Ripcord

DramaWatch: In the wake of words with Will Eno

"Wakey, Wakey" at Portland Playhouse finds humor in matters of life and death; "The Color Purple" keeps it simple; and the new Summit Theatre starts its climb

“People talk about matters of Life and Death. But it’s really just Life, isn’t it. When you think about it.”

So says Guy, the main character in the Will Eno play Wakey, Wakey, which on Saturday opens the 2018-’19 Portland Playhouse season. Guy might or might not be meant as a name, and in any case the fellow is — much like the one referred to only as “Man” in the script of Eno’s Title and Deed, which Imago staged in August — a stand-in for any or all of us. An Everyguy.

Hello/goodbye: Michael O’Connell as Guy in Will Eno’s “Wakey, Wakey” at Portland Playhouse. Photo: Brud Giles.

Like most of Eno’s Everyguys, who speak their fractured piece directly in monologues such as Title and Deed and Thom Pain (based on nothing), or serve as the bemused center of ensemble pieces such as Middletown, Guy talks about life from a lot of different angles. More than the rest, though, this guy gives the sense that he’s approaching that final, most blunt angle. And still, this being Eno, that angle, too, bends around, again and again, to unexpectedly beautiful glimmers of life.

As he puts it early on, “We’re here to say goodbye and maybe hopefully also get better at saying hello.”

This should be a terrific way for the Playhouse to say hello to its season, what with Michael O’Connell (who has assayed Eno before to fine effect, in Middletown and The Realistic Joneses, both for Third Rail Rep) starring, joined by Nikki Weaver and directed by Gretchen Corbett. That team is a good bet to find the varied, mingled tones of piercing humor and wry pathos in what is Eno’s gentlest, most warm-hearted script yet.

Continues…

“Some people like having someone around. I’m just not one of those people.” So says Abby early on in Ripcord, and it seems like she means it.

Abby, portrayed by the brilliant Randi Douglas, lives in a retirement home. She’s crotchety and deceitful and, frankly, just wants her room to herself. She doesn’t really care how she comes about that, and will stop at nothing to get it.

Enter her new roommate, Marilyn, portrayed by the equally brilliant Anita Sorel. Marilyn is everything Abby isn’t. She’s cheerful and positive. She loves people, and she spreads joy. She is impossible to anger. But Abby wants nothing to do with her.

Sunny vs. cloudy: Anita Sorel as Marilyn and Randi Douglas as Abby, battling roommates in David Lindsay-Abaire’s “Ripcord” at Clackamas Rep. Photo: Travis Nodurft.

And therein lies the heart of this delightful comedy by David Lindsay-Abaire: Abby and Marilyn bet their room that they can anger and scare one another, respectively. This quick and hilarious play directed by David Smith-English at Clackamas Repertory Theatre is practically a sitcom: It’s a roommate comedy with plenty of hijinks and misunderstandings (remember the episode of “Friends” where they bet the apartment?); and with how much the audience laughs, there might as well be a laugh track.

Lest you think this is going to be a nothing but a comedy, I will point out Lindsay-Abaire’s “Rabbit Hole,” which broke all of our hearts and earned him the Pulitzer Prize (and was later turned into a movie starring Nicole Kidman). While “Ripcord” will not bring on the kind of tears of that play, there is plenty of substance and loss here once we get to know Abby and Marilyn better.

Continues…

DramaWatch: Season’s greetings!

Portland's 2018-'19 theater season kicks into gear at Artists Rep, CoHo and elsewhere; and it's time to experiment with TBA.

We’ve survived the heat. Now comes the harvest.

That is to say, summer is ending soon and the boon of fall arts season is upon us. Unlike, say, baseball, there’s no official Opening Day, but this weekend is as good a time as any to mark the start of the 2018-’19 season. Labor Day has passed and Artists Repertory Theatre, Portland’s second-largest theater company, is getting things underway, as is the small yet vital CoHo. Soon enough, Portland Center Stage, the big player, will begin not just its new season but its new era under recently named artistic director Marissa Wolf.

So, what is it we want out of a theater season — either company by company or considered as a city-wide whole?

To be entertained? OK, sure. Whatever that means. Diversions and delights are great, as far as they go.

But should we be looking for more? The things we might want out of an individual play — insight into something about the human condition, an expansion of empathy for those we may have discounted, a mirror on our own foibles or desires, a call to arms about a cause celebre… — we might get more of out of a smartly programmed season.

Profile Theatre’s focus on particular playwrights lends itself to the accretion of meaning. And I rather like what the small Twilight Theater is in the midst of — a 2018 calendar-year season with plays that examine the interweaving of theater and life, plays within plays and/or about plays and such. But for the most part, especially in a time where the season-subscription model continues to fade from popularity or maybe even plausibility, the big houses seem to value stylistic variety and box-office potential, while small companies mount too few productions to draw out broader themes and ideas.

Perhaps these are musings for a different moment, though. For now, the schedules are set.

So, again: What do we want out of this theater season — not the one out of our stage-nerd utopian dreams, but the one we’re going to get?

Speaking only for myself, I’ll say: Tell me more, please, about life and how to live it.

Continues…