Friday, February 24, 2017

"Well" - meta-theatrically funny and a hard play to get right

Sarah Rudinoff and Barbara Dirickson in Well (Alan Alabastro)
Well
Seattle Repertory Theatre
Through March 5, 2017

Playwright Lisa Kron wants to explore illness and recovery. Some people recover from illnesses and others can’t. Kron wants to know if a reason can be found for who does which, and maybe why. In this kooky meta-theatrical play, Well, that breaks the fourth and fifth and sixth walls, Kron – who appears in the play as herself (but actually played by talented Seattle actor Sarah Rudinoff) – Kron explains all this to the audience at the beginning of the show.

Kron tells of her mother’s history of being sick with a mysterious disease that her mother attributes to “allergies.” And yet, even though mom has been debilitated, she’s been able to move them to a struggling integrated neighborhood and been active enough as a civic leader to help the neighborhood heal. Kron wants to link the healing of the neighborhood to the lack of healing of her mother.

“But,” Kron says, “this play is absolutely not about my mother!” Kron says she’s just using her personal life to examine the larger question.

Part of the fun of this script is that it is different from most plays. Much of the play is addressed straight at the audience in an acknowledgement that you are there. (This is the breaking of “the fourth wall” which is the pretend wall across the front of the stage that actors are supposed to pretend is there and that no one is watching.) Rudinoff, I mean Kron, explains exactly what she wants to do with the performance.

She enlists four actors (Chantal DeGroat, Reginald Andre Jackson, Adrian LaTourelle and Liz McCarthy) to help her activate the storytelling portion of the evening. They try their best to help, but sometimes they don’t quite know what should be going on and interrupt their presentation. A number of the interruptions end up being due to her mother.

Kron’s mother (played by Barbara Dirickson, whose presence we are thankful to have back on a Seattle stage) is apparently sleeping in her living room, but has been transported to Kron’s play with every case and canister in her cluttered little house. Mom doesn’t want to be part of the play, but is there to support her daughter.

Still, Mom has to interrupt from time to time to help get the story straight. Kron has the actors play the story of the integrated neighborhood that her parents moved them to when she was a little girl, where she has a rainbow-painted memory of her mother heading up the neighborhood council and everyone getting along. Mom interrupts to let her know that it just wasn’t that simple. You can’t compress years of struggle and complexity into a two minute presentation.

While Kron is telling the story of her childhood, suddenly a young girl (Emma Blessing) stomps out to torment Kron and chase her around the stage. She is a classmate from Kron’s memory who bullied and tormented her. Young Miss Blessing takes stage like a veteran and has a great deal of fun in the role.

While there are many funny parts of the play, the construction of it tends toward anarchy and often it intentionally falls apart. It can be hard to figure out where the play wants to go or if it arrives at any particular destination.

While Rudinoff and Dirickson ping pong well against each other, and the other actors gamely look like they’re supporting the show, aspects of this production, as chosen by director Braden Abraham, work against it. In particular, the play seems best suited by its nature to be done in a very small space. The Leo K could have been a far better choice for mounting the production than the more cavernous main theater.

The conceit of the script is that it continues in fits and starts. The interruptions are supposed to be “real life” and the actors are called by their real names as if they are no longer acting. None of those moments ever felt like a “real” interruption.

The script is definitely a challenge to pull off. The verdict here is that it hits most of the jokes and misses the sense of messy real life interruptions, going more for the act-y pretend-y interruptions. Even so, it’s enough fun to make it a good time.

For more information, go to www.seattlerep.org or call 206-443-2222. 

Thursday, February 23, 2017

“Three Americans” – An excellent snapshot of modern life

Cynthia Jones in Three Americans (Tiffany Diamond)

Three Americans
West of Lenin
Through March 4, 2017

A trio of monologues have been mounted by the folks at West of Lenin specifically to address, in some fashion, the new administration. Director Anita Montgomery and producer AJ Epstein asked three playwrights if they had material to contribute to the effort. The evening they have produced is a stunning example of range and response in a very “now” fashion.

Three Americans: Voices of Hope includes pieces by Yussef El Guindi, Regina Taylor and Mashuq Mushtaq Deen.  The Birds Flew In is an El Guindi monologue from an immigrant mother of a soldier. Taylor writes about an African American woman describing how important voting has been in her life in Déjà vu. Deen, in Draw the Circle, gives us a portrait of a woman in love with a trans man and the challenges she’s faced with him.

Annette Toutonghi, a beloved veteran Seattle actor who keeps a very low profile, presents a grief-stricken yet raging mother who has lost her son. In vocalizations that range from a whisper to a scream, she castigates those visitors who have just come to offer platitudes about her loss and her son’s heroism. With a hint of a foreign accent, vaguely Middle Eastern, she talks to her son and tries to understand what made him enlist.

