Provocative new productions come to S.E Belmont

Stark Raving Theatre
3430 S.E. Belmont
(503) 232-7072 for the box office.

The Revenger’s Tragedy
Thurs.-Sun. through March 24, 7:30 p.m.
$13.50 students/seniors/advance, $15 general

“Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll”Fri. & Sat. through March 24, 10:30 p.m. $13 advance, $14 at door.

After 13 years, the public still cries for pleasantly disturbing drama.

In its few years of existence, the Stark Raving Theatre has earned the respect of Portland’s theatre community for providing audiences with new, original, provocative theatrical works.

In the midst of a busy production season, the company is preparing to move to a brand new performance space in the middle of Portland’s trendiest area on Northwest 23rd. It’s been a long road to Stark Raving Theatre’s local success. Before the multiple Drammy awards, good reputation and bright future, the company had to start somewhere.

Robin Suttles, E.J. Westlake and Rod Harrell founded Stark Raving Theatre in 1988. Over 10 years ago, all the company had was a small 50-seat basement space underneath the Bullring restaurant in Portland.

Admission was taken on a pay-what-you-can basis, and so whatever the company made, a set percentage was set aside for each actor and technical worker.

Basically, the theatre group was scraping by on a shoestring budget. But with the company’s first season shows “The Adding Machine” by Elmer Rice, “Titus Andronicus” and three original plays by Westlake, the small Stark Raving Theatre began to garner community attention.

Since then, the company has received many honors, including the Portland area’s most prestigious annual award, the Drammy. Despite the success over 13 years, the thing that Stark Raving Theatre is proudest of is its dedication to enticing and appalling audiences.

The Stark Raving Theatre mission statement is “We are dedicated to leading edge, outrageous, provocative new works.” They believe that “no play is too risky” and “no subject is too extreme,” which has seemed to be the catalyst for their theatrical successes.

This month, the theater’s offerings are just like any other Stark Raving play: outrageous, provocative and extreme.

From now until March 24th, Stark Raving Theatre offers a double-header of great theatrical entertainment. The gruesomely entertaining “Revenger’s Tragedy” and the hilariously melancholy “Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll” can be seen every weekend this month.

First performed in 1607, The “Revenger’s Tragedy” has a sort of Shakespeare meets Jerry Springer feel to it. Betrayal, lust, sex, incest, revenge. These are the timeless dark themes of the “Revenger’s Tragedy.”

Set in Jacobean times, the original script calls for a more ancient feel than Stark Raving Theatre had in mind. The director modernized the ancient story to make it more real for today’s crowd. Old language mixed with contemporary overtones creates an eerie realm for this play’s action.

Stark Raving Theatre says that simply put, the “Revenger’s Tragedy” is “about family members behaving very badly toward each other.”

Vendice is the story’s central character. Originally written as a swaggering male hero, the modernized version makes the lead a woman. The story centers on Vendice’s hatred for the evil Duke that leads her country. Many years before the start of the play, the Duke killed Vendice’s female lover because she refused to sleep with him. As the play begins, Vendice finally gains an outlet for her rage.Vendice is tough and really pissed off. She’s got the whole Xena Warrior Princess thing going for her. Aided by her brother Hippolito (who is portrayed as a mysterious blind guy), she meddles through the lives of the members of court, using many disguises and deceptions. She turns brother against brother, and husband against wife, all in a get-even-at-any-cost bloodlust.

The other conniving characters have personal agendas of their own. The Duke is just plain evil. His bastard son Spurio is treated badly by his father, but not by his stepmother the Duchess. She and Spurio have a secret incestuous relationship held in the dark corners of the palace.

The Duke’s eldest son, Lussurioso, is the man next in line to be Duke. His ambitions are fueled by his insatiable lust for having sex. His trust in Vendice (disguised as a servant, Piato) gets him into a lot of trouble.

The promiscuous Duchess’s sons Ambitioso and Supervacuo plot in many ways to get rid of Lussurioso so that one of them may have the throne. Their exploits lead them to the accidental execution of their little brother. Whoops.

Also involved are Vendice’s and Hippolito’s mother and sister, who are caught in the Duke’s son’s web of lust and personal pleasure.

