I hadn’t actually heard about JANE theater company before I went to see David Mamet’s NOVEMBER, which was exciting for me for the following reason: Portland has its big rooms, and they are great. You know them. You’ve driven down Broadway and seen the lights. I love those buildings and I grew up loving them, but Portland is lucky because those rooms aren’t what actually dominate the theater scene. There is a strength in numbers amongst all the independent or community-based theaters that allows for new companies, young companies, or even old companies (that may have just not shown up on our radar yet) to exist and cycle through the scene at an impressive pace. Independent Theater Productions pop up and cycle through like mad here, I swear, which I’m sure is frustrating for the aforementionEd Smaller theater companies trying to financially stay afloat, but that winds up being awesome for someone like me who gets to go see plays once or twice a week and keeps engaging with a new company nearly every time. Yes, you recognize names and crossover works, but the point remains. Creative and cultural pursuits always benefit when the power behind them is decentralized. Portland has its big rooms, and we love them, they make brilliant theater, but we’ve also got a far greater number of small rooms (and small companies), and even if I wasn’t seeing plays as regularly as I am, the abundance of those independent ventures is a good thing for Portland.
There is, however, an alternative issue that arises within Portland's style of scene. Smaller companies and smaller rooms mean amateur productions. I did an interview with Jerry Mouawad, director of THE BLACK LIZARD, not too long ago and he made mention of the fact that Portland audiences are still coming around to newer, smaller types of theater. I think that’s true, and I think it’s true for the companies as well. Smaller theater takes a different kind of theatrical push, the audiences are going to be different, the rooms are going to be cramped and sometimes old (with issues such as an air conditioner cycling on and off throughout the show), and the actors need to be 100% convincing because in such close quarters an audience expects a lot. NOVEMBER, in this case, was a fairly amateur production.
I’m not going to spend any time dissecting the issues, because whatever I say won’t be constructive, it will just be pointing out the things that weren’t working and most of those don’t have solutions. All I’ll say is that it just wasn’t there. The script, the jokes, the concept, the acting…none of it was quite selling me on it, nor was it for anyone else in the audience (it seemed). Perhaps that’s cruel, but that’s the way of it.
What I will say for them is this: there was honesty. Not in the content, but in the delivery. I refuse to launch a full-scale attack on this piece because the people who put it on are the kind of people who should have a misstep acknowledged and then be encouraged to continue, hopefully with a lesson firmly in their back pocket. This was very earnest theater, the people putting it on clearly love the craft and even more clearly love sharing it with an audience. There was no elitism, this was not a small company donning the airs of unwarranted superiority, this was simply a small company suffering from being a small company.
So…no, I cannot recommend NOVEMBER. However, you can count me in as a paying customer for the next production JANE puts on.
NOVEMBER by David Mamet plays through July 21st. For more information, follow the link below: