BWW Review: A LIFE Fails to Live Up to Its Promise, at Portland Center Stage
Adam Bock's A LIFE, which was commissioned by Portland Center Stage, starts out with a lot of promise -- Nate, a man in his 50s, recently single and lonely, is contemplating what it's all about. He looks for answers everywhere from group therapy to astrology to the bottom of his teacup. It's full of witty truths about the world, himself, and his inability to find (and hold onto) love. Given that the playbill cover features a picture of a body with a toe tag, I prepare for an emotional ride.
That ride never comes. Nate keeps talking -- for about an hour -- but the witty truths become fewer and farther between. He talks about his family, his former roommates, his relationship history, and a lot about astrology. He fiddles with his phone and wonders why Mark (the man who dumped him) isn't calling. Eventually, he meets his best friend, Curtis (played by the charming Gary Norman), in the park, an interaction that consists mostly of Nate resolving for what seems like the umpteenth time that he should start exercising and complaining that he doesn't really like his other friends because all they do is talk about themselves. Curtis points out the irony.
I think Nate is supposed to be empathetic, but I found it hard to connect. It might have been the unfocused (and overly long) monologue or the fact that Nat DeWolf plays the character with the energy of someone who's had too many shots of espresso. It made me anxious and wanting to escape.
Halfway through the play, things take a turn. Other characters appear (Cycerli Ash and Dana Green are excellent in a handful of small roles) and, although they don't reflect verbally on matters of life and death, the point is clear -- people die, life goes on. If there's a message here, it's that if you want others to care about you, try not to be completely self-absorbed.
The production, on the other hand, is great, in particular, Diane Ferry Williams' lighting design and Casi Pacilio and Scott Thorson's sound design. Director Rose Riordan also made some very daring choices -- particularly at the show's turning point -- that were highly effective. But overall, this show fails to land.
There are two(!) plays running right now that feature older white men delivering rambling monologues about the meaning (or lack thereof) of life and death. If you're going to see only one of them, you'd be better off at Portland Playhouse's WAKEY, WAKEY.
A LIFE runs through November 11. More details and tickets here.
Photo credit: Patrick Weishampel/blankeye.tv