” Anne Sorce

Medea brings new meaning to catharsis

Imago presents a gut-wrenching Greek tragedy on a slanted stage

“Does the word ‘catharsis’ have Greek origins?” I wondered as I watched Imago’s Medea. Sure enough—and its meanings have been faithfully maintained: Katharsis and related words imply vomiting, purging or bodily cleansing, with an aim toward purity. When the body is sick, it triggers nausea (another Greek word, for seasickness specifically), and before the body can rest—either in repose or death—it must first expel some poison.

And yet, there’s a natural impulse among “civilized” people to resist the impulse to purge, to contain the inevitable upheaval. Guts clench and wrench. Teeth gnash and throats choke. And in that moment, however brief or prolonged, there’s suspense and tension. In the nausea before the catharsis, sickened people are holding in an ocean’s worth of sorrow. They’re dry-heaving a clutch of tortured sobs before unleashing a torrent. And that, Friends, is the feeling of a good Greek tragedy.

Anne Sorce as Medea: a family tragedy. John Rudoff/Polaris Images

For an archetypal figure from antiquity, Medea’s plight is surprisingly universal. The mother of two (played by the always-commanding Anne Sorce) has just lost her cheating, midlife-crisis-indulging husband Jason (played by the equally-formidable Todd Van Voris) to a much younger woman, and it’s driving her crazy. As her ex-husband’s wedding day approaches, she schemes about how to make him pay, deciding that ultimately she’s willing to add to her own suffering in order to inflict her pain on him. Medea, her nursemaid/narrator (Madeleine Delaplane), and a chorus of Medea’s peers spend much of the play in a prolonged reverie of poetic nausea, trying in vain to choke back the forthcoming horrors the scorned woman is about to release. They wail. They moan. They warn. And we wait trepidatiously.


‘The Homecoming’: Imago defines ‘Pinteresque’

One girl and a houseful of boys riding their ids to the edge, then trying to soft-shoe back into good graces

Let’s say you’ve decided to drop the word “Pinteresque” into cocktail conversation. What’s the right moment?

Well, it might work in place of “messed-” or “f*cked-up,” but only referring to people’s actions. No apparel, architecture, food or music—however grotesque—is sick enough to qualify. Only people are Pinteresque, and only in person, when they do or say the most shocking things possible.

So when do you bust out your new favorite word? At that record-skip moment when the party stops short because someone has completely lost control. “Well, that was Pinteresque,” you murmur to your date, as you and all the other sane guests tiptoe over the spilled punch, shattered glass, rutting couple, or dead man toward the door.

Ann Sorce and the fellas: trouble's a-brewin'. Photo: John Rudoff

Anne Sorce and the fellas: trouble’s a-brewin’. Photo: John Rudoff

It’s this immediacy, this focus on the present, that’s drawn Imago Theatre—otherwise best-known for goodhearted, all-ages commedia clowning in Frogz and Big Little Things—into Harold Pinter’s more tortured reality, performing three of the British playwright’s works in a recent stretch, and currently The Homecoming, which opened over the weekend and continues through November 10. “”If you look at Frogz, there’s no past, no future. There’s only the moment,” Imago artistic director Jerry Mouawad has explained to The Oregonian.

Only the moment? Well, certainly the moments in The Homecoming are overwhelmingly potent. When patriarch Max (Douglas Mitchell) pitches red-faced tirades, sputtering epithets (bitch and more) about his late wife, and lashing out physically against his sons, it’s jarring enough—but when, in a flash, he re-composes himself into a grandfatherly, cajoling host, offering tea and compliments (with a side of sleaze), it’s actually scarier. Did he just say that, or did we imagine it? If he can “turn” that quickly, how long a lull do we have till he “turns” again? Doubting one’s own senses is the heart of dramatic suspense, whether it’s in a haunted house from a horror movie, or a family home on the outskirts of London, haunted by horrible memories.

The Homecoming‘s present, however intense, is made possible by an implied awful past. And according to Pinter himself, “The past is what you remember, imagine you remember, convince yourself you remember, or pretend you remember.” The father, sons, and uncle who live together in The Homecoming drop frequent hints that incest, abuse, and infidelity are part of their shared past, and they’d have to be! How else could these characters possibly act so Pinteresque?!

Lenny (Jacob Coleman), a dapper scumbag, has locked his father Max in a permanent staredown, while his physically stronger but intellectually and emotionally softer brother Joey (Jim Vadala) struggles to speak, often shutting down and cowering in a corner. Their (gay? gigolo?) uncle Sam (Craig Rovere) acts breezy and cavalier, but when Max confronts him, he galvanizes into sudden steel.

