CEDAR AND THE REDWOODS

Posted: August 12, 2013 in Uncategorized

One thing is certain: the name of this theatre company is quite fitting given the amount of love and passion that was demonstrated on the stage of the Historical Washington Center during the opening night performance of Copious Love Productions’ two-act, psycho-road-trip-drama, “Cedar & the Redwoods.”

The opening monologue by co-director, John Paul Sharp, which precedes the actual show, is a tell-tale sign of the good intentions and sincerity of the company’s passion. In his pre-show monologue, Sharp shares a very personal and tragic story about the death of his sister and the unanswered questions that continue to ensue. It fits quite well with the events and themes of the main show, “Cedar and the Redwoods,” written by Chelsea Madsen.

Briefly, “Cedar” (played by Reagan Dickey) has moved to California from Portland to escape her past and start anew. Her life has been stricken by tragedy after tragedy, which includes, a dead father, a dead uncle, a bad relationship with an ex-boyfriend, and most importantly, a dying sister. When the play begins, Cedar gets a phone call from her mother informing her that her sister has just died and she needs to come home for the funeral.

Instead of flying, Cedar decides to make the trip by car, so as to have the time to collect her thoughts and prepare herself for the reality that Portland holds. She takes the scenic route (ie. the 101) and his joined in the car by a number of voices in her head: the voice of her dead grandmother, her dead father, her dead English teacher, her dead uncle, her dead boyfriend, and most importantly, the voices of her own subconscious. These many voices are played by the other actors in the play, which includes: Geoff Finney, Sarina Hart, and D’Arcy Harrison.  And generally speaking, the cast does a good job differentiating these various characters they are required to play.

Now, the problem with this production, however, is two-fold: the writing and the staging; Briefly, they keep getting in each other’s way. The episodic nature of the writing makes a mess of the stagecraft, which is certainly ambitious and has potential, but is badly executed. There are so many (unnecessary) blackouts in between numerous scene changes that you could literally drive a mack truck through them, and this literally brings what little action that the script offers to a grinding halt. The number one rule of theatre when dealing with a play that has many scenes is to keep the action moving!

Secondly, the play is basically a road trip, which consequently, keeps 80% of the (non-)action confined to the bulky car that dominates the entire right side of the tiny stage that is swallowed by the enormous house of the theatre. A better solution for set designer, Jessica Pickett, would have been to dare to spill out of the confining proscenium and leave the main stage open for the scenes involving the “vocal visits” from the past instead.  And also, minimize the size of the car! It isn’t necessary and just caused major problems during scene changes.

Another issue with the writing is that it just stays on one level the entire time, and that level is down, depressed, and angst-y, making it difficult for the audience to maintain compassion for a character that wallows in self-pity for two hours.  I would say that some cutting and re-visioning is in order. It was a little too over-the-top for a character to be dealing with that many emotional issues in one show: a dead father and grandmother, a dead uncle who was a junky, a dead sister, an abusive relationship, an abortion, etc. It was overkill. The play needs to be shortened by about 45 minutes to an hour.

On a more positive note, I commend the company for implementing video and other effects in the technical design, and would encourage them to use more of these instead of having to physically create so many set pieces that require a backstage crew of nearly 10 to maneuver. Also, a more developed sound design would be nice.

And this leads me to my final thought on this show, and that is, I think it would be better as a film than as a staged show. I say this due to the episodic nature of the script and the lack of real action. It pains me to have to be so critical of this show, because as I said, there is a lot of passion and potential there, and with some major editing and rethinking/simplifying of the staging techniques, it could be interesting, as it does present some substantive themes. This is a company that is growing into itself and I certainly look forward to seeing future productions.

“Cedar & the Redwoods” is now showing at Washington Hall (153 14th Ave.) until April 6th. More info at http://www.CopiousLove.org

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