Saturday, October 19, 2019

Smokefall—Defunkt Theatre—SE Portland

          “Past Saving”

    This dark chronicle, of a family history, is written by Noah Haidle and directed by Patrick Walsh.  It is playing at their space, 4319 SE Hawthorne Blvd. (in back of the Common Ground Coffee Shop) through November 16th.  (Parking is a challenge in this area, so plan your time accordingly.)  For more information, go to their site at

    Relationships are never easy and family dynamics can be a bitch to handle.  But, from “womb to tomb,” you have no choice but to just deal with it.  This odd story, part dark fairy tale set in an alternate reality, and part romance (of sorts), gives us a glimpse into the psyche of one family over several years.  It has a lot in common with Tennessee Williams and his play, The Glass Menagerie as, in both stories, there is the father who “fell in love with long distance…trying to find in motion what was lost in space.”  And there is the shy or, in this case, mainly silent sister, and a narrator (Footnote) that has prior knowledge of the family and moves the story along, filling in the blanks as it goes, as well as some lovely poetic prose in the storytelling of both authors.

    The matriarch of the family is Violet (Brooke Calcagno), who is pregnant with twin boys as the story opens, with Footnote (Matthew Kern) giving us the lowdown on their history.  She lives in her father’s house, the Colonel (Chris Porter), who’s memory is failing him, and her daughter, Beauty (Jessica Hillenbrand), who chooses to eat paper, paint, dirt, etc., anything but food, and has chosen not to speak because she decided she simply had no more to say.  And, finally, there is Dan (Joe Von Appen), the husband, who will soon be a bleep in the family tree, due to his absence…this is the first Act.

    The second act is a wee more bizarre, as we get the perspective of the twins (Kern & Von Appen, again) in the womb, as they discuss the pros and cons of actually being born and facing an uncertain future.  The third act presents Beauty, now speaking, and eating normal food, connecting with one of the twins, John (Porter, again), her brother, on his birthday and meeting his son, Samuel (Kern, again).  Yes, a bit confusing but also very compelling and they do manage to tie up the ends together.  It is one family’s journey but there are elements within it that seem familiar to me, as it will, I’m sure, to others.

    The story grows on you, as does the style, and being an intimate setting, it feels even more personal.  Walsh has taken on what must have seemed like an impossible task at the beginning and molded it into quite an engaging piece of theatre.  And his cast pick is amazing, as I couldn’t image anyone else in these roles.  Porter is a stalwart of local theatre and is at his best here.  Von Appen does well, especially as the reluctant twin.  Calcagno has been too long absent from the stage and it’s good to see her back and just as strong.  Hilllenbrand is excellent as the young girl who blossoms before your eyes and becomes a determined woman.  And Kern, again, brandishes his acting chops and is powerful in more than one demanding role here.  Kudos to all!

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

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