This is a play about family ties, about relationships, about concepts and misconceptions about the people closest to you. It boldly breaks with traditional theatre and opens the “third wall” into the auditorium, giving the actors the chance to actively interact with the audience on an almost intimate level. It’s a three person play, each of the actors portraying two characters which share the same blood but not the same experiences, characters or even the same time despite and because of their family ties. This naturally gives the actors in question ample opportunities to shine as they jump into another person’s skin after intermission, which could of course lead to disaster but Portland’s Center Stage hired a group of strong actors who not just enjoy their craft, but also know it very well. And their talent doesn’t hurt either.
In act one we’re getting a glimpse into the 90s. There’s Walker Janeway, running from his unsatisfactory relationship with his father, from responsibilities and from perceived wrongs over and over, in a rare moment of self reflection recognising that he’s not a people person. There’s his older sister Nan, married with two kids and a job, successfully living her life, her only worry being Walker and his long absences that are wearing her out. And there’s Philip or Pip, who made it to stardom in a daytime soap and is happily enjoying his fame thanks to shirtlessly doing things in front of a camera. They meet over the late Ned Janeway’s testament … And that’s where it goes downhill: because Ned gave Janeway House, the only piece Walker ever wanted, to Pip who apparently had the kind of relationship with Ned that Walker always craved.
Monologues define the characters in this first act. They show Nan as the carer, because her mother was mentally unstable. It is of no surprise that even with her own family to care for she is mother to her wayward brother – a fact her sibling makes use of. Walker is shown as highly intelligent but unfocussed and desperately searching for reason – and his distant father’s approval. Philip (Pip) raised fatherless but in a seemingly happy home seems to have none of these problems. Happy with his fame as an actor he loves his life charmingly, pragmatically and unabashedly. In one hilarious and unintendedly meta-scene he confesses to Nan that he is still amazed by his fame (Nan had commented she sees his daytime soap from time to time, where he apparently is “shirtlessly doing… stuff…” which, given his part in the wildly popular TV show Grimm, where the hashtag shirtlessrage was created for him, has the audience in stitches), that people give him things and beautiful girls go on dates with him. It is only when Walker confronts him unfairly that he explodes for once, finally letting go of all restraint, bursting out with secrets he harboured for too long.
Lisa Datz is great as the no nonsense uber-mother who almost breaks over her brother’s ways when she confesses to Pip that at one time she’d hoped Walker was dead; at least then she would’ve found peace. Silas Weir Mitchell plays the neurotic, increasingly unstable younger brother with verve and precision, the frazzled mind mirrored in the debris filled apartment and his deliberately deranged clothes. But it is Sasha Roiz who vows the audience with his playful, sweet natured Pip whose positive energy is like a live wire connecting the three friends. With nonchalance, a winning smile and a glint in his eyes he seemingly effortless makes the audience smile as well. And when Pip finally explodes, it is his passion and temper that has everyone stunned and breathless – till his anxious question: is that all news? He seems the only one centred in an act of off kilter characters who rather speak to the audience than to each other.
The second act gives us the parents – Lina, a southern belle whose eccentric behaviour is hard to stomach for her lover, the boy wonder architect Theo Wexler. Beautiful, charming, jealous and erratic, she is the centre of attention and demands that place. Not an easy feat when she’s competing with Theo, who is driven by ambition to make it big in the world of architecture. He is also driven by the expectations of his peers having sailed through architecture school as the star pupil. But in the end it is Ned Janeway, who not only designs the most famous house but who also gets the girl. Despite his stutter (I know all the famous stutterers. I have their calendar) and his inhibitions and insecurities he is the one that prevails, while the golden boy is literally left outside in the rain.
Again it’s Silas’ precision that creates a very sympathetic “best friend” character who is loyal to a fault. The difference to his first act part is huge and a joy to watch. Lisa is the southern belle, coquettish and gorgeous, already showing hints of her later unstableness. Her actions will both make and break the friendship of those three people. She’ll be a muse to Ned and break him and her children, when her mind slips. All that is beautifully portrayed by Lisa Datz. But it is Sasha Roiz who again takes the prize, going from passionate, elegant up and coming star architect (one reviewer called him panther like) to nervous chain smoking and insecure beginner to finally desperate, broken and defeated lost man in the rain. Entering the apartment where Lina has just betrayed him with his best friend he seems blind to what’s going on, not able to deal with anything but his incapability to live up to everyone’s expectations. When he’s out in the streets again, alone, lost, there are very real tears streaming down his face. His portrayal of two so very different characters is an amazing tour de force, an intense study that doesn’t solely focus on tragedy but gives room to laughter and vice versa.
It’s definitely a must see at the Portland center stage.