The M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust, an entity formed in 1975 to “enrich the quality of life in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington,” recently awarded Portland Playhouse a $275,000 grant in support of a capital campaign to renovate its historic church.

The grant represents a whopping 13.8 percent of the Playhouse’s capital campaign goal of $2 million. 

As of March 2, the Playhouse has raised 90 percent of its goal.

The M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust has partnered with almost 2,500 organizations, investing more than $850 million across 6,000-plus grants.

“For more than 40 years,” according to a statement on its website, “the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust has focused on its mission to enrich the quality of life in the Pacific Northwest by providing grants to organizations seeking to strengthen the region’s educational, scientific, spiritual and cultural base in creative and sustainable ways.”

The fundraising continues for the Playhouse - a crowdfunding effort is ongoing and there is a celebratory brunch on March 12.

Review: Dennis Sparks on pen/man/ship

NOTE: Mr. Sparks' review runs here as he intended for publication on his website, but his blog manager is out of the country and having difficulty posting anything online. Mr. Sparks assures us the review will be on his site by the weekend.

Between the Light and the Dark

England, during a time in their history, decided to not take up any more resources from the Motherland for undesirables, like prisoners, and so shipped them off to Australia/New Zealand. “Out of sight, out of mind.” But that, in the long run, might have been a blessing, as those individuals eventually settled there and, with their descendants, began a whole new society.

In 1896, some prominent white businessmen also decided to experiment with this idea and sent a ship to Liberia, along the coast of Africa, to see if such a similar colony could be set up there. Although the ship did have a Captain and a crew (Charles Grant, Tonea Lolin and Tamera Lynn), the main developer was a free, black businessman, a reverend, Charles Boyd (Adrian Roberts). Although a stalwart individual, he was also wrestling with some personal demons of his own. Also, on the trip, is his son, Jacob (DeLance Minefee), a dutiful child but developing a mind of his own.

Charles finds solace in the scriptures and also with one of the crewman, an outspoken, accordion player, Cecil (Vin Shambry), who has a certain earthy wisdom which Charles finds refreshing. It should have been a routine trip but an unexpected element has been added, a woman, an escaping slave from the South, a proud lady named Ruby (Andrea Whittle). And, if that isn’t enough to stir things up a bit, his son is smitten with her.

As the journey progresses, so do relationships, the discovery of the true nature of the trip and heated emotions. Things are bound to come to a head, and they do, and by the end, lives will be changed. I can’t tell you more without spoiling the story. But a thought to leave you with, it is said that the universe began with a bang and, if so, then it is not unreasonable that “a brave new world” here on Earth would not start the same way, with beings being unceremoniously thrust into it.

Four actors on an essentially bare stage (with, admittedly, some amazing set/prop pieces) must hold your attention for two hours and they do, as their powerful performances and this riveting story would be enough to hold my attention for much longer than that. It goes back to the story-telling way of presenting a play, which is still the purest form of theatre, in my opinion. Now, add to that, the clever addition of a billowing sail and a liquid floor and you have the makings of an exciting, innovative drama to partake in.

Director Lucie Tiberghien has chosen well her cast and she makes the most of the intimate space and nature of the play. There are times I actually felt the cold wind that the cast was to be feeling. And the set by Kris Stone and lighting by Solomon Weisbard are truly assets to the production. And, as mentioned, the cast is solid. It should be noted that the part of Ruby (Whittle) is enacted by a student who was part of their Apprenticeship program, which proves it can provide a path to bigger and better roles in the future.

And it’s always good to see Shambry, a seasoned, local professional, continuing in creating some memorable roles. Roberts and Minefee are welcome additions and add greatly to this searing story.

I recommend this play. You might want to check out their website for more information on the Apprenticeship program and on the fundraising efforts to reconstruct this space, as to how you can contribute. If you do see this show, please tell them Dennis sent you.

WHO GAVE US THIS STUFF? Melissa Berry from Missionary Chocolates

[Note: This is a recurring feature that will highlight the generosity and goodwill of our treasured sponsors. We appreciate all that they do.]


Melissa Berry is the owner of and chocolatier at Missionary Chocolates, which produces handcrafted vegan truffles.

Berry is also a certified naturopathic doctor.

Chocolate isn’t her passion - helping others is.

Listen to her explain why she does what she does:

“To do outreach, to do public service - that’s what we’re here for. We’re not here to amass things, but to care for people… Having a mother who has nearly died of Lyme disease several times, she’s really ill, no working joints, it’s destroyed most of her body - I wanted to do something nice, something that was a luxury. Life gets so boring, and to have little luxuries - you might not need a grand piano, but if you can sit down with a really nice piece of chocolate or something that really touches your soul… 

“I find that chocolate does that - not for me, but for other people.”

It’s true - she doesn’t even like chocolate. In fact, she has a slight sensitivity to it. She laughs when suggesting this development stops her from feasting upon her company’s product, literally eating up profit.

“It’s a means to an end,” she says. 

Indeed - the goal is to build an in-patient, integrated hospital, the first of its kind in Portland. But Berry admits that’s a long-term goal. 

Until then, though, the creativity involved in concocting new flavors - lemongrass curry, anyone? - keeps Berry invested on a daily basis. Then again, the popularity of her products helps in that regard as well.

“Apparently we’re filling a niche,” she says. “I would say most of our customers are not vegan. They’re lactose-intolerant, they avoid dairy for the many reasons people do, or they just really like our flavors and appreciate that it’s a high-quality product with no preservatives and no junk in it. 

“People in Portland care. I find that people that go to Portland Playhouse and the other places we support, those are people that care about the community. They have the resources to go to these things and support them.”

Missionary Chocolates ( is located at 2712 NE Glisan. 

