Monday, March 17, 2014

A Small Fire—Portland Center Stage—NW Portland

The Inner Fire

This drama is playing at PCS’s space at 128 NW 11th Ave.  It is written by Adam Bock and directed by Rose Riordan.  It will be playing through March 23rd.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-445-3700.

The show may be under 90 minutes in playing time but creates a hushed wallop.  Although many dramas have approached the subject on being incapacitated, physically and mentally, this one goes through the back door, letting us become aware of the effects, not only on loved ones, but of the person herself.  The world of silence for them might just be bursting with inner fire.

Emily (Peggy J. Scott) is a very successful erecter of buildings and is on the go constantly, both physically and mentally.  Her husband, John (Tom Bloom), is a quieter soul, trying to be supportive of Emily’s lifestyle.  Billy (Isaac Lamb) is her trusted, right-hand man on the job and good friend.  And, Jenny (Hollye Gilbert), their daughter, is somewhat estranged from her Mom and her demanding lifestyle.

When we first meet them, Jenny is on the verge of getting married to the man of her dreams, Henry, but not of her Mom’s dreams for her.  They are in the process of planning for her wedding.  But a small fire in the kitchen will be the cause for their house of cards to come blazing to the ground.  It seems that Emily has left a burner on and a towel has caught fire.

The burning is not the issue, but the fact that Emily was unable to smell the smoke.  In fact she loses her sense of smell altogether.  And with the sense of smell being gone, her sense of taste soon follows.  Doctors are unable to find any cause for this.  Her sight is next to follow.  The wedding goes forward anyway, with John giving a blow by blow description for her of the proceedings at the reception.

But, then, hearing is gone, and she is virtually trapped in her own body.  The steadfast Billy takes charge of the company, while her daughter pulls further away.  He even takes John with him to a pigeon race…yes, I said a contest in which pigeons race…just to get him involved in something besides dealing with the realities at home (a wonderfully amusing scene).

But there is still another way to communicate, for two people in love for so long.  And they discover that there is a way of touching on the inner life of a person, and that they still feel…they’re still there.  I won’t expose the secret but it does end on a hopeful note.

This is a very simple but moving story.  Not given over to being overly-sentimental or mawkish.  All the characters have issues and are certainly not perfect.  But what we see or sense on the outside is not all that makes up a person.  We should appreciate what we have, of course, as we all probably take things for granted to some extent.  But there is still that soul or inner essence of one that is unique, alive, and will rage till the “dying of the light.”

Riordan seems to have captured the underlying mood of this piece and its characters and gently nudged them along a rather slippery slope between sentiment and sensibility.  And the set (Tony Cisek) also reflects the simplicity and yet creates mood for each of the scenes.

Scott, as Emily, is a delight.  She presents a no-nonsense lady who goes through her changes with a stubbornness as she refuses to be reduced to a seeming vegetable.  Quite a performance.  And Bloom, as her husband, is also good in creating the lap of quiet resolve by standing by his partner.  Gilbert and Lamb also give powerful support in their roles.  Gilbert is particularly effective in the scene when dressing her Mom for the wedding and Lamb is terrific in the rooftop scene of watching the pigeon race.

I would recommend this play but it does have some adult situations and language that may not be for everybody.  If you do go, please tell them Dennis sent you.

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