Earlier this year, I predicted that Portland Experimental Theatre Ensemble’s Song of the Dodo
would be unlike anything else on a Portland stage this fall. It was an easy wager. From the walls and floor covered in plastic the color of Big Bird to the man in the surgical mask sweeping shredded bits of brown rubber into shapes like Rorschach inkblots, this new, original play can't be compared to any other work happening in Portland. But if any sequence defines the alternately silly, contemplative and bleak show, it’s one involving Rebecca Lingafelter shoving an egg into her mouth. Sheathed in a dignified gray dress, Lingafelter gapes at the audience, her lips stretched around the egg. She waits. She bites down. The egg is raw. The yolk oozes down her chin. Lingafelter spits and smacks. She picks up a glass of red wine and glugs, the liquid streaming down her neck and leaving pink stains on her dress. It’s one of the most disgusting and arresting things I’ve seen onstage. Other moments channel a similarly delicious absurdity. Song of the Dodo
opens with Lingafelter and two other female performers—our dodo birds—dressed in silver-hued costumes with pillowlike padding over their rumps. They preen and shimmy and squawk. Later, perched on stools, they titter about extinction and the misery of life. After last season’s strikingly sinister adaptation of Richard III
, it’s wonderful to see PETE’s performers exercising their impressive comedic muscle, and the first hour captivates and delights while still prodding at questions about tragedy, grief and rage. But then things plummet into full-tilt, screechy melodrama. The last 15 minutes or so draw from Euripides’ Hecuba
, with the performers crouched at the front of the stage. As they wail about the extermination of the Trojan queen’s 50 children, the parallel with the extinction of the dodo is heavy-handed and obvious. Still, the show cements PETE's reputation as an idiosyncratic and important force in the local theater scene—even if it left me mourning the disappearance of that adorable dodo.
810 SE Belmont St.Website: petensemble.org