Friday, May 22, 2015

The Undiscovered Country—Defunkt Theatre—SE Portland

Down the Rabbit Hole

This intense, adult drama about addiction is playing at their space in the back room of the Common Grounds Coffee House, 4319 SE Hawthorne Blvd. (it is street parking only, so plan your time accordingly) through June 20th.  The play is written by Portland’s DC Copeland and directed by Paul Angelo.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-481-2960.

This is a serious story about addiction, suicide, drugs, insanity and death (the “undiscovered country,” as per Hamlet, in which no man returns), make no mistake about it.  And the body count of the major characters at the end of this play is about the same as in Hamlet.  (No, I’m not being a spoiler, as the opening narrative tells us as much.)  The opening narration by Terry (Matthew Kern, Defunkt’s Artistic Director) also warns that the meek might, indeed, “inherit the earth,” but probably should make a quick exit now to avoid seeing the wrath of Life on the streets, as portrayed in these stories.

The four actors each play two characters in inner-related stories.  Terry (Kern) is on the lookout for true love and finds it in the body of Richie (Spencer Conway), who is, coincidently, playing Hamlet in the theatre.  Terry is also a supplier of drugs (as is his alter-ego, Bear).  He meets this delicious performer via his good friend Becca (Lynn Sher), also into drugs, who is in a loving relationship with Jess (Lauren Modica), that is, until she takes a walk one night and never comes back.

And then we have a rock star wannabe, Angie (Sher) and her abusive boyfriend, Tony (Conway).  Their whole lives are tied up with sex, drugs and rock & roll.  As mentioned, most of these people die by the end of that story but the dead don’t stay buried, it seems, as their ghosts come back to haunt the living.  As a warning, perhaps, not to enter that “undiscovered country,” or as an omen that they, too, will be crossing that river Styx soon.  Can’t really reveal any more, as that would be giving away some plot devices.

There seems to be no saving grace in this play, except as a caution to not go down this “road less traveled by.”  The story is relentless, raging, repetitious, and pulsating with the seemingly purposeless point to Life (much like the music/sound, Andrew Klaus-Vineyard, at the beginning of the play, and the lights, Peter West, during the show).  Angelo’s direction is much that way, too, driving mercilessly forward to the inevitable conclusion.

The actors must be emotionally and physically exhausted by the end of this explosion.  I have seen them all before and they are well chosen for these roles.  I was impressed by Conway’s Jekyll & Hyde transformations in character.  Kern plays well the sleazebag supplier, who just may have a heart, as well.  Sher is over the top as the rock star druggie, and appropriately subdued as Jess’s girlfriend, a fine performance.  And Modica is electrifying in her speech over the grave of her lost love, displaying all the bitterness and hurt one must feel in such a circumstance.

I can recommend this play for the powerful performances but the story is not for everybody.  Hopefully, though, it will speak to those who are involved with, or know someone who is involved with, an addiction or contemplating suicide.  This might be the jolt that they need to pull them back from the pit.  It is said that, if you stare too long over the edge, beware, for something evil might be staring at back at you, too, daring you to take that last step.
Check with for more information or call 1-800-273-8255 for suicide prevention, or 1-800-923-4355 for addiction problems.

If you do choose to see this show, please tell them Dennis sent you.

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