Gemma Whelan

Animal instinct: Corrib’s ‘Chapatti’

Last year's hit two-hander about a dog lover and a cat lover reopens for a new run, this time on the Artists Rep stage

EDITORS’ NOTE: Corrib Theatre’s February 2016 show “Chapatti,” starring veterans Allen Nause and Jacklyn Maddux as a couple of “lonely Dublin codgers,” is back for a fresh run opening Monday, April 3, and continuing though April 16, this time on the Artists Rep stage: ticket and schedule information are here. ArtsWatch’s review from last year’s production is below:

 


 

To begin with, Dan’s a dog man, even though he’s trying to give away his boon companion for reasons that will become unsettlingly clear. Betty’s a cat woman – you could almost say a crazy old cat lady, given that she’s got nineteen, more or less, prowling around the house, and curiously, no one ever questions how the place smells. Obviously, this is never going to work.

Then again, as they say, opposites attract.

I wouldn’t call Christian O’Reilly’s 2014 play Chapatti the flip side of The Gin Game, exactly, although you could make the case. D.L. Coburn’s oddly Pulitzerized 1976 two-hander, like Chapatti, throws together an older man and an older woman in a situation not entirely in either one’s control, and is a showcase for actors of a certain age, giving them sparkling leading roles rather than confining them to playing old Uncle Fred and Aunt Bea, stuck in the corner with the overstuffed furniture in yet another family drama about the libidos and travails of kids in their twenties or even their forties.

Nause and Maddux: animal instinct. Photo: Owen Carey

Nause and Maddux: animal instinct. Photo: Owen Carey

In that sense Chapatti (the title is the name of Dan’s little bowser, whom we never see on stage, although his presence is felt) and Gin are blood brothers, star vehicles for seasoned performers who know the tricks of the trade. But while The Gin Game grows increasingly nastier – time hasn’t turned resentful Weller into a cuddly bear, and he goes raging into that good card game like an unrepentant attack dog, stripping away the niceties of civilization as he snarls – Chapatti heads in a different direction, toward reconciliation and second chances. It unabashedly wears the trappings of a traditional romantic comedy (geezer meets geezer, geezer and geezer endure complications, geezer gets geezer) but it’s not precisely a sentimental play, because it veers away from the romcom formula, deepening and dropping into disturbing danger zones, and it leaves a great big question at the end, so you can’t say it’s all sunshine to The Gin Game‘s surly storm. But if Chapatti isn’t bubblingly optimistic, it’s generously hopeful, and it provides a lot of fun as it rolls down the tracks on its ninety-minute journey toward whatever its unsettled destination will be.

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Mary of the mysteries

Jacklyn Maddux tells a tale of wonder and regret as the mother of Jesus in Colm Tóibín’s "The Testament of Mary" for Corrib Theatre

Holy Mother of God, how could you say such things? Tense, sad, argumentative and just this side of bitter, Jacklyn Maddux is far from a Renaissance painter’s vision of the Virgin Mary. Then again, that symbol of serene and ardent holiness is not what Colm Tóibín wants her to be. What he wants, as things turn out, is something more combative and conflicted in its mysteries.

Watching Maddux’s solo turn for Corrib Theatre in The Last Testament of Mary, Tóibín’s stage adaptation of his 2012 novella, I thought almost inevitably of Nikos Kazantzakis and his startling, in some circles notorious, novel The Last Temptation of Christ.

Temptation was first published in Greek in 1955, the year that Tóibín was born in Ireland, and although Last Testament is in no way connected stylistically or narratively to the earlier novel, they share a thematic understanding: religious myth is built on human experience. It is rote among Christians to refer to Jesus as both man and god, and yet the “man” half of the equation is routinely subsumed, as if it were a tainted and shameworthy thing, in the glories of the god. Kazantzakis roiled the official waters by writing a novel in which Jesus, far from being above or otherwise separated from humanity, was deeply and passionately human. He felt every emotion, every temptation, including the temptations of the flesh; only by being fully human and understanding what that meant could he be the kind of god he was.

