Friday, January 30, 2015

The Sexual Neuroses of our Parents—theatrevertigo—SE Portland

Awakenings

This intense drama is playing at the Shoebox Theatre space at 2110 SE 10th Ave.  It is written by Swiss playwright, Lukas Barfuss and translated by Neil Blackadder.  It is directed by Bobby Bermea and plays through February 14th.  For more information, go to their site at www.theatrevertigo.org

The book and movie of the same name as above comes to mind as I watched the play.  Also the stage version of The Elephant Man, as well as a recent news story of a man trapped in his own body, fully aware of the world without but having no means of communication.  These individuals all have one thing in common, they are innocents being thrust into the “civilized” world, with no experience on how to deal with it, but having their own sense of personal identity and dancing as fast as they can to keep up.

Dora (Shawna Nordman) who was born with “a screw loose” and has been kept under sedation for most of her life.  Although easy to deal with, she is kept in a semi-catatonic state most of the time by her Doctor (Mario Calcagno).  But her Mother (Lisamarie Harrison) and father (Gary Powell) feel differently and sense there is a real human being locked inside.  And so they allow Dora to go off her meds.

Dora also works in a produce market where her Boss (R. David Wyllie) is sweet on her.  And his Mom (Jane Bement Geesman) is the only real sensible person Dora knows.  All this “education” by these individuals in her limited world goes along smoothly enough, with Dora actually aping the people she knows when she is unclear as to how to react.  But her world will be shattered by a Gentleman (Nathan Dunkin) who takes a fancy to her, and she discovers Sex.

Because of this, it is not long before she starts asserting her own personality into situations, as she becomes aware that she has herself choices, power and then responsibility for her own actions.  The path from then on is of her own making but deeply steeped in the environment from which she came.  The age old question of Nurture vs. Nature, as to the making of a human, comes to bear.

To tell more would be giving away discoveries an audience should make.  But the power of this play does not lie solely in the story, but the style in which it’s told.  This is related on an essentially bear stage with minimal props.  And it is stylized in the movements of the actors and performed beautifully as a type of interpretive dance at some points.  It is absolutely amazing what Bermea, the director, can do is such a confined area.  He has transported the story out of the ordinary into something quite extraordinary.

And his choice of cast seems perfectly in tune with his vision.  Harrison as the caring mother, who has a darker side, is wonderfully complex.  Powell as the distant father is a class act in any production he’s in and carries his part off well.  Wyllie is the simple little storeman, who you want to feel sorry for, but not quite.  Geesman, as his mother, is a delight, and her “street smarts,” may be the best friend Dora has.

Calcagno (a terrific Dr. Jekyll last season) is able to weave in and out of the complexities of this character with convincing ease.  And Dunkin, also always worth watching onstage, as the oily boyfriend, portrays a man you love to hate.  A couple of other things about these roles:  You’ll note, except for Dora, none of them have actual names to their characters.  Deliberate, I’m sure, by the author, but are they to represent the world of Dora, where she is the main focus, and all the others simply parts of the web that have been woven around her?  Maybe.  And none of these characters are totally black and white but shades of gray.  For all the things that are disagreeable about them, they do also have their agreeable sides, too.  Products themselves of a world gone…sideways?  Perhaps.

But the biggest kudos of all, are reserved for Nordman as Dora.  She is absolutely astounding!  The complexities and emotional and physical strains of the role would be shied away from by many actors, but not her.  I couldn’t imagine anyone else in the part.  She wrings every nuance out of the character and truly makes you feel for her. Bravo!   I hope to see more of her onstage.

I recommend this play but it is definitely R rated for adult situations and language, so be warned.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.