The Missing Pieces, by Nick Zagote runs only through this Sunday, January 30 at Portland Playhouse. The premiere is the first fully-staged production of the play since the script was workshopped at the 2009 JAW playwrights festival, and it’s Portland Playhouse’s offering for this year’s Fertile Ground Festival. It’s encouraging that here in Portland, there’s a path for Nick Zagote, a local playwright, to workshop a new script and find an opportunity to dress his work up in full production, all within our fair urban growth boundary. To me, this seems to speak well of the long-term health and growth of our local theater scene.
The Weaver brothers, co-founders of Portland Playhouse, have never met a kitchen sink drama that wasn’t urgent, modern, and relevant. I love this company for their ongoing contribution to new narrative theater. Moment to moment, the actors turn in the kind of impassioned, nuanced performances that have become Brian Weaver’s directorial signature. He mines his story for dark humor, physicality, and often, an underlying threat of violence. In one opening scene, two brothers rough-house, throwing food and chasing each other around a kitchen table. Part of what makes this scene hum is the physical disparity between the two brothers: one is full-grown, a sullen twentysomething wannabe drummer, the other a skinny 10-year-old boy scout, and their play-fighting has a hint of real danger.
I’m not sure, though, that The Missing Pieces ever adds up to something greater than the sum of its parts.
Funny in bits and deftly acted throughout, the play ultimately suffers from a sort of narrative cacophony. What’s it really all about? Mount St. Helens has exploded, a Catholic mother is filled with rage after her husband leaves, a boy scout wants to visit Hugh Hefner, and a former Playboy bunny may or may not be dying. The Bahgwan makes a surreal third act visit, and says that in the face of chaos laughter is godly (I’m paraphrasing).
Perhaps The Missing Pieces is meant to bring laughter to the things that we cannot make sense of in life–which would be a relief, if it weren’t also vaguely confusing.