In Play Reviews

It is a more than ambitious undertaking to launch two world-premiere plays in one weekend, on the same stage no less, but Portland Center Stage pulled it off. They couldn’t be more different. One is a rock opera written and performed by Portland’s own Blitzen Trapper. The other is a country music paean for the wronged and recently divorced.  Let’s start with first things first.

Wild and Reckless

Co-directed by Rose Riordan and Liam Kaas-Lentz, this locally grown, dystopian rock opera is the story of a young band’s coming of age on the mean streets of 1990s Portland. Small-town Oregon kid, 17, (Eric Earley, The Narrator) arrives in the big city to make music–and meets The Girl “she was 16 going on 25” (Laura Carbonell). Boy and girl hook up.

Laura Carbonell and Eric Earley in the world premiere of Blitzen Trapper’s Wild and Reckless at Portland Center Stage. Photo by Patrick Weishampel/blankeyetv.

An opera isn’t an opera without the boy, the girl, and inevitable fallout. Thus, outside forces come into play. In this dystopian milieu, reapers harness lightning to generate power. The by-product is a potent new drug, “lightning dust”, which hits streets exacting a heavy toll.  Lightning “strikes” those addicted to lightning dust (with some fine pyrotechnics from Lighting Designer Daniel Meeker), leaving them maimed with root-like scars.

Meanwhile, videos of some of Portland’s more memorable 1990s hangouts are projected in the background (Projection Designer Jared Mezzocchi). The set (Sibyl Wickersheimer) is at once a runway and a seemingly endless road. The Narrator and The Girl flee the city in an attempt to escape The Dealer (Leif Norby) and his wares.

Earley with his band (Brian Adrian Koch, Marty Marquis, Erik Menteer, and Michael Van Pelt) wrote the show and perform as characters in it; however, actors Carbonell and Norby add critical dimension. Norby is a particularly sinister Dealer! The show roughly parallels Earley’s own arrival in Portland in his youth, but as a story it is forever young–the coming of age of a rock band checkered by personal loss.

Rock and roll is here to stay, folks. The music is solid, lyrical rock with a tinge of country. As a performer/lead singer Earley, at times, manages to channel some of the genre’s best storytellers including Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, and Neil Young.

Wild and Reckless runs alternate days through April 30 on the Main Stage at Portland Center Stage. It is a fine addition to the theatre’s Northwest Stories series.

Lauren Weedman Doesn’t Live Here Anymore

Country music will never been the same since Lauren Weedman’s new Lauren Weedman Doesn’t Live Here Anymore enjoyed its world premiere at Portland Center Stage last weekend, the night after Wild and Reckless opened.

Lauren Weedman wrote and performs Lauren Weedman Doesn’t Live Here Anymore at Portland Center Stage. Photo by Patrick Weishampel/blankeyetv

Written and performed by Weedman and directed by Rose Riordan, this one-woman show employs the vehicle of the cheesy “Tami Lisa Show” to deliver its message. There is special meaning to the names Tami and Lisa, and Weedman explains the name choices early in the show.

Portlanders love Lauren Weedman, and for good reason. Creator of The People’s Republic of Portland, the hyper-kinetic Weedman puts all her creative energy into telling us the story of her divorce through country music. She interviews invisible “guests” and fights with producers, and engages in some off-stage hanky panky, between singing bits of terribly sad songs, sometimes with words altered to better fit the drama.

It is difficult to describe what Weedman does to a stage. In short, she tears it up. She talks, gyrates, sings, mimes, and hops. She never stops, and she never misses a beat. Meanwhile, the audience is laughing so hard, it can barely draw its collective breath.

Lauren Weedman Doesn’t Live Here Anymore occupies the same stage as Wild and Reckless, only on alternate days, through April 30. (Scenic Designer Sibyl Wickersheimer has adapted the runway set for this show to great effect.) This is not a show for sissies.

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