Saturday, November 16, 2013

Curse of the Starving Class—Clark College—Vancouver, WA



"Growing Up is Hard To Do”

This Obie Award-winning drama by Sam Shepard is directed by Mark Owsley.  It plays at Clark College’s Decker Theatre at 1933 Fort Vancouver Way in Vancouver, WA.  It runs through November 23rd.  For more information, go to http://www.clark.edu/academics/programs/humanities/theatre/season.php or call 360-992-2815.

Before Shepard became a well-known, film character actor, he was quite a force during the 70’s as a playwright.  Some of his past successes included Buried Child, True West and others.  Profile Theatre in Portland is doing their whole season in 2014 around his plays.

Essentially it is a story about growing up.  No Peter Pan’s are they.  Emma (Katie Lindstrom), the daughter of the Tate clan, is going through her first period, or “the curse.”  The son, Wesley (Nicholas Detering), is searching for identity, as he plows through his youth to adulthood.  The mother, Ella (Emily Wells), has discovered the “seven-year itch” in later life and feels the need to move on.  And Weston (Derek Neiman), the father, is a shiftless drunk looking for his lost youth in all the wrong places.  They are all on the move…but to where?

This coming-of-age story is also about the loss of innocence from the sterile, idealized world of the 50’s, via Leave It To Beaver, Ozzie and Harriet and Father Knows Best to the turbulent sexual and political revolution of the 60’s and 70’s, via Easy Rider, Hair and Joe.  Change was happening on a global scale but the common man had little coping powers and his sanitized, well-ordered world was crumbling about him with no directions as to where to go or what to do to survive.

The family is “starving,” both figuratively and realistically.  They open the fridge door countless times, knowing that only emptiness lies beyond, but hoping, nevertheless, for a miracle.  But miracles are not in fashion this decade.  And so the family must trust con men, like their lawyer, Taylor (Andrés Houseman), or a corrupt policeman, Malcom (Jacob Meyer), or the new owner, an unscrupulous bar-keep (Samuel Ruble), or a couple of slick loan sharks (Nathan Willbanks and Steven Kocalis).

This house of cards is destined to collapse, as it’s only built on sand.  And the dysfunctional inhabitants may be bound for lesser glories in the sink-holes and pot-holes of this society.  The mother attempts escape by having a fling with her lawyer.  The daughter feels that riding her horse into the sunset, with guns blazing, is the solution to her problems.  The son seeks solace in emulating his father, as his vacant dreams come to naught.  And the father, truly having an epiphany and cleaning up his act, finds that the band has long since passed him by, and that there is no happy reunion for the eagle or the lamb.

The merging of the real world with the avant-garde, works well in this setting.  The set reflects this (Mark Owsley) with only essential pieces present needed to tell the story.  The fridge and the stove figuring prominently as the focal point for a “starving” people and age.  I especially liked the ram-shackled roof, giving the hint of shelter from the bombardments of the emerging “brave, new world.”  And Owsley’s direction of the play, with its wandering, erratic pace, compliments nicely the tone of the script, as does the music, reflecting the times.

The young actors do well in exploring and exposing a time period they were not a part of.  And Shepard’s style, as with Pinter and Albee and Stoppard is not easy to perform.  But my hats go off to the cast, searching the poetic, netherworld of difficult material and presenting it in an understandable way.  A brave learning experience for both actors and audience.  And, being mindful of that, this play contains nudity, harsh language and adult situations so may not be for everybody.

I recommend this show.  If you do go, please tell them Dennis sent you.