Tomorrow!: Micro-Theater, Macro-Theme

tomorrow

Devon Wade Granmo, Noah Dunham, Tara Coen and Noelle Eaton bravely face the great unknown in their most trend- and weather-proof clothes.

Intimate black-box theater tends to traffic in “micro,” each flicker of gesture and nuance of phrase expressing something that is so true for one character in one moment in one place and time, that it draws the watcher into empathy for a distinct other. Meanwhile, the “macro” realm is more readily addressed by spectacular Broadway shows or even films, where sweeping scenic panoramas, massive catastrophes, and epic battles can fit in the frame. How else to encompass the world, the universe, or even the malleable constraints of space and time?

“Tomorrow!”, the brainchild of Working Theater Collective founder and RACC Grant recipient Ashley Hollingshead, attempts the near-impossible: fitting a macro theme into the constraints of a micro-show. Tackling “the future” in the same way her last title, “Something Epic/Everyday” addressed “the present,” she condenses the heady exploration of humanity’s trajectory into a four-person, 70-minute play wherein a quartet of young Everymen in timeless business-casual clothes* perform a series of parlor charades. It’s a tempest in a black-box, and in case you can’t picture it, here’s the trailer:

Tomorrow! from Noah Dunham on Vimeo.

Cute, vulnerable, ambitious and brave, Action/Adventure Theatre’s thesps employ a variety of techniques over a medley of found and original sound (Zagar & Evans “In the Year 2525”, songs by Kyle Acheson, a global-warming-themed redux of Nelly’s “Hot in Herre”, and much more). Like a Greek Chorus orating a film-lit textbook, they recite retro-futuristic clichés: “A Vision of the Future From [A Given Year]!” they periodically announce. 1963: robot maids. 1979: peak oil, Mad Max. 1989: hoverboards. And—as far forward as the play’s “retro” goes—1991: artificial intelligence and nuclear apocalypse.Marching around on a stage that’s painted like a navigator’s star (how’s that for all-encompassing?) they sing and dance, miming military salutes, gogo dancing, subjugation, discovery, oration, worship, violence, conquest… recurring and alternating in no particular order to represent a broad swathe of human behaviors over a prolonged but undefined span of time. Unfortunately, some of the dance moves lack attack, and some singing is a tad pitchy. Under the business togs, there’s still a glimpse of noncommittal hipster slip.**

Monologues, are a stronger suit: Tara Coen stands up to a chorus of doomsayers with the starry-eyed stubbornness of Judy Garland’s Dorothy, and Noah Dunham rivets the audience into the present when he feigns improv between tightly choreographed scenes. As he describes the human desire for “a room full of people who want to be in a room full of people,” he believably feigns sudden discovery of the space he’s standing in.

Between ensemble numbers, Devon Wade Granmo and Noelle Eaton play out a spec-fic*** subplot: one old man attempts to relieve his fellow humans’ post-apocalyptic malaise by sharing his memories of simple pre-disaster pleasures using an ancient method: word-of-mouth. At points in this brief story, the actors self-narrate their movements before they perform them. “The girl watches him,” says Eaton in a narrator’s neutral tone, training her gaze back on Granmo to re-inhabit her character. It’s a peculiar device also seen last season in Portland Playhouse’s production of Tarell Alvin McCraney Brother/Sister plays, an interesting way to bridge the badlands between page and stage.

Not to be overlooked are whiz-kid composer Kyle Acheson’s musical contributions. Though he doesn’t perform his works live as he did in Fertile Ground’s “Water Man,” his recorded pieces are credible enough to blend into a mixtape alongside David Byrne and The Pixies. Acheson’s growing list of collabs demonstrates an emerging niche for Portland’s overflow of songwriting chops. Commandeering theaters has worked in prior seasons for troubadour Holcombe Waller; here’s hoping more great songwriters continue to flow away from noisy bars toward this more attentive forum.

With a wink of human-deprecating humor, a wisp of wistfulness, and a rumble of beat-poet rebellion, “Tomorrow!” proves a balanced composition with an engaging variety of emotions. However—as its topic warrants—it’s ultimately inconclusive. In the face of society’s ever-emerging challenges, it proposes effort, community and positivity as the closest things to solutions. Ultimately, Hollingshead’s “Tomorrow!” is what you make of it.

*This 1930’s-train-traveler fashion proclivity— suspenders, slick hair, rugged leather dress shoes, fitted coats and durable frocks—seems to have recently wormholed its way into spec-fic styling (“Hunger Games,” “Caprica”) and Portland hipster wardrobes. I see it as a backlash toward durable old-world modesty and craftsmanship in the wake of penultimate mall-style peacocking (early 2000’s rhinestone-crusted jeans, anyone?). Not the main point of this production, but a trend worth watching.

**Post5’s Arabian Nights recently raised the small theater song-and-dance standard. Spirit fingers, people!

***”Speculative fiction,” or “spec-fic,” sometimes makes a more apt moniker for futurism than the popularized “sci-fi.” This play in particular envisions more infrastructural collapses than scientific advances.

 

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