Liminal’s New Production Is A Multifaceted Treat

The Oregonian, May 5, 2003

By Richard Wattenberg

Pushing expectations is what Liminal Performance Group does best - and the Portland company’s newest piece, Three Plays Five Lives, pushes hard.

In this ambitious, thought-provoking experiment, five actors use three raked stages to tell three different tales at the same time. As the actors move from stage to stage and story to story, the audience witnesses what appears to be a postmodern fragmentation of dramatic unity.

Yet Three Plays isn’t as fractured or confusing as that sounds, partly because of the highly physical style the actors bring to all three plays. It’s a blend of sculptural control and primal intensity, punctuated by frequent, sometimes electronically amplified verbal repetitions. And it’s often mesmerizing.

Also clarifying matters is the linking of the three story lines - one set high in a skyscraper, one on a sea cliff, the third in a hill temple overlooking a desert town in an Arab country. All three examine characters living on the verge of psychological or corporeal collapse. And each actor impersonates characters with the same name and similar attributes in each story. 

Directed by Bryan Markovitz with movement direction by Amanda Boekelheide, the cast of Boekelheide, Georgia Luce, Jeff Merchant, Madeleine Sanford and Patrick Wohlmut works as a well-wrought, tightly bound ensemble.


 They acrobatically leap into each other’s arms, wrap themselves around each other, and lift each other into the air with impressive agility, always operating with trust and confidence.

As in other Liminal shows, multimedia technology is integrated into the production. But while John Berendzen’s sound design and Catherine Egan’s video design nicely complement the live action, they never upstage it.

If there’s a weak link here, it’s Alex Reagan’s script. It’s not poorly written or badly conceived. Yet the convoluted, overly melodramatic nature of each of the stories distracts us from their underlying parallels. The company’s powerfully vivid performance style suggests that common passions drive all three plots. Unfortunately, the novelistic complexity of the stories dulls the impact of the whole.

Yet you don’t leave the theater disappointed. As usual, Liminal takes us beyond the threshold of normal theater expectations. While the experiment here may not be entirely successful, sharing in the process is a gratifying experience for theatergoers thirsting for adventure.