Gary Powell

Bakkhai to the future

Shaking the Tree's visually ravishing new version of Euripides' ancient Greek tragedy ripples nervously down the centuries to now

Don’t aggravate the gods.

This seems like sound advice even today, when the universe is out of kilter enough without purposely sticking a thumb in its eye. How much more sage must it have seemed back in fifth-century B.C.E. Greece, when the pantheon of deities had all the flaws of humans, but were infinitely more powerful, and therefore infinitely more dangerous, and infinitely more used to getting their way?

This holds true particularly if the god in question is named Dionysus (or Bacchus, as the Romans had it), god of wine, fertility, religious ecstasy, ritual madness, and – oh, yes: that giddy and unstable illusion called theater. Dionysus could throw a whale of a party, but he was hardly known for his reasoned approach to problem-solving. He was a vindictive sort, and he bore a grudge, and he gathered devotees who were in his thrall, no matter how cruel or ridiculous or unspeakable his demands might be. If that sounds familiar – well, at a time when the world cries out for Apollonian restraint, here we are, captured in a Dionysian frenzy in our culture and politics, swept up in a foolish and destructive nightmare of blind impulse.

Bakkhai: tellers of the tale. Photo: Meg Nanna

Which may or may not have been why director Samantha Van Der Merwe chose to start the new season at her Shaking the Tree Theatre with Bakkhai, a play you might know better under the title The Bacchae or The Bacchantes, in a new version by the poet and classicist Anne Carson. Euripides’ tragedy, which premiered in 405 B.C.E. in the appropriately named Theatre of Dionysus in Athens, carries a scent of heedless yet inevitable doom that seems to have parallels to the present day, although it’s hardly a perfect fit: It’s tough to blame the gods for our all-too-human current predicament.

Continues…

Upstart: Lakewood’s ‘Golden Boy’

Ty Boice returns as Clifford Odets' conflicted boxer, putting on the gloves of old-fashioned American realism at Lakewood

By CHRISTA MORLETTI McINTYRE

Lakewood Theatre Company packs punches with its production of Clifford Odets’ Golden Boy, but not the kind you expect. Boxing as the American sport has gone by the wayside since Mike Tyson started biting ears, but once it was the golden sport, responsible for a huge number of radio sales: Families crowded around the old wooden box to see if their hero and their bets were coming through.

That’s the time and atmosphere of Golden Boy, which premiered at The Group Theatre in 1937. Ty Boice stars as Joe Bonaparte, an Italian immigrant’s son who wants to escape the shame and struggle of poverty and make a name and a man of himself. Boice, the founding artistic director of Post5 in Portland and now associate artistic director of Island Stage Left in Friday Harbor, Washington, remains a darling of the Portland stage, and for good reason. He puts on the gloves and doesn’t hit below the belt in Golden Boy. With his natural shock of blond hair he’s a sensitive, but driven, hero, with a keen awareness of Bonaparte’s mixed-up inner world beneath his strong-man facade. Boice gives Bonaparte a slight stutter in Act 1; his hands move jaggedly, and he hangs his head in a slight nod. He’s an innocent boy, subconsciously aware he’s making the choice to bite some apples and lose the comfort of childhood. The inner lion of Boice’s Bonaparte is rehearsing for the moments he comes into his own.

Tabitha Trosen and Ty Boice: cruising for a bruising. Lakewood Theatre photo.

Tabitha Trosen and Ty Boice: cruising for a bruising. Lakewood Theatre photo.

Gary Powell, who played the stand-in for Noel Coward in Lakewood’s recent Present Laughter, delivers a masculine tour de force as Joe’s father, this time without the trappings of crystal decanters and silk robes: he is the interior strength and moral center of Joe’s world. A pushcart fruit salesman, he has set out to make a better life in the New World for his family – not one of a bigger and better house and car, but of the heart and mind. He and Boice together create a powerful dynamic onstage.

*

Odets, the playwright, grew up in the Bronx as the son of Jewish immigrants, and Golden Boy is something of a many-layered, fictionalized memoir. His father was a go-getter who aimed to make it big in the U.S. of A. Odets was a roommate and close friend of director Elia Kazan, and a vital member of the radical theater scene of the 1930s. He came of artistic age in a perfect swirl: the great Yiddish theater and journalism of New York City; the politicking of FDR that created the WPA and its art and performance projects; The Group Theater, led by Lee Strasberg, which forged new avenues in acting by careful and thorough self-reflection, popularly known as “method acting.”

Continues…

Escaping to Present Laughter

Noel Coward's escapist comedy gets a deft and funny turn in Lakewood Theater's period-smart production

By CHRISTA MORLETTI McINTYRE

As Cole Porter once told us, “Anything goes.” The English entertainer Noel Coward agreed with him, wearing silk polka-dot dressing gowns at all hours, constantly thrusting out his long pencil-thin cigarette holder, and dishing out similar quotes with abandon.

Coward’s comedy Present Laughter, directed by Don Alder and playing through December 13 at Lakewood Theater, is a screwball comedy from an earlier, but not more innocent, age: written in 1939, it was first produced in 1942, as war was raging, and it provided an escape from more sordid realities.

Gary Powell, laughing through present and past. Triumph Photography

Gary Powell, laughing through present and past. Triumph Photography

A different sort of battle is playing out onstage. Garry Essendine (Gary Powell) is a famous actor in the middle of a midlife crisis. His crisis isn’t the one we’re used to reading about in Psychology Today: rather than chasing a younger skirt and buying a convertible, he’s beset by a well-staffed flat whose doors never shut to romantic predators after him. His former wife, butler, maid, and secretary try to keep the seams of his chaotic life together so they can get a paycheck from him. Poor Garry never gets a break. He just wants to nap in his sleeping-mask, but someone’s always finding a way to get next to him. So the outrageous and twisted plot unfolds – anything goes, indeed– and we find ourselves laughing at, and for, Garry.

Continues…