Monday, October 10, 2016

American Hero—Artists Repertory—SW Portland

Sub Species

This touching comedy is written by Bess Wohl and directed by Shawn Lee.  It is playing at their space, SW Alder St. and 16th Ave., through October 30th.  For more information, go to their site at www.artistsrep.org or call 503-241-1278.

This sandwich shop could be anywhere, USA, in one of the many Malls springing up, ad nausea.  I must confess when I arrived I expected not to see only some humorous tales of sub shop experiences, but this story is about much more than that.  It is about a growing population that is earning minimum wage in thankless retail jobs in our in our increasing suburban, concrete jungles.

Guaranteed these occupations are not the “dream” jobs for any of these individuals, unless they mistakenly (as we find out in the play) think that it is a way to become an executive with loads of money and perks.  It is, at best, a stopping off place, a momentary oasis amongst a harsh environment, so that one can get their bearings, catch their breath, for future Life struggles.  But, most of all, they are real people who just want to be given a chance to shine.

Bob (Mueen Jahan), from the Middle-East, is trying to find for himself those “streets paved with gold” that are often referred to.  He has a franchise in a sub shop and is hiring a staff.  He plays by the rules and adheres closely to the corporate handbook.  Among the staff he has hired is a young, rather shy, girl name Sheri (Emily Eisele), who is already working at a taco place, too, just to make ends meet.

He also hires Ted (Gavin Hoffman), nearing middle age with a business degree, but had been downsized from a management bank job.  But he also has a slew of other problems in his personal life that are hounding him.  He is very practical and likes to stick to the rules.  And the last employee is Jamie (Val Landrum), a rather sexy, free-wheeling lady that doesn’t seem bound by anybody’s rules of behavior.  But she also has a trunk-load of personal problems that haunt her.  In other words, these are just plain folks that are trying to get from one day to another, like the rest of the world.

It soon becomes apparent that things are not as they seem.  Their boss hasn’t been seen for awhile and their supplies are running low.  This means they will have to bond together, become a Family, for the common good and come up with a plan.  This also means they will have to put their egos aside and attempt to make the best of an increasingly dire situation.  Can’t tell you more without ruining the solutions they come up with.  But, the beauty of this story is that the human spirit will endure, in spite of odds against it, and the “little men,” in all of us, from kings to knaves, will have their say.

Wohl has given us a smorgasbord of delights to choose from, to concoct our own “Heroes” to digest.  What we choose to include in those will result in how we/they turn out, so choose ingredients carefully, for the fault is truly in us, not in our stars, as the Bard might surmise.  Wohl has a gem of a story that is reflective of all of us, a true microcosm of America.  And Lee has chosen a jewel of a cast to mirror her vision.  He also has the ability to create (with designer, Megan Wilkerson) an uncanny reality with the shop itself, giving actors plenty of playing room, but also making you feel like you want to step up on the set after the show and order a sub.

The cast is delicious.  Hoffman plays well the steely exterior whose inner world is collapsing.  Landrum is fine as she splays her sensuous bravado to hide the inner pain.  Eisele is a true find, riding that delicate line between being the scared mouse in the corner but able to display the roar of a Lioness when necessary.  And Jahan, in his many incarnations, gives a good variety to his characters and is powerful in his final monologue as Greg.

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