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Friday, October 19, 2001

Volume 66, Number 5

Let Gypsy entertain you

by Meaghan Lamarre

The musical comedy may very well be one of America's greatest inventions. If you don't like musicals, you should stop reading now because you won't like my review and you won't like this production. Especially in times like these, there's nothing like a good ole' fashioned, corny American musical to lift the spirits. And Portland Center Stage's production of Gypsy is no exception.

As musicals go, Gypsy is a bit unique. After all, it's main character is not the title character, Gypsy Rose Lee, but her mother, Momma Rose. And it's unusual as it falls somewhere between comedy and drama as it chronicles the struggle of Momma Rose to get her two daughters, Baby June and Louise (who grows up to be Gypsy Rose Lee) into show business. Since the show centers on the vaudeville acts of June and Louise, it has more than its share of quirkiness -- in the girls' acts we go from flag waving, gun-twirling tap dancers to a dancing cow. The show mixes in this quirkiness with a dash of the risque when the girls hit the burlesque scene and eventually Louise starts stripping with the likes of Miss Mazeppa, who strips while playing the trumpet, and Electra, who strips while wearing strings of lightbulbs. This show has a little something for everyone!

The highlight of the PCS production of Gypsy is most certainly its star, Susannah Mars. As the loudmouthed, determined, indefatigable Momma Rose, Mars commands the stage and gives an incredible performance. Her voice resonates with the drive and power that characterize Momma Rose; her movements mimic her character's deliberateness. Her superior performance is the driving force behind this production.

Former Miss America Kate Shindle gives a comparably compelling performance as Louise. In her scenes as strip tease artist Gypsy Rose Lee, Shindle has a charisma, stage presence and voice that rival Mars'. But as the quieter, second-best daughter Louise, Shindle reveals that she has a great talent as a stage-actor; her singing voice swells with her character's confidence, and her movements, at first timid and small, become more exaggerated and deliberate as she rises to stardom. Her subtle yet effective way of working with props and gesturing add to the humor and believability of the show.

Behind Mars and Shindle is an incredible cast of very talented actors, singers and dancers, not to mention a skilful crew. The scenery and costumes are effective, but not distracting. Nothing in this production is particularly inventive; the directors have held closely to the original conception of the show. Recalling this company's unusual production of Antigone last season, I, for one, am pleased to see that they left Gypsy well enough alone.

Thanks to some extraordinary leading ladies and a talented cast, this is a good production of Gypsy. But it is just a good production. Director Bill Fennelly wanted to ìshow an honest representation of the world of the theater, not the slick, painted glitzî of most other productions; he claimed to use unique lighting and set design to create this more realistic look. Furthermore, he wanted to demonstrate that what makes Gypsy one of the most beloved of musicals is that "gypsy truly is the universal struggle for identity and recognition." To this untrained eye, this production is no different from the other two productions of Gypsy that I've seen. It is a great production, but nothing new.

If you've never seen Gypsy, it truly is one of America's greatest musicals. From the dancing cow to songs about Chinese food--and let's not forget the hilarious strip number--this production keeps the audience laughing. This company does justice to the original and produces a show well worth seeing. The production runs until Oct. 21 and plays at the Newmark Theatre. More information is available by calling the box office at 503-274-6588.

Ben Folds Five - 5 = dork

by Lizzie Miller

The best word to describe Ben Folds as he slams out his songs on his baby grand piano, with his little-boy dimples and funky plaid shirt, is: dork. Ben Folds played at the Roseland in Portland on October 11 on tour for ìRockin' the Suburbs,î his first album since Ben Folds Five dissolved last March. Folds is now out with a new band; his new band-buddies are Snuzz, Millard, and Jim Bogios, who each play multiple instruments including bass, drums, a baritone guitar and a triangle.

Despite the change in faces on stage, Folds has remained loyal to the kind of music his fans enjoy. He looks like the nice boy next door, even when he drops his palms down on the piano keys and deals the instrument a blow to make any graying piano teacher cringe. The only difference between him and any girl's best guy friend from high school is that he appears to have learned how to cash in on the piano lessons that embarrassed him through junior high. One wonders if he hasn't just learned to capitalize on the image, playing to all those other socially challenged miscreants, but hearing the venomous lyrics of ìKiss My Assî you could easily believe he was that little kid who got beat up for his milk money.

