Friday, January 24, 2014

Eyes For Consuela—Profile Theatre at Artists Rep—SW Portland

Ghosts of the Past

This memory play from the late 90’s is written by actor/director, Sam Shepard (from the short story, The Blue Bouquet, by Octavio Paz) and directed by Mikhael Tara Garver.  It will run through February 2nd.  It plays at the Artists Rep space at SW Alder St. & 16th Ave.  For more information go to their site at or call 503-242-0080.

Shepard, better known as a film actor, has actually been writing successful plays from the mid-60’s, having written well over 50 plays from then to now.  This play has an unreal, ethereal quality about it, much like Tennessee Williams’s, Camino Real’.  It is also a journey of a man named Henry (Michael Mendelson) to find his way home.  Not a home of a place and time but of the heart and soul.

But memory is a tricky thing.  It not only can store facts but will create realities, as necessary, for survival.  In one’s mind, all things can appear justifiable, plausible…and one is in control.  But the heart is unrelenting, unforgivable when truth becomes compromised.  And, “therein lies the rub.”  Perhaps, like Dorothy, who discovers, “there’s no place like home,” she needed to go over the rainbow before she found that truth.  And, so too, must Henry.

This is not a conventional story, so one must not take it at face value.  You enter his world from the moment you step through the door, a steamy jungle of mystic music, whisking images, and primal sounds.  On the surface it is about a man vacationing in Mexico, who is estranged from his wife.  Into his conventional world appears Amado (André Alcalá), seemingly a bandit on a quest to collect blue eyes for his beloved, Consuela (Crystal Ann Muñoz).  No real explanation is given for this strange addiction, except that it makes her smile, which is worth gold to Amado.

And so Henry, a gringo, must have blue eyes and thus his life could be forfeit.  Most of the play is then a dialogue between the two men, both separated from their mates, philosophizing about love, loss, longings and the search for truth.  In the background is an old man, Viejo (Gilberto Martin Del Campo), with one eye, who owns the room that Henry is staying and a mysterious lady, Ejekatl (Edna F. Vazquez), that provides mood music on a guitar for the atmosphere of the proceedings.  And, in and out, like a shadow, breezes Consuela, fanning the flames of hope and despair of both men.

Revealing more would only spoil discoveries an audience must make.  But, to give a hint, before one can move forward to what is, not what one has assumed to be, one must divest himself of the baggage of the Past.  It is a wrestling match, with no holds barred, in which either madness or truth will reign.  Will he be a man trapped forever, like Henry is, in a purgatory of his own making, or will he move forward, into a brave new world.  Although unresolved in the play, I’m betting on the latter.

Mendelson is simply terrific as Henry.  His kinetic energy pulsates through the story, giving it its drive.  His erratic behavior going from confusion, to frustration, to giving up, to fighting for control, to letting go of demons, to seeing the light, and sometimes all at once, is truly an amazing performance!  He’s a pro and an excellent choice for this role.  We spoke at some length afterwards and he imparted that an actor must find truth, believability in his character or the audience never will accept the reality of the story.  He exemplifies that in this performance, as others do, and that is why the show works.

Alcalá is also good as the counter-part or partner of Henry.  Is he too, a lost soul, the devil, or just another facet of Henry’s psyche?  A riddle that is balanced nicely by the actor, never fully revealing the secret.  And Muñoz, as the title character, floats in and out of this dream-state, like a cloud or breeze, only suggesting, never dictating, possibilities.  She is a lovely lady, giving roots to a whisper, which demands great physicality, and she succeeds well at it.  Vazquez creates the music that soothes or reflects the savage beast.  And Del Campo lends an eerie presence as a collector, of sorts.

The whole atmospheric design is well executed by Seth Reiser.  And the director, Garver, does not have an easy task of converting a poetic dream into a reality.  Interpretation is everything in pulling this play off and she has presented it extremely well.  It is obvious she and her actors know the Truth of the story.  And she now presents it to an audience, to offer to them their role in it, as ultimately the meaning is in the “eye of the beholder,” as it should be.  I believe she is an inspiration to the cast and I’m sure would make the playwright proud.

Again, if you are desiring to see a conventional play, this is not for you.  But if you want to be challenged by an amazing writer, director and cast, this is a must.  I recommend it.  If you do choose to go, please tell them Dennis sent you.

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