During this one-person show conceived and performed by Melanya Helene, life is slowed. For a brief hour, we escape the flashing, clanging rush and worry that often overwhelm us.
Inspired by what the program describes as Pema Chodron's "charming and down-to-earth interpretation of Tibetan Buddhism," Helene uses song and storytelling to lure us into a thoughtful, reflective state -- a state of mindfulness. Here "hopelessness" is not bad; it is a liberation. Abandoning hope is a way of accepting the ephemeral nature of life.
Rather than lose ourselves in lamenting the past or fearing for the future, hopelessness is a call to embrace the fullness of the present. To convey this, Helene recounts a tale of a woman who finds herself hanging over a cliff's edge by a thin vine. Below and above are hungry tigers; then suddenly the woman notices a mouse gnawing at the vine. Hopelessness is this woman's willingness, under these most dire circumstances, to savor the rich, sweet taste of a ripe strawberry plucked from a bush within her reach.
The play "Hopeless" is, in short, about letting go. But, as Helene makes clear, letting go is not so easy.
In the spirit of the mindfulness that the play urges, the actor Helene moves through the piece with a wonderfully polished artfulness. Emotion is disciplined but always honest. Even at the start, when Helene sings "Mood Indigo," we get something that is part sorrowful blues and part meditative chant.
Balance and restraint run throughout the performance, but this is not to say that Helene lacks animation. On the contrary, she enlivens the tales she tells with a physicality that approaches dance. Whether she describes a running woman, a bold samurai warrior, an ancient wise man or a pensive farmer, she communicates a sense of the character with vividly mimetic as well as fluidly graceful movement. She not only enters her stories but her stories enter her.
In addition, Helene imaginatively punctuates her narrations and choreography with a creative sense of sound. She ably mimics a phonograph needle jumping on a scratched record or a mouse nibbling on vegetation. Playfully modulating her breath, she can convey the sweep of a samurai sword as it slashes through the air or a chilling breeze as it rushes across a mountain terrain.
The only prop Helene uses throughout the play is a Himalayan singing bowl. She draws both haunting and heavenly music from this instrument.
It is especially effective in the play's last scene. As the lights dim slowly, Helene strokes the singing bowl, making a repeating, extended bell-like sound to accompany her as she sings with wry sweetness: "Row, row, row your boat/ Gently down the stream./ Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily,/ Life is but a dream."
The play's Buddhist message about the impermanence and insubstantiality of life comes through the irony, yet there is a gentleness about this conclusion that is in keeping with the meditative mood of the entire performance.
Most importantly, after the fade out is complete and all is silent, we are left with a sense of well being, as Helene's good will continues to resonate.
-- Richard Wattenberg, The Oregonian
The Brooklyn Bay (View)
1825 SE Franklin. St.
Portland, OR 97202