Jessica Hillenbrand

Janie’s got her gun

Defunkt blows up the war of the sexes with Sheila Callaghan's "That Pretty Pretty; or, The Rape Play"

What happens when a pair of radical ex-strippers on a homicidal Thelma and Louise road trip become the inspiration for a 4chan-tinted, Wes Anderson-style tale? In Defunkt’s new staging of Sheila Callaghan’s That Pretty Pretty; or, The Rape Play, a radical Pandora’s box of no-apologies theater, gender-identity bending, and raw angst dusted with a heavy sugar-coating of pop culture lets loose.

Theater and television writer Callaghan’s script is poetically muscled, fervent, and meticulous in its craft, and director Paul Angelo takes on a tough job with a play that has enough stage directions to put George Balanchine in a spin. This highrise production has enough levels for the highbrow playgoing aesthete, and enough grit for lowbrow surveyors to take a shine to the blacker-than-black humor Callaghan is known for.

Jessica Tidd, Blake Stone, and Jessica Hillenbrand in “That Pretty Pretty. Photo: Rosemary Ragusa

The play’s beginning echoes ancient Greek repetition in a fragmented cacophony, and throws the character’s identities and gender into a finely sharpened Cuisinart. It’s an accurate portrait of the creative process: dead-files, collected memories of conversations, cutouts from pictures, snatches of dialogue underlined in novels, all of it informing and nurturing the next creative spark. The dialogue of That Pretty Pretty; or, The Rape Play is hyper-fresh, like an observation of people’s internet scrolling in a rundown Venice, California cafe.The play’s pacing is frenetic – somewhere between practice-shooting clay pigeons while high on cocaine and riding a rollercoaster that betrays the physics of killing thrill-seekers. Like a rotten snow globe found in the rubble of a decayed inner city, the pieces drift down and come into a cohesive narrative shape. This play is difficult to its core: Without Angelo’s experience on stage and the emotional and physical bravery of the cast, the lucid drama could fall flat.

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Fertile Ground reviews: Young bloods

Broken Planetarium's 'Atlantis' and Orphic's 'Iphigenia 3.0' show the promise of today's young Portland theater companies

At a Fertile Ground panel discussion called Building a Musical last weekend, Portland theater maven Corey Brunish, who’s produced impressive shows in Oregon and New York and beyond, noted that most Broadway shows are aimed at “well educated women in their 60s.” His observation  will come as no surprise to anyone who’s attended a Broadway show — or most other theater, in New York or elsewhere. Judging by the usual audience demographic, you’d be forgiven for thinking that even Portland theater is for old people. But at two performances at this year’s Fertile Ground festival, I found young companies drawing relatively young audiences in plays that pulsed with 21st century attitude and energy. They left me optimistic for the future of theater in Portland and beyond.

After the Deluge

Set in a not so distant future in which the climate change denied by the Con-mander in Chief has now, ironically, inundated (thanks to melting polar ice) most of his properties, Atlantis takes place atop a New York skyscraper rooftop. By day, its characters watch the waters rise inch by inch, and by night participate in an early ‘60s-style Greenwich Village open mike amateur folk song showcase —providing a perfect excuse for characters to periodically burst into song. Not that operas or musicals (which, despite the subtitle, is really what this is, as it eschews traditional opera’s sung recitatives in favor of a musical’s alternating songs and dialogue) have ever needed one.

Natasha Kotey in ‘Atlantis.’ Photo: Laura Hadden.

Thankfully, the enormously entertaining show, which completed its short Fertile Ground run at Portland’s Clinton Street Theater last weekend, seldom slows to harangue us about politics; the impending flood is just an ominous if inevitable fact of life. So adaptable are these New Yorkers that, evolutionary theory be damned, they grow gills to adapt to their submerged future. It’s one of the cheerfully wacky touches that keep Atlantis’s mood light while never flinching from the gravity of its subject matter. We soon learn that this greatest of our generation’s challenges is also a metaphor for one of its other generational crises, one that unfolds through the story of one of its central characters. That’s a classic application of speculative fiction, yet there’s nothing remotely preachy or political or sentimental about this realization.

In fact, several songs (written by Laura Christina Dunn, Brigit Kelly Young, Kendy Gable, Monica Metzler a/k/a Forest Veil, Frank Mazzetti and Maggie Mascal) could be described as sharp musical comedy, and their sly, smart lyrics are one of the show’s major assets. The audience chortled and even howled through numbers like Dunn’s song about the land of lost dates, and cheered Sofia May-Cuxim’s dynamite belting out of “Hymn to the End of the World.” The other vocal performances could be charitably described as authentically scruffy indie, which suits the story but may occasionally trouble listeners who prioritize accurate pitch, range greater than a few notes, and audible lyrics over dramatic authenticity, although that last problem might be addressed by amplification in the bigger, better funded full production that I dearly hope will follow.

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Stupid Kids stand out

Oh, those kids: The OUTWright Theater Festival brings back a 1991 coming-out drama inspired by "Rebel Without a Cause"

It could be said that modern drama is a footnote to Hamlet: one man up against the world. In the late John C. Russell’s 1991 play Stupid Kids, a teenager who nicknames himself Neechee is a candidate to be just such a loner.

Post5 is celebrating the OUTWright Theater Festival with the festival’s feature production of Stupid Kids, a play whose narrative moves in and out of a plot and characters that suggest the famed teenage angst-noir classic Rebel Without a Cause, with a hindsight fantasy of coming out in the ’90s and coming out ahead.

"Stupid Kids": rebels looking for a cause. Photo: Carrie Anne Huneycutt

“Stupid Kids”: rebels looking for a cause. Photo: Carrie Anne Huneycutt

The celluloid icon Jim Stark, made famous in Rebel by the young James Dean, had a soft-looking physique, long hair for the time, and a pouty lip. Underneath his neat red package was a nihilism that rejected the hero worship of WWII vets and their boxed-up world obsessed with stability. Many generations of distrusting youths adopted his look, sneer, and sexiness. But maybe they forgot the end of the film, where Jim goes home and the implication is he’s ready to tow his dad’s line. There’s a tension between Jim and his friend Plato, and Hollywood rumors have propagated that Dean and Sal Mineo, who played Plato, were lovers. Stupid Kids takes the retro obsession of the ’90s with the past, but instead of delivering a Saul Bass-illustrated pays de cocagne, a land of luxury, the play reaches a step ahead.

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