Wednesday, July 22, 2015

PREVIEW! The Real Inspector Hound—Anonymous Theatre Company—Pearl District

A Nomadic Troupe

This avant-garde type of play is by Tom Stoppard and directed by the well-known actor/director, Darius Pierce.  It will be presented one-time only at Portland Center Stage in the Gerding Theatre, 128 NW 11th Ave., on Monday, August 10th at 7 pm.  Tickets are $25 and 50% of the proceeds go to PATA’s Valentine Fund.  For more information, go to their site at   http://anonymoustheatre.org.  (A couple of things you might want to keep in mind:  Since it is a one-time only performance, tickets usually sell out, so get them early.  Also, parking in this area of town can be a real challenge, so best plan your time accordingly.)

This presentation is not a review of their show, since it is done only once, so a review of the performance would be of no benefit PR-wise.  But it is an overview of their company and the Co-founder, Darius Pierce (who, as mentioned, is also directing this show).  If you don’t know who Piece is, you must be one of the few who has not witnessed his one-man show, performed frequently at PCS, The Santaland Diaries by David Sedaris, a very funny depiction of Christmas, as seen through the eyes of a department-store elf.

This a very unique form of theatre, having things in common with Improv, like Saturday Night Live or Second City, and guerrilla or street theatre, in that it has a fresh and spontaneous feel.  The cast is secret and meets separately with the director to rehearse, which presents its own set of problems.  According to Pierce, “…finding rehearsal spaces is a constant challenge - because we can't meet where anyone else will see who is there or know why we are there.  So, you end up having a lot of meetings in back rooms of coffee shops and basements of homes…we have never run the show before, so all the details need to be figured out and kept straight in advance."  Marketing is also a tricky thing…because the huge majority of the people involved in the show can't tell anyone or too openly invite people!”  (Hopefully this article will aid the marketing angle.)

The process involves casting the play and rehearsing in secret, as mentioned.  Then they arrive on the night of the show in street clothes and sit with the audience, where they will, on cue, deliver their first lines, then proceed to the stage with the rest of the cast members.  This is the first (and last) time the entire cast will meet to perform the play.  They are now in their fourteenth year and, being that they usually get full houses for their shows, must mean they are doing something right.

Pierce’s inspiration for this type of presentation came from his college years, as he and some friends were always looking for ways to break down that “fourth wall” that separates actor from audience.  As he explains, “…if an audience member has read the play, they know almost literally as much about what is going to happen that night as an actor in the show. And that develops an excitement and a camaraderie…that rarely occurs elsewhere. Everyone feels they have a hand in telling this story and creating the evening…that is practically impossible to achieve under more traditional circumstances.”  Too true.

So, that begs the question, being that they only do it once a year, the choice of play must be crucial.  What is the process?  Pierce explains,"…usually, we look for a comedy, good opportunities for men and women, reasonably short entrances spread throughout the play…fairly simple technically...and generally something not too obscure. It's nice for some of the audience to have a frame of reference for our craziness!  The cast is chosen from auditions!  We have auditions every year.  We do not have callbacks.  We just cast from the initial reads."

One play, once a year?!  That’s got to be frustrating, spending all that time rehearsing and creating a show, then only to do it once.  But Pierce is philosophically about it, as he says,"…I have never found it frustrating. I am sorry that more people can't see it - but there's no way to do multiple performances! Perhaps actors have felt that way in the past, but I think their frustration is more about performing in a fantastic night of theater - then not being able to openly invite friends to see them in it!"

But let’s see if an actor’s view is the same.  Of course, the person will have to remain nameless because I, and they, have been sworn to secrecy, but let’s get their perspective.  We will call the cast member, “George Spelvin” (insider’s joke), just for the sake of a name.  I put the same question to “George” about being frustrated with doing only one performance and not telling anyone.  “He” replied, "No, I think that is the particular charm of it!  It's like you get to pull one over on your artistic family."

But that brings up the question, then how do you psyche yourself up for such an experience?  “His” offbeat answer was, "My balls are the size of peanuts right now. It is funny how we always strive for spontaneity onstage and this kind of project gives you no choice but to be spontaneous, so I think looking at that perspective brings things back down to earth a bit.  Embracing the crazy is the way to tame it...."  Very insightful, I’d say.

And, finally, “George,” Why…what's the "reward/perk" for you?

"I think it is kind of a privilege to do this! It's like a kooky honor to be able to create some raw work with some fantastic (albeit unknown) collaborators in front of an artistic community you love."  Amen.

Darius was more than generous with his time and insights.  But, I had one last question for him.  Although the style of this type of presentation is unique, I wondered if there was any other reason for choosing to do it this way.  His reply, "…we wanted to challenge/force the actors to be fully in the moment, fully open and present and listening - all of the things that we usually spend weeks trying to get to.  Certainly, there is a lack of polish in an Anonymous show - but there are raw, exposed, brave elements that are pushed front and center. Watching the actor's process - hearing text for the first time, exploring relationships over the course of the evening, discovering emotions and comedy - is completely fascinating.  And at its best, some of the most real, passionate, hilarious, impressive, memorable moments of theater I've seen. Also, we thought it would be crazy fun! And I think we were right." Can’t argue with that.

As for this show, The Real Inspector Hound by Tom Stoppard, I had the honor of directing it some years ago and it is a hoot.  Stoppard is a playwright that loves to twist things up, such as time, conventions and anything that reeks of normalcy.  As Anonymous describes it:  It’s about "…two feuding theater critics are swept into the whodunit they were sent to review. In this hilarious spoof of Agatha Christie-like melodramas, the dead body hidden under the sofa proves to be just the beginning. As mists rise about isolated Muldoon Manor, everyone becomes dangerously implicated in the lethal activities of an escaped madman. This evening of theatre also includes On the Porch One Crisp Spring Morning by Alex Dremann. In this ten-minute curtain-opener that premiered at the Humana Festival, a mother and daughter sip coffee on the porch one gloriously crisp spring morning. And then try to kill each other."

I’ve seen one of their shows, The Crucible, as I had worked with the young lady who played Abby, Madeleine Delaplane, and I have to admit there is an electricity in the air, an excitement and immediacy to the presentation that is usually not present when a show has a intense rehearsal period with the whole cast and a run of several performances.  And, not to forget, it is for a very good cause, the Valentine Fund, which benefits artists that are in need.


As to my final thoughts, I believe Darius has a dream and he is passionate about it.  And, if you remember the movie, Field of Dreams, then there is an adage in it professing “if you build it, they will come.”  And they have, both artists and audiences, in hordes.  Beware of standing in the way of a Dreamer, as you just might get caught up in it yourself.  Brave on Darius, and Company!

I recommend seeing this presentation.  If you do, please tell them Dennis sent you.