Monday, April 14, 2014

The Quality of Life—Artists Rep—SW Portland

Rules of the Game

The NW premiere of this searing drama by Jane Anderson is directed by Allan Nause (former Artistic Director for Artists Rep).  It plays at their space at SW Alder St. & 16th Ave through May 11th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-241-1278.

The rules of the game, when dealing with life, love and death are…that there are no rules.  We are all made up, on the outside, of the same elements…clay, ashes, dirt, atoms, water, DNA/RNA, “sugar & spice and puppy-dog tails,” whatever….  But how these clay-footed lumps relate to one another, and to Mother Earth, may be the ultimate question while alive.

No need to look to the heavens for that answer, it is not there, it is, within ourselves.  We have free will and reasoning powers “and, therein, lies the rub.”  These are just some of the thoughts that ran through my mind after seeing this heart-wrenching, thought-provoking play.

And, as an added bonus to Andersen’s gripping drama, we have Nause (the Director), Susannah Mars (Dinah), Michael Fisher-Welsh (Bill), Linda Alper (Jeannette), and Michael Mendelson (Neil), all long-time icons of theatre here, to explore with us the dilemma of existence, meaning, communication, relationships, responsibility and tolerance, among other things.  And, let me tell you, folks, with these artists at the helm to explore these areas with, it doesn’t get any better than this!

The story begins with Jeanette and Neil, living primitively, out the Wild in a Yurt (a type of Mongolian tent).  Their house was destroyed in one of California’s famous fires and forced them to change their lifestyle.  But, for these baby-boomers and, presumably, ex-hippies, this doesn’t seem much of a stretch.  They are both in the creative arts field and “tree-huggers” as well.

They have decorated their trees with remnants of their former life and only thing they seem to be missing is their beloved cat, who was lost in the fire.  Oh, yes, and Neil also has incurable cancer and opts for pot, rather than hospital treatment for his illness.  They are “soul-mates” and seem comfortable with the limited choices left to them.

Into these idyllic lives enter Dinah and Bill, relations from the mid-west and, one gets the feeling, somewhat estranged.  They are from a different world of computers, construction, straight-laced and “born-again” Christians.  They have also dealt with loss and seem to have a common but shaky ground for dialogue with them.

But grief, isolation, opposing viewpoints strike a raw chord in this music of the spheres.  What one thinks they see and hear, may not be what is.  Old wounds are exposed, skeletons are revealed and their worlds are turned dramatically around by the end of the play.  I cannot tell more of the story without revealing what should be discovered by the audience.  But, it is an emotional journey, not only for them, but for us, too.

Fisher-Welsh, begins the trip as the least sympathetic of the group, but shows by the end, that he is more complex than that.  It is a character we can laugh at, perhaps, but in his adept hands, it is far from a stereotypic creation.  Mars, as his wife, may appear to be a little dense or naive at first, but in that simplicity of demeanor, lies a simmering volcano.  And, in her expert hands, she leads us carefully, step-by-step, to the depths of this person’s being.

Alper gives us a picture of a character, seemingly perfectly content at communing with Nature, but secretly harboring doubts and confusion as to decisions that have or must be made.  Again, a complex role, well-presented by her.  And Mendelson, always a joy to watch, as you can see him thinking onstage, considering his next moves in character.  His relaxed demeanor as Neil, with his racked body and spirit, still seems to “rail against the dying of the light.”  A wonderful performance.

And Nause is a master at working with actors.  He seems to relish in the complexities in the characters he is helping to create.  He’s aware of the rhythm of the piece, the humor, even in the most dire of circumstances, and the nuances inherent in the make-up of the play’s personas.  I couldn’t imagine anyone else leading this production.  And the set, by Tim Stapleton, is a wonder to behold.  It is not only functional but a work of art in itself.  You feel you are there.|

Perhaps the best summing up of the show I heard was, when Mendelson comes bounding out on stage for his curtain-call, after playing such a sickly role, an audience member remarked, “Oh, I’m so glad he got better.”  Pure gold.  My conclusion, about questions raised in this show, maybe we should all just love each other a little more…till the end…and let the rest of “the world slide….”

I recommend this show, but it is heavy in emotion and adult content.  If you do go, please tell them Dennis sent you.

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