Monday, February 23, 2015

Precious Little--defunct theatre—SE Portland

In The Beginning

This surrealistic drama is written by Madeleine George and directed by JoAnn Johnson.  It plays at their space in back of the Common Grounds Coffee Shop at 4319 SE Hawthorne Blvd. through March 21st.  Be aware it is street parking only and no reserved seats in a small space, so plan your time accordingly.  For more information, go to their site at www.defunktheatre.com

Which came first, the chicken or the egg…and, when that is decided, are we, as many suggest, related to our nearest “cousins” the monkey?  This story skirts around that issue, as well as the development of language and the complexities of having children.  Heady subjects for this primeval stew of words, wit and wisdom.

It seems we have this lady, Brody (Lori Sue Hoffman), who, approaching middle-age and a lesbian, has decided to have a child.  She has carefully picked out a donor egg and is looking forward to this next great adventure in her life.  She is also a scientist, a linguist, studying lost languages of ancient civilizations.  And she seems to have a particular kinship to a gorilla (JoAnn Johnson, the director, subbing for an ailing, Jane Vogel) at the zoo.  Could this also be a distant relative and have, perhaps, a method of communication that has been lost over the years?

At her work, she is also recording words and sounds and stories from an elderly lady (Johnson, again) that may be the last surviving person of a nearly extinct tribe.  Meanwhile, back at the lab, an eager but rather insensitive doctor (Christy Bigelow) has informed her that all may not be perfect with the growing life inside of her.  So, Brody is, in essence, dealing with developing life within, dissolving life outside, and the tenuous connection among all life and the need for communication…connection…collaboration in this chaotic continuum of co-existence.  Enormous propositions offered in such a small band of time and space.  Of course, no real answers for these burning questions that are raised, but enough fuel for dialogues for hours, I’m sure.

The style the story is presented in is surrealistic, dream-like, layering overlapping stories and ideas that, like many plays I’ve reviewed recently, deal with identity and our purpose in the world.  Did we all have a common ancestor?  If so, then why so many divergences in languages, cultures, beliefs, et. al.?  Were we all one society at some point and simply hit a Tower of Babel, as in the Bible, and went our separate ways?  It is an enigma, at best.

The set (Max Ward) lends beautifully to this quasi-world that is created by George’s script.  With little adjustments it easily moves us through space and time.  And the director, Johnson, has chosen her cast well and keeps them focused and intense in their depictions of these characters and events.  Simple is best for such a complex story.  And, an added kudo, the program/poster designs for their shows are always very intriguing.  Not sure if Aldo Perez has done them all but they are a piece of art within themselves.

The cast is of three ladies, Hoffman playing the focal character and Johnson and Bigelow portraying at least three major characters each.  Hoffman is terrific as she takes you on this journey.  She gives the impression that when she delivers a line, it is the first time she has said it.  A talent all actors strive for.  Bigelow, with simply changing an article of clothing, completely transforms herself into an eager young doctor, an uneducated daughter and a tempting lover.  She is quite amazing.

And Johnson is an icon anyway of local theatre and she proves her worth here as a concerned doctor, a backwoods lady and a gorilla.  And her ape lady is extraordinary.  Not only does she have the movements down pat but watch her eyes, she is completely absorbed into that animal’s world.  I saw not a trace “acting style” in her performance as, perhaps, our “distant relative,” she simply was…the Gorilla.  I’m sure Vogel will be good also in this role but I am so please to have seen this unique artist expose her true colors in this show, not only as an actor but as a meticulous director, too.

I recommend this show but it is adult in subject matter and language.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.