Monday, April 17, 2017

A Maze—theatre vertigo—SE Portland

The Rat Race

This bizarre, surreal comedy is written by Rob Handel and directed by Nate Cohen.  It is playing at the Shoebox Theatre, 2110 SE 10th Ave., through May 13th.  For more information, go to their site at

Have you heard the one from the late, great improve comedian, Paul Lynde, about describing Life as a rat race in a maze and, “…the rats are winning!”  This is an appropriate analogy for this show, as that they do tell jokes and create stories within it.  The play has some resemblance to a book/movie of some years ago called, “The Collector,” as well as “The Matrix” and the more recent, “Room.”  It is about people being trapped and finding their way in, or out, of a maze, as part of the plot.

We all feel at some point in our lives, I’m sure, that we have a purpose in the larger scheme of things.  Some call this realization, this yearning, a gut feeling, a talent, a Muse, guiding or pushing them toward an unsubstantiated end result.  If we follow it, we will be happy or at peace.  But, make no doubt it, it can be an obsession.  This passion, or drive, can be likened to a cruel mistress, as it demands all your attention and energy.

Discovering your purpose is not as easy as you might think, as we are constantly being bombarded from the outside world and people with their expectations of us, and part of our DNA is to please people, so we easily get side-tracked, trapped, in a maze, often of our own design.  Such it is with these characters.

Jessica (Kaia Maarja Hillier) had been kidnapped when she was nine years old and finally, at seventeen, she has escaped.  Her captor is also, in a way, trapped in his own world of writing, in which he is being unceremoniously led through a labyrinth of mazes, creating a medieval world which he doesn’t fully comprehend, and often acted out with his captive.  In it, there is a Queen (Josie Seid) and her husband King (James Dixon), that are creating a maze to keep people out.
There is another world of artists, too, in which a graphic comic artist, Beeson (Nathan Dunkin) and a fellow rock musician, Paul (Nathan Crosby), are in a rehab center, run by Tom (R. David Wyllie), to get off their addiction to drugs, a common side-effect for artists, it seems.  Paul is aptly supported by his partner in the band and lover, Oksana (Shannon Mastel).

And finally, the real world intrudes on this artistic venue, as Jessica escapes from her captivity and wants to tell the world her story of survival on a highly touted TV program hosted by Kim (Paige McKinney).  Also, the world of rock music may also be united with the storytelling artist.  All these worlds eventually merge in a way and come to a head.  As reality and the imaginary, the windmills of one’s minds, all collide and the outcomes of such a conglomeration will be determined.  We all have stories, and stories within stories, and are also part of each other’s stories.  It’s a broad and complicated maze out there we all live in.  I’ve only given you a sketch of these tales for fear of giving away too much.

The setting by Tyler Buswell is simple but very inventive, love his kitchen design.  The artist, Russell Foltz-Smith, has some super graphics which add to the success of the show.  And the original songs/music, evidently created by the cast/crew, works very well in the environment.  The director, Cohen, has done an outstanding job of marrying all these varying portions together with his cast, into a surprisingly coherent narrative.  You can always rely on theatre vertigo to knock your socks off with the concepts they present, as well as awaking parts of your psyche to alternate possibilities of art.

The cast is uniformly exceptional, playing a variety of roles, many of them company members.  Hillier and Dunkin are worth noting as standing out in an outstanding cast.  Hillier comes from good stock as her sister, Clara, is one of the better actors in the area.  She has also been in shows at Bag & Baggage, too, and always worth watching onstage.  Dunkin is also a seasoned actor of Portland theatres and always creates interesting characters, usually with a bit of an edge inherent.

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

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