Monday, March 20, 2017

Playhouse Creatures—CoHo Productions—NW Portland

Age of Discovery

This journey to the Past, for women in the theatrical arts, is written by April De Angelis and directed by Alana Byington.  It is playing at their space, 2257 NW Raleigh St., through April 8th.  (Parking on weekend nights is a major challenge in this area, partly due to construction projects, so plan your time accordingly.)  For more information, go to their site at www.cohoproductions.org or call 503-220-2646.

It wasn’t so many years ago that women finally gained some rights, e.g., to vote, inherit property, and even be part of the working class of people (although salary differences between them and men is still in dispute and sexual abuse/harassment is still an issue).  But, a couple hundred years ago, these signs appeared on many barroom and rooming house doors in America—“no dogs or actors allowed!”  So women, choosing the acting profession, had a double whammy.

In Shakespeare’s time, and before, they weren’t even allowed onstage (young men, whose voice had not yet change by puberty, had to play female parts in plays).  Those that did break these social and legal codes were often considered “tarts.”  Men even felt compelled to treat them as such and even watch them undress in their dressing rooms.  Nowadays, many theatres engage in cross-gender (as well as cross-cultural and age) casting.  But there were a handful of women then who dared to cross that imaginary line and appear onstage, because with the amount of make-up and wigs and elaborate costumes the characters wore, who could tell the difference?

Into this world we are thrust.  Doll (Jacklyn Maddux) begins by reminiscing with us about the days of the old, disused theatre she occupies, which was a vibrant place of activity.  She herself was only a “spear-carrier” and scene-changer or dresser for the company but got to know the cast very well.  There was the grand dame of the theatre world, Mrs. Betterton (Lorraine Bahr), also married to the boss, playing the lead females, like Cleopatra and Lady Macbeth.  She was considered the expert on the acting styles, various gestures and expression relaying different emotions (the silent film from the early 1900’s reflected this style, too).  She is onstage for the sake of Art itself, the Muse that drives performers.  But she was not without a softer side, giving people chances and imparting her techniques to them for their benefit.

Also, part of this world, are Mrs. Farley (McKenna Twedt, also co-producer) a bit of a snob and doing the job to attract the attention of men, a springboard to more mercenary goals.  Mrs. Marshall (Brenan Dwyer, also co-producer) is a more seasoned actor but is doing it for the money.  She is outspoken, a hard outer shell, exposing little mercy for others.  Nell Gywn (Dainichia Noreault) does come from the streets, doing “the nasty” with men for money.  She has zero experience on the stage but has a street savvy that protects her from falling completely on her face.  In short, she’s a survivor and ultimately breaks all the stage rules to discover a new way of entertaining onstage.

Then there is the musician/actor (Samie Pfeifer) who plays many instruments (and some offstage parts) but having no lines.  She is integral to the show, especially for the music she has composed for it.  An unspoken bit of something that speaks to the soul.  They all have their moments in the spotlight and they do shine!  More I cannot tell you without being a “spoiler,” but the journey is far from smooth and the outcome, still to be decided by future generations.  Note that almost all the ensemble onstage and behind the scenes is female and, according to CoHo’s Artistic Director, Philip Cuomo, people we can learn from, as to their professional methods.  The set by Kaye Blankenship is well-imagined, costumes by Jessica Carr, beautifully authentic, and fights by Kristen Munn, well-executed.  And, of course, the director, Byington, who cleverly has pieced it all together into a coherent story.

Kudos to the ladies of the “boards” and those that support them, and I would be remiss in not mentioning two prime contributors, in monies, of the “fairer” sex, Ellen Bye and the amazing, Ronni Lacroute.  I recommend this show.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.