Sunday, February 14, 2016

The Call—Profile Theatre—SW Portland

“…Good Intentions”

This drama by Tanya Barfield is directed by Gemma Whelan.  It is playing at the Artist’s Rep.’s space, SW Alder St & 16th Ave., through February 21st.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-242-0080.

Barfield is an unique playwright, in that she is able to evoke the styles of August Wilson, in which all the characters have their own personal story and are able to reveal it in a semi-monologue way, revealing their inner life.  She also has a bit of Mamet in that her characters often talk over each other or never finish a complete sentence at times, which is the way people do converse, and so has a keen ear for dialogue.  And yet, she seems very comfortable in her own skin, giving way to the twists and turns, perhaps, in her own life.  As I said, a unique writer.

The story involves a young couple, an artist, Annie (Amanda Soden) and her husband, Peter (Tom Walton), unable to have a child of their own, deciding to adopt a baby.  They share this good news with their best friends, also artists, Rebecca (Anya Pearson) and Drea (Chantal DeGroat), who themselves have just decided to “tie the knot.”  And since they all have a connection, either through work or personal ties to Africa, they decided on an African baby.

There is also a humanitarian intent in this choice, since there are so many unwanted and starving children in that country, to give one of them a better life here in America.  As mentioned, “good intentions.”  But there is also the question of background, as far as exposure to disease, specifically aids, and of care for the child, respecting their heritage, for example, spending time doing their hair in the traditional manner, et. al.

After meeting their neighbor, Alemu (Jasper Howard), who is from Africa but is living here now, because he kind of “got stuck” in the trappings of this way of life, but he has never forgotten his roots.  And he has his own marvelous story about courage and never giving up on what’s important to you.  A theme for the play might be summed up in his line, “You want a child from Africa but you do not want Africa.” Things come to a head when they find out their choice may have been compromised, and then old wounds surface, threatening to destroy relationships.  More I cannot tell you without giving away secrets.

Whelan has done a good job of keeping the audience off-balance, giving them a false sense of security at times, then changing mid-stream to expose another obstacle.  She and Barfield seem to be on the same page on this, as Life and Relationships are much like that, too.    We all have stories…and secrets…and within those, more stories and secrets….  We are not a perfect species…or an island…but we do have choices based, in part, on our experiences.  But, perhaps, the greatest asset we should have is the ability to be Tolerant and, in our approach to others, keep in mind, “First, do no harm….”

The cast is uniformly wonderful, convincing us of the reality of their situation.  Walton and Soden really do seem like a typical married couple that have grown together and apart through the years.  Pearson’s character is somebody you would want as a friend, trying to appease everyone so that no one gets hurt.  DeGroat has an unwavering focus, a bit unnerving, when she speaks and listens, as if she is looking right through you.  Perfect for the character.  And Howard is mesmerizing.  When he speaks in his quiet manner, you listen because you feel he is going to impart pearls of wisdom with every word.  His Lion story is captivating.  I could listen to him tell stories all day.

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

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