Friday, May 26, 2017

Thom Paine (based on nothing)—Crave Theatre—SE Portland

A Creator’s Raffle

This one-man play by Will Eno, starring the one and only, Todd Van Voris, and directed by its co-founder, Sarah Andrews, is an opening act for a new theatre in town.  Crave is playing this production at the Shoe Box Theater, 210 SE 10th Ave., through June 11th.  For more information, go to their site at www.artful.ly/store/events/10321 or call 360-931-5664.

This play, like many theatre pieces now, is not so much what it’s about but how it’s presented, a sort of realistic expressionism, if you like.  The story, as such, is about a little boy, “Thom” (Van Voris), who has grown up but has never forgotten when tragedy struck his life and his innocence was lost.  He had more sad experiences throughout his existence and has learned that to survive pain one must embrace it as not so much a part of Life but, perhaps, as Life itself.

His story is related in a haphazard, stream-of-consciousness way, as if trying to avoid the issue, the pain, so he distracts himself with whatever occurs to him at the time, a lame joke, a raffle, making a patron disappear, flirting with the audience…any kind of babble that bubbles up in his brain at the time.  As if avoiding Life/Pain (really living, in other words), will somehow deaden it.  There is no doubt that when Innocence/Paradise is lost, there is a fierce need to vainly try to reclaim it.

Is that what the author is trying to tell us?  Possibly, but maybe not.  What is more important is what effect it has on the listener, the viewer.  What does it mean to you?  The above is my synopsis of the story but, as just mentioned, it is more than that.  And, with that in mind, I will give you the flavor of the presentation, as experienced through my eyes and ears.  The writing, the style of story-telling, by the way, has much in common with Vonnegut, such as “Slaughterhouse Five” or “From Time to Timbuktu” and Pinter, such as “Krapp’s Last Tape,” if you need a point of comparison.

Anyway, my take of his perspective:  Child connecting with reality/death through lightning…fear of love…higher aspirations dashed…instant gratification…awareness…lost in the universe…a grain upon a grain…blind spots all around…repetition vs. originality…personality forms at night, in the darkness…mystery of the breeding years…inner life…what speaks to me…be stable, said the trainer to the horse…body vs. mind vs. memories…images of self…intermingling…stories within others’ stories…trying….  -All colors of the rainbow, all gears of the windmills of the mind.

But, another perspective, and one I like, from the Director/Co-Founder, Andrews, her reflection of the play, “…challenges us to consider what happen if we, as humanity, in particular, as a country, all cared about each other a little bit more…it would be a start.”    This hits home especially with the turmoil in our country, the world, is in now.  Like I said, all sorts of interpretations here and all valid, I believe.

The play is done in a cabaret, black-box style, which I’ve always liked, because it forces attention on the story, the artists and the audience’s imagination with nothing getting in the way of the artistic experience.  Andrews has done a wonderful job of keeping the story just out of balance enough that you feel yourself scooting closer to the action to make sure you’re not missing anything.

And her choice of an actor for the lead, Van Voris…well, let me put it this way, his talent is so far-reaching that he could be reading the phone book and you’d marvel at it!  He really is so good that, as disjointed as the piece appears, you still feel a symbiotic relationship with him, as you accept what he is saying and believe in his plight.  A rare gift that all actors strive for.  His careful phrasing, his subtle nuances, his improvisational style, his pregnant pauses full of meaning…all perfect for this character.  He is one of a few actors that I’d go see the show simply knowing that he was going to be part of it!  May he live long and prosper.

This is the first outing for this company and, on the quality they have exhibited here, I don’t think it will be their last.  There are nearly a hundred groups, I believe now, in the greater Portland area.  So one might ask themselves, why another?  The answer is simple.  Artistic quality, vision and passion know no bounds, except those you put on yourself.  Art will out!

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