Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Feathers and Teeth—Artists Repertory Company—SW Portland

“Here There Be Monsters!”

This dark comedy in the horror genre is written by Charise Castro Smith and directed by Dámaso Rodriguez (Artists Rep.’s Artistic Director).  It is playing at their space, SW Alder St. & 16th Ave., through April 2nd.  For more information, go to their site at www.artistsrep.org or call 503-241-1278.

Well, now one is stepping into one of my favorite genres to read and watch, the horror/fantasy genre.  The story has some relationship to one of the short segments in Stephen King/George Romero’s film, “Creepshow,” in which there is a mysterious trunk in the basement, which just might have something unholy living in it.  Also, it reminds me of the Jodie Foster film of some years ago, “The Little Girl Who Lived Down the Lane,” in which she wasn’t just the sweet little thing you thought her to be.  Good references to make if you are seeing this play.

As far as people’s seeming fascinating with this genre and the best way to present it, Ray Bradbury (my favorite author), may have said it best in a magazine article some years ago entitled, “Death Warmed Over,” in which he postulates that, the best way to scare people is to never fully reveal the horror in a story or film, because what a reader/audience can imagine is far worse than anything a writer/filmmaker can show.  It is simply, the Fear of the Unknown.  Also, when, or if, it is conquered, an audience/reader can then translate that to their battles in overcoming their own demons.

Val Lewton, from the 40’s & 50’s filmmaking, was one of the best apostles of this method, using only sounds and shadows to convey terror.  And Hitchcock thought throwing in humor at times into suspense films gave the audience a needed time to recharge their batteries for the next scare.  The original film of Carpenter’s, “Halloween,” is a great example Bradbury’s theory, as when it was first shown on television, Portland opted to ban the film from their stations because it was too bloody.  In reality, there is only a small trace of blood at the beginning and never used again.  Also, the villain is masked in most of the film, again relying on an audience’s imagination to fill in the horror, as well as the blood.  This play has almost all of those classic elements.

And so, to begin this dark fairy tale, my clever children, as you are all nestled in your favorite chair or in bed:  Once Upon a Time there was a fair maiden, named, Chris (Agatha Day Olson)…well, to be honest, she may have been a “maiden” but she was anything but fair, as she was a bratty little teen.  And she lived in a giant castle…really a simple, suburban home in the Mid-west of the 70’s…where she lived with her rigid father, Arthur (Darius Pierce)…actually a bit of a milk-toast…and her beauteous mother, Carol (Sara Hennessy)…semi-step-mom, really, as they weren’t married and her real mother, Ellie (Sarah Taylor) died of cancer.

Anyway, they all lived peacefully…Not…in their abode until the day, daddy dearest, ran over a dragon…well, anyway, something nasty in their driveway, an animal, presumably, with feathers and teeth!  A  knight was soon to the rescue…actually, a neighbor boy, a cub scout, Hugo (Dámaso J. Rodriguez), with a thick, Germanic accent…and together they plotted to rid themselves of the evil—that is, until the creature (Nelda Reyes) seemed to be communicating with them.  A warning, though, if you are out to slay dragons, best be sure of who/what they are.  And, as most fairy tales end, they all lived happily ever after…and if you believe that, I got a bridge I can sell ya!

Well, obviously I can’t tell you much about the plot, as it has many twists and turns, and just when you thought you had it figured out, it twists again once more.  This is a grand story, fitting for a place in horror history.  And Rodriguez has a sterling cast for it that rides that thin balance between fright and frivolity.  Also, the visuals/graphics (designer, Andrés Alcalá) are super and added to the success of the production.

Olson has certainly grown up considerably, both physically and in character development, since her time as Helen Keller in their “The Miracle Worker.”  She certainly takes charge of the scenes here and relishes in them.  Hennessy, too, traverses a whole range of emotions and is equally convincing in portraying these horrific developments.  Pierce does a grand job of finding just the right balance of dark humor, coupled with genuine terror and playing a rather ineffectual, father image.  Young Rodriguez does a fine job of playing this oddly, heroic character but with a sense of befuddlement, and it works.

One comment about the script is that this is such a complicated story with many twists, as mentioned, the actors need to be sure that all the plot elements are clear.  At times, enunciation was a bit muddy, so best be aware of concentrating on the clarity of the story at all times.

I recommend this show but, be aware, that it does have horror as a theme and, although well offset with humor, still might be not suitable for everyone.  If you do choose to see the play, please tell them Dennis sent you.