The group’s behavior gets partially better, and ultimately worse, when two more characters are introduced: long-lost third brother Teddy (Jeffrey Jason Gilpin) and his wife, Ruth (Anne Sorce). A lady! Sam’s keen to make her comfortable, Joey’s instantly in love and Lenny in lust, and Max derides her as a filthy whore, then abruptly changes tack and welcomes her. Their reaction to their kinsman Teddy is far more blasé; after all, he’s just another man, and they’ve already overfilled that quota. Though their dialogue ends up probing some interesting philosophical dichotomies (UK versus US, academia versus working class), ultimately they drop these debates for the flesh-and-blood femininity in their midst.

Written in 1964, the year after the release of The Feminine Mystique, The Homecoming piles the odds against its sole female character even as it trains its full focus upon her. Ruth’s not merely under a lens here; she’s at the center of crosshairs. Anne Sorce, who may be the fiercest and most bewitching actress in Portland, remains equally beautiful and hard throughout this five-on-one territorial pissing match. Her performance earns a “Hot damn!”—but saying any more would give away the game.

The Homecoming, often lumped with other “comedies of menace,” is so powerfully sinister that writing it apparently blew Pinter’s own fuse. After The Homecoming, he announced he was “tired of menace,” and penned the more poetic Landscape and Silence. Also, according to Imago’s playbill notes, “Pinter himself disliked the term [Pinteresque] and found it meaningless”—which may seem messed-up, but probably explains his characters’ impulse to ride their ids all the way to the edge, and then try to soft-shoe back into good graces. However, as Thomas Wolfe had already famously observed, you can’t go home again.


A. L. Adams is associate editor of Artslandia Magazine and a frequent contributor to The Portland Mercury.

Read more from Adams at Oregon ArtsWatch | Support Oregon ArtsWatch!


In Imago’s ‘The Lover,’ let the games begin

Anne Sorce and Jeffrey Jason Gilpin are trapped in Pinter's erotic game

At one point toward the end of one of the little scenes in Harold Pinter’s “The Lover” at Imago Theatre Thursday night, Anne Sorce pauses, does a slow little pirouette, and looks out at the audience with a little smile on her face, before the blackout ending the scene. And I wondered, sitting on the top row looking down on the production: What if you filled all of Pinter’s famous “silences” with…dancing.

It so happens that this look of satisfaction is the last time we feel that Sarah (who is played by Sorce) has the upper hand in her relationship with her husband Richard (Jeffrey Jason Gilpin). But as soon as I typed that “upper hand,” I wanted to withdraw it. The relationship games, the role-playing games, that Richard and Sarah play have “winners” and “losers,” I suppose, but they are just games. And their aim isn’t to create Top Dogs and losers, but to kindle the erotic connection and maybe something beyond that between Richard and Sarah. So, in this game, they both win or they both lose. And honestly, losing looks like the most probably outcome.

Well, I certainly plunged into the middle of that one, didn’t I? Let’s backtrack a bit and get our bearings.


Anne Sorce and Jeffrey Jason Gilpin in Harold Pinter's "The Lover"/Imago Theatre

Anne Sorce and Jeffrey Jason Gilpin in Harold Pinter’s “The Lover”/Imago Theatre

Pinter wrote the one-act “The Lover” in 1962, part of his early burst of “Comedies of Menace” in the late 1950s and early 1960s, those deliciously dark, transgressive, confusing plays that made “Pinteresque” an adjective describing non-theater events. And like “The Caretaker” (which Imago will produce early next year with Allen Nause) or “The Homecoming” or “The Birthday Party,” it can be played as a comedy (farcical or black, take your pick) or as a bitter sort of drama, depending on how you want to interpret it.

Director Jerry Mouawad discussed the possibilities of “The Lover” with Sorce and Gilpin. Here’s what he told ArtsWatch’s Bob Hicks:

“We picked a possible interpretation of how this particular couple got to this particular position. I’ve chosen one (interpretation) that I thought had the highest risk for the characters.”

He didn’t explain that interpretation to Mr. Hicks, but having seen the show, I’d say he starts it out a little on the comic side and then pirouettes—a little like Sorce does—and starts down a road that gets increasingly melodramatic and desperate for the characters. That’s because Richard starts making noises that indicate he doesn’t want to play the game any more at all. And then what’s left?

