Face Reader
Quintessence Theatre at the University of Portland Mago Hunt Center, 5000 N Willamette Blvd., 943-7287, Thurs & Sat 8 pm, Sun 2 pm, through Aug. 15, $12-15

With Face Reader, Quintessence provides the second bookend to their 2004 season titled Fear and Courage: A Season of Ambition. Their sturdy interpretation of Macbeth last month foreshadowed and inspired Face Reader in its numerous references to the face, most notably the line, "There's no art to find the mind's construction in the face."

Elizabeth Young is Bethany, a research scientist who has mapped the range of human emotion in the muscles of the face. The introverted Bethany (who sports a pained sourpuss throughout most of the play) finds new excitement in her (cliché alert) zany, off-the-wall, free spirit of a roommate Luka (Brooke Fletcher). Luka is an actress, who just so happens to be playing Lady Macbeth on stage. She's also an activist protesting U.S. military intervention in the Middle East. Fletcher's performance captures the obnoxious yet endearing qualities of a heartfelt actor/activist type, and she even gets to blurt out a few impressive samples of Lady Macbeth. Later a pair of CIA agents (Peter Handy and Skeeter Greene) show up on the scene, and we've got ourselves some lie-detectin', table-turnin', face-readin' intrigue!

Quintessence's own Connor Kerns crafted the script for Face Reader, inspired by the Scottish play as well as the research of anthropologist Paul Ekman, a real-life "face reader" whose examination and interpretation of facial expression have proven useful to clients as diverse as Pixar studios and the CIA. A "human lie detector" seems an interesting enough dramatic conceit, a chance to comment on the competition between truth and artifice. Add to this challenge a story set in the most contemporary of contemporary America (Bush's name is dropped like an unarmed smart bomb), and Quintessence has themselves quite a full plate. While its shelf life as a relevant work seems about as long as a carton of milk, Face Reader is interesting as a cultural artifact, especially in respect to how the company asserts itself politically. It takes courage to take on a project this self-importantly ambitious.

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