Monday, March 18, 2013

Mother Teresa Is Dead—Portland Playhouse—NE Portland

The Quality Of Mercy

This British drama is written by Helen Edmundson and directed by Isaac Lamb.  It plays through April 7th at their location at 602 NE Prescott St.  For further information go to
www.portlandplayhouse.org.

This is a deep and provocative subject.  Are we our brother’s keeper?  A seemingly simple question, with a very complicated and, perhaps, un-definable answer.  And the reason for this complexity is that we approach the query from a subjective point of view.  In other words, we all have our own perspectives and, if we wish to attain a universal viewpoint, our own subjectivity clouds the issue considerably.

The story begins with a woman, Jane (Nikki Weaver), who has been missing from her home in England for seven weeks.  She shows up in India, working for a charity for the homeless, overseen by Srinivas (Luke Bartholomew).  She is living and being taken care of by Francis (Gretchen Corbett), the occasional lover of Srinivas.  Francis has discovered that Jane has a husband, Mark (Chris Harder) and little boy, living in England and has sent for him.

Jane seems less than pleased at Mark’s arrival and insists she is staying in India to help all the homeless people and starving children.  She also seems mentally and emotionally unsettled.  The rest of the story concerns the differing viewpoints of these four people on love, marriage, tradition, expectations, dreams and the above mentioned question, the nature of responsibility for those unable to care for themselves.

Jane wants to reach out with open arms and open pocketbook to the whole world’s poverty situation, ignoring her own responsibility of a husband and child back home.  Mark, at the outset, sees nothing further than his own hand, willing to shrug off any complications that don’t include his immediate family.  Srinivas sees Jane as an angel, embracing her generosity and energy, and sees Mark as a bigoted, ignorant bully.  He also may have designs of his own on Jane.  And Francis seems the only level-headed one of the bunch, being able to see both sides of the question, yet struggling with her own biases.

Ms. Edmundson’s story is, indeed, an eye-opener and will have audiences delving into the questions she raises long after the play is over (my friend and I did).  Her characters arrive at a truce by the end, each at least, acknowledging the other’s perspective.  And her characters are not stereo-types, as they seemed at the beginning of the play. 

Mark’s bullying nature softens as you discover a man truly in love with his wife and who just wants his world back to “normal.”  And Srinivas’s altruism is darkened a bit, as you see his own personal agenda and reliance on tradition.  And Jane discovers the need for a balance.  But Francis might have the best answer, to pause and just think about the journey taken and to be taken.  Good advice for us all, perhaps.

The performances are all exceptional.  And the direction by Mr. Lamb easily transports us from one setting to another, with a minimum of props and furniture.  He also has the good sense to know not to rush the story and to let the actors’ pauses speak for themselves, within the context of who they are.

Ms. Corbett is exceptionally fine.  The way she smoothly glides from one thought/feeling to another, letting us see the character think, and consider her choices.  She is so natural onstage that one would feel she is that way in real life, a mark of a true professional.  Ms. Weaver really does show us clearly the dilemma of a woman who cares, perhaps not wisely, but too well.  Her acting weaves between imbalance and sanity with nary a false note.

You feel the power of Mr. Harder onstage as he tries to force his way onto these people’s lives.  He shows us convincingly the ingrained prejudice of this man that slowly melts, as another world is opened up for him.  And Mr. Bartholomew is equally realistic, as you see his slide from savior, to a person with feet of clay.  None of these characters are representatives of pure light or dark, but all shades of gray and, like all of us, just very human.

A side note, I have never seen a bad production from this company.  Their plays are always worth seeing.  Portland Playhouse can be ranked among the best of Portland companies.  They walk tall alongside Giants!

I recommend this show and look forward to their next project.  If you do go, please tell them Dennis sent you.