Portland contemporary theater

‘The Overview Effect’ preview: Space odyssey

Portland composer/actor's new theatrical production sends audiences on a journey through inner and outer space

For as long as he can remember, Portland composer Tylor Neist wanted to be an astronaut. “I don’t even know where it came from,” he admits. Growing up in Minnesota, “I always loved space. I had space paraphernalia in the house as a child.”

Tylor Neist.

Tylor Neist.

He also loved theater. When he was eight years old, Neist played the shy, lisping Winthrop in The Music Man.But music became his main attraction, eventually leading Neist to a master’s degree from the Manhattan School of Music, where he studied violin performance and composition.

A couple of years ago, Neist saw a film about the Overview Effect, a term coined by Frank White in his 1987 book of that title that refers to “a cognitive shift in awareness reported by some astronauts and cosmonauts during spaceflight, often while viewing the Earth from orbit or from the lunar surface,” says Wikipedia, in which “the conflicts that divide people become less important, and the need to create a planetary society with the united will to protect this ‘pale blue dot’ becomes both obvious and imperative.”

“Everything came together,” Neist remembers — space, music, theater. “Being that I always wanted to be an astronaut, I was really inspired by the message.” He decided to create “a piece about a journey into the great unknown.” Neist’s new theatrical production, The Overview Effect, opens Friday and runs through April 23 at Portland Center Stage.

Neist plays a character he calls a combination of astronomer Carl Sagan and philosopher Alan Watts. The hour-long show is set in his workshop, and also uses projections from the Hubble Space Telescope as his character’s imagination embarks on its journey.

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“The Submission”: shockingly candid, surprisingly forgiving

Defunkt Theatre tells an inflammatory story with (some) sympathy for all sides.

In Defunkt Theatre’s production of “The Submission,” we start off rooting for Danny (Matthew Kern), the playwright-within-a-play. He’s written a script that he believes deserves to be read, picked, and produced by the theater powers that be—and it’s a long shot. But his friend Trevor (Matthew Dieckman) and his boyfriend Pete (Bjorn Anderson) vouch that his script—a story of a black family struggling to get out of the projects—is surprisingly legit, even brilliant and profound. Danny has apparently used a black poverty vernacular to reveal universal truth…but as a white gay man, he starts to worry that he can’t get away with that.

To save his script from the dreaded slush pile, Danny Larson replaces his name with a fake, “black sounding” woman’s name, Shalia Ganatamobe, reasoning that in this context, any black woman’s chances would be better than his own—and that’s…not…fair?

When his submission gets accepted under the new name, he sees that as proof of his presumptions, and he decides to prolong his con. He enlists black actress Emilie (Andrea White) to help him—just til the play can achieve the success he’s certain it deserves. But as Emilie enters his social circle and starts voicing opinions of her OWN, Danny’s possessiveness and prejudice rears its ugly head on many fronts. Gradually the young, idealistic, self-described “very gay” artist reveals his resentment of the theater scene’s informal affirmative action push, reframing reparation as minority privilege and bemoaning the white man’s supposed disadvantage.

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