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The plays the thing

Mt. Hood Repertory Theatre's directors, producers and actors pause to celebrate the company's 10th anniversary
by: John Klicker, Mt. Hood Repertory Theatre’s Director, Tobias Andersen, takes a seat just before the start of his company’s 10th season.

After 10 years of performances, the Mt. Hood Repertory Theatre has earned some bragging rights.

Artistic Director Tobias Anderson looks forward to a landmark theater season this year, he said while reclining in the crimson covered seats at Mt. Hood Community College, where his production, 'Lend Me a Tenor,' will open Friday, July 28.

Years of careful planning by Anderson and his crew have carved a niche for Mt. Hood Repertory not only in Gresham, but in the Pacific Northwest.

'We are holding true to a vision of American classic theater,' he said. 'When you take a moment to think about what that means, you can see that classic theater carries a sense of timelessness. We are the only company that holds a festival devoted just to American classic plays. It just does not exist on the West Coast expect for in Gresham.'

From productions like 'Inherit the Wind' and 'You Can't Take it With You,' Anderson said the company has dealt with major contemporary issues from censorship to religion.

'Many community theaters are looking to do these shows on small scales, with only a few actors and minimal sets,' he said. 'We take these shows and blow them up onto a 50- to 60-foot proscenium stage with full sets and professional actors. It's a completely different experience.'

Anderson keeps close watch over the actions of his technical crew as speaks about the accomplishments of his company. The stage, which at first held nothing more than periwinkle flats and thick, rolled up rugs, is now dressed with antique chairs carved from dark wood and crystal bowls filled with fruit.

When fully prepared for the opening of Ken Ludwig's play, 'Lend Me a Tenor,' the stage is inviting and portrays a sense of lightheartedness, much like author's comedic farce made famous on Broadway in the 1980s.

Kirk Mouser, a local actor who has worked on productions nationwide from 'Phantom of the Opera' in Manhattan to 'Evita' in Chicago, said the Tony-award-wining production is a perfect way to celebrate the company's 10th anniversary.

Mouser is one of the leading actors in the production and brings his vast experience to the show, which includes a Broadway rendition.

Set among the highly dramatic and often quirky lives of those in show business, 'Lend Me a Tenor' shows how the Cleveland Grand Opera gets ready to welcome one of the world's most famous singers to its stage. And then we see what happens when he refuses to set a foot on it.

'With today's climate of war and everything else going on in the world, I think what people really need is some fun. They need to sit and laugh and release all the day-to-day tension that builds up on us,' Mouser said.

Trisha Armor, associate artistic director for Mt. Hood Repertory Theatre, agrees with the overall need for audiences to experience merriment on the summer stage.

Armor is directing 'Sea Marks,' by Gardner McKay, for the company's other full-length production.

While the tone of McKay's play is more poetic and mature, Armor said it doesn't weigh down the audience.

'It's not about telling people to come on out here and get their dose of theater medicine. It's just a nice way to get together and spend a summer evening,' she said.

Armor was drawn to the script for its ability to keep the audience on edge, always making left turns when people expect to go right. The adult love story told in 'Sea Marks' is not a tragedy, said Armor, but it does show audiences that sometimes love is not enough.

The play follows the relationship of a sailor who writes passionate letters to a woman, who happens to work in publishing. She decides to have his letters made into a book, both as a gift to him and a ticket for her to a better life.

'There are many artists in this world. They are everyday artists who are busy living their lives quietly and being creative. They are the painters who dedicate their craft to decorating a really nice window at a department store, and being happy with that,' she said. 'This show looks at what happens when you take an everyday artist and make them an artist with a capital A.'

Armor, who has worked with Mt. Hood Repertory for four years, said she can see how the company has grown roots in the community and why some of Portland's better-known actors are being drawn to the East County stage.

'We are certainly at an interesting crossroads,' she said.

Anderson, like Armor, also said he feels the company has made great accomplishments, but he is not ready to rest on the laurels of his creative achievements.

'It's been a tough year. We have wonderful support and a loyal audience, which is growing,' he said. 'A theater company is a major asset to a community both economically and culturally. I've see what a thriving culture can do for the community itself.'

Anderson said he hopes support grows and eventually moves the company to a permanent home - preferably within the future Center for the Arts.

'A theater is a commodity - a resource for the community,' he said. 'What a wonderful thing it is, theater. What a wonderful place to bring young people, where people are sharing ideas and concepts. You cannot duplicate that energy and electricity anywhere.'

10th annual American Classics Theatre Festival, July 28-Aug. 20, Mt. Hood

Community College

Main Stage

Lend Me a Tenor

By Ken Ludwig

8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays

Friday, July 28 through Sunday, Aug. 20

Studio Theatre

Sea Marks

By Gardner McKay

8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays

Saturday, July 29 through Sunday, Aug. 20

What a Swell Party This Is

Musical Revue featuring The Broadway Baritones

7 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 6

Proceeds from the evening support The Gresham Center for the Arts and Mt. Hood Repertory Theatre Company.

Tickets cost $20 for adults, $15 for seniors and students.

Festival passes cost $34 for adults, $28 for seniors and students.

For reservations, call 503-491-5950.

Musical revue tickets cost $25.

For reservations, call 503-665-7800.