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Guilt, loss, anger surface in 'Women & Wallace'

NEWS-TIMES PHOTOS: MICHAEL SPROLES - Carter Howard plays 18-year-old Wallace and Pat Lach plays his therapist in Women & Wallace, premiering at HART Theatre in Hillsboro Feb. 19 at 7:30 p.m.In what’s being touted as one of the company’s most ambitious projects to date, HART Theatre will premiere “Women & Wallace” on Feb. 19 at 7:30 p.m. onstage at 185 S.E. Washington St. in Hillsboro.

The show features young actors “exploring serious craft, with an examination of eloquence, wit and all the fears and joys and uncertainties of a boy’s progress toward manhood,” according to the HART website.

Directed by Eric Lonergan, the play is made up of vignettes that follow the story of a boy named Wallace at different points in his life. At the story’s opening, six-year-old Wallace comes home from the second grade to find his mother dead on the kitchen floor as a result of suicide.

The different vignettes in the production deal with his growth in the aftermath of the experience, through his meetings and interactions with women and other situations. Because the play follows Wallace from age six to 18, four different actors play Wallace throughout, each one close in age to Wallace at that particular time in his life.

“We’re dealing with some very serious themes in this production,” said Paul Roder, HART’s artistic director. “Guilt, loss, inability to deal with society, social ineptitude, abandonment, anger and more are all in this. It’s interesting, because we have young people in this play, but it’s not necessarily for young people.”

The play is semi-autobiographical, with much based on experiences from playwright Jonathan Marc Sherman’s life. Writing the play helped to relieve trauma from his mother’s suicide.

“It’s very hard to describe to people,” said Pat Lach, who plays Wallace’s therapist. “It’s a mixture of pathos, dark humor, coming of age and survival.”

Brothers Cameron Bell, 8, and Carson Bell, 10, from Hillsboro, play Wallace at ages six and 13, respectively.

“It’s fun and exciting,” Carter said. “You get to practice and then see it all come together at the end.”

Their sister, Courtney Bell, 12, plays Victoria, a friend of Wallace, and Julie Bell, their mother, plays Wallace’s mother.

“We as a family had conversations about these important subjects,” Julie said. “Some of it might be going over their heads, [but] they’re enamored with the whole process.”

This is the third HART production the Bell children have been in.

“Most of them are athletes that love to act,” said Roder. “We’re thrilled they’re here, it’s a new avenue for their kids to explore, they’re great and the material in this production is well beyond their years.”

The 16-year-old version of Wallace is played by Spencer Putnam, 17, and the 18-year-old Wallace sees newcomer Carter Howard in his first production.

Howard is also the narrator throughout the play, introducing the audience to each growing rendition of Wallace through monologues at the start of the vignettes. He guides playgoers through the boy’s life from start to finish. Roder noted that Howard, who only recently moved from Idaho to Oregon, is a natural — and perfectly nails Wallace’s defensive sarcasm, dark humor and much more.

Nina Skeele, 17, plays Wallace’s girlfriend, Nina, in the play’s final vignettes.

“Wallace tries to have relationships, but he usually ends up getting rejected or abandoned,” Skeele said. “Nina is different from the other girls, she’s actually interested in him, and pays attention to him.”

The process of watching actors grow and learn from each other has also been something Roder and others from HART have admired.

“This production stands out as a shining example of the best attributes of community theater. In almost every instance, there is someone new or just starting out. What has impressed me the most, from everyone involved, is the undeniable talent and skill that has emerged on both sides of the production table,” said Roder. “We see the craft and art being passed on, the values instilled and, above all, everyone having a good time.”

Lonergan echoed Roder’s thoughts.

“The professionalism, the heart, and the dedication that these actors have brought with them made all the difference,” he said. “Without each and every person involved with this production, we could not have created something I hope will entertain the audience while provoking some interesting conversation about a very broken young man trying find his way back to normal.”

The play runs from Feb. 19 to 28 — over two weekends — with Friday and Saturday showings at 7:30 p.m. and a first-weekend Saturday matinee at 2 p.m. Sunday shows are at 2 p.m.

Tickets are $15 for adults, $13 for seniors and $11 for students, and can be purchased by visiting hart-theatre.org, calling 503-693-7815, or at the door at the time of the performance.