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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

"Belleville" by Amy Herzog @ Third Rail Rep

There are certainly things to praise in Third Rail's "Belleville. There's the performance of Issac Lamb as Zack, a lovable goof. There are interesting plot-points in Herzog's script. But, virtually nothing was resolved to my satisfaction. One small example: Zack is indeed a stoner extraordinaire, but there is a scene in which he is caught lurking in the neighbor's apartment in the middle of the night, his excuse is that he was looking for the neighbor's stash of marijuana because he had run out of his own. That just didn't add up to me. Not in the moment, because I didn't believe someone would do that for marijuana, especially since that neighbor is also the landlord and Zack owes him quite a bit of money. Then I flashed back to it after the unexpected bit of violence at the end, were his motives far more sinister and he just got caught? We're never told. I was so confused by nearly everything that I read the NY Times review because I was sure I had missed something. One thing the Times review noted was that the pornography Zack is caught watching when his wife returns home earlier than expected, was "violent" Really? All I remember is pretty standard moaning. Zack happens to discuss the incident with the landlord pre-break-in and the landlord asks, "was it nasty shit?" and Zack says yes, but mentions nothing of violence. But in light of the break-in, and bloody ending, again,  was Zack's motive predatory? The play's final scene is rendered entirely in untranslated French dialogue, and that registered with me as Herzog's version of an elementary schooler's sing-song taunt, "I'm not going to tell you." Well,  Ms. Herzog, you also neglected to make me care enough in the first place. I'm certainly less enthused about seeing another Herzog play coming soon to Artist's Rep.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

"Fierce Love" @ Milagro Theatre

"Fierce Love" is certainly true to its title. This play of short scenes and monologues by six mothers of children with Cerebral Palsy is an epic testament to the kind of love that is born from adversity. At the risk of abusing a phrase, it's about the a kind of love not for the faint of heart. There are scenes of fear, scenes of injustice, frustration, and heartache. But, there are also scenes of triumph, both of parents and children. Most surprising is the humor. The play is structured as sort of a collage, with the troupe of six actresses playing multiple roles, it is quite an ambitious undertaking.

The play was produced by Well Arts, which focuses on bringing stories from under-represented groups to the stage, and I must take a moment to say what a wonderful concept that is.

If I were to name the unifying theme of the pieces--beyond love--it would be how these mothers have each journeyed to find ways to see their children for who they are. Whether it be suddenly making a simple yet profound connection with a child who has severe communication difficulties, or realizing that the baby you love hasn't changed just because he now has a scary-sounding diagnosis.

"Fierce Love" has a bit of everything: comedy, tragedy--a mother has a conversation with her uterus, I mean, where else are you going to find that? This show is worth your time whether or not you have any experience with disabilities--perhaps even more so if you don't. Why? Because it will change the way you see disability when you encounter it. These women tell their stories not in a plea for sympathy, but for simple understanding, and as with all great art, these stories make you see things in a new way.

"Fierce Love" 
Written by Ann Connor-Griffin, Susan Cushman, Danae Davison, Michelle Haines, Jennifer Peterson, Nicole Silverman

Facilitated and Directed by Erica Terpening-Romeo and Heath Hyun Houghton

Arlena Barnes
ZoĆ« Rudman 
Diana Schultz 
Jeanette Swafford 
Chelsie Thomas
Sumi Wu

Performance Dates
Tuesday, March 17, 7:30pm
Saturday, March 21, 2pm
Wednesday, March 25, 7:30pm
Saturday, March 28, 2pm
Saturday, April 4, 2pm
Cost: $10 general admission, $5 students/seniors

Performance Venue
Milagro Theatre
525 SE Stark
Portland, OR 97214

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

"The Invisible Hand" @ Artist's Rep

The saying goes: "Good things come to those who wait" and that couldn't be more true about those of us who anticipated "The Invisible Hand," now playing at Artist's Rep. Bringing the play to the stage has been a multi-season struggle for the theatre. I seem to remember it was delayed twice, though I could be wrong. At any rate, former Artistic Director Allen Nause persevered, and came out of semi-retirement for the show.  The audience is richly rewarded by his efforts. "The Invisible Hand"has themes of terrorism and kidnapping, which are what attracted me to the show so fiercely, and it also deals with the stock market and economics. Thankfully, the latter is presented in an easily accessible way. "The Invisible Hand" 's strongest asset is how well it handles its "ripped from the headlines" feel. By that I mean, everyone winces at the mention of murdered journalist Daniel Pearl, and feels the tension when violence is threatened, but what makes it more than a topical thriller is that it the economics angle is not often explored. And when it is explored, the complexity of the specialized language soon falls away to reveal simple and nauseating truths.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Other Desert Cities @ PCS

"Other Desert Cities" starts out as a typical "Family Fight Comedy" Most of the fighting in the early going is of the political kind. You know, the instantly familiar holiday debates. Except these are between parents and children, which for some reason are 10 times worse than those between others who are not as close. Add in a politically-charged family tragedy, and things become explosive. The father plays easy-going peacemaker, the mother is the always-right unswerving, towering presence. The daughter is the one itching for a fight, and has a tell-all book on the way about that family tragedy. Rounding out the brood is the youngest son, and the boozy aunt. The cast is fantastic, of particular note is Barbara Broughton, as the aging film star, who reminded me a little of Lauren Bacall. The play is a little too long, but the climax is surprising. It is certainly worth seeing.