Monday, May 18, 2015

Our Country’s Good—Bag & Baggage—Hillsboro, OR

Dream Time

This adult drama was written by Timberlake Wertenbaker and adapted and directed for the stage by Scott Palmer (B&B’s Artistic Director).  It is playing at their space at the Venetian Theatre, 253 E. Main St. through May 31st.  For more information, go to their site at www.bagnbaggage.org

The “Dream Time” in Aboriginal (native Australians) lore is a type of alternate reality or universe.  It is alluded to in a couple of good films from that country such as Walkabout and The Last Wave.  But another type of reality existed in England over two hundred years ago in which they chose to export their undesirables, such as convicts, the poor, prostitutes, the mentally or physically challenged, Jews, et. al. to the “uncivilized” Australia.

The trip over by ships was no treat for the prisoners or jailers alike.  Beatings and hangings took place on a whim.  But one officer, Lieutenant Ralph Clark (Andrew Beck), decided that performing a play with the prisoners was a diversion that would be beneficial to all concerned.  It also occurred to him it might also give them a hint as to another sort of life or society that they could eventually create for themselves once on the Continent.  It represents a type of microcosm of the world.

The play to be performed was a comedy called The Recruiting Officer and some of the prisoners taking part were Duckling (Cassie Greer), a sullen, snippy gal who had a hang-dog sailor, part-cripple, Harry (Luke Armstrong) panting after her.  There was Liz (Clara-Liis Hillier) a head-strong, no-nonsense lady-of-the-night.  Also, Mary (Arianne Jacques) is a shy, quiet sort who turns out to be a good actress.  Then there is Meg (Jessi Walters), her friend and opposite, a very outspoken and pushy woman.  And, there was Black Caesar (Damaris Webb), whose only fault was the color of her skin.

And the fellows were Sideway (Gary Strong), a corpulent, hearty fellow, the funnyman of the group who relished in the emoting of his role.  Wisehammar’s (Peter Schuyler) only fault was that he as a Jew, a minority and so shunned by “polite” society.  And, perhaps, the most undesirable of all, but a necessary fellow, was the hangman, Ketch (Colin Wood), who tries mightily just to be accepted as a human being.  All these characters and more, played by the same actors, will reveal the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortunes” as befell them, and experience the effect of Art on the human spirit.

Palmer’s adaptations are always fascinating and this production is no exception.  He shows what can be done on an essentially bare stage and then creates an entire world through the talents of his artists, the words of the creator and our imagination.  It doesn’t get any better than that.  He also exposes some forgotten bits of history and literature into a whole new light, as he does here.  I hope to see his creations prove fruitful and multiply for many Seasons to come.

The cast, most of them playing two or three roles, are exceptional.  Greer is always a stand-out in all the shows she does for them, always giving extra depth to the roles she plays.  Hillier has played on many stages, including NW Classical and Theatre Vertigo, too.  And the amount of diverse characters she has portrayed speaks volumes about her talent.  Strong has some of the best comic timing in the biz and it shines here, also, as a big man just trying to be noticed as a real person.  Armstrong is particularly moving as a misfit wanting so desperately to be loved.  And Beck handles the focal character very well, giving us a decent man but conflicted between his duty and personal connections with his cast.  They all have their shining moments in this play and, as always, a powerful ensemble.

I recommend this play but it is for mature audiences only because of the subject matter.  If you do see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.