Although quite ominous and outrageous, there are some very humorous elements to the “Revenger’s Tragedy.” Some of the most intense moments are met with some out-of-the-blue funny moments. For example, it’s pretty funny how the Duke dies. He kisses the poisoned “lips” of a human skull that he mistakes for a real woman.

From the very beginning of the show, the audience is entranced by the technical aspects of “Revenger,” not just the acting. The lights dim to pitch-blackness, and then BOOM! The stage lights come on instantly and brightly, with all the characters in various positions. The lighting was very much like a Japanese role-playing video game. Sudden blackouts and lighting changes provided a gothic, somewhat frantic feeling.

The “Revenger’s Tragedy” is the perfect mix of disturbing and comical content. With some sexual acts and innuendoes, it’s probably not a good idea to bring the kiddies along for this show.

But if you want to see the “Revenger’s Tragedy,” it’s showing every Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. now through March 24. Sundays also have showings at 4 p.m. weekly.

Later in the night, the Stark Raving Theatre presents “Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll,” a one-man show of seven different monologues. This theatrical collage puts one man into the lives of the average Joe, detailing life in today’s society.

Many themes show up throughout this performance. Each character that actor David Seitz portrays shows a different piece of the American pie. From life in the trailer park to life in the skyscraper penthouses, “Sex, Drugs…” documents the human condition in the modern era.

“Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll” was created by Eric Bogosian. Bogosian has acted in many movies and television shows, and has written many plays and screenplays regarding human emotions in the modern age. Besides “Sex, Drugs…” he is known for the play “SubUrbia” and the other monologue show “Pounding Nails in the Floor with My Forehead.”

Seitz is known as Portland’s foremost interpreter of Bogosian’s work. His 1997 performance of “Sex, Drugs…” garnered rave reviews from the community. In 1999 Seitz also performed “Pounding Nails in the Floor with My Forehead” with great success.

Seitz does an amazing job of storytelling.

Seitz uses a variety of costumes, mannerisms and accents to create seven totally different characters. If you didn’t know better, you’d think a different actor performed every scene. This definitely shows Seitz’s versatility as an actor. The various monologues give the audience a realistic in-your-face character, but at the same time allow them to use their imagination with the situations’ other implied elements.

There are moments in this show where the audience is nearly hyperventilating from laughter. Other times, the characters’ dramatic reality brings people an uncomfortable sadness.

“Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll” opens with Seitz portraying an urban homeless person. He begs for money, and tells the story of how he became homeless, and tells about his drug addiction. It’s a sort of sad opener, but something about it tells you that it’s very real.

After portraying the lowest of the low, Seitz immediately transmogrifies into the highest of the high. In a restaurant scene, the new character speaks of the joys and pitfalls of rich life. The point of this scene is to show the overwhelming contrast between the woes of a homeless person, and the petty woes of those who have it all.

The skit entitled “Stag” is definitely a crowd favorite. Seitz talks to an imaginary buddy about the adventures he and his friends had while throwing a bachelor party for a mutual pal. On the eve of this man’s wedding, “the boys” get together and throw a wild party, full of alcohol, strippers and drugs.

After getting totally wasted, the groom-to-be realizes that he can’t get married, because he’s in love with the stripper. Somehow the action goes to a local McDonald’s, where one of the guys gets in a fight with a motorcycle gang. After barely escaping with their bodies intact, the man decides to get married after all. However, he gets to his wedding two and a half hours late. This piece was so funny because of the energetic ways Seitz tells the story.

In one of the other scenes, Seitz portrays another reigning businessman. The monologue in this piece shows the audience the life of one individual who believes that “living” can be found in material goods and personal pleasure. His own selfishness leaves his wife and child waiting for him at home.

The running time for “Sex, Drugs…” is only a little over an hour. So much is packed in emotionally in so little time. So if you’re interested, don’t worry, you won’t miss much late night TV.

“Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll” runs Fridays and Saturdays at 10:30 p.m., about 45 minutes after the “Revenger’s Tragedy.”

After these shows end, May brings a comedic play called “Suburban Motel 2.” Keep checking back with Stark Raving Theatre for more of Portland’s most provocative and shocking productions.