This multi-talented musician plays music that doesn't fit into the neat little box of punk or rock. His guitar-less band has a piano-playing lead, and back-up musicians who sing in twisted, beautiful harmonies. Each has piano skill in addition to a bass or baritone guitar, and the drummer also plays the tambourine and triangle. This is clearly not a band that will easily assimilate into the standards of pop music. Folds' lyrics speak with a unique honesty and poetry. He tells the stories of familiar characters in his songs; he talks about people with whom everyone is somehow acquainted, and he doesn't romance away the truth that, at times, life sucks.

Prior to playing "Hiro's Song," he told the audience the song's story: it's a piece about a middle-aged Japanese man who falls in love with, and is then dumped by his daughter's twenty-two year old friend. He proceeded with a song that unabashedly jests at middle class white boys who think they've had it tough and need to sing and swear about how miserable life is. Throughout the concert he stood at the piano more often than sitting at the stool, fingers flashing across the keys, tripping out rapid melodies. He seemed totally oblivious to the people dancing and girls screaming through songs like ìAnnie Waits,î ìFired,î and ìNot the Same.î He grinned out into the lights, brushed by the outstretched hands of fans between songs, and returned hand signs to a few guys in the side balcony close to the stage. Snuzz snapped a string on his baritone guitar and while waiting for it to be restrung he and Folds performed an impromptu cover song for fun.

For the encore he returned to play a few solo songs on his piano, including ìThe Luckiest.î His sweet love song, cut free from the cliches that so often confine love songs to melodramatic ballads, rang out over a blissfully enchanted crowd.

His fans are serious fans, and they know why they gather to hear him sing and play the piano and what it means to them to hear a dose of reality in a song. I overheard the man behind me speaking before the concert about Ben Folds. He said, "I'd never heard his music and I bought two of his albums just because I saw he played the piano and I knew it'd have to be good." Folds was not a man to disappoint. His cheerful showmanship and enthusiasm for music charmed me through the evening.


Stiller's no model of the year

zoolander by Edmund Donnelly

In ìZoolander,î Ben Stiller breaks from his usual role as the charming, pitiable every-man to play a daft male model at the peak of his career. After being dethroned from his ìModel of the Yearî award and humiliated in front of a disbelieving television audience, Stiller's character begins a mercifully short phase of soul-searching, returning home to New Jersey to consider his next move. For reasons too ludicrous to explain at any length here, he soon finds himself brainwashed by a fashion industry giant (Will Ferrel) who decides to use Zoolander in his plot to assassinate the Prime Minister of Malaysia. With the help of an arrogant yet thankfully compassionate fellow model (Owen Wilson), and an ambitious yet thankfully compassionate reporter (Anonymous Blonde Chick), Zoolander is able to avoid committing murder and expose Ferrell for the evil fraud that he is, all in an uproarious and heartwarming explosion of zaniness. One can only revel in the full glory of our current cultural renaissance that Fred Durst and Lil' Kim were able to lend their talents to the effort.

As is the unfortunate case with innumerable movies that attempt to construct an entire film around a thin, one-dimensional character, ìZoolanderî relies far too heavily on plot development, becoming horribly unfocused and misguided as a result. Zoolander himself, much like Wayne and Garth, Mary-Katherine Gallagher, the Ladies' Man, and Adam Sandler, is funny for about as long as a Heineken commercial. But this small flicker of humor is quickly lost in a sea of predictable gags and plot twists. Proving single-handedly that no competent satire should combine cheap humor with international politics, ìZoolanderî is a confusing and ultimately forgettable affair that promises to redefine the timeless assertion that less is certainly more.

Punk inspires student

by Sierra Jenkins

As a freshman at LC, I have noted a--to use my handy SAT vocabulary words--plethora of Phish, Grateful Dead, and Marley fans, and a dearth of punk rock fans. I'm no punk rock princess, but even I felt called upon to point out the merits of this so-often marginalized genre.

Why should you listen to punk music? Pure and simple: it's fun. Like any other category of music, punk has its own culture and messages: some bands want to take on (or take down) the world, some seek personal expression, most want to have a good time and don't take themselves too seriously.

If you're not into the sound, give it another chance. A lot of the old-school stuff sounds like the garage recording it often was, but most of the stuff coming out these days is a little bit more in the middle of the spectrum: not as rough around the edges as Misfits, not as mainstream sugar as Blink-182 has become.

