Family Moments: Hand2Mouth Theatre’s ‘Everyone Who Looks Like You’

Liz Hayden, Erin Leddy, Jerry Tischleder, Julie Hammond, and Faith Helma in Hand2Mouth Theatre's "Everyone Who Looks Like You"

The first thing to know about Everyone Who Looks Like You, a piece exploring family by the award-winning Hand2Mouth Theatre from Portland, Oregon, is that is has no plot. Written by Alex Huebsch, Marc Friedman, and Maesie Speer, with material provided by Hand2Mouth’s company members, the play is structured around a sequence of monologues, vignettes, music, and dance concerning each member of a fictional family, one composed from anecdotes, surveys, and improvisations – the result of more than a year’s worth of workshops. The resulting performance is a borderline cavalcade of nostalgia and chagrin. Though sometimes anemic from lack of plot, Everyone Who Looks Like You (which ran at the Jewish Theatre from June 17 to June 19 as part of the FURY Factory, a bi-annual festival curated by San Francisco’s foolsFURY) interrogates its particular brood, yielding a unique and affecting blend of comedy and epiphany.

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Director Jonathan Walters focuses exclusively on the condition rather than the story of the family. In typical Hand2Mouth style, Walters takes a topic, a character, a moment, and explodes it into its extremes. A character will confess her vulnerabilities only to be interrupted by minutes of farting, followed by a shift to slashing insults hurled between siblings. Walters omits plot, scene, and emotional arc, instead presenting instances of reflections, some of them powerful, such as when the cast sings Faith Helma’s original song “Never Told You This.”  “When you to go sleep,” they sing, “I watch your face, just to see if I am there … but I can’t find you anywhere.” The song is an eerie and touching reminder of the gulf between parents and children, the longing to span it, and the self-projections employed toward achieving that. But without a clear structure, the performance can’t help its wandering tone. The reflections, though poignant, assume equal weight instead of escalating emotional investment.

Still, Everyone brims with entertaining theatricality. Characters dress and denude on stage.  The set transforms from a kitchen, to a living room, to a front lawn. The audience swings from being a receiver of intimate confessions to being voyeurs peering through venetian blinds. The acting is at times saccharine and flat, becoming pantomime, and the set and lighting design did not adapt well to a small venue, but the ensemble performs with endearing sincerity and high energy, holding our attention and driving the piece forward. If nothing else, Hand2Mouth’s style is fun and playful, a refreshing quality in theater.

The FURY Factory continues until June 26, and offers a variety of other performances from West Coast theater companies.

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