Monday, March 30, 2015

The Ministry of Special Cases—Page2Stage—SE Portland

“Lest We Forget…”

This world premiere drama is from a novel by Nathan Englander and adapted for the stage by Sacha Reich and Jamie M. Rea and directed by Reich (founder of the company).  It is playing at the Milagro space at 525 SE Stark St. through April 11th.  For more information, visit them at www.jewishtheatrecollaborative.org or call 503-512-0582.

I recognized right up front, many names of people involved from other theatres and productions I’ve reviewed, involved in the behind-the-scenes activities.  Henk Pander (set designer), well-known visual artist, going back to the old Storefront theatre days; Elizabeth Huffman (costume designer), well-respected director, recently Mary Stuart at NWCT; Samuel Dinkowitz (fight choreographer), fine actor and director, recently directed Durang, Durang at Post5; Kate Mura (props/make-up designer) and actress; and Corinne Lowenthal (Production Mgr.), marketing for Post5, et. al. onstage.  Impressive!

The style of presentation is as a narrative, sometimes employing a Narrator (Bobby Bermea) and at other times the actors themselves, commenting on the action, much like novels are written.  In this way the novelist’s voice/perspective is heard, as well as the dialogue from his characters.  It may make for a longer presentation but it does go much more in depth than usual plays, too.

The story is based on true events that happened to the Jewish peoples in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1976.  I’m sure we are all aware of the atrocities that happened in Germany during the 30’s & 40’s with the Nazi monsters and their “final solution” for Jewish citizens.  But l knew nothing about the above mention era in South America.  Know that no nation is above pain and suffering inflicted on others because of cultural or religious differences.

Note the Inquisition and Holy Wars of Europe and our own involvement with slavery, treatment of Native Americans and Interment Camps.  We are all at fault as a group, at one time or another, as a majority or ruling body, by imposing degradation on a minority.

But, now down to business, the story concerns Kaddish (Jason Glick), his wife, Lillian (Wendy Wilcox) and their son, Pato (Jim Vadala) trying to survive as Jews under a military regime in Argentina.  Lillian has a rather good job at an insurance company under a very tolerant boss, Gustavo (Brian Demar Jones).  Kaddish has a not-so-attractive job dealing with defacing tombstones and looking for a way to appear less Jewish.  Pato is the typical rebellious son, defying authority and hanging out with other undesirables, Hippies (Crystal Muñoz and again, Jones).

Meanwhile, Kaddish has found a plastic surgeon, Dr. Mazursky (again, Bermea), who owes him money, is willing to de-emphasizing the noses of his family in exchange.  But this does not turn out to everybody’s satisfaction.  Also they are forced to burn some subversive books which, because of his stubborn son, also doesn’t go as planned.  As a result his son is taken and disappears from official records.  He turns to a government official (Mark Loring) and his wife (Jamie M. Rea), living the high life, with no results.

He goes to the police (Michael C. Jordan), a Rabbi (Loring, again) and a fisherman (Loring), where he learns some distressing news.  And his wife finds comfort in a Catholic priest (Jones, again) who seems sympathetic.  All in all, it adds up to the fact that, if they have enough money, they can bribe officials to at least find out the fate of their son and/or have him returned.  Kaddish plots an outrageous and desperate plan to get the monies.  To tell more would be giving away plot devices so I will stop here.

As mentioned, this play is long but never boring.  All but three of the ensemble cast play multiple roles.  Reich has done an amazing job of casting just the right people, all believable in their many incarnations, and giving some of the scenes stylized and darkly comic tones, especially the surgery scene.  And the storytelling style works well in this confined space, as do the sets/backdrops (Pander), beautifully realized, and costumes (Huffman) adaptable for quick changes but indicative of the many characters, and Mura does have a way with noses.

A very talented ensemble with, again, many recognizable names from other theatres/shows.  Bermea is perfect for the narrative voice of the author (and a fine director of other shows I’ve reviewed, too.)  Glick is always worth watching and does a very good job expressing the many frustrations of a man fighting, perhaps, a losing battle.  Wilcox, as the more patient of the two, underplays her role nicely.  Rea has some wonderfully, darkly comic bits as a bureaucrat at the Ministry, as well as part of the hoity-toity set.  A stand-out.  And Muñoz, always worth watching onstage (and a winner of a couple Sparkle Awards for supporting performances), does well in the roles she portrays.

I definitely recommend this production and wish the group well on their journey, both with the play and as a theatre company.  I hope to hear more from them.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.