Monday, October 15, 2012

The Body of an American - Portland Center Stage, Portland, OR

"Elusive Truth"


The Body of an American is in PCS’s Ellyn Bye Studio, at 128NW 11th in the Pearl District of Portland.  It plays through November 11th.  It is written by Dan O’Brien and directed by Bill Rauch (OSF’s Artistic Director).  Check out their website www.pcs.org for further information, play dates/times and ticket prices.

Essentially the story is about the relationship between two men, Dan O’Brien, a writer, and photojournalist, Paul Watson.  At the heart of the saga is a photo of a dead, desecrated, American soldier in Afghanistan taken by Watson.  Before he took the photo, it purportedly spoke to him saying, “If you do this, I will own you!”  And he is haunted through the rest of the play by these prophetic words.

Paul (William Salyers) is a reporter and photographer for the Toronto Star newspaper.  His assignments take him to Australia, Africa and Alaska, as well.  His focus seems to be on  the native people of these lands and how war, strife and “progress” affects them.  After corresponding with Dan (Danny Wolohan), an American writer, he feels he has met a kindred spirit.  Together they form a union and the story explodes from there.

They both have had a troubled (to say the least) childhood and early adult life.  Does this affect their view of the World and Life?  Probably.  But they acknowledge this.  And that does not negate the fact that they are witnesses to some horrible atrocities and have the guts to report it, even at the risk of  their own sanity.

The play takes place over a period of time and several different locations.  The twenty or so characters are played by just these two actors.  And they do it exceedingly well!  Goaded along, I’m sure, by not only the director, but also by the Dialect Coach, Mary McDonald-Lewis.  The stark but versatile set, lighting and projections (Christopher Acebo, James F. Ingalls and Eamonn Farrell) also are extremely inventive and add immensely to the success of the style of this production.

I cannot say enough good things about the actors.  Playing all kinds of different characters and keeping it straight within their minds, as well as for audience, is extraordinary.  Only a few times did I get confused momentarily as to who was who but, even then, they were quickly back on track.  Some awards should be in the making for these Herculean efforts.

And Bill Rauch’s adaptation and direction is outstanding.  Recently he adapted and directed Medea/MacBeth/Cinderella for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland.  Combining these three stories on an essentially bare stage was a seemingly, even more of a challenge.  But he pulled that off, too, with nary a misstep.  His vision for this show is so intricate that one wonders how he did it and still managed to keep the drama flowing for his actors and audiences.  But do it, he does, and with amazing skill and artistry.

Another element to the story is Truth.  One might be reminded of the blind men who try to describe an elephant.  Each description is different, depending on what part of the elephant they have touched.  The best one might expect in searching for this elusive element is one’s own truth to a situation (depending on one’s own background), not necessarily, the Truth.  (See Kurosawa’s film, Rashomon, as an example).  All things considered, the “elephant” is still there, it’s just our separate views of it that may differ.

It should be noted that this play has some harsh language, adult situations and graphic photos.  But it is a play worth seeing and a story worth considering.  Bravo!  Tell them Dennis sent you.