Michael Rohd sounds a little frazzled. "We are literally rehearsing between three different cities at any given time," says the 43-year-old artistic director of Sojourn Theatre. Rohd is used to challenging projects—previous Sojourn shows have taken over Portland's federal courthouse, Marshall High School, a Wentworth auto service center and the roof of the then-vacant B&O Warehouse—but the company's latest show, On the Table, is different. It moves.
"We've done lots of projects over the years in different places, and we've always had a commitment to make work that makes spaces for people from different backgrounds to share arts-based civic experiences," Rohd says. "But we've never done a project that actively brings different populations together for an event." With that goal and Oregon's history of urban vs. rural conflict in mind, Sojourn spent much of last year searching for a partner community to stage a show that physically transports audiences. They settled on Molalla, a farming and logging community of about 7,000, 30 miles south of Portland. Nine months later, Rohd and company are opening a show spanning both cities.
Here's how it works: There are two first acts, set in 1980, about two different families. One is performed in Portland, at the renovated church currently home to Portland Playhouse; the other, in Molalla. ("We're trying to get 10 to 15 percent of [Molalla] to see the show," Rohd says.) For Act 2, both audiences board school buses tricked out with audio and video equipment (rented for the month from Molalla's First Student Inc.) and watch a film while riding to a third, equidistant venue for Act 3, set in 2010. All this movement requires the show's two stage managers to speed between locations mid-act. "The amount of travel is just hilarious," Rohd says.
That final act, which takes the form of a "sort of wedding reception," unites the urban and rural audiences for some problem-solving and—yet another complication—dinner, prepared by the newish Portland catering company Mayahuel. (Mayahuel is run by actor Joaquin Lopez, whose family owns La Bonita, and Jaime Soltero, whose family owns La Costita.) "It asks for some audience participation," Rohd says, "but it's not Tony n' Tina's Wedding." Good—let's eat.
The Church, 602 NE Prescott St., sojourntheatre.org. 8 pm Wednesdays-Sundays. Closes Aug. 1. Tickets at sojourntheatre.org. $12-$25.