Jacklyn Maddux as Mary, remembering. Photo: Owen Carey

The Last Testament of Mary concentrates on the human, too, through the voice and experiences not of Jesus but his mother, speaking, finally, years after the events. And Mary, to tell the truth, isn’t buying a lot of the mythology. Tóibín chose the word “testament” carefully: This remarkable and sometimes heartrending narrative is indeed a testimony and not a gospel (from the Old English “god spell,” or “good news”). To Mary’s mind, there’s not much good about it. Her account of her son’s life and death could almost be a legal deposition, a statement of the facts as the witness sees them, and yet it is also a dogged questioning, a ruthless self-examination, a turning-inside-out of the soul.

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‘Our New Girl’: a lie of the mind

Corrib Theatre's contemporary Irish psychological thriller lights a volatile match to a not-so-happy hearth and home

Myths across the ages tell about strangers arriving at doorsteps and how the gods will give you good fortune if you trust enough to let the strangers in. Yet more often than not, that’s not how the story unfolds – and certainly not in the case of Our New Girl, a psychological thriller at Corrib Theatre that plays upon the dynamics of human relationships at their most vulnerable.

Nikki Weaver, fresh on the heels of her performance as Ibsen’s Nora in Shaking the Tree’s A Doll’s House, is Hazel, a former high-powered attorney whose confidence is now compromised in what seems an endless web of homegrown complexity. Much like Nora, Hazel has demands placed on her as a work-at-home mother of a social-climbing, workaholic husband.

Happy to be here: L-R, Salmon, McKinney, Van Voris, Weaver. Photo: Owen Carey

Group hug: L-R, Salmon, McKinney, Van Voris, Weaver. Photo: Owen Carey

Weaver plays the role with a stubbornness that speaks to Hazel’s recent past, when she had power from her career outside the home. The world she inhabits now is a posh London apartment with all the latest amenities: a clean, crisp, picture-post-card salute to Crate and Barrel showpieces. The entire play is acted out in the apartment’s kitchen, whose primary tint of white is offset by many light-gold bottles of olive oil. Many homes find their heart in the kitchen, where creating and dishing meals ignite end-of-the-day conversations when families can bond. This kitchen is sterile: the closest things to nourishment it offers are fresh cucumber sandwiches. Hazel and her family are being drawn and quartered. Why, who, and how are the anxieties at play.

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Animal Instinct: Corrib’s ‘Chapatti’

Two geezers, 19 cats, a dog, and a dilemma: Nause and Maddux find life and love (maybe) near the end of the line

To begin with, Dan’s a dog man, even though he’s trying to give away his boon companion for reasons that will become unsettlingly clear. Betty’s a cat woman – you could almost say a crazy old cat lady, given that she’s got nineteen, more or less, prowling around the house, and curiously, no one ever questions how the place smells. Obviously, this is never going to work.

Then again, as they say, opposites attract.

I wouldn’t call Christian O’Reilly’s 2014 play Chapatti the flip side of The Gin Game, exactly, although you could make the case. D.L. Coburn’s oddly Pulitzerized 1976 two-hander, like Chapatti, throws together an older man and an older woman in a situation not entirely in either one’s control, and is a showcase for actors of a certain age, giving them sparkling leading roles rather than confining them to playing old Uncle Fred and Aunt Bea, stuck in the corner with the overstuffed furniture in yet another family drama about the libidos and travails of kids in their twenties or even their forties.

