Wednesday, November 2, 2016

In the Forest She Grew Fangs—Young Professionals Company at OCT—NE Portland

Growing Pains

Oregon Children’s Theatre presents this through their youth troop at 1939 NE Sandy Blvd.  This bloody, coming-of-age story is not for the faint-of-heart or those who are offended by harsh language or intense, adult subject matter.  It is written by Stephen Spotswood and directed by Pat Moran and Zoe Rudman.  It is playing at this space through November 13th.  For more information, go to their site at www.octc.org or call 503-228-9571.

The above title of mine might be an oversimplification of the theme but it is accurate, although focusing on the dark side of passing from childhood to the adult world.  Unlike in my age of the turbulent teens, this generation of young folks has it a whole lot tougher.  We didn’t have the Social Media which, I believe, is a major contributor to the overall angst of teens.  The worst trouble that we had in my age was teens drinking at a party or racing in the streets.  Now, thanks to the almighty god of electronics, we have cyber-bullying that has led to suicides; weapons being brought to school and killing students; drugs for quick highs; date rapes; smear campaigns against others because of beliefs; and a multitude of offenses against the human spirit.

But, thank God, we have a troop such as this that can work out their angst in a safe environment and, through role-playing and teamwork, explore these disruptive themes and gain a confidence in oneself that hopefully will sustain one into the next generation.  I admit a bias for this troop as they have gone deep into the psyche of the young to explore dark moods in the past and have emerged victors in, if not wiping out fears of maturing, at least having let them face them and given them tools to combat the “monsters in the forest!”  They are Our Future, best listen to their Voices and treat them with the same respect that we demand from them.

Lucy (Emma Fulmer)) is a typical, small-town girl, a bit of a wall-flower, a loner, who feels more at ease with the forest and streams.  She is picked-on and bullied by her classmates (Mikala Capage, Gracie Jacobson, Heidi Osaki and David Van Dyke) and doesn’t seem to have a friend in the world.  She lives with her Granny, Ruth (Piper Tuor), who has a few demons of her own that torment her.  She is haunted by her own unhappy childhood memories of not being worth anything.

Into this less than idyllic world appears the new kid in town, Jenny (Sierra Kruse).  She is “hot” and all the guys want to date her…and more.  But she has her own insecurities coming from the big city.  And she misses her abusive boyfriend, the one with “cold, granite abs and hot surf.”  Of course, the nerdy guy in school, Hunter (Max Bernsohn), is trying to work up the courage to ask her out.

The parallel world is, of course, Little Red Riding Hood, and to be honest, the original stories of these fairy tales are very dark, meant to scare children and make them behave or the...boogie man will get you.  This play corresponds to these darker tales and, thus, this story does not have a “happily ever after” ending.  I really cannot tell you more without revealing the somewhat shocking discoveries that an audience needs to make.

But the forest and the river are the keys to all these longings and achings, and itches and twitches.  It is the ripening and budding of a strange, new world.  The unexplored country where no one returns unchanged.  It is seemingly a natural progression through troubled waters and tangled branches.  It is not a show for young children but it is something that could be seen by savvy teens and adults.  The Woods are not “lovely, dark and deep” in this cautionary tale but full of shadows and virgin paths and, yes, monsters, too.

Much of the success of the production lies in the stylized presentation.  It is almost dance-like at times with only tree stumps as props and a visual rendering on a backdrop of the journey.  Moran and Rudman have done an amazing job threading this unique nightmare tale onto the durable but ever-changing fabric of our minds.  It is a journey down a dark rabbit-hole, with many twists and turns, emerging into…???

Fulmer certainly has a career ahead of her in this field if she desires.  She is a combination of Jekyll & Hyde and Carrie, and she plays all the ranges of her fine-tuned instrument of acting.  Bernsohn is the epitome of bravado, full of smoke and empty promises.  Kruse is the typical snob, pretty but with a dark past and a vacant future.  Tuor is a product of her upbringing, which wasn’t pleasant, and is passing that angst on to her grand-daughter.  All four exciting, as well as the ensemble, in this terrifying, taunt tale.

I highly recommend this show with the restrictions I have mentioned.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.