Thursday, March 13, 2008

Portland Story Theater, Part Three of Four

Last Friday, Portland Story Theater opened its third show of 2008 with Rick Huddle's On Sale Now! Rick is one of my favorite tellers; nevertheless, I was nervous, because the theme of consumerism can be so polarizing. I steeled myself for an evening that, for all I knew, could have been subtitled Money Is Evil. I needn't have worried.

Rick doesn't tell safe stories (one of the things I like about him), but I always feel safe with him (another thing I like). He takes care of his audience.

What else do I like about Rick? He's physical. He skips, hops, preens, and teaches audience members to flip through catalog pages as he shares a game from his childhood. He projects a captivating childlike energy, an irresistable invitation to come out and play. He has a Puckish, mischievous air that's both grounding and exciting. Kind of like watching a seven-year-old balance atop a wall.

And his stories touch universal human preoccupations: respect, inner worth, relationships, cultural values, work, dreams, family.

I arrived at Hipbone Studios before the doors opened, but I could hear Rick laughing inside. After confirming my reservation and purchasing my ticket, I was handed some Monopoly money and urged to go buy a snack. I wandered over to the concession table, where a variety of chips and sodas were on display. I bought a copy of Rick's CD and signed the unique On Sale Now! guest book (what a nifty idea!).

Alton Chung had composer and pianist Mike Van Liew accompany him, and Rick had the Tuesday Group open for him with their Stimulus Package. What a kick! But boy, am I glad I'm not their agent. How to describe them! "Hi there, I've got three men and two women in business suites performing a choreographed, a capella, be bop, interactive indictment of consumerism that will have your audience laughing, cringing, and tapping their feet!" I don't know. Might be a hard sell, which is a pity. They were wonderful.

As usual, Huddle's performance was stellar. He takes the most mundane events and arranges and polishes them into treasures. It's truly a coal-into diamond effect, and I always marvel.

Hypnosis sometimes involves storytelling, and storytelling frequently evokes trance. For me, the most memorable story of the night reminded me of some of Milton Erickson's work. Rick described the first time he identified with clothing: a pair of green Converse Chuck Taylor tennis shoes he owned as a kid. From having his foot measured (I thought I was the only child enchanted by those metal things that had that little sliding gizmo that pressed up against the ball of your foot) to the way the shoes almost magically transform his world to the sad end of the relationship, it's a sweet and penetrating portrayal of identity, autonomy, personal symbols, and personal power.

Are sweatshops evil? And what about Wal Mart? What happens when our dream jobs become brain drains? Is it impossible to imagine that something as simple and transitory as a coconut cupcake could be a legitimate source of happiness? Huddle poses more questions than answers, thank goodness, giving the audience the opportunity to explore as they pursue their own journeys.

On Sale Now! closes this weekend. Next up for Portland Story Theater: Lynne Duddy's dark matter, April 11-12 and 18-19.

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