Bag & Baggage Theater Productions Shakespeare Hillsboro Oregon

DramaWatch: A serious romcom (or the other way around)

Corrib's "Maz & Bricks" deftly juggles formula and function; young actors go lawless; "Thurgood" heads to the finish line.

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Opposites don’t always attract; sometimes they just get stuck together by accident.

That’s how it is – at least at first – in Maz & Bricks, by the Irish actress/playwright Eva O’Connor, which is getting an at-once fun and touching treatment from Corrib Theatre, through March 13 in Portland State University’s Boiler Room studio. 

The opposites in question are a serious, righteously angry young woman on her way to an abortion-rights rally and a cocky, loquacious young man headed to pick up his four-year-old daughter for a trip to the zoo. Accident number one, from her point of view, is that they happen to board the same Dublin light-rail car.  Bricks talks loudly into his cellphone, recounting his previous night’s sexual misadventures, then turns his chatter hose on the determinedly uninterested Maz, bent to her task of lettering a sign for the fast-approaching march.

Eliza Frakes and Ken Yoshikawa in “Maz & Bricks.” Photo: Adam Liberman

He’s taken aback when he finds out what she’s doing – not just because she isn’t sketching his handsome profile, as he’d like to think, but because of her views. “Speaking as a father, I just can’t get behind the whole thing,” he says. “Loving your daughter and having an abortion have nothing to do with each other,” she shoots back impatiently.

Before long, their train ride ends and they head their separate ways – Bricks to face the wrath of his daughter’s mother, Maz to what Bricks jokingly calls “match day for feminists” – until another coincidence reunites them, giving them the time for the painful personal revelations that deepen their interest in each other and ours in them. Bricks flirts with obnoxiousness in the beginning, but Ken Yoshikawa plays him here with such boyish charm that he’s much more Peter Pan than lager lout. Meanwhile, Eliza Frakes leavens Maz’s defensiveness and bitter humor with hints of softness beneath the fury. Whether or not they attract each other, they’re engaging for us to watch, even as they oscillate wildly between playfully cute and acidly aggrieved.

O’Connor set the play in a very specific context: Dublin 2017, during the campaign to repeal Ireland’s Eighth Amendment, passed in 1983, which had severely restricted abortion access. In symbolic terms, Bricks represents a kind of received conservatism, a reflexive response to the issue based on the culture he grew up in. The softening of his position takes place early on here (although he calls Maz “an abortionist” through most of the play), but as little more than a side note. What’s important, O’Connor implies, isn’t whether these two characters come to agree, but whether they come to know each other.  

Reviewing Maz & Bricks a few years ago, The New York Times called it, with a faint whiff of the pejorative, “a rom-com caper wrapped in an argument for abortion rights.” But that description might be backwards, depending on how you look at it. Colored by Maz’s idealistic anger, the play tilts toward the polemic early on, only to veer off riding rom-com-style plot mechanics; so, yes, the political/moral argument might seem like mere veneer on an ultimately less-serious work. And yet, what we might take as O’Connor’s argument has at its heart not sociological data or philosophical reasoning but, well, heart. Her story suggests that curiosity, compassion and openness are the essentials for true human connection –  “romantic” or otherwise – and therefore indispensable to right-thinking politics or morals. Despite their prominence in the plot, the rom-com elements could be viewed as the packaging for a message that’s ultimately about empathy as much as about abortion.  

Opening

“WROL (Without Rule of Law),” from Oregon Children’s Theatre’s Young Professionals troupe. Briana Cerezo Photography

Oregon Children’s Theatre often pushes the boundaries of what you might expect from such a company, as with the challenging drama its Young Professionals troupe opened last weekend,  WROL (Without Rule of Law), about a group of 8th-grade survivalists planning for an apocalyptic future only marginally less hospitable to young women than their current lives. But of course it also excels at the lighthearted, welcoming fare that’s long been the bread and butter of “kids’ shows.” Speaking of bread and butter, it’s time to share some with The Very Hungry Caterpillar Show, a colorful, puppet-populated, all-age-friendly stage adaptation of the work of author/illustrator Eric Carle.

