It’s hard to believe that over two years ago, the world of art and culture suffered a massive blow in the bombing of the Twin Towers in New York City. In the midst of the tragedy, it seemed like there was no place for entertainment. A change in what was appropriate in the theaters, movies, stages and even television was desperately needed to comfort and help the hurting public.
Of course, there were places that were more severely hit with this wave of changes than others. In New York City, Broadway plays were canceled and postponed. While the events of Sept. 11, 2001, affected the Northwest in mostly an indirect way, it did create within the entertainment community a sense of unity.
Through the theater’s reinvention process, a new way of relating to the audience has emerged on stage. Older, more traditional plays are still supported in today’s audience, but the viewers are no longer just wanting to come out of the theater with a life-changing experience. Rather, they are looking for a life-affirming one. This shift in the world of art has produced and inspired many new twists on some of the more conventional themes in modern play writing.
One play to emerge from the shambles of the terrorist attacks is Steven Drukman’s “Another Fine Mess.” This play-within-a-play-within-a-play touches on the different significant aspects that “theater” has within a culture, the American culture specifically. With elements of the play resembling that of a Laurel and Hardy show, Drukman weaves together pieces of vaudeville with Samuel Beckett’s play “Waiting for Godot.” Drukman’s characters, Gordon G. and Dennis D., have more in common with Beckett’s characters, Didi and Gogo, than just their initials. They’re also trying to determine whether or not to go on as they usually would, or change their daily routine in light of something tragic presented in their path.
The curtain opens on the first act to a single gothic boy playing classical music through his boombox. As a group of performers trickle in, they start putting on their makeup and talking about their personal lives and professional accomplishments. The characters are preparing to go on stage when tragedy strikes. As the next scene starts, nothing is left of the stage as we know it. There is nothing but a heap of metal and a mess of papers representing the destruction of the theater. It’s how the characters and the audience cope with this destruction and ultimate rebirth of the theater that makes this play so interesting and thought-provoking.
Just as the two main characters in the play are dealing with something out of the ordinary on stage, the audience is subject to the same kind of interruption in the flow of a traditional play. The audience of this Portland Centre Stage production becomes a character itself. It supports the characters on stage, and the characters, in return, talk directly to the audience. At first, the relationship between the two might be a bit confusing, much like what the characters are going through themselves within the play they are putting on.
“Another Fine Mess” is such an important piece to the collection of art within the theater community that it’s no wonder that the cast of actors and actresses that are a part of this play are all very accomplished and distinguished within their profession. In fact, a student from Portland State University is gracing the stage as a member of the cast.
Erin Way, a senior at PSU and a woman, auditioned along with two men for the part of The Boy and was offered the role. She is no newcomer when it comes to playing male roles. “Playing a boy is old hat,” she confesses. Her petite body and short hair could have something to do with that.
There are so many deep and symbolic issues going on in this play that it’s easy to pull out any number of truths regarding the meaning of entertainment. The playwright describes the play as “a love letter to the theater.” Way takes it a step further and says, “It (the theater) gives you a glimpse of the artist’s job. … As artists, we do struggle.” This “struggle” is played out as Dennis and Gordon are looking for Way’s character amongst the wreck that the theater had become.
As much as the audience is aware of the struggle going on on stage, there is also a positive association between the audience and the whole experience of the theater in general. When asked about the experience audience members should take away with them as they leave the theater, Way said, “There aren’t very many opportunities for a group of people to share and discover together.” Theater offers up just such an opportunity. That is an underlining theme in this play. Theater helps people to get up, move on, heal, and realize the good and bad aspects of change.
Way says it best: “Theater creates community and relationship.” The events of Sept. 11, 2001, changed the lives of many people – actors and audience alike – but out of that tragedy came a renewal of the mind and of the spirit. This newly developed community is shown on stage in “Another Fine Mess,” and is also offered to the audience to take with them. Creating a wealth of material for future playwrights and artists to explore.
“Another Fine Mess”
Portland Center Stage
1111 S.W. Broadway
Through Nov. 8