Monday, May 19, 2014

Fewer Emergencies—Defunkt theatre—SE Portland



Picture of Happiness—Not!

This show, by Martin Crimp, is in repertory with Betty’s Summer Vacation under the umbrella of States of Emergency through June 14th.  It is directed by Jon Kretzu and is playing at the Backdoor Theatre, 4319 SE Hawthorne (in back of the Common Grounds Coffee Shop).  For more information, go to their site at www.defunktheatre.com.

Both of these shows do have things in common.  They are both surrealistic and seem to take place in some sort of alternate universe of the mind.  They are both sterile settings (mostly white) and are performed in a stylized manner (Fewer… more so than Betty’s…).
They both have a serial killer as one of the characters (coincidently, played by the same actor).  They both involve characters that have had some sort of abuse as a child.  They both have a sort of Greek Chorus, at times.  And neither of them have, what would be called, a traditional story line.

So, there is no point in trying to summarize the story, so will have to give you a flavor of the piece, instead.  It seems to be divided in four segments.  The first one involves Matthew Kern (defunkt’s artistic director), Corey O’Hara and Andrea White.  They are sitting around a white table, drinking red wine and expounding on a couple who met, fell in love, got married, then decided they would split, but she had a baby, which kept them together

The baby, called Bobby (or Jimmy), seemed to have some sort of developmental issues (if he ever really existed).  But Matthew and Andrea (the couple they are talking about?) seem oblivious to this and converse with the child.  The second segment has a serial killer (Steve Venderzee) in a school going through a narrative of the order in which he killed the children but, getting confused, and having to rely on a type of Greek Chorus, at times, of the exact facts of his story, as if he/it’s on automatic pilot.  The killer might be Bobby as an adult.

The third segment has Corey, as a banjo player, strumming and singing the Postman Blues.  This part was quite enjoyable, albeit a sad story.  And the fourth part involved a Counselor (?), Lori Sue Hoffman, talking with the parents of how things are going with them and their child.  The couple conceded that they are the “picture of happiness” and that Bobby (?) has been reaching out for that elusive key to sanity, dangling just before their eyes, like a carrot, tempting them to keep going.

The meaning?  Like all plays of this type, in the eye of the beholder.  My take on it, they are a family that has chosen to isolate themselves from the world, both physically and mentally (“fewer emergencies,” that way), so that their lives will be well-ordered and predictable.  Reality is just out of reach of their sterile existence.  In their chosen space, on the surface, they are safe from the chaos of the outside world.  But, safe may not be the same as living!  They may have to let a little rain in, to find out just how valuable sunshine can be.  That’s Life.

But you need to decide for yourselves, which means using your own, ole gray cells (not the Internet), unless you want to live in their bubble.  This is not a play for everyone and it is adult in nature.  Personally, I like to cogitate and assimilate and come to conclusions, even when I’m wrong.  It’s called thinking, learning and evolving.  And that’s Life, too.

Kretzu seems very sure of his cast and material and does a fine job of creating pauses and hesitations and variations to keep the play on track.  And his cast keeps you guessing, like they know a secret and you must discover it.  I especially like Vanderzee’s stumbling monologue and O’Hara’s musical interlude.  But all five were spot-on.

I would recommend this play for the daring-do.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.