Silas Weir Mitchell

A new way to ask “what if”

The Armory's latest play "Constellations" makes "the multiverse" more accessible by adding an age-old element, romance.

Marianne tries to chat up Roland, but he’s married.

Marianne tries to chat up Roland, and he’s available, but he’s not into her.

Marianne tries to chat up Roland, and he’s available, and he’s into her, and their relationship begins. What are the odds?

Nick Payne’s Constellations might be a heartwarming rom-com if it weren’t for the play’s extremely unusual setting—a series of parallel universes that contain potentially-infinite variations of the lovers’ story.

The “multiverse,” as it’s often called, is a trending theory of physics that proposes that the reality we’re living in is basically just one in a stack of non-identical, concurrently unfolding copies of reality, wherein different circumstances play out among the same participants. And musing about the multiverse seems to be hot right now. Science broaches the discussion with The Large Hadron Collider in Cern, created to seek the “god particle”; with Schroedinger’s ill-fated feline; and with Einstein’s theory of relativity. Science fiction (or as some scholars rightfully prefer to call it, “speculative fiction” or spec-fic) uses the theory to buoy its overarching “what-ifs”: What if the world were different than it is? What if the world is different than we think?

A sci-fi state of mind is emphasized—nay, maximized—by the set in this production. A giant raised grid of perfectly-spaced squares (think Tron, The Matrix, or even a honeycomb) curves artfully from backdrop to foreground, from ceiling to floor, waterfalling off the front edge of the stage. A few of its squares function as cubbyholes that offer up props (for instance, pairs of shoes) at appropriate moments, then reabsorb any matter the actors throw into them, like so many scrambled eggs materializing from nowhere in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Sound, too, is a crucial component. Each new scenario is cued by a sort of “whoosh, clank,” as if the cubbyholes of the grid are being invisibly realigned and locked into place, opening and closing pathways so new stimuli can enter the space.

Dana Greene and Silas Weir Mitchell in “Constelations”: many possibilities. Photo: Patrick Weishampel/blankeye

Standing against this epic gridscape symbolizing the universe’s unseen pattern and flow, Marianne and Roland look strikingly small. But gradually, magnetically, they draw us into their sympathies, and hurtle us toward a heartbreaking conclusion that we keep hoping they can somehow—maybe through a glitch in the matrix?—manage to avoid.

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ArtsWatch Weekly: Really big show

Going big: Perséphone with puppets, an American in Paris, Mahler's grand sweep, the sounds of Cuba and Lou Harrison

At the Portland Showtime Bistro, audiences like things well-done, but often served small to medium. We enjoy our intimacy, from compact ensembles like Portland Baroque Orchestra and FearNoMusic to closeup theater spaces like CoHo, the Back Door, the Ellyn Bye Studio, Shoebox, and Shaking the Tree. Summer’s coming, and with it, once again, that sprawling celebration of good things in small packages, the Chamber Music Northwest summer festival (with a welcome emphasis this year on women composers).

But sometimes you want the whole darned smorgasbord, and only big will do. Portland can provide that, too, and lately it’s been doing so … well, big-time.

Big night on the town: Portland Opera’s “La Bohème.” Photo: Cory Weaver.

Portland Opera’s just completed its grand-scale production of Puccini’s overflowing romantic potboiler La Bohème (Terry Ross reviewed it for ArtsWatch here) and is saddling up for a June musical-theater adventure in giant-windmill territory with Man of La Mancha (featuring Grimm star Reggie Lee as one of the best sidekicks in history, Sancho Panza).

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A good rain on a Grimm parade

Misunderstandings, not monsters: Center Stage's "Three Days of Rain," with two stars of the hit television series "Grimm," is witty and elegant

No midnight maulings or supernatural terrors this time around. Richard Greenberg’s drama Three Days of Rain, which spotlights two stars of the made-in-Portland television hit Grimm, has its monsters, but they’re ordinary, human-sized monsters, vulnerable and malleable and made of misunderstandings.

