Sabrina Gallego and Maggie Zall in a scene from “Instructions for the Fallen.” Photo courtesy of Ann Tracy Photography

Focusing on new work by local playwrights, the Polyphonic Theatre Ensemble of Portland (formerly known as Stage Rage Productions) just finished a storm-shortened run of its “The Symphony of New Works 2020,” a program of “5 short plays by women and non-binary writers.”

Artistic director/playwright/performer Megan E. Tripaldi identified a theme of “defiance” as central to the “Symphony.”

Resistance to an enforced conformity was indeed at center stage in the two-hour program at the intimate Studio Theater at Portland Stage. A touch of editing might have been applied here and there. But, thanks to fine writing and passionate performing, the works each succeeded at making the case for the power of theater to creatively reveal sometimes difficult truths.

With minimal sets made specific to each play but generally suggesting a torn social fabric ruled by imposing hierarchies, casts ranging from two to seven characters populated the stage, sometimes guided by offstage live and recorded voice-overs (by Brittany Burke and others). Elements of dance as well as haunting sound and lighting effects enhanced the theater experience.

Victoria Machado’s “Always There,” directed by Jessie Vander, established a push/pull conversation between a teen and their (gender neutral pronouns are used by some company members) imaginary friend. Trending from cute to creepy, actors Ricky Brewster and Jane Kennery established an intimate bond that nicely dissected what can go on in the mind of an “angsty, melodramatic” young person who’s trying to resolve authority issues.

Alexa Gallant’s “Henry,” directed by Lindsey Higgins-Pottier, took audience members back to the 16th century to imagine the life-and-death struggle of Henry VIII’s last wife as she converses with a friend and experiences visitations from her brutalized predecessors. Megan E. Tripaldi, along with Karen Ball, Kim Gordon, Braden Soquet, Savannah Irish, Jess Labbe and Lauren Gamble had moments to tell their character’s stories about the dynamics of power and control in a world not welcoming to strong, independent women.

Catia Sofia Cunha’s “Legs,” directed by Ian-Meredythe Lindsey, added a welcome touch of humor as lovers, played by Mary Kate Ganza and Hannah Odom, deal with the metamorphosis of one partner into a centipede. Love, indeed, triumphs, with or without the extra appendages.

Suze Quackenbush’s “#MeToo in Troy,” directed by Lauren Stockless, gives ancient characters a new voice as they confront contemporary issues of physical, psychological and financial abuse inflicted upon women. Characters portrayed by J.J. Jensen, Hannah Odom, Kerry Elise Becker and Jane Kennery testified before an unfeeling judge (Deborah Paley) as to their suffering. Tragedy indeed endures.

Finally, in Megan E. Tripaldi’s “Instructions for the Fallen,” directed by Hollie Pryor, four fallen angels (Braden Soquet, Sabrina Gallego, Maggie Zall and Ricky Brewster) arrive rather abruptly in the human world. Initially funny, with the four moving about strangely and speaking an odd language, it soon became clear that what made them a bad fit as angels might make them right for this world, where they may find a greater potential for the acceptance of differences.

Visually appealing and consistently thought-provoking, this “Symphony” is an impressive opus in what is likely to be a growing body of work from the many voices within this spirited company.

Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.


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