Review: Great Music, Powerful Storytelling Fuel WILD AND RECKLESS at Portland Center Stage

By: Mar. 31, 2017
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I think I was the only person in the audience who had never heard of Blitzen Trapper on opening night of the world premiere of their new concert / theatre performance, WILD AND RECKLESS, now playing at Portland Center Stage. The atmosphere was electric, which might have had something to do with the electrical cords strung around the stage to represent lightning and the digital projections on the screens that made up the set. But it also had a lot to do with the anticipation of seeing what this new collaboration between one of Portland's premiere theatres and a wildly popular local indie rock band would look like.

Portland Center Stage describes WILD AND RECKLESS as a "concert event," but I'm perfectly comfortable calling it a rock musical, a Portland version of AMERICAN IDIOT, if you will. And I loved it.

The story is set in the future, but meant to evoke Portland's past, in all its weird, seedy glory. It's about two people who find each other and have an ill-fated love affair against a backdrop of a drug epidemic. The drug in this case is a substance called "lightning dust," which is a byproduct of a method used to harvest lightning for energy. Although there are probably many other interpretations out there, to me the show made a powerful statement about the consequences of exploiting our natural resources.

The music had been written by Blitzen Trapper before the show was conceived, but you can't tell. It all fits together like it was intended to be that way all along.

The two central characters were played by Blitzen Trapper's charismatic frontman Eric Earley, who looks and sounds like a young Bob Dylan, and actress Laura Carbonell, who was, fittingly for the character, absolutely magnetic. The entire cast was great. I was surprised and impressed by the acting chops of the members of the band. If I hadn't known they were a band, I might easily have mistaken them for musical theatre actors who also happened to write music and play a variety of instruments.

Earlier, I mentioned the set. Scenic designer Sibyl Wickersheimer has pushed the back wall practically out to the street, creating a depth that co-directors Rose Riordan and Liam Kaas-Lentz used to excellent effect, enhanced by digital projections of Portland scenes and, of course, the lightning. It was visually very intense, which well matched the show's emotional intensity.

I didn't know who Blitzen Trapper was when I walked into the theatre, but I walked out thinking I'd love to see them in concert, that I'd watch any performance starring Laura Carbonell, and that I'd happily see this one again.

WILD AND RECKLESS plays through April 30, in repertory with Lauren Weedman DOESN'T LIVE HERE ANYMORE, which I also recommend. More info and tickets here.

Photo credit: Patrick Weishampel/


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