Sunday, October 6, 2013

Detroit—Portland Playhouse—NE Portland

Suburban Nightmare

This comedy-drama is written by Lisa D’Amour and directed by Brian Weaver (P/P’s Artistic Director).   It is playing at their space at 602 NE Prescott St. (parking on 6th St. at the King School lot, two blocks North of the theatre).  For more information go to their site at www.portlandplayhouse.org or call 503-488-5822.

“Walls make good neighbors,” as the poet, Robert Frost, once said.  It is obvious fairly quickly in this story that this advice is ignored.  We see what we want to see, or expect to see, but rarely what actually is.  This may take place in the suburbs in Detroit but it is really Any City, USA.  And the two couples we follow may resemble people you know and, if being honest by looking in the mirror, just might be a portion of ourselves.

Ben (Jason Rouse) had just recently been laid off from his job.  He decides to try a business of his own doing financial advice for others on the Web.  He’s a stay-at-home, couch potato with dreams of grandeur.  His wife, Mary (Brooke Totman), brings home the bacon and is a bit of a lush.  She has dreams, too, but of a home in the woods with Nature, and this stifling atmosphere of suburban life might be literally driving her to drink or madness (whichever comes first).

Enter into this mundane Eden, Kenny (Victor Mack) and his wife, Sharon (Kelly Tallent), the new, next-door neighbors.  They are just recently out of a substance abuse treatment center and are looking to rebuild their lives.  Kenny seems to be an energetic, street-savvy individual looking for fun.  And Sharon may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer intellectually, but is a straight-talker and raw and organic is her manner.

At first, these two couples offer tentative gestures toward each other to finding common ground for a relationship.  They seem to be worlds apart on the social and financial scale.  Ben and Mary are fairly well off and Kenny and Sharon have almost nothing in their house.  Sharon has a potty mouth and their neighbors are somewhat more refined.  But as they break bread (and furniture) with each other and drink and shares dreams (some rather bizarre) they form a tenuous bond.

Strangely, it is Sharon that seems to be the connecting force between all of them.  Whatever layers exist within individuals, she has a way of peeling them back until just the raw nerve is exposed.  Eventually Sharon and Mary forge forward on a futile camping trip and Ben and Kenny decide to venture into male bonding in an equally futile trip to titty-bars.  When reunited, they fire up their relationship, quite literally, and life is never the same for them again.  I won’t be a spoiler and give away the ending but another neighbor, Frank (Blaine Palmer) attempts to shed some light on the subject.

This is a powerful show with some of the best acting I’ve seen.  The main four characters are so good you can’t imagine them being anybody else offstage.  And that is probably the best compliment you can offer an actor.  They are totally immersed in their roles and their energy must be so high that I’m sure they’re exhausted when they finally dissolve into the “real” world after the show.

Rouse is super in creating for us a complex person in which you can laugh with but also fell sorry for.  Totman is amazing at keeping us guessing as to what her persona will reveal about her next.  Mack has already shown his acting chops to good form over the past years and is equally good here at attempting to create a balance between four diverse worlds.  And Tallent is extraordinary as the icebreaker, the unrelenting, driving force that splits apart this berg, sailor-mouth and all, to reveal the cold splinters beneath.  She is a talent, indeed, to be reckoned with!

Weaver is certainly a master at putting the numerous pieces together to form this uneasy union.  His attention to detail, his ability to keep the audience guessing and his perceptive ability to guide his actors through such slippery, emotional slopes is what theatre is all about.  And the sound (Rodolfo Ortega) and the scenic/lighting effects (Daniel Meeker), even to birds and dogs adding chorus in the background, to the smell of smoke at a decisive moment, are quite impressive!

I highly recommend this production, especially for the acting.  It does, as mentioned, have some swearing, so be advised.  If you do choose to see it, tell them Dennis sent you.