Howie the Rookie
FEBRUARY 28, 2016
Howie the Rookie. Let me just begin with what is truly important. Carrying a one-man show requires an exceptionally gifted and courageous actor, but when you add to that the eccentric and peculiar needs of a show like Mark O’Rowe’s Howie the Rookie, those words don’t even begin to capture what kind of actor you need. Nevan Richard is that kind of actor, but I can’t say I knew the full extent of that, based on the couple of readings I did with him for Fertile Ground and PDX Playwrights. Sometimes I will go to a show like this with the idea that it’s good to be supportive of actors you’ve worked with, and maintain good friendships for possible future endeavors. But I have to come clean here: I had no idea, not really.
This is, in many ways, more challenging than something like Sex, Drugs, and Rock N Roll by Eric Bogosian, and similar one-man feats, in that those plays are mostly angry rants about politics, religion, social injustice, and anything else the playwright wants to get on his/her soapbox about. Anybody, given a stage and an audience, can rant and rave for 90 minutes. But O’Rowe’s play is actually about the art of storytelling, and it takes that art very seriously. I’m not going to talk a lot about the story in this review because that’s The Howie’s job, and The Rookie’s. I wouldn’t dare deprive you of their colorful renderings in order to give you some cheap-ass, watered-down synopsis so that whoever you might want to take to this thing on a date can ask you “What’s it about?” Wait and see, only buckle up because it’s a bumpy ride.
What I can tell you is that the action takes place in Dublin, amid a sort of macho world of adolescent male punks and female skanks. (Sorry if that seems derogatory; my words are mild by comparison to this play, which really pulls no punches at all.) An epic 24-hour story is told from the perspectives of two young men who share a last name, The Howie Lee and the Rookie Lee. In the past, these characters have not always been played by a single actor; in other productions, the differences between the two men might be more apparent. In this one, while they are different, you get an interesting insight into what they have in common, which is more than just the last name and a Nevan-like face.
Director Matthew Jared Lee does an amazing job with very little, in terms of creating atmosphere before the play even begins. A tattered chain link fence, littered with large plastic bags of garbage, an empty paint bucket, beer cans, and the ubiquitous wooden rehearsal box that you see in many black box-type shows, this one sprayed with graffiti like “ugly fat cunt”…told you. A playlist full of what sounds like multi-genres of Irish bands on an Irish radio station (I want that playlist), leading up to a full minute of dimly lit atmospheric sounds of Dublin at night. This is, of course, accentuated by the fact that the tiny venue of Shout House, home of Hand2Mouth Theatre, is located under the Hawthorne Bridge and a block or two away from the train tracks. Honestly, long before Howie (or the Rookie in the second act) stepped onto the stage, I felt like I was really in this grimy, sometimes sinister urban setting. And no joke, if you’re sitting in the front row, as is my habit to do because of my short stature and need for good sightlines, you are right there in the action, and the actor—and the action—is in your face. My only regret about this was a brief self-consciousness in the first act, which tried to steel my attention from the narrative. (And honestly, I wondered if our actor maybe would have preferred that no one sit in the front row, at least no one he knew. That’s a theatre etiquette topic that I’m constantly wondering about.)
Something about one-man shows and their narrative structure is that you have to pay very close attention; you cannot let your mind wander for a moment, or you may lose the thread of the story. I did lose it a couple times, but was thankfully able to pick it back up. Another thing that keeps you on your toes is a thick Irish dialect (well done in this case, and that ain’t easy) and a glossary of slang that is included in the program. I actually would have liked to get the glossary a day or so ahead of time so that I could actually memorize the terms! Also, the character’s names are as colorful as the language. The Peaches (not a chick), Flann Dingle (not a Mexican dessert), Ladyboy (no lady and no boy), and Puddin’ Boy. All these people and more cross in and out of The Howie and the Rookie’s lives and leave an impact that is alternately hilarious, shocking and tragic. (I may be sounding a bit like the PR in that last sentence…sorry.) HERE IS A WORLD [movie voice] that most of us never will be dropped into, 2 men whose lives many of us would not come remotely close to intersecting, but you leave them and their world feeling profoundly affected and grateful you were there for a while, even if it costs you a bit of sadness. Precisely the type of the show I am always trying to create myself, and to see.
Bartender, a shot of Bushmills for everyone!
