Some books should come with warning labels. Not for the vulgarity or political dangerousness of their content, but because they are too damn well written. Once you read a really great book, it can never be unread. Its story and characters will travel with you until the day you die. This is a good thing, in that it gives us a shared mythology, but, as Camille Cettina tells it in this vivacious solo performance, good books can screw up your love life.
Cettina, an actress with a long résumé of local performances who recently returned to Portland after three years of studying physical performance in London, describes herself as an avid reader early in the show. I think "ravenous" is a more accurate descriptor. Tall and lithe, her large eyes framed by a prodigious explosion of auburn curls, she clambers up and around a large bookcase at the center of the stage, snatching books to sniff, stroke and gnaw upon as she describes her literary coming of age, from Nancy Drew through Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre to Franny and Zooey. Cettina gives each of these works a sort of performed precis, running down major plot points as all the relevant characters, moving from person to person gracefully, every action aided by skillful mime.
While these sketches are quite funny, the effect of the books on Cettina's adolescent psyche is disturbing. "The dream of Darcy winds itself into your very heart," she says, making the prospect of any romance not forged of witty hostility seem insufficient. Worse is the dream of Rochester, moaning for Jane across the moors. Modern men don't moan, at least not on moors, and any girl looking for a moor-moaner is out of luck. Where most teenagers are made miserable by acne or bullying or the unattainability of Bieber, Cettina is laid low by novels.
Mr. Darcy Dreamboat stumbles in rough links between the novels and Cettina's central theme of viral narrative, but the awkwardness of these transitions is eased by John Berendzen's score for the show. Full of burbling muted piano and the sinister murmur of distant traffic, the music builds to a thundering fugue over Cettina's concluding dance, which ties together in wordless movement the script's loose ends with grace. It's good. Take your book club.
SEE IT: 8 pm Wednesday-Saturday and 2 pm Sunday, Nov. 16-20, at Ethos/IFCC, 5340 N Interstate Ave. Tickets $15 in advance at ethos.org, $12-$15 at the door.