If I could, I would base my entire review of Profile Theatre's Landscape of the Body on two very specific aspects of the production: (1) The live music provided by bassist Will Ammend and pianist Bill Wells, which endowed many a scene with a much-needed liveliness; and (2) The Danny DeVito-meets-Gilbert Gottfried comedic stylings of Danny Bruno, who plays several bit characters in the show. Man, those things were good.
But custom dictates that all aspects of a production receive consideration. The acting. The script. The direction. The set design. Oh, the set design....
Tim Stapleton's set is one of the ugliest and most ineffective backdrops I've ever seen on a Portland stage. For the sake of two scenes on a ferry—one at the beginning of the play; the other, an interminable two hours later, at the very end—the entire set is streaked with blues and greens (like "water," get it?). A high platform upstage severely limits the versatility of the space, paying off only briefly as a ferry deck from which bottled messages are tossed into the "ocean" below.
Considering that the show is set in the Greenwich Village of the 1970s, the set is all the more disappointing for what it could have conveyed.
John Guare's script—about a mother accused of killing her son, featuring her dead sister as emcee and a few unlikely suitors thrown in for good measure—is a frustrating one, largely because his characters are improbably complex. In one scene, Betty (Kelley Marchant) is a small-town Maine girl; in the next, she's a Greenwich Village sex worker scamming joints off her kid. Her son, Bert (Derek Herman), goes from wide-eyed mama's boy to hardened juvenile delinquent. While Profile's cast does fine on a scene-by-scene basis, none of the principles are able to create characters that are convincingly whole: They really just seem schizophrenic. Throw in ludicrous plot twists and direction that at one point has characters running in a circle to convey distance traversed, and the whole thing is a bit of a trial.
Profile announces the featured playwright for their next season on April 28—here's hoping they pick someone more compelling than Guare, because his work has never quite clicked with this company.