FG Review: PDX Playwrights, Week II

The second weekend of PDX Playwright workshops was... crazy

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Sally Sunbear’s “Hail!” was one of 19 titles featured in PDX Playwrights’ series of staged readings at Fertile Ground Festival.

Prolific and all-inclusive writing collective PDX Playwrights, which meets twice a month to help budding playwrights workshop new scripts, brought a slew of new titles to Fertile Ground. In Week I, ArtsWatch caught everything from heartwrenching medical drama to uproarious coffeeshop slapstick. This week, we were able to see the complete performance of some previewed pieces, as well as a few works that, while entertaining, are ripe for further refinements. A demonstration of the necessity of come-one-come-all forums for creative development, PDX Playwrights is percolating some great new plays.

 “Umbrella for Three” by Brad Bolchunos

This smorgasbord of humor, jaded romance and power struggles is well-paced, thoughtful and amusing; beyond that there’s no compelling reason to see the works as a set. The three separate narratives each hold their own.

“Cranial Camaraderie”: (Previewed last week in PDX Playwrights Part I) A witty and unpredictable coffeeshop vignette pits a crisp British woman against her critical and snarky ex. A dumbfounded barista looks on as both parties reveal their respective clairvoyant powers and instigate the ultimate head-game: psychic warfare.

“Liquid Rock”: In a couples’ therapy sesh, young, inexperienced counselor “Ez” struggles to pin down her older, resistant clients’ marital woes. Allegations of cheating that ultimately prove false, and oblique hope for relationship redemption comes in the form of two innocuous objects: a bottle and a pen.

“Wears Fishnets”: A noirishly-narrating private investigator, a chippy newsman and a femme fatale play through the same scene several times, Groundhog Day style, revealing more angles with each redux.

“Good Ones” by David Wester

Does mundanity equal realism? That question might be asked of this seeming word-for-word recreation of a modern-day stoner dialogue, so rife with “like,” “stuff,” and, “you know,” that it probably triples the stage time. Semi-single dudes James and Ed spend what seems like forever chewing over the play-by-play of a recent house party while they noodle with an unplugged electric guitar and pass a bag of potato chips. The tone of the dialogue and acting here is comparable to slacker-lifestyle-affirming TV series “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” The storytelling definitely paints a realistic picture, but the punchline—however gratifying—comes achingly late. If Wester can pare off a few hundred hems and haws from this dialogue, he’ll have a winning short.

“Going On” by Kristin Olson-Huddle

Olson-Huddle makes her audience believe, root for, and love her—and in this context, that’s no small feat. Confessional one-person shows like this one are an especially tough act to pull off—and, as demonstrated a few days ago by the tragically tone-deaf “A Virgin in Paradise,” the onstage auteur’s true motives will shine through any intended spin. Fortunately, Olson-Huddle is a pro storyteller, balancing detail with momentum and mixing her self-affirmation with an all-important pinch of humility. This kind of theatrical catharsis (in her particular case, public grieving for the untimely loss of parents and a brother) tends to serve the individual as much or more than the audience—unless it’s capped with a call to action. Fortunately, Olson-Huddle’s volunteer position with Portland’s Dougie Center (a foundation that supports Portland-area grieving children) gives her testimonial a sense of greater purpose and leaves her audience with a direct and practical outlet for their newfound empathy.

“Hail!” by Sally Sunbear

This is a mashup of Greek mythology, sentimental wedding-style song, pseudo-Shakespearean speech and wry postmodern office microdrama—and if that combination doesn’t give you whiplash, you are a better theater viewer than I. Sunbear’s best strength (and a rare gift in its own right) is her faithful re-creation of Elizabethan linguistic conceits, so if the whole script were to fully go “old school” where it currently flirts with adult-contemporary, so much the better.

“Crosswords Morning” by Maggie McOmie

An elderly couple discusses daily trifling concerns over a kitchen table full of newspapers—and as in “Good Ones,” this script is realistic to the brink of boredom. A seeming mere exercise in character development, this chitchat seems to await a storyline of any kind. Hopefully more notes from PDX Playwrights will yield new epiphanies.

“An Island” by Jenni GreenMiller

Artswatch regrettably missed this reading, and hence can offer no comment.

“Night Breezes and the Ballerina” by Heath Hyun Houghton

I still can’t decide whether this play was hypnotic, soporific or cryptic. Revealing detailed information in seemingly randomized order, only truly elucidating its characters’ dilemma mid-play, name-dropping many characters never seen onstage, the storytelling dipped frequently into the territory of hypnotic induction, underpinning poetic impressionism with interpretive dance. At any rate, as far as I could tell, this was a tale of several adult friends and one teen experiencing blowback from a mutual acquaintance’s ill-fated scientific excursion into a guerilla war zone. Where am I?

“Whipping Cream and Freudian Dreams” by Kate Knab-Horn

Officially establishing “coffeeshop” as the single-most-popular dramatic setting for PDX Playwrights’ works, this witty and irreverent vignette submits Freudian analysis of the coffeeshop climate, namely the “male’s” oedipal attraction to “comely baristas.” Puncturing the fourth wall seemed an unnecessary overstep for a sketch that was already delivering hilarity and unexpected insight without going there.

“Oh F*ck! Oh Sh*t! it’s Love! The Musical” By Sam Dinkowitz

Well, this one won the popularity contest, selling out Hipbone Studio and spilling spare audience members into the aisles. With some crossover personnel from Action/Adventure Theatre and a similarly jocular vibe, this hipster romance tragi-comedy brought the house down. A four-person cast depicts a hipster leading man and lady, plus their respective foils: a bimbo and a meathead. (Guess who lives happily ever after.) At showtime, the musical numbers paled in comparison to A/A’s…but hopefully more rehearsal will strengthen them in time for the show’s upcoming run at Milepost 5.

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