Coho Theater, 2257 NW Raleigh, 220-2646, Thurs-Sat 8 pm, Sun 2 pm, through March 12, $21
There are two major reasons to be excited about Third Rail Repertory, Portland's newest theater company. First, it's an impressive, well-funded array of some of Portland's most accomplished artists, including actors Tim True, Michael O'Connell and Stephanie Gaslin, and director Slayden Scott. God love the fringe, but we also need tightly oiled professional machines like this one if Portland is ever to move to another level in the dramatic arts.
Secondly, and most importantly, Third Rail's debut production, Recent Tragic Events, is not only good enough to meet the expectations you should be having about them, but is one of the best plays you will see this year. Period.
Written by Six Feet Under scribe Craig Wright, Recent Tragic Events occurs on 9/12/01, in the apartment of Waverly (Gaslin), who readies herself in her Minneapolis apartment for, of all things, a blind date. Her TV blares carnage from the streets of downtown New York, and her mother calls with frantic updates regarding the search for her twin sister, a NYC resident. But Waverly is committed to seeing this date through, if only for the distraction value. By night's end, her living room will be occupied by her bookish date Andrew (True), her beatnik neighbor Ron (O'Connell), and a Joyce Carol Oates puppet operated by Ron's girlfriend Nancy (Valerie Stevens) who spends her entire stage time naked from the waist down.
Oddly, Wright's surreal irreverence of his subject matter results in a refreshing authenticity--9/11 was a bizarre time, and people coped however they could, certainly doing things like playing drinking games with a Joyce Carol Oates puppet, and probably things even weirder than that.
Third Rail's stellar ensemble juggles Wright's blend of realistic dialogue and absurd trickery with masterful nonchalance. As the burnt out Ron, O'Connell delivers cosmic bibble-babble in a hilarious stoner drone. He's a great counterbalance to True's awkward straight man Andrew and Gaslin's unhinged Waverly. These actors seem truly compatible, sharing the stage like real friends, and never upstaging each other. Their balance of ability and respect is a rare thing, and will ensure many years of success for their fledgling company.