It's a funny fact about Portland's lauded "weirdness" that often the most provocative work in town is unfolding on some tiny stage in front of an audience of 70-year-olds. Such was the case on a recent Sunday, when a handful of elderly theatergoers (and me) took in Adam Rapp's Animals and Plants, an aggressive production that touches on drug smuggling, existential despair, the nature of human connection, and the best way to freshen up one's balls. (Answer: Right Guard, which is liberally sprayed during the production. Fellow allergy sufferers, take note.)
The opening scene gets the audience firmly on the hook: Drug runners Dantly (Joe Bolenbaugh) and Burris (Chris Murray) are holed up in a hotel room during a snowstorm, waiting to hear from their connection. Murray is absolutely great here, spitting rapid-fire dialogue and frantically exercising on one weird workout device after another, while Bolenbaugh's childlike, cranky Dantly lags half a step behind. ("Sometimes you use words for your own recreational boner," he tells Burris.) But then Burris leaves, and along comes a stoner chick named Cassandra (Nikki Weaver)whose obligatory fortunetelling ability rests in her lactation patterns, and things get weird, fast.
Rapp is a tricky, polarizing playwright, and Animals and Plants illustrates exactly why. There's no fault to be found with CoHo's production, under the direction of Third Rail vet Michael O'Connell, and that opening scene between Bolenbaugh and Murray is funny, provocative, and intriguing. But as the show gets weirder—when a bear motif emerges, when a woman's leaky boobs start telling the future—any sense of character and motivation crumbles beneath a general sense that something meaningful is being said, but maybe only the playwright knows what it is.