Monday, August 24, 2015

The Theory of Everything—Theatre Diaspora—SW Portland

Close Encounters
This family, comedy–drama, Staged Reading is written by Prince Gomolvilas and directed by Rusty Newton Tennant.  It is produced in association with Media Rites (Executive Producer, Dmae Roberts) and the show produced by Wynee Hu and Samson Syharath.  It will be performed for one more performance at Artists Rep., SW Alder St. & SW 16th Ave. at 2 pm on Saturday, Aug. 29th at 2 pm.  For more information, go to their site at www.theatrediaspora.org

This is a story about displaced people, outsiders, looking for a place to belong.  But, as it’s presented, it crosses cultural barriers and becomes a very human story, a human comedy, Chekhovian in scope and style.  This is a family, all looking for God, their purpose in this universe, the purpose of the universe, acceptance for who they are, love, how to combat loneliness and homesickness, how to divest themselves of the “old ways” and how to embrace this self-same lore and, oh yes, the search for E.T.’s.

It takes place in Las Vegas, the glitter capital of the world.  But, as has been said, “all that glitters is not gold.”  But, sometimes it takes a journey, as Frodo and Bilbo, Dorothy Gale from Kansas and the star-crossed, young lovers in The Fantasticks found out, to find what you treasure most may have been in your own backyard all the time.  In this case—Family.

The matriarch of the family, the eccentric May (Elaine Low), likes to spend her time on the rooftop looking for UFO’s and waiting to be beamed up and whist away to a far-distant world.  The rest of the extended family consists of Patty (Toni Tabora-Roberts), desperately wanting children, and her husband, the unhappy, Hiro (Larry Toda), pining for his home country, Japan and, ironically, owners of a place called, Chapel of Love.  The colorful Shimmy (Kat Templeton) is missing her dead husband and wishing, like Hiro, that she was someone else and somewhere other than here.

Her son, Gilbert (Kimo Camat) is searching for his own identity and place in the world but, at his point, his only move in that direction is a need to change his name to Ibu Profen (after the medicine, to take away pain) and asking his childhood friend, Lana (Wynee Hu) to marry him, even though he doesn’t love her that way.  And the restless Lana jumps from one relationship to another searching for something, as yet unknown.  And her brother, the kinetic Nef (Heath Hyun Houghton), is a college student struggling with his major, Philosophy, and his marriage, but haunted by images from his past…chicken feet.

Einstein’s Theory of Everything, in a nutshell, is the search for how the universe works and, within that, perhaps, the purpose.  Nef’s theory is that everything and everyone is hurtling toward destruction.  Somewhere, in the middle of all this, is what we call Existence or Life.  In Gomolvilas’s story, his characters are definitely searching and, depending on past experiences, going different directions.  But their rock, through thick and thin is blood, family, the saving grace that will unite them all, if even for a moment frozen in time, looking as a united front toward the stars, awaiting answers.

Gomolvilas has written some very rich and compelling characters.  They are probably mirror-images, in large or small ways, of the audience.  Tennant is always fascinating to watch, whether it’s onstage in a Shakespearean role, designing an award-winning set for zombie hunters, or directing whacky stories about Christmas (his next project is directing the Bag and Baggage production of the semi-classic, Hitchcock’s story of Rope).  In this play, he modulates the rhythms and emotions of the characters, allowing time for quite moments mixed with spurts of fire.  A well-rounded show.

The cast is exceptional (including narration by Samson Syharath), each so good in their part as to make you believe they are who they say they are.  They all have their moments to shine and then, like a good team or family, they ably support the other members of the cast.  The monologues, odd at times, are so convincingly performed, that you accept them at face value.  And that accomplishes two of the rules of good acting, find the Truth for the character and make the audience believe you.  They do.

This is a new company, advocating and celebrating Asian American/Pacific Islander experiences.  It deserves not only to be seen but to be supported as well.  (Remember, it only has one more performance.)  And both Portland Center Stage and Artists Rep. should be applauded for offering their facilities for them to perform.

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