Shoebox Theater

Vertigo goes dark and complex

The company that's "the David Lynch of Portland theater" strikes up its 22nd season with a broodingly funny world premiere

Theatre Vertigo has spent the last twenty-two years deftly, sometimes recklessly, spelunking through the dark underbelly of 21st century America. The company’s body of work from Hellcab to Poona the F*** Dog to 99 Ways to Fuck a Swan to Hunter Gatherers has provided a road map through the neuroses and psychoses of a society crazy enough to make Donald Trump the most powerful man in the world, and it’d done it with incisive intelligence and a dogged resolve to never take itself too seriously. Humor is as much a part of the company’s thematic oeuvre as its willingness to walk on the edge of madness. It’s the David Lynch of Portland theater, approaching the madness and mayhem underneath the shopping malls and manicured lawns of contemporary American culture not just with fascination but also with compassion and even affection.

The play that opens Vertigo’s twenty-second season Saturday at the Shoebox Theater, Dominic Finocchiaro’s complex, is right in its wheelhouse. It’s funny, lyrical and not for the faint of heart. At times it feels like all of American pop culture of the past forty years appears, from pop music to reality shows to serial killers (one of the leads is even named Jeffrey – just sayin’), is referred to or makes an appearance in complex. It’s like a nightmare that doesn’t terrify you but leaves you profoundly disturbed. You laughed but you’re not sorry you’re awake. It’s a natural fit for Vertigo.

Life in the complex? It’s complex. Theatre Vertigo photo

Which is all the more interesting because Vertigo, despite the many years of changing roster and sensibilities, has made its bones doing the plays that the larger companies just won’t do. complex, however, received its first professional workshop at Portland Center Stage’s JAW festival some six years ago.

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Dink’s Terrorgasm of a good time

Spectravagasm's driving passion: "No, no, no, let it out, man. People should be shouting. Art should be making people go crazy.”

Spectravagasm, Portland’s bastard step-child of the stage, is back! Spectravagasm, which is entering its second weekend at the Shoebox Theatre of a late-night run that continues through October 27, is an anarchic blend of theater, music, comedy, commentary, improvisation and audience participation. It’s been around for six years and is the last piece left from the theatrical meteorite that was Portland’s enfant terrible, Post 5 Theatre. This year’s offering is titled Terrorgasm and has absolutely nothing to do with terrorIsm. Spectravagasm’s resident mad scientist, Sam Dinkowitz, was thinking more about the season — Halloween — than about today’s headlines. “My dad asked me why I didn’t call it Horrorgasm and all I could say was, ‘Oh. Good question.’”

The terror in Terrorgasm is not necessarily the typical tropes of horror: werewolves, vampires, flesh-eating zombies and the like. Terrorgasm is about the real-life, everyday horrors as seen though a Halloween lens. “Of course, we’re afraid of turning into a wolf at a full moon or afraid of some demon that sucks your blood out or afraid of the living dead eating your flesh, but on a real, day-to-day basis we’re afraid of getting a ticket, or finding out our girlfriend’s cheating on us, or paying the water bill.” After all, who would you be more scared by if they showed up at your door? The Creature from the Black Lagoon or the IRS? If your answer is the IRS (and for most of those reading this, it is), then Terrorgasm is the show for you.

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