Pinter answered that question in an essay he wrote around the same he wrote “The Lover”:

We have heard many times that tired, grimy phrase: ‘failure of communication’ … and this phrase has been fixed to my work quite consistently. I believe the contrary. I think that we communicate only too well, in our silence, in what is unsaid, and that what takes place is a continual evasion, desperate rearguard attempts to keep ourselves to ourselves. Communication is too alarming. To enter into someone else’s life is too frightening. To disclose to others the poverty within us is too fearsome a possibility.

If we think of “The Lover” in this context, the erotic games, their verbal and physical sparring, are a mutual agreement by Richard and Sarah, a substitution for real disclosure that in fact really discloses both their emptiness and their need to keep it hidden. And this production plunges right into the desperation: Their need to continue to play-act! To play a role. To give their lives a false coherence around the characters “lover,” “mistress” and “whore.”


I make the case for Mouawad’s choice here maybe because I think that a more comic choice would have gone down much more easily for his audience. That route is easy to imagine, especially with Sorce on board. She’s shown she can do arch comedy in both “Beaux Arts Club” and “The Black Lizard” at Imago, and there’s no doubt she could give us a sly Sarah who NEVER reveals a true emotion. And Gilpin could play the possible dissolution of the game as PART of the game. In short, “The Lover” could be a lot softer than this version, a direction that a lot of productions go with material this hard.

Sarah: Are you playing a game?
Richard: I don’t play games.

That could be a great laugh line. All Sorce had to do was turn gracefully toward the audience and give us that little smile of hers. Treated seriously, as an honest reflection of Richard’s thinking about himself, it’s intelligible only if we assume that he understands that the erotic game they are playing is truly all they have. Dissolve it and more than the game ends. Mouawad and his cast take Richard’s threat to end the game seriously and that generates the desperation that unsettles Sarah.

“I think things are beautifully balanced, Richard,” she says right before that dancerly pirouette earlier in the play, and the rest of “The Lover” serves to knock her off that center. Sorce represents that physically; each time Richard (or his alter-ego Max) knocks her down, she has rise and re-set herself on her (often) high heels. By the end, this is a slow, deliberate re-centering, as though she needs time to gather her energy to keep the survival game going a little longer.


Anne Sorce and Jeffrey Jay Gilson play the bongo and each other in "The Lover"/Imago Theatre

Anne Sorce and Jeffrey Jay Gilson play the bongo and each other in “The Lover”/Imago Theatre

Yes, Sarah takes a few falls.

“I must say I find your attitude toward women alarming,” Sarah says to Richard, and a feminist criticism of “The Lover” is possible, especially the way this one plays out. Richard threatens to end it, Sarah pleads for him not to (“You’re doing your best to ruin the whole afternoon”), he launches into a giant rant built around her alleged boniness, and stays in a corrosive place until the very end. While she plays “Mistress and Lover,” he plays “Whore and John.” She talks admiringly of her “Lover”; he disparages his “Whore” (“I’m very well acquainted with a whore, but not a mistress,” he says).


SPOILER ALERT! Skip down to the next section if you want to avoid a central “reveal” of the plot.

(I’m assuming you’ve figured this out, right? Richard is also Max, Sarah’s lover; Sarah is Richard’s “whore.”)


Fifty years later, do we want to make the argument that Pinter in 1962 was insufficiently feminist? That he had his thumb down on the “male” side of the scale? Well, yes, for me, maybe so. Pinter’s point is about the existential condition of humans or rather the extent they will go to avoid that condition. As self-composed as Sarah can be, her condition is somehow worse than Richard’s, and frankly, I wanted her to take off one of those high heels and clock him in the head with it. (Not that I believe that violence solves anything!)

“You can’t get out, darling—you’re trapped.” I think Richard says this, and it is a good commentary on how the games we play come to own us, how we are stuck with their formulations and their roles.

Back to that essay by Pinter:

“I am not suggesting that no character in a play can ever say what he in fact means. Not at all. I have found that there invariably does come a moment when this happens, when he says something, perhaps, which he has never said before. And where this happens, what he says is irrevocable, and can never be taken back.”

Is this one of those moments? I think it might be, and in the context of the play and the Imago production, it also suggests that Richard is trapped, too. Richard and Sarah are stuck in “The Lover” until it ends. The playwright has trapped them there. The resolution of their tension will have to come from the game, from the lines they are dealt. They are truly trapped. And so, in this, they are equals, Richard and Sarah.


Will you love “The Lover”?

