Fertile Ground Reviews: THE CONTRACT, A WOMAN IN WASHINGTON'S ARMY, THE APE THEATRE COMEDY HOUSE PARTY

Fertile Ground Reviews: THE CONTRACT, A WOMAN IN WASHINGTON'S ARMY, THE APE THEATRE COMEDY HOUSE PARTY

Fertile Ground 2018 continues to be amazing. Here's what I thought about two staged readings and a comedy show!

THE CONTRACT [Staged reading]

Despite the fact that we have an incredible variety of theatre in Portland, there are many voices that remain underrepresented. Confrontation Theatre, a brand new theatre company, seeks to help change that. Their mission is to "explore the Black experience from a Black perspective" through "stories showcase the reality of being an African American."

For Fertile Ground, they put on a staged reading of THE CONTRACT, an award-winning play by James Webb, that explores homosexuality in the Black church. The word "explore" is too gentle for what's going on here. It's more of a power struggle between a Southern Baptist pastor, his wife, and the young man she hires to sleep with her husband one weekend per month. The pastor loves his church, but has complex feelings about his own homosexuality. His wife, who's also his co-pastor, wants to retain her power over her husband and the church. And the young man doesn't want to live his life always hiding his true self from the world. The arrangement works fine until feelings inevitably get involved.

I loved this play. It was challenging and provocative, taking a no-holds-barred look what someone is willing to do, or to give up, to maintain control through the lens of a situation that's probably more common than we imagine.

Confrontation Theatre is looking to mount a full production of THE CONTRACT. If you'd like to see it, and other edgy new work by a group of passionate and talented young theatre artists, you can support them here.

A WOMAN IN WASHINGTON'S ARMY [Staged reading]

Did you know that women participated in the Revolutionary War? Not just as cooks and nurses, but as full members of the army? Of course...to do so, they had to disguise themselves as men.

Deborah Samson was one such woman. She spent 17 months fighting in the war under the name "Robert Shurtleff." Following the war, she gave lectures about her service, becoming the first paid female traveling speaker. While doing some genealogy research, Portland actor and playwright Laurence Overmire discovered that he's a distant cousin to Samson and decided to write a play based on what's known about her. The result is a A WOMAN IN WASHINGTON'S ARMY, a compelling story of courage, which was presented as a one-time-only staged reading at Lakewood Theatre.

Overall, I thought it was excellent - well crafted and telling a story that needs to be told. It's ideal for high school and college productions, as well as for community theatres and perhaps even traveling productions to take to schools.

There are a few things that could make it more excellent. First, Overmire uses two layers of flashbacks - a narrator in the present time, who introduces Samson as an older woman on the lecture circuit, who tells the story of her younger self. It ends up being a lot of narration. The present-day narrator could be eliminated without losing anything except several minutes off of the fairly long runtime. Second, one of the comments that came up in the talkback was the fact that of the 12 actors, only four were women. While the play certainly requires more male characters than female ones, it probably doesn't require quite as many as there are - by cutting a few minor characters, Overmire could ensure that the gender inequality portrayed in the play isn't mirrored in the production.

THE APE THEATRE COMEDY HOUSE PARTY [Comedy]

I wasn't at all sure what to expect from THE APE THEATRE COMEDY HOUSE PARTY - Stand-up? Sketch? Improv? Turns out it was a little bit of each! The show started out with a series of stand-up acts that were all funnier than the last several Netflix comedy specials I've attempted, followed by a one-woman sketch performed by Anne Zander that was one of the most hysterical things I've ever seen, and then some improv. All in all, it was a great night.

The Ape hosts regular comedy performances in the basement of the Alberta Abbey. COMEDY HOUSE PARTY has one more Fertile Ground show, this Sunday at 2pm. You can also head to the theatre for their regular shows, including stand-up Wednesdays and improv Thursdays.

There's still another weekend of Fertile Ground with plenty more to see! Info and tickets here.

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