The Reformers: In possession of the family letters

A new theater company begins life surreally with "The Possessions of La Boite"

"The Possessions of La Boite"/Jody Ake

“The Possessions of La Boite”/Jody Ake

Since I saw it last weekend, I’ve thought quite a bit about “The Possessions of La Boîte,” the first production of The Reformers. Some random images, some shreds of text, Sean Doran’s Australian accent, Adrienne Flagg as a formidably opinionated mother. Had I been just a bit more creative, I might have assembled my own narrative linking all of these elements, but we’re cursed with the reviewer we have, which in this case is me.

I like the story behind the story. After her mother died four years ago, director Charmian Creagle inherited lots of household stuff, and among that stuff she found a batch of letters, some written by people she knew well and others not all. The letters started to obsess her, and then a year ago she and Sean Doran (the couple had moved back to Portland after nine years in New York) and some other theater artists started using the letters as source material.

For what? Not a play, exactly, more like enacted poetry, action poetry, surreal poetry. And I only use “poetry” to convey that we aren’t talking about traditional prose. Are these “found’ lines poetry, truly? Sometimes, maybe yes.

“The new you is so wonderful, I wouldn’t want you to go back to the old you.”

“Birdseye has seven new vegetables out.”

“This, I believe, is your way of keeping score.”

“It is good for me to become more independent.”

“My self-esteem and worth is based on my relationships. It doesn’t mean I’m good at it.”

“I’m OK for the most part, and sometimes very fine.”

Things don’t look very fine very often in “The Possessions of La Boîte,” which wanders from domestic problem to domestic problem. Physically, it employs ordinary props, a hatrack, for example, in unusual ways, and the center of the action is la boite, the box of the title, which is…magical. The actors (Doran, Flagg, David Bellis-Squires, Jen Elkington, and Tamara Sorelli) sometimes act as though they are parents and children in a family, sometimes as though they are dating, and sometimes they are very difficult to pin down one way or another.

What will you pull out of “The Possessions of La Boîte”? I’m still laughing bitterly at the things my self-esteem and worth are based upon, though I’m not very good at them! You will use the performance for your own purposes, take your own lessons, find your own parallels, shrink in fear at “ordinary family behavior.”

Creagle’s family letters and the strange tableaux and interactions the cast invented from their snippets become more powerful the less you try to assemble them into something explicitly coherent. That makes sense, right? A set of letters from lots of writers won’t be coherent, unless they are directed at some overwhelming event. Once I figured that out, I was a lot more available to their charms.

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