Back Door Theatre
4319 SE Hawthorne Blvd
Through June 9
"Two years ago, backstage... in a different theater, I found this play after perusing the forlorn pile of plays that said theater had been considering for their next season but... had decided to pass on... I read it, and I cried."
From the program for Mr. Bundy, this is the heartwarming story of Devan McCoy, director, and mastermind behind Portland's brand new Anthem Theater Company. Like a kindly old man rescuing a mutt from the back corner of an animal shelter, McCoy reached out to this little play that nobody wanted, and gave it a home at the Back Door Theater.
Unfortunately, in the world of theater, shelter-mutts get overlooked because people don't want scruffy old dogs--they want fresh little puppies that wriggle with the magic of new life. McCoy found this script in a "forlorn pile," for a reason: It lacked the pizzazz that made the other dogs so much more adorable.
Such dogs include Paula Vogel's How I Learned to Drive, a masterpiece that also addresses Mr. Bundy's issue of pedophilia and its aftermath. Drive presented the character of Peck, a combination of immense tenderness and disgusting lechery that forced the audience to feel as ambivalent about him as the play's molested heroine did. Bundy contains no such characters. It provides an intriguing premise with a sexual criminal who is supposedly reformed, and then robs that premise of any suspense by taking great pains to paint Bundy as the sweetest and sorriest of elderly men.
The center of the play really isn't even Bundy at all, but his neighbors, the Ferrebys, and their daughter, Cassidy, who have to decide how they are going to deal with the realization that gentle Bundy, who has drank coffee with them and played with Cassidy, is a convicted molester.
The result is a drawn-out discussion about what the right thing to do is in this situation. Instead of characters, we are presented with conflicting ideas in the guise of sterotypes. Mrs. Ferreby is the strong, working-class mother with the confidence to not judge Bundy, while her husband is the repressed dad who is ironically more scary than Bundy probably ever was. Then there are the Bosuns; far-fetched cartoon trailer park messengers of God that have made it their mission to ruin the lives of recovering molesters after seeing their own daughter get raped and killed. Their hick accents and melodramatic rage made it very hard to take them seriously.
The play oozes with incompletion at every turn. A character named Mrs. McGuigan enters one scene for five minutes, says nothing significant, and then is never heard from again. In a finished play, such a character would have been cut. Mr. Bundy is completely underdeveloped--we never get his point of view on what he did or what he is feeling now--and the Ferrebys are a broken home borrowed from every made for TV movie ever.
To be fair, McCoy's production does the best it can. The acting is solid, with Torrey Cornwell and Lauren Hasson as Mother and Daughter Ferreby coming off as particularly strong, and McCoy's direction is fluid, with a nice pace that never allows the hackneyed dialogue to drag. But the play itself is ultimately a mangy mongrel, with fleas and filthy fur. You could build it a doghouse like the Taj Mahal, and I still wouldn't recommend petting it.