Nause and Maddux: animal instinct. Photo: Owen Carey

Nause and Maddux: animal instinct. Photo: Owen Carey

In that sense Chapatti (the title is the name of Dan’s little bowser, whom we never see on stage, although his presence is felt) and Gin are blood brothers, star vehicles for seasoned performers who know the tricks of the trade. But while The Gin Game grows increasingly nastier – time hasn’t turned resentful Weller into a cuddly bear, and he goes raging into that good card game like an unrepentant attack dog, stripping away the niceties of civilization as he snarls – Chapatti heads in a different direction, toward reconciliation and second chances. It unabashedly wears the trappings of a traditional romantic comedy (geezer meets geezer, geezer and geezer endure complications, geezer gets geezer) but it’s not precisely a sentimental play, because it veers away from the romcom formula, deepening and dropping into disturbing danger zones, and it leaves a great big question at the end, so you can’t say it’s all sunshine to The Gin Game‘s surly storm. But if Chapatti isn’t bubblingly optimistic, it’s generously hopeful, and it provides a lot of fun as it rolls down the tracks on its ninety-minute journey toward whatever its unsettled destination will be.

Continues…

‘The Call’: waiting, fretting, hoping

Profile Theatre opens its season of plays by onetime Portlander Tanya Barfield with a drama about adoption and Africa and the uncertainties of life

When the call finally arrives, it’s not as if Annie’s jumping up and down for joy. She’s been waiting and waiting, and stressing, and having double-triple-quadruple thoughts, and … well, as the Gershwin boys put it, let’s call the whole thing off.

Or not. That’s the problem. Life is full of maybes, and at some point you’ve got to have a solid yes or no. But how do you get there?

The Call, the first play in Profile Theatre’s new Tanya Barfield season, opened Saturday night at the Artists Rep complex, and suggests a season of playful, contemporary, issue-oriented, and curiosity-driven theater to come. It’s part domestic drama, part cultural-conflict theater, part situation comedy, part mystery thriller, and always smart and engaging. And it introduces Portland audiences to one of the city’s own: Barfield grew up here before moving to New York, and went through school at the Metropolitan Learning Center, and has been a Pulitzer nominee, but has never before had one of her plays produced here. Suddenly, an entire season is about to rectify that oversight.

Howard and Soden: the talk before The Call. Photo: David Kinder

Howard and Soden: the talk before The Call. Photo: David Kinder

In The Call, Annie is a woman of a certain age, an artist who’s more or less put off her career because it conflicts with her job at a museum, and who has also put off having a child until, it seems, it’s biologically too late. So she and her husband, Peter, have decided to adopt, and they have a line on a baby about to be born in Arizona, but the young mother seems likely to keep the kid, and so Annie, almost on impulse, decides they should adopt from Africa: so much poverty and sickness, so many orphans, so many needy kids.

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From Corrib, a Little Gem

Elaine Murphy's comic drama about three generations of women in an Irish family lives up to its title

The men aren’t there.

Well, they are, but only talked about, never seen. However important they might be in the shaping and sometimes twisting of the lives we see and hear in Dublin writer Elaine Murphy’s fascinating drama Little Gem, the play is about these three women and the ways they form and keep a family: mom Lorraine (Sara Hennessy), grandmom Kay (Michele M. Mariana), young-adult daughter Amber (Lauren Mitchell).

From left: Hennessy, Mariana, Mitchell. Photo: Owen Carey

From left: Hennessy, Mariana, Mitchell. Photo: Owen Carey

Shifting points of view easily in a smooth series of monologues, the three women tell a tale of love, loyalty and endurance on the tenuous lower rungs of the working class. It doesn’t hurt that a few good comedy bits are tossed in to ease the tension, from mom’s encounter with the sweating hairy man to grandma’s reluctant adventures with the buzzing vibrator.

Corrib Theatre’s production in the upstairs banquet room of Kells Irish Restaurant & Pub is about as stripped-down as it can be, and that seems fitting for a play about a family of women just struggling (successfully, as it turns out) to survive: a simple low platform for a stage, a wooden chair that can be moved about, a backdrop that consists of a plain wooden frame with a large quilt, that enduring form of women’s art and craft, hanging from it. The quilt defines the warmth of the women’s relationship, and makes the stage a home. The little bar in the next room, where members of the audience can grab a beer or glass of wine before and after the show, makes the space seem both a home and a comfortable pub, an Irish institution that plays a vital background role in Little Gem.

