Monday, May 27, 2013

Crooked—CoHo Productions—NW Portland

Exploring Boundaries . . .

Crooked is written by Catherine Trieschmann and directed by Philip Cuomo.  It is playing at their location at 2257 NW Raleigh St. in NW Portland until June 8th.  For further information go to www.cohoproductions.org

We all go through the angst, anxiety, and anticipation in our teens of life after childhood.  Who will we be, or want to be?  It is a time of trial and error in searching for our sexual identity, moral compass, intellectual stimuli, causes and careers, and happiness.  The toughest part of this journey may be our teens, as we are constantly pushing the envelope, testing our boundaries and breaking out of the little boxes we have been placed in by parents.  It is not an easy time for teens, or their parents.

Laney (Kayla Lian) is just such a girl.  She is newly fatherless, as her mother, Elsie (Maureen Porter), has had him committed to an institution, as he, among other things, had physically threatened his daughter.  At the beginning, Elsie is out of a job and learning to deal with being a single Mom.  She also has a rather abrasive sense of humor, “I joke, therefore, I cope,” she says.

Laney is a fledgling writer and is constantly expounding her very short stories to her Mom, as she has no other friends having been just transplanted to a new town in the South from one in the North.  Also, she has a spastic muscle in her shoulder, which makes her appear to have a hump and so, like most teens who don’t appear or act “normal,” is ostracized by her peers at school.

But, like most “misfits” (I was one, too), they tend to band together and form their own tribe.  And so Laney meets Maribel (Meghan Chambers), who is the daughter of an Evangelist preacher.  Her opening phrase to everyone seems to be, “Do you know Jesus?”  Also she is definitely unschooled in the “ways of the world.”  And so, an unlikely friendship develops, in which Laney will educate her in the finer points of her sex education and Maribel will “introduce” her to Jesus.

Obviously this will not go well with Mom, who foresees a different path for her daughter.  “Religion keeps women from realizing their full potential,” spouts Elsie.  Laney lives in a world of fiction; Maribel in a world of faith; and Elsie in a world of frustration.  Laney floats about the world; Maribel seeks the unseen world; and Elsie has to deal with the real world.  These lives do conflict and, thus, we have a not-so-uncommon story of finding a balance that will satisfy everyone.

Ms. Trieschmann script has the ring of authenticity to it.  It is a powerful and realistic story of the struggle for identity and sanity, not only of teens, but parents as well.  It is an emotional roller-coaster with no one person being the heroine or villain.  They are all just very human and very identifiable in the natural world.  Mr. Cuomo has brought out all the little nuances of the characters with his cast.  They are all in character throughout, even in scene changes, and they move like they would in the un-staged world, especially Laney and Maribel.  I loved they way they sit, climb over furniture, even eating, that captures the flavor of Youth.

I would argue that there are teen actors that could have handled these roles and should have been given the chance (as I have worked with these types of young people many times).  But, that being said, these two youthful adults are terrific and convincing.

Ms. Lian, as Laney, is perfect for the role.  Her voice, movement, expressions and rhythm are totally in sync with the character.  Ms. Chambers is, likewise, equally good, giving us a character not only somewhat backward and fanatical, but also sympathetic, as well.  And, Ms. Porter, as the Mom, could have been the villain of the piece, but because of her skill as an actress, we came off understanding her plight and even siding with her at times.  This trio of talent is a complement to fine acting!

I recommend this play but it does involve adult subject matter, so might not be acceptable to some people.  If you do go, please tell them Dennis sent you.