Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Angry Brigade—Third Rail Repertory Theatre—SE Portland

Revolting

This dark comedy is written by James Graham and directed by Rebecca Lingafelter and Isaac Lamb.  It is playing at the Imago space, 17 SE 8th Ave. (just off Burnside), through April 15th.  (Parking in this area is difficult, so plan your time accordingly.)  For more information, go to their site at www.thirdrailrep.org or call 503-546-6558.

Either definition of the above word is appropriate—ugly/disgusting or new change.  You assume when people consider a violent revolt, they have tried more peaceful, diplomatic means of solving differences.  Not always so, of course.  Teens go through a rebellious stage in which authority (parents, teachers, et. al.) are the “old ways” of thinking and thus, the new guard, progressive ways of looking at things, is preferred by the Young.

We, in America, went through a revolution when we broke away from England.  Also, the Civil War can be considered such a revolution, too.  In the States, during the 60’s & 70’s we had the Sexual revolution, protests against the Viet Nam war and Civil Rights marches, etc.  “We shall overcome….”  America survived it all and came out changed in many ways because of them.  Europe had its share of conflicts, too, over the last several years.

But the year of this story is the early 1970’s in London, as a group of bombings occurred from a group only known as the “Angry Brigade.”  They seemed out to destroy anything that even smelled of wealth, conservative politics and the government, big business, religious groups, the military and Scotland Yard, any kind of authority.  They also taunted the police and its special, secret force that was bent on capturing them.

The fastidious Smith (Nick Ferrucci) was in charge of the operation, which consisted of the straight-laced, Henderson (Kerry Ryan), the free-spirited, Morris (Ben Tissell), and the newbie, Parker (Quinlan Fitzgerald).  Their strategy to catch the culprits was…to get inside their heads, think like them, read the same books, listen to the same music, interview witnesses/informants, find the patterns they had that woven into the established society, etc.  Meanwhile these terrorists were taunting the police with letters and phone calls (not unlike the infamous, Jack the Ripper).  Eventually these policing methods would succeed and lead to the gang’s downfall.

But the second half of the story, covering the same time period, is told from the Brigades’ POV.  There is the leader of the group, John (Ferrucci, again), and his main squeeze, Hilary (Fitzferald, again) and two recruits, Anna (Ryan, again) and her main guy, Jim (Tissell, again).  Not surprisingly, they have had troubled childhoods with stern/abusive parents, being sent away to schools with strict discipline and felt they hadn’t had a chance to “sow their wild oats.” (One restrictive religion here encourages their Youth to spend the time to let off steam in the big cities, then, if convinced that is for them, they follow it.  If not, they return home and become part of the religious way of life.  Smart move.)

Why did they use the methods they did, bombings, to get their message across, is unclear.  But they wanted their message to be noticed and felt a loud bang would awaken the world, as it had in other countries.  Unfortunately, it’s true, “the squeaky wheel gets the grease,” and so, the only way they felt they would get noticed was…to make noise.  Can’t tell you more without revealing discoveries the audience should make.  And so, it’s in your lap, now.

The remarkable thing about this production is the style.  The first act, with the police, resembles a Monty Python skit, or the silent films’ Keystone Kops.  It is definitely played for laughs and, although a serious subject, it works, as the ingenuity of this motley crew eventually tracks down the culprits (perhaps, not unlike, Inspector Clouseau –Peter Sellers, as inept as he was, he usually got his man).  To offset this, the second half, although having its imaginary moments, is mostly serious, perhaps pointing out the enormous gap between generations, perspectives and ways of thinking and getting things accomplished.

These attitudes seem to be prevalent throughout the world and history.  It is said that if we haven’t solved the mistakes of the Past, we are bound to repeat them.  If we continue to judge others by our own views, we are doomed to be similarly judged by future generations.  Best choice of all, perhaps, don’t judge, just listen.

The cast of four is amazing, playing over a dozen characters.  It must have been a nightmare offstage as to, “who am I this time.”  All of them are pros and it’s evident in the approach they make in adopting other characters, usually with only bits of costumes to represent physically the other roles.  Kudos to them, and the directors, for keeping this on track and making sure the story comes through all the antics.  Also, great job by Peter Ksander, as the scenic designer.  His collapsible set is unique and is relevant to the themes of the play.

I recommend this play but, keep in mind, it is adult subject matter.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.