PQ Review: defunkt's Fire Island — the Thinking Person's Date Play

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By Nick Mattos, PQ Monthly

[To follow up on staff writer Daniel Borgen's preview of the defunkt theatre production of Fire Island in our last issue — and to give you an idea for your weekend date plans — we present fellow staff writer Nick Mattos' review of the award-winning theatre company's challenging and heartfelt new play. — PQ Monthly]
Over the last twelve years, local theatre company defunkt has built a reputation for itself as one whose productions were unsuitable for the weak of heart. This is a great thing — the company's willingness to tackle the brutalities of life led to such theatrical victories as 2010's Drammy-sweeping game-changer 4:48 Psychosis. While their new production Fire Island demonstrates much of the same bold experimentation as their previous work, defunkt's take on Chuck Mee's classic stands apart in the defunkt canon for its accessibility and humor. Mee's script, brought to life under the brilliant and subtle direction of Grace Carter, strings together the stories of 36 distinct characters who contend with love in its many permutations, from hilarious childhood affection to grief-stricken postmortem longing and every experience in between. In a less talented ensemble's hands, a performance with this many characters could be Dickensian at best or chaotic at worst; however, the seven actors of defunkt's Fire Island display mastery at presenting the heart of each character's narrative, allowing the audience to experience the play as an extended meditation on the universal experience of love rather than the individual stories. Amongst the strongest performers of the ensemble are McKenna Twedt, whose subtle and hypnotic electricity infuses each character she tackles with a lively sense of humanity, and Jason King, whose masterful sense of physical expression captivates the audience in each of his scenes. To top everything off, the company's innovative approach to stage design and daring usage of original music by local marvel Corrina Repp results in theatre that is equal parts charming and unsettling — a deeply satisfying and thought-provoking experience. Fire Island certainly isn't easy to digest; it forces theatregoers to think, to engage with potentially painful memories, and to identify with stories and characters that one would probably rather dismiss. In this regard, it's classic defunkt, and deserves to garner them the same sort of accolades they've been awarded over their decade-plus tenure in the Portland theatre scene. However, don't let defunkt's experimental-hero reputation scare you away — Fire Island really does have something for everyone, whether it gets you pondering, talking, laughing, or crying. In this regard, it may just be the thinking person's date-night play of the season. Fire Island runs March 23 through April 28 at the Back Door Theater, 4319 SE Hawthorne. For ticket information and to make ticket reservations (which is highly recommended due to the intimate size of Back Door Theater), visit defunktheatre.com.