thanks for sticking up for me Anonymous 4/25.
Apparently what I meant was an "equilateral triangle" with all three corners the same distance apart.
That is not the most interesting way of staging three people. Balance is usually not very visually stimulating on stage.
And that's about all the math this theater major has in him.

AJ said...

I'm not sure why, but I just didn't think that much of this one. Everyone was saying how amazing and how great it was, but I thought it was flat. Nice set, good lighting, but everything else just bored me. Overall, I'd say it was just OK.