Duffy Epstein

A gorgeous fairy tale, in triplicate

CoHo's "This Girl Laughs, This Girl Cries, This Girl Does Nothing" is a theatrical marvel about the adventures of not-so-identical triplets

At the risk of revealing my own ignorance, I must admit I had no idea what I was going to see when I was tapped to review CoHo Productions’ This Girl Laughs, This Girl Cries, This Girl Does Nothing. I hadn’t heard of Finegan Kruckemeyer, the esteemed Australian playwright who has had 84 plays commissioned on five continents and whose works have been translated into eight languages.

These Girls, into the woods and beyond. Photo: Owen Carey

I was even mildly annoyed to see that this play about women was written by a man. “What could he know?” I thought. “What does he have to say on this topic that hasn’t been said before?” Turns out the answer to both question is, “So much.”

This Girl Laughs was first produced in 2011 in Argentina and has been produced dozens of times and received numerous awards since. According to Kruckemeyer’s website, it’s suitable for ages 7 to adult. Which might make one think this is production for children. It is, and it isn’t.

This is a play about children. Or people, I should say, who start out as children – as people often do. And it is about how three specific children – identical triplet girls, who, like most identical twins/triplets/etc., turn out not to be identical at all. It is also about, as CoHo has written, “cakes, battle, sun bathing, world carrying, unpleasant badgers, boring people, dancing, romance, walnuts, and long walks.” This is a fairytale. It is about loss, love, and redemption. It’s an odyssey, a bildungsroman in triplicate, and an epic poem.

But none of these descriptions is wholly true. If you were to read the script for This Girl Laughs, This Girl Cries, This Girl Does Nothing, it would read like a novel, with chapters, in a third-person narrator’s voice. It’s a story about losing everything and finding a way to recover. It’s tragic and hopeful. It’s heartbreaking and hilarious. Kruckemeyer’s website says it can be performed by any number of players, and has been performed by one to 30.

Sharon Mann and Beth Thompson, traveling underseas. Photo: Owen Carey

Because this tale is broad and universal, just like a life (or three), and can be melded and shaped and shifted in magical ways. And what CoHo has done with Kruckemeyer’s beautiful words is capture lightning in a bottle.

With a cast of six fine Portland actors (most of whom I’ve enjoyed watching onstage a time or two or several), and under the deft direction of Tamara Carroll, CoHo’s space transforms from a modest home in the forest where three girls live with their mother and father – “And the girls knew in their hearts that this happiness they felt, living in the forest with that man and that woman, it would never end. … Until one day, it ended” – into a snowy wood, and then into warring villages and into beaches and a lighthouse floating across the sea and a vacated bakery and a Snow White-style fairytale filled with animals and a single young woman living out her life in the forest, and into the most boring town in the world, and into a mansion. …

It’s no small feat to pull all of this off on any stage, particularly a smaller space such as CoHo’s. Kaye Blankenship’s scenic design, Jennifer Lin’s lighting, and Sarah Andrews’ props play a major part in bringing this magic to life – but so does that incredible cast of six.

So, let’s talk about the singular actors who make up that cast: Conor Eifler (Younger Man), Duffy Epstein (Older Man), and Sharon Mann (Older Woman) play a plethora of characters and help narrate the triplets’ journeys. They are all so good that it feels unfair to single any of them out, but Epstein gets the most poignant and trickiest plot points, and he rises to the challenge. Epstein recently outshone a remarkable cast in Profile Theater’s Water by the Spoonful. That he doesn’t do that here is to his credit – he downplays his roles here in service to the greater good.

In a fairy tale, one must take measures: Duffy Epstein, Alex Ramirez de Cruz, Jen Rowe, Beth Thompson. Photo: Owen Carey

And, that greater good is those three girls of the title, the triplets. Carmen, the youngest and the one who “does nothing” (but what a lie that is) is played with sweetness, quiet, and innocence by Alex Ramirez de Cruz. The middle sister, Beatrix, the girl who cries (and does so much more than that) is played with reckless abandon, charisma, and comedic timing by Beth Thompson. And the oldest, Albienne, who laughs (though not as often as you’d think), is brought to life by the remarkable Jen Rowe, a force to be reckoned with at all times, but particularly when she’s wielding a sword in battle or flour in a bakery.

