Sunday, January 24, 2016

I Want To Destroy You—Theatre Vertigo—SE Portland

“Eye of the Beholder”

The world premiere of his drama about Art is written by Rob Handel and directed by Matthew B. Zrebski.  It is playing at the Shoebox theatre space, 2110 SE 10th Ave., through February 20th.  For more information, go to their site at www.theatrevertigo.org or call 503-306-0870.

Art is a fickled Master, a cruel Mistress but, in the long run, the final result is actually in the “Eye of the Beholder.”  The Nature of Art is a very complicated process.  In my opinion, at its most inspired, it involves a Muse or, if you will, a Mentor, someone to guide you.  But the secret of your Art ultimately lies deep with you.  How it is perceived, is a whole other ballgame.

The open-minded, Harold (Duffy Epstein), considers himself an artist and, evidently, so does a very prestigious school, as he has become a professor there and is nearing tenure.  The autocratic Dean of the school, Stephanie (Sharon Mann), is very pleased with him up to this point.  He has even invited a famous European Artist, Flamia (Jessica Zodrow) to be a guest speaker.  His teenage daughter, Micki (Holly Wigmore), has acclimated herself to the fact that he’s not going to be a stay-at-home Dad, as his work is his home.

But all is not roses in his life.  His house is beginning to crumble, so he hires a fastidious contractor, Andy (Nathan Crosby), to rebuild his roof.  His own mentor, Bob (Grant Byington), is in the hospital, dying.  But his students seem to adore him.  He gives them full freedom to create what they want within a topic he assigns.  Leaf (Shawna Nordman) is a nervous sort, constantly checking to make sure she’s doing the right thing.  Ilich (R. David Wyllie) is an eager beaver, always coming up with elaborate projects.

But everything comes to a head and his life may be taking a major detour when one of his students, Mark (Jacob Orr), a brooding but excitable type, brings a gun to class, not wanting to reveal the purpose of this “art” demonstration.  Weapons in a classroom are not acceptable, for obvious reasons nowadays, but can they be part of artistic expression?  Much of the remaining dialogue revolves around why is Art created…solely for the artist’s pleasure…or for an audience, as observers or inter-active?  You’ll have to see it to find out.

Handel’s play is at its strongest when dealing with the purpose of art and the various projects the students come up with, as well as Harold’s view of this passionate beast.  But the play wanders off a bit, down some rabbit holes, when it brings in Harold’s personal life, consisting of redoing his home, his daughter and whether guns should be allowed in school because of the disruptive nature of this issue.  All good story points when fleshing out the main character but maybe too much to encompass when also dealing with the Nature of Art, and that part is fascinating.  Handel has a good ear for dialogue and that comes off very well.

I’m constantly amazed what directors can do in such a small, black-box space.  Zrebski, with just some various size platforms and a few props, has created a whole world with many facets and you never lose track of the story.  His has chosen his cast well, from the smallest to the largest of the roles, they are all convincing.  This is, almost quite literally, an in-your-face experience, which might itself be considered active or living art.

Two actors stand out in this well-groomed cast.  Orr, as the troubled student, Mark, gives you the shivers as he parades around at times like he’s got a rocket-in-his-pocket, then will burst into tears, and  at other times, eerily silent…brooding…waiting…for what?!  This roller-coaster performance is powerful.  And Epstein, always a pro, is terrific at the lead character.  I am no expert in the Art World but when he expounds on Harold’s views, I believe him.  I understand why his students would idolize him.  And when he allows you to see his vulnerable side, you identify with him because, when all is said and done, we all have feet of clay.  Well done.

And my own personal view of Art, being a Writer, is to trust the Muse and let her take you where she will.  Also, as to Artists, this reworked adage seems to fit the bill:  “Do not seek out [Art], for [Art], if it finds you worthy, will guide your course.”

I recommend this play, especially for the great discussions and insights into Art and the fine performances.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.