Thursday, February 18, 2016

Breaking Rank—Well Arts at Milagro—SE Portland

Equality, Tolerance & Recognition

These true stories by five female veterans of our armed services is written by Jeanne Clayton, Jojo Jackson, Patti Jay, Layna Lewis and Sandy Scott and directed by Jessica Dart.  It is produced by Well Arts Institute in partnership with Returning Veterans Project (503-954-2259) and Wise Counsel & Comfort (503-282-0182).  It is playing at the Milagro space, 525 SE Stark St., through March 6th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-459-4500.

This is an important story that needs to be told and heard.  The above three words seem to sum up much of what it is these testimonies seek.  When we dare to ask people to alter their personal lives and serve in the military, it should be understood that they will get the best treatment when ill, the best equipment when forced into combat, and treated like superior human beings (which they are because of their sacrifice), regardless of gender, race, and sexual orientation.  Somehow the last part of that statement has often gotten lost in the translation.

The five individuals in this story, crossing the ranks of most of the services, are a testament to courage in bringing such abuses of power to our attention.  In the more than two hours that you follow these individuals, in a non-linear timeframe, over about 40 years, you will learn much and might even recognize yourself, or family members, or friends in the shadows of these women.  They endured much, fought back and are now on the roads to healing.  But it is a trial they should never have gone through in the first place!

The actors are Margie Boule (Ace); Andrea White (Rivers); Garland Lyons (playing the variety of male roles in the scenes); Sofia May-Cuxim (Cox); Stephanie Cordell (Jackson); and Cecily Overman (Patti).  I can’t tell you too much about the individual stories without giving away discoveries, so I will be brief in describing the characters.

Ace was deployed in Alaska and wanted to be an officer and a pilot, but she also wanted a family.  And, being a woman, those goals were going to be hard to achieve.  Rivers was stationed in Germany and it was suggested that, since she was attractive, she should “uglify” herself so that she wouldn’t be a temptation/distraction to the males; Cox was from Texas and abused while in the military, dared to fight back and suffered her whole life with the trauma associated with such treatment; Patti was from Wyoming but eventually ended up in Portland, from a military family she was always trying to live up to her family’s expectations; Jackson was stationed in Afghanistan and was combative and a holy terror from the get-go and tried her best to get ejected (honorably) from the service.

This is only a thumbnail sketch, as I mentioned, and it really needs to be seen to be appreciated.  All the actors interact with each other’s stories to help flesh them out.  Dart has managed to keep the stories fluid, simple staging and yet, because of her terrific cast, emotionally charged and easily traverses 40 years and several locations without confusing us.  I have seen most of the actors before and they are all assets to the shows they’ve performed in.

Boule is an icon of Portland theatre, the media and musicals.  She excels here as well.  White, always good in previous shows, is highly charged here.  Lyons, having done numerous plays before, shows his skill playing the variety of males in these stories.  May-Cuxim is emotionally compelling and your heart goes out to her.  Overman is powerful in trying to hold it all together but a wreck underneath.  And Cordell is the ultimate in feisty determination to get what she wants.

But, of course, the real heroes are the ladies themselves who, I would have thought, might have taken a bow at the curtain call with their respective stage counter-parts.  We have done wrong, grievous wrong in the past, to these ladies but that does not mean we have to keep doing wrong.  We, as a species, can change, do what we can to make things better for those previous mistakes and go forward with the resolve not to let it happen again.  Big words, I know, but going forward is simple really, just put one foot in front of the other….!

I recommend this show but, be warned, it is only street parking, so plan your time accordingly.  If you do see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

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