Fertile Ground Review: Remme’s Run

Portland Playhouse's novel prospector comedy still has a ways to go.

“Did you get all that?” might be the first question to fly out of your mouth after seeing Whink Productions’ Remme’s Run at Portland Playhouse, Wayne Harrel’s fast-paced old-west adventure story of various fortunes worked for, won, lost, stolen and squandered.

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Twainish narrator The Captain (Chris Porter) reads the tale from a yellowed copy of The Oregonian as the intrepid Remme immerses himself in a journey through amusingly hokey (and nonetheless impressive) special stage effects. In this Fertile Ground festival production, he “rides horses” by perching on a stool in front of projections of the running beasts. He “fords rivers” by standing on one edge of the floor and letting projected waves bear a swimming image of him to the other side. Every new environment he enters is depicted as a brown ink woodcut projected on the wall. Saloons, landscapes, and waterways glide by like History Channel b-roll.

Not sure if I got the whole story myself, but near’s I can tell, Remme, a French gentleman, has traded all his real money for one-a them thar paper notes from a bank, with plans to travel to Oregon, redeem his cash at the bank’s Portland branch, and start a homestead farm on Sauvie Island. Unfortunately, the bank’s about to go bust, and Remme’s got to travel faster than the news of the closure if he wants his money. So Remme takes off for Portland by land, while his two cowhands and his betrothed go by riverboat.

Bless his heart, Remme is a good guy, and Jeff Painter plays the part with a grin so blithe and constant it borders on witless, and a French accent as thick as crème fraîche. Think Kids in the Hall‘s Dave Foley in his “trapper” sketches, and you’ve basically got the picture. Maybe mix in a little Cohen Brothers’ O Brother Where Art Thou. Remme’s quaint reckonings of our region—You can’t find a good wife in Portland; Sauvie Island is regularly “washed clean” by the Willamette—earn a chuckle for what has (or hasn’t?) changed ’round here since 1882.

While Remme’s mired in his own private Pilgrim’s Progress, with every river a new slough of despair to torment his righteous effort, pals Bose Bosewell (Gerrin Mitchell) and Jordan Linn (Jack Kelley) and his lady love Ninfa Noé (Tricia Castañeda-Gonzales) are a lot wilier than their French friend. They decide to use their downtime on the boat to bilk their fellow passengers out of a fortune playing crooked card games. Their game of choice is faro, a gambling setup that the crew at Portland Playhouse enthusiastically demonstrates before the play begins, urging audience members to place fake coins on the table and experience the luck of the draw. Their scheme becomes a key source of suspense in the plot; after all, we already know Remme’s gonna make it, or there wouldn’t be a legend.

The show is a work in progress, and though it’s already spirited, amusing and engaging, it still feels … surface-y. In prospector parlance, it pans for gold but doesn’t mine for coal. With the outcome already in the bag, what we need to feel is a stronger connection to Remme, and a clearer comprehension of each of his challenges along the path—so we can root harder. Many characters in Remme’s odyssey come and go too fleetingly to impart any symbolic significance. Meanwhile, a lone hymn sung a capella seems to be a placeholder for the play’s emotional core, but has yet to tap it. Instead, the song seems to have fallen out of last month’s A Christmas Carol and landed here by accident. It needs to be … tucked in better, or taken out.

But the playwright and producers already knows there’s more to be done, as noted in the prologue: “Our goal is to grow and of course to amuse.” That’s okay; Remme has begun a journey, and will probably soon find his way.

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A. L. Adams also writes the monthly column Art Walkin’  for  The Portland Mercury, and is  former arts editor of Portland Monthly Magazine. Read more from Adams: Oregon ArtsWatch | The Portland Mercury
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