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A little noir at Coho’s Summerfest 2015

By Barry Johnson
June 20, 2015

I missed the first weekend of CoHo Productions’ Summerfest 2015, but I was determined to make Weekend #2, even though it came with that dreaded tag, “audience participation.” Or, as they said as we in the audience filed into the theater, “no seat is safe.” CoHo’s summer shows have an informal spirit that nurtures the wilder edges of performance practice these days, the theater is air conditioned, and the selections are reliably “interesting” at the very least.

Deanna Fleysher plays noir hero Butt Kapinski.

Deanna Fleysher plays noir hero Butt Kapinski.

Friday night, Deanna Fleysher, an East Coaster (Amherst) transplanted in Los Angeles, performer her one-woman show, Butt Kapinski< . The show riffs hard on Film Noir, and Fleysher, who is also a teacher, even provides a little rundown on the elements of a good noir story. She does it in character, so the r’s and l’s become w’s, some consonant blends default to “th”, and it’s all in tough-guy, private detective hard-boiled sentences. The conceit is that we are all producing a film noir of our own in the theater. One woman was enlisted to supply the vocal musical score, which sounded entirely too peppy for film noir until she located her inner saxophone. (Butt asked to her come back anytime at one point—she was good!) And then we all became characters in the plot, except for one guy who had to play “rottweiler,” two guys who played internal organs, and another fellow who played blood spilling over his “dead” girlfriend.

Honestly, we weren’t very good, which put a big improvisational onus on Fleysher. She didn’t seem to mind, even though, yeah, we were a challenge. She obviously had some set-pieces in mind ahead of time, and then she reacted to us, making lemonade out of our lemons. I don’t want to give away too much specific information about the details, but Fleysher is really good at this—meeting us where we are, probing into some political and sexual places that you wouldn’t necessarily expect, finding the humor in our clumsiness, keeping things going with some fast talking and the occasional “re-load.”

Butt Kapinski has only two more shows, at 7:30 pm Saturday and Sunday nights, but the Summerfest continues along for another three shows after this one: Wonderheads (Kate and Andrew Phoenix) perform their theater-mask show Loon (June 25-28); Matthew Kerrigan and Samantha Van Der Merwe join forces for The Dissenter’s Handbook: A Collection of Riotous Tales by Dario Fo, a show that will partially correct the abysmal lack of Fo productions in Portland (July 2,3;5); and Portland Experimental Theatre Ensemble‘s Drowned Horse Tavern (A Sea Shanty Cabaret), which kicks off the company’s exploration of Moby-Dick the next 18 months (July 9-12).

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