Seeing this triptych of women on the CoHo Stage, you will be struck by how lucky you are (although they have all been on the same stage at least once before, in Portland Playhouse’s Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson in 2012, they didn’t carry that play in the same way). It is not an overstatement to compare casting these three to casting the likes of Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, and Laura Dern in a television show: Audiences are rarely that lucky.

And yet here we are in 2018 with HBO’s Big Little Lies on our televisions – and, if you are lucky enough to be in Portland right now, This Girl Laughs, This Girl Cries, This Girl Does Nothing onstage at CoHo Theatre.

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This Girl Laughs, This Girl Cries, This Girl Does Nothing continues through March 3 at CoHo Theatre, 2257 N.W. Raleight St., Portland. Ticket and schedule information here.

 

3 hijackers, 25 strangers, no NPCs

CoHo and playwright Tommy Smith's 's D.B. Cooper play "db" delivers the goods

Do you…

  • … have a nostalgic or forensic fascination with D.B. Cooper, an airplane hijacker and bank robber who parachuted from a Portland-based flight to freedom in 1971 and was never found?
  • … think that Mad Men would’ve been pretty two-dimensional without Peggy?
  • … grit your teeth through True Detective‘s plot-holes just to enjoy Matthew McConaghey’s caustic existential rants, and do you yearn to hear that dialogue style in a stronger story?
  • … have a thing for eternal enigmas and alternate realities, like Schrodinger’s Cat, the Mandela Affect, et cetera? Having given up on proving which thing is true, can you just appreciate the permanent uncertainty?
  • … sometimes wish your theater seat would rumble and quake while the lights flash, briefly transforming the play you’re seeing into an amusement park ride?

Then db, onstage now at CoHo Theatre, may be just the play for you!

It’s no coincidence that Tommy Smith and Teddy Bergman’s script for db, and CoHo’s premiere staging of it, both work on so many levels. Inspired by a life-long fascination with the D.B. Cooper legend, Smith and Bergman first developed a heavily-researched three-hour staged reading that fleshed out at least 10 different robbery suspects. With some workshopping, Smith whittled the script down to to a taut 75-minute play that proposes just three versions of the elusive Cooper character: a bipolar businessman who acquired the money to lure himself a wife, an out-of-work Vietnam vet with debts, and a transgender aviator who needed the cash for her surgery.

Duffy Epstein and Dana Green. Photo: Owen Carey

Even once the play was in production, with Isaac Lamb directing, they continued to perfect the writing. Their last revision, Smith revealed at Sunday’s talkback, happened just ten days before opening! While such rigor approaches neurosis, the payoff in this case is great. This heist story, which would easily lend itself to a trite, testosterone-drunk action flick  or a series like Unsolved Mysteries, becomes, with deft and diligent handling, a complex yet compelling piece of theater.

But how?

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Catch a falling star, put it in your pocket

Portland Playhouse's "Peter and the Starcatcher" recaptures the magic of childhood in the origins of Peter Pan

Novelist Ridley Pearson sat down to read his daughters J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan without much luck. Not because the girls weren’t interested, but the youngest kept interrupting and wanted to know how Peter became an eternal boy, how he met Captain Hook, and when did Tinkerbell figure into the plot? Pearson was in a band called the Rock Bottom Remainders with horror author Stephen King and funnyman Dave Barry. Barry joined Pearson’s quest, and together they wrote a best-selling series that answers the origins of the famous Pan. Now Portland Playhouse has gathered all of their starstuff and staged the multiple award-winning play Peter and the Starcatcher.

