Trisha Todd takes chances. That was clear to me when I first met the actress back in the late '80s. Todd was playing one of the lead roles in a local production of Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean, while I was an understudy.
In that show, Todd played her character with a raw openness rarely seen in college thespians. A natural talent even then, Todd eventually took on a much meatier role--and ultimately the status of queer icon--as the title character in Claire of the Moon, the 1992 filmed-in-Oregon classic.
I lost touch with Todd over the years, and I thought she'd gone on to Hollywood. Instead, she moved to Iowa and South Dakota before eventually returning to Portland, where she ended up back in high school.
For six years, this out lesbian has been a theater instructor at Northeast Portland's Grant High School. At the end of this month, she and her partner, Tess Fields, will have their first child. But before that event occurs, Todd has been focusing on another labor-intensive project: a high-school production of Big Love.
Written by Charles Mee, Big Love is a modern version of Aeschylus' The Suppliants, a tabloid-ready tale that revolves around 50 young Greek brides who agree to kill their cousins rather than marry them.
The play's considered something of a mindblower, thanks to a plot that concerns questions of gender identity and all sorts of sexually charged issues. It's not the kind of play you'd expect a high-school drama coach to take on.
I asked Todd if she had any qualms about mounting such a sexually charged theatrical event.
"As a theater person, you have to take chances," Todd says. "Otherwise you're not modeling the inspiration of what it is to be an artist."
For Todd, that translated into taking chances with the script. Not only did she add a Greek chorus back into the text, she also transformed the play into a musical (!), loaded with '80s tunes à la Prince. Todd made sure, however, to remove the show's dirty words so that the language would be more appropriate for her underage charges.
One of the most interesting choices, however, was casting a main character, Giuliano, as a transvestite.
"It's about everyone being able to make their own choices: sexually, politically, personally and spiritually," she says. Beyond the shocking innuendo, though, the director believes the play is ultimately about the empowerment of women, and she even --OMIGOD!--requires her ladies to be ugly on stage.
"It's freeing to break through those images of who we are supposed to be and not apologize for who we are," Todd says. "These kids have so much courage. I don't know if I could've done a show like this in high school."
So what's the message this director wants her students and the audience to take away from the performance?
"A woman can love a woman [and] a man can love a man, because ultimately love trumps all," Todd says. "If you find love, whatever love looks like to you, that's the bigger love. That's the message."
Grant High School, 2245 NE 36th Ave., 916-5160. 7:30 pm Thursday-Saturday and 2 pm Saturday, Nov. 20-22. $8.