"SELLING MY ASSHOLE for cocaine: That was the economy back then," says one character early on in Time, A Fair Hustler. He is Gary, pulled from Gus Van Sant's My Own Private Idaho, here played by Jason Rouse. Once a gay street hustler in Old Town in the '90s, Gary's now a family man, with a job at New Seasons, wife and kids, and a lease on a Prius to prove it. The economy, now, is very different.
Gary's an important character in this, the latest project from Hand2Mouth Theatre, in that he bridges the show's two Portlands: the one in Van Sant's film (which serves as the source text for Time, though not strictly), and the one we live in now, in which Van Sant's dreamy seediness is supplanted by a new kind of uncertainty, one that looks tidier, but is no less complicated. The characters in Hand2Mouth's show reckon with this tension in a municipal space; it's as if Van Sant's film, or Portland itself, is on trial, as these new iterations of his characters deliver their testimony on what the city's become in the years since Van Sant's Mike and Scott were last seen together.
About Mike and Scott: River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves' characters are played by women in Time. In the show's accompanying text, Hand2Mouth dramaturge Jess Drake writes that the company decided women actors could most convincingly "perform youthful masculinity." Julie Hammond as Mike and Erika Latta as Scott prove this point, establishing their characters through the smallest gestures and a rough-and-tumble familiarity that is heartbreaking if you know what's coming. Rouse, too, who I've mainly seen in comedic roles, brings new levels of sad/funny to Gary. And while I don't really know why Hand2Mouth is so enamored of Hans—the German car-parts salesman who has a smaller role in the film—Anne Sorce's performance, with all manner of awkward eye contact, makes Hans into a sort of Van Sant Green Fairy, an ageless ambience-seeker surrounded by young men who seem old by comparison. (That said, the show's scenes with Bob, Van Sant's Fagin figure, are needlessly overwrought—and overloud.)
While the show's opening conceit is clear enough, and the characters' place in time is clearly established through subtle costume changes (at one point, Hans time-hops by changing his pocket square), the distinction between past and present grows increasingly abstracted as the show progresses. Like memory itself, it degrades. The same lines of dialogue are repeated, and what began as straight-ahead theater becomes something like a tone poem, associative, not linear. In the end, the only thing that's discernable is the pull of nostalgia for a Pacific Northwest that's gone, for a moment in a more anonymous city, witnessing a boy pull up his collar against the rain outside a convenience store, lost, in the dark, with nowhere to go.