In a culture of fear and exhibitionism, who preys upon whom? The world premiere production of Susan Mach's The Lost Boy will explore the true story of the Charlie Ross kidnapping of 1874 that became a media circus. The play runs January 8 through February 10 and is a part of the Fertile Ground Festival of New Work.
In The Lost Boy, 4-year-old boy is snatched and ransomed by down-on-their-luck roustabouts. His mother mourns what she has lost while his father, the police and P.T. Barnum attempt to outsmart the captors using newspaper headlines, trains and death-defying trickery. Meanwhile, Tom Thumb, the Strong Man, a trapeze artist and a Circassian psychic create their own acts at the boy's expense. The play is loosely based on true story and the media frenzy and entertainment spectacle surrounding it. The Lost Boy is a tightrope mystery where a boy's life hangs in the balance amid the self-serving interests of the white collar elite and circus-folk, both vying for the upper hand.
"I found this play's ability to mix and contrast domestic family with bizarre circus elements very intriguing," said Director Allen Nause at the production's first rehearsal. "Even though it is set in 1884 I am struck by how contemporary the play is as it explores family values, capitalism and journalism as entertainment."
Of Portland playwright Susan Mach, Nause says he has always been fascinated by her work and has had the pleasure of seeing her emerge as a talented playwright over the years.
"I first got the idea for The Lost Boy in 2001 after the disappearance of Oregon City teenagers Ashley Pond and Miranda Gaddis," wrote Susan Mach in her notes for the production's playbill. "I teach at Clackamas Community College, and the billboards with their now eternally young faces captioned with MISSING in foreboding red letters were ubiquitous. The thought of their fate was especially disturbing since I had given birth to my daughter that same year. Further, the non-stop media coverage of not only the kidnapping, but also the subsequent capture of serial killer Ward Weaver had, to me, an eerie circus-like effect on the story. It made me realize how being a parent makes one susceptible to manipulation because every day our children are subject to events beyond our control, and the responsibility of bringing up a child, coupled with the fear of the unknown, is easily exploitable.
"I thought how ironic it was that the initial human response of pathos for the victims and their families, which expresses the better part of human nature, was so readily transformed into entertainment and voyeuris - appealing to the worst part of who we are. In the end the families suffered from both the tragedy of the crime and the calamity of constant public scrutiny, while local news coverage enjoyed a boost in ratings.
"I heard the story of Charley Ross on an NPR Talk of the Nation segment, and I found the involvement in the case of the emerging mass media, and the connection of P.T. Barnum (Donald Trump's precursor) to the investigation especially intriguing - an apt metaphor for the events surrounding the Oregon City crime, as well as for our current age. It occurred to me as I was writing this piece that I, too, am guilty of exploiting the story. Perhaps I am, but I hope that by humanizing the characters and giving them an imagined voice, I can tell a story of compassion rather than sensation."
The Lost Boy, written by Susan Mach and directed by Allen Nause, runs January 8 - February 10, playing Tuesday through Sunday at 7:30pm, Sunday at 2:00pm; Wednesday matinee at 11:00am on Jan. 30. Opening Night is Friday, January 11. All performances take place at The Artists Repertory Theatre - Morrison Stage (15th and Morrison St.).
Featuring: Michael Fisher-Welsh, Dana Millican, Doren Elias, Duffy Epstein, Sean Doran, Todd Van Voris, Luisa Sermol, Sam Dinkowitz, ElizaBeth Houghton, Geoff Kanick, Logan Martin, Agatha Olson and Harper Lea.
Tickets: $25-$50. Box Office: 503.241.1278 or www.artistsrep.org.
Susan Mach has an MA in Playwriting from Boston University. Her first play, Monograms, was produced at Theatre for the New City in New York City, the Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble in Bloomsburg, PA, Portland Repertory Theatre, and the Icaras Theatre Ensemble in Ithaca, New York. The script, published by Rain City Press in Seattle, also received a Portland Drama Critics Circle Award. Her second play, Angle of View, was a finalist for the Oregon Book Award and received readings at Portland Repertory Theatre and Boston Playwrights' Theatre. For her third play, The Shadow Testament, she received a Woman Writers Fellowship from Literary Arts, Inc. This piece has been workshopped by Artists Repertory Theatre, A Contemporary Theatre in Seattle, Boston Playwrights' Theatre, and JAW/West. It was produced by Portland World Theatre as part of the