Third Rail Repertory's rapid growth from a scrappy ensemble co-producing with CoHo to a beloved pillar of Portland's theater scene has a lot to do with Craig Wright. The company included plays by the prolific L.A.-based writer (he turns out a play a year, has written for Six Feet Under, Lost, Brothers and Sisters and United States of Tara, and created the ABC series Dirty Sexy Money) in each of its first three seasons, every one of which garnered rave reviews and Drammy awards. To finish its fifth season, Third Rail commissioned Wright to create a play just for the company's actresses—Stephanie Gaslin, Maureen Porter, Valerie Stevens and Gretchen Corbett.
The product of this collaboration is The Gray Sisters, a family tragedy (sexual abuse, suicide, etc.) set in Portland, told from an exclusively female point of view: The play consists of four monologues by the four sisters, written as one-sided conversations with family members—men, mostly—whom we don't see, and whose responses we must intuit from context. It's hardly a new form, but Wright puts it to good use. The conversations seem natural, as do the characters. Wright doesn't make the mistake of many male playwrights, whose women serve only as props or reflections of male concerns. The Gray sisters appear to be real people, with real interior lives, upon whom various unloving or oblivious family members have projected their desires to ugly ends. But they aren't complaining. Wright isn't Tennessee Williams, and the sisters aren't broken waifs. They cope; they keep on. "The important thing to remember," Anya (Valerie Stevens) tells her 12-year-old son, after attempting to explain to him how her stepfather raped her for years, "is that life isn't really that bad." That's a philosophy I can get behind, and one that seems to be at the center of Wright's world view. Bad things happen to good people but, hey, life goes on.
The Gray Sisters isn't Wright's best play, and it's unlikely to win him the Pulitzer he probably deserved for Grace, which Third Rail produced in 2007, but it's a far more polished work than most of the commissions the city's seen lately (Tracy Letts' somewhat rough Three Sisters for Artists Rep comes to mind). I'm calling this collaboration a success, and I hope we'll see more in the future.
World Trade Center, 121 SW Salmon St., 235-1101. 7:30 pm Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 pm Sundays. Closes May 23. $15-$29.