Through March 11.
In Trigger Kids, Portland solo performer Joe Von Appen strings together monologues of surprising range—from a country boy who finds a pistol hidden in his teddy bear to a customer service worker's screaming inner life to two dudes, stoned beyond comfort, trying to find their way out of a mall. At its best, Trigger Kids is a vivisection of the American soul, swollen with desire and deep unease induced by sensory overload, gaudy advertisements, and fluorescent-lit, high-tech hideousness. At its worst, it caricatures the same. Von Appen's riff on commodity fetishism—a lame phone-sex sequence where he squeals about SUVs and plasma-screen televisions as objets d'eros—is redundant and obvious. Thankfully, it is the show's lone clunker.
Some monologues stumble into unexpected redemption, like the homeboy who describes sniffing glue and finding God, but most spelunk the pathetic and grimly humorous. Another features an institutionalized kid, frustrated by his doctors' attempts to medicate and civilize his rage. "Somehow they turn every 'fuck you' into 'thank you' or 'I'm sorry,' even when 'fuck you' is the most appropriate thing to say," he fumes before envisioning a mutiny of inmates eerily chanting "Thank you! I'm sorry! Thank you! I'm sorry!"
On paper, the monologues wouldn't be half as unsettling or funny, but Von Appen's flair and style make them sing. His body is loose, comfortable, and expressive. His gestures are specific. His accents are committed. His eyes are unapologetic. His delivery is tight as a drum. He is, as the theater people say, "present." Whether a Von Appen character is shooting at a satellite dish or running madly through a highway traffic jam, he's there. He means it. BRENDAN KILEY
Annex Theatre at Trinity Parish Episcopal Church
Through Feb 25.
Explaining a show like
Using the beautiful Trinity Parish Episcopal Church as its theater,
EXITheatre at Live Girls!
Through Feb 26.
This attempt to "examine the architecture of human experience" doesn't quite make the nut. The idea is rich, but the writing and performances are middling and feel more like a workshop than a fully realized production. There's enough in Rooms to warrant smoothing, editing, and remounting.
The conceit: Get three designers (LB Morse, Etta Lilienthal, and Katie Davis) to build a room each, then write and perform a series of loosely linked stories, set over the course of decades, in those rooms. One was an attic hideout. One was a freestanding sitting room behind a bigger house. One was an "everybody's room" in a commune with a sideways door and fake grass and Sanskrit numbers written on the walls. The first room—the best, in story and design (by LB Morse)—sheltered suffragettes, counterfeiters, and Commies. The second saw the life of a family man from proud, virile groom to worried, failing shopkeeper to dead in a rocking chair. The last had—oh, forget it. All the ideas sound promising on paper, but they don't translate onto the stage.
There were five or so actors playing a dozen or so characters but the performances were flat, each scene bleeding into the next without distinction, making it difficult to tell who was whom when. The son bringing a TV to his aged parents, the Commie spy getting busted by the fuzz, and the young woman converting to hippie Christianity all had the same emotional tone. Not good. The actors were capable, if uninspiring, and the stories were generic Americana. BRENDAN KILEY