5.03.2005

Goats and Monkeys.

Fuente Ovejuna is running along with great energy and forcefulness, benefiting from substantially glowing reviews and enthusiastic (if whelmed) audiences. There's a picture of me as a goon wrestling with rebel scum in the local paper, which is kind of cool (I'm especially proud of my rear quarter haunch's smart profile).

It's nice to be performing in a play which works, largely succeeding in that mystic alchemy of cast and crew and production values and writing. As I've pointed out before, any one or several or even all of those factors might be irreproachably, impeccably superb, and still the production may fail. Odds are further lengthened upon the involvement of the likes of me ("SM, this is Stage Left. Susi is bleeding again"). And yet, because of the enormous heart everyone has brought to this process, and in spite of the odds against us, this show has succeeded in tapping something which a lot of people are reacting positively towards. And that's quite satisfying.

A perfect production this is not, of course. Everyone has stories they could tell, liberally leavened with lighthearted and punch-drunk giddiness.

A giddiness, incidentally, closely akin to what I am now experiencing, having just returned from (for me) an unusually exciting audition process.

I attended Call-Back auditions for a production of Othello, to be staged in the park this summer. I've done Shakespeare in the Park before; I played Don John in their production of Much Ado About Nothing four years ago, and it was, of course, great fun. But frankly, of late, I've been little moved to audition again for them, as the quality of their work is often constrained by circumstance, like, say, unruly barbarians in the audience, or sunstroke, or rival productions of the same work in this small city. But this year I was moved by the presence of two talented directors new to their organization, and a summer season consisting of the oft-paired Othello and As You Like It, excellent plays both.

But more than this, I visited the proposed playing space for Othello late this evening.

And. I. Was. Floored.

Imagine, o reader, late this evening, drizzling rain stippling the concrete pavement. I'd just finished reading for a number of characters, with a number of talented potential castmates. I'm up for the big O himself, but I consider this a long shot, and would be quite content with worthy Michael Cassio or some such. (The director, damn him, had me read for Iago even though that villain is already pre-cast. And which do you think I had the most fun with, of course? How can you not have fun with the "Put money in your purse" speech? But let that pass.) All I knew was that the performance space was to be a fountain in the downtown area, and that, contrary to tradition, this production would not wander the parks all over the city but stay rooted in this fountain, effectively converting the public space into a true theatre.

There are a number of exquisite fountains in this city--exquisite for no real reason other than the uniform affection with which I hold each and every one of them. These are the sites of flowering or failing affections or sunset-to-sunrise birthday parties, or lonely nights under a lamppost with the latest treasure from Powell's clutched in my grubby meat-hooks.

Making out at the Ira S. Keller fountain. Watching babies playing in the Jameson Square fountain. Finishing the Bridge Pedal and doing the obligatory champion's lap through the Salmon Street Springs, showered with glory and recycled water. Eating Elephant Ears at the Pettygrove Arcade fountain. Reading Marlowe plays in a twilit Pioneer Square. The stuff, I tell you, of pure loveliness.

So when I heard this production was to be staged at one of these fountains, immediately my interest was piqued. Would the ochre sandstone of Jameson Square stand in for the rough, arid fortifications of Cyprus? Or would the beetling concrete casements and the cascades of falling water at the Ira Keller Fountain adorn the Doge's Palace at Venice? I instinctively assumed the latter, as I knew of no other fountains in the immediate downtown area that fit the meager descriptions I'd had to go on.

During the auditions, they told us that the fountain in question is known as the Lovejoy Fountain, and I was no little surprised to realize that I knew nothing of this place. You see, I'm a native Portlander; I've traversed the West Hills and the far reaches of both Gresham and Hillsboro on my trusty bike. Downtown Portland is more familiar to me than any childhood home. To hear of some new, numinous place embedded somewhere in this eminently familiar place is entirely unheard of.

Wonder is a rare and deeply prized treasure, but especially and principally so when in the world of the familiar. Frankly, it's easy to give oneself over entirely to wonder when travelling. Seeing, experiencing or passing through the foreign opens myself to wonder without any effort. But in the familiar, wonder ceases to easily flare in me--I notice it's harder for me to write while comfortably ensconced in the familiar--and so the opportunity of wonder beneath the seeming facade of the familiar is not something I dismiss lightly. Correction: it's never something I dismiss. I will always lace up my boots, check my pack, take a deep breath and jump.

Like a Spanish conquistador (except without the rapine, smallpox or religious fanaticism), I set out on foot to find this mysterious fountain in the stippling rain of the night. What I found surpassed my wildest imagination for an outdoor playing space.

I found a wide plaza nestled in an urban amphitheatre, surrounded by high-rise apartments with balconies overlooking the gently sloping space, by turns concrete and greensward. The fountain itself is a pool of still water, fed from a complex of concrete levels "upstage", like a hyper-kinetic version of the Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland. They rise to a dramatic height dominating the square, and are divided by passages and level spaces that rival each other for the eye's attention. There is a large, covered space behind, and intermittent pools of still water at the heights as well as below them. As a whole, the space forms a cohesive unit ultimately by refusing to provide a single playing surface that outmatches any of the others; I would say that half-a-dozen playing spaces are each nested within each other here, and that while there is an obvious 'upstage', 'downstage' or 'center-stage' is much less apparent--and therefore, for me, far more interesting as a whole. Most interesting of all, a series of concrete steps crosses the largest pool at its widest, connecting the various playing surfaces and completing the processional path of the dividing channels from 'upstage'.

I don't know if I'm describing any of this to you such that anyone will understand a word I'm saying. But take my word for it, I'll hold a fucking spear for five acts just to get a chance to play in this space. It's setting alone, surrounded by high-rise apartments in the midst of downtown Portland, is enough to remind me of Elijah in Poland, except with some trees and some water.

I'm so stoked.

I have no idea how I never found this place before. I do not understand in the slightest why somebody hasn't staged something here before now. I fully intend to make many, many pilgrimages to this place, irregardless of how things go down in Cyprus.

This concludes tonight's long, rambling Polyform post. Please refrain from operating heavy machinery, and consult a physician if swelling, redness, nausea, vomiting or wanderlust persists.

best,

paulmonsterflorentine

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Wow. You're pretty good at this writing thing.

Ponder that, Thinky Thinkerton, at your leisure.

The Lioness said...

(Just to let you know I'm still working on the money thing, it's been harder than expected bcs I was counting on my colleagues but since I am barely at the uni it's hard to find them and organise it. But I'm persevering!)

Anonymous said...

Actually, I believe the butoh duo Eiko + Koma performed there during the first PICA TBA festival, and it was amazing. They performed IN the fountain. It is an intriguing idea for performance and I think more people should try it. And apparently they are.