Monday, October 23, 2017

Insignificance—Defunkt Theatre—SE Portland

Damaged Goods

This absurdist-type, dark comedy is written by Terry Johnson and directed by Andrew Klaus-Vineyard.  It is playing at their space (in the rear of the Common Grounds Coffee House), 4319 SE Hawthorne Blvd. (street parking only), through November 18th.  For more information, go to their site at

The setting for this story, on the surface, may be a hotel room in The Big Apple during the mid-50’s, the last vestiges of the purported, squeaky-clean era in America.  But in reality (and I use that word loosely) it is in an alternate universe where Time is out of joint and a world deceived by its own icons of fame and importance…of knowledge and power…of innocence and evil…of a Destiny gone awry.

The characters, too, are only thinly disguised figures in American history, all meeting in this Twilight Zone-ish-like entrapment in space, to vomit out their fears, their hopes, their hates, their loves.  Picture, if you will, this odd assortment of individuals, on the outskirts of our known universe, to entertain and amaze you…and maybe, just maybe, give us some insight into ourselves.

In theory, this room belongs to The Professor (Gary Powell), a German scientist, looking and sounding very much like Albert Einstein.  He is diligently working on writing a speech for the World Peace Conference, in which, in part, he hopes to reveal the shape of the universe.  But this able group is not the only one that begs his attention, as the House on Un-American Activities also wishes to speak with him.  And to make sure of this, his is visited by a prominent member of this band of infamous characters in the guise of The Senator (Nathan Dunkin), an odious bow to Joseph McCarthy, who has his own nefarious ways of getting what he wants.

But another icon will invade their space, as she admires the intellect of this great scientist and wishes some alone-time with him to discuss Time, the Universe…and all that jazz.  She is The Actress (Tabitha Trosen), a more than passing resemblance to Marilyn Monroe.  She, for all her vampish persona on the screen, is seeking that intellectual spark that will fuse with her like-interests.  But her partner in this mad-cap mix-up, The Ballplayer (Morgan Lee), plodding around like Joe DiMaggio, is another kind of fuse, waiting to explode if even the scent of another male is in the vicinity, a lumbering, brutish ox with a child-like love for a child-like girl.

There is a plot of sorts embedded in all this, which I won’t reveal, not wanting to be a spoiler, but the reason for the story in the first place seems to be to focusing in on the celebrity status of individuals and how we raise them up on an unrealistic platform as the end-all to our own dreams and fears.  We are not them, nor they us!  They have feet of clay, just like we all do, and we all came from the same primeval soup. 

And so, the larger question might be, why these four folks, who seem to have nothing in common except that they are famous?  The common threads that are interwoven between them all are just that, that Fame carries a certain Power (deserved or not) and so we, as “mere mortals,” tend to treat them as demi-gods and assume that they are infallible as to view-points, and so we follow them.  They also have a certain ability to know/sense how things operate/run, good or bad, to get things done.  This does not signal approval of the methods, only knowledge of them.  Another factor is that they all know how to manipulate things to have their own way, up to a point.  Sadly, all socially inept people who are intensely lonely.  And, finally, they all have a certain appeal to the general public, or a faction of that public, that will keep their name, their agenda, newsworthy.  I think we have seen much of these same traits exhibited in this day and age and, like the old saying, if we have not solved the problems of the Past, we are bound to repeat them (as these examples from another era).  We have been put on notice with this, I believe!

The actors are all first-rate.  Three of the four, Dunkin, Powell and Trosen I have reviewed many times before, all favorably.  And Lee is a good addition to this lot.  Powell, at the top of his game, as the awkward social being with the secrets to the universe; Dunkin, at his oily best, at the patron of Evil; Trosen, very seductive and sexy as a mind-exceptional trapped in body-beautiful; and Lee, as the winner on the field but a loser at home. The director, Klaus-Vineyard, has done an exceptional job of casting, as they all have a passing resemblance to the real-life characters and their manner is also similar. 

It is also noteworthy that none of them are caricatures, which easily could have been the case and, therefore, are portraying the essence of the person, not trying to imitate them.  This is due to some fine acting and directing but also to the dialects, as all four are from different parts of the country or world.  So a special shout-out to Kylie Rose, as well, as the dialogue coach, who has captured the essence of the accent, without it overpowering them.  I would highly recommend her in this field for future theatre projects.  She is also an actor/singer herself and, with Sarah Andrews, has created Crave Theatre.

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

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