The mother circles back over and over to how she tried to help her son become a man. Now she thinks maybe she should have encouraged him to become “a sissy” and maybe she wouldn’t have lost him. In the monologue’s most poignant moment, she confesses her deepest darkest guilt – that she actually was a little proud of his choice.

Cynthia Jones becomes Pearl, a 103 year old woman who is frustrated with her great-granddaughter. The granddaughter thinks voting is rigged and therefore it doesn’t matter, while grandmother recalls beatings and challenges to her rights to vote and how hard she fought to do so. She reminds us of the quizzes that African Americans were forced to take to vote and how long she studied the Constitution before she arrived for her test, only to have the man ask her how many jelly beans were in the jar!

Megan Ahiers presents Molly, a wholly modern lesbian who tells the story of her relationship with a woman who entranced her the minute she saw her. They are preparing to go visit family in a common and painful ritual of uneasy acceptance. But Molly has had to roll with her lover’s desire to transition to being a man while still loving him.

Molly is frustrated, now, that they are sometimes taken for a “normal” straight couple, while she wants to tell everyone the whole truth. It’s a moment for the audience to grapple with their own thoughts about whether it would be better or worse for us to be taken for “normal” or not, too.

The evening is a swift one, just over 60 minutes, but the complexities of the pieces and the fervor of the delivery make it feel full and complete. While none of the pieces references this last month in any direct way, all combine to show the complexities of America and the many lives who entwine to live here.

For more information, call 800-838-3006 or go to westoflenin.com or www.brownpapertickets.com.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Stay outa the rain with March 2017 Theater Openings

Scott Shoemaker as Ms. Pak-Man (Doug McLaughlin)
Seattle Fringe Festival has changed its annual timing to March and has a robust line-up that may cause you to binge on short shows like candy! Other offerings include glimpses into inner city friendships, the struggle of a deaf boy in a hearing world, musical delights, and local writing. Get out your calendars. It’s time to schedule March plays!

Milk Like Sugar, ArtsWest, 3/2-25/17
On Annie's sixteenth birthday, her friends have decided to help her celebrate with a brand new tattoo. While there, one offhandedly reveals she’s pregnant. This humorous yet probing script peers into teens, friendships, inner city unhappiness, and choices that can last a lifetime.

Ms. Pak-Man: On My Last Heart!, Scott Shoemaker, 3/2-4/17 and 3/9-11/17 (at Rebar)
This original production is the third installment of the successful Ms. Pak-Man series. Watch this world-renowned video game superstar of the 1980s pop power pills while she shares scandalous songs and stories about her life and loves—glitches and all. She sings! She dances! She drinks! She might black out! There’s a chance she won’t remember the show, but you will!

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Valentine's plus Poetry = Lovers' Play

Alyssa Kay and Katherine Jett in When Love Speaks (John Ulman)
When Love Speaks
Thalia’s Umbrella
(at Taproot Theatre)
Through February 25, 2017

"Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?" Well? Should I? Don’t I get an answer? If you have ever read any poetry and felt like maybe someone should be there answering “Yes” or “No,” then you are thinking like David Wright. Wright was reading a lot of poetry and decided that some of it, particularly the love poetry, sounded like it should be conversations and scenes. So, he put dozens of poets together in piles of potential dialogue, with a large portion of Shakespeare, Marlowe, and Ben Jonson, and made a lovers’ play.

First presented in 1992 by Seattle Shakespeare Company, When Love Speaks is being remounted in a pleasant and amusing fashion by Thalia’s Umbrella at Taproot Theatre’s small new space. Four talented actors and a cute Dionysian helper become visitors to an island resort – the kind where love might be born, but lust is also sometimes disguised as love.

Christine Marie Brown and Terry Edward Moore start out by appearing as the most in-love couple ever, only to have Moore suddenly become quite the temporary lover. Katherine Jett, the most shy and abashed and funny, is perhaps hopelessly in love with Alyssa Kay, who doesn’t mind, but seems to be looking for someone a little assertive.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Wacky and ominous, "Scary Mary's" vigorous production is well worth visiting

Corinne Magin as Scary Mary (Joe Iano)
Scary Mary and the Nightmares Nine
Annex Theatre
Through March 4, 2017

A vigorous, inventive and visually stimulating show has just opened at Annex Theatre. Director Eddie DeHais and their team of enthusiastic actors and technicians are pulling out all the stops they can for Scary Mary and the Nightmares Nine, a new play by Amy Escobar.

