April 18th, 2008 | by BEN WATERHOUSE News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, CLEAN UP, Multnomah County

Curtain Raiser: A Ship, a Sedan and a Streetcar

Long Christmas Ride HomeThe shows just keep on coming. Two big openings this week: Oregon Children's Theatre revisits Treasure Island (again), this time with Cap'n Bogg and Salty in tow. It's got a huge set, a great cast lead by Jim Caputo, and just three performances. If your kids like pirates, catch this one.

Also opening is Theatre Vertigo's production of The Long Christmas Ride Home, a "puppet play with actors" by Paula Vogel. For the most part, the play covers familiar dramatic territory. We meet a family with troubles, which breeds troubled adults. But what sets Vogel's work apart from any other work I've read is how she handles children on stage—that is, with puppets. The three children (pictured above in the photo by Yolanda Suarez) are portrayed in the first act with Bunraku puppets, evading both the problems with directing children (it's hard) and having adults play children (it's stupid). In the second half, the children, now adults, are played by the actors who manipulated the puppets in the first part. It all sounds terrifically complicated to direct, but Kristan Seemel (A Murder of Crows) should be up to the challenge. We'll have a review next Wednesday.

What else? Well, there's Vox: A Spoken Word Chorus. Eric Hull has brought together some high-caliber local talent to perform choral readings of some great poetry. Sounds like a great event for poetry fanatics, and it runs through next weekend.

Then there's Flawed Genius, the recurring fine-art clown performance by Barnaby King, playing this weekend and next at Theater! Theatre!

Also, it's not too late to catch Sometimes a Great Notion, a show it would be unpatriotic to miss. I'm serious.

As always, all of our listings can be found here. Our new site design is causing some wackiness this week, but we should have that fixed soon.

Blanche

A show I've been thinking about a lot this week is Jon Kretzu's production of A Streetcar Named Desire, playing through May 18 at Artists Rep. I really don't care for Tennessee Williams, in part because of his recurring dramatic tics (can't just one of his characters get married without having a homosexual affair and screwing everything up?) but mostly because he's such a misanthrope. There are no good people in his plays, no sympathetic characters, and, for the most part, no hope. It's suffocating. That said, I acknowledge his mastery of the form. His dialog is sharp and always funny, contrasting the highly stylized speech of liars like Blanche DuBois with the earthy grunts of Stanley Kowalski and the rambling of his innumerable drunks. He's a hateful genius.

Williams' plays have become so ubiquitous that directors are resorting to the same tricks usually reserved for Shakespeare, forcing awkward reinterpretations on plays that don't want or need them. Everyone wants to do "their" Glass Menagerie. No one seems to ask why, if the plays aren't interesting without some contrived directorial conceit, we bother producing them?

Fortunately for us, Kretzu's take on Streetcar isn't overly disruptive. He sets the whole play in Blanche's room at the asylum to which she is carted off at the end of the last act, with the action happening, we suppose, in her imagination. A few bizarre interludes excepted—Blanche's dead husband wandering silently through the scene, rose petals falling from the ceiling, a violent and effective shock-therapy sequence—Kretzu leaves the script alone. What we get is, for the most part, a pretty good production on a simpler set than the one Williams calls for—a two-story house, plus the street.

All the leads in Artists Rep's production are pretty good, but there's one actress whose work really stands out—Val Landrum, playing Stella. Landrum's had a bunch of juicy roles in the last two years, and she just keeps getting better. Here she makes Stella, who, when you think about it, is kind of a dumb, dull character, into the most sympathetic an interesting person on stage. She is a passionate, sexual animal, but not in the distressing manner of her husband or sister. She is filled with empathy and concern and fear. She's the only sane person in New Orleans. She is magnificent.

Artists Repertory Theatre, 1515 SW Morrison St., 241-1278. 7:30 pm Tuesdays-Saturdays, 2 pm Sundays. Closes May 18. $20-$47.
 
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