Monday, August 19, 2013

Licking Batteries—CoHo Theatre—NW Portland

Electrical Problems

This original drama by Ellen Margolis is produced by Playwrights West in conjunction with CoHo Productions.  It is directed by Ryan Reilly and plays through August 31st.  For more information go to their sites at www.playwrightswest.org or www.cohoproductions.org or call 503-715-1114.

For the life of me, as much as I enjoyed the actors and the production values to this show, I could not discern an actual, coherent story line.  Now the avant-garde movement from the 50’s would have embraced this show, without question.  With such writers as Beckett and Pinter and Albee and shows like Waiting for Godot and The Birthday Party and Tiny Alice, this would have fit right in.  And I happen to like these playwrights and welcome the ambiguous streams of consciousness type of writing, letting audiences discern meanings for themselves.

Their plays do not have a linear flow, necessarily, and seem to take place in the mind or imagination.  Such is the state of this play.  Just when you think you’ve got a handle on a thread of a story, it switches to something else (perhaps like a jolt of electricity to your senses).  And if you have an open, objective mind and like to deduce things, as a detective would, then this is your cup of java.

As to try and give you any sort of synopsis, that may be a different story, but here goes….  It seems that Lucy (Rachel Rosenfeld) has had a fascination with electricity ever since she was a child, when capturing fireflies.  It seems that her mom, Louise (Rebecca Toland) has gone a little, well, funny in the head and, as a result, has had to be institutionalized.  Her treatment consists of shock therapy with electricity.  As a result, Lucy becomes a scientist, to discover the properties of electricity and, perhaps, how to cure her mother.

Along her journey she acquires a roommate, Clare (Summer Olsson) as well as a boyfriend, Mark (Alex Kirby).  But she is willing to abandon them all, as well as her loving, patient Dad (David Knell), in pursuit of her obsession to discover the source of electricity and, perhaps, life itself.  In the end, her obsession floods her being and she is reduced (or transformed) to another state of awareness.  Sound enticing?  It is, but I also may be way off base and so, dear audience, it is up to you to discover the secrets of…licking batteries.

As I mentioned, the cast is pretty exceptional, often playing more than one character and/or at different times of their lives.  Rosenfeld is very special as an actor, playing the very complex, perhaps, disturbed, Lucy.  This is an amazing performance.  Toland, as her Mom, has the difficult task of sorting out who she is mentally, as well as her role as mother and wife.  She does well.  And Olsson and Kirby do nice turns as Lucy’s friend and lover.  Both trying to be supportive but unable to understand her deeper struggles.

And Knell is pure genius in the way he tackles the other male roles in the play.  He is equally brilliant playing the understanding Dad; then, European lover; also, Louise’s eccentric doctor; and an old, Jewish man wanting to be struck by lightning, so he can join his partner in the afterlife.  Not only does he act them to a tee but also, with minimum of make-up, is able to transform his appearance so that he also actually seems like another actor.  A real tour-de-force!

I don’t envy the director, Reilly, trying to manage the flow of the show but he does it well.  A lot of credit must go to the scenic designer, too, Tal Sanders for creating such a fluid, organic set and props.  The water/wave effect alone is worth the show!  And some nice work by the lighting, music, and sound designers (J.D. Sandifer & Em Gustason), who enhance the production.  I did enjoy Margolis’s work but feel it is only for discerning audiences.  (Or, maybe, I’m just too dense to get it.)  Personally, I like this kind of scribing that will force one to think and sense and discover, for themselves, the intricacies of the story.

I do recommend this production but only for those willing to be challenged dramatically and mentally.  If you do go, please tell them Dennis sent you.