Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Hughie—Imago theatre—SE Portland

“Only the Lonely”

This one-act drama by the classic playwright, Eugene O’Neill, is directed and designed by Jerry Mouawad and produced by Carol Triffle (Founders of Imago).  It is playing at their space, 17 SE 8th Ave. (off Burnside), through September 18th.  Parking is a challenge in this area so best get their early.  For more information, go to their site at www.imagotheatre.com or call 503-231-9581.  And don’t forget that La Belle (three years in the making), a story of Beauty and the Beast, opens in December, so best get tickets early, as I can assure you, it will be a sell-out.

This has comparisons to characters in Damon Runyon’s world of Guys and Dolls, the street hustlers/gamblers with no real futures; a bit of Chekov’s Swan Song, with an old actor expounding on his craft to a bored Stage Manager; Ibsen’s, The Stronger, with a woman domineering a conversation with her friend; Beckett’s, Waiting for Godot, as it concerns two people trapped in a world, with one needing the other for an audience in order to survive; and even some of Rod Serling’s characters/stories of pool sharks, jockeys, boxers and losers.  Just a hint of what you’ll be looking at when you see this show.

Erie (Todd Van Voris), named after his birth in town in PA by his very uninventive parents, flops in a seedy hotel somewhere in NYC during the era of bootleggers and gamblers.  He’s one of them and prides himself on his luck with the whores, cards and the horses (not necessarily in that order).  He had befriended the former night clerk at this dive, Hughie, but he has up and died suddenly and a part of Erie went with him.  So now Erie must break in the new clerk, Charlie (Sean Doran), as to the expectations of the role he should play in Erie’s life.

Hughie always loved to listen to Erie’s stories of his dames, his luck with the nags and dice and his adventures with the Mob.  And, boy, could Erie tell a story!  Hughie was Erie’s good luck charm, he gave him confidence, a reason for being and now, without him, well, it just isn’t the same anymore.  Charlie, the new night clerk, seems to be lost in a world of his own, a dull cipher wedged between the roar of the El trains and the drone of Erie’s escapades.  But, “attention must be paid,” to this wandering echo of lost hopes in the concrete jungle.

It is as if Erie is really only talking to himself, trying to rebuild his world with a new “Hughie.”  Even the look of Charlie is pale, cadaverous, moaning empty platitudes in response, waiting for Erie to get his rhythm back and re-mold his world back into something…recognizable.  Erie’s very existence might depend upon it.  We all need champions in our corner to propel us forward but, perhaps, the most important one is the person who stares back at us from the glass in the mornings.  How will it all turn out?  Well, you’ll just have to see for yourselves, won’t you?!

Mouawad’s shows are always worth watching, as he always seems to have another layer or two beneath the ones obviously visible.  And when he delves into the works of O’Neill and Pinter, et. al., whose plots are already multi-layered, then it is a real treat for the mind and eyes.  My own take on this work is exposed in the paragraph above but, as always, there are more layers to investigate, depending on your eyes as well.  I love his set, as you feel you could walk on it and back into the world of many years ago.  And the subtle lighting, exploring the mood changes, by Jeff Forbes, the pale make-up on Doran and the intrusive sound of the El trains by Kyle Delamarter, all contribute to a sense of things being not quite in sync, a step out of time.

Doran as the pasty patsy, Charlie, is understandably bland, fading into the woodwork, a book yet to be writ upon, but with a sense of an ember smoldering inside.  He is a perfect foil for Van Voris.  And I simply couldn’t say enough good things about Van Voris!  He is certainly one of the premiere actors in this area.  He plays Erie like he might be a sculptor, pacing around, throwing barbs, bellowing and bulling to get just the right shape to his creation.  A passionate creator that needs an audience to feel whole.  Pacino, Robards, et. al. have all put their mark on the role and, to be honest, Van Voris, I feel, can put his star right up next to theirs, unashamedly!

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