Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Skin of Our Teeth—Artists Rep.—SW Portland

The Once & Future World

This absurdist, dark comedy is written by Thornton Wilder and directed by Dámaso Rodriguez (Artist Rep.’s, Artistic Director).  It is playing at their space, SW Alder St. & 16th Ave., through June 12th.  For more information, go to their site at www.artistsrep.org or call 503-241-1278.

This play has a lot in common with Ionesco’s unorthodox, Rhinoceros, Albee’s thoughtful, Seascape, and even Carroll’s nonsensical (?), Alice in Wonderland and …Through the Looking-Glass.  The play has one foot planted uneasily on solid ground and the other precariously balanced over the Abyss.  It is peeking at Mankind, not through rose-colored glasses but through a glass, darkly.  It is considering what once was with what is, or will be.  And it’s not a pretty picture.

We are a war-like creature, which is true.  We have degraded and enslaved minorities because of culture and religion…History proves that.  We have polluted our environment.  We are driving wedges between countries instead of building bridges.  Does History repeat itself, one of the questions the play postulates?  Look at current (and possible, Future) events and you tell me?!

Wilder is probably most famous for his play of an iconic, small-town America, Our Town.  As in this play, he shatters the fourth wall and, even then, has a type of audience participation.  He throws conventional ways of presenting things out the window by giving us a history lesson; embracing small, simple ideals; and even having the long-departed speak to us of deep truths and simple homilies. He embodies this self-same style in this play, too.

At the start of this story, you must ask yourself, is this a tale of the beginning of the end, or the end of the beginning?  I think Thornton himself would wrestle with that corundum.  We are presented with the maid, Sabina (Sara Hennessy), who talks directly to the audience, giving us a brief rundown of the situation.  It seems the Ice Age has returned and the sun is growing cold.  A baby Dinosaur (Sky Jude) and Wooly Mammoth (Eva Rodriguez) have even returned (or never left) to welcome in this new age.  And it seems we are on the verge of inventing the wheel (among other things), although no practical purpose seems to be associated with it.

The home we have invaded is that of the Antrobus family, about 5,000 years old.  The father (Don Alder), seems to be an Inventor and Politician.  He is a harried man having little patience with his family.  The mother (Linda Alper), is a home maker, right out of a TV sit-com from the 50’s, complete with hoop skirt.  The daughter, Gladys (Val Landrum), is a naïve little rascal, unaware of practical matters, who sucks lollipops but is endowed with a brain that is able to absorb facts.  Henry (Shawn Lee) is a rebel, anti-establishment, who likes to hurt people.  He is the Yang to his parent’s Yin.

Other characters to cross their paths are the philosopher, Homer; Moses, the prophet; a gypsy, fortune-teller (Lauren Modica), who sees and knows all; a persistent newscaster, (Vana O’Brien); the symbol of the postal system, an obedient, telegraph boy (Dámaso J. Rodriguez); a couple of boozy, political cronies (Michael Mendelson and Chris Harder); and an annoying Stage Manager (Sarah Lucht) who tends to break in whenever the play seems to be floundering.  The story will follow this family through rise to political power; the disintegration of the family unit and the Ice Age; a catastrophe of monumental proportions; to a hesitant but, perhaps, brave new world, peeking its head out from under the rubble.

The story, as you may have guessed, is not to be taken as a literal tale, but is more a state-of-mind, a stream-of-consciousness, approach to serious societal/historical/political issues.  The director, Rodriguez, has mentioned that it is one of his favorite plays and this enthusiasm for it spills over into his production.  It is wild, disconcerting, imaginative, thought-provoking, heart-breaking, breaks all the rules of conventional theatre and, most importantly, it works!

His cast is a who’s-who of theatre with Modica, Mendelson, Harder, O’Brien and Lucht, having often distinguished themselves in major roles, playing part of an ensemble here, showing us what Pros are all about.  There is a sense of warmth and team-spirit with every show at Artist’s Rep. and that Love translates to very professional and yet accessible productions for an audience.  May they Live Long and Prosper!

I especially liked Alder, as I’ve watched him grow as an actor, and this last year he had definitely reached a new plateau, as this enigmatic character is given some specific definition by him.  Also enjoyed Modica as the mystic, at first appearing like a possible stereotypic character, but in her capable hands, with knowing looks and calculated words, she gives the role an original slant.  All the others were equally proficient in their enactments.

And a special shout-out to the set-change crew who were amazing in their efficient and speedy manner in which they changed some complicated sets.  They are not identified, as such (but might deserve a curtain call, too…just saying…) but here are some names that I assume were responsible for these remarkable procedures:  Michelle Jazuk, D. Westerholm, Esther McFaden, Joshua Rippy, Grace Owens and Charlie Capps, et. al.

I recommend this show.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.