Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Durang Durang—Post 5 Theatre—SE Portland

Pulling Out all Stops

This absurdist comedy is by the award-winning playwright, Christopher Durang and is directed by Samuel Dinkowitz.  It is playing at the Post 5 space at 1666 SE Lambert St. in the Sellwood area (parking lot in the rear) through March 28th.  For more information, go to their site at www.post5theatre.org

Durang doesn’t fool around when professing/confessing his view of Life, Art and People.  If you peel back the layers of his witticism you will see…more layers of witticism.  No, actually, he does reveal his view of the Catholic religion, the electronic age, therapy, actors, et. al. in past plays and, let me tell ya, it ain’t good.

In this one, parody plays an important part.  In simplest terms, a parody is a satirical view of a literary work and sometimes used to comment on a travesty of some sort.  Both definitions can of use here, I believe, as it applies to his situations.  The production consists of six short plays, part of them commenting on paying humorous homage to past classic writers and the others commenting on the human condition.

I must iterate early on that the cast of six is extremely talented, not to be only playing about two dozen characters, but being able to successfully translate this difficult style of theatre to the stage.  I’ll give you their names now, because to identify all the characters associated with a role would just confuse you.  They are:  Philip J. Berns, Keith Cable, Heath Koerschgen, Pat Janowski, Kelly Godell and Jessica Tidd, most of them in previous Post 5 productions and all very talented.

The first selection is a monologue by a Mrs. Sorken (Cable) who does a rather good job of explaining the origins of the words drama and theatre and of their creators, especially the Greeks.  She also explains how listless her life is having not been a part of these artistic endeavors.  In short, the Arts can bring light and life to otherwise routine existences.

The second presentation, “For Whom the Southern Belle Tolls,” is a parody of Tennessee Williams’, The Glass Menagerie.  And, I hate to say this, but if you’re not familiar with the play, most of the humor/story will go over your head.  So, I believe, a brief recap (as it relates to this presentation), is in order.  This was Williams’ first theatrical success and it reflects the memories of his childhood, his domineering mother, his reclusive sister whose world consisted of little glass animals, and a friend of his, Jim, a gentleman caller, who may be his, and his sister’s, only salvation from their stifling upbringing.

In this version, Laura, the sister is transformed into Lawrence (Berns), a crippled brother who collects swizzle sticks, and the visitor, is a loud-mouth girl called Ginny (Godell).  Oddly the play does follow somewhat closely the last Act of the original play with many satirical touches, of course.  The third play, “A Stye in the Eye,” is a collection of various characters and situations from Sam Shepard’s shows.  It deals, again, in an offbeat way, with themes that are rampant in his shows such as incest, dysfunctional families, dual personalities, troubled pasts, symbols, and even artichokes.  Again, knowing Shepard’s plays would help decipher the humor.

“Nina in the Morning,” seems to reference classical plays, such as Chekov and foreign films, especially Malle and possibly a touch of Bergman.  A fading beauty, Nina (Janowski), is unsuccessfully trying to deal with her state in life, as well as that of her eccentric family and servants.  All very dramatic, of course, and depressing.  “Wanda’s Visit” focuses on a married couple, Jim (Koerschgen) and Marsha (Tidd), reaching that part of their lives which has become very routine.  But, in steps Wanda (Godell), an old flame of Jim’s from school and life becomes much more…interesting.  She is obnoxious, loud, forthright…and may just be the spark necessary to rekindle broken lives.  The last is “A Business Lunch at the Russian Tearoom.”  It presents, possibly, an all-too-real portrait of a writer (Cable) and producers/agents trying to get material on the screen.  He’s trying to stick to his artistic visions but they seem to want some outrageous plots that will shock the audience.  Shades of a very good film of past years called, The Player, with Tim Robbins.

Dinkowitz certainly knows his material and has cast it equally well.  He, being a very capable actor himself, would be considered an actor’s director and, in this case, it pays off well.  This material is not for everyone and, as mentioned, knowing something about the playwrights and foreign films would help understand the humor.  Durang’s humor may be biting but it hits the bull’s eye most of the time.  And I applaud the whole cast with some very difficult material.  They are super.

I recommend this play.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.