THE BIG NEWS on opening night of Profile Theatre's Blood Knot was that Profile, so recently ousted from their longtime home at Theater! Theatre! on SE Belmont, have already secured a new home for their 2013/2014 season: They'll be moving into Artists Repertory Theatre.
Profile's model is unique among Portland companies. They focus on one playwright a season, giving audiences a chance to explore the lesser-known works of writers like Harold Pinter, Wendy Wasserstein, and Horton Foote. For their first season based out of Artists Rep's two-theater venue, Profile will take on the great Sam Shepard. A full season of work by the provocative Shepard, coupled with the exciting first season with Artists Rep's incoming Artistic Director Dámaso Rodriguez, should amount to a gust of fresh air through Artist Rep's SW Morrison location. It's about time—it's gotten a bit stuffy in there.
But back to Profile's current season. This year, they are exploring the work of Athol Fugard, a South African playwright whose work often explores race and apartheid.
Blood Knot concerns two brothers, Zach and Morris (!!!). Zach (Don Kenneth Mason) is dark-skinned; Morris (Ben Newman) is light-skinned enough to pass for white. Set in South Africa in 1961 and unfolding entirely in the tiny shack that the two brothers share, Blood Knot sets up an uneasy dynamic between the two: Zach is the restless, hardworking breadwinner, Morris the obsequious homemaker, fussing over his brother and planning for their future together. At first, their brotherly dynamic has no racial overtones, but gradually their different experiences and self-conceptions come into direct conflict, culminating in a chilling fantasy sequence that functions as a metaphor for how easily institutionalized racism can foment violence and hate.
Profile's show suffered some technical issues on opening night: A bunch of things broke because people smacked 'em too hard. The sense of unrestrained physicality certainly made for compelling theater, but for the sake of the show's beleaguered prop master, I hope Newman and Mason manage to rein it in just a bit. Overall, though, Fugard's script is provocative and brilliant, and the production does it justice.
With this show, Profile is asking its audience to think about racism in both historical and contemporary contexts. Theater is a perfectly appropriate forum to examine this country's issues with race, of course, but it's also important to consider Blood Knot in the context of Portland's theater scene—and that brings up a thorny question that goes beyond this production. There are more roles for black actors in Portland than ever before (Portland Playhouse gets a big chunk of credit for that), but it's rare to see a black actor in a play that isn't explicitly about race. At this point, I'd rather see a Neil Simon play that just happens to be cast with a couple black actors than another August Wilson show about the history of racism. That would be progress.