And, yes, just to get That Question out of the way: Silas Weir Mitchell and Sasha Roiz are much better than all right onstage. They give nuanced, playful, assured performances, easily filling the main-stage space at Portland Center Stage, and work seamlessly with stage veteran Lisa Datz, who is quite brilliant in a pair of crucial and contrasting roles.

Datz and Roiz: something's breaking up here. Photo: Patrick Weishampel/www.blankeye.tv

Datz and Roiz: something’s breaking up. Photo: Patrick Weishampel/www.blankeye.tv

The casting of Mitchell (the excitable, wolf-like Monroe on Grimm) and Roiz (the smoldering Captain Renard) is less stunt casting than just good casting. Yes, you can see hints of their television personalities. But they’re creating specific personalities based on the characters Greenberg wrote, and they’re doing it very well. The Grimm connection in a Grimm-crazy town gives the whole thing a little extra buzz. But if you’d never seen an episode, you’d still likely enjoy these performances.

I’m betting you’ll like the play, too, which premiered in 1997 and is witty and sad and star-crossed and elegant. It’s not a big play: this is not Greek tragedy, and it’s not Chekhovian, though that sort of blunted Russian domesticity comes a little closer to the mark. Smart and insightful and humane, it has a rueful American quality, hopeful in spite of itself. In the allusive way it deals with family relations it reminds me, a bit, of Richard Nelson’s cycle of Apple Family plays, which Third Rail Rep began to produce and unfortunately had to cut short halfway through the series.

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Breaking: ‘Grimm’ invades Portland Center Stage

Silas Weir Mitchell and Sasha Roiz will star in Richard Greenberg's 'Three Days of Rain' next season

Silas Weir Mitchell in 'Grimm'/Photo by: Scott Green/NBC

Silas Weir Mitchell in ‘Grimm’/Photo by: Scott Green/NBC

Portland Center Stage has done a little shuffling of its 2014-15 season and abracadabra presto what should appear but a production of Richard Greenberg’s Three Days of Rain, starring two of the primary actors of NBC’s Grimm, Silas Weir Mitchell and Sasha Roiz. It will be the Main Stage season closer, May 17-June 21, 2015, with opening night on May 22.

Grimm is filmed in Portland, and has been a welcome addition to the city’s creative landscape,” said Center Stage artistic director Chris Coleman. “Since they arrived in town, both Sasha and Silas have been visitors to Portland Center Stage, and so I’ve come to know them. We’ve been waiting for the right timing, and the right project, to work together. And the planets—also known as Grimm’s shooting schedule and our season calendar—finally aligned.”

If you follow the Portland-filmed Grimm, you already know that Mitchell plays Monroe, a reforming Blutbad and pal of the detective played by series star David Giuntoli. If you don’t watch Grimm, maybe you’ve seen Mitchell in one of the several quirky films and TV shows that dot his resume. My favorite Mitchell credit, before Grimm, was his recurring role in the comedy series My Name is Earl. Roiz plays Captain Renard on Grimm, the Chief of Police with an intense backstory. He starred in Caprica, the Battlestar Galactica prequel on SyFy, and he was in Paul W.S. Anderson’s Pompeii, the campy disaster flick that critics loved to hate.

Greenberg’s three-actor/six character play is a tricky bit of theatrical business, not least because it requires the actors to play both their character and one of their character’s parents. A 2006 Broadway production that starred Julia Roberts (in her first big Broadway role), Paul Rudd and Bradley Cooper was generally panned. The New York Times critic wrote: “Mr. Greenberg’s slender, elegant play from 1997 about familial disconnectedness and the loneliness of intimacy has certainly never known — and probably will never know again — such fame and fortune. On the other hand, it’s almost impossible to discern its artistic virtues from this wooden and splintered interpretation, directed by Joe Mantello and also starring (poor, luckless lunkheads) Paul Rudd and Bradley Cooper.” Yikes! We’ll focus on the “slender, elegant play” part for now.

Lost in the shuffle is Mojada, by Luis Alfaro, the playwright’s take on Euripides’ Medea updated to an immigrant Mexican family in Chicago. The third of a set of similar adaptations, it premiered in 2013. Center Stage is hoping Mojada will be part of its 2015-16 season instead.

 
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