Friday, September 8, 2017

Hand to God—Triangle Productions!—NE Portland

“…Got No Strings On Me”

This dark comedy is written by Robert Askins and directed and designed by Donald Horn (Triangle’s Artistic Director and Founder, 28 years ago!).  It is playing at their space in The Sanctuary, 1785 NE Sandy Blvd., through September 30th (free parking in the lot, west of the bldg.).  For more information, go to their site at www.trianglepro.org or call 503-239-5919.

Yes, it has to do with puppets…No, it is not for kids (or ultra-sensitive adults)!  The main character has more in common with Norman Bates in “Psycho;” the book (William Goldman and movie, w/Anthony Hopkins) “Magic;” Stevenson’s, “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde;” Regan in “The Exorcist;” and Rod Serling’s mad puppeteer (Cliff Robertson) on a Twilight Zone episode (or the original, Michael Redgrave in the 40’s film, “Dead of Night”).  So, Jason (Caleb Sohigian), in this play, would be in good company and identify somewhat with these individuals, as they all had an alter-ego (in Jason’s case, Tyrone) who was out for no-good.  But, as Horn says, “I believe we all have a bit of Tyrone in us—if we recognize it, we can control it and be a better person because of it.”

We are, in my opinion, like that little car in the center circus ring that, when it opens, a thousand clowns pour out and we are in wonder as to how all those clowns could fit into that tiny vehicle.  But, if we picture our body as that wee auto and consider all the different facets of ourselves that emerge, depending on the company, then we can see that it is not too hard to consider other “personalities” within ourselves.  And, if one of them is slightly “mad” and/or hidden, as in the cases mentioned above, and something triggers that lunatic side, then we have a problem, as well as behavior characteristics that society would frown on.

The setting is a Christian school ministry in Texas, in which children are taught about God and his teachings through sock puppets.  Margery (Sarah Lucht), a recent widow, is the head instructor and Jason’s mom.  She has been charged by her strict pastor, Greg (Mark Schwann), to present stories from the Bible, with this puppetry program, to the congregation.  But her students are an odd lot.  Jessica (Olivia Weiss) seems to be a sexual and socially repressed girl.  But one of her teammates, Timothy (Colton Ruschenisky), a hunk, is totally the opposite, bursting at the seams (quite literally) with unrealized manhood. And then there is Jason, her disconnected son, who may have taken a detour into the dark side, as Tyrone, his alter-ego, sock-it-to-me, puppet, may be taking him on more than just a “walk on the wild side” but may have found a residency there, too.

Really can’t tell you too much more about the plot without giving away secrets, so will just have to content yourself with the fact that it does, as Horn expresses, “...bring up questions about death and dealing; love and what it really means to love; sex and how sometimes it is used wrongly; and how we see ourselves with others.”  And this does not just focus on the main character but on all of them, as they all have their crosses to bear.  It may seem like a sick world we live in now, but like any illness it can be cured and one of the first steps should be, like Horn postulates, referring to theatre as an outlet (and Sanctuary), “…we present shows that are about the human conditionwe are bringing up questions, putting them on the stage, so they can be discussed.”  Perhaps it can be viewed as a type of therapy, both for the actors and audience as well.

His actors, as always, are very professional in their approach and are perfect for the roles.  Lucht is a seasoned veteran and her performance here explores the depths of being a woman, as well as a parent, teacher and with “feet of clay.”  Weiss is a young performer, who I’ve seen before, is continuing to grow and expand in her characters, as she does here.  Schwann gives depth to what could have been just a one-dimensional character, as you want to shake your fist at him in one instance, then feel sorry for him in the next.  Ruschenisky comes off as a brash, pushy kid but you also see a more vulnerable side, as he wrestles with conflicting emotions within.

And Sohigian is quite a revelation.  He takes a character than could easily be exaggerated and pulls it close to the breast, which makes him all the more believable.  Playing monsters are the easy part, one just has to rant and rave, but portraying the “monster” inside, portraying him as another “side of the same coin,” gives a frightening reality to it.  His voice and expressions, often overlapping each other, as he exposes himself, are never overdone, quite a feat for a performer and a tribute to the actor!

A shout-out should also be given to Murri Lazaroff-Babin as the fight and combat choreographer.  There are a number of physical confrontations in the shows and his stylized picturing of them is very effective.  And Horn, as always, gives us something to think about.  His approach to this one seems to be to keep it grounded, organic, so it never breaks the walls of a heighten reality.  I always learn something new from his shows, both artistically and educationally.  “May he live long and prosper!”

The quotes of Horn are from a response to a letter sent by a disgruntled patron, accusing Horn of “Christian bashing” (this is without seeing the show, of course).  The full response can be seen on his website.

As mentioned, this is not for those who are offended by strong language and adult situations (or, maybe, they are just the people who need to see it).  I highly recommend this show.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you