The production’s simplicity puts the attention squarely on the performers, who meet the challenge with dash, humor, and sometimes shattering impact. Hennessy maintains a sweet and carefully modulated rambunctious center as Lorraine, the harried woman in the middle who is dealing with a rocky work environment, a long-absent deadbeat husband, a daughter who might be going off the deep end, and the surprise possibility of a genuinely good relationship with a decent man. As Kay, the veteran Mariana provides the show’s emotional anchor, downshifting the action to the nitty-gritty of it all: the end of a long and fruitful marriage, the recognition of her own mortality, the responsibility for holding everything together, the tending of the emotional embers so they don’t go out, the warmth and strength that bind the three generations together. It’s a lovely and moving performance. Mitchell, by generational contrast, is a compulsively chattering jumble of nerves as Amber: a little punkish, reckless, combative, vulnerable in spite of herself, left in the lurch by the lout who knocks her up and leaves her with child – the “Little Gem” of the title, the family’s new hope.

The surprising thing about Little Gem is, you get a complete sense of the rising and falling relationships even though no one ever talks to anyone else: until the very end the entire play is told in monologues, each of the three actors taking her turn. Director Gemma Whelan keeps the action clear and swift, paying close attention to the emotional ebb and flow. What emerges is a small wonder about ordinary people’s large lives.

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Three points about Corrib and Little Gem:

  • Corrib is devoted to plays about the Irish experience, and in her program notes Whelan points out playwright Murphy’s key role in that regard: “In the history of Irish theatre, female voices have long been absent or marginalized. This despite the fact that Lady Augusta Gregory was one of the founders of the Irish National Theatre – the Abbey, where her plays were produced alongside Synge and Yeats. Teresa Deevy had her plays staged there in the 1930s, and Marina Carr was one of the first women to have her work produced there in the twenty-first century. Elaine Murphy’s latest play Shush played at the Abbey Theatre in 2013, making her the third woman in nearly 100 years to have a play produced by Ireland’s national theatre. The time has come!”
  • Little Gem continues through Feb. 26 on an unusual schedule: Monday through Thursday evenings. Among other things, that allows other theater people to catch the show on their Monday nights off from their own shows.
  • Also from the program: “We dedicate this production to Ted Roisum, (1952-2015). Ted performed in Corrib’s first full production – St. Nicholas – at Kells in March 2013, marking the first time this space was used as a theatre. For Corrib, this will always be ‘Ted’s Space.’ We miss him hugely.” A public memorial service for Ted, the much-loved and admired Portland actor who died of cancer on Jan. 29, will be held from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 22, at Artists Repertory Theatre, 1515 S.W. Morrison St.

 

 

 

Preview: ‘The Hen Night Epiphany’

The little Corrib Theatre's biggest production ever gathers some of the city's finest actresses

Portland’s Corrib Theatre is a tiny company about to take its first big step.

Launched in the fall of 2012 by the Irish-born stage director Gemma Whelan and software designer/photographer/theater aficionado Win Goodbody, Corrib focuses on contemporary Irish stage literature and so far has presented a few staged readings and two solo shows so spare that if the actor had walked away you’d never guess you were looking at a theatrical set — because you’d more likely be looking at, say, an unadorned banquet room in Kells Irish Pub.

Now, Corrib (named after a river and lake on the west coast of Ireland) is offering something a bit more elaborate. Jimmy Murphy’s The Hen Night Epiphany, which opens Saturday night at CoHo Theater, features a cast of five and a full complement of scenic, sound and lighting designs.

The hens in rehearsal for an all-night epiphany

The hens in rehearsal for an all-night epiphany

It’s a gamble —as perhaps is any show by a fledgling company. Goodbody no longer is involved because, according to Whelan, he felt Corrib wasn’t ready to mount a full production of this size in a traditional theater.

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