'Woyzeck' descends into Madness
FEBRUARY 27, 2014
It’s like an episode of “American Horror Story” with sadistic doctors and patients stuck in their minds while haunted by their past. University of Portland’s stage production of “Woyzeck” is the story of asylum patient Franz Woyzeck’s descent into madness. Before the show starts, an improvised pre-show allows a glimpse into the lives of the patients at an insane asylum. Patients are unwashed with frazzled hair and stained beige uniforms. Plastic blue curtains and bare mattresses give the set an institutional vibe. The asylum personnel are violent towards the patients and mock them. Strange hallucinations plague one patient while another patient, Marie, believes that a doll is actually her child, born out of sin.
As Woyzeck’s mind deteriorates from institutional manipulation and abuse, his intimate relationship with Marie begins to unravel. While this relationship unwinds there are cyclical changes seen among the other patients and personnel and the play ends in a spectacle of
extreme violence and a mental break down. “The doctor and the personnel inject a certain poison in Franz, the poison is a metaphor – not physical poison, but it’s a deterioration of Franz’s well-being,” said senior Danielle Renella who plays Marie.
“Woyzeck,” written by Georg Büchner in 1836, was left unfinished after his death, allowing the director a large amount of freedom with the structure of scenes, adaptation and vision for the production. To help with his adaptation and scene structure, director Jared Lee, a graduate student, traveled to Ireland to hone his vision and speak with other playwrights about it. “The version that we’re doing is a world
premier,” Lee said. “It’s an adaptation I actually wrote and I’ve been working on for a while now. This version has never been seen before, this is the first time any eyes have seen it.” Lee’s idea for the insane asylum came from a study of the play’s history. The play is based on the true story of a man named Woyzeck who committed a crime, was found to be insane but was publicly decapitated.
“I just thought it to be so interesting,” Lee said. “That particular case became a big turning point for how we treat the criminally insane thereafter. And I just thought that was an interesting thing. What if he wasn’t executed? What would happen if we saw him institutionalized and that story happen within the walls of an asylum?”
The mentally ill characters also give the actors freedom to experiment. “It’s very fun for actors because there’s a little taste of, this character is maybe schizophrenic for example but you can take it however you want to take it,” Renella said. She describes Marie as a darker character. “She’s more secluded from the other patients, doesn’t really get along with others except for Franz,” Renella said.
Karl the Idiot, played by sophomore Tyler Hunt, is a character who has clearly been tampered with by the doctor. “There’s kind of this sense that he’s already been messed with and that’s why he is the way he is,” Hunt said. “Basically Karl also has the mental and emotional capacity of a child, like a six or seven-year-old.” Karl also has physical deformities and is portrayed as having a microcephaly, a neurodevelopmental disorder. “The actual neurological definition of (microcephaly) didn’t really work for the character so I’m going for more like an autistic child,” said Hunt. “I really enjoy playing Karl. It’s extremely difficult to get into Karl’s mind or (to allow) myself to think like him. But at the same time he’s a very physical character and because of his simple nature, not a lot makes Karl worried.”
REVIEW: THE FACTORY THEATRE PRESENTS: THEATRE WITHOUT ANIMALS
portland stage reviews
Written by Matt Styner
Often when one imagines the term “Absurdist Play” it may conjure up images of men dressed as monkeys, chained to a park bench, talking about freedom or something comparably odd. Such was my thought process going into see the U.S. Premiere, performed by The Factory Theatre,of “Theatre Without Animals” (also, the first time the play has been performed in English) at the CoHo Theater. Fortunately, one would be incorrect in expecting this sort of thing from this particular show. The original text, entitled “Theatre Sans Animaux” (I’m missing some accent marks, I know) was written over a decade ago by Jean-Michel Ribes, and translated from the original French text by Brooke Sparrow Budy who also produced the show. Despite the fact that it is a translation, the show feels almost like it could have been written originally in English, since the humor still seems to shine though—perhaps comedy is the universal language.
Upon entering the performance space, many of the patrons (myself included) found it a bit daunting to get seated, not for any lack of seats, but because of the lack of separation between the stage area and the seating. You will find yourself walking through the set to get to a seat. (A word of warning: don’t step on the hole in the part that resembles a golf course.) I’m sure this was a choice, as theatre of the absurd variety is meant to be a little off-setting, even mildly uncomfortable initially. It’s not as though they put spikey-bits on the seats or anything, it’s just unusual to enter the space. I noticed several patrons almost terrified to walk through the playing space, which furniture-wise was pretty barren, though the painted floor was quite interesting and brought to mind the idea of M.C. Echer and Salvador Dali somehow possessing a modern artist at the same time to create the unusual design on the floor. It looks like various different floorings are breaking through the clouds, or vice versa. One other aspect you may notice pre-show is that the back of the program appears to be a blank picture-frame. Fear not, all is well… this is another directorial choice, and before the show commences the director will explain what it’s all about. But if you want to feel childish during the pre-show, feel free to draw your best pretty kittens, sad Pandas or Kafka-esque rodents on there, just to be ironic (after all, it’s called “Theatre Without Animals”), I’m sure the cast and crew won’t mind.
