Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Zen Shorts—Tears of Joy Theatre—SE Portland



The Art of Breathing

This presentation by Rogue Artists Ensemble, suitable for all ages, is based on short stories by Jon J. Muth and adapted for the stage by Elizabeth Wong, Skyler Gray, Sean T. Cawelti (Director), Miles Taber, Matthew Hill, Landon Johnson and the Rogue Artists Ensemble, with music and songs by Thu Tran, Sarah Peters and Noelle Hoffman.  It plays through February 15th at the Imago space at 17 SE 8th Ave.  For more information, go to their sites at www.tojt.org or www.rogueartists.org or call 503-248-0557.

After a couple weeks of reviewing plays about family angst, holocaust survivors, the art of love, identity crisis, gender questions and entering a week of reviewing shows on murder, ending poverty and a rock ‘n’ roll Shakespeare, I needed a few Zen moments on Sunday.  Zen, briefly, is the Asian/Buddhism art of meditation, to relax the mind so that you can receive enlightenment.  A couple of films come to mind covering similar grounds, the rather good, animated film, Kung Fu Panda and The Karate Kid.

You must understand, this type of “lesson” is presented by puppets, visual aids, music, song and simple settings.  But, be warned, the organization is not responsible for any sudden outbursts of good will, drowsy or coma-like behavior, unplanned for smiles and quiet laughter, or acts of blatant generosity after experiencing this presentation.  And the performers, mostly unseen, playing all the roles and songs, including the visuals, Amy Gray, Andrew Fridae, Joel Patrick Durham, McKenna Twedt and Miles Taber are absolutely amazing!

The main thread of the story is that a young boy, Michael, bored and home on a rainy day, only seems to want to be playing at his video game that he is obsessed with (sound familiar?).  His younger sister, Abbie, is bored too, and wants her big brother to play with her.  In a rage, because she has interrupted his game, which he loses, he tears up her drawing of a Panda Bear.  Suddenly an actual Panda does appear and wants them to take a journey with him, in which, he will impart stories, or lessons to them, about Life.  Not unlike, perhaps, Aesop’s Fables or Christ’s Parables.

The first story concerns his Uncle Ry, a bird, and how a robber, a raccoon, broke into his house and how Ry was disappointed that he had nothing worth stealing to give the man.  The second tale concerns a Farmer and how bad luck, his son breaking his leg, can actually be seen as good luck, when he is recruited.  Maybe.  And the third one concerns a mean old lady being helped by an old Samurai across a raging stream with nary a word of thanks to him.  This lesson involves not being passive aggressive. 

These are only thumbnail sketches of the stories because I don’t want to give away too much.  But, suffice to say, the lessons are taken to heart by both children.  Also, it is not so much the tales that are interesting, but the way and style in which they’re told.  They use a forced perspective approach at times, slide shows, stick puppets, et al. in relating the “lessons.”  If you want a hint of how it may affect you, simply slowly inhale and exhale for about ten seconds when you are stressed, frustrated or confused, and then see if things become clearer to you.  Or, what I do, sleep on it.

Tears of Joy and their partners, Rogue Artists Ensemble, offer about an hour’s entertainment but, I predict, you will feel differently, better, after one of these presentations.  The puppets are wonderful, as are the calming music and songs and visual enhancements.  TOJ is always interesting and unusual in what they choose to produce and always worthwhile.  Give them a try…and remember to breathe.

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