A relatively large cast of eleven never seems to overpower the small stage, in part due to expert positioning by DeHais. The nightmares referred to are created by an ensemble of five (Kai Curtis, Emily Pike, Kelly Johnson, Sarah Winsor and Raymond Williams) who wield a variety of puppets created by expert puppeteers Ben Burris and Zane Exactly. They are a series of scares that might haunt any of us, and are representative of those felt by people struggling with depression.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

It’s not the Marx Brothers, but "Room Service" is still a fun farce

The cast of Room Service (Erik Stuhaug)
Room Service
Taproot Theatre
Through March 4, 2017

If you know who the Marx Brothers were, you might also know the movie they made called Room Service. It was based on a 1937 Broadway play and then they put their own improvisational, wacky spin on it.

Room Service is a farce. Taproot director Karen Lund is one of the best directors in town for farces in particular. She has a very clear sense of comic timing. Farce is not easy to get right. The main joy in farces is the quick movements of people coming in and going out of doors! That’s right, missing each other by parts of seconds! That is the height of silliness in farces. 

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

The Seagull Project's "The Cherry Orchard" reflects turmoil in society

The cast of The Cherry Orchard (Chris Bennion)
The Cherry Orchard
The Seagull Project
(at ACT Theatre)
Through February 19, 2017

Chekhov’s best-known play, The Cherry Orchard, mixes up all the levels of Russian society inside the failing estate of the Gayevs. Servants consort with their bosses in previously unheard-of cheekiness. Businessmen like Lopakhin are more wealthy than the aristocracy, yet have risen from progenitors who were serfs. Aristocracy can’t raise money, yet haven’t figured out their way of life is unsustainable. Life in Russia is in economic turmoil that results in creating a new society that few can reckon with!

The production of this play by The Seagull Project is more suited to these times, with an administration that seems in love with Russia, and has created the beginnings of what could be unknown turmoil, than anyone might have predicted when they began planning the production! There are many pleasing aspects to the play, with some wonderful actors working at the top of their game. There is also a directing choice that tilts the production over in its insistence.

Madame Ranevskaya (Julie Briskman) is returning to her indebted estate after living in Paris. She returns penniless, having no skill of understanding or keeping track of money. Her brother, Gayev (Peter Crook), is having no luck saving the estate, either, and both of them are waiting for a rich aunt to send money, though she doesn’t like them very much.

Friday, February 03, 2017

Powerful women play historical kings at Seattle Shakespeare Co.

Some of the cast of Bring Down the House (John Ulman)
Bring Down the House
Seattle Shakespeare Company
Through March 12, 2017

A great gathering of women is happening in the Armory Theatre where Seattle Shakespeare Company has joined with upstart crow collective to present a massive two-part Shakespearian epic! Why is it a gathering of women? Because all the actors in this play are women, most playing male roles!

Bring Down the House is actually an adaptation of Shakespeare’s trilogy about Henry VI (Henry VI, Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3). It’s created in two parts which you can choose to see either separately or both in one day. Throne of Treachery opened last week and Crusade of Chaos opens Friday, February 3. Director Rosa Joshi and upstart member Kate Wisniewski (who plays Queen Margaret) pared down these three long plays into a fairly nimble two-parter which speeds along at a break-neck pace.

While the plays are “historical,” they are not necessarily always accurate, and clearly depend on theatricalities and tensions. Given that, it is still a good way to learn about the period of The War of the Roses (1455-87), a period of turmoil over who deserved the English crown.

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

February Theater Openings in Seattle

Room Service at Taproot Theatre (Erik Stuhaug)
February continues 2017’s eclectic offerings on Seattle stages from classic comedy or musical to new work. Take a look at what’s opening next month.

Room Service, Taproot Theatre, 2/1/17-3/4/17
Madcap mishaps and little lies take on lives of their own as a theatrical troupe chases their dream of Broadway. Or Off-Broadway. Make that Off-Off-Broadway. This hit comedy inspired a Marx Brothers classic film!
www.taproottheatre.org

Storyville Rising, Seattle Immersive Theatre, 2/2/17-2/25/17 (21+)
Seattle Immersive Theatre teams up with System D Artists to present Storyville Rising, a fully-immersive theater/cabaret experience which recreates Storyville, the infamous “red-light” district in New Orleans, from 1897-1917. This production is an exploration of sex, race, power and privilege in Reconstruction-era America, told through theater, historical narrative, live music, transgressive burlesque and cabaret. Original text, as well as transcripts and interviews, tell the story of the habitués of Storyville and the forces of “polite society” that sought to shut it down.
www.seattleimmersivetheatre.org

When Love Speaks, Thalias Umbrella, 2/9/17-2/25/17 (at Taproot Theatre)
When Love Speaks is a sizzling hot verse play by David Wright, with an assist from his buddies Will Shakespeare, Mighty Chris Marlowe, "The Benster" Jonson, Queen Elizabeth (the First, of course), and many other wanton wordsmiths. Four people meet at a resort at the edge of the world. They fall in and out of love, woo and argue . . . all while speaking some of the best (and some of the worst!) love poetry ever written.

