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June 10th, 2009 BEN WATERHOUSE | Theater
 

The Blue Room (Portland Actors Conservatory)

Sex, drugs and rampant regret.

     
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JANA LEE HAMBLIN

Forget abstinence-only education; if you really want to scare your teenager from going the way of Bristol and Jamie Lynn, this daisy chain of sexual dissatisfaction should do the trick.

In 1897, an Austrian doctor-turned-writer named Arthur Schnitzler, observing a syphilis epidemic spreading across the loins of Europe, decided the decadent continent could use a little remedial sex-ed. His play Reigen depicts an erotic round-robin, beginning and ending with a whore and passing through all levels of society along the way. The government, naturally, took offense, censoring the play and branding Schnitzler a pornographer.

Other playwrights, liking nothing more than breaking a senseless taboo, have given Schnitzler’s work many adaptations, the most popular of which, The Blue Room by English playwright David Hare, is the final production of Portland Actors Conservatory’s 25th season. Hare’s version is set in the present day, replacing a soldier with a cabbie and a “little miss” with a model, and having two actors play all nine parts. It enjoyed a fabulously successful run on Broadway thanks to a brief appearance by Nicole Kidman’s bare bum, though critics swore she out-acted her derriere.

PAC’s production, directed by Philip Cuomo, casts one actor per character—it has a full class of conservatory students to employ. They all perform well enough, but two of them, the very experienced guest artist Jana Lee Hamblin and PAC student Mark Merritt, steal the show, he as a cocksure, bloviating playwright (“I’m known for my enormous vocabulary—my work is bulging with big words”), she as an aggressive but slightly unhinged actress. Both are hilarious.

With the educational thrust of the play rendered redundant by public education—at least for those of us whose high schools were more practical than Wasilla’s—the subject shifts from disease to despair. All of these characters, with the exception of the horny cabbie, are searching for validation, but none of them find it in random hookups. The lesson—that fucking a stranger probably won’t make you feel better—is worth remembering. .


SEE IT: 1436 SW Montgomery St., 274-1717. 7:30 pm Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 pm Sundays. Closes June 21. $15-$25.
 
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