Saturday, February 10, 2007

Birth of an Addiction

I remember precisely when I became hooked on Portland Story Theater. During their 2004 production of Love, Death & Other Scary Stuff, I had a moment of being utterly astonished and transported - as though I'd just come face to face with impossible beauty, like a Georgia O'Keefe painting or one of those first-snow mornings in a forest that seems like stepping into Narnia.

And Then the Bed Broke, Portland Story Theater's current production at Brooklyn Bay, links these moments into a chain that invites the audience into a don't-miss evening of storytelling that's seamless, energetic, bright, and funny as hell.

Olga Sanchez is ultimately responsible for the theme and title of the program, and the ensemble opening tale frames the evening with real-world whimsy.

Sanchez's closing story examines online dating with similar realism and whimsy. Drama, enlightenment, humor, despair, how an elaborate fantasy of wedded bliss can bloom from a simple e-mail: It's all there. Tightly constructed, with the diction and rhythm of a poet, Sanchez is a jewel.

Alton Chung opened the Portland Storytellers Guild's 2005 season with stories about "lo lo" (stupid) that had me laughing so hard I was sucking on my asthma inhaler for the next three days. Last Valentine's Day, his stories evoked a sense of loneliness and longing. He never fails to surprise me with his range, and this show was no different.

Chung takes the audience on a cross-country plane trip that describes a 20-year friendship at a turning point. As Chung recalls meetings, decisions, and the families we choose, he dips into scenes from memory and re-members them fully in the present. Like Dumbledore's pensieve from the Harry Potter novels - a device which stores memories for later reflection - these are moments of magic. Transitions are generally a storyteller's bane, but Chung showcases them here with the deft mastery of an artist.

In another story, he adds to my vocabulary once again (I owe him thanks for "lo lo"), this time describing hysterical euphemisms for... no, I'd better not go there.

Lynne Duddy and Lawrence Howard have their solo pieces: Duddy adds her own perspective to an e-mail describing how to decode women's expressions, and Howard, in a blend of Bob Dylan meets Spike Jones, recounts a relationship's development and demise in the time it takes to run the Kentucky Derby.

Duddy and Lawrence really shine, however, in their tandem telling of a marriage shared for 25 years. Male and female, husband and wife, the two also elicit a stylistic point and counterpoint, simultaneously telling two stories, one in the voice of a traditional mythology of the beginnings of men and women; and the other in a contemporary voice, memories of synchronicity, overalls and mistletoe, of hippies and cultural roles, of identity, conflict, honor and devotion. Their delivery is so conversational, intimate and generous that you'd swear you were hearing the tale at their dining room table over coffee. They display the expert's mark of making a difficult craft seem effortless.

My only complaint about the show is its two-weekend run... blink and it's gone. Don't wait. Give yourself a gift and add this evening to memories you'll cherish.

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