So, it's September in Stumptown and most of the populace have huge boners for TBA. Indeed, it's wonderful for Portlanders to witness a Williamsburg waif playing a theremin with her clitoris—wearing a simply adorable Cynthia Rowley skirt, natch. Many of us can't spare $20 to experience such exotica, however. So, how about a local production of a play set in the 10th century and based on several days in the life of a British saint? Same difference, no?
Ursula, the latest production from Portland's own Our Shoes Are Red/the Performance Lab, involves 10 or so virgins, one alluring prince, and great emphasis on estuaries. In British playwright Howard Barker's version of the Saint Ursula legend, the fate of Ursula is not updated, but speculated about. The play opens on Placida (Devon Allen), the Virgin Mother at a convent, forlorn over word that her star novitiate, Ursula, is betrothed to a nearby prince. It's no wonder that Ursula is the chosen one, given her brilliance, intelligence, and beauty. Nevertheless, Placida and the rest of the gaggle are stunned—"marriage" is a word they can barely utter without blushes and giggles. A painted image of Prince Lucas is enough to set most of the girls into a tizzy of fear and lust.
Devon Allen has a presence well suited for local theater, making her accessible to a wide audience, even when a play's essence is murky, as Barker's may be. Much weight in the play is given to Placida's powerful speaking voice—"nothing it proposes can be denied"—and Allen possesses such a voice. Matthew DiBiasio as Prince Lucas is similarly commanding. His speaking voice initially seems an affectation, as if he's channeling the sneering speech of a salacious gangster in a Tarantino film. (During the prince's first few monologues, I honestly wished for less prince and more virgins.) In Act Two, though, DiBiasio's delivery appropriately embodied temptation.
Plus, the play is genuinely funny. Again, I look forward to another production by the Performance Lab. Their hard work is apparent here—from the multi-functional art direction to their dedication to (undeservedly) under-produced playwrights.