Saturday, November 03, 2007

Portland Story Theater - Nov 2007 review

It's no secret: I'm addicted to Portland Story Theater. Rick Huddle and Alton Chung will return for performances in 2008, but founding members Lynne Duddy and Lawrence Howard continue to anchor the group, and this month's show brings the delightful addition of Penny Walter, who shines in her stories, plus guests Robin Bady (November 2-3) and Rebecca Cohen (November 9-10).

Licking the Plate is about "wanting it bad and getting it good," about nourishment and cravings -- for food and for family, for direction and identity, for joy and power.

Duddy opens the current show, reminiscing about a 1962 outing to the Space Needle, one of those special, family, dress-up excursions where children thwart the vision parents have of the how the day will unfold. The megalomaniacal symbolism of finger food has never been so deftly portrayed, and the silent conspiracy of neighboring dining guests -- separated in age by decades -- provides equal measures of amusement and victorious satisfaction. Her second piece is a deft adaptation about an attempted robbery and assault foiled by that turned cheek we hear so much about, but rarely encounter.

Bady (Nov. 2-3) resurrects her grandparents' lower east side tenement in New York in a tale about her mother's childhood obsession (and disenchantment) with maraschino cherries. There's rhythm, humor, and intensity in Bady's telling, and she has skillfully crafted a narrative of innocence, idealism, willfulness, drive, and denial. It's a rich, heady mixture rivaling the spread of delicacies at the milk bar in which the story is set. Bady's second piece addresses the vagaries of perception as she riffs on Aesop.

Howard continues to construct a solid body of work with each successive show, chaining links in a personal history that's tender, earthy, learned, and loving. I can only hope the Six Gods of the Universe in their flaming rainbow teepee bless me before I die with a collection of his stories. "The Night on the Island" describes a coming-of-age when you had to be ten years old and know how to swim; and another transition at 16, when all you needed were a flock of migrating geese and the guts to follow. There are dads, uncles, and brothers; warm liquor and limericks; and an excruciating (and hilarious) lake crossing in a canoe.

Walter joins PST for the first time, and I certainly hope it's not the last. She brings an energetic playfulness to the table that's sometimes rueful but never self-indulgent. I am still grinning at her recollection of family dynamics, growing up the baby on eastern Washington farmland, when a milkshake could remedy just about anything... and some of the challenges were dire indeed. Walter's tale of going from apathetic truancy in first grade to finally hitting her stride in high school is one that will stay with me for a long, long time. It's hard for me to imagine this sparkling, wry teller as a puppeteer, where I (probably mistakenly) imagine her in sort of a backstage role. I hope to see a lot more of her at storytelling showcases.

Once again, this is a short run: two weekends, and then it's gone. And Robin Bady is only appearing one more night. And the next four productions are all solo shows, rather than the ensemble. So get to Hipbone Studies (oh, crap, I forgot to write about the venue -- but it's late, and I'm tired, so I'll just say it's warmer and more inviting than the perfectly fine but somewhat industrial Brooklyn Bay).

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