defunkt

DramaWatch: Punch-Drunk Life

Imago Theatre's "Special K" drinks deep of theatrical madness. Plus openings from CoHo, Corrib, and defunkt dot the theater calendar.

“She’s crazy. Always has been, always will be. There’s nothing here but a play.”

— from Special K, by Jerry Mouawad

In times such as these, who’s to say what’s crazy? Most of us probably think we know crazy when we see it, but if we find ourselves in its lap we might not be so sure. Special K, a new play by the always-intriguing Jerry Mouawad and Imago Theatre, is about going crazy. And about being crazy. And/or not being crazy after all. And about the way that craziness breeds more craziness around it.

It also seems to be about — sometimes fleetingly and flittingly, sometimes deep in its madly circuitous structure — mental illness, drug-induced psychosis, power and manipulation, complicity and duplicity, acting and improvising, sexuality and gender dynamics, the philosophical dialectic between the Apollonian and the Dionysian, the permeable membrane between internal experience and objective reality, the elusiveness of truth, and the importance of knowing what’s in your cup.

“The insane are holier than the sane.” So says the Queen — or maybe she’s the Empress — in Imago Theatre’s Special K. Anne Sorce (center) stars, with (clockwise from left) Danny Gray, Matthew Sunderland, Emily Welch and Stephanie Woods. Photo: Jerry Mouawad.

All in all, it’s another distinctive creation from Imago, Portland’s most enduringly, consistently inventive and surprising theater company. Originally planned as a one-act, the project grew into a longer play, necessitating a week’s delay in opening. That means this weekend and next offer the few chances to see this fascinating work.

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The Fighter, unleashed

Defunkt Theatre's "Girl in the Red Corner" is a rousing feminist anthem

“I want to fight someone so bad!”

That’s what I heard one audience member say after the end of defunkt theatre’s fearsome production of Girl in the Red Corner, Stephen Spotswood’s play about the rise of a rookie mixed-martial-arts fighter. I felt the same way, but I also understood that while Girl in the Red Corner is about fighting, it is specifically about women fighting. The true victory is not that the play’s protagonist, Halo (Elizabeth Jackson), becomes a winner, but that she defies abusive men and cynical women by molding her body and spirit into taut, unassailable fighting form.

It’s a long way from where she starts out. Girl in the Red Corner, which was directed by Paul Angelo, begins with Halo divorced, unemployed, and living with her Bud Light-loving mother, Terry (Diane Kondrat), who is about to be fired from her job at Safeway. Halo eventually finds work as a telemarketer, but that defines her less than her lessons with the ruthless Gina (Mamie Colombero) at an MMA gym.

Going with the punches. Photo courtesy defunkt theatre

MMA is the only way Halo can release the rage that has been building inside her ever since she was forced to quit her previous job after being sexually harassed by her boss (the sound of her leg kicking an Everlast pad is like a sonic boom). The only question is whether that will be enough to keep her from falling into the canyons of hopelessness that have consumed her mother and her sister Brinn (Paige Rogers), both of whom have been demeaned by powerful men for so long that they have all but given up resisting.

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Pride and the need to connect

The performances put the punch into defunkt theatre's "The Pride," which tells two tales of love and pain, half a century apart

By ALIA STEARNS

The small black box theater that houses defunkt theatre welcomes audiences to its production of The Pride by Alexi Kaye Campbell without fanfare. The simple staging points accurately to a sitting room that does double duty in both 1958 and 2008. It is in no way an impressive backdrop, alive with special flourishes: Instead, it highlights how common the experiences of the three main characters are, and that is what makes the tears flow.

In the opening scene, audiences are introduced to Phillip (Morgan Lee), an estate agent, and his actress-turned-illustrator wife Sylvia (Paige McKinney), who has invited Oliver (Matthew Kern), the author with whom she is working, to meet her husband. As she finishes getting ready, the two men are left to work through tense chitchat, an undercurrent of attraction merely hinted at until, as they exit the flat for dinner, Sylvia comments that she “felt something.” Their storyline follows the relationship between the two men and Sylvia’s understanding of her husband’s desires.

McKinney and Lee in “The Pride.” Photo: Rosemary Ragusa

In a future that alternates with the 1950s narrative are another Phillip, Oliver, and Sylvia. Though they are played by the same actors, the understanding is that they are completely different people, if weighted with the psychic baggage of the ones that came before them. This Oliver is still a writer, a journalist, but rather than the romantic of the 1950s, he is seemingly addicted to having sex with strangers. Phillip, his recent ex, is a photographer. Sylvia, an actress, is his best friend. Whereas the 1950s are predominantly about Phillip and his self-hatred, the 2000s are all about Oliver and his self-hatred.

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DramaWatch Weekly: Variety Valentine

From laughing/crying nothing girls to "The Pride" to a long-lost comedy to offbeat Valentine shows, the theater week should be a snap(shot)

Few titles are as directly descriptive of plot as CoHo’s forthcoming This Girl Laughs, This Girl Cries, This Girl Does Nothing, an all-ages fable about three sisters who take diverging paths through the wilderness into womanhood. Eenie, meenie, miney mo; I wonder which sister is played by Jen Rowe? I’m guessing Albienne, the fighter?

“This Girl Laughs, This Girl Cries, This Girl Does Nothing.” Photo courtesy CoHo Productions

Defunkt opens The Pride, a widely split narrative that jumps a 60-year span to connect characters who share (almost?) nothing but a name. I love a good split narrative because the story—Humanity!—is already implied, and the rest of the exercise is just exploring the subtler curiosities of character. Spoiler: we’re all connected. But what will these particular people say and do?

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