Sunday, April 30, 2017

The Talented Ones—Artists Repertory Theatre—SW Portland

To Dance, Perchance to Dream

This very dark comedy is a World Premier by Yussef El Guindi and directed by Jane Unger.  It is playing at their space, SW Alder St. & 16th Ave., though May 21st.  For more information, go to their site at www.artistsrep.org or call 503-241-1278.

This story is so full of twists and turns from the beginning, I can only reveal a thumbnail sketch of the story, lest I give away too much.  But there are a couple of sub-stories, underlying the main thread, that I can dwell on a bit.  Anyway, the plot does have some passing resemblance to an earlier work by El Guindi called, “Threesome,” which I a reviewed at PCS a couple seasons ago.  He is insightful as he dwells on relationships and how complicated they are between men and women.

This, then, is the story of three individuals:  Omar (John San Nicolas), working a mundane job while his real passion is to be a writer; his wife, Cindy (Khanh Doan), works as a nurse, but her burning desire is to be a ballet dancer;  and their best friend, Patrick (Heath Koerschgen), has no aspirations whatsoever into artistic realms.  He claims just to be an ordinary guy with “traditional” dreams of having a house, wife and kids, and maintaining a middle-class existence.  But, like all intense connections between people, “a little rain must fall.”

Two other characters key to this story are Omar (Michél Castillo) and Cindy (Madeleine Tran), the younger selves of key characters, both immigrants from other countries.  Both of them having dreams of a life without wars, poverty and a chance to be free and explore their talents.  But, as a friend of mine who is an immigrant explained, when you are not born into this country, or are of a different race, the expectations that are put on you to succeed are higher, as you not only have to be good at something—you have to be the Best!  This line of reasoning is explored in this plot as well.

Another sub-heading, that encompasses the title, is about the drive, the need, the obsession to be an artist.  I can speak personally on this, having been in the theatre arts for many years myself and, most recently, as a writer.  Many of us do have a Muse, sometimes an actual person in our lives, or sometimes, as in my case, an imaginary being that guides our artistic course.  It demands to be satisfied and nourished and, this desire, if left idle for too long, can become disruptive to the host’s being.  As in Cindy’s case, it can make you physically ill or, in Omar’s case, it can interrupt the progress of everyday, non-related activities.  In short, let it flow.  I’m sure Guindi is familiar from whence I speak.

Part of Guindi’s success as a playwright is his ability to inject humor into his story, even in the most dire of circumstances.  His characters also have an odd sort of logic as to how they approach things that, although seemingly superficial, have a “down-home” sort of sense to it.  They are like ships passing each other in a fog, seeing the outline of the other being(s) but unable to make a connection.  You may not whole-heartedly like these individuals but you do sense that somehow you know them.  The ending may be bittersweet but you do see a ray of hope trickling in.

San Nicolas portrays beautifully this conflicted character, a man who is disgustingly honest in some ways, but is having trouble balancing the practical and artistic worlds he faces.  Koerschgen’s character blunders and barges his way through life and who may be his own worst enemy.  Well done.  And Doan is terrific as the level-headed and yet passionate Cindy.  Your hearts goes out to her as she tries to navigate the “troubled waters” of reality and yet be true to her Muse.  I hope to see more of her onstage as she has a natural approach to acting which gives her an immediate believability.  Castillo is convincing as the wide-eyed young man in search of dreams.  Tran is also effective in giving us that innocence of the youth we all experienced that should never be forgotten.  She is a lovely dancer in her ballet number.

Unger certainly understands the script and the cast as she carefully weaves together a difficult tale traversing often conflicting ideals and ideas.  Sarah Jane Hardy (Artistic Director of NW Children’s Theatre) choreographed the ballet sequence and her talent shines through, as it does with all her choreography and directing.

I recommend this show but it is very adult in subject matter so not for the very young or those easily offended.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.