Monday, January 26, 2015

Gender Tree—Post 5 Theatre—SE Portland

“What a Piece of Work is Man”

This play is also part of the Fertile Ground Festival and is presented at their space at 1666 SE Lambert St.  It is written by Cassandra Boice and directed by her husband, Ty (co-founder and Artistic Director of Post 5).  FYI…into this “Fertile” atmosphere will be a new addition, any day now, for another budding artistic talent, I’m sure.  A wee thing but their own.  Congrats!  The play performs through February 14th.  For more information, go to their site at

This play would be hard to summarize in any coherent form, so I’ll do it in an incoherent way (which might match the play’s intent, anyway).  In a few words, it’s about how one identifies themselves, or perhaps, is identified by others.  One person might look at you and see a specific race or culture as your identity and, because of that, assume certain things.  Another might see you in your chosen career or economic field and make certain assumptions based on that.  Some might define you as to your religious or political beliefs.  Others, as to your sexual preference…

You see the pattern, don’t you?  It really is not the other person you’re analyzing, but yourself!  How you perceive things may not be how they see them.  As Atticus Fitch (To Kill A Mockingbird) observed, to truly understand another person, you have to get into their skin and walk around in their shoes for awhile.  That really can’t be done so, the next best thing might be to try and understand the species of life in general and how we involved into humankind.

Ms. Boice has chosen to relate this epic tale through the eyes of two individuals, a man (Philip J. Berns) and a woman (Rebecca Ridgeour).  The two of them go through many costume changes to define their roles and relationships in life.  There are the young children, discovering sex for the first time; a bondage relationship; exclusivity vs. open-ended connections; a “coming-out” period; educational forums; breadwinner role-reversals; pregnancy, continuation of the species vs. career choices; et. al.  This is certainly simplifying her issues but the discoveries should lie with the viewer.

The second act is done in gibberish and mime and quickly goes through the origin of life from the amoeba stage to our modern day, presented, again, mainly through the quick-changes of clothing and an absolutely astounding two actors.  There is also the addition of a slide show, with quotes from various historical icons, music from various periods of time as they evolve and video of the present-day common man expressing his views on gender and identity.

Ms. Boice has covered a difficult and complex subject in about an hour’s timeframe.  An amazing feat to be attempted and, even through not conclusive, certainly thought and dialogue provoking.  Amazingly, even though it would have been easy to fall into the trap of thrusting her own viewpoints of this into her work, she avoids that and doesn’t make any judgments on the lifestyles of the beings concerned.  Thankfully she allows us to glean what we will from what she weans.

Only two suggestions I would make.  The voices on the videos are very uneven and unintelligible sometimes.  Also a couple of minutes could be trimmed from the second act as it becomes a bit repetitious at times, although the actors are marvelous.  Mr. Boice has done a super job of keeping the story moving and the scenes clean for intent amid the rapid-fire chaos of the storytelling style.  And I can’t say enough good things about the actors.  They must be physically and emotionally exhausted by the end of the show.  Being an actor himself, Boice is familiar with the rigors of performing and can easily be called “an actor’s director.”

Berns is always an asset to every production he’s involved with, regardless of doing a one-man performance (A Christmas Carol) or only a small part in a play.  This performance is a true highlight in his career and, I’m sure, more will gladly be seen of him in the future.  Ridgeour is equally extraordinary.  She, like Berns, gives a clear definition to all the various incarnations she portrays.  She is also someone to watch for in future shows and would be an asset to any production.

I recommend this production but it is definitely adult in nature.  If you do choose to see it, please tell then Dennis sent you.

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