The Pajama Game, 5th Avenue Theatre, 2/9/17-3/5/17 (open 2/16)
Seattle sweetheart Billie Wildrick stars as Katherine "Babe" Williams in this Broadway hit making its 5th Avenue debut. A labor furor over a 7 ½ cent pay raise at a pajama plant complicates the course of true love for Sid Sorokin, the new factory superintendent, and Babe Williams, the feisty firebrand heading the Union Grievance Committee. The show that defined Fosse style with seductive dance numbers like “Steam Heat” and “Hernando’s Hideaway,” this critically acclaimed musical won three Tony Awards including Best Choreography and Best Musical when it opened in 1954.
www.5thavenue.org

Well, Seattle Repertory Theatre, 2/10/17-3/5/17 (open 2/14)
Sarah Rudinoff stars as playwright Lisa Kron in her not-an-autobiography about not-her-mother. Why do some people stay sick while others become well? And where do we find the road to recovery? Kron takes us on a surprising and complicated journey exploring these questions in this acclaimed comedy – which is not about her mom.
www.seattlerep.org

The Last Romance, Phoenix Theatre, 2/10/17-3/5/17
Joe DiPietro’s play about an ordinary day in Ralph’s life when he decides to take a different direction on a walk. Meeting an elegant but distant Carol, Ralph tries to regain happiness he thought he lost when his wife passed away. Heartwarming comedy.
www.phoenixtheatreedmonds.org

Scary Mary and the Nightmares Nine, Annex Theatre, 2/10/17-3/4/17
Playwright Amy Escobar debuts a new work. When a drop of Mary’s blood falls down to the center of the Earth, something Evil and Ancient wakes up in the shadows, and now the Hellish Horrors of the Dark have a taste for her. Mary must go on an epic quest through nine different nightmares to make a potion to put The Slither back to sleep and save her soul from its nasty gnashing teeth. A fairy tale that creeps, crawls, and catapults its way through the bizarre landscape of the imagination as Mary fights for her very life amidst the ever-encroaching darkness.
www.annextheatre.org

Waning, Annex Theatre, 2/14/17-3/1/17 (Tue/Wed)
Kamaria Hallums-Harris also debuts a new work. At 17, Luna is coming to terms with the harsh reality of what it means to be a young, black, queer woman in America. It’s hard to find the words to claim her identity and to claim her right to love and be loved. Dance, discovery, and dark truths show that the words on the pages of history books are nothing compared to weight of reality.
www.annextheatre.org

Bright Half Life, New Century Theatre Company and Hansberry Project, 2/15/17-3/11/17
Time stops when you meet the love of your life. Vicky and Erica are catapulted through a lifetime of love and heartbreak as they navigate an ever-shifting present. Through courtship, children, marriage, conflict, and the whisper of mortality, this kaleidoscopic journey is a depiction of the fortitude and courage it takes to fight for love.
www.wearenctc.org

Little Women, Seattle Musical Theatre, 2/17/17-3/20/17
Louisa May Alcott’s timeless, captivating story is brought to life in this exhilarating musical filled with beautiful music, dancing and heart. Follow the adventures of sisters Jo, Meg, Beth, and Amy March as they grow up in Civil War America and deftly handle challenges, heartache, everlasting love and fight for their dreams as they deal with issues still relevant today.
www.seattlemusicaltheatre.org

Into the West, Seattle Children’s Theatre, 2/23/17-3/19/17 (ages 9+)
From the coast of  Ireland comes the spellbinding tale of two siblings and a white horse called Tir Na n'Og. Ally and Fin are children of Travelers living with their Pa, when the mysterious, otherworldly horse comes to them from the sea, filling their lives (and tiny flat) with and trouble. Soon police are at the door to take Tir Na n'Og away, but not even the law can keep these children from their magnificent horse. Fearless as cowboys, Ally and Fin escape into the west in this lively, suspenseful drama about love, loss and bravery, where they learn that the greatest journeys in life take us beyond all imagination and into our hearts.
www.sct.org

Defying Expectations - a Showtunes Cabaret, Showtunes! Theatre Company, 2/25, 26, 27/17 (at ACT Theatre)
A talented cast of six singers  interpret songs and stories of people overcoming the lines in society that divide us. In addition, the cast will be challenged to defy their own personal expectations as performers. Hear your favorite show tunes in a fresh way by Seattle's top professional talent. (At press time, cast unknown.)