Sunday, June 15, 2014

Pimento & Pullman—Imago Theatre—SE Portland

Rules of Engagement

These two, absurdist one-acts are directed by Jerry Mouawad and produced by Carol Triffle (Imago’s founders and artistic directors).  Pimento is written and directed by Mouawad.  Pullman Car Hiawatha is written by Thornton Wilder and also directed by Mouawad.  The plays run through this weekend only, June 15th, at their space at 17 SE 8th Ave.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-231-9581.

Pimento is the shorter of the two pieces, less than a half hour.  Actually the definition of the word is a spice like, I suppose, that red thing in green olives, or a pigment.  In terms of a palette for this piece, the colors of the costumes are all over the map.  And the spice is that it is a bit racy or, better said for its time, saucy.  For its broadness in characterizations, it does have something in common with the supporting roles in Beauty and the Beast.  For content, it has more in common with Beckett and Pinter.

The plot is relatively simple.  A mother (Carol Triffle) is attempting to introduce her daughter (Stephanie Elizabeth Woods) to the finer aspects and rules of being wooed and wooing.  The young man (Mark Mullaney), as the object of this encounter, is a soldier and seems as inept at this love game as she is.  They attempt various ways of making contact but with mama in the picture, that is not easy.

He brings candy, which only he enjoys…or not.  She giggles and coos and seems naïve of his advances…or not.  And mama finally occupies herself with other chores…or not.  And, oh, by the way, didn’t I tell you, this is all done in pantomime and gibberish, seemingly Germanic and Asian, depending on who’s speaking.  And the characters are something out of the Commedia del art school of acting.

But, and most importantly, in their presentation, they do succeed in getting their point across.  The photos on the table suggest the family history, they attempt to communicate through various means, with musical instruments, and dialogue, and even in a unguarded moment, sneak off, partly out of view of prying eyes (Mama’s and ours) to find a more intimate way to communicate, finally resulting in him drawing pictures of felines (think about it).  In the end, they do make beautiful music together.

The story may be slight, but the presentation is the show, thanks to its inventive director & writer, Mouawad. And all three of the cast members are very adept at stylized movement and over-the-top characters which, when all is said and done, seem very familiar if you think about it.  Well done to all!

Heaven & Earth…and All That Jazz

The second piece, Pullman… by Wilder, is the longer of the two, at just under an hour.  (Both Triffle and Mullaney, from the first show, are part of this ensemble, too.)  There are some identifiable Wilder touches in the play, who wrote the classic, Our Town.  There is a Narrator (Bill Barry, I assume, since no roles are actually identified) or Storyteller.  There is a fair amount of time dedicated to talks about death and what comes after…and went before.  They are about the small-town folk.  And they are done on a relatively bare stage with simple pieces to convey settings.

The time is winter, 1930, and a variety of people are on their way to Chicago on a train, for a variety of reasons.  The story seems to be influenced by a couple of men-in-black, who control the lighting, may manipulate the action, when necessary, and listen in on the prostrations and frustrations of the inhabitants.  These people are the common folk of our planet but do have aspirations, regrets, demons and dreams, just like all of us.

We are permitted, via our guides and the Storyteller, to visit this microcosm of society.  We hear what they are saying, view how they relate, contemplate what they are thinking and are exposed to the outcome of, at least, one life.  We also explore their views on literature, astronomy, theology, and philosophy.  And it is all done through playing musical chairs, to change settings; mini-monologues, to hear individual stories; tableaus or statues, to freeze a group experience; and stylized movement/dance, to give the story its flow.

A lot of territory is examined in these non-traditional presentations by Mouawad and cast.  Triffle, in particular, stands out, as the woman who goes to the end (or a new beginning) of her journey.  But the whole cast in both shows is very adept at movement, expression and simplicity in the presentation of the material.  Imago is famous for exploring these methods of examining the human condition.  My they live long and prosper!

I recommend this show but they are for a mature audience.  And, keep in mind, it ends this weekend.  If you do go, please tell them Dennis sent you.

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