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Another Portland Blog

Monday, January 19, 2009

 

A weird night at PCS

I think it was around the time that an actress dressed as Hitler came out on stage to dry hump a German scientist and wave around a plastic rocket/phallus that I realized that not inviting my sister to go with me to Apollo had been a good idea. The production left me feeling like the Dude in The Big Lebowski when he makes the mistake of attending his landlord's "dance cycle" at a community theater. I felt perplexed, uneasy and craving an In-N-Out burger. The person I wound up going with may never speak to me again and I don't know if I can blame her.

Apollo, which runs through February 8th at Portland Center Stage, is full of overly-earnest imagery like this as it struggles to make connections between America's Space Race, Nazi rocket scientists and the Civil Rights Movement. During its nearly four-hour running time, actors pantomime floating in zero gravity, lust after the personification of the moon, recreate the darkest moments of US history and dance to Frank Sinatra tunes. A Mickey Mouse puppet even shows up to discuss the unlimited possibilities of using the medium of television as a propaganda tool.




The production rolls like an old episode of Bill Nye the Science Guy mashed together with an avant garde student movie and a Sociology 101 lecture. Character development and any real sense of plot are chucked aside in favor of endless sermonizing and dialogue that sounds like it was Xeroxed straight off random Wikipedia pages. Actors dive out at random to loudly announce they're Oliver L. Brown or LBJ before speed-rushing through random historical tidbits.

That's not to say it's a complete wash. With some heavy-editing, at least one part of the play might be salvageable. Apollo is almost redeemed by the second act, which slows down long enough to focus on a Justice Department investigation into one scientist's involvement in the deaths of thousands during World War 2. For around thirty minutes, Apollo dives into a mostly-forgotten bit of American history and elegantly exposes a bleak morale quagmire deserving of a better play to call its own. It's a shame that the rest of Nancy Keystone's script feels like a C- essay from a high school history class. The production is elaborately well-staged and the actors do the best they can with what could be the most scattershot material I think I've ever seen performed live. And this is coming from someone who once sat through an entire Phil Collins concert.

At one point, the cast stops in their tracks to answer their cell phones before sneering disdainfully at the audience. How meta! How bold! How daring! How cheeky! How very much like a pre-movie "turn off your phones, please!" ad at Regal Cinemas! The joke received groans from the crowd up in the balcony who had been invited to live-blog and tweet Saturday night's performance as it unfurled. I did the best I could with my iPhone but more or less gave up somewhere in the first act. I decided I'd rather watch the play than stare at my phone while struggling to come up with snarky comments. The other members of Portland's "new media" who showed up were much more game. Click here for The Mercury's write-up.

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