Nearly two years into Mayor Tom Potter's term, it's strange that one of the only things his much-vaunted "Visioning" project has brought to fruition is, of all things, a play. One Day is the result of a collaboration between Sojourn Theatre and visionPDX, a Portland mayor's-office initiative promoting dialogue about urban growth in Portland. For the last year via an online survey, visionPDX has asked Portland residents to pontificate on issues like socioeconomic divisions, the economy, gentrification and what the city's future will look like if the population continues to grow.
It's good fodder for a theater company like Sojourn. True to their commitment to community-engaged theatre, artistic director Michael Rohd and the Sojourn company utilized the results of the survey, along with their own research, to develop the script for One Day. Rohd and assistant director Elliot Leffler have managed to do the near-impossible: create a socially relevant play that's also highly entertaining. Energetic blocking and clever devices allow tidy transitions from one story to the next while lively, detailed performances from the cast create believable snapshots of Portland life.
One Day is a numbers game—it follows eight people and their eight choices during 24 hours in one city. Actress Courtney Davis is exceptional as Katie, a student from Ukraine who struggles to fit in with American kids and must decide whether to assimilate or find strength in her own individuality. Actor Jono Eiland also commands attention with a particularly natural performance as Kevin, a street kid, musician and narrator who orchestrates humorous interludes throughout the play.
Politically charged issues like gentrification, lack of an adequate national healthcare system and problems facing undocumented workers are all explored within the framework of our city. In one scene Alicia, an illegal immigrant, wonders if her family will be able to survive on her meager income, and conversely, what will happen to Portland if people like her can't make it. In another scene, an African-American woman in an "up-and-coming" neighborhood is astounded by her white neighbor's eagerness to make an offer on her home, which is not for sale. Hello, Alberta Street!
It may not be what most people expected out of Potter's project, but One Day is compelling not just for its political commentary, but because its characters illuminate the potential for everyday decisions to define personal character. There are no easy answers in One Day, just intriguing questions exploring real issues.
Sojourn Theatre at various locations (see sojourntheatre.org). 8 pm Fridays-Saturdays, 2 pm Sundays. Closes Nov. 19. Free.