It’s a well-sailed ship. The first thing to notice in the old church/playhouse that Portland Playhouse calls home is the meticulously detailed toy pirate ships dotting the stage. The white curtain is a mast with metal loops for rigging, but it has a soft blue glow like an ocean wave or the night sky reflecting the tiny distant suns in the sea wake. Front and center are silver clamshell lights, the kind you would have seen in the 19th century, which gave off the glow of the limelights. There’s an old magic in the air; you can almost feel a Ouija board summoning of the ancient spirits of Gilbert and Sullivan.

Oh, the villainy! OH, THE ADVENTURE! PHOTO: BRUD GILES

Oh, the villainy! Oh, the adventure! Photo: Brud Giles

We begin our history lesson in a sad and bleak Dickens vision where all the good grown-ups are jumping ship, leaving behind the nasty and distrustful. A trio of orphans – “the most useless creatures on earth,” named Boy, Ted, and Prentiss – are aboard. Ted (Chip Sherman) has an empty vortex of a stomach. Prentiss (Quinn Fitzgerald) dons a woolen cap too big for his head and is the self-proclaimed leader of the group. Boy (Nick Ferrucci), who has curly dark black locks, also has a temper against all the grown-ups and a slight impish look. The fourth child sailing on a ship they call the Neverland is the higher-born and more esoterically schooled Molly, played by Jen Rowe. Molly has good posture, and is full of common sense, which at times is overturned by curiosity. Because this is a good story, a children’s story, the four will overcome great odds, make a mess of a situation into a quest, and crown a few heroes by play’s end.

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Just art: a creative shot in the arm

Fertile Ground: Vertigo's vivid premiere of Rob Handel's "I Want To Destroy You" takes smart and funny aim at academia and the outer limits of art

Life’s not going especially well for Harold, a sort-of-famous artist who’s now teaching grad students at a richer-than-thou private college, and he really likes it, actually, but there are … problems. His ex-wife is out of the picture somewhere – California, it sounds like – and his teenage daughter, Micki, comes to visit, prodding him for more of a relationship than he seems willing to commit to. His roof’s got a bad leak, and he’s unfortunately seriously ticked off the roofer, Andy. He’s up for tenure, but his friend and mentor Bob is in a hospital, dying, and the school dean, a crafty-smooth politico named Stephanie (everyone’s on a chummy first-name basis around here, even when they’re decidedly not chums), seems strangely unsympathetic: downright threatening, you might say. Then there’s Mark, the weirdo grad student, who comes to class to give a presentation on a conceptual piece, and in the process starts waving a handgun around. Which very much freaks out the other students, earnest Ilich and leafy Leaf, and throws a serious scare into Harold, which is both completely understandable and a tad ironic, because, after all, the work that made Harold famous and a prize catch for the richer-than-thou college in the first place was the performance piece where he had himself shot. With a rifle. What goes around, as they say, comes around. And on the other end of things, it looks scary.

Monkey see, monkey do: Orr and Epstein as student and teacher. Photo: Gary Norman

Monkey see, monkey do: Orr and Epstein as student and teacher. Photo: Gary Norman

So goes Theatre Vertigo’s I Want To Destroy You, the premiere production of a play by Rob Handel that is smart and funny and argumentative in a very good way and a little sprawling and by turns deeply satiric and emotionally telling, and all in all a fascinating, compellingly turned show. It’s also Vertigo’s entry in the Fertile Ground festival of new works, and to understand it deeply it’s good to know some of the background that Handel, who is head of the dramatic writing program at Carnegie Mellon University and so knows some of this material intimately, uses. Which means, first of all, knowing that harried Harold is a stand-in for, or at least inspired by, a guy named Chris Burden.

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And that creates something of a conundrum for me, because I’ve spent decades purposely averting my attention from Burden. I ignore him the way some people pointedly ignore Justin Bieber or Donald Trump or Dinesh D’Sousa or Noam Chomsky or any member of the Kardashian clan, hoping against hope that they’ll just go away.

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