The show itself is comprised of eight different vignettes which flow from one to the next with only slight pauses between, and touch on different ideas such as sibling rivalry, names, the oddity of the everyday existence, and so much more. It’s pretty amazing to see the same five actors transform so quickly from one character to the next—some even within the span of less than a minute. Each member of the cast seems to have a chance to play the oddball, whether in just one scene, or in many. And they all do it quite well, though it would seem that, in most of the scenes whoever is playing the oddest character seems to be the one to focus on. Despite the oddity of some of the characters, the circumstances, and the subjects discussed by some of the characters, “Theatre Without Animals”
should strike your absurd-o-meter at about a Monty Python or Kids in the Hall-ish level while still urging your mind to contemplate life and why we take it so seriously. Each vignette seems to take a normal everyday thing, and turn it in such a way that you’ll want to ask yourself “why do we just accept that things are this way?” It’s a bit like seeing a funny version of the Matrix for the first time. Overall, this quirky, silly, fast-paced play was a fun little break-away from the humdrum of normal life, and made for an enjoyable and thought-provoking evening, as any good show should. Go and see it, you won’t regret it if you have a sense of
humor and an open mind.
Stop “Waiting for Lefty.” It’s here
NOVEMBER 29, 2012
By Megan Walsh
It’s hard to forget the thousands of people gathered at the Occupy Portland camp. Even if you didn’t get to experience the rally in person, there was an endless amount of footage on the news and Internet for all to see. Men and women of all ages came together with tarps, protest signs and a mission. A year later, the issues protested still exist. For three nights the Mago Hunt Theater will be converted into an Occupy camp for the production “Waiting For Lefty.”
Second-year graduate student Jared Lee is directing the play, which is about a group of taxi drivers striking for better wages. He has modernized the play as though it were occurring during the Occupy movement. Lee chose this production because the themes portrayed are universal.
“I came across Lefty, and this play was written in 1935, but it sounded like it was the stuff that I heard down in the Occupy camp that day,” Lee said. “I thought, well that’s a cool idea. The more things change,
the more they stay the same.”
According to sophomore cast member Amy Billroth-MacLurg, the themes of this play are especially relatable for college students. “It portrays the idea that change within a community must be supported by the entire community for it to happen,” she said. “Everyone must work together to rise against injustice and truly say what needs to be said.”
Earlier in the month, Lee and the cast visited a true rally, which occurred at Holladay Park across from the Lloyd Center shopping mall. As an actress portraying the role of Agate, the agitator of the production who gets the fire to spark in the other characters, Billroth-MacLurg found this experience inspiring. “It made the experience more real and I truly understood the emotional environment involved within the rallies,” Billroth-MacLurg said.
“Waiting for Lefty” is a one-act production composed of a series of short vignettes to demonstrate how unjust pay affects each member of the strike on a personal level. These vignettes are moving because every member of the audience can empathize with at least one of the stories, Billroth-MacLurg said. “The issues that the play deals with are not just experienced by the over 30 working population, it’s every walk of life,” Lee said. “We get a scene that has two young lovers that are just trying to get by. They want to get married, they want to fall in love, but they know that they have nothing to bring to the table. They know that if they get married, they’re just both going to be miserable. They decide it’s not even worth it, and these are college-aged kids dealing with these issues.”Not only is this play interesting because of its relatable themes and characters, but it is also an interactive play. The entire theatre will be decorated so that the audience feels as though they are in an Occupy camp.
Actors and actresses will not be confined to the stage. According to first-year graduate student Nathaniel Quinn who plays Harry Fatt, although the show may start at 7:30 p.m. inside of the theatre, it truly starts at 6:30 p.m. outside of the theatre. Actors will initiate a mock-rally outside of Mago Hunt, preparing the
audience for the play. “It’s very rare that audiences get to be a part of the show,” Quinn said. “Our goal is to create a connection with the audience that isn’t always there, and people who do not often go to performances may like the fact that this performance is not a typical one.” Although talking during the performance is normally rude, it will be encouraged in this play. “It’s one thing to sit and watch a show, it is another thing to be a part of it,” Lee said. “With this show you’re freely asked to participate. This doesn’t mean you have to stand on stage and give a monologue, but if you want to get up and out of your chair because something really hits you, you’re encouraged to do so. If you see something you don’t like, let us know. When you get riled up, take your protesting sign and wave it up. The whole motto is “we are the 99 percent.” Well, that includes the people in the seats too and not just the actors.”