Sunday, April 03, 2005

Arcadia at Reed College

Good evening and welcome to another edition of “It's the Arts.”

It may seem that this blog is suddenly going all highbrow. First a discussion of a museum exhibit, now a review of a play. Aren’t I the cultured one? Well, not really. You see, I did only two things of note this weekend. One was go out and eat BBQ with friends and the other was go to a play. Wait. I tell a lie. I did one other thing. Sit around on my ass.

Anyway, I have chosen to talk about the stint of sitting around on my ass that occurred in a theatre seat at Reed College on Saturday night. I have B to thank for this change of venue for my ass sitting. B, as it happens, is a playwright and an author of several musicals so he keeps up with the theatre scene (saving me the trouble). Sadly, the Portland theatre scene is not so robust as the Chicago theatre scene. In Chicago, we were forever going to excellent creative, energetic $8 plays at tiny dungeonesque theatres, but there just isn't the proliferation of small shoestring-budget theatres in Portland that there is in Chicago.

After a great deal of hunting and pecking, B has found that our best bet in Portland is college productions. They are usually pretty good. Plus, they're seldom more than $10 a pop (usually more like $5 or $6), so if they suck it’s not as painful for our pocketbooks. We’ve seen some quite passable productions at Portland State University and at University of Portland. Oddly, until last night we’d never gone to anything at Reed College.*

Before even seeing the play, we had to give Reed College full marks for the play they’d chosen: Arcadia by Tom Stoppard. Stoppard is a tall order, especially for Americans. We’d seen Arcadia slaughtered by the Goodman Theatre in Chicago a few years ago. The production was absolutely stultifying--like being stuck in an overheated funeral parlor at a wake for a person you barely knew. The director and his minions sucked all the humor out of it, leaving only a bunch of actors moving woodenly about the stage and enunciating in smug, show-offy British accents. What was so tragic is that they actually had good actors who, had they not been hampered by misdirection, would have done a great job. We left after the first act. We spent several minutes gulping in fresh air in front of the theatre--it was that bad. We were pissed, too, because we could tell that it was a good play, but if any theatre company can turn diamonds to dog shit, it is the Goodman, venerated though it is. I always think it’s a case of the emperor having no clothes. OK. I'm dangerously close to setting off on an anti-Goodman rant, and I don't want to go there.

So having seen the bloodbath at the Goodman, we were wondering how a bunch of college students would do with Arcadia. Splendidly! It turns out. They totally got Stoppard’s humor and took it and ran with it and kept up with it, which is more than I can do most of the time. Stoppard is amazing and is one of my favorite playwrights. His plays are always a whirlwind of intriguing ideas presented in an incredibly witty and inventive way.

I won’t attempt a synopsis of Arcadia. (I’m too lazy. There’s a very brief one here.) But I will say that the acting was outstanding, considering these were college kids. The leads’ accents, inflections, delivery, and timing were spot on. I was especially impressed with Kati Sweaney in the role of Hannah Jarvis. Her performance was nearly of professional caliber. (Note to Kati in case she’s ever ego surfing: You were way better than the Goodman. Be proud of yourself!)

*This is odd, because Reed is the college here in Portland I feel the most affinity for. I wish I had gone to Reed.


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