I played it safe at Fertile Ground this weekend, and only saw plays from companies I'm already familiar with. I should've seen more new stuff, and I plan to next weekend, but one of my gripes about the festival is that from a programming standpoint, there's a ton of overlap—lots of stuff crammed in the 7:30-8 pm range, less daytime and late-night stuff. (Plus, I have to admit that while I think Fertile Ground is an amazing way for the companies involved to cross promote, develop new work, and reach new audiences, the phrase "uncurated performance festival" strikes a teeny bit of fear into my heart.) So I got some of the obvious stuff out of the way this weekend, and plan to do a bit more exploring this week. I saw:
My Mind Is Like an Open Meadow—Erin Leddy of Hand2Mouth Theater based this solo show on conversations she had with her grandmother in 2001. It's a highly personal show—about memory and family and the inevitability of death and decline—that intelligently incorporates recorded interviews with Leddy's grandma along with music and dance. My main criticism is that a few scenes felt emotionally overburdened, and I think would've benefited from a more oblique approach—grandma struggling to remember the words to a poem she used to know was far more affecting than a more "intense" moment in which Leddy sobbed openly while wearing a stocking on her head. But several of the quieter moments really stuck with me, and the music is beautiful.
Captured by Aliens—I have to admit that I came into the newest show by Action/Adventure (Fall of the House) with some skepticism. The premise sounded so labored: It's a reality show set on a spaceship, engineered by aliens eager to learn about humankind. Plus, the success of Fall of the House really rested in the relationships that evolved from episode to episode, and I wasn't sure if that sort of character development would be possible in such a gimmicky context. But Captured is a fine, funny show that makes good use of reality TV trappings (the confession room in particular), with squeaky-voiced aliens providing an absurd counterpoint to the characters' alliance-building and backstabbing. Even on opening night, the strong ensemble seemed comfortable with the semi-improvised format—overall I thought it was funnier than Fall of the House, even.
The Missing Piece—Portland Playhouse knows how to produce a solid show, but for the life of me I can't see the appeal in this script, which was written by Nick Zagone and debuted at JAW in 2009. Set in Portland, Piece is about a kid with an absent father and a heavy-drinking Irish Catholic mom who decides that the solution to his problems is to go live with Hugh Hefner. So he and his slacker brother track down an aging bunny who happens to live in the area, and it turns out she's Hugh Hefner's long-lost love, but she has consumption, or something (?), and also it's 1980 so everyone is wearing hospital masks to protect them from ash since Helens just exploded, and, right, we had cults in Oregon too, so Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh shows up and chases the Irish Catholic mom around the kitchen table while she wards him off with the sign of the cross. The script confuses wackiness for cleverness, the characters lack dimension (through no fault of a perfectly solid cast, who do their dogged best), and the few moments of genuine heart and honesty found in the show's early moments are completely overshadowed by the relentless barrage of ridiculousness in its final act. I should note that much of the rest of the audience seemed to find this show uproariously funny—if you were in that number, please to explain the appeal. (For a take on that show so different than mine as to make me feel a little bit crazy, here's Marty Hughley in the O.)
Anybody else see anything? I'm especially curious about Fuse Theatre's Smarter Than Phones and Camille Cettina's Mr Darcy Dream Boat....