Sunday, February 2, 2014

The Monster-Builder—Artists Rep—SW Portland

The Ego-Builder

This is a world premiere of this dark comedy by Amy Freed and directed by Art Manke.  It will be playing at their space at SW Alder St. & 16th Ave. through March 2nd.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-241-1278.

This play does have some semblance to Ibsen’s The Master Builder or, perhaps, Faust.  And it does include an unabashed, one-for-the-ages, bad-guy, in the guise Gregor (Michael Elich), an architect extraordinaire’.  His purpose is quite straight-forward, really, it is, like all of history’s (and myth’s) ego-maniacal villains, to take over the world.  His firm is titled, appropriately, The Final Solution (ring any bells from another madman from WWII history?).
But he’s not interested in devouring land, like all good conquerors, but in re-shaping it, from the warmth and silence and majesty of Nature, to the cold, noisy, ugliness of concrete and steel, and glass and plastic.  An unnatural, bastard son of Art, where people are like ants and Gregor is their god….where machines and computers and robots are the masters and the rest of us, lowly obedient subjects (shadows of things to come, perhaps?).    Not too hard to understand, really, for a mad genius. He is, to say the least, an environmentalist’s worst nightmare.

Couple this with a ditzy, sexy, blonde girlfriend, Tamsin (Bhama Roget).  (A cousin, I believe, of Judy Holliday’s, dumb-blonde role, Billie, in Born Yesterday.)  She is all-groveling to her almighty caretaker (or is she?).  Into his sterile world appear some novice, virgin architects, Rita (Allison Tigard) and her husband, Dieter (Gavin Hoffman), just ripe for the picking.  They are on the verge of acquiring their first important job, the restoration of a historic boathouse. 

Their firm is called, The Third Place, where their focus is to preserve the past, exist in harmony with nature and re-establish a Commons or community space for people.  In other words, all that is alien to Gregor.  But they are also in need of funds, so must ally themselves with old-money, in the character of Pamela (Robin Goodrin Nordli), a home designer, who’s taste is all in her mouth, and her hick husband, Andy (Don Alder), a rag-to-riches reflection of his practical, rural, non-artistic background.  A union made in Hell all for all concerned (in one case, quite literally).

To give a couple of examples of their weird concoctions, Gregor has built a dementia wing of a hospital in the form of a maze, and Pamela and Andy want to suspend a canoe over their living room, like that plane they once saw in a museum.  This is the mentality of Freed’s alternate world of artists and builders.  But, for all to survive, compromises and sacrifices (one, quite literally) must be made. 

Really can’t reveal too much more or I would spoil the ending.  But, suffice to say, loyalties are strained, secrets revealed, one’s convictions are tested, and, like all good fairy tales, the dragons are destroyed, washed out to sea with the tide, and the knights and ladies, sailing into the sunset, are left to strive…hopefully, ever after.

Freed’s ending to this dark tale would be a bit silly, if not for the fact it is a dark comedy and not a drama.  Her story is quite powerful and appropriate for this day and age, a warning to all “monster-builders” and the people they serve, perhaps.  And Manke wields a deft hand in leading his terrific cast through the twists and turns of what appears to be a morality fable.  We reap what we sow…but beware the planters.  And the set, by Tom Buderwitz, is open and stark to reflect this scary tale, giving lots of playing room for the actors to expound, as well as giving us a glimpse of an all-too-real world.

Elich is consistently Machiavellian in his depiction of a truly evil man.  But he is also a man you loved to hate, by adding a dark humor to his portrayal.  Roget as his cohort, of sorts, is a delight.  She commands the stage when she’s on and slyly gives us brief glimpses into a more complex character.  You applaud Hoffman as the uncompromising, stalwart hero of the piece.  He portrays a man of his convictions, who never strays from straight and narrow.

Tigard, as Hoffman’s more complex partner, gives just the right mix of creating a woman you want to like but aren’t sure of her motives.  A nice balancing act by the actor.  Nordli, as the over-the-top client, is a scream.  She also has a way of commanding one’s attention, too, when onstage.  And Alder, as her hubby, gives us a rube, but with a home-down sense of truth, in that you just might find answers by listening to the silence.  A nice turn by this actor.

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

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