At the very least, punk offers a charged alternative to the classic LC playlist. Though I don't know that this is so true today, punk arose somewhat as a way to rage against the evils of society. Personally, I like to get pissed off every once in a while. Contentment so often breeds apathy; I get scared when I don't feel upset about the state of affairs in the world.

Punk music is generally not so politically charged any more (If you want to hear some old-school punk from the 80's, check out ìNot So Quiet on the Western Front,î a compilation at our very own Watzek Library), but it's still cathartic, and still a voice of those on the fringe of a frighteningly complacent society.

That said, I got a good taste of punk last week, seeing two shows at the Crystal Ballroom. MXPX played on Monday, and AFI on Tuesday. MXPX is a Christian punk band; a big deal and at the same time not a big deal. Some of it is reflected in their lyrics, but they're entertaining the crowd not evangelizing. MXPX put on a good show and I enjoyed myself, but alas, their appeal and rise in popularity over the years meant that there were way too many annoying 13-year-olds. Said Marisa Neyenhuis, ìThe show was great except for this teeny-bopper squealing around the vicinity of my waist.î

On the flip side, there was a very good crowd at the sold-out show on Tuesday. A.F.I. (A Fire Inside), from Berkeley, CA, plays what AFI fan Matt Yenni describes ìhardcore punk rock with a dark gothic influence.î They count among their influences Misfits, NY Dolls, Danzig, and David Bowie.

AFI plays for its many fans, and the show on Tuesday quivered with the exchange of energy between band and audience. Said Erin Brown, who saw AFI at the Warped Tour in Salt Lake, ìIt was way better than Utah.î Lead singer Davey Havok was mesmerizing, moving non-stop from the intro to the end of the encore and the energy never came down. All around, a great show; AFI is well worth seeing live.

  Meaghan Lamarre
Associate Editor
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News Editor
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Arts Editor
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Calendar Editor
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One-Acts amaze, as usual

by Colleen Welch

With the performance of two one-act plays by Christopher Durang, the Lewis & Clark theater community started this season off with a bang, or perhaps more appropriately, a laugh. A cast of seven performed ìBusiness Lunch at the Russian Tea Roomî and ìFor whom the Southern Bell Tollsî to nearly sold out houses on October 4, 5, and 6.

Despite a personal bias against Christopher Durang, I thoroughly enjoyed the show, laughing so enthusiastically that nearby audience members were embarrassed to be sitting next to me. From the moment I walked into the black box, intricately arranged socks on the set assured me that this was going to be a hilarious show. The costume and set designers for this production used the space in the theater well; I was particularly impressed with the meticulous lacy details on the set of ìFor Whom the Southern Bell Tolls.î

The chemistry between the actors in these productions was also impressive. Austin Work acted as a sort of catalyst, it seemed, in both plays. In ìBusiness Lunch at the Russian Tea Room,î I especially enjoyed his reactions to Marli Riede's impersonal, pushy, Hollywood producer. He showed his flexibility as an actor in ìFor Whom the Southern Bell Tolls with a witty performance as Lawrence, a boy who limps around the house begging his mother, here the ever-elegant Becky Rhamey, to admire his swizzle stick collection. In addition to the more pedestrian comedy that I expect from Christopher Durang, such as the vision of a kissing priest and a rabbi, here Mike Bolenbaker and Wardie Rozen, I was pleasantly surprised by the less forceful parts of the production. One such moment was Mike Bolenbaker's lengthy, wistful monologue as Lawrence's Brother in "For Whom the Southern Bell Tolls." Although the audience was thrown into some confusion when the play seemed to be coming to a close through this monologue, Mike maintained his Holden Caufield-like character very well, providing a more quiet sort of comedy.

The success of this production rests on the fact that every character is unique, from Catie O'Keefe's side-splitting portrayal of a deaf, lesbian factory worker to Wardie Rozen's inexplicably rude waiter, to Becky Rhamey as the vivacious Southern mother who only wants to rid herself of her children. The actors throw themselves into their parts; they never hold themselves back, which creates a Saturday-Night-Live sort of atmosphere. Never during the production did my mind stray to what I had to do that evening or the next week. Durang's situation comedy paired with confident acting created an exciting, constantly amusing atmosphere.

Although I walked into the theater wishing that the theater had chosen a more experimental piece, like everyone else in the audience I walked out with a sore stomach and sore cheeks from laughing so much. Perhaps the main stage production for the fall semester, Brecht's Mother Courage, will answer the question of whether this level of entertainment be found in more serious, modern pieces.