Monday, June 23, 2014

Bobrauschenbergamerica—Zoomtopia—SE Portland



Americana Redux
This collection of skits/memories of Robert Rauschenberg, an avant-garde artist, is written by Charles Mee, directed by Philip Cuomo and presented by The Third Rail Mentorship Company.  It is playing at Zoomtopia, 810 SE Belmont St. through June 29th.  For more information, go to their site at www.thirdrailrep.org or call 503-235-1101.

Rauschenberg was an avant-garde, abstract painter/artist during the 50’s.  It’s claimed that he was never from an Artistic family and yet he was able to find Art in anything and he saw beauty in most everything.  He was able to put discordant objects together and find a type of harmony in them.  He wanted his art to reflect on the America he saw and experienced and loved.  This collection of scenes attempts to provide an echo for his visions.

The play is performed by students in the Third Rail’s Company’s mentorship program.  It features Lindsay Dibben, Joel Patrick Durham, Nicholas Erickson, Jessica Hillenbrand, Sean Powell, Rose Proctor, Natalie Stringer, and McKenna Twedt.  If they are an example of the next generation of actors, the performing arts are in good hands!  They have the “right stuff.”

The play is less easy to define, as it’s more of a collection of thoughts, ideas, missteps and connections Bob made during his life.  His mind wanders from musing about infinite space to the intricacies of love and relationships.  We meet a homeless person, a serial killer, a gay couple, a sexy neophyte, et. al. who express themselves through movement, dance, song, monologues, and one-on-one dialogues, as the author searches for meaning in this haphazard planet we call home.

The only connecting tissue seems to be Bob’s Mom (played by all the company members at one time or another) trying to explain his roots.  The influences seems to be a little bit of Wilder and his small-town observances, Whitman and his love of beauty and Nature, and possibly, Beckett and his disassociated characters, all striving for or waiting to discover…something, the secret, the essence of what makes us human and/or important in the larger scheme of things.

And the actors explore these issues with great abandon, surrendering to a larger purpose, albeit unknown.  Some have their private moments in the sun, like the hobo exploring the value and natural beauty of Whitman, or the serial killer trying desperately to find the motivations for his actions and discovering that he can forgive himself, or a simple water slick, where all inhibitions are given flight and they “let the world slide.”  In the end, nothing is resolved, more questions are raised than answers and the mysteries of our purpose, still a conundrum.

The author and artist definitely believe in Americans, as they are fearless, open, giving and an enigma, possibly only to themselves.  But they seem to feel the ideal of the American Dream is in disharmony with the actual living of it.  Perhaps, as it has been said, “Humanity I like, it’s just people I hate.”  But it has also been said, “Judge not, or ye be judged.”  A bit of a puzzle, isn’t it?  

All the actors were very engaging and had the necessary stage presence to create their world on an essentially bare stage.  Dibben, as the hobo and Erickson, as the pizza-boy, were especially effective in their monologues.  But this is a team effort and quite a team it is.  Cuomo, a fine director and actor of other theatre presentations in Portland, has indeed done justice to this complicated piece and led his team effectively, where I’m sure they garnered a lot under his tutelage.

Another important comment that Cuomo professes is that he was not hampered by gender when it came to casting roles.  I agree whole-heartedly with cross-gender, cross-cultural and cross-age casting of roles.  The best actor for the job should be cast, regardless of those factors.  Thank you, Mr. Cuomo, for that insight.

I recommend this show, especially since it showcases students.  Many of the local theatres have programs/classes that engender the arts and they are well worth supporting, for they do something most school programs don’t—they build character.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.