Monday, November 10, 2014

True West—Profile Theatre—SW Portland

The True Nature of the Beast
This American Classic by Sam Shepard is directed by Adriana Baer (Profile’s Artistic Director) and is playing at the Artists Rep’s space at SW Alder St. & 16th Ave. through November 23rd.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-242-0080.

“What a piece of work is Man…” might be an appropriate alternate tile for this play.  In simplest terms, we are good, we are bad and we are often both at the same time.  And the nature of an artist, a writer, as it applies in this case, is even more complicated, as he’s a creation unto his own.  A person possessed, obsessed, and predisposed to follow his calling…no matter what!

This story is primarily about two brothers, Austin (Nick Ferrucci), a rather repressed, by-the-book writer, struggling with, perhaps, his first great success as a screenwriter.  He is staying at his Mom’s (Diane Kondrat) place in the California desert to concentrate on writing, while she’s off in Alaska.  His brother, Lee (Ben Newman), a low-life, drinker and petty thief is visiting for a few days, hoping to score some merchandise off the good people in the neighborhood.

Herald the entrance of Saul (Duffy Epstein), a slick, Producer from the movies, working with Austin to get a studio to bankroll his screenplay.  But Lee, a rather simple soul, also has some rudimentary ideas for a film, probably based on his own true-life experiences.  And then the “worm turns” and things and life become somewhat unsettling around the ole homestead.  What was, is no longer, and what is, marks a new chapter in all their lives.  I really can’t tell you any more about the story or I would be a spoiler.

But I will tell you that the movie script of Adaptation does bear some striking resemblance to this story.  Also, this is about the nature of man, the beast, in which the civilized self knocks heads with the primeval self.  At its heart, it confronts the very essence of whom we are and why we are.  The duality of man has been examined by Shakespeare, Stevenson and Wilde, et. al.   If there were no darkness, how would we know what light is?  It forces us to peer into the void, the dark abyss, and pray that there is not someone, something, peering back.

Shepard needs to be played on a smaller stage, as the themes, characters, stories are confrontational and need to be up close and personal.  The set (Alan Schwanke) literally is spilling out into the audience, in more ways than one, so you feel you are there.  And it is skeletal, allowing plenty of room for the actors to emote.  Well done.

And Baer’s direction is first-rate.  She was excellent in directing Shepard’s, Buried Child (a Sparkle winner, too) and has a knack for these gritty, personal dramas.  I love the way she allows the play to breathe, giving fair time to the pauses and reactions to tell the story as well.  She is directing Miller’s, The Price, next year for Artists Rep and, I believe, is a wise choice, as that is also character-drive and something she will be able to sink her teeth into, too.

Kondrat is fine as the mother, allowing appropriate shock value to the proceedings and giving us a glimpse into the real family dynamics of this brood.  And Epstein is always a pleasure to observe onstage, as he has been around for number of years and always gives a full picture of the character.  His Saul is calculating, manipulative, and even pampering, when necessary.  And, a great asset that Epstein has, is that you can see him think onstage, considering his next move.  I know we’ll see him next year in a Portland Playhouse show and, hopefully, many more to come.

But the powerhouses in this production are Newman and Ferrucci as the battling brothers.  They are both raw emotions exposing their feelings to the blistering sun of the desert and beware of any toaster, typewriter, or plant that gets in their way, for they can be fearsome to the extreme.  Again, they use the pauses in the show well and give us the guts as well as the thoughts of both of these dynamic people.  In the end, the Jekyll and Hyde syndrome may not have been better explored than with these two in this play.

I recommend this play but, keep in mind, it is very intense.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

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