January 17th, 2008 5:33 pm | by BEN WATERHOUSE News | Posted In: CLEAN UP

Curtain Raiser: Sliding with Dinosaurs, Walking with Mannequins, Seething with John Patrick Shanley

Allosaurus - The Lion of the JurassicI saw the Portland opening of Walking with Dinosaurs: The Live Experience (the stage show based on the BBC special, featuring three-story robot dinosaur puppets) last night, and I'm torn. The part of my brain devoted to cruel, judgmental criticism wants whinge about the cheesy narration and the deafening, Star Trek-style soundtrack, but it's having trouble competing with my inner 10-year-old, who is still running around in his underwear with a Rex the Dinosaur doll and roaring at the top of his pint-sized lungs.

So I'll say this first and get it out of the way: If you're under ten, there is no show on Earth more awesome and enjoyable than Walking. The little girl in a plush stegasaurus costume sitting in the row in front of me had the time of her life. If you're old enough to have developed a taste for dramatic flow (and sexual innuendo), though, it comes up a little short.

First, there's the "Paleontologist" narrator, who delivers perfectly acceptable, Discovery Channel-style quips about the dinos on stage, is a cornball. I kept hoping one of the robo-puppets would eat him like they did that lawyer in Jurassic Park. The low point of the evening was when he said we were "traveling to 100 million years BPA—before Paul Allen."

Then there's the music, which is deafeningly loud and detracts from otherwise masterful sound design. When the strings overpower the screaming T-Rex, there's a problem. Also, I'd been lead to believe that these dinosaurs run, which is inaccurate. For the most part, they wiggle their legs against the ground as they roll around on motorized carts attached to their abdomens.

But that's really all I can say against the show. While it's more spectacle than education, there is a fair amount of information delivered (although your kids probably already know all of it, you may have forgotten), and there's nary a whiff of intelligent design BS to be found. This is a fantastic spectacle, but it's one rooted in real science.

There are also a lot of really joyful moments. The best performance comes not from the uncannily lifelike puppets but from actors in articulated suits, playing the smaller dinosaurs. Whoever directed their movement did an astonishing job. My favorite moment is when "vegetation explodes" at the beginning of the Jurassic, and rows six-foot, bright green horsetails spring up from the edges of the stage like a field of inflatable penises, prompting giggles from adults and cries from children.

There's a truly frightening standoff between a pair of triceratops(es?), and an elegant and beautiful espisode with a life-size flying Ornithosaurus. I don't recommend the show for childless adults, but by God take the kids if you have them. (Rose Garden, 1401 N Wheeler Ave., 789-7673. 7 pm Thursday, 7 pm Friday, 11 am, 3 and 7 pm Saturday and 1 pm Sunday. Closes Jan. 20. $32-$69.50.)


I got some sad news for a generation of teenage theater-lovers on Monday: After nearly twelve years on Broadway (or, as the New York Times put coyly put it, "nine hundred thirty thousand, one hundred eighty minutes," Rent will close on June 1 of this year. Although I never much liked the show myself (I was, to my great shame, a rabid fan of Les Mis and Phantom of the Opera), I have a dozen friends who swear it saved their lives. But here's the real kicker: the show, which "cost $240,000 to put up downtown, has gone on to gross more than $280 million on Broadway and another $330 million on the road." Who says there's no money in live theater?


Where's My Money?Last week I admitted that I was open to Theatre Vertigo changing my mind about John Patrick Shanley's horribly vitriolic Where's My Money?. While I still don't like the play very much—the characters are hollow caricatures that talk about their own flaws but have no ability to change themselves—I did enjoy Ben Plont's production. By playing up the silliness, Vertigo makes an enjoyable exercise in absurdity out of what otherwise feels like an angry rant that Shanley tossed off in a week after a bad breakup. (Theater! Theatre!, 3430 SE Belmont St., 306-0870. 8 pm Thursdays-Saturdays. Closes Feb. 9. $15. Thursdays are pay what you will.) Photo by Yolanda Suarez.


There are a lot of openings this week, the strangest of which promises to be CoHo Productions' Tales of Ordinary Madness. Petr Zelenka's play, newly translated from the Czech and directed by Lewis & Clark professor Stepan Simek (who is also the person who bears the most responsibility for the way I think about the theater, so obviously I'm having another WW critic review it), "captures the contemporary life of Prague thirty-somethings: their unwillingness to commit to deeper emotional relationships, their sense of humor, and their alienation from the complicated world around them." It was a huge hit when it opened in Prague. Knowing Simek, there's probably a lot more to the show than an Eastern-European How I Met Your Mother. Oh, and it stars a mannequin named Eve. She has a blog. 'Nuf said.

CoHo actually offered me the opportunity to interview Eve. They didn't know at the time that I actually spoke to her years ago, when she was just starting out as an actress. Here's an excerpt:
Me: Have you had any good auditions?
Me: So times are tough?
Me: I hear that same thing from a lot of young artists.
Me: Well, thanks for talking to me.

(The CoHo Theatre, 2257 NW Raleigh St., 220-2646. 8 pm Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 pm Sundays. Closes Feb. 23. $20-$23.)


The show I'm seeing tonight, about which I am both hopeful and skeptical, is Fever Theatre's Believers, a new musical about cults that touches on Scientology and Rajneeshpuram. I am hopeful because people tell me that the Fever ensemble has done some great work in the past, and because this show has music by John Berendzen of Liminal Theatre, whose work on last year's Theory of Love was astonishingly beautiful. I am skeptical because the only other show I've seen from Fever was last spring's obnoxiously precious Billum Bay, which I called "two hours of confusing, boring static." We'll see. (1120 SE Main St., Suite #102., 381-6814. 8 pm Thursdays-Saturdays. Closes Feb. 2. Wear comfortable shoes. $10-$20.)



Of course, the biggest opening this weekend is Beard of Avon at Portland Center Stage. It's a comedy about who really wrote Shakespeare's plays, and I'm told that the anti-Shakespearean scholar whose work formed the basis for the play (and whose name escapes me) will be there opening night. I've never seen a convincing argument that anyone but Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare, and the papers published by the conspiracy-theorist fans of Edward de Vere (the Oxfordians) have always struck me as so much classist bullshit. The basic argument is that a middle-class dude named Bill from Straford on Avon couldn't have written such amazing plays, so it must have been an aristocrat. But of course! The absurd position is shored up with lots of apparently meaningless coincidences. Like the 9/11 truthers, the Oxfordians ask lots of questions without offering plausible explanations. It's because they have none. If you're like me, you'll bring tomatoes on Friday. (Gerding Theater, 128 NW 11th Ave., 445-3700. 7:30 pm Tuesdays-Saturdays, 2 and 7:30 pm Sundays. Alternates with Twelfth Night. See pcs.org for more details. Closes March 8. $16.50-$61.50.) (Photo by Owen Carey)

See you at the show!
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