Monday, January 26, 2015

Woman on the Scarlet Beast—Post 5 Theatre—SE Portland

“Devil or Angel”

This intense drama is written by a local playwright, Caroline Miller, and directed by Cassandra Boice.  It is playing at their space at 1666 SE Lambert St. through February 8th.  For more information, go to their site at  This production is also part of the Fertile Ground Festival.

This is Portland in the 60’s, folks, and “the times, they were a’changin’.”  The influence of the Catholic Church on this family at that time (and the era before, the 50’s) was pretty significant, as it was for many families.  I know.  I, too, grew up in Portland and went to Catholic school (Holy Redeemer, St. Cecilia’s and North Catholic) during that period.  Looking back, for a child, growing up in that atmosphere, it felt very confining and restrictive.  It wasn’t yet the era of the amazing Pope Francis.

Guilt, then, was a major part of the diet of these families.  In this specific case, the family consists of a mother, Ruby (Adrienne Flag), a prostitute, confined to a wheelchair by a drunk driver, living on charity and what her johns can fork out; her mother, Dulce (Jane Fellows), living separately, but caring for her, a woman of infinite understanding; and Ruby’s daughter, Jenny (Olivia Weiss), having just recently been kicked out of the convent for “conduct unbecoming a lady of her station.”  A dysfunctional family, to say the least.

Into this arena are added an oily beast of a neighbor, Earl (Aaron Kissinger), an occasional john of Ruby’s.  And there is their parish, spiritual advisor, Father Benedict (Stan Brown), who has some cardinal feelings of his own.  Needless to say, this is not a match made in Heaven.  The play, as mentioned, has the main vein running through it, a series of guilt trips accented, for better or worse, by their Faith, or lack of.

It seems that Jenny’s father, whose parentage is in question, was a no-show in her life and her mother was too busy “working” to be of any solace to her daughter, so she is mainly raised by her grandmother.  And, being sent to a convent at an early age, because of her mother’s urgings, becomes a point of contention and brings things to a head when she moves back into their lives.  To tell more would give away some secrets so I will not do that.

The script is very intense, as it should be considering the subject matter.  But much of the second act is one, long diatribe among all concerned.  Being a sustained, emotional level, this does not give these very good actors anywhere to go once the build has peaked.  Hitchcock, a master of suspense and intensity, once said, that an audience, regardless of the harrowing situation, must be allowed a space to breathe.  So he would often allow a little diversion in the action, sometimes comic (darkly, perhaps), to let the viewer come down for a moment (to breathe) and then, like a roller-coaster, take you back up to the top of the hill to begin the assault on your senses anew.  This script needs that in the second act.

That being said, Boice has assembled some very fine actors for this emotional journey.  Flag, at the center of the storm, takes you from one intense emotion to another, showing you a desperately, unhappy person.  A heart-wrenching performance.  Fellows, as her Mom, is always a treat to watch onstage.  The focus she has in the characters she creates is very specific and moving.  Weiss, as the daughter, conveys this deeply troubled soul, who is yearning just to be love and accepted.  A touching performance.  Kissinger plays this creep to the nth degree, a man you love to hate.  And Brown, as the advisor, shows what is perhaps an honest portrait of a human being, deprived of a way to make physical contact to another only because of his vows.  Conflicting elements, well played.

Boice, a fine actor and writer in her own right, certainly is a godsend to actors and a script, as she understands these important attributes personally.  She has chosen her cast well and they are at the top of their game, I’m sure, because of her involvement.  Now, if she were only allowed a little leeway in influencing the writer…

I recommend this show but it is very intense and adult in nature.  If you do go to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

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