Friday, June 14, 2019

Beirut—Shoebox Theatre—SE Portland

        Love Among the Ruins


    This raw, in-your-face production is written by Alan Bowne and directed by Andrea White.  It is playing at the Shoebox space, 2110 SE 10th Ave., through June 22nd.  For more information, go to their site at www.beirutinportland.com

    What is love?  An age-old question.  Is it the seeking of companionship, a constant sexual partner, a father or mother for children, a spiritual strength, et. al.?  In truth, it may be all of those things, or none.  It is simply undefinable.  Love is in the eye of the beholder.
    Calling this tale, a love story, might be a stretch but so is, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”  It is the finding of that one person who, knowing all your faults and failings, loves you, not in spite of them but, perhaps, because of them, as that, encompassed with everything else, makes you who you are!
In this futuristic, alternate universe, we are again, as in most visions of the future, living in a demolished universe.  In this case, a plague has infected citizens and, to rid the population of it, people that are Positive for the virus are isolated from others and by law, no further contack with them can be made.
    The Black Plague, that infected the earth hundreds of years ago, was devasting.  You may remember a little children’s ditty that came from this era in history. The disease first appeared as reddish spots on one’s skin and then a darker circle formed around them.  After death, flowers were put in the pockets of the victims and their bodies burned to help stop the spread of the illness.  The cute ditty that emerged: “Ring around the rosy; pocketful of posies, ashes, ashes, all fall down!”
    In this case, no clever song comes out of it.  Torch (Joshua Weinstein), is in a containment unit and, so far, is a Positive for the appearance of the disease, and is checked daily by the ruling forces, in the guise of the Guard (Caleb Sohigian), for sores.  But, into his private hell, appears his old girlfriend, Blue (Mamie Colombero), who is from the outside world and is Negative for the disease and so roam the streets, but not to come in contact with those Positives.  So, can love bear fruit amongst these impossible conditions?  No spoiler here, so you’ll have to see it to discover the truth.
    But, make no mistake about it, this play pulls no punches.  It’s highly, sexually charged, with frank dialogue and nudity, so may not be for everyone in this hard R rated show.  One can’t help make the comparison with the Aids epidemic, which, I’m sure, is deliberate.  (A side note:  There is a rather well-written B film by Roger Corman with Vincent Price called “The Masque of Red Death,” by Poe, which mirrors this in some ways, as it deals with the Black Plague.)
    Scenic Design by Ted Jonathan Gold adds immensely to the show’s grit and grist.  And the performances by the actors in this small space are electric!  The depictions, as written and performed, are of real people, not your Hollywood glamor squad, and they are totally vested and convincing in their portrayals.  White, a very good actor herself, is a fine choice for a director, as she understands the craft perfectly and so can guide them expertly through the mazes of creativity for them to give such explosive performances!
    I recommend this show, especially for the performances, but note the warnings I have given.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

--DJS
Below is a review by a young lady, Martha harris, I am mentoring in writing reviews.  Read and enjoy her take on it…


            Our culture is drawn to dystopian literature, media, theater, and art. It is nightmarish fantasy where people are so dehumanized, they are unrecognizable as humans. It is a frustratingly absurd world where we can’t decipher the “why” or “how on earth did they get to this point?”
            But we also ask, “is it possible we could get there some day” and “they aren’t really that different from us.” It is this relatability within the horror that drives us to buy that ticket to the Hunger Games or read 1984 again. We want to see where this game of life is headed for us and, maybe, what we can change before we get there.
            Beirut, written by Alan Bowne and directed by Andrea White, tells the story of an unnamed sexually transmitted disease that has taken control of New York. People are defined by whether they are “negative” or “positive” for the disease. The positives are contained in the lower East Side, referred to as “Beirut”, held up in rooms with the bare necessities and checked by guards frequently to make sure that they aren’t showing symptoms of the disease.
            The negatives try to keep going on with their lives in the outside, but that world is falling apart. They aren’t afforded their normal activities like going to the movies, those aren’t being made anymore. They can’t visit the positives and they can’t have sex with other negatives.
            Blue (Mamie Colombero), a negative, takes the risk to venture into the lower East Side to be with her positive boyfriend Torch (Joshua Weinstein). But Blue isn’t just there for a visit and to catch up. She wants to stay with Torch to the end, even if that means giving up her negative status. She has discovered her life on the outside isn’t really living if you don’t have anything worth being alive for. Torch, on the other hand, can’t imagine being responsible for her death by infecting, but would also like nothing more than for her to stay. He also still has a romantic notion of what it would be like outside of this diseased colony, experiencing the simple joys of eating pizza instead of lukewarm grapefruit from a can. They fight back and forth on what they believe is worth living for, whether that means freedom with nothing to do or being held captive with the one you love.
            This powerful show that debates the nature of life, death, freedom, and the stigma of disease, is led by a brilliant cast that portray these characters with the level of raw complexity that they deserve. Mamie Colombero utilizes a large variety of tactics so that her pursuit of Torch never gets dull, while maintaining an unwavering Italian New Yorker dialect. Joshua Weinstein’s performance has a mix of manic power over Blue with total defeat, that helps the audience to feel and see the toll this experience has had on him, taking away everything he thought he knew.
            The combination of the actor’s own ingenuity and direction by Andrea White, creates a highly physical performance juxtaposed with the lack of mobility the characters are allowed in this hopeless situation. However, it also would’ve been nice to see more pauses and moments of stillness, to let the characters and audience fully process the action before diving into the next fight.
            From the beginning the sound and scenic design helped to establish the world of Beirut. The hodgepodge of plywood, concrete, brick, and tin that was Torch’s room looked like an abandoned warzone, complete with ominous writing scrawled on the walls. The directional sound designs, complete with air planes overhead and distant talking, created a world bigger than this one room. Both of these elements did a successful job of helping the audience to forget a world outside of Beirut for 75 minutes, so that it was even more impactful when the play was finished to realize that we do still have a choice.
            Beirut is uncomfortable to watch, but at the same time a relief to remember that we always have a choice.
            This show is playing at the Shoebox Theatre (2110 SE 10th Ave Portland, OR 97214) until June 22nd, 2019. For more information or to buy tickets, visit beirutinportland.com or call (323) 401-9343.

date seen: 6/13/19

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