I have no idea, of course. I enjoyed watching Sorce and Gilpin find their way around the simple set on the Imago stage. I’d never seen a production of “The Lover,” so I was happy to see one. I was surprised by the tack Mouawad and company took with it, toward the near-melodramatic, but once I thought about it, I found it defensible.

And I don’t think it’s a play you “love” in any case. It should leave you a little uneasy, shouldn’t it? About the fictions we employ to make ourselves comprehensible to ourselves? About the places we’ll do almost anything to avoid? And how that’s funny in a mordant sort of way? Sounds virtually Pinteresque.

News & Notes: Future Pinter provocations, Kristy Edmunds returns, more!

Imago has scheduled a second Harold Pinter play this season, Kristy Edmunds will lead a roving band in conversation

Tomorrow, we fully intend to get back to Maguy Marin’s “Salves (Salvos)”, which created quite a stir over the weekend. And maybe we’ll even take another jaunt to Lisa D’Amour’s “Detroit,” because suddenly the one informs the other. We’re so fond of ripping the scab off the Body Aesthetic to re-explore previous wounds!

Today we will start for Provocations Future, however.

Anne Sorce and Kyle Delamarter in Imago's "Beaux Arts Club"/Jerry Mouawad

Anne Sorce and Kyle Delamarter in Imago’s “Beaux Arts Club”/Jerry Mouawad

Jerry Mouawad has decided to double up on his Harold Pinter this season. Previously slated to direct Pinter’s dark classic “The Caretaker” (OK, “dark classic” describes just about ALL Pinter’s work), with Allen Nause as the homeless tramp Davies and Todd Van Voris as the man who invites him home, Mouawad has decided to bring the one-act “The Lover” to the Imago Theatre stage, as well. Anne Sorce and Jeffrey Gilpin star.

The Nause/Van Voris combination was already a highlight of the season. Nause, who recently stepped down as artistic director at Artists Repertory Theatre and is among the best actors in the history of Portland stage, starred opposite William Hurt in Pinter’s “No Man Land” two years ago, a production that stirs debate any time it comes up because of Hurt’s radical take on Spooner (or “insane take,” depending on which side you’re on). Van Voris, who has worked illustriously with Nause at Artists Rep, played in Mouawad’s previous Imago encounter with Pinter, “Betrayal.”

Allen Nause, left, with William Hurt in "No Man's Land" at Artists Repertory Theatre/Owen Cary

Allen Nause, left, with William Hurt in “No Man’s Land” at Artists Repertory Theatre/Owen Cary

I haven’t seen a production of “The Lover” in Portland, and Sorce’s comic predilections might signal that’s the direction Mouawad will go with it, though it can also play as a drama. “The Lover” plays for nine shows only, opening on December 5. “The Caretaker” opens on Feb. 27. To purchase tickets call Imago Box Office at 503-231-9581 or Ticketswest at 503-224-8499 or online at ticketswest.com. Or email imagotheatre@gmail.com.


Kristy Edmunds, who changed the face of Portland arts by founding the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art, will be back in town from her post as executive and artistic director of the Center for the Art of Performance at UCLA on Sunday to moderate a discussion with artists Stephen Hayes and Fernanda D’Agostino about their respective exhibitions.

The twist is that these conversations will start at 2:00 pm at The Art Gym at Marylhurst University, where D’Agostino’s installation, “The Method of Loci,” is on display. Then everyone will pack up and move to Lewis & Clark College’s Hoffman Gallery, where Hayes’s deeply engaging “Figure/Ground: A Thirty Year Retrospective” is hanging from the walls, and where the conversation will pick up at 3:30 pm.

Stephen Hayes's retrospective, "Figure/Ground' at the Hoffman Gallery.

Stephen Hayes, “Film Still,” monograph, in “Figure/Ground’ at the Hoffman Gallery.

The conversations are free, but an RSVP is requested at gallery@lclark.edu or 503-768-7687. For more information, contact The Art Gym or the Hoffman Gallery.


Computer analysis suggests Shakespeare had a hand in three collaborative plays, the anonymous  “Arden of Faversham,” Thomas Kyd’s “The Spanish Tragedy” and the anonymous “Mucedorus” all of which were performed by his London acting company. The three will now be included in a major edition of Shakespeare’s collaborative plays.


The ‘smart’ business guys on the NY City Opera board pretty much killed it by raiding the endowment, the New York Times reported.


This is the 50th anniversary of John Rechy’s “City of Night,” a first novel of uncommon craftsmanship and one with an uncommon protagonist, a gay hustler in New York City who resembled Rechy himself. Charles Casillo celebrates the novel in the Los Angeles Review of Books.

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