Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Lost Boy—Artists Repertory Theatre—Portland, OR

A Double-Edge Sword
The Lost Boy by local playwright, Susan Mach and directed by ART’s Artistic Director, Allan Nause, will play through February 10th.  The theatre is located on SW 16th and Alder.  For more information on the show and/or season contact them at or call 503-241-1278 for tickets.

The story is set in the late 1800’s.  It concerns the kidnapping of a young boy, Charley Ross (Logan Martin & Agatha Day Olson), from a prominent family in Philadelphia.  Two drifters, Bill (Duffy Epstein) and Joe (Sean Doran), looking to get rich quick, lure the boy with promises of candies and fireworks, if he comes with them.  Needless to say, the sweet enticements are a ruse and the boy disappears from view.

A ransom note for $20,000 is sent to his father, Christian (Michael Fisher-Welsh).  But all is not as it seems on the home front.  The family, far from being rich, is actually deep in debt.  In an attempt to stave off the kidnappers, a bevy of characters get involved, including a detective, Heins (Doren Elias), the newspapers and even P.T. Barnum (Gray Eubank) himself and his circus.  (This may be where the term “media circus” came from).

During this ordeal, it is revealed that the family has had its own demons to deal with.  The father, from a lack of  funds; the mother, Sarah (Dana Millican), dealing with a ghost from the past; and the older son, Walter (Harper Lea), feeling guilt for letting his brother go with them.  And the Media factions, more interested in looking out for their own publicity, muddy the already turbulent waters even more.  To reveal anything else of the plot would spoil the  mystery, which I’m not prepared to do.

But it is a fascinating story, mirroring somewhat, the sensational Lindbergh kidnapping of the early 1900’s, the early 2000 Gaddis/Pond kidnapping and murders, and the more recent abduction of Kyron Horman from his school.  But, as intriguing as the story is, Ms. Mach’s setting of it, as a background for Barnum’s side-show, is downright brilliant.  The façade of a circus arena, reflecting the real life events, gives the story its edge.  Perhaps, “The play’s the thing, wherein I’ll capture the conscience of the king” (Hamlet).

Mr. Eubanks (Barnum) is appropriately bombastic and his minions (San Dinkowitz, Luisa Sermol, Elizabeth Houghton, and Geoff Kanick) are all very good at creating this surreal atmosphere, needing to be proficient in tumbling, singing, and juggling.  Bravo, troupe!  And  the recreations of the Barnum banners/portraits of his characters (Jeff Seats) are quite stunning, as well as the period costumes (Sarah Gahagan).

Mr. Fisher-Welsh, as the father, begins the show with a lack of urgency in his performance, which should have been there.  But by the second act he acquires the necessary desperation needed for the character.  Perhaps the most riveting scene (both in acting, by Ms. Millican and writing, by Ms.  Mach) in the show is the monologue in the second act, in which she describes another demon that haunts her.  It is a spell-binding moment.

But veteran actor, Mr. Epstein, as the lead kidnapper, is absolutely wonderful to watch.  You can actually observe him thinking onstage, as he controls his partner to his bidding; deceives the golden goose, Mr. Ross (through letters); and weaves sweet nothings out of the air to entice children.  A masterly performance of a thoroughly evil man.

Mr. Nause, the Director, is always a pleasure to watch, as he creates the little, quiet moments, in contrast with the rough ‘n tumble of the more gregarious conflicts—an actor’s director.  I’ve never been disappointed in his directing of a show (or his performing).  Hopefully, we’ll continue to see his genius upon the stage, as his tenure of Artistic Director culminates this year.

Ms. Mach’s terrific script carefully balances her characters, never really taking sides as to her views but, instead, letting the audience make up their own minds as to who may be the villains or heroes of the piece.  And all the traits of these characters can easily be translated into our modern world.  A world, perhaps, not of color, but all shades of gray.

This production is well worth seeing and, hopefully, will prompt discussions of “stranger danger” with your children.  A side note, Ms. Mach also has another production premiering at the same time at the Third Rail (503-235-1101 or ) at the Winningstad Theatre, A Noble Failure, about our education system.  This should be engrossing, also, as she is a teacher herself.   If you choose to see this fine production of The Lost Boy, tell them Dennis sent you.

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