Monday, June 3, 2013

Ithaka—Artists Repertory—SW Portland

The Way Back Home

This world premiere drama is playing at Artist Repertory Theatre at their location at SW Alder St. & 16th Ave.  It is written by Andrea Stolowitz and directed by Gemma Whelan.  It will be playing through June 30th.  For further information, go to their website at www.artistsrep.org or call 503-241-1278.

Sometimes you have to make a long and tough journey to get home.  It is not a place, as much as it is a state of mind, a safe haven, the roots of who you are.  Ithaka is that ideal for Odysseus, after he has completed his journey through body and mind and soul.  Dorothy also had to go to Oz and back, just to discover how valuable Home was.  Ithaka is always just…out there…elusive…almost out of reach…the gold at the end of a rainbow.

Lanie (Dana Millican) is on such a journey.  A returning war vet, she is experiencing nightmares, hallucinations and flashbacks.  Her husband, Bill (Paul Angelo), tries to understand, but his expectations are unreal, as he wants everything back to normal, the way it was.  For Lainey, it will never be “the way it was” or, possibly, even “normal.” 

And when her cat, Pixie, is lost, it’s like living parts of the war all over again, with losing soldiers she cared about and was responsible for.  She snaps and decides to embark on that fateful journey, like Odysseus.  She and a mate, Evie (Danielle Purdy), decide to drive to the state line and ride the Desperado, a roller coaster they rode as kids.  It just might be her ticket to Ithaka, the safe place in her childhood.

But things don’t go so well there, as the screaming starts, and she is committed to a Psycho ward.  There she meets her caretaker, Jacob (Victor Mack), who really does understand what she going through.  After being released, she decides to go back home and, along the way, meets her cat, who gives her some very good advice about letting go.  She also visits the mother of one of the soldiers that was killed, E. M. (Valerie Stevens), and exposes the guilt that she has been feeling for making decisions in which other people were killed.

The play ends on a hopeful note.  The journey is never really over but steps have been taken to restore a certain type of sanity to her world.  “The world is too much with us,” a poet once said.  Another writer expounded, that a journey begins with a step, putting one foot in front of the other then continuing that process.  For Lainey, she has taken a giant, first step.

Stolowitz’s play is a microcosm of the world of returning vets.  It wisely concentrates on just one person and her personal journey, but expanded, it would represent them all.  Survivor’s guilt, taking responsibility for one’s actions, choices being made and trying to find one’s place in the “normal” world, are all addressed here.  The character of Odysseus at the opening, I think, is unnecessary and the fact that we never see the husband again, after the first scenes, seems incongruous. 

But the addition of the cat and her conversation with it, is pure genius.  It is an inventive piece and gently, even humorously, brings in the thoughts of choices being made by all concerned, and how one must let the dead go, so that they can continue their journey, too, as we, ours.

The set (Tal Sanders), albeit simple, is also quite inventive.  The story takes place in a bedroom, a kitchen, a hospital room, a car, a living room, a battlefield, and roller coaster.  And yet it is changed from one to the other is a few seconds. And Whelan’s direction keeps the action flowing and she seems to have a keen understanding of the story.

Millican is super as the main character.  She has a naturalistic style which makes it appear that she is not even acting.  And she jumps from one emotion to other in a split second.  Purdy is equally as good as both the cat and Evie.  Two distinct characters and she is believable as both.  She, too, has a natural talent and is very watchable.

Mack is powerful in his scene as the caregiver.  His monologue on how the war affected him is quite riveting.  Angelo, as the husband, is good, as he sincerely conveys his frustration in trying to help but seems to be just making it worse.  And, Stevens as the mother of a dead war vet, has some touching moments.

I recommend this play but, be warned, it has some rough language and is concerned with adult subject matters.  If you do choose to go, tell them Dennis sent you.