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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

"The Quality of Life" @ Artists Rep

It is my practice to avoid reading synopses of the plays I haven't already heard about. "The Quality of Life" was one of those plays. Which means I was unprepared, to put it mildly.

The play is about death and dying, but it is also about grief, and our unavoidably clumsy way of dealing with it. There is never any grace in grief. 

Susannah Mars once again plays a mother who has lost a child, a role she has played twice before in Artists Rep productions, "Rabbit Hole" and "Next to Normal," and it is a role she crushes every time, in such a way as to make it look effortless. Michael Mendelson plays a terminally ill man, and while the role does have room in it for him to be a bit of a goofball free-spirit, his raging speech at the end is a departure for the character, and if memory serves, for Mendelson himself.

Michael Fisher-Welsh has the thankless job of playing the stiff and boring grieving father, a man who has had every ounce of joy sucked from him. I say "thankless" because we spend much of the play not liking him, so the challenge is to imbue him with a dwindling spark of humanity, doused almost completely by sadness. Fisher-Welsh succeeds, and the audience owes him thanks.

I've been trying not to use "gut-wrenching" because it is a cliche, but perhaps I'll be granted a pass if I admit that the aforementioned last scene with Mendelson made me nauseated. You have been warned.  

Monday, April 14, 2014

"Othello" @PCS

Portland Center Stage's "Othello" is magnificent in every way. The entire cast is fantastic, but special praise is owed to Gavin Hoffman as Iago. His performance is so palpably villainous that one expects to see a forked tongue eventually. And he's local, which of course scores him even more points!

The set is mammoth, so much so that adjectives like that don't quite do it justice, which compels me to quote the specifications from the Press Notes: "The set structure is 30 feet wide and estimated to weigh 2,000 pounds. It rotates 360-degrees on 104 castors, powered by a 5 horsepower engine." Try to imagine what that looks like. I wager the actual set is grander than what your mind's eye conjures. It must be seen to be believed.

"Othello" is my favorite of Shakespeare's plays. I enjoy its dark themes, and the language seems easier to interpret than some others. I would recommend "Othello" to reluctant Shakespeare beginners. But really, I'd recommend it to everyone. It is such a feast for the senses, it almost defies description.