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Andersen shines in Keseys Great Notion

The opportunity to see Gresham actor Tobias Andersen in his latest role is well worth a trip to Portland's Pearl District.

Andersen, best known locally as the dynamic force behind Mt. Hood Repertory Theatre, is cast quite appropriately in the role of old Henry Stamper in the world premiere adaptation of Ken Kesey's novel 'Sometimes A Great Notion.'

Andersen may be an Oklahoma native, but he and the rest of the cast in this Portland Center Stage production pretty much nail the ornery, stubborn nature of native Oregonians. And this play - like the masterful novel it is based upon - is all about Oregon. Or, perhaps more accurately, it is all about an Oregon that existed not so long ago and that still persists oh-so-faintly in soggy outposts embedded between the Pacific Ocean and the Coast Range.

This older Oregon, circa 1963, included towns that lived and died by their ability to cut trees and float them downriver. One of the central conflicts of Kesey's novel, and of playwright Aaron Posner's adaptation, is a fight between the Stamper family and the townspeople over the Stampers' plan to sell timber in the midst of a logging strike. As the patriarch of the Stamper clan, Andersen is flawlessly loud, bull-headed and profane. (A cautionary note here: This play is definitely R rated.)

This perfect match between Henry Stamper and Tobias Andersen is duplicated in the rest of the casting - they're all darn good. And if you are a Tobias Andersen fan, you'll especially enjoy the dead-on Andersen impersonation in the middle of the play, when another actor portrays a younger version of Henry Stamper and mimics Andersen's voice in all its gruff glory.

While the casting and Posner's multi-layered adaptation are worthy of praise, it is Kesey's brilliant novel, of course, that made the whole production worth pursuing in the first place. For those who haven't read the book - it probably takes about as long to read it as it did for Kesey to write it - the novel is the quintessential piece of Northwest literature: a waterlogged depiction of the modern world crashing into the traditional Oregon way of life.

Most great works of literature are, as one of this play's own characters admits, a retelling of other grand stories from the past. 'Sometimes A Great Notion' - the book and play - certainly fits that description on a number of levels, but this time the stories are set in the soggy, shadowy place we call home. And that makes for a production that Andersen, who's obviously no novice in the theater world, appropriately calls 'something really special.'

'Sometimes a Great Notion' will run at least through April 27 at the Gerding Theater at the Armory, 128 N.W. 11th Ave., Portland. The phone number is 503-445-3700.