Monday, February 15, 2016

What Every Girl Should Know—Triangle Productions!—NE Portland

The Elephant in the Room

This highly-charged, adult drama of four teenage girls in a Catholic Reformatory in NYC around 1914 is written by Monica Byrne and directed by Donald I. Horn (Triangle’s Artistic Director).  It is playing at their space in The Sanctuary, 1785 NE Sandy Blvd. (parking lot to the West of the building), through February 27th.  And investigate their new expansion, including a new Concessions’ area, merchandising shop, et. al.   For more information, go to their site at or call 503-239-5919.

The above phrase refers to something that is obvious but nobody talks about.  In the case of this play, it refers to subjects like masturbation, contraceptives, sexual practices and behavior, etc.  and…Margaret Sanger, who wrote a book about all this over a hundred years ago.  People were very repressed at that time about such taboo subjects and, although more out in the open in some ways now, it is still often a whispered topic or for backroom jokes.

Another very prominent subject is religion, specifically, Catholicism.  I went to nine years of parochial school so am familiar with the repressive, sheltered nature of this religion, especially when you are exposed to the wider world.  The Sanger subjects were definitely taboo then and may still be in these schools.  But I think Sanger’s object was not to necessarily promote these ideas, but to simply explain them in realistic terms…to expose the “elephant” in the room.  Sticking your head in the sand does not make touchy subjects go away.

As mentioned, the story takes place in a Catholic Reformatory in the early 1900’s.  Four teenage girls have been sent there.  Three of them have been there for several months.  There is Anne (Sasha Belle Neufeld), the unofficial leader of the pack and a bit negative; Theresa (Emma Bridges), more optimistic and a bit naïve; and Lucy (Katie Dressin), very religious and seems frightened by her own shadow.  Into this mix comes Joan (Lydia Fleming), the newbie, seemingly the more mature of the group and very outspoken.  She brings with her the writings of Sanger, whom her mother was jailed for peddling.

It doesn’t take long for the other girls to become intrigued by Sanger’s philosophy, even promoting her to idol stature, showering her image with gifts and praying to her.  And it seems that some of these prayers may get answered and this is where the play takes a turn into the mystical and expressionistic.  The games they play to amuse themselves, such as Truth or Dare, Secrets and Fears, and imaginings of life on the outside, take on a darker shade.  The cocoon they felt safe in, now becomes a dark dungeon; the truth behind Father Dolan’s “friendliness” is exposed; and the full truth of the girl who bled to death is revealed.  Only one thing left to do…and you’ll have to see the show to discover the ending.

What adds an additional element to this show is the dream-like dances/movements (choreographer, Lisamarie Harrison) in some scenes.  This gives the story a surreal feel so that you can sense it as well as heed the words.  Horn, as always, manages to set a story a notch higher because of his involvement.  His casting is always impeccable and he explores all the nuances of a character to make them as identifiable to an audience as possible.  Is there anything that Horn can’t do well?!

The actors are perfect for their parts and, I’m sure, went through some difficult revelations of themselves, so they could truly get inside these characters.  Neufeld is a bit of an enigma, as she tends to lead, then at times, falls in step behind others, doing well in keeping us guessing as to where her heart lies.  Bridges is a little too cheery, as you know she is holding back a horror she refuses to face.

Dressin is a sad case, putting all her eggs into one basket, religion, until she realizes that these “eggs” will not sustain her for the rest of her life.  And Fleming is wonderful as the catalyst of the group, forcing the group to rise to the next level of involvement with the outside world.  I applaud them all for bringing a difficult story to light.

This, very obviously, is not for everyone.  One woman, as she stomped out of the theatre, muttered to herself, “Disgusting.  I’ll never come back here again!”  But, I prefer Horn’s attitude, “…be part of the dialogue.”  To echo that, be part of the solution, not the problem.  I recommend this show.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

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