Monday, November 23, 2015

Artichoke—Sandy Actors Theatre—Sandy, OR

“A House Divided…”

This comedy-drama is written by Joanna McClelland Glass and directed by Tobias Andersen.  It is playing at their space, 17433 Meinig, in Sandy through December 6th.  For more information, go to their site at www.sandyactorstheatre.org

The thought that immediately comes to mind to me, when viewing this play, is Thomas Wolfe’s assertion that “you can’t go home again.”  This does not mean physically, of course, but the adage means you can’t relive the Past.  When a person refers to going “home” in this sense, they usually mean they are escaping from a dissatisfying Present to seek solace in the Past, in their memories of a simpler time.  But, unfortunately, the Past is cannot be recreated and, in this case, it is a House divided….

Gibson (Michael Streeter), the adopted son, of Gramps (Carl Coughlan), is a professor of literature at a university in the “Big City.”  But, in reality, his was raised on a rural wheat farm on the Saskatchewan Prairie in Canada.  In recent years, he has discovered that the “world is too much with [him]” as he has become tired of the hustle and bustle of modern life and must return to his roots.  But, his roots, his family, has also grown in other directions.

The little girl he played with (and that he was sweet on), the prideful, Margaret (Kelly Lazenby), daughter of Gramps, a wise old man, is now grown up and married but, it seems, not happily.  Her husband, the stubborn, Walter (Peter Baker), is a bit of a ladies’ man and had an affair with a water witch, which produced a child, a fourteen year old girl now, precocious, Lily Agnes (Allisonn O’Neill), who has been raised as part of the family, but Peter has been evicted to the Smokehouse for his transgression.  Lily Agnes is a “special” girl who is wise beyond her years and has an uncanny insight into human nature.

A unique twist to this story, is that there is a sort of Greek Chorus, two gossipy neighbors, Jake (Jim Butterfield) and Archie (Dan Robertson), that comment on the story and provide some background on the characters and the community at large.  They reminded me a bit of the old codgers that appeared on The Muppet Show from time to time.  Eventually they become involved with the goings-on and are an integral part of the tale themselves.  How all this angst and family dynamics finally work out would be telling, so I’ll just say, when all is said and done, there is still one element remaining in this Pandora’s Box…Hope.

The set (Dan Standley) is lovely and very accessible to the action and actors.  And Andersen certainly is an actor’s director.  He, himself, has been an icon in this theatre community for years and his passion and compassion for the artists and the material shines through in this production.  He is a bit of a romantic (as am I) and his obvious love and understanding of the play is evident.  There is, as mentioned in the play, a “pearl” in the production but, in my opinion, it is Mr. Andersen, himself, in all his glory!

The actors in the play all fit their parts like a glove.  They seem to become the characters instead of just enacting them.  The two grumpy old men, Robertson and Butterfield, are indeed crotchety but somehow loveable as well.  Coughlan looked like a Santa Claus in retirement, aware of everything going on but careful not to intrude or judge too strongly.  In Baker one could still see the appeal of the ladies’ toward him but his macho pride forbids him to apologize (a common fault in men).  Lazenby shows merit, as she must maintain composure for the rest of the family but one can see, too, that she is seething inside.

Streeter must balance the fact that he is world weary and a good man seeking home, with the fact, also that he is an intruder on these people’s lives, and he does it well.  O’Neill is a find, as she must play an adult in a child’s body.  She has an obvious stage presence and the intensity in which she approaches the role is spot on.  She has a good career in this field if she chooses to go forward.

I recommend this play.  I know it’s a bit of a drive for some people but, I believe, worth the effort.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.