Friday, December 12, 2014

Six Characters in Search of an Author—Portland Actors Conservatory—SW Portland

“All the World’s a Stage…”

This classic drama by Luigi Pirandello is adapted to the stage by Steve Moulds and directed by Michelle Seaton.  It plays at their space at 1436 SW Montgomery St. through December 21st.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-274-1717.

The story may be a dream…an alternate reality…a type of purgatory…or, what you will.  It is existential in actuality and presented in a world the Artist knows best, the search for Truth in an ever-changing, ever-evolving Stage of Existence.  Is there a Divine Hand directing us or are we floundering on our own, in a Sea of Possibilities?  Or will we, akin to Groundhog’s Day, keep reinventing ourselves and our situations until we get it Right.  And, if so, Who decides what “Right” is?  Truth is elusive and, in reality, is in the “Eye of the Beholder,” as this presentation suggests.

At the beginning we are invited into the world of rehearsals, of actors, creating a scene…or so we think.  We are firmly set in the present, on an essentially bare stage, with an eager Director (Therman Sisco, Jr.) and his suspicious Stage Manager (Halie Becklyn).  The young Actor (Murri Lazaroff-Babin) and Actress (“TJ” Grady) are supposedly rehearsing a scene from Romero and Juliet (the next play to be presented by PAC in February) with the understudies, who will be taking it on tour.

Normal squabbles ensue as they prepare and rehearse the scene, explaining to the audience that this is all part of an Audience Engagement Event in which we get a sneak peek at the rehearsal process.  And it all goes according to plan until the lights flash and a group of people appear in outdated, mourning clothes, asking if they would be interested in creating a play about them.

They are a family, with an authoritarian Father (Todd Van Voris) and his anguished wife (Alexandria Castelle).  There is also the petulant Son (Nile Whent) and his moody Stepdaughter (Gwendolyn Duffy) and two morose children, a Girl (Agatha Olson) and a Boy (Saorsa Seid), who never speak.  They are, in short, looking for a writer to complete their story.  It seems their story has been abandoned by an author and so they must wander about looking for completion.  And actors to portray them, and this stage on which to present their story, seem an ideal solution.

But their story is a sad one, consisting of adultery, death and estrangement.  Perfect fodders, one may think, for such a melodrama for the stage.  Only one major problem seems to stand in their way:  The Characters are living the story, the actors would only be playing the drama.  And thus, is revealed, the heart of the play, what is Reality/Truth and what is Fantasy or Make-believe/Pretend?  Do we not all enact parts, appearing as one type of person to loved ones, another manifestation to acquaintances, another role for strangers, et. al.?

So, we too, may be searching for an Author…a Creator…God(?).  We, perhaps, can only truly comprehend our neighbors, our world, ourselves by seeing through the eyes of others and walking in their shoes.  It is a large question the play presents and one should walk out of it, not with easy answers, but with more hard questions.  It is called learning, and in learning, we evolve.

I, myself, have had the pleasure of playing the Stage Manger/Director in the original play back East and my friend, Dave, who came with me, had played the Father, in a local production of this old classic.  So we were well versed in the timeless story, but it was refreshing to see it updated so well (by Moulds) and accessible to a modern audience.  It not only revives the still unanswered questions the play suggests but also gives one a glimpse into the artistic mind of the theatre.

Seaton has done a good job of pulling out all the basic questions that haunt this story but also has contrasted it with the freshness of a newer age looking at it with fresh eyes.  And Van Voris, as the Father of his brood, is excellent.  I have always marveled at his ability to make dialogue seem so conversational and natural, as if one were intruding upon a private world of a person.  He is also a thinking actor onstage and you can sense his character’s logic, even when flawed, making the role very human.  Always look forward to seeing this gentleman onstage!

Duffy, as the Stepdaughter, had the necessary fire and determination to make the role an image for strong women, even in a period of time when it was not acceptable.  Whent, as the Son, had the right brooding quality that made you dislike him but also fell sorry for him.  And Sisco, Jr., as the Director, had all the right moves as a cocky upstart who wants to be noticed but has the good sense to listen when necessary.  The rest of the cast, all students of the school, gave a good showing of what expert training can do for an actor.

PAC will be celebrating 30 years in a Gala Celebration at the Benson Hotel on March 7th.  And Romeo and Juliet premiers February 11th.  Check their website for more information.

I recommend this show.  If you do see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

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