Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Cock—defunkt theatre—SE Portland

Savage Arena

This very intense, adult drama is written by Mike Bartlett and directed by well-known, Portland director, Jon Kretzu.  It is playing at their space in back of the Common Grounds Coffee House, 4319 SE Hawthorne Blvd. (street parking only, so plan time accordingly), through November 14th.  For more information, go to their site at www.defunktheatre.com


“What a piece of work is Man…,” quotes the Bard.  What really is the make-up of this species we call Human?  Are we primarily a Sexual Being…or a Thinking Animal…or a Warring Beast…or a Pious Person, et al.  In truth, we are the sum of all those parts and more.  But often we get so caught up in only one or two aspects of our character that we can’t see the “forest through the trees.”  Our true identity and purpose may get lost in the shuffle.

In part, that is at the core of this play, Jon’s (Clifton Holznagel), search for who he is.  He has a contentious relationship with his lover, the demanding, M (David Bellis-Squires), who seems to criticize him all the time and pull down his ego.  This tends to make Jon indecisive in his life, as others have made the decisions for him.  We see this couple at a low point in their connection with each other and so they break up.

Then Jon meets a woman, the alluring W (Kayla Lian), and another aspect, hidden perhaps, comes out.  W makes him feel good about himself and he explores other aspects of his identity.  And so a relationship is formed.  But it also causes conflicts, as he still has feeling for M.  A point of no return is reached when they all three decide to have dinner together and Jon will have to finally make a decision as to which direction his life will take.  But a fourth character appears on the scene, F (Ted Schultz), to complicate matters and this primeval stew goes even deeper into a person’s psyche.  To reveal more would be telling, so I’ll leave it at that.

Some unique things about this production are the arena-like setting, no props or furniture, in a boxing ring, in which the audience sits in bleachers around the acting area.  There is even the ringing of a bell, like at boxing matches, for each “round” or change in mood of the story.  The language is very reminiscent of Pinter or Stoppard, or even Virginia Woolf, where people speak more like they think, in a stream-of- consciousness way.  This kind of setting makes it very intense for the actors (and audience), with no set to hide behind and having the audience staring at you in close proximity at every turn.  Very disconcerting, but effective, for all involved.

Kretzu is a master at keeping the play interesting with such a limited space, by having his actors dance, pace, prowl and stalk each other around the space, as if like an animal following its prey.  And my hats off to all four actors, as they are consistent in keeping the intensity alive, like electricity jolting through you.  They are excellent!  The characters are distinct:  Schultz representing the old-school way of thinking; Lian showing us the female point of view; Bellis-Squires giving us a view of an obsessive but passionate love; and Holznagel portraying the epitome of a person on-the-fence, going whichever way the wind blows but feeling, at his heart, there is still an undiscovered…Me.

I recommend this production but it is very adult in situation and language, so be warned.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.