Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Davita’s Harp—Page2Stage—SE Portland

“Sacred Discontent”

This World Premiere, family drama, based on the book by Chaim Potok, is adapted for the stage by Sacha Reich and Jamie M. Rea and directed by Reich.  It is playing at the Milagro space, 525 SE Stark St., through April 9th.  (Note that it is only street parking, so plan your time accordingly.)  For more information, go to their site at www.jewishtheatrecollaborative.org or call 800-838-3006.

Family Dynamics are never an easy road to tread.  And when you throw in immigrants fleeing from Europe; the solidly established Jewish faith; passionate politics from the 1930’s; and NYC as their stomping grounds, you have a powder keg waiting to explode.  I grew up during the turbulent 60’s, with the Vietnam War looming at our back door; the idealism of the Kennedy, “Camelot” years; the rise of folk and protest songs and the Civil Right marches of King.  “Times they are a–changin’?!”

We have similar problems brewing now with terrorists, immigrants, issues with freedom of religion and an explosive political scene.  Have we learned anything from those days of the 1930’s till now?  Doesn’t appear so, does it?  Different day, same ole crap.  But, looking in on the Chandal family, we may spot some of the signs of how we got from there to here.  The father, Michael (Heath Koerschgen), is a Christian and a newspaper reporter, who happens to fall in love with a (non-practicing) Jewish girl, Annie (Danielle Weathers), and so they get married.  The result of that union is Ilana Davita (Kayla Lian), the teller of this tale/memory.

Ilana grows up with wondrous fables of magic and castles and little birds and witches--Baba Yaga (Anthony Green), who seems to haunt her growing-up years.  Into this extended family are also the fervent, Ezra (Jason Glick), an erudite member of the Jewish faith, and his son, David (Illya Torres-Garner), who becomes a bit sweet on Ilana.  There is also Jacob (JJ Johnston), an obsessed and troubled writer and an immigrant from Europe, a childhood friend of Annie’s.  And Sarah (Kate Mura), Michael’s sister, a passionate missionary, who is often going off to foreign lands to bring Christ to the natives.  Ilana also befriends Ruthie (Sara Fay Goldman), a girl from the Temple, who is attracted and appalled by Ilana’s lack of being a traditional Jew, especially when she questions the role of women in the Jewish religion.

Into this already potent mixture are the advent of Unions into the labor force; the wars in Europe, particularly Spain; Fascism in Italy and other countries; brutal strikes among workers; the Depression; Marxism and Communism; conflicts of religious beliefs and the rise of Nazism in Germany.  Such are the times of the 1930’s in this “land of opportunity.”  To say the least, for a young girl growing up with these elements, it’s amazing she can be as objective and positive on her outlook on Life.  But, of course, there was one, young girl who would come after her, that wrote in her diary, one of her last entries while in a concentration camp, mind you, something to the effect that she still believed people were basically good.  Her name, of course, was Anne Frank.  “Out of the mouth of babes….”  Amazing!

Of course, I could have told you more but so much of the power of this story is for one to experience, sense, and you can only do that by being here.  Another aspect is that is it told in a storytelling style (which, if you’ve read previous missives by me, you’ll know I am fond of this style of theatre) and done on an essentially bare stage with only a few props/furniture pieces to tell the story.  In one’s mind, then, the set can becomes various apartment houses, Africa, Maine, Spain, a beach, et. al.  Wonderful!  This, of course, forces one’s imagination to engage (something that is ill-used in this age of technology, but don’t get me started on that…) to fill in the blanks.  Also, although it is Ilana’s story, all of the characters do some of their own narrating, just as if you were reading a book and discovering it for yourself.  All in all, a very satisfy experience!

Reich and Rea have done a remarkable job of putting all the pieces together, like a giant jigsaw puzzle, deciding what to leave in, leave out and explain in this epic story.  And Reich has cast it very well, all of the actors lending to the whole and, yet, having their own moments in the sun.  I admit to having a tear in my eye at the end, whether of joy or sadness, it is hard to tell, possibly both.

Lian has done good stage work in the past and is quite convincing playing a nine-year-old girl in this saga.  You sense her discontent in her plight and yet respect for others, a thin line to walk.  Weathers is a power-house, as the mother, as she charges from one set of beliefs/attitudes to another, all with sincere conviction.  A roller-coaster of a performance that explodes on the stage.  Glick, Mura and Johnston are all very distinct in the separate entities they bring to this tale.  And Koerschgen, as the father, always seems to have some sort of magic in the characters he plays.  He exudes a type of simplicity, a naturalism, in which you automatically believe who he is and what he says.  A style of creating to be envied.

In case you haven’t already guessed it, I recommend this production.  Their PR says, “…you will remember Davita long after you leave the theatre.”  Their right, I did.  If you do see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.