Showing posts with label Portland Repertory Theatre. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Portland Repertory Theatre. Show all posts

The Receptionist -- Too Late!

We finally got a chance to see “The Receptionist” at Coho on Thursday night. Had I attended earlier in the run, I would have been touting this show like crazy. Since the production closes this weekend, and is reportedly sold out, I’ll just say, “Too bad if you missed it!” Full disclosure: I’m biased since I have friends and colleagues associated with the show. (But who among Culture Shock readers doesn’t)?

Rose Riordan’s direction and design are impeccable, demonstrating an astonishing attention to detail in conjuring the daily, drabness of the office place--from a burbling coffee maker to a pathetic, shriveled house plant. Sharonlee McLean’s portrayal of Beverly, the receptionist of the title, is perfectly rendered with 80 minutes of nuanced stage business, gestures and vocal inflections that are thoroughly engaging, belying the fact that nothing of import is really happening for much of the first half of the play. Like many Portland theater fans, I’ve admired every role Sharonlee has played since she first appeared in “All in the Timing” for Portland Rep under Dennis Bigelow’s direction in the 1994-95 season.

Laura Faye Smith plays Lorraine with verve, conveying a professional woman whose life is (mixing metaphors here) a train wreck dancing on the razor’s edge of a meltdown in a pinball factory made out of funhouse mirrors. Laura deftly moves from coquette to basketcase, showing a true knack for physical comedy and fearlessness in every choice she makes. Indelibly etched in my memory bank of theater moments will be the image of Laura stuffing her cheeks, chipmunk-like, with wad upon wad of salt water taffy as she delivers a passionate, mascara-smeared, drooling tirade. Classy.

Gary Norman is excellent as the beaten-down shlub, Mr. Raymond, whose heart just isn’t in the dirty business at hand any more, and Chris Murray is all innocent, young charmer as the enigmatic Mr. Dart ...until he isn’t.

Playwright Adam Bock’s script accurately captures the day-to-day, mundane dialogue of the corporate office. My quibble with the play is that I liked it best when it was exposing the quotidian in precise detail more than when it brought out the message hammer. My complaint about Bock’s “The Thugs” (which PCS produced last year with much of the same artistic team) was that the lurking threat was too subtle, making the play more of an amusing sit-com about the life of temps than the allegory I think he meant it to be. With “The Receptionist,” I thought Bock overadjusted. I wanted the menace to be sneakier – more Harold Pinter and less Rod Serling. (Other critics have made the apt comparison of “The Receptionist” to an episode of “The Twilight Zone”). Still, even though the play delivers chilling ideas with a cudgel, its message is certainly thought-provoking and timely, and I look forward to whatever Mr. Bock comes up with next.

Drammy nods for production, direction and/or acting? Magic 8-Ball says, "Most Certainly!"

"Dead Funny" with Visual Aids

Watch as I make a connection from Third Rail Repertory Company to Maryhill Museum of Art in no more than three steps, while using 100-year-old film clips to illustrate. Here goes:

The Toy Cannon and consort were fortunate to secure tickets to Third Rail’s “Dead Funny” on Thursday night. Given the pretense I make of palling around with theater people, I'm chagrined to admit that this was my first time seeing the company. As we rode the elevator to the World Trade Center theater, I felt a twinge of nostalgia for Portland Repertory Theatre, which performed there until the company’s demise a decade ago. Seeing Third Rail member, Gretchen Corbett selling cookies in the lobby reminded me of her performance in the Rep’s production of “Molly Sweeney.” Standing not too far from her was the talented set designer Curt Enderle. Our living room sports a few leftover pieces from Curt’s set for “All in the Timing,” purchased for a song at Portland Rep’s warehouse sale in the Pearl, before it was the Pearl.

But enough trodding down memory lane, and let's quickly get my review out of the way: The performances were uniformly excellent, the production values were top notch, and the script was smashing (though 15-30 minutes too long). I won’t single out any one performance, but the Drammy Committee should create a special category for “Best Display of Courage in Full Frontal Nudity” for Tim True. Bravo! The company deserves all the attention and accolades flowing its way.

What I really want to do is use “Dead Funny” as an excuse to post a few videos I discovered while lazily wandering the web today. If you saw the play, you know that it involves a group of friends as they celebrate and mourn legendary but deceased British comedians. Since many of the references and reenacted routines were unfamiliar to me, I took advantage of the interwebs to search out video clips of Frankie Howerd, Max Miller (The Cheeky Chappy), Benny Hill and others mentioned in the play. It's a good way to kill an hour or two. I discovered an amusing clip of “Little Tich,” who was an English Music Hall superstar at the start of the last century. This clip shows Little Tich performing his famous “Big Boot” routine, which the French film director Jacques Tati is reputed to have described as the "foundation for everything that has been realized in comedy on the screen."



I also found a film of Little Tich performing a parody of choreographer Loie Fuller’s famous “Danse Serpentine.” First, here’s an 1896 Lumiere film of Fuller performing that work (the film was hand-tinted):



The following segment is from a French documentary about Music Hall. Near the end (at about 5:50, right after the minstrels) it has another clip of Loie Fuller's dance, followed by Little Tich’s parody of the same (ca. 6:30).



So ... Third Rail is connected to Little Tich through "Dead Funny." Little Tich is connected to Loie Fuller by having performed a parody of her work. Loie Fuller was friends with Sam Hill, who built his mansion (and a replica of Stonehenge) overlooking the Columbia. Fuller and the Queen of Romania convinced Hill to turn the mansion into what has become Maryhill Museum of Art. It's a small world after all.

I don't have any excuse for posting this last bit of film. Wilson and Keppel were a popular music hall act whose "Sand Dance" capitalized on the popularity of Egyptian imagery that ensued after the discovery of King Tut's tomb. What can I say? I was amused.