My Own Private Idaho Revisited: Hand2Mouth's "Time, A Fair Hustler"
By Leela Ginelle, PQ Monthly Introducing Time, A Fair Hustler (at ART through August 16) to the audience on the night I attended, Hand2Mouth Artistic Director Jonathan Walters described seeing My Own Private Idaho, the film on which the play is based, as a life-changing experience that led to his moving to Portland. Given that, one can understand the desire to engage with the movie and its characters. The resulting work, however, is one that borrows from and references Gus Van Sant's cinematic classic, while saying frustratingly little itself. Time, A Fair Hustler has an intriguing structure. Characters enter a strikingly bland, bureaucratic-looking roomâ€”think: a county hospital waiting lounge, circa 1988â€”and speak into microphones at small wooden desks. They're answering questions about Scott Favor and Mike Waters, the central characters from My Own Private Idaho, but we hear only their sides of the conversations. As they talk, Scott (Erika Latta) and Mike (Julie Hammond) appear in the room, first as specters, miming the speakers' descriptions, and then as characters in the anecdotes the others recall. The most successful portions of the play involve those anchored by Hans (Anne Sorce), the German car part salesman played in the film by global treasure Udo Keir, and Gary (Jason Rouse), a former street hustler acquaintance of Mike and Scott, who's now a New Seasons manager and Portland dad. Sorce's performance as Hans is virtuosic, spellbindingly odd and compulsively watchable. Rouse, too, is excellent, and in bringing Gary into the present, but with such altered circumstances and priorities, the character raises questions about time and personality that the premise invites, but rarely touches on. More often, the speakers' memories lead to direct recreations of moments from the film, which unfold chronologically as the story progresses. For audience members who know the film intimately, and cherish it as Walters does, this choice can seem baffling. Why retell something so closely that was already told so well? Time, A Fair Hustler's most inventive moments dramatize the way memory behaves. Moments will replay over and over, or phrases are repeated, recalling the way ideas become solidified through recollection. Likewise, through the employment of actress Jenni Greenmiller as Mike's mom, Scott's love interest and a wealthy client, the show draws out the psychological pain that drives Mike in his quest to discover his mom, and compounds the fragility and betrayal he feels in his circumstances in a way the movie only hints at. The show includes many new songs performed by the cast. They're often lovely. As Bob, the leader of the street family Mike, Scott and Gary belong to, Jean-Luc Boucherot displays a phenomenal level of energy and commitment, which can at times border on the uncomfortable. His song is breathtaking, however, making one feel they're only feet away from Tom Waits singing to his surrogate son. The parts of Mike, Scott and Hans, which were played by men in the film, are all enacted by women here. While each actor is quite good, the decision to swap genders does not appear to come from any meaningful choice, and feels anachronistic in a show that displays such fidelity to its source elsewhere. Nostalgia's a prime theme in Time, A Fair Hustler. In casting back to the events of the film, Gary, Bob, and Scott all feel a pull to the experiences and bonds that existed then. Structurally this can be odd, though. For instance, Bob dies in My Own Private Idaho, yet in this play he's offered the chance to reflect and speak along with characters that, within the play, are still living. Conversely, Mike survives the film, but here is treated like a corpse at a wake. As a lover of My Own Private Idaho I assumed I was the ideal audience for Time, A Fair Hustler, but perhaps I'm the opposite. Someone who hadn't watched and rewatched the movie might not have felt disappointed to have it brought to life piecemeal onstage before them, like shards of other people's memories, and might not have felt manipulated when its most iconic scene was placed out of order, at the climax, as though it were an encore at a rock show. Time, A Fair Hustler has great talent onstage and behind the scenes, and great source material it draws from; it's a shame its final product feels like less than the sum of its parts. Time, A Fair Hustler by Hand2Mouth is at ART through August 16.