Monday, September 21, 2015

The Best Of Everything—Bag & Baggage—Hillsboro, OR

“…Best of Times…Worst of Times…”

This is from the book, written by Rona Jaffe, and adapted for the stage by Julie Kramer and directed by Michelle Milne.  (It was later made into a film with Hope Lange, Joan Crawford, Steven Boyd, et. al.)  It is playing at their space in the Venetian Theatre at 253 E. Main St. in Hillsboro.  For more information, go to their site at www.bagnbaggage.org

The 50’s, for women, was not a good time to be a “working girl.”  Granted, the country was just out of a World War (and into a Cold War), the economy was good but the division of the sexes was just as divided as ever.  The woman had more than proved herself (as if she ever had to) with taking over “male” jobs during the War years and having their own units in the Service, but that was then…  Now, back to the ugly reality of putting people in their proper places, and the woman’s was at home and being subjected to the male’s whims (or so was thought at the time).

In the working world in the Big City (in this case NYC) filing, typing, fetching and looking pretty in case the boss (male, usually married) wanted some late-night “dictation.”  But, in Jaffe’s world, a woman rising to a managerial position was almost unheard of (and usually with a lot of whispering as to how she may have achieved that).  The martinet, Miss Farrow (Morgan Cox), has done just that and is an Editor at Fabian Magazine, stories of rather saucy tales of life.  And she guards this position with a passion, bordering on a mania.  But, into this insular world, walks a newbie, plain-Jane, Caroline (Cassie Greer), just recently jilted by her boyfriend, Eddie (Andrew Beck) and ready to bury herself in work.

Into this concrete jungle are also Gregg (Arianne Jacques), an aspiring actress (of sorts), willing to do anything to get a part; Brenda (Stephanie Leppert), a type of blonde bimbo, easily (mis-)led; the carefree, April (Kaia Hillier), who is just looking for a husband; Mary Agnes (Jessi Walters), a naïve beginner, looking for her place in the world; Mr. Shalimar (Joey Copsey), a nasty old goat  who likes young girls; and Mr. Rice (Copsey, again), writer for a religious magazine, who befriends Caroline.

This tale follows the lives of these ladies with all the ups and downs expected in the topsy-turvy battle of the sexes.  Some will have their hearts broken, some will get pregnant, some will find what they are looking for (and, sometimes, lose it, again, too), some marry and one will die.  Obviously I can’t tell you too much more about the story, as these are discoveries the viewer must make.  But, in the end, perhaps one will not necessarily be happier but certainly wiser.  And, keep in mind, the 60’s were just around the corner, and times would be “a-changin’.”

This is listed as a melodrama and follows the style of the books/films of Valley of the Dolls and The Devil Wore Prada, among others.  But, with that in mind, the acting is so naturalistic and convincing, and the staging so inventive, that it makes up for the sometimes sudsy story.  Milne has really wowed the audience with her clever set-ups on an essentially bare stage, with tables and chairs and very few props, to tell the story.  The movements of the actors are almost dance-like and the set changes could be put to music.  It is the story-telling style of theatre at its best, allowing the actors’ talents and the audience’s imagination to enhance the plot.  Well done, Ms. Milne!  Hope to see more of your work.

Greer is an amazing actor, having seen her play the flamboyant Daisy in their Great Gatsby and now stretching to the other side of the spectrum to play the subdued Caroline in this play.  Her alto voice is an asset in her ability, as well as the focus and believability in the characters she portrays.  She is, as always, super in this part!  Copsey, too, is quite the chameleon, as he plays a seemingly nice young man and then an old codger, among others.  And, if I hadn’t known it, I would have suspected it was different actors in these parts.  Well done.

Hillier is very good in the major role of a woman who just wants to get married and settle down.  Your heart goes out to her as he plays well the many layers of the stages she goes through.  She is, I believe, the sister of Clara, who is a well-known, very good actor in this company and in Portland theatres.  And she does herself proud here, as she has in past shows.  Also very good is Walters as the naïve and confused woman who struggles with her identity.  Her reactions in the shower scene and where she has to make some tough decisions as to choices in her life are outstanding!  I look forward to seeing both these actors, too, in future productions.

By the way, I’m quite aware that I use the word “actor” when referring to females on the stage.  An actor, as defined, is simply a person who performs or acts on a stage, there is no gender attached to it.  It has always been a point of contention, among the theatre community, as to which noun to use when describing a female in the acting profession but, myself, I prefer “actor” and many ladies I know prefer it, too, although I still sometimes use the noun actress when describing someone.

I recommend this play, especially for the staging of it and the acting in it.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.