On Saturday night Mr. and Mrs. Scatter went down to the industrial east Willamette waterfront, to Waterbrook Studio, the little theater-in-a-warehouse just north of the Broadway Bridge, to catch Poetry Off the Page.
It’s the latest in Eric Hull‘s Vox series of staged — I almost want to say composed — poetry readings. Composed, because it’s done by a chorus of actors in a chamber-musical fashion.
Waterbrook is basically a room with an entrance area and a door leading to what serves as a green room for the performers. Somewhere around the corner, down a broad-plank floor, is a restroom. On Saturday the performance space had a few rows of folding chairs for the spectators, a lineup of music stands up front for the six performers, and three chairs to the side for the performers who occasionally sat a poem out. In other words: all the tools you really need to create some first-rate performing art.
It helps, of course, if you have some first-rate performers, and for this show Hull has cast impeccably. His six actors are adept at making their diction precise without squeezing the life out of the words. They are masters of rhythm, as crisp and casual at passing the ball as a good basketball team on a fast break, and beautifully cast for pitch, color and range. Grant Byington is the tenor, Gary Brickner-Schulz the baritone, and Sam A. Mowry the bass. The women — Adrienne Flagg, Theresa Koon, Jamie Rae — are similarly cast for their complementary vocal qualities.
What they do is this. They take a poem (twenty-five of them, actually), break it down to its component parts from stanza to line to syllable to vowel and consonant, settle on a rhythm, and deliver it as a group, sometimes passing it around phrase by phrase, sometimes word by word, sometimes in unison, sometimes as a soloist and chorus.