Bobby Bermea


Spotlight: Rising actors Andrea Vernae and Kailey Rhodes

In Artists Rep's "An Octoroon," two of Portland's brightest new stars take on the season's most dangerous script

The 2016-17 Portland theater season was brightened considerably by breakout performances from two of its newest stars, Andrea Vernae and Kailey Rhodes.

Vernae strode the deck of the ship in Portland Playhouse’s’s pen/man/ship with ferocity and grit, infusing her character Ruby with incisive intelligence and sense of purpose. It was an arresting performance, grounded by Vernae’s rich gravitas. When she speaks, you believe her. If you’d seen her earlier in the season in Profile Theatre’s Antigone Project, you recognized her performance in pen/man/ship as simply promise fulfilled. When people speak of her work, words like “strength,” “intense,” and “powerful” get thrown around a lot. Krista Garver in Broadway World called her “a force to be reckoned with.” This would appear to be true not just of Vernae’s work in that one piece, but of the young artist in general.

Kailey Rhodes (left) and Andrea Vernae: moving up. Photo: Bobby Bermea

Rhodes made her mark with deft precision and impeccable timing in Artist Rep’s dazzling revival of The Importance of Being Earnest. In a cast filled to the brim with sterling performances, Rhodes stood out. She’s an effortless, economical performer, with a natural instinct for what’s needed and what isn’t. She steps into heightened realities and makes them feel totally natural. When Earnest opened she wasn’t a complete unknown to Portland audiences. After all, she’d been nominated for a Drammy for her work in Chicago (Metropolitan Community Theatre Project). But her move to the larger stage wasn’t just seamless, it was dynamic.

Now Vernae and Rhodes are onstage together in one of the new season’s most audacious and potentially controversial shows, Branden Jacob-Jenkins’ Obie Award-winning An Octoroon, which opened Saturday night at Artists Rep. Their transition from newcomers to appearing in Portland’s most talked-about production has been fast. But like most such stories, it was years in the making.