In review: A Christmas Carol


We appreciate any and all commentary focused on the exceptional work produced here by our talented casts and crew. The following are a few of the links you may have missed or would like to revisit regarding our latest show, A Christmas Carol.

Oregon ArtsWatch: "A joyful miser: 'Christmas Carol' at Portland Playhouse"

Quote: "In its fourth year, this tradition for Portland Playhouse comes off as second nature: all the hard behind-the-scenes work appears effortless. A Christmas Carol has seen many incarnations, often with edges that are too polished and Baroque. Portland Playhouse is careful with this play, and gets straight to the message."

Willamette Week: "We Saw Three Versions of A Christmas Carol In One Weekend"

Quote: "You don't expect the traditionalist version of an extremely familiar play to be mind-blowing. But Portland Playhouse leverages the well-trodden script to show off some arty production values that are actually very cool."

This isn't a review, per se, but an advance feature on Jen Rowe taking on the role of Scrooge:

Portland Tribune: "Ghost of Christmas Future is Gender Neutral"

Quote: "With gender neutral, it allows us to explore humanity without gender,” Rowe says. “I love that we’re able to acknowledge in this production that (limitations) don’t matter. The story is about us as humans, and it’s that simple."

Here's artistic director and co-founder Brian Weaver, accompanied by his daughters, in a Christmas week live television interview:

KGW: "Portland Playhouse Brings 'A Christmas Carol' to the Stage"



We'll take your used, old car off your hands


Got a car, boat, or even airplane that you’re looking to part ways with, and want to support Portland Playhouse at the same time? Vehicle donations are an easy, generous, and tax-deductible way to support your favorite neighborhood theatre. 

We partner with Volunteers of America to process and auction off vehicles that are donated to the Playhouse. It’s so easy! There are two ways to get started: 

 1. Fill out this online donation form. The form will ask for your contact information and for some details about your vehicle. 

2. Call Portland Playhouse's Development Associate, Katie Frederick, at 971-533-8741 to fill out an intake form together and send it over to Volunteers of America. 

After receiving your form, Volunteers of America will be in touch to make arrangements for towing and take you through the rest of the paperwork for initiating the donation. They will then take the vehicle through their auctioning process and Portland Playhouse will receive the funds a few weeks after the sale. Volunteers of America will also handle sending over the paperwork for your tax records. 

Give us a call at 971-533-8741 if you have any other questions. Thanks for your generous support of the Playhouse!

RACC-ing up support: The Playhouse receives $23,000 grant


On Monday, Regional Arts & Culture Council (RACC) announced Portland Playhouse as one of three organizations to receive additional General Operating Support.

The Playhouse grant - which is funded by Clackamas, Multnomah, and Washington Counties, the City of Portland general fund and the city’s Arts Education & Access Fund - amounts to $23,000.

The other organizations are The Circus Project ($12,800) and My Voice Music ($9,800). The total number of arts organizations receiving support from RACC now stands at 51. A complete list can be viewed here

For more information about RACC, visit

Twenty-Dollar Tuesday


After being extended twice, the last week of HOW I LEARNED WHAT I LEARNED is nearly here. In celebration of the hit show, we've added a rare Tuesday performance on Nov. 1. The best part, beyond witnessing the amazing Victor Mack as August Wilson? The tickets for that evening for all available at the discounted rate of $20. 

Hit the TICKETS tab above to secure yours now.

Back-to-back: The Playhouse Receives National Theatre Company Grant Again


For the second consecutive year, Portland Playhouse is a recipient of the American Theatre Wing’s National Theatre Company Grant.

The Playhouse was gifted an inaugural $10,000 Second-Time Support award for general operating expenses, one of a limited number of grants distributed to companies who’d already been recognized between 2010 and 2015.

“I am honored to be returning for the second time to NYC to receive this award on behalf of Portland Playhouse,” says Brian Weaver, Playhouse co-founder and artistic director. “This is an acknowledgment of the talent and investment of so many artists: Victor Mack, Kevin Jones, Jennifer Rowe, Ashley Williams, Vin Shambry, Cristi Miles, Daniel Meeker... The list goes on for a LONG time. Co-founders Nikki (Weaver), Michael (Weaver) and I wish to thank the Portland creative community and our King Neighborhood for making this possible.”

The American Theatre Wing, best known for creating the prestigious, industry-defining Tony Awards, solicited applications from “companies or organizations that have been in continued existence for at least five years but not longer than fifteen years, during which time they have articulated a distinctive mission, cultivated an audience, and nurtured a community of artists in ways that strengthen the quality, diversity, and dynamism of American theatre.”

Designed to “provide institutional support for twelve cutting-edge theatre companies recognized for outstanding new play development, education and community engagement,” the first-time recipients include American Blues Theater (Chicago), Bedlam (New York City), Chance Theater (Anaheim, California), Classical Theatre Company (Houston), Cygnet Theatre Company (San Diego) and South of Broadway Theatre Company (Charleston, S.C.).

The five companies joining the Playhouse as repeat honorees are 16th Street Theater (Berwyn, Illinois), 1812 Productions (Philadelphia), Golden Thread Productions (San Francisco) and Synchronicity Theatre (Atlanta).

“The quality of work that these remarkable theater companies produce is nothing short of inspiring,” said Marva Smalls, chair of the National Theatre Company Grants committee. “They further the conversations of issues important to their local communities.”

Added Heather Hitchens, president of the American Theatre Wing: “I am delighted to be honoring this year’s selections for the National Theatre Company Grants, and for the first time ever awarding Second-Time Support grants to five companies that have previously been supported by this initiative. The Wing remains dedicated to promoting excellence in theatre across the country, which these young companies have more than demonstrated.”