Closing

Lester Purry in “Thurgood.” Photo: Shawnte Sims

On one level a biographical sketch of the pivotal American jurist Thurgood Marshall – delivered as though a speech by the man himself – George Stephens, Jr.’s play Thurgood is also, and perhaps more importantly, a look at the ongoing struggle to get the U.S. Constitution to truly operate in accordance with the egalitarian principles that it ostensibly rests upon. Some critic or other called this Portland Playhouse production “well-paced, full-blooded and important.”

Reading

Playwright Vickie G. Hampton, it would appear, holds no truck with obscurantism. In The Learning Curve, which PassinArt gives a reading Monday evening at Cerimon House, two schools are contrasted through the experiences of a veteran science teacher; one school is called Urban High, the other is Privilege High. Anyone care to guess about the demographic and thematic territory ahead? But of course even if the landscape looks predictable, that might just leave more room for surprises along the journey. 

Play on, old dude!

Though it spun off as a not-for-profit organization of its own, Play On Shakespeare grew out of an Oregon Shakespeare Festival play-commissioning program started during the tenures of former artistic director Bill Rauch and that superstar of literary managers (no, really!) Lue Douthit. The connections remain strong. Douthit serves as Play On president. And check out the cast for the recently released podcast version of King Lear, stocked with such well-loved OSF veterans as Christiana Clark, Daniel Jose Molina, Rex Young, Gina Daniels and Amy Kim Waschke.

Translated into modern English verse by Marcus Gardley, this “jazz-infused” Lear takes place in a volatile, gentrifying San Francisco. Keith David stars as the King in decline.

Second-hand news

“When the battle’s lost and won, however, we must acknowledge that no two Macbeths are anywhere near alike,” Chris Vognar writes in the Los Angeles Times, pondering the prevalence of big-screen adaptations of “the Scottish play” over other Shakespeare tragedies and inviting you to choose your Macbeth. “Some are sparse, some Baroque. Some are bloody, others restrained. Sometimes the blood-stained king is haughty; other times, he’s terrified of his own murderous deeds. The play is well suited to interpretation.”  

Best line I read this week

“People have been arguing for hundreds of years about what was really wrong with Hamlet. Some say that he must have been a woman, some say that he was homosexual, in love with his uncle or with Horatio, and unable to bear the fact that his uncle slept with a woman, and there is one fascinating view which maintains that all the mystery is utterly clarified if we suppose that everyone is roaring drunk from the beginning to the end of the play.”

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Bag & Baggage Theater Productions Shakespeare Hillsboro Oregon

– Delmore Schwartz, from the short essay “Hamlet, or There Is Something Wrong With Everyone.”

The flattened stage

Shakespeare’s Greatest Jokes:

Access video here.

That’s all I have for now. I’ll try to do better the next time.

Editor

Marty Hughley is a Portland journalist who writes about theater, dance, music and culture. His honors have included a National Arts Journalism Program fellowship at the University of Georgia, a fellowship at the NEA Arts Journalism Institute in Theater and Musical Theater at the University of Southern California, and first-place awards for arts reporting in the Society of Professional Journalists Pacific Northwest Excellence in Journalism Competitions. In 2013 he was inducted into the Oregon Music Hall of Fame for his contributions to the industry. A Portland native, Hughley studied history at Portland State University, worked at the alternative newsweekly Willamette Week in the late 1980s as pop music critic and arts editor, then spent nearly a quarter century at The Oregonian as a reporter, feature writer and critic. His recent freelance work has appeared in Oregon ArtsWatch, Artslandia and the Oregon Humanities magazine. He lives with his cat, and dies a little with each new setback to the Trail Blazers.

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