Louanne Moldovan

Spotlight on: Luisa Sermol

Part 1 of 2: Birth of an Artist. As the grande dame of Portland theater prepares to move on, Bobby Bermea traces the beginnings of her career

There is a moment toward the beginning of Artist Rep’s The Humans, not too long after the parents have arrived at the children’s New York apartment, before much of the shenanigans, revelations and pandemonium have ensued, when Luisa Sermol comes to a moment of stillness at the top of the stairs. While a scene is happening on the floor below, she just stands there … and even so, it takes an act of will to tear your eyes away from her. Much of The Humans is artfully choreographed chaos — but not this. Sermol comes to a stop and time stops with her. Though you know next to nothing about this Deirdre Blake’s life, on a visceral level you feel everything that has brought this character to this moment. You feel the weight of her life, the joys long past, the choices made, the brokenness, the frustrations, the boundless love. It’s a moment that not all actors have in them. There is nothing to do. You just have to be. And few actors do that better than Luisa Sermol.

Luisa Sermol: The North Star. Photo: Owen Carey

She’s the North Star of the Portland theater community. She’s our grande dame, our standard-bearer. She’s been acting in Portland for twenty years. She graduated from Juilliard. She’s won five Drammys. She’s worked at almost every major house in Portland. She’s tackled everything in this town from Shakespeare to Johnna Adams and she’s done it with power, precision and vulnerability — and she’s made it look effortless (when, of course, it is anything but). Her hallmark is being able to dig down to the depths of her soul and leave it all on the stage. If Theatre Thanos came down in his spaceship, she would lead Portland’s team of Drama Avengers out to fight him. Tony Sonera, for whom Sermol gave two of her award-winning performances, put it this way: “When you have the big role, with big shoes, with big expectations, when it’s too difficult for you to figure out, you bring in Luisa Sermol.”

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‘The Set-Up’: punch-drunk on stage

Poetry and fancy footwork enter the ring with Cygnet's adaptation of a Jazz Age rhyming narrative about the world of boxing

King Lear rose from his seat at the end of the sharply choreographed brawl that is The Set-Up, looked around the heath, smiled broadly and said, “I love this theater community. People will try anything.”

He was hardly alone. The enthusiasm was contagious Friday night in the seats surrounding Tim Stapleton’s boxing ring of a set in the little warehouse space of Shaking the Tree. Of course, the opening night house was packed with friends of the theater – in this case, Cygnet Productions, which is producing this newly adapted stage version of Joseph Moncure March‘s 1928 free-for-all of an epic poem – but I have the sense that a house full of strangers might have felt much the same. Or maybe not, because a lot of the show’s pleasure is in the way it plays around with theatrical conventions, updating and refreshing approaches that might seem buried in the past, and who better than a theatrical audience to appreciate something like that? Then again, the audience is no dummy. And whether this sort of fight club’s your bottle of liniment oil or not, it’s easy to see the thing packs a pretty good punch and is quick on its feet.

Pansy (Bobby Bermea) gets a breather between rounds after absorbing a beating. Photo: Owen Carey

Pansy (Bobby Bermea) gets a breather between rounds after absorbing a beating. Photo: Owen Carey

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