Theatre Vertigo at Theater! Theatre!, 3430 SE Belmont, 306-0870, Thurs-Sat 8 pm, Sun 7 pm, through January 1, $13-15, Thursdays "Pay What You Will"
Liberals who think its tough facing another four years of President Bush have nothing on the liberals that lived in pre-Nazi Germany in the 1930s. Eerily mirroring recent American politics, Theatre Vertigo's production of Tony Kushner's A Bright Room Called Day centers on a flock of Bohemian Berliners, who watch with rising despair as the Weimar Republic--1930s Germany's version of democracy--is slowly infiltrated by the German Right. Their final hope lies with the left-leaning Social-Democratic and German Communist parties, but just like certain recent liberal presidential campaigns, these groups waste their time trying to satisfy both the Right and the LeftÉ and the Nazis move on in.
Kushner has a fascinating premise, but a cloying dramatic structure. Our guide through this 70-year-old story is a hip, 21st-Century American gal who excitedly points out the relevant political parallels at every possible juncture. The character, despite Camille Cettina's animated performance and unending stream of cute outfits, interrupts otherwise powerful moments with her ceaselessly studious banter, and causes the play to be perhaps 30 minutes longer than it needs to be.
The play's historical plot points, on the other hand, are riveting. Theatre Vertigo has slowly but surely turned into the finest acting ensemble in Portland. Melody Bridges, as the anxious playwriting protagonist Agnes, turns in another tough, tender performance, even making the melodramatic sob-scenes palatable. Her lover, the massive filmmaker Husz, gets a booming, elegant treatment from Todd Van Voris that, yes, I will dare to describe as Welles-ian. And if you are capable of comparing Julie Starbird's teetering, primping, platinum-blonde actress Paulinka to her polar-opposite man-hunter Thyona from last year's Big Love, please do so now; girlfriend's as good as it gets.
Kushner's play works too hard down the stretch run to prove how insightful it is. But this core performative trio, along with a supporting cast consisting of Gary Norman, Nanette Pettit, and Darius Pierce, elevates it to a riveting piece of theater. Vertigo's A Bright Room Called Day has much to teach, and not just in terms of subject matter.