For the past three weeks, San Francisco-based avant-garde theater troupe the Carpetbag Brigade has rehearsed and led workshops out of North Portland venue the Headwaters. It concludes its residency with a final week of performances of You Don't Know Jack. The company deals in physical theater, telling its stories through movement like mime or puppetry, though it has more in common with musical theater than circus arts. The "physical theater" label is met with an equally esoteric premise—to tell the story of Jack and the Beanstalk, adding a "Jungian twist with a dash of PTSD."
With the intent of expressing the uncertain theories of Carl Jung and emulating the scattered state of a brain after trauma, it's one maelstrom of a play. But all that chaos makes it impossible to feel attachment for the characters or investment in the story.
The seeds for the play were sown in 2007 at a theater retreat focused on "exploring the dark side of family dynamics," in rural New Mexico. The participants of the retreat must have had some dark childhoods, because the resulting play is a tangled mess full of rage and nightmarish entropy.
On the small Headwaters stage, the play's five actors somersault around and sing off-pitch songs that were probably written in the shower. We follow Jack as he navigates his dark reality—his mother drinks after his father was killed in war—and his even darker fantasy, where the giant is represented by a substitute teacher with the hots for Jack's mom.
Neither subtle nor graceful—Jack's mother's alcoholism is indicated by near-constant pretend swigs from a whiskey bottle, and the agile actors, perched on wobbly set pieces, seem perpetually about to tumble—You Don't Know Jack bites off more conceptual fodder than it can reasonably hope to chew.
The Carpetbag Brigade is focused on its theoretical achievements. With regards to the show's four-year creation process, it advertises: "It is rare for a theater company to return to a performance and continue to work on its details over three years. Commitment to that kind of aesthetic maturation runs counter to the dynamics of consumer culture capitalism."
Maturation? Try over-ripening. Overacted and under-rehearsed, You Don't Know Jack could use a dose of austerity.
SEE IT: The Headwaters, 55 NE Farragut St., No. 9, brownpapertickets.com.
8 pm Thursday-Saturday, April 7-9. $12-$18.