File this one under "tough love."
John Lennon's Gargoyle, the third production by the newish Working Theatre Collective, poses an interesting problem. The acting ranges from tolerable to excellent. The young cast is likeable and the earnest good intentions are palpable, if not a little cloying (the company's mission statement—"through working to produce art we find the heart of living"—is on the eye-rolling end of sincere). And while the show's direction and blocking are quite literally clumsy—we're talking backs to the audience and props breaking mid-scene—vitality and talent are evident on this stage, particularly from actors Mitchell Fennimore and Noelle Eaton. The company's future plans, too, are ambitious, including a show in which audience members will bike to various locations to watch the story unfold. (While this concept will understandably activate the "Portland's Weird Enough" gag reflex in some people, I'm excited about a chance to get out of the uncomfortable folding chairs and into a site-specific, experiential piece that at least attempts to engage with the city at large.)
This is a bright ensemble with big ideas and enough hipster cachet to bring in that most elusive of theater audiences: The Young. But even if The Young aren't regular theatergoers, they still can't be expected to fall for the writing-workshop tricks of Bryan Willis' irredeemably awful script. Based on Voltaire's Candide, John Lennon's Gargoyle is about an over-entitled young man (Matt Hopkins) who determinedly believes that everything happens for a reason. This belief system is tested by a series of urban legend-based mishaps—when he cheats on his wife by picking up a woman at a bar, he wakes up in a kiddie pool full of ice to find that the woman is gone and so are his kidneys. As the man's life unravels, the script throws in an Elvis impersonator, hackneyed poetry, a few embarrassing Beatles references, and an ending that's second only to "and then I woke up" in terms of sheer narrative laziness.
If this company continues to squander their potential on material this unsophisticated, they're just going to reinforce the reasons young people don't go to the theater: Namely, that it seems out of touch and kinda dorky. They have the potential to do better, and I hope they do.