Monday, January 15, 2018

Lifeboat—Corrib Theatre—NW Portland

"Home is Where the Heart Is”

This play is written by Nicola McCartney, directed by Avital Shira and co-produced by Northwest Children’s Theatre, playing at their space, 1819 NW Everett St. (downstairs, entrance on 18th), through February 4th.  Although there is a very small parking lot, it fills up fast, and is mostly street parking, so plan your time accordingly. https://corribtheatre.org/

Based on a true story of two teens, Beth (Britt Harris) and Bess (Kayla Lian), who survived an ordeal at sea, spending 18 hours on an upturned lifeboat in 1940, after their ship ushering them from bombarded England, was torpedoed by a German sub.  There were programs during these war-torn years in England (as well as Europe) to send their children to rural areas, or other countries, to avoid being killed in the bombing of major cities.  Bess & Beth were on their way to Canada, as well as about 100 other children.  Of those, only about 10% survived!  This, then, is their tale.

Much of the hour plus play is presented in the imaginations of these two young ladies, as that was their saving grace for survival, and the charm of this production.  They survive on relating tales to each other of their past exploits in Liverpool.  They both loved the movies, especially musicals, and their favorite was “The Wizard Of Oz.”  They also manage to drag up stories and songs of the older folks’ experiences in WWI, as well as these mid-teen girls discovery of the opposite sex.  And they relate their current trials in fitting on gas masks, dealing with air raid shelters during bombing raids and feeling the pangs of being torn away from their families, but also the excitement of discovering a possible whole new world and way of life in Canada.  In other words, they had to grow up fast, having no real childhood.

Although their back stories are quite interesting, what is super about this production is the two actors, Lian and Harris, and how they, through their amazing talent, are able to transform themselves into the many characters they relate to each other throughout this story.  And they do it with usually just changing one article of clothing, like a hat, or apron, or a prop, etc., and the rest of the magic created is from the depths of their unique talent!  And they pull these items from the past from the trunks surrounding them, which would be appropriate if adrift at sea after being sunk.  The director, Shira, has certainly challenged these actors and created an intimate atmosphere for such an epic tale.  It is a well conceived presentation by the writer, as well as the cast, director and designers.

Now for the bad news.  Unless you’re sitting in the first couple of rows, you’ll visually miss or be visually hampered by much of the production.  They attempted to put the audience area on risers, but it is too little an elevation if you are in the back rows to see the action when they are laying or sitting on the floor or trunks, but you can follow the dialogue audibly.  I’m 6’3” and was sitting in the back row so as not to block sightlines of others, so I could sometimes see tops of heads of the actors, when not standing or on trunks, but felt sorry for those who were shorter and probably missed even that.  When it works best is when they stand on the trunks and expound.  I would suggest that they spend more time on the trunk tops and/or put the playing area on a raised platform.

I do recommend this production, especially for the outstanding acting and the inventive writing but, at this point, would recommend for an audience, either standing in the aisle areas to watch the show or make sure you get a seat in the first two rows or so.  If you do see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.