e3 Productions at the Electric Company, 2512 SE Gladstone, 232-5955, Thurs-Sat 8 pm, through May 8, $12-15
Devan McCoy is a master of two underrated but exceedingly valuable skills: 1.) assembling individual actors into tight ensembles, and 2.) transitioning between scenes. The first skill goes without saying; of course fine acting heightens any production. The second skill is less obvious because great transitions are largely invisible. Their point is to be seamless, to fill a play out to its edges, make it fluid. For Phyllis Nagy's Disappeared, McCoy's actors handle the set changes themselves, moving furniture in the semi-darkness in a sort of miniature dance, relentlessly feeling and playing off each other, creating a whole new layer of intrigue in a play already ripe with it.
Disappeared spins a familiar story: A woman meets a man in a bar, goes home with him, and the next day she has--yup--disappeared. Nagy's script foregoes an elaborate mystery plot to explore thoroughly the lives of the people wrapped up in this rather simple tale. Sarah Casey (Julie Brundage) is the girl in question; Elston Rupp (Darius Pierce) the man, a multifaceted lunatic who baffles people with mad tangents and borderline schizophrenia. During questioning, he reduces the detective assigned to the case (Peter Handy--dashing; stellar) to a screaming maniac. A scene later, he does an about face, reduced to sputtering submission by his boss at work (Andrea White--sexy and brilliant as ever). Pierce is the kind of actor that, when offstage, you waiting impatiently for his return. His greatest feat here (amongst many) is transitioning between Rupp's violent, creepy mood swings, yet remaining likeable enough that you hope he didn't do what he's accused of. It's a mesmerizing, anchoring performance.
Disappeared shocked me when it was over--I was shocked that two-and-a-half hours had passed; it felt like much less. This means that Nagy's text is hypnotic, that the cast immersed themselves and me in their characters, and that Devan McCoy knows that special attention to transitions is what makes a show move. Set in New York City, this production truly feels like it belongs there. It occupies a level of quality rarely seen in the Portland fringe. JUSTIN WESCOAT SANDERS