Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Anatomy of Gray—Mask & Mirror Community Theatre—Tigard, OR

The Age of Discovery

This comedy-drama is written by Jim Leonard, Jr. and directed by Sarah Ominski.  It is playing at the Calvin Church, 10445 SW Canterbury Lane in Tigard, through May 21st.  For more information, go to their site at www.maskandmirror.com or call 503-333-1139.

As Dickens famously wrote, in his opening to a classic novel, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” and so it is, too, with any age of discovery.  The years just after the end of the Civil War for America, through the thirties, were times of monumental changes and profound revelations.  Moving pictures, the end of slavery, women’s voting right, prohibition, the stock market crash, not to mention another War in Europe, electricity and the telephone, industrialization, et. al.  Medicine/health was not to be dismissed either, as they, too, were at the vanguard of change.  Leeches and home remedies were out and blood typing, pasteurization, quarantines, autopsies, sterilization from germs, etc. was in, or soon would be.

The time of this story is the mid-West of the 1880’s, the infancy of these changes.  But this is not just a history lesson but sprinkled with odds bits of parallels to other stories and characters, such as Professor Marvel from the Oz tales; a salute to Wilder’s, “Our Town,” both in story-telling style and personas; and, by the end, homage to, perhaps the most famous birth in history.  Ominski, the director, has the unenviable job of keeping it all together with just a few props, some authentic-looking period clothing by Viola Pruitt, nicely rendered, and some effective lighting by Brian Ollom.  And this cornucopia of oddities and tributes works surprisingly well and gives us a sample of a microcosm of human behavior having to deal, sometimes harshly, with change.

I really can’t tell you a whole lot about the plot, as much of it concerns devices which the audience should discover.  But the story has to do with a rural community, consisting of June (Caitriona Johnston), a teenager, and her mother, Rebekah (Renae Iversen), having just buried the patriarch of the family at the beginning of the play.  Pastor Winfield (Ted Schroeder) and his maiden sister, Tiny (Donna Haub), seem to be the head of a rather religious township.  Other prominent citizens seem to be a dedicated farmer, Crutch (John Knowles), and his wife, Belva (Pat Romans); Maggie (Emily Smith), a bit of a gossip, who runs the town eatery and watering hole; and Homer (Linh Nguyen), although a friendly chap, a bit of a ne’er-do-well when it comes to actually working.  As well as a host of town-folk that, go with the flow.

Into their lives appears a doctor out of the blue (literally), Galen Gray (Aaron Morrow), who is a god-send to some, for other than medical reasons in some cases, and a curse to others,  as home remedies for ailments seem to be a thing of the past.  As he roots himself into the town, some radical changes must be made in their lives, which are not always welcome because, as a harbinger of progress, he alienates tried and accepted ways of dealing with health concerns and introduces, what some would consider, invasive ways of dealing with sickness.  And here is where I have to leave off, as the rest is for an audience’s eyes and ears only.  But a major medical issue will manifest itself and all their lives will change forever.

I’ve always liked the story-telling approach to plays, as it rests solely on an actor’s talent, the author’s words and an audience’s imagination to relate the story.  This production lends well to that philosophy.  Morrow, as the key character, does very well with the role, having to waver back and forth between being understanding with folks and yet needing to introduce new ways of dealing with things.  Smith and Knowles do very well in giving us a sample of rural mentality of over a hundred years ago.  And, Johnston, as another focal character, is extremely good, revealing the angst of a youth, not entrenched yet with the old ways but curious and eager to be exposed to the new.  A difficult role but she does it well.  It would be good to see more of her onstage.

I recommend this show.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.