I do yoga, a lot. So you'd think I'd have a grasp on the whole "clear your mind of all distractions" thing by now. I do not.
What does this matter for All Well, the latest theatrical experiment in Portland Experimental Theater Ensemble's year-long "constellation" of works inspired by Moby Dick?
If you are good at yoga, All Well was a play about nothing, or bliss. If you are bad at yoga, it was a mindfuck covering themes as disparate as Bunk sandwiches and Russian Formalist literary theory.
There's this part at the end of yoga classes that's called Savasana, which most yoga instructors will tell you is the most important part of the practice. You lay there, still and silent. So, I am used to basically napping with a lot of people who I know a little or not at all.
All Well is a lot like that.
While practicing Savanna, the instructor will probably tell you that you should try to keep your mind in the present moment. It is a time of simultaneous mental awareness and nothingness.
All Well is exactly like that.
As ushers in ugly Victorian-era blouses funneled us into the basement of Imago Theatre, I asked my yoga instructor (who I invited as my plus-one, even though I questioned whether it was rude to invite someone who has a serious vision impairment to a "sightless" play) if she'd told her husband of our whereabouts. Because it really seemed like the type of "theatrical experiment" that one does not come out of alive. She had not told him.
Our frilly stewards put us in hammocks. Where did they get so many hammocks in Portland? It's hard to see, but they feel synthetic and were probably imported from China. Also, I am 5'10" in sock feet and my boots were hitting the end of the Chinese hammock. My yoga instructor crossed her legs, which is challenging in a hammock of any nationality.
After a ghostly actress crossed the basement with a vintage lantern, it went pitch black. Then the noises started. I had not realized that there was an epic speaker very, very close to my right ear. I have impeccable hearing, which is unfortunate when your boyfriend is a drummer, or when a massive speaker next to your head starts playing the sounds of arctic killer waves and something like the Basilisk from Harry Potter circling you.
I closed my eyes. Things looked the same. And I started thinking that this was like a mindfulness exercise we did in yoga teacher training (and in therapy, which is very separate but also very similar). So I tried to clear my mind and stay present.
Instead, I thought of a pork belly cubano. The one at Bunk Sandwiches, Because Bunk was kind-of close by and we just wrote up that sandwich as one of the 12 wonders of Portland's food scene. I was hungry. Then the sound effects sounded less like the ocean and more like being inside a rumbling belly.
When the voices started, it got scary. Suddenly, a man who I imagined to be Jack Nicholson was word-vomiting out of my speaker, saying things about ice and cold. But this was not Bucket List Jack, palling with greying Morgan Freeman. This was "heeeeeere's Johnny!"
In the relatively inoffensive sound-wash that followed (minus a sonic boom that made my stomach roll like I was on the Monster Drop at the state fair), my writer brain started composing. It started this exact (almost) stream-of-consciousness review. And then I was thinking about my paper on Virginia Woolf for Professor Brassard's British Literature course at University of Portland. And on and on, down this painfully meta writer's rabbit hole, starting this article in my head.
This is where I stop—because no one enjoys reading writers on writing (even writers) or critics on criticism—except to tell you that there's a shot at the end of the "play." Like, a literal brandy shot. It's a nice touch before you're dumped unceremoniously out the fire exit into the parking lot across from KBOO with just a crick in your neck and some serious questions about your own sanity.
All Well, much like yoga, makes you question whether you're mentally all-there. My yoga instructor's reaction was, "what the fuck?" But she's also in a band and sings some pretty profane lyrics at places like Charlie Horse Saloon on weekend nights.
The play she went to might have been about completely different things, maybe more culturally elevated than pork cubanos and Jack Nicholson, maybe about nothing at all. She does seem very good at yoga.