Portland play development

NWTW eases into company status in stages

The Workshop's "Noisemaker" and "Jaffa Gate" reveal a company building and playing the long game

Northwest Theatre Workshop is playing the long game.

For Fertile Ground 2015, the Cantilever Project presented a staged reading of four plays at Blackfish Gallery:  NWTW founder Cigi Guerin’s Noisemaker, Wayne Harrel’s since-retitled Jaffa Gate, George Taylor’s Renaissance, and Vivien Lyon’s Nobody’s Business. I reviewed them, noting that Jaffa Gate‘s original name (a Latin word that choir nerds like me may know) actually gave away Harrel’s ending before the show even began! I didn’t expect him to necessarily even read, let alone take, that note, but apparently he did as NWTW continued to refine two of the Cantilever scripts, Guerin’s and Harrel’s, for a full staging.

Now, two years later, Jaffa Gate and Noisemaker are blazing through a three-week world premiere run, packing in seven more performances in rotation at Shaking The Tree’s theater space between now and Saturday, partnering with nearby businesses to offer discounts and even some free tickets. At his curtain speeches, Harrel admits that NWTW are eager to share their progress toward establishing a full-fledged theater company. They want an audience. They want reviews. Buoyed by a cast and crew who already give a lot to our theater community (one is PATA’s president, and most have a long list of small local companies they’ve worked with), these shows are finishing their incubation in the spotlight. So how far along are they?

Jaffa Gate

Jaffa Gate could be summarized as a theatrical overview of the overlaps in the three Abrahamic faiths: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Scholars are already aware that these religions’ sacred texts may as well have been written on triplicate carbon forms, but this narrative makes that all the more explicit—sometimes even deploying an echo effect as three characters utter their faiths’ variations of the same word. For instance, when Christian character Oliver Dodd (Johnny Rice) refers to “David,” his cohorts, the Turkish Muslim Rachma Chol (Dré Slaman) and the Dutch Jewish Miriam Abravanel (Sofia May-Cuxim) immediately mutter their faiths’ variations, respectively “Davud” and “DavEED.” This “you say tomato” religious repartee shapes the course of events through a tense situation, as these three have been captured at the border of the titular Jaffa Gate by Circassian—aka, Black Sea Russian—mercenary tribal leader Nash Abu Ghosh (Andy Haftkowycz).

Dré Slaman spins a tale in “Jaffa Gate.” Photo: Northwest Theatre Workshop

Talk about ambitious! Between triple research of world religions and regional strife and the proposition of life-or-death stakes, Harrel’s script goes wide. Hence, to hold together, its execution must be incredibly tight. On opening week at least, it was still getting there.

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