Monday, October 14, 2013

The Submission—defunkt theatre at the Backdoor Theater—SE Portland

"…A Little Bit Racist…"
This intense drama is written by Jeff Talbott and directed by Andrew Klaus-Vineyard.  It plays at the Backdoor theater space, 4319 SE Hawthorne Blvd. and is produced by the defunkt theatre.  It runs through November 16th.  Go to their site at for more information.

That phrase immediately comes to mind from the musical, Avenue Q, from a song that has the line, “Everyone’s a little bit racist sometimes…,” when attempting to describe one of the points of this searing drama.  We all have our biases, that’s obvious, but some of us our extremists in our views and attempt to enforce them on others.  An Extremist’s viewpoint on anything is a breeding ground for Intolerance.  Wars have been fought over such issues.

Religion, sexual orientation, the color of one’s skin and even one’s chosen career can be a cause for being abused, shunned and/or brought up for ridicule.  Not so long ago, many bars had signs on their doors stating, “No Dogs or Actors Allowed!”  Anything is fair game in the mouth of a bigot. 

And even innocuous words/phrases like “Being American” or “Normality” or “Freedom” can be up to scrutiny.  Perception of the World, of Life, is in the eye of the beholder.  And Woe to those who don’t perceive it as they do.

The story concerns Danny (Matthew Kern), a gay playwright, who has spent five years writing a script.  But, being white, he is reluctant to enter it into a contest, as the subject matter is about Afro-Americans attempting to break out of the Projects and find a better life for themselves.  His good friend, Trevor (Matthew Dieckman), hails it as a work of art.

Buoyed by this praise, he lets his partner, Pete (Bjorn Anderson) read it and he is equally enthusiastic.  It is entered in the prestigious Humana Festival and wins.   So Danny hires an Afro-American actress, Emile (Andrea White), to pose as the author. 

At first the relationships are harmonious but complications arise as Danny’s project seems obsessive, and Pete feels their relationship slipping away.  It is said the “Art is a cruel mistress.”  Also, Trevor and Emile become “an item,” which further muddies the waters.

As Emile takes the author role personally, Danny feels alienated from his own work.  And, as in many volatile situations, the relationships quickly spiral downhill, until raw nerves are exposed and prejudices come to the forefront.  Needless to say, everything does not end well for all concerned and lives are changed forever.

This is a no-holds barred production and is extremely expressive in exposing the inner turmoil and torture of haunted and, perhaps, hunted souls.  It shows us, without apology, what we are capable of in our darkest moments.  It is bringing to light what is hidden or unknown in, perhaps, all of us.  It is holding up a mirror to ourselves, then turning it inside out.

This play is very frank in its language and adult situations, and intense to the extreme.  So, be warned, it may not be for everybody.  But, that being said, it is also powerfully portrayed by some very accomplished actors.  The ending is a bit muddy but, perhaps, it is written that way, acknowledging that Life oft-times does not neatly tie up all things.

Klaus-Vineyard has steered his cast well into “trouble waters” and has allowed them to explode on this small stage.  He has explored all the nooks and crannies of the psyche and let the pieces fall where they may.  One may say that he and his cast, I’m sure, have delved deep into themselves to bring us such a searing portrait of our society.  (I particularly liked the projections on the floor to explain the settings.)

Anderson is very believable as a man in love with an artist, who is obsessed/possessed by his Art.  A neatly tailored performance of a complex man.  Dieckman is also good in the  unenviable role of the best friend/lover of parties involved.  His dilemma is understandable as he vainly tries to please all parties.  A tough role but nicely done.

But the highest kudos go to White and Kern.  Matthew, as the writer, comes across in the early stages of the story as an appealing, polite person.  But, as the layers are stripped away, we see the pained, angry young man beneath.  An explosive and powerful performance! 

And White is his equal as the Afro-American lady, fighting for her rights as a woman, artist, and person of color.  She is also close companions with pain and secrets and, as an actor, in a performance to be reckoned with onstage.  An amazing, young lady and worth following in future endeavors!

I recommend this play.  